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Polikarpov I-16

by Jose R. Rodriguez


Polikarpov I-16


Academy's 1/48 scale I-16 is available online from Squadron.com




The Polikarpov I-16, the brainchild of Nikolai Nikolayevich Polikarpov, was a revolution by evolution.

Its roots can be traced to previous Soviet biplanes. If you want to be simplistic, the I-16 was the monoplane, cantilevered wing version of previous Soviet biplanes such as the I-15 and I-153. The I-16 had a retractable landing gear and an enclosed canopy, the first ever in a fighter airplane. A windscreen replaced the full canopy after pilots complained about rear visibility. At the time of its inception in 1933, the I-16 was the most advanced, revolutionary and the best fighter in service anywhere.

The Type 10 was born from the experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Pilots complained about low power, low firepower and lack of armor of the Type 6 then used by the Republicans. When the VVS boss asked the Polikarpov bureau for a time estimate to upgrade factory production from the Type 6 to the Type 10, the bureau answered "about one year." The boss in turn replied, "You got two days." Management by intimidation works and the Type 10 was ready in time to be supplied to the Republicans in Spain who dubbed them supermosca (superfly), to differentiate them from the Type 5/6 that was just a mosca (fly). The supermosca proved superior to all German and Italian biplanes but showed its deficiencies when pitted against the new Bf109B and Bf109C. The Soviets should have seen the writing on the wall when the Bf's arrived and should have started looking for an I-16 replacement right away. The Yak-1 was already reaching VVS units when Operation Barbarossa started in 1941 but their very few numbers passed the brunt of the Nazi attack on the little I-16 and the biplanes. Perhaps because Stalin executed almost all the veterans that returned from Spain for being "tainted" by foreign influences or perhaps because of complacency, the Soviets were caught with their pants down. They should have been the last people in Europe to be surprised by the Luftwaffe. The Soviets also fought the Japanese and confronted the new Zero-sen fighter with their Type 10's; again, forewarning was not heeded.


The I-16 went to soldier in the front lines until 1943 even though it was pathetically obsolete by them. It still made a decent ground pounder and the Soviets were throwing into battle anything that could shoot; if it could also fly it was a bonus.

This little fighter was not for novice pilots. It could snap and bite in a second of carelessness. It had a tendency to stall and spin easily; flaps were mostly useless and pilots had to fly the plane onto the runway at high speed. It had touchy controls that made the airplane a handful for an inexperienced pilot and deadly on the hands of an experienced one. The Germans quickly learnt not to ever slow down their Bf's to engage a supermosca in a dogfight - the little fighter could turn the tables in a split second.

This is a link to a very good site on the Polikarpov fighter, in English,

From the New Zealand Fighter Pilots museum, pictures of flying rebuilt I-16's,



And another, just for good measure,


For a site in Spanish regarding the I-16 in Spain check this,




Academy's 1/48 scale I-16


The object of this review is the Academy kit 2127 in 1/48th scale of the I-16 Type 10 Polikarpov fighter.

This is Academyís version of the Hobbycraft I-16, The molds have been slightly modified to change some of the skin texture and small details but it is still a re-pop of the Hobbycraft kit. The basic kit can be built with 34 pieces. Add six more if you put the six 82 mm RS-82 rockets. If you think there is not much to this kit, you are right. There were many times that I had to remind myself that this kit was not in 1/72nd scale but in 1/48th. I have built 1/72nd scale fighters bigger than this model. It can be cupped in the palm of your hand; yet I spent weeks on this thing. I don't know if you can qualify my work as detailing; I would prefer to call it correcting defects.

Don't get me wrong. I think this is a nice kit and you get 90% of an accurate I-16 straight out of the box. The devil is in the details and it is that last 10% that made me sweat for about four weeks.

I had plans to build the Spanish Republican aircraft depicted in the box art but one of the options in the kit is for a VVS aircraft with a grafted rudder from another plane. This aircraft's picture is in page 29 of the Squadron/Signal Publications book, Polikarpov Fighters in Action, Part 2. Get this book and you won't need any other reference. There is also a painting of this same plane on the back cover of this fine publication. I just couldn't resist the combination of a black nose, green wings, white fuselage, and patched up tail. My choice also meant using the skis provided with the kit instead of the wheeled landing gear. I came to regret this choice later on.

For aftermarket parts I got the Eduard P.E. set EU48335 for USD$16.96. Squadron sells this airplane kit for USD$18.96. Don't ask me how I can justify paying for a P.E. set what I almost paid for the plane. I also got the Moskit exhaust pipes part 48-25, the resin wheels from True Details part number 48039 and the Black Magic wheel hub masks part number CEBM48103. Of course, I didn't use the last two items. A Type 5 may be in the future that will use those wheels.

I started construction on the cowling face. I never start in the cockpit because I don't like painting them. The day somebody comes with a prepainted aftermarket cockpit will be the happiest day of my life.

The kit provides two cowlings, one for the Type 10 and the other for a Type 18 or later model, plus there are other goodies such as ShVAK 20 mm cannon for later versions. The Type 10 cowling doesn't have the air scoop on the top, just the one on the bottom. The first step was removing the whole cowling face and replacing it with the Eduard face plate and then adding the engine cooling vents from inside and the opening bezels from the outside. The kit cowling does not come with cooling vanes, and its thick plastic is out of scale. Thick plastic is a problem on all parts, probably much more noticeable here because of the kit's small size. The kit's nine-cylinder engine is nicely done but will be almost invisible behind the cowling.


Academy gives a big, fat square facsimile of the air inlet stamped on the cowling even though their own box art shows the correct T-shaped inlet used with the M-25V engine. The square inlet would be correct for the few and early Type 10ís built with the M-25A engine. I took the original out by drilling a round hole through it and using my primitive pliers and scissors I cut, bent and reshaped beer can aluminum into a quasi-correct inlet, stuck it into the round hole in the cowling and filled in the gaps with putty. Easier said than done. I don't recommend this operation if you are in a hurry or if you are easily ticked off. I ended with a good size pile of "prototype" inlets before I built one that was satisfactory. Academy cannot really be blamed for the fat square air inlet, as the T-shaped inlet is hard to do with injection plastic. Even Eduard weaseled out by providing a square inlet instead of the more complicated T-shaped one.

The biggest defect on this kit has to be the missing rudder hinges. The hinges are big and rather obvious on the real aircraft. I have no idea why Hobbycraft/Academy chose to mold the empennage-rudder line as a straight line and ignore the hinges. I wanted to build an aircraft where the red star ended on these hinges so out came the saw and the cutting started. Off came the rudder and then the elevators. The elevator hinges are also missing but at least there is a feeble attempt at a hinge line that served me as a guide to cut through the plastic. I scratch built the "male" hinges with plastic card. By cutting the elevators I was able to repositioned them in a more down, natural position.

Being in a cutting mood, I also cut both cockpit doors to make sure that the sparse cockpit detail would show up. I ended the cutting fest by drilling the molded in exhaust pipes to make room for the Moskit pipes. More on this pipe saga later.


Next came the wings (as you can see, I delayed working in the cockpit until the last moment). I added machine guns out of brass tubing and drilled the holes for the rockets. From the picture of the particular aircraft I built you cannot tell if it carried rockets or not. Because the I-16 had been relegated to a ground attack role right after the Yaks started showing up in numbers, I took the license of assuming that rockets were a wise guess. I added flap trim tabs made out of beer can aluminum and added the p.e. bits on the wheel wells. Here is where I ran into a self-inflicted problem. Because I chose to put retractable skis in my I-16, I had to carve two cavities under the belly. These cavities exist to allow the tip of the skis to fold against the fuselage without crushing anything. The pictures in the Squadron book are excellent and I took my motor tool to start the job when I realized that the bottom exhaust openings are smack on the middle of the soon-to-be ski openings. I rechecked my pictures because something wasn't right here.

Hobbycraft/Academy is wrong. It took me a good measure of flipping through the pages and examining photographs to find out what was wrong. Hobbycraft/Academy missed an exhaust port on each side of the fuselage. Looking at the pictures and at my Polish scale plans from a 1975 magazine called Modelarz, there are four exhaust ports per fuselage side, not three as in the kit. In the real aircraft these missing exhaust openings are just a few inches below the wing root waterline. I don't like to change plans midway through the job. I did what any insensible person would do. I drilled my ski openings, I plugged with putty what was left of the original exhaust openings, and I drilled new, higher exhaust openings near the wing root waterline. I had no spare fuselage so all this cutting and plugging was a one-time shot. In the mean time I cursed Academy under my teeth. The photographs show that the Russians ran into the same problem I did, the lower exhaust ports were in the way of the ski wells so they did what I did, they plugged them to make room for the wells. My ski openings were finished with beer can aluminum. I inserted a strip of aluminum in the rough opening to create a smoother and rounder shape patterned after the tip of the skis.

Eduard provides a nice seat and belts, a correct floor that is narrow and lets you see the bottom of the aircraft, a correct control stick and rudder pedals, a nice instrument panel that will be swallowed so deep inside the fuselage to be out of sight, and details for the sides of the cockpit such as trim wheels and map cases. Almost all this detail is not visible even with both doors open. If you built this kit with the doors closed, adding cockpit detail is a waste of time. The cockpit opening is just big enough for the pilot to stick his head out; if you don't open the doors, I wouldn't worry too much about detailing anything on the cockpit other than the headrest.


I painted the instrument panel black to match the pictures in the Squadron book (as per some writings, it is supposed to be dark green) and the rest of the cockpit RLM02 gray. I can hear the pundits screaming bloody murder. RLM02 gray? Burn him on the stake! Nobody really knows for sure what kind of gray primer was used and the shades proposed change from day to day. German RLM02 sounds like a good bet for a prewar Soviet aircraft, when Joseph was getting a lot of help from his pal Adolf. After their brotherly love ended when Adolf invaded Uncle Joe's 'hood, the Soviets developed their own paints. The war-era Soviets used a blue-gray called metal use primer. Matches would be Testor's Model Master 2130 Flanker pale blue when new or Testors Model Master 2739 Flat interior gray when old or worn. I used RLM02 because the Type 10 was built in the late thirties, and as I say, nobody knows for sure.

Matting the fuselage to the wings showed a good gap on both sides of the wing root/fuselage joint. I used white glue and putty to fill the gap. I glued the elevators in place but left the rudder out for the moment. There is a venturi tube on the starboard side of the fuselage. The kit provides nothing. A venturi tube is hourglass shaped. I decided to use straight stretched sprue as a good enough imitation and the visual effect is excellent. A venturi rushes air through it so the air pressure drops inside the venturi and it sucks air from the plumbing connected to it. This plumbing in turn is hooked to navigational gyros that use this "vacuum" to spin. Because venturis are prone to icing and bulky, today they have been replaced by engine driven vacuum pumps. Talking from a general aviation point of view, there are some old timers that favor the venturis because they are simple, cheap and reliable. Hand cranked car engines also have those qualities, but I don't think I want that much reliability.


The landing gear in this kit is the most complicated one that I have ever built. The Eduard parts are very good but demand work. The kit is missing the rear shock absorbers used with the skis so I scratch built them from brass tubing and beer can aluminum. I had to scratch built the oddly shaped main gear doors using plastic card. I added a lip to the front of the skis, and again, I used beer can aluminum. The oleo struts are wrapped with household aluminum foil. The wires are stretched sprue. Despite all my work, my skis are just a passable representation. I think that one or more weeks on this section alone would have produced a much more accurate landing gear, but I just had to keep on moving.



Painting and Markings


I started by painting the nose, front cowling, prop and spinner with Testor silver enamel. I resprayed these areas with Polly S NATO black acrylic and I pulled chunks of this overcoat using masking tape. The tape pulled off more black paint than needed so I retouched the big silver spots with a brush and more NATO black. I also used this black to spray the panel lines, you know, the preshading technique that everybody raves about it. I painted black the beautiful Eduard PAK-1 gun sight (the kit has none) and the section that is supposed to be under the windscreen.

For the camouflage colors I followed Academy's instructions and used FS35550 blue and FS34102 green instead of the premixed Russian colors available from different paint makers. The FS35550 blue ended up being Model Master FS35414. Close enough for me. The premixed underside Russian blue that I have used in the past is so intense that I doubt its accuracy or usefulness as camouflage. By mistake I bought enamel and after trying to spray this paint mixed with acrylic retardant, I made a royal mess in my Aztek airbrush that took me awhile to clean. I wish the jars were shaped differently between acrylics and enamels, or perhaps I should read the darned labels.

The green ended up being Model Master Medium Green acrylic, which matches the premixed Russian top-side green quite well. The white is Polly S white RLM21 acrylic. I'm a cheap guy so if there is paint left in the cup I will keep on spraying until all is gone. With this attitude it is not wonder that the preshading technique doesn't work for me. To hell with spraying light coats of paint so as not to completely obliterate the shadow lines. I just keep on spraying until all the paint is gone. In this case I got lucky and the preshadowing under the white is barely visible. I glued the masked windscreen in place and then blocked access to the gun sight with tape before spraying the white camouflage.

I added paint chips with Testor silver enamel. The I-16 was a full scale mixed media aircraft made out of metal, plywood and fabric so be careful where you put the chipping. I coated the whole aircraft with Future floor wash except the black and chipped sections of the nose. I wanted the flat black paint on the shiny silver paint. I don't believe on a uniform shine unless you are modeling a plane that just was rained on. With the paint on I noticed that the very distinctive rivets and fasteners of the real aircraft were missing from the kit. I took a steel awl and punched my own rivet lines and fasteners. Don't ask me how many rivets per panel because I didn't count them and I don't care. This additional work did not damage the paint but enhanced the otherwise too smooth looks of the kit. Weathering was done with burnt umber acrylic paint from Liquitex mixed with soapy water. I love this stuff; there is no mess and it is easy to clean with a slightly water dampened rag.


This is the first time I built something from Academy and I didn't like their decals. They sucked. They were too thick and had a powerful glue that made placing the decal on the model a one shot deal. Once the decal touched the model I could only move it by ripping it apart. I used enough Microscale Solvent to melt a bumper sticker but I couldn't make the red starts to conform to the raised fabric rib lines. I ended up cutting the raised and dried decal sections with a knife and retouching the missing chunks with Tamiya red.

I sprayed Testor Dullcoat on the elevators, fuselage and the fabric sections of the wings and left the shine on the rest of the aircraft. I don't believe on a uniform flat finish either because different materials fade at different rates. At this point you are supposed to add chalks. I took a look at the model and decided that enough was enough. I don't believe that adding pastel chalk weathering would make the model better so I stopped. The navigation lights are Testor silver enamel coated with Tamiya clear red and green acrylics.

Next came the Moskit pipes from Moscow. They came in three sprues containing three pipes each. 3 x 3 = 9. There are ten pipes on the Type 10, or at least that is what Academy gives you in the form of molded pipes on the kit itself. The math doesn't add up. The Russians can build rockets but they can't count little pipes. Because the pipes were too long I had to cut them so they would fit between the opening and the back of the engine. It was a bear to squeeze two pipes through one opening. The Academy kit Type 10 has dual pipes on the top and bottom exhaust openings. My homemade bottom openings were too tight for dual pipes so I only used one pipe; I didnít want to redrill after the paint job was done. If somebody ever says to me, "hey dude, you're missing a pipe here," and points to the correct opening, I will soil my pants in disbelief. Until then I don't worry about it, plus my lack of foresight ensured that I had enough pipes to finish the job. The cowling guns are brass tubing.

A thick and unyielding branch of common sense whacked me on the forehead and knocked me down from the high horse of I-know-more-than-you. Flat on my arse I realized that the engine has nine cylinders; how come there are ten pipes on the kit? Back to the photographs I went. The top exhaust opening on the port side has dual pipes; so far so good. The top exhaust opening on the starboard side only has one! Son of a Ö! The other exhausts ports only have one pipe each so this arrangement makes for nine pipes. The Russians can built rockets and count little pipes. I can do neither.

Hobbycraft/Academy have molded dual pipes on the top and lower ports for a total of ten pipes. I, being a dummy, had thought that this was the gospel and I ended with a bad case of pipefitting. But there is more. When the bottom port is plugged for the skies, the Russians rerouted the two lower pipes through the port below the wing root waterline on a dual pipe mode. As I said, I only have single pipes in my model. If anybody asks, Iím using exhaust headers. Because of this pipe fiasco Iím downgrading the kitís accuracy to 80%.

But wait, there is more! Later Type 10ís did have six exhaust ports as the kit, not the eight that are shown in all my scale drawings. Perhaps this was done to solve the problem with the retractable skis.

Hobbycraft/Academy is not off the hook though, in the real aircraft the bottom ports were deleted and their pipes were rerouted to the wing root ports. The kit deleted the wing root ports and kept the bottom ports with dual pipes. It is still wrong but not so wrong.

As usual, after you are done building, you find stuff on the web that tells you how bad you screwed up. The link below will take you to the VVS dedicated site. This site can be rather anal at times but that is the attitude to have if you want to be Da Man, Big Daddy, the know-it-all of VVS stuff. There is an article on a resin plug to fix the nose problems in the Hobbycraft/Academy kit.

For an Airwaves resin conversion set for the nose check:


For more Type 10 profiles



After reading all the paint schema articles your head will spin and you would rather paint your model electric blue with pink polka dots just to avoid the aggravation of being wrong when you thought you were right.

Finally I put the NINE-CYLINDER engine in, just painted in black with a touch of silver dry brushing, and the cowling. The cowling is as round as a coin. The fuselage, after all the drilling and banging around during construction, wasn't as round so the fit was not perfect. More black paint on the right places hid the misalignment. The prop and spinner were glued and they don't spin because I couldn't figure out how they were supposed to (maybe they don't by design). The last thing glued on was the rudder.





I recommend this kit despite its shortcomings. Its worst offenses are the lack of rudder hinges, the incorrectly shaped air inlet, the lack of gun sight and venturi tube, and of course, the fiddly exhaust ports and pipes. The rudder and elevator hinges can be created with a scribing tool and some putty without having to cut the control surfaces. The air inlet can be left alone and you can claim you are building an early Type 10 (but then you have the wrong exhaust ports), or you can take it out and glue the T-shaped box one side at the time using thin plastic card, without having to drill a hole through it. The gun sight can be approximated with plastic and a bit of clear sheet. The venturi can be done as I did. And please, build the wheeled version for simplicity. The exhaust ports, well, other than drilling, plugging and scratch building, or buying the Airwaves resin set, there is no way around it.


The Eduard set is well done and works but it is expensive and hard to use, their air inlet is wrong for a regular Type 10 and much of the cockpit detail is out of sight, more so if you don't open the cockpit doors.

If you have a little bit of space left between your last two huge twin engine models that you are still paying for, this small fighter will take almost no room between them, and it will be a unique machine in your collection, perhaps more visually striking than those big, fat bombers.



Additional Images


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Text, Images and Model Copyright © 2002 by Jose R. Rodriguez
Page Created 24 September, 2002
Last Updated 04 June, 2007

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