Monday, January 18

Test Kit Dry-Fit Review: 48th scale Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D from Minibase

Gary Wickham was happy to recently receive the last test shot of Minibase's forthcoming Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D in 48th scale injection moulded plastic before the kit goes to the public. We have seen a lot of hype & a few myths & uncertainties about this kit around. Gary clears that all up & shows us just how this kit builds up in his extensive dry-fit build review...

Test Kit Dry-Fit Review: Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D
From: Minibase
Kit No #48001
Scale: 1:48th scale
Plastic injection moulded kit including clear parts
Three marking choices in the box
Link to the Minibase Webpage (not yet active)
The Sukhoi Su-33 (Russian: Су-33; NATO reporting name: Flanker-D) is an all-weather carrier-based twin-engine air superiority fighter designed by Sukhoi and manufactured by Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association, derived from the Su-27 and initially known as the Su-27K. Compared with the Su-27, the Su-33 has a strengthened undercarriage and structure, folding wings and stabilators, all for carrier operations. The Su-33 has canards and its wings are larger than the Su-27 for increased lift. The Su-33 has upgraded engines and a twin nose wheel and is air refuelable.
First used in operations in 1995 aboard the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov,[N 1] the fighter officially entered service in August 1998, by which time the designation "Su-33" was used. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the subsequent downsizing of the Russian Navy, only 24 aircraft were produced. Attempted sales to China and India fell through. With plans to retire the Su-33 once they reach the end of their service life, the Russian Navy ordered the MiG-29K as a replacement in 2009. [source: wikipedia]
KIT OVERVIEW - MINIBASE Su-33 Flanker-D (48001)
Minibase is a brand new model manufacturer from China. The new tooled Su-33 "Sea Flanker" in 1:48 will be their first release and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the pre-release kits. I have seen some speculation that this kit is an upgraded version of the Kinetic Su-33 and as I have both kits now I did some quick comparisons. Whilst on the surface both kits have obvious similarities (they are after-all the same subject matter) when you look more closely at the way things are designed and engineered there are significant differences between the two kits. Did they originate from the same design team? It's possible, but I doubt it.
My first impression when looking at the sprues was that the surface detail is very finely engraved and completely to scale. My pre-release kit came without any hard-copy assembly instructions but Minibase did provide us with a PDF of the instructions and these look pretty close to being complete. My second impression came after looking more closely at the 41 pages of assembly instructions. This is without a doubt a very detailed kit, with some amazing injection moulding engineering being employed. Almost every part that can be moulded separately (and accurately) has been and once you assembly them all together will result in an amazingly accurate and detailed model.

As Minibase themselves have stated, "We have fully utilized the most advanced technology and manufacturing lines, designed the moulding with accurate details with the attitude of "No compromises", which makes our products comes with top-notch quality and enable us to strive for the best quality of scale models"

To get the most from this kit you will need to be very comfortable working with extremely small plastic and photo-etch parts. Being proficient at cleanly removing very small and delicate parts from the sprue, cleaning then up and then attaching them onto the model is definitely a prerequisite here. I realise this sounds like basic modelling skills and perhaps it is, but the old saying "you don't get something for nothing" holds true here and I would anticipate that beginners and even some intermediate modellers will find this "no-compromises" kit a real challenge to realise its full potential.
Photo-etch parts:
Minibase has gone all out when it comes to detailing parts and many of these are so small that they have utilised photo-etch brass rather than plastic. The kit contains more photo-etch than you would typically see in a third party detailing set.
"This IS a test"
To provide a more hands-on preview of this upcoming release I have glued together the provided test sprues and assembled most of the key components so I can better obtain an overall impression of the fit and engineering of the kit. Whilst the plastic parts are interesting the far more informative details can be found in the assembly instructions. These show the level of detail that Minibase (and hence the modeller) have gone to with this kit. In the pre-release PDF we were supplied there are no less than 41 pages of assembly steps. This sounds like a lot, and it certainly is, but bear in mind that some of these cover the optional assembly steps (folded or extended wings etc).

It's worth re-iterating that the parts and instructions we are sharing with you in this preview are all PRE-RELEASE. I did find some minor errors in part callouts as I built the model but expect these will be addressed by Minibase before the kit is generally released.

The Ejection set & Harnesses:
I have laid out this preview following the assembly sequence provided by Minibase in their instructions. I hope this will give you a feel for the level of detail (and effort required) to build this kit. Let's kick off with the first two pages which cover assembly of the seat. The harness is provided entirely in photo-etch brass and needs to be folded as shown. 
Minibase has done just about everything they can to try and clearly show the best order of bending the PE harness but the parts are small and this will still be very fiddly work.
Whilst browsing the web I came across the following announcement from SP Model (contact them thru FB) for 3D printed harnesses for a 1/48 K-36D seat which will make assembling the Minibase (and other Su-27 family kits) much easier. Of course, you could always swap out the kit seat entirely for one of the readily available aftermarket resin options.
The Cockpit:
The cockpit allows for both the early and late (SVP-24-33) instrument panels. The SVP-24 is an enhanced navigation system that acts as a computerized bombsight manufactured by Russian company Gefest & T that is claimed to provide similar accuracy to guided munitions.
It is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between this new Minibase kit and the existing Kinetic Su-33. Whilst I don't intend to compare the two kits in this review, I was also curious as to the differences and as I had the Kinetic kit in my stash I quickly put its cockpit together to be able to show a side by side comparison. To my eye, the level of detail is very similar between the two mouldings (although it is clear they are completely different parts).
Nose Gear:
Next step involves the assembly of the nose wheel bay and gear. Sprues J, K and L contain roughly 100 parts each and they are all the tiny bits which you can see mentioned a lot during this particular sub-assembly. It was here that I started to realise just how detailed (and fiddly) the build of this kit would be. Having access to the PDF version of the instructions was particularly handy as I was able to zoom in on the assembly diagrams for each step and see which way the smallest parts are meant to align. I would strongly encourage Minibase to make the final PDF available for download by all modellers once they release the kit as I fear printed paper instructions alone will not be adequate for some.
Once assembled the level of detail provided in the box by Minibase becomes apparent. About the only thing modellers may choose to add is some electrical/hydraulic cabling.
The raised ribbing on the tires is very well done and looks completely to scale. Likewise, the cabling detail on the interior walls of the gear bay is just right.
The Engine nacelles:
Each engine nacelle is moulded as a single piece, which is in contrast to the Kinetic kit. Full intake trunking is provided up the engine intake fan. 
Also worth noting is the fact that unlike Trumpeter/HobbyBoss/KittyHawk there is no engine provided. I personally think this is a good thing as I feel manufacturers effort is better focused elsewhere.
A choice of open or closed auxiliary intake louvres (on the bottom of the nacelle) is provided as is the FOD guard screen. I was a little surprised that this mesh guard was provided as plastic by Minibase rather than PE (as per the Kinetic kit).
 The intake trunks are in two pieces and so this means a bit of work is needed to tidy up the seams that run the full length of the intake. I'm sure one of the smaller resin companies will pop out some seamless resin intakes in short order.
Minibase provides options for both weighted (loaded) and un-weighted tires. The weighted bulging is really nicely done and looks very convincing. The Su-33 had it's main gear struts beefed up when compared to the stock standard Su-27. This was to cater for harder carrier deck landings. Once again all the small details are designed to be added separately, which results in much finer and sharper detail on the finished parts.
Exactly like the real aircraft, each of the Minibase tires has fine raised ribbing and lettering applied to the sidewalls.
To help better highlight the detail on the model I decided to apply a light wash of Black Tamiya Panel Liner. This looks a bit messy but does help to show all the subtle detail included by Minibase which would otherwise be far less visible to the camera.
The main wheel wells have most of the cabling detail moulded into the sidewalls. Extra parts (which sit proud of the bay walls) are all provided down to the smallest part for addition. I appreciate that Minibase has taken the time in the instructions to provide profile views which shows the correct positioning on the smaller parts as after a while these all start to look the same (even through a magnifier !!)
Once the nacelles and lower fuselage interior details are complete we can mate the two together. The alignment slots are very precise and result in a near-perfect fit of these two major sub-assemblies.
Once again I have used the black panel wash to show off all that delicious surface detail. It may not be apparent from the photos but Minibase have correctly provided a mix of raised and recessed surface rivet detail which again shows their attention to detail. The fit of all these major components was completely gapped free and none of the parts displayed any warping or distortion.
To accommodate the wing-fold of the Su-33, the Sukhoi design team had to split the large trailing edge flap of Su-27 into two. This results in an inner and outer flap segment. Minibase have designed their inner (and outer) flaps to be posable in one of three possible positions, ranging from fully retracted to fully extended (out and down). Options A, B or C are for the port (left) inner flap whilst positions D, E or F are for the inner flap positions for the starboard (right) inner flap.
I chose options C and F for my test build to best show the inner flaps fully extended. Minibase have done the very well and once you work out in your head which options go where the assembly is quite simple and sturdy.
The outer portion of the flaps also come with a choice of three positions. Options G, H or I are for the port (left) outer flap whilst positions J, K or L are for the outer flap positions for the starboard (right) wing.
Minibase has designed the connectors (hinges) on each of the flaps and outer ailerons to be sandwiched between the wing halves and remain un-glued (presumably to allow you to move the control surfaces). I found this resulted in a very loose fit and felt like a toy-like addition to me. I decided to instead glue the main wing together first and cut off the T from the end of the hinges. This in turn allowed me to insert (and glue) the control surfaces later at the angle I desired. As shown for the folded wings Minibase suggests you use only flap position G and J, however, I found quite a few photos showing what looked like the folded flaps at different positions. As always I would go with "check your references"
A choice of wingtip stores is also provided by Minibase with either the KNIRTI SAP-518 wingtip jamming pod or an R-73 pylon being available. Much like the trailing edge control surfaces the leading edge slats can be positioned extended or retracted via the use of two different hinges.
One suggestion I would make is that you leave attaching the trailed edge flaps to the wing until you are ready to dry test the wing-fold to the fuselage. The reason being is that you need to adjust the deflection of the flaps to ensure they do not hit the vertical fins. Even on the real aircraft its a very close fit and if you get this angle wrong you will not be able to fold the wings properly. As you can see from this photo the flaps are deflected down a long way when folded.
If you go with the extended (unfolded) wing option you can utilise the full range of the flap positions. H, G or I for the port wing and J, K or L for the starboard wing.
Leaving the wings behind for now, we now turn our attention to the cockpit glare shield and HUD. Minibase have sensibly provided the HUD frame as photo-etch which gives it a very realistic scale look compared to plastic. All of the complex plumbing and auxiliary indicators on the glare-shield and around the HUD seem to have been faithfully reproduced by Minibase.
The canopy framing is easily one of the most detailed kit inclusions I have ever seen on a 1/48 model. The framing, piping, actuators and even correctly shaped plastic rear-view mirrors have been provided in the kit by Minibase. There really is very little that aftermarket detailing companies like Eduard will be able to do for this kit. Two separate canopies are provided, one for closed and one for open. The only difference I could see was that the closed one has not raised detail on the lower surfaces to ensure it would close cleanly.
Despite the major advances in injection moulding technology over the years, it seems that one nut they have yet to crack is a seamless "blown" canopy. The Minibase canopy and windshield have a very fine centerline seam that you will need to deal with. Care is needed when attaching all that plastic on the clear parts so pick your favourite glue (I used Tamiya Super Thin Quick Dry) and proceed slowly.
Before closing up the fuselage be sure to insert the wing-fold detailing parts. Failure to do it now will mean you can't just add parts C7 and C8 later as I found out (but not before it was too late !!). Things are a little easier if you opt for the wing spread option but you will still need to deal with some very tiny PE parts for the hinge.
Minibase includes all the small detail parts found inside the hinge mechanism of the Su-33, however, I chose to not assemble all these for my test shot build, but they were provided.
Moving along now the rear vertical and horizontal fins are next. Much like the wings, the Sea Flankers horizontal tails can also be folded. This gives the Su-33 a very unique look and I image most modellers will take this path.
The fit of both the vertical and horizontal tails is excellent. Minibase provides very secure alignment holes for the vertical fins and deep enough hinges for the horizontal tails to ensure they don't have any slop. After a steady diet of KittyHawk kits lately its little things like this that you come to appreciate.
With all the preparation work complete it's time to join the fuselage halves. Now you will need to decide which inner flap position to use and as you can see once again Minibase suggest that you attach the forward canards and rear elevators using no glue. Whilst the fit is very firm for both these parts I prefer to leave them off until I have dealt with seam work etc.
As you can see from the panel wash the general upper surface detail is very tidy. I did find a few of the panel lines were soft and benefited from a light re-scribe. An option to open the air-brake is provided by Minibase and would add some additional visual interest to the finished model.
Thankfully Minibase has not wasted time or effort on providing any engine detail. They have however provided very well detailed nozzles and exhaust interior for the Su-33's two Saturn AL-31F3 after-burning turbofan engines. With appropriate painting, I expect these plastic parts will more than do the job.
The rear radome is shortened and reshaped on the Su-33 to prevent its striking the deck during high-Alpha (angle of attack) landings. Minibase provides the option to display it open or closed. Also, note that both open and closed engine nozzles options are provided in the box.
Probably the last step in the construction will be attaching the folded wings. Minibase thankfully provides very sturdy brackets that fit snugly into slots on the wings and help to hold the outer wing at the right angle. You cannot, however, rely entirely on the bracket and must apply glue along the full length of the wing-fold hinge to obtain a strong bond.
The Su-33 carries guided missiles such as the R-73 (four) and R-27E (six) on twelve hard-points, supplemented by the 150-round 30 mm GSh-30-1. 
It can carry an assortment of unguided rockets, bombs and cluster bombs for secondary air-to-ground missions. In my test kit, Minibase provided four of each variant of the A/A weapons typically used by the SU-33. I was provided with 4 x R-73L, R-73E and 4 x R-27R, R-27T, R-27ER, R-27ET. The missiles look to be slide-moulded resulting in very realistically thin fins
True to their "no comprises" approach, Minibase have provided an imposing set of decal sheets, including two full sheets of stencils for the aircraft and weapons. The decals have been designed by Galaxy Decals and I am assuming these are the same guys who run Galaxy Models and Galaxy Tools. If so, I have every expectation that they will be very accurate and extensive, having used several of the Galaxy paint masks and riveting tools before.
My test kit did not include any painting or marking instructions but based purely on the decal sheet I believe that Minibase will provide three marking options for Red 80, 68 and 86.
Minibase Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D: Final Thoughts.
Minibase has certainly delivered on their promise of a "no-compromises" kit. The level of detail provided is impressive and perhaps a little intimidating. This is clearly not meant to be a kit for beginners and I suspect it will give many a seasoned modeller a moment of pause as well.

If you do decide to take the challenge you will be well rewarded with the most accurate and detailed Sea Flanker in 1/48 released to-date. That is not to take anything away from the Kinetic Su-33 kit, but this Minibase release takes 1/48th scale jet modelling to a "new level". I would not expect much aftermarket to be released for this kit as it's simply not needed.
Even though I was working with pre-release sprues and instructions I felt the level of care & commitment that the Minibase team have poured into each and every part of this project. Everything from the design and manufacturing of the kit parts to the research/artwork in the decals and detail drawing breakdowns in the instructions has been delivered to the highest level of quality.

I look forward to building the final release and seeing how it looks under some paint. Thanks to Minibase for the test sprues for allowing us to glimpse a preview of what's to come. 

Gary Wickham

The Minibase website is not yet up, but we will fill you in with more from this site as soon as we know more

You can see more of Gary's Work on his ScaleSpot.com Website & his Facebook page.

Appendix: Instruction booklet.