1:72 Mikoyan-Gurewich MiG-SPB (NATO Code ‘Flintstone’); "08 Red", 201st Independent Shturmovaya Air Squadron, Shindand Airbase, Afghanistan, 1982 (Whif/Kit-bashing)
In the final rays of the sun, "08 Red" waits at Shindand Air Base for a night sortie.
+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based historical facts. BEWARE!
In early 1968, the Soviet Ministry of Defense decided to develop a specialized shturmovik armored assault aircraft in order to provide close air support for the Soviet Ground Forces. The idea of creating a ground-support aircraft came about after analyzing the experience of shturmovaya (ground attack) aviation during World War II, and in local wars during the 1950s and 1960s. The Soviet fighter-bombers in service or under development at this time (Su-7, Su-17, MiG-21 and MiG-23) did not meet the requirements for close air support of the army. They lacked essential armor plating to protect the pilot and vital equipment from ground fire and missile hits, and their high flight speeds made it difficult for the pilot to maintain visual contact with a target. Ordnance load and loiter time were also insufficient.
In March 1969, a competition was announced by the Soviet Air Force that called for designs for a new battlefield close-support aircraft. Participants in the competition were the Design Bureaus of Sukhoi, Yakovlev, Ilyushin and Mikoyan.
Mikoyan OKB proposed two directions: First option were designs which were based upon proven technology of the MiG-21 and -23, with an eye on short development time – e. g. the LSSh and 27Sh concepts. The other approach was a more experimental type, designed from scratch, but this concept focused more radically on survivability and excellent low altitude agility, at the expense of speed and a short development time.
All MiG OKB designs were eventually rejected by the MoD, and effectively only Ilyushin’s Il-42 (later renamed into Il-102) and Sukhoi’s T-8 (the later Su-25) remained in the official competition. But Mikoyan’s second design showed potential and was considered as a basis for an advanced jet trainer. This aircraft was approved to be developed further, but not with high priority and outside of the official shturmovik competition. Anyway, it was a fallback option, should both main contenders fail.
The project received the internal development code ‘Izdeliye 1.43’, but the forthcoming aircraft was better known under its project handle MiG-SPB (Samolet Polya Boya – ‘armored combat aircraft’) or its nickname, ла́сточка (Lastochka = Swallow). Some sources claim that the type was also designated MiG-43, but it never received an official code, despite its front line test service (see below).
The MiG-SPB’s main design objective was superior maneuverability at low speeds and altitude. It offered the pilot excellent view and a high resilience to frontline combat situations. The aircraft’s most prominent trademark was its engine location: in overall layout, the MiG-SPB resembled Sukhoi’s T-8, with straight wings and two jet engines placed in nacelles at the fuselage flanks. But in order to protect the engines from gunfire and shield the hot exhaust gases from view (e .g. from IR seeker heads, esp. from MANPADS), the nacelles were placed above the mid-set wings, with the air intakes at wing leading edge level.
Despite carrying armor around the cockpit and the central fuselage, the aircraft was surprisingly slender and elegant – so slim that the rigid landing gear, which would allow operation from field air strips, retracted into fairings which also housed the internal gun on starboard and avionics on port. As a side benefit of this complex layout, the CoG was kept very centralized, so that agility was further improved. The tail was conventional, even though the vertical stabilizer was rather high and slender.
For its low altitude duties, a large wing area, high wing aspect ratio, and large ailerons were incorporated. The high aspect ratio wing also allowed for short takeoffs and landings, permitting operations from primitive forward airfields near front lines. It was planned that the type would typically fly at a relatively slow speed of 300 knots (350 mph; 560 km/h), loiter for extended periods and operate under 1.000 ft (300 m) ceiling with 1.5 mi (2.4 km) visibility. This would have made it a much better platform for the ground-attack role than contemporary fast fighter-bombers, which often gave difficulty targeting small and slow-moving targets, or finding them again for a second attack.
Originally, the MiG-SPB was powered by two Ivchenko AI-25 turbofan with 14.7 kN (3,300 lbf) each, basically the same engine that drove the Yak-40 regional jet airliner. In early 1981 these were replaced by two much more powerful Klimov RD-33M turbofans: non-afterburning versions of the engines that powered the Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter (under development at MiG OKB at that time) and which were also introduced in the production Su-25.
Armament comprised a fixed gun in the starboard fairing and 3.500kg (7.700 lb.) of external ordnance, carried on eight wing hardpoints plus a centerline pylon under the fuselage.
Originally, a two-barreled Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L 23 mm cannon with 350 rounds was fitted, but that soon gave way to a more powerful 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon which could fire armor-piercing shells at 1.800 rpm. The gun's maximum effective range was 1.200 to 1.800 m (3.900 to 5.900 ft.) and, in combination with the Klen-PS laser rangefinder/targeting system in the aircraft’s nose, it was extremely accurate as well as powerful, capable of destroying a target with as few as three to five rounds.
At least one pre-production aircraft was even fitted with a single-barreled 45mm cannon.
Further avionics included a DISS-7 Doppler navigation radar, coupled with a navigation system that permitted flight in day and night conditions, both in VMC and IMC (even though the aircraft did not feature an all-weather/attack capability), and providing flight data for the weapons-control system and flight instruments. Radios for air-to-ground and air-to-air communications were fitted, as well as a weapons-control system and a full self-defense suite, incorporating infra-red, flare and chaff dispensers capable of launching about 250 flares and dipole chaff. An SRO radar warning receiver that would alert the pilot of incoming attacks on the aircraft, as well as an SPO-15 radar homing & warning system (RHAWS) and an SO-69 identification-friend-or-foe (IFF) transponder were incorporated.
With no official support the MiG-SPB’s development went on slowly, but due to several delays and specification changes in the official shturmovik competition it kept up pace and was more or less ready just in time for direct comparison. The MiG-SPB prototype first flew on 14 February 1978 and began State acceptance trials on 12 October 1979. Since the secondary use as a trainer was still on the agenda, all prototypes and pre-production machines were two-seaters, even though the plane was still primarily intended for the ground attack role and accordingly equipped.
An order for a first batch of twenty pre-production machines was placed in November 1979, and five of these had been completed by the spring of 1980 and were undergoing pre-flight tests when the Soviet MoD decided to try the type under real conditions. Together with an initial batch of Su-25s a total of five MiG-SPBs with support crews and maintenance equipment were sent to Afghanistan.
On 19 July 1981 and with the new RD-33M engines already fitted, these aircraft arrived at Shindand Airbase in western Afghanistan and were assigned to the 201st Independent Shturmovaya Air Squadron, flying together with the first Su-25 unit deployed to that country. Their main task was to conduct air strikes against mountain military positions and structures controlled by the Afghan rebels. The MiG-SPB proved to be easy to handle, esp. under “hot and high” conditions.
Flight characteristics were closely comparable to the Su-25 and the aircraft gained a good reputation among the flight crews. But field maintenance was more complicated and the electronic systems proved not to be as reliable and sturdy as the Su-25’s, though. Another drawback was the lower ordnance load of 3.500kg (the Su-25 could theoretically carry 4.500kg), which suffered further in the thin air of the Afghan summer. Usually, only 1.000 kg were carried, unguided missiles or iron bombs being the most frequent weapons.
The MiG-SPB found its niche, though: the second seat made the MiG-SPB a formidable reconnaissance and observation aircraft. The MiG-SPBs were frequently used as forward air control aircraft which would locate and mark targets, guide other fighter bombers to them and later control/assess the attack success (BDA missions).
In the late months of employment, the rear seat was also taken up by a weapon officer who would steer guided weapons, when several smart bombs and missiles as well as their respective sensor and guidance packages were tried out under field conditions.
Over the course of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, five more MiG-SPB were transferred to Afghanistan in order to keep a minimum of four machines active at all times. The aircraft performed a total of roundabout 2.500 combat sorties, ~250 per aircraft (less than the Su-25, which clocked 340 and more). Between the first deployment in 1981 and the end of the tests in April 1983, one aircraft was lost in combat operations, another one crashed in a landing accident. When NATO became aware of the type in late 1982, the MiG-SPB received the code name ‘Flintstone’.
In the end, the MiG-SPB had no future. After a long development process for the new shturmovik, the Su-25 surpassed its main competitor in the Soviet Air Force competition, the Ilyushin Il-102, as well as the MiG-SPB, and series production of Sukhoi’s type was announced by the Ministry of Defense. Since the trainer option did not show any future potential (meanwhile, the smaller and much less costly L-39 Albatros had been chosen as jet trainer), further development of the MiG-SPB was stopped – even though the experience with the type would later be incorporated into the MiG-AT trainer aircraft.
General characteristics (as flown)
Crew: Two (one pilot, one observer/WO)
Length: 15.19 m (50 ft 5½ in) incl. pitot
Wingspan: 14.79 m (49 ft 1½ in)
Height: 4.26 m (14 ft 2 in)
Wing area: 37.19 m² (400.3 ft²)
Empty weight: 9.890 kg (21.784 lb)
Loaded weight: 14.150 kg (31.186 lb)
Max. take-off weight: 17.200 kg (37.885 lb)
2 × Klimov RD-33M turbofans, 44.18 kN (9,480 lbf) each
Maximum speed: 890 km/h (553 mph)
Combat radius: 400 km (250 mi)
Ferry range: 2,500 km (1,553 mi)
Service ceiling: 7,500 m (25,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 58 m/s (11,400 ft/min)
Wing loading: 490 kg/m² (100 lb/ft²)
1× GSh-30-1 30mm cannon with 300 rounds
9 hardpoints for up to 3.500 kg (7.700 lb) of disposable external ordnance, including rails for 2 × R-60 (AA-8 'Aphid') or other air-to-air missiles for self-defense and a wide variety of general-purpose bombs, cluster bombs, gun pods, rocket pods, laser- or TV-guided bombs, and air-to-surface missiles.
The centerline pylon was usually only used for sensor or reconnaissance pods.
The four inner wing hardpoints were ‘wet’ for 800l drop tanks.
The kit and its assembly:
I think it’s the first time that I convert a helicopter into an aircraft. But ESCI’s fictional Ka-34 ‘Hokum’ (probably only based on satellite pictures from above and vague sketches of the real thing, the Ka-50) is so sleek and aircraft-like – why not give it a try?
My idea behind this purely fictional whif was to build a contender to the Su-25 and its real introduction story, with the long development phase since the late 60ies, the competition with the Il-102 and the Afghanistan trials. Even the submissions of Mikoyan OKB are real (yet rejected…), but my SPB was an additional design outside of the “proven technology” sandbox.
So, the Ka-34 fuselage and the ground attack role were clear and defined further design elements.
Looking for suitable straight wings I came at first across Revell’s 1:100 SnapFit A-10 as a donation kit for the wings, but these turned out to be too small. When I rummaged for alternative parts I finally found an ancient (25 years? Its white polystyrene was thoroughly yellowed…), half-built Airfix A-1 – a horrible kit which now found its final and good use! So, effectively, my MiG-SPB is a kit-bashing of two kits with some extra donations.
The Ka-34’s fuselage was more modified than initially intended: the main rotor mount was faired over and the tail fin cut away, because it looked too small/slender/modern for the massive and straight A-1 wings.
I kept the Ka-34’s original nose, but flattened its top for a better field of view and added a window in the nose for a laser range finder with fixed glazing (much like the Su-25). Some antennae, an OoA sensor and pitots were added, too. Cockpit and landing gear were taken OOB, but I added new seats and pilot figures as well as bigger wheels (from an A-7).
Other external changes include bigger engine nacelles, from a Hobby Boss Me 262. They are mounted backwards, though, and their interior outfitted with new parts from the scrap box. I left them in their helicopter-like high position above the wings, but had to raise their position due to thick A-1 wings.
Ultimately, all tail stabilizers come from the A-1 kit, since they’d fit well in size and shape. The wings were modified in so far that I filled the A-1’s landing gear wells (covers were gone, used 2C putty) and tried to hide the folding wing lines. Weapon hardpoints come from A-7 and F-16 kits, the ordnance of two B-13L and two B-8M rocket pods comes from an ICM Soviet air-to-ground weapon sets – the choice reflects the FAC duty of the type in the hot-and-high Afghanistan environment, so only unguided rockets for target marking and against small, soft targets are carried, plus two R-60 for self-defense.
Painting and markings:
Normally I keep whifs rather subtle, but this time I gave the MiG-SPB a rather weird camouflage scheme. The MiG-SPB’s stylish three-tone clover pattern has actually been applied to Soviet Mi-24 helicopters, and a similar wrap-around scheme (in olive green, though) can be found on some Ukrainian Su-25. I found this scheme very attractive, and since it looks IMHO very Russian the MiG-SPB was a nice occasion to try it out – the colors even matching the dusty/mountainous Afghanistan theatre where the model would have been used, according to its fictional story.
Basic upper colors are Humbrol 168 and ‘clover leafs’ in 84 and 98 (Hemp, Mid-Stone and Chocolate, in these “levels” above each other), later ‘tamed down’ trough dry painting with shades of light beige and grey, for a worn and bleached look.
This pattern is utterly effective in order to break up contours: Even when the thing just sat on the work bench it was hard to tell where its front or rear end would be, or how the fuselage and wing intersection would look like in detail. And it even looks flashy…
Lower side was painted in Humbrol 65 – pretty bright, but such tones are typical for Soviet/Russian aircraft.
Additionally, the whole thing received a light wash with black ink in order to emphasize panel line and details and the leading edges were lightly dry-brushed with silver.
Most markings come from the scrap box, insignia, tactical code and some emblems like the MiG OKB badge come from an Authentic Decals 1:72 MiG-29 aftermarket sheet, most stencils from the vast X-20M missile decal sheet from ICM.
All in all a nice project which was based on a spontaneous idea. But it came out better than expected, concerning both the aircraft itself but also the weird cammo scheme, which will certainly pop up under other circumstances (mecha?)!