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KIT REVIEW


Kinetic #48062
Su-33 Flanker D -- 1:48 Scale



Since the Second World War, the United States has maintained global dominance in naval aviation.  Particularly during the Cold War, the philosophy of Soviet naval warfare generally emphasized the role of surface ships and submarines, and consequently, they never developed a large carrier fleet.  In the mid-1990s, the Su-33 Flanker-D (first known as the Su-27D) first emerged as a navalized version of the Russian Air Force’s Flanker.  Kinetic’s 2015 release of the Su-33 in 1:48 scale landed recently on our review bench, and even though it’s been out for a little while, it deserves a close look.

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During the Second World War, modern carrier-based naval aviation was defined and refined by Japan and the United States.  The lessons learned and experience gained by the U.S. Navy provided the foundations for the singular carrier-based projection of American power spanning Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, and the ongoing global war on terrorism.  During this time, Soviet naval philosophy put its money (literally and figuratively) on surface and submarine warfare.  Consequently, Soviet/Russian naval forces never intended to develop anything near an equivalent capability to the U.S. Navy.     
 
Still, limited interest in the sea-based projection of air power led to the development of the Yak-38 in the 1970s as the Soviet Navy's sole carrier-based fixed-wing combat aircraft.  It was seen that the Yak-38 had promise but was hampered by its limited range and weapons load.  The Kremlin thus began to explore a more capable naval aircraft and carrier concepts. The Project 1160 carrier program aimed to field MiG-23s and Su-24s but was cancelled due to the price tag.  The subsequent Project 1153 carrier proposal was focused on supporting air wings composed of Su-25s, MiG-23Ks, and Su-27Ks. Finally, the Project 1143 carrier proposal matured and was designed to accommodate Yak-141, MiG-29K, and Su-27K. This effort would produce the carrier-cruiser ADMIRAL KUZNETSOV that today remains the only flat-top in the Russian Navy.

This new boat, whose keel was laid down in 1982 and launched in 1985, featured innovations such as a ski-jump deck, arresting gear, and optical and radio landing systems. One of the three airplanes to inhabit its decks was the Su-27K (later re-designated as the Su-33).  It was a navalized version of the Su-27.  First known by the Sukhoi in-house designation T-10K, this naval Flanker featured beefed-up landing gear, a stronger airframe, folding wings and horizontal stabilizers, larger wings, canards, uprated powerplants, and in-flight refueling capability.  In many ways, this was a Flanker on steroids, so to speak.  This Sea Flanker emphasized the air superiority role and could carry four R-73 and six R-27E air-to-air missiles while its internal 30 mm GSh-30-1 cannon carried 150 rounds.  Yet, multi-role capability was built into the Su-33 from the start as it was wired to carry unguided rockets, iron bombs, and precision-guided munitions.

The first Su-27K flew in 1987, undertook its first carrier operations flight tests in 1989, and by 1998, the Su-27K had been officially accepted for operational use.  That year it was also redesignated as the Su-33.  The jet has deployed operationally on the KUZNETSOV since 1996.  With the cancellation of the three other, partially built Soviet carrier-cruisers (VARYAG, ORYOL, and ULYANOVSK), production of the Su-33 was proportionally curtailed, with only 35 or so having been built.  Today, it is estimated that 19 Su-33 airframes are still airworthy. Plans appear to be afoot to upgrade the current fleet to proposed Su-33K standards that, among other features, would have an AESA radar that would overcome the poor tracking capabilities of the original Slot Back radar set. 

The Su-33’s entry into combat came on 15 November 2016, as Su-33s began flying sorties over Syria from the ADMIRAL KUZNETSOV, now an aging boat infamous for its poor maintenance and generally difficult living conditions for the crew.  Operating from the Mediterranean Sea, they were supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Asad’s forces in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  This deployment was marred by loss of one MiG-29K, and then on 5 December 2016, an Su-33 also suffered a mishap.  The jet engaged the arresting gear on the KUZNETSOV but the wire broke and the Su-33 went into the sea. Fortunately, the pilot punched out and was rescued.  Following this second incident, flight ops on the KUZNETSOV were suspended and its air wing went ashore to operate from an airbase in Syria.  Yet, if this first combat deployment is any indication, the full story of the Su-33 continues to be written, and it will likely provide important contributions to future conflicts and the modern trajectory of Russian naval aviation.

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Kinetic’s Su-33 consists of 253 light gray plastic parts on 21 sprues, 11 clear parts on one sprue, 70 photoetched metal parts, a 34-page instruction booklet, and one decal sheet. The Cartograf-printed decals provide markings for 10 jets embarked on the KUZNETSOV:

Strengths:   The 2016 release of Kinetic’s 1:48 scale F/A-18 family was widely heralded as the kit marking this manufacturer’s adoption of fully state-of-the-art tooling.  However, the Su-33 kit clearly demonstrates the run-up to these standards.  This is a fairly spectacular kit in nearly all respects.  It’s a beast of a kit, and I mean that in a good way!  In particular, all aspects regarding the molding, surface detail, and relief detail will take your breath away. It’s also a fairly complex build, but it gives the scale modeler lots of really interesting options to build one totally gnarly-looking Sea Flanker. 

Starting with the cockpit, the multi-piece K-36 ejection seat is generally excellent and accurate (though see below).  The well-molded side consoles drop nicely into the cockpit tub assembly that makes detail painting considerably easier.  Switches, buttons, and other high relief features of the instrument panel are likewise beautifully molded.  The detail present in the nose and main gear wells, wingfolds, and elsewhere is also exceptional.  The main gear wheels and tires, which are appropriately bulged and flattened, are particularly nicely done.   

The surface detail on the Su-33’s exterior is fairly stunning, and is in fact light-years better than the 1990s-vintage Academy 1:48 scale Flanker kit that impressed quite a few of us back then.  Panel lines are delicately recessed, and the different sizes of the varied recessed rivet and fastener details are nicely captured. 

As noted earlier, the construction options are really impressive and many scale modelers will find them all quite exciting.  Sure, you can build this model configured as though it were ready for flight.  At least for a scale modeler such as myself, building this kit “dirty” with dropped slats, flaps, deflected rudders, extended speedbrake, folded wings and horizontal stabilizers, extended refueling probe, and open tail cone is really, really inviting. Six air-to-air missiles come in the kit (four R-27 “Alamos” and two R-73 “Archers”).  These are slide molded, single-piece missiles, and the detail on these missiles is just glorious. Also, a lot of jet modelers know that it’s quite hard to injection mold surface details on the inside of an engine nozzle to accurately depict all those grooves, divots, and seams.  Kinetic’s solution is to slide mold the engine nozzle’s interior petal surfaces as a single piece that slips into the inside of the exterior engine nozzle part.  The resulting assembly has a level of detail that rivals a resin-cast part. 
       
The quality of photoetch metal parts is stunning.  I am particularly amazed at the extraordinarily fine perforations and representation of grills in the parts that go into the intakes.  It just might be the finest photoetch detail that I’ve ever seen.  The decals, designed by Crossdelta and beautifully printed by Cartograf, and are in perfect register with their typically outstanding colors and finely printed details.   

Weaknesses:  This is a kit whose “hardware” deserves high accolades, but some aspects of the offering fall short in varying degrees.  First, the instruction booklet is poorly rendered. It contains black-and-white CAD drawings (which is okay) but the visual quality is poor, appearing like a photocopy.  Further, there are a number of places in the instructions, particularly regarding the assembly of the intakes and wingfolds, that are ambiguous and difficult to read or visualize how and where some things should go.  Careful test fitting, coupled with thoughtful consultations of the instructions, will be needed to resolve these little dilemmas or minor uncertainties of fit and parts location. 

Second, the markings guide is grossly inadequate.  Color callouts for the paint scheme appear to be completely absent in the instruction booklet.  Fortunately you’ll find the colors (Gunze line paints) on the bottom panel of the boxtop with the only (and very small) color images of the Su-33’s standard scheme as a reference.  This is a little sloppy and a basic omission in the instruction booklet that should not have happened.  Though ten aircraft can be represented from the decals that are provided, only one is represented in the markings guide and the tail art of a second jet from a different Su-33 squadron is shown.  Sure, you can figure it out, and one can appreciate why a manufacturer would like to keep kit production costs down, but the instructions are not the place to do it.

Unfortunately, there’s a prominent raised seam running down the center of the windscreen and canopy, and it will have to be sanded away and the plastic parts buffed out. There are no shoulder harnesses or lap belts for the K-36 ejection seat, perhaps as Kinetic expects or encourages builders to use aftermarket parts.  There are also no raised instrument face details for detail painting (gauges are just round, depressed circles), so I anticipated decals would be called on to do the job, such as how Great Wall Hobby does their MiG-29 instrument faces.  Yet, there are no instrument decals in the kit, and it’s another unfortunate omission for those who would like to build this kit out-of-the box.  And while the folding horizontal stabilizers indeed are molded as a separate inboard and outboard section, the locating pins have the outboard section sliding straight into the inboard section. To fold the stabs, a little work will be necessary but it is a pretty easy modification of the kit parts.  Still, a slightly different tooling could have provided the folding option in the box.               

Further, as a caution (not a critique), prepare yourself and work with great care with the many small photoetched metal parts.  They’re great but tiny and easy to loose.

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The Kinetic 1:48 scale Su-33 Flanker D is one impressive kit, and I look forward to building this kit at some point, hopefully in the near future.  There’s also now a range of photoetch metal detail parts from Crossdelta, Dream Model, and Eduard, decals from Begemot, camouflage painting masks from J’s Work, and even a paint set by AMMO by Mig Jiménez to further enhance this kit. While a complex build, the detail and construction options in this kit are just outstanding and it is one of the most impressive kits of Russian subject matter that I’ve ever seen.     

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 Kinetic kit.

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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