This kit appeared in the shops in the Netherlands in September 1996. The box says it's a 'MiG 23ML Flogger' (Flogger-G), but what's inside is closest to a MiG 23MLD Flogger-K. It can be easily modified to represent an ML by filling in the notches in the leading edge of the glove wing and deleting the chaff/flare dispenser. The sprues have room for a big-tail version, so perhaps we will see a MiG 23M/MF Flogger-B later. The other 1/72 MiG 23 models are from Hasegawa (which has some shape problems), Academy-Minicraft (a copy of the Hasegawa model with engraved panel lines) and Airfix (which I've never seen) that was also issued by Heller. The Italeri/Zvezda kit has 66 parts on three sprues.
I had the 'luxury' of using three sets of drawings:
PKL MiG 23MF (Polish)
4+ MiG 23M/MS/MF/ML/MLD (Czech)
Aeroplan MiG 23ML/P/MLD (Russian)
Of course, they don't agree. I mainly used the 4+ and Aeroplan drawings, since the PKL solely deals with the MiG 23M/MF Flogger-B. Further I used Jane's Air-launched Weapons (updated until 1992) and an MiG 23/27 article in World Air Power Journal.
The references agree on a fuselage length 15.65 m (radome to nozzle). The model is some 7 mm short. Taking the glove wings 'tips' and the cockpit as reference point, the drawings suggest:
Aeroplan: 1.5 mm between radome and cockpit, 3 mm between cockpit and fuselage, 2.5 mm between fuselage and nozzle
4+: 2 mm between radome and cockpit, 4 mm between cockpit and fuselage, 0 mm in rear fuselage (which leaves 1 mm unaccounted for)
The radome-cockpit panel line is some 2 (Aeroplan) to 5 mm (4+) too far forward. The radome is a little bit bulkier than the Hasegawa radome, which looked a little too pointy. Fuselage height behind the cockpit is correct (Hasegawa was 1.5 mm too high). Rear fuselage height is correct.
Rear fuselage has the right square look; the Hasegawa is a bit too rounded there. But the nozzle diameter is too small: 13 instead of 15 (Aeroplan) or 14.5 mm (4+), and the rear fuselage tapers too much to arrive at this diameter. This makes the whole rear fuselage too slim.
Contour and dimensions agree with drawings, except for three details. The contours of the tips are different in the two drawings; the model agrees with Aeroplan. The leading edge inside the 'tooth' should line up with the glove wing when at full sweep, which it doesn't. At the inboard edge of the flap, they've made a kink in the trailing edge; the wing should continue the line of the flap. The wing pivot is in the right position (Hasegawa was a bit off there).
The leading edge flaps have a 1 mm too large chord. There are no spoilers on front of the flaps.
Sandwiched between the fuselage parts, the wings don't have enough dihedral.
The span of glove wings agrees with Aeroplan, 4+ shows 1.5 mm missing. Contours agree closely with Aeroplan, somewhat less with 4+. As with all swing-wing kits I've seen so far, the glove wing is too thick: 6 mm instead of 4 mm in the drawings. It also has thick trailing edges.
Agrees quite well with Aeroplan and 4+, but the sweep angle of the trailing edge is a bit too small. The slight kink in the leading edge is some 5mm too high according to both references. The parachute container diameter and length are too small. Nevertheless a big improvement over the Hasegawa tail, which is much too small.
The ventral fin appears accurate, but a small strake on the leading edge is missing (Hasegawa has this correct).
Accurate outline. Ugly wide and deep engraving between the fixed and moving part. The fixed part should be wider. According to the drawings and photos, the tail planes should be mounted about 1mm higher, right up to the upper speed brake. This modification will create the required wider fixed part.
Toylike interior: a huge seat, no side consoles, a simple instrument panel with a decal. Nice stick. Needs complete rebuilding.
The canopy is quite bad. It has four sprue attachments, and subsequently lots of visible weld lines (where the inflowing plastic touched eachother), and mine even had an air bubble! The dimensions are also off:
Canopy: some 1.5 mm too high, 1 (4+) to 2 mm (Aeroplan) too wide. The frame at the rear is too long (more glass is needed there)
Windshield: the bottom slopes up to the nose, while it should be horizontal. The horse-shoe frame that holds the flat pane connects directly to the windshield bow, but there should be a short piece of frame between them. The flat pane slopes a bit to steep.
Compares well with drawings, except that the splitter plate appears to be canted at a too large angle. No landing lights beneath the intakes (Hasegawa has them)
Nose landing gear looks decent, but is only accurate for an MF. The ML has a torque link. The wheel bay under/behind the cockpit has no details, and should be much deeper behind the cockpit to accommodate the wheels. Tire diameter (once sanded to a flat surface) and width are correct. Note that nearly all the ML/P/MLD in the Aeroplan do not have mudguards anymore.
The main landing gear looks correct to me. I hope it gives the typical ground attitude of the ML, that is way different from the MF's. Tire diameter and width are perfect, but the wheels are canted inside tires. Really strange, and difficult to correct. The most visible landing gear door has a nice interior. Wheel wells are decent.
Raised panel lines, that are not always correct. The drawings show about three times as many lines.
The nozzle has an interior, but it is way too shallow. According to Aeroplan, the turbine is some 43 mm inside, and the flameholders some 36 mm.
No APU doors near the fin (open when the landing gear is down)
Nice Reper antennas besides the ventral fin. Should be rounded off a bit. Others report that these antennas are much too big.
Speed brakes: separate, with bare wells and no actuators
No Odd Rods IFF antenna, Swift Rod ILS (RSBN) antenna, AoA sensors, or T and q-sensors on the intakes. But nice pitot tube near the windshield. The 'normal' pitot tube (the one at the tip of the radome) does not have the tiny strakes that were added to the MLD version
Nice air intakes on the rear fuselage (must be opened though)
Two types of IR trackers (up to MF, and ML and further). The instructions make you use the wrong one
Nice missiles. An R-23R radar Apex of correct length, diameter and span, an R-23T IR Apex that should be 4 mm shorter, and four R-60 Aphids of correct length, diameter and span.
Four nicely molded bombs (four parts each). I found no pictures of this bomb type, but judging from the dimensions and shape, they must be FAB-250 bombs of the M46 series.
A centerline tank of the correct shape.
GSh-23 gun: nice, 4 parts, but 5 mm short at the rear (behind the cooling gills, both Aeroplan and 4+ agree)
Correct set of pylons for an ML; the MLD can carry different pylons under the intake when R-73 Archer missiles are used, but these are not provided
Chaff/flare dispensers as used on MLD's. According to Aeroplan 3 mm short. A July 1993 FSM article showed a different type used on Syrian ML aircraft.
On the rear of the box is an ML (no glove wing notches) of the 125 Fighter Bomber Division in green, brown and tan with a red/orange '26' (decal is yellow!). I can't find a 125FBD in the lists. I guess they meant the 126 Fighter Division in East-Germany, controlling the 833 Fighter Regiment at Juterbog, operating MiG 23MLD's. They had red codes, but used the same camo colors. The red '26' I saw there had a different pattern though.
In the instruction sheet a second color scheme is presented without details except 'Russian Air Force 1992-1994'. It is not clear which decals apply to this version: yellow '30' with Guards badges or red '31' with eagle badges and what appear to be mission markings.
The raised panel lines are a disappointment. General molding quality is a bit below the 70's Hasegawa molding. The outline of the model is a lot better than the Hasegawa model, but considering the Hasegawa kit's age (20 years or so), it wasn't bad at all. The weak points of the Italeri/Zvezda kit are the bare cockpit interior, the too narrow rear fuselage and especially the canopy. Nevertheless, I would prefer it over the Hasegawa kit.