Manufacturer: ICM, 2600 Spring St., Redwood City, CA 94063, 650-365-7200.
Kit: No. 72-091
Comments: Injection-molded, 308 parts, decals.
Pros: Great detail and accuracy.
Cons: Overly complex assembly, instruction steps sometimes conflict with previous steps, poor fit, decals poorly printed and likely to shatter.
Relish jigsaw puzzles? Like balsa kits? Enjoy scratch-building with styrene skinning techniques? Then you'll love ICM's new 1/72 TB-3. The 308-part kit requires you to fabricate the titanic Tupolev from plastic panels over spars, formers, and bulkheads.
Including engine subassemblies, for instance, the wing alone has 99 pieces. Add associated armament and landing gear components, and the total swells by another 40 parts.
The detail is astounding, with beautiful, delicately molded components like guns and scarf rings ranking among the best I've ever seen. Surface corrugations and scribing are equally superb. And decals provide markings for seven of the widely used TB-3 4M-17 version.
Unfortunately, complexity of component design and a lack of locating devices regularly team up to prolong and frustrate construction. Confusing instructions, parts warpage, and fit problems further compound assembly. Moreover, ICM's brittle green plastic bonds poorly with Testor liquid cement, necessitating use of a stronger adhesive like Tenax 7R.
Trouble began immediately: not one of the small forward fuselage windows fits. Worse, forcing kit glazing into place actually distorts the shape of nose sides F5 and F6. Substitute Krystal Kleer or sheet plastic for most small clear parts. While the level of interior detail is excellent, you're forced to glean component positions from assembly diagrams alone. But if you slavishly follow steps 1 and 2, you'll discover that some instruments and junction boxes interfere with bulkhead installation during fuselage assembly.
Instead, start with step 3, then carefully install sidewall paraphernalia after constructing the forward fuselage in step 8.
Despite disputing some kit part positions, drawings and photos in Air Enthusiast No. 35, and other references proved especially helpful in locating many interior details.
From tip to tip, the wing proved a nightmare to assemble. ICM's component engineering requires you to butt-join all 23 problem-fitting panels in steps 7 and 10 around central spars and ribs. Flash, warpage, and a lack of location devices constantly compromise construction.
Begin by tack-gluing the main spar subassembly into position on the lower wing center section B1. If you permanently fix these parts into place, you discover a slight misalignment during construction of side and bottom fuselage sections in step 8, and you'll have to remove the spar to get the fuselage to fit. Permanently glue kit ribbing into position as you build the wing.
Postpone installation of outboard ventral wing sections A4 and A2. Then working inboard-out with vacuum-form and balsa construction techniques, glue styrene tabs along each mating edge. After firmly tacking one end into place, shoehorn each errant shape into position for final gluing.
Despite my efforts, stresses in the assemblies popped panels apart. Rebuilding was my only recourse. Unfortunately, the TB-3's corrugation precludes conventional filling, sanding, and re-scribing. And while 5-minute epoxy effectively closed and reinforced most gaps, I was never completely satisfied with the finished kit wing.
A conspicuous molding error on starboard wing panel A1 required tedious trimming before wingtip F7 fit. The right aileron actuator tabs didn't align with their respective notches, either. Remove the tabs and glue them directly to D2 and E5, then glue both ailerons to the starboard wing.
Despite minor flash at mating junctures, the engine nacelle assemblies, by contrast, proceeded with far fewer problems. But, to keep from distorting each nacelle, don't glue the support mounts to cowl side panels (J9 and J10) until each is finished. The kit provides four crisply molded propellers, but the spinners don't fit.
ICM's confusing and delicate main landing gear assembly poses yet another challenge. Enlarge the mount holes for both inboard components, tack them to the fuselage for proper alignment, and glue them together. After parts set, cement them to the vertical strut, reinforce the tenuous juncture of all three members with 5-minute epoxy, and add the main wheel bogies.
Unfortunately, incorrectly positioned locating holes produce a distinct, inwardly splayed main-wheel stance. Correct this by lengthening the vertical member or by trimming inboard strut bases until both main-gear axles align horizontally.
ICM's TB-3 certainly captures the look of Tupolev's lumbering leviathan. But after over 80 hours, I was tired of building and looked forward to the simple paint scheme. However, ICM's matte-finished decals proved poorly printed. Worse, they irreparably fractured during application. I looked for substitutes in my spares box, and ended up using stars from Hobbycraft's 1/48 scale Polikarpov I-16 and AeroMaster's 1/48 scale LaGG-3 sheet (48-152).
After all of this, you'd think I'd never do another TB-3. Wrong! As an enthusiast of Soviet aircraft, I'm grateful that a company produced this behemoth. And now that I've actually learned how to build one, I'm eager to tackle ICM's "Zveno" parasite fighter carrier.
Still, ICM's massive model sets new benchmarks for difficulty. The complexity of component engineering alone places this one squarely in the "masters only" category.
David L. Veres