The beginning of World War II found the U.S. Army Air Corps with a number of transitional types still in front-line service, like the O-47 and the A-13. These were aircraft whose roles had been made obsolete by the new nature of warfare and by technological advance by America’s enemies.
On the cusp of that category was the O-49 Vigilant, built in 1940 to augment the USAAC’s two-seat observation fleet. The O-49 was a braced high-winged monoplane that seated two. Powered by a 285-hp Lycoming R-680-9 engine, the O-49 had excellent low-speed characteristics thanks to large-span flaps and leading-edge slats that spanned nearly the length of the wings.
142 O-49s were followed by 182 O-49As. In 1942, their designations changed to L-1 and L-1A, and some were supplied to the British under lend-lease.
Unlike the O-47, the low-speed characteristics of the L-1 kept it from being relegated to training duties. It was used throughout the Pacific and Europe for artillery spotting duties, liaison and medical evacuation. Still, its success was tempered by the arrival of the lighter, faster and more versatile L-5 Sentinel.
MPM’s kit of the L-1 is something of a head-scratcher. Comprised of 36 gray and two clear plastic pieces and 12 photo-etched parts, the kit reverses a trend for MPM toward greater detail and the use of resin. Instead, what you get is an airplane with a huge glass area and perhaps the most Spartan cockpit MPM has ever offered.
The cockpit is made up of a floorboard, a rear bulkhead, two seats, a control column and a blobby-looking instrument panel. There is no sidewall detail (unless you count the ejector pin marks inside the fuselage, no seat belts are provided, no detail is present on the floor. In the not-so-distant past, MPM would have provided at least a few interior parts in photoetched metal, but there are none in this kit.
The cockpit is sandwiched inside the fuselage, which has the right shape and boasts an effective fabric pattern, although the protruding fuel filler is missing. The horizontal tail butt-joins the fuselage. At this early point in construction, the two-piece canopy must be added; this has a seam in its center along a panel line that must be filled. The canopies are very clear, which should show off the rudimentary cockpit in fine fashion.
The wings attach to the canopy at another set of butt joints. Use 5-minute epoxy or superglue here, and be careful! One false move and you’ll have a nasty glue smear on your clear parts. The wing has its leading-edge slats in the retracted position, perhaps the kit’s biggest problem. The box top shows a real L-1 and the slats are as plain as the nose on your face; this is a detail that MPM really ought to have tried to portray.
The engine and cowl ring are acceptable in detail, as are the landing gear struts. The wheels themselves are provided as halves with flat mating surfaces. The braces have an airfoil cross-section and attach to subtle mounting points on the lower wings. The cowling air scoop and the propeller are reasonably well detailed but may take some effort to remove intact from the trees.
Photoetched parts provide the flap hinges and mass balances. Why MPM couldn’t have thrown in a few extras for the cockpit on this sheet eludes my understanding. They do score some points by providing a head-on drawing that illustrates the dihedral of the wing and the position of the aerial antennas.
The decals offer four planes. First is an L-1 used in Alaska in 1942 in a sand/olive drab over azure blue scheme, which seems dubious, since the aircraft on the boxtop wears the same markings except for light gray undersides. Besides, how often are the skies azure blue in Alaska? Option 2 is for a medical evacuation aircraft in overall aluminum dope seen near Remagen in May 45. The third aircraft is an OD-over-neutral gray machine based in Burma. The final option is an O-49 in a similar scheme but with white wing tips and white circles for cockades from the Louisiana Maneuvers on 1941. The decals are printed sharply and in register and are complete down to the propeller maker’s logos.
This kit represents a step back for MPM after years of progress. Perhaps they are holding back in advance of an “Upgraded” version, as they have done with many of their older kits. I hope not, because if that means more models as lacking in details as this, modelers may start waiting until the upgrades arrive to buy new kits, and the upgraded versions might never come. This is a decent model of a fairly obscure type, but it will require more work to complete satisfactorily than it ought to have.