by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundThe Yak-3 ranks among the supreme lightweight dogfighters, the simple design consistently out-flying the more sophisticated enemy aircraft which it faced in combat on the Eastern Front. Small and much more suited to the low-level tactical fighting in that theatre, the highly maneuverable Yak-3 gained a near-legendary reputation among friend and foe alike.
Design studies dated back to 1941, building on the steady improvements introduced on the Yak-1, with a totally re-designed smaller wing and, in time, a smooth-skinned fuselage. The resulting fighter demonstrated an excellent turn of speed for its relatively low powered engine, a rate of roll that could match the previously unrivalled Fw 190, superb turning performance and a dramatic rate of climb. Added to this, the aircraft proved popular to fly with service pilots, and was simple to maintain in the field.
The Yak-3 was not without its drawbacks however. The small size dictated a short range, and a light armament of a single cannon and a pair of synchronised machine guns. There were also early problems with reliability and rushed production, the most serious incident involving faulty resin bonding of the wooden skin, resulting in all Yak-3s being grounded until the problem could be traced to only Saratov-built machines.
Almost 5,000 Yak-3s were built, among the later developments being the Yak-3P, armed with a battery of 3 lightweight cannons that saw limited service against the Japanese at the very end of WW2.
The kitZvezda's new Yak-3 arrives in a very stout and attractive box. Under the conventional lift-off lid, there's a corrugated card flip-top box, providing excellent protection for the contents.
The kit comprises:
123 x grey styrene parts
6 x clear styrene parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
The moulding quality is excellent, with some really crisp details and no signs of flash. I found just two very faint sink marks on my kit that will only take a moments to sort out. Ejector pin marks could be a little trickier as, although the designers have managed to keep them pretty much out of sight in the cockpit, there are a number in the main wheel well that need tackling.
The surface finish is largely smooth, as befits a mostly wooden airframe, but the fabric covered control surfaces are subtly depicted, and the metal-panelled areas show very lightly engraved rivets and fasteners.
Test fitDry fitting the main components is very encouraging - this looks set to be a doddle to build - but does raise a couple of questions over the design of the kit. Zvezda's previous kits have raised a few negative comments over the their complexity caused by offering a full engine and separate cowls. This time the kit still includes a full engine, but also offers a conventional nose section with the cowls firmly in place, making for a much simpler assembly. While this is undoubtedly welcome, it's offset by the fact that the kit doesn't include any cowl panels if you do want to dislpay the engine - which seems an odd omission.
The full-span top and bottom halves of the wing fit together beautifully, with an excellent sharp trailing edge thanks to the inset flaps, and the wing-root joint is very precise. However, rather than the joint following the real life panel line, it runs just below it, making for an irritating (and, as far as I can see, unnecessary) seam to fill.
The tailplanes are a good solid fit and, again, have nice sharp trailing edges.
Lastly, the spinner is a little odd, split at the line of the propeller blades which are moulded integrally with the front section. This again means a seam to fill where none exists on the full-sized counterpart, while the real joint between the spinner and its baseplate isn't depicted.
A few detailsThe 13-part cockpit is nicely detailed, building up for the most part as a neat assembly on top of the wing. Alternative instrument panels are provided to allow for moulded or decal instruments. The latter look quite nicely printed, so you could always punch them out to apply in the moulded bezels for the best of both worlds. The flying controls and seat are neatly moulded, and a well sculpted pilot figure is included with a choice of heads and right arm. Sadly, no seat harness is provided if you're not going to use the figure but, if you do, a nice touch is the way a separate piece depicts his shoulder harnesses running back through the slot in the seat.
If you are building the full engine, you're in for a real treat, with over 40 parts making up a beautifully detailed nose section. The engine is crisply detailed with plenty of pipework for the lubricant and cooling systems, and well done engine bearers and cowl supports. The twin 12.7 mm machine guns have neat and simple ammunition supplies and the single 20mm cannon nestles between the cylinder rows. The exhausts are perhaps a bit of a compromise, as the same pieces are used for both the closed- and open-cowl assemblies - but only time will tell if you can tell that they don't actually reach the engine in the latter case.
The undercarriage looks solid and straightforward, with crisply defined hubs on the wheels, and retraction jacks and arms in a main well that is neatly detailed with internal wing structure. Alternative doors are provided for raised and lowered undercarriage.
The wing root air intakes feature internal splitters and blanking plates to prevent a see-through look. The actual shape of the openings caused some needlessly heated argument in the forum when the kit was first announced. Hopefully I won't add to the furore, but I still think the kit's intakes aren't quite correct, and should be somewhat fuller - but it's hardly the end of the world and not really a difficult thing to correct if you see fit to do so.
Finally, the canopy and other clear parts are very nicely moulded. The canopy is good and thin, with crisply defined frames, and is moulded with a separate sliding section. To depict it open an alternative, slightly undersized rear part is provided with indentations so the sliding section doesn't sit too high and to make room for the internal armoured glass.
Instructions and decalsZvezda provide a clearly illustrated 8-page A-4 construction and painting guide. The kit can be built in three basic configurations:
- landed with the engine on display,
- in flight, or
- landed with the nose closed-up and a pilot figure in the cockpit.
This could result in a real muddle, but the graphic designer has done a good job highlighting the different assembly styles, so you should have little trouble. The construction sequence is quite logical - the only point where I'd part company with the instructions would be to fit the undercarriage later. Colour matches are provided for Humbrol paints and Zvezda's own brand - and, of course, specialist VVS paints such as the excellent Colourcoat enamels from White Ensign are also available.
Markings are provided for three colour schemes:
1. "White 12", flown by Ltn. Savely Nosov, 150th IAP, 13th IAD, Austria spring 1945.
2. "White 6", flown by Ltn. Marcel Albert, Normandie-Niemen squadron, 1st FAR, 303rd IAD, spring 1945.
3. "White 15", flown by Cpt. Semen Rogovoy, 64th Gaurds Regiment, 4th IAD, Baltic autumn 1944.
The decals are printed by Begemot with their distinctive dead-flat finish. The fuselage badges for scheme 3 are out of register on my sheet, but otherwise the decals are more crisply printed than some previous Begemot sheets I've seen. Coloured bands are provided for the spinner of the Normandie-Niemen scheme - which is perhaps a little ambitious (and the painting guide doesn't quite match colour shots in Erik Palawskii's "Soviet Air Force Colours 1941-1945 anyway). Stencil markings and instruments for the cockpit look good and sharp, and fuel guages are provided for the wings. The latter were actually under a clear cover on the full-sized machine, so you may want to drill out the gauges slightly and set the decals under a drop of varnish.
ConclusionZvezda's Yak-3 is an excellent kit, and will definitely be easier to build than their earlier La-5 and Bf 109F. The position of a couple of the seams is a little irritating, and the omission of separate cowl panels is rather strange, but these certainly don't detract from what should be a straightforward and very enjoyable build. Recommended.
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