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MPM 1/72 XP-55 Ascender Kit First Look

By Ray Mehlberger

Date of Review September 2009 Manufacturer MPM
Subject Curtiss XP-55 Ascender Scale 1/72
Kit Number 72020 Primary Media Styrene, PE
Pros Neat prototype US fighter Cons Control surfaces molded solid. Vacuformed canopy molded solid also. Very, very light engraved panel lines may need re-scribing
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) Out of Production

First Look


Although aeroplanes with canard configuration were at the end of the thirties no more a novelty, the tail-first Curtiss XP-55 was at that time certainly one of the most novel American fighters to actually be constructed.

The XP-55, Curtiss Model 24, was the second type selected by the Army for the 1939 specifications for unorthodox designs. Results of wind tunnel testing did not satisfy the Army, so Curtiss constructed a full-size flying model. However, the Army satisfied with the potential of the design and approved construction of three XP-55’s on July 10, 1942.

Originally intending to use the Pratt & Whitney X-1800 engine, an Allison V-1719-F16 was substituted. The first XP-55, now named “Ascender”, was ready for flight testing on July 13, 1943. The test results lead to several necessary modifications. The Ascender displayed satisfactory handling characteristics during normal flight, but at low speeds it became overly sensitive. Engine cooling was inadequate and even after modifications some stability problems remained.

The Army therefore decided the unorthodox little fighter, armed with four 12.7mm M2 machine guns, located in the nose, would not be an effective weapon. Though this type of airplane did not reach series production, it stood at it’s time for a revolutionary design of fighters, which retained attraction up to present.

MPM is a model company based in Prague, Czech Republic. The kit comes in an end-opening type box. The box art shows the second prototype Ascender in flight. It is in a very dark olive drab above a neutral gray undercarriage. It has a black anti-glare panel in front of the windscreen and black propeller blades and spinner. The blades have yellow tips. It carries US star with bars insignias on the fuselage sides just forward of the cockpit. This insignia is repeated above the port wing and below the starboard one. The yellow serial number 278846 is on the sides of a dorsal fuselage fin at the rear of the fuselage.

The box states that the kit is injection molded and a limited edition. This is partially true, as the kit also includes a vacuformed canopy part and 2 brass PE frets. Thus it is a short-run multi-media type kit. A side panel has MPM’s address and also says MADE IN BOHEMIA. The other side panel lists 21 other short-run 1/72nd scale aircraft kits and 22 1/48th scale ones that MPM marketed. No copyright date appears anywhere on the kit and I have had this kit for well over 20 years now and it is one of MPM’s early efforts.

Inside the box is one light gray tree of styrene injection molded parts in a sealed cello bag, another sealed cello bag holds the decal sheet and a vacuformed clear canopy part. A stapled shut cello bag holds 2 brass PE frets, a photo negative of instrument faces, both packaged with a stiff white card backing to prevent bending of the frets. The instructions complete the kit’s contents.

The instructions consist of a large sheet folded in the center to create 4 pages in 8 ¼” x 11 ½” format.

Page one begins with a black and white line drawing profile of the XP-55, followed by the history of the aircraft in Czech, English and German.

Pages two and three have a total of 6 assembly step drawings, with illustrations to the left of page two of the parts trees, PE frets and illustrations of how to trim excess plastic from the vacuformed canopy part.

In the last step there is a illustration of how to fold PE part number 14 into the nose wheel compartment boxing. Step number 4 calls out the landing gear wells as being interior green color. It also shows to add some weight to the nose of the model to allow it to sit on it’s tricycle landing gear okay.

Page 4 has two side profile illustrations of the 2nd prototype XP-55 and the 3rd. The third being serial no. 278847. This one is in the same paint scheme as the 2nd prototype (ser. no. 278846) but minus the black anti-glare panel in front of the windscreen. A illustration of the top of the aircraft also appears, which is identical to both aircraft. Colors are called out in Humbrol brand paint numbers.

The light gray styrene parts tree holds: the fuselage halves, wing halves (lower wing being full span), wing fins, swept-back wing tips, canard wings, wheel halves, landing gear legs, belly air-scoop, nose cap, nose gun compartment hatch, propeller and it’s spinner part, cockpit floor, pilot seat, joy stick, dash board back plate etc. (36 parts).

No pilot figure is included.

The first brass PE fret holds: the dash board front plate, main landing gear doors, foot pedals, nose wheel doors, cockpit side panels, ventral fin, gear retraction arms etc. (16 parts)

The second brass PE fret holds: the nose wheel compartment box (that needs to be folded), gear support arms etc. (6 parts)

No seat belts are provided.

The next part is the black photo negative, that has the instrument faces on it. It is to be positioned between the styrene instrument panel back plate and the PE front panel, with the instruments lined up with the holes in the PE part. This makes for great detail there.

The clear vacuformed canopy part and decal sheet complete the kit’s parts content.

The decal holds the 4 star with bars USAAF insignia and the yellow serial numbers for the 2nd and 3rd XP-55 prototypes. Being that the backing sheet for this decal is yellow, these serial numbers do not show up much when photographed, but they ARE THERE.

The canopy is molded solid and will need to be cut in two to pose it open if desired.

Control surfaces are also molded solid and would take surgery to re-position them.

Panel lines are all very lightly engraved, and may disappear under a heavy coat of paint.

Re-scribing them more deeply may be in order.

I recommend this kit only to those modelers that have previous experience with limited-run, multi-media type kits. With extra care, this model will surely be an attention getter on any display shelf.