Fighter Face-Off

Written by Paul Kohlmann Scratch-building and flying opposing aircraft
As seen in the October 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.

Editors note: The blue hakaristi, which means hook-cross, was used as the official national marking of the Finnish Air Force between 1918 and 1945 and predates use of the symbol known as the swastika used by the Nazi party in Germany. Scale modelers are known to have active imaginations. The running joke among the breed is that we run around the house making airplane noises as soon as we can test-fit our projects together. But the imagination doesn’t stop when the building is complete. Watching scale models take to the air tends to increase our whimsical nature even further. Each scale flight is a vicarious adventure—perhaps a tribute to a famous pilot or the recreation of a moment from the past. When two scale warbirds take to the air at the same time, this effect reaches its peak—particularly when the warbirds in question are models of aircraft that once met in true aerial combat.

Download free plans

Polikarpov I-16 Rata



Order Plans

Polikarpov I-16 Rata


order now


Curtis P-36/Hawk 75


order now


The Project

My friend, Derek Micko, and I set out to create such an encounter. We have each designed a number of warbirds throughout the years and we talk regularly regarding our projects. Somewhere along the way, we agreed that it would be fun to collaborate. Ultimately, we each committed to design a model with the following criteria: Warbirds. Because the whole purpose of this collaboration was to create two models of similar performance that would interact with each other, the choice of aircraft type was obvious. No aircraft spent more time interacting with other similar types than fighters. Derek and I have both gravitated toward World War II fighters as subjects for most of our projects. Our first criterion was that we would each design a warbird. Size. Derek and I both started out designing models with 30-inch wingspans, but throughout the years, our projects have grown larger. Derek has gone as far as 80 inches, while I have gone up to 60-inch wingspan aircraft. After some discussion, we agreed that 60 inches was a nice target. At this size, the models would have plenty of authority in the air and be great platforms for detailing, but they would still be economical and transportable in a passenger car. Construction Style. Lightweight, stick-built, balsa structures have been our trademark. Keeping the weight low would be the key to scalelike performance. Other materials, such as Depron, could be used to create even lighter structures, but we both like the classic look and feel of a traditional balsa model. Electronics. One of the design concepts was to “take back” from ARFs by using some ARF components for the models. With the popularity of 1,400 mm foam ARFs, a builder might have some spare equipment (motor, ESC, battery, etc.) from an old foamie that went to the hangar in the sky. If you don’t have any old parts lying around, Derek identified FMS as a good source for hardware when he built his 60-inch Grumman Bearcat. By shopping for similar-size models, a scratch builder can find the complete package of motor, ESC, and retracts. This route isn’t necessarily the cheapest way to go, but it is a nice way of sourcing parts that have been demonstrated to work well as a system in a model of similar size and somewhat greater weight than our aircraft. The final criterion was the clincher. We agreed from the start that the two fighters that we chose must have met in combat and consequently, the Fighter Face-Off was born.

The Aircraft

At first blush, it seemed simple to find a pair of fighters and get to work, but it took longer to nail down our choices than we had expected. First, we ruled out the ubiquitous. We both love a nicely done P-51, but the RC world isn’t looking for yet another one. We also ruled out aircraft that we had recently designed, which removed the Messerschmitt Bf 109 for me and the Hawker Hurricane for Derek. After numerous combinations were considered, we settled in on two that we felt were perfect. Both aircraft were solid performers with excellent combat records, although each became outclassed early in the war. What drew us to our pair was the unlikely path that set them on a collision course. Derek chose the Polikarpov I-16 Rata, while I took the Curtiss Hawk 75/P-36.

Polikarpov I-16

The Polikarpov I-16 was the premier Russian fighter during the 1930s and, at the time of the German invasion, comprised more than 88% of the Soviet fighter force. Famous historian Walter Boyne likened the I-16 to that of Rodney Dangerfield, in that it received no respect for its significance, and for a period of time, eminence on the battlefield. It was the first monoplane with retractable landing gear to enter frontline service. Early versions had an enclosed cockpit, and later versions carried a variety of weapons, including cannons, rockets, and bombs. It was a test bed for ram-air engines, retractable skis for winter operations, and a parasite aircraft on the TB-3 bomber (one hung under each wing of the TB-3).
Derek Micko’s Polikarpov I-16 is fully assembled and ready for covering.

There were many versions of the I-16 in its years of service from 1934 to 1950—yes, Spain flew this aircraft until 1950! Throughout its long history, many nicknames were attached to the aircraft. The Spanish Republicans called it the Mosca (Fly), while the Nationalists called it Rata (Rat), and the Soviets called it Ishak (Little Donkey). The Germans less affectionately called it cannon fodder. But this reputation was not always the case. During the Spanish Civil War, while flying for the Republicans, the I-16 was far superior to the Fiat C.R.32 and Heinkel He 51 biplanes it faced in the Spanish skies. It was also an even match for the early versions of the Bf 109s before they were upgraded with a more powerful Jumo engine. Later, in the skies above Manchuria, the I-16 faced off against the Japanese Nate (Nakajima Ki-27) and Claude (Mitsubishi A5M), and these fixed-gear fighters proved to be a closer match. During the Russo-Finnish War, the I-16 was outclassed by the Fokker D. XXI and by its partner in the Fighter Face-Off—the Curtis P-36 Hawk.
The stubby Polikarpov I-16 was quite a hot rod in its day. Photo by Jesus Fernandez.

The I-16 was extremely maneuverable with a top speed of slightly less than 300 mph. It was a robust aircraft. It was often able to take severe damage and return to base, and in later years, this was a necessity. In times of desperation, some Russian pilots turned to taran (aerial ramming attacks) to bring down German aircraft. Surprisingly, some of the pilots actually survived the collisions to fight another day. Because of its wing loading and maneuverability, the full-scale I-16 was challenging to fly, but those who learned its habits really liked its virtues. We hope to represent the full-scale I-16 with an easy-to-fly model.

Curtiss Hawk 75/P-36

In the US, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation was also making the leap to an all-metal, low-wing fighter through the introduction of the Hawk 75. First flown in 1935, this aircraft was developed as a private venture.
Old-school stick-and-tissue construction is loaded with modern ARF hardware. The Hawk 75 is ready for its maiden flight.

A year later, the U.S. Army awarded Curtiss a purchase contract for the Hawk under the designation of P-36 (export versions retained the Hawk 75 name). More than 200 P-36s were built for the U.S. Army Air Corps during the lead-up to WW II, but by 1941, the P-36 was rapidly being replaced by its more powerful sibling, the P-40. The only combat seen by the P-36 was at Pearl Harbor, where Japanese aircraft were downed. Interestingly, the P-40 was credited with the other eight air victories on that infamous day. Internationally, the Hawk 75 was a more successful aircraft. More than 900 were distributed around the world to countries including Argentina, China, Iran, and England. South African and Dutch pilots flew it against the Japanese in the Pacific, the Thais flew it against the French over Thailand, and the French flew it against Americans in Africa! Like the I-16, the Hawk was still in service long after the war—Argentina was still flying Hawks in 1954. But the aircraft that were sold to France had the most colorful history.
The Curtiss Hawk 75/P-36 in prewar U.S. Army Air Corps livery shows off its sleek and simple lines. Photo by Charlie Jackson.

The Hawk 75 performed on roughly equal terms against the Luftwaffe’s early Bf 109s in the Battle of France. After France fell, Germany captured 30 French Hawk 75s. These were sold to Finland, where they flew against Soviet forces including the Polikarpov I-16. Well-loved by the Finnish pilots, the Sussu, or sweetheart, became an “ace maker” while racking up an incredible 12.6:1 kill ratio.

The Models

Over the next several articles, Derek and I will walk you through our parallel builds. We are happy to announce that the plans for these models will be distributed as free downloads through Model Aviation for those of you who would like to build along with us. Parts outlines are included on the plans sheets for you intrepid hand cutters. For builders who wish to take a less manually intensive route, laser-cut kits will be available from Manzano Laser Works. Now that I have used up my word count introducing the Fighter Face-Off, check back next month for the next installment in the series. —Paul Kohlmann [email protected]


FMS Model Aviation archives Manzano Laser Works [email protected]



Facebook Twitter Share


Hi, the article said plans for the planes would be available for download, when are they going to be posted? Thanks, Victor

Hi Victor! The plans for these aircraft will be posted to this website early the week of October 15. Happy building!

Awesome can't wait :) we are early in the week of October 22...

Hi Scott. You can find the plans here on our website: Happy building!

Just received my P-36 semi kit from Manzano. Love that scale prop in the photo, is it a flying prop and where can I purchase one if it is. Thanks;Bill

Would love to watch your video, but can't seen to find the link. Can you please direct me to it?

Hi David! You can see a video in part three of the article at It is also on our YouTube channel at under Model Aviation. Happy viewing!

Hi! Wonderful models you made! It might be asking too much, but I'll try anyway, would it be possible to get the plans in vector format?

Hi! Wonderful models you made! It might be asking too much, but I'll try anyway, would it be possible to get the plans in vector format?

Hi Jaime. I'm sorry but the author did not provide the plans in vector format.

Hi, is it possible to build an aircraft from freely downloaded files? Thank you.

There is always a reason. The Republican side received the Polikarpov I-16 from the Soviet Union, in drawers shipments by train. In these drawers, the origin (Moscow) was written in Cyrillic characters; Mockba, which is pronounced in Spanish is very similar to "mosca" (fly) Meanwhile, in the insurgent camp, calling itself "national", they found the first "modern" fighter capable of attacking slow bombers from below. They flew between the avenues of Madrid and went up to attack the bombers from below. They said they "come out of the sewers like rats" and they stuck with that nickname.

Tried to download The Rata plan but get an error or page not available notice.

Hi, it seams like the downloadlink is not working? is it possible to get hold on the drawings ? regards Fredrik

Help me please. I do not know what material to sheathe the model with. What is sheathed with I-16 Polikarpov. I saw the rails of the frame and then the finished plane without depressions. So it wasn't sheathed with a model membrane? Help

Is this plane available in laser cut cut form?

Hello! I want to buy I-16 Rata blueprints. I can buy? How to pay?

Add new comment