Although I build a lot of WWII era aircraft, I have always found the colorful aircraft from the 'Golden Age' of aviation, the 1930s, very appealing. Even if you may not immediately know the name of this aircraft, you will surely recognize its appearance from seeing it in color illustrations and old photographs.
Developed by Boeing Company, the P-26 was first flown in 1932. It had the honor of being the first monoplane fighter accepted into service by the USAAC. Its sleek outline and stubby wings gave it more the appearance of a racing aircraft than something found on an Army airfield. Despite its radical departure from the traditional biplane design, the P-26 also carried over many features that were standard on earlier period aircraft. Boeing designers were concerned that its cantilevered wing construction would not stand the stresses of combat, so the wing-to-fuselage join was reinforced with steel cables. Fully enclosed cockpits were frowned upon because they restricted visibility. As a result, the P-26 was built with an open cockpit. Retractable landing gear were considered too unreliable at the time – thus, the distinctive wheel pants covering the plane's fixed landing gear and wheels. In sum, the P-26 was an anachronism, combining cutting edge technology with older technology proven reliable over the previous two decades. Even considering its ties to traditional aeronautical technology, the P-26 achieved a top speed of 234 mph, which was about 20 percent faster than contemporary biplane fighters powered by the same engine.
I was curious about the differences in the -A, -B, and -C versions of the aircraft. The differences are miniscule. The -A version was built with the Pratt and Whitney 600-hp 'Wasp' carbureted engine. The next 25 airframes were designated as -Bs and were designed to utilize a fuel-injected version of the Wasp engine. Because of development delays associated with the new engine, the majority of this lot of P-26s were built with the original version of the Wasp which could be upgraded to the fuel injected version when it became available. As more fuel injected engines became available, some of these -C models were 'upgraded' to -B models.
The P-26 saw combat in several conflicts of the 1930s. Ten Peashooters (designated Model number 281) were purchased by the Chinese government and used to down at least two Japanese aircraft over Nanking in 1937. One Model 281 on loan to the Spanish government was hastily thrown into service and used briefly as a frontline fighter against rebel forces. By 1941, the P-26 was considered an antique, outclassed and outdated. A dozen aircraft still in USAAC service were transferred to the Philippine Army Air Corps at the airfield on Luzon. During December 1941, Filipino pilots downed two Japanese aircraft, one of which was the Mitsubishi Zero. Not bad for a flying antique! In 1943, the remaining 11 P-26s, which had been in the service of the Panamanian Air Force, were sold to Guatemala, which in turn flew them until they were replaced with the P-51 in 1950. The last remaining Guatemalan P-26 was sold to the National Air and Space Museum, where it has been restored and can be seen on display.
I started building this recent Academy release eight years ago when it was issued by Hobbycraft. After trying for several weeks to achieve a good high gloss exterior finish, I became discouraged with my efforts and put the kit away. I pulled it off the shelf on several occasions since but never got around to finishing it.
When I saw the Academy reissue in my local hobby shop, I couldn't resist purchasing one, especially with its great box art. On opening the box, one finds the same high quality moldings as in the original Hobbycraft release. The cockpit is well detailed, being comprised of 14 parts. There are also underwing stores including two 116-lb. demolition bombs, a rack of 25 lb. fragmentation bombs. A wing-mounted gun camera is also included. The model scales accurately with specifications listed in the Aerofax Minigraph for the P-26.
Construction commences with the cockpit. The Academy instructions call for interior green, but the color should actually be aluminum. The molded-in seat back cushion is very nicely done. I painted it a khaki color and drybrushed it with a sand color to bring out the fabric detail. I added lap belts fashioned from tissue paper and miscellaneous photo-etch buckles from my spares box. The cockpit access door was temporarily tacked into place with a minute amount of superglue, as I planned to remove it later and display in open position. After the cockpit was installed, the fuselage halves were joined without difficulty. Wing halves were glued together and test fitted. I elected to set them aside with the idea of attaching them to the fuselage after painting.
The engine was next. It's a beautiful and well-detailed assembly, being comprised of 12 parts, eight of which are exhaust stubs of various shapes and length. When cleaning up the cylinder section (Part C1), be sure not to sand off the locator pins that ensure the engine is properly anchored inside the cowling ring. The engine was airbrushed a flat medium gray, and then hand brushed with Testors Metalizer Nonbuffing Steel. The latter is so thin that it immediately fills in the crevices between the cooling fins, and results in a realistic finish (note: you'll need a strong solvent such as acetone to clean out your brush. I recommend using an old brush or a Microbrush if you're going to hand-apply Metalizer paint). The exhaust stubs were drilled out and painted Gunze Sanyo Burnt Iron. Gluing these to the engine is a rather delicate procedure, so take your time and pay careful attention to the instructions. The propeller was airbrushed Pollyscale Bright silver, rubbed out with some SNJ polishing powder and set aside for later.
Painting the fuselage and wings was a very trying experience for me. I'm no expert on gloss finishes and much time was spent using the trial and error approach to getting the results I wanted. In the process I alternately painted and stripped the wings on three occasions. I originally started out using Xtracolor paints, but was not satisfied with the long drying time. I eventually migrated to Tamiya gloss and Pollyscale flat paints. A combination of Tamiya gloss yellow and a little gloss red was used to achieve the Chrome yellow for the wings. I applied this approximately 50/50 with denatured alcohol (works just as well as Tamiya and a lot cheaper). With its quick drying time I was able to sand it out within an hour. I started by using a 3200 grade sanding cloth to smooth out the finish. Once this was achieved I shot another light coat of paint to cover any areas that I had sanded through. I then shot multiple light coats of Future Acrylic Floor wax, until I had built up a fairly thick clear coat (the clear coat has to be thick to avoid sanding down into the paint). This was given 24 hours to dry, and sanded/polished it with 3600, 4000, 6000 and 8000 grades. Sounds pretty easy, but of course in practice it was a different story. The fuselage was shot with Pollyscale US Olive Drab (FS34087). The Hobbycraft instructions call for FS 30118 (Field Drab), but I found the Olive Drab a close enough match, at least for me. I used the same technique for achieving a gloss finish, which had worked on the wings, but needed additional coats of Future to compensate for the paint's flat finish.
The wings were joined to the fuselage. There was a small gap along each join line, which was filled with white glue and touched up with very small amounts of paint and overcoated with future. The entire model was then polished out with Meguire's No. 9 Swirl Remover to give it a high gloss finish. The result was acceptable in my sight, although I know that some of my car-modeling friends would not be overly impressed. Finally, a pencil and plastic straight edge were used to pencil in panel lines, which had been obliterated by the multiple layers of paint and clear coat (I had initially tried to re-scribe panel lines through the paint but the scriber pulled up uneven chunks of paint – not a good idea!).
The wheels were painted and sandwiched between the wheel pant halves, which were then glued together. The portions of the wheels that were visible were masked with Parafilm. The wheel pants were painted Olive Drab and the previously described procedure was followed for achieving a gloss finish. The wheel assemblies were then glue to the fuselage.
Decals were applied. I elected to use the scheme depicted in the box art, which is a P-26A from the 94th Pursuit Squadron, circa 1935. In general the decals go on well with a few exceptions. The fuselage Indian chief insignia looks opaque enough until it's placed over the red fuselage stripe. Unfortunately, the stripe shows right through. After positioning the insignia decal, I slid it to the side and carefully scraped away the part of the fuselage stripe it would have been covering. I did this by first getting the underlying decal quite wet and using a number 11 blade and tooth pick to 'chip' away at the decal. Extreme care is warranted so as not to chip away the paint too. After that was accomplished the decal was slipped back into place. It looked fine with a uniform color of olive drab beneath it. The other problem decals are those which cover the front of the wheel pants. Try as I might I could not get these to conform properly and ended up leaving them off. I toyed with the idea of masking and painting the wheel spats, but in the end decided to leave well enough alone.
Rigging came next. Although most aircraft of this period were rigged with 'flat' flying wires, I was unable to replicate this effect to my satisfaction. After several false starts, I finally settled on .009 steel piano wire for the rigging. This was used on upper wing and lower wings, as well as the bracing between the landing gear. Wire stiffeners were made from stretched sprue, glued to the flying wires, and then painted flat black. I also went over all flying wires and antenna wires with some Pollyscale clear flat to tone down the shine (this after I photographed the model).
Various odds and ends were next attached including the pitot tube and antenna masts. The windscreen was masked using Bare Metal Foil and airbrushed. After the foil was removed the windscreen was dipped in Future, and once dry glued onto the fuselage with white glue. I elected to leave off the gun camera and centerline ordnance, because, frankly, I was getting tired of nursing this model along. Antenna wires were replicated with .005 steel wire. I found this material very easy to work with, more realistic, and must stronger than stretched sprue. I picked up some of this wire at an IPMS National several years ago, but it can also be ordered from Small Parts, Inc.
Although I found some parts of assembling this kit challenging, I was very pleased with the final result. I would recommend it to any experienced modeler.