When you think of the Polikarpov I-16, the 2-seat trainer versions probably aren't the first thing to spring to mind. It's all to easy to think of the UTI-4 as a rather obscure aircraft, but that's only because it's been largely overlooked by kit manufacturers. In real life, it was anything but obscure, and with the introduction of the UTI-4, 1-in-4 of all I-16s built was a two-seater, for a total of 1, 639 aircraft.
Happily, AML have set matters straight for quarterscale modellers with a very nicely produced series of three conversion sets designed for Eduard's I-16. AML don't specify which of Eduard's many I-16s to use for the conversion, but as we'll see later it does make an important difference...
The three conversion sets are basically identical, offering a selection of attractive colour schemes. I chose Set# 48 024 for the spectacular VVS markings of one of its options, and it arrives in a very sturdy little conventional box containing:
16 x beige resin parts
30 x etched brass parts
A pair of vacuformed windscreens (plus spares)
Decals for 2 x colour schemes.
The parts are bagged separately and stapled to a cardboard liner for protection. Despite this, one resin item had taken a knock in transit somehow, but it'll be a very simple fix. The casting is excellent, with no bubbles to worry about and only a little light flash to clean off once the parts are removed from their casting blocks. Detail is very good indeed, with a combination of resin and etched components building up into a totally new 2-seat cockpit. There are finely detailed resin sidewalls and a new base for the interior of the fuselage (there's no cockpit "floor" as such), a firewall at the front, and new seats and dual controls. Added to this lot are etched seat harnesses, rudder pedals and throttles etc., plus new instrument panels with printed paper backing for the instrument faces.
Enclosing everything is a replacement top-decking with the two cockpit openings, and a pair of vacuformed windscreens. The latter are fair quality - not the best I've ever seen, and the material used has a faintly blue tint, but they should look fine with a dip in Future/Klear. A nice touch is the inclusion of spares in case of accidents.
The instructions are beautifully drawn, if perhaps a little cluttered. They squeeze a lot in onto one A-4 page, with the conversion broken down into 11 stages and also including a couple of info-views and a number of reference photos.
The decals in my conversion are for a pair of VVS trainers, illustrated in colour on the back of the instructions:
1. UTI-4 - 2nd Guards Fighter Regiment, Murmansk, 1942 in gaudy red and blue trim over light grey.
2. UTI-4 - "White 3", Varena airfield, Summer 1941, in standard camouflage.
The decals look to be very good quality, with the thin and glossy items printed in perfect register and crystal-clear carrier film. Two sets of Soviets stars are included, one brighter than the other.
Not one for beginners...
So far so good. AML have provided excellent quality resin and brass parts, combined with clear instructions and attractive decals. We're all set for a easy conversion... well, yes and no - things aren't quite as straightforward as they appear at first glance.
The first thing to make clear is that converting an Eduard I-16 fuselage is going to involve some very careful surgery, and AML's instructions don't really offer any help on this at all. Despite being so nicely illustrated, everything is devoted to assembling the new details, and there's no mention of how and where to cut the Eduard parts - the kit parts are shown ready-modified, as though they arrive all set to simply drop the new pieces into place.
You can see in the accompanying photo the basic area that will need removing. My advice is to cut too small and carefully enlarge the opening until the resin top decking fits. Remember, there should be no visible join or step - the finished fuselage must be totally smooth. On the inside, the existing sidewall detail for the standard single-seater cockpit will obviously need removing, but the fuselage sides will also need thinning somewhat (particularly at the front) to allow the new sidewalls to fit.
So which Eduard I-16 to use? Obviously, with a totally new cockpit interior, there's little point buying one of the Profi-Pack versions and throwing most of the etched details in the bin. Eduard released their I-16 Type 10 and Type 24 as Weekend Editions, and I bought the Type 10 for the conversion, as it will involve the least modification - but it will still be quite major...
Basically, the UTI-4 was developed from the I-16 Type 5, but remained in production alongside later I-16s. As new versions of the fighter appeared, so the UTI-4's engine was upgraded and the exhausts and cowling arrangement changed slightly, but the big difference was that the UTI-4 always retained the Type 5's wings with their combined ailerons/landing flaps. The trouble is, Eduard have never released anything earlier than the Type 10, and the wings in none of their kits are correct for the conversion. While early Type 5s featured a different wing rib structure, this was later modified to the type seen on the Type 10, but the '10 also introduced shorter ailerons and separate flaps. Whatever version you start with, you must also remove any traces of the wing guns and access panels because the UTI-4 was unarmed (if you use Eduard's Type 24 or Type 29 as a starting point, you'll have to restore the fabric effect lost in the process on the outer wing panels).
Although he doesn't cover the UTI-4 specifically, VVS expert Eric Pilawskii has published an extremely useful guide to the various features of the different I-16 variants on Modelling The VVS
So, you'll need to alter the exhausts, modify the wings and install scratchbuilt aileron/flaps, and finally remove all signs of the kit's existing flaps and armament. AML don't mention any of this, and don't supply the new control surfaces, although their painting guide does illustrate the correct arrangement. One way or another, it all adds up to quite a serious conversion project, but the results should certainly be worth it, as you'll have a very different I-16 that will stand out among the single seaters - especially in the flamboyant Guards Fighter Regiment scheme.
Note: I believe Airways still market a Type 5 conversion set. This was designed for the old HobbyCraft (now Academy) kit, so I don't know how well it will fit the Eduard I-16.
AML's conversion set is beautifully produced and is great - as far as it goes. But that still leaves you with a lot of work to do. Some may choose to ignore the changes needed on the wings, but seeing as fitting the resin fuselage parts neatly isn't a job for beginners anyway, I think AML's conversion is best suited for experienced modellers who will probably take an "in for a penny, in for a pound" attitude and want to modify the wings too.
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