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Schoenfeldt Firecracker Kit

Williams Bros 1/32 Schoenfeldt Firecracker Kit First Look

By Ray Mehlberger

Date of Review July 2008 Manufacturer Williams Bros
Subject Schoenfeldt Firecracker Scale 1/32
Kit Number 32118 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Neat sleek 1930’s racing plane Cons Nothing noticeable
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) Out of Production

First Look

Schoenfeldt Firecracker Kit
Schoenfeldt Firecracker Kit
Schoenfeldt Firecracker Kit
Schoenfeldt Firecracker Kit
Schoenfeldt Firecracker Kit

In the early 1930’s, many designers began looking at the new four and six cylinder engines to install in the small racing planes. One of these designers was Keith Rider, an aeronautical engineer since 1915. The first of Rider’s racers was an all wood airplane named the B-1. It was the start of the design features which became typical of the Rider airplanes. Two new racers were built, powered by Menasco engines. The R-1, powered by the six cylinder engine and the R-2, powered by the four cylinder version. The next two racers had conventional welded tube fuselages with sheet metal for the turtleback and forward cowling, wooden wings made from plywood and fabric covered. Both the R-4 and R-5 had six cylinder Manasco engines. These Rider built aircraft flew in the 1936 National Air Races.

William “Bill” Schoenfeldt was a local pilot in the 1930’s, who became wealthy in Costa Rica. He returned in 1935 and went into real estate. At the 1936 Air Races at Mines Field (now Los Angeles International) he became interested in air racing. He purchased the Keith Rider R-4 and began modifications, to the extent it became potentially the fastest racer of all. The new and heavier Manasco Super Buccaneer C-654 made a very forward center of gravity that required a lead weight in the tail. Wheel brakes were installed, and were the cause of a nose over on landing at the St. Louis races, breaking the prop, after placing second in the first race.

A young man, named Tony LeVier, having some experience in air-fair racing, applied for the job of flying the Firecracker when first purchased by Schoenfeldt. However, it had already been offered to Gus Gotch, an older more experienced pilot. In the 1937 National Air Races, there were two Rider aircraft. Earl Ortman in the R-3, a larger radial engined version, and Gus Gotch in the R-4 “Firecracker”. The 1937 Thompson Trophy Race was lengthened to 200 miles. The Menasco engine was dissembled and modified to gain more RPM. A skin type oil cooler replaced the curved top panel of the engine cowling. The Firecracker placed third in the Greve Trophy Race and seventh in the Thompson Trophy Race.

After the 1937 racing season, Schoenfeldt offered Tony LeVier the job of flying the Firecracker with the provision that Tony would take over the entire work of preparing the airplane for the 1938 racing season. Being an experienced aircraft mechanic, Tony was able to do most of the work himself, calling on friends for advice or other help when needed. With the airplane ready for test flying, Tony called Roger Don Ray, who had previously flown the R-4, for his advice on flying the airplane. Except for being out of trim to the left, the airplane and engine performed beautifully and small trim tabs were added to the ailerons which cured the trim problem.

In qualifying for the Oakland Race, Tony ran into a problem with gear retraction. The Firecracker accelerated so fast after take-off, cranking up the gear became impossible. The air pressure locked the gear about ¾ of the up position. Not the best thing to have to do at the start of a race. Tony won both the limited class races on the first day. In spite of fumes from a fuel leak and a drop in oil pressure, Tony finished third in the unlimited race behind Ortman and Turner.

For the 1938 National Air Races, overhaul of engine and fuel tank was made. Upon arrival at Cleveland, a test flight was made and Schoenfeldt told Tony to “see how fast the Firecracker can go”. After several mild passes near 300 mph, Tony applied full throttle for a pass that topped 330 mph. However, the new special racing fuel burned a hole into the top of a piston during the pass. A complete overhaul was required before Tony qualified the next day at 260 mph.

At the 1938 Greve Trophy Race line up; pole position Art Chester, Tony LeVier, Harry Crosby, Joe Jacobson, Earl Ortman, and George Dory. The flag drops, take off, climb to crank gear up, nose down, four racing planes ahead. LaVier overtakes all but Chester. He passed Chester at lap 2, was passed by Chester on 4th lap. With his speed at 280mph he passed Chester on 5th lap, Chester was again in the lead on the 6th lap. Lead changed several more times. LeVier’s engine misfiring, on the 10th lap and Tony reduced power to save the engine. Chester took the lead on lap 15, but cut a pylon and must recircle. Entering the 20th and last lap, Chester goes by like a rocket. LeVier applied full throttle to his sick engine and went by Chester like a faster rocket and wins by four seconds.

LeVier landed with a misfiring engine. With the switch off, he landed in an area full of chock-holes and ruts. Firecracker started porpoising, with each bounce increasing until landing gear struts broke with a bang – putting all landing gear loads on the spar which twisted tip to tip and ripped loose from the wing and fuselage. The Firecracker was out of the Thompson Race without a wing.

For the 1939 races, a new airfoil was used in building the new wing. Wheel-wells were arranged to allow full retraction. Previously, the wheels protruded below the wing surfaces. A new nose cowl was fabricated allowing better cooling for the engine and accessories. The “Jet” exhaust stacks were installed to use the thrust of expelled exhaust gases, for forward thrust from the engine. Another fuel tank was added behind the cockpit, because of extended distance of the Thompson Race. The rear center of gravity created when fuel was added, made the take-off highly dangerous.

The Firecracker was first to qualify at the 1939 National Air races, at a speed of 277,135mph. Roscoe Turner made the pole position at 297,767mph for the Thompson Race. LeVier made the pole position for the Greve Race. At the start of the Greve Race, Tony lost ground in his steep climb to crank up his landing gear. Art Chester and Harry Crosby are were well ahead as Tony headed for #1 pylon. Chester was passed in the 6th lap, as Tony hit 300mph. The engine began misfiring badly. Only one thing for Tony to do was land. Steve Wittman told Tony “try new magneto coils”. The engine ran much smoother, after Bendix representatives furnished new magneto coils. Head had taken it’s toll on the old coils at mid point in each race.

Seven racers lined up for the Thompson Race. With full tanks, “Firecracker’s” center of gravity now at 43% is 15% behind the normal 28% center of gravity. Soft ground, created from rain, holds back and extended take off. In the air, steep climb – with full forward stick, crank up the gear at 500 ft, now Tony started to level flight. It seemed forever getting back on course. In the 5th lap, Tony passed Ortman and Chester. Fuel was gone from the rear tank and the center of gravity was now normal for the 7th lap. Turner had cut a pylon on the 2nd lap and circled it, passing LeVier. Tony had led the race from the 5th lap, until Turner caught and passed him with two laps to go. Tony mistakenly thought Turner had not lapped him and did not attempt to catch up, for the finish. At full throttle, the Firecracker was the faster airplane. The Firecracker was considered by all to be the fastest racing plane in the National Air Races.

Williams Brothers had a changing of the guard, in December of 2004. After 45 years in business, and founded by the late, original brothers Larry and Gainger, the immediate family could not continue the business. So, in March of 2005, all rights and assets required to produce the original products were purchased and moved from Los Osos, CA to Taylor, TX by Brett Industries, Inc.

To sustain the legacy of the original founders, the parent corporation will continue to operate under the brand name of “Williams Brothers Model Products”. The return of the products back to production began in August of 2005, with shipments starting in late August.

With nearly 200 products needed, production will focus priorities in the order of wheels, guns, pilots, engines, aircraft kits, HO kits and accessories until inventory can sustain operations at reasonable levels.

At the time that my 20 year old kit was produced in the 80’s, Williams Bros. was based in San Marcos, California.

The kit comes in an end-opening type box. The boxart shoes the R-4 Schoenfeldt Firecracker rounding a red and white checkered pylon. It is painted overall canary yellow

Except for the top of the engine cowling, which in 1938 – 1939 was left natural metal and highly polished. It carried the racing number “70” in red numerals shaded in orange on the fuselage sides and on top of the left wing and below the right wing., the registration number NX26IY was shaded the same and appeared on the top of the right wing and below the left wing. The registration number was repeated again in small black letters on the tail, An exploding firecracker appears on the cowling of the aircraft with the name Schoenfeldt across the center of it. This artwork appears on the other side of the cowling too, but without the Schoenfeldt on it. Tony LeVier’s name appears below the cockpit in small letters.

Side panels of the box give color boxarts of other aircraft kits in the Williams Bros. Line.

In 1/32nd scale: the Seversky P-35/S2 fighter, the Wendell Williams racer and the Gee Bee R-1 and Gee Bee Z racers, a Caudron racer & a Sparrowhawk fighter.

In 1/72nd scale: the Boeing 247 airliner, the Northrop Gamma, the Douglas World Cruiser (shown with wheeled gear).

In 1/48th scale: the Ford Flivver aircraft and the Corben Super Ace.

The back of the box repeats all of these aircraft again as black and white photos of the models made up. Added to the 1/72nd ones is the Curtiss C-46 Commando and the World Cruiser is shown with floats, and the Martin B-10B bomber. Four different Pilot figures, offered in various scales and factory painted are shown, four machine guns, three aircraft engines and loose cylinders and wheels. You could get a price list from Williams Bros. for sending them a self-addressed stamped envelope. Their address appears here too  So the box is a virtual catalog for Williams Bros. stuff. However, kit numbers are not given, nor the scales that the pilots, machine guns, engines and cylinders or wheels come in.

The kit contains a sealed cello bag that holds a large and a small medium gray parts tree and a single clear cockpit canopy piece.

The decal sheet and instructions complete the kit’s contents. There is a slip in the kit that says that if you are missing a part or a part is defective to please contact Williams Brothers direct, with their address in San Marcos, CA.

The instructions consist of a single sheet that is folded in the center into 4 pages of 8 ½” x 11” (letter size) format.

Page 1 gives the history of the Firecracker.

Page 2 has a six-view line drawing of the Firecracker showing marking locations. These illustrations are said to have been done by Lion Graphics. There is a small black and white photo at the bottom of the page of the actual Firecracker sitting on a grass field with a control tower in the background.

Page 3 begins with “general information”, painting instructions, construction instructions, acknowledgement of persons that helped with the design of the kit and references. Another black and white photo of the Firecracker surrounded by people appears at the bottom of the page.

Page 4 starts with a photo of the Firecracker (again in black and white) with Dusty Carter in the cockpit, in front of some hangars. This is followed by an exploded parts drawing to used for assembly of the model.

The first medium gray parts tree holds: 2 alternate noses (one for 1938 and one for 1939), the fuselage halves, the two bladed propeller, the landing gear doors, the landing gear oleos, the wheels, the horizontal tail surfaces, the cockpit floor, engine crankcase, engine firewall, pitot tube, tail props, instrument panel, rudder pedals and exhaust pipes etc. (31 parts)

The second smaller medium gray tree holds the upper and lower wing halves. (2 parts molded full span each)

The single cockpit transparency and decal sheet are next. In addition to the large decal sheet (already described above), there is a small decal of just the instrument panel gauges too.

I recommend the kit to those modelers with a few other kit’s under their belts. Some things in Williams Bros. kits always need to be tweaked one way or the other as a rule.