Review – Zvezda 1/48 Yakovlev Yak-3

A few years ago, Russian kitmaker Zvezda released a 1/48 Lavochkin La-5FN (soon followed by the earlier La-5), sparking a complete re-evaluation of their reputation and kicking off what’s become a more-or-less steady trickle of new-tool VVS subjects. Considering the dire state of the Soviet VVS in 1/48 scale, even this trickle is a blessing for fans of World War II-era Soviet aviation.

The La-5 kits were – and still are – remarkable kits, packed full of detail and possessed of an intricate build process that would make Accurate Miniatures proud.

Ever since the La-5s, however, Zvezda has wandered off the VVS track and into Luftwaffe territory with the Bf 109F-2 and the recently released F-4.

Now, they’re back, and with the one aircraft that might give the La-5 a run for the title of best Soviet fighter of the war – the Yakovlev Yak-3.

How does this new Yak stack up? Read on…

The Yakovlev Yak-3

The story of the Yak-3 begins with the Messerschmitt Bf 109. When the German fighter made its debut in the 1930s, it sparked a modernization effort throughout Europe. The Soviet Union, realizing its Poplikarov I-16 was hopelessly outmatched, rolled the dice with three different fighter designs – the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3, the Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 and the Yakovlev Yak-1. The Yak-1 was probably the best-regarded of the three, but its wood construction added weight and degraded performance against the Luftwaffe’s 109s.

In 1943, Yakovlev took the Yak-1 as a base to create the Yak-1M, a smaller, lighter variant with improved aerodynamics, armor and engine cooling. The chief test pilot of the Yak-1M prototype was so impressed that he recommended that it should replace the Yak-1 and Yak-7. That’s exactly what happened. Redesignated the Yak-3, the new fighter entered service in the summer of 1944.

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During its service tests, the Yak-3 proved itself with an authority matched only by the Grumman F6F Hellcat in the Pacific. From June-July 1944, the Yak-3 flew 431 missions with the 91st IAP of the 2nd Air Army, where it shot down twenty Luftwaffe fighters and three Ju 87 Stukas to a loss of just two Yaks. In one dogfight on June 16th, 18 Yak-3s took on a mixed force of 24 German 109s and Fw 190s. They shot down 15 of them, losing only one Yak-3 in the process.

The Yak was so fearsome that the Luftwaffe subsequently issued orders to “avoid combat with Yak fighters without an oil cooler under the nose and with an inclined aerial mast below 5000 m”. The Yak-3 didn’t have an aerial mast, but still…dang!

Not only feared by its enemies, the Yak-3 was beloved by its pilots for its speed, maneuverability, and ease of operation. Again, like the Hellcat, it was a forgiving aircraft that could turn rookies into aces with aplomb.

Marcel Albert, the top French ace of World War II, who flew the Yak-3 with the Normandie-Niemen, considered it the best fighter of the war and superior to both the P-51 Mustang and the Spitfire.

The Kit

Zvezda’s Yak-3 comes in your standard lift-off box featuring some attractive box art marred by the usual Zvezda branding elements.

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When you remove the top, there’s a nice surprise. A clamshell cover to further protect the kit from crushing. I’ve seen this on larger kits like the HK Models B-25, but never on one of this size. Nice touch, although one marred slightly by the fact that none of the sprues are bagged.

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The kit itself is spread across four sprues – three of Zvezda’s soft gray plastic, and one clear sprue for the canopy.

The first sprue contains, more or less, the entire fuselage. This includes the fuselage halves, the two different approaches to the engine/cowl area, the radiator scoop, propeller, gear doors, tailwheel, exhausts and so on.

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The propeller, frustratingly, is molded to the spinner cap, meaning you’re going to be in for some masking challenges when it comes time to paint.

The detail on the fuselage halves and the cowl panels is crisp and refined, and the fabric surface of the rudder is subtle, a refreshing change from many kits that tend to flub this aspect across a range of subjects.

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The instrument panel, too, is well done if somewhat simple. A decal is provided for the gauges, though I would be tempted to punch out and place the gauges individually rather than as a single unit.

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The next sprue is dominated by the horizontal surfaces – the wings and stabilizers, as well as the upper cowl, wheels, and some other small bits.

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The two-piece wing is an interesting design that would have you join the wing, then plop the fuselage down on top of it. This can pose some problems, but it also ensures proper dihedral and removes any possibility of wingroot gaps.

Even though there’s not much detail to be had – the Yak-3’s mostly plywood skin makes for a dearth of surface detail – what’s there is excellent and a massive improvement over the soft, wide detailing on the old Eduard kit.

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The metal areas, around the cowl and cockpit, and aft of the gear bays on the underside of the wings, show off some well-done rivet detail. Sadly there is no option to deploy the flaps, but I have to imagine Eduard is probably working up a photo etch detail set as I write this.

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The last gray sprue contains the Klimov VK-105 inline engine and a rather well-done pilot figure. Both are optional to the build, but both are also good enough that there should be no need to go seek aftermarket assistance.

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The clear parts are clear and a massive improvement over the somewhat thick and foggy elements of the La-5 kits. One particular item of interest is the way Zvezda handles the problem of posing the canopy open or closed. Some manufacturers tackle this by providing you with two canopies, one designed to be used in the close position, the other opened up. Zvezda goes in a different direction. The sliding portion of the canopy remains the same, and instead they provide two different rear elements.

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The Instructions

In my past experience, Zvezda’s instructions have been a bag of hurt. Not so with the Yak-3. Though crowded with various languages, the instructions themselves are clear and easy to follow. They also – in keeping with past experiences with Zvezda – continue to follow different build versions. For the Yak-3, you can choose to build it opened up with the engine and UBS machine guns exposed, closed up and on the ground, or closed up and in flight.

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The instructions help keep you sorted throughout…though honestly you don’t really have to choose which build version you’re going to do until you get close to paint. Well, unless you want to pose it in flight, in which case you’ll need to commit to the pilot early on.

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One aspect of the build that I find really fascinating is how the engine/cowl is handled. Perhaps due to complaints with the La-5’s complicated forward assembly, the Yak is a model of simplicity. If you want the engine exposed, you just install the engine. If you want it closed up, it’s a simple matter of placing three cowl pieces (two halves and the upper gun deck). No messing about trying to fit cowl panels over an undersized engine…I have to admit for 1/48 scale I really prefer this either/or approach quite a bit!

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Markings

The Zvezda kit comes with markings for three Yak-3s, two Soviet VVS aircraft and, as seems the case with any Yak-3 release, the obligatory Normandie-Niemen scheme.

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The decals look decent, but not stunning, and this is definitely a case where I would recommend seeking out some aftermarket markings (Authentic Decals makes an epic Yak-3 sheet covering something like fifteen aircraft).

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Test-Fit

The Yak is a much, much simpler kit than Zvezda’s La-5s and 109Fs, which definitely made my job of test fitting the thing far easier.

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Overall, everything fits and looks appropriately Yak-ish, though I will stress that it doesn’t hold itself together with pressure the way the La-5s do. That goes a long way toward explaining the gaps you see where the fuselage meets the wing and where the cowl meets  the fuselage. With some glue, these areas would mesh fine.

The only exception is the gun deck, which seems slightly too long. Nothing some quality time with a sanding stick couldn’t address.

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The Verdict

What’s there to say? Zvezda’s Yak-3 is an excellent kit of the vaunted Soviet dogfighter. It’s not as ambitious in its engineering as their La-5s or Bf 109s, but then it doesn’t really need to be – the Yak-3 is a pretty simple aircraft.

I do think the decals could have been more impressive, and there are some small details I would consider replacing with aftermarket – namely the wheels and exhausts (which aren’t hollowed out).

My only major quibble is that this kit isn’t 1/32 scale. But then, that’s my quibble for most all Soviet VVS kits. Manufacturers, if you’re listening, there’s a great gaping hole there waiting to be filled!

Highly recommended.

My sincere thanks to my own wallet for providing this review kit.

More Soviet VVS Kits!

I’ve ranted before about the piss-poor representation that the Soviet VVS has in the modeling world, particularly in 1/48 and 1/32 scales.

While things are still bad, I have to admit a certain tide seems to be turning. Around the time I came back to the hobby, Zvezda made some major waves with its wonderful Lavochkin La-5 and La-5FN. After that, the world went back to Mustangs and Spitfires and Bf 109s, until the summer of 2012, when Tamiya surprised everyone with an epic Ilyushin Il-2M3.

Around the same time, a new player, Xuntong Model, came out of nowhere (well…China) and made its debut with a 1/48 Tupolev Tu-2T (read the review).

In 2013, it looks like the VVS love is continuing! While the company appears phenomenally poor at communicating new releases, Xuntong has wasted no time in rolling out the really appetizing Tu-2s – the Tu-2VS and the ASh-82FN-powered Tu-2S. If the Tu-2T is anything to go by, these should be very solid kits, and bargains for the $30 or so they’re going for over at Lucky Model.

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Tu-2VSBox2

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But wait…there’s more!

In addition to the two new Tupes, Zvezda is heading back to its Russian roots with an honest-to-goodness new-tool 1/48 Yak-3. As one who’s build the Eduard/Gavia kit, I’m flippin’ over the moon about this!

All three Ruskies are currently heading my way by various shippers, so stay tuned for some reviews in the near future!

 

 

1/48 Hobby Boss Me 262A-1a/U4 Part I – Cockpit

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PART I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Before diving into the cockpit, I decided to kick off the 262 by cutting off the barrel of the kit’s 50mm cannon and make sure the Master replacement fit. It did! And it’s such a massive leap over the kit parts – more on that later –  that I’d go so far as to call it a mandatory with this subject (unless you want to put a cover over the flash suppressor…but where’s the fun in that?).

Moving on to the cockpit, after I prepped any necessary parts for the coming Eduard photo etch, I sprayed everything black, then went back over with RLM 66 for the space inside the cockpit tub, and Alclad Duraluminum for the parts and areas visible through the wheel wells.

Next, I painted the nose gear well Gunze RLM 02 and set about adding Eduard’s photo etch set.I also added some wiring to the back of the instrument panel, since it’s visible through the front windscreen.

Weathering was done by drybrushing Model Master Dunkelgrau and then applying some Flory Light Dirt wash.

In the gear bays, I painted a few accessory parts and placed Eduard’s pretty slick wiring looms. I’m typically not a fan of PE wiring, since it’s flat, but it works well in the Me 262 gear bays since it’s pretty buried and you can’t really look at it from more than one angle.

Everything was given a wash of raw umber artist oil.

And that’s really about it. The Hobby Boss Me 262 is a nice, well-detailed, but on the whole relatively simple kit.

If I were to do it again, I might consider going with a resin cockpit instead of the Eduard photo etch, but honestly once the fuselage is closed up, you don’t see all that much.

PART I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

On the Bench: Eduard 1/48 Fw 190F-8

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I’ve been jumping all over the place regarding which Fw 190 I wanted to build for the Fw 190 Group Build being hosted over on Finescale. Literally, all over the place, from 1/48 to 1/32, from Tamiya to Hobby Boss to Hasegawa to Eduard, from an A-5 to an A-7 to an A-8/R2, F-8 and D-9.

Shortly before the new year, I settled on a 1/48 Tamiya F-8, but that’s quickly gone haywire as the Eduard photo etch for it was a rare mess. So instead of throwing good money after bad on an old kit, I’m switching gears to Eduard’s F-8 kit.

The Eduard kit is far more complete than the old Tamiya boxing, with much finer details (surface rivets, PE fins for various bombs and rockets, etc), but I’ve heard some nasty horror stories about getting it all together. We’ll see I guess!

On the Bench: 1/48 Hobby Boss Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a/U4

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For the new year, the Scale Plastic & Rail forums are hosting a Messerschmitt group build that’s been gaining some crazy interest.

My first thought, as I started pondering which Bf 109 I was going to build, was “there goes my resolution” – as for 2013 I’m planning to step back from World War II props to play in some different genres. Then, seeing a few people planning 262s, I started researching them a bit, and kind of fell into the rabbit hole.

The Me 262A-1a/U4

I’m not going to bother recounting the full history of the Messerschmitt Me 262. If you’re reading this blog, you’re no doubt already familiar with the first operational jet fighter and its significance. Instead, I’ll briefly touch on the U4 variant.

The U4 was designed to do one thing and do it extremely well – destroy allied bombers. To that end it was equipped with a massive 50mm autocannon that could fire more than 40 rounds per minute. Of course, it was only equipped with 22 rounds, so it had to make each shot count. But a 2-inch gun isn’t far off from what many tanks were packing at the start of the war, and contained enough kinetic energy to make things really, really bad for anything unlucky enough to get in its way.

Ultimately, the U4 came at least a year too late to make an appreciable difference, and only two prototypes were built by the time the Messerschmitt plant at Augsburg was captured by advancing American forces on April 29, 1945.

V083 was named “Wilma Jeanne” after the wife of Colonel Harold Watson, who had been sent to oversee an operation to retrieve advanced technology from Messerschmitt and transport it back to the US. “Wilma Jeanne” was taken on several test flights by Messerschmitt test pilot Karl Baur, and her massive armament was fired on the ground range, where apparently the U.S. team was amazed at the effectiveness of the gun’s recoil system.

“Wilma Jeanne” – later renamed “Happy Hunter II” – was soon thereafter lost when a turbine blade failed during a ferry flight to Cherbourg.

The Kit

I’ll be building Hobby Boss’ 1/48 Me 262A-1a/U4, which by the accounts I’ve managed to find is a great kit. It should be, since it draws its lineage from Trumpeter’s 1/32 Me 262, which has a reputation as the best Schwalbe in any scale. The kit helpfully includes markings for “Wilma Jeanne”, though it appears from online perusals that they didn’t bother with the US stars and bars that were painted over the German crosses on the fuselage. I’m sure I can find some that will suffice…

Aftermarket Items

It’s tough for me to build out of the box, and this time around I’m not even trying. There’s too much fun to be had in aftermarket land, particularly with that giant cannon in the nose.

First up is a set of Aires wheels and wheel masks. I was very impressed with the Aires wheels I used on my Swiss 109, so had no qualms going with these.

 

Next up – photo etch and canopy masking from Eduard.

And last, but certainly not at all anywhere near least, a metal Mk 214 5cm Bordkanone from Master:

Stay tuned – I’m focused on the P-47 right now, and the 262 was only ordered today…but it should be here by the end of the week.

 

2012 Year in Review

Is it just me, or has 2012 flown by? On a personal front, the year of the apocalypse that wasn’t saw a major job change and the terrifying/exciting news that Mrs. Doogs and I are expecting offspring #3, due in March of this next year.

On the modeling front, this year hasn’t been as productive as I’d hoped, in large part due to several larger, lengthy projects. But still…it has been a year of learning, stretching and improvement. Four of my builds placed in area contests this year, and one of them took the top spot in its category – twice!

So what all did I get done? Here are the stats:

  • Total Completed Builds – 11
  • Average Build Time – 52 days
  • Longest Build – HK Models B-25J Mitchell – 93 days
  • Shortest Build – Eduard 1/144 MiG-21MFs – 14 days
  • Scale Breakdown – 6 x 1/48, 3 x 1/32, 2 x 1/144
  • Contest Wins – Two firsts, two seconds, two thirds

And here are the kits:

1/48 Tamiya P-47D-20 Thunderbolt – “Magic Carpet” – February

I’ve wanted to build the distinctive “Magic Carpet” ever since seeing it on the Dogfights episode “The Legend of Y-29”, and the Tamiya kit was the perfect platform for the build. Others seem to like it as well – “Magic Carpet” took first place in 1/48 Allied Props TWICE this year. Once in San Antonio, after a marathon session to finish it up in time, and once in Austin.

1/48 Revell P-47D-20 Thunderbolt – “The Bug” – February

Build alongside “Magic Carpet”, the Revellogram P-47 is the inverse of the Tamiya in many ways, and that’s kind of why I love it. Both represent the far ends of the Jug spectrum, and both have their appeal. I like the Tamiya more, but still hold massive love for the archaic Monogram tooling.

1/32 Pacific Coast Models Fiat G.55 Centauro – March

This sucker represented a ton of firsts. First limited run kit. First Italian aircraft. First scratchbuilt flaps. First cut and posed tail surfaces. It wasn’t a perfect kit by any means, but I daresay it’s the most fun I’ve had at the bench this year.

The Fiat took second place in 1/32 props at the Austin contest in the fall of 2012.

1/48 Hasegawa N1K1-Ja Shiden “George” – April

Tackled as a “recharge” build, the N1K1 was a quick-building, highly competent kit that was a great way for me to cut my teeth on Japanese aircraft and experiment with some weathering techniques.

1/48 Revell PV-1 Ventura – May

Revell’s new-tool kits really are something to behold, especially considering their low price points, and the Ventura typifies the very good engineering and general attention to detail. While I felt the kit fell down in some places (guns, wheels, other small details), it got the main airframe engineering exceptionally right.

The Peevee was deemed awesome enough that it scored second place among 1/48 large props at the Austin contest this past fall.

1/48 Tamiya Dewoitine D.520 – August

After some disastrous start/stops with several massive kits, I decided I needed something a bit more brainless, and so I reached for the D.520 as a quick build with an awesome paint scheme. And it turned out to be – mostly – a whole lot of fun. Excellent practice for painting and weathering, if I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the way the landing gear went together.

The D.520 took 3rd in 1/48 Allied Props at the Austin show this past fall.

1/48 Tamiya P-51B Mustang – “The Hun Hunter ~ Texas” – August

Lt. Henry Brown’s “The Hun Hunter ~ Texas” was another of those “must-build” kits, not just because of the Texas connection, or Brown’s crazy exploits, but also the standout RAF dark green over bare metal scheme. This one was a relatively fast and satisfying build.

1/32 HK Models B-25J Mitchell – “Bottoms Up II” – October

What’s there to say about this one? It was one intense build that I feel resulted in one of my best completes to date. It stretched me in many different ways, and probably ruined me on any further commission builds after the way FedEx crunched it.

1/144 Eduard MiG-21MF – Czech Air Force & Polish Air Force – December

These two wee MiGs were the perfect distraction from the big, 1/32 kits occupying my bench. If you’ve never broken away and built something totally random, there are a lot worse places to go than to these excellent 1/144 kits from Eduard (heck…you get two kits in the box!).

1/32 Hasegawa Bf 109G – Swiss Air Force – December

Ever since I first saw a 109 sporting the Swiss neutrality stripes, I just had to build one. This was an interesting build and one that I think holds together better at a distance, both due to the blandness of the Hasegawa kit and my own shortcomings in the finish-out.

Now…on to 2013!

1/32 Hasegawa Bf 109G-6 Part III – Painting

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Part I | Part IIPART III | Part IV

The Swiss 109 has been built, puttied, sanded, primed and made ready for paint. Time to do it to it!

Candy Canes

After laying down a black base (Tamiya X-1), I sprayed the white for the wings and rudder, using my trusty Gunze Mr. Color C69 Offwhite.

Knowing that the visual clutter of colors on this bird will knock down any changes in contrast among the white, I didn’t go for 100% even coverage, and stopped probably one or two passes short of where my mind wanted me to.

I wanted to wait for the wings to cure before masking them for the neutrality stripes, but the rudder was fair game, so I put down the masks for the rudder crosses (courtesy of Joe at Scale Precision Masks) and then sprayed the red.

After giving the white a night to cure up, I masked the candy canes. The Victory Productions decal sheet I used for inspiration gave the stripes some absurdly exact widths…down to hundredths of a millimeter. Being human, I opted for straight-up millimeters – 40mm for the big cross patches, and 15mm for the stripes. I cut these first on post-it notes to see how it would all lay out, then used them as masking guides.

Once I had the stripes masked…using my preferred method of a strip on top and a strip on bottom, pinched together at the leading edges of the wings, I placed the big Swiss crosses. This is my second build using vinyl paint masks, and for 1/32 I can’t recommend them highly enough.

With the masking done, the red was shot, and the masks removed.

Even with just the red laid down, you can already see how the local contrast of the white has flattened out.

Camoflage

With the wing stripes painted, I masked everything off and painted the undersides with Gunze RLM 65. This went down a bit weird – I think there might have been an issue with the Tamiya X-1 I put down as a base.

Once this set, I masked it as well, and moved on to the upper camoflage. This called for a brown somewhat like RAF Dark Earth, which didn’t seem right to me, as the pictures of this plane show a far lighter shade, so I cut it with some RLM 79 Sandgelb and C69 Offwhite.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the shade. I think good, rich browns are still one of my bigger stumbling blocks as a modeler.

Moving on to the green – the Victory sheet calls this out as being very close to RLM 70 Black Green, which I tried momentarily and yeah, no way. I switched to RLM 80 Olivegrun and freehanded it with my Iwata HP-C+.

Even with the green, the brown felt somewhat washed out and sickly, so I sprayed a filter coat of Tamiya Clear Orange to warm things up a bit, then removed the masking and applied the fuselage stencils (also courtesy of Scale Precision Masks).

And with that, principal painting wrapped up.

Part I | Part II | PART III | Part IV