When I began modelling, kits from behind the former Iron Curtain were not only as rare as the proverbial hens' teeth, but were usually treated with a degree of derision in UK modelling magazines. A sure sign of how things have changed has arrived in the form of Zvezda's recent La-5FN - their first foray into the 1/48 scale market and it's one of the most detailed and ambitious debuts I've ever seen.
The kit arrives in a good quality conventional box and comprises:
149 x grey styrene parts
10 x clear styrene parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
To start on the only down-point, I ordered my kit from Modelimex, who specialise in Eastern European products, and it's perhaps a sign of a recognized problem with this kit that they had taken particular care to protect the model in the post by filling the box with soft expanded foam chips. Nevertheless, the kit still arrived with one or two pieces come adrift, plus a couple of parts overstressed and broken on their sprues. Nothing that a minute or two's work won't put right - but the problem might have been precluded if Zvezda sealed each sprue in a separate bag.
With the minor bad news out of the way, let's take a look at the kit. The parts are very cleanly moulded, with hardly a trace of flash and crisp detail throughout. I found a couple of very shallow sink marks on the fuselage where there's thick detail moulded on the reverse side but, other than that, the surface finish is excellent with delicate lines and subtle embossed rivets that some of the "majors" could learn a lesson from. Ejector pin marks are unobtrusive and are kept mostly out of sight.
The kit is designed with a very complete interior and the nose panels are all separate. This means the forward fuselage is unsupported until it's joined to the wings, but the fit at the wing-root is very good. With a dry fit, I found the fuselage halves line up well, with the seam more prominent at the bottom than the top and a little filler will be needed at the joint to the wing under the fuselage. The wings themselves are designed with a full-span lower surface and each top section split into two parts along the panel line of the full-sized aircraft. This complicates assembly slightly, but the fit is good. I noticed a tendency for the wings to droop, so it'll be wise to tape them while they dry to ensure the correct dihedral. Flying surfaces and leading edge slats are all separate.
The reason for the high number of parts for a single-seater soon becomes clear when you realise how comprehensive the interior is. The M-82FN radial engine is built up from 33 parts, including separate exhausts. The cylinders lack cooling fins, but these are usually grossly overdone on kits, so its hardly a major loss. The basics are well done, but as well as adding obvious extras such as an ignition harness, there's still a lot more that could be added - particularly on the engine accessories pack, which is represented as just a plain cylinder.
The cockpit and fuselage interior structure are very impressive, with ribs and stringers extending well towards the tail and detailed side frames and engine bearers. Almost a further 50 parts are packed into the inside of the fuselage, with bulkheads, radio equipment, ammunition containers and control linkages. The cockpit is kitted out with good flying controls and a well shaped seat, but there's no harness provided and perhaps the weakest point is the instrument panel, which shows shallow raised bezels that seem too small compared with reference photos. (Note: Eduard have announced an etched detail set for this kit due for release in December, which will include a pre-painted seat harness and instruments.) As with the engine, there's still extra plumbing that can be added to the fuselage sides, and the prominent cannon arming handles are absent from the instrument panel.
The kit is designed to be built in two configurations:
a. With the undercarriage extended, canopy open and engine covers removed to reveal the enormous ShVAK SP-20 cannons.
b. In flight, with the cannons omitted to allow the nose panels to fit and a rather crude pilot figure added.
One point to check is that the same main gear legs are used for both configurations - which makes me think that they should be shortened somewhat when extended to represent the weight of the aircraft on its wheels. The undercarriage itself is well moulded and the mainwheels have excellent hub detail. The tyres are "unweighted".
The clear parts are thin and distortion-free. The canopy can be posed open or closed and separate covers are provided for the navigation lamps.
Instructions, painting and decals
The assembly diagrams are clearly drawn and, despite the complexity of the interior, break the construction down into a straightforward and logical sequence. The one area that breaks from the norm is that the main internal structure attaches to the wing - not the fuselage - and the fuselage halves are then added to the completed sub-assembly.
Sadly, no painting details are provided for the interior, but ModelMaster enamels matches are given for the 3 colour schemes included:
1. "White 01" of the 5th Guard Fighter Regiment, 1st Ukrainian Front, flown by Capt. V.I. Popkov.
2. "White 68", 1st Regiment, with a spectacular lion's head on the cowling, again often attributed to Popkov.
3. "White 25", 19th Fighter Regiment, with a red cowling and white tail, flown by 2nd Lt. Kramarenko Sergey Makarovich.
The decals are reasonable quality. They are semi-matte finished and the registration is very good, but the carrier film is rather yellow on my sheet - although this may disappear when they are used.
Zvezda's La-5FN is an impressive and highly detailed model. Obviously, the level of detail probably makes it an overly ambitious kit for beginners, but the fit of parts seems like it should present few problems to experienced builders - and it's a fantastic basis for adding extra detail to. Steffen Arndt has a full-build
underway in the forum and has reported few problems - in fact he's become a definite fan of this kit! That's hardly surprising - with the combination of crisp moulding, plentiful detail and, above all, the kit's almost absurdly low price, Zvezda have made an impressive entrance to the quarterscale market. I can't wait to see what they produce next! Highly recommended.
Zvezda's Lavochkin La-5FN is available from Modelimex - specialists in Eastern European short run kits.