Meng Models SPS-026 1/35 Russian Light AA Gun Set
Full Build Review
Please see the First Look Review on the AMPS website
for further discussion of this kit to include images of these guns in service.
Manufacturer: Meng Models www.meng-model.com
Importer: Dragon Models USA www.dragonmodelsusa.com
I want to lead off with apologies to Dragon Models USA, to Meng Models, and to AMPS for the overly long time from the receipt of this kit and the First Look until now, the Full Build article. A few health things kept interleaving with heavy work requirements and quite simply ate up 5-6 months.
I revisited my First Look review and see a few things to address up front here.
There are many very tiny parts … tiny, tiny, little parts …. and no spares. Yes, the parts are detailed but not always seam-free, in particular and surprisingly, the ZPU-4. The very small diameter handles, rods, pins, etc, need great care when removing from the sprue and when cleaning up. OTOH, some sprue gates are surprisingly heavy.
The instructions are not always as clear as I thought and it is critical to study them each step of the way -- and look ahead. Do not go snipping parts without looking at the instructions to see just what little knobs, bumps, etc, need to stay or go. I clipped an axle off the ZU-23-2 by not looking carefully -- it looked just like a sprue gate peg I clipped on a previous part.
There are tiny, tiny tabs and pins and slots and grooves and dimples in which parts fit together - have a good strong flashlight handy and the instructions. Almost none of these are noted anywhere so you have to find them by inspection. There are a lot of tight fits, keep a 0.035" pin-vice handy to open various holes.
The instructions badly need some close-up views. As I noted in the FL, there are several notation schemes that are not explained and I would urge anyone to study the instructions just to be clear as to which size/shape arrows, boxes, etc, mean what.
I mentioned I'm not a Russian modeler and had no paints so I got the two Meng (AK) Modern Russian Color sets only to find they had only one of the colors I needed and I thought it was much too green -- but then what do I know. I mixed my own because there has to be paint on it but you won't find any "how I painted & weathered it" section here -- not the purpose of the review. Also the Trumpeter GAZ-66 was a handy, but not particularly inexpensive, display tool and is simply assembled and painted without further remark.
The four guns are presented here in the same order as the kit instruction booklet. Only the Russian versions were addressed and constructed.
Building the ZU-23-2
I built this 3rd, after the ZPU-1 and -2. As it is, I believe, the oldest of the kits I confess to not putting much into it, to include taking WIP photos. My main frustration was that after building the very nice ZPU-2, which this is a lot like, I somehow expected the ZU-23-2 to be the same and it was not.
Step 1: How parts H20-22 fit on H49 can best be seen in the underside view in step 10. Save the two locking keys (H29) until after step 2 to avoid knocking them off.
Various components in steps 2 - 5.
Step 2: Before starting, see steps 3 and 6 and ensure the ammo trays (G30,G31) will fit into G34/G35 and again see steps 6 and 7 to be sure that the foot plates (G26,G27) will fit into the mount (G17,G18).
Also meet G11, the base with the very delicate fender supports. One of them shattered while being cleaned and they both were constantly in danger through the rest of the build.
The gun in the mount, roughly step 2.
As I noted in the First Look, the gun really doesn't elevate freely, it just has 3 fixed positions depending H17, H18, or H19. Also note that W17 "swings freely" to stay parallel to the ground. You can fiddle with it to make it changeable but I then had too many problems getting G34/G35 to mount to the gun such that they rode properly in the mount (G17,G18) and allowed the gun to elevate. I think the issue is a little tab on the inside bottom of G34/G35 which forced them to lean in at the top rather than remain parallel to the mount (G17,G18) and rotate freely.
I did not have any fun in this step.
Step 3: An amazingly bad fit of all the ammo box parts. Hold off putting the ammo boxes into the trays (G30,G31) until after the trays are installed in step 6.
Step 4: Looks like the ZPU-2 but doesn't build as easily -- no fun.
Step 6, 7: Mentioned before but worth repeating -- be careful working around the fender supports. Actually it wasn't until I got to step 7 that I figured the gun and mount weren't going to line up right and went back to step 2 to try and fix it, but ultimately just glued it in place instead of being "elevatable". Bummer.
This is mostly done, views from above and front above.
From here it's pretty easy, just follow your options but before you leave step 9 look ahead to step 12 and assemble the selected axle(s) then ensure they will fit into the slots on the underside of G2 -- it isn't fun once the gun and stuff is already mounted. It is possible to build the kit to swap between option-B (ground) and option-C (travel). Build the axles (G9/15-G8/16, G6/20-G6/19) but don't glue the wheels. If you are going to do this, then do not open the slots in G2 very much or you'll have no friction fit.
And here we are:
Building the ZPU-1
I built this one first, just to get a feel for the "bigger" kits. It is a simple, quick build and gives one practice looking for the tiny nubs and slots and interpreting the instructions. I got caught up in it and forgot to take in-progress pictures; the only one I have (below) will not necessarily match the text.
Step 1, 2: Be gentle fitting X11, X7, X13. Look down at Step 2 to verify how X7 and X30 fit.
Step 3: I never really understood the difference between the upper/moveable half and the lower/elevated half other than the upper half appears to be firing over open sights (that is, none) and the lower has the anti-aircraft sight. Note the left and right gun mount sub-assemblies apply to both views/options.
If you study the parts and play with them a bit you can make either move fully in elevation. Note the relation of X16 to X19 and glue X16 to the gun. Then glue the left gun mount to the base, then fit X5 to the left gun mount, then fit the right gun mount to X5 and the base, hold tight and insert the gun+X16 assembly, then run some glue to hold the right mount to the base and X5 to both mounts.
If you are doing the X1/W12 sight spend whole bunches of time figuring out how to bend W12. The pictures run right to left but I think the 1st bend (of the rectangular portion) should be counter-clockwise -- either that or the perspective of the drawing is incomprehensible.
Note that no matter how much the gun moves in elevation, the sight cannot be dynamically collapsed to fire at low/ground targets, so you really should pick which one you want or do a lot of own surgery.
Parts from various steps, the only in-progress picture I took.
Step 4: Assemble X8, W14, and X17 then move to step 5. Hold the rest of the parts until step 6 where they won't be as vulnerable.
Note the gun should rotate on the tripod, that's what the X25+X3 gear does, but that is not offered as an assembly option and I didn't try to make it happen. Or I got some glue on/around X8, X17, X20, and/or X31 that I should not have -- but again, the instructions provide no guidance.
Step 5: Assemble the tripod. Assemble the seat (X14,X15,W19) and the seat arm (W11,X4) but do not put them together until step 6 to better align them.
Step 6: Add the seat and seat arm assemblies from step 5 to the tripod assembly, ensuring the seat is level -- it is easier when all the other detail isn't being knocked about. Then add the detail bits (W2,W13,X23) from step 4, saving the traversing gear (X25,X3) for step 7.
Step 7: Add the gun and mount, then do what you must to fit the traverse gear (X25,X3) -- there may be a conflict with the rod X5.
And here we are:
Building the ZPU-2
This was the second build and, of the four, my favorite. It's a beautiful little kit, not easy in places, but it didn't fight me the whole way and in the end the gun rotates and elevates and with a little care can be displayed in several positions.
Step 1: In the introduction I mentioned tiny, tiny parts with tiny, tiny tabs and slots -- well, welcome to parts L15, L17, and L16 - and whatever you learn from here remember you have to do it four times with the ZPU-4. Use a flashlight to inspect these parts as well as L18 and M1/M6. Blow-up views would have been very helpful. Be careful to have the barrel and receiver aligned.
Step 2: No issues except a tiny L-shape that must be trimmed off K26 for the Soviet gun. I'm not sure why it was even put on -- it's almost invisible and cannot be seen anyway.
Step 3: The hard part here is tracking which part is facing where in the instructions and then catching when they are flipped over going from the left side to the middle. Again, pay close attention to the drawing and the parts for little tabs and things that indicate proper orientation. The big arrows indicating where a part goes may obscure that detail.
Step 4: Same here, watch the birdie, don't be in a hurry. At the bottom left, assemble J6, J14, J29 -- note the little tabs (again). Rotate that to match the unlabeled part in the top left view and add parts K8, K23, K27-K29 -- then flip it over to match the drawing in the bottom middle of the page. To that add the assembly from Step 3, flipped over from the way it last was and add K31 and the two pins, K2 and K4.
Steps 5, 6: Be careful to slice off the proper things on J19, although it's not necessarily fatal if you aren't. Assemble the seat to the base then look ahead to step 6 to see where the end caps (J7,J8) go in J18 and J19 respectively and note some little tabs -- that will help when the sight assembly is mounted.
Step 5 parts.
Using three or more hands, clamp the gun assembly from step 2 and the sight assembly from step 4 between J18 and J19 and glue to the base. Note the bar (J6) on the sight does not rotate in the mount, so don't worry if it is glued down as long as the little tabs are aligned. I had some difficulty initially preventing the guns from slipping out of the trunnion but that seems to have resolved itself later on.
Do note that the sight arm (K31) may slip out of the little hook (K18) on the gun assembly while being elevated.
Steps 7, 8: The fit of the ammo feeds (J15,J16) is a little imprecise. Look ahead at step 8 to see how the ammo can assemblies fit, especially J11,J12. I ended up slicing off the little tabs on J11,J12 and just gluing the ammo assemblies where they fit best. IMO, they were superfluous detail anyway.
The problem is that the ammo feeds do not rest tightly against the mount/trunnion and there is a gap where the ammo belt should be visible. Meng provide ammo belts but makes no mention of their use. I filled the gap with 3 rounds.
The ammo can to gun gap and a workaround with spare rounds.
Steps 9 - 12: The only hard choice you have to make is the seat, open or closed, unless you want to make little pins to allow the seat backs to move (see note below).
Steps 9 and 10.
Step 13: If you want to switch from firing to travel, pay close attention to K11 and K24 and the wheel assemblies -- you can force fit these parts, without glue, in either position -- although too many test fits or too much playing may make it all a bit sloppy.
Steps 12 and 13.
Also note that if you leave the tongue (J4) loose, then with the exception of the seats, you can put the gun in any of the 3 positions (portee, firing, traveling) -- and it elevates and rotates. YAAY !!!
And here we are:
Building the ZPU-4
The new kit on the block is the ZPU-4, but IMO it is a step backward. There are some mold seams; the instructions are complex and not always clear, there are two part number errors; the ammo cans are clunky and without obvious detail and their fit to the mount leaves a bigger gap than did the ZPU-2; and last but not least it cannot be correctly assembled in firing position and traveling position is incompletely described. Many of these issues were noted in the First Look and have images of real guns to support.
I have varied from usual review practice of building OOB and have suggested some modfications that will solve the firing position issues -- it is too bad Meng didn't make the same effort.
Step 1: Assemble the 4 guns -- this is virtually the same as Step 1 for the ZPU-2 except there are twice as many.
Step 2: There is a conflict between B23 and A29 in sub-assembly A, and B24 and A30 in sub-assy B -- solvable with fitting and trimming.
Step 3: On the left side, the mount is assembled -- glue A1 to A2, then add sub-assemblies A & B from step 2, noting there is a tiny tab in A,B that rides in the curved slot of A1,A2.
On the right side the sight is built, but you'll soon wish it was the same as the ZPU-2 -- be very careful. On the very right, build the "base" of A23, A39, A44, A48, and A49. To that add the assembled A17+A18 (note view rotation), then A27, A47, A52. Part A52 is a bear because you have to glue it on without getting glue on the two pins and there isn't any place to glue it to -- enjoy.
Add the assembled sight to the mount and note tiny part A26 which has to be glued to the mount but not the sight arm B28. "No place for old men."
The guns will elevate, keep testing each step. I got some resistance but by the end of step 5 the assembly was strong enough to enable them to move by carefully pushing up/down on the barrels.
Step 4: Start by adding A32 and A33 to the mount, taking care that they do not foul A34/B4 and A35/B3 (see step 2) when the guns are elevated. Then add the rest of the parts, although I recommend leaving the traversing (B10,A20) and elevating (B9,A20) gears until later to avoid knocking them off.
Step 5: No drama. I put on the two lower guns, ensured they were neat and square, and then added the two top guns. The seat (B26) fits between the supports (A50,A51).
Step 6, 7: The four ammo cans are just clunky and missing obvious detail, such as hand grabs, on the outer surface. The parts B6, B7, B8 were good candidates for photo-etch to look anywhere near scale thickness. When you assemble all that to that mount, you'll have a gap between the cans and A42/A43 bigger than on the ZPU-2 and in fact no effort to portray the dual belt feed. As noted there are some short spare belts on the sprues but no indication of how to use them. I didn't bother.
Steps 6 and 7.
The ammo can to gun gap.
OK, take a break here. I have made the point that firing mode is incorrect. Take a look at the carriage (A16) -- the two "horns" should be separate pieces, rotating in A16/B30, with B12 being the lock/crank. The "horns" are vertical for traveling and rotated inward for firing to lift the wheels such that the stabilization pads will reach the ground. What's odd to me is that A16 is a complicated part -- someone went to a lot of effort to design/produce it as a single piece -- but it looks to me that it would be simpler, definitely more accurate, and probably not a huge cost to mold the horns separately and make them positionable.
Step 8, part A16, the gun carriage.
I am now deviating from the instructions and the kit itself -- I just couldn't let this go and I had some specific goals for the display of this gun that couldn't be met by the kit as provided. You can ignore my hacks; my other comments are applicable to the kit regardless.
Step 8: There is a mold seam running around A16, even on the "horns" and on the four spring/axle parts (B13-B16). Part B21 is really A21. Do not glue the two friction locks (A19) as shown -- these need to just be pushed onto the handle (B25) so it can move and be used as a travel lock.
OK, I neatly cut the horns from A16 then used some brass rod to make them pivot. Do not be concerned about which end is which, A16 is symmetric with the horns off. There are different ways to do this, such as running the rod through A16, but I took the easy way out. It's suitable to show intent but not good enough with any weight on it -- once I had shown that it was possible and got some pix, I glued them in place for firing mode.
The "horns" have been cut off …
... and re-attached with some brass rod.
Step 9: Part B40 is really B42. The top half of this step is for "firing" mode, the bottom for travelling mode, the difference being the long jacks (B35) and short jacks (A10) respectively. The outriggers (B19/B18,B20/B18) will move as shown, but need to be fitted to the carriage to ensue free movement.
Note that three of the stabilizer jacks/pads are built as a unit and attached directly while the fourth must be assembled on the carriage -- this latter is also an issue if you make the rotating horn/axle as I did as it will not swing over top the mounted jack. All jacks have a little tab that force fits into a little slot at the bottom where they attach to the carriage -- this is handy for test-fitting and fiddling, but they won't take weight later. This means one could swap between firing and traveling, perhaps, by modifying the carriage and jacks to use a short piece of brass rod and make them "plug and play".
These illustrate the carriage in transport and firing mode, just tacked together.
This is the kit firing mode; horns straight up, wheels on, jacks don't touch the ground.
This is the modified firing mode; horns tilted in to raise the wheels, jacks touching the ground.
Step 10: The tongue (B11) and the handle (B25) should not be glued (unless you want to) so they will be moveable. As mentioned before B25 is not only a handle for ground movement/positioning but also a travel lock when vertical. Again, from step 8, the two A19 friction locks should be slid onto B25 and positioned on the handle for best fit. They are quite oversize and can carefully be trimmed down or replaced with something else. The kit wheels are 2-spoke -- images show 4- and 5-spoke wheels in use also.
Here is the chassis with the handle (B25) with locks (A19) on.
And this illustrates the handle (B25) stowed for travel and functioning as a travel lock.
Step 11, 12: Despite great care, A45/A5 would not rotate in A6/A7 -- I am pretty sure the tolerance is too tight. I admit to spraying the base coat on/near them, but I tried to clean it up. I knew that any attempt to rotate the gun once assembled would result in destroying the whole thing (there is no place to grab the mount and the carriage to twist them) so I carefully lined up the platform fore-and-aft with the carriage and glued it down. If you want your gun at some angle to the carriage, plan it ahead of time.
Here's the carriage, in firing mode, with the platform on.
And here's the whole carriage with wheels, in firing mode.
When gluing the gun mount to the bearing ring on the carriage, the fit is very tight -- I found that if you have the gun horizontal you can put some pressure on the top of it and on the bottom of the carriage and it will snap into place, but it's not going in there on its own.
And there you have it.
The ZPU-1 and ZPU-2 were my favorite models, I really enjoyed them. The ZU-23-2 is OK but shows its age; it needs a retool by the same crew that did the ZPU-2. The ZPU-4, being the new-tool, should have been the star of the show and I guess it is, but for all the wrong reasons.
Pros: Beautiful little kits, mostly, useable in a wide variety of scenes and configurations -- great value for the creative modeler. Images abound on the internet to provide more than enough ideas.
Cons: Each gun has some issues, noted above, but many can be worked around. The ZPU-4 cannot be built in the proper firing configuration without extensive work and there is a minor issue with the traveling configuration. In many cases, you have to build the configuration or pose that you want - it is hard to use just one piece in different scenarios.
Recommended for experienced modelers.
I would like to thank Dragon Models USA for providing AMPS this review kit.
Reviewed by John Ratzenberger, AMPS/Eastern Carolina Plastic Modelers & AMPS/Central-Virginia.
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