by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Background The MiG-21SMT (NATO "Fishbed-K") was the result of a modernisation programme to equip the 1950s-vintage fighter for life in the '70s. The initials "SMT" stood for:
S = Sapfir (referring to the Sapfir-21/RP-22 radar).
M = Modernizirovannyy ("Modernised")
T = Toplivo ("Fuel," referring to increased fuel capacity)
The obvious distinguishing feature is the enlarged fuselage spine which housed an extra fuel tank. Long gone were the nimble lines of the original design – instead, the 'SMT had a stocky, pugnacious, look which might, more unflatteringly, be called "middle-age spread".
Although the aircraft's range was improved, the modification seems to have had too adverse an effect on performance overall, and the 'SMT was only produced during 1971 and '72. The type was unpopular with Soviet pilots, and the 'ST which followed it into production reverted to a smaller saddle tank. Despite this, the MiG-21SMT soldiered on throughout the '70s and '80s – a classic Cold War fighter to the end.
The kitHaving spent the previous few months not being able to devote time to model projects, it was something of a gamble when Andy Brazier agreed to let me do a review-build of Eduard's MiG-21SMT.
Now, as anyone who knows me knows - I don't really "do" modern jets. In fact, I realised I hadn't built a MiG-21 since the original Airfix kit in the 1960s! So Eduard's MiG was going to be an extra challenge on many levels. But there's definitely a lot to be said for building something that's outside your "comfort zone" once in a while - at least that's what I'm told...
Any qualms evaporated with one look inside the box. The kit is beautifully presented with all the sprues and accessories bagged separately. With 8 main sprues, plus clear parts, Brassin parts, etched frets and masks, it really just begs to be built. The kit comprises:
413 x dark grey styrene parts (54 unused)
24 x clear styrene parts (12 unused)
10 x Brassin parts
70 x etched items (some pre-painted)
A 20-page instruction booklet
Decals for 5 x colour schemes
That's quite a package – but if the number of parts appears daunting, take heart - about half of them are devoted to the weapons so, unless you intend to build every last bomb and rocket to display, the build is much more manageable.
The moulding is excellent, with no flash worth mentioning and no sink marks to worry about. The surface finish comprises finely engraved panel lines and fasteners, with a few raised details.
A test fit was very encouraging - surprisingly so, in fact, seeing as the fuselage is a multi-part assembly and a large section of the belly is integral with a one-piece lower wings panel. It all dovetails together with a minimum of fuss and promises a hassle-free build.
AssemblyAnd so to work. The steps aren't numbered, but the sequence is pretty logical. I'll note any points where I strayed from Eduard's suggested order of assembly.
Construction begins with the cockpit tub, which doubles as the nose-wheel well. Construction is pretty simple, and you have a choice of etched or styrene instrument panels and side consoles. For me, the pre-painted etched parts were simply too good to pass by, as the detail is quite superb. Using them immediately introduces a hurdle to cross though, as you have to match the distinctive vivid turquoise of the Russian interior. Eduard suggest using Gunze Sangyo H46 Emerald Green, but not having a pot to hand I checked an on-line paint chart and the colour there looked absolutely nothing like the etched parts. Wanting to get on with the build with minimum delay, it was a question of going through the paints I had to hand or were available in the local toy shop. The answer lay with Citadel Miniatures Hawk Turquoise meant for Warhammer wargaming miniatures. This, plus a dash of LifeColor's over-bright US Interior Green and lightened with White got very close indeed to the Eduard photo-etch colour. I found it was worth undercoating the dark grey styrene parts with white to ensure the correct brightness.
The basic cockpit is simple, but quite nicely detailed. The rudder pedals have etched toe-straps and the instruments look great. Checking against photos of the real "office", the area beyond the consoles under the instrument panel looks rather empty because it is wide open instead of having contoured "troughs" for the rudder pedals. I left well alone though as, to be honest, it's all but hidden once the fuselage is closed up.
The jet exhaust is built up from no less than 13 parts. These include an afterburner ring buried halfway down the tail pipe. Colours were a little at odds with photos in Kagero's Topshots for the MiG-21MF, showing Bright Green on some bare metal components, and vice versa, so I went by the photos. Once again though, most of it will be hidden unless you peer inside with a torch.
The main undercarriage bay assembles neatly and is a good fit in the belly section. Eduard state that it can be either Interior Green or Gray, but checking Kagero's photos again, the pictures showed one aircraft that actually had parts painted in both colours, so I went for that for a bit of variety.
The next stage returns to the cockpit and installs the side consoles, before trapping all the previous subassemblies inside the fuselage along with the nose cone and a pair of bulkheads. Don't forget to add nose-weight inside the nose cone. Eduard don't state how much is needed (and I didn't make of note of what I used - sorry!). But there's plenty of room for weight - I packed the nose cone with spare bits of white metal and dry-fitted the wings and tail, making sure the kit was suitably nose-heavy.
The basic fuselage is completed by the addition of the dorsal fairing and fin, along with the nose-ring. I was expecting trouble at this stage, as any poor fit on the spine would be a real pain to hide neatly, but Eduard have engineered the parts so well the joint is basically perfect, looking like just another panel line.
One small note at this point: the instructions show the nose-ring finished as bare metal, so I left it off to fit after I'd done the main painting. In fact, I realised later that it should be camouflaged along with the rest of the aircraft on my chosen scheme, so it would have been much easier fitted now. So, check the painting guide for the colour scheme you're building - and, just to add more opportunities for confusion, reference photos of some camouflaged MiGs clearly show bare-metal rings, while others are painted. (I did find online photos of the particular aircraft I built, which confirmed the painted nose-ring.)
It's time to work on the wings section, and the first decision is whether to open up the forward air-brakes. Whereas Eduard offer alternative parts for the rear brake bay, to open the forward ones involves careful surgery to fit the housings. If you do a messy job, you'll have a devil of a time hiding the damage - so, cut the openings on the small side and open them up a little at a time, checking the inserts for their fit regularly. This was really one of the only tricky parts of building the kit, and my advice to anyone unsure of doing the surgery is to leave the air-brakes closed - they seem to be that way in most reference photos I looked at anyway.
With the wheel wells, landing lamps and compressed air bottles added, the wings can be attached, followed by the stabilizers. There are a number of small vents and intakes to add around the rear fuselage and, in retrospect, these would have benefitted from having their opening hollowed out. The rudder, ailerons and flaps are all separate and I kept these on one side until I was sure I was happy with the basic airframe to avoid knocks.
Eduard would have you fit the air brakes themselves at this point, but that seems to be asking for trouble to me, so I left them off until almost the end of the build. Similarly the tiny aerials, which are unlikely to survive if attached now.
The next stage deals with the undercarriage, which I actually attached once I'd painted and decaled the model. It is nicely detailed. Both the nose and main wheels feature separate hubs, which make painting simpler. The tyres are unweighted, and if you want to file "flats" make sure you get the mainwheels aligned correctly on their fixed inner hubs. There is a fiddly photo-etch part to add to each main gear legs. I probably did something wrong, but I found it too long to fit neatly, so I trimmed it a touch shorter at the base.
Construction now turns back to the cockpit, with a shroud and gunsight over the instrument panel and the ejector seat. The latter is quite complex - 18 parts, plus an 11-part pre-painted harness and the result is very convincing. Stencil decals are provided for the headrest, but I found they were rather large compared with what's visible in reference photos.
The canopy can be mounted open or closed and comes complete with painting masks. I intended to pose it open, so I went one better and also masked the inside of the main section to paint it with the cockpit colour before applying the pair of stencil decals provided.
I left the ejector seat on one side while I painted the kit's exterior, sealing the masked canopy shut temporarily to avoid spray creeping in. Among the last parts to attach is the pitot tube, which has etched pitch and yaw vanes. I replaced these with thin styrene for the sake of simplicity. The long mount had a pronounced warp in my kit and is very prone to taking knocks while you're painting the model, so if I were to build another MiG I'd cut the whole thing off and attach it to its mount at the end of the build.
The very last items for the airframe are tiny etched static dischargers. These should definitely be left off until painting and decaling is finished because they are so delicate. Even then, I predict having to replace them a good many times in future...
With the aircraft itself complete, the final stages turn to the comprehensive stores included. These are:
800 lt fuel tank
490 lt fuel tank
2 x S-24 rockets
2 x RS-2US rockets
2 x R3S AAMs
2 x R-13 AAMs
2 x R3R AAMs
8 x FAB 100 bombs
2 x FAB 250 bombs
2 x UB-16 unguided rocket pods
2 x UB-32 unguided rocket pods
Finally, there's a pair of RATO packs.
The UB-16 and UB-32 pods are Brassin - resin bodies with etched details - and are beautifully cast. The use of resin allows for very fine detail around the rocket tubes and theer's even etched detail visible in the interior.
Painting and decaling Eduard provide decals for 5 attractive colour schemes, the first two being 'MT aircraft, identical externally, but lacking the upgraded radar. Three of the schemes are camouflaged and the last two are n/m:
A. MiG-21MT, Serial Number 96.40.14, Dolgoye Ledovo, Russia
B. MiG-21MT, Serial Number 96.40.15, Dolgoye Ledovo, Russia
C. MiG-21SMT, 582nd IAP, Chojna Airfield, Poland, Late Eighties
D. MiG-21SMT, Krasnodar Higher Aviation Training Facility, Soviet Union, ca 1980
E. MiG-21SMT, 296th IAP, Soviet Union
I chose Scheme "C" and, not having any modern Soviet colours in my paints collection, I cross-related Eduard's suggestions for Gunze Sangyo paints with David Klaus's trusty IPMS Color Cross Reference Guide to get to FS near equivalents - and from there back to the paints I had to hand. I mixed an underside blue, but found suitable colours for the rest among my LifeColour acrylics. Soviet aircraft experts may well wince at some of my "matches", but I was keen to just get a move on. I used the new budget Iwata Neo throughout, freehanding the topside pattern, but masking the division between that and the underside blue. With the paint dry, I sprayed several coats of Klear (Future) and left it to harden thoroughly for a couple of days.
Then it was time for the decals, which are very nicely printed across two sheets. Applying them was a slightly daunting prospect on account of the stencils - over 200 on them on the airframe alone! In fact the process wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared, working in small batches of 20 or so at a time to preserve my sanity. The decals went on very well, with no silvering and conforming perfectly to the details with the aid of a little Microset. This was particularly true on the weapons pylons - yes there are more stencils for the underwing stores! - where a single decal combines all the stencils for each side of the pylon and snuggles down amazingly well over the prominent raised details.
With the decals dry, I weathered the model with a mix of Paynes Grey and Burnt Umber oil paint for a "dirt" colour, lightening the mix a little with Titanium White for the underside. I don't use a wash, instead applying the paint neat around details and along panel lines, wiping it off after it's dried for half an hour or an hour. This precludes any chance of "tide marks" and I like the way the paint sometimes stains the underlying finish slightly, giving a bit variety as well as an aged look.
To seal everything off, I sprayed a coat of Windsor & Newton's Galeria matt varnish, which gives a nice sheen if applied lightly.
Final assemblyThe moment of truth was to remove the canopy masks and touch up any leaks around the cockpit sills. Looking at reference photos, one thing missing around the sill was a pressurisation seal, so I made one from strips of painted tape. This simple addition made an instant improvement to my eyes, as without it the cockpit sides look very thick.
Then it was time to fit the undercarriage and dive brakes and finally admire the model sitting on its wheels at long last! With ejector seat installed, I fitted attached the canopy and underwing stores before, last of all, adding the tiny static dischargers - hoping the latter would stay in place long enough to survive a photo session (they did... just.)
ConclusionEduard's MiG-21SMT is a great kit and I thoroughly enjoyed building it. I'm sure there's scope for superdetailing - Eduard have just released a Brassin cockpit set for starters - but it's beautifully detailed straight from the box and will more than satisfy most modellers. It's not a difficult build, despite its apparent complexity in places, so I'd rate it as suitable for anyone with a little experience (noting my caution over the air brakes above). Even those dreaded stencils aren't hard to apply - there are just a lot of them! Highly recommended.
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