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Ivan Kozhedub Lavochkin

2 Sep
2012

kozhedub plane

Drawing on recent research into a hitherto widely misunderstood subject, Aleksandar Sekularac recreates the famous last mount of Ivan Kozhedub,
the top-scoring Allied ace of World War II. Aleksandar elected to use Gavia’s La-7 kit, which required some ‘fine tuning’, combined with accessories from PART and Falcon.
The instrument’ referred to in Ivan Kozhedub’s quote was indeed made of wood, or so-called delta-wood, to be precise. This mix of laminated wood and resin produced a very sturdy, if somewhat heavy structure. Despite the fact that most Soviet fighters of the Great Patriotic War were constructed from delta-wood, they still resulted in aircraft that were usually lighter than their all-metal Western counterparts. Delta-wood, a non-strategic material, had the advantages of stiffness, durability, and above all ease of field repair. These were the factors that made all the difference in the harsh conditions encountered on the Eastern Front. Lavochkin’s fighters were no exception to this rule. Apart from the engine cowling, and a few metal panels found on the forward fuselage, everything else was constructed from delta-wood. The La-7 represented the

pinnacle of the wartime evolution of Lavochkin’s fighter designs.

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It was refined, yet simple and purposeful, and it eclipsed in performance and manoeuvrability its main opposition, the Fw 190 and Bf 109G/K. Indeed, pilots who flew it considered the La-7 to be one of the finest fighters of its time. Above all, one outstanding pilot is associated with the Lavochkin fighters: Ivan Kozhedub, three times I lero of the Soviet Union, and highest scoring Allied ace of World War II. Kozhedub’s combat career encompassed the last two years of the war, and during this time he exclusively flew Lavochkin fighters.

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Kozhedub was 20 years old when he stepped into the admission office at Chuguyev military aviation school in 1940. This was a turning point, and in his own words, the beginning of a new life. Kozhedub spent the first three years of the war in this school, initially as a student, and then as a flight instructor, his exceptional flying skills making him more valuable as an instructor than as a frontline fighter pilot. Against his wishes, Kozhedub was kept away from combat duties and in late 1942 was sent to learn to fly a new aircraft, the Lavochkin La-5. In March 1943 Kozhedub was finally transferred to the 240 IAP (Fighter Regiment) on the Voronezh Front, and his combat carrier commenced.

Kozhedub was lucky to survive his first engagement with the enemy, let alone return unscathed, but his aircraft was badly damaged. ‘Make haste only when catching fleas’, was his commander’s advice. It took another three months until Kozhedub achieved his first victory. In the following days, during the epic battle of Kursk, he destroyed several other enemy aircraft, and quickly matured to become an exceptional fighter pilot.

In May 1944 Kozhedub received his second mount, a new La-5FN. I le considered this his lucky aircraft, and scored eight victories in seven days flying the new type. No less than five of these kills were Fw 190s. Soon after, Kozhedub was sent to the 1st Belorussian Front, and became vice commander of the 176 GvlAP (Guards Fighter Regiment). From this point on Kozhedub flew the La-7.

While Kozhedub’s official scoreboard records 62 aerial victories, the pilot himself claimed a higher tally. Indeed, it appears that Kozhedub had multiple successful engagements that ended without a witness, rendering them unofficial. The Soviet air force in general was less concerned with producing high-scoring individual pilots than the Luftwaffe, and only well-documented kills ended up being recognised. Soviet flying units were also more oriented towards support of their ground troops, and protecting the front line, while German ‘Experten’ tended to consider such tasks as unworthy of their attention. Kozhedub once stated that one benefit of being a vice commander of a Guards unit was that he was finally able to go on ‘lone-wolf operations and seek out German aircraft.

After the end of the war, Kozhedub’s legendary La-7 was preserved for public display, but Kozhedub continued to fly. In 1956, he graduated from the High Command Academy and was promoted to the rank of General, and during the Korean War he commanded an extremely successful MiG-15 unit. Kozhedub continued to perform different illustrious functions in aviation throughout his life, and finally received the title of Aviation Marshal. Kozhedub passed away in 1991.

Red-nosed ‘Lavochka’

Considering the fame of their pilot, one would expect that the aircraft that Kozhedub flew would have been well documented. However, the actual appearance of his famous La-7 ‘White 27’ is a source of controversy, and many different ‘artist’s impressions’ of this aircraft have appeared over the years; while some are sincere attempts towards authenticity, others are pure flights of fancy.

Surprisingly, only a few period photographs of ‘White 27’ exist, and even these are fractional and leave a lot to the imagination. An aircraft representing ‘White 27’ is still on display at Monino, outside Moscow, but it has undergone some major ‘facelifts’, and is of little help in determining the aircraft’s actual wartime appearance. A recently published article by Erik Pilawskii sheds some much-needed light on the fate of “White 27′. Indeed, some details of this aircraft’s postwar life are almost more intriguing and mysterious than its combat service.

While Pilawskii’s article does not offer the ultimate answer, it reveals many little-known details of Kozhedub’s aircraft, and offers the two most probable alternatives as to how it looked at the end of the war. The fundamental question remains: did Kozhedub fly a single La-7 fighter during 1944-45, or did he actually fly two? Strong evidence points towards the second alternative. Late in 1944 all units flying La-7s had to have the inner wing structure elements of their aircraft revised. Since many pilots of the ‘elite’ 176 GvlAP received new airframes with the revised wing, Kozhedub probably did too. As a consequence, the camouflage of his aircraft would likely have been a single coat of AMT-11 light grey over all the upper surfaces, in contrast to the two-colour AMT-11/12 camouflage of the earlier production runs. To confuse the situation further, two photographs of ‘White 27’ from the end of the war show a patch of darker colour just under the port side of the cockpit, where the kill markings were applied. Was this part of a two-colour camouflage, or just a localised field-repair patch? Pilawskii favours the latter, and supports this case very convincingly, so I am willing to follow this line of thought.

Apart from this conundrum, there are other facts about ‘White 27’ that can be extracted from the available material:

1. The aircraft had a red spinner and front cowling, with two red triangles painted on the sides of the engine cowling, these being trimmed in white.

2. The aircraft had a white diagonal top portion to the vertical tail.

3. The red stars on the fuselage and under the wings had simple white borders, and were not ‘victory’ stars (with a thin red outline).

4. The white number ’27’ was applied without any kind of border.

5. White ‘kill stars’ (probably 62 in all) were present on the port side of the fuselage, under the cockpit, together with two HSU emblems over a garland (Ivan Kozhedub only received his third HSU after the war, in August 1945).

With this material as a primary reference, I attempted to model Kozhedub’s famous aircraft as it looked in May 1945, at the time of the Allied victory in Europe.

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Construction

Gavia’s La-7 was widely hailed by the modelling community on its release, and the La-5/7 family is also one of my personal favourites. However, the kit is sadly inaccurate. I scanned line drawings from Soviet Air Force Fighter Colours 1941-45, enlarged them to 1:48 scale, and the problems became clear. The most significant of these is that the fuselage spine behind the cockpit is far too narrow: the rear glazing of the cockpit is therefore some 25 per cent under-scale in its width (Photo 1).

The depth of Gavia’s fuselage is also a bit too shy in profile view, and there are shape problems with the vertical fin as well. I don’t normally care about the actual dimensions as long as the kit looks right, but in this case it doesn’t. To me, it makes the La-7 look too ‘Spitfireish’. Another quirk is that the wing leading edge angle is not pronounced enough between the inner and outer sections in plan view.

Fuselage and cockpit

1 contemplated hacking off the front end of Gavia’s kit and mating it to the rear end of a Hobbycraft La-7, which is more accurate, but finally decided against it. Instead, my idea was to widen the upper fuselage behind the cockpit by inserting a wedge, using the very flexible plastic to my advantage. Breaking with convention, I started work on the fuselage halves, leaving the cockpit to be painted and installed later, via the wing opening under the centre section. I made a long wedge from styrene stock, and took it through several dry-fits until I could place it flush between the fuselage halves behind the cockpit and taper it down to zero at the tailfin root. At the same time, all the other fuselage segments were press-fitted together.

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I focused next on correcting the shape of the tailfin. The main work involved reducing the chord of the rudder and making it look more blunt and rounded. Careful sanding was enough, but then I had to bring back the sharp trailing edge of the fin, lost while correcting the contour.

The kit has only a few locating pins, which makes it easy to treat the fuselage halves on a sheet of sandpaper. Next I started welding together the two fuselage halves, part by part, without the insert 1 had previously made. I used liquid cement, and started from the front end, then along the bottom, leaving the top seam behind the cockpit free. I then left the assembly to dry overnight. After this was done, it was relatively easy to drive the plastic wedge between the free sides of the fuselage halves, increasing the width at the top, but keeping everything else tight and secure (Photos 2 and 3).

The kit cockpit is relatively sparse, but has everything in its place, while the PART set (AB48101) for the La-7 provides a number of photo-etched improvements both inside and out. In the pilot’s ‘office’ the set provides new instrument faces, a seat harness, pedals, and a myriad of small wheels and levers. 1 added some scratch-built details as well. The rear decking and the wall behind the seat obviously needed rebuilding due to the widened fuselage; I made new items from styrene stock. The kit-provided gun sight is very basic, so 1 decided to make a new one, which became an assembly of some 10 parts. For the cockpit colour I used ALG-5 primer from the new line of WS enamels from White Ensign Models (WEM). The pigments are very fine, and spray beautifully, but they take a long time to cure (Photo 4).

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Surface details

After finishing with the cockpit, 1 could join the wing to the fuselage. The widened fuselage spine inevitably lead to problems with this joint. Since the fuselage was progressively wider than the wing fillet, several applications of putty were needed. After sanding smooth the joint, it was time to re-scribe the lost panel details. Putty is softer then plastic, so a light hand and a lot of care are needed when carving through this mess. After this was done I decided to add rows of rivets in the appropriate places.

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For both scribing and riveting I used a compass needle, held in a pin vice. I then replaced the second cowling loop with a metal strip, cut from thin brass sheet. The La-7 had cowling loops of constant width all round, and this detail is inaccurate in the kit, where it looks more like the La-5FN feature. The radiator was installed under the wing, with photo-etched grills and cooling flap added.

Falcon’s excellent vacform canopy replaced the kit’s inaccurate transparencies. It is designed for the Flobbycraft La-7 kit, but after some cutting and sanding I was able to attach it to my widened fuselage. CA glue is in my opinion a must for a permanent and reliable bond when using acetate parts. The Falcon canopy helps in that it is relatively thick (for an acetate) and very well defined. The clear parts were dipped in Future to prevent fogging. Considerable puttying was then required to blend everything together. I added attachment ‘claws’ to the sliding part of the canopy (fitting into a guide-rail slot made previously). I fashioned these ‘claws’ from small strips of photo-etched frame, bending them each to an V shape before glueing them to the inside canopy edges in four places (Photo 5).

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The engine exhaust is another prominent detail that is somewhat neglected in the kit. PART’s brass set provides the option of flaring out the engine cooling flaps, and I chose to do this. However, this leaves the exhaust stacks more exposed, and the kit parts were very unconvincing. I decided to drill out openings for the individual exhaust pipes, and represent these using short pieces of brass tube. The La-7 had individual exhausts for each of its 14 cylinders, with seven pipes on each side. This is a tight package, and I had to be careful while drilling, starting with the smallest drill for pilot holes, and then progressing towards the correct diameter (Photo 6).

Undercarriage

The landing gear became a medley of kit plastic, photo-etched brass, and scratch-built parts. I replaced the wheel covers with brass parts, adding some dents, as these were in reality only thin sheets of metal and didn’t stay perfectly smooth for long. Another advantage of brass landing gear covers is that one can add discrete curvature to them (the covers followed the curvature of the wing, and weren’t completely flat). I didn’t use brass parts for the upper main landing gear covers (‘socks’), as these included teardrop blisters, characteristic of the La-5, but not of the La-7.

‘Reverse masking’ technique

I have developed a process for producing accurate canopy masks that is somewhat time consuming, but provides for great control and eliminates potential disasters with the scalpel. 1 call it ‘reverse masking’. First, I temporarily place clear adhesive tape onto the canopy parts. Then, I trace the edges of the canopy frame onto the tape with a fine-tip marker. I do this freehand, one panel at a time; it is much easier than trying to trace the whole canopy onto one piece of tape. I lift the pieces of tape, and paste them onto clean paper in a relatively ordered manner. When this is done, I scan the templates into my computer at high resolution. I can then clean up all the shapes and refine the lines and curves using Microsoft Paint. After this is done I horizontally reverse the templates, making a mirror image of each one, before grouping them in a compact space. All that is left is to print this mask in the correct scale onto the reverse side of some labelling paper. (After using up all the labels, one is left with a backing paper, which is slick on one side and plain on the back.) I print the template on the plain side – this is why it is necessary to make mirror images of all the shapes. I usually make two copies for security. Finally, I paste new Tamiya masking tape across the slick side of the labelling paper, and then cut the shapes, tracing the templates with scissors. If everything is done properly, when the masks have been separated from the backing and added to the model, they will fit like a glove (Photo 7).

Not so long ago I started priming my models, and I find that this helps in many ways, use any fine-grained light grey paint with good coverage. This time it was Model

desktop model aircraft

Master Light Sea Grey enamel. After a generous coat of paint the surface may look somewhat grainy, but when the coat cures thoroughly I buff it with a cloth, followed by a gradation of dry make-up brushes. If brushes don’t do the job, one can resort to very light sanding with 1000+ grit paper (Photo 8).

i use a combination of pre – and post-shading techniques to achieve a weathered look, so I first loosely sprayed black along the panel lines. In retrospect, some darker grey colour might have worked better, as the finish on this aircraft is so light.

Camouflage scheme

The painting process followed a progression from lighter to darker tones. WEM’s Soviet paint line was again used for the upper/lower colours (AMT-ll/AMT-7). After the main coat was laid, I mixed some Sea Grey with the AMT-11 colour to gently alter the hue, and thinned that further, spraying it to give some depth to the finish. I sprayed it here and there, very lightly, to complement the pre-shaded panels. The appearance ought not be too ‘clean’, or it won’t look convincing, so some random discolouration will help. I tend to believe that weathering should be apparent, but shouldn’t dominate the finish. The final effect is subtle, but very pleasing to my eye (Photo 9).

Next, I airbrushed that idiosyncratic patch of AMT-12 on the port fuselage side under the cockpit. For the red nose, I used the vinyl masks provided in the kit. After de-masking I noticed that a small amount of paint had been stripped off the brass cowling ring. This was in spite of the fart that the adhesive of these masks was very gentle, the model had been primed, and 1 had even brushed the brass ring to add some surface grip. T he moral of the story is that hobby paints are not really designed for metal surfaces. T hese cowling rings were to be covered in ‘bare metal’ foil, so the chip of paint was not a great concern to me.

The guard panels behind the exhaust were masked and sprayed with Alclad II lacquers. A graduation from lighter to darker shades gives a sense of burnt metal. Exhaust streaks were sprayed with thinned black and brown enamel (Photo 10). the kit, gathering everything else from different sources. For the numerals ’27’ I turned to the old Hobbycraft decal sheet that offers two alternatives. The second alternative was of the correct shape and dimensions. Unfortunately, these decals are of extremely poor quality, and they started disintegrating when I tried to place them on the model. It took two pairs of these numbers to achieve satisfying results. I also had to touch up the paintwork after damaging it during this process. My thanks go to Peter Vill, who saved the day, and sent me a second pair of these decals.

After the decals were dry, I applied a thin wash of water-based grey along the panel lines. Scratches were simulated with a silver Prismacolor pencil, and an overall clear matt coat followed. I de-masked the canopy and installed the landing gear assemblies, propeller, the sliding part of the canopy, wing tip and tail lights (made out of pieces of stretched clear sprue), exhaust pipes, landing gear indicator stubs, pitot tube and radio antenna (Photo 11).

Bibliography

Lost in Time: The Misadventures of Ivan Kozhedub’s Famous ‘White 27’, Erik Pilawskii,

http://vvs. hobbyvista. com/Markings/Kozhe

dubs_White27/index. php

Soviet Air Force Fighter Colours, 1941-45,

Erik Pilawskii, Classic Publications

La-5/7 Fighters in Action, Hans-Heiri

Stapfer, Squadron/Signal Publications

Conclusion

My La-7 took more time and effort than anticipated, but the sense of accomplishment made it well worth the trouble. For me, the interest in aircraft modelling lies in the more challenging, less approachable themes. This often implies working with less than perfect kits, scratch-building, and digging deep for references. But isn’t that what makes this hobby so rewarding?

n recent years more wartime Soviet subjects have appeared, and the work of some dedicated individuals has tapped into previously undiscovered realms of history. For those interested in this topic, a whole new world of modelling possibilities has been opened. I can see this trend continuing. So who will mark the next step? I low about that La-5 in 1:48 scale?

Connected themes: rcplanes, rv airplane, nitro model planes, Ivan Kozhedub Lavochkin, revell, rc s, making scale models.

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