1:72 Israel Aircraft Industries IAI “Anak Singa/Kfir” RC.7; “(M-43) 01”, Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF, Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia/TUDM; تنترا اودارا دراج مليسيا) No. 17 Sq. ‘Bats’; Kuantan AB (Malaysia), 1997 (What-if/Italeri kit)

+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!

Some background:
The Malaysian air forces trace their lineage to the Malayan Auxiliary Air Force formations of the Royal Air Force (RAF) formed in 1934. They later transformed into the Straits Settlements Volunteer Air Force (SSVAF) and the Malaya Volunteer Air Force (MVAF) formed in 1940 and dissolved in 1942 during the height of the Japanese advance over Malaya. The latter was re-established in 1950 in time for the Malayan Emergency and contributed very much to the war effort.

On 2 June 1958 the MVAF finally became the Royal Federation of Malaya Air Force (RFMAF), this date is celebrated as RMAF Day yearly. On 25 October 1962, after the end of the Malayan Emergency, the RAF handed over their first airfields in Malaya to the RFMAF, at Simpang Airport; it was opened on 1 June 1941, in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur which was formerly part of Selangor and the national capital city. The first aircraft for the fledgling air force was a Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer named "Lang Rajawali" by the then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Several Malayans serving with the Royal Air Force transferred to the Royal Federation of Malaya Air Force. The role played by RMAF was limited initially to communications and the support of ground operations against Communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency. RMAF received its first combat aircraft with the delivery of 20 Canadair CL41G Tebuans (an armed version of the Canadair Tutor trainer). RMAF also received Aérospatiale Alouette III helicopters, to be used in the liaison role.

With the formation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, the name of the air force was changed to "Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia" or "Royal Malaysian Air Force". New types introduced into service included the Handley Page Herald transport and the De Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou. RMAF received Sikorsky S-61A-4 helicopters in the late 1960s and early 1970s which were used in the transport role. RMAF gained an air defence capability when the Australian Government donated 10 ex-Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) CAC Sabre fighters. These were based at the Butterworth Air Base. After the withdrawal of British military forces from Malaysia and Singapore at the end of 1971, a Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) agreement between Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom was concluded to ensure defence against external aggression. The RAAF maintained two Mirage IIIO squadrons at RAF/RAAF Station Butterworth, Butterworth Air Base as part of its commitment to the FPDA. These squadrons were withdrawn in 1986, although occasional deployments of RAAF aircraft continue.

With the withdrawal of British military forces, RMAF underwent gradual modernization from the 1970s to the 1990s. The Sabre were replaced by 16 Northrop F-5E Tiger-IIs. A reconnaissance capability was acquired with the purchase of two RF-5E Tigereye aircraft. RMAF also purchased 88 ex-US Navy Douglas A-4C Skyhawks, of which 40 of the airframes were converted/refurbished by Grumman Aircraft Engineering at Bethpage into the A-4PTM (‘Peculiar To Malaysia’), configuration (A-4Bs updated to A-4M standard). RMAF has traditionally looked to the West for its purchases, primarily to the United States. However, limitations imposed by the US on "new technology" to the region, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM fire-and-forget air-to-air missile, has made RMAF consider purchases from Russia and other non-traditional sources. The early 1990s saw the arrival of a number of IAI Kfir fighter bombers from Israel and the first BAE Hawk Mk108/208s which replaced the T/A-4PTMs and the ageing F-5Es. These were followed by the MiG-29N/NUB in 1995 in the air superiority role.

Malaysia’s order for the IAI Kfir had been placed in 1989 and a total of twenty-eight aircraft were procured. These machines were among the last newly built aircraft of this type, comparable with the IDF’s late C.7 standard with HOTAS and a partial “glass cockpit”. Deliveries included twenty-four single seaters, optimized for the fighter bomber/strike role, even though the machines could carry light AAMs like the AIM-9 Sidewinder, too, and operate as interceptors. Additionally, four new Kfir TC.7 two-seaters were bought, primarily for conversion training, but these machines had, except for a reduced internal fuel capacity in the fuselage due to the second seat, the same capabilities as the TUDM C.7 single seaters. By 1992 the RMAF Kfir fleet was ready for service and the machines were concentrated at No. 17 Squadron, based at Kuantan Air Base, located at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Even though they were not officially re-christened, the RMAF Kfirs were frequently referred to as “Anak Singa” among the personnel, meaning “lion cub” in Malaysian language.

In 1996, three TUDM Kfir C.7s were, with the help from IAI and imported hardware, modified into armed photo reconnaissance aircraft, resulting in the CR.7 variant exclusively operated by Malaysia. These machines received an elongated nose section (more than 4’ longer) with space for a rotating long-range oblique camera, similar in shape to the former “Tsniut” conversion of C.2 fighter bombers for the IDF. The guns were replaced with avionics but the C.7s’ Elta EL/M-2021B pulse-Doppler radar was retained, so that these converted machines kept their limited all-weather strike and interception capability. But as dedicated reconnaissance aircraft they were almost exclusively operated unarmed, just carrying up to three drop tanks for extra range and loiter time.

The Kfirs did not serve with the Royal Malaysian Air Force for a long period, though: In 1997, Malaysia received a dozen F/A-18D Hornet two-seaters to provide an all-weather interdiction capability, which the rather simple Kfirs did not offer. They could also use the AGM-84 “Harpoon” ASM, making them better suited for naval strike missions, and initially the Hornets frequently served as pathfinders for the Kfirs on all-weather missions. Despite their limitations, what still made the Kfirs attractive for the RMAF was their relatively low operational cost level and the type’s high speed and rate of climb.
However, in 2003 a contract was signed for 18 Su-30MKMs from Russia for delivery in 2007 to fulfill a requirement for a new multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA). Boeing alternatively offered the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, but the type was declined. These capable machines, which were adapted to Western ordnance like GBU-12 laser-guided glide bombs, eventually replaced the RMAF Kfirs, which were gradually phased out until 2010, mothballed, and put up for sale. The last new Su-30MKM arrived in 2009 August, but the F/A-18Ds remained in service – even though only eight machines were still operational at that time. Apparently, the RMAF’s budget was tightened in the meantime since a new requirement for a further batch of new 18 MRCAs remained unfulfilled. Furthermore, the RMAF has also been looking for an AWACS aircraft, although no firm orders have been placed.

General characteristics
Crew: One
Length (incl. pitot): 16.92 m (55 ft 5¾ in)
Wingspan: 8.22 m (26 ft 11½ in)
Height: 4.61 m (14 ft 11 3/4 in)
Wing area: 34.8 m² (374.6 sq ft)
Empty weight: 7,285 kg (16,060 lb)
Loaded weight: 11,603 kg (25,580 lb) with two 500 L drop tanks, two AAMs
Max. take-off weight: 16,200 kg (35,715 lb)

Powerplant:
1× IAl Bedek-built General Electric J-79-J1E turbojet with a dry thrust of 52.9 kN (11,890 lb st)
and 79.62 kN (17,900 lb st) with afterburner

Performance
Maximum speed: 2,440 km/h (2 Mach, 1,317 knots, 1,516 mph) above 11,000 m (36,000 ft)
Combat radius: 768 km (415 nmi, 477 mi) in ground attack configuration, hi-lo-hi profile,
with seven 500 lb bombs, two AAMs, two 1,300 L drop tanks
Service ceiling: 17,680 m (58,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 233 m/s (45,950 ft/min)

Armament:
No internal guns
9× hardpoints under the wings and fuselage for up to 5,775 kg (12,730 lb) of payload

The kit and its assembly:
This was a spontaneous build for the “Recce & Surveillance” Group Build at whatifmodellers. in September 2021. I had bought a resin conversion set from AML for a Kfir RC.2 a while ago, without a certain plan. I had originally planned not to use it on a Kfir, though, but when I considered the build of a Malaysian Kfir I remembered the conversion set and decided to use it for this project, giving it a weird twist.

The kit is the Italeri 1:72 Kfir C.2 in a recent Revell re-boxing. It is not a stellar model of this aircraft. While outlines are O.K. and the kit comes with fine recessed surface details, fit is so-so and there are some weak spots, like the fuselage/wing seams, the many intersections under the air intakes that run right through the gun ports, sinkholes on the wings upper surface and a cockpit tub/front landing gear well piece that won’t fit properly. The Hasegawa kit’s fit is better, but the Italeri Kfir is detail-wise not worse – and it’s cheaper.

The model was built OOB with the usual challenges (see above). When the fuselage was completed, the nose was chopped off in front of the windscreen, to be replaced with the parts from the “Tsniut” (however this is properly pronounced, meaning “modesty”) AML set – which is apparently different from those resin parts that come with the manufacturer’s Mirage IIICJ kit, which offers two versions of the long Tsniut nose plus a modified standard radome nose with a vertical Zeiss camera inside that was mounted on some converted IDF Mirages, too, called AFAIK the “Tarmil” nose.

The AML set is a very nice and clean offering – crisply molded, no bubbles, and with delicate parts and details like a new pitot or conduits that run from the former gun ports to the front of the nose – all molded in fine resin. There’s a good instruction sheet and even a decal set (plus painting instructions) for the two real IDF Kfir CR.2 conversions. However, there is also a piece of acetate film supposed to be included, to be used as a clear cover for the relatively large oblique camera fairing that is open to three sides and gives a good view to the rotating camera mount inside — it was missing from my set. But it was easily replaced with a piece of stiff clear film from a blister packaging. The camera opening’s 3D shape was copied with the help of masking tape into 2D, which was used to cut the replacement window out. This tailored piece of sheet was then bent into shape and attached with Humbrol Clearfix. A prothesis, but it does certainly not look worse than the OOB solution.

However, while the AML set itself went together fluidly, grafting it onto the Italeri Kfir was more complicated: the kit’s nose diameter is markedly larger than the camera extension, maybe 1mm. This does not sound much, but it leaves a recognizable step on an otherwise smooth surface – some body sculpting with a Dremel tool and PSR was necessary to even the intersection out.

The rest of the conversion was straightforward – I considered to leave the nose extension away, for a personal Kfir recce variant, but eventually stuck close to the original Tsniut configuration because of the aircraft’s weird look and added realism.

As a recce aircraft, I left the kit’s underwing pylons for the Python AAMs away and just used the ventral pylon and the large OOB drop tank.

Painting and markings:
The bane of modern aircraft type: dull livery options. I wanted a realistic paint scheme for this aircraft, suitable for a tactical mission and for the late Nineties tine frame – but the TUDM offers only very limited options. At first I considered the late A-4PTM scheme (either SEA style or a subdued two-tone green/brown scheme) with low-viz markings, but eventually settled for a simple all-grey scheme, inspired by the TUDM’s F-18Ds that arrived in the model’s time frame, too. These were dedicated all-weather strike aircraft and were initially painted overall FS 36118 (USAF Gunship Grey) with low-viz markings. This is very dull and simple, but I nevertheless adopted it for the recce Kfir because it does not distract from the odd nose, and it suits the tactical recce mission profile well.

The basic paint became Humbrol 125, which is a rather bluish interpretation of the tone, and the retrofitted new nose was set apart with FS 36118 from ModelMaster. The cockpit interior was painted in Medium Gull Grey (Humbrol 140) and landing gear as well as the air intakes were painted in bright white (Revell 301) – they really stand out on the dark and uniform airframe! To reduce the contrast a little I took the Gunship Grey over to the inner intake lips and the shock cones — some Kfirs have these intake areas painted all-white, making them stand out blatantly! The outside of the intake lips was painted black, as well as the small nose radome and the antenna bumps under the cockpit.
The interior color of the camera compartment is uncertain, but I painted it in anthracite (Revell 06), while the rotating camera mount became light grey, so that it would be more visible from the outside.

The model received an overall light ink washing to emphasize the engraved surface details as well as some post-shading and weathering through dry-brushing with various shades of medium grey. The markings/decals were puzzled together from a Begemot MiG-29 sheet (national and tactical markings) and the Kfir’s OOB stencils, which had to be – because they are in Hebrew in the Revell kit – partly replaced with low-viz alternatives from leftover Italeri Kfir sheets. The camera window received frames made with 1mm black decal strips. Finally, the model was sealed with matt acrylic varnish.

A relatively simple and quick build. The Italeri Kfir has some weaknesses, but I have built enough of them to know the major pitfalls. The AML Tsniut conversion set blended well onto the airframe, even though the missing camera window called for some scratch work. The result is an interesting Kfir variant, and the subtle paint scheme of the fictional Malaysian operator adds credibility – the dark grey upper color reminds a little of the late Ecuadorean Kfirs, but this TUMD whif is much less colorful, even with the many red markings and stencils, which blend into the grey with little contrast. This is not a spectacular model/whif, but I like the unusual dark livery on the Kfir. And it certainly is not the last whiffy Kfir I will build, there are already ideas for more…

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