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KIT REVIEW


Kitty Hawk # KH 80128 Su-35 "Flanker-E" China PLA Air Force -- 1:48 Scale

 

The Su-27 Flanker is one of the most capable interceptor and heavy fighter designs produced by the former Soviet Union and Russia.  The jet has seen several incremental upgrades, and one such variant is the Su-35 – a descendant of the original Su-27 but in many respects, it’s a rather new airplane. The Flanker-E can be considered a “Generation 4+” fighter.  China became the first export customer to purchase the Su-35, and Kitty Hawk is the first manufacturer to produce a 1:48 scale kit of the Flanker-E in PLA Air Force markings and configuration.  Let’s take a look.     

The results of air-to-air combat even from the early days of the Vietnam War made it was clear to USAF and DoD planners that the next front-line fighter had to incorporate a major leap in technology and lethality.  In 1969, the Soviet General Staff saw a clear shift towards an American advantage as the F-X program matured and led to the F-15 Eagle.  The Perspektivnyy Frontovoy Istrebitel (Advanced Frontline Fighter program) gave rise both the MiG-29 and the Sukhoi Su-27.  With the NATO reporting name of “Flanker,” the larger of these two airplanes was to be a long-range heavy fighter able to confront the most capable of American fighters and bombers.  The Su-27 first flew in December 1983.  Concepts for a second-generation Su-27 emerged in the form of the Su-27M that would feature a new multi-mode radar with both air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities (essentially, an analog of the F-15E Strike Eagle).  The first of 14 SU-27M prototypes flew in 1988 but the collapse of the Soviet Union terminated all plans for production.
     
In 2003, Sukhoi resurrected the concept of an upgraded Su-27 with a particular eye on the export market. It would also fill the Russian capability gap as the PAK-FA fifth-generation fighter program was slow to gather momentum.  The Su-35 features a newly redesigned glass cockpit and fire control system.  The N035 Irbis-E ("Snow Leopard") passive electronically-scanned array (PESA) radar can detect airborne targets out to about 250 miles while simultaneously tracking up to 30 targets and engaging eight of them at one time. The OLS-35 optoelectronic targeting system forward of the windscreen provides passive infrared search-and track capability able to acquire otherwise stealthy targets.  Greater survivability is conferred by the L175M Khibiny-M ECM system and by the use of radar absorbent (RAM) coatings to the air intakes and engine compressor face.  The Su-35 can field the full range of short-, medium-, and long-range Russian air-to-air missiles as well as anti-ship cruise missiles and a wide variety of air-to-ground munitions.
     
The Su-35 is powered by a pair of Saturn AL-41F1S turbofans.  These engines are capable of limited supercruise but, most importantly, are also equipped with thrust-vectoring nozzles that permit so-called “super-maneuverability” and thus the canards were deleted.  Differential nozzle positioning can produce simultaneous roll and yaw movements along with positive control over the airplane in the post-stall portion of the flight envelope.  The Su-35 first flew in February 2008.  While awaiting export customers, the Russian Air Force became the first to operate the aircraft.  Though widely marketed, buyers have been slow to emerge.  China's People's Liberation Army Air Force is currently the only foreign customer and Indonesia and the UAE appear very interested.  In November 2015, the Russian and Chinese governments signed a $2 billion contract for the purchase of 24 aircraft for the People's Liberation Army Air Force.  Protracted controversy surrounded the deal, as the Russians were very concerned about intellectual property rights in that China would copy the airframe and sell it – just as they had reverse engineered the Su-27 and Su-33 into the J-11B and J-15.  These issues were eventually worked out (and not necessarily to the Russians’ advantage).  The first four airplanes of a planned order of 24 Su-35s arrived in China in late 2016 and deliveries currently continue.   

Kitty Hawk’s 1:48 scale PLA Air Force Su-35 Flanker-E kit is a limited edition production run.  It consists of 620 medium-grey injection molded parts spread across eight sprues and separately bagged upper and lower fuselage halves.  Of that number, 408 parts are dedicated to munitions.  The kit also contains 15 clear parts on one sprue, 11 resin parts, and 31 photoetched metal parts.  The well-illustrated instructions guide the builder over 19 steps, though there are multiple unnumbered steps that cover the assembly of the various munitions.  Three decal sheets include markings for three Chinese Su-35s:   

Strengths: Overall, this kit has many excellent features.  The recessed panel lines, fasteners, and rivets are very well done.  They would appear to be on par with a Hasegawa-grade tooling, but aren’t quite as impressive as the tooling seen on the Kinetic Flanker (for a comparison, see our review HERE.  The bottom line is that the injection molded surface details and interior parts (i.e., cockpit, wheel wells) are still really solid.  Other features include optional instrument panel and side console decals, positionable canopy, a seated and standing pilot figure, internal cannon bay detail including the gun, open or closed auxiliary intake doors, round or bulged tires, the PESA radar, a positionable inflight refueling probe, drag chute assembly cover, and flight control surfaces (leading edge slats, flaps, horizontal stabilizers, and rudders).  The kit also includes optional variable geometry engine nozzles.  The plastic parts depict the nozzles in the neutral position, but the resin parts provide nozzles in their drooped, power-off position. 

The K-36D ejection seat is very good, and while it has a lot of parts, this multi-part approach makes a very detailed ejection seat – far better than any traditional injection molded bang seat.  The wheel wells look pretty good for an injection molded kit, though there’s a lot of room for additional detail and plumbing.  The radar set and the afterburner flameholders are really nicely made.  The molded details on the landing gear are really impressive, and with the resin tail assembly, the unique aft end of the PLAAF Flanker-E is well represented.

The photoetched and resin parts in this kit are really excellent.  The quality and fidelity of detail of the both PE and resin parts is on par with any aftermarket manufacturer such as Eduard or Aires.  Kitty Hawk’s first issue of the Su-35 in Russian markings was criticized in that it did not have the drooped afterburner nozzles, but here, the variable geometry nozzles are very well represented.  The casting of these parts along with the tail assembly, wheels, and pilot figures/helmet is really gorgeous (but see below).
The 408 parts on four sprues covering the weapons in this kit represent more than just a veritable warload – it’s an arsenal, and it provides the following:

All the munitions look quite impressive on the sprues and feature lots of rich recessed details including rivets and fasteners.  I’d double-check to make sure what munitions were also sold by Russia to China and carried by PLAAF Flanker-Es, but that KH-31 Krypton is one scary looking weapon that would be quite impressive hanging off a pylon.  The largest of the three decal sheets in the kit, incidentally, provide all the stencils and other markings for the munitions.

The choice in markings cover a nice range of early PLAAF scheme and color variations seen on their Su-35s.  The decals look just about perfectly printed and demonstrate a decidedly flat sheen.  Colors look quite good and translucent.  And even though one of the side panels of the box shows Russian Su-35 schemes, it’s all Chinese jets on these decal sheets.    

Weaknesses: a few things to note with this kit.  The instructions depict a choice in parts for ejection seat backpad styles, but it’s not clear if one, the other, or both apply to the PLAAF Su-35.  Likewise, the manner in which to fold and configure the PE parts for the shoulder harnesses is cryptically depicted in the instructions.  The outboard sides of the upper aft fuselage (between the trailing edges of the wings and the pivot point for the horizontal stabilizers) appears to be a bit more narrow than the lower fuselage halves, and some work might need to be done here to achieve not just a good fit, but a proper contour.
There is a seam that runs down the middle of the canopy and the windscreen, and many builders will opt to sand out and polish their clear parts.  The pilot figures are very well made, but some of the creases and folds in their flight suits strike me as exaggerated and far too deep (over-scale).  While the decals are generally very nicely printed, there’s some irregular border contours that can be seen in the Chinese national insignia.    

Overall, this is a very promising kit of the Su-35 Flanker-E, and the additional detail parts included in this issue of Kitty Hawk’s 1:48 scale Flanker really add a lot to the kit.  I’m currently building an earlier-generation Kitty Hawk kit, and while I am fairly aware of Kitty Hawk’s past tendency to over-engineer some elements of their kits, I’d say that this kit’s complexity and parts breakdown is relatively comparable to other mainstream kits of modern fighter jets.  In short order, we can probably expect aftermarket detail sets to accompany this new release that will only bring more features and opportunities to the Kitty Hawk Flanker-E.  Further, this is a fairly limited-run release, so get yours while you can.       

Many thanks are owed 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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