4 July 2015

Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket, hypothetical operational variant
U.S. Navy, VF-5
USS Yorktown (CV-5), January 1941

1.2. Story
The hypothesis behind my model (and attendant vignette) is as follows. The XF5F-1, after showing promising performance during initial tests, has found a strong proponent within the Navy. Testing and development of the prototype was hastened (unlike in reality) in such a way that all teething problems were addressed and by beginning of year 1941 six production F5F-1 aircraft were attached to fighter squadron VF-5, at that time flying F3F-3 biplanes, for operational evaluation. Embarked on USS Yorktown, the squadron went on a training cruise in the Pacific. My vignette shows a Fighting Five's F5F-1 preparing to launch from Yorktown's deck.

I believe my hypothesis to be technically feasible (at least much more feasible than various fancy jets and flying saucers of the Luft '46 persuasion) due to the following arguments:
- As an aircraft per se, the XF5F-1 was conventional. It was a low-wing cantilever twin-engined monoplane with retractable tailwheel-type landing gear and twin tail unit. There was nothing innovative or unconventional in its construction (apart from provision for anti-aircraft bombs that shouldn't be considered as serious in any case) to prevent it either from successfully passing through the test program or from entering service, should the green light be given to the project.
- As for the timing, in the 1930s and 1940s rapid progress from testing to squadron service was not out of the realm of possibility. For example, it took F6F Hellcat just 8 months to go from first flight to initial operational capability.
- Operational squadrons composed of different types of aircraft are not something unheard of. Such practice was fairly common during the 1930s (for example, VF-7 flew both F2F-1 and F3F-1 types as late as 1939).

1.3. Model Kit
XF5F-1 Skyrocket from MPM (kit # 72022), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Review
My detailed review of the MPM's kit is available here.

3. Construction
3.1. Building
Although the accuracy of the kit is more or less acceptable out of the box, it really lacks details and requires quite a lot of wok to get a realistically looking model. I have added the following fully scratch-built items:
 - Landing gear well (engine nacelle) interior.
 - Landing gear legs and struts. 
 - Wheel well cover interior and hinges.
 - Propeller hubs.
 - Wingtip navigation lights and landing lights.
 - Dashboard and dashboard cover.
 - Pilot seat, control stick, pedals and some other miscellaneous items inside the cockpit.
 - Antenna wire.

In detailing my model I have also used some aftermarket items, namely:
 - Two resin R-1820 engines by QuickBoost (set # 72059).
 - Cockpit floor and side walls taken from the F4F interior detail set by TrueDetails (# 72455).

Then, bringing the model to a "definitive" short-nose version required the following modifications to be done:
 - Fuselage-to-wing fillets added.
 - Rudder hinge lines revised (from straight ones to stepped ones).
 - One long side-mounted exhaust stack per engine replaced with 9 smaller exhaust stacks.
 - Small air intakes removed from the engine cowlings' lower lips.

Lastly, I've made a number of modification to make the model look like a hypothetical operational fighter:
 - Machine gun barrels, gun camera aperture and collimator gun sight added.
 - Gun chutes cut out in the lower wing.
 - Imitation of air-to-air bomb bay doors removed.

3.2. Painting & Markings
Painting and markings have been done in accordance with the standard U.S. Navy specification applicable in the pre-war years. Top wing surface is Chrome Yellow while other surfaces are Aluminium / Silver. Bright Red tailplane designates a unit based on USS Yorktown and Willow Green trim marks a leader of the 5th section in the squadron. All decals came from by box of spares.

I deviated a little from prescribed standards in the following aspects:
 - Standard does not specify any borders for section colors. However, in practice many squadrons did apply white or black borders to section trim (see photo), and I have attired my model in this fashion too.
 - Propellers usually had manufacturer logos on each blade. Actual XF5F-1, however, sported rather peculiar propeller logos which I couldn't find on any decal sheet (and the out of the box decal does not include them). On the other hand, historical photographs prove that some aircraft serving with operation units did not carry any propeller blade logos (see photo).

This is the first aircraft model that I have finished after an inexcusable 10+ year gap and my painting skills are not as I would wish them to be. There are some small painting defects and imperfections and I am not completely satisfied with my work.

3.3. Presentation
For me, the presentation of this model was defined by two pre-requisites. Firstly, I wanted to show my hypothetically operational F5F-1 on a carrier deck. Secondly, I did not want to fold the wing (as there is no photographic evidence to understand the particulars of the wingfold mechanism). These conditions leave you with only three options: the aircraft must be either launching or taxiing to launch or landing. I chose the launch variant for my vignette.

An old set produced by LandingZone (# 72001) represents the deck of Yorktown or Essex class carrier very well. It is too small to house a Skyrocket, though. Therefore I made resin copies and combined them to get a base of required dimensions. Photo-etched tie-down strips came from an excellent set produced by White Ensign Models (# 7209).
I used wonderful pre-ware photographs of USS Enterprise (see photo1photo2) as a reference when paining my deck.

Then, I needed a pilot. The choice of seated pilot figures is extremely limited. In fact, I could find (as of early 2015) just one set only – "US Pilots Seated (WW2)" by PJ Productions (# 721120). Unfortunately, pilot figures in this set are inapplicable for the World War II era as their headgear is totally wrong: they have hard plastic helmets with integrated sun visors which neither of the U.S. Armed Services used before the advent of the 1950s. Navy pilots of the 1940s wore soft leather helmets with two-piece (and later one-piece) aviator goggles.

So, to get myself a historically accurate pilot figure I had to find a new head, and that came from the CMK's set of standing USN pilot figures (# 72115). I also had to reshape the footwear of the PJ's figure as Navy pilots wore neat leather shoes and not some shapeless contraptions designed by PJ (which resemble present-day uggis, the ugliest footwear ever invented). As a reference for painting the pilot figure, I used a number of period color photographs such as these: photo1photo2photo3photo4.

Lastly, I needed some flight deck crew figures. Here, again, the choice of historically accurate figures is poor. Figures in well-known Fujimi's set ("Flight Deck Crew & Carrier Tractor", # 35001) represent crewmen in attire that came into use in the 1970s: most of the Fujimi's figures wear multi-pocketed vests and all of them wear hard plastic headgear with headsets and one-piece ski-style goggles. Whereas flight deck crewmen of the 1940s wore jeans (classic denims), jerseys or shirts and soft fabric caps (see example here and here). WW2 USN crew figures offered by Attack Squadron (set # 72011) are attired accurately but have "formal" headgear that was rarely, if ever, worn by flight deck crewmen while attending to airplanes.

Eventually one of my figures came from the already mentioned Fujimi's set and the other one from Italeri's "NATO Pilots and Ground Crew" set # 1246, but both underwent "head surgery" to achieve historical accuracy.

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the XF5F in Wikipedia (link)
[2] Grumman XF5F-1 & XP-50 Skyrocket | Naval Fighters Series # 31 | Ginter Books, 1995
[3] Grumman F7F Tigercat | Famous Airplanes of the World Series # 100 | Bunrin-Do, 1978
[4] Grumman F7F Tigercat | Monografie Lotnicze Series # 1 | AJ-Press, 1991