ICM 1/72 Polikarpov I-1/IL-400b

KIT #: 72051
DECALS: One option


Say "test pilot" and most people, even those into aviation, will probably conjure up a scene from "The Right Stuff". Chuck Yeager, dark glasses and pilot's jacket, asks for gum. His sidekick, just as laconic, replies "Ah think ah got me a stick". Then Yeager blasts off to set a world record in a rocket plane named after his hot wife. Later, they all stoically attend a funeral in the desert for the latest pilot who bought the farm and mutter that the next generation of test pilots - the Armstrongs and Grissoms - aren't true "stick and rudder men", just "spam in can" and glorified chimpanzees.

Even allowing for cinematic license it's probably not so far from the mark. Even these days, test pilots risk their lives at the controls of advanced new machines. The guy who tested the Swedish Gripen crashed it twice (and lived). That was Sweden in the 1990s. Imagine, then, what it was like in the Soviet Union in the 1920s.  Who'd be a test pilot!

The rather handsome Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gromov probably wondered that very thing on 23 June 1927. He was falling from the sky having just abandoned his Polikarpov I-1. That day he became the first Soviet to parachute from a plane, even though he probably didn't intend doing so when he took off.

His plane was the first monoplane fighter built in the USSR. This was so far out at the cutting edge of what the Soviets could do when it arrived in 1923 that the plane crashed on its first flight. This kit seems to represent the next design, known as Il-400b, which sent the plane's center of gravity further forward among other changes. The plane's biggest problem was its lack of stability - not the best characteristic for a plane that was 60 years before they invented the computers that could keep an unstable plane aloft!

Despite his undeniable skill as a pilot, Gromov couldn't keep this one in the air that day and chose an untested parachute as the best way to get back to the airfield. 33 of these planes were made, though none saw regular service. Gromov went on to set a record flying from Moscow to California over the North Pole in 1937. He lived until 1985 and was a Hero of the Soviet Union.

None of these planes seems to have survived.
This is an excellent little kit from ICM, the first I have built from that company but won't be the last. It's moulded very nicely from grey plastic and I didn't see any blemishes in places where they'd be seen on the final model. It's a simple kit, not much to it, but it comes with a little seat for the cockpit and a tiny windscreen. The corrugated wing surface is good - I don't know if it is over the top or not because there aren't many photos of this plane around.

You need to scratch build two items. The little bumpers under the wings, and the little handles just forward of the tailplane. These steps could easily be left out, if you preferred. I don't think their absence would diminish the look of the final model.

The plane fits together well and the instructions are quite clear. I started by preparing the cockpit area. There is no specific detail beyond the seat and stick, so I painted on a few lighter patches to represent instruments, and I painted the two squares on the panel which I took to be the safe end of the machine guns.

There is a small part of the wing, inboard of the flaps, where the trailing edge curves in towards the fuselage. It is quite distinctive in the photos. That part of the wing is a separate piece. Don't forget to put it on before the outer wing segment, because the rest of the wing does actually fit there and it doesn't look weird that way, though it is obviously wrong. I did this, but luckily was only dry-fitting at the time! The kit has a big central spar to help you attach the wing sections.

Before joining the fuselage and wings together, I pondered how to scratch build the features under the wings (could be bumpers, for landing, or maybe handles for ground manouvering by crew) and on the rear fuselage (I assumed these were handles). I decided to drill tiny holes there, and use fuze wire to fashion the parts. This stuff is quite bendable, but seems to stay put once you have shaped it how you want it. I then filled the hole around the wire with some putty and did my best to smooth it over. It looks ok for the underwing parts but not as great for the tail-end parts. The rest of the plane goes together easily enough and before you know it, it is built.

Some of these were made from aluminium, and others from plywood. Who really knows what colours they may have been painted? I went with Tamiya XF-16 aluminium, hand-brushed. The instructions call for two different shades of aluminium on different parts of the plane. I made another shade by mixing in some black. I photographed this model in sunlight, and I think you can't really see the effect (which is actually pretty subtle and probably not pronounced enough). Needless to say it didn't take long to paint this model.

Others have built this with red wheels based on a photo on the wikipedia page for this plane, or a similar photo. In that, the wheels are definitely darker. I decided against that on the basis that the picture seems to be the first prototype while the kit is meant to be the later version. At the end of the day, it is just a guess. With these unusual and fairly ancient planes, it is hard to say with any precision what it should have looked like. Also, it seems that all the planes of this type differed in their own way. I like it as is, I guess.

There are only two decals, one either side for the Russian writing. Caz Dalton, an MMer who reviewed this kit some years ago, reports that the writing means The Wings of the Commune of the World, across the top, and, across the bottom, "G. A. Z. No. 1 by the name  О.Д.В.Ф". GAZ No 1 refers to State Aircraft Factory No. 1 and О.Д.В.Ф. is the acronym for The Society of the Friends of the Air Fleet.

This is a great kit and it's nice to have an unusual vintage plane on the shelf. The kit is easy to build and suitable for anyone at all.

The Russian wikipedia has a picture of a different configuration of
this plane: 

Richard F

April 2015

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