Academy MiG-21MF Fishbed in 1/48 scale

A museum piece MiG-21 in Vietnam. By Grenouille vert – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Vietnam War has been one of my greatest inspiration for scale modeling. Not taking any sides, all my models of the era depicts that of U.S. military machines which took part in the conflict. That changed after I had the chance to visit Ho Chi Minh City.

A Vietnamese People’s Air Force Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21PF deploying its braking chute while landing after a mission. The aircraft is armed with AA-2 Atoll air-to-air missiles (source: Photo 110330-F-DW547-008. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Archived from the original on 22 May 2015.)

It was during the visits to the military museums that I got hooked on the idea of making a model of then-North Vietnam aircraft, particularly the MiG-21 Fishbed. Osprey’s excellent Duel F-4 vs MiG-21 and MiG-21 Units of the Vietnam War book gave a moral boost to help me continue with the idea.


Considered as a second generation Fishbed, the MiG-21MF came later in the war. The former North Vietnam Air Force (NVAF) was numerically inferior and was no match against American’s might. However, the rules of engagement at that time actually helped the NVAF to exploit as much potential as possible from the nimble, fast, and smaller MiG-21 against larger foes like the F-4 Phantom or F-105 Thunderchief.

Academy’s MiG-21MF Fishbed (kit No. 12224) is nothing new. Its lineage can be traced back to Academy’s MiG-21PF Fishbed (Kit. 2166) released in 1998. Fast forward today, this kit is not just a re-box of the original but an upgrade with Cartograf decals, brass photo-etch plate and air-data probe. Despite the small PE fret, it help give the model a better appearance, particularly the metal air-data probe (the plastic one is a joke).


The whole construction experience was in general relatively painless and quite pleasant. The interior were simple, quick to assemble and paint; and the wing joints had a really good fit.


But despite that, there were a few bad spots shown in the image below. Some joints like the upper and lower part of the front fuselage are just too stubborn. And I had to revert to two-part epoxy to smoothed the seams.


The other part that I was pretty agitated was the fit between the front and main fuselage. See, Academy had the fuselage cut in two: the front part (that has the cockpit) and the main part (which is the main fuselage aft of the cockpit). Now, this joint was troublesome. Why? because the joints curved inwards on either side. So I spent considerable time clean it out using epoxy and regular putty.


I had the intake trunks XF-16 Flat Aluminum; the exhaust pipes Gunze No. 61 Burnt Iron; the nose cone XF-5 Flat Green; and the cockpit green emerald by mixing Gunze Acrysion No.46 and No.5. For a more accurate build, I recommend a resin upgrade for the cockpit as the original was rather bare and the instrument panel was inaccurate for the era.


Before I closed the fuselage halves, the intake trunk and exhaust nozzle’s leading edges were thinned down using a scalpel. The vertical stabilizers, the avionic hump, and small air inlets were glued next. The kit has some nice surface details. If you lost some due to filling and sanding, you could easily re-scribe them back.


Before gluing the wings, ensure you install the landing lights (I forgot to do this and it was a pain doing it afterwards!). This is also the right time to drill holes for the weapon pylons because once the you glue the wings, you can’t see any indentation that marks the spot to drill from the outside. Academy did a good thing to have the ailerons and flaps are separated but I posed them neutral as seen in reference photos.


The photo-etch plate was rather small but it had all the things I need. You need to do some basic bending, so an Etch-mate would be very useful. The wing fences and air-date probe are made up of multiple pieces, so soldering would be ideal. I had to do mine the hard way using CA glue, oh what a mess it made!


I replaced the original KM-1 ejection seat with Pavla’s resin copy which had outstanding detail. The image below shows how the resin seat compares to the original from the box.


My original idea was to paint the Fishbed with dark green mottles over a bare-aluminum surface. Natural metal finishes can be highly reflective. To achieve that look, I need to make sure the model is free from any blemishes or imperfection. And then lay down a good coat of glossy black surface. I used Gunze GX-2 Ueno Gloss Black as the base coat and sprayed a generous amount.


The shiny surface will make a great base for the NMF as it will help bring out the shine (its not the only way, BTW, you can use gloss white, grey, or any other color). But the same surface will double-down any dust spec, shoddy putty, and sanding work. Bottom line, basic modeling skills is a must!


Dust and speck is your No.1 Enemy so I stored the model in a closed container overnight to dry and prevent it from dust. If it helps, keep a wide brush and a rubber air dust blower near you. They are great at blowing away pesky dust spec.


After a quick check to determine the surface is free from any dust, I sprayed the model with thin layers of Alclad ALC119 Airframe Aluminum – building the metallic surface layer by layer.


Next step was paneling. this requires a lot of masking and patience. Don’t be cheap. you will regret it. So I encourage you to buy a good masking tape. The extra Rupiah or dollar will go a long way.


With Tamiya masking tapes, I sprayed Alclad ALC105 Polished Aluminum, AK482 Metal Duraluminum, and AK480 Dark Aluminum on selected panels. The exhaust nozzles were no different. I treated it using a combo of AK408 Jet Exhaust, AK484 Burt Metal, and AK485 Pale Burnt Metal.


I painted the interiors of the wheel wells and air breaks, wheel rim, and VHF antennas (in the ventral fin and vertical stabilizers) with Tamiya XF-5 Flat Green.


I sawed off the tires by a millimeter to give an illusion of being weighted; and the landing gear struts were painted Gunze FS 36275.


There are very few images of mottled North Vietnamese MiG-21s, and those that are available on the Internet are mostly artists’ impressions or artworks of possible schemes.

The Osprey books suggest that the mottled green camouflage were “random and blotchy” and “crudely over-sprayed”. That said, I assumed a certain degree of artistic licensing was allowed for working on the particular camouflage. The first step is to cover the upper part of the aircraft with a thin layer of dark green. I used a highly diluted XF-11 JN Green.


Suspecting that all this camouflage work is done in the field with the most rudimentary of tools, I deliberately sprayed random mottles of XF-13 JA Green in a very inconsistent pattern. Gradually building the opacity is key here. A thin mix of paint, spraying it lightly to cover the model layer by layer.


It was then followed by controlled chipping – revealing the bare metal underneath – particularly in areas where there is a degree of human activities. This process was done repeatedly.


I thought it was important to show the layering and different tonal colors of the mottled green camouflage. To show the effect of a hasty paint job, done by the ground crew on the field.


If I had to do this project again, I would applied the dark green mottles before I sprayed the highly diluted green base. It just makes it easier for the eye to check the coverage of the mottles over the bare natural aluminum compared on a green base. Oh well, live and learn!


For the sake of the Vietnam theme, I armed my Fishbed with a centerline drop tank and four AA-3A missiles. Fortunately, the other underwing goodies can go into the spare box. They include a pair of each PTB-490 drop tanks, UB-16 and UB-32 rocket pods, AA-3A Atoll (IR) missiles and AA-3B Atoll (radar) variants.


With only having two IR Atolls, I obtained the other two by converting the radar-version: sawing off the front section and sanding it smooth to resemble the IR seeker.


For the decals, I relied on LDecals Studio’s MiGs over Vietnam Part II. Red 5102 is believed to be one of VNAF’s fleet of MiG-21MF as it was seen in the Osprey books.


Despite the fact that both books showed no evidence that the aircraft had actually been painted in the green camouflage, I took the liberty Believing that it did. The decals reacted very well to Mr. Setter and Mt. Softer but I considered it still rather too thick. I eventually had to slice the sheets so that it would recess into the panel lines.


After a coat of XF-22 Clear Gloss to protect the decals from the panel wash, I started working on weathering the model using brushes and sponges. I gave the panel lines a variety of shades, including A.MIG.1618 PLW Deep Brown, A.MIG.1619 PWL Blue Dirt, and Tamiya Panel Line Accent Black. To further create a well-used and worn appearance,


I added A.MIG.1408 Fresh Engine Oil and smudged A.MIG.1602 Deep Grey on parts that would normally had more wear than others, notably movable surfaces, landing gears, weapons, and the lower part of the aircraft.


One of the last bits to install was the brass rod air-data probe, which Academy provided it in the kit. It comprised of three parts: the rod itself and 2x small fins. Like I said before, soldering should do a better job, but I had none so it was just CA glue.


Installing the KM-1 ejection seat was next. Then I glued the canopy in an opened position and added a small plastic rod that connect it to the windshield. Check your references on the correct angle for the opened position.


The whole model was dull coated using Mr. Super Clear Flat decanted into my airbrush.


I added more paint chips onto areas using a sponge loaded with ALC105 Polished Aluminum – carefully selecting places where the area would be most affected by human activities.


I added A.MIG.3013 Rubble pigment onto the tires, landing gears, and center-line fuel tank.





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