Following an unfulfilled order for Finland, the Letov ä.328 was developed for the Czechoslovak Army Air Force. The prototype first flew in 1932 and the type was ordered in 1934, with the aircraft entering service the following year. Almost 460 were built, including night fighter and seaplane variants. Powered by a licence-built Pegasus radial engine, the Letov saw service throughout the rest of the 1930s and, following the German occupation, the surviving aircraft flew with the Luftwaffe as well as Slovak and Bulgarian forces. The aircraft saw considerable service on the Eastern front on anti-partisan sorties, combating night-harassment raids by PO-2s and flying ground-attack missions themselves. Near the end of the war, many Slovak Letov crews defected to the Soviets and flew their aircraft against their former Nazi comrades.
My interest had been piqued once more by the eye-catching boxtop of Planet Models' 1/48 scale resin kit and now, thoroughly sold on the idea of the aircraft, I wasted no time ordering the kit on-line from Modelimex
. (As a brief aside, I must say how impressed I was with Modelimex's mail order service. The price was somewhat cheaper than elsewhere (always a help!) and every item is listed with an estimate of the availability if if it's not already in stock. But more important, from the point of reassurance, was the excellent way they process and track the order, with a priority e-mail when the order was shipped and their request that you confirm safe delivery of the item. Such concern for good service is testimony of the way Modelimex value their customers.)
Back to the kit, which arrives in Planet Models' familiar style of end-opening box, with the parts sealed in a roll of clear plastic pouches. This is fine for shipping the parts, but I much prefer the individual zip-lock bags used for their recent Avia B-35.1, which allow you to repack the parts after you've checked them. The kit consists of:
93 x beige resin parts
4 x parts cast in a more rigid black resin
1 x vacuformed windscreen (plus spare)
46 x etched brass parts
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
The casting is excellent, well up to the high standard I've grown to expect from Planet Models in their latest releases. The only tiny flaw I found was a small bubble in one internal stringer - an insignificant point that will be easy to fix. The major parts arrive already separated from their casting blocks and, at the risk of being unfair to such a fine kit, the positioning of one of the pour-stubs is really thoughtless, falling right across some delicate detail. Surface detail consists of beautifully scribed panels and an excellent depiction of fabric surfaces along with one or two raised panels.
A test fit of the fuselage halves shows a very precise fit and the model is going to build in a large and surprisingly "beefy" biplane. Obviously a test fit isn't feasible, but the lower wings seem a good match for the roots in terms of airfoil and chord. They are a simple butt-joint, so adding extra metal pins could be a good idea to ensure a strong, stable joint. This is also true for the top wing, which is made up of 3 separate panels. This model is definitely a contender for being built in a jig to keep everything straight and true during assembly. In terms of accuracy , I must admit I have absolutely no idea beyond the aforementioned Scale Models review, which included a set of 1/72 scale plans reproduced from a Polish magazine of the time, plus one or two poor quality photos and colour profiles in other publications. With such a dearth of reliable references, I'm perfectly happy to go with the kit as supplied.
Some idea of the complexity of the kit is obvious as soon as you see that the assembly instructions take up 7 sides of A-4 paper. The diagrams are very neatly drawn, with each section broken down into manageable chunks - 21 stages in all. Colours are indicated for most parts throughout assembly and there are a number of scrap views included included along the way. The only real omission is any form of rigging diagram, so you're left to rely on the boxtop picture to try to figure things out.
The high parts-count is down to the interior, which is really superbly detailed. With the large open cockpits positioned well behind the upper wing, this is really going to be a focus of attention and almost 70 parts go into this area, making it one of the most detailed cockpits I've found in a kit of this nature. The pilot's seat alone is made up from 8 parts, plus a further 6 for the etched harness. There's a choice of instrument panels - a well detailed resin item or a multi-layered etched version - while the observer's machine guns are built from 9 parts, combining resin and etched details to great effect. Add a 10-part camera/mount and it's clear that the interior is really a model in its own right!
The Pegasus engine is similarly well done, with a neat one-piece cowling showing off the finely detailed radial engine to which are added 18 delicate push rods and an exhaust ring. Almost amazingly, all the push rods were perfectly cast and arrived intact.
Once the interior is installed, the actual airframe looks reasonably straightforward but, as noted earlier, an assembly jig is definitely recommended. The undercarriage struts are cast in a more rigid black resin, which seems an excellent idea, but I'd have also liked to see it extended to the interplane struts as well. Ironically, these stronger struts are the only ones in my kit which will need straightening carefully in hot water - their weaker counterparts are perfect! The upper wing is going to be quite heavy when assembled, so only time will tell if the standard resin struts are up to the job of supporting it in the long term. To be on the safe side, builders may choose to replace at least the cabane struts with scratchbuilt metal items for extra peace of mind.
Underwing WZ 30 gun packs are included, but the instructions don't show barrels for either these or the guns mounted in the wings themselves. One minor disappointment, considering the level of internal detail and the inclusion of etched external items such as handholds, trim-tab actuators and a very neat gunsight, is that no light bombs or racks provided.
Painting and decals
The kit contains a large decal sheet with markings for two aircraft:
Letov ä.328.71, 91st Heavy Fighter Squadron, Flight Regiment 6, Czechoslovakian Army Air Force, Prague 1938. Khaki topsides and silver-grey undersides.
Letov ä.328148, Combined Flight of the 1st Czechoslovakian Army in the Slovak National Revolt, August 1944. Khaki topsides, pale blue undersides, with yellow tactical markings remaining from its former service on the Eastern Front. A colour profile in the old Salamander Books' "Combat Aircraft of WW2" shows the same aircraft in Axis service and, with a bit of crafty cutting, it might be possible to combine the two sets of national markings included with the kit to model the aircraft at that stage of its career.
The decals are excellent; thin and glossy, printed in perfect register with minimal carrier film.
Planet Models' Letov ä.328 will build into a large, impressive model which is sure to turn heads at clubs and shows. It's certainly not a model for beginners, with a combination of a complex interior and biplane construction, but if you have a bit of experience working with resin kits and you're looking for an unusual model of an important but largely overlooked WW2 aircraft, this could be just the thing. Resin kits are inevitably rather more expensive than mass-produced items, but the price of the Letov seems very fair for such a well produced model. Highly recommended.
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