Zvezda 1/48 La-5FN

KIT #: 4801
PRICE: 2,600 Yen at HobbyLink Japan
DECALS: Two Options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


            The Lavochkin La-5 was developed from the earlier LaGG-1 and LaGG-3 fighters, which had suffered from too-heavy airframes and lack of a suitably-powerful engine.  They were among the least popular fighters used by the V-VS during the Great Patriotic War and were known by a play on the aircraft designation which translated as “varnished guaranteed coffin,” which said everything one wanted to know about the deficiencies.

             By late 1941, Stalin was commenting negatively on the LaGG-3 and the factories previously committed to the production of the LaGG-3 were turned over to Yakovlev for the production of the Yak-1 and Yak-7 fighters, which were notably superior designs.  Motivated by fear of being imprisoned for sabotage by the NKVD for the failure of the LaGG-3, two of the designers - Semyon Lavochkin and Vladimir Gorbunov - decided to make a radical attempt at giving the fighter sufficient power, experimentally fitting a LaGG-3 with the Shvetsov ASh-82A radial engine.  The design work required to adapt the LaGG-3 to the new engine and still maintain the aircraft's balance was undertaken by Lavochkin in a small hut beside an airfield over the winter of 1941-1942, all completely unofficially.  Ultimately, Lavochkin accomplished his goal by grafting the nose section of a Sukhoi Su-2 to the narrow fuselage of the LaGG-3.

             When the prototype took flight in March, 1942, the results were gratifying.  The fighter finally had a powerplant powerful enough to perform well in the air.  The LaG-5 - the designation change noting that one of the original designers was no longer involved - was declared superior to the Yak-7, by the initial test pilots.  Intensive flight tests began in April, and while the design was still inferior to German fighters at altitudes over 15,000 feet, it was faster than both the Bf-109 and the Fw-190 at altitudes below 15,000 feet and was more maneuverable than either German fighter at low altitude; given that nearly all air combat on the Eastern Front took place at altitudes under 15,000 ft, the new design  was very much in its element.  With the additional power of the new engine, armament was upgraded to two 20mm Berezin B-20 cannon, making it the most heavily-armed Soviet fighter. With the test results so good, Stalin ordered maximum-rate production in July, 1942.  Known as the La-5 after the departure of Gorbunov, production also included conversion of incomplete LaGG-3 airframes to the new design. configuration.

             Before the La-5 went into production, a modified prototype had flown with a cut-down rear fuselage and an all-round vision canopy, similar to that of the Yak-1b.  While the need was so great, the La-5 went immediately into production using the unfinished LaGG-3 airframes.  In March 1943, production moved on to the La-5F, which featured the cut-down fuselage, with an ASh-82F (“Forsirovanny” - boosted) engine, which had the same output but gave improved performance at a higher altitude than the earlier ASh-82A.

             The definitive La-5FN (“Forsirovanny Neprosredstvenno” - Directly Boosted) first left the factory on march 23, 1943.  It is considered a parallel development of the La-5F rather than a successor, and both continued in simultaneous production through most of the remainder of 1943.   The engine was the ASh-82FN, which produced 1,850 h.p., 150 h.p. more than the ASh-82F, which was the result of replacing the carburetors with direct fuel injection.  Visually, the La-5FN was distinguished by a long supercharger air intake atop the cowling.  The La-5FN had a top speed of 369 mph at sea level, which was 24 mph greater than the La-5F, taking only 4.7 minutes to reach 5,000 meters as opposed to the 5.5 minutes of the La-5F.  Comparison tests with and La-5FN and a captured Bf-109G-2 revealed the Lavochkin was faster and more maneuverable at the lower altitudes where combat took place.

             The La-5FN first entered combat with the 32nd Guards Fighter Regiment during the Battle of Kursk.  The unit scored 33 victories during the battle, including 21 Fw-190As and 3 Bf-109Gs. The aircraft remained in production until November 1944, when it gave way to the La-7.

            There have been two other kits done of the La-5FN in 1/48 scale.  The first was a vacuform done by Falcon in the mid-1980s which was accurate and the only kit to provide the diamond-shaped “FN” marking, as well as markings for several other airplanes, including one flown by Ivan Kozhedub, the top-scoring Soviet pilot of the Great Patriotic War.   Hobbycraft released an La5FN which was hopelessly inaccurate - the best that could be said for it would be it would be useful to use detail parts from this to modernize the Falcon vacuform kit. This kit from Zvezda was released late last year and is the most accurate kit of the type available.

             The kit is highly detailed with a very complete interior.  As with many plastic kits that have a complete interior, the best way to build the model if you want to display all that detail is to open it up.  It’s not Tami-gawa production quality, but it is far from a “limited run” kit either.  While one does need to clean up flash here and there, the good news is that all the parts fit right and assembly can be done with a minimum of hassle.  Decals are provided for one aircraft.  These aren’t great but “they’ll do” if you do not have access to aftermarket decals. The “Fighting Lavochkins” sheet from Aeromaster provides markings for the best-known La-5FN, that flown by Hero of the Soviet Union Vitali Popkov.


            Assembly of the La-5FN kit differs from that of the La-5 kit only in the canopy.

             At the outset of assembly, the modeler has to ask themselves what the ultimate result will be.  If all the parts are going to be used, then one has to do it opened up.  If you decide to do it “buttoned up” then all those nice detail parts should be put aside.

             I did find in assembly that using the fuselage interior pieces in the rear fuselage did a great job of insuring accurate final assembly.  I did cut off the engine mounts and only used the very front of the engine in the assembly, since you cannot see much - if any - of it once you have the spinner and fan in position.

             I painted the interior a greenish shade that was a mixture of Xtracrylix RLM63 Grey-Green and RLM62 Green suggested to my by Bill Bosworth as being close to the color he had found when he examined the Il-2 that Accurate Miniatures researched for their kit.

             Eduard makes a very nice photo-etch set for the La-5FN kit, and I used it for the photo-etch instrument panels, seat belts and other cockpit details.

             All the control surfaces - ailerons, slats, elevators and rudder - are separate.  These fit very nicely but if you are going to pose them in other than the neutral position you will have to sand them a bit to modify the shape correctly at the hinge lines.



             I used Tamiya paint mixes for the Light Grey and Green-Grey and Light Blue camouflage colors to match the colors shown on profiles at Erik Pilawski’s site “Modeling the V-VS.” leads me to believe that La-5s were done in the 2-color scheme


             I used a mixture of decals from my collection of sheets for Soviet aircraft to make an anonymous La-5FN seen at Tri-Duby airfield during the Slovak National Rising, and probably flown by the 1st Czechoslovak Fighter Regiment.


             The model received a coat of Xtracrylix “Satin” varnish, and then the canopy was unmasked and the landing gear and prop attached.  Tamiya “Smoke” was used for the exhaust staining.


             I really like the Lavochkin La-5 series; they are in fact my favorite Soviet fighters of the Great Patriotic War.  This kit is easy to assemble and presents no problems the average modeler cannot deal with.  The result is a really nice-looking addition to any collection of famous aircraft of the Second World War.

 Thanks to HobbyLink Japan for the review kit.  Get yours at www.hlj.com

Tom Cleaver

September 2009

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