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In-Box Review
1:48 MiG-23ML Review
Trumpeter 02855 1:48 MiG-23ML In Box Review
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by: Paul Cotcher [ REDSTAR ]

Originally published on:

The MiG-23ML

The MiG-23 was delivered out of the VVS requirement for a fighter aircraft that delivered expanded war fighting capabilities to counter the threat of aircraft types such as the McDonnell Douglas F-4. While the MiG-21 was successful in its own right, the type's primitive radar and limited weapons capacity were primary factors in the decision that a new platform was required.

The MiG-23 was the first "clean" sheet design from the Mikoyan bureau to enter service. Those familiar with the line of fighters know that the MiG-15, 17, 19 and 21 all shared a somewhat linked design lineage (looking at prototypes this becomes even more obvious). As such, the MiG-23 featured many firsts, including laterally mounted intakes (instead of an inlet in the nose), it was also the first type to utilize variable geometry wings.

One of the draw backs of many of the Soviet jet fighters of the day was the requirement that they operate from a long runway, making them less useful in tactical and forward situations. As a result short field handling was a primary design concern. As a clean sheet design, two basic prototypes were delivered. the 23-01, using a tailed delta design and fuselage mounted lift jets and the 23-11, using variable geometry wings. It was quickly found that the lift jet design was the wrong path, as the lift jets became nothing more than dead weight once the aircraft was in the air. As such the 23-11 prototype with the variable geometry became the paradigm around which the production MiG-23 was designed.

The new type featured many firsts for Soviet fighter design. As part of the so called "third generation" of jet fighters, it featured look down/shoot down radar, beyond visual range missiles. Over 5000 MiG-23s were produced.

The MiG-23ML was the lone major mid-life modification for the MiG-23 fighter series. While the MiG-23B and MiG-27 series branched off to serve in the attack roles, the MiG-23ML sought to lighten the standard production MiG-23M/MF. Major external changes include the new vertical fin with the drastically shorter leading edge filet (yes it's still there, the tail has a compound sweep). The landing gear was also changed to allow the aircraft to sit more level. The MiG-23M/MF had a decided nose-up attitude on the ground, where the MiG-23ML sat nearly level. the forward fuselage was shortened as well.

Only surpassed by the Soviet-only MiG-23MLD in production the MiG-23ML serves to this day with some air forces.

What's In The Box

If you've opened the box on a Trumpeter kit before, then this one will come as little surprise. The sturdy cardboard box comes tightly packed with 18 plastic trees composing some 400 /- parts. A healthy number of the parts are for the weapons, so don't let the parts count deter you. And yes, you have to be an origami expert to get it all back in the box the right way!

As with any Trumpeter kit, the parts are cleanly molded with little flash only a couple of minor sink marks and outside of a few oddly placed ejector pin marks, there are few flaws for the builder to deal with.

In the past, when Trumpeter has released a kit previously available in a larger scale down to 1:48, the parts layout of the larger kit (and all the flaws) have translated directly to the 1:48 kit. In this case, we see that Trumpeter seems to have taken a different approach. The 1:32 kit featured a forward fuselage molded separately from the rear fuselage. The front was molded in left and right halves, while the back was molded in four parts with upper and lower mid section (including the wing gloves) and a left and right rear section. The 1:48 kit simplifies this significantly. The fuselage is molded in two halves with the lower section of the rear molded together with the front section. There is a third piece that is the fuselage top and wing gloves. This will make for much less seam work.

Wings in the 1:48 kit are simplified as well. While the 1:32 wings have lowered flaps, slats and positionable spoilers (that are difficult to assemble in the raised/closed configuration), the 1:48 wings are molded top and bottom with all the control surfaces "cleaned up." This is a good choice on the part of Trumpeter, as finding a picture of the aircraft on the ground with the wings open and the control surfaces deployed is a challenge. Basically the wings weren't put out until the aircraft was at the end of the runway for take off. Every picture I've ever seen of the aircraft parked, or transiting ramps the wings are fully swept (queue pictures that prove otherwise). Easier to build the model this way anyway right?

Breaking down what's included:

Plastic Trees:

R: ML/MLD fuselage halves
B: Lower Wing gloves, intake ramps, intake trunks
C1: Wing halves, landing gear doors
C2: Wing halves, stabilizers and wheels
E: ML specific parts, vertical, later landing gear, ventral fin, etc.
F: Outer intakes
H: Radome
L: Gear wells, engine, cockpit, detail parts
M1: Clear Parts, wind screen, lights, FLIR
M2: Main Canopy (with the later central frame)
N: Upper Fuselage, speed brakes (open and closed variants included)
WA (two included): R-23 and R-24 missiles and pylons
WB (two included): R-3, R-13, R-60 and R-73 missiles and pylons
WC (two included): Drop tanks and additional pylons
Two afterburner nozzles are included, but not molded to any carrier tree

Also in the box are:
Photo-etched fret
Two decal sheets covering ONE subject with full range of stencils for the aircraft and weapons
Color profile showing the color layout of the subject aircraft
Color weapons diagram showing painting suggestions and decal placement

Upon opening the kit, the first thing I did was rush to see how well they handled the MiG-23ML changes. In the 1:32 kit, Trumpeter missed the changes for the forward fuselage, and as such, the MiG-23ML and MLD have longer-than correct forward fuselages. The good news is, in the 1:48 kit, with the re-tooling they've done, they seem to have gotten this correct (see the photos of the forward fuselages compared).

The panel details for the nose were also completely and correctly re-done. The new tree E contains not only the changed vertical fin, but also the changes to the ventral fin, landing gear and instrument panel.

So on the surface it look as though they've gotten this one a little closer than they did in 1:32!

Building & Issues

Construction follows a fairly typical sequence for this model, the 40 step process doesn't have many items that merit a step-by-step breakdown of the construction process. However a few items should be called out:

Step 6 & 8 - When assembling the fuselage, make sure that you include part E3 before gluing the fuselage halves together. It cannot be slotted in from the outside. Also make sure of the alignment before gluing. I would NOT glue it to one side first, as that may end up with it leaning to one side. Simply leave it floating until the fuselage is glued together and THEN glue it in place.

Steps 10 & 11 - Building the intakes - leave the small probes off until final construction. We'll talk more about the intakes in a minute.

Step 16 - Building the upper fuselage - unless you plan on leaving the wings mobile and able to swing be VERY careful gluing them in place, it's very easy to end up with wings that aren't aligned with Trumpeter's parts. As I noted earlier in the review, the wings are designed without separate control surfaces, and this is fine, as on the ground, the wings are typically fully swept and clean. So my tendency would be to glue the wings in place. Just make sure they are flat when you glue them.

Step 17 - it's nice to see the speed brakes are offered in both opened and closed format. In the 1:32 kit there are a number of additional parts in the assembly that aren't needed here.

Not very many other construction warnings to post about this one.

That said, like it's 1:32 brother, the issues are present. While some of the issues were fixed in reducing the kit to 1:48, at least one big one remained, that being the shape of the intake profile. The top and bottom walls to the outer intake should be 90 degrees to the outside wall of the intake, and as such the top and bottom should be parallel to each other. The reality of the kit part is that the intakes are more trapezoidal in shape.

The second issue is that the curve joining the top edge to the outside should be the same as the curve joining the bottom edge to the outside. The top corner ends up looking pinched compared to the bottom corner which is correct. We have seen these shapes corrected and corrected pretty easily. There are also aftermarket parts available to correct this piece. The photos to the lower right show the asymmetry of the upper and lower curves.

There are also contour issues to the bottom surface of the intake where it blends to the fuselage. These shapes are much more subtle. Chris at Zacto Models has published some nice drawings and correction suggestions for the 1:32 kit, many of these are directly applicable to the 1:48 kit as well.

While there are definitely the hard core accuracy types that will disparage this kit as a result, don't let this set of issues deter you from building this model. It's something that's really only noticeable when directly compared to the prototype. Moreover with a little modeling skill, or judicious application of aftermarket parts, the issues are easily corrected.

And remember, your alternative is the ESCI kit and the Kazan upgrade sets. This kit is a VAST improvement over the only alternatives in the scale!

Upgrading the MiG-23

One thing that the Trumpeter MiG-23s are blessed with is an abundance of aftermarket upgrade options.

Aires offers a full suite of upgrades including cockpit, wheel wells and afterburners, along with the usual assortment of smaller upgrades via Quickboost.

Eduard also offers wheel wells and afterburners, wheels AND R-23 missiles (we're hoping for R-24s soon) that are characteristic of the type. Also available are the more generic R-3, R-13 and R-60s all of which can be applicable to your MiG-23 project.

All of the sets offer MAJOR upgrades in detail over the kit parts, and more importantly, they fit without major modification or grinding on the resin or kit parts to get them to fit. Test fitting here has shown the cockpit and wheel wells to be drop fits requiring only the most minor of modification!

We hope to bring an entire build log soon on a full upgraded Trumpeter MiG-23!

Colors & Markings

Only two very similar sets of markings are provided for the kit - both Soviet operated machines in the typical three tone "frontal" camouflage of tan, brown and green over light blue-gray. One is numbered white outline 47 and the other red 26.

The MiG-23ML was operated by a host of countries beyond the Soviet Union/Russia, so your choices are broad with this kit. While there is little in the way of aftermarket decals yet. Linden Hill have announced that they will be soon releasing several 1:48 decal sets for the Trumpeter MiG-23 kits, so stand by!


This is a really nice kit and a great starting point (like the MiG-23M and MiG-23MF are) for a MiG-23 project. If you want to do one of the later generation MiG-23s, this is a nice model. The only version left for Trumpeter is a MiG-23MLD, which should be released in the next couple of months according to fliers that we have seen. That kit should only be a few parts different from this kit including the dog tooth leading edge extensions, armored intakes and the chaff and flare dispensers.

Like so many kits these days if you were to read the forums regarding this kit, you'd quickly come to the conclusion that it wasn't any good. While the faults that are being pointed out are generally true, they are also minor, fixable, and most importantly, they are being pointed out by folks that are dedicated experts on the type. We will do our best to catalog the faults and how to fix them (the intakes were big enough to note in the review), but we will do so with facts and try to keep the opinions to a minimum. After all, it's YOUR model, and I feel certain that it will look good in your display case!

On a more positive note, upon tearing into the package when it arrived, as I noted the first thing I did was compare the fuselages between the MiG-23M and the MiG-23ML. Seeing that the did a whole new fuselage half for this kit is important beyond just getting a correct MiG-23ML. It also means that we are now well within range of a 1:48 MiG-27 series (and MiG-23B for that matter). So Trumpeter, what are you waiting for, let's get that MiG-27 rolling!!!!!

As always, we thank Stevens for the review sample. Stay tuned to RedStars for all the latest on Russian/Soviet modeling!
Highs: Many updates to the original MiG-23M/MF tooling are done to properly reflect the MiG-23ML version. Excellent surface detail, appropriate weapons are included.
Lows: Some of the same faults that plagued the earlier releases are still there - particularly the frontal profile of the intakes.
Verdict: Accuracy faults aside, this is still the leading kit of the MiG-23 in 1:48 scale by a wide, wide margin. Will look great in the wide variety of camouflage patterns and certainly look the part in a line up of MiG or Russian types in general!
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:48
  Mfg. ID: 02855
  Suggested Retail: $58.00
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Aug 06, 2014

Our Thanks to Stevens International!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Paul Cotcher (RedStar)

I have been modeling since the mid-1970s, having learned pretty much all the different hobbies with my dad. My original fascination were kits of rockets and missiles, but soon after developed a fascination for jets, and have been modeling ever since. I primarily build 1:48 scale aircraft, and my c...

Copyright 2020 text by Paul Cotcher [ REDSTAR ]. All rights reserved.


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