Tuesday, July 19

Aftermarket Dual Review: Upgrade Sets for Su-33 & Su-27K from Minibase in 1/48th scale

After his stellar review of the 48th scale MiniBase Su-33 kit, we could not think of not giving these new improvement sets for MiniBase's Su-27K & Su-33 to anyone else. See what Gary thought in his in-depth review and comparison of both of these sets...

Aftermarket Dual Review: Upgrade Sets for Su-33 (2001) & Su-27K (2002)
From: Minibase
1/48th scale
Kit No# BA8001 / BA8002
Price: $64 USD
Product Link on the Hobbylink Japan Website

3-D Printed Upgrade Parts Set For Su-27K
From: Minibase
1/48th scale
Kit No# BA8001
Price: $64 USD

3-D Printed Upgrade Parts Set For Su-27K
by MiniBase
1/48th scale
Kit No# BA8002
Minibase has recently released two new upgrade sets for their 1:48th scale Su-33 Flanker D (#48001) and Su-27K Sea Flanker (#48002) kits. Each set contains new 3D printed parts designed to directly replace the kit plastic parts. The benefits of 3D printed upgrades is twofold, firstly they offer far greater detail than the kit plastic parts and secondly they provide a much simpler construction often cutting out multiple construction steps in one go.
Inside the cardboard box, all the resin parts are carefully packed inside a sturdy plastic container. Small foam blocks are used to protect the parts during transport. The instructions are provided in full color via a double sided foldout sheet.
Here I have unpacked the Su-33 (#2001) set. Both sets are identical, with the exceptions listed below:
 - Nose landing gear (Su-33 & Su-27K)
 - Main landing gear (Su-33 & Su-27K)
 - Exhaust nozzles (Su-33 & Su-27K)
 - Wing-fold (Su-33 & Su-27K)
 - Nose wheel FOD guard (Su-33 & Su-27K)
 - K-36D Ejection Seat Harness (Su-33 only)
 - Seated Pilot (Su-33 only)

As Minibase have included the seat harness and seated pilot in their newer Su-27K Sea Flanker (#48002) kit, these are not needed in the corresponding (#2002) upgrade set.
The instructions included with 3D printed parts are somewhat different to normal. I would call these "preparation" instructions rather than "assembly" instructions simply because there really is no "assembly" needed with 99% of the 3D printed items. The items do need to be cut from the printing tree and some minor clean up performed, but this is quick and painless. Here we see the steps needed to prepare the nose landing gear for installation into the model. NB, one step that seems to be missing is the insertion of the provided stainless steel rod to the centre of the landing gear designed to provide support and prevent deformation under weight.
Out of curiosity, I did a quick check of the Su-33 kit instructions to see how many plastic and photo-etch parts were needed to build the original kit nose landing gear sub-assembly. The answer was 46, and this, of course did not include any of the extra detailing like cables and piping included in the 3D print. I think this very much confirms the "simpler construction" benefit of 3D parts and as for the extra detail, well the photos speak for themselves.
On the flip side of the instruction sheet are the detailed painting instructions. All color call-outs are given using Gunze Mr Color paints so if you have a preference for another brand you will need to substitute.
To hammer home just how much more detailed the printed parts are, here are the assembled plastic parts from the Su-33 kit. By comparison, these look positively bare and of course you could add all the cabling using normal scratch building techniques, but let's face it, the 3D printed parts will still be nicer and way more convenient.
The last part of the nose landing gear is the FOD guard, which sits just above the ground behind the wheel. Earlier Flankers had full blown mud guards, but somewhere along the line the style changed to this four bladed "lightweight" guard. Minibase includes 3 copies of the printed part and I can only assume this is just in case you lose or damage one (or two) while preparing and fitting them to the nose landing gear strut. Incidentally, the kit itself uses PE brass for each of the four blades and a spacer for gluing. Again, the 3D print will be so much easier to use.
The main landing gear is likewise printed full ready to install onto the model. The instructions detail how to remove the safety cage and then the myriad of tiny support tree attachment points all sensibly marked in red by Minibase.
The main thing that jumped out at me here was the inclusion of the hydraulic lines which entwine the MLG struts. You really will need to pay attention to where you snip as many of those small support struts are the same diameter as the piping. Look twice and cut once !
Once cleaned up, your next challenge will be to hand paint all that lovely detail provided. A steady hand will come in handy here as much of these parts are tiny in 1/48th scale.
It is always the best idea to use the real aircraft for reference when working on your model parts. Here are a couple to get you started and to use in conjunction with the Minibase instructions.
Finally, a quick look at the kits plastic parts to help clarify just how much extra has been added to the 3D printed parts. These, whilst quite nice as far as plastic parts go, start to look "naked" when you realise just how much is missing in terms of detail.
One feature of the carrier based Flankers is the ability to fold their wings. The hinges on such a large aircraft are very visible and benefit from the super detailing treatment.
Minibase has designed the main face of both wing folds as new single piece 3D printed parts, which include the array of fluid and electrical cable bundles that must flex as the wing folds.
The hinge on the real Flanker D is complex and beefy (as is typical of Russian designed aircraft). As a modeller, not having to assemble all the tiny parts that make up the hinge face is welcome.
A closeup of the printed detail shows that much care will be needed when removing the delicate cabling from the base. I have found a good pair of side cutters or new knife blade often gets the job done well.
One item in the set which I was very pleased to see was the K-36D Ejection seat harness. In the original Minibase kit , the complex harness is provided as an equally complex set of photo-etch parts belts which must be folded and intertwined to obtain the final result. By comparison, the 3D printed drop in harness looks more convincing and is infinitely more desirable by modellers of any skill level. As noted above, this harness is NOT included in the #2002 Upgrade set for the Su-27K Sea Flanker kit because Minibase already includes this part in that kit.
A fairly standard upgrade part that is typically provided by aftermarket resin companies these days are exhaust nozzles. Due to the limitations of injection moulding, its often not possible for kit manufacturers to match the scale thickness of the petals used on modern jet engine nozzles. 3D printing provides the next generation of technology to allow manufacturers (and modellers themselves) to move closer than ever to achieving true scale thickness in 1:48. It's no surprise then that Minibase have included a set of new nozzles in this upgrade set that are incredibly thin and offer a noticeable step up over the kit plastic parts.
Last but not least, the Su-33 upgrade set (#2001) contains a very detailed seated pilot. Note that this pilot is NOT included in the upgrade set for the Su-27K Sea Flanker (#2002) for the simple reason that Minibase already included him in the base aircraft kit. Printed in eye watering orange resin, the pilot does NOT include a seat, but is designed instead to fit neatly into the kit plastic seat. The seat harness is molded over his flight suit.
Often operating over cold arctic waters, the Russian pilots who fly from carriers are often seen in bright orange "hi visibility" flight suits. Presumably these suits are designed to provide maximum cold protection to the pilot in the event of a water ditching.
I borrowed a couple of photos from the Minibase Facebook page, which shows what the pilot looks like when fitted to the kit cockpit and also when he is fully painted up.
Unfortunately, no painting instructions are included for the pilot in the upgrade set, but Minibase do include them in the Su-27K Sea Flanker kit, which I have included here for your convenience.
Finally, we have a figure which is NOT included in either of the upgrade sets. Minibase provided us with this second seated pilot figure, who has a different (more relaxed) pose. I like this figure more than the default one
as it would be better suited to a ground display where the pilot is conversing with his crew with his right hand resting on the windshield.

CONCLUSION - Minibase 1:48 Upgrade Sets for Su-33 (2001) & Su-27K (2002)
One of my main observations when I initially reviewed the Minibase Su-33 Flanker D (#48001) was the perhaps overwhelming complexity of the kit. As an example, expecting the average modeler to relish the idea of assembling 46 tiny parts just for the nose landing gear was always going to be a "bridge too far" for most.

Perhaps Minibase have heard this feedback, and it is one of the motivations for them to release these "upgrade" sets for their Sea Flankers. Yes, they certainly add more detail (to an already incredibly detailed model) but more importantly to my mind is that they simplify several areas of the build that may otherwise turn modellers off. I myself are now much more likely to build my Minibase Su-33 knowing that climbing that mountain will not be as hard with these upgraded parts.
After a quick web search, the asking price for these sets seem to vary from around US$58 - $64 if buying direct from Asia or up to around the US$110 from US based suppliers. This certainly makes them a premium item and one that most modellers will think twice about. I expect that those who have already invested a chunk of change on the Minibase Su-33 kit itself have a desire to build the ultimate Sea Flanker kit in 1:48th scale. I'd therefore expect those same people to be fairly happy to fork out some more for the quality of the upgrade parts seen here.

Ultimately, I feel that Minibase have delivered on their objective of providing a set of optional high quality upgrade parts for their Sea Flanker family. If you have the Minibase Su-33 or Su-27K in your stash already, then I'd highly recommend you consider these sets to take it to the next level.

Gary Wickham

The Minibase website is not yet up so check out their Facebook page for more from them.
We found these two kits for sale at Hobbylink Japan for $58 USD & $64USD, respectively.

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

ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS - Minibase 1:48 Upgrade Sets for Su-33 (2001) & Su-27K (2002)