Last modified: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 8:28 PM



Sheesh, I warned ya! Oh yeah... Sorry. In the BBI F-15 review I warned myself about how one aviator figure could easily lead to two... or more. It didn't take long at all, thanks to the greased lightning speed of Justice Fighters and the good ol' USPS. I anticipated having to poo-poo on JF's shipping policy which requires insurance, but was pleasantly surprised to find the package waiting for me without the hassle of making a trip to the post office to sign some stinkin' scrap of paper. So I have no complaints, only praise. (Meanwhile, a package shipped by UPS 10 days ago decided to take a side trip from California to Maine on its leisurely trek towards Texas. But that's another story...)

Naturally, this review boils down to a kind of shoot out between BBI's and Dragon's aviator figures. In both cases, their lines include a lot of rehashed equipment-- that's not a gripe because they're called "uniforms" for a good reason. Because of this, we can make some generalizations about their approaches to these figures, and to their productions in general.

To me, one of Dragon's "trademark" features is the headsculpt. I don't have all of them, but I swear-- they seem to be variations on the same guy! Take away the zipper and this guy would pass for "Pieter, Panzerwulfjaeger". As a Sunday sculptor, I can understand it-- we sculpt what we sculpt. I guess it's purely a matter of taste, but I've gotten tired of that flared nostril, taut-lipped Germanic look. Maybe it's time for them to broaden their gene pool in the sculpting department?

The pic at the top shows a rare, helmeted view of this figure. Why is it so rare? It's because putting the helmet on the head is a friggin' bitch! The strap is elastic and doesn't detach or adjust. It's just there, in your way. It has to be stretched out of the way while you try to compress the head & ears enough to wedge the head in the helmet, all the while cringing, hoping not to hear that dreaded crack sound that a hard plastic shell can make when it's stretched too far. I was lucky. It's true that a helmet should fit snugly, and Dragon's liner is made of rubber. Still, you shouldn't have to go through this stress just to make a figure wear a major piece of its outfit. I didn't even try to put the flightcap on. Fortunately, taking the helmet off is easier, so I won't be so reluctant to heat up the head before insertion next time.

As you can see, the visor is attached differently than BBI's; via a knurled knob in a track. Guides on the sides keep it aligned in the "down" position. The helmet is very well made and detailed, aside from the slightly cheesy elastic used for the chinstrap.

The oxygen mask is likewise very well made. The fabric straps look better than the molded rubber ones that BBI uses, but that & the bayonet attachment compromise the general ease-of-use, relative to BBI's design. BBI's bayonets are made of metal which fit snugly into the rubberish slots on the helmet. This keeps the mask & straps flush with the face. Dragon's bayonets are made of plastic, and with fabric straps, don't draw the mask close to the face-- you have to tuck the edges of the mask under the helmet's opening. In addition to that, forcing the bayonets into the slots is a little bit harrowing: This time I did hear that dreaded "crack". Fortunately, the bayonet didn't snap and it was easy to glue the slot piece back onto the helmet.

The hose on Dragon's mask is very cool-- it's appropriately thinner than BBI's and has an embedded wire. This lets you pose it for connection to an on-suit oxygen regulator block (which neither of these figures have). I'm not really sure what to make of the end of the hose though... it's got a weird green string hanging off the end of it.

This picture gives you a general idea of the cloth goods that come with the figure. Yes, you get lots of stuff. However, I confess that I prefer the overall appearance of BBI's outfit for aesthetic reasons. Dragon's material is a slicker, slightly shiny synthetic-- which may be more accurate(?). Dragon's G-pants seem a tad too flaccid-- visually, it's unappealing. The harness straps stand out because they're gray but seem plain, like twill tape (which it is).

I haven't tried to put on all this stuff at once because frankly, this does not look to be as "fun" a figure to dress-- the harness has buckles which must be unthreaded/threaded, which is kind of a hassle for casual playing around. Also, it seems that he might be awfully "puffy" if you put it all on.

I was looking forward to the patches, since they appeared to be embroidered and were pre-attached to the flightsuit. In person, they aren't quite the great thing they appeared to be. The patches are a weird hybrid of print and embroidery-- the borders and some areas within the design are embroidered. The details are printed. This creates an odd flat and raised texture conglomeration. I can't say it looks good because embroidery is so thick, out of scale and stiff. On top of that, they're attached by a kind of flexible glue tape-- so they kind of sit there on top of the material, like a couple of plates on the sleeves. It's a neat idea, but in my opinion, it's not an improvement over iron-ons.

Now this is neat. Dragon's always been absolutely bleeding edge at downscaling attachment hardware-- from their micro functional quick release clamps in their HK SDU sets, to (IMO) their rubber WWII belt. In this picture you can see three zippers-- the one to WOW about is the tiny one on the right. Not exactly to scale, but heads above what's been available. This is what everyone ought to be putting in all their zippered gear! I'm puzzled as to why they didn't use it throughout the outfit. (Betcha they're expensive...)

Here's another area where Dragon rules-- accessories. Not only do you get a lot of 'em, but they're really well detailed. The survival radio rocks-- such crisp detail and micro lettering can best be appreciated under magnification.

It's also cool that they do the extra work of making things functional-- like the compass which unfolds, and the pocket knife with unfolding tools. I guess you could be a stickler and point out that the pocket knife should have more tools, or that the needle on the compass is painted on. Like every manufacturer, Dragon focuses their energies on certain pieces, and the others receive adequate treatment. The pocket flare set is a simple thing with a neat feature, but only one of the flares is detachable. The strobe marker is simple-- it's well sculpted, but lacks the detailed tag. I kept pulling and poking at the pistol, expecting to discover some piece of working detail. Although it's a good sculpt, it's just a chunk of plastic, pure and simple.

BBI follows this pattern too. Their revolver with its chamberable rounds, their watch with its magnifier hump in the crystal-- are neat examples of attention to detail. The autoloader is one of those ho-hum pieces.

In a strict parts count, Dragon comes away the winner. While BBI's figure stand may earn it some points with some folks, I see it as an unnecessary extra which has little to do with the subject matter of the figure. I'd rather have been served that plastic in the form of more accessories.

In a head-to-head contest over production quality, Dragon wins. The quality of their production of crisp detail surpasses anyone else around. This was true of their product compared to Yellow Submarine's, and it's true in a comparison to BBI. A comparison of the sunglasses shows this. Their cast parts seem to have finer and cleaner lines, and their microprinting seems to be sharper than everyone else's.

Dragon also leads the field in innovative ideas, and is usually the first to find new ways of doing things. They don't have a monopoly on new ideas however, but they are bolder than other large manufacturers and better capitalized than the small ones to fund the research and experimentation with new techniques and materials. Dragon's embedded wire gloves are perhaps an improvement over the bulkier fixed pose gloves (I guess that's debatable, since they don't hold poses as solidly) which come with BBI's (which look remarkably like those which Dragon first produced).

All this does not automatically translate into creating a better, or more appealing figure however. There is a Zen-like balance in this quest to provide realism in a package that's fun and looks good. In this regard, considering the totality of the figure, I think BBI did a better job. In a wide angle view, it just looks better and plays better. Aside from the issue of taste in headsculpts, Dragon lost points with me for their approach to the helmet and mask. It's good looking, well-constructed, and accurate, but it just doesn't work with the figure in a way that's as fun as BBI's. I feel that this pattern is repeated throughout the figure--even accounting for the differences in equipment. Up close and piece by piece, Dragon gives you more bang for the buck, part-wise and quality-wise. But when you step back and look at all the pieces, it just doesn't look as good as it should. A paradox, huh? Evaluating the "totality" of a figure is a vague, hazily-defined concept, but that goes with it being a Zen-like thing.

Of course, that's just my opinion of this figure-- I don't know if it can be generalized to all of Dragon's aviator figures. Only one way to find out, huh? Get out of here!!!



Fully suited up and looking just a little pudgy (It's the life preserver, y'know?). Yes, the buckles are a hassle to adjust, but eventually the job gets done. Thanks to the zippered pouches on the survival vest, all those neat survival accessories can be stowed onboard. The only leftover parts are the sunglasses and his two caps (which can be conveniently stored in the other guy's helmet bag). After a headswap, the guy looks a lot better and fits painlessly into his helmet.


Review: BBI's F-15 Pilot     Review: BBI's F-15 Cockpit