Accurate Miniatures
1/48 P-39Q Airacobra, Skylanes Unlimited Race Team

By Jim Schubert

History

The history of the mid-engined Bell P-39 Airacobra is quite well known to aviation enthusiasts so I will not go into it here. By the way, it was mid-engined for the same reason that race cars are mid-engined; to concentrate the mass near the center of gravity to provide a low polar moment of inertia making the vehicle more maneuverable. The good low altitude performance of the P-39 made it a natural choice for Jack Woolams, Tex Johnston and Slick Goodlin for the 1946 resumption of the National Air Races. That and the fact they were all test pilots for Bell and were able to buy two low-time P-39Q-10Es for $1.00 each plus spares, hangarage, and technical support.

The planes were Army s/n 42-20733, NX92847, “Cobra I” and s/n 42-20869, NX 92848, “Cobra II”. Lots were drawn and Jack Woolams was to fly Cobra I, Tex Johnston Cobra II and Slick Goodlin was reserve pilot. In the course of modification for racing the Skylanes Unlimited team took about 1,000 pounds out of each plane and then put back all but 479 pounds in racing mods including a massive belly mounted oil cooler, increased fuel and oil tankage and a heavier 11’ 7” paddle blade propeller. They also swapped the 1,200 hp Allison V-1710-85 for a 2,000 hp V-1710-135. The empty weight of the planes was reduced and the useful load increased by 800 pounds of fuel, oil and anti-detonate injectant to be able to go the length of the Thompson Trophy race at full, or nearly so, military emergency power. The big prop required the nose gear oleo to be pumped up to provide tip clearance. The flaps were sealed and, after a near fatal incident with Cobra II, all of the control surfaces were skinned in aluminum. The inlet for the engine-driven supercharger was enlarged and extended forward slightly over the rear of the canopy to reduce turbulence in the inlet airflow.

Woolams qualified the red Cobra I at 392.7 MPH but was unhappy that the engine was not truly “on song”. He flew the plane back to Niagara Falls, New York for an engine change. Testing the new engine he crashed into lake Ontario and was killed. Not knowing for sure the cause of the accident but suspecting it was either a windscreen collapse or structural failure of the rear fuselage, the Cobra II team added four .25” x 3” x 6’ external stiffeners to the aft fuselage and a retainer cable across the windscreen. Tex qualified Cobra II at 409.091 MPH. He then led the race from the start and won at 373.908 having eased off the power when it was clear he would win.

The Kit

This is a reissue by Accurate Miniatures of Eduard’s outstanding P-39Q kit. The whole Eduard kit, including a set of painting masks for the canopy, is in the box with Accurate Miniatures style instructions, a new decal sheet and a resin external oil cooler for the belly. The decals provide for a stock P-39Q in the “old Crow” markings of Bud Anderson and for the two racers.

As the racers are the raison d’ etre for this reissue, I’ve chosen to ignore the stock airplane. The oil cooler is the only physical racer modification catered for by the kit. As a kit for the racers there are problems with this reissue.

Missing from the kit are:

  • The spinner-mounted pitot,The 11’ 7” paddle blade propeller,

  • The stiffeners on the aft fuselage,

  • The cable over the windscreen,

  • The extended oleo nose gear strut,

  • Replacement metal skinned control surfaces,

  • Mention, in the instructions, of sealing the flaps,

  • Mention, in the instructions, of deleting all military features,

  • Mention, in the instructions, of deleting the running lights and

  • Instructions for placement of the decals; all you have is the box art.

The prop is the biggest problem. You’ll have to raid your spares box for a large four blader. I’m going to cut down an ESCI Skyraider prop for mine.

There are also some problems with the markings but they are fairly easily corrected:

There should be very small “speed stripes” off the backsides of the P-39 lettering on the doors of both planes. See photo here. These can be added using a fine Crow-Quill, or Micron, pen and sealed with Micro Scale decal film.
“BELL” on the doors of Cobra I should only be a black outline letting the red show through. “BELL” on the doors of Cobra II should be red outlined black; the kit has it black with a red outline. Personally I won’t fool with that.
The “Cobra I” and “Cobra II” script on the noses of the planes is very slightly off; again I won’t fool with that.

I’ve attached, with permission, drawings by Anders Bruun showing correct placement of the markings and the fuselage stiffeners. The dimensions and proportions of the registration and race numbers, provided in the kit, are in accord with Anders’ thoroughly researched drawings but the placement of the registrations is significantly off. These drawings first appeared in Bent Throttles, the quarterly Journal of the Racing and Record Aircraft Special Interest Group of IPMS-UK, in issues Nos. 25 and 26 of January and March of 2003. Anders is the SIG master and can be reached at ipms.airrace@chello.se the web site is at http://members.chello.se/ipmsairrace/. It’s a fine, solid SIG and the journal is full of interesting and informative material. I recommend you contact Anders for info about joining if you are at all interested in racing and record aircraft.

Now if someone will do the decals, you can also build Cobra II as it was raced in 1947 and 1948 with Kaiser-Frazer sponsorship and race number 11.

It should be noted that our Publisher, Chris Banyai-Riepl, and I disagree about the inaccuracies in the markings; I think they are more accurate than he thinks they are. I suspect we are using different references. My two main sources for comments, and my own measurements, are the photos in Birch Matthews’ book and Anders Bruun’s drawings. Check your references too.

I paid $39.98 for my kit at Emil Minerich’s Skyway Model Shop in Seattle.

References

  • Bent Throttles Nos. 25 and 26 of January and March 2003.

  • Cobra! Bell Aircraft Corporation 1934-1946: Birch Matthews, Schiffer, USA, 1996, ISBN 0-88740-911-3.

  • Racing Planes and Air Races, Vol. IV: Reed Kinert, Aero Publishers, USA, 1969, Library of Congress Card No 67-16455.

  • Thompson Trophy Racers: Roger Huntington, Motorbooks, USA, I989, ISBN 0-87938-365-8.

  • Scale Models magazine, March 1975: article – A Racing Airacobra by John Bingham.

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