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Classic Airframes 1/48 MiG-3

 

By John Lester

 

HISTORY

The first airplane designed by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich was also the first "modern" Soviet fighter of WW2. Designed around the (at the time) revolutionary Mikulin AM-35 12 cylinder engine, the MiG-1 was intended as a high-altitude interceptor. The first of three prototypes flew just four months after design work started, and though the chief test pilot was killed in one during later trials, the aircraft was judged so fine that it was put into production in August 1939. Like most other Soviet aircraft of the period, it was built using as little metal as possible, with much of the wings and fuselage constructed of plywood.

Because it was rushed into production so quickly, a number of problems were overlooked. High wing loading and a short fuselage made for longitudinal instability. To keep weight down, armament was limited to two 7.62 ShKAS machineguns and one 12.7mm BS machine gun, each with limited ammunition. Finally, the location of the cockpit so far back in the fuselage restricted visibility during take-off and landing, something that was never quite remedied.

Even as MiG-1's were equipping front-line V-VS units, the MiG bureau was hard at work improving the fighter. Improving handling and range were the main goals. The result, designated MiG-3, entered service in 1941. Externally it was nearly identical to the MiG-1; it was faster, had greater range, was more stable and could carry more ordnance. Wing dihedral was increased, and the fin offset 1.5 degrees to port to improve stability. An extra fuel tank was added, as were provisions for underwing rockets (up to six) and machine gun gondolas. Two small triangular windows were added behind the pilot, reducing the need for pilots to fly without the sliding canopy. Somewhat later in the production run, leading edge slats were added (and often retrofitted to earlier aircraft).

In combat the MiG-3 quickly proved itself a superior interceptor. Above 16,000 feet it could best any contemporary Luftwaffe aircraft. At lower altitudes, however, it was sluggish and even its superior speed could not save it. Luftwaffe pilots soon learned to stay low, forcing Soviet pilots to fight at a disadvantage. The aircraft's relatively light armament also became a drawback. Gradually, the type was shifted to the PVO (Anti Aircraft Defence) for point defence. As the newer generation Yaks and LA-5/7 fighters became available, the MiG-3 was relegated to secondary duties, including high-speed tactical reconnaissance. Production ceased in 1942 as the Mikulin factory switched to the AM.38 engine, which was earmarked for the Il-2, but not before more than 3300 MiG-1 and MiG-3's were produced.

THE KIT

Classic Airframe's 1/48 MiG-3 kit debuted in 1996. It's one of the better models in their catalog, with crisp detailing, finely engraved panel lines, and decent fit. In the box are 25 plastic parts on two sprues: 5 resin parts to make up the cockpit, 22 delicate photo-etched parts on one fret, and a piece of film with instruments and gunsight.

There is apparently some confusion in Western references as to the difference between the MiG-1, early MiG-3 and late MiG-3 versions. My references couldn't agree, so I chose Ricahrd Caruna's article in Scale Aviation Modeler International (Vol 4. Iss. 7) as the basis for my model, as his appeared to have the latest information. Based on that, Classic's kit appears to be an early MiG-3. It does not have the slats of a later variant. It does have the numerous small intakes along the nose of an earlier machine (later aircraft have a different arrangement of fewer small intakes). As far as I can tell, it is accurate in outline and plan.

CONSTRUCTION

The kit is easy enough to build, but it is not "shake-n-bake" like contemporary Tamiya or Hasegawa offerings. Every part needed careful dry-fitting and sanding. There are no alignment pins, but careful gluing and a bit of patience will help keep down on the puttying.

I started in the cockpit. The resin parts are crisply molded and relatively sturdy. Getting all them in, along with all the tiny PE parts, is tricky, since the cockpit is molded as a three-sided box. I almost cut one wall off just so I could get at all that detail with my paintbrush. The instructions aren't terribly helpful, but they are adequate. I managed to figure out where everything goes, even if a few of the tiniest parts ended up feeding the carpet. I painted the bulk of the cockpit Testors Model Master (TMM) RLM 02 Grey, close enough to what my sources describe as "smoke grey" for the interior. The instrument panel was painted aluminum, based on several photos, and various bits inside painted following the kit's paint guide,

Next, I assembled the fuselage. I nipped off the large ejector pin nubs inside so I could fit the cockpit. Placing the tub was a bit problematic: to get it in close to the right position I glued the radio tray, then the cockpit, aligning the brass instrument panel with the edge of the cockpit coaming.

The gunsight provided is a very basic interpretation of the one fitted to late series machines; I used bits of sprue and the drawings in SAMI to fashion the correct NAH-23 gunsight of an early airframe. Unfortunately, the reflector provided in the kit is the wrong shape for this - rectangular instead of circular. I managed to cut out an appropriate-sized disc, then promptly lost it on the bench. And another. And another, until I gave up on adding a reflector. You can't see it anyway with the closed canopy.

The rest of the airplane went together fairly well. There were gaps in the horizontal stabs, upper engine panels and wings. Some of these I used to my advantage. Soviet aircraft were ridden hard and put away wet, cared for in many instances by mechanics who had been peasants a short time before. Access panels were beaten up, dinged, and often didn't fit exactly. I used a scribing tool to deepen and roughen the panels around the engine and guns, and to replace panels (especially underneath) that were sanded away.

The wing-fuselage joints were the worst part of construction. No matter what I did, I still ended up with a significant step that needed to be sanded smooth. Complicating that is the fact that the joint line falls on a panel line, so I couldn't just blast it with gap filling CA and sand smooth. I also had to cut out the landing light, replacing the solid plastic with a pinhead (bulb) and superglue (glass) sanded to shape. While I was sanding and hacking and filing, I deepened the inlets for the cheek-mounted intakes with a Dremel motor and a round burr. I also blanked off the area behind the wing root intakes with a strip of styrene. This strip and the kit part masquerading as the radiator (#PP12) were covered with a small slice of pantyhose material, which replicates a grill effect nicely in this scale.

Landing gear were built up separately and left off until after painting, as was the radio mast (the machine I did had one; not all did, so check your references). The only time I deviated from the instructions was to replace the smooth kit wheels. My references show the tires to have a tread much like that of the Bf-109. Rather than attempt to scribe that myself, I bought a pair of True Details resin Bf-109 wheels, sanded the hub detail off, and affixed the kit's PE hubs. The struts and hubs were painted aluminum; gear doors (both sides) and wheel wells were painted TMM "Soviet Underside Blue".

MARKINGS

Decals and marking instructions are provided for two aircraft: Colonel Aleksandr Pokryshkin's "White 5", in which he discovered Von Kliest's panzers massing at Rostov-on-Don, and a bright red and white machine from the 6th IAP (Fighter Aviation Regiment), Moscow Air Defence Zone (actually, markings are provided for two machines carrying different patriotic slogans). I had to be different, however. I used Aeromaster's MiG-3 sheet (48-314) to build an aircraft captured by the Romanians and used in adversary training in 1942.

REFERENCES

Caruna, Richard J: "Red Star of Moscow", SAMI Vol 4/Iss. 7 pp. 435-439.
Woodman, Harry: "The MiG-3", ibid.
Belyakov, R.A. and J. Marmain: "MiG: 50 Years of Secret Aircraft Design," Naval Institute Press, 1994.

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