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KIT REVIEW


Fisher Model & Pattern #3214
USAF/NACA Bell X-1A/X-1B
1:32 Scale

One can argue that the heyday of experimental flight test unfolded over the California deserts following WWII, with a range of innovative, path-breaking, and exotic experimental aircraft that pushed the envelope and redefined what was possible in terms of aircraft speed, altitude, and performance.  The Bell X-1 rocket plane led the way as the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in 1947.  While Glamorous Glennis might be best known in the public’s imagination, it was but the first of a series of X-1 aircraft that pushed Mach 2 and beyond in the 1950s.  While Revell produced a 1:32 scale X-1, subsequent variants, such as the X-1A and X-1B, have never been produced as kits in this large scale.  Fisher Model & Pattern has stepped into the gap and released a limited edition resin kit of the later X-1A and B rocket planes in July 2016.

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Propeller-driven airplanes, especially those produced towards the end of WWII, continuously got faster.  Eventually, those airplanes began to encounter transonic phenomenon including violent shockwaves and loss of aircraft control.  The United States began to explore this unknown region of the flight envelope with the development of a rocket plane to reach and surpass the speed of sound.  Ordered in 1945, the Bell XS-1 (later redesignated simply as the X-1) featured a bullet-shaped fuselage and straight wings.  The cockpit was set behind a conformal windscreen.  It was powered by an XLR-11 four-chambered rocket motor produced by Reaction Motors.  The liquid-propellant rocket engine burned ethyl alcohol diluted with water and a liquid oxygen oxidizer.

Carried aloft and first drop launched from a modified B-29 mothership in 1946, the initial flights of the XS-1 (tail number 46-062) were unpowered glide flights evaluating the flight characteristics of the vehicle. Later that year, the XLR-11 motor was fitted to the XS-1 and powered flights began. Soon after, the USAAF was displeased with the slow place and tentative nature of the Bell’s test flights, so they took over the program in June 1947. On 14 October 1947, Captain Chuck Yeager took 46-062 in out to Mach 1.06, breaking the sound barrier for the first time. This event was immortalized in the opening sequence of the 1983 motion picture The Right Stuff.  

Follow-on X-1 variants included the X-1A and X-1B.  One X-1A was built (tail number 48-1384).  It was larger and heavier than the XS-1, carried more fuel, and had a stepped canopy for improved pilot visibility.  Following its first flight in 1953, the X-1A chased the goal of being the first airplane to exceed Mach 2, but was beat to that milestone by the Douglas D-558 Skyrocket.  Still, the X-1A kept venturing into higher airspeed and altitude regimes.  On 12 December 1953, Chuck Yeager a reached record-breaking Mach 2.44 at 74,700 feet.  On that same test sortie, the X-1A fell victim to inertial coupling, and it would have been lost if not for Yeager’s piloting ability.  This event was featured in The Right Stuff, quite memorably as the scene where Yeager broke the canopy with his helmet as the X-1A descended violently.  On 28 May 1954, USAF Major Arthur Murray took the X-1A to set a new altitude record of 90,440 feet. The aircraft was eventually modified with an early ejection seat.  However, it was lost on 8 August 1955 as it exploded on the ground while being prepared for a test flight.

Similarly, a single X-1B was built (serial 48-1385) with the purpose of better understanding aerodynamic heating in the Mach 2+ range.  The X-1B was also fitted with a pioneering set of CO2 powered reaction control jets used to steer at extremely high altitude, making the X-1B the first aircraft to fly such a system – descendants of which were seen on the later X-15 and the space shuttle.  The X-1B flew beginning in 1954 with both the USAF and NACA.  After just 27 flights, propagation of fatigue cracks in the fuel tanks grounded it forever in early 1958.  The X-1B was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it is on public display in the Museum’s newly opened fourth building.

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Fisher Model & Pattern’s X-1A / X-1B is a polyurethane hand-cast resin kit.  It contains 73 resin parts, two clear resin parts, 30 photoetch metal parts, and printed paper instrument panel details.  The instructions come in the form of a high-quality black-and white booklet with annotated step-by-step photos.  The decals provide markings for four X-1A / X-1B schemes:

- X-1A, early 1953 (natural metal USAF scheme)
- X-1A, 1955 (overall white NACA scheme)
- X-1B, 1955-1956 (natural metal USAF scheme)
- X-1B, 1956-1958 (natural metal NACA scheme)

Strengths:  Paul Fisher of Fisher Model & Pattern is well respected as a manufacturer of 1:32 scale resin kits, conversions, and aftermarket products.  His kits are always of interesting subjects that have never appeared in 1:32 scale (such as the F7U Cutlass, F4D Skyray, or Hawker Sea Fury) and are regarded as possessing excellent detail and fit.  The X-1A / X-1B kit certainly holds up to the high expectations of a Fisher kit.  In fact, if you’ve never built a resin kit before, Fisher’s X-1A / X-1B would be a great introduction to this medium in the scale modeling world.

I critically compared this kit to NASA’s archived line drawings of the X-1A / X-1B, and as far as I can see, the Fisher kit nails it in terms of size, shape, and panel lines.  Panel lines, screws, and rivets are all recessed.  Also, the fit of the fuselage halves, wings, and horizontal stabilizers are excellent for a resin kit.  The parts are all true, and there is no warping as sometimes can be found in resin kits.  After a few seconds of sanding, I got the wing roots to join to the fuselage in a near airtight fashion.  The surface of the X-1A / X-1B is near-perfectly cast, with only a few small air bubbles being observed on one of the wings (and see below).  Scale modelers who will chose to paint this as one of the natural metal schemes will really value this glass-smooth surface.

The detail for the cockpit is excellent, with features such as the throttle, demister, oxygen regulator, control box for the pilot’s flight suit heater, and various other wires, tubes, and structural features all being well-represented.  These details accord well with my limited references of the X-1A, but the exact configuration of the switches on the instrument panel is a little different for what I have for the X-1B, so the instrument panel might need a little more/different detail that the builder can easily add.  Parts for the standard bucket seat are provided as well as parts for the rudimentary ejection seat and hinged canopy that were fitted after Chuck Yeager’s wild ride at Mach 2.44, and both seats are very nicely executed.  Photoetched shoulder harness and lap belts further add to the detail, though their installation is not visually depicted in the instructions (but there’s text in there to help you sling them correctly, and it’s not at all complex).

Detailed nose and main landing gear as well as the gear wells are just excellent.  Though it’s not provided as a part in the kit, photos of the main gear doors’ closing rod are included, and is best fashioned from a length of simple brass rod by the builder.  The gear wells fit perfectly inside the fuselage.  The ailerons and elevators are cast as separate parts and can be positioned up or down.  I was very impressed by the very clear and blemish-free quality of the canopy and windscreen – really great, especially for cast clear resin.  Parts for two boarding ladders are included, and they can be assembled using a slightly ingenious and very thoughtful jig that comes in the kit…sometimes, it really is the little things…

The instructions are visually clear, and it’s very nice to see step-by-step photos in this kind of build.  They are quite helpful and informative.  Further, the annotated instructions are filled with technical notes and really interesting tidbits on the X-1A /X-1B, so you don’t just build the kit – you also learn a good deal of neat stuff along the way.  This fact also underscores the depth of research that went into making this kit.

The decals are gorgeous, sharply defined (you can read the stencils), and in perfect register.  However, it is suggested that one should only use cold water and no solvent, as they get soft on their own and will distort if hot water is used to separate decal from paper.  These decals are thinner than they look, and should be treated carefully.  A light final clear coat is also advised.

Weaknesses: Resin kits, in general, run the gamut from low-quality casting to high-end, high quality kits such as this.  Still, on my sample X-1A / X-1B, there’s some slightly rough and irregular edges (some of which are small undercuts) to the edge of the fuselage parts where they meet up on the centerline of the airplane at the top of the nose and along several points on the centerline seam on the bottom of the plane.  These are not at all egregious – especially for a resin kit – and application of a little filler followed by some light sanding will take care of any problems with these seams.

The X-1B equipped with the reaction control system (RCS) is one of the options on the decal sheet.  However, to model that option, you’ll have some work and uncertainty to deal with.  Early on, the X-1B had straight leading and trailing edges fitted to the wings with small pods at the wingtips.  In light of the depth of research carried out in the development of this kit, there appear to be no good surviving photos of the X-1B in this configuration.  Paul Fisher considers it to be “one of the early jet age mystery ships.”  Still, to make the RCS pods, a little putty and sprue would be all that needed, and in this later configuration, one could add the tiny jet nozzle ports on the wingtips and fuselage that you can see here: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/multimedia/imagegallery/X-1B/E58-03583.html.

Finally, parts for several pitot probes, booms, and AOA vanes are included.  Considering that the X-1A / X-1B’s test boom configuration changed almost constantly, the instructions indicate the builder will have to do a little research to get it right.  That’s fine, and the link above can also serve as a starting point for interested scale modelers.  Still, the painting and decal instructions do provide basic ideas of what goes where – but check your references to get it right.

This is a outstanding resin kit overall, and it receives excellent marks in terms of parts breakdown, fit, detail, ease of build, construction options, and markings.  If you’ve never built a resin airplane before but have been interested in doing so, Fisher Model & Pattern’s X-1A / X-1B is ideal to get you started in the world of resin kits.  If you’ve been building resin airplanes for many years like me, you’ll just love the all-around high fidelity of this work.  I’m seriously delighted that the first kit of these iconic and pioneering aircraft in 1:32 scale is so good, and it gives the scale modeler their first chance to build a high quality replica of this key player in the golden age of 20th century experimental flight test.

Sincere thanks are given to Paul Fisher of Fisher Model & Pattern for the sample of this kit.  You can order his 1:32 X-1A/B directly from his website at: http://fishermodels.indiemade.com/store

 

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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