by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundThe Polikarpov I-153 may have represented pretty much the last throw of the dice for the biplane as an operational fighter, but it certainly went out in style. With a clean airframe, retractable undercarriage and a powerful engine, the Chaika (Gull) could boast a top speed of over 260 mph, while its superb manoeuvrability made it an extremely difficult opponent in the hands of a skilled pilot.
Nevertheless, the writing was clearly on the wall as the nimble Chaika was progressively outclassed by faster monoplane fighters carrying much heavier armament, and the obsolescent I-153 was used increasingly in the ground attack role, where its small size and manoeuvrability allowed it to continue to perform well for some time through 1941 and 1942, while a few examples soldiered on into the following year before being finally replaced in front line service.
The KitThe Chaika has always been a popular subject among modellers interested in the VVS, but ICM's new release marks the first time it has been available in 1:48 as a mainstream kit.
The model arrives in typical style for the company's recent products, with the parts packed in a sturdy plain flip-top box that is sealed with a printed outer lid. Inside, the main sprues are all in a single bag, with the clear sprue packed in its own zip-lock bag for protection. Everything arrived totally intact in my kit. ICM's I-153 comprises:
98 x grey styrene parts
1 x clear styrene part
Decals for 4 x colour schemes
The moulding is very clean and impressive in my example. There's no sign of any sink marks and just a few light mould-lines here and there to clean up before assembly. Ejector pin marks are light, and the designers have kept most of them out of harm's way.
The surface finish is excellent, with delicately engraved panel lines and crisply embossed panels on the metal areas, and a really effective representation of fabric-covered rear fuselage and flying surfaces. It's distinct, but subtle - and, while purists may bemoan the lack rib tapes (usually massively overdone in my opinion), I think it should look excellent; really, about as good as it gets in a mainstream kit.
Note: I haven't been able to judge the kit's accuracy from my limited references, but Sergey Kosachev has raised a number of concerns in the comments section accompanying this review.
Test FitOne reason the Chaika is a favourite biplane among modellers is its simple layout which makes construction much less daunting for newcomers to the genre. ICM's new kit promises a really straightforward build, with the fuselage halves fitting together precisely and sitting firmly on the full-span lower wing. You will need a touch of filler to hide the seam across the large root fairing that doesn't follow a panel line - a small price to pay for such an easy assembly. The upper wing clips solidly into place thanks to its gull wing centre section, leaving just the streamlined interplane struts to add.
The tail may take a little more work, because the fin and rudder are moulded integrally with the left fuselage half, leaving a slight seam to fill, and the stabilizers need a touch of adjustment to get a clean fit at the roots. While on my kit everything seems perfectly straight and true, it's worth noting that Steffen Arntd found a slight twist to the vertical tail as he built his kit - so, heads up - keep an eye on it.
A Few DetailsConstruction begins with a neatly detailed 17-part "office". ICM include decal faces for the instrument panel and, while you can undoubtedly embellish the cockpit further if you really want to go to town, the only real thing that many people will want to add is a seat harness. Separate access doors are provided, so time spent painting the interior carefully won't be wasted.
Assembly moves on quickly through attaching the wings and tailplanes, before turning to the engine (I think you could probably change the sequence somewhat and tackle this before adding the top wing if you wish). The M-62 engine is built-up from 13 parts and is very nicely detailed - especially considering that it will be almost entirely hidden in most builds behind the cowling front with it's small cooling louvres. The side panels to the cowl are separate, though, so this does add potential for displaying the rear of the engine in a servicing scene. The propeller has separate pitch counterweights and is moulded nice and thin.
The undercarriage is simple, but effective. The main gear legs are crisply moulded, and the light separation lines should be easy to take care of. The legs attach to the base of the cockpit floor, which forms the roof of the forward part of the wheel well, and the separate trailing arms promise a good solid assembly. The wheels are moulded with un-weighted tires and neatly detailed hubs. The doors are thin and neatly detailed on the interior faces, while the tiny tailwheel is solid as you'd expect in this scale.
The Chaika boasts a formidable array of underwing stores for such a small aircraft, with quartets of two sizes of bombs or eight rockets for the integral racks.
The windscreen is thin and crystal clear. My only concern is that the sprue attachment might remain visible - you'll need to trim and polish it very carefully.
Instructions & DecalsICM provide a 12-page A-4 assembly guide, with construction broken down into 28 easy to follow stages.The shaded drawings are very clear, and assembly ends with a pair of rigging diagrams - which is a really helpful inclusion - but unfortunately a printing error has meant that the red lines on one of them have been omitted, leaving only white "ghost wires". Still, there's not much rigging to worry about with the Chaika, so it's easy to work out what's needed. Colour matches are provided for Model Master paints and are keyed to most details throughout construction.
Decals are included for four very attractive colour schemes, each carrying quite different camouflage:
1: I-153 "Red 26", 70th IAP, Khalin-Gol, August 1939
2: I-153 "Red 28", 15th IAP, Lithuania, June 1941
3. I-153 "Red 6", 72nd SAP, Vaenga, 1941
4: I-153 "White 24", flown by Capt. K.V. Soloviyev, 71st IAP, Lavansaari, Summer 1942
The decals look excellent. I think they're printed by Begemot and are thin and glossy, with pin-sharp printing and register. I used to be wary of old-style Begemot decals, but I'd use the company's recent products without hesitation - it's great to see such a marked improvement.
ConclusionIn purely build terms, ICM's new Polikarpov I-153 is little gem of a kit and excellent value for money at around £10 in the UK. It's well enough detailed to satisfy experienced modellers, while its straightforward construction should make it an ideal first build for anyone wanting to tackle their first biplane. Hopefully healthy sales will encourage ICM to release further subjects such as the I-15 and I-152. Highly recommended.
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