Romania's I.A.R.80 and I.A.R.81 hold an almost unique fascination for modellers interested in the lesser-known fighters of WW2. Thanks in part to the strict censorship that descended upon Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain, the type remained largely unknown in the West for many years, and still has yet to be kitted by a mainstream manufacturer. With the opening up of hitherto locked archives in recent years, information about this "lost fighter" has slowly emerged and allowed it to be restored to its rightful place among its fellow combatants. For, if the "I.A.R." is still somewhat obscure, its combat record proves it deserves far more coverage, with a kill/loss ratio of approximately 2:1 - not bad for a fighter that was hamstrung by the lack of a suitably powerful engine to match its racy appearance!
But while the operational history of the aircraft has been covered at last, what has still been missing is the type of detailed technical coverage and walkaround shots that have become regarded as almost essential by present-day modellers. There's just one problem - there are no surviving examples of the I.A.R.80 and I.A.R.81 (only somewhat inaccurate replicas). So, what do you do if there isn't a preserved airframe upon which to base a walkaround? Well, if you're Radu Brinzan, you certainly don't let a minor problem like that deter you!
Radu Brinzan will be best known to most of us as a master pattern-maker and the inventor of a range of ingenious and very useful modelling tools. In his first venture into writing, Radu admits that preparing this book has been very much a labour of love for him and, ironically, being forced to rely solely on archive material, he has produced what is arguably among the most detailed technical reference works for any WW2 fighter that I've yet seen.
The soft-cover 128-page A-4 book breaks down into 4 main chapters:
- 1. An overview of each production batch.
- 2. A detailed description of the main airframe and cockpit.
- 3. A similarly detailed of the engine, landing gear, auxiliary systems and armament.
- 4. Camouflage and markings.
The book is illustrated with hundreds of photos, mostly new to Western readers, original technical drawings and illustrations from servicing manuals, new high quality 1:48 colour profiles and dozens of detailed 1:72 plans.
With a total production of only 450 machines, you'd imagine describing the basic distinguishing features of each version would be a brief and simple task. Nothing could be further from the truth with the I.A.R.80 and '81, as the aircraft was built in small batches of sometimes only a dozen or so airframes, undergoing constant revision along the way.
Starting with the prototype, the author has identified no less than 20 distinct batches, and each is treated to a brief description that outlines the changes introduced, backing this up with photographic evidence of the particular machines in service, full colour artwork of example aircraft from that batch, and scale plans showing the modifications. From a modeller's point of view this is ideal, as it means you can pinpoint any aircraft for which you have the serial number and detail it with a great deal of confidence.
Radu now embarks on what could be described as closest to his original intention to publish a "walkaround". Without an airframe to crawl over, he "get's under the bonnet" by way of original photos and illustrations, along with a few colour shots of surviving artifacts. Once again Radu provides 1:72 scale drawings, revealing exterior and structural details not covered earlier.
The cockpit receives particularly fine attention, with highly detailed large-scale drawings of the overall arrangement, full colour diagrams of 5 different styles of instrument panel, and highly detailed colour views of every individual gauge.
(Of course there has to be a downside... hauling out my precious LTD Models kit from the Stash (where it's sat waiting for decent references for longer than I care to remember!) reveals just how inaccurate it is in a number of areas - not least the cockpit. Oh well, I always knew it was going to take a bit of work...)
The next section continues in the same vein with highly detailed photographs and plans of the I.A.R. - 14K radial engine (a licence-built Gnome Rhône 14K), the landing gear and fuel and hydraulic systems, the radio, and finally the various weapons carried by the aircraft. The latter include the Belgian FN Browning 7.92 mm and 13.2mm machine guns, Germany's Ikaria MG-FF and Mauser MG151/20 20mm cannons, WGR 21 rockets, and locally produced I.A.R. dive-bombing equipment.
The final chapter holds a few surprises as the author explores the sources of the different paints used in the I.A.R. factory in the period before and during WW2. While Radu admits that there is still a degree of educated guesswork involved in piecing together the true picture with such a dearth of hard evidence remaining, his conclusions are certainly convincing and allow modellers their best chance yet at reproducing the colour schemes with a degree of confidence.
There follows a full-colour guide to the actual camouflage schemes, national and theatre markings, and lastly servicing stencils. Last but not least, there's a description of the aircraft's seatbelts, which does seem a little out of place - perhaps it was a last-minute addition and could not be slotted into the cockpit section in Chapter 3?
Radu Brinzan's study of the I.A.R.80 and I.A.R.81 is a superb reference book for any modeller contemplating building a kit of the aircraft. Whether by choice or necessity, the author has to some degree redefined what is possible in books of this nature. He's certainly set the bar very high for future publications.
Of course, many will be asking the inevitable question... given Radu's reputation as a master-modeller, does he have a kit of the aircraft planned? Well, based on recent correspondence, he's been working on a 1:32 model that he hopes may be ready around Easter next year, so we could all be in for a real treat at some point!
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