Special Hobby 1/32 I-16 Type 10/17 - Finnish Service

KIT #: SH32032
PRICE: £23.98
DECALS: Five options
REVIEWER: Richard Reynolds

Multimedia kit with resin and photo etched parts.



In 1939 the Soviet Union, despite signing a non-aggression pact with Germany became concerned that the Finnish government may be persuaded by Nazi Germany to allow their forces access to the Soviet Union through Finland.

There was also a perceived threat from an amphibious assault on Leningrad from the Gulf of Finland. In an effort to secure their northern and eastern flanks, the Soviets demanded that the Finns concede territory in the Karelian Isthmus and islands in the Russian sector of the Gulf of Finland as well as a naval base on the southern Finnish coast in order to provide a buffer by which they may better defend themselves. The demands made on Finland by the Soviet Union amounted to no less than 1% of their territory. The Finns refused the Soviet Union’s demands, negotiations broke down and a declaration of war was issued from the Kremlin.

The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland began on 30th November 1939. Air operations were predominantly conducted over the strategically important region of the Karelian Isthmus. The Soviet Union was able to field some 900 combat aircraft, 375 of which were the Polikarpov I-16’s of various types. The modest Finnish Air Force was able to muster fewer than 50 operational fighters (36 Fokker D.XXI and 10 Bulldog biplane fighters), 18 Bristol Blenheim bombers and an assortment of some 60 close-support, reconnaissance and liaison aircraft. As the war progressed, 30 Gloster Gladiator, 24 Gloster Gauntlet, 12 Hawker Hurricane, 30 Morane Saulnier MS.406, 6 Caudron-Renault CR. 714, 25+10 Fiat G.50 and 44 Brewster Model 239 fighters were acquired, although the latter arrived too late to participate in the Winter War.

Despite overwhelming numerical superiority the small Finnish Air Force gave a good account of itself by employing innovative tactics. To aid gunnery the Finns harmonized their gun coverage at 150 yards range, this increased bullet density increasing the impact of short-burst rounds. In addition, the right-hand synchronised machine gun was loaded exclusively with tracer rounds to assist in correcting the bullet stream.

Finnish fighters were often dispersed in small numbers to auxiliary combat airfields. This enabled the Finns to maximise their small numbers and reduced the risk of losing large numbers of assets if a single airfield was rendered inoperable. The fighters were kept warm and covered when not in use enabling them to be scrambled at short notice. Finnish fighters operated in pairs, with the wingman covering the flight leader, whereas the Soviets employed outdated 3-plane fighter doctrine.

The Soviets also deployed their air regiments en-masse in rigid formations enabling the Finns to choose their targets using ‘pendulum tactics’ of flying high, diving on their targets and recovering to high altitude before repeating. This tactic was particularly effective against the Soviet 'Spanish ring’ formations in which fighters would fly in a tight wheeling ring. The Fokker D.XXI’S of the Finnish Air Force would benefit greatly in the use of high speed climbing and diving tactics against the more manoeuvrable Polikarpov I-16 of the Red Air Force.

The Polikarpov I-16 Type 18 was introduced late in the Winter War and with the exception of the new powerplant and the resulting higher weight, was otherwise very similar to the I-16 Type 10, still armed with four machine guns. Its speed was comparable to that of the best of the fighters available to the Finns, and it possessed the best climb performance in the theatre. In addition, the Type 18's turn performance was as good as any of the Finnish monoplanes. This combination of traits made the I-16 Type 18 probably the best Russian fighter of the Winter War.

One I-16 type 18 fighter, code VH-201, (Becoming VH-21 after the summer of 1940) was captured during the Winter War. The aircraft was flown by Luutnantti Visapaa at the Finnish State Aircraft Factory at Tampere for just 6 hours and 20 minutes before it was delivered to the German test establishment at Rechlin on 15.4.1941, where it completed air tests and simulated combat against German fighters in preparation for Operation Barbarossa later that summer.

Five more were captured between 1941 and 1942 and were repaired and re-built at the Valtion Lentokonetehdas (VL State Aircraft Factory) at Tampere, but  only one I-16 type 6 (code IR-101) was restored to flying condition and evaluated. The aircraft was assigned to 3./Le.Lv.6 (3rd Flight / Flying Squadron 6) from August 1942 and from 16.11.1942 it was allocated to 2./Le.Lv.30 for test and evaluation.

None of the captured Finnish Polikarpov I-16 Fighters saw combat with the Finnish Air Force, however tactics were developed during its evaluation phase and applied to Finnish frontline fighter units. The type was withdrawn from use in June 1943 and scrapped after the war. The Finnish nickname for the I-16 was ‘Siipiorava’ or ‘flying squirrel’.

A single two-seat I-16UTI fighter trainer, (code VH-22 until 28.11.4, when it was re-designated UT-1) which was based on the I-16 type 10 was captured in the autumn of 1941. After the spring of 1942 the aircraft was in Le.Lv.48 and from August 1942 it was assigned to T-Le.Lv.35 (Flying Detachment 35). The aircraft was placed in permanent storage in September 1942. This very rare aircraft is on display in the  Suomen Ilmailumuseo, Vantaa, Helsinki (The Finnish Aviation Museum in Vantaa) close to Helsinki International Airport. It is the only surviving example in the world.


The kit comprises 4 sprues in grey injection-moulded plastic, one clear bag of 6 resin casting blocks, one clear sprue, one photo etched fret, a clear instrument film, 2 instruction booklets and 2 decal sheets with options for two Finnish Air Force examples on one and three Soviet Air Force examples on the other.

The kit is supplied in a flimsy, letterbox style box with a fluorescent sticker on the front indicating that the box contains a “Finnish Service” example of the I-16. One can almost forgive the cheap packaging when you consider the excellent value for money that this kit offers and that you can build up to 5 examples of no less than 3 distinct Types of the I-16.

The injection moulding is crisp, with subtle surface detail and provides two lower cowlings, one for a Type 10 and one for a Type 17 with a revised engine cowling featuring two recessed cut-outs forward of the wheel bays to accommodate the ski landing gear and a reconfiguration of the engine exhaust stacks to include two exhaust pipes in the lower exhaust ports. Standard undercarriage and Sh VAK 20mm cannon are also provided should you wish to model either the Type 10 or 17 in Soviet service.


The kit was washed in a warm soapy solution to remove the mould release. Once dry, it was primed with grey auto-primer from a rattle-can. Construction of the cockpit was straight forward, there really isn’t a great deal to see in an I-16 once the fuselage halves have been sealed together, however Special Hobby supplies photo etched rudder pedals and straps, seat belts and instrument panel which help to enhance what is otherwise a fairly basic interior.

An inspection of various walkaround photographs and articles on the internet reveal several variations in cockpit interior colours for the I-16. Having seen and photographed the I-16UTI at the Finnish Air Force museum, I elected to airbrush the interior with grey interior primer from White Ensign Models WWII Soviet Colours range. The seat back and headrest were painted in a combination of burnt umber and Indian red to give the effect of worn leather. The instrument panel was painted black and the seat straps cream, the cockpit was then given a burnt umber and ivory black wash before the fuselage halves were sealed.

The buttress of the cowling required sanding flat before the resin cowl was fitted. This was carefully sanded before the photo etched cooling vanes were fitted. This kit provides you with the option of modelling the aircraft with the cooling vanes open thus exposing the Shvetsov M-62 engine.

Construction of the wings and tail were straight forward, a small amount of green putty was required in the wing roots and around the resin nose, this was sanded using a 1500 grit wet with dry and grey primer from a rattle-can was re-applied once smooth. Finally the cowl-mounted machine gun bulges were added and the aircraft given a last coat of primer in preparation for the camouflage.

Care is required when constructing the ski assembly as the instructions are not particularly clear. I referred to pictures on sovietwarplanes.com for guidance, especially in respect of the correct positioning of the gear doors. 0.2mm steel wire was used for the ski anchor cables on the main gear and the tail-wheel. These are slack as per pictures of VH-201 in Stenman and Keskinen’s publication on Soviet types in Finnish service.


This kit contains decal options and 3-views for 5 aircraft. There are options for 2 Finnish Air Force examples, VH-201 and VH-21. Both are the same aircraft re-designated as VH-21 in 1941. The instructions indicate that the aircraft is a type 27, when in actual fact it is a type 18 as shown in Stenman & Keskinen’s book on Soviet aircraft types in Finnish service: Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia 07, Venäläiset hävittäjät, I-16, I-16UTI, I-15 and LaGG 3.

In addition there are options to build a further 3 Soviet Air Force examples, 2 Type 17’s with wheeled undercarriage and a Type 10 fitted with skis. I decided to finish the model as VH-201in a distinctive two-tone scheme of: Topside: VL State Aircraft Factory green. Underside: aluminium dope as per Air Force Headquarters directive 1b. 26.8.40 (Stenman and Keskinen 2003). The topside colour was matched from walk-around photos that I took of the I-16 UTI at the Suomen Ilmailumuseo, Vantaa, Helsinki (The Finnish Air Force Museum in Vantaa) and from references in Stenman and Keskinen’s series of books on the Finnish Air Force.

The kit was pre-shaded using thinned humbol hu 33 black, followed by the undercoat in several thin layers. The top-coat was applied in a similar manner. Once dry, the decals were applied using micro-sol and micro-set, this process took approximately two days as the wing roundels needed to stretch over the aileron linkages. The kit was then post-shaded in hu 33 and given a combination wash of ivory black and burnt umber oils. Finally, the kit was given a coat of Johnson’s Klear.


Despite the various shortcomings of this kit discussed on the internet, with a little care and patience Special Hobby’s I-16 can be made into a nice example of this iconic Soviet fighter. In addition, the fact that you can choose from 5 decal options and build 3 versions and that resin and photo etched parts are included, this kit represents great value for money. Highly recommended.


·        Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia 23, Sotamaalaus/Warpaint by Kalevi Keskinen & Kari Stenman, Stenman Publishing.

·        Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia 07, Venäläiset hävittäjät, I-16, I-16UTI, I-15 and LaGG 3 by Kalevi Keskinen & Kari Stenman, Stenman Publishing.

·        IPMS Stockholm Magazine, Finnish Air Force camouflage and markings 1940-44 2004/05 edition.

·        http://mig3.sovietwarplanes.com/i16/i16.htm

Richard Reynolds

August 2012

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