For many smaller, less populous or less-affluent countries, military assistance in the form of advanced weapons is not always a guarantee. Just as the allegiances of schoolchildren in the playground can, almost whimsically, change on a daily basis, so too can the vagaries of international politics lead some nations to find themselves bereft of support from previously stalwart allies. This has happened to many countries in the post-WWII era, and some notable inclusions on this list are Pakistan, Israel, Taiwan and South Africa. While these countries have very little in common, they all were, at one time, denied the ability to purchase the military aircraft they desired for their armed forces; and all because of the “optics” of popular international opinion.
Of course, for such countries, it is a major problem when you can’t get the weapons you need. Usually countries in this situation are not always at peace with all their neighbours and the uncertainty of the local political scene makes acquiring the desired weapons all the more important. So, what’s a country to do when the “big boys” take their ball and go home? Well, the answer, of course, is just this; go it alone!
Designing and developing a modern aircraft has become increasingly expensive since the end of WWII. Despite the risks, though, there continue to be nations who refuse to knuckle under to international pressure and embark on their own programs of aeronautical development. One such country is Taiwan, a place that is not on most people’s radar as a major aeronautical power. However, that isn’t fair. The Taiwanese aircraft industry is a very vibrant and capable one, and starting with the AT-3 advanced trainer/light attacker, the AIDC (Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation) proved that it could design and build indigenous aircraft equal to those offered by much larger and more powerful nations.
There is, though, a big difference between building a subsonic, straight-winged trainer and fielding a fully-fledged, supersonic fourth-generation fighter. This task requires a quantum leap in both design and manufacturing capability, and is something rarely seen. When, in 1982, Taiwan was told that it couldn’t purchase either the F-20s or F-16s that it was interested in, it didn’t have much of a choice. A project to replace the old F-5s and F-104s had already been in the works since 1980; at this point, it was given a higher priority.
Thanks to the US’ political balancing act, Taiwan was still able to import military technology, not just entire warplanes. Thus, the design of the new fighter was aided considerably. By 1989, the new aircraft was ready. It was called the FCK-1, or the IDF (Indigenous Defence Fighter), and named “Ching Kuo” after the Taiwanese president who signed the project into being. There are both single and two-seat variants of this aircraft, and it is capable of carrying a wide variety of armament.
The IDF’s basic testing was done by 1994 and it entered service in 1997. The aircraft is an interesting mix of various fourth-generation fighter design influences, looking very much like the love-child of an F-18 and an F-16. It has a fuselage and control surfaces similar to the F-16, but the twin-engined layout and “jelly bean” intakes are more like that of an F-18. You can almost think of the IDF as a flying fourth-generation “remix” of sorts. Even though some people like to deride it as some sort of chimera, the fact is that the design was very successful, and somewhere around 130 were bought. It was so successful that American companies asserted pressure to sell weapons to Taiwan: they realized that they were losing sales and could offer American fighters cheaper. The Taiwanese now operate F-16s in conjunction with the IDF; it was successful enough to put itself out of production!
Despite the massive achievement that the IDF represents, it is not a well-known aircraft outside of the immediate Taiwanese area. Because of this, there are almost no kits of this very attractive and unique-yet-familiar aircraft offered. So then how can we expect to get an injection moulded model of this aircraft? While AFV Club has apparently announced one for 2016, until it comes out the answer is the older and more likely less-than-perfect 1/48 Zhengdefu model.
This particular model is actually of the FCK-1B variant, the two-seater IDF. This is particularly good news for me, since I love two-seaters and obscure aircraft. However, the bad news is that it’s in 1/48, which is not my preferred scale. However, the subject matter was so obscure that I decided to take the leap and get the kit anyway.
The box is blue, with a light blue pinstripe, not unlike Revell Germany boxes. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination to determine if that was just a happy coincidence or if there was some other larger, darker purpose afoot. The bulk of the front of the box is dominated by a drawing of the IDF climbing in afterburner, although it is not shown exactly what the urgency is. It is carrying both air-to-air and anti-shipping weapons, and it seems odd to see a plane thusly equipped blasting above cloud level. The drawing isn’t all that dynamic or well-detailed, and this bodes a bit poorly for the kit in the box. However, the illustration does serve to highlight the key features of the design and its unique paint scheme. While it isn’t as exciting as an old Matchbox box, it is at least better than a Monogram kit from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s.
On the back of the box is the full-colour paint plan. The thing is, the paint plan is photos of a completed model, and it’s somewhat lacklustre. The main issue is that the three rows of pictures (for a total of 11 images) aren’t anywhere as useful as they could be. There’s no colour call outs anywhere, so the modeller is left guessing as to what colour is what. The pictures are useful insofar as showing the general pattern for the wraparound cammo, so that’s good, but the internet is a much better source for that kind of information anyway.
Like Revell Germany boxes, this one is an end-opening affair, although it is quite sturdy feeling. It reminds me of the bottom half of a Heller box; it has certain coarseness to it, like you can feel the corrugations right through the cardboard.
Once you crack the box, you’re greeted with two racks of parts and the two fuselage halves. There is also the two-piece cockpit canopy, which is packaged separately from the rest of the kit in the same bag as the decals. In my case, the radome was also loose in the box. Before I go on, I have to give props to Zhengdefu for the whole canopy thing. They are well advanced of Matchbox and other older makers in at least keeping the transparencies somewhat out of harm’s way. Of course, trying to squeeze all this into the box is a bit difficult, so care is needed not to crack the canopy at that stage of things.
The airplane is moulded in a sort of sickly greyish-beigey, almost snot-like, colour. It is not a colour that exudes quality, and there’s something about the texture, or weight or translucency (I can’t tell which) that gives an impression of being a bit on the cheap side. It’s just that little bit rough, like you’d expect from a short-run or lower-quality kit. There’s no major flash, but the detail lines are a bit washed out and shallow looking. It’s kind of like someone carved a Matchbox kit out of Apoxie Sculp putty, or maybe Milliput.
The detail on the kit is fair, but not much better. There’s not a lot of finesse to the panel lines; they’re coarse, largely soft and there aren’t that many of them. This isn’t the Academy T-50 Golden Eagle we’re dealing with here; it’s more like a Hobbycraft F-16. There is some pretty soft detail in the engine nozzles to try and capture the flame ring/turbine rear, and there’s also some detail inside the landing gear bay doors. Unfortunately, ejector pin marks are a common occurrence on this kit, and they seem to pop up in the worst possible places. A perfect example is the intakes: the intake trunks are very shallow, and there’s a ‘wall’ at the back of them. Sadly, this wall has a prominent ejector pin mark. Now, this will be painted black, so it’s not as bad as it could be. However, the mark on the main gear door is pretty bad, and there are others to be found on the main gear doors. Correcting these will not be fun, and may not even be worthwhile.
The cockpit tub is very simple; there’s no detail scribed into it anywhere, nor is there any detail on the cockpit walls. The tub is simply that, a tub to hold the two seats and instrument panels. All instruments panels (including the “armrests” are given as decals, and there’s very little detail on the seats. What’s odd is that they give you three seats! I assume there’s a single-seater of this plane, but why they felt the need to give you the spare butt-rest, I have no idea. The seats will definitely benefit from some work; at the very least some tape seatbelts are needed. You could hyperdetail the cockpit, but I think that’s a bad plan. “Why?” You ask. If you did superdetail the cockpit it would be completely at odds with the rest of the kit, meaning you’d either have to superdetail the entire model, or you’d have this killer cockpit in what amounts to a ‘meh’ airframe. It would look more out of place to have the cockpit done well!
However, not everything is bad news. Sure, the kit is not up to modern standards, but you have to consider the source. Zhengdefu is well known as a company that savagely copies and repops other companies’ kits. Usually, these copies are very poor, and are closer to something expected at a Dollar Store than a legit hobby shop. However, in this case, Zhengdefu actually made the kit themselves. At least, I think they did. I don’t know of any other 1/48 FCK-1B. If you do, let me know. I don’t like to give praise incorrectly. If what I say is true though, you have to give them credit in this case; they went out of their way to design and make a kit that no one else was making at the time. That’s worth something to me.
Also, the kit does come with a lot of stores. There are underwing tanks, as well as several kinds of bombs, some SkySword II AAMs and lots of Sidewinders. Also, there are some anti-shipping missiles and even rocket pods for your plane! Sure, the weapons are softly detailed like the plane, and in some cases only vaguely represent the weapons they’re trying to be, but the thought is there. With some paint and care, they’ll look okay.
Instructions and Decals:
Both the instructions and the decals are pretty simple. Despite the size of the plane, there really aren’t that many pieces to it, and the two-page foldout instructions don’t require many steps to get things done. This isn’t a Tamigawa F-16 or a Zhouki Mura; this is a Zhengdefu, and it shows.
What is there is actually pretty clear and easy to follow. You can fault the kit all you want, but you can’t say that you had a hard time building it because of bad instructions! They are simple and clear, and are logically arranged in a well-thought out sequence. There aren’t any readable English colour call outs anywhere, so some third-party reference is going to be needed. I know there have been a few articles in Combat Aircraft magazine in the last couple of years that have some good photos in them; maybe there are one or two of the interior, as well.
The back page of the instructions is all about weapons loadouts, and is remarkably thorough. Kudos to Zhengdefu for giving us lots of different ways to display our IDF!
The real gold, though, is on the front page, which is a reprint of the oh-so-bad box copy. It does tell the history of the Ching-Kuo, although the dates differ from what’s available online at Wikipedia and from the sources I have. I’m sure we’ve all seen some questionable English on model boxes. I myself particularly love “Fix each parts rightly”. (Yeah, because I was going to do it WRONG on purpose?!) However, Zhengdefu takes it waaay farther than just some interesting idiomatic mistranslations.
The write-up for the IDF is almost unreadable. I am not sure how, but the jet “is arrived one 20mm cannon with six tubes”. There are words on there that aren’t words, like “lhrusl” and “gool”. Read the picture below, and you’ll see what I mean! What do they mean “gool”? Did they mean “Ghoul”? Why would they use that? Well, they clearly meant target. Like a Bogey. And the good ol’ thesaurus probably mentioned the “Bogeyman” and said he was a type of “ghoul”. See, this is the fun part; it’s like being a linguistic Indiana Jones trying to recreate what the Zhengdefu translation department actually did!
The decals, on the other hand, are less fun and funny. They are rough at best, and almost poorly hand drawn at worst. They are very much like the decals I’m used to seeing on old Hobbycraft kits, many of which were knockoffs of old Hasegawas, it seems. The lines on the decals aren’t exactly crisp, and while the decals seem like they might just be acceptable, I can’t guess as to how they’re going to work. I will likely hit them with Testors Decal Bonder first, I think, just to be sure! Sadly, I don’t know if there are any aftermarket sets or decals for this kit, although it could badly use them.
The Taiwanese AIDC company pulled off a real coup by getting the IDF/FCK-1 into production. It was good enough to scare the US into giving them more F-16s, and in a way, that made it a victim of its own success. That there hasn’t been a better kit of this important, if not somewhat obscure aircraft in recent years is unfortunate. While it may appear something of a chimera of other famous fourth-gen fighters, the FCK-1 is a distinct aircraft that looks right at home with its contemporaries.
It is ironic that Zhengdefu, shameless masters of brutal copyright violation, would and could go to the trouble to make a kit of the IDF at all, let alone one in 1/48! It’s a good thing they did, though, because it would be awfully difficult to get an injected kit of this plane otherwise. What makes it really interesting is that the kit is passable! It’s not great, but it’s certainly not as bad-looking as the write-ups for other kits from Zhengdefu make them sound.
That’s where I get confused. Looking at it, the IDF looks passable, and actually looks like a good model for almost any skill level. I cut my teeth on old Hobbycrafts and Matchboxes. This kit is right on par with them, albeit with a bit more surface detail. It’s not a very detailed kit and that means there’s not a lot of picky material for a novice to worry about. However, if the kit is even half as bad as some of its brothers and sisters from Zhengdefu, it’s possible that it might be nearly unbuildable. So, where does this kit stand? Right in some kind of awkward middle ground, it seems.
Taking all that into account, I can’t help but recommend this kit despite its obvious and, what could well be many, hidden, flaws. The simplicity makes it ideal for novices and the larger scale means the pieces will be easier to handle for inexperienced hands. For those who want a good canvas for superdetailing, this is certainly a great kit. I’m sure with aftermarket seats and control panels lifted from other kits or sets, you can have the IDF looking pretty sharp. My gut tells me this won’t go together too badly, actually, so if you’re willing to sand some and rescribe a bit of lost detail, then I can’t see this kit being a problem.
I’m very glad to have a kit of the IDF in my collection, and even more so since this is the two-seater variant. Even though it’s not in my preferred scale of 1/72, this is too unique and pretty an aircraft to pass up. The good news is that this kit didn’t cost me much, and I’ve seen other copies for about the same price as the sticker in the picture above. If you can find one cheap, it’s a great way to have a very obscure fighter in your display. Why WOULDN’T you take the chance?!