Minicraft “Lindbergh Line DC-3” kit #14548 and Others:
Two Wrights don’t make a Pratt & Whitney

By Tom Solinski

This began as an article to show that Minicraft has revised their DC-3 kits to include nacelles matching Wright R-1820 powered airplanes. But the more I got into it, the more it expanded into a fresh look at the Minicraft 1:144 DC-3 kits in general. Right now a particular DC-3 is a big part of my life. This is what I see the first thing I walk in the door at work every morning.

For 12 years, I’ve been doing some additional duty supporting FAA’s last DC-3 N34, mostly traveling with it to airshows and giving tours to the public. A year or so ago, I was privileged to become the program coordinator for the N34. Now I make the arrangements for where and when N34 is going; I also coordinate the maintenance on her. And with that I’ve become really interested in all things related to the DC-3. One of the biggest surprises associated with N34 is that Minicraft will be bringing out one of their 1:144 DC-3 kits with decals for N34. However, a couple of years ago before I knew they’d be putting out a kit with N34 decals, I bought the earlier kit of this model (#14490 with the American Airlines markings) to paint up as N34. That same year, we took N34 to Oshkosh to display for the EAA convention. We were parked next to American Airlines absolutely beautifully restored DC-3 airliner “Flagship Detroit”. It was my first chance to see a DC-3 powered with the Wright R-1820 single-row seven-cylinder engines; that made me want to build my little kit even more but now this time as the AA bird. But when I arrived home, I discovered the engines were Pratt and Whitney’s (P&W), just like N34, making them incorrect for the American Airlines kit.

So what are the differences? Here’s a P&W powered airplane:

Here’s Wright powered airplane:

The key external differences to note; the P&W engine has an oil cooler on the bottom of the nacelle and a carburetor scoop/intake on top. The Wright engine has a very short front cowl, almost square leading edges, and the carburetor air scoop is on the bottom. Of course internally, the P&W 1830 is a 14-cylinder two-row radial, producing up to 1350HP. The Wright 1820 is a 9-cylinder single row radial producing up to 1200HP.

I live in Oklahoma City, headquarters of the enormous Hobby Lobby arts and crafts company. We have no less than 8 stores in the metro area. Lots of opportunities for 40% discount coupons and marked down kits. Last week, I stumbled across the Minicraft DC-3 in TWA/ The Lindberg Line markings on the clearance shelf at Hobby Lobby ($8.99). Popping the kit open I was surprised to find Minicraft has now included both the original Pratt and Whitney engines and the Wright Cyclone engines.

A search of the web to find out when this may have happened revealed only two other reviews in Modeling Madness: one an in-box in-box and one a full build, of these kits, both stemming back to 1996 when Minicraft first released the kit in Pan Am markings. More web searching resulted in a list of how many times this kit has been (or shortly will be) released and under what markings.

Kit No. Type Markings
14434 DC-3 Pan Am, KLM, Swissair
14458 DC-3 Western Air
14477 DC-3 Eastern
14489 C-47 D-Day
14490 DC-3 American Airlines
14509 DC-3 United Airlines
14527 R4D-5 w/skis USN (All 6 Antarctic aircraft)
14548 DC-3 TWA Lindberg line
14553 DC-3 TWA victory in the air (pending?)
14559 DC-3 FAA N34 (due out soon)
20001 DC-3+ 3 others Propliners of the Golden Era 100 Years of Flight
20004 C-47+ 2 others Berlin Airlift 50th

Even more web searching resulted in a single hit with a list of seven things printed as wrong with the kit: (Let’s see if we can confirm or deny some of these.)

1. Props that hit the fuselage

Well I can measure some real ones, but we’ll have to wait for the build to see if they actually hit. On N34 the blades on each prop are 63.5 inches long. Putting a micrometer to the original Minicraft blades in the early kits, they are 0.463 inches long, which scales out to 66.7 inches. Looking at the newer kits, you can see that the propellers have been reworked. The new blades are 0.431 inches long which scales out to just over 62 inches, or now 1-1/2 inches shorter than scale. So maybe with the slight shortening, hitting the fuselage won’t be a problem but we still have to wait for the build.

And just in case you’re a real fanatic, my tape measure says the propellers (at least on N34) clear the fuselage by only 7-1/2 inches, 0.0520 inches in 1:144.

2. Nacelle angle-of-incidence


Another one we’ll have to wait till the build.

3. Cowling too long

The DC-3 has three dimensions that affect the “cowling” length. The distance from the leading edge of the wing to the actual firewall that forms the front of the landing gear well in the nacelle; the length of the accessory case cowling between this firewall and the trailing edge of the front cowling (the trailing edge of the cowl flaps); and the distance from the rear end of the cowling flaps to the front of the actual engine cowling. Measuring N34 I get the following dimensions for each of these:

Cowling Dist. LE to Firewall Firewall to Cowl Flaps Front Cowling Total Length
Full size
19.5
21.5
35
76
Scales to
0.135
0.149
0.243
Kit size
0.145
0.193
0.273
Scales up to
20.88
27.792
39.312
87.984
Delta
1.38
6.292
4.312
11.984

So, at least by my measurements, the Minicraft P&W cowlings are just under a foot too long. One other issue to point out, on the ground the cowl flaps should be open at all times. Here is a photo of the new Wright and P&W cowling parts on the TWA DC-3 kit.

4.Oversize wheels and tires

N34 and the DC-3 Type Data sheet specify Goodyear R17.00-16 tires. These tires mount on a wheel that is approximately 19 inches in diameter, and the tire is at most 42 inches in diameter.

Again measuring N34 I came up with the following:

Wheels & Tires
Wheel Diam.
Tire Diam.
Full Size
19.5
42
Scales to
0.135
0.292
Kit Size
0.245
0.34
Scales up to
35.28
48.96

 

So yes, according to my measurements, the tire is 6 inches too large in diameter and the wheel is almost twice the size it should be.

5. Too many windows on the right side

Yep, virtually all DC-3s have at most 7 windows down the right side. Minicraft has molded in 8; one too many towards the back.

6. Oversize windows and framing in the cockpit

Part of this problem may be that there are a couple of configurations of DC-3 front window; again I’ll wait till after the build to compare kit with reality.

7. Poor shape to the fin contour, and undersized fin

Hmm, looks pretty close to me:

.....

 

However, with a little Photoshop magic we see that the tail is just a little too small.

Disappointingly, comparing my oldest kit to my newest kit, the fins are identical; even the new ones are slightly too small.

One other detail that none of the previous writers have mentioned, I’ve heard but been unable to confirm that all real civilian DC-3, built for airlines have the passenger door on the RIGHT side of the fuselage, and the rear baggage compartment door on the left. On the Minicraft moldings both openings are on the left side, indicative of a door-equipped C-47. My only substantiation of this is that all of the photos of the American Airlines DC-3s show right hand doors. Minicraft resolves this issue by providing decals for the doors on the proper side of the aircraft. Our IM editor later pointed out to me that American did indeed have only their planes built with right-hand airstair doors. Other airlines did operate stock civilian DC-3s with left-hand doors. Lastly, just like the military cavalry mindset, the C-47 only had left hand doors, just as if you were mounting a horse.

Conclusion, I started out really wanted to commend Minicraft for constantly improving their line of DC-3/C47/R4D/Dakotas. Not only have they now included alternate cowlings, but the Navy R4D version also includes the “long” carb intake fairing that goes over the top of the nacelle that is found on many C-47 aircraft.

No, the kits are not absolutely perfect, the tires and nacelles are slightly too big/long but in the end they are a great source of this historically significant aircraft. So go buy a couple and have fun!

All kits in this review courtesy my wife’s generous checkbook!

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