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KIT REVIEW


AvantGarde Model Kits (AMK) #88004
CM.170 Magister 1:48 Scale

As the third release by Macau-based AvantGarde Model Kits (AMK), this 1:48 scale model of the venerable Cold War French trainer might seem as an interesting choice for this newcomer company.  The Magister is a long ignored subject in 1:48 scale, and only a few kits in 1:72 are out there by Valom and Airfix. The Magister might also strike most modelers as something of a ‘niche’ subject for a plastic model kit. Regardless, it is clear that AMK has produced one of the top injections molded kits of the year.  This model is an unequivocal gem.

(Return to top of page)The Fouga Magister holds the historical distinction as being the first ever production jet-powered basic trainer placed into mass production. The Magister’s evolutionary origins are found just after World War II. The Fouga CM. 130 aircraft was developed to replace the piston-engined Morane-Saulnier MS.475 as the French Air Force’s primary trainer.  The CM. 130 first flew in 1948, but it became quickly apparent that the airplane was badly underpowered.  Yet, understanding that the basic idea behind the CM.130 was sound, Fouga went back to the drawing board. They beefed-up the design, added two Turbomeca Palas turbojet powerplants, and integrated a V-tail configuration drawn from a Fouga glider testbed. This V-tail was a ruddervator, functioning as both a rudder and elevator.

The resulting CM. 170 prototype, which flew on 23 July 1952, reflected a straightforward engineering philosophy. The tandem aircrew-seating configuration dominated most of the nose, while the teardrop-shaped fuselage was mated to straight wing.  The Magister also sat quite low to the ground. This second attempt at a primary jet trainer succeeded. The following year, preproduction orders were placed, and by 1956, the French Air Force had the first batch of production Magisters in service.  A total of 929 airframes had been built when production ceased in 1967.

 CM.170s were also extensively exported, flying under the flags of 27 different nations.  Some of these Magisters were built under license from Israel to Finland.  Beyond France, other CM. 170 operators included European powers (e.g., West Germany, Finland, Belgium, Ireland), Israel, various African air forces (e.g., Libya, Katanga, Uganda, Rwanda), and Latin American operators (e.g., Brazil, El Salvador).  France, Belgium, Germany, and Brazil employed CM. 170s in their national aerobatic display teams. Magisters also serve as civilian contractor managed aircraft operated by both the USAF and US Navy test pilot schools. 

Armed with a pair of either 7.5 mm or 7.62 mm machine guns in the nose with a capacity of 200 rounds per gun, Magisters also had two hard points that could accommodate a range of small bombs and rockets. Indeed, during the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli Magisters went after Egyptian and Jordanian armor providing much-needed close air support – simultaneously demonstrating their combat effectiveness as well as their vulnerability to ground fire.  Magisters were also important players in the Salvadoran civil war and the Congo Crisis of 1961.  The last Magister in military service flew with Belgium in 2007. Today, the airplane is popular among private civilian pilots.

(Return to top of page)As with all of AMK’s other kits, the Magister is snugly packed in its box. The kit has some 284 parts coming on 11 sprues, and each sprue is in its own clear re-sealable plastic bag.  A single photoetched fret contains another 46 detail parts. Some 25 additional cast white metal parts including two nose counterweights come in a hard plastic cassette-like container that will remind you of the size and shape of an early generation iPhone. The white metal parts are direct replacements for their injection molded analogs on the various sprues, and include the landing gear and various other parts such as struts and actuators. The A4 sized-instruction booklet is 23 pages long. As typical of AMK, the instructions are in full-color, clearly rendered, and easy to read.  The decal sheet contains markings for five Magisters, including CM. 170s of the West German air force, the Belgian air force, the Belgian air demo team, and the Patrouille de France air demo team.   

Strengths:  My approach to this kit is that of a non-Fouga subject matter expert, and I also don’t have a Fouga anywhere nearby to compare with the kit.  That said, I understand that people more knowledgeable about the Fouga have roundly praised the AMK kit for its accuracy.

This kit is beautifully engineered. My test fits between the fuselage halves and wings demonstrated as perfect a fit as could be desired. All kit parts feature very fine detail for an injection molded kit, spanning finely recessed panel lines, screws, and where appropriate on the airframe, nicely executed raised rivets (but check your references, as later Magisters lost at least some of those raised rivets). This high fidelity of detail holds true for the finest parts in the box. AMK’s Magister is not an over-engineered model, but it sure does pack quite a bit more detail and intriguing construction options than the average injection molded kit (see below).

Beginning with the cockpit, the detail of the instrument panels appears to represent an progressively improving degree of quality of cockpit details since their first releases, the IAI Kfir and L-29 Delfín. While the dial faces might not have any particular detail, the front and back of each instrument panel is well represented.  Unlike the other two AMK kits, no decals are provided for instrument face details. Still, just of out of the box, the cockpit is very well detailed, from the multi-part control columns, throttles, O2 tanks, and seats.

Speaking of intriguing construction options - AMK’s Magister has parts for the modeler to assemble much of the internal structure of the airplane in front and behind the cockpit.  These include the detail rich nose bay (with or without the machine guns fitted), the nose gear wheel well, multiple bulkheads, the main spars for the wings, the main fuselage fuel tank, the aft electronics bay, the aft pressure bay, both engines, and a small avionics bay just behind and above the instructor pilot’s position.  Such detail might be incredibly appealing to many modelers, even though many of those same modelers would lament all those gorgeous details eventually disappearing inside the fuselage as assembly progressed. AMK indeed thought of that, and a duplicate of Sprue A comes in the kit – not cast in gray plastic, but crystal clear plastic instead. Thus, all that internal fuselage detail can be displayed if one wishes.  

The assembly of the wings and ruddervators are both fairly straightforward, but the wings are more complex, which include the main gear wheel wells and photoetched pop-out speed brakes on the tops and bottoms of the wings. Final assembly involves attaching the windscreen, canopies, access panel covers, and assembly and mounting of the underwing stores. These include a pair of small unguided bombs and three varieties of unguided rockets and rocket pods.   

The decals are generally great, just as we have come to expect from AMK, though some appear to be out of register (see below). The schemes that modelers can build were were very well-chosen by AMK. These include: (1) a West German jet in its dreary (but classic) Cold War-era gray and green camouflage juxtaposed with red wing tanks and ruddervators; (2) two natural metal and red Belgian CM. 170s, including the 2007 retirement scheme with “The Last of the Many” emblazoned atop the wings; (3) a red, black, and yellow Belgian air demo team jet, and; (4) a Patrouille de France air demo jet in blue, white, and red.  The decal sheet also includes full airframe stencils for the different versions therein.     

Weaknesses:  Only a few minor glitches can be noted.  AMK usually does a knock-out job with placing ejection pin markings (the points at which a sprue gets forcefully popped out of its nickel-plated mold) in some pretty clever places, such that they will not be visible in the built-up model. This saves a modeler a lot of time in cleanup and removal of these pesky surface defects. This is still generally the case for the CM. 170, but some pin markings are present in a few awkward places that indeed look like they will be visible – including the cockpit floor, rear cockpit side consoles, cockpit sidewalls, and the roof of the main gear wells. It’s not a big deal in my opinion, just something to watch out for.

The photoetch parts fret has PE restraints for the seats – the first time an AMK kit has included detail parts for harnesses in their kits. Awesome, and thank you, AMK! However, their proper placement/configuration (and very existence) seems to have been omitted from the instruction booklet.  A short internet search for photos of the Magister cockpit or consultation of printed references should solve this problem.  In particular, check out this link with content written for students at the USAF Test Pilot School: http://www.eaa1000.av.org/pix/fouga/fouga.htm#Cockpit. Likewise, with all the potentially open panels, a guide to how access panel covers may be hinged (or not) would have been quite helpful.  Again, online and print resources will no doubt help fill in that knowledge gap.  Similarly, two different sized wingtip tanks come in the kit, but it is unclear to me which size tank should go with the various construction options, or if both are appropriate and interchangeable to any version of the CM.170. 

The most significant problem that I could detect in my review sample was that the yellows in the decal sheet were printed out of register. This is especially evident in the rescue arrows, the small West German flag decals, and the Belgian roundels.  The back circle at the center of the roundel appears well placed. The yellow that surrounds the black circle is rather off center – so much so that some modelers might consider them to be unusable.  Beyond that, the rest of the decals appear flawless.

(Return to top of page)This is a remarkably well-detailed and beautifully made kit by AMK. For such a small model and for such a unique subject, it scores very high on the wow-factor meter. I would rate it among the top five kits of 2015. I was showing this kit around to some fellow modelers recently, and they were all universally impressed. A few asked if I had received some kind of deluxe version of the kit with the high-quality photoetched, white metal, and clear fuselage parts. The kit comes with all of these parts and construction options, I said, and eyebrows around the room were raised even higher as nods of impressed approval and interest followed.

AMK’s CM. 170 Magister is a gem of a model kit, and I cannot give it a higher recommendation – despite its few shortcomings and decal printing defect. Compared to the Kinetic family of 1:48 Magisters, I would evaluate it as the superior model, with far more detail and better engineering.  For those interested in adding more even more detail, Eduard now offers more photoetched metal, including prepainted cockpit details which you can throw into your AMK Magister. Wingman Models has released a number of resin detail sets for the Kinetic kit, including a cockpit and underwing stores.  I don’t have these yet, so someone else will have to tell us if they could be adapted to the AMK kit. However you choose to build your AMK CM. 170 – whether it’s out of the box or filled to the brim with aftermarket parts – one thing is clear: the Magister has finally received its long-overdue recognition in 1:48 scale.       

Sincere thanks to AMK for the review sample. You can find them on the web at http://amkhobby.com/home/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/avantgardemodelkits.

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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