Czechoslovakian Air Force, 2 Squadron, 1st Fighter Air Regiment, Czechoslovakia
As I’ve mentioned before in my little write ups, I have a particular penchant for WWII-era aircraft that saw service after the war; it makes a nice change from all the jets. So when, in around 2002, Gavia released a Lavochkin La-7 in 1/48 with post-war Czechoslovakian markings included my interest was immediately piqued. It remains the only Russian single-engined prop fighter in my collection (built or unbuilt) and is therefore something of a novelty to me.
Gavia’s kit was very well received in both the print and online modelling press. It’s nicely moulded, comes with lovely decals and vinyl masks for some of the paint schemes, canopy and wheels. But it wasn’t long before alleged shortcomings came to light and the kit fell from grace.
In May 2006, Aleksander Sekularac published a very helpful article on building the Gavia La-7 in Scale Aircraft Modelling (an abridged version is also on Hyperscale). Mr Sekularac’s model is beautiful (far better than mine) and was extensively reworked to correct faults in the kit when compared to plans, namely: widened rear fuselage with replacement canopy, reshaped fin, reshaped spinner, new exhausts and a host of other minor details. In essence, the major perceived fault is that the fuselage spine is too narrow by 25%. Aleksander also identifies a host of other problems, such as the depth of the fuselage and the shape of the wing leading edge in plan view, all as determined (as far as I could tell) from plans.
The big problem for me is that I don’t have any plans. And even if I did, how could I verify their accuracy? And even if I did discover that the spine is 25% too narrow, was I really going to do anything about it? No; the whole point of building this kit, as it rose to the top of the stash, was to knock an easy build out after spending 18 months on two F-15s. So knowing full well of all these potential errors, I ignored all the information and built the kit pretty much as it is presented in the box. I did manage to get a copy of Lavochkin La-7 published by MBI, but the image quality was often not great and the number of helpful photos surprisingly small. I found no references for Czechoslovakian La-7s other than the profiles in the MBI publication, which form the basis for the kit markings anyway.
The kit is moulded in a soft plastic which is nice to sand, but breaks easily (especially the undercarriage door retraction mechanism!). I started with the undercarriage bays, which are simple but nicely detailed. I hollowed out the intakes that join into the wing leading edge; they would be very difficult to ream out once the wing is together. The cockpit is similarly simple yet effective and more than adequate for a closed canopy. My only concession to more detail were some simple seat belts made from Tamiya tape and Reheat etched buckles.
Lacking any better references, I followed the kit instructions for colours. Most of the undercarriage and cockpit were to be finished in ‘subframe gray’, which Gavia matched to Humbrol 92, Revell 79, Tamiya XF-22 or Agama R4. As the build progressed I would have more trouble reconciling Gavia’s recommendations with published paint charts; as I am currently loving Tamiya acrylics I used the XF-22 and have no idea if it’s accurate or not.
The cockpit is sandwiched between the fuselage halves, although the floor is part of the upper surface of the full-span wings. There is no real indication on where to attach the instrument panel, and mine ended up near the firewall, rather too far forward. The tailwheel is also meant to be installed at this point, but since I was using superglue for joining the fuselage together and the locating holes for the tailwheel leg were indistinct, I couldn’t successfully trap the leg. I ended up leaving the tailwheel out until the end, which was a false economy.
The fit of the fuselage was generally fine and I filled the seams with superglue and sanded it all smooth. It is a real pain trying to preserve the raised cooling band detail around the nose, and I wasn’t terribly successful with this. The panel just in front of the canopy was not a great fit and since it falls on a natural panel line (a pet hate of mine), I found it difficult to try and neaten the join to match the rest of the very petite engraved detail. Again, I was none too successful here! The exhausts are none existent, but practically invisible behind the closed cooling panels. Photos showed that these were usually open, and I believe PART produces a photo-etched set that provides them, but I left them alone.
The wings fitted together with no major difficulty. I did sand down some of the prominent raised rib details on the ailerons, as well as the rudder and elevators on the tail planes.
I mated the wing to the fuselage, and this was the worst fitting part of the build. I used superfine white Milliput to blend the rear and underside of the wing into the fuselage. Thankfully there is almost no surface detail to preserve on this part of the airframe, so the sanding was accomplished rapidly.
The tailplanes fit very well, as does the nose cowling. I’d forgotten to glue in the gun barrels before attaching the cowling, so did it afterwards. Of course, one of them disappeared into the fuselage through the hole. Fortunately, the spinner is pretty wide, so I simply drilled a big hole next to the prop locating lug, retrieved the gun barrel, and knew that the spinner would cover the hole later on.
In preparation for attaching the canopy, I prepped the gunsight. I then inadvertently launched it across my lap into the jaws of the carpet monster. I rarely lose against the carpet monster, but this time I did, and now there’s a big hole in the instrument panel to bear testimony to the fact. (I couldn’t find a replacement in my spares box – I don’t build enough props! – and just accepted the loss…) The canopy fits very well, although I didn’t follow the recommended sequence in the instructions, but simply glued each part in order to the fuselage with Tamiya Extra Thin, starting from the rear. The frames are very fine and I masked off the panels with Tamiya tape. I found the included masks useless as they were simply too stiff to conform to the canopy and the adhesive was very patchy.
The undercarriage is fragile. Others have commented that it is too long, which I neither verified or cared much about. The undercarriage doors are thin, but too big for their respective openings; again, I did nothing. The underfuselage intake is a nice fit and just required some superglue and sanding to fair in. The prop, with three separate blades, goes together very easily in its spinner.
That, pretty much, was construction. I quickly moved to painting! Gavia recommend Tamiya XF-66 Light Grey for the main finish, which is what I used. I think it clearly is too dark, but I may be wrong. For the undersides they recommend XF-23 Light Blue, which also doesn’t remotely match the colours used in the profiles, but I stuck with it anyway. I am stubborn sometimes. But I’m pretty sure the colours are wrong.
I did use Mr Surfacer 1000 as a primer, having already sprayed the canopy with XF-22. It became clear that I hadn’t entirely sealed the seams between the three canopy components and so some paint got into the cockpit and marred the inside clear surfaces a little. Next I preshaded with Mr Color gloss black, but the surfaces of the La-7 are relatively featureless, so this was not extensive. The main colours were airbrushed with Tamiya acrylics and masked with tape from the same brand. Unlike the Russian examples, according to the profile art the Czechoslovakian La-7s did not have cooling straps or exhaust panels in natural metal, but were painted the same colour as the airframe. For once I experienced no lifting of paint!
I used various shades of Lifecolor black for the tyres, prop blades and spinner. For weathering I experimented with some new ‘panel line washes’ produced by Ammo. (I am a sucker for washes.) I like these, although they require a different method of application to that which I’m used to. They are more transparent than the washes I’ve mixed myself or used in the past (like Tamiya’s washes), which allows the relief to built more slowly via overall washes, rather than a pin wash. I especially enjoyed using these on the undercarriage. I used them also for airframe panel lines, but stuck to Tamiya’s black wash for moving surfaces. The lines demarcating the moving surfaces are quite wide, so these stand out a little too much on the finished article.
The La-7 had distinctive exhaust staining, and exhaust stains are always a challenge for me to replicate. I’ve recently been using a mix of Tamiya black and red-brown for general weathering, and gave that a go for the exhaust stains. Initially I misinterpreted the profile art and sprayed four separate exhaust stains on each side; later I tried to blur these together a bit more. I also used this black-red-brown mix for some post-shading, but didn’t thin it enough and so rather overdid it on the wings.
The kit decals are very thin and well printed. I decided not to use the stencils as they are all in Russian and I have no idea if they were used on this aircraft. Knowing that Czechoslovakian roundels are handed I paid particular attention to getting the wings roundels orientated correctly and…totally screwed up those on the tail! I applied them on both sides upside down. Disaster! A quick check of all my unbuilt kits and spare decals revealed I had no suitable replacements. I put out a call for help on various modelling forums, since I figured many people had used the Russian markings anyway, but no joy. In the end I took some roundels from an MPM L-39 and used a circle stencil to cut out circles of the right size. This left a ragged edge, but I applied them to the tail anyway. I was going to leave it at that, but then realised I could glue a scalpel blade to a regular set of compasses and cut replacement borders from white decal. Easier said than done (I really should get a dedicated circle cutter one day…) but the result is passable. The main problem is the colour bleed through from the underlying decal. Aside from my own ineptness, the kit decals went down beautifully bedded in a puddle of Mr Mark Setter and needed very little Mr Mark Softer.
Next in my build sequence was to add all the external bits and pieces: the undercarriage, pitot tube, prop and antenna. The undercarriage fitted well, but I found the top of the doors fouled the wing. I had to snip a few millimetres from the top to get the legs to go where they were supposed to. The retraction struts don’t have positive locating points and are generally just thrown in to look right from a distance. The underwing pitot was replaced with two pieces of tubing from Albion Alloys. The aerial mast fitted well and then I took a deep breath and used a strand of Abby’s hair to form the wire. I don’t do this very often and hate it. I lost my nerve and didn’t form the entire array; it should be more complex but I wanted to quit whilst I was ahead. The tailwheel was precariously glued in its well; because of my previous omission it doesn’t really have anything to attach to. I didn’t bother with the extra tailwheel strut – it would be invisible anyway. The wingtip lights were touched in with Tamiya clear red and green.
The final two stages are then to airbrush the whole thing with a 50/50 mix of Tamiya Flat and Mr Hobby Color Semi Gloss and remove the masking. The canopy was a little marred, but overall not too bad. The undercarriage is quite flimsy, and so the whole thing was then set on its rather wobbly legs. Job done.
Well, it’s (probably) the wrong shape and it’s (probably) the wrong colour, but it’s a Russian single-prop fighter plane in my display cabinet! Now what I’d really like is a properly accurate La-9…
Year bought: 2002 (Hannants Lowestoft)
Year built: 2014 (New Addington, Croydon)