ESCI 1/72 Tu-22M
KIT #: 9071
PRICE: $30.00 when new
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Spiros Pendedekas


The origins of the Tu-22M can be traced back in 1962, when its ancestor, the Tu-22 “Blinder”, by that time introduced in service, was found to be a handful to fly and, especially, to land, let alone it had serviceability issues. Tupolev Design Bureau immediately commenced work on a major update which would, at least, feature a variable-sweep wing and uprated engines. Wasting no time, the company very soon tested the new design at TsAGI Zhukovsky wind tunnels.

With the Sukhoi T-4 project (essentially a response to XB-70 Valkyrie) going by those times full steam ahead (though later canceled) and the Soviet government being skeptical on approving an essentially new design so soon after the Tu-22 Blinder had entered service, it is reported that Soviet Air Force and Tupolev, in order to save face regarding the Blinder’s operational deficiencies and to stave off criticisms from the ICBM lobby, somehow agreed to pass off the clearly new project as merely an update of the Tu-22 in their discussions with the government, the latter granting approval on 28 November 1967.

By all means a new design, only loosely derived from the existing Tu-22 and using elements from the abandoned Tu-98 (a projected aircraft intended to replace the Tu-16), the type embodied swing-wing technology, which, for the time, was among the solid choices of the designers in order to offer short take-off performance, efficient cruising and good high speed/low level flying characteristics to the slender but big, heavy airframe.

Initially named Samolyot 145, the plane was given the designation Tu-22M, indicating it was a derivative of the existing Tu-22. As indicated by sources, apart from the aforementioned “easiness” to get approved budgets, another possible reason for giving the above designation was the deliberate hiding of the aircraft’s performance. It is also believed that the B/C production variants were designated Tu-26 by the USSR.

The West became aware of the type’s existence not long after the first pre-production machines were manufactured, with US Intelligence wondering how this project was approved by the “ICBM by heart” Nikita Khrushchev, who more or less considered the conventional bomber doctrine obsolete.

First used in combat in Afghanistan and capable of dropping large tonnages of conventional ordnance, the aircraft bombed enemy forts, bases and material supplies. In October 1988 it was again deployed against the Mujahideen to provide cover to Soviet forces that were pulling out of the country. The Russian Federation used the Tu-22M3 in combat in Chechnya during 1995, performing strikes near Grozny and later in the Syrian civil war and the invasion of Ukraine.

The type inherited its ancestor's poor serviceability and during its service with the Soviet forces suffered from widespread maintenance problems, attributed to poor manufacturing quality, with the engines and airframes in particular having short service lives. While the actual story is quite complicated and further augmented by the government bureaucracy, which hampered the provision of spare parts to allow the servicing of the Tu-22M, the net result was that aircraft grounding time would rise as high as six months, with the reported availability of the fleet being much lower than 40% in August 1991.

A number of modernization projects have been envisaged, with the most significant ones being the “3M” mid-life upgrade, signed in September 2014 and the simpler SVP-24-22, being carried out in 2018.

An impressive sight, this big, aesthetically pleasing bomber is, as of 2023, still a solid asset, possessing certain favorable capabilities. Production of all Tu-22M variants totalled 497, including pre-production machines.


Esci came in 1989 with its 1/72 Tu-22M/Tu-26 “B” (the M2 version featuring “F-4” style intakes), followed by the “C” (the M3, with the “F-14” style intakes) soon after. They were occasionally reboxed through the years by AMT who had bought Esci, with the latest  reboxing being the 2003 “M3” version by Italeri.

Though lacking in accuracy, these were not bad kits, featuring good molding, adequate (for the time) detail and, despite the model’s size, offering quite pleasant, uncomplicated builds. The lack of accuracy in areas was not a too uncommon trait for USSR models of that era, since access to aircraft details was minimal, with the kit designers working with whatever reference they had available and, nevertheless, it is not an “inaccurate” model, looking the part for sure.

The specific kit is the late 90’s “C” version, bought from a sadly now closed Athens hobby shop at the very reasonable price of $30 back then and for a more in-depth look at its contents, you may read its 
preview found at the ever growing MM archives.


I started by putting together the generic cockpit, mainly attaching the instrument panel, yokes, seats, rear crew stations, rear bulkhead and all four seats onto the cockpit floor that doubles as a nose wheel well. The cockpit was then trapped between the front fuselage halves, which had the two small rear crew windows attached from the innards beforehand.

Though instructions called for light gray, I decided to go with a turquoise shade (Revell 365 Patina Green) as my basic cockpit color, since it was commonly found on the Russian jets of the 70s-80s. The seat cushions, yokes, instrument panel and consoles were painted black. I did not bother further detailing the nevertheless simplistic and totally fictitious cockpit, as nothing but some “busyness” was expected to be visible through the thick transparencies.

Moving to the aft fuselage section, I took the decision not to attach the centrally mounted Kh-22 missile, meaning I had to somehow fill the recessed belly area, as it looks in reality when the missile is not loaded. To do so, I cut a suitable flat styrene sheet piece and attached it after a trial and error procedure.

The movable sections of the main wings were next assembled and affixed onto the lower rear fuselage half. Whereas these wing kit parts are designed to be movable, I noticed that there would be some overall slack that would compromise alignment, let alone the fact that I was worried with sagging over time, so I took the decision to permanently glue the outer wings in retracted position (a personal preference) and somehow reinforce the non visible part of the joints with sprue pieces, before attaching the non-moveable wing parts and the top fuselage section. The pair of 2-piece wing mounted missile pylons were finally attached in place.

Next was assembly and attachment of the fin and tail planes, the latter laying onto some sort of filet-like fairings glued to the fuselage sides. The top munted afterburner cooling scoops were glued at this time, as well, with the front and rear fuselage sections then glued together.

The 2-piece air intakes were assembled and attached in position. In order to represent the distinctive intake ramps (usually seen retracted upwards upon engines’ shutdown), I glued two pieces of fine mesh cut to size onto the upper wall. All intake innards were painted light gray, apart from the rear bland section that was painted black to add a sense of depth.

Since the kit-provided underside front entry hatch is fictional (the crew enters their seats through individual top opening doors located at the fuselage), I glued it shut, then filled and sanded the area flat. The two piece nose was assembled and attached. Though instructions stated 35g, some 50g of fishing weight were trapped in, just to be on the safe side, since the nose landing gear seemed quite capable to withstand the extra weight. Finally, the 2-piece underwing pylons and the ventral observation cupola were attached in place.

This concluded basic assembly, which was easier than expected for a twin engine variable sweep bomber (the kit's overall simplicity definitely played its role here), with overall fit, while not "Tamiya", being acceptable. After some filling and sanding here and there (nothing too serious), I blanked the cockpit with wet tissue and took the big bird to the paint shop!


I first gave all undersides a coat of Hu130 Satin White, then masked it off, continuing with the topsides, which received a coat of Hu127 US Ghost gray. The wings and tail planes' leading edges were masked and painted gunmetal, with a coat of Future preparing the bird for decals.

I used the kit decals, in order to represent Red 14 machine. Though cautious with those elderly Esci decals, to my surprise, they behaved excellently, easily detaching from their backing paper and nicely adhering with no silvering at all, this also applying to the white and black ones that represented dielectric panels and “meshed” areas respectively! A coat of Future sealed he decals.


Landing gear time, where all three legs were glued in position, followed by the doors and finally attachment of the 14 wheels, which, with some tweaking before glue curing, successfully touched the ground. Legs, bays and door innards were painted Hu87 Steel Gray (dries to a lovely grayish blue shade), oleos were highlighted with a fine tip silver pen, wheel rims were painted a medium green and tires were black. The wheels were tad filed to look weighted.

Onto the exhausts, where the otherwise acceptably looking afterburner cans were  shallow, compromising the deep, distinctive looks they have in reality, so I added an tubular extension of similar diameter, which offered the afterburners deeper, more realistic looks. After attaching the somehow plain nozzles to the cans, I painted everything Testors Burned Metal and attached them in place.

Time for some weathering, where I first gave the complete undersides a black wash which not only accentuated all molded-on details and panel lines, but also gave the landing gear areas a used, oily look. I then went on applying dark brown and black dry pastels at every area where dirt, grime or staining would reside. Though tempted by the recessed panel lines, I refrained from giving a black wash to the topsides, since the panel lines are on the heavy side and the wash would give them an unreal, more trenchy look, especially for 1/72 scale. An almost flat coat gave the bird its final hue.

The various antennas and probes were attached in place and accordingly painted. The 2-piece twin rear cannon had its ball-shaped housing painted fuselage color, its barrels gunmetal and was attached in position, followed by its cylindrical control radar dome, which was painted white and glued right on top of it.

The canopy had its well defined frames hand painted and attached in position. Thankfully, its clear but thick glass distorted the cockpit image adequately, now looking more “busy” than "fictitious". The ventral cupola transparency somehow disappeared, never to be found again, being replaced by white glue that dried transparent. Tiny blobs of red and green clear paint represented the wing tip lights, before calling the imposing bomber done!


Trumpeter came in 2009 with their 1/72 Backfire, offering a modern and accurate representation of the iconic bomber, clearly superseding the elderly Esci mold in every area but complexity of construction and price offered (the latter becoming less and less of an "advantage", since the Esci - and Italeri kits gradually become collector's items, with their prices rising...). If you want an accurate 1/72 Backfire, the Trumpeter offering is adamantly the way to go.

Esci tried to do their best back in 1989 with both the molding technology and, particularly, the type info available. The result was a quite well molded, uncomplex kit, but, judged with today's standards, it is elderly, simplistic and at areas inaccurate. That said, there is nothing wrong with building this kit and coming up with an acceptable result out of the box: the completed model will pass for nothing else than a charming Tu-22M.

An amount of aftermarket stuff might be found online, mainly aimed at the Trumpeter, with a number of them possibly fitting the Esci, but, frankly, I see no viable reason in investing on aftermarket for this kit, with the net cost practically reaching or even superseding that of the vastly superior Trumpeter.

On the positive side, the build itself is surprisingly uncomplicated for a big jet bomber and quite pleasant, easily tackled by less experienced modelers, making it a possible candidate for their first big modern bomber attempt.

Happy Modeling!

Spiros Pendedekas

19 December 2023

Copyright All rights reserved. No reproduction in part or in whole without express permission.

Thanks to me for picking this one up when it was on sale.

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