It's probably fair to call the Letov Š.231 something of an "also-ran" because it lost out in trials against the Avia B.534. But, despite this, 25 examples were built and it saw limited service from 1934 with the Czech 2nd Air Regiment. Powered by a licence-built Mercury IV, the Letov combined a good performance with quite decent firepower for its day - a pair of synchronised machine guns firing through the propeller arc, plus another pair of guns mounted in the lower wings.
Built in limited very numbers and retired from Czech service in 1936, it could be assumed that was the end of the line for the Š.231 - and it probably would have been, had it not been for the Spanish Civil War. The dismantled aircraft were bought for the Republicans and shipped to Spain where they were hastily reassembled. It was here that problems set in, for they were lacking the necessary documentation and manuals and the result was that they initially proved extremely dangerous to fly. Once the problems were rectified, the Letov proved a potent fighter, reputedly on a par with the I-15 which it served alongside. The Š.231 flew city defence and coastal patrols, but attrition took a steady toll and the last three airworthy examples were captured by the Fascists and pressed into service as trainers.
In kit form...
Planet Models' Letov arrives in an attractive end-opening box with the parts sealed in the familiar "pouches" favoured by many Czech short-run producers. The kit consists of:
62 x beige resin parts
1 x vacuformed windscreen, plus spare
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
The casting throughout is excellent and I found just one minute bubble in my kit. Surface detail consists of finely scribed panel lines and a beautifully delicate fabric effect that puts most injected kits to shame.
A full test fit is obviously impractical, but the fuselage halves are thin and straight, lining up perfectly, while the lower wings match the roots accurately in chord and aerofoil. The upper wing in my kit is cast with a slight droop, but should be easy to correct by dipping it in hot water and laying it on a flat surface to straighten. One point to watch is that all the trailing edges on the flying surfaces are realistically thin - knife-sharp - so care will be needed to avoid damaging them.
The kit is nicely detailed, with some frame details inside the fuselage halves and a neat 11-part cockpit. The floor and instrument panel are nicely detailed, as is the 3-part seat and rear bulkhead, but it's a shame that no harness is provided. The Mercury engine is a real gem, with separate cylinders, crankcase and push-rods - 28 parts in all, plus an exhaust ring and a nicely cast cowling and propeller.
The lower wings are a simple butt-joint to the fuselage, so some strengthening pins might be advised. The Š.231 was a single-bay biplane, so the layout of the struts is pretty straight forward and Planet Models have cast them well. However, they aren't reinforced at all - i.e. no metal core and not cast in the dense black resin they often use - so there's a slight doubt as to weather they'll be able to bear the weight of the top wing over time. Replacing at least some of the struts with metal would be the ideal solution - alternatively, providing a simple supporting jig might be a good idea when the model's not on display.
The same is true of the undercarriage - again cast in standard resin. The instructions suggest rigging the undercarriage with 1mm wire - probably a good idea to give extra stability.
Instructions & Decals
Planet Models provide clearly drawn conventional exploded diagrams of the assembly, with bilingual colour notes for most parts. The construction is broken down into 4 main stages with a few sub-assemblies and scrap info-views to help along the way. There's a simple rigging diagram and newcomers to biplane modelling will be relieved to know the Š.231's rigging was very straightforward.
Decals are included for 2 aircraft and are very good quality. Printed by Aviprint, they are very thin and in good register with crystal clear carrier film. The aircraft featured are:
1. Letov Š.231.10, "10G", Flight Regiment No. 2, Czechoslovakian Air Force, Olomouc, 1936.
2. Letov Š.231, "CL-009", Spanish (Republican) Air Force, 1937.
This is an excellent little kit of an attractive inter-war fighter. The apparently straightforward construction should make it a good choice for anyone wanting to try their hand at a resin biplane for the first time and, of course, it will make the perfect shelf-mate for Eduard's Avia B.534. Recommended.
Planet Models' Letov Š.231 is available from Modelimex - specialists in Eastern European short run kits.
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