Sunday, April 28

Dual Dry-fit Review: Kittyhawk's 48th Scale Metal Upgrade Sets

Recently KittyHawk has released some metal upgrades to their 48th scale Fullback and Flanker kits. Never one to shy clear of some aftermarket comparison Gary has attached his to the model and compared them to the originals in a dry-fit review so you can see them "in action" for yourself...

Dual dry fit review: Kittyhawk's 48th scale metal upgrade sets 
- Sukhoi Su-34 Metal Upgrade Set (KHMT-02)
- Sukhoi Su-35 Metal Upgrade Set (KHMT-03)
Manufacturer: Kitty Hawk
1:48th scale
Available from Kittyhawk Directly by email
To further complement their 1:48 Su-34 Fullback and Su-35 Flanker kits, Kitty Hawk has released metal detail sets. Each set contains a full replacement undercarriage and exhaust nozzles made from bronze. Metal undercarriage has become increasingly popular as plastic models get larger. Both the Su-34 and Su-35 are large models in 1:48 and often the plastic undercarriage is not up to the long term task of supporting their weight. Kitty Hawk has been consistently been provided resin detail sets but this is their first foray into metal.

In this quick review, I'll look at the detail provided and the fit of the metal parts to the kit plastic.
Each set is well packaged in a sturdy clear plastic box with each part further sealed inside a plastic bag. Based on the colour of the parts I believe they are most likely cast in brass (not bronze) which results in a strong, yet potentially malleable part. The parts are quite heavy (certainly compared to their plastic or resin cousins) which is a good thing for undercarriage legs but perhaps not so good for exhaust nozzles, which sit at the very back on any aircraft model and will need considerable nose weight to counter-balance.

Each metal part is designed to be a direct drop-in replacement for the corresponding kit plastic (or resin) parts. No cleanup is required (or indeed possible based on the hardness of the metal) as the casting method used by Kitty Hawk has resulted in clean, sharp and blemish free details.

Kitty Hawk 1:48 Sukhoi Su-34 Metal Upgrade Set (KHMT-02)
The 1:48 Su-34 Metal Detail set comprises of two main gear struts, a nose wheel strut and FOD-guard and a single pair of exhaust nozzles. Unlike the resin upgrade set also available for this kit (which includes aircrew figures and wingtip pods) the metal set only provides options for fully open exhaust nozzles (the resin set gives you a closed and open set).
On initial examination, the surface detailing on the nozzles looks to be very fine, at least equivalent to the kit provided resin parts (remember KH provides no plastic nozzles in their Su-34, only resin). I first assumed these were simply metal castings from the same master as the resin ones, but this is not the case. The resin kit parts feature both recesses and raised detailing while their metal counterparts have only recessed. The locating pins are keyed (big and small) to ensure correct alignment when offered up-to-the model.
The fit to the kit is near perfect with no trimming or modification needed at all. The interior petal demarcations looked a bit vague to my eye but I would really only know for sure under a coat of paint.
As with resin you never really know what you've got until you get a coat of primer on it. Take away the distracting metallic shine and we can see that the rivet details on the petals are inconsistent, not bad but just not all the same depth or clarity. If like me you like to use washes to highlight surface detail this may be a cause for some concern but nothing that can't be handled with a drill.
Turning next to the main undercarriage and this is where this set really shines. The Su-34 is a hefty model and will certainly benefit from some solid gear under it. The standard kit plastic main gear consists of no less than 12 parts for each side. Kitty Hawk has combined all these individual parts into a single casting so as to improve the strength and greatly simplify construction.
The metal casting is beautifully clean and seam/join free. The metal parts fit cleanly (and firmly) into the kit mounting points and really give a sense of solidity once attached. Some plastic parts will still be needed to complete the undercarriage (F4, F47) once installed but these additions to the metal will be simple and best handled with CA glue.
Likewise, the complexity of the plastic nose undercarriage is mostly replaced by a single metal part. You will need to add the landing lights and door panels but the main load-bearing structural part of the nose gear is solid.
Like the main gear parts, the metal casting is beautifully clean and seam/join free. Whilst quite strong, some of the protruding arms on this part need to be handled carefully as they can still be bent with pressure.
The final part included in the set is the distinctive nose-wheel FOD guard (to stop stones and debris from flicking up into the engine intakes on unprepared strips). A quick comparison with the basic plastic part and the real thing shows that Kitty Hawk for added an extra something here as well.

Kitty Hawk 1:48 Sukhoi Su-35 Metal Upgrade Set (KHMT-03)
The 1:48 Su-35 Flanker Metal Detail set comprises of two main gear struts, a nose wheel strut and FOD-guard and a single pair of exhaust nozzles. The exhaust nozzles are the later 'drooped' configuration that KH provided in resin in the second 'PLAAF' boxing or as optional parts via mail order.
The metal exhaust nozzles are very finely cast with the external surface smooth and shiny. A quick comparison with the "revised" drooped resin nozzle shows once again that these part are clearly not from the same master. The resin incorporates fine raised details while the metal parts are entirely recessed. Not a big deal, just different.
The detail between the two is also considerably different inside with the metal part showing considerably more refinement than the resin. To my eye these two options are 'much of a muchness' and I'd be happy to use either one on my model. In fact, the extra weight introduced by using the metal nozzle pushes me ever so slightly to the resin part (simply to avoid adding heaps of weight to the nose).
Conducting a test fit of the metal exhaust to the kit plastic, things did not go as expected. When I inserted the tiny lip on the metal nozzle into the rear fuselage I had to spread the fuselage halves considerably to get it in. The diameter of the metal nozzle lip was simply too big to slide snugly into the fuselage rear.
Thinking this may be limited to a moulding issue of the plastic on one side I tried both nozzles - same result. A 5-6mm gap was needed between the fuselage top and bottom to get the metal exhaust inside. Something had to be done.
Two options lay before me: 1) reduce the diameter of the metal nozzle lip so that it fit correctly into the fuselage or 2) widen the size of the rear fuselage opening to accommodate the larger metal nozzle. 
Option 1 was quickly dismissed due to the difficulty of working with the metal (too hard to file or sand). Option 2 sounded easy as all I needed to do was use my knife blade to lightly trim the thickness of the plastic around the opening.

With some minor trimming and sanding the metal nozzle and plastic fuselage came together perfectly. No alignment guides are provided to ensure you have the 'droop' sitting correctly so it is up to the modeller to be mindful when its time for glue later on.
Curious to see if my plastic trimming had adversely affected the fit of the resin parts and for the most part the answer was no, they still fitted fine. I'm not sure if its an optical illusion but I also believe that the metal nozzle is a 'smidgen' longer than the resin part.
The Flankers undercarriage a much simpler affair than the Fullbacks dual bogie setup but there are still a considerable number of plastic parts that go into the main and nose gear. I was impressed at how firm the fit was of the metal parts to the plastic mounting points. Again the metal casting was clean and will provide a very secure set of 'legs' for the model.
The nose FOD guard in this set was perhaps the roughest casting of all. It required a little bit of cleanup on the 'louvres' and around the axle mounting points. Still, it looks to be a more detailed option that the plastic kit part by comparison.

FINAL THOUGHTS Kitty Hawk 1:48 Metal Upgrade Sets (KHMT-02 & KHMT-03)
I'm not normally a big fan of metal undercarriage where its use is 'just for the sake of it'. However when you are building bigger, heavier models like both the Su-34 and Su-35 in 1/48 scale then their use becomes far more relevant. I've seen my share of bad metal castings over the years and I can honestly say that these new parts by Kitty Hawk would have to be some of the cleanest I have come across (you've seen the pictures). They fit the kits perfectly (literally a drop in) and as bonus save the modeller a bunch of time assembling and aligning the plastic parts. For the undercarriage parts in both sets its a big thumbs up from me.
The metal nozzles I am not so convinced about. Compared to their resin counterparts the surface details were not as sharp and the extra weight they add to the tail of the models is considerable. The fit problems I had with the Su-35 nozzles probably also put me off them a bit but to be fair that was very easily corrected. 

I was curious about the going price for the metal sets and could only uncover one online store selling them at the moment. BNA Model World has the Su-34 set for US$52, which is a hefty price, especially when you consider the kit itself costs US$77 (or you can buy both in a combo for US$103)

I applaud Kitty Hawk for expanding their range of accessories for the kits they produce, I'm just not sure how many of them will move given the price.

Gary Wickham

Thanks to Kitty Hawk for sending these to Gary to review for you all. You can order these directly from Kitty Hawk Customer Service by emailing them at this link