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KIT REVIEW


Kitty Hawk # KH80135 Vought XF5U-1 "Flying Flapjack" 1:48 Scale

 

            The Vought XF5U-1 "Flying Flapjack" or “Flying Pancake” was an experimental U.S. Navy fighter that emerged towards the end of WWII.  Even by today’s standards, the XF5U-1 was an unconventional airplane.  It is relatively uncommon subject for a scale model kit.  A 1:72 scale XF5U by Hasegawa has been available for some time along with lower-quality kits by Pegasus and Airmodel in the same scale.  Planet Models produced Flying Flapjack kits in 1:48 and 1:32 scales as limited run and expensive resin kits.  With Kitty Hawk’s release of an injection-molded XF5U-1 in 1:48 scale, the Flying Flapjack goes mainstream. While it’s been out for a while, let’s nonetheless take a look at this kit of one of the most unique U.S. naval aviation subjects.

            Design and development of the XF5U began in the 1930s, when the well-known aeronautical engineer Charles H. Zimmerman came to envision a low-drag, long-range, very maneuverable, and high-speed aircraft that possessed a discoid or aerofoil-shaped fuselage.  A pair of piston engines in the fuselage were connected via driveshafts to propellers located in the “wingtips.”  The Navy expressed interest, especially in the design’s promised short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability.  Zimmerman and Vought led the efforts in the construction of the V-173 prototype, which first flew in November 1942. Though fabricated mostly from wood and stretched canvass, the V-173 proved to be a very tough airframe.  Once a number of challenges with the engines’ intricate gear boxes were resolved, more than 190 successful test flights validated the concept.  Among its strengths, Vought test pilots found that the V-173 was almost impossible to stall.  Its unusual configuration even led to a few reports of unidentified flying objects over Connecticut skies.

            Continued Navy interest in a fleet of wingless carrier-based STOL aircraft led to a contract for two follow-on aircraft designated XF5U-1.  When the first of the Flying Flapjacks was rolled out in June 1945, the Second World War was nearly over; still, it was a promising airplane.  The XF5U-1 was a much larger and more powerful all-metal aircraft that more than quintupled the weight of the V-173.  With 3,200 hp generated between the two Pratt & Whitney R-2000 radial engines, it promised to exceed 550 mph and have a range of over 1,000 miles.  The first XF5U-1 was airworthy, while the second airframe was used for ground testing.

            The number 1 aircraft never really flew, but did “hop” into the air on several occasions during taxi tests.  Ground vibration problems were a perennial problem with the airplane. By 1947, the XF5U-1 still faced various unsolved developmental challenges.  It was also significantly over budget and the Navy began to focus on jet-powered aircraft.  These factors led to the cancellation of the program.  The V-173 was preserved and is today a Smithsonian holding on loan to the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.  The two XF5U-1s were scrapped. 

            Kitty Hawk’s XF5U-1 consists of a total 161 parts – 146 gray injection molded parts divided between four sprues, one sprue containing 11 clear parts, and three photoetch brass parts on a small fret.  The instruction booklet is 16 pages long, and includes full-color instructions for the painting and markings guide.  The quality of molding is very good to excellent and my review sample had no flash.  The surface quality of the parts is excellent, and the panel lines are finely recessed.  Rivets are raised, and access panels screws are recessed. 

            The kit comes with decals for three schemes. The “Midnight Blue” version comes closest to the scheme worn by the No. 1 XF5U-1 with its Bugs Bunny nose art but appears to be incomplete (see below).  There are also markings for a hypothetical (and attractive) natural metal version and an Uncle Sam “I Want YOU” scheme.  A fourth set of markings included a large Japanese anime character, but I understand that due to licensing restrictions, it had to be physically cut out of the second decal sheet and also removed from the instructions and side of the box before the kit could go on sale.

Strengths:

            From my ‘in-the-box’ examination, it looks as if Kitty Hawk’s XF5U-1 will be a relatively straightforward build and has a lot of positive features.  The cockpit is relatively well detailed.  Decals are provided for the instrument faces (a necessary improvement to add detail to the basic instrument panel).  Side consoles can also get the decal treatment, but there’s more detail on the side consoles for those modelers who enjoy detail painting.  The gear wells are fairly basic.  Very few ejector pin marks can be found in conspicuous places and those that are present should be easy to fill.

            The elevons and rudders are separate pieces and can be positioned as the builder would like.  Another eye-catching touch is the inclusion of parts for the Flying Flapjack’s elaborate arresting gear, that deployed from the top of the airframe.  As the XF5U-1 either had been or was to be fitted with air-to-ground stores at some point, the kit also includes a pair of external bomb racks and two 500-lb. bombs.  The decal sheets are beautifully printed and appear flawless.  The Uncle Sam decal in particular is very nicely rendered.

Weaknesses

            A few minor critiques of Kitty Hawk’s XF5U-1 can be considered.  From a manufacturing point-of-view, the pour gates (where the sprue meets the part) tend to be proportionally pretty large, even for the smaller pieces.  This may make a little more work for part removal and clean-up in some cases. The historical realist in me would have at least liked to have seen more accurate decals provided in the kit.  Even though the kit decals come close with the nose art and walkways, other details, such as the tail markings including the number and aircraft designation, are missing.  It’s an unfortunate omission.
 
            The gun ports (notionally .50-cal) are just outboard of where the nose meets the fuselage/wing.  The ports are there, but there are no gun barrels, and the builder will have to fashion them on their own if they wish.  Also, I do recall reading somewhere that the XF5U-1 was fitted with a primitive ejection seat, which was positively required for a pilot to survive an egress attempt and not get killed by the large-diameter props.  The kit seat is a simple bucket seat.  Interestingly, parts D31, D32, and D33 sure look like ejection seat parts in the instruction manual’s parts guide (drawn to reassemble an 1960s and 1970s era ESCAPAC seat to the best of my discernment).  They are absent from the sprues in my review sample.  Perhaps an aftermarket resin manufacturer such as Quickboost will fill in the gap.

            Kitty Hawk’s XF5U-1 Flying Flapjack is an intriguing model to be sure, and it represents eclectic and unusual subject matter.  Whether you want to build a replica of one of the most unusual U.S. prototype aircraft of the WWII era or build something in the “what-if’” genre (maybe for an alternate timeline’s “late” Pacific war U.S. Navy fighter or an “alternative Korean War” fighter), there are many options to make this model a creativity-driven build.  While there are a few shortcomings, it is a well-produced kit that will build into a fine replica of the exotic Flying Flapjack.

            Sincere thanks to Kitty Hawk Models and Glen Coleman for this review sample.  You can find them on the web at kittyhawkmodel.com.

 

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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Just Released!

JET FIGHTERS
OF THE U. S. NAVY AND MARINE CORPS
PART 1: THE FIRST TEN YEARS
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Detail & Scale Special Edition Books

U. S. Navy and Marine Carrier-Based Aircraft of World War II
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Attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan Awakens a Sleeping Giant

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Colors & Markings of U. S. Navy
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