RAREPlanes 1/72 XFM-1 Airacuda Kit First Look
By Ray Mehlberger
|Date of Review||January 2009||Manufacturer||RAREPlanes|
|Kit Number||-||Primary Media||Vac|
|Pros||Neat pre-WWII conceptual aircraft||Cons||No decals provided. Some parts have to be fabicated|
|Skill Level||Experienced||MSRP (USD)||Out of Production|
The United States Bell YFM-1 Airacuda was the first military aircraft produced by the Bell Aircraft Corporation. Originally designated the “Bell Model 1”, the Airacuda first flew on 1 September 1937. The Airacuda was marked by bold design advances and considerable flaws that eventually grounded the plane. The Airacuda was Bell Aircraft’s answer for a “bomber destroyer” aircraft. Although it did see limited production, and one fully operational squadron was formed, only one prototype and 12 production models were ultimately built, in three slightly different versions.
In an effort to break into the aviation business, Bell Aircraft created a unique fighter concept touted to be “a mobile anti-aircraft platform”, as well as a “convoy fighter”. Created to intercept enemy bombers at distances beyond the range of single-seat fighter interceptors, the YFM-1 (Y= prototype, F= fighter, M= multiplace) was an innovative design incorporating many features never before seen in military aircraft, as well as several never to be seen again. Utilizing a streamlined, “futuristic” design, the Bell Airacuda appeared to be unlike any other fighters up to that time.
A forward-firing M4 37mm cannon, with an accompanying gunner was mounted in a forward compartment of each of the two engine nacelles. Although capable of aiming the cannons, the gunner’s primary purpose was simply to load them with the 110 rounds of ammunition stored in each nacelle.
The crew of five included the fire-control officer in the nose, who used a Sperry autopilot, a fire-control system originally developed for anti-aircraft cannon, and an optical sight to aim the weapons. This crew member could also use a periscope, mounted below the nose to monitor the rear and, hopefully, spot enemy fighters coming up in the Airacuda’s “blind spot”.
The Airacuda was plagued with problems from the start. The lofty performance estimates were unobtainable as, despite its sleek looks, the Airacuda was heavy and was slower than most bombers. In the event of interception by enemy fighters, the Airacuda was not maneuverable enough to dogfight, while a meager 600 lb bomb load was of little use in the intended fighter-bomber role. Even the centerpiece, main 37 mm cannon armament, was perilous to use. The cannons had a tendency to fill the gun nacelles with smoke whenever fired and, additionally, fears persisted as to how the gunners would escape in an emergency, with propellers directly behind them. An emergency bailout would have required both propellers to be feathered, although additional provision was made with the use of explosive bolts on the propellers to jettison them in the event of a bailout. The 13 examples that were built cost $219,000 each and were retired from service in 1942.
RarePlanes is a vacuformed aircraft model company based in Earlswood, Surry UK.
The kit is vacuum-formed and comes in a sealed cello bag. Inside the bag is 3 white sheets of parts and a sheet of clear parts. The instructions complete the bag’s contents.
The instructions consist of 2 sheets printed on one side each.
The first sheet has a 3-view, black and white line drawing on it to use for painting and marking. We are told that Airacudas were overall natural aluminum, except for wing flaps and tail stabilizer, which were covered in silver doped fabric. The interior was mostly aluminum too. They carried US white stars on a blue circle with a red circle in the center of the star on the wings and red and white barber stripes on the rudder. The words “U.S. ARMY” was positioned below the wings in black capitol letters. The 3-view drawing does not illustrate the bottom of the wings however, so the modeler has to find a photo of that someplace. A list of references is given, however most of these predate 1971 and may be very hard to find, especially the magazine articles mentioned.
The other instruction sheet has a total of 6 assembly steps on it. Some parts are to be scratchbuilt or fabricated by the modeler. In step no. 1, the control columns are to be fabricated from suggested wire or stretched sprue. A fabricated rod is indicated to make for the propeller shafts, as well as another one to put inside the horizontal tail surfaces for extra strength in step no. 3. A wing spar is to be created for extra strength of the wing to fuselage joint in step no. 4. The cannons are also to be made from tubing or stretched sprue also.
These instructions say that the individual propeller blades provided in the the kit can be used or, alternately, the propellers out of either the Airfix brand 1/72nd scale kits of the C-47 or Hudson can be used. However, you would have to sand them to the correct size and shape.
Detail is of the raised variety and very finely done however. Koster brand vacuum-formed aircraft kits were always considered the “Cadillac” of vacu-formed aircraft kits. I would say that RarePlanes is no shirker either, as far as mold quality. This kit is at least 30 years old and good state of the art for that time period.
The largest white sheet of parts holds: the fuselage halves, cockpit floor and side panels, seats, instrument panel and propellers (11 parts)
Two other white sheets of parts are mirror-images of each other. They make up parts for the left and right sides of the aircraft. They hold: one top and bottom wing half each, one top and bottom horizontal tail surface each, one bulkhead each, one landing gear leg and main wheel each. (12 parts per sheet)
The clear sheet holds the engine nacelle halves, cockpit transparencies, waist blister windows and wing leading edge light lenses. (12 parts) These seem to have a slight smoky tint to them in my kit.
There are no decals in the kit and RarePlanes directs modelers to obtain some after-market ones of the correct type.
Recommended to modelers that want to go the extra mile with some scratchbuilding to spiffy up this kit. Vacu-formed models are not for the novice however, and take different techniques to build than an injection molded kit.