Lack of innovation is a remark used to complain about certain manufacturers, often by incumbents who themselves aren't showing a lot of innovation. Nonetheless, sometimes the criticisms do ring true. However, it isn't a remark you can throw at Panda Models in recent times. Not only have they created a Tupolev 134, the first in 400 scale, but they also made Tu-204s and have released specialist versions of them as well. Topping that all off is the creation of the Tu-134UBL - a quite outlandish looking aircraft but one whose uniqueness makes it all the more enticing.
Note: My acquisition of this model in no way suggests any support for the Russians in their invasion of Ukraine.
Each review is to split into three key areas:
The UBL version of the Tu-134 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. Production totalled 90 between 1981 and the end of 1983. The UBL stands for Uchebno-Boyevoy dla Lyotchikov - Russian for combat trainer for pilots.
It is an outrageous looking aircraft, to say the least, but no doubt a cheaper more efficient way to train bomber crews. The aircraft was chosen because it exhibited a similar thrust to weight ratio and had similar low-speed handling characteristics as the bombers. The conversion is actually quite simple with the fitting of the Tu-22 nose in place of the 134's. This increases overall length to 41.918m from 37.1m.
The lower half of the new radome has an odd assymetric shape and usually 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.
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.
Panda had already made two nosecone variants of the Tu-134 prior to this but this version did catch me by surprise. It looks excellent. The nose could perhaps be slightly more accentuated on the underside but not to the extent that I personally think it is an issue worth any points loss. Great mould.
SCORE - 10
PAINT & LIVERY
This aircraft is something of an enigma being the only UBL painted black. It has gained the nickname of 'Black Pearl' and is apparently no longer used for training purposes but instead for transport duties. It had returned to service following repairs in March 2019 and was intercepted by Belgian Air Force F-16s over the Baltic in early 2020, so whether its real role is transport, training or something more secretive remains unclear.
The scheme is very attractive but the black isn't a gloss finish. It is more of a matt look and in bright light is more charcoal. The model matches this well but looks blacker in the photos here as most were taken with a flash.
It is a small model and yet Panda have applied the scheme's details well with fine detail. The cheatline is well placed and the unusual script-like main titles look accurate to me - aside perhaps from the initial R, which looks a bit like a B.
Minor scheme details are all present down to the tiny 54 on the nosegear doors. As an ultra-nitpicker the outline around the nosegear doors is missing and the blue tip to the nosecone is slightly too large.
SCORE - 9
PRINTING & QUALITY CONTROL
Printing light colours onto dark gives Panda the opportunity to demonstrate their skill in this department. The white looks white, with no bleed through from underneath and the amount of fine printwork on the model is exceptional. As usual a lot of this is on the underside, so rarely seen, but nonetheless it is impressive.
The only print area where the model is let down is the hubcaps of the tyres, which are rather sloppily painted. The Panda Tu-134s have suffered from tyre fit issues and that persists in this model. Several of the tyres don't fit the hubs well, but in reality you can only see this in magnification.
The majority of the model is put together well but one of the rooftop strake aerials, the starboard one, is not fitted completely flush at its rear margin.
SCORE - 7
The invasion of Ukraine does give me a little pause in buying Russian models, but there is no benefit to the Russians in me doing so and Soviet-era aircraft are the area of 400 scale showing far and away the most diversity at the present time. I look for diversity in my model collection and enjoy brands that produce unusual and sometimes obscure models. I have been tempted to make a Russian apron model for sometime and there's no doubt this lovely model would display very nicely on one if I did.
FINAL SCORE - 26/30
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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