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Building the 1/72 Amodel Tu-160
"Dealin' Blackjack"

by "Bondo" Phil Brandt


Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack

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At first glance, the Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” and Rockwell B-1"Bone” would seem to have strikingly similar outlines. Moreover, the longstanding Soviet reverse engineering of Western aviation technology certainly lends credence to such a line of reasoning. Noted Russian aviation author, Yefim Gordon, argues that, given the requirements and role of these two weapon systems, it entirely believable that the basic configuration of both might turn out independently to strongly resemble each other.

The “Bone” long suffered financial indignities of developmental penny-pinching, actually dying on President Jimmy Carter’s watch, only to be given CPR and revived by the Reagan administration. Conversely, according to Gordon, the Blackjack program basked in the financial largesse of an aggressively managed Soviet defense community, developing into a much larger, significantly more powerful, faster, longer-ranging, more weapon-diverse, bird.


With the breakup of the Soviet Union serious money problems did eventually catch up with the Blackjack fleet; today’s aircraft are not maintained at desirable standards, and aircrews are hard-pressed to stay current, especially with regards to air refueling. Meanwhile, the B-1 fleet is very busily operating in the Middle East conflict.

The Kit

Per my earlier review in Hyperscale, the Amodel “elves” in the Ukraine have excelled in taking the lead in limited production, mixed media kitting of large Soviet aircraft. That is, main airframe components (fuselages, wings and, sometimes, tails) are done in hand-laid epoxy glass, while the remaining components are in injected plastic. In theory this is a clever solution to ease construction. In practice, however, meshing the two mediums is not a walk in the park, by any means, and requires the obligatory use of CA glue. Further, the nature of laying up and impregnating fiberglass layers invites ill fitting joints between plastic and glass. Plus, the cast-in engraving of the epoxy-glass sections is on the aggressive side, and often has discontinuities in the depth of panel lines, a characteristic difficult to fix.

So, there I was with a 50% complete, righteous-buck ($205) Blackjack when the significantly lower priced Trumpeter Tu-160 hit the market about a year later. The execution quality of the all-injected CHICOM release simply blows away the earlier Amodel. Although this curmudgeon is on record as frequently bowing to the forward march of model production science, willingly trashing a started kit when an obviously superior release of same hits the street, $205 was a strong inducement to “dance with the one that brung ya”, and I pressed on, even though also buying the new Trumpeter kit.



The relative roughness of the Amodel kit needed a color scheme which would help to camouflage the many surface discrepancies, and I didn’t feel that solid white, as the operational fleet is painted, was it. While reading the Yefim Gordon book (“Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack”, Red Star Vol. 9, Midland Publishing) I was struck by the series of color pix showing “29 Grey”, a pre-production demo bird, in flight and on the ground at a Russian air show. The entire airframe surface is a crazy-quilt of dirty, variegated metal panels, white fiberglass/composite fairings, gray wings and vertical fin. Perfect! And, since the Amodel kit had no flap/slat options, I’d do it with wings fully swept, leaving the Trumpeter kit to be finished in all-over operational white, wings full forward, slats and flaps deployed.





When doing an Amodel kit, one has to expect many fit problems and soft plastic, and this builder was not disappointed. Then there’s the razor sawing removal of the thin epoxy glass covering of the wheel wells, etc. and the Dremmeling of epoxy glass join areas to accept the injected components in reasonable fashion; lotsa fun, but just another day at the Bondo Industries Difficult Kit Division office! The multipiece injected maingear wells were especially difficult to assemble in such a manner as to fit into the rock hard fuselage. And, we won’t even talk about the surgery that was required to install the ill-fitting wing pivots late in the game, after everything had been painted...


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

The gear struts are also multipiece, complex units, but both struts sweep aft; their strength and mounting scheme leaves something to be desired. After finally resting the completed airframe on its gear, both main units folded in about thirty minutes and had to be completely cleaned off and remounted with copious CA and Zap. With the wings full aft and the large flying surfaces installed, the model was very tail heavy. I dropped numerous pieces of lead sinkers into the laser window just aft of the radome following with drops of CA to fuse the stuff together.

You’ll note that the aft aircrew ejection seat blow-away hatches–the four aircrew members enter the bird from underneath the fuselage, behind the nose gear–have been cut out to allow viewing the interior. Openings for two small aircrew windows on the forward fuselage sides were marked by Amodel, but it’s up to the modeler to cut ‘em out and fit injected clear panes.

The engine pods/compressor faces also were not easy, and required much filling and sanding. OK, OK, don’t hit me again, I’ll level with ya; EVERYTHING needed filling and sanding!



Finish and Markings

Because a significant amount of oil-based wash would be used to simulate the considerable grime covering the real thing, I used lacquer products exclusively: Alclad II, of course, in at least five shades (some custom mixed), and gray and white Tamiya primer in spraycans. The pigment of these great lacquer primers is so fine and the spray pattern so even that often no sanding is required. I wet sanded anyhow, up through 8000 grit (MicroMesh), and the semi-gloss Tamiya took on a pure gloss.

The same Tamiya primers were used as topcoats for the wings, vertical fin, slabs, engine pods and simulated composite structures.



There were some bonding problems (masking media lifted all paint coats) between the Alclad/primer/epoxy glass, but they were in very small, tight areas; the wet sanding hadn’t reached into ‘em enough to create proper “tooth”. Decalling was a no-brainer since Grey 29 sports only a single red star on each side of the fin.




This modeler can now afford to look back with gladness and relief that I stuck with this beeg, trying sucker, and I still look forward to future innovations and daring subjects tackled by the Ukrainians.



In any event, the Amodel folks are usually the first–-often the only ones--to market these “Amonster” subjects, and, therefore, usually sell out their limited, albeit less-refined runs before Trumpeter hits the streets with significantly improved, all-injected versions. It’s the old “one-in-the-hand-equals two.....” gamble; sometimes this curmudgeon is lucky and, well, you get the picture.....



Additional Images


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Model, Images and Text Copyright © 2006 by Phil Brandt
Page Created 17 May, 2006
Last Updated 16 May, 2006

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