I’ve always been a sucker for the underdog. And from the first time I saw a Polikarpov I-16, I thought it just had that underdog look. “I think I can, I think I can…”, the little fighter plane that could. With it’s comically short body, open cockpit, and the Ryan “No Neck” Newman look to the wings… you have to chuckle. Though it was designed for a very serious and deadly purpose, you can almost see Bugs Bunny hopping in and taking off.
I always knew I’d have to build one. That’s just too much fun to pass up!
When my good friend Mark Buchler (of ModelNerd’s Modelshack) released a resin update set for the cockpit, I figured that was as good an excuse as any to pick up Academy’s offering and add the stubby little bird to my collection.
The I-16 was actually a ground breaking fighter, and when it was first produced was about the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. When just about the rest of the world was tooling along in biplanes, Polikarpov’s fighter was a metal monoplane with retractable gear. Still, it did not age well, and by the start of WWII was not up to the standard of many of the world’s fighters.
Yet, true underdog it was, it soldiered on until more modern types could take it’s place.
Academy’s kit is certainly not a recent release. It’s been out for a few years, and has been eclipsed by Eduard’s very nice offerings of this aircraft. Yet there are undoubtedly many of them still out there, and as I found out, it’s well worth the build.
The kit’s cockpit is very basic, and not quite accurate. Though I’m no rivet counter, I knew Mark’s resin upgrade would be a nice addition, so I quickly sent along my $15, and shortly thereafter, my parts arrived in the mail.
Mark’s a rather recent entry into the resin aftermarket business, being a labor of love for him more than a full-time business. But he does nice work, and I especially appreciate how he casts the parts on sprues instead of horrendously thick casting blocks.
Parts cleanup was quick and easy. The fit was very nice, and the instructions very easy to follow. I painted the interior RLM 76, for no reason other than I thought it looked pretty good… that and I’ve never figured out exactly what color Russian interiors really were. A slightly heavy-handed wash of artists acrylics helped the detail stand out. I glued the fuselage halves together, slipped the interior in from below, and moved on to the wings.
The wings, when test fitted, left a small gap at the wing root. Nothing sinister, but certainly more than you can ignore. I decided to try a method I’d read about, gluing the upper wings to the fuselage first. They fit perfectly that way, so I put a drop or two of Testers cement in place to hold things steady, then ran a bead of Tamiya Thin Cement along the join, top and bottom. Lining things up and then pressing firmly, I ended up with a practically flawless join. I followed the same procedure on the other wing, then joined the bottom wing part to the rest once they were thoroughly dry. The result? A wing to fuselage join that needed little more than a bead of Mr. Surfacer 1000 and a light sanding to make it disappear entirely. I’m definitely doing it that way again!
The fuselage needed little cleanup, and after joining the horizontal tail planes to the round fuselage, and enclosing the reasonably detailed engine behind Mark’s resin cowl, the I-16 was ready for paint.
The landing gear are quite large and fiddly for such a small plane. I placed the struts loosely into the gear wheels to get the alignment right and cemented them together. Once set, I removed them from the wheel wells, and glued on the landing gear doors. I set these aside for painting as sub-assemblies.
As I’d been in a bit of a modeling “funk” I decided to keep the finish simple. No pre-shading, no weathering, no chipping…. just a simple, easy two color camo. The bottom was painted using Pollyscales USSR Underside Blue, and the upper surface were PS US Tactical Mid Green. Why that color green? Simple- looked about close enough for my Mk. I Eyeball, and with gas prices what they are, I figured it was good enough since it was on my workbench.
I painted on the wing tips and fuselage red markings using Tamiya Red. I got lazy and used the kit decal fo rthe tail’s stripes….. looking back I should’ve taken the extra step to paint it… oh well.
After painting, I put down a few light coats of Future, then the decals.
Oh, those horrible Academy decals. I’ve never built an Academy model that had anyhting less than rhino-skin thick decals. Some AM decals would’ve probably been better… but again, this was as much about having fun as anything. So I just used lots of PS Decal Softener, and it worked…. mostly.
A final sealing with Future, and a wash with artists oils, I added the last bits- landing gear, canopy, and pitot tube, and I called it done. Not even any dull coat. It’s a model, it’s a hobby, not a real plane. And it was fun. A lot of it actually. I really enjoyed this little kit.
If you are looking to build something different, a little out-of-the-ordinary, take a look at Academy’s I-16. And while you’re at it, give ModelNerd a holler!