It's an old adage that "if an aircraft looks good, it'll fly well". Of course, there have been notorious exceptions over the years, where designs failed to live up to their promising appearance, but the subject of the latest Windsock Datafile almost seems to have created to prove exactly the opposite could also be true, and fly well despite its looks - the Parnall Panther.
It's hard to imagine a more inappropriately named machine, but the clumsy-looking Panther is generally fondly remembered for its benign flying characteristics and innovative design for the pioneering role of a fleet spotter. In fact the Panther was quite remarkable in many aspects; the pilot perched high over the nose enjoyed an exceptional view of the surrounding seascape and for landing (although upward view was virtually nil), and the aircraft was fitted with a jettisonable wheels and a hydrovane undercarriage and floatation bags for ditching. Perhaps the most unusual feature of all was the manner in which it could be folded to reduce the stowage space needed on board ship; rather than the now common folding wings, the Panther's fuselage hinged and tucked neatly into the starboard wings.
Colin Owers' Datafile #142 does a fine job describing this interesting aircraft, and the 32 pages feature an informative account of the type's development, construction and service. For such a relatively obscure machine, the author has been able to gather together a surprising amount of detailed historical documentation for publication, including first hand reports of flying the Panther, shots of the machine undergoing trials and in service, and a number of very good quality manufacturer's photographs of the airframe and its structure. The latter will obviously be of huge value to modellers, and are accompanied by a fine set of plans by Martin Digmayer reproduced in 1:72 and 1:48. The one thing really missing is a shot of the pilot's cockpit. A hint of the internal layout can be gleaned from the original rigging diagram included at the end of the Datafile, but sadly, there are no details of the pilot's instruments and controls. It's disappointing (perhaps no photos have survived?), but I guess this is mitigated to some extent because the upper wing will effectively hide the front "office" from almost every angle except directly overhead - the pilot entered and exited through a cutout in the top wing.
Although the Panther wasn't built in great numbers, there are some varied and colour schemes thanks to its use in the USA and Japan. These are brought to life with a trio of excellent profiles by Ronny Bar - the red-tailed US Navy machine being particularly tempting as a model subject.
As far as I know, there aren't any kits of the Panther currently available, but of course that could well change with the publication of this Datafile. In the meantime, Albatros Productions have provided all we need to scratchbuild one - and any modeller doing so is guaranteed a real head-turner. Recommended.
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Highs:Lows:Verdict: An excellent addition to the ever-expanding library of Windsock Datafiles, #142 shines a light on a pioneering aircraft that is often unfairly overlooked.
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About Rowan Baylis (Merlin) FROM: NO REGIONAL SELECTED, UNITED KINGDOM
I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...