Chinese FC-1 Fierce Dragon/Pakistani JF-17 Thunder
The history of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 in the hands of the People's Republic of China (J-7 in the PLAAF; F-7 for export) is a long and convoluted one, which came to a close with the deliveries of the final production examples to export customer nations in 2013. Almost from the beginning, the Chinese wanted to either improve the design into something more modern, or outright replace it with something original. In the JF-17, which started as a 1980s upgrade concept known as the Super Seven, they achieved their goal both ways at the same time—albeit too late to help the PLAAF, who have chosen the J-10 as the official successor for their J-7s.
In a classic case of politics breeding strange bedfellows, the Chinese and the Pakistanis both found themselves at the wrong ends of military technology embargoes with the West at the end of the Eighties, so the Super Seven program became a team effort between them. On the Pakistani side, they possessed examples of the American General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16A available for study, and the JF-17 was adapted as much as possible to be compatible with both the F-16 and the remaining Dassault Mirage V fighters in the Pakistani arsenal. This had the additional benefit of making it very compatible with the arsenals of nations all over the world, as the structure can accommodate weapons systems, avionics, and radars from both NATO/Western and former Soviet sources. As of my writing this article in the winter of 2016, there is already interest in production for other nations in Asia, mainly nations that had long depended on the MiG-21 or its closest Western rival, the Northrop F-5 series.
This model kit represents the initial production version of the JF-17, with a number of detail differences from the mock-up and the first flyable prototypes. Most prominent of the differences is the air inlet design, which had splitters on the mockup and prototypes but became diverterless on the production model. A canny scratchbuiler could backdate this model to that standard if he so desired, but the option doesn't come in the box. Also, the mock-up had a MiG-21 nose landing gear system, but I would imagine that wouldn't be hard to arrange either.
There are a number of reasons why this build took so long and I'm so unsatisfied with it. The main problem I had was how intricate everything is. I believe Trumpeter originally engineered this model for a larger size product and then pantographed down to 1/72. A lot of the features would be perfect in a 1/48, a 1/32 or even a 1/24 JF-17, but are just wasted in this size.
Parts that could have been a single piece in another manufacturer's model as one piece would be five or more pieces in this kit. There is a large fret of photoetch parts for cockpit details that I couldn't tackle as I have no good experience with the medium. Several of the smaller plastic parts looked likely to break from my attempting to separate them from the sprues, so I did without them. Tolerances were much tighter than I'm accustomed to seeing. I just consider myself an average talent in this hobby; somebody with better skills would likely have a lot more fun with this model than I did. I could imagine a superdetailer setting this plane in a “maintenance” vignette with the access doors open, the nosecone off to show an aftermarket Grifo radar (the nosecone is already a separate piece, and there is plenty of room in the fuselage ahead of the cockpit) and an aftermarket Klimov RD-93 engine.
One good feature of this kit is the fact that two sprues of underwing stores are included, and they would be useful as accessories to other warplane models.
The color and markings available from the box include the rollout scheme for the first Chinese production FC-1, the rollout scheme for the first Pakistani JF-17, and the #2 Pakistani JF-17 in baseline PAF service colors. I tried to compromise by building the #11 Pakistani aircraft, which had its own rollout scheme in overall British Racing Green, but I will still need decals for it.
This model is definitely a 21st Century item requiring a builder with 21st Century skills, resources and techniques. Not recommended for novices, or those wanting an easy weekend project.
Thanks to Stevens International, IPMS/USA Reviewer Corps, IPMS/Knoxville Scale Modelers and especially HobbyTown USA Knoxville, Magic & Fun World Hobbies, and Paul Francis of Chronicle Collectables for their support on this build.