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Special Hobby # SH32067
Yakovlev Yak-3 "Normandie-Nieman"
Hi-Tech Kit -- 1:32 Scale

Upon entering the Second World War, Soviet aircraft engineering and technology generally lagged behind that of Germany and the other allies.  The learning curve was steep, and as the momentum on the Eastern Front shifted towards the Russians, one of the best fighters of the war took to the skies – the Yakovlev Yak-3.  Special Hobby’s Hi-Tech 1:32 scale Yak-3 also might be one of the best kits Special Hobby has ever produced, and in this review, we’ll take a look at this kit that comes with a range of additional detail parts.       

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In 1941, the Germans invaded Russia in Operation Barbarossa and the Luftwaffe significantly outclassed Soviet air power.  Attempts at parity emerged in the Yak-1 and I-30 designs, but only the MiG-3 was a comparable match to the likes of the Bf 109 and Fw 190. In 1943, Yakovlev Design Bureau proposed the Yak-1M variant that eventually became the Yak-3.  It utilized metal and wood in its construction.  It was not radically dissimilar to the Yak-1 airframe, but this new design was powered by the Klimov M-105PF-2 engine.  The new wing was smaller, featured better aerodynamic loading characteristics, and moved the oil radiator intake to the wing roots.  A 20 mm ShVAK cannon fired through the hollow-driveshaft nose spinner and twin synchronized 7.62 mm ShKAS machine guns were located into in cowl mounts ahead of the cockpit.  The features, underscored by the excellent thrust-to-weight ratio of this new fighter, and its promise was made clear during its flight test program.  Production began in 1943 and it entered combat in 1944.  Among the first units to be equipped with the new plane was the Normandie-Niemen unit - free French pilots flying for the Russians.  Production went on beyond the close of the war, and by 1946, nearly 5,000 airplanes had been built.   

On one hand, the Yak-3 did have its share of problems.  Its exterior plywood surfaces had a nasty habit of delaminating in high-speed dives.  Production standards at the Klimov factory were inconsistent, and the engine (undeniably a true asset) was sometimes unreliable.  The pneumatic system that operated the actuating landing gear, flaps and brakes was sometimes prone to failure.  On the other hand, the Yak-3 gained a reputation as a forgiving aircraft that was easy to fly and maintain.  It was employed mostly as a tactical fighter and thrived at altitudes below 13,000 feet, and in that region of the envelope, the Yak-3 could out-climb, out-accelerate, and turn inside the Bf 109 and Fw 190.  It began to accumulate an excellent kill-to-loss ratio against Luftwaffe fighters and bombers, and by 1945, the Yak-3 was considered by the Allies and Axis powers alike to be one of the most capable fighters developed during the war.

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Special Hobby’s 1:32 scale Yak-3 is an injection molded plastic model kit, and this Hi-Tech version of the kit also contains additional resin and photoetch metal detail parts along with pre-cut vinyl painting masks.  It contains 114 medium gray parts distributed across five sprues (approximately 20 parts will go unused) along with an additional 8 clear parts on one sprue, 15 resin parts, and one small photoetch metal fret.  Also included in the box is a very well-printed color instruction booklet which guides the builder through assembly of the Yak-3 over 39 steps.  Markings are provided for five aircraft:

  • Yak-3, 6 White, Normandie-Niemen Regiment, Sterki, Lithuania, Autumn 1944
  • Yak-3, 00 White, Normandie-Niemen Regiment, Eastern Prussia, 1944-45
  • Yak-3, 24 White, Normandie-Niemen Regiment (Roland de la Poype), Eastern Prussia, 1944-45
  • Yak-3, 22 White, Normandie-Niemen Regiment, Le Bourget airfield, France, June 1945
  • Yak-3, 4 White, Normandie-Niemen Regiment, Lithuania, Summer 1944

Strengths:  Overall, Special Hobby has produced another great high quality kit.  This level of detail is complimented by the fact that this kit is also fairly simple and pretty easy to build.  The quality of this kit parallels their 1:32 scale Tempest but the model is not as complicated.  It is also on par with any high-quality modern manufacturer, and I would probably draw the closest comparison with Hasegawa and their peers.  Overall size and shapes appear to be very accurate.  The surface airframe detail is excellent, featuring crisp and restrained panel lines.  Recessed screw, rivet, and fastener detail is likewise very well executed, and also captures the details of the different sized and shaped fasteners on the engine cowling and wing roots.  The airplane’s surfaces are also smooth where they need to be – where the airframe structure is wood and not metal.  I also like the internal propeller hub plate that helps one align the prop blades correctly.  I snipped off the fuselage, wings, and tail parts for a test fit.  Everything fits very precisely, and you’ll not likely need much filler at all.  
The cockpit is outstanding, and is made even better with the inclusion of resin and photoetch detail parts.  The level of detail and intricacy that is provided translates into the potential for most scale modelers to produce a small masterpiece here.  The detail provided, from the control column to the throttle, rudder pedals, seat, and surrounding tubular cockpit frame structure are just gorgeous.  Personally, I just love using aftermarket parts to superdetail cockpits, but here, the kit parts leave little room for any kind of improvement.  All you’ll really need are the PE shoulder harnesses and lap belts that are already in the kit to improve on anything.  Instrument bezels look great, but there’s no detail on the instrument faces, as they are to be represented by very nicely detailed decals.  Other resin details, such as the radio, are very nicely cast.  The engine exhaust stacks, with semi-hollow tubes, are also well cast in resin.

In a similar fashion, scale modelers will also be very impressed by the fidelity of detail in the main gear and tail wheel wells and gear doors.  The structures of the main gear wells appear to be very well represented, only lacking wire bundles or plumbing.  The main gear themselves and other struts are very nicely detailed and crisply molded.  Further, ejection pin marks are nowhere to be seen.  The main wheels and tail wheel are also provided in resin, and their detail again is far better and more accurate (including the ribbed sidewalls) than the plastic tires that come in the kit.  The resin tires are also very subtly flattened to the point that’s its sublime if you like that kind of effect.  The clear parts look wonderful and are optically clear.  A one-piece windscreen/canopy combination is provided should the builder wish to position the canopy closed.  If not, alternate separate windscreen and canopy parts are provided as well.

The decals were printed by Eduard.  Colors are accurate, vibrant, and in perfect register. Carrier film is thin and quite well restrained.  The print fidelity, including for the finest airframe stencils, is excellent.  I also like the choice of schemes represented here. They all look great, and the combination of French national colors on Soviet Yaks is a very neat juxtaposition.  The history and stories behind the particular Yak-3s of the Normandie-Niemen group that are represented on the decal sheet are intriguing as well.

Weaknesses: I cannot readily identify any obvious or glaring flaws in this kit.  Only a few small observations come to mind.  The surface texture on the smooth parts of the fuselage and wings is a bit rough and could be buffed out a bit with MicroMesh or similar sandpaper in the 3,000-grit range.  Also coming to mind - while the rudder and elevators are separate pieces, they are engineered to fit straight in, and if the builder wants to deflect the rudder or drop the elevators, some modification of the kit parts will be required.  Also, flaps and ailerons are molded integrally into the wings.

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Special Hobby’s 1:32 scale Yak-3 appears to be an excellent injection molded kit in all respects.  I’m quite impressed (note that Soviet WWII subject matter is far from my favorite subjects to build!), and I think most scale modelers will find a lot of enjoyment here, too.  Further, it’s a pretty straightforward kit, and should build quickly.  You’ll spend most of your time on the cockpit and wheel wells during construction.  I don’t build Soviet subjects very much, but this is too good of a kit and subject matter to pass up.  For those interested in upgrading the kit even further, there are already a range of additional detail parts including a landing flap set from Eduard, a new instrument panel for early Yak-3s from Yahu Models, and pilot restraints by HGW.  Just out of the box, this Hi-Tech release of the Special Hobby Yak-3 is already well appointed.  In fact, if you’re just getting into the hobby or getting back in and have been thinking about multimedia kits, this might be the perfect one to start with.

Sincere thanks are owed to Special Hobby for the review sample. You visit them on the web at and on Facebook at

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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