1/72 Special Hobby TsKB-3 (I-15 Prototype)

Gallery Article by Eugeny Knupfer on June 16 2009


TsKB-3, a biplane fighter powered by Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine, was developed in 1933 by Nikolai Polikarpov as a successor to his earlier design I-5. It was put in production in 1934 under the name I-15 and became famous in combat in Spain where it proved to be one of the best biplane fighters of its time.  

If I was going to build a 1/72 I-15 today, I would probably start with a new ICM model. However, a few years ago long before it was released one had to choose from three limited-run offerings from Aviation Usk, Pavla and Special Hobby (this one was also sold under Azur label). After reading the (somewhat misleading) reviews and arriving at conclusion that none of these models is perfect, I decided to go with Special Hobby.  

This is a typical "multimedia" kit of average quality – short-run plastic parts with thin panel lines and nice fabric representation, but with a grainy surface that needs sanding and polishing; small photoetch fret and some resin parts. Decal is very good and even includes the markings for the TsKB-3 prototype which I was going to build, although the fact that TsKB-3 differs from the production I-15 significantly (for example, it has a smaller fin) and can not be built straight out of the box is not reflected in the instruction. 

I used the excellent book "I-15 Fighter" by Mikhail Maslov as a main reference. Comparing the kit parts to the plans from this book quickly revealed a few problems. Upper wing is the worst – it is completely flat, without any ditheral, and its “gull” center area is too wide, making it look almost like an I-153 wing. I decided to compromise by cutting the wing in two halves, removing a couple millimeters in order to narrow the "gull" and then gluing the wing together with the correct ditheral. This, of course, also reduced the wing span, but this is less noticeable than the wide center section.

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The fuselage is far from perfect too – it's front is too deep, and needs to be corrected. The cowling ring, which was too small in diameter was replaced with a new one, formed from the sheet styrene over the old one.  

The engine is provided in resin. This sounds promising, but, unfortunately, it is very crude, and for some unknown reason is cast integrally with the inner cowling. I decided to replace the engine with the aftermarket part – a nice resin M-25/R-1820 produced by Prop&Jet. The cowling was scratchbuilt by heat forming it over the wooden shape and then cutting the holes using a needle and a spinning template, pinned to the center of the cowling.

The fin was shaped to resemble TsKB-3, crude stabilizer struts, propeller hub, air intake, gun sight were all replaced with the scratchbuilt parts. 

The model was painted with Gunze Sangyo acrylic paint, followed by Tamiya clear coat, a wash and finally a semi-gloss coat.  

In the end I was pretty disappointed by this model – I did not expect it would require so much work. Today, when a much better I-15 from ICM can be bought for half a price of this kit, the inaccurate and difficult to built Special Hobby kit is hardly of any interest. Still, it can be built into a decent, if not perfectly accurate I-15.

Eugeny Knupfer

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Photos and text © by Eugeny Knupfer