Welcome to the third entry in the Contributor-Funded Kit Review series! This time out, the subject is Kitty Hawk’s new-tool 1/48 Su-17M3/M4 Fitter.
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You know that old saying “you attract more flies with honey”?
If the conversation that’s swirled around this build review is anything to go by, you attract more flies with a steaming pile of garbage.
As this third installment in the CFKR series wraps up, I can say with 100% confidence that it has been the subject of more pissing and moaning and more apologist angst than the Hurricane and the Hornet combined. Hell, it might even outstrip the various bleats and swipes that accompanied my original proposal for this effort.
Kitty Hawk, it would seem, brings all the boys to the yard.
It’s Like a Band-Aid
You know how most reviews string you along until the very end, and then drop a “highly recommended” in your lap?
I’m not going to do that. I’m going to take a more direct approach. Tell you my take on this kit, and then we can get into the whys of how I came to my conclusion.
So here we go.
I’m not recommending Kitty Hawk’s Su-17.
In fact, I’m anti-recommending it.
Do not buy this kit. Do not reward Kitty Hawk for their ongoing sloppy, even lazy engineering.
Even if the kit’s problems can be fixed with files, sanders, scrap styrene and a fuckton of putty, they shouldn’t have to be. This isn’t a case of a difficult design where they tried their best and it was just beyond them.
This is a case of straight-up laziness. At that’s if I’m being charitable, because the other explanations for this shoddiness would be incompetence or outright disdain for their customer base.
Almost every single one of the kit’s voluminous list of problems and annoyances could have been addressed with another few weeks of QA.
Kitty Hawk has the capacity to make a good kit. The AH-1Z Viper is proof enough of that. Hell, the wings of the Su-17 are proof enough of that. They’re fantastic. And that makes the rest of the kit all the more frustrating in contrast. It’s like they just couldn’t be bothered to go that extra step.
I don’t know if it’s some extreme efficiency drive to cut costs, or just a disregard for quality and for their customers, but Kitty Hawk should be embarrassed by this kit, and equally embarrassed at the price they’re asking. Sprue Brothers is selling this engineering failure for $80. Which, for the record, is more than the street prices of the Kinetic F/A-18C Hornet, Hobby Boss Su-27, and even AMK’s MiG-31. Or if you want to switch eras, more than Wingnut Wings’ highly anticipated Sopwith Camel. It’s also not so far off the going rate for Tamiya’s F-14 Tomcat. And this kit? Does not hold a candle to any of those.
Again. Do not buy this kit. Do not perpetuate this laziness. Other new-tool Su-17s are on the horizon.
What’s So Wrong With It?
Before the evisceration continues, what does this kit get right?
- The surface detail is pretty well done. I wouldn’t call it best-of-the-best, but it holds up well against, say, Academy’s latest efforts.
- The cockpit detail is nice, particularly in the sidewalls and side consoles.
- The wings are wonderful subassemblies and downright sublime in how they come together and slot into the fuselage. The fit is so precise that I never had to glue them into the fuselage.
Unfortunately, these flashes of competence only serve to highlight the severe deficiencies presented by the rest of the kit.
Let’s go through them.
THE LANDING GEAR – Kits with shitty gear struts annoy me. Why? Because these are detail items usually added toward the end of a build, when things have already been painted, weathered and detailed out. Ideally, struts should lock in place in as close to a plug-and-play fashion as possible.
Kitty Hawk obviously has a different philosophy.
The main struts are fussy, with tiny location dimples that will not give something gentle like PVA enough purchase to hold the gear doors and other elements in place. They also have very shallow mounting posts, and the result is perhaps the wobbliest legs of any kit I’ve ever built. Look at this thing and it starts shivering. But hey – at least the marginal wheels fit onto the struts with authority.
The nose strut is a straight-up middle finger to the plug-and-play notion. Most “double-fork” gear struts are, since they typically want you to trap the wheel before gluing the forks in place. But Kitty Hawk goes one further. Instead of molding one fork into the main strut, it leaves BOTH of the forks separate. And gives you again, tiny location dimples with which to connect everything. The top of the forks sit too wide, and the bottom…well the “axle” halves are too wide and leave giant chasms on either side of the wheel.
If I were building this piece of shit for real, I would cut the axles, drill them out, build the fork, and then use metal rod for the axle. Cap the ends with some sheet styrene discs from a punch set.
THE PYLONS – this kit’s pylons can die in a fire. The instructions get the port and starboard pylons mixed up. The inboard and mid-wing pylons don’t just have mold seams on the surfaces where they join to the wings, they have fucking plateaus. That you have to shave down inside a concave surface.
The outboard pylons have shape issues coming over the hinge bulge in the wing gloves, and this causes them to lift away from the surface to either front or back depending on where you’re applying pressure. Force both sides down with anger and adhesives, and the bottom of the pylon curves – which will present problems when the arrow-straight sub-pylons go on.
THE PLAGUE OF SPRUE GATES, SPRUE NIBS AND EJECTOR PINS – if you tried to count the grains of sand on a beach, and then tried to count the number of sprue gates, sprue nibs and ejector pins in this kit, you’d probably end up with the same number.
Kitty Hawk loves its sprue gates like Michael Bay loves explosions. Put ’em everywhere, who cares? Tree falling over? Explosion! Convex, lipped mating surface? Sprue gates! Throw them over alignment tabs! Who cares?
Kitty Hawk is the honey badger of sprue gates. It doesn’t give a shit.
The ejector pins are just as bad, popping up in ridiculous places. Like, in tiny recessed holes that are supposed to mount to other parts.
And the thing is…someone had to put them there. Someone had to design the molds and think “yes, right there, that’ll do”.
THE INTAKE – most of this review has focused on engineering and fit, but with the intake, we get to rope accuracy into the case as well.
The intake is not only poorly engineered in three different ways – it’s also inaccurate.
First, there is a plainly, obviously visible location tab right underneath the shock cone. Yes, it can be removed. But it should not be there in the first place.
Second, the kit uses two tabs with little posts on them, on either side of the shock cone, to located into the fuselage. Ignoring the inaccuracy of this for the moment, the engineering is just poor. The tabs? They do nothing. The posts? They allow the shock cone to flop up and down in a way that shock cones just don’t. Why this approach? Why not locate the thing, at a minimum, vertically?
Third, and this applies not only to Kitty Hawk but to Eduard and Trumpeter as well. It is amazingly simple to engineer one of these nose intake/shock cone aircraft (MiG-21, Su-7, Su-9 etc) in such a way that the shock cone can be dropped in at the end of a build. There are many advantages to this – chief among them being the ability to easily paint the shock cone separately, and the ability to get into the intake for cleanup and painting without damaging said shock cone. But…no one does it unless you venture into aftermarketland.
Now, to the inaccuracy. The Kitty Hawk kit completely omits a very prominent feature of the Su-17 – the intake splitter.
The splitter not only mounts the shock cone, it also routes are around the cockpit and nosegear bay. Its inclusion would have hidden any location tabs. It would have given an easy way to provision for dropping the shock cone in late in the build. And…it would have been accurate.
Even the old KoPro kit has the intake splitter.
THE DORSAL SPINE – Sure, the six-piece fuselage is bad (we’ll get to that in a moment). But it obscures something almost as noxious. The five-piece dorsal spine.
That’s right. FIVE PIECES. Take that, left side/right siders! No longitudinal joins for you!
Every single section of the spine has something stupid and easily avoidable wrong with it.
The MID SPINE? Has a sprue gate that intrudes onto one of the location tabs. Why? The part’s probably around 1.5″ long. Surely they could have located that gate anywhere else?
The FORWARD SPINE? There’s a lip, where it comes down over the rear cockpit bulkhead, that intrudes with the bulkhead! This is a pretty right area to work in, and requires careful use of a micro-chisel, file, thin sanding sticks and lots of expletives to remove. Again – it’s not that it can’t be addressed. It’s that it shouldn’t have to be in the first place.
The REAR SPINE? There’s an interior bracing piece that runs straight across the bottom of the spine halves. A straight line over a curving fuselage.
Know what happens when you put a straight line over a curve?
No wonder the rear spine seemed to have trouble seating into place.
Two snips with the sprue cutters fixes the situation, but again, this kit is just a pile of shoddy engineering that builds frustration in a compound manner. One or two goofs, no big deal. Shit like this every step of the way? It’s basically the modeling equivalent of those slow-burning Chinese torture and execution methods…water torture, death by a thousand cuts, and the like.
THE FUSELAGE – Far and away the most obvious and most discussed deficiency of the kit is the atrocious six-piece fuselage. And these discussions have basically created a microcosm of the larger furor that’s been surrounding this kit. Basically, there seem to be three sides.
First, you have the horror-stricken. “WTF?”
Second, you have the there-must-be-a-reason types. “They must have done it this way to allow for multiple variants.”
And third, you have those who immediately pivot to basic modeling skills. “Just join them left and right first.”
Here are the objective facts about the fuselage pieces:
- The fuselage is divided into six parts, forming three sections. These are the front, extending from the nose back into the wing insert, the mid, encompassing the middle of the aircraft, and the rear, which extends basically from the speed brakes aft, and falls on the break line where the rear could be removed to service the engine.
- This will allow for the boxing of different variants, including those Su-22s that used different engines and thus had different rear sections, as well as the twin-seat UM models.
- The front and mid sections have a small lip to help with alignment.
- The mid and rear sections have no joining or locating provisions of any kind. It’s a butt join.
- The mid and rear sections have mismatched curvatures. The rear’s curve is shallower, and the top and bottom are taller than the mid section. You essentially have to squeeze the rear section from top and bottom to bring them into alignment.
Now, let’s get a bit subjective.
While the six-piece division will allow for multiple variants, it is perhaps the sloppiest, most pass-the-buck way of doing it. Somehow, other manufacturers manage to give us multiple variants of an aircraft without slicing it up like a sushi roll. Great Wall Hobby managed to throw down with whole new upper fuselages for their MiG-29 9-12, 9-13 and SMT. Hobby Boss is doing the same with their Su-27 variants, like the Su-30MKK and upcoming Su-27UB. When Revell moved on from their Bf 109G-6 to the G-10, they dropped whole new fuselage parts into the box.
And with modern injection molding, it’s entirely possible to keep things modular in the CAD and even the mold tooling stage, and then use inserts to turn those modular components into single-piece fuselage halves. This costs slightly more, but I would argue it would pay for itself in increased sales due to a better reputation.
Now. Let’s imagine that Kitty Hawk had no choice but to go with six pieces. It happens. In that case, one would think that they would put some kind of provision in place for locating the rear and mid fuselage sections. A lip, like the one assisting the front/mid join. Inserts to help locate. Anything. But they didn’t. There is literally nothing.
As to the third point, the old “basic modeling skills” saw – nobody is saying this kit can’t be built and built well. The “unbuildable” thing is a strawman, exactly as much as the “no perfect kit” argument.
A modeler’s skill (or more accurately, sets of skills) is critically important to any build, of any kit. But that is beyond the scope and point of this review. This review, like those preceding it, is focused on the kit. On what comes in the box and how well – or poorly – it does its job of being a model kit.
If you think you can take this kit and make something wonderful out of it, good for you!
But here’s the thing. There are many different modelers. There’s a broad range of skillsets and, yes, of preferences. What works for you may turn others away, and vice versa. They say there’s no accounting for taste. Well, there’s no accounting for the entire spectrum of people in this hobby, either.
What we can account for is the plastic that comes in a box that we can all purchase. That is what is under examination here. How well this kit does its job of being a kit. Nothing more, nothing less.
Compared to the old KoPro/etc kit, the Kitty Hawk is certainly more detailed and certainly wins in the wings game, where the KP kit is notoriously troublesome. But let’s be honest, that’s damning with faint praise. “Better than shit” does not equal good.
And compared to its contemporaries (and, likely, the competing new-tool Fitters on the horizon), the Kitty Hawk Su-17 falls well short in terms of engineering and fit.
If you want to build it anyway, that’s your business. As for me, I’m standing by my anti-recommendation. Don’t buy this kit. Don’t continue supporting Kitty Hawk’s slipshod engineering. It’s the only way they’ll ever change.
11 Comments Add yours
Why have you called it “1/48 Kinetic SU-17….”? 🙂
But thanks, Great review!
Yeah – oops – built post on the bones of the Kinetic Hornet review and proofing is not where my strengths lie.
Now, Young Doogs. I’ve been following this blog for a while and its become apparent that there is a gap in your essence of modelling and there are some disturbing traits starting to materialise.
You have an unholy obsession with panel lines and pre shading.
You don’t like the cradle of aviation (Kitty Hawk)
Fuckwits on the web don’t like you.
You have a potty mouth.
You know how to put big red arrows on picture’s, that alone is enough to warrant a visit from a phycologist
You abuse your equipment.. “Shut up compressor!!!!” . Imagine how the compressor feels?
When you do the video reviews you give the puppy dog look of despair were all the panel line, nose cone, decal issues are wearing you down. The magic of aviation seems to be sucking you dry.
Seeing a man like this on the edge I must step in before the burden of it all destroys a shining light of honesty, passion that is a beacon against the supplier sponsored “Highly Recommendeders” (I think that’s a word)
You Doogs need to build a SHIP.
Imagine the potential of all those small parts, photo etch and aftermarket stuff, HANDRAILS… that’s enough alone to give you a woody.
Do a big bastard like a 1/200 Missouri or the 1/350 Iwo Jima …YAMATO fuck yeah!!!!!
It will be grey
A maritime theme may reset your compass and give you back the mojo that is under threat.
Apart from that ..good site I like it makes me laugh
Shit man, I really feel sadness now too. Those compressor insults are really too much. We should send a paper to air compressor labor union regarding this
i really wish KH would take notice the complaints here because it looks like there is no progress in their shortcomings. now i can understand they are a new company etc. (at this point it’s an excuse, look at how far way trumpy came in a decade, so it can be done) but not improving, at least even attempting, taking care of the known issues with their design philosophy (couldn’t find a better word) is telling something else to me, a potential customer who’s micromanaging.
yes this very subject is really interesting to me, but no i will not be paying for any kit in this shape this much money, period.
but then again, how much of the sold kits are ever built, seriously? i do not have any demographics but i’m of the opinion that the amount of stashed/collected kits are probably heavily outweighing the built ones one way or the other…
Thank you for really thorough review. It must have taken a lot of time and money. They ask an incredible amout of cash for it. I´m highly interested in the type but I would consider long time before I would spend such a fortune for tamiya, not mentioning this semi-product.
Best Regards from Czech Republic.
I went against the grain and bought myself a couple KH Su-17. Now that I have that out of the way, I want to clarify a few things. I really appreciate that you buy kits, build them and give your honest opinion of them. Before you came around with this novel idea, we’ve only had the sprue inspection and the this-is-what-it-looks-fully-built picture bonanza. I thank you for this.
I am an engineer by trade and when I listen to what people like you have to say I don’t take your word for it. It’s input, not requirements. I gather from your rather complete review that there are shortcomings to this kit that you feel outweigh the benefits of it. The good stuff and bad stuff are data points. The consideration on what outweighs what is subjective, and that’s what I choose to make up my own mind on.
Now, back to the Su-17 from Kitty Hawk. Well, let’s back up to Kitty Hawk. I put up with them, pretty much for the same reason you’ve stated. It’s the only game in town for certain subjects. I can go get myself a 1:48th SAAB Gripen from Italeri and end up with something that is out of shape and proportion. Or I can go with a more complicated build with Kitty Hawk, but end up with a sample that looks much more like a miniature of the real thing.
Alright now, the Su-17 from Kitty Hawk. First off, the aged OEZ kit has gotten its fair share of love over the years. The nod from Eduard in the repackaging of it suggests that it’s still viable. I’d say not. We needed a new Su-17. Then it turns out that Hobby Boss is going to release one as well. I understand that there was some sort of rumor that a designer from HB went to KH and that HB kept his early work on the Su-17 and ran it. Otherwise KH may have been the only game in town — again. I like a kit that is easy to build. After all, I too don’t appreciate things that cost prime dollar and deliver subpar quallity. But we mustn’t forget that CAD and technological advancement isn’t everything. I point toward the old Monogram Su-25 which is a fairly decent representation of that subject. And you might also consider that it was made in a time when the Soviet Union was still restrictive on information about its war machines. OEZ did a much less stellar job in my opinion, yet that kit became all the rage for the Su-25.
I like the Su-17 from KH. Many people may not agree with me, but regardless of the poor design choices it builds up to a decent model. In agreement with you, there are modifications to make such as strengthening the landing gear and their mounts. I don’t like to have to do that kind of work if I don’t have to, but thanks to your review I can actually come away a winner with a good looking aircraft. I just chose to ignore your anti-recommendation. After all, the hobby as you say is a solitary activity. I don’t have an obligation to join the anti-KH revolution just because you said I shouldn’t support their shoddy workmanship. I bought it because I think it looks and sits right when built. The HB Su-17 will do VERY well if it comes near the correct shape and outline of the KH kit. That’s why I’ve pre-ordered a couple of those too and I look forward to the day I get my hands on them.
If the HB kits turn out to be worse than KH with shape and outlines, I’ll end up building them anyway. Perhaps the expected shape discrepancies won’t be so bad? Perhaps the HB engineering will be so much better than KH that whatever shortcomings the HB kit will end up having will weigh up against the KH kit? At the end of the day KH will probably improve if they survive. If they don’t, we’ll talk about their kits as we muse about the defunct (but once glorious) Monogram.
Happy building and from me, three thumbs up for KH Su-17.
First, the Fitter is a target. It has been ever since the Black Aces spanked Ghadafi’s Su-22s back in 1981 or so (Hey, they fired first!). The Fitter is a swing wing F-100 in a 21st Century World. That aside, the reality is that about half the cost of a kit is ordnance these days and that’s a bad deal for several reasons that are important to me as an Su-35 fan:
1. It’s inaccurate.
Most warplanes are user, variant and era specific as to which ordnance they can carry. You will NOT see an SPS-151 or ELINT pod on an export Fitter, even though they often carry a much more interesting camouflage or markings scheme. These home-use, high-end weaons are not often even seen on the WARPAC birds. That’s what Frontal Aviation was for, in Germany and Poland.
More than this, however; you will NEVER EVER EVER see an R-27 on an operational Fitter. Nor is it real likely that you will see an R-73 Archer. The Su-17/22 is a 1970s-80s strike airframe when the majority of self defense missiles were either Aphids (R-60) or Atolls (R-2). It doesn’t even have an Airborne Intercept radar to use BVR missiles. Similarly, you will not see the R-77 nor many of the KH-29 series standoff weapons. That’s a minimum of eight weapons which don’t even belong in a Fitter box.
Aircraft load for mission roles which is to say specific ordnance for specific tasks. They will mix PGMs (GBU-12/38 is a good example) and even racks (BRU-33/57) within the roles like OBAS or CAS. But not the missions (HARM as SEAD basically requires at least two long range shots, even if your wingman is configured as a precision strike clean up crew for the rest of the battery site vehicles).
Since some missions are cooler than others, this mean a lot of the WWII era bomb variants are going to be left off of ANY MODEL. Even if you have a case of those awful prototype Monogram Su-25s from way back when.
2. It’s environmentally wasteful.
Seriously, you may build every one of those munitions, stick them atop scale wooden blocks and do an airshow layout on a base. But there are still going to be a ton of sprues that are going to the dump for no reason.
3. It kills your market access.
People build Su-27s because they are cool looking, as good or better than the F-15/16 and in the contemporary news a lot. They don’t build as many Fitters, Fencers or Floggers unless Russian Air is their thing because most don’t even know that we have fought Floggers and Fitters over the Gulf Of Sidra. That’s a niche of a niche you’re serving. A few thousand modelers at most. This means bits and bobs extras are not as useful as say a Hasegawa Set A-E might be, at least in America. While the high end MSRP costs that derive from having 300% of the weapons load the jet could actually carry, per sortie, is driving away potential impulse customers that just like the box art.
4. It’s Lethally Stupid To Insult Your Customer Base.
Which is what happens when a manufacturer thinks he can pull a fast one and include a little bit of everything as a _common sprue_ to all kits of a given era/nationality. This never works. Both because the modeler seldom gets the numbers needed (six KH-31 on a SEAD configured Su-34, not two, ten R-77 on a BVR configured Su-35, not two), and because you are insulting the intelligence of people who are detail centric SMEs on the subject AND charging them top ticket prices for the privilege, you again drive away potential buyers who look at the aftermarket adjusted prices of 150+ dollars and cringe.
The Kittyhawk Su-35 has the Su-17 weapons sprues in it. The Kittyhawk Su-35 has a boxart with ten R-77s on it. The Su-17/35 weapons sprues have 2 R-77s in them and they are not even (AIM-120B/C equivalent) accurate to the latest models of the Adder now in service. The GDV or Gas Declination Vanes (boxkite tails) that so set apart the R-77 are in fact an evolutionary dead end. Like a biplane, they have huge lift in the turn and so can be deflected to lower AOAs (less drag, lower actuator power) for a given expected maneuver condition. But in _Cruise Flight_ they have MORE drag, from all that presented frontal area. Which means the other guy wins the F-Pole as constant Mach fight. And so modern K-77Ms are now conventionally tailed. Have been for years.
As a side note, the only reason the boxtails came into existence was because the MiG-1.44 expected to have to fold fins to fit them internally and this allowed aerodynamic forces to snap them into locked place while providing maximum effective turn G at a rather substantial penalty in range (there are no folding fin AMRAAMs because we found it too hard to get a 60G missile with hinged fins…). When the MFI project was still born, the necessity for fully compressed carriage went with it, the PAK-FA has a different weapon bay configuration.
What does this mean to a modeler? On a kit with nominally two of the required missiles, to get the boxart rendering of ten weapons (which all look alike in terms of detai finesse) requires THREE Brassin sets of four missies (also inaccurate) at roughly 36 dollars, plus shipping. On a seventy dollar model, you have now jumped to 100+ for a kit that has nominally 30% of it’s sprues in ordnance that is **useless** (SPPU-22 gunpods, on a Flanker, really? Really?).
In many places and times (AMT F-4G using the Testors F-4G as boxart buildup because it had slats) this would be called fraud.
Nor do you get things like the Ideliye 810, Phoenix Class, LRAAAM. Or the SAP-514/518 jammer pods. Both of which are crucial add-ons to the effectiveness of the Su-35 as a high altitude air superiority mission platform, operating in a PAC-3 or SM-6 threat environment. Such weapons are not and never will be mounted on an Su-22 but they are proof that the manufacturers acknowledge that the Su-35 is a DEVELOPED VERSION of the Su-27, intended for post-2020 warfare, not 1980s combat.
Fortunately, there is a way past all of this:
A. Include slots in the pylons and rails/racks for Neodymium permanent magnets. These suckers can be half a millimeter across and hold a 5+ ounces in weight. If you grow tired of looking at a CAS configured jet, load up air to air. This is the SOLE REASON to have so much munitions in a kit when the real jet couldn’t carry half of them on a single mission.
B. Include an Authcode for a website that lets you order ordnance by types and numbers accurate to the loadout you are trying to replicate. Say the code is worth 30 dollars plus free shipping with each set of 2-4 munitions have a value of 5 bucks. Now, with your authcode entered, you can order what you want your jet to be missionized as with individualized ordnance and get them, free of charge, a week or two later.
Moreover, if you want more weapons for the same kit or another one, you can simply purchase them as an AM addon, like any other weapons set. Except that all the money goes back to the original manufacturer which means they have incentive to tool new gear as it is introduced to the airframe or ‘suggestions welcome!’ asked for. Cheaply.
And thus new weapons can be added without having to reissue the kit while, if you snip-snip remove them from the sprues to compress shipping volumes, you can put the sprues back into the smelter and reuse.
Perhaps most importantly, since the sprues are not in the box, the weight-by-volume costs for unused plastic goes back towards a sane level of 40-50 bucks, similar to Hasegawa 1980s prices. Reexpanding your market base. If there is no need for an (inaccurate) Su-35 spread of weapons, then those included on the Su-17 can be more relevant to it as well.
Su-35 with wingtip SAP-518 SPJs
SAP-514 Escort Jammer
PAK-FA Layout, Russian AF Armaments Of The Future (Applicable To Su-35)
Thanks for saving me some cash.