1:72 Mikojan-Gurevich Izdeliye 33/ MiG-33SE (NATO code 'Foghorn'); '8703 Red' of the 931st Fighter Reg., 371th Air Div., Vietnamese People's Air Force (Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam, VPAF); Yên Bái Air Base, summer 1989 (Whif/Nakotne MiG-29 conversion)
+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based historical facts. BEWARE!
In the late 1970ies, the Mikoyan OKB design bureau began working on a very light “strike fighter” that was intended to be a direct competitor to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. This new Mikoyan design, designated Izdeliye 33 (Izd 33) (and variously translated as “Article 33”, “Project 33”, “Product 33”, or “Project R-33”), was of conventional layout and similar in appearance to the F-16, with a fixed geometry, chin-mounted air intake and a blended wing and body layout and pronounced leading edge root extensions (LERX).
The aircraft was originally powered by a single Klimov RD-33 afterburning turbofan engine – the same engine used by the twin-engined MiG-29. Overall, the Izdeliye 33 was less complex and capable than the MiG-29, but also much cheaper in acquisition and operation.
The Izdeliye 33’s outlines resembled the MiG-29, but actually only a few components were shared, e .g. the landing gear. All aerodynamic surfaces were different, and the BWB fuselage with its single engine and air intake duct necessitated a much different internal structure.
After extensive wind-tunnel testing and evaluation of several aerodynamic details (e. g. different LERX layouts with blended edges or dogtooth tips, and different elevator layouts), the first prototype was built and successfully tested in 1984.
Progress was slow, since most of OKB MiG’s resources were concentrated on the MiG-29, though, but the aircraft showed good characteristics. State acceptance trials were underway when the program received a hard blow in 1986: the Soviet Air Force (VVS) dropped its support for the Izdeliye 33, due to VVS’ change of operational needs, financial constraints, a growing preference for multirole designs and the doctrine not to operate single engine combat aircraft anymore.
Since development of the Izdeliye 33 had already progressed to the hardware stage and the VVS was about to introduce it’s a new fighter generation (the MiG-29 as tactical fighter and the bigger Su-27 as long range inteceptor), which were not allowed for export at that time, the Izdeliye 33’s role was changed.
With the domestic market barred, it became a light fighter aircraft with not-so-up-tp-date avionics for foreign operators, much like the former American F-5 program. Sales potential was regarded as high, because many Soviet-friendly nations operating the ageing MiG-21 or MiG-23 export models at that time would appreciate a relatively simple and cost-efficient replacement.
In due course the aircraft received the official designation MiG-33SE ("S" for, "seriynyy" = serial and "E" for "eksportnyy" = export).
These production aircraft differed in several details from the Izdeliye 33, the most obvious change were enlarged elevator surfaces and bulges on the flanks which had become necessary in roder to fit bigger low pressure tires to the main landing gear for operations on rough airstrips.
Compared with the prototypes, the operational MiG-33 was powered by a Tumansky R-25-300 turbojet, rated at 55 kN (12,000 lbf) dry military power, 68.5 kN (15,400 lbf) with afterburner and 96.8 kN (21,800 lbf) for 3 minutes with boosted afterburner (CSR mode, altitude < 4,000 metres (13,000 ft)). The air intake received an adjustable ramp and the radome became smaller.
The first airframes left the Sokol production plant at Nizhny Novgorod in 1987. When the aircraft became known to the public it received the ACSS code name “Foghorn” in the West.
Instead of the MiG-29's state-of-the-art Phazotron RLPK-29 radar fire control system, a less sophisticated RLPK-29E targeting system, based on the N019EA "Rubin" radar, was fitted. As a secondary sensor, a modified S-31E optoelectronic targeting/navigation system and different IFF transponders were fitted.
This avionics suite still featured modes for look-down/shoot-down and close-in fighting. With this equipment, the MiG-33SE was able to carry the new and very effective R-73 (NATO: AA-11 "Archer") short-range air-to-air missile, as well as the R-27 (AA-10 "Alamo") mid-range AAM with IR and radar homing. A SPO-15L "Beryoza" ("Birch") radar warning receiver was carried, too, along with chaff/flare dispensers.
The new type quickly found buyers: first orders came, among others, from Algeria, Angola, Eritrea, North Korea and Vietnam, and deliveries started in early 1988. In 1989 the MiG-33SE was also offered to India for license production (replacing the country’s large MiG-21 fleet), but the country wanted a more potent aircraft and eventually became one of the first MiG-29 export customers.
Beyond its operational service, the MiG-33SE left other footprints in Asia, too. Following the cancellation of U.S. and European companies’ participation in the development of the Westernized Chengdu J-7 variant known as the “Super-7”, China launched a program in 1991 to develop an indigenous evolution of this MiG-21-based design, which it designated the FC-1 (“Fighter China 1”).
To expedite its development, officials of the Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAC) or the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) – perhaps both – approached Mikoyan for technical support.
In 1998, CATIC purchased Izdeliye 33 design and test information from the Mikoyan design bureau, along with other research and development assistance. These designs were used for the development of JF-17 / FC-1 by Pakistan and China, which entered production in 2007.
Length (incl. pitot): 16,2 m (53 ft)
Wingspan: 10.73 m (35 ft 1.5 in)
Height: 5,5 m (18 ft)
Wing area: 35,6 m² (382 ft²)
Empty weight: 18,900 lb (8,570 kg)
Loaded weight: 26,500 lb (12,000 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 42,300 lb (19,200 kg)
Fuel capacity: 3,500 kg. (7,716 lbs.) internally
1× Tumansky R-25-300 turbojet, rated at 55 kN (12,000 lbf) dry military power,
68.5 kN (15,400 lbf) with afterburner and 96.8 kN (21,800 lbf) emergency power
Maximum speed: Mach 2.2 (2,530+ km/h, 1,500+ mph) at high altitude; 1,110 km/h (690 mph) at low altitude
Range: 1,550 km (837 nmi, 963 mi) with drop tanks
Ferry range: 3,335 km (1,800 nmi, 2,073 mi) with auxiliary fuel
Service ceiling: 17,060 m (59,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 285 m/s (56,000 ft/min)
Wing loading: 337 kg/m² (69 lb/ft²)
Thrust/weight: 0.7 at loaded weight
Maximum design g-load: +9 g
1x 30 mm GSh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds in the left fuselage side
7 Hard points (6x pylons under-wing, 1x under fuselage) for up to 3,500 kg (7,720 lb)
of ordnance including six air-to-air missiles — a mix of semi-active radar homing
(SARH)/infrared homing R-60, R-27, R-73, active radar homing R-77 AAMs.
Air-to-ground weapons include RBK-500, PB-250, FAB-250, FAB 500-M62, TN-100, ECM Pods,
S-8 rockets in respective pods, S-24 unguided rockets and guided Kh-25 and Kh-29 ASMs
The kit and its assembly:
Firts submission to 2016's first Group Build I take part in - the Cold War GB at whatifmodelers.com, and this year also starts with a "real what-if aircraft": MiG’s Izdeliye 33 was a real project, but it never got off of the drawing board or beyond wind tunnel test models. Nevertheless, it makes a great Whif topic, had it entered production and service.
Most interesting is the fact that the Izdeliye 33 looks a lot like the American F-16, but only superficially. Creating this aircraft as a model from scratch is rather challenging, because there are only few sources to consult, and you need a basis to start from. For the latter you have IMHO two options, beyond carving it from wood: convert an F-16 kit and change details or use a MiG-29 as basis, because it was a contemporary design and features many analogies and design details.
I rejected the F-16 route, because the result would certainly look like a poor Soviet fighter prop from a Hollywood B movie. The MiG-29 route would take (much) more work, but the result appear like a unique aircraft with Russian heritage, IMHO. And I think that's also the way the MiG engineers went somehow: take the two engine design, and narrow it for just a single engine.
Another factor for this design route was the donation kit that I had bought for this project some time ago: a Nakotne MiG-29 from Latvia, which is the worst model representation of the Fulcrum that I have seen so far. It is simple, and almost no detail is correct. Furthermore, it features crude, raised panel lines and a plastic that is rather brittle and thick, not easy to work with. I was somehow reminded of the products of VEB Plasticart from GDR times… But this wrongness was actually the kit’s selling point, as well as its low price tag.
The basic idea was to narrow the fuselage so that a single, wide air intake and an engine bay of bigger diameter than the original RD-33 nacelles remained – easy to do, because the whole lower fuselage half, even including the air intakes, are just a single piece! The front section was cut off, too, and a totally new cockpit tub was added - from a Revell Fiat G.91.
Inside, a jet engine fan, a scratched air duct with a ramp and some engine bay interior (which is visible through empty holes for the main landing gear bays…) were added.
Using the finished, narrowed fuselage as pattern, the upper half was cut into pieces, too: The spine and the cockpit section remained, shortened at the end and lowered in depth, as well as narrow outer BWB sections that would match the spine’s width when mounted. With lots of putty and body sculpting a new upper fuselage was created, as well as a new tail section for a bigger, single jet exhaust.
The nozzle is a mix from a Revell F-16 intersection (necessary in order to bridge the rather oval fuselage end with the round nozzle), a Matchbox F-14 nozzle and inside a sprocket wheel from an 1:72 Panzer IV mimicks an afterburner...
A new nose cone had to be used, too, and as a weird concidence a vintage Matchbox F-16 radome in the spares box (probably 30 years old!) was a perfect match to the fuselage, which had to be shortened at the front end, too, because the narrowed fuselage somewhat disturbed overall proportions.
The wings were taken OOB from the Nakotne kit, their (utterly wrong) square shape reminds a lot of the F-16, but they were placed about 5mm further forward. The elevators come from an Intech F-16C, with a dogtooth manually added (F-15 style, as seen on the later Izdeliye 33 model that can be found in literature). The single, tall fin is a mix of an Intech F-16 root combined with a modified Italeri F-18 Hornet fin. The stabilizer fins under the rear fuselage belong to an Italeri F-16.
The landing gear had to be modified, too. The OOB pieces are rather clumsy, and only the main struts survived. Their attchment points had to be moved forward, though, due to the overall change of proportions of the model. New wheels were used, too. The main wheels come from an Italeri X-32, while the front wheel comes, IIRC, from a Matchbox A-4M main landing gear.
Besides, the front wheel arrangement had to be re-designed, because the original position half way between the air intake trunks was not possible anymore and the new intake ramp needed space, too. Finding a plausible arrangement was not easy, since I did not want to change the OOB air intake position. So a new well was cut out under the cockpit section, the cockpit floor becoming a part of the well, and the single front wheel now retracts forward. O.K.,FOD now poses a serious issue, but I'd assume that my MiG-33 would have received louvres like the MiG-29 that prevent damage while taxiing?
Keen eyes might notice a front wheel change in the course of several beauty pics - the result of a kit crash from the holder which (only) smashed the front wheel strut. I replaced it with a better piece from an Italeri BAe Hawk. Took some adaptation work, but in the end it looks even better than the original attempt.
Around the hull several sensors, pitots and antennae were added from scratch, since the whole kit had lost a lot of its raised panel lines and other details in the construction process.
The underwing pylons were taken OOB, but the ordnance was totally replaced by more delicate versions of the R-27 and R-60 AAMs - these were taken from a leftover OOB set from an Italeri MiG-29.
Lots of work, but worthwhile!
Painting and markings:
As a non VVS-aircraft, there were many options for exotic customers, and I settled for Vietnam. Reason behind it is that I was inspired by VPAF Su-22 fighter bombers, which carry either a four-tone tactical camouflage or are painted in two shades of an intense (if not blatant) and cold baby blue!
These uniform upper and lower surfaces really carry bright colors, and together with the red and yellow VPAF cockades plus the typically red tactical codes these aircraft rather look like aggressors or fake museum or movie pieces! Especially when they carry drop tanks sporting the tactical scheme’s colors… Ugh!
The basic tone for everything is Humbrol's 44 (Pastel Blue), a co0lor I never expected to apply on a model in this amount! On the underside it was used at 100% as basic tone, while for the upper surfaces it was mixed 4:1 with Humbrol 144 (FS 35614, Intermediate Blue) and a drop of ModelMaster's Ultramarine Blue. The difference between these two tones is hard to tell, though.
Radomes were painted in Ocean Grey (Humbrol 106), while the cockpit was kept in typical Soviet cockpit teal. The landing gear wells were painted with a mix of Aluminum and Chromate Primer (Humbrol 56 and 81).
A serious issue during the painting process was the recreation of panel lines and some surface structures. Some lines in the wings and the spine were still intact, and these were in a first step made visible through grinded graphite, gently rubbed across the surfaces with a soft cloth.
From these, new/additional panel lines were painted on the blank surfaces with a very soft pencil - and you can hardly tell where these blur into each other. Panels themselves were emphasized through dry painting with lighter basic tones, and some more effects were added through more dull blue-grey shades. Not perfect, but for such a heavily modified kit not bad at all.
The decals appear minimalistic, just with roundels (from a PrintScale L-39 sheet), the tactical code (typical Chinese code digits from a Trumpeter J-8II sheet) and the eagle emblems (from a Begemot MiG-29 sheet), but there are probably more than sixty small red or black stencils all over the hull, taken from the OOB Nakotne sheet.
After some final weathering with graphite (esp. around the nozzle) the whole kit was sealed with acrylic matt varnish from the rattle can, and final details like position lights, pitot tips or the glossy IRST in front of the canopy were crafted.
The missiles received typical real world liveries, basically with white bodies and the R-27's fins in shades of grey.
A major conversion project, but the result looks interesting: the F-16 that was not, sort of.
It's funny to find many influences from other designs, and while one could take the Izdeliye 33 as a blunt F-16 copy I do not think that it was one, rather a retrograded MiG-29, following aerodynamic necessities that would lead to a similar overall outline.
And the bright blue color is really uniue - if this one does not stand out (at least on the ground, at altitude it appreas to be very effectice!), what else? Probably only the Red Arrows...