ICM 1/72 SB-2 M100A
Designed to meet an ambitious 1934 Soviet specification, the Tupolev SB (for Skorostnoy Bombardirovshchik: High-Speed Bomber) must have looked positively futuristic compared to the fabric-covered biplane fighters it faced at the time when the prototype was rolled out later that year. And so it would prove to be. Yet such was the crazy upward technological spiral going on in aviation that this marvel would be one year an impressive performer, the next a vulnerable death-trap for its crews when facing advanced, determined opposition in war.
A contemporary of the American Martin B-10, the SB was a bit superior in most aspects to the Western aircraft. Coming off the success of their fixed-gear corrugated-skin TB series of bombers (themselves contemporaries of the famous American Ford Trimotor), the ever-foul-mouthed Andrei Tupolev and his prim deputy Alexander Archangelskii drew up a clean, stressed-skin retractable-gear bomber—in that decade's common twin-engine/three-seat formula—and the resulting aircraft became the USSR’s first real export success. Over six thousand were built, seeing service from Spain to China and at some point pretty much everywhere in between. Used properly at higher altitudes, it was an unqualified success in the hands of Republican pilots in the Spanish Civil War. The nearly-uncatchable aircraft were also noted in 1939 by the Japanese fighting the Soviets at Kalkin-Gol (a major border spat started when a Mongolian cavalry unit crossed the wrong river to graze its horses). Impressed, they created their own equivalent in the form of the Kawasaki Ki-48.
However, the technology curve and world politics were changing rapidly. Fast monoplane fighter had succeeded the biplane, and these local brush fires and territory grabs were about to ignite into ‘World War II proper’. The fortunes of the SB would decline accordingly later that year when Stalin decided to practice a bit of Realpolitik with his neighbor to the northwest (though official Russian sources tell the story quite differently) in a massive invasion of Finland which became the well-known Winter War. Here, the hapless SBs, now slowed down by clumsy fixed skis for use from their snowbound forward bases, were also forced below low cloud for their bomb runs where this combination left them vulnerable to everything down to and including spit wads fired at them by the irate Finns. Some 100 were lost in four months of fighting. Recognized by the USSR as obsolete by the end of that costly operation and due for replacement by several new bomber types (being directly succeeded by the Petlyakov Pe-2), the frighteningly repressive atmosphere of Stalin’s USSR nonetheless ensured that the old SB was still the backbone of the VVS bomber force by the time Hitler turned his malevolent attention eastward in June of 1941. The vast majority of the operational SBs (and just about the entire Soviet airframe inventory, for that matter) were destroyed on the ground in the first three days of the Nazi invasion.
By now, Stalin’s purges had been through most of their cycle as well. Andrei Tupolev was in prison. Archangelskii, apparently inconspicuous enough to miss the swing of the scythe, had attempted to prolong the life of the SB design in his absence with an engine & defensive armament upgrade, then finally a major redesign in the form of the aerodynamically cleaned-up Archangelskii Ar-2, both of which proved a dead end nonetheless. Tupolev would emerge from prison mid-war with an apology from Stalin—the only person to receive such an ‘honor’—and a clean-sheet-of-paper design called the Tu-2 (the Soviet counterpart to the Douglas A-26), launching an uninterrupted line of highly successful and snazzy-looking bomber and transport aircraft to come the Cold War decades ahead. But that’s another story….
Meanwhile, the Finns, displaying the Scandinavian trait of efficient frugality, had repaired some of the many shot down on their soil, purchased others captured by the Germans in the invasion, and used the remaining wrecks as a spares source. These equipped Finnish bomber and anti-shipping squadrons, and it’s a testament to how marginal equipment can remain potent weaponry (if good training and thoughtful deployment are used) that they remained in successful front-line use through the end of the war. The USSR kept their own survivors for some time as night bombers and for training, a few dozen of which again saw action in Manchuria against a very depleted Japan in 1945. One airframe survives today, retrieved from Siberia in the late ‘70s as a wreck, restored with a slightly inaccurate nose, then tossed outside into the elements by the staff at the Monino Central Air Force museum, near Moscow.
For many years, the only kit of this important aircraft in any scale was the old Frog molding, available for most of the 1980s in its Soviet Novo boxing. I built that kit for a collector around 1995, and it was overall fairly accurate in size and shape but marred by some thick trailing edges and sloppy raised surface detail and clear parts. Falcon produced a vac-form canopy set (as part of Set #24) which effectively fixed the latter problem. The MPM group first made a 1/48th vacuform kit around 1989 (never have seen that one built), then a pair of 1/72 injection-molded releases about 1998. These were typical of this firm’s early low-pressure-injection efforts: accurate in dimension and possessed of some finely recessed panel lines, but disappointing regarding shape fidelity (meaning that it doesn’t look quite right) and overall finesse.
The Ukrainian firm ICM came to the rescue in late 2007 with the gem reviewed here. Six sprues of grey and one clear plastic with some of the most realistic stressed-skin surface detail ever put into an aircraft kit--though it won’t be to everyone’s taste as it is not the dull recessed style put out by the likes of Hasegawa and Tamiya. Parts count totals about 180. Control surfaces are separate, and options abound, including wheels or skis, two- or three-bladed props, choice of gun types and windshields, single and dual-gun noses, and a good supply of nicely-rendered FAB-100, -250, and -500 bombs. There’s a little flash here and there. The only flaw on my sample was that main wheels were short-shot, forcing an early decision to go with the fixed-ski version. The sprue layout suggests the possibility of the later M-103 version; not announced by ICM to date.
Quite a bit of mold-release agent gummed up the sprues, necessitating a good scrub with some potent dish detergent followed by an overnight air-dry. I started by removing the upper and lower forward fuselage/wing center section parts and the two rear fuselage halves. These were test-fitted for potential assembly problems.
The instructions outline a logical assembly sequence with the kit being engineered to an unusual breakdown that closely mimics the real SB’s manufacturing subassemblies. I closely followed them. Patient dry-fitting, some very light block-sanding of mating surfaces, and thinking a few steps ahead paid off here: I used only Testor’s liquid cement for assembly and zero filler. Mikhail Maslov’s excellent “Tupolev SB” was my main reference throughout, with the Squadron title useful for some additional details (mainly of the bomb bay). Corrections and improvements along the way included:
1. Interior detail: separate cockpit sidewalls and an instrument panel are included, but are mysteriously blank. I added bits of stretched sprue and disks from my Waldron Punch and Die set to fix this, using interior shots from the Maslov book as a guide. This won’t be necessary if you pose the canopies shut (see below).
2. Canopies posed open: as molded, they are separate but way too thick for realistic ‘sit’ when shown slid open on the fuselage (the Falcon canopies for the Frog kit won’t work, either: I tried). Carefully, gingerly, I spent about .5 hour filing away their interior surfaces with a Perma-Grit rod and test-fitting until they looked right in the open position, then another .5 hour polishing up their interior surfaces. Real SBs, by the way, used a celluloid material for their glazing which tinted with a little time to a slight brownish-yellow.
3. Wing center-section trailing edge straightened: (I might catch some flak on this one) molded as a slight curve, numerous photos show a straight line when viewed end-on. This was achieved with a few passes of a file to match the Maslov plan view, followed by more on the mating surfaces to thin the trailing edge back down before the parts were joined.
4. New prop shafts: made from brass rod and tube to replace the jiggly kit provision.
5. Stance shortened: When fitting the landing gear and skis, I noticed the model sitting too high compared to photos. I couldn’t track down the specific problem, so sanded the skis thinner (shortening them ¼” lengthwise and reshaping while I was at it to match photos and the Maslov drawings), and slightly shortened the wheel forks to take off a total of about 3/16” of main gear height.
6. Misc. detail: Exhaust stacks drilled out. Tension and retention lines on the main skis, bracing wires on the tail from steel wire. I kept the front gun slots open, as this simplified things and photographic evidence shows the sliding covers were often left off, even in winter. Some riveting and panel detail on the bomb-bay doors and wheel well interiors was drawn in with a soft pencil based on photos in the Squadron book. I also ‘hung’ an unlikely huge bomb load, figuring that this was an aircraft based near the front where fuel would be sacrificed for more ordinance brought to bear on the target.
Canopies were masked with an excellent but long-gone product called Miracle Mask (the only liquid mask of many I’ve tried that actually worked), but Eduard has since come out with a masking set (product #CX 122) for the intricate framing of this model.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
Super simple! I selected silver ‘Red 8’ from the four decal options given. This aircraft is depicted in the Maslov and Squadron-Signal books as both photo and illustration, with the Squadron book showing the “8” as blue. Soviet bombers deployed in the Winter War used two basic finishes: an overall light grey (as depicted on the box-art aircraft) and a second which to my eye looks like silver dope. I primed the model with Future floor coating, then sprayed on Testor’s non-buffing Aluminum Metalizer, which depicted this doping very effectively. Kit decals were used, being rather stiff and matt and barely useable, but ended up looking okay once applied (I’d replace the red stars with aftermarket offerings if I were to do it again). Weathering was kept to a minimum, as I felt that use in that boreal winter environment would keep things fairly sterile, and only applied a light enamel wash around engine and underwing details and some light pastel exhaust smudges. This was all sealed in with some old Aeromaster Semi-matt clear enamel I needed to use up.
A most satisfying project…accurately depicts the prototype about all aspects, and just enough challenge for some intriguing (but not frustrating) modeling. The build took about 20 hours, with about 3 (!) for all painting and finishing. Notably, there was never a moment I wasn’t enjoying the project and I’ve never put so little effort into a finish to receive such a striking result. There are no actual fit problems, but some careful dry-fitting and light preparation of mating surfaces allow this. Highly recommended for modelers who’ve built a few multi-engine types or those looking for a stepping stone project into the world of ‘other-than-shake-and-bake’ kits...
Mikhail Maslov, Tupolev SB: Soviet High Speed Bomber
Hans-Henri Stapfer, Tupolev SB in action (Squadron-Signal Aircraft #194)
Bill Gunston, The Osprey Encyclopedia of Russian Aircraft 1875-1995
October 2 014
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