Panda Models have been going through an ‘interesting’ period. From 2015 until 2018 they mainly made Chinese airlines, but in 2018 they branched out to Indonesian and European carriers. Last year their number of releases nosedived, new moulds were seemingly ditched and their previously reliable release schedule vanished. There was talk of a 737-400 that hasn’t appeared, then bizarrely a suggestion they were branching out to make warship models, and then the announcement of a new Russian type and a new 737-800. I have heard rumours of an ownership change and I’m certain Covid has had an impact, but in 2020 almost nothing has been released. Finally, this month the new Russian type has finally been realised and it is extremely gratifying to see a manufacturer take a chance on a new type for 400 scale in the Tupolev 134. It is long overdue to see more Soviet metal in this scale.
THE REAL THING
The Tu-134 (NATO reporting name Crusty) was another stalwart design from the Tupolev OKB, which provided the bulk of Aeroflot’s jet products until its switch to Western jets in the 1990s. It makes an interesting comparison with the British BAC One-Eleven and American Douglas DC-9, although a perhaps more comparable aircraft is the French Sud-Aviation Caravelle. It was the latter that apparently inspired the rear engine, T-tail design of the Tu-134 in 1960.
The Tu-134 didn’t in the end enter service until September 1967 and even at this time it is clear that Soviet technology was some distance behind that of the West. Although the 134 was broadly close to a Caravelle it was no match for a One-Eleven or DC-9. The initial Tu-134 still had a breaking parachute as its engines had no thrust reversers. The aircraft also had an extremely thin fuselage, which allowed for only 2+2 seating and did not allow for any underfloor baggage stowage. In service with some airlines Tu-134s were sometimes followed around by an IL-18, which had all the bags aboard!
The Tu-134A variant was much improved over the original with better engines, avionics, a stretched fuselage. Even so, it still had the classic Soviet glazed nose with a chin radar dome. It wasn’t until November 9, 1970 that the first Tu-134A entered service with Aeroflot but changes continued to the design and, as is common with other Soviet era models, the type was developed into a myriad of other versions for a myriad of other tasks – from Cosmonaut training to Crop surveying.
Despite its shortcomings the Tu-134 saw extensive service with Aeroflot and its Warsaw Pact partner airlines. It proved itself reliable and efficient, at least when compared with other Soviet designs. In total 854 of all variants were built and they equipped all the major airlines of the Eastern Bloc, aside from Tarom, as well as several other Soviet aligned states such as Syria. Aeroflot continued to use the type domestically well into the 2000s.
This airframe was an early production aircraft built in 1971. As is customary for Soviet airliners there isn’t much detail about her service history, although a nice shot from Airliners.net shows her landing at Dusseldorf in July 1975 and is presumably what this model is based upon. By 1996 the frame was reportedly operating with the Russian Federation Air Force. There is so much to be said about the Tu-134 and I highly recommend acquiring the wonderful book on the type by Dmitriy Komissarov in the Aerofax series.
The format for my reviews is to split them into three key areas:
- The mould of the aircraft
- The paint and livery
- Printing and quality control
Each can get a maximum score of 10 for a section giving a maximum combined total score of 30.
For years Phoenix has had an apparently good 1:200 mould of the Tu-134 and there has always been a rather desperate hope that they would downscale it (just as with Herpa possibly upscaling their 1:500 TU-114). It says something for Phoenix’s lack of imagination and interest that they have never done this, but I admit Panda making a Crusty did catch me by surprise. I had been expecting a Tu-204 since that at least had Chinese operators. I am however overjoyed that a Tu-134A is with us after all these years and this new mould is certainly worth the wait.
The forward region is lovely. The glazed nosecone is printed on but Panda have correctly made the cone asymmetric with a flattened underside. The long nose and relatively short cockpit is also spot-on. The Tu-134 has a very thin nosegear leg and I think this model has about as thin a leg as is possible in this scale.
The wings droop slightly down as they should and have a lot of finely etched detailing on them. The two wingtop strakes are present, although possibly a little too low. The large main undercarriage pods midwing are also excellent and nicely shaped.
It is pleasing to see Panda have fitted aerials to this mould including the pair of long strake-like ones atop the fuselage. The two smaller aerials, on the forward roofline and underside, are correctly kinked as in the real thing.
The rear of the mould is also a thing of beauty. The shape of the engines and tail region are perfect to my eye. What I particularly like are the etched lines of the rudder, including the hinges, and the moulded in bumps atop the engines. There is no denying that this is a beautiful mould and a real piece of craftsmanship from Panda. I can’t fault it.
SCORE – 10
PAINT & LIVERY
It wasn’t until the mid-70s that Aeroflot standardized its livery around the widely recognized simple Soviet flag on the tail and blue cheatline. Prior to this different aircraft types wore their own livery variants, although there were various minor differences as you’d expect. The Tu-134 didn’t receive its own striking livery until the second prototype was unveiled in 1969 and the scheme would be worn for the next five years or so. It featured a bright blue cheatline outlined in black above with a black pinstripe below. The blue cheatline wrapped around the nose while the upper black formed a large anti-glare, which included the cockpit frames.
The tail and engines were the same bright blue and the Soviet flag was outlined in gold with the white rego finishing off the job. There are very few colour photos of this scheme it seems. Of the four photos I’ve seen the Blue varies but I am overall happy with the choice Panda has made.
The placement of the livery components is first-class. The cockpit frames are correctly black, as are the door and emergency exit outlines. The font of the titles and registration is correct and small details such as the Tupolev logo (under the cockpit) and Aeroflot logo (ahead of the wings) are printed in fine detail.
The book I have says the flag outline should be gold but in all the photos I have seen it looks white as on the model. Panda have topped an exquisite mould with a beautiful reproduction of the original Tu-134A livery.
SCORE – 10
PRINTING & QUALITY CONTROL
I have already commended the printing quality on this model and it is very good. Almost all the details are there such as the small circular roof windows above the engines. There is one area of printing where I think the model is lacking, although it isn’t something you’ll readily notice. Up to 1979 all Tu-134s and Tu-134As were equipped with a large ventral speedbrake under the wing centre section.
Apparently, the advent of ILS rendered this redundant and the drag it caused a liability. It was excluded from later build aircraft, and permanently locked on earlier aircraft, but nonetheless it should be visible on the model’s underside and is not. Another minor issue is that from the photos I’ve seen the rooftop strake aerials look like they should be black not white.
This is a really dainty 1:400 mould and feels very light in the hand. Despite this, construction quality is outstanding all over.
SCORE – 9
This is a strong contender for model of the year not only because it is a fabulous little model but because most 1:400 scale manufacturers are only focused on larger aircraft types (even NG). A Tu-134 in this scale gives me hope that other long ignored, but important, aircraft will get a turn eventually. My only concern is that Panda Models may not use the mould (or should I say moulds since they are also producing a Tu-134 with radar) enough to cover the many worthwhile candidates. That is a worry for another time. This is a breathtaking release that is already proving hard to find. I hope there will be many more.
FINAL SCORE – 29