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KIT REVIEW


Kitty Hawk Su-34 Fullback -- 1:48 Scale

 

Over the last ten years or so, the scale modeling market has filled many empty niches in the genre of Soviet and Russian-related aircraft kits.  Arguably, those areas had been historically and commercially underdeveloped, and Kitty Hawk has made some key contributions to this corner of the hobby.  Virtually unrepresented has been the Su-34 Fullback, one of the Russian Federation’s key frontline multi-role aircraft.  Last year, Hobby Boss released the first 1:48 scale Su-34, yet it had a few very serious problems that discouraged a lot of scale modelers.  In summer 2018, Kitty Hawk released their new-tool 1:48 scale Su-34.  A review sample of the Kitty Hawk kit recently arrived on our review bench, and here, we take a close look at this new Fullback.         

The Sukhoi Design Bureau had been designing jets since 1955, starting with the Su-7 and extending across the Su-17/22, Su-24 and Su-27 families of combat aircraft.  In the mid-1980s, Sukhoi began developing a new multirole tactical combat aircraft to replace their aging swing-wing Su-24.  The basis for this new platform was Su-27.  The concept was to (essentially) graft a new nose and cockpit to the existing Su-27 airframe, including an armored cockpit capsule with side-by-side seating.  It would be geared primarily for tactical bombing/attack/interdiction roles including against small and mobile targets in all weather conditions.  First known by the in-house design designation of T-10V and later by the NATO designation Fullback, the fall of the Soviet Union caused the development of the Su-34 to unfold in fits and starts.

The first flight of the Su-34 prototype took place in April 1990 in the form of the first Su-27IB (Istrebitel Bombardirovshchik, or fighter-bomber), itself a converted Su-27UB with the new nose and forward fuselage.  The first pre-production Su-34, T10V-2, first flew in December 1993.  This airplane had further modified vertical stabilizers, a twin tandem main landing gear configuration, and a substantial "tail stinger" that housed a rearward-facing radar.  This led to the first aircraft built to production standards which flew a little more than a year later and fielded the Leninets V004 passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar.  It was marketed primarily as a land-based attack jet for the Russian Navy and called the Su-32FN at one point but the Su-34 designation was eventually made official.

Russian financial instability into the early 2000s slowed and disrupted the Su-34’s development but did not kill the program.  An initial batch of eight aircraft was completed at the Novosibirsk factory in 2004.  A follow-on order of five pre-production airplanes for the Russian Air Force then opened the floodgates.  Later orders have produced a fleet of over 110 airframes to date with another 90 or more presently on order.  Algeria has also ordered a dozen Fullbacks making them the first export customer for the Su-34.

Today’s Su-34 shares most of its wing structure, tail, and engine nacelles with the Su-27/Su-30.  It is also fitted with canards akin to the Su-33/35 to promote greater maneuverability.  The flattened radome has earned it the nickname "Duckling" or the "Duckbill."  The pilot-commander and navigator/weapons system operator sit side-by-side in Zvezda K-36DM ejection seats on the large flight deck.  The cockpit is pressurized and crews can move about the cabin during long missions.  There’s even a galley, rest area, and toilet.  Crew access is accomplished by a ladder mounted to the nose landing gear with entry via a hatch in the cabin floor.  The avionics suite also integrates a helmet mounted display system.  The Su-34 is powered by a pair of Saturn AL-31FM1 turbofan engines that can push the jet past Mach 1.8 in a dash even while carrying a full warload.  Its unrefueled combat radius is 2,500 miles and the airframe is rated at 9+g.  The Su-34 has 12 hardpoints for up to 26,500 pounds of ordnance including the latest precision-guided air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.

The Su-34 formally entered service in early 2014.  In late 2015, Su-34s began arriving in Syria as part of Russia’s support for the Bassar al-Asad regime in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  When a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24, the vulnerability of the older ground attack aircraft was clear, and Fullbacks were moved in-theater to replace them in some mission profiles.  Fullbacks flew numerous sorties against a variety of anti-Assad forces including ISIL training camps, ammunition depots, and vehicle targets around Raqqa and elsewhere.  The airplane is clearly maturing as a formidable weapons system and the Russian Air Force is gaining extensive experience with the Fullback as a precision-guided munitions delivery platform.  Given the current outlook, the Su-34 is well on track to replace the Tu-22 and Su-24, and the story of the Fullback is likely just beginning. 

Upon opening the box, it is immediately clear that Kitty Hawk’s 1:48 scale Su-34 Fullback kit is…prodigious.  The kit contains 11 light gray injection molded polystyrene sprues containing (by my count) 1,069 parts.  Of that number, 339 actually account for the airplane itself.  The remainder can be found distributed across the six sprues that contain nothing but ordnance options (see below).  Panel lines, rivets, and fasteners are all delicately represented by engraved, recessed details.  Ten clear parts are present on a single sprue.  One fret of photoetched metal parts contains another 37 parts while four resin parts are packed in their own clear plastic pack.  The decals come on one primary sheet and two secondary inserts.  The mixed black-and-white/color instruction booklet organizes the build over 19 steps.  Decals and the markings guide cover four Su-34s:

Strengths:  Over the years, Kitty Hawk has been working on upping their game and improving their molds, fit, and other qualities of their kits.  I’ve seen them all, and built a few.  This first look at their 1:48 scale Su-34 suggests to me this is their best effort so far.  While it’s a complex kit, my dry fits of the fuselage and wings reveal very, very good fit (but see below).

Overall molding quality is excellent and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best kits out there by anyone.  Surface detail is gorgeous – I’m talking drool-inducing.  This kit is detail rich, and includes features not often seen in injection-molded kits, such as piping in the gear wells, door actuators, and a number of rather fine photoetched metal assemblies.  The photoetched metal parts are also really well made.  Building options include the PESA radar array, the internal gun, extended or retracted in-flight refueling probe, and two complete Saturn powerplants.  The leading edge slats, flaps, ailerons, and rudders are all separate parts and can be positioned in the neutral, dropped/extended, or deflected positions.  The tail stinger assembly also looks great, too, and features some rather prominent photoetched metal parts.  Two sets of resin cast exhaust nozzles are included – one set representing open nozzles and the other in the closed position.  The casting is flawless and again, the nozzles are highly detailed, inside and out.  

Of course, one of the most pressing questions involves how this compares to the Hobby Boss Fullback.  Hobby Boss indeed beat Kitty Hawk to the market with their Su-34 in 2016.  Yet, the Hobby Boss kit had a number of glitches.  In particular, it got panned for a pretty badly misshapen nose/radome, especially given that kit’s $165.00 price tag.  So how did Kitty Hawk do? 

Comparing the Kitty Hawk radome with the Hobby Boss radome and a few line drawings I was able to find, it really looks like Kitty Hawk nailed it – it is an accurate radome in shape and size.  They did not repeat the same error made by Hobby Boss.  I also find the Kitty Hawk kit to have much higher fidelity and complexity of surface detail, too.  A number of Kitty Hawk’s details, especially in the landing gear and gear wells, are also superior to the Hobby Boss Fullback.  While the Kitty Hawk kit retails for a little more than half the price and comes in a substantially smaller box, it is substantively better than the Hobby Boss Su-34 in these respects.       

Other thoughts:  the flight deck is overall nicely done, and while I often critique Kitty Hawk for “soft” or simplified cockpit details, their cockpit is better than many of their past efforts.  While it’s not perhaps ideal for many builders (see below), details such as individual buttons on the MFDs are nicely represented.  Each K-36 ejection seat builds up out of 17 separate parts.  Sure, it’s a bit of work, but 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 am pleased that the ejection seat shoulder harnesses and lap belts with photoetched metal parts are provided rather than molding the detail onto the seat pads (as many manufacturers do).  For me at least, I think that separate PE belts are the way to go to achieve the most realistic scale ejection seat.  The nose and main landing gear are also complex, multi-part assemblies, and they appear to really capture the intricacies of the real thing.      

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 selection of these markings choices are very attractive, and capture the range of the blue/blue gray wrap-around camouflage schemes seen on the Su-34 - including the “Shamu” scheme which has always struck me as a little sinister!  Of course, there’s even a scheme for a factory-fresh and unpainted Fullback in zinc chromate yellow primer.  It’s a very neat and thoughtful option.  The decals are beautifully printed and nicely capture the sharp relief desired by scale modelers.  There’s a ton of airframe and external stores stencils, and all but the smallest of them are legible in 1:48 scale.

Speaking of external stores:  this kit comes with a COLOSSAL load of ordnance.  The choices for the scale modeler to bomb-up their Fullback are a little overwhelming.  As with the Su-17/22 kits, Kitty Hawk’s intention was to include a comprehensive set of late Cold War Soviet and modern Russian air-to-air and air-to ground stores.  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 grossly incorrect.  Here’s a list of what you get in the Kitty Hawk Su-34 kit:
Air-to air missiles:

Air-to-ground ordnance:

Weaknesses:  Even in the box, this kit appears complex.  It’s not a weakness, but it is not for beginners.  There’s a lot going on here, and it is not a shake-and-bake build.  While this review is an “in the box” style review, a few of observations emerged in with my initial fiddling with the parts.

At least one mounting pin on the left inside of the nose appears short-shot and will not connect with the hole beneath.  Also, watch out for alignment and gaps regarding the joint where the upper fuselage meets the lower fuselage in the short chine.  It should fit pretty seamlessly, but especially with the short-shot nose alignment pin, it might be possible to misalign those parts.  There are also multiple ugly-deep ejection pin markings on the floors of the intakes, and those will require cleanup.  I also might argue that a few details appear just a bit over-scale, such as the largest of the fasteners/rivets on the fuselage spine and maybe the ejection seat harnesses, too.  If that’s the case, it’s not over-the-top, but since I don’t have the jet to eyeball myself, it’s just something to think about.   

Compared to my reference photos of the Fullback cockpit, the plastic parts and the instrument panel, side panels, and center console decals are generally correct in configuration, but they are also simplified.  Also, there’s a missed opportunity:  the kit does not contain the nose gear well boarding ladder.  It is a really distinctive feature of this airplane, and it’s just not in the kit. 

Kitty Hawk has done an overall thoroughly impressive job with their Su-34 Fullback kit, and it looks like the best kit they’ve manufactured to date.  There’s a ton of highlights and an impressive level of detail, plenty of options for construction, and an interesting selection of markings.  I would evaluate this Kitty Hawk effort on several levels as meaningfully better than the Hobby Boss kit.  The approximately 730 parts included for munitions is another highlight – this kit contains a complete “bonus” modern Russian weapons set.  The overall complexity of this kit and its potential glitches in construction means that most builders will need to bring to the table a little extra effort and planning to this project.  Certainly I can imagine that aftermarket detail sets will be forthcoming, and hopefully Eduard and others will produce better quality cockpit parts, harnesses, and the boarding ladder (fingers crossed!).

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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