1/72 Hasegawa / Italeri MiG-23MLD
Flogger K Kitbash

by Andrew Desautels

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THE KITBASH
We modelmakers often see different things in the same kits.  It is all so true that one man's garbage is another man's treasure.  I was reminded of this when I eagerly bought Italeri's MiG-23ML with high hopes of building it as a MiG-23MLD Flogger K.  There are many who love this kit, but I gave up building mine after only 3 hours.  For  me, it just wasn't even close to what I was looking for.

Despite its age and numerous shortcomings, I have always loved the Hasegawa 1/72 MiG-23 kit (which is really a -23M or -23MF Flogger B despite the box's claim of a -23S).  It does need plenty of work to be a decent Flogger B, and a LOT of work to become a decent Flogger K, which was my aim. 

I finally decided that although I couldn't use the Italeri airframe, there were several very good parts worth keeping...parts which, combined with a Hasegawa kit, plus the wonderful Eduard MiG-23 etched brass set for the Italeri kit, plus a resin seat, could make a very convincing Flogger K. The result far exceeded my expectations.

In the end, every single kit piece used was modified or detailed with the exception of the centerline fuel tank, twin ventral pylons, landing lights, and the ventral fin from the Hasegawa kit.  Here is the kit parts breakdown:

Hasegawa 1/72 MiG-23: PARTS TO DISCARD
-vertical tail
-radome
-all missiles
-all missile rails
-all cockpit detail (seat, panel, control stick attached to nosegear)
-nose wheels
-large, curved maingear doors attached to maingear
-pitot probe (optional; better to make from brass rod due to length and lack of strength)

Italeri 1/72 MiG-23: PARTS TO KEEP
-vertical tail
-radome
-wing glove pylons
-IR sensor under nose
-dorsal chaff/flare dispensers
-R-60/AA-8 "Aphid" missiles
-Elongated "bulge" on forward fuselage left side above nosegear door

Other parts used include:
-R-60/AA-8 missile rails reshaped and modified from the spare parts bin (probably came
from the Italeri MiG-29) 
-mainwheels from Heller's Mirage F1 (became the enlarged nosewheels).
-True Details KM-1 seat, headrest shape modified

At this point I should point out Eduard's terrific detail set made for Italeri's Mig-23ML/MLD kit.  There have been Eduard detail sets which did not impress me, but this is not one of them.  It is LOADED with detail, every sensor, probe, antenna and subtle airframe detail imaginable, plus a fantastic cockpit.  On top of that, plenty of wonderful detail for the maingear wells, which are thoroughly lacking on both kits!  This set has a higher price, and no wonder, for all the tons of goodies you get!!  It's well worth the investment, and I'm a  frugal builder!

There's no way to keep this as short as I'd want and yet explain the changes.  I've done my best to concisely explain how this was done...and if it's still too long, well, you can all still enjoy the photos:-)

FUSELAGE
It all starts simply with the fuselage halves and wings.  Even so, there is plenty to be done.  The aft end of the upper airbrakes must be reshaped.
The small cable conduits that run on the lower part of the empennage are filed off and sanded smooth, then the network of holes must be drilled out on the bottom instead of only being recessed.  The small intakes on either side of the vertical fin can be cut away and replaced with slightly flattened styrene tube to better represent the real thing.  The Italeri vertical tail installs nicely into the slot for the original tail, but most of that slot must still be filled.  Drill a hole on the trailing edge for the ILS antenna to be added from the Eduard set, but don't add it until last.

Click on images below to see larger images

Once the tailplanes are attached, they still need extension "tabs" on the trailing edge near the engine exhaust.  Locating holes should be drilled for the Italeri wing glove missile pylons and the dorsal chaff/flare dispensers.  Also add the "plumbing" attachments for the underwing fuel tanks, even if you don't build it with wing tanks.

The centerline pylon should not have an angled leading edge as it does, so plastic must be added to it to "square" it off.  A tremendous amount of detailing can be added to the maingear wells starting with the Eduard brass set, but still can benefit from lots of wiring and tubing.  The brass pieces are for the smaller Italeri wells, which I can't help but think are undersized, although I haven't checked...in any case, the problem is easily remedied with extra sheet and strip styrene.  While on the bottom, also reshape the tip of the ventral fin base, and also scratch build the twin bulges that are just forward of it (wish I knew what they are called; sorry!).

Finally, the most important way to make sure your Flogger K is really a Flogger K is to cut out the "dogtooth" notch between the wing glove and the intake wall, then fill the resulting holes with plastic and file and sand it all smooth.

The Eduard set has an INCREDIBLE bunch of detailing for the afterburner can, which even makes it much deeper and full of detail the whole way down. 
The only problem is it's for the smaller Italeri engine (funny that many Italeri parts are smaller since the airframe itself seems slightly larger than the Hasegawa), so I extended the diameter with reinforced masking tape and added strip styrene details.  I made sure the added detail would be on the top of the engine (directly under the tail) and therefore less noticable. 

FORWARD FUSELAGE 
The only complex part of this is the installation of the Eduard brass pieces which make up a terrific cockpit.  I still added more switches, knobs, and other bits to the main instrument panel to make it more 3-dimensional.
Once this is all together, and the HUD/gunsight installed, the Italeri radome is fitted.  It is slightly too large at first, but I was surprised at how easy it was to blend it with some vigorous sanding.  The Italeri radome definitely has a much more bulbous shape rather than the sleek, undersized Hasegawa radome.  I liken it to getting the shape of the nose right if sculpting a famous person; if it isn't right, the rest of it looks wrong, too.

Click on images below to see larger images

The Eduard set comes with some canopy framing including a single rear view mirror...but there are TWO rear view mirrors, which I scratch built. 

Once the forward fuselage assembly is attached to the main fuselage, you can busy yourself with all the antennae, intakes, and probes that make up the forward fuselage.  Every MiG-23 variant has a different position for the ILS antenna under the nose.  I used the Hasegawa kit ILS antenna, but cut off the end and inserted the delicate yet brilliant ILS antenna tip from the Eduard set.  Also add the Italeri bulge to the left side next to the nosegear bay and blend it in good.

I was glad to be able to use the transparent IR sensor from the Italeri kit, which comes with the early (MiG-23M, MF) and later(ML, MLD) versions. 
Some scratch building around it was still required, and then on to the blade-style IFF antenna in front of the windscreen, tiny "cheek" mounted intakes and AOA and Yaw sensors make the front end complete except for the pitot tube.

While the Hasegawa pitot tube is nicely molded, it lacks strength, partly because it is so long and is more apt to be broken off than, say, the shorter pitot on an F-14.  I made mine from brass rod, added the tiny vortex generators with .005" sheet styrene (you can hardly see them, but I know they're there...).

I'm an unusual builder in that I prefer to add all the antennae, probes, and other delicate items before painting.  I think it looks less real to glue tiny parts on after painting, so I spray  on the regular paint scheme, then repaint the tiny items with a fine brush.  It just takes knowing how to handle your aircraft, and I've had absolutely no problems with stuff breaking off during painting or final assembly.

PYLONS, DISPENSORS, MISSILE RAILS AND GEAR DOORS 
The centerline pylon was already installed, so now on to the two weapons pylons on either side of it.  The shape of these in the Hasegawa kit are fine, but remove the inaccurate missile rails molded to them.  The Italeri wing glove pylons for the AA-7 Apex's are good with some added detail, with the dorsal chaff/flare dispensers also being detailed.

Click on image below to see larger image

I was originally going to have this bird armed to the teeth with twin R-60/AA-8 rails on each of the ventral weapons pylons, but I finally reined myself in to arm it to match the available photo of "White 64", with a single R-60 on each pylon.  The resulting missile rails were reshaped items from the spares box, I think from the Italeri MiG-29.

Click on image below to see larger image

The Eduard set comes with a nice touch for the maingear legs, namely replacement items for the two sections of maingear doors which remain attached to the gear.  They both must be bent to curves, easily done with the Xacto blade handle.  The other maingear doors need to have their detail redone by removing the old with a roto-tool and rebuilding with styrene, especially the lower ones.

Click on image below to see larger image

LANDING GEAR
I just mentioned the two gear doors which are attached to the maingear legs.
I must now point out that the smaller of these doors is already molded to the Hasegawa legs and must be removed.  There are two locator pins for the mainwheels, meant to help align the wheels and position the attached larger door correctly.  Cut away the smaller pin and keep the proper axel.  This will mean a little extra work in alignment, but it will look much better.
Adding hydraulic wiring will greatly enhance the appearance, and once again Eduard comes to the rescue with additional details for the jointed sections of the maingear.

The mainwheels themselves must be widened; I sawed mine in two, then added two .020" discs and sanded it all smooth.  Then fill the two holes for the larger gear door, which obviously wouldn't be directly attached to the wheel hub in the first place.  The larger gear door actually attaches to the maingear leg and slopes over the wheel like a mud guard, which Eduard has delicately reproduced.

Click on image below on right to see larger image

The nosegear was more of a problem.  The MiG-23ML and MLD (Floggers G and K) had redesigned nosegear with revised torque links in front of the oleo strutt.  To replicate this, I cut off the entire oleo (which was too thin anyway) and all the detail in the front.  The oleo leg was first replaced, and the wheel attachment section reattached, and then the complex assembly for the torque link was built.  Then it was down to added details, tubing, and wiring as per available photos.

The nosewheels of the ML and MLD are larger than on the earlier variants, and I found the solution in the spares box: mainwheels from a Heller Mirage F1 appeared to be just the right size!  This meant making new wheel hubs for them, and this was before I knew aftermarket MiG wheels were available.

PAINTING
At this point, while all the parts had been prepared and detailed, much of it would not be assembled until after the airframe was painted.  This left the missile rails, flare/chaff dispensers, and landing gear all lying by the wayside.  Also the ventral gun is in this bunch, with replaced cannon barrels and shell ejector fairings.

The first time I saw a photo of the Afghan veteran "White 64" in a magazine, it was love at first sight.  I knew immediately that the Flogger K I had already started building and detailing would have to be this one, whether I could find the aftermarket details or not.  Fortunately the correct decals did finally hit the market, mine being from Linden Hill Imports.

I use almost exclusively Model Master enamels.  It took three attempts at different mixes to capture the paint shades to my satisfaction, and each attempt also helped me revise the camouflage pattern more, since much of it was based on the dorsal view of a different Flogger K, but blended to meet the patterns evident from available photos of White 64.  I still have the paint mixes listed somewhere if anyone's curious.

For me, the first rule of painting non-US-built aircraft is, avoid using specific FS numbers!!  Why in the world would Moscow want to consult with the United States' Federal Standard of colors to paint their warplanes???  Foreign planes should be painted in colors that look...well, foreign!

The artwork on the side of the intakes is beautifully provided on the decals, but you must provide the blue and white background, simply sprayed on the side.  A mix of light blue is first, followed by "starburst" style streaking with pure white.  Make sure it's the proper size background for the decal.

Much of the white stencilling actually came from the Superscale sheet of F9F-2/3/5 data.  It's small enough that you can't tell what language it's  in, yet is printed well enough to look very convincing.
Weathering was done with a watercolor sludge along with some additional airbrushing, plus drybrushing both outside and inside the afterburner.  The radome was also drybrushed as the photos I've seen of this aircraft show it to be highly weathered revealing a tannish color below. 

FINAL ASSEMBLY
Finally, all the extra bits get attached, mainly the weapons and pylons, landing gear and their doors, and the fuel tank.  The AA-8 missiles were from the Italeri kit, which have wonderfully thin rear fins, but with the forward fins replaced with scratch-built items, plus their ventral structures made from styrene strip.  Once you add the twin dark red
stripes around the IR seeker, they look nice.  I'm not positive, but I think the AA-7's were from the DML weapons kit, which got dumped into my missile spares bin years back.

At this time the ejection seat is also installed, but a problem was discovered: the True Details resin seat was too wide to fit between the consoles (ah, yes, the problems of kitbashing).  Fortunately I was able to shave enough off the the sides of the seat bottom without making it look too obvious.  The headrest was reshaped (as I've always been critical of the True Details KM-1 headrest), and the ejection handles added from the
Eduard set.  The canopy was left removable, as Hasegawa nicely made it able to be positioned open or shut, depending on what mood you're in on any given day.

SUMMARY
Believe it or not, this was not a grueling project, but a delightful one!  Kitbashes are often a good way to overcome perceived shortcomings of any kit if you can find a way to combine the strengths of other kits.  Happy building!

Andrew 
(aka Andrew D. the Jolly Rogers guy)

Photos and text by Andrew Desautels