Trumpeter 1/72 Tu-160 Blackjack

By Chris Banyai-Riepl

History

In the mid-1950s, with surface to air missile technology rendering subsonic bombers obsolete, attention turned towards supersonic bombers. In 1975, the full-scale development of what would become the Tu-160 began at the Tupolev design bureau. Based on TsAGI proposals for a multi-mode aircraft, the Tu-160 combined the capabilities of the Tu-95 with the variable geometry outer wing system of the Tu-22M and the supersonic aerodynamics developed on the Tu-144. The result was a large and powerful supersonic bomber with immense capabilities.

The configuration features a high aspect-ratio wing, four engines in two pods underneath the fixed wing section, and all-moving tailplanes. All weaponry is stowed internally in two large bays equipped with rotary launchers, each capable of holding six Kh-55 cruise missiles. The first flight of the prototype Tu-160 took to the air on December 18, 1981, and after several years of flight testing, the aircraft entered operational service in 1987. Currently there are only 20 Tu-160s operational in Russia, out of 33 manufactured.

The Kit

Trumpeter is not the first to come out with a 1/72 Tu-160 Blackjack, as both Amodel and Master-Club have released 1/72 kits of this massive bomber. However, the Trumpeter kit is probably going to be much more accessible to most modelers, and probably easier to build due to better tooling. In the massive box you get a huge number of sprues, with a total part count of over 600 pieces. Most are molded in the typical Trumpeter light gray plastic, with finely recessed panel lines throughout. A small sprue of clear parts contains the canopy and other pieces, including a lens cover for the targeting scope under the nose. Rubber tires, white metal landing gear inserts, and photoetch round out the basics, with a nice decal sheet providing two options.

With that short summation out of the way, let’s look at this kit in more detail. Starting with the interior, this is a fairly well detailed cockpit. Each seat comes in five pieces, which should look just fine considering the limited viewing through the small cockpit windows. The instrumentation is almost entirely photoetch, with a PE instrument panels for both the front and rear areas. Separate control sticks and rudder pedals round out the basic cockpit, and once finished it should be more than adequate. Flipping this cockpit assembly over presents the nose wheel well. This is also well detailed, with separate side walls and bulkheads.

Continuing with interior work, the next step concerns the weapon bays and weaponry. The Tu-160 has two bays that are identical, so be ready to do a lot of duplicate work here. The bays are made up of separate walls all around, with the bulkhead getting added details. The rotary launcher fits into brackets that are also separate, which is a good thing, as it makes things somewhat easier for the modeler, as it is in this area that the kit’s only major flaw presents itself.

This flaw concerns the cruise missiles provided. The Tu-160 originally was designed to carry two Kh-45 missiles, one in each bay. This missile was quite large and would have fit the Tu-160 bay tightly. The advent of cruise missiles caused the Kh-45 to be canceled, and the Kh-55 became the primary weapon of the Tu-160. The Kh-55 was much smaller than the Kh-45, which means that there is a lot of empty space in the bay of the Tu-160. However, in this kit, the Kh-55 missiles fill the bay up quite a bit. Luckily, the bay is the right dimensions, which means the missiles will need some surgery.

Using plenty of photos, I prepared some scale drawings (PDF file, ~200KB) of the Kh-55 missile (and the Kh-15S “Kickback,” which supposedly is the other weapon the Tu-160 can carry). Comparing the kit missiles to these drawings show just how much longer the kit missiles are to the real thing. For the straight Kh-55 this is a simple fix, as you can just cut out the center section, glue the front and rear sections together, and sand smooth. You will lose all the panel line detailing, but that is not that big of a loss. At the same time, you will have to remove a similar section from the rotary launcher, and relocate the rear mounting bracket.

The Kh-55SM missile, with its conformal fuel tanks, presents a more complicated picture. To correct these, you will have to remove several sections of the missile at different points, to preserve the conformal tank. Even then, you will have some extra work ahead of you, as the conformal tanks are the wrong shape and too small in height in the forward section. Also, the deployed engine is too long, and the extended wings are the wrong shape, so if you want to display an in-flight missile, be ready for quite a bit of work. One possible solution is to equip your Tu-160 with Amodel missiles, but that would be expensive, and those have their own problems.

With the weapon issue set aside (by the way, if you decide to close the bay doors, you will eliminate over 200 of the 621 parts in this kit), the rest of the assembly should go quickly. The main gear bays are constructed similarly to the other bays, with separate walls all around. The engine pods are mostly integral with the lower rear fuselage piece, with separate intake assemblies and burners. Both of these are nicely detailed, although the painting instructions for the intakes are a bit off (the interior should be black, rather than white, at least in all the examples I have seen).

The wings offer something not available in the other 1/72 Blackjack kits: dropped flaps and slats. These are very nicely done, and will really add some action to the finished model. The spoilers are molded with the upper wing, though, which is a pity as in most photos I have seen of the Tu-160, at least some of these are up when the flaps are down. This will be a simple thing to modify, though. The instructions indicate that the wings are moveable, but the flaps and adjustable wing fence pretty much require you to choose your sweep angle and fix it in place.

The main construction of this model will take some effort, both due to the size and due to the multi-part fuselage. I would recommend attaching the upper fuselage pieces together before mating them with their lower matches. This will allow you to reinforce that area as needed, and get the best possible alignment. In fact, I would recommend attaching the vertical fin to the upper rear fuselage before any of this, to also aid in assembly (that rear piece is much more manageable than the entire plane).

The landing gear is very sturdy throughout, with the main gear getting white metal inserts for added durability. Additionally, there are metal shafts for the axles, resulting in gear that will undoubtedly support the weight of the finished model. Adding to the realism of the model, this kit comes with rubber tires. The detail present in the gear almost makes them kits in themselves.

The decal sheet is small compared to the size of the kit, but the Tu-160s do not carry much in the way of markings. The finish for the Blackjack appears simple, as it is basically overall white, but only factory-fresh examples look that way. I recommend getting as many photos as possible and work up a nicely weathered paint scheme, as these aircraft got a subtle patchwork finish pretty fast. Two options are present on the decal sheet. The first is “Il’ya Muromets,” aircraft number 06. This plane has the blue and yellow chevron on the nose, and the white, blue, and red chevron on the tail. The second option is quite a bit more bland, aircraft number 02, with the name “Basilii Reshetnikov” on the nose. No blue and yellow nose markings, no tail markings other than the number and the red star. I am sure it will not be long before we see aftermarket sheets for this kit (in fact, Begemot has announced a couple of decal sheets, one which has all the aircraft as options, and another that provides all the stenciling).

Conclusion

This is an impressive model, to say the least. Be ready with lots of shelf space, as the finished model will occupy about three square feet. For those who want a detailed weapon bay, there will be a bit of extra work, but nothing that is beyond the abilities of the average modeler. If you are looking for a nice long-term project that will eat up a big chunk of your Russian aircraft shelf, this will be the perfect kit for you.

My sincere thanks to Stevens International for the review sample.

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