The decision making behind what new moulds get made by 400 scale manufacturers has always seemed a little odd, but even though Panda Models has a Tu-134 I don't think anyone could have predicted that they would make a mould for the bizarre Tu-134UBL version. The UBL is a crew trainer for the Tu-22M Backfire and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers and has the nose of the Tu-22M3 grafted on to the fuselage of the Tu-134. It is an outrageous looking aircraft and although 90 were made between 1981 and the end of 1983 you have to say the options for model releases are limited at best. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic idea and gives hope that other relatively obscure types may yet see a mould in 400 scale.
Each review is to split into three key areas:
As a conversion the changes to the standard Tu-134B although outlandish in appearance are quite simple. The aircraft was chosen because it exhibited a similar thrust to weight ratio and had similar low-speed handling characteristics as the bombers and the conversion primarily saw the fitting of the Tu-22 nose in place of the 134s. This increases overall length to 41.918m.
The lower half of the new radome has an odd assymetric shape and is what houses the Backfire's radar systems - replaced in the UBL trainer with a more standard ROZ-1 weather radar. The shape of the new nose is quite weird but Panda has created the form well albeit not perhaps strongly enough.
It is satisfyingly pointy at the tip and has the drooping underside with marked upturn, but I think on the real thing the lower portion bulges down a little more and upturns slightly more strongly. It is minor and overall the shape looks good.
Certainly, the new nose fits the Panda Tu-134 mould well. The rest of the mould matches the passenger 134 versions as the only other structural differences between the UBL and these are things that aren't moulded such as windows and emergency exit configuration.
The wings droop slightly down as they should and have a lot of finely etched detailing on them. The two wingtop strakes are present and the large main undercarriage pods midwing are also excellent and nicely shaped.
Another aspect different to the standard Tu-134s is the aerials. The long horizontal mid-fuselage pair are still present but the other pair on the forward roof and belly are different to those on the civilian version. Both have a more standard rhombic shape and look good. The lower one is incredibly fine.
I have had no issue with the rear of the Panda Tu-134, which is exquisite. The overall shape is good and the detailed etched rudder line and hinges and form of the engines a delight.
This is a truly magnificent addition to the already fabulous pair of passenger Tu-134 moulds. As unexpected as it is, and also as outside my collection criteria also, it is a grand achievement. Could the nose underside be slightly more accentuated? Possibly but not to the extent that I think an entire point should be lost.
SCORE - 10
PAINT & LIVERY
The Tu-134UBL's mainly wore a characteristic red and white lightning bolt scheme in Soviet and Russian service as exhibited here. Pre-production aircraft actually also wore civilian CCCP style registrations but once in service they took up military style numbers. This aircraft was active in this scheme into 2009. By 2011 it has been repainted into a blue version of the livery with a Russian flag on the tail and a new rego of RF-66042.
Attention to detail on the livery application is high. The base grey is nice and the red acceptable if slightly lighter than the real thing. The white outline to the tail star and lightning bolt is good and accurately reflects the position of the real things.
The large anti-glare ahead of the cockpit is well shaped and the red tip to the radome accurately only painted on the upper surface of the point. Smaller features don't go unnoticed either such as the red wintips, tiny 28 on the nosegear doors and all white rooftop aerial.
The aircraft also carries a badge just aft of the cockpit. It is hard to see exactly what it shows even in photos, let alone on the model, but it looks like it is an Eagle dropping a bomb in front of a golden flag. Under magnification Panda has pulled this badge off well.
SCORE - 10
PRINTING & QUALITY CONTROL
Panda lets the fine etched detailing of their Tu-134 mould carry a lot of what could be print detailing but still manages an impressive amount of print under the fuselage. Some of the printing is incredibly fine - such as the maingear doors on the wing fairings.
Having said that one area that could have maybe done with some extra printing detail is the nose itself. The real thing shows rather obvious panel lines and a row of 5 access panels. The model just has the lower darker grey part and this isn't outlined.
Build quality is generally good and only under magnification do you notice some tiny hairline cracking at the join of the right side horizontal stabiliser and some slightly misfitting tyres (a common but minor issue for the Panda Tu-134s).
SCORE - 8
Panda Models make an interesting set of releases with their excellent narrowbody moulds, but they just don't make enough of them for my liking. Even so, producing not only this Tu-134UBL but also the Tu-204 with large rooftop antenna shows a real interest in aviation and almost a playfulness that makes Panda a brand worth following in 400 scale. Diversity is something all too often lacking in the scale so I can only applaud the creation of such unusual offerings, especially when they are made at such a high standard.
FINAL SCORE - 28/30
I'm Richard Stretton an aviation enthusiast and major collector of 400 scale models. On this page I take a detailed look at new releases.
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