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KIT REVIEW


AvantGarde Model Kits #88008 MiG-31B/BS
1:48 Scale

Since 2013, Macau-based AvantGarde Model Kits (AMK) has been releasing a sequence of kits in 1:48 scale, such as the Kfir, L-29, and CM.170.  These were all small jet aircraft, but AMK established a well-earned reputation for producing interesting subjects, excellent injection molded detail, and smart engineering.  In late 2015, they released their first large-format kit in 1:48 scale: the MiG-31 BM/BSM.  That model was widely lauded and landed a strong range of accolades including more than a few proclamations that it was the “kit of the year.”  In 2016, AMK released their second Foxhound in 1:48 scale that represents the B and BS variants.  In this review, we’ll take a serious look at AMK’s second MiG-31 kit.

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U.S. reconnaissance overflights of the Soviet Union, beginning in the late 1950s by Lockheed U-2s, demonstrated the need for a high-flying Soviet interceptor, and as airplanes such as the B-58 Hustler, XB-70 Valkyrie, and the SR-71 Blackbird came on the scene, the Russians also saw the equal need for something that pushed the envelope in terms of outright speed.  The Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau began work on designs in 1959 that would eventually culminate in the famous MiG-25 Foxbat that first flew in 1964.  This interceptor was capable of Mach 3.2 at 68,000 feet, but only under certain conditions for a short time.  The Foxbat also possessed relatively poor maneuverability and low-altitude performance.  Work on a follow-on aircraft was initiated in 1965, and the MiG-31 (NATO reporting name: Foxhound) flew in 1975.

Superficially similar to the MiG-25, the MiG-31 was virtually a new airplane.  Its advanced radar possessed look-up and look-down/shoot-down modes, the ability to simultaneously track multiple targets such as low flying cruise missiles and bombers, and could attack four targets simultaneously using the R-33 long-range air-to-air missile.  These capabilities were relatively on par with the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.  Depending on their tactics, a flight of four MiG-31s could monitor and defend a chunk of airspace around 550 miles wide.  The Foxhound was considered to be a very threatening opponent in a shooting war inside Soviet airspace.  A former FB-111 pilot described to me that his best hope in avoiding Foxhounds was for any ICBM/SLBM laydown to have degraded the Soviet air defense system to the point where there would be lots of holes to get through,.  But if a MiG-31 found them, certain tactics involving violent maneuvering would have to be tried to break the Foxhound’s radar lock.

MiG-31 production began in 1979 and ended in 1994, with a total of 519 of the big interceptors rolling off the production line at Gor’kiy across six variants.  The MiG-31’s structure is nearly half arc-welded steel, and each of the D30-F6 engines produce 34,171 pounds of thrust.  That gets the MiG-31 up to about Mach 1.23 at low altitude, and at high altitude, Mach 2.83 is the limit.  While the Foxhound can indeed exceed Mach 3, any higher airspeed risks damaging the engines while Mach 3+ aerodynamic heating poses a threat to airframe life and integrity.

The MiG-31B emerged from the second production run of Foxhounds beginning in 1990.  A certain urgency underscored the development of this new version.  A Russian engineer spying for West passed along the secrets of the Foxhound’s avionics and armament in 1985; the Soviets considered this breach far worse than Victor Belenko’s defection with the MiG-25 about a decade earlier.  This new MiG-31 was fitted with significantly upgraded avionics including an entirely new fire control system based around the Zaslon-A phased array radar, new ECM and EW gear, and various datalink capabilities.  The airplane also carried the upgraded RS-33 missile system and featured an in-flight refueling probe.  A number of the earlier, first-production run MiG-31 01DZs were converted to B standards and were redesigned MiG-31BS.

Today, further upgrades have led to the MiG-31BM and BSM, which represent yet further increased capability with the more powerful Zalson-M radars capable of acquiring targets more than 250 miles away and can serve in a limited AWACS and SEAD role.  Enhanced lethality comes in the form of the most recent versions of the R-33 and R-37 missiles which are capable of shooting down targets more than 200 miles distant.  More upgrades are planned, and the Russian Defense Ministry plans on the Foxhound serving as Russia’s premier air defense interceptor until at least 2030.

To learn more about the MiG-31, I recommend Mikoyan MiG-31 Interceptor by Yefim Gordon and Dmitry Komissarov (published by Pen & Sword books in 2015).

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AMK’s MiG-31B/BS comes in large and deep box for a 1:48 scale kit, and it’s packed to the brim.  The parts are distributed on 26 grey injection molded sprues that contain 228 parts.  Panel lines and rivet/screw details are all recessed.  Another two sprues contain a total of 26 clear parts.  One photoetch metal fret holds 27 metal detail parts.  The instruction booklet is printed in full color and construction proceeds through 27 steps.  Two decal sheets cover markings for three aircraft and also include extensive airframe stencils, missile stencils, ejection seat stencils, and canopy frame seals for one jet.  The three Foxhound schemes in the box are:

  • MiG-31 BS, “16 Blue,” Russian Air Force, Chelyabinsk-Shagol AB, 2014
  • MiG-31 BS, “23 Red,” Kazakstan Air Force, 2012
  • MiG-31 B, “73 Blue,” Savasleyka AB (no date)

Strengths:  Cutting right to the chase: the AMK MiG-31 will take your breath away.  All of the amazing attributes and qualities you heard about the first MiG-31 kit are represented here just as well, though some notable new features have been added in this second issue.  My test fitting of the nose, fuselage parts and wings suggest that the fit is so perfect that you won’t need seam filler for these major assemblies.  Talking to scale modelers who have built this kit confirms this observation.

The fidelity of detail is outstanding, whether one considers the surface detail of the exterior airframe, landing gear, wheel wells, cockpit, and even intake trunking.  Attention to other details, such as providing parts for the interior of the canopy frames, wheel hubs as separate parts from the tires, and finely injection molded rear-view mirrors as part of the canopy frame parts (usually such mirrors are provided as fine photoetched metal parts) just add to the appeal of this kit.  Flaps, slats, and the rudders are all separate parts.  The underside speedbrakes can be deployed open or closed, intake ramps can be positioned open or closed, and the in-flight refueling probe and infrared search sensor can built extended or retracted.

The kit design and parts breakdown is smart and creative, including the one-piece lower wing structure that ensures the builder has both the correct and equal dihedral on both wings.  Parts for both D30-F6 jet engines are included.  While all but the compressor faces and exhaust nozzles are hidden from view in the built model, the inclusion of the complete engine certainly gives one ideas for dioramas.

Slide molds were used to produce a single-piece nose for the Foxhound, and the completed cockpit slides in from the back on rails.  Slide molds were also used to make the R-33 Amos (x4), the R-40 Archer (x2) and the R-60M Aphid B (x4) missiles.  While we’ve seen this approach in the molding of missiles before, such as with the Great Wall Hobby 1:48 scale F-15 and MiG-29 series, this is the first time AMK has done so.  The detail AMK achieved on these missiles must be seen to be believed.  The rivet detail on the R-33s and -40s is beautifully executed.

In the past, my reviews have been a little critical of AMK kits for their indistinct or “soft” details on their cockpit instrument panels and lack of seatbelt parts on their ejection seats.  On both points, AMK has produced their best and sharpest detail on the MiG-31 instrument panels and shoulder restraints and lap belts come as photoetched parts. Right on!

Aside from the decals for the three B/BS jets, a few other features make this kit distinct from AMK’s first MiG-31.  First, two identical clear parts sprues are included, but one is tinted to achieve the more accurate shade of glass seen on the real jet.  The exterior and interior of the MiG-31’s windscreen and canopy glass is sealed to the surrounding steel frames by an off-pink color putty.  Scale modelers lamented that these details were omitted from the first kit.  AMK listened and this issue of their Foxhound has the canopy seals represented as decals.  Sprue N has the appropriate parts for the instrument panels for the B/BS variant, and generally nails it in terms of accuracy (but see below).

Weaknesses:  I can only offer the most minor of quibbles in the evaluation of this kit.  First, in my references, the edges of those off-pink canopy seals are shown to be often rough and irregular, and I understand that they are applied on the real jet by hand using a putty knife.  For some builders, the clean and regular edges of the canopy seal decals might be considered to be just a little too perfect, but in 1:48 scale, I think you can get away it.

While I am almost completely in love with the cockpit, the throttle quadrants are surprisingly crude (just raised knobs) and comparison of the kit’s pilot instrument panel with my references suggests some very minor inaccuracies regarding switch number and placement, especially on the HUD controls.  But again, I must emphasize that you really have to look deeply to find these little irregularities.

While the rudders are separate pieces, their locating tab allows you to fit them only straight in, so if you want to defect the rudders, the builder will need to remove those tabs. And while I am not terribly familiar with the D30-F6 jet engine, its external detail seems simplified.  If the scale modeler were to somehow display it, a rare opportunity exists here for extra detailing in terms of piping and wiring.

AMK keeps raising the bar not just in terms of their kits, but for the entire world of 1:48 scale injection molded plastic kits.  The AMK MiG-31B/BS is one of the best kits scale modelers could ask for in terms of detail, engineering, and interesting subject matter.  Previous 1:48 scale MiG-31s, such as kits by Lindberg and Ace Hobbies, cannot be compared in a fair manner, and while the Collect-Aire resin 1:48 scale MiG-31 was a very accurate kit, it is now quite hard-to-find, significantly expensive, and challenging to build.  AMK has produced the best MiG-31 in this scale, surpassing their first Foxhound with the new parts and decals.

This really is a scale modeler’s kit: it’s a thoroughly engaging model just sitting in the box, it is fairly straightforward to build, and it is filled with the kinds of details that make this hobby so enjoyable for so many of us.  Out of the box, it’s in the top three kits of 2016 (so far), and an increasing range of aftermarket products, from metal and resin parts by Eduard to decals by Begemot, Authentic Decals, and Furball Aero-Designs provide even more options for the scale modeler.

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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