Zvezda breaking away from the stereotypes!

Article by Alexander Kolbasov - email : nebelwerfer54(at)ya(dot)ru
Edited by Marc MERCIER

If you had some collaboration or cooperation with Russians manufacturers, then you know that it is not always easy! Usually Russians factories and plants are really closed for everybody, management structures are really archaic, drawings are on paper by pencil…. Zvezda is a little bit different!
In recent years, Zvezda opened its doors for everybody and organizes regular factory tours every autumn.

The first time I went for a visit I was impressed by their factory policy! They are really open for everybody and there was no "cosmetic preparation" for this excursion. Everything was real, as it is, and nothing special had been prepared, it was a normal working day over there! No special parade uniform for the staff, no special preparations, just the simple working process and open doors EVERYWHERE: the machine shop, casting shop, completing shop, design bureau and you could have a nice chat with anybody from the staff! Ask everything that you want – you will receive an honest answer!
This year's excursion was no different.
Usually the excursions are divided in two groups: modellers and wargamers+toygamers. Both groups are accompanied by representatives of each department who are responsible for answering all questions within their responsibility. Of course, the majority of the questions were asked in the design bureau.

Firstly, what got my attention!
Zvezda has a special designing direction for ergonomics. I’ve never seen it with another manufacturer. They design their models in order to make the assembly process easier, even for kids. For example, left and right parts have a different distance between their mounting pins and to determine top and bottom they use different diameters of pins. So, it's impossible to confuse left or right and top or bottom. This is good for modellers and especially for beginners and kids, but quite a challenge for the machine process technologists. If you had ever been involved in technologist work, just try to imagine!

Designers operate in one department and of course they are divided per directions, something like Aviator, Tankman, Sailor and Soldier (they design figures plus Disney Toys). Zvezda has a contract with Disney to produce their personage models, but not as toys! That is why the assembled Zvezda “Cars” have no rotating wheels. The logic behind it is simple: it is a toy if the wheels rotate! Zvezda also produces models of Disney “Airplanes” and the tractor from this series will look be nice and funny on the shelve near D9R from Balaton Models!





What is also interesting: the face of some of the figures in the Zvezda Modern Tank Crew (set 3615) are copies of people working at Zvezda : (see right) the one with moustaches (1a) originally "belonged" to a tankman designer, while the "former owner" of figure 3a was a soldier designer.

We found the test sprues of an Il-62M in 1/144 scale on the working table of the Aviator designer. This kit was designed in close cooperation with the guys who make the real stuff (United Aviation Corporation Ilyushin Company) which makes it the most correct model of this airplane. Zvezda got access to documentation from the Ilyushin design bureau and working drawings from the factory, made many photos of real Il-62M and as a result got an excellent kit in a new Zvezda line called: “Ultimate Kit”.

What the idea behind it? This is a highly detailed model: cockpit plus some interior parts, you can build the model in any configuration: flaps or slats can be in down or up positions, landing gears can be retracted or in down positions, landing gears has both shock strut positions: Weight on Wheels and Weight Off Wheels, the stabilizers can be trimmed as you wish, a choice of door opened or closed. The Il-62M tail towing gear can be in taxing (retracted) or in towing (down) position. Also, should you want to make an airplane “in maintenance”, Zvezda has detailed the wheel area and you can cut out the main landing gear doors for the open position!

Personally, I felt this airfoil was excellent and absolutely correct. Il-62 had no slats, but used compensation in geometrically bending of the leading edge, which is nicely reproduced in this model. Also there is a reworked engine D-30KU, the detachable spinner (the nose cone in front of the fan) is detachable for ease of painting.

We asked the engineers working there about the geometry and the overall sizes of their models. Many people on the internet compare the Zvezda models with drawings in magazines or other sources and found many differences. Is this the result of a bad designer job or a manufacturing problem?

The answer is quite simple: Zvezda designs and produces its models ONLY in cooperation with the original manufacturers, so they have contracts with Boeing, Airbus, Sukhoy, Tupolev etc. They do models only according to the real drawings, but this is not the case in magazines, books and other sources, where you can find unofficial drawings differing from the real samples. For example the new Su-27 was made using the official drawings from Sukhoy plus full walkarround photos of the airplane. The same goes for the “Topol” (SS-25 Sickle), where they received official access to the drawings and walkarround photographing of the real hardware.

An aviator designer compares its Pe-2 1/48 3D-model with drawings taken from a magazine. These Pe-2 were produced with two types of engines, but the cowlings for these two types were not interchangeable. Zvezda based its model on a real aircraft on display at the Monino museum and the original surviving drawings from the plant. As you see, the drawings in the magazine are a little bit incorrect for this engine, but they do not mention it. Believe me; shortly modellers will drop articles with reclamations! But time and publication of "discoveries" will cool those “hot heads”.

But to be absolutely correct, frankly speaking, foreign companies, such as Boeing or Airbus, are more flexible, open and easier to cooperate with. Russian companies still are very difficult, like the “TOP SECRET” stamp is present in their brains. May be it's a genetic problem? For modelling one only needs overall view and sizes that can be found at exhibitions and on TV. Secrets are inside the things you never see! For example, if Zvezda needs some additional info about the overall view of some unit, foreign companies provide it easily. But Russian companies will ask the permission from different government structures like the Defence Ministry etc. At the same time, for example the newest “TOP SECRET” T-90 or Sukhoy T-50 is presented at the exhibitions and you can make walkarround photos even with a ruler in your hand! Sounds silly, isn’t it?
Here's a real story that happened with a submarine (no named here): Zvezda received permission for walkarround photographs, but on the Naval Yard they covered the propellers with cloth covers. Ok! No problem! Sub props are secret, so this is logical, but!!! On TV, the government channel showed the launching ceremony where the submarine's rear part moved close to the camera thereby showing the propellers on full TV-screen!!! Is it silly??? No! It is stupid!

To calm us the designers showed us the latest Zvezda top secret assembly (see picture)! You have never seen it and it is premiere!

Try to determine the parts from this picture! Here is the landing gear of a Su-32FN, the fan deflector of a D-30KU engine and a tire from “Topol” SS-25! ))) A little brain-brake joke from designers!

We asked the representative over there about Russian cargo vehicles. Will Zvezda do a KamAz or another truck? It is possible but the KamAz brand cost too much money, the price is unreasonable high, but should they reduce their price, no problem. Right now, it's a problem. It would possible to make a model of a KamAz truck, and calling it something like “Russian Military Cargo Truck”, but this is not the Zvezda way: it's either the official contract with drawings and all permissions or nothing. They think its better not to be involved in any machinations. Yes, Zvezda may be losing money on model production in this case, but is saving money on court processes.

What we will see in the near future?

Will we see photo etching in the next kits? No. Photo etched parts for T-90 in 1/35 scale was a successful project, but the photo etching process was done not in Russia. Due to the ecological policy, chemical manufacturing in Russia is very expensive, so Zvezda cooperated with one manufacturer from EU, but then that partner stopped cooperation referring to the sanctions. Is it the real reason – Zvezda doesn’t know, but at this moment any photo etching project of Zvezda is on hold. May be they will be looking for partners in the east?
The BMPT “Terminator” in 1/35 scale is in the machine shop, so it should not be long before the first casting will be ready.

What about 1/72 tanks?

A 1/72 scale ISU-152 should appear soon and by the end of the year they announced a 1/72 T-90A, but the reality could postpone that deadline.
Will we see a 1/72 scale T-34 variant? Yes! Will it be a of T-34-85 or could it be a SPG based on T-34, that still is a commercial secret, but it will go on the market!
King Tiger in 1/72 and 1/35 scales are planned in 2015 and it will be different models, not “up-scaled ones”.
Also Zvezda promised us some surprises in 1/72s scale, which are not announced and will not be included in the 2015 catalogue. So, we will see!

In conclusion I’d like to say, that Zvezda factory is developing in a good way! Newest milling and casting machines with digital control and computer programming, 3D-modelling, outsourcing engineering, cooperation with the manufacturers of the real planes and vehicles, maximal mechanized process, ergonomics for modellers etc… and result of this is an excellent product! Modellers pay for a good model kits with correct overall sizes and accurate geometry.
Who knows? Maybe next September Zvezda will open its doors again and you will visit it yourself!

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Article Last Updated : 19 December 2014