Kitty Hawk 1:48 PLA Su-35

Build Date:  Start Feb 13, 2018, Finished June 5, 2018. 

The Chinese military confirmed that it took first delivery of four Su-35 in late 2017.   In anticipation of this, Kitty Hawk issued an update to their Su-35E kit in October which has decals specifically for the PLA’s Su-35.

The kit comes in nine part trees with four of the trees just for all the weapons.  Details are finely scribed yet appears deep enough to hold a wash.   I dry fitted the fuselage clam shells and they fit together very well.  A detailed review of the previous issue of this kit can be found at The Modelling News – Kitty Hawk Su-35E website.

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When Kitty Hawk first released their Su-35E kit in mid-2017, Reviewers complaint that although the kit quality was good, however, Kitty Hawk made the mistake of making the exhaust nozzles straight instead of drooping down.  For this thrust vectoring aircraft, the exhaust nozzles are always drooping down when it is parked on the ground with the hydraulics shut down.  Hence, the only way the exhaust nozzles can be posed straight is if the model is posed in power up configuration for flight.   Well, it looks like Kitty Hawk was listening and they corrected this issue in this kit.   For a great price of $280 HKD ($45 Cdn), this kit comes with a bonus package of corrected resin drooping exhaust nozzles, two pilot figures (one seated and one standing), resin wheels, and a resin tail stinger.   It was a no-brainer when I saw this kit in Continental Models in Hong Kong and I quickly grabbed the last kit on the shelve.

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To illustrate the quality improvement one gets with the bonus resin parts, I assembled an engine exhaust nozzle and compare it against the bonus part.  Aside from the drooping nozzle, there are additional details such as the raised rivets and the dual layer of cones at the end of the nozzle.

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The tail stinger is also improved by the bonus resin part (left) as can be seen below when compared with the original kit part (right).  The chaff dispenser on the bonus part is fully detailed and the seam line is eliminated.

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The engine exhaust chamber is probably the most detailed of any kits that I have built. The afterburner ignition rings are moulded cleanly as one piece and give it a nice 3D effect when I look into the chamber after assembly.  The interlacing feather rings that form the wall of the chamber are nicely moulded and will show up well with careful painting.  The only improvement I could make here is to drill some holes on the afterburner injection cone to simulate the perforated cone of the real thing.

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Construction:

I start off by dry fitting the major parts together to get an idea of how everything fits together before I commit them to adhesive.  So far I’m pretty impressed with the kit and how well everything fits together.

The cockpit is made up of twenty parts and when assembled, it compares very well against reference photos of a Su-35S cockpit.  A very detailed seat is provided which is made up of over 18 parts, and again, looks very accurate.  I opted to use a resin seat to avoid using the photoedge seatbelts provided in the kit.   I painted the cockpit with Model Master 2132, Flanker Blue/Gray and black.  The cockpit details, buttons and knobs, are nicely detailed and has sufficient projection which makes painting them manageable.

 

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The engine exhaust burner cans are a joy to work with on this model kit.  It is very detailed as you can see.  By having the fan blades and ignition rings moulded as separate parts, painting them is very easy.  I impressed some holes onto the fuel injector cones with a riveter to simulate the perforations.  I may look nice now but sad to say it will be hard to see these details later when the model is fully assembled.

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The landing gear bays are also very detailed, especially the nose gear bay which is very visible when the model is finished.  When compared to reference photos, it appears the nose gear bay details matches fairly well with the real thing.  The main gear bay walls could use more details of the tubings and pipes.  However, much of the details inside the wheel bay are hidden from view on the finished model so I decided to not waste time and effort to add additional details there.  Instead, I added the hydraulic tubing around the landing gears as these are visible on the finished model.

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The aft end of the main landing gear bay is provided with some nice bits of details to replicate the piping there.  However, the instruction is not so clear in explaining how these little pieces fit.   I’m sure it is me as I took 20 minutes of fidgeting before I figured out how the little pieces fit together.  Here’s a photo of how it is supposed to look like when done.

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I painted the landing gear bays with Gunze H317 Gray FS36231 lighten with few drops of white.

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The intakes for this model is nicely detailed with choices of closed or open air bypass grills.  I painted the inside surfaces of the intakes with Alclad Stainless Steel and gloss coat protected the paint before I proceed to paint the intake lips’ inside edges with the bottom aircraft colour, which is a Light Blue matching RLM 76 colour.  This must be done now before all the pieces of the intakes are assembled, otherwise, it would be very difficult to mask and paint these edges later.

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Assembly of the tail planes for this model must be done in exact sequence.   First, the vertical tail fin’s attachment must be a precise fitting otherwise there might be a lot of sanding and putty work to obtain a flush fit.   I dry fit the fins to the mounting surfaces and scrape the fin’s attachment surfaces with a knife where ever necessary to obtain a perfectly flush finish.

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Second, the stabilizers must be snapped into the mounting slots before the vertical tailplanes are glued on.

Unlike the old Academy Su-27 kits in which the wings are moulded together with the fuselage, the wings in this kit are separate and have to be glued to the fuselage.   This joint is not an entirely clean joint as I had hoped.  There is a noticeable ‘step’ at the joint which I cleaned up by sanding flat the area where the joints are.   To ensure the I achieve a perfectly flat and seamless joint, I dapped cyanoacrylate glue at the top of the joints and sanded the glue joints flat.  A bit of Tamiya putty is used to even out any low spots.  I restored all the panel lines that were removed during the sanding process.

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The recessed panels along the side of the fuselage are not moulded very well.  Some panels appear as just a shadow.  I rescribed and deepen these panels with my scribing needle to ensure that they are all deep enough to show up after painting.

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The most challenging aspect of building a model of a Su-35 is the painting of the bare metal panels on the back end of the plane including the exhaust nozzles.  The titanium and aluminium panels are heated to high temperature by the engines and they change to a golden bronze colour with varying shades of brown.  Violet, blue, and green colour appears on panels and rivet/weld joints due to the heat and stress intensity.   Worst yet, these blue, green, violet colour appear differently in every photo and from different angle of view.

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I finally settled on one interpretation of the appearance and proceeded to paint these metal panels using the range of Alclad Lacquer paint.

 

 

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Alclad Pale Burnt Metal colour was lightly sprayed on to generally tonalize the panels. Then, heat stain lines along major rivets were painted on using Alcad Exhaust Manifold colour.
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Alclad Hot Metal Violet and Transparent Blue were sprayed between the heat stain lines
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Localized heat stain lines were drawn on using India Ink
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The almost finished result.

The hardest work is almost over.  I just come back to these locations with bit more tonal variation and painting individual access panels.

Here are some photos of how I painted the top side metal panels.

 

Once the aft metal panels are painted I can then install the vertical tail fins. The lap joint in this area is enhanced for better fit up by scraping the attachment surfaces thinner to achieve a flush fit. None the less, small amount of putty is still required to fill the glue joint for the best result.

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Finally, after much fine checking of seam lines and rescribing some of the panel lines the model is ready for the camouflage painting.

The model is painted using the Model Master series of modern Russian aircraft colours: Flanker Grey, Flanker Blue, and Flanker Pale Blue.   The underside is painted with Model Master RLM 76.  The nose cone and the antenna surfaces are painted with Gunze H305 for the FS 36118 colour.

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Noted that colour tone shown on the painting instruction sheet are wrong and one should not try to simulate the colour tone as shown.   The painting instruction did not provide the camouflage pattern for the inside surfaces of the vertical fins.  I found several good photos of Russian Su-35 painted in this scheme which illustrates how the camouflage should look like on the inside surfaces of the fins.

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Painting of the plane is pretty much completed at this stage and subtle weathering highlight of panel lines are applied with a mix of black-brown enamel wash.   These planes are kept very clean while in service and so I made sure I apply very subtle appearance of panel accentuation.

The kit comes with decals for five aircraft in PLA service and a separate sheet just for the markings for the weapons.   I had doubts about the kit decals at first because they are the first matt finish decals I have ever used.  I worried that the matt clear decal film around each image would silver when I apply the final matt clear coat.  It didn’t happen.  All is good.   Here is where I took some artistic liberty.   I really like the 4 tone camouflage but I did not like the simple markings on the frontline aircraft.   The unit badges of the Flight and Weapon Testing units are really catchy but they only sport the boring dark blue paint scheme.   I took the liberty to imagine that it is possible that an aircraft in the Testing units could be using a frontline aircraft.   Hence, I combined the two and I think the resulting aircraft is rather eye-catching.

The Su-35 has many hardpoints and capable of carrying a large selection of weapons.  The Russian air weapons look completely different than the typical NATO/USA weapons and hence I opted to load the plane completely full with the large choices of weapons provided in this kit.  The weapons are very well detailed and it took me several days to assemble them all.

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Final Words

The model is finally finished.  I just have to scratch build a ladder and paint the standing pilot figure to add to a base to complement this model.  I really enjoyed building this kit and are satisfied with the final result.   The Su-27/Su-35 family of aircraft are the sexiest fighter jet ever, second only by the F-14 Tomcat.  Despite some minor errors in the shape on the underside rear deck and the upper engine bulges, however, this kit does capture the shape and likeness of the Su-35 very well.  Come on folks, it’s only a model for heaven sakes.

Everything in this kit fit very well and there are not many bad seams to fix up.  Panel line and rivet details are nice but rather soft (very shallow) at the sides of curved surfaces, and they needed some rescribing there before painting.  The instructions have some parts numbering mistakes so one must be thinking all the time when building it.   The most challenging aspect of building this kit is painting the natural metal panels of the engine decks and the exhaust nozzles.   I tried my best in my interpretation of the colour variation at these locations and I hope I come close to capture the likeness.  Let me know what you think.

I hope you liked reading about my build and enjoy the photos of my model.

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References:

  1.  Excellent walkaround photos of a Su-35S from Alexey Matvienko on Flickr.

 

 

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