i-16-1Polikarpov I-16 Type 24 by ICM

1/72 scale
Kit No. 72071
Cost: $10.00
Decals: Nine versions – all Soviet Air Force (VVS) World War II
Comments: Fine engraved panel lines; good cockpit with separate seat, rudder pedals, control stick, raised detail on instrument panel; complete radial engine; six-piece engine cowling

History

The Polikarpov I-16, initially designated the CKB 12 (for Centralnoye Konstruktorskoye Byuro, or Central Design Bureau), took its maiden flight on December 31, 1933.  It was the standard Soviet single-seat fighter for eight years, serving in front-line units from 1934 to 1942.  The I-16 “Ishak,” or Little Donkey as it was affectionately termed by Russian pilots, saw combat in the Spanish Civil War, the Russo-Finnish War, the Sino-Japanese War, and on all fronts during the first year and a half of what the Soviets called the Great Patriotic War — World War II.   Like its contemporaries the Curtiss P-40 and Gloster Gladiator, it was becoming obsolete at the time war broke out, but performed well in the hands of skilled pilots when compelled to meet the threat.

i-16-2Beating the Sukhoi I-14 in a competition to become the new Soviet fighter, the I-16 was a low-wing cantilever monoplane of mixed wood and metal construction, and offered armor protection for the pilot — something regarded as an unnecessary luxury for fighter planes of the early 1930’s.  It went into mass production almost immediately, with the first deliveries to VVS units taking place in Autumn 1934, and the I-16’s first large scale appearance in public occurred during a Red Square flyover on May Day 1935.  The I-16 initially had significant teething problems, for its small dimensions and high weight-to-surface-area ratio made it as unstable as it was maneuverable.   The design also contributed to (at the time) rather high landing speeds.  The enclosed cockpit, a relative novelty at the time, was disliked by pilots and eventually disappeared after the Type 6.  The I-16’s retractable undercarriage was also unpopular with pilots, as it was not electrically operated but rather required 25 turns of a hand crank.  This distraction while trying to maintain correct airspeed and glide angle during landings proved distastrous in several cases.  The I-16 was initially difficult for pilots accustomed to very stable biplanes to handle;  it was prone to stalling and like many highly maneuverable designs, it was inherently unstable in flight.

i-16-ip-1At the time of its introduction, most airfields were too short to accomodate the I-16’s 330-yard take-off run or the 250 yards it needed to land.  Pilots began to regard the new machine as dangerous.  In 1935 the VVS High Command addressed the problem by having a group of highly experienced pilots equipped with the I-16 tour all fighter bases, giving individual and formation displays and performing mock dogfights.  This challenge to every pilot’s prowess, coupled with the improved airfields and the growing availability of I-16UTI trainers, helped many pilots begin to master the tricky aircraft.

i-16-4The I-16 went largely unnoticed by foreign observers until the Type 10’s appearance in Spain on the side of the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.  The Type 10 had the distinction of introducing underwing rails for its RS-82 rockets, the first fighter to carry such weapons beginning in December 1937.  In Spain, the I-16 “Rata” or Rat, outclassed the Heinkel He 51 outfitting Condor Legion units at the time, and could break off combat at will with CR.32’s of the Italian Aviation Legion.  It matched the Messerschmitt Bf109B in speed, and the 109’s superior turn radius was largely cancelled out by the I-16’s superior maneuverability, better armament and climb rate.  I-16’s sold to China in 1937 performed well against the Mitsubishi A5M Claude and G2M bombers.  The I-16 was pitted against the Fokker D.XXI in the Russo-Finnish War of 1940-41 and acquitted itself well in the hands of more experienced pilots — but it was weight of numbers rather than superior equipment that compelled the Finns finally to surrender.

The instrument panel is attached to the cockpit interior by means of four tabs, above, which are not to be seen in any reference photos.  It is best to cut these away and allow the glue a better bond along the entire edge of the upper panel.

The instrument panel is attached to the cockpit interior by means of four tabs, above, which are not to be seen in any reference photos. It is best to cut these away and allow the glue a better bond along the entire edge of the upper panel.

The instrument panel is attached to the cockpit interior by means of four tabs, above, which are not to be seen in any reference photos. It is best to cut these away and allow the glue a better bond along the entire edge of the upper panel.

When Nazi Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, seasoned pilots achieved remarkably good results flying the I-16 against later variants of the Bf109 during the early Soviet retreat. The I-16 was particularly active during the defense of Moscow, doing considerable damage to unescorted bombers, with all Russian aces of the early war years flying the type until more modern MiG and LaGG fighters became available.  It was an incredibly rugged aircraft.  There are accounts of its successful use in ramming attacks against German bombers — and then landing safely.  Already well past the peak of its service life when its greatest test came, the I-16 became renowned as a surprisingly effective stop-gap fighter that challenged Axis air power until more modern designs were available in sufficiently large numbers.  By the time it was relegated to training duties in 1943, an estimated 20,000 units had been built.

Specifications (Type 24B)

i-16-6Length: 20 ft. 3/4 in.
Wingspan: 29 ft. 6 1/4 in.
Top speed: 323 mph at sea level; 288 mph at 13, 779 ft.
Cruising speed: 185 mph
Range: (with drop tanks) 435 miles at 185 mph; (on main fuel tank only): 248 miles at 185 mph
Service ceiling: 29,530 ft.
Climb rate: 115 ft./second
Climb to 16,000 ft.: 4 minutes, 48 seconds
Armament: Two 7.62mm Shkas machine guns in upper fuselage decking in the nose (450 rounds per gun (rpg)); Two 20mm ShVak cannon in wings (90 rpg); provision for up to six 82mm RS-82 rockets on underwing rails
Powerplant: Shvetsov 9-cylinder air-cooled Type M63 radial engine, with two-speed supercharger capable of 1,100 hp

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The kit offers a well detailed engine and mount, but presents a challenge in that some engine components required significant sanding or trimming with nippers to ensure that the cowling panels fit flush against the fuselage.

Construction

Except for the clear plastic parts, the I-16 is on a single sprue and offers fine engraved detail, some of which will inevitably be lost by  sanding, since the overall fit of the kit is only slightly above average.  The instructions include a paint guide which is most helpful, but provides a legend for the Humbrol brand only.

Step One: Engine and Firewall

i-16-8This begins with building the 7-piece radial engine and cementing it to the firewall.  There is better than average detail on the engine and its separate mount.  Placement of the engine mount on the firewall is a bit tricky, as there is no clear guide — the kit is almost but not quite sufficiently well machined to make this step trouble-free.  What appears to be the intake manifold system does not fit well on the radial engine, as the individual arms of the manifold will not touch the individual cylinder heads without some heat and gentle bending.  Extreme caution should be used if you try this, by dipping the part in hot water or some other method, as the arms are somewhat brittle and may break easily.   Later in Step Three the exhaust manifold hoses also present a challenge.

Step Two: Cockpit Assembly and Fuselage

The kit features a seat back molded to the cockpit floor with a separate part for the seat; the control column, rudder pedals and instrument panel (the latter featuring raised detail) are also separate parts and together make for a somewhat detailed if spartan cockpit.  The instrument panel has four tabs protruding from it — these are the contact points by which the panel is cemented to the upper cockpit walls.   These tabs should be sanded down as their existence is not corroborated by available reference photos, and whatever glue you use will have a greater surface area to make a good bond without the tabs in the way.

Keeping the cowling cap on while the glue dries...

Keeping the cowling cap on while the glue dries…

The instructions advise that the tail wheel also be cemented on at this stage, but as it is small and delicate it is probably better to save it for the latter stages of construction.  Generally the fit of this kit is good but not in the cockpit, where if you are not careful the instrument panel will line up between the seat and the control stick when you cement the fuselage together — clearance for these components is almost nonexistent.  More than a little puttying and seam hiding is in order for the wing, cowling, and elevator assemblies.  All this amounts to a fair amount of handling — another reason to consider setting the tail wheel aside.  The fuselage assembly includes the bottom center section of the wing, which is cemented to the lower fuselage.  This closely follows the construction of the actual I-16, on which the wings were built in three sections, the center section being integrated with the fuselage, and the outer wings assembled together with the ailerons.

Step Three: Engine Cowling

This is the most challenging, as it involves marrying the engine and firewall to the fuselage, and building the engine cowling around the former.  The cowling assembly consists of five panels and a collar.  Cementing each part of the cowling to the fuselage and completing the necessary seam hiding are challenging enough, but this step also involves cementing the exhaust manifold system to the engine — and aligning each pipe or hose to corresponding openings in the multi-part cowling.  Here the instructions fall down, as there is no clear indication as to exactly where on the radial engine to place each exhaust pipe.  The only real guide is the corresponding location of the cowling openings.

Here two of the five cowling panels are in place. In addition to dry fitting the panels in advance, each one was cemented with liquid cement and allowed to dry before another was put on, to ensure uniform fit around the circumference of the radial engine.

Here two of the five cowling panels are in place. In addition to dry fitting the panels in advance, each one was cemented with liquid cement and allowed to dry before another was put on, to ensure uniform fit around the circumference of the radial engine.

I cemented the exhaust pipes to the interior of the individual cowling panels in the appropriate locations prior to cementing the cowling panels onto the fuselage, abandoning any pretense of getting the pipes to physically connect with the engine.  Small applications of Tenax-7R and Testors Liquid Cement are helpful at this stage.  Next the panels were cemented to the fuselage.  Where the cowling panel would not fit flush against the engine and fuselage due to an exhaust pipe presenting an obstruction as it protruded from the cowling interior, I clipped the pipe as needed, since once the cowling is fully assembled only the end tips of the pipes are visible anyway.  Most of the cowling panels fit well and flush, but for those that didn’t, Squadron Green Putty and Mr. Surfacer 500 helped hide the seams, as they did for the wings and elevators in Step 4.

i-16-11Step 4: Wings, Rudder and Elevators

The wings and elevators cemented onto the fuselage nearly flush after a little sanding.  The wing join on this kit is not a model of structural strength.  I recommend using Zap-a-Gap or some other sandable, gap-filling adhesive to cement the wings on, or another glue of your choice combined with Milliput to fill the seams.  I opted to use liquid cement and to putty the gaps in the wings with Squadron green putty and later Mr. Surfacer, with the result that the wing join had a well-hidden seam but was a bit brittle even when dry.  It later broke and had to be re-glued.  Milliput will provide a lot more structural strength, but should be used sparingly as this hardened putty can take quite a bit of sanding, which will wipe out some of the fine engraved detail on the wings.  The rudder fits on well but the elevators do not.  The leading edge of the elevators are a single part with a connecting rod between them which goes through the tail cone.  The elevator flaps, which are separate parts, did not fit well against the leading edge parts of the elevators until I cut the connecting rod and positioned them independently.  The tail cone did not fit flush against the fuselage and required additional puttying and sanding.

Step 5 is the fixing of antennae and presents no particular challenge.

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Step 6: Landing Gear

The landing gear look a bit intimidating but their positioning and placement is well illustrated by the instructions.  The main challenge here is scribing the landing gear doors and bending them outward to a ninety-degree angle without breaking them.  I managed this but reinforced these parts with quick-drying liquid cement so that the bent doors would hold their angle.

Painting

i-16-13The I-16 is airbrushed in a camouflage scheme of Model Master Russian Topside Green — an enamel — combined with a Polly Scale acrylic, USSR Dark Topside Grey.  The under surfaces are another Polly Scale acrylic, Russian Underside Blue.

Decals

i-16-ip-7There are sufficient red stars for at least three separate kits, some with a black border but most without.  I recommend replacing them with aftermarket versions, as the red looks faded and does not ring true except perhaps for a heavily weathered and sun-beaten aircraft.  All other markings appear quite serviceable.  For some reason, there is a decal for the instrument panel, although the instrument panel provided has raised detailed that can be brought out by dry brushing.

Decals are provided for nine different aircraft:
1) An I-16 Type 18 flown by Captain A. Antonenko, 13th OIE (Fighter Squadron), Red 5, Baltic Fleet Air Force, July 1941;
2) I-16 Type 24 flown by Captain P. Savenko, 67th IAP (Fighter Regiment), Whtie 72, Odessa Military Region, June 1941;
3) I-16 Type 28, Red 2, based in the Ukraine, June 1941;
4) I-16 Type 24 flown by Lieutenant B. Filiminov, 32nd IAP, Yellow 3A, Black Sea Fleet Air Force, August 1941;
5) I-16 Type 24 of the 7th IAP, White 13, Leningrad Front, Autumn 1941;
6) I-16 Type 24, flown by Lieutenant G. Tsokolaev, 4th GIAP (Guards Fighter Regiment), Red 21, Baltic Fleet Air Force,     February 1942;
7) I-16 Type 28, flown by Lieutenant Khudyakov, 84th IAP, White 02, Northern Kavkaz, Summer 1942;
8) I-16 Type 18, flown by A. Tatarchuk, 286th IAP, Yellow 61, Leningrad Front, Spring 1942;
9) I-16 Type 24, flown by Lieutenant Krychevsky, White 27, Leningrad Front, 1943.

i-16-15I did not use the kit decals for the national markings, instead purchasing an aftermarket set of red stars by Authentic Decals, which worked well despite the fact that their pointed tips had a tendency to break off with minimal stress.  The decals responded well to small amounts of Micro Sol.  The I-16 depicted is the machine of A. Tatarchuk of the 286th Fighter Regiment, operating on the Leningrad Front in the Spring of 1942 – with one variation.  Instead of overall Russian Topside Green for the upper surfaces, the I-16 is painted in a camouflage scheme of green with Dark Topside Grey.

Conclusion

This is an interesting kit, and requires a bit more work than you would think, given its diminutive size (3.25 inches long, fully assembled) and the fact that it comes on a single sprue.  The chief drawback is that the engine components do not fit well within the tight confines of the cowling; in this respect the kit is not well engineered.  Second, the kit’s external appearance is quite accurate save for one glaring exception: the windscreen is far too box-like and does not follow the contours of the real thing.  Otherwise, this is a relatively simple but still challenging build, and fairly accurate in that its construction (mostly)  follows the engineering of the actual aircraft.  Highly recommended, with the addition of an aftermarket Squadron canopy…

January 2011

i-16-16Reference

  • Profile Publications No. 122; The Polikarpov I-16
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