AML
1/72 Mirage IIICJ "Shahak"
Kit Number: 72-010
Reviewed by  Jim Pearsall, IPMS# 2209
[kit boxart image]
MSRP: CZK 499 ($22.75 US)
This kit is available in the US at Squadron Shop for under $20.
The AML website is www.aml.cz.

This review is one of the results of "unintended consequences". I started out to do a review of the PJ Productions conversion for the "short tail" Atar 9 on the Mirage IIICJ. Since I didn't have a good Mirage IIIC (I'm sorry the Airfix kit just doesn't cut it any more.) I cast around for a useable kit to buy and build show off the conversion. This is that model.

[review image] The Box Contents
The box itself is quite sturdy with a decent "action" shot on the top. It contains 3 large sprues of plastic parts, 6 pours of various resin parts, 2 vac formed canopies, the decal sheet, the instructions, a parts locator, and the painting/decal instructions.

I found the quality of the molding was "soft", without the crisp detail and sharp edges we've come to expect from Japanese kits. OTOH, the panel lines were correct and scribed, not raised.

[review image] [review image] Instructions
I had a little trouble with the assembly instructions, especially at first. There's no indication on the sheets which step follows which. You have to actually READ the instructions to figure it out. Actually not a bad idea.

The parts locator was very useful, as there are a lot of little parts, many of which look remarkably similar until you install the wrong one.

[review image] On the back of that sheet is a very useful color cross reference. It gives the color name, FS 595 number, and then the paint reference for Humbrol, Gunze, Model Master and Agama.

[review image] [review image] The camouflage and decal placement drawings are also outstanding. Well done, in color with 4-views showing both sides, top and bottom, they made painting and decal placement almost easy. We did a survey in our IPMS Chapter, and anyone who doesn't hate painting doesn't like to decal. Those are the least liked parts of kit building. And these drawings made it a lot better.

Assembly
The first thing I attacked was the cockpit and nose gear well assembly. I'm pretty certain I didn't get the instrument panel in quite the correct spot, but it's pretty close. The instructions aren't much help. Additionally, the nose gear well assembly is a wonderfully molded and delicate assembly. Unfortunately it's connected to a heavy and solid pour sprue. I was really afraid I'd destroyed it, but then it fit nicely, using the cockpit floor as part of the upper surface. The seat is a little gem, the instrument panel looks great, and it even has side consoles.

[review image] [review image] When I put the cockpit and wheel well assembly inside the fuselage halves and glued the halves, there was a noticeable gap between the fuselage halves. The resin pieces were too big to fit "nicely".

After the fuselage was together, I put the wings on. I made a huge error here. [review image] I glued the quite nice looking resin main gear well assembly to the lower wing with CA. Then I discovered that the upper wing sections didn't come close to mating with the lower wing panel. Sand, file, and cuss. I had to cut down the gear wells until the resin was gone at its deepest point, and also thin the upper wing panels. The upper wing now forms the top of the wheel well at 2 points, but I didn't lose any of that nice detail. I also had to cut, file, sand and cuss the fuselage parts so they'd clear the wheel wells.

I don't think I got the vertical stabilizer in the correct position front to rear. I lined it up with the panel lines shown in the instructions, but when I went to put the tail cone on, it wouldn't fit. The stab was too far aft. Fixed by cutting a little off the small fairing on top of the exhaust cone.

[review image] The tail cone and exhaust provided in the kit are quite OK. However the resin exhaust is either too large to fit inside the tail cone or the walls of the tail cone are too thick to allow the exhaust part to fit.

Since this exercise started as a vehicle to mount the PJ Productions tail cone, the above problem proved to be a non-starter. When I started this kit, I looked at where I needed to cut the fuselage to allow the PJP tail cone to be mounted. And the answer is: Right where the AML tail cone mounts. No cutting needed. The bad news is that the PJP and AML cross sections don't exactly match. More putty, sanding and filing.

[review image] OK, now back to assembly. The instructions show adding about a dozen little scoops all over the wings and fuselage. My original impression was "what a pain", but as I looked at where these parts were installed, my opinion of the thought and engineering that went into this kit's design went up several notches.

Almost everywhere I had to install one of these scoops, I had previously filed, sanded and puttied a connection or a seam. Adding these details later insured that they would be there when the project was finished.

The only other thing I needed to do was put some birdshot into the nose to insure it didn't sit like a tail dragger.

The vac canopy was neither overly thin nor fragile. It responded nicely to being dipped in Future, and showed up crystal clear, to show off the good job I did painting the seat and instrument panel. It wound up being about .2 mm (.078 inches, or about twice the thickness of a piece of paper.) too narrow for the cockpit opening. I now realize this is because the resin cockpit spread the fuselage halves. Sigh. I also never found a part to use for the reflector glass in the HUD. I manufactured a clear part from the extra stuff around the canopy, cut to size and glued in. Looks fine.

Decals
The decal sheet is one continuous film. This means that careful cutting and trimming of the markings is probably a good idea. But it isn't necessary to trim clear to the image, close counts. The decals were thin enough, and went on OK. I used a bit of Micro Sol and Elmer's Glue under each marking to insure good placement and that they'd stick.

I did the markings for aircraft #59. It was serialed as 259, then later 159. The aircraft is the highest scoring Israeli Mirage III. It meant enough to the IAF that they bought the aircraft back from Argentina for their museum when it was retired from that service. The decals are for 259, but it was easy to make a 1 to show it after it was modified with the short tail.

[review image] Overall Assessment
From what I've said above, it's obvious that I had some problems building this kit. Most centered around the resin parts. My guess is that no one test fitted the resin parts before the kit was released. I also suspect that the guys who did the resin parts built them pretty much to match the prototype. Unfortunately the plastic is much thicker than sheet metal would be in 1/72 scale, and this is where the fit problems appear.

I bought two of these kits, plus the AML Mirage IIIR, so I'm going to build another one. But with the experience I've had, I now feel confident that when I get around to the next AML Mirage 3CJ, I'll do a lot of test fitting and reshaping of resin parts and the surrounding plastic before I commit to CA.

I was almost finished with the construction part of this kit when it hit me that building this kit was about as challenging (and sometimes frustrating) as building a Frog or early Airfix kit. Not everything just fell into place, and sometimes you had to do some extra work to make up for shortfalls in the design or execution of the mold or assembly. I suspect that AML may continue to produce kits without the surgical and crisp detail found in the far more expensive Japanese kits, but they will learn how to make those parts fit cleanly and without having to resort to excessive cutting and filling.
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