MiG-15 in 1:72, part 2: disasters, unforced errors and success

I started to contemplate the nose well for my MiG-15, and then realized that I had a wonderful reference to work from: a real MiG-15bis about a mile from my house at the Oakland Aviation Museum, where I’m a member! I hopped in the car, snapped some shots of the wheel bay (while flat on my back – this plane is low to the ground!), and was home at my workbench in 20 minutes! A few wires were added and the nose wheel bay was complete.

MiG-15bis nose wheel well, looking forward; the cylindrical item at the center bottom is the nose gear strut.

The Master Models set includes the insulator located behind and below the cockpit on the right side of the fuselage. The Eduard representation of this is good, but the Master part is fantastic. I carefully carved away the plastic insulator, then polished the plastic and drilled a .5mm hole with a No. 76 drill bit in a pin vise to accept the metal insulator at the end of the project.

 

The gunsight had to be sanded a bit on its bottom to fit inside the windscreen, but once it was in place it looked great. The windscreen fit reasonably well, but I ran some thin CA along its edges just to ensure there was no gap between it and the fuselage.

 

Painting started with the masking of the nose for the application of the red elementy byostrogo raspoznavianiya (literally, “elements of fast recognition,” or ID markings). The 324thIAD painted their noses red, while the 303rdIAD painted the tops of the tails red. The 324’s markings were simple – red from the windscreen forward, except for a cut-out around the “bort” number. I masked off the rest of the plane for the nose; I like to keep the metal colors away from color coats to avoid changes in texture that could spoil the illusion of metal. The cockpit was masked with damp tissue.

After a lot of masking, the nose of the plane was painted Chrysler engine red. MiGPAR?

The trickiest part of the masking: the intake. In real life, the red overlapped into the nose by about two inches. How would I mask that? I cut a disk of .030 styrene sheet that just fit into the intake. I could position it exactly where I needed it and it stayed in place.

 

After masking, I shot an initial coat of flat white over the nose as a base for the red. The shade of red I selected was Chrysler engine red from Testors; it was the best match to the red on the decals and it looked right in the bottle. It sprayed very well and soon I had a nice-looking red nose.

 

That’s when the build hit a snag. My five-year-old daughter was in my office and somehow broke the windscreen off the in-progress model. In a panic, she decided to fix the model, so she pulled out all the cockpit masking, ripping the instrument panel, gunsight and control column loose. She then tried to apply CA glue to the model straight from the bottle, dumping rivulets of glue all over the nose. At this point, her fingers stuck together and her mother called me at work to explain how to get them apart.

 

When I got home, I though this MiG had met its maker. The CA had set up, but it was very thick. The droplets and runs were clearly defined. I found the windscreen and gunsight, and the instrument panel was still rattling around in the cockpit, but the control column was nowhere to be found. I decide the model would be terminal if the CA had gotten into one of three areas: the cockpit, the intake or the speed brake wells. Miraculously, none of those area were affected. In fact, no CA glue had made it to the area where the windscreen would attach, meaning it still fit cleanly.

 

The thick CA glue was a blessing in that it hadn’t fully cured in many places. I was able to chip much of it off with minimal damage to the plastic below. Some areas needed to be sanded, and I had to remove the surviving red paint as well. The shell ejection chutes on the bottom of the plane were clogged and had to be re-opened with a No. 11 blade. Particular care had to be taken around the gun camera fairing. Once all the CA was gone, I sanded the nose of the aircraft with progressively finer sandpaper, then polished it out. Luckily, the nose of the MiG-15 had remarkably few panel lines, so re-scribing was very easy.

 

I bought a new detail set for the control column (I’ll pillage the rest of the set when I build my Airfix MiG-17!), re-attached the gunsight and instrument panel, and put the cockpit in order before re-attaching the windscreen. Then it was the masking-white paint-Chrysler engine red routine all over again. I hadn’t thrown out the disk for masking the intake, which saved me a step. When the masking came off, I was back to where I had been before the accident!

 

I re-masked the nose and painted the model with Testors metallizer aluminum. There were some areas where construction had left faintly visible wavers in the surface that were apparent in shiny aluminum paint; these areas were masked off and hit with a mix of aluminum and stainless steel that was less shiny and the flaws disappeared. Panels on the fuselage and wings were also masked and painted.

The gleaming MiG-15, with the first of the decals in place.

Since this would be a weathered machine, the decals went on before a sealer coat. The “135” on the nose for Kramerenko’s plane came from the H-Models Decals sheet; unfortunately, the North Korean national markings on this sheet were out of register, leaving a white outline on the left side of the stars and circles. A Print Scale sheet for the MiG-15 lacked the white undercoat, but the red and blue images were badly misaligned so that the bottom of the blue circle nearly touched the red outer circle and the star was shifted visibly off center.

 

My solution: get another Eduard MiG-15! I borrowed the decals from yet another kit (I now have three more MiG-15s to build if you include my Eduard MiG-15UTI) and their alignment was fine. They were a little thick – I had to cut them gently across panel lines and hit them with setting solution – but in short order my MarK had all its migings – I mean, my MiG had all its markings.

 

This was a good time to spray a few more items with aluminum paint. I needed to remedy some worn spots on the leading edge of the wings anyway, and while I was at it I painted the main gear doors and canopy. The gear doors have outstanding detail on their inner surfaces; I popped the detail out with a 50:50 wash of Future and water darkened with a bit of acrylic paint. I also hit the speed brake wells and the rear internal structure of the canopy, which I folded together from the photoetched parts in the Brassin cockpit set.

With the Eduard North Korean markings in place…

When I stripped the masking off the nose, all was well except for a little silver overspray on one side. I carefully masked with a Post-It note and sprayed red – but the Post-It lifted the bottom of the “135” marking! The project went into another holding pattern until a second decal sheet could be sourced, all thanks to a split-second of carelessness!

 

While waiting for the new decals to arrive, the nose gear doors were painted aluminum on the inside faces and white on the outside faces, which was over-coated with Chrysler engine red to match the nose bands.

 

The wheels were painted using the kit-supplied masks. I painted the tires first, using a mix of brown and black, then painted the hubs gray. The wheels came from the Brassin aftermarket set for MiG-15s, using the earlier pattern of the two pairs of wheels in the kit. Later, these would be weathered with pastels; this not only makes them look well-used but it leaves them dead flat, perfectly mimicking used rubber.

 

I carefully hand-painted the nose strut, which is molded with the nose wheel. Once done, I ran a dark wash over the strut to pop out the detail. A similar approach to the main gear was complicated only by the presence of a compression strut, which was painted chrome silver. Two tiny photoetched pieces replicating the tow points were added and painted gray, and the wheels were added, paying close attention to alignment. Each strut and wheel combination was rigged with two brake lines made from lead wire, which was blackened with a Sharpie pen, and then the struts were all shot with Testors Dullcote.

eft and right gear, with hydraulic lines added.

There was a little play to the main gear when they were added to the model, so paying attention to the alignment pays off later. I added the nose gear strut, put the model on its gear – and watched in horror as it tipped back on its tail. After contemplating my options, I decided to add weight in the rear of the cockpit, behind the seat. There’s some unused space back there, and I packed it full of folded and pressed lead foil, playing teeter-totter until the nose came down. With the seat installed, the model sat stable on three wheels instead of two.

 

The gear doors are a little tricky on this machine. Follow the instructions and put the wheel cover on the strut before adding the strut to the wheel well – doing so otherwise is really difficult. The inner gear doors snap into place neatly, by the upper strut covers are a bit unique. First, as on the real item, they splay out in a crazy manner – photo references are invaluable. Second, Eduard molds the retraction strut as part of the landing gear strut, but instructs you to bend it to mate with the strut cover. Caution is the watchword! Once you have these in place, the nose gear doors are a pleasant return to normalcy.

 

At this stage, the build was all about adding a host of little things without screwing anything up. I drilled a small hole at the top of the vertical fin to accept an aerial antenna. I also drilled out a tiny hole just ahead of the windscreen on the left side for the landing gear indicator, then stretched some white styrene for the indicator. It was colored red with a Sharpie, inserted into the hole with PVA glue, and snipped off at the appropriate length. The Master Models gun barrels were painted a gunmetal color, cemented into their fairings, and drybrushed with steel, and black pastels were used to add discoloration from the gun gasses. The pastels were also brushed on the wheels at this time.

 

I painted the radar altimeter antennas black and test fit them on another kit – the attachment pegs need to trimmed just a bit to get a flush fit to the bottom of the wings. The speed brakes were added to the fuselage, along with the resin actuators. I swapped painted fine lead wire for the photoetched hydraulic lines provided in the Brassin airbrake set. The seat was slipped into the cockpit, and the control column went in place next. The antenna mast was cleaned up and CA-glued to its mount on the fuselage, followed by the canopy. The Master Models pitot boom was placed into the hole in the wing and painted aluminum, with a chrome silver head.

 

With the ejection seat and control column installed, the last step was rigging the aerial. I had drilled a hole in the vertical fin and inserted a .05mm metal rod as the tail anchor; the aerial on the early MiG-15 stretched from the tail to the antenna mast to the insulator on the side of the fuselage. I used a strand of black nylon panty hose for my aerial wire, and I nervously braced myself for the rigging operation. It went quickly – aided by reverse tweezers and sharp scissors, it was done in five minutes. It may have been the easiest part of the whole build!

Despite my unforced errors, weird accidents and omitted instructions in the Brassin set, the model turned out wonderfully and takes an important place in my Korean War collection. Moreover, now that I know the kit’s quirks, I’m looking forward to building a camouflage MiG-15bis and a MiG-15 UTI. This rendition of first jet ace’s mount won’t be my last Eduard MiG-15!

Eduard’s MiG-15, part 1: the hazards of aftermarket parts

The F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15 waged a pitched battle for supremacy over a narrow patch of sky over the northern Korea peninsula from 1950-1953. The traditional view of the outcome of these battles was heavily tilted toward the U.S., with a nearly 10:1 kill ratio in favor of the F-86. Recent scholarship has wound that back as far as 1.8:1, but communist bloc sources have listed a total of 659 MiG-15s lost in Korea while the USAF listed 256 F-86s lost to all causes. The U.S. claimed 792 MiG kills, while the communists claimed over 600 F-86s – overclaiming was the order of the day.

In recent decades, the participation of Soviet pilots was revealed. This did not come as a shock: several Sabre pilots claimed to have seen red-headed opponents, and U.S. victories climbed, plateaued and fell in a manner that suggested that skilled pilots were being rotated in and out of the theatre. That’s exactly what was happening – the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS, or “military air force”) was rotating units into Korea to give them combat experience and to teach the Chinese and North Korean pilots. When the Russians rotated, the losses spiked; when the Russians returned, losses fell.

One of the first Soviet pilots to arrive was Sergey Kramerenko, who had shot down two Fw 190s in World War II and was a captain when he volunteered to go east with Ivan Kozhedub’s 324thIstrebitel’naya Aviatsionnyy Diveeziya(IAD, or fighter air division). Kramerenko entered combat in April 1951 and immediately realized the MiGs were entering combat at too low an altitude, failing to use the MiG-15’s altitude advantage to maximum effect. Adjusting tactics, Kramerenko soon scored his first victory, downing an F-80 that was escorting B-29s. On June 2, he probably knocked down the Sabre of Thomas C. Hanson of the 336thFIS to score his first victory over an F-86. (USAF records list this plane as having crashed after take-off.)

Sergei Kramerenko in the cockpit of a MiG-15

On June 17, 1951, Kramerenko and six other MiG-15s spotted eight F-86s below them and dove to attack. It was an ambush: three more F-86s dove on the MiGs and as Kramerenko lined up a target, an F-86 opened fire from 100 yards astern. Kramerenko flung his jet into a turn and started to dive before remembering the Sabre could out-dive the MiG. Instead he ducked into a cloud, then turned around and charged back into the fight. Now, three F-86s were below him. He dove, but the formation split, intending to provide mutual cover. Kramerenko went after the single F-86 climbing to his right; it was closer and the other two Sabres would have to climb to attack him. He fired and the Sabre started to smoke.

By now, the other Sabres were on his tail. He reversed his heading and buzzed past the Sabres back into another cloud bank. When he exited, he expected to see the Sabres below him – instead, they were back on his tail. He dove away from them, toward the Suiho Dam, which he knew was well protected with anti-aircraft artillery. The F-86s gave up the pursuit, and Kramerenko left for home. His gun camera showed good hits on the Sabre, and there was even a report of where it crashed into the ground. In reality, the Sabre was flown by WWII ace Lt. Col. Glenn Eagleston, who belly-landed his fighter at Kimpo.

The victories continued for Kramerenko: on June 23, he was credited with another F-86 (contrary to USAF records), and on July 17 bagged another Sabre as it escorted F-80 fighter-bombers. On July 29, he severely damaged an F-86A; its pilot reached friendly territory before bailing out. This was Kramerenko’s fifth victory, making him the first ace of the Korean War and the first pilot with five jet victories.

On September 12, Kramerenko damaged an F-84E, whose pilot ejected and was rescued. Ten days later, he claimed a Sabre, which in reality escaped with heavy damage. On October 30, another F-84E fell to his guns, and again the pilot was rescued. On the first day in December he tangled with Australian Meteor Mk. 9s, claiming two (but actually downing just one, the plane of P/O Vance Drummond, who became a POW), and on January 12 claimed two F-86s (records confirm the loss of one). On January 16, 1952, he downed another F-86; the loss was not reported on USAF records, but in 2002 the US-Russian joint commission on POW-MIAs interviewed him about the loss of an F-80C in the same area, tacitly acknowledging the victory.

The next day, the tables turned. Kramerenko and his unit were dispatched to intercept some F-84s, and seeing no escort, one group went after the Thunderjets while Kramerenko’s group maneuvered for position. That’s when he saw the Sabres diving on the first group – he turned to engage, only for a second group of F-86s to slice through. He damaged the leader – thought to be Major George Wendling – but then was hit by Major William Sheaffer. His MiG was doomed. “I kicked hard left rudder, but the controls did not respond. It was so sudden that one wing suddenly broke off. I made the decision to bail out of the uncontrollable aircraft, as it was now in a vertical spin downward. With a great deal of difficulty – as I was rammed into the left side of the aircraft – I managed to get my hand on the ejection seat control lever and pull it. A sharp blow momentarily pressed down on my eyes, so I have no idea how I flew out of the aircraft. Kramerenko said that Sheaffer then made two ineffective firing passes on him before he drifted into a cloud; he was recovered be a search party and returned to Antung. On Jan. 31, 1952, Kramerenko’s unit was rotated back to the Soviet Union.

I’ve been building a Korean War collection for some time now, but notably absent from that collection are the F-86 and the MiG-15. There’s no good excuse for the Sabre – yeah, maybe I want an F-86A and there really isn’t one in 1:72 except the Matchbox kit, but still…! For the MiG-15, there really wasn’t a particularly god kit in 1:72. KP’s was accurate in outline but fit miserably and was covered in rivets; DML’s was shaped wrong; Airfix’s was underscale. The best bet for a year or so was HobbyBoss’s simple MiG-15. And then came news of the Eduard MiG-15.

It was something of an epic tale: all the work was done, and about 30 kits were pressed before disaster struck and an accident fatally damaged the molds. A year or so later, new molds were ready, at last. The first way you could get your hands on the new MiG was in a two-kit “Profipack” edition that included resin weapons and pylons and markings for a mob of Czech fighters and fighter bombers.

I was going for a Korean War MiG-15, so I knew some sourcing of decals would be necessary. Eduard also put out several resin sets for the model, including a resin cockpit and a conversion from the kit’s MiG-15bis to the original MiG-15. I decided to do my first one as an early MiG.

Since the kit had many of the parts needed for a MiG-15 (not a bis) already, the conversion focused on the speed brakes. These required some cutting of the rear fuselage to enlarge the brakes and alter their upper contour. The set also provides the sides of the well structure and the inner wall; I found it difficult to use the inner wall and uses .005 styrene sheet instead.

The opened speed brakes were backed with .005 styrene sheet.

The Brassin interior parts are quite nice, especially the ejection seat. Beware: the resin sidewalls have slightly different proportions than the kits sidewalls. These form the intake splitter, and the slight dimensional difference helped stall this project, as you’ll see later.

I painted the parts the appropriate gray shades and then picked out the instrument panels in shades of black and very dark gray, followed by a dry-brushing to pull out the details. The pre-painted photoetched parts, including the rudder pedals and instrument panel, went in neatly, although they benefitted from a little flat coating to tie them back to the painted parts of the cockpit.

The resin sidewalls after they’ve been painted and installed in the fuselage halves.

The cockpit in the joined fuselage, showing how much of the cockpit is visible in the finished model.

Some cockpit components – namely, the ejection seat and the gunsight – were added later in construction because they’re vulnerable to damage. The Brassin gunsight, cast in clear resin, was painted and added above the photoetched control panel – the thin, resin reflector glasses need to be seen to be believed. This was done right before the windscreen was added and effectively enclosed the gunsight.

The jet pipe is molded in halves; I used a rolled-up bit of sandpaper to eliminate the very minimal seam and carefully added it to the rear fuselage.

With that done, I could join the fuselage halves. This went reasonably easy. There are two clear antenna covers that go on the bottom of the aircraft; the front round one was not present on the MiG-15, so I faired it in. The rear one was not clear on some aircraft, so I blended it in and planned on painting it later in the construction process.

The fuselage halves, joined and ready for its wings.

The wings went together, top and bottom, with not much difficulty. Adding them to the fuselage was another story. The right wing fit like a glove, but the left wing left a big gap. I added a .005 shim and used CA glue to blend it in, carefully sanding to avoid the lovely wing fences, then re-scribed. Re-scribing is challenging on this model because the surface detail is so amazingly delicate and complex – which makes me wish it fit better, since a lot of detail is lost during construction.

The wings, once they were finally joined to the fuselage.

The fuselage was complete except for a plate that encloses the lower part of the nose. There are separate plates for the MiG-15 the MiG-15bis; I was careful to select the right one. The fit of this chin plate was sloppy, to say the least; a lot of filler and a commensurate amount of sanding was needed to fair it in acceptably, followed by a long re-scribing session.

The MiG-15-specific chin panel provide the details for the NS-23 cannon, versus the later, faster-firing NR-23 cannon. Once the chin was added and the detail repaired, I cleaned up the gun blisters for the nose and carefully cut away the guns, then drilled holes in them to accept the excellent turned brass 23mm and 37mm cannon barrels from Master Models. Centering and drilling the holes was a lot easier before adding the blisters to the fuselage (where they fit perfectly).

The resin parts for the cockpit include the inner sides of the intake. The kit parts fit very well, and are topped by a plastic splitter at the front. This is enclosed by a plastic intake ring that includes the gin camera fairing. The resin parts, on the other hand, created a terrible fit issue with the splitter piece, and it’s inside the fuselage where it’s nearly impossible to address. I applied a healthy amount pot Apoxie-Sculpt to the seams created by the poor fit. Once this was dry, I made a series of homemade tools from flat toothpicks by gluing strips of sandpaper them and then carefully and gradually eliminated the excess Apoxie-Sculpt. I checked my work with a silver Sharpie pen, and when no remaining artifacts remained, I added the intake ring.

However, now the ring didn’t fit well – and it left a step inside the intake. I used CA glue to fill the gaps on the outside of the aircraft and sanded them out. The inside of the intake was harder – I finally decided to cut .005 styrene to shape, then CA glue them to the outer sides of the intakes and cut off the excess that projected beyond the intake. I then gently sanded the inside lip of the intake to blend the styrene and kit plastic. To my shock, this approach actually worked.

.005 styrene was cut to fit the outer side of the intakes, then fitted in the model and the excess was marked with a pen and cut off before the part was CA-glued to the intake sides.

After the .005 styrene was glue in and sanded, the intakes were fairly seamless.

The main gear wells do a good job of reproducing the texture and structure of the roof of the wells, but they omit the wiring, which was kept mainly around the perimeter of the wells. Using my reference photos, I added the wires using fine lead solder. This detail is entirely superfluous – the MiG-15 sits so low to the ground it’s physically impossible to see – but I find the addition of wires and hoses to landing gear wells to be relaxing. Clearly, something is wrong with me.

Before turning my attention to the nose well, I added the Brassin resin rear cockpit shelf. This fit very precisely – I had to sand a little off the sides to get it into place.

Next time: final assembly, paint, decals and landing gear!

 

 

 

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