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Fitters compared: Kitty Hawk versus HobbyBoss

FineScale Modeler reviews two 1/48 scale plastic model aircraft kits
Kitty Hawk Fitter
Kitty Hawk Fitter
Kitty Hawk Fitter
Kitty Hawk Fitter
Kitty Hawk Fitter
Kitty Hawk Fitter
Kitty Hawk Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
HobbyBoss Fitter
Both Kittyhawk and HobbyBoss have graced us with newly tooled kits of the Su-17M3/M4 in close succession. Previously, there was only one option for building an Su-17 “Fitter” in 1/48 scale, that being the old KP/OEZ mold that has also been reissued by Eduard and Smer in recent times.

Kittyhawk (KH) provides 766 parts, including 11 in clear styrene and 24 photo-etched (PE) brass, versus 403 (13 in clear and 20 PE) from HobbyBoss (HB). You can choose from seven color schemes with the KH kit, two from HB.

The KH instructions cover 19 steps in 34 pages. There are numerous faults in the instructions, including misnumbered parts, some parts not numbered at all, and several areas where it is not that obvious where parts go or how they assemble. I needed to look at pictures of several areas of the real aircraft to determine correct positioning/assembly. Color callouts could be more thorough but are generally accurate.

The HB instructions encompass 24 steps in 16 pages and share many of the failings of the KH instructions, having misnumbered parts and even less color information than KH. Both have armament instructions that are incomplete and inaccurate. Each of the kits includes a comprehensive array of weapons to hang under the jet, with KH including quite a few that are not relevant to the Su-17. Both kits provide plenty of spare-parts bin fodder!

The KH cockpit is fabulous, with the panel, side walls, and seat well depicted by intricate small parts. I must confess that the PE belts for the seat had me baffled, being approximately 10 scale feet long, so I left them off, as I could not figure how they should be folded to fit. The only issue I had was with the K-36 ejection seat headbox, which looks a little too tall compared to pictures of the real thing. On the other hand, HB has missed the mark in regards to accuracy and execution of the cockpit: The molding of the tops of the buttons has a strange, stippled texture, and the panel and side wall details are “approximate” in several areas. The seat is acceptable in shape but has simplified molded-in belts that are not terribly realistic. Unlike the KH kit, a resin replacement cockpit is a must for accuracy.

The wheel wells of both kits compare similarly to the cockpits, with KH’s being much more detailed and accurate than that of HB. The main undercarriage legs of both kits are somewhat flimsy and wobbly. This is largely due to the design of the undercarriage itself — it would be an ideal application of white-metal or brass legs! The HB tires are vinyl versus KH’s plastic wheels.

Exterior surface detailing reflects the same attention to detail as the interior of both kits. The KH molding is quite accurate and well presented, with numerous little touches that make the end product just that little bit more impressive, such as the ends of the cannon barrels being bored out and the depiction of the heat exchanger vent on the base of the tail. On the other hand, the HB molding has solid cannon-barrel ends and simple engraved outlines for the heat exchanger vent with no details at all.

Regarding assembly, let’s look at KH first. It is a difficult kit to build! Twelve parts make up the main fuselage/tail-fin assembly. Compounding this is the fact that the engineering of the individual parts is not optimal. Alignment devices are present, but they allow the underside centerline join of the fuselage to float; it is essential to progress slowly when gluing the seams to minimize alignment issues. Filler is required in virtually every seam, due to the alignment pins on the upper fuselage parts leaving conspicuous gaps.

In comparison, the HB kit almost falls together; there really are no construction difficulties. The KH intake “bullet” fairing is inaccurate in the way it is mounted. The real thing has wedges on the top and bottom of the cone that direct airflow around the cockpit. KH uses pins on each side of the cone to hold the assembly, which makes it difficult to center when installing it in the nose. Similarly, the engine (which is provided as a complete unit that can be displayed separately or by leaving the tail section of the fuselage unattached) is difficult to align in both axes. HB handled both of these areas very well, correctly depicting the bullet-fairing mount and making alignment of the burner easy.
Numerous options are included by KH, with opened air brakes and blow-in doors on the nose. But the parts do not fit their respective recesses well at all, leaving no option but to pose them open. All flying surfaces are separate pieces. However, the flaps would require modification to droop. HB molded the air brakes, blow-in doors, and flaps closed, so major work would be needed to show them opened. KH provides separate leading-edge slats, with slight modifications required if you wish to have them retracted. HB molded the slats closed. KH includes parts to show both cannon bays open, with reasonable representations of the cannons themselves. HB does not provide open cannon bays, but does include a very nice tow bar to attach to the nose wheel should you wish to use it in a diorama.
The KH construction of the wings allows them to swing and correctly depicts the hollow rear inner-wing section that the outer wings slide into. HB has dedicated swept and extended wing panels, with two pins that attach the outer wing panels to the inner wing. HB only supplies one set of ailerons, but if it had included two sets it would be possible to exchange swept and extended wings. Some trimming of the mating surface is required to fit the pylons on the KH kit, as excess plastic prevents a good fit. The HB pylons literally click into place and fit perfectly.

I chose to build the KH Fitter in Ukrainian markings, and the HB as a Russian air force Fitter that flew over Afghanistan in the early 1980s.

I spent approximately 60 hours on each model, much of that time being devoured by applying the multicolor camouflage. The decals from both manufacturers performed just fine, except the KH yellow stencils were too transparent.
In conclusion, the obvious question is, which kit is better? The answer depends on what you want in a model. An easy build that has some shape discrepancies and questionable detail with few options? Or a better-detailed model with more options which is trickier to build? Both kits have their problems, but both are streets ahead of what has previously been available. If I were looking to build another Fitter, I would choose the KH offering because accuracy of detail out of the box is more important to me than an easy build that is not as accurate. Yes, the KH kit is more time-consuming and harder to build, but really all it needs is a resin seat to improve the cockpit — whereas the HB kit needs a full cockpit replacement if accuracy of detail is important to you. Both manufacturers have also released versions of the two-seat Su-17UM3. One of them may find its way into my stash!

Note: A version of this review appeared in the January 2018 issue.


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