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1/72 Special Hobby P-59A Airacomet

by Bernd Korte

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Into the Jet-age

 

England had its Gloster Pioneer, Germany the He 178 and America the Bell P-59 Airacomet. When this plane took off for its official maiden flight on October 2, 1942, it was the first US-built jet to fly in the United States. Designed as a single seat interceptor during World War II,   it was supposed to boost Americas abilities in modern aeronautical warfare and to keep the country again at arm’s length with Great Britain and especially Germany. Slow progress of the test program and the lack of a sufficient power plant, combined with a certain flight instability, led to the insight that the P-59 would be useable as a trainer aircraft at best and a baptism of fire was well out of reach.

 

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However, the Airacomet’s value for the further development of American jet aviation must not be underrated or overlooked. America’s first jet pilots gained their experience on this aircraft and the problems and perils that accompanied those early jet engines were overcome with more sophisticated designs.

…“Smokey Stover,” as it is depicted with this model, was taken to Alaska in late 1944 to undergo tests under arctic conditions and was therefore the first jet that left the American heartland. The “Smokey Stover” noseart is taken from Bill Holman’s homonymous comic strip, named after its main character, a firefighter who was also the eponym for further noseart on B-24 and B-29 bombers.

 

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The Kit

 

For a long time, only the really die-hard Airacomet fan considered building a P-59. The vac and resin kits were often out of range and always quite pricey. Needles to say that they were also rather basic and needed more attention than the average injection-molded kit.  Almost all of that changed when Hobbycraft released their new tool 1/48 P-59. At least the quarterscalers were now able to get their first American jet without too much trouble.

 

Now, kudos to Special Hobby, this gem of an aircraft is also available to the masses of 1/72 scalers.  However, one of the previous points hasn’t changed: the Special Hobby offer is more of a short run kit and needs still more of what I like to call “proactivity”. The parts are molded in grey plastic and feature fine recessed panel lines, which sometimes are a bit on the soft side. The one-piece canopy is injection moulded. A small decal-sheet and PE-parts for the torque links are also provided.

 

 

Construction

 

First, I removed all major parts from the sprues and cleaned them up. That is removing a bit of flash here and retouching a bothering ejector pin mark there. Fortunately there weren’t too many “heres” and “theres” with this kit, but then again you can always have it worse.

Construction started with the cockpit, which shouldn’t surprise all of us who have built more than one aircraft model. Even the Czechs stick to this rule. The cockpit section has some nice detail, including structured side panels. However, I decided to upgrade the seat accordingly to the photos that I had found in Air Force Legends # 208 (see “References” below) which show also the added gun sight to good effect.

Particularly the radio compartment behind the pilot’s seat is very empty. As it is visible through the small rear windows, some boxes and wiring were added to get a busier look.

Please do not open up the holes in the headrest as you see it in these pictures. This perforated structure is probably not correct for the A-version of the Airacomet and was only introduced with the B-models. Stupid me stuck to the “reference” and didn’t read the accompanying text.

Not much fuss about the colors. All interior like cockpit and wheel wells are Interior Green (Model Air). Some washing and drybrushing highlights the detail.

 

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When the cockpit was finished it was glued into one of the fuselage halves, together with the nose gear well and some extra weight (tail sitter alarm – look at the outline). During this procedure you should dryfit the second fuselage half again and again as there are no location pins.

Both halves fit quite well, but the canopy and the multi part air-intake to wing root assembly  can give you an unpleasant headache. Mr Putty (or whoever you prefer) is your best friend for the coming time. Especially the aligning of the canopy caused some mandatory breaks to get my blood pressure down to an acceptable level. By the way, the masking of the canopy was once again achieved with Parafilm-M.

Another thing that I wanted to keep on a low level was the amount of sanding that would have to be done around the seams. To do so I remembered a feature from the Tool’n’Tips section of this valuable site. I took a Q-tip with some nail polish remover (MUST contain acetone!) and removed the excess of filler without harming the surface of the model. Read the whole “Filling without Sanding” article in the Tool’n’Tips section.

 

The assembling of the wings also turned out to be more time-consuming than I had wished for. In fact this became quite the “wish-project”…wishful thinking. Each wing consists of a lower and an upper half – no problems so far. But the profile of the assembled wing does not fit to the molded-on wing-root at the fuselage. And just “some more” filling won’t do the job here. Instead I aligned the wing profile to that of the wing roots with small plastic inserts made from sprue, which stretched the wing profile to get it closer to what was needed at the molded-on roots. The remaining misalignment was ovecome with filling and sanding. At this point I adapted the quoted Tool’n’Tips article for another task. Some panel lines had to be rescribed at filled and sanded areas. Not a simple thing as filler tends to crumble when you try to scribe it. To avoid that, I moistened the filled areas with nail polish remover. The filler gets a bit “solvent” again and you can rescibre the panel lines without any trouble.

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One thing that I didn’t understand is why Special Hobby molded on the inner flaps but supplied the outer ailerons as single parts. Looking through my references you’ll notice that on the ground only the flaps can be seen in a lowered position, if at all. The ailerons are always in the zero position. That’s also how I glued them on my model.

The real thing had three ID-lights under the starboard wing. As Special Hobby keeps quiet about these, you have to scratch them. I engraved three holes, using a scribing template from Verlinden. Lateron the holes will be filled with the appropriate color and some white glue on top, which simulates the glass. You could also use decals to get the look of the ID-light. But that would be a bit “superficial”.

 

A gun camera has to be added under the nose, made from scrap parts. The elevators’ fit was satisfactory and needed only small amounts of filler at the bottom side. After that, the small Airacomet was ready to head for the paint job.

 

Painting

 

First, the anti slip surface on the left and right of the cockpit was painted black and masked. The same procedure for the anti-glare panel, however, this was painted olive drab and not black, contrary to the instructions. Olive drab seems to be the common color for anti-glare panels of that period. Additionally, black and white pictures show that area in a slightly lighter shade than other markings, which were definitely black.

Next I airbrushed some panels in a specially mixed metal color that differs a bit from the overall painting, giving some contrasts to the finish. Admittedly, the choice of panels was more artistic freedom than pure sticking to the references.

After the main metal color had been applied (all Humbrol), the maskings of the mentioned panels, of the anti-glare panel and of the anti slip surfaces were removed in order to give the whole thing a coat of Erdal Glänzer (German Future-like product) in preparation for the decals.

 

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Decals and Finish

 

Only seven decals suffice to turn the just painted but still anonymous Airacomet into “Smokey Stover”. The second option that is provided with the kit is an orange P-59B drone, named “Reluctant Robot”.

The decals went on easily. I applied only a minimum of softener, as the decals are quite thin and flexible. Another coat of Erdal Glänzer was applied onto the decals to seal them for a washing with grey (black and white mixed…you won’t find a tube of grey oil paint ;-) diluted oil paint. A coat of semi gloss clear varnish was sprayed as a final sealing.

The anti-glare panel and the anti slip surfaces received a flat coat, of course. Additionally the latter were drybrushed with grey to produce the typical wear and tear, especially at the front of the left side, as that’s where the pilot climbed into the cockpit.

 

Final Assembly

 

The separate ailerons had already been installed before the decals and the final finish had been applied. Now, as the painting was done, I demasked the canopy. The main landing gear got some break lines from stretched sprue and the former smooth tires were treated with an x-acto knife to create the missing profile, which was then highlighted with grey drybrushing.

Unfortunately, the retraction struts are too short or the location holes are incorrect. Apart from that, I encountered no major problems in this area. The drop tanks fit really well into the pylons.

 

For the armament of three .50 MGs and one 37 mm gun I used Q-tips that you can easily stretch over a candle to get every needed calibre. The landing light was glued to the nose using white glue – the used clear part isn’t mentioned in the instructions but you find it on the sprue. In the end, the wing tips got their red and green position lights, again made from white glue that was painted in the appropriate color after it had dried. On the real thing you’ll notice that the cover is colored and not the bulb. The pitot tube on the vertical fin, the rod antenna and the antenna wiring were the last things to attach.

 

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Conclusion

 

The only thing that I really don’t like with this model is the air intake. Thanks to its construction layout, there is on the one hand an ugly step at the inside that you can hardly fill or sand, and on the other hand you don’t have the splitters that separate the intake from the fuselage. On the real thing, the intake trunk is a separate unit and not only a plain mount to the fuselage. When I noticed this mistake, it was unfortunately too late to correct it.

 

In spite of all these quirks I’m pretty satisfied how the kit turned out. Special Hobby offers a very good starting point for a 72nd Airacomet that is cheaper and more trouble-free than what one could find up to this point. Being a short run kit, it needs more attention and investigation than what most of us encounter during day to day builds. But hey – if you want it, it’s worth it!

However, I wouldn’t recommend this kit to any newbies as the pitfalls mentioned above could cause enduring frustration…

 

References

  • P-59 Airacomet, Air Force Legends Number 208, by Steve Pace (Ginter Books)
  • P-59B Airacomet, A Peregrine Photo Essay, by Steve Muth, ISBN 1-930432-03-8, Peregrine Publishing (incomplete and in parts badly exposed walkaround, ony as an add-on if you already have other reference)
  • Walkaround by Tom Conte
Bernd
Thanks to J.C. Bahr for revising this German to English translation.

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Photos and text © by Bernd Korte

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