One of the cornerstones of a free-market economy is providing a product or service that someone wants, in exchange for something else. Usually, that ‘something’ is money. While it can be said that “money is the root of all evil”, we also know that it really is what seems to make the wheels of the world turn. Thus, in the truest sense of the “law of the jungle”, it behooves companies to make products that are better, or far cheaper, than those offered by their rivals. If you have a better product, then people will want it. If you can give them 2/3 the product at 20% the cost, then you’ll sell some units too.
However, in a more closed economy, one that is propped up by socialism, say, this isn’t always the case. In the USSR, money was less of an object since everyone was (supposedly) supplied “as they needed” by those who provided “as they could”. Of course, this has its own problems, and the collapse of Soviet communism is not a discussion that needs to happen here. I’ll leave that for the politicos elsewhere. However, one thing that came out of said collapse was an attendant collapse of the state-sponsored armaments industry. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the fortunes of the MiG company took a turn for the worse, as Sukhoi outmaneuvered them politically and the Su-27 family became the cash-strapped Russian forces’ only major combat aircraft type.
Faced with no meaningful domestic investment, MiG had to look to exports and upgrades to keep itself alive, and its bread-and-butter product, the MiG-29, was continuously marketed in this way. While the Russian MiG-29s were mostly the early fighter types, MiG (now part of United Aircraft) sold the aircraft as a multi-role tactical fighter, similar to the F-16 or F-18, to many nations that were within Russia’s sphere of influence. However, even this wasn’t enough; poor Mig couldn’t get anything really meaningful going, it seemed, in it’s accustomed “sales neighbourhood”. And so, it had to buck-up and face the true “demon of the West”: the free market.
The problem was that funds for development of the Mig-29 had been lacking, so Mig didn’t have all that much to sell. It had the original family of the Mig-29, and some small upgrades, but large-scale upgrades like today’s Mig-35 had yet to be realized. To this end, the latest of these “original” Mig-29s were the “SMT” model offered to Algeria as part of a large weapons deal. However, things didn’t go well, and Algeria rejected the aircraft claiming they were inferior and most weren’t even newly built. In the end, Russia agreed to cancel the Mig deal and take back the delivered aircraft. Now, Russia had a bunch of Mif-29s it hadn’t counted on, so it made the best of it and put them into service.
The Mig-29 SMT is one of the “original family” of MiG-29s, and thus retains early features such as the auxiliary intakes above the wing roots. However, it is a large improvement over the somewhat limited original Fulcrum A and C models that Russia operates. For one thing, it is an actual tactical fighter/bomber, and is equipped to carry not only advanced air-to-air missiles, but also the latest Russian guided air-to-ground weapons. The radar and avionics have been improved, and the cockpit has large Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) that replace most of the “steam gauges” in the original Mig-29 cockpit. The biggest change, though, has been to improve the Fulcrum’s rather inadequate range, a long-standing detractor to the generally excellent design of the plane. The aircraft’s appearance has been significantly altered by the addition of a large “hunchback” fuel tank, as well as the ability to carry a large centerline tank (as well as two underwing tanks) and a new built-in refuelling probe.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have a thing for “hunchback” planes. If you have an attractive plane, I’ll like it a lot more if it grows a big, fat spine! This is true for the OA-4M, the MiG-21 SMT and of course, the Thunderstick II F-105! Thus, when I first saw the “lumpy” Mig-29, I was in love! I’ve been waiting for a kit of this “new” MiG-29 for some time. Thankfully, my wait wasn’t too long, and I got my hands on the 1/72 Zvezda SMT.
The newer Zvezda kits are packaged in what I consider to be one of the most elaborate, yet odd, boxing methods of recent, or indeed any, time. The box that you see when you pick a Zvezda up off the shelf isn’t really the box at all. It’s a box-box; actually a sleeve around a box. This outer layer is of fairly thin cardboard, but is very colourful and attractive! The front of the box has a highly-conspicuous yellow “border” that surrounds most of the artwork with the name of the kit in Cyrillic letters at the top and Roman letters at the bottom. Having the Cyrillic letters on there makes the kit seem that much more exotic and adds flavour to the kit for sure. The main illustration, though, is what grabs your attention.
And what a piece of box art it is! It’s not action-packed at all, it just shows a MiG-29 SMT cruising through the clouds, but its composition is excellent! For one thing, the clouds are beautifully rendered, and you can see a bit of the Russian countryside below. It’s very wistful and serene, and it makes a good counterpoint for the main illustration; that of a fully-loaded SMT, lumpily aggressive in stance, powering its way through this otherwise placid space. It’s hard to say: is it on guard against an enemy, or are the people in the placid fields below about to become the Mig’s next “protectorate”? I like it when art is passively aggressive in this way.
The drawing of the MiG is excellent. The angle chosen highlights everything that makes the SMT what it is. The refuelling probe is prominent, and the very purposeful, almost angry, outline of the new dorsal tank dominates the picture. Contrasting with the rolling landscape below are the sharp angles of the wings and fins, as well as the sharp cuts of the new-style “splinter” cammo favoured by the Russian air force. Topping it off is the fact that this MiG is packin’! The aircraft is pictured with a full load of weapons. This load not only reinforces the multi-role nature of the MiG, it also gives the plane an air of confidence, a “Come at me bro!” stance that indicates it’s ready to take on all comers. The best part is that it is actual art, a painting, not just some sterile, soul-less CG work awash in correct, but unfeeling, detail. (<cough> Airfix <cough>)
Thanks to the ‘wrapper’ approach, the back of the box is also full colour, and has a write up about the SMT as well as a few detailed shots of the kit and one large one of a completed model. This is a big advantage of this boxing method, and makes the entire package very impressive. It’s nice to see big photos of a completed model on the back, since normally you only get small pictures on the sides of the lid, if at all, on other boxes.
Under the wrapper is a very sturdy box of plain brown cardboard. This is a strange affair that opens like a pizza box, meaning the top opens, but is hinged. This, I admit, I don’t like. It makes the box take up too much space on or near my modelling table, and I just tore this top flap off. I will say, though, that the inner box is well-constructed and very, very full of parts! Why Zvezda went with this method, as opposed to their older, more conventionally boxed kits I don’t know, but this method does seem to offer good protection and nice artistry all at once. Hmm… maybe it’s about attracting attention in a free market?
The SMT comes moulded on ten sprues of medium grey plastic. There are two pairs of weapons sprues, two for the aircraft itself and another two that have some small aircraft bits but are mostly the weapons and fuel tanks from the other Mig-29 variants. There’s also a sprue for a pair of pilot figures (one seated, the other standing) and then one clear sprue for the canopy and windscreen. The pieces all look very nicely detailed; finely recessed panel lines are the order of the day on this model, and it really gives you the look of a high-end kit.
The plastic is good quality, although I found it is imperative to be careful with some of the sharper corners, like those on the intake trunk sections, because they will actually cut you! At least you don’t need to worry about thinning them! The weapons options for this kit are extensive. Here’s what came with the original version of the Mig-29:
4x AA-11 “Archer” (Vympel R-73)
2x AA-10 “Alamo” (Vympel R-27)
4x AA-8 “Aphid” (Vympel R-60)
4x S-24 unguided rockets
4x FAB-500 low-drag, free-fall bombs
As if that wasn’t enough, the SMT comes with even more, emphasizing the new precision ground-attack capabilities of the updated Mig. This kit also includes:
2x AS-17 “Krypton” (Kh-31) Anti-Radar Missile (ARM)
4x KAB-500KR TV-guided bomb
2x AS-14 “Kedge” (Kh-29T) TV-Guided Missile
4x B-13L 5-shot, 122mm folding-fin aerial rocket (FFAR) pods
4x B-8M1 20-shot, 80mm FFAR pods
Now, you can call me jaded, but if there’s one thing I hate it’s when you get a nice kit of a cool plane and it doesn’t come with ANY weapons. I’m not pointing fingers at Hasegawa, I’m just saying I don’t like having to purchase weapons sets separately (although I have many, I’ll admit). What I DO like, though, is a kit that gives you a little bit more than you need. Clearly, this kit is giving you far, far more than you need, and for that, I applaud Zvezda. With all these cool Russian weapons, you can really beef up your spares box! What makes this even more important and impressive, is that many of the weapons come with their own, specific, multi-piece launcher/pylon setups. That means a.) things are technically correct, and b.) you also get spare pylons, something you rarely get, even in weapons sets!
The detail in the gear bays looks nice, although I can’t tell you if it’s correct. I am a bit disappointed in the cockpit, though. It has a decalled instrument panel, but at least the panel is made up of many individual decals, so the contours are preserved. There’s no detail on the “armrests” either, but there are decals for various switches and the like for this, too. The seat looks passable, although there’s no PE in this kit, so if you want an upgraded seat, I’d just say go all out and get an aftermarket one that suits your fancy.
One option that this kit does not support is closing the doors on the front of the intakes. Like the original MiG-29, the SMT has the ability to close doors over the main intakes and breathe through a set of louvered doors on the top of the large Leading Edge Root Extensions (LERX). However, the upper “gills” are moulded closed, and while Step 12 shows something being placed over the intakes, these are actually red intake covers, not the internal ones. Also, unlike some Zvezda kits, there is no boarding ladder for the “parked” version, although there is a set of wheel chocks.
Overall, this kit looks great out of the box, and I give it high marks for external detail fineness and an absolute A+++ for weapons. The lacklustre cockpit and only basic engine exhausts aren’t the best I’ve seen, but I don’t think they hurt the finished kit much.
Instructions and Decals:
The SMT’s instructions are very well laid out, and very well rendered as well. They are clear and easy to follow, and there’s both Russian and English text for any call outs. There’s a nice “inventory” of the sprues, something I always like, and by and large they look easy to follow. However, there are a few times when I referred to them and found them to be a bit ambiguous so make sure you do study them well ahead of time.
There are two different build options, one with the gear up, one with the gear down. The “landed” version is also designed to be built with the canopy raised, but I personally rarely open my planes. I prefer them to be closed up on the ground, like I’m used to seeing them at air shows. Make sure you decide on how you’re going to display your kit early on, as it will affect the parts used in the build procedure.
There are multiple weapons fits that are called out, and these may require specific (and different) holes to be drilled out in the wings. This is why it is important to decide on a load out before going to build the model, that way you avoid any mistakes later. While this is always good advice, it’s particularly important here. The instructions include set of line drawings for decal placement. There are separate instructions for the colour pattern. Unfortunately, these are in greyscale, and are pretty small. There are callouts for Humbrol colours, but it’s not hard to find other colours that work just as well. I think we, as modellers, have gotten spoiled of late, because now I see a non-full colour paint plan and think of it as old-fashioned and almost unacceptable. In all honesty, though, while small, the colour plan works fine, if you intend to use that particular cammo scheme shown on the box.
The decal sheet is a very crowded affair, with a lot of fine stencils. There are some Red Stars, too, of course, but also some blue-outline ones, which are needed to make post-USSR Russian markings. Additionally, there are two different aircraft numbers and some air force titles. For stencil freaks, this sheet is going to be a boon. For me, not so much. I decided I would use a few stencils, but to put all of these on was something I decided just wasn’t for me. While I like to do as good a job as possible on a model, I don’t personally care if all the stencils are on there. I go for a representation of the shape and colour of the aircraft; so long as it’s “good enough for Government work”, as they say!
I love the Mig-29 SMT as an aircraft. Big and lumpy versions of otherwise svelte fighters really do it for me, and this particular one doesn’t disappoint. The kit looks great in the box, with top-notch appearing panel lines and precise detail in most places. The fact that it comes with so many extra weapons and pylons only adds to the initial impression of quality that you get looking at the model.
That having been said, this kit looks like it will be a bit of a handful for more inexperienced modellers. Zvezda has broken up the cockpit in a weird way; if it fits, it’ll be fine. However, if there are issues, it’s going to make it a complicated kit to get together well. Equally complicated, I worry, may be the intakes. Looking at the instructions, they’re somewhat zany in the way they’re supposed to go together. If you’re going to give this to someone who’s on the green side of things, make sure you’re there with them to help them. This is NOT a good “my first model” kit, that’s for sure!
Overall, with a loaded decal sheet and weapons to spare, the Zvezda kit certainly looks like great value for the money. It’s also, I believe, the only way to get a hunchbacked Fulcrum, so it’s not like those of us with a fetish have much of a choice. If you’re into weird lumpy planes, or modern Russian aircraft, then this is a great kit to have in the stash!