by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundDepending where you look, Vought's XF5U-1 has gone by several nicknames - the Flying Flapjack, Flying Pancake and even the Flying Saucer. Sadly, this revolutionary STOL fighter never flew, so we can't tell if it could ever have realised the extraordinary potential envisaged - a speed range from a hover to over 500 mph in its fully developed form.
Designed during WW2, the XF5U-1 was a victim of both its complexity and sheer bad timing. After lengthy delays and more than $250,000 had been spent on two airframes (one for flying, the other for static testing), the prototype s/n 33598 got no further than successful taxiing runs (some sources mention short "hops") before the aircraft was rendered obsolete by the jet aircraft already entering service. So, just as the considerable technical problems were apparently solved, the entire programme was ordered to be scrapped. Tragically, nothing was saved other than $6,000 worth of silver used in the propeller gear boxes.
Thankfully, modern generations can still get an idea of what might have been, because the low-speed V-173 built to test the principal of the XF5U-1 did survive as part of the Smithsonian collection and has been restored. It is on display at Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.
The KitWhen the first news reports of Kitty Hawk’s planned XF5U-1 came in, the stated scale was 1:32, but it was clear immediately from the response in the forum that a majority of our members would be far more likely to buy a 1:48 kit. So it’s very welcome to see a manufacturer responding to the preference of potential purchasers.
The new kit arrives in a very attractive box adorned with a really striking “What-If” illustration of an operational Flying Flapjack in combat. There’s plenty of room inside, due to Kitty Hawk’s almost trademark way of folding the sprues over while warm. I have to admit this does frustrate me somewhat, because it leaves you with the rather awkward task of separating the “halves” before you can start work. I noticed on this occasion that the main sprue was slightly warped. Whether this was as a result of being bent while still warm, who knows - but it could be as a result of this that the body of the sample Flapjack tends to spring open at the nose. Tape won’t quite hold it, but it doesn't look like anything that CA and strong cement won’t deal with.
The doubled-up sprues and accessories are all bagged separately to protect them, and the kit comprises:
146 x pale grey parts (Oddly, there are 3 gaps on the sprues where items shown on the parts chart are absent. I haven't spotted them in the assembly diagrams, though.)
11 x clear styrene parts
3 x Etched brass parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
The surface finish is excellent, with delicate engraved panel lines and restrained embossed rivets and raised fasteners. There’s a fabric effect on the rudders which does look a bit overdone compared with photos of the prototype, but you can always reduce it if you wish.
I found a whisper of light flash here and there, but the encouraging thing is that the designers appear to have made a real effort to tackle the problem of ejector pin marks that has previously dogged many Kitty Hawk kits. There are still one or two to deal with here, but it’s a massive improvement.
Test FitAs noted above, the sample kit’s main sprues were slightly warped, but the model’s body still goes together pretty neatly (the nose will clamp shut), and the trailing edge is quite nice and thin. The elevons and fins slot in positively, while the engine intakes are a fair fit, but may need a little adjustment.
A Few DetailsThe 17-part cockpit should look pretty decent. The pilot’s seat is complete with an etched harness, and the instrument panels are provided as both moulded and decal versions. Of course, you can go one better and use a punch and die to apply the faces individually in the bezels.
The undercarriage seems quite sturdy and well detailed, with retracting arms and gear-door links. The torque-scissors are separate, but I think KItty Hawk have made a mistake by including what looks like a large spring to fit on the front of each main undercarriage leg. In photos, the actual mechanism looks more like a ram of some sort, with a projecting rod that’s missing in the kit. It won’t be hard to make from scratch, though.
The mainwheel wells are constructed from five parts each and are thankfully free of any pin-marks. I've never seen a photo of the interior of the full-sized wells, but there may be scope to add some pipework and cabling to busy things up a bit. The doors attach with separate hinges and have moulded structure on the interior faces, but something Kitty Hawk have missed is that the outer doors should have quite a prominent blister to accommodate the wheels when closed.
Turning to wheels themselves, the tyres are unweighted and moulded in halves so there's no problem with sinkage. What will be an issue for some modellers is that the wheel hubs are incorrect for the prototype XF5U-1: the kit’s are solid with small embossed “dimples”, but the originals were open-spoked (very much like a Corsair, but with 6 spokes instead of the Corsair's 8).
Kitty Hawk have included plain panels to insert into the top and bottom of the body. I don't know if they misinterpreted them as access panels, but the original items were actually hinged cooling vents with a split across them. As the parts are separate, it won't be too hard alter them to look a bit more convincing.
The big "flapping" propeller blades are neatly moulded and correctly staggered, but the roots lack any detail and the shafts are rather spindly. The panels surrounding the roots are quite oval in photos of the prototype, but more oblong on the kit parts. Seeing as the elongated airscrew bosses are moulded in halves, it could be tricky to preserve the detail anyway while tackling the inevitable seams, so it may actually be easier to just go the whole hog and scratch-make the oval mounts from sheet styrene.
Ports for 6 x .50 cal machine-guns are situated just inboard of the air intakes, but the kit doesn't include blast tubes. It’ll be easy enough to add them, however, and it will be worth it because they give a bit of an unrealistic see-through look from certain angles. There's a pair of bombs and pylons to sling under the Flapjack. These don't appear to have been carried by the prototype, so you'll need to fill the holes if you don't want to mount them (it would have been preferable if they'd been flashed-over).
The transparencies are crystal clear in the sample kit and include the gunsight reflector, landing and navigation lamp covers. The canopy frames are crisply detailed and the parts are very nice and thin. There is a bit of optical "rippling" evident, but that might not be so apparent when the parts are in place.
Instructions & DecalsThe instructions are printed as a 16-page pamphlet with full-colour artwork for the painting options. Construction is broken down into 16 stages, and the diagrams are well drawn. The assembly sequence is pretty logical, although I’ll probably try to leave the undercarriage off until after I've assembled the body to avoid it taking accidental knocks. Colour matches are given for Gunze Sangyo paints.
As only one XF5U-1 was built that got close to flying (the other airframe being devoted to static testing), the field is wide open to go beyond the prototype into the realm of "What If". Kitty Hawk originally intended to offer four colour schemes, but one that featured "Anime" artwork fell by the wayside due to licensing difficulties. Hence, you’ll find one section of the instructions glued closed and the corresponding picture on the side of the box taped over (there is, however, a small taster of the missing scheme on the parts layout chart). The three surviving scheme are:
1. “US Navy, Midnight Blue version”
2. “US Army, Uncle Sam Wants You”
3. “US Navy, Silver version”
Scheme #1 is presumably intended to represent the prototype s/n 33958. The trouble is, no s/n or US Navy lettering have been included. The prototype's “Bugs Bunny” personal insignia is provided, but the colours don’t quite match those shown in period documentation. Decals are included for what look like non-slip panels, but in fact these were really protective sheets taped crudely onto the prototype’s airframe to protect it from heavy boots during ground tests. The shapes of the originals don’t quite match the decals and - as you might expect with temporary applications - in reality they changed appearance during the life of Flap Jack.
Scheme #2 is a “What-If”, and features a slightly gory Uncle Sam recruiting artwork surrounded by red and white stars. Quite why a US Army aircraft would be sporting Navy colours, I don’t know… Again, there are no s/n etc.
Scheme #3 is another “What-If” and should look attractive in n/m, although it wouldn't be standard finish for US Navy aircraft of the period. Once again, there are no s/n or markings beyond WW2-style “stars and bars”.
The decals themselves are quite nicely printed on two sheets. The first (with the national insignia etc.) is partly screen-printed and the thin, glossy items look very good. The Hamilton Standard propeller logos are printed as very fine dots in perfect register, but oddly those for the yellow tips are slightly off - not a great loss, because most modellers would paint them anyway.
The second sheet is printed in a semi-matt finish with the fine dot process to allow all the colours for Uncle Sam etc. to be reproduced. Instrument panels are included on this sheet.
ConclusionKitty Hawk's new Flying Flapjack looks like it'll be a straightforward and attractive build, but it is let down slightly by odd mistakes and questionable choices with the decal options. It'll certainly stand out in any display of standard Navy fighters, and "What If" modellers should be able to have a field day with fictional Korean War schemes.
References UsedNaval Fighters #21 - Chance Vought V-173 and XF5U-1 Flying Pancakes. Steve Ginter, 1992
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