Mat Irvine: The first task is to construct the Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicle. The first decision is to decide whether to build it for travel or launch. Optional parts are provided for the truck’s 14 wheels to be on the ground or raised on jacks for launching. However you can leave a decision for the rocket’s angle for the time being.
The main task is really getting your head around the number of parts for the chassis - and working out which are for the travelling and which for the launch version. Most of these parts are very similar in appearance, and you need to cross-check constantly with the detailed instructions to make sure you have the correct items.
This not exactly helped by two runners (labelled C) being identical. Many parts are duplicated, so you need two or four of each. This also leads to the situation where in a number of cases, only three parts are required, but you get four as there are two on each runner.
So you have to remember the fourth item is not used, though this can become useful if you happen to drop a part and lose it in the shag pile carpet (it happens). Then you have a spare - for some parts anyway. Then it is basically getting down to assembling all the components for the suspension, drive chain, steering and axles. However, once done the final colour will be mostly the same, so the whole structure can be painted as one, with maybe odd details touched in afterwards.
The Zvezda box (three pictures below) contains dark-green component runners, a small transparent runner, 14 vinyl tyres, decals and instruction leaflet.
The 1:72 scale makes some parts very small and delicate, though the fit of everything is generally excellent. The main colour of commercial TELs remains green, but it is a brighter green than used for most camouflage schemes. Testors Medium Green was finally decided upon, although Humbrol makes a similar shade in its new acrylic range.
The only variation on this shade of green, as far as the TEL is concerned, is that the wheels are black with white rims. Here it is easier to first spray them all white, than hand paint the black centres.
Now all that is left to be done is to decide on the position of the launch support - horizontal or vertical - but if you leave off the hydraulic ram, you can leave this decision until the very end.
Then attention can be turned to the rocket and the five sides of instructions in the LVM Studios kit. These give full details of where to cut the main missile tube, so that the supplied resin section can be fitted instead. This actually makes the launcher rocket longer than the missile version, as there is a fourth stage added, so it hangs even further over the front of the cab.
The conversion kit also supplies the satellite casing and its support structures, to fit under the nosecone. This is built up from very small and delicate photo-etch parts, although an option is purely to cement the nosecone in place, and forget what’s underneath!
This interior was actually constructed and fitted, but in the end the latter choice was made and the nose was cemented in place. However, the satellite casing itself left loose. LVM Studios supplies a new decal sheet with markings for the launcher and Cyrillic lettering for the Svobodny Cosmodrome that has been the primary launch site for these rockets.
The rocket itself - well, strictly speaking it is the casing, as you don’t see the rocket - is somewhat more colourful than the military version, being painted bright yellow, here a Humbrol acrylic spray.
The sturdy LVM Studios box (below) for the START-1 conversion kit.
Inside the box is a mixture of resin components, a photo-etch fret, decal sheet and comprehensive instructions.
It's well worth taking time out to check through the Zvezda instruction leaflet (five pictures below) before starting assembly of the main chassis.
The completed main chassis assembly (above, below) shows the level of detail that Zvezda have put into the mouldings.
Adding the rectangular containers (above, below) along the length of each side.
The first coat of paint (below) was applied in Testors Medium Green.
Fourteen tyres (below) and their matching wheels.
The wealth of detail in the completed TEL (above, below) goes to make the assembled and painted model look really convincing.
Neatly lined-up parts layout (below) for the LVM Studios conversion kit.
Sawing the casting plug away (below) from the resin upper stage.
Drilling out the holes (below) in some smaller resin parts.
Cutting these from the resin runner (below). They are very small, so tweezers are pretty well essential for handling them easily.
Marking the line to be cut (above) from the original missile tube, and (below) the cut parts.
New components fitted to the missile tube (above, below) with the cut-off part laid aside to show the comparative lengths.
The nose cone interior (below) is built mostly from photo-etch parts. In the end, this is hidden inside the nose cone.
The smallest photo-etch parts are the tiny photo-etch handles (below) that are fitted onto a circular hatch on top of the upper stage.
Final fitting of the nose cone (below) before painting.
The completed model in horizontal mode (four pictures below) shows the wheels in jacked-up position. You have to decide at the beginning which version to build.
Launcher in firing position (four pictures below) clearly shows the realism that it's possible to achieve.
The satellite part (below) is also supplied in resin, though it wasn’t used in this conversion.
Zvezda ‘Topol’ SS-25 ‘Sickle’ ICBM
Assembled length: 310 mm (12 in)
Manufacturer’s ref: 5003
LVM Studios START-1 Conversion Kit
Parts: 14 resin, 13 photo-etch
Manufacturer’s ref: START72
Thanks to the Hobby Company for the Zvezda kit and to LVM Studios for its conversion kit.