In 1931, a new company emerged on aviation's horizon: Grumman. Working out of Long Island, New York, their initial effort was the FF-1. Designed as a two-seat biplane fighter with manually retracted landing gear. "Fifi's", as they came to be known, served mainly with Navy squadrons aboard Lexington, Saratoga, and Ranger. The Marine Corps operated a few as "hacks" and several scout versions (SF-1) in their reserve squadrons. A single seat development of the FF-1 was the F2F. The F2F retained the portly shape of its predecessor but offered increased performance. The Marines were given a few F2F's (usually when the Navy was through with them) but when the F3F came along, after teething on the Wright Cyclone's carburettion problems, the Marines were given their first true taste of Grumman quality. The last biplane fighter produced for the Navy/Marine Corps, the F3F served with VMF-1 at Quantico and VMF-2 at San Diego from 1937 to 1941.
Anyone familiar with Accurate Miniatures F3F-1 will instantly recognize 95% of the parts in the box. The differences are a 3 bladed prop, the windscreen and canopy and the engine and cowl.
Accurate Miniatures instructions are the benchmark to which other manufacturers should aspire. It's 9 page instruction booklet gives step by step detailed assembly sequences and calls out detail painting as you go along.
The cockpit is an 11-piece affair with builder's choice of photo-etched or decal lap belts and an instrument decal to place behind the clear instrument panel. The sidewalls are nicely molded needing only some black paint and a light wash to bring out the details. All cockpit parts and fuselage interior were first painted with Testors Model Master Metalizer non-buffing aluminum. When that had dried sufficiently it was given a coat of Future floor wax and set aside to dry. I then used a medium wash of Testors Burnt Umber thinned to about 70/30 as a wash to bring out the detail. To the forward edge of the cockpit floor the firewall/fuel tank that makes up the rear bulkhead of the landing gear bay is placed.
Once the cockpit assembly was ready the fuselage halves were joined, trapping the cockpit between them. Having built AM's previous release of the -1 I knew I could paint most of the kit while it was still on the sprues. This is what I did with the fuselage parts. Like the interior they were first painted non-buffing aluminum, then future, then a wash was put in the panel lines and rivet details to 'pick them outî' After the assembled fuselage dried the seams were eliminated and paint was touched up.
Landing gear "A" arms are molded into fuselage panels in 2 sets, upper and lower, with port and starboard arms. The main gear strut then fits into a notch in the fuselage and attaches to the upper and lower arms with notches that just about make aligning the gear foolproof.
After painting and installing the machine guns, the upper forward part of the fuselage is slipped into place. Here again, the fit is excellent.
The Wright Cyclone is a 5-piece affair including cylinders, etched ignition harness, exhaust manifold, prop hub and gearcase. All engine parts were painted metalizer exhaust then drybrushed with metalizer aluminum. The exhaust collector was painted exhaust and given a mist coat of raw sienna to give it some discoloration. I found that I could assemble the 2-piece cowl, eliminate any seams, paint it, and slip it over the engine rather than assemble it around the engine as the instructions suggest.
I had attached the lower wings to the fuselage after the fuselage was assembled in step 3, but the instructions have you install the upper wing in step 11, then the lower wings in step12. I see no problem with this, just my own personal preference. After gluing the "N" struts in place on the lower wings with slow setting superglue I set the upper wings in place to ensure alignment. The upper wings fit securely onto the cabane struts that are already molded to the fuselage. When the struts had dried I painted and decaled the upper wing then set it aside to attach when it had dried. Testors chrome yellow with Ford engine light blue were used for all ID coloring.
Having previously built an F3F-1, I prepared for the photo etched rigging by enlarging the grooves molded into the upper part of each "N" strut. I had found that the photo etched wires needed a little more space to fit easily into their notches. The etched cabane wires are best bent to shape with a pair of needlenose pliers and tweezers. Hold with one and twist with the other, not too much, only about 40 degrees. They are forgiving and will bend to fit the holes in the fuselage easily. Then the flying wires were attached to their points on the fuselage and lower wing. The larger double flying wire runs from the fuselage at the wing root to the top of the "n" strut, that's where I enlarged the slot previously. With all this finished it was time to place the upper wing. The fit was remarkably good with little or no adjustment needed to fit the wing in place.
Next the photo etched antenna mounts were zapped in place and an antenna was made of stretched sprue. The short run from the rudder was made from a piece of sprue folded in half to form a loop at one end. Then the sprue was glued to the port antenna post and allowed to dry. Then it was threaded through the loop and glued to the starboard post. Once that had set the end was trimmed and the antenna brought tight with some heat from a blown out match. The lead from the fuselage to the port antenna run was then attached and left slack.
The kit may look intimidating when you see the instruction booklet but don't let it fool you. With a little time I believe that even a novice builder could make a nice replica from this kit. My sincere thanks to Accurate Miniatures for this review sample!