Special Hobby 1/48 I-15 'Spanish Civil War'
KIT #: SH48015
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Dave Cummings
NOTES: Short run with resin and photo etch parts


The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was a pre-cursor to WWII in Europe.  Following the breakup of the Spanish monarchy a leftist government took power in Spain.  The new government put a blind eye towards various leftist and anarchist groups committing atrocities against former supporters of the monarchy.  Property was confiscated from the wealthy, Catholic churches were burned and priests massacred.  Many Army officers formerly loyal to the monarchy were banished to the colonies.  One of these, General Francisco Franco, led a colonial army in an invasion of Spain beginning a civil war.  Many foreigners supporting the socialist ideal volunteered to fight for the government (the Republicans), forming the International Brigade.  The Soviet Union supported the Republicans providing weapons and a “volunteer” fighting unit.   Many Americans sympathetic to the socialist cause formed the Lincoln Brigade, receiving much of their financing from Hollywood.  Erroll Flynn visited the Brigade at one time.   Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy likewise supported Franco’s Fascist Nationalists.  Hitler and Mussolini also sent fighting units of “volunteers.”  Spain became a testing ground for the latest weaponry, aircraft, and tactics that would find use in WWII.  The Nationalists were victorious and Franco became Dictator of Spain for the next 36 years.  Even today there are those in Spain who revere him and those who hate his name.   

Among the Americans answering the call was Frank G. Tinker (8 victories).   Tinker earned his wings as a Naval Aviator but he was a hard drinking bar brawler in the Boyington mold to the detriment of his career.  Released by the Navy he began looking for a job as a pilot.  He offered his services to the Spanish government and negotiated a high salary; $1,500 a month and $1,000 for every enemy plane destroyed.  He joined the Republican Air Force in January 1937.  Flying I-15s with 1st Esquadrilla de Chatos, he shot down three enemy planes.  In May he transferred to a Russian squadron flying the new I-16 in which he shot down five more enemy planes becoming the top scoring American fighter pilot of the conflict.  His score included two Me-109As becoming the first pilot to bag one of the new German fighters.  Tinker described the early 109s as about equal to the I-16 except for an inferior rate-of-climb.  He got both of his as they attempted to climb away.  In July 1937 Tinker resigned and returned to the US.  He wrote a series of columns about his exploits that were later made into a book, Some Still Live.  In these accounts he said he actually scored 19 kills.  Tinker claims a complex confirmation system was rigged as a way for the government to avoid paying the bounty owed to mercenaries for destroying enemy aircraft.  In 1939 Tinker signed a contract to join the Chinese Air Force in their fight against Japan.  Before leaving however he was found dead in an Arkansas hotel room, victim of an apparent suicide.  Little was understood about PTSD in those days.


 Model kits coming out of the Czech Republic have come a long way from the crude limited run offerings begun under communist rule.  Special Hobby has released this kit which appears kind of a transition between the old and the new as in Classic Airframes, which this kit may have come from, don’t really know.  The kit is comprised of two injection molded sprues of light gray plastic.  The fabric over frame effect is good.  Panel lines and details are good if a little shallow.  Wings are one piece with nice trailing edges.  However its limited run roots are revealed by a lack of locating tabs and alignment pins.  Everything is butt joined.  The sprue attachment points are thick and require careful cutting.  There are some rough edges and minor flash to be cleaned up.  Resin parts are separately bagged and comprise the cockpit details and engine.  A sheet of photo etched metal includes the instrument panel and some other tiny bits.  An acetate instrument sheet is attached to the rear of the metal panel with the instrument dials aligned in their holes.  This affair always produces a very realistic instrument panel.  Some details such as engine push rods, blast tubes, and exhausts are not provided and will have to be scratch built.

Clear parts are Vac-Form.  The ten page instruction booklet is simple and shows an exploded drawing of each assembly step.  It is clearly drawn but lacks a sequence of parts assembly for each step.  It does include some English translations.  Though in black-and-white the paint schemes for three aircraft are well depicted in 4-view.  Paint references are for Humbrol.  Decals are labeled Special Hobby and are well printed.  The red of the rudder stripes appears too orange however.  Decals are for I-15 Black CA-142 of 1 Squadron in 1938, White 46 from 26 Group, and a post-war Spanish AF aircraft Black 3-100.


The cockpit is comprised of 23 resin, plastic, and PE parts.  I began by painting the resin instrument panel backing white.  I stuck the instrument film onto the wet paint and let dry.  I superglued this to the black painted PE instrument panel.  Looks great.

The cockpit is built as a tub assembly.  Walls are blue-grey, seat and floor are green.  Seatbelts are molded to the seat.  You will need a razor saw to cut the resin parts from their casting blocks.  They come of easily but you are dealing with some very small and delicate parts here.  You will spend a great deal of time under the opti-visor working at the microscopic level.  I won’t pretend this is an easy task.  But with patience a nicely detailed cockpit can be had.   At this point you must decide whether to cut out the cockpit doors and replace them with the resin replacements in the open position. I elected to leave mine closed to maintain the lines of the aircraft.  But this will hide most of your hard won cockpit detail.

Next is glue the completed tub to a fuselage half.  Resin cockpit tubs are notorious for being oversized.  Test fitting the fuselage halves proved this one no exception.  Much sanding was required to thin the walls down to fit.  The instructions have you remove the tiny side windows from the vac-form sheet and attach from the inside at this point.  I elected to not do it this way.  I glued the fuselage halves together with tube cement for a good weld.  Fit is OK but there are seams to fill.  Much care is required to get the halves matched up without locating pins.  Instructions show where parts go but nothing about order of assembly.  I elected to attach the upper wing next.  The gull wing attaches directly to the fuselage making it a solid foundation to brace the lower wings and struts against when these are butt joined in place.   The wing required some sanding to fit into its slot and take care to get it square with the fuselage.  Mine wanted to set up slightly canted at an angle.  Some filling and sanding will be needed around this join.  Next the landing gear legs glued with tube cement to strengthen the butt join.  Fit was good with no seams.  Then the tail planes attached.  Next were the upper MG blast tubes. 


At this point I drilled all the locations for the wire rigging.  Bi-planes are best painted around this stage of assembly. I first sprayed the red areas with Model Master Insignia Red with a few drops of yellow to orange it up a little.  After masking I sprayed the uppers Model Master RAF Dark Green and lowers RLM 65 Light Blue.  I lightened some dark green with white and thinned it down.  Using a soft brush I made streaks over the green to break up the monochrome and give it a faded under a hot Spanish sun look.  These aircraft operated under a grueling schedule from often primitive airstrips and showed extensive operational wear and tear.  After a coat of gloss I applied the decals.  They went on well and are thin enough I didn’t need any setting solutions.  The white 56 came from the big box of left over decals.  As stated the red of the rudder stripe decal is really orange so I brush painted over it with my red. I then went over the forward fuselage with a wash of thinned black acrylic to grime it up and finished with a flat clear acrylic.  Using a toothpick I applied flat aluminum to ding up the paint on the metal areas. 


Next is assembling the resin engine.  This will really test your mechanics skills assembling crank case, cylinder jugs, and separate cylinder heads and getting it all aligned properly.  The crank case is the most beautifully detailed I have seen and the resin cooling fins on the jugs are petite yet well defined. Unfortunately most of these beautiful details will be hidden under the nose fairing.  The only things poking out from this are the cylinder heads, and they don’t have any pushrods on them. So, engine winds up not so great after all.  The engine fits into a round hole on the fuselage with a flat area to align it properly.  The upper MG blast tubes protruding from the fuselage slide between the cylinders and…. Wait, nope, they do not slide between the cylinders.  The engine won’t go on and the glue is drying, so I cut of the protruding tubes and set the engine in place.  Were I given a re-do I would wait until now to glue on the tubes so I could adjust them to fit the engine, not vice-versa.  The lower MG blast tubes are not provided by the kit and the instructions show to make these from 2mm tubing. The necessity of doing so is emphasized by the English translation, “cover of MG barrel is engine cylinder protection against bullets.”    Not wanting to shoot my own cylinders off, I cut some 1.5mm aluminum tubing for all four blast tubes.  I left them in unpainted metal and I must say they look bad-ass.

The injection molded cowl ring was difficult to remove from the tree.  It has several thick attachment points and is quite thin and delicate.  It required quite a bit of sanding to clean it up and remove a mold seam.  But amazingly, it slipped over the cylinder heads with only minor sanding.  At this point I pondered the effort required to add some pushrods.  Since my fun-meter was about pegged already at this point I let it slide.  I decided a more productive effort would be to open up the cooling vents in the nose fairing.  I drilled and cut to open these up.  The fairing was then glued in place.  Again, the engine has some great detailing but it’s mostly hidden.  What is visible are the cylinder heads that lack pushrods in front and an exhaust system in back.  The instructions make no mention of exhausts.  I cut some stub exhaust pipes from my aluminum tubing, painted them rust, and super glued them to the cowl ring behind each cylinder head.

That done I glued the wheel halves together and painted.  They look good but the holes are too small to fit the axles.  I matched a drill bit to the axles (3/32”) and reamed out the holes, perfect fit.  Then on to the windscreen, the vac-form sheet has two molded on it.  This is good for forgetful old guys that place a tiny clear part down somewhere and can’t find it again….(ahem).  Once cut from the sheet I hand painted the framing (I tell ya, I still got it.)  Then a hole has to be drilled to accommodate the telescopic sight.  This sight has a mount in front and a large eyepiece in back so the hole has to be made too large for the thinner part of the tube passing through it.  I cut the tube in half, made a hole big enough to pass the thinner part of the tube through, and glued the tube back together.  I attached it all with fast setting super glue.  I did not use the small side windows supplied on the sheet rather I filled the openings with clear parts cement to make these windows. (Whoever thought up this procedure deserves a Nobel Prize).

Next was the fuselage to upper wing bracing wires.  I cut 10 gauge music wire and super glued to the pre-drilled holes.  These should be double wires but I find that aligning double wires precisely parallel detracts greatly from my fun quotient.  For those of you that worry about pushrods you may want to do this correctly with the double wires.

I delayed attaching the lower wings to this point to facilitate easier handling during the build.  After scraping paint away from the strut attachment points I used tube glue to cement the strut to the lower wing at an approximately correct angle.  I let this set a minute until tacky then I glued the lower wing and strut into place.  Check alignment, remember no tabs or slots.  When thoroughly dry I attached the remaining bracing wires.  Seams around the struts and wings were filled with white glue smoothed with a finger.  When dry I touched up the paint.

Lastly was the prop.  The blades are painted aluminum front, flat black rear, and steel hub.  The prop shaft is way too big for the hole in the prop and would hold the prop too far out from the engine.  Not much room to enlarge this hole so I thinned the shaft by filing and cut it to achieve the right stand-off.  With the prop glued in place she was finished.


 The Special Hobby I-15 builds into an excellent replica of this historically important aircraft.  But it does not build itself like a Tamiya kit does.  Not really a kit for beginners, but there is nothing particularly difficult either.  It is a diamond in the rough that has to be dug out of the mud and properly cut to reach its full potential.  I put enough into it to meet my standards while still having fun with the build.  The rough places I just chalk up to the old “operational wear and tear” snivel.


 Wikipedia.com, Wings Palette.com 

Dave Cummings

November 2014

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