|Surprise!! Minicraft Does the Grumman XF5F-1 "Skyrocket"!
By Tom Cleaver
We at Internet Modeler feel ourselves completely lucky to be chosen by Minicraft to give the first public view of this interesting new model. This review is based on the first production test-shot, kindly provided us by Al Trendle.
By the late Thirties, the U.S. Navy knew its shipboard aircraft were lagging far behind their potential land-based opponents in all areas: speed, firepower, and overall performance. In 1938, the first steps were taken to create the airplanes that would bring naval aviation on par with its possible enemies. Three new fighter projects were launched in 1938: the Grumman XF5F-1 and Vought XF4U-1 were ordered June 30, 1938, and the Bell XFL-1 was ordered November 8 of the same year.
Grumman's "Skyrocket" was meant to be a fast-climbing fleet defense interceptor, and was one of four single-seat twin-engine fighters developed during this period, the others being the Lockheed P-38, the Westland Whirlwind, and the Focke-Wulf Fw-187. The first twin-engine fighter built for the navy, the comparatively large XF5F-1 was first flown April 1, 1940, with two Wright R-1820-40 Cyclones rated at 900 h.p. each slung ahead and below the leading edge of the by-then traditional Grumman square-cut wings. The short fuselage began behind the wing's leading edge and extended back to twin rudders. Known to Grumman as the G-34 Skyrocket, it was originally designed to be armed with two Madsen 37mm cannon, but the armament was later changed to two .50 caliber and two .30 caliber machine guns, installed in the nose ahead of the cockpit. The main wheels folded back into the engine nacelles, while the tail wheel was fixed; the wings folded just outboard of the engines for carrier stowage.
Delayed by engine cooling troubles, the prototype did not complete its flight tests until February 1941, at which time it returned to the factory for a rework with an extended nose that would have carried four .50 caliber machine guns, and prop spinners. During flight test, the aircraft had been modified with wing fillets and larger rudders to improve stability and handling. After 211 flights, the aircraft was destroyed after a crash in December 1944. By that time, Grumman and the Navy had already moved on to the F7F "Tigercat," which became the ultimate expression of this design philosophy.
If you were to ask me to name five aircraft that were totally unlikely to ever see the light of day as injection-molded 1/48 models from mainstream kit manufacturers, the XF5F-1 would have been quite near the top of the list. The airplane has been modeled by MPM in 1/72, and as a vacuform/resin kit in 1/48 by Lone Star Models, but past that there was nothing. Developed in almost total secrecy by Minicraft Models as their first major 1/48 release after ending the relationship with Academy, the kit was only publicly announced in the United States by Al Trendle on February 25, 1999. It will be released to the market on March 15, 1999.
At the same time that this test-shot arrived, we received a Tamiya Beaufighter which will be featured in an upcoming review of the KMC Beaufighter update kit. This reviewer opened both boxes and laid out the contents on my dining room table. It is impossible to determine who released what. This XF5F-1 is completely up to presently expected mainstream standards in terms of quality of the mold and excellence of production. The only fault I could find in the kit was sink marks in the fuselage outside the cockpit. Al Trendle says this is due to the test-shot being produced on a small machine, that there will be no sink marks in the production kit.
The modeler will get two sprues that allow him to make BuNo 1440, the only XF5F-1, in both the early small-tail/no wing fillets/no-armament version, and the later version with the two .50 and two .30 caliber machine guns in an open nose compartment with the larger rudders and wing fillets. Test fitting of the major components reveals they assemble as well as any recent Tamiya kit. The cockpit is thin and molded in two pieces, allowing the canopy to be posed open. The interior of what was a Spartan cockpit is quite Spartan; Al Trendle has informed us that both KMC and Meteor Productions are working with test shots, with an eye to producing resin cockpits. All other details are clear and sharp, with excellent fabric effect on the control surfaces.
For those modelers who like Navy subject matter, and more particularly for those of us who love the airplanes of "The Golden Age," this model will be a major have-to-have.
The Skyrocket never saw service, outside of its sterling combat record with the "Black Hawk Squadron," as recorded in the pages of the D.C. Comics "Black Hawk" comic book, an item looked forward to with as much interest as Superman and Batman by modelers of a certain age, who are likely to be grabbing this off the shelves as fast as they can find them. This reviewer hopes someone like Meteor will conclude a quick license agreement with D.C. Comics to produce decals of the wildly marked Black Hawk Squadron aircraft. After all, the international squadron of freedom fighters did shoot down more Nazis, Fascists and Japs than anyone else, didn't they?
Order now. You're going to love it.