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.