1:72 Hindustan Aeronautics Limited HAL HJT-18 “Dawon” GR.2; aircraft “WI 571” of the Bhāratīya Vāyu Senā (Indian Air Force) No. 10 Squadron “Flying Daggers”; Jodhpur Air Force Station, Rajasthan, 1981 (Whif/Mistercraft kit)

1:72 Hindustan Aeronautics Limited HAL HJT-18 “Dawon” GR.2; aircraft

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

Some background:
Following the end of the Second World War, Poland was politically dominated by the neighboring Soviet Union; as a consequence, the Polish aviation industry underwent vast changes at the behest of the Soviets. While the nation’s design offices had been liquidated, some former members had joined Poland’s Aviation Institute (IL) and performed some limited work on various original projects, even though such efforts were initially officially discouraged. As such, it was at IL that the effort to design would become the first jet aircraft to be developed in Poland originated; however, during the late 1950s, responsibility for the design work on the program was transferred to aircraft manufacturer PZL-Mielec at an early stage in order that IL could resume its primary mission of scientific and technological research. Much of the design work on the program was produced in response to the specified needs of a requirement issued by the Polish Air Force for a capable jet-propelled trainer aircraft, which was seeking a replacement for the piston-engine PZL TS-8 Bies at the time.

Polish government officials came to openly regard the project as being of considerable importance to the nation’s aviation industry, thus vigorous efforts were made to support the development of the TS-11. The main designer was Polish aeronautical engineer Tadeusz Sołtyk; his initials was the source for part of the type’s official designation TS-11. Early on, it was decided to adopt a foreign-sourced turbojet engine to power the aircraft. Quickly, the British Armstrong Siddeley Viper had emerged as the company’s favored option; however, reportedly, negotiations for its acquisition eventually broken down; accordingly, work on the project was delayed until a suitable domestically-built powerplant had reached an advanced stage of development.

On 5 February 1960, the first prototype conducted its maiden flight, powered by an imported Viper 8 engine, capable of producing up to 7.80 kN (1,750 lbf) of thrust. On 11 September 1960, the aircraft’s existence was publicly revealed during an aerial display held over Lodz. The next pair of prototypes, which performed their first flights during March and July 1961 respectively, were instead powered by a Polish copy of the Viper engine, designated as the WSK HO-10. The flight test program that the three prototypes were subjected to had both demonstrated the capabilities of the new aircraft and its suitability for satisfying the Polish Air Force’s stated requirements for a trainer jet; as such, it was soon accepted by the Polish Air Force.

During 1963, the first production model of the type, designated as the TS-11 Iskra (Spark) bis A, commenced delivery to the service. From about 1966, new-build aircraft were furnished with a newer Polish-designed turbojet engine, designated as the WSK SO-1, which was capable of producing up to 9.80 kN (2,200 lbf) of thrust and reportedly gave the TS-11 a top speed of 497 mph. From 1969 onwards, the improved WSK SO-3 engine became available, offering considerably longer times between overhauls; this engine was later improved into the WSK SO-3W, which was able to generate 10.80 kN (2,425 lbf) of thrust.

During the 1960s, the Iskra competed to be selected as the standard jet trainer for the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union had given Poland a promise to support its aviation industry and to favor the procurement of suitable aircraft for this purpose from Polish manufacturers. However, the Iskra was not selected for this role, it had lost out to the Czechoslovak Aero L-29 “Delfín”, another newly-designed jet-propelled trainer aircraft. Largely as a result of this decision, Poland became the only Warsaw Pact member to adopt the Iskra while most others adopting the rival Delfin instead, and foreign sales to other countries were highly limited.

During 1975, an initial batch of 50 Iskra bis D trainer aircraft were exported to India, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited acquired license production rights for the aircraft, which became domestically known as the HAL HJT-18 "Dawon". Beyond the basic trainer variant Dawon T.1, India also adapted projected versions of the TS-11 that had never gone into production in Poland, e. g. the Iskra BR 200, locally known as the Dawon GR.2.

This variant was a single-seated light attack and reconnaissance aircraft, which used the two-seater airframe but had the rear cockpit faired over. In order to expand the type’s performance and ordnance, HAL improved the original design and mounted a more powerful Rolls Royce Viper turbojet with an increased airflow. Wingtip tanks were added, improving range and loiter time, and the cockpit received kevlar armor against small caliber arms for low altitude operations. Instead of the trainer version’s optional single 23mm cannon in the nose section the additional space through the empty instructor’s seat was used for a pair of 30mm Aden cannon in the lower fuselage flanks and its ammunition, as well as for additional navigation and communication avionics.

The Indian Air Force procured 64 of these light aircraft from 1978 onwards, which partly replaced the outdated HAL HF-24 "Marut" fleet. These machines even saw hot combat action in 1984, when India launched Operation Meghdoot to capture the Siachen Glacier in the contested Kashmir region.

General characteristics:
Crew: One
Length: 11.15 m (36 ft 7 in)
Wingspan (incl. tip tanks): 11.01 m (36 ft 1 in)
Height: 3.50 m (11 ft 5½ in)
Wing area: 17.5 m² (188 ft²)
Empty weight: 2,760 kg (6,080 lb)
Loaded weight: 4,234 kg (9,325 lb)
Max. takeoff weight: 4,540 kg (10,000 lb)
1 × Rolls-Royce Viper turbojet, rated at 12.2 kN (2,700 lbf)

Maximum speed: 760 km/h (419 knots, 472 mph) at 5,000 m (16,400 ft)
Cruise speed: 600 km/h (324 knots, 373 mph)
Stall speed: 140 km/h (92 knots, 106 mph) (power off, flaps down)
Range: 1,500 km (828 nmi, 931 mi)
Service ceiling: 12,000 m (39,300 ft)
Rate of climb: 16.8 m/s (3,300 ft/min)

2x 30 mm Aden cannon with 120 RPG in the lower nose
4 underwing pylons, up to 1.200 kg (2.640 lb) of bombs, unguided rocket pods or gun packs

The kit and its assembly:
I have already butchered several of these former Intech kits from Poland, but never built one as an Iskra. Since the kit comes with optional parts to build the planned Iskra 200 BR single-seater, I gave the kit a try – and had the idea to create an "Indian Tiger" of it, as a part of a bigger plan for a future build project (see below).

Building the Mistercraft TS-11 is not a pleasant experience, though. The kit comes cheap, and that’s what you get. While it comes with some nice features like an engine dummy, two optional canopies and ordnance loads, the whole thing tends to be crude. There’s flash, gaps, a surface finish that partly looks as if the molds had been sand-blasted, mediocre if not poor fit, and the clear parts do not deserve this description – they are utterly streaky. You can certainly make something out of it with lots of effort, but it’s IMHO not a good basis for an ambitious build.

The biggest issue I had were the parts for the single seat cockpit. There are no locator pins, and when you manage to put the canopy onto the fuselage there remains a considerable hole in the spine where the two-seater canopy would be attached. As a result, lots of PSR was necessary around the optional parts. I also scratched a rear bulkhead for the cockpit (which normally would remain empty and “open”) and added some equipment/boxes behind the pilot’s seat. Messy affair.

Even though I’d have loved to replace the main wheels (the OOB parts had sinkholes and poorly molded details) I stuck with them because of the complicated cover arrangement, trying to cover the worst flaws under other parts. The jet exhaust was replaced, too, since I saved the engine dummy for the spares box.

On the wing tips, the tips were slightly trimmed and I added tanks from an 1:144 Tornado (Dragon) – a small detail that lets the Iskra appear a bit beafier than it actually is. For the same reason I omitted the single cannon in the nose with its characteristic bump, and replaced it with two guns: leftover parts from KP MiG-19 kits, plus a pair of differently shaped, smaller fairings alongside the lower flanks.

The ordnance comes from the scrap box, since I wanted a little more muscle than the OOB options. I went for a pair of unguided missile launchers (from a Kangnam Yak-38) and a pair of Soviet iron bombs (KP Su-25).

Painting and markings:
Well, the real motivation behind this build is that I used this kit as a proof-of-concept test for a planned build of the Indian Air Force’s famous MiG-21 "C 992" of No. 1 Squadron that bore a striking tiger stripe scheme – but, unfortunately, there’s no conclusive color picture of the aircraft, and painting suggestions remain contradictive, if not speculative. Some profiles show the aircraft with a grey of silver fuselage underside, while some have the tiger stripes wrapped around the fuselage, or not. Some have the upper camouflage wrapped around the whole fuselage, so that only the wings’ undersides remain in a light color. Some sources also claim that no darker, basic tone had been applied at all to the upper sides, and that the stripes had been directly painted on the bare aluminum surface of the Fishbed.
The worst, color-wise thing I found for this specific aircraft were in the painting instructions of the Fujimi kit: opaque FS 34227 as basic color seems to be totally off to me… But you also find suggestions of a yellowish sand tone, mid-stone, even some greenish slate grey, whatever. Fascinating subject!

From what I learned about the aircraft from various sources, the scheme looks like a kind of translucent/thin layer of olive drab/greenish earth or khaki tone over bare metal on all upper surfaces and wrapped around the fuselage – very light, if there was any paint at all. Alternatively, the bare metal must have been very weathered and dull, since pictures of C992 reveal no metallic shine at all.

On top of that, the tiger stripes (most probably in black, but there are suggestions of dark brown or green, too…) were applied manually, apparently by at least three painters who were probably working at the same time on different sections of the Indian Fishbed. Since I have the build of this aircraft on my agenda, some day, and a plan to re-create the special paint finish, this Iskra single seater was used as a test bed.

External painting started with an overall coat of acrylic aluminum (Revell 99), with some panels on the wings in grey (a protective lacquer, frequently applied on real-life Iskras). Then came a coat of highly thinned FS 34087 (Olive Drab) from Modelmaster, mixed with a little of Humbrol 72 (Khaki Drill) and applied with a soft, flat brush, leaving out areas where later the decals would be placed.

Once dry, the camouflaged areas received a wet sanding treatment, so that the edges would become bare metal again, and, here and there, the impression of flaked/worn paint was created.

Next came the tiger stripes. I somewhat wanted to create the three-different-painters look of C992, and so I not only used three different brushes for this task, I also used three different shades of black (acrylic “Flat Black”, "Tar Black" and “Anthracite” from Revell). Again, once dry, light sanding created a flaked/worn look.

The wings’ undersides were left in aluminum, as well as the fuselage. This differs from the C992 benchmark, but I found the Iskra’s low stance to be more conclusive with an all NMF underside.

Cockpit and landing gear interior became medium grey (FS 36231). In a wake of Soviet-ism I painted the wheel discs in bright green, as a small color contrast to the otherwise rather murky aircraft.

The markings are a mix of IAF roundels for an early MiG-21 from a Begemot sheet, while the tactical code was taken from the Mistercraft OOB sheet. The yellow 10 Squadron badge was created with PC software and printed on white decal sheet – another, nice color highlight.

It looks harmless, but building the Mistercraft Iskra was a real PITA – now I know why I formerly only butchered this kit for donor parts… However, with the little modifications I made and some different ordnance the light aircraft sells its "attack/recce" role well, and the tiger livery looks pretty unique and …Indian. And, once more, the beauty pics reveal that this paint scheme, while looking primarily decorative, is actually quite effective over typical northern Indian landscapes. C 992 can come! 😀