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KIT REVIEW


Great Wall Hobbies #4831
MiG-29 9-13 "Fulcrum C"
1:48 Scale



In the late 1970s, the emergence of fourth generation Soviet fighters took the form several formidable aircraft.  One of those jets was the MiG-29 (NATO reporting name: Fulcrum), which has been a popular subject in the scale modeling world for decades.  While older Monogram and Academy kits in 1:48 scale have long been mainstays, Great Wall Hobby from China released a family of four 1:48 scale MiG-29 kits beginning a few years ago that stand to be the definitive series of Fulcrum kits in any scale.  Though it’s been out for a while, we’ll take a little time in this review to examine their MiG-29 9-13 kit that indeed deserves some pretty close attention.

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At the height of the Cold War, the American doctrine of air superiority deeply influenced the development of aircraft such as the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, and F-16 Fighting Falcon. These aircraft represented a very significant advantage over the MiG-17, MiG-21, MiG-23, and SU-15. The Soviet General Staff saw this clear American advantage on the horizon as early as 1969 and issued a call for proposals for the Perspektivnyy Frontovoy Istrebitel (or the Advanced Frontline Fighter program) to counter these emerging U.S. capabilities.  

This concept diverged into a “high-low” distinction by the early 1970s.  One design evolved into the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker – a large, long-range heavy fighter capable of confronting the most capable of American combat aircraft.  The other design was a lightweight tactical fighter that in nearly all respects was a Soviet analog of the F-16.  The Mikoyan Design Bureau began design work in 1974 on the latter and it was first known by the in-house designation “Mikoyan Product 9.” 

Soon designated as the MiG-29 Product 9-12, it featured two engines, two vertical stabilizers and mid-mounted swept wings with blended leading-edge root extensions (LERXs), rugged landing gear, and FOD-proof engine intakes that allowed operation from damaged or irregular airstrips.  Even though it lacked a fly-by-wire system, the design permitted high agility especially at low airspeeds, with excellent turn performance, sustained high-angle-of-attack capability, and good resistance to spins.  The mostly aluminum airframe was rated up to 9Gs.  The Phazotron fire control system was paired with a variety of air-to-air missiles (specifically, the medium-range AA-10 Alamo and short-range AA-11 Archer or AA-8 Aphid) fitted in combinations on six underwing pylons.  For close-in fights, the aircraft carried an internal 30 mm cannon in the port wing root with a 150 to 100 round capacity.  Air-to-ground capability was also designed into the new jet which could carry unguided bombs or rockets, and some were wired to carry a single nuclear weapon on the port inboard wing. 

Placed in service in July 1982, MiG-29s replaced the MiG-23 in the Soviet frontal aviation role.  To date, more than 1,600 MiG-29s have been manufactured and the line remains open.  More than 20 variants of the jet have been produced and, as a popular export product, Fulcrums now fly with more than 30 different air forces around the world.  The airplane has fought in a variety of conflicts, and U.S.-built F-15s and F-16s have shot down at least 38 export versions with zero losses.  However, it has been learned through dissimilar air combat training with allies who fly Fulcrums (i.e., Germany, Poland) that in the hands of a well-trained pilot, the MiG-29 is an opponent that can really ruin your day – it should never be underestimated.    

The MiG-29S, or Product 9-13, represents one of the more recent upgrades to the MiG-29. With the NATO reporting code "Fulcrum-C," it first flew in 1986 and features upgraded flight controls, enhanced agility, uprated engines, and a new fire control system.  It is visually distinguished from earlier Fulcrums as new ECM gear and more fuel are housed in a distinctive dorsal spine hump garnering the less-than-flattering nickname of “Fatback” in the West, though Fulcrum drivers call it “Gorbatyi,” or hunchback.  Your reviewer is an archaeologist who works in the deserts of northern Peru, and on a fairly constant basis, I get to see the Peruvian MiG-29 SMP, which is an export version of the 9-13 design that has been fitted with a fixed external refueling probe off the port side of the nose.

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Great Wall Hobby’s second of four (so far) MiG-29 kits in 1:48th scale is the MiG-29 9-13 (Fulcrum C).  It comes in box filled to the top with 18 sprues containing a total of 214 gray injection molded parts, one clear sprue with eight parts, one fret of photoetch metal parts containing 48 parts, and two decal sheets.  The instruction booklet is partially printed in color with the build broken down into 23 primary steps illustrated in clearly rendered line drawings, and each step contains the construction of multiple subassemblies.  At the bottom of the box, an 8.5”x11” inch print of the box art is included in a protective plastic sleeve, and it’s quite suitable for framing.  The decals are for two jets, both with distinctive shark mouth schemes:

Strengths:  The Great Wall Hobby MiG-29 Fulcrum C is a rather extraordinary model kit. The molding detail on every part represents some of the most outstanding overall quality and fidelity that a scale modeler could hope for.  It also appears to be quite accurate in terms of shape, proportions, and details.  I cannot find any significant flaws in this respect or regarding airframe details. They’ve done a great job in capturing subtle variations in rivet/screw/fastener size variation along with producing rather amazing detail in the cockpit, ejection seat, gear wells, and engine parts (especially the accessory gear boxes) all of which I strongly argue approaches the level detail that can be found in resin.

About the only thing that could be seen as missing are any additional electrical and hydraulic lines in the gear wells and similar plumbing on the landing gear themselves.  Of course, these are details that interested modelers typically add themselves, so it’s not a critique of the kit.  The quality of the photoetched parts is also excellent – subtle and full of detail.  Of special note, the grillwork on the main intake doors are some of the finest photoetch details I’ve ever seen in a model kit.    

The upper fuselage and wings come in its own protective box and are a single piece, just as the lower fuselage and wings. This simplifies construction and there can be no way to goof up wing alignment (whether or not the builder achieves level wings is another matter!). Test fits appear to reveal perfect near-seamless alignments of the fuselage/wings and intakes and radome.  This all reflects careful thinking that evidently went into designing this as a builder-friendly kit.  Multiple construction options abound including positional slats, flaps, ailerons (remember, when the power’s off, the MiG-29’s ailerons defect about 5 degrees upward,) deflected rudders, positionable horizontal stabilizers, open or closed speedbrakes, and open or closed main and auxiliary intakes.  There are even parts for an engine maintenance stand to display one of the two complete RD-33 jet engines if one wishes.   

The kit comes with a full complement of underwing stores.  The pylons are highly detailed just as the stores themselves, from the rather plump centerline drop tank, to a pair of more streamlined underwing drop tanks, four R-73 (or AA-11 Archer) missiles and two R-27 (or AA-10 Alamo) missiles.  The missiles are rather exquisite one-piece castings using a slide mold.  It simplifies missile assembly and allows for some very thin missile fins normally not possible if produced as conventional, separate pieces.  Also, the builder will never have to worry about fin alignment. We’ve seen this approach to missiles before on other Great Wall kits such as in their superlative 1:48 scale F-15 family, and more recently, AMK’s MiG-31 kits.  The detail on these missiles really has to be seen to be believed, especially regarding the ultra-fine rivet detail on the Archer fins.

The color callouts are for the Vallejo and Mr. Color Creos lines.  The decals are sharply printed.  They are in near-perfect register (but see below).  The airframe and missile stencils appear quite comprehensive and a good number of them feature legible lettering in 1:48 scale.

Weaknesses:  The cockpit instrument panel is great, except there are no instrument face details for the detail painter.  Instrument faces are provided as tiny individual decals and are a fine alternative; while I enjoy the painting process far more than dropping down decals, the instrument decals in the kit are beautifully printed and go beyond what most of us can achieve with a paintbrush.  It’s a trade-off. There’s various ejection pin marks on some parts, such as the insides of gear bay doors and the speedbrakes.  They’ll be a bit challenging to eliminate without taking some of the beautiful surrounding detail with it. The static wicks come molded to the trailing edges of the wings and tails, and as such, they seem a bit over-sized and probably could be replaced with some finer wire to get a better scale effect.

If you build the main intakes with the intake ramps in the down (in-flight) position, you’ll find a fairly significant seam and ejection pin marks on the insides of the intake that will require some attention to make them disappear.  There’s also a few subtle mold lines on the one-piece missile bodies to watch out for, and these are very easily cleaned up.  Great Wall Hobby could use a little help with some awkward English translations in the instructions, but you’ll get the idea without any problem (e.g., “canopy opening state” means “open canopy.”  And while the decals are overall great, there’s a few colors that are slightly but still noticeably out of register, such as the black bands on decals 7 and 8 fail to line up well and either intrude into or fall short of the red star.  Elsewhere, some of the behind-the-cockpit art (decals 24 and 25 including one image of a Fulcrum harassing an exasperated looking F-15 Eagle) on 51 White has the blues misaligned, along with some of the reds on the sharkmouth adorning the nose of 29 Red.

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When I was kid, I vividly remember building the 1:48 scale Revell MiG-29 just after the seeing the Fulcrum at the 1990 Dayton Airshow fly an impressive demo routine including the so-called Cobra maneuver.  Both the kit and real airplane left a big impression on me, and the Great Wall Hobby MiG-29 9-13 will leave a pretty big impression on most scale modelers, too.  When I compare this kit to the Revell MiG-29, it’s a testament to how far scale modeling has come especially in terms of kit production technology and detail.  This is the definitive MiG-29C in any scale, and we’ll see if holds onto that title when Trumpeter releases a 1:32 scale Fatback Fulcrum in hopefully next year.  But for now, the Great Wall MiG-29 is at the top of its game and it’s going to be hard to beat.    

Sincere thanks to MicroWorld Games for the review sample. You can find them on the web at http://www.microworldgamesllc.com/ where you can order this kit directly or any other Great Wall kit
             

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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