1/48 Korpo Su-25K Iraqi desert diorama

by Panagiotis Zarkadis


  Hellenic Independence Day 2008 


The  diorama of the Iraqi aircraft is in 1/48 scale. A good scale to work with, as it is small enough to hide your mistakes and large enough to play with the amount of detail you want to add to it. The idea for this diorama came into my modelling world as soon as I read an article, with plenty of photos to support it, in a very known magazine, the Combat Aircraft Illustrated. Well as the story goes, some smart Iraqi officers had the bright idea of hiding their aircraft by burying them into the desert, under tones of fine innocent sand. Yes, these airplanes were also fueled up, armed and ready to go. Yeap...the rest is history.

   Back to our subject, the internet came to my rescue once again. I found -not a lot - but enough photos to give me an idea and  a general picture of what actually happened. The actual aircraft must have been partially buried in the sand and covered with a camouflage net to hide it from conspicuous eyes (although in a similar picture of a Mig-25, seems that the whole aircraft was buried in the sand). So, how do we start this project. First things first.  

   The kit used in this diorama is the Korpo Su-25K. Personally I think it is a much better kit than the Monogram alternative. The engraved lines are very fine, the cockpit is more than adequate, having (almost) full detailed side consoles and a not bad at all, ejection seat. I couldn't resist, instead I used a True Details K-36 from my sparesbox and what a difference it made. 

    The construction of the actual kit was effortless. Some filler was used, just for the sake of making things look even better. Part of the project was to open some panels in order to make the scene  look even more dramatic and also raise my stress levels to new heights. The secret for doing that? Be patient, organized and try to plan ahead (note: these rules don't apply to myself.). If you are planning in opening a panel you have to be certain you have something to stick behind it. In our case, the openings at the engine intakes are parts (guess what) from a rotor head of an AH-64. The electronics boxes and the rangefinder at the nose is a complete mystery to me, but as it goes, if it looks right, it is right! Now, time for cheating. The open panel at the spine of the fuselage was intended to be left open...but I couldn't think of anything to fit in there -this is called "modelling blackout"- so I left it half open, the more I sat starring at it the less I could find faults with it. The same thing applies for the half open panel at the left side infront under the cockpit of the aircraft.

   The cockpit was painted using the usual Russian colours, and the camouflage pattern in the actual aircraft was airbrushed  freehand, using as a guide the instructions given in the actual kit. Don't bother to be accurate, as in every picture I checked, the pattern was a bit different. Also the actual colours used, were a result of experience (!!!) and speculation rather than the actual Fs numbers given in the instructions. Anyway who can accuse you of being wrong, is only a Russian aircraft. I had to lighten them up a bit, so I add a few drops of white to add some realism to  fade  the colours due to the harsh conditions of the environment.

   When the actual model of the aircraft was finished, it was time to plan the construction of  it's habbitat. As a dedicated aircraft model builder, I didn't have a clue how to begin. A helping hand came from a good friend and fellow modeller Nikos Kamitsis, who as an armour modeller (I forgive him for that), helped me built a scaled down desert landscape.

   First of all, we cut a square piece of polystyrene foam, (you know the white stuff used to protect electrical appliances and the small pieces that come off, go everywhere and drive the wife mad) to the size that was appropriate for the diorama. I dug a hole in it, dryfitting and testing all the time the model of the aircraft I had already built, so that it lays buried, but the same time most of it is on the surface above the groundwork. (Yes I did that in our kitchen and I drove my wife nuts. Are you happy now???). When I was happy with the position of the aircraft, it was time to go to the next stage. A disgusting creamy substance was made out of water, pieces of newspaper and white glue. This substance was applied on the surface of the polystyrene foam, and was smoothed and shaped in order to look more realistic. The aircraft model was placed in it's trench and glued safely using adequate amounts of white glue. The weathering had to be applied now, as later the things get more complicated and is difficult to work with. It was done, using various shades of pasteIs, with colours resembling the colours of a desert, using light browns, dark and light yellows and of course some light greens for the camouflage.

   I have to mention at this point how easy is to make a camouflage net, that we will need to use at this stage. For this we need a common bandage. First of all we  stretch it out to make it look like a net, we then paint it in a colour that please us and "vouala", our camoflage net is ready. I placed the net over the aircraft as it looked in the pictures, secured it in the ground  using ...toothpicks...and glue, and before I knew it, this stage was over. Now before the paste dries up, we sprinkle sand - yes natural sand found somewhere in a construction site in our town (oops...) and we kept adding more till the base was covered with  a thick layer of sand. I also diluted some white glue with water and using a soft thin brush I touched the top surface of the model crevices and places where sand could accumulate. This way the actual model of the aircraft could be "bond" in a way, with the surrounding landscape. I kept adding diluted white glue over the already settled sand, sprinkling some more sand on top, till I was happy with the overall result. Dry pastels were again used as before, this time  in order to "connect" the model to the sandy groundwork and to look even dustier with all this sand on top of it.

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And now for something completely different. Figures. I hate them. I love to look at them in aircraft dioramas but I really do hate painting them. The figures I use in my dioramas don't look dead or funny, they  look like zombies. So an extra helping hand and advice on the subject came again from the usual origin, an experienced armour builder, Niko. The actual figures came from the US airborne Desert Storm  I & II sets, from Czech Master Kits. I was really surprised from the quality and finesse of these figures. Detail in every single aspect. It would be very disappointed if I couldn't get the best out of them. To cut a long story short, following his tips and advice I managed to paint three respectable  figures of modern US soldiers in the 48th scale. A bit of advice. Don't be embarrassed to ask other modellers for their help and advice. There are hundreds of books and thousands of reference material on the internet on how to do things in modelling, but nothing can be compared to having a real person sitting next to you and teaching you, the right way to get better results. To give an interesting note in the diorama I placed these figures around (and on top) of the aircraft,  in order to give a bit more character. The only thing I am disappointed with, is the actual Iraqi flag I used with the soldier on top of the aircraft. My original idea was to look wavy. I used paper - it looked "heavy" and  "thick" for this scale.  The painted alluminum foil looked like the flag which was used  in the moon landings. Finally in a moment of utter desperation I found a pair of Iraqi flags in my spare decals. Problem solved. It was thin enough for the scale and exactly the size I was looking for, and it fitted perfectly in between the raised arms of the trooper.  

Yes now I think after a couple of months, (I am a slow builder), the desert diorama project came to an end. I am happy with the end result. It could be worst, and that is what I always say about my models. 

  I want to thank "Hel.Mo." for supporting such an interesting hobby in our country, Greece, and especially Thanos Mentzelopoulos for giving me the pleasure of expressing my views and thoughts when I build my favourite models. 


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Photos and text by Panagiotis Zarkadis