Reviewed: Nov 2022
The Atlas Cheetah is a domestic South African fighter aircraft designed and produced by the aviation company Atlas Aircraft Corporation (later Denel Aeronautics). It was developed at the behest of, and principally operated by, the South African Air Force (SAAF). The United Nations Security Council Resolution 418, which halted the weapons delivery to South Africa, forced the SAAF to upgrade the Mirage III with the latest Israeli technology and develop the state-of-the-art Cheetah fighter and strike aircraft, with the first Cheetah launched in July 1986.
The Cheetah was developed amid the Border War of the 1980s as a major upgrade of the French-built Dassault Mirage III fleet operated by the SAAF. The programme integrated technology from the Israeli-built IAI Kfir, which had been derived from the Mirage 5/IAI Nesher. The upgrade programme, which was known as Project Cushion, produced three variants; the two-seat Cheetah D, the single-seat Cheetah E, and the single-seat Cheetah C. All three models were inducted into the SAAF, functioning for a time as the service's most capable fighter and strike aircraft. A single Cheetah R, intended for aerial reconnaissance, was built as a prototype, but this variant never entered service.
During 1992, the Cheetah E model was withdrawn from SAAF service; both the Cheetah Cs and Cheetah Ds were retired during April 2008, having been being replaced by the Swedish-built Saab Gripen. Since its retirement by the SAAF, a limited number have still operated in South Africa as flight test aircraft. Some have been exported, such as to the Ecuadorian Air Force (EAF) as a source of spare parts. The privately owned company Draken International intends to use the Cheetah as an adversarial aircraft for combat training services in the United States. [source: wikipedia.org]
The Cheetah D is Kinetic's latest release based on their 2014 Mirage III tooling. Just as the Cheetah itself was a hybrid from the Mirage and Kfir with a bunch of new parts designed by Atlas, Kinetic have cleverly done the same when sourcing parts for their kit. Sprues have been re-used from their previous Mirage IIID and KFir kits, resulting in several sprue letters (eg C and D) being doubled up, leading to a somewhat confusing build process. The quality of the toolings and resultant fit/detailing is clearly pre "Kinetic Gold Series", reminding me more of KittyHawk. This was even more obvious to me having only recently had a very close look at their new CF-104 Starfighter "Gold Series" kit which is a quantum leap above the Mirage/Cheetah tooling.
Four marking options are provided in the box, including three schemes used by SAAF over the Cheetah's service life with the fourth scheme being for an Ecuadorian export version. Not the most colorful subject with very little variation between the options, but sometimes that what you get.
A quick check on scalemates.com shows us the parentage of this kit. Not shown on the Mirage timeline is the Kfir/F-21 variants made by Kinetic which also contribute several sprues to this Cheetah kit. The modular design of the original Kinetic Mirage base kit has allowed them to produce so many variants with relative ease and re-use of previous toolings. Having so many "optional" parts on a model can be a blessing and a curse, as it allows more flexibility but at a the price of ease of construction.
As mentioned, the Cheetah was basically an update to their Mirages by the SAAF along the lines of that of the Kfir and incorporating some Israeli-built equipment. The upgrades were performed by Atlas Aircraft Corporation and the first refurbished Mirage III machine, named the "Cheetah", rolled out in 1986. Improvements to the Cheetah included:
The Cheetah kit includes decals designed by FCM Decals and printed by Cartograph. Appropriate stencils are included for the main airframe and as you would expect the printing is sharp with good color registration.
The Cheetahs in active service were painted using air superiority greys, either single or two tone. The markings applied by the SAAF were mostly lo viz, whilst the Ecuadorian roundels and fin flash added just a touch of color.
The Cheetah D entered service with the SAAF in 1986 and retired from active service in 2008. During this time it was operated by the following units:
As usual the assembly begins in the cockpit. Kinetic has provided a reasonably detailed tub with side consoles built in, however the detail is a bit soft for my taste, which always makes detail painting more of a challenge. As far as I know no-one has released a detail set for the Cheetah but you may be able to make use of sets for the Mirage IIID two seater. This will not be the case for the instrument panels which are quite specific for the Cheetah D, in fact the rear panel is new just for this kit and contained on sprue P.
A quick comparison of the front IP to photos shows that the Kinetic suggested part D62 is not a good match. A quick scan of the extra sprues in the box reveals sprue G which comes from the Kinetic C2/C7 kit and part G8 looks to me to be a much closer match to the real aircraft than D62. The main difference is the MFD in the lower left, which I believe was installed in the later model Kfir C7. Even part G8 is not a perfect match but much closer than D62.
As part of the Cheetah Atlas upgraded the ejection seat in the Cheetah to Martin Baker Mk.10L's. The supplied Kinetic seats look pretty good but of course they have no belts harness. Unlike the newer Kinetic Gold series kits, which do have PE belts, these earlier "pre-Gold" toolings have no such inclusions. The fit of the cockpit parts is good and only a small amount of extra detailing would be needed to close this sub-assembly out.
Everyone loves good reference and to save you scouring the internet I have done that already. The cockpit interiors are finished in a fairly standard "interior grey" with instruments in black. For my build I would use decals for the individual dials (not provided by Kinetic) and some resin MB Mk.10 seats.
The nose wheel well is next as we prepare each sub-assembly that will be sealed inside the fuselage. The exhaust can be left out to make seam work easier and installed at the very end of the build.
The Kinetic nose wheelbay is detailed well enough for 1/48 scale. The fit of the three parts is good and this will allow painting to be handled before assembly.
The Cheetah was fitted with an Atar 09K-50 engine, originally built under license in South Africa for the country's Mirage F1 fighters. The air intakes also featured modifications to some inner areas of the intake shape to improve the airflow. The basic outer shape remained the same. The Kinetic nozzle is very basic and I would want to replace it (with perhaps a resin nozzle designed for any Mirage F.1 kit).
The cockpit and nose wheel well (I suggest you leave the exhaust out for now) is now sandwiched within the fuselage halves. Depending on what stores you plan for your build remember to drill out the holes for the centerline pylon if so desired.
The overall fit of the fuselage halves is very good.My kit had no warping or mis-alignment issues. I added some small plasticard tabs to help with the alignment of the outer intake parts which will be installed later in the build.
Kinetic provides a set of full intake trunking, which sounds good on paper but often causes more problems than they are worth, especially on an aircraft where you will not be able to see into the intakes anyway!!
The fit of the intake trunking is good but be on the lookout for points where it sits proud, especially where it curves around the rear of the nose gear bay. As little bit of sanding here helps greatly with overall fit.
If sanding does not get the job then out comes the knife. A small notch was it took to get the intakes to sit perfectly flush along the side of the fuselage. This was a problem on both sides and easily corrected once you understand what the problem is. One thing I dislike very much are butt joints and I will often use small plasticard tabs on these joins to provide better alignment and strength.
Before you attach the outer instake panels be sure to pre-drill the holes for the canards. As per the assembly diagram the intake panels should just click into place, but I found things started to get hairy at this point.
The design of the outer intake parts on this kit are terrible. To engineer a kit where the join runs the full length of the intake is bad, and completely unnecessary. Even KittyHawk were able to get this right on their Mirage 2000C kit, so Kinetic have no excuse. The basic problem here is that Kinetic have designed the bottom of the delta wing and fuselage as a single part. This decision means that the join line between the lower wing part and the fuselage continues all the way forward and impacts the intakes.
While scratching my head on what Kinetic were thinking I decided that the shape of the front part of the intake was more important so I cut off the very front section upto the lip. This was glued to the intake outer shell and sanded smooth both inside and out. I now have a new seam that needs to be dealt with on the gun port but that is the lesser of two evils in my opinion.
Aircraft 45 of the Test Flight and Development Centre offers us an excellent study of the starboard outer intake, canard and extended nose on this Cheetah D.
With my plasticard tabs and adjusted intake lip fixes in place the shape and fit of this area has been tamed, at least a little. After fighting with the intakes I now could clearly see this was no Gold series tooling.
The P sprue (Cheetah D specific) contains new upper wings parts (P7/13) with the 'dog-tooth' in the leading edge. This was an innovation incorporated into the late model KFirs and carried into the Cheetah by Atlas. Part P1 is also new and adds the integrated self protection dispenser (chaff/flares) on the rear ventral fusleage.
Originally when I quickly looked at the parts breakdown of this kit I liked the idea of a single piece lower wing and fuselage, but after seeing what impact this decision had on the intakes I changed my mind. I now think that have separate wings and traditional fuselage halves would have been a far better option. Yes this would have given us a seam down the fuselage centerline but rather that than the situation with the intakes.
Mating the wings and fuselage is a very straightforward step thanks to solid alignment tabs on both parts.
The fit of the wing to fuselage is extremely good, with no gaps visible at all.
One specific Cheetah features not provide by Kinetic was the new stores pylon on the lower fuselage "shoulder" as seen here on this Equadorian Cheetah D. When not fitted the attachment points are still visible and its no surprise that these are also not provided on the Kinetic lower wing.
Despite my grumbling about the intake seams, once in place the single piece lower wing does look good. Virtually no seam work (beyond the intakes) is needed. The surface detail on the wings, upper and lower, is a lot sharper than on the fuselage. I believe this is a problem shared amongst all other Kinetic Mirage III family.
It's always a compromise when manufacturers tool up new kits, especially ones like the Mirage from which so many variants sprung. To make the base molds as reusable as possible, Kinetic have designed the kit to have lots of alternative parts. Nowhere is this shown better than on the vertical tail with optional parts for the leading edge fuselage fillet, the RWR sensors above the rudder and the need for some surgery to remove an unwanted sensor on the top leading edge. It's the old adage, you don't get something for nothing.
Following the Kinetic instructions the tail is converted into a Cheetah. The fit of the alternative parts is actually quite good and removing the tail sensor on the leading edge easily accomplished with just a sharp blade.
Switching gears from the tail to the nose, it's time to assemble that big nose, which strangely enough is one of the things I like most about the Cheetah. Atlas replaced the windshield on the Cheetah, opting for a single piece curved design in place of the older framed style, yielding improved pilot forward visibility.
Kinetic have included a new single piece curved windshield to properly depict the Cheetah's upgrade. This is the only part on the new sprue H.
To highlight just how far Kinetic have advanced since the intial 2014 tooled parts in this kit, consider the nose parts which are obviously newly tooled. Panel lines and rivets are far sharper and the general parts themselves show more finesse. The shape and fit of the new nose is good and the droop has been captured perfectly by Kinetic.
This photo of aircraft 49 shows the single piece curved windshield and the extended nose. A new avionics suite, radar, electronic warfare and self-protection systems, including a modern pulse doppler radar were incorporated into the Cheetah design.
Kinetic include all the hardware needed to pose the large dual canopy open or closed. In common with all two seat Mirage III canopies, the front section have additional framing along the top.
A quick test fit revealed no problems with either the windshield or the canopy when closed. Sprue M includes the standard "framed" windshield but this can go into your spares box.
The armaments commonly carried by the Cheetah C, D and E fighter aircraft include a 12.5kg practice bomb, a 120kg fragmentation bomb, a 120kg low-drag bomb, a 145kg bomb, a 250kg fragmentation bomb, a 460kg bomb, a 745 (Paveway) laser-guided bomb, a CB-470 cluster bomb, an mk81 250lb bomb, a mk82 500lb bomb and a Raptor 1 glide bomb (H-2). In addition, the Cheetah C is also equipped with a Vicon 18-601E bomb.
The Cheetah is also equipped with an air-air capability based on the U-Darter, V3C Darter (Matra R550), V3S Snake (Rafael Python3) and V4 R-Darter.
Kinetic provides two V3S Snake (Rafael Python3) missiles in the kit, with pylons to match.
The Python3 is a short range air to air missile, manufactured by Rafael, Israel. In South African service, the missile was designated the V3S Snake.
Kinetic provides a full set of separate control surfaces for the wing trailing edge. Each control is positionable on the recessed trailing edge, with alternate actuator hinge parts provided for up and down.
The fit of the control surfaces is very good. Be sure to pay close attention to which part is which because there is no easy way to determine which goes left or right once you cut them off the sprue. Sometimes I use a marker to print the number on parts to work around this type of problem.
Last step in the main assembly is to fit the canards and then the "removable" fixed refuelling probe. It's worth mentioning the the fit of the canards into the pre-drilled holes was terrible. The mounting pins on the end of the canards had no hope of sliding into the holes without considerable work to reshape them. The refuelling probe has no mounting holes whatsoever, so be extra careful to glue it in the right spot.
This photo offers us a good shot of the angle of the both canard and refuelling probe. The probe is fixed in place (ie does not retract) and is designed to work with the "probe-and-drogue" system, as found on US Navy aircraft.
The completed Kinetic Cheetah model captures the sleek shape and unique design features of the real SAAF aircraft. Overall Kinetic have done a worthy job of converting their Mirage III kit, much like Atlas did to the real aircraft.
Well this kit is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I'm really glad Kinetic took the time and effort to give us a Cheetah, as it is one of the most unique and interesting evolutions of the Dassault delta. On the other hand the design, engineering and execution of the base Mirage kit leaves me a bit cold.
Perhaps I'm being bit hard on Kinetic and the Mirage kit, considering I've only just finished reviewing their beautiful Gold Series, CF-104 kit and I am probably unfairly comparing the two kits with each other, just because they both have Kinetic on the box.
In reality the two kits could not be further apart, and that's to be expected. I would have loved this Cheetah to have been tooled in the new Gold standard, but it's not so we just have to make the most of it.
Many thanks to The Modelling News and Kinetic Models for this review kit.