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KIT REVIEW


Kitty Hawk # KH80144 Su-17 M3/M4 Fitter H/K
1:48 Scale

 

The Su-17 was one of the Soviet Union’s front-line fighter-bombers in the 1970s and 1980s and was particularly distinctive in its early use of variable geometry wings.  More than 2,800 Su-17s were manufactured and 1,300 were exported to Soviet client states as Su-22s.  For decades, the Su-17 and Su-22 were represented by a number of limited-run, low quality model kits in 1:72 and 1:48 scales.  In early 2017, Kitty Hawk released a 1:48 scale Fitter.  Many readers know that this long-anticipated kit received some criticism, but here, we’ll do our best to take an objective look at the Kitty Hawk Su-17.     

The Sukhoi Design Bureau entered the jet age with their Su-7 (NATO reporting name Fitter-A) in 1955.  The aircraft featured a nose-mounted intake cone akin to the MiG-21 and swept-back wings reminiscent of the MiG-17 or F-86.  By all accounts, the Su-7 was a rather successful and versatile fighter-bomber, but at the same time, the jet suffered from very long takeoff rolls, excessively high landing speeds, a short combat radius, and poor performance at low airspeed.  To overcome these deficiencies, a variable-sweep wing design was developed that would pivot not the entire wing, but would move the outboard section of the wings to one of three fixed wing sweep positions (28°, 45°, or 62°).  The new wing also featured leading-edge slats and trailing-edge flaps.  While attack speeds still remained high and overall maneuverability was not on par with a more nimble fighter, the new wing provided a significant improvement on the Su-7’s shortcomings.  An initial Fitter-B variant set the stage for the definitive first production version in 1969.  It unmistakably shared in the Su-7’s pedigree, but possessed a far more robust appearance.  The design was rechristened as the Su-17 (NATO designation "Fitter-C") and unofficially nicknamed as the Strizh, or Martlet.  It was also distinguished from the Su-7 by a new canopy design and dorsal fuselage spine containing new avionics and more gas to extend its range.

A total of 2,867 Su-17s spanning some 21 production variants (including Su-22s; see below) were built.  The Su-17 entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1970 and played a major role in their conflict in Afghanistan.  The Fitter-C was an air-to-ground workhorse in that conflict.  At the same time, the Afghan environment proved quite challenging for Su-17 operations, between the high elevation of in-theater air bases and blowing sand fouling avionics and engines.  With the introduction of the FIM-92 Stinger MANPADS to the war, the Su-17 proved vulnerable.  This forced a change in Fitter tactics and higher operational altitudes, and Su-25s took over the lower altitude precision-strike work.  Eventually, the Su-17s were partially phased out and replaced by the newer MiG-27.  Su-17M3s and M4s continued in Russian service and were used broadly during the first Chechen war.  The last operational Russian Su-17 was the most advanced M4 variant and the type was retired in 1998 along with the MiG-23 and MiG-27.

Approximately 1,165 Fitters were exported to 15 nations as Su-22s.  The Su-22 has seen a great deal of combat from Angola, the Iran-Iraq conflict, the Peru-Ecuador border war, and Syria’s involvement in the Yom Kippur and Lebanon conflicts as well as their ongoing civil war.  Perhaps some of the better-known events in Fitter history involved the shoot-down of two Libyan Su-22s by a pair of US Navy F-14 Tomcats in the 1981 Gulf or Sidra incident.  In 1992, a pair of Peruvian Fitters mistakenly identified a USAF C-130H as a drug plane, and the attack that followed killed one crewmember and severely wounding several others.   

Kitty Hawk’s kit can be built into either the Su-17 M3 (Fitter-H) or Su-17 M4 (Fitter-K). These were both later production variants, and the M4 was the final, definitive Fitter whose production run came to a close in 1990. 

The kit contains nine light gray injection molded polystyrene sprues containing a total of 699 parts (however, 436 of those parts are from the extensive weapons sprues; see below). Panel lines, rivets, and fasteners are all delicately represented by engraved, recessed details.  Eleven clear parts are present on a single sprue.  Twenty-four photoetched metal parts are included on one fret, and the decals come on one large primary sheet and a second smaller insert.  The mixed black-and-white/color instruction booklet organizes the build over 19 steps.  Decals and the markings guide cover seven Su-17s:

Strengths:  there are many highlights in Kitty Hawk’s Su-17 kit.  Overall molding quality is excellent, and working out test fits between major assemblies (i.e., fuselage, wings, tail) demonstrates very tight fits and overall good engineering.  Building options abound, as the canopy is positionable as are the auxiliary intake (blow-in) doors.  The leading edge slats, flaps, ailerons, rudder, and speedbrakes are all separate parts and can be positioned in the neutral, dropped/extended, or deflected positions.  The wing attachment point is a simple pivot point allowing for a free range of motion.  If you have all the control surfaces dropped and extended, the wing of course cannot be swept, but if the builder puts together a clean wing configuration, one can position the wings at any of the three Su-17 wing sweep positions.

The primary external difference between the M3 and the M4 variants was the addition of a prominent air scoop on the M4 airframe located on the aft spine that sucked in air to cool the additional avionics.  The scoop appears well represented.  The kit also contains a rather well-detailed representation of the entire AL-21F powerplant.  As with many kits these days, the engine is buried inside of the completed model, but the aft fuselage halves (parts C1 and C21) appear to be at the maintenance break where the rear fuselage separates and pulls away for engine maintenance.  If displayed open, one would have to scratchbuild a maintenance stand for the tail and all the interior detail.

The K-36 ejection seat builds up out of 17 separate parts.  While some might consider such a parts breakdown to be “over-engineered,” the multi-part approach to the seat really does produce a very detailed final product that can rival the relief and detail or a resin seat.  I sincerely praise the decision to represent the ejection seat shoulder harnesses and lap belts with photoetched metal parts rather than molding the detail onto the seat pads (as many manufacturers do).  While this exposes my bias, I think that separate PE belts are the way to go to achieve the most realistic scale ejection seat.       
The clear parts look great.  There are no seams to sand and polish out, and the optical quality of the clear parts is superlative.  The decals are beautifully printed.  Colors and definition look very good and all the colors are precisely in register.  All but the tiniest stencils are legible (and they’re in Cyrillic, of course).

The Su-17 kit comes with a MASSIVE load of ordnance.  The choices for the scale modeler to bomb-up their Fitter are a little overwhelming.  I understand that Kitty Hawk’s intention was to include a comprehensive set of early to mid-Cold war Soviet air-to-air and air-to ground stores.  These underwing stores span four sprues and a whopping 436 parts.  I am not a subject matter expert on Soviet munitions of this era, but the shapes, sizes, and overall configurations of the bombs and missiles in the kit all look quite good and nothing stands out as obviously incorrect.  Here’s a list of what you get in the Kitty Hawk Su-17 kit:
Air-to air missiles:

Air-to-ground ordnance:

Weaknesses:  In the box, this kit certainly appears complex.  It’s not for beginners.  There’s a lot going on here, and it is not a simple shake-and-bake build.  That said, everything I see indicates that it is certainly buildable.  While this review is an “in the box” style review, a number of the criticisms of this kit emerged in the building process.  I would recommend looking at Spencer Pollard’s progressive build of the Kitty Hawk Fitter (HERE). He identifies a number of places where a bit of planning and thoughtful deviation from the instructions goes a long way in addressing potential glitches with the problems and tricky assembly.  I’d also use some styrene strip to fabricate locating tabs so as to make the fit and alignment between the mid- and aft fuselage easier, stronger, and more precise.     

Further, there are several places in the instructions that are either lacking detail or contain small errors.  The weapons painting guide could be more detailed to label colors for each munition to avoid any uncertainty regarding color choices.  A few parts in the instructions are not labeled (i.e., C21, the port side left aft fuselage half), or color call-outs are unclear, but in those instances, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s what.  There are also parts for a pair of R-27 (Alamo) air-to-air missiles, but they are not in the instructions or markings guide.  I’m not entirely sure the R-27 was ever carried by the Su-17, so that might be an explanation of this apparent oversight.  Consider the Alamos “extra-bonus” missiles in the kit.   

Also, be careful about whether or not you’re building an M3 (Fitter-H) or an M4 (Fitter K). The instructions appear to rather clearly distinguish between the two types, but the markings guide erroneously shows two of the M3s with the aft spine air scoop (NOT present on any M3).  Also, there’s a little bit of terminological inaccuracy with the boxtop and instructions making reference only to the Fitter-K, but of course, we all know there’s a Fitter-H in the box as well.     

A few other observations:  there’s one glaring error in that the intake is missing the prominent splitter plates above and below the intake shock cone.  There appear to be two different depths of recessed panel/screw/fastener details on the airframe parts, where recessed details are deeper and more clearly defined on the wings.  I can’t say that this is inaccurate, since I don’t have a Su-17 nearby to compare with, but the difference in the plastic is noticeable.  Once painted and given one’s favorite wash or pencil treatment, I doubt the recessed panels on the fuselage and wings will look any different, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

I would rate the detail in the gear wells and cockpit as “good.”  However, one will probably compare this kit to the Soviet/Russian subjects released by Great Wall Hobby and AMK over the last few years where molded cockpit and wheel well detail would be rated as “excellent.”  Furthermore, the instrument panel features only raised circles where instrument faces are.  There’s nothing for the detail painter to work with.  Instrument panel decals are provided, but the dial faces are part of a single instrument panel decal.  I would suggest that Kitty Hawk print dial faces separately (akin to the GWH MiG-29s) so that they will be easier to work with and apply.  Also, there are two different styles of seat back and cushion for the ejection seat.  There is no indication of which version/paint scheme/time period either style matches up with, so a little research by the builder will be needed to resolve this issue.  

Before Kitty Hawk released this Su-17, the most recent and best new-tool 1:48 Fitter was the KP kit, first released in 1995 and reboxed since then by everyone from Smer to Eduard.  The Kitty Hawk Su-17M3/M4 kit is not on par with Tamiya, Great Wall, or AMK, but it is by far the best injection-molded Su-17 produced so far.  The 400+ parts included for munitions is a another highlight.  Considering the parts breakdown of the fuselage into six left and right halves (fore, mid- and aft sections) it’s pretty clear that a future Su-22 kit (with the larger diameter aft section) is quite probably in the cards.  

The overall complexity of this kit and its reported glitches in construction mean that this is “a builder’s kit.”  I certainly look forward to starting mine, and will be a nice change from the limited run resin kits that I always gravitate towards!  The model has a lot of promise.  KASL already has released a resin intake correction set with the correct splitter plate configuration, and Eduard now has released the first PE details sets in what is likely to be a wave of aftermarket parts that make this an even better and richly detailed scale model of the Su-17.

Sincere thanks to Glen Coleman and Kitty Hawk Models for the review sample.  You can find out more about them and future releases at www.kittyhawkmodel.com

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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