ICM's 1/48 MiG-3

Model, Text & Photos by Tony Bell


Introduction

In early 1939 the Voyenno Vozdushnyye Sily, (VVS - the Soviet Air Force) issued a requirement for a high altitude strategic interceptor, which the Polikarpov design bureau was assigned to develop. Polikarpov soon fell out of favour with Stalin and the new MiG design bureau headed by Artem Ivanovich Mikoyan and Mikhail Iosifevich Gurevich was given the task. The resultant I-200 was a small fighter built around the powerful but heavy AM-35A engine. The aircraft was very fast (651 kph) but extremely difficult to fly because of poor longitudinal (pitch) stability due to the short rear fuselage. In spite of handling problems and short range, the I-200 was ordered into production as the MiG-1.

The MiG-3 was a result of an attempt to rectify the MiG-1's range and stability shortcomings. Stability was improved by increasing the wing dihedral and lengthening the nose to move the centre of gravity forward. The aerodynamics were cleaned up, and pilot's armour and an additional fuel tank added. These changes improved the flight characteristics from "extremely difficult" to merely "difficult".

The MiG-3 was produced starting in late 1940, and constituted close to 90% of the modern VVS fighter force at the time of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. The air war over the eastern front was more tactical than strategic in nature, with most combat taking place at altitudes of 5000m or below. With an engine optimized for performance at an altitude of 6000m, it quickly became apparent that the MiG-3 was outclassed by the Luftwaffe opposition at lower altitudes. In the first half of 1942 it was withdrawn from the front line to serve in air defence squadrons for the remainder of the war.

The MiG-3's AM-35A engine was produced in the same factory as its closely related cousin, the AM-38 which powered the Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik. Stalin had declared that the Sturmovik was "as important for the Red Army as air and bread" and production of the AM-35A was discontinued in favour of the AM-38. Although a MiG-3 fitted with an AM-38 exhibited improved performance, the AM-38 was reserved exclusively for the IL-2. Production of the MiG-3 ceased in December 1941

The Kit

The ICM MiG-3 comes packed in a flimsy, end opening box (grrrrr!). The kit consists of five sprues in light grey styrene and one clear. The clear parts are quite transparent, if not a little on the thick side, and the grey plastic parts have a fine pebbly texture and nicely engraved panel lines, although the fabric texture on the control surfaces is way overdone. The parts also sport a heavy coating of mould release grease, necessitating a good scrub with dish detergent and an old toothbrush. The kit includes a very complete looking AM-35A engine which is a separate model in its own right.

Some of the thicker parts exhibit sink marks, most notably the propeller blades, main wheels and horizontal stabilisers. The decals are very thin and matt, not unlike Italeri kit decals. They suck, frankly. They are translucent and delicate, and broke into pieces as soon as I tried to shift them from the backing paper. As far as marking options go, the kit that I bought was the boxing which only includes markings for VVS ace and Hero of the Soviet Union Nikolay Krasnov. The other release of this kit includes markings for 10 aircraft in a variety of different winter and summer schemes.
The MiG-3 is not a simple aircraft, with numerous scoops, intakes, lumps and bumps. The parts breakdown is likewise complicated, but necessary to avoid compromising detail.

Construction

Given the complicated nature of the kit, it would be wise to follow the instructions which would have you start construction with the engine. However, having read several reviews of the kit I opted to avoid any potential fit issues in the construction of the nose and omit the engine. For me, construction therefore started with, you guessed it, the cockpit.

The Cockpit

The kit cockpit is quite nice, featuring a separate tubular structure and good detail. As nice as the kit cockpit is, the Cutting Edge resin replacement cockpit is truly marvellous. The Cutting Edge cockpit consists of 13 pieces in their typical tough medium grey resin plus a printed acetate sheet for the instrument dials. The armoured seat has moulded on cushions and Sutton style harness.

Vintage aircraft interior colours seem to be a perpetual point of debate between modellers, and VVS aircraft interiors are probably the worst. Some research over at the VVS modelling website (http://vvs.hobbyvista.com/) indicated that some MiG-3 interiors were likely painted the same colour as the aircraft underside. Good enough for me.

After the resin parts were carefully removed from their pour stubs, they were painted overall Testors enamel Russian Underside Blue, with the seat cushions painted Testors Leather and various other details picked out with black, silver and leather. The whole cockpit was given a "wash" that consists of a mixture of Polly Scale flat, India ink and water. It was then drybrushed with light grey artists' oils and some paint chipping and general scuffing added with a "steel" coloured Prismacolor pencil.

The Cutting Edge instrument panel is particularly nice. The builder is given the option of painting the dials and their raised detail, or the back of the panel can be sanded away to expose the instrument holes so that the acetate gauges can be used. I chose the latter option.

Some careful trimming, filing and dry fitting was necessary to get the resin components to fit properly inside the fuselage, with particular attention being paid to the radio shelf behind the pilot's seat. The completed cockpit was set aside and not glued into the fuselage until later.

The Fuselage

Oh boy. OK, so how many parts do most kits need to represent the fuselage of a single engine fighter? Two? Three? Four? Well on this kit it's nine, and that's not including the rudder!

Apart from the two main fuselage halves, there are two upper and one lower engine cowling pieces, split along panel lines. I found that these pieces had somewhat soft edges, which would look inconsistent with the rest of the panel lines which are quite crisp. How to fix this? I couldn't sand the edges sharp, as that would remove material and degrade the fit of the parts, which was actually quite good. Instead I brushed a bead of Gunze Mr. Surfacer 500 along the outside edges of all the cowling pieces, let it dry, brushed some more and repeated until a sufficiently thick ridge if Mr. Surfacer had built up. I then carefully sanded the excess Mr. Surfacer with 800 grit wet & dry sandpaper, leaving nice sharp edges. The next order of business was to eliminate the pebbly surface texture of the cowling, as I wanted to paint it in natural metal. An airbrushed coat of Mr. Surfacer 1000 and a rub down with 1500 grit sandpaper took care of that, although it was tricky work sanding in and around all of the intakes, troughs, scoops and other surface features.

There are numerous fasteners moulded into the fuselage in the vicinity of the cockpit that were not as well defined as I would have liked. Since they were already fairly deep, drilling them out further wasn't an option, so I elected to re-do them entirely. So, I filled each one (about 70 of 'em) with Mr. Surfacer, sanded them smooth and then drilled each one clean trough with a No. 76 drill bit.

Now came the tedious part. I stretched about a gazillion pieces of sprue over a candle, and cut pieces such that one end was thicker than the No. 76 hole, and the other end thinner. I inserted the thin end of a piece of stretched sprue into each hole from the outside and gently pulled it through without forcing it until it was too thick to fit. I then cut the sprue flush with the fuselage using a sharp new X-acto blade. Finally I pulled it through a tiny bit more until it was slightly recessed, brushed some liquid cement from the inside and trimmed away the excess.

At this point the cockpit parts were attached to the fuselage with five minute epoxy to allow sufficient time to line everything up. The engine panels were attached by brushing liquid cement from the inside so as to avoid melting the nice sharp panel lines I spent so much effort on. Next up were the wing root pieces which required considerable and repeated trimming and test fitting before they were attached with liquid cement, again applied from the inside. In the end, no filler was used on the fuselage which speaks well for ICM's engineering, given the complex nature of the assembly.

Disaster Strikes

It happens to all of us. Please tell me it does. Carefully cut windscreen off of sprue. Clean up windscreen part. Admire handiwork. Fumble part and drop on floor. Push chair back to look for part. Cringe at crunching sound as part is crushed under chair castor.

So, I broke the windscreen in two. I emailed ICM and they charge money for a replacement part (it was my own stupid mistake after all), so I decided to fix it myself. First I glued the part back together with liquid cement and then sanded polished the seam so that the surface was glass smooth. The crack was still highly visible, so the clear portion had to be replaced. I made a mould out of RTV rubber and cast a copy in resin which was sanded and polished to remove the frames. This was used as a master to vacuform a new windscreen from sheet butyrate. The clear portion of the kit part was carefully cut away and the vacuformed replacement trimmed to fit and attached with Future. It actually looks better than the original, but next time I'll be more careful…

The rear portion of the canopy was attached with liquid cement after the requisite trimming and dry fitting.

The Wings and Control Surfaces

The wings, like the fuselage, are more complicated than average, the lower portion consisting of a centre section and separate outer panels. The upper wings are fairly conventional one piece affairs. Once more, test fitting is the order of the day as the tops of the landing gear wells interfered with the wing root, and the radiator recess interfered with the cockpit floor. After removing sufficient material from these areas, a good fit was achieved and ultimately only a little bit of filler was required between the inner and outer lower wing pieces. In order to avoid sanding, a small amount of epoxy putty was worked into the seam and the excess wiped away with a damp cotton swab.

The wing tip lights were carved away and replaced with chunks of clear Plexiglas which were filed to shape, sanded, polished and painted with Tamiya clear red and green. The fit of the landing light cover was poor, so a replacement piece was dug out of the spared box (from the Monogram Marauder, I think), carved to shape, installed with superglue, filed, sanded and polished to blend it in with the rest of the wing.

The ailerons, elevators and rudder all suffer from a grossly overdone fabric effect which I sanded off until it was next to invisible. I used a razor saw to cut notches in the leading edge of the rudder to portray the hinges, and added a small formation light from clear stretched sprue inserted into a hole drilled just below the trim tab. The horizontal stabilisers fit very well, requiring no filler.

Because the landing gear was to be the same colour as the rest of the undersides, they were attached before painting. The attachment of the main gear legs was very weak looking, with only a shallow recess in the top wing. Before attaching the legs, I drilled a hole through the top wing at the gear attachment points from underneath. The gear were then glued on with liquid cement, carefully aligning them front to back and side to side. After they had dried I drilled down through the hole in the top wing into the gear legs and inserted a length of steel sewing pin to strengthen the gear. The hole was then filled in with superglue and sanded smooth.

Landing gear indicator pins were added to each wing from steel wire inserted into holes drilled in the appropriate locations.

Fiddly Bits

I had obtained the Part photoetch set for the MiG-3, but only ended up using about a third of it on the model. The photoetch set includes parts for the cockpit (which redundant w.r.t. the Cutting Edge set) a set of frighteningly impressive flaps (which I was too chicken to use), plus other exterior bits. The parts I did use included the wheel hubs, radiator and outlet door and landing gear doors. The wheel hubs were dished slightly by placing them on a thick pad of paper towel and pressing a pencil eraser into the center.

The prop suffered from prominent sink marks near the base of the blades. These were filled with successive layers of superglue set up with accelerator. The prop blades were filed and sanded to reduce their thickness to something closer to scale. The spinner was missing a panel line, so this was scribed by holding the spinner on a flat surface and turning it against the tip of a No. 24 X-acto blade held at the appropriate height between the pages of a book.

Painting, Weathering and Decals

I masked off the canopy with Tamiya tape which was trimmed in place, using the well defined frames to guide a new No. 11 blade. No caffeine for a few hours prior to attempting this exercise. The nose and stabilizers were also masked off and the model pre-shaded by airbrushing dark grey along the panel lines. The white (Tamiya) was airbrushed next, well thinned and applied in thin coats to allpw the pre-shading to just barely peek through.
Blu-Tak was used to mask the demarcation line and the undersides were painted Testors enamel "Russian Underside Blue" (how'd they come up with that one?). This is actually a post war colour, and even though Polly Scale produces a Great Patriotic War shade of underside blue, it is much too garish for my tastes. I simply couldn't bring myself to use this more "accurate" colour for fear that my red, white, blue and silver model would end up looking more like an Easter egg than a deadly instrument of war.

Anyway, instead of thinning the paint with mineral spirits or lacquer thinner, I used "automotive paint reducer". This is actually a lacquer thinner, but is considerably less volatile (i.e. "hot") than the regular stuff. It allows the paint to flow nicely, adheres well and dries hard with a slight sheen.
The spinner and outer wing panels were painted Tamiya flat red and over sprayed in a random pattern with a heavily thinned faded red colour. To avoid the wings taking on a pinkish hue, the faded red colour was mixed from Tamiya red, white and yellow. The Soviet stars were painted on using masks cut from frisket masking film.

I unmasked the nose and stabilizers, and masked off the rest of the model to paint the silver. The NMF on the nose is Alclad II "White Aluminum" which was misted onto the unprimed plastic (gasp!). The key here was to apply the first few coats very lightly so that they dry almost instantly and never have the chance to craze the plastic. Risky, but it saves time if you do it right. While the airbrush was loaded with the Alclad, the prop blades were also sprayed. The back 2/3rds of the blades were painted acrylic dark grey and chipped with a toothpick before the paint set up.

Weathering consisted of a Windsor and Newton burnt umber oil wash in the panel lines and paint chipping done with Humbrol silver No. 11 and a 0000 brush. Because the outer wings and the rear fuselage were wood, I made sure I applied chipping only to those areas that were actually metal on the real aircraft. General grubbiness was added with ground up chalk pastels (this was before I discovered MiG Pigments), applied dry and manipulated with a damp cotton swab. The engine exhausts were painted black and weathered with several shades of ground brown chalk pastels, and the exhaust stains airbrushed on with a brown/black colour mixed from Tamiya paints and thinned 90% with rubbing alcohol.

The tail numbers and the little serial on the nose are the only decals on the model, and these came from Aeromaster sheet number 48-313, "MiG-3's Early Warriors Pt. I". Local applications of Future prevented silvering, and Polly Scale clear flat was airbrushed after the decals and Future had dried.

Finishing Details

I sanded flat spots on the tires and painted them Aeromaster acrylic tire black, while the hubs were painted underside blue and glued on. The tail wheel was painted in a similar manner and glued in place.

The pitot probe provided in the kit was set aside in favour of one made from a short piece of stainless steel tubing. The tube was cut to length with a Dremel tool, which was also used to round off the tip to make it look more aerodynamic.

The antenna mast was attached with superglue and the aerial was made from nylon invisible mending thread painted Humbrol Metal Cote steel. The insulators were made from sections of stretched Evergreen styrene tube. To make the insulators, I heated the tube over a candle and stretched it thin, after which I cut the insulators to length with a new X-acto blade. These were then carefully threaded onto the antenna which was then superglued into anchor holes drilled into the tail with a No. 80 bit. After tightening the antenna up with hot air from a paint stripping gun, the insulators were fixed in place with a small amount of Future brushed on.

Historical Inaccuracies

Ain't it always the way? More information turns up after the completion of a model, and there are several minor (or major) things wrong. So, based on the photograph of the specific aircraft modelled, the arguments go:

Point: The spinner isn't red, but rather a darker colour, probably green.
Counterpoint: This I agree with. It might even be black.

Point: The outer wing panels aren't red, but probably green.

Counterpoint: Here I disagree. The tonal value of the wing is too similar to the Soviet stars.

Point: The tail number isn't black, but probably red.
Counterpoint: Yup. The tonal value of the number is very similar to the Soviet stars.

Point: The nose and stabilizers aren't silver.
Counterpoint: Well, could be silver, could be underside blue. The aircraft in the background definitely has a silvery specular reflection on the nose, so I'll stick with silver.

At the end of the day I'm not too concerned. Had I known I'd have done it a bit differently, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Conclusion

This was a fun kit to build. It was difficult enough to challenge some basic skills that were in real danger of becoming rusty, but it was good enough to do so without becoming frustrating. It is a cool subject that really stands out on the shelf next to all the P-47's and Bf-109's.


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