by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundIf ever an aircraft's importance belied its humble appearance, the U-2/Po-2 must surely be the supreme example. First flown in 1928, the U-2 (as it was first known) remained in production in one form or another for around 30 years. During WW2 it served in a plethora of roles on the Eastern Front, perhaps most notably as a night harassment raider. The U-2 was of simple, robust construction and carried a useful bomb-load despite the paltry 125 hip. of the M-11D radial engine. Flying very low of German positions at a top speed of less than 100 m.p.h. it proved a very risky target for Luftwaffe fighters which risked stalling and crashing as they tried to intercept it (UN pilots faced the same dilemma when the aircraft appeared again in the same role in the Korean War.).
The U-2 attracted numerous nicknames through its career, including Kukuruznik (corn cutter) or Lesnik (forester) to the Russians, and Nähmaschine (sewing machine) and Hermosaha (nerve saw) to its German and Finnish opponents respectively. The U-2 was famously flown by the women crews of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment (known later as the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment) who erned the grudging epiphet from the enemy of Nachthexen (night witches) for their daring nocturnal raids.
After the death of its designer Nikolai Polikarpov 1944, the U-2 was redesignated the Po-2 as a mark of recognition, and by the time production finally ceased an astonishing 40,000 U-2/Po-2 and Polish licence-built versions are reported to have been built, although other sources put the figure at between 20,000 to 30,000. Either way, it is the most-produced biplane in history.
The kitConsidering its historical importance, the U-2/Po-2 can hardly be accused of having been “covered to death” in 1:48 with just the limited run mixed media Gavia kit (now available under the Admiral banner) being the only option for many years.
Finally, 2014 see the release of a very welcome new-tool kit to the latest standards. ICM’s new U-2/Po-2 is packed in an attractive conventional box. The sprues are bagged together to keep them safe in transit, and the sample arrived in perfect condition despite running the gauntlet of an extra trip through the post to reach me. The kit comprises:
73 x grey styrene parts
2 x clear styrene parts
Decals for a pair of colour schemes
The immediate impression is very positive indeed. The moulding is crisp, with no signs of flash or sink marks, and two shallow ejector pin marks on the interior that might be visible are well down on the fuselage sides and so should be unobtrusive if you don’t want to fill them.
The exterior finish is excellent, with finely engraved panel lines, raised details such as fasteners, and a very convincing taught fabric effect. Oddly, though, this isn’t extended to the elevators, which are left totally smooth.
There’s not a great deal one can test fit on a biplane like this, so I simply tried the fuselage and full-span lower wing. The fuselage halves of the sample kit clip together neatly enough at the tail, but the unsupported lower nose has a slight warp. Fitting the wing, the front of which forms the base of the nose helps straighten things a bit, but I think the real answer is to make a simple bulkhead to keep everything square and true.
A few detailsConstruction starts logically enough with the tandem cockpits, which feature very nicely done sidewall details moulded onto the fuselage sides. The suitably basic instrument panels have lightly raised bezels and decals are provided. Unusually for an aircraft kit, the fuselage halves can be closed up before the bulk of the interior is constructed, because the well detailed seats and controls attach to the centre section of the lower wing which doubles as the cockpit floor. The twin cockpits comprise 22 parts in total, with each seat and mount using 6 parts. All that is really missing is seat harnesses for a very convincing ”office”.
Up front there’s a crisply moulded 9 part five-cylinder M-11D engine. The cylinder detail is well defined, but a bit simplified (in common with virtually all injected kits). With the engine totally exposed and an obvious focus of attention, you may want to treat yourself to Vector’s beautiful resin version - and the low price of ICM’s kit means you can afford to splash out on such extras without breaking the bank.
This first boxing of the kit comes with just a ski-undercarriage, which is a bit of a surprise. I'd expected to see both options (with, maybe, ambulance pods and rear gun mounts to follow..), but a couple of gaps on the sprues perhaps indicate where wheels will be in a later version. So, for now, skis it is. These are quite simple but effective mouldings that should look the part once you add bungee cords. The undercarriage has quite solid attachment points and it be sturdy enough to withstand a few knocks as you fit the upper wing that follows in the construction sequence.
Rounding off the assembly is a useful guide for the rigging and control cables. This gives the overall layout clearly, but it’s well worth checking reference photos of the full-sized machine (such as Kagero's TopShots 11005) to pin down finer details such as the doubled elevator control cables.
Instructions & decalsOverall, the assembly guide is logically laid out and clear and simple to follow. Construction is broken down into 27 uncluttered stages, and colour matches are provided for ModelMaster paints.
Markings are provided for two ski-equipped aircraft:
1. U-2 “Yellow 1”, Finland, December 1939 still dressed in standard green/blue camouflage with prominent white fuselage and wing stripes.
2. U-2 “White 2”, Russia, Winter 1942, sporting field-applied white distemper. No plan view of the wings is provided, so you’re left to find your own references or rely on informed guesswork to paint them.
The decals are actually designed as a generic set to cover this and a future release (presumably the wheeled version?), so you also get “Yellow 5” and “White 13” tail markings on the sheet. The decals appear to be printed by Begemot and look good quality, with a gloss finish and crisp registration.
ConclusionICM’s new U-2/Po-2 is a great little kit that does real justice to this important aircraft. Beginners will face an extra challenge as it's a biplane – and indeed may trip up straightening the nose (if the sample is typical) – but modellers with a little experience should have few problems. The kit is certainly more “mainstream” and looks to be a simpler build than the Gavia/Admiral kit – and, importantly in these cost-conscious times, it's around half the price in the UK. Recommended.
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