Friday, 13 September 2013

Hip to be square: Italeri/Fabbri 1/100 Mil Mi-8 review

Used by soldiers, spooks and warlords the world over, Mil's Mi-8 Hip is probably the world's most produced helicopter (although Bell's Huey is another contender for the title if the whole 204/205/212/214 family is included). Yet, much like the CH-47 Chinook, it is not very well represented in 1/100 scale.

QRF make two resin and white metal models in their modern 15mm range: the Mi-8TV Hip C armed transport and the Mi-8TVK Hip E attack variant. While I own neither, I do have a few of the 1/100 diecast Hips released by Italeri/Fabbri a while back. These were made in two civilian liveries: an Aeroflot one or a Maldives-based Hummingbird Helicopter one and I can heartily recommend them although they are sadly getting harder to find at reasonable prices.

The model is nicely proportioned and detailed with rather fine recessed panel lines. It should normally come in eight parts: the helicopter itself which is a mix of metal and plastic, the rotor head, five rotor blades and a tail rotor. However, it may in fact come in more parts as the plastic landing gear and rear stabilisators sometimes do not stand up to the posties' idea of delicate handling and break off during transit. It has a clear cockpit although the fuselage windows are simply painted on. This is a bit of a nuisance when it comes to repainting the helicopter but can be fixed. The rotors are well detailed and made of soft-ish plastic which, in this case, is an advantage since they are the most likely to break. The characteristic nose-up attitude of the landed helicopter is well captured although some models are a little too high because the nose wheel was glued incorrectly.

The good news is that if you do not plan to have a game involving scuba-diving tourists or commuting Gazprom workers, these models are also pretty accurate representations of a first generation Mi-8T series military helicopter from the late 60s to the mid-80s although they lack the pylons and rocket pods usually seen in Soviet service. Should you want to detail them further, the following additions can be made to portray a late-war Afghanistan version: external cockpit armour panels, dust and debris extractors in front of the engine intakes, an IRCM pulse jammer at the rear of the engine housing and IR exhaust suppressors. Pylons and armament might be adapted from a Revell 1/100 Hind model but this could easily turn out to be a tad expensive.

As mentioned above, the main drawback of this model is the painted-on fuselage windows which will disappear when you repaint it. However, it is possible to dismantle the model with care and drill these out. The nose piece easily slides out as it is not glued on but secured by two tabs and, in fact, reveals a nicely detailed cockpit interior that is sadly invisible once the model is reassembled. Separating the plastic upper fuselage from the die-cast lower fuselage is a little more tricky. You will first need to remove two screws and then carefully prise it off by battling a couple of spots of glue. The die-cast lower piece extends all the way to the tail boom and couldn't be separated without a strong probability of breaking the plastic so I opted to saw through the plastic part (the cut was made between two panel lines in order to be easily covered up with filler). Interestingly, those sneaky people at Italeri have inserted a large metal ballast inside the fuselage in order to give the model the heft of a full die-cast. This is of no use and best removed and discarded to allow easier access to the windows. Once the plastic fuselage is separated, it is easy to drill out the windows and finish them off with a half-round file. They can then be blanked off from the inside if you prefer painted windows or completed with clear plastic.

Given the number of variants and operators (coupled with the fuselage being plastic), conversion potential is extremely high. A second generation Mi-8MT series helicopter could be approximated by shortening the engine intakes (which are in fact a separate piece which is clipped onto the fuselage), moving the tail rotor over to the port side and forgetting about the APU. With some modelling skills, a third generation Mi-8MTV-5 or export Mi-17V-5 could also be approximated by adding a dolphin nose and modifying the clamshell doors into a ramp. If you favour rather more "spooky" versions, yet another possibility is to remove the clamshell doors altogether to portray the configuration favoured on CIA-operated Hips (such as the one to the right) or Executive Outcomes' Sierra Leone choppers but this would entail quite a bit of work since it means cutting the main structural part and cleaning up the interior...

Now if only Zvezda would release one in 1/144 scale to complement this one with a cheaper option than the Eastern Express model, things would be perfect.

PS: apologies for the title and the gratuitious reference to Huey Lewis and the News, my only excuse is that this awful song was released before the end of the Cold War. ;-)






  1. Wow. Nice work. I may have a go at this inc drilling out the windows.

  2. I've had good luck in the past searching for "Elicottero 1:100 Fabbri" on eBay Italy ( The choppers are usually quite cheap and if you find something you can log in with your id.