The Modelsvit 1/72 M-17 Stratosphera

Background:

In the 1950’s and 60’s the U.S. instituted several intelligence programs that utilized high-altitude reconnaissance balloons. Released from friendly territory, the balloons would ascend into the jet stream and thence over the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. To combat the balloons Myasishchev proposed Subject 34, a single seat, turbojet-powered, twin-boom, high-aspect-ratio aircraft nicknamed “Chaika”: Russian for Seagull due to the pronounced anhedral of it’s wings. Before Subject 34 could be developed into operational hardware, the balloon programs were terminated due to the success of the Keyhole reconnaissance satellites of the Corona program and the emergence of the Lockheed A-12.

Development of the Chaika continued with the prototype being completed in 1978. The aircraft was lost the same year in an unfortunate incident wherein the pilot pulled the aircraft into the air during a fast taxi in order to avoid a snow bank. The aircraft then struck a hillside and was destroyed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A reconnaissance version of the Chaika was developed as the M-17 Stratosphera (NATO reporting name Mystic-A). The M-17 featured a revised airframe that included straight tapered wings, a shortened fuselage pod, and an un-reheated Kolesov RD-36-51 turbojet engine. The prototype M-17, serial number 17401, flew for the first time on May 26th, 1982. Eight years later 17401 with Vladimir V. Arkhipenko at the controls set an altitude record of 21,830 m (71,620 ft) for class C-1i aircraft (landplanes with a take-off weight 16 to 20 tons). Luckily, this historic, record setting aircraft is one of the decal options provided in the kit.

Before it’s retirement in 1987, the M-17 Mystic-A set a total of 12 FAI world records, 5 of which still stand. The final development of the M-17 design, the M-55 Geophysica, first flew in 1988 and reportedly continued in service as a research platform into the late 1990’s.


The Build:

The Modelsvit M-17 (kit# 72024): not an easy build. That said the result is quite stunning and large for a 1/72 single-seater. Would I build another? Maybe. I would approach building a few of the sub-assemblies differently for sure. It’s one of the most distinctive planes (and models) I’ve seen so I can recommend it to any die-hard wing-nut that has to have a Stratosphera on the shelf. Be warned, however, there’ll be a lot of plastic dust on your bench before this beastie is assembled.

Cockpit and Fuselage:

The instructions begin with the assembly of an amazingly complicated and beautifully molded K-36 ejection seat. This really is a model within itself and was assembled over the course of multiple sessions. The fuselage internals which included an engine front and intake ducting were assembled and glued into one fuselage halve.

Prior to gluing the halves together, putty worms were placed around the periphery of the cockpit tub such that when assembled, the cockpit would be sealed thereby preventing plastic and/or putty particles and dust from entering the cockpit during subsequent building steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This goes a long way to preventing dust and shmutz from showing up on the inside of a canopy AFTER it’s glued in place: not a lot of fun. With the cockpit sealed, the fuselage halves were glued together with Tamiya Extra Thin Cement.

The wing assembly was started by gluing the left and right outboard wing sections to their respective lower halves. The fit was the less than ideal requiring the use of a few clamps; just a few.

When the assembled wings were test fitted to the wing center section it was apparent that, without additional internal support, the resulting join would sag badly. Short lengths of styrene rod and rectangular-shaped styrene were added to increase the mating surfaces and to shore up the structure. This was glued in place with Gap Filling CA glue (Bob Smith).

 

 

Preparatory to gluing the tail booms in place, the very weak butt join provided by the kit was reinforced with pieces of styrene tubing of the appropriate diameter. Before the booms were attached, I opted to glue the wings to the fuselage and deal with a ~1.5mm step that occurred on the dorsal aspect of the wing to fuselage join.

 

 

 

This area was first blended with Alpha 400 and 600 grit sanding films used with cold, soapy water. With the join “roughed-in” the step was filled in with a mixture of talcum powder and CA glue: my favorite filler for practically all occasions when scribing of the filled surface will be required.

 

 

 

 

The filled area was wet sanded with Alpha 600 followed by Alpha 1000 grit abrasive. When smooth, the porosity of the Talc/CA filler was addressed by coating the area with Mr. Surfacer 1,000. When this was dry, it was first wet sanded with Alpha 1,000 followed sequentially by wet buffing with Micromesh 3200, 3600, and 4,000 pads.

 

 

 

 

With the surface smooth, the inscribed details that had to be restored were outlined with Tamiya Plastic Tape (great on curved surfaces) and the details restored first with a needle scriber followed by the UMM-USA 001 Scriber: the best scriber I have in my tool box.

 

 

 

In addition to the dorsal wing to fuselage join, the curved sections (composed of multiple angled pieces) along the sides of the fuselage and tail had to be re-worked and blended for a proper profile. For such occasions I have a selection of abrasive tools that lend themselves to blending curved surfaces including Needle Files, folded Alpha 1,000 grit, and the  Cone Sander. All of these tools were used to re-work these areas.

With the fuselage and wing joined and blended I set about preparing the canopy by first dipping it in a 1:1 Solution of Mission Gloss in Mission Thinner. This is awesome as a canopy clear coat and what I started to use in lieu of Future Floor Wax because if flows better and is more resistant to cracking when dry. The dipped canopy was then glued in place with Gold CA Glue (Bob Smith).

 

To mask the canopy, the frames were first outlined with 0.4mm masking tape from Aizu Project. This is awesome stuff! I’ve spent hours of modeling time cutting thin strips of Tamiya tape with a ruler and X-Acto: no more.

 

 

 

 

With the frames outlined with tape, the clear areas were covered with Mr. Hobby Mr. Masking Sol R and set aside to dry. The combination of these thin masking tapes from Aizu and a good liquid mask like Mr. Masking Sol makes masking canopies with complex and/or curved framing quicker and easier: awesome stuff.

Prime and then Paint? Maybe Not:

At this point in the build I have to confess that time was a huge issue as this model was scheduled to be part of a display in the Museum of Flight (Seattle, Washington) that was being coordinated by the Northwest Scale Modelers Club.

With just days before the installation of the new display there was insufficient time for both primer and paint. Luckily the scheme of the M-17 was simply light grey and white: colors easy to replicate using Mission Models Primers. Eureka!!

 

 

In preparation for painting priming, the model was wiped down with a Kimwipe saturated with denatured alcohol (Crown Brand: “Cleans Glass” on front of can).

The fuselage, tail booms, and the tips of the wings and horizontal stabilizer were then shot with Mission White Primer diluted 1:1 with Mission Thinner. This was applied at ~15psi with an H&S Evolution fitted with a 0.4mm tip.

 

When dry, the wing tips and the ends of the horizontal stabilizer were sprayed with a custom mix of Mission Models Red, Black, and Orange prepared to match the similarly colored flag decal destined to be applied to the vertical stabilizer. The Mission Models paint was diluted as described below (Note 1) and shot at 12psi with an H&S Infinity fitted with a 0.15mm tip.

 

 

 

The red areas on the wings and horizontals as well as the white portions of the fuselage and tail booms were masked with Tamiya tape and here again the Aizu micron tapes were great for laying down the initial lines for the scheme.

 

 

 

The model was then shot with Mission Grey Primer to which a few drops of Black Primer was added to achieve the appropriate color and hue to my eye. This was diluted 1:1 with Mission Thinner and applied at ~15psi with an H&S Evolution fitted with a 0.4mm tip.

When this was dry, the tape was removed and the entire model was shot with Mission Gloss Diluted 60:40 with Thinner-10 (see Note 1 below). This was applied at ~15psi with an H&S Evolution fitted with a 0.4mm tip. The use of a large 0.4mm nozzle and needle (“tip”) is really handy for applying primers and clear coats on a model of this size or larger.

The kit decals were applied using conventional techniques and a small amount of Micro-Set: that’s it. The kit decals are some of the best I’ve used: comparable to top-notch aftermarket decals in color density and quality.

Once dry, the decals were sealed with a light coat of Mission Gloss and the final finishing and assembly of the model began.

Holes on the bottom aspect of each nacelle that are landing lights on the 1/1 version were filled in with Two-Part, 5-Minute Epoxy Glue carefully applied with a toothpick. The result is a pretty convincing landing light in 5 minutes as opposed to blending-in and polishing the badly fitting clear plastic kit parts. Note the area just ahead of each “light” is crammed with as much lead as it would accommodate (see note on weight below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The landing gear was assembled and “painted” with Mission White Primer. The primed wheels were shot with Mission Green, the hubs masked, and the tires sprayed with Mission Tire Black. The landing gear assemblies were glued in place and the model set aside to dry…………….and as it dried it began to slowly pitch nose up. Gradually at first then faster till it sat proudly on its tail, listing sickly to port. Ah yes, model airplanes.

Realizing that the little plastic strut that supports the angled main gear had failed, I wrenched the strained strut back in place then glued pieces of brass tubing along its length with copious amounts of CA glue. Catastrophe averted and the fix (luckily) is visible only from below the model.

Be forewarned, the rear landing gear is weak right out of the box and needs to be strengthened or you’ll have a more than just the normal “tail sitter” on your hands.

With the landing gear issue addressed, the entire model was given a pin wash of Tamiya Dark Panel Wash applied with a small brush. Highlighting all the inscribed details, especially on the wings really makes the finish stand out and made the time invested in refreshing all the inscribed lines in these areas worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the canopy tapes were removed, various antennae were painted and affixed with CA glue and this M-17 Stratosphera was called “Done”.

A note on weight:

This model is a tail sitter. There’s an awful lot of plastic on the wrong side of the CG on this model as continued testing of the kit during assembly indicated. I found myself cramming lead into every nook and cranny I could find that was ahead of the CG. This includes shaping lead pieces that fit the conical sections at the front of each nacelle and filling the nose gear well with as much lead as it would accommodate. Luckily, the back sections of the nose gear doors cycled closed after the gear extended thereby hiding the added lead. Should you build this kit I suggest having a nice selection of spare lead and consider thinning out the rear sections of the tail booms and horizontal stabilizer as much as possible during the build. That’s a lot of work but I don’t see a way around it given the novel shape and layout of the airframe and hence the model.

Conclusion:

Okay so that was a lot of work: all of it doable with a little practice and patience and well within the abilities of most modelers out there. The result, as with most difficult builds, is gratifying and the experience made me dust off a few old tricks I’ve not used in a while: a good thing.

I find the M-17 to be a very aesthetically pleasing airplane and the model conveys the beauty of the airframe well. I can recommend it to anyone with a little experience with limited run kits and a sincere desire to have an M-17 in their collection but be warned, you’ll have to work for it.

Now I gotta go paint prime something!

–John

 

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Note 1: Spraying Mission Model Paints

To spray Mission paints I first prepare a solution of Mission Model Thinner to which Missions Polyurethane Mix Additive (Polymix: a flow and leveling agent) has been added to ~10%. I then dilute Mission Models Paints directly into this solution for spraying. Using a pre-mixed solution of Polymix and Thinner allows you to prepare paint dilutions in a much more reproducible way thereby ensuring that the resulting mixes will spray in a predictable manner.

If counting drops is how you roll, no worries. Thinner-10 is roughly 1 drop of Polymix to ~10 drops of Thinner. If you prefer to work in ratios Thinner-10 equates to a ratio of Polymix to Thinner of 1:10. I prepare a large volume (40ml) at a time and store this in an appropriate bottle for use when painting. Properly stored, Thinner-10 lasts for many months (forever?) with no issues.

I then dilute Mission Paints with Thinner-10 using the following guidelines:

General Spraying: Dilute Mission Paints 60:40 with Thinner-10. That’s 6 parts Paint to 4 parts Thinner-10. Spray at ~12-15psi.

Fine-Line Work: Dilute Mission Paints 50:50 with Thinner-10. That’s 1 part Paint to 1 part Thinner-10. Spray at ~10psi or less.

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