Afghan Mi-8 Hip

After having seen several real Afghan Mi-8/-17 Hips there was no doubt in my mind that I had to build one of those. I would have preferred the 1/48th scale but I could only find one kit and I was unsure how good it was. All I knew was that it was expensive, so I decided to spend my money on something I knew was good – the Trumpeter 1/35th scale kit. 

Upon opening the box it occurred to me how big this helicopter would become once fully assembled. The main rotor diameter alone will make it hard to find a place to put it. Anyway, I haven’t gotten that far yet so there is no need to start worrying about that already. 

The kit is moulded in light grey plastic, and the level of details is very good. There is, however, room for improvement depending on how much you want to show off. The kit features a cockpit with nicely moulded details, seats with etched brass seat belts and instrument panels of the ‘sandwich’ type, i.e. with clear film backing and a piece of clear plastic to put in front. The cargo cabin is rather bare though, and it would benefit from having some details added.  

The exterior is nicely detailed as well. There is even an option for opening the engine bay doors which will reveal two nice engines. If the doors are posed open the engines could benefit from having some wiring added. 

Before I started building this kit I ran through my photos of the Afghan Hips. It was apparent that I had to change a few things in the kit, mostly on the inside. First of all, the seat belts had to be replaced by some sort of harness with a solid back. This harness had been left on the shoulder of the seats by the pilots. I made this harness from some copper sheet and strips of paper, all cut and glued together according to my pictures. The result was satisfying I think. The seats were also modified with an armour plate at the back as well as an actuator behind the back near the floor. finally the seats were painted; medium grey for the seat frame, leather brown for the cushions and the harness was painted dark grey-green. Details and weathering was carried out after having applied a coat of Johnsons. Apart from a couple of small boxes – one electronic and one first aid kit – I did not add further details to the cockpit. The cargo compartment, however, was a different story.

Detailed pilot's seat

I started out by building the flight engineer’s seat from copper sheet, copper wire and plastic rod. The seat is mounted on the cabin bulkhead to the left of the door way to the cockpit. The bulkhead itself was detailed with plastic sheet, suitable spare parts from various armour kits (yes, I have been to the dark side but I have now returned for good!). Some of the pictures I have found show some wires hanging from the ceiling, so that is what I made in my kit. The connectors were simply made of plastic rod. The fire extinguisher is from an M113 kit. The passenger seats are also parts left over from my M113 kits, but these were modified to suit my needs. Some pictures also show a large yellow tank in the port side of the cabin. I made this from two old jars I used to get contact lenses in, glued together with copper sheet wrapped around them. The end was fashioned from several layers of plastic sheet and putty. I took the easy route on the aft end as I decided to put a tarpaulin over it. This was made from a piece of cloth dipped in thinned white glue and shaped to fit the contours. I also made some modifications to the two large cargo cabin doors although I do not plan to portray them in the open position. 

Unpainted Hip interior

The cargo compartment was also sprayed medium grey after having been pre-shaded. This look rather good but I am not sure it can be seen when the model is closed. Various details were picked out in black and aluminium, while the passenger seats were painted khaki. Everything was weathered before closing up the fuselage. Do not forget that these helicopters fly in a very dusty environment. 

Painted cockpit area

Painted cockpit area 

Of course the particular airframe I wanted to depict was slightly different than the kit. Instead of the louvers aft of the exhaust this one had grills. I simply cut out the panel with the louvers and added my own scratch-built panel made from plastic sheet and aluminium mesh.  While in that area I also added two small exhausts right above the tail boom. These were made from aluminium tubing. Later on, while examining my reference pictures, I found out that the Hip I am going to build does not have the exhaust on the starboard side. The aluminium tube was very easy to remove but the hole was a bit difficult to fill due to the complex shape of the fuselage. However, the hole was filled with scrap plastic and super glue, and the area was shaped and sanded to look as if there has never been a hole there. I am not sure that anything can be seen in the main gear box area but just to make sure I added a few details there as well (a flat plate looks too simple to me). All in all it was easy work but the effect is great I think. 

Modified main gear box area

Before joining the two fuselage halves there are some mould lines that need to be removed. They run in a couple of places (mostly horizontally) from the cockpit back to the panels with the louvers (the ones mentioned above). Most of the lines could simply be sanded off but a few areas needed some Mr. Surfacer 500. 

Since the port side passenger seat would be the most difficult one to install after joining the fuselage halves I inserted the interior assembly into the port side fuselage half, after which I mounted the passenger and crew chief seats. Installation of the starboard side passenger seats was carried out after the two fuselage halves had been glued together.  

Painted fwd cabin bulkhead

Complete cabin area 

Be very careful when joining up the two fuselage halves. There are a lot of parts that need to be carefully aligned; the top of the main gear box, the cockpit/aft compartment floor and bulkhead, the cockpit and the aft compartment roofs. To ensure an acceptable fit on the lower fuselage seam I glued some pieces of plastic card sheet on the inside, constantly making sure they did not interfere with the floor or bulkhead. 

I masked off the cargo cabin windows and super glued them to the fuselage halves (this could be done because the windows were already masked off). The large yellow fuel tank was inserted as the last thing before mounting the two clamshell cargo doors. 

With the cargo cabin closed it was time to mount the engines and engine covers. Even if you do not want to display the engine covers in the open position you will have to mount install the engines. Without those it is not possible to install the inlets and exhausts. However, all the detail parts for the engines are not needed when the engine covers are closed so save the work and put the parts in the spares box instead. With the engines fitted I closed up the engine bays with the covers. The fit of the covers is not perfect but acceptable. A little filler was needed after the glue had fully dried. I had glued the front engine bay bulkhead in the vertical position but I found out at this stage that it actually had to be angled backwards a little. 

Having finished off the engine area I drilled out some of the rivet holes that were lost in my filling and sanding processes. As can be seen in the in-progress pictures I have sprayed several colours in various areas of the airframe. I did this whenever I had some excess paint in my airbrush to make imperfections stand out more clearly.  

One thing that bothered me for a long time before getting to that stage of the build was attaching the front nose piece which is made of clear plastic. First of all, the many dry-fitting sessions revealed a less than perfect fit – mostly due to the fuselage having been a bit squashed at the top and bottom, making it a bit too wide in the middle of the fuselage sides (I think this was my own fault). Second, the clear part was rather thin giving only a limited area to apply glue to. The fuselage parts were about 1.5 times thicker than the clear parts so a piece of plastic strip to help fit the clear part seemed to be too much work compared to the effect. I basically had four choices of glue: White glue, Testor styrene glue, super glue and 5 minute epoxy glue. Due to the stress that would occur on the parts and joints I did not use white glue. I didn’t use the styrene glue either because of the very limited surface on the clear part to apply this to. Also, the drying time of these two types of glue was a factor taken into consideration. This left me with the super glue and the 5 minute epoxy. Knowing that the super glue would leave the well-known fog on the clear part I was not too keen on using that. The strength and drying time of the super glue was a great plus though. Not sure whether the 5 minute epoxy would damage the clear part in any way I tried adding just a tiny dot of it on the lower inside of the large part (this area would be covered anyway when finished). I ended up using the 5 minute epoxy due to its strength and drying time. Afterwards I am glad I used something fast-drying as I ended up holding the parts together while the glue dried. I ended up with a strong joint but not a perfect one. Getting a smooth joint demanded some filling and sanding though. At least it turned out a lot better than I had feared.  

After the filling and sanding of the nose area all the rivet detail is lost. Using a small drill the rivet detail was easily restored. I restored lost rivet detail on the rest of the airframe at the same time.

...More to follow...