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Arii 1/72 BD-5 & BD-5J Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review September 2011 Manufacturer Arii
Subject BD-5 & BD-5J Scale 1/72
Kit Number 32107 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Interesting subject Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Basic MSRP (Yen) ¥1200 (about $13.00 USD depending on exchange rates)

First Look

BD-5 Kit
BD-5 Kit

In the late 1960s, Bede Aircraft Corporation started work on a new aircraft design that would change homebuilt aviation forever. The concept was a very light aircraft that would seat only one person and be powered by an inexpensive engine. First flown in 1971, the first BD-5 was a fiberglass airframe that featured a Beech Bonanza-type V-tail for pitch and yaw control. The aircraft was powered by a 36 horsepower converted snowmobile engine and had retractable landing gear. Flight test revealed a number of issues with the design and the team went back to the drawing board.

While the first production design was still being finalized, demand for the new mini-fighter was very high. Owner Jim Bede hired Burt Rutan in 1972 to lead the flight test effort. The new BD-5 was re-shaped with a more pointed nose, a conventional tail, and constructed from aluminum instead of fiberglass. Power was available in your choice of 40, 55, or 70 horsepower snowmobile engines; two wings were developed - a short span for high-speed and aerobatic flight, and a long span for long range and gliding. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, Bede Aircraft Corporation went bankrupt and the propeller-powered mini-fighter fell upon hard times.

Before Bede Aircraft Company's bankruptcy, Jim Bede decided to adapt a Sermel TRS-18 microturbine engine rated at 225 pounds of thrust to the BD-5 airframe creating the famous BD-5J. Only a handful of these aircraft were ever built before the company's demise, but many folks will remember the 'Bud Lite Jet' which also starred in the opening sequence of the James Bond movie 'Octopussy'.

Arii reissued their kit of the BD-5 and BD-5J in 1/72nd scale (which means these are very small models!). The original release had both the BD-5 and BD-5J in the box (two kits) while this release had two full kits in the box, so there are FOUR aircraft in this release.

Molded in white styrene, the kit is presented on six parts trees plus two trees of clears for the canopies. The kit provides a simple interior (just like the full-scale aircraft) and both have the subtle airframe differences that distinguished the piston-powered aircraft from the microturbine powered jet.

Both the short and long wings are provided in the box, the short wings go on the jet whilst the long wings go on the propeller-powered example BUT you can mix and match if you'd like as you'd be accurate in putting the short wings onto the propeller aircraft to create the BD-5A versus the long-winged BD-5B. The long wings didn't get fitted to the jet due to its short production lifespan, but it would have made for an interesting sailplane.

The kit comes with two display stands so you can put two of the four aircraft up in flight mode if you'd like though the kit does provide landing gear should you want them on the shelf.

The only visible thing missing from this kit is the clamshell that goes over the BD-5J's exhaust duct. Even though the engine produces only 225 pounds of thrust, this is still more that what is needed for the BD-5 in most phases of flight and in flight test it was too easy for the aircraft to accelerate past it's maximum airspeed. To mitigate this problem, miniature clamshells (thrust reversers) were fitted to deflect a portion of the thrust away from centerline. These could be fabricated with some scrap plastic or scrap photo-etched metal strips.

Markings are provided for N501BD, the first all-metal prototype BD-5A that crashed after an engine failure during a safety demonstration to the Federal Aviation Administration, and for a BD-5J in aerial demonstration team colors.

This is a nice set of kits in this one box and you can display all four of these without taking up much shelf space. I really liked aircraft and was one of those aircraft I wish I could have flown. I'm glad to see this kit back and am looking forward to some quick builds of this unique aircraft.

My sincere thanks to HobbyLink Japan for this review sample!