boeing-f4b-4-banner-2-1Boeing F4B-4 by Monogram

1/72 scale
Kit No. 6795
Cost: $10.00
Decals: One version – U.S. Navy (VF-2, USS Lexington, mid-1930’s)
Comments: Raised panel lines; detailed radial engine; good fabric-over-frame effect on wings, nicely rendered corrugated tail surfaces; aftermarket decals and cockpit were employed in this build

History

The Boeing F4B-4 was the U.S. Navy’s last bi-plane fighter, as well as the last fighter produced by the Navy by the Boeing Aircraft Company.  First flown in May 1929, the first F4B entered fleet service with the Navy in July 1932, and at the time, embodied a combination of old and new aviation technology.  The original F4B’s featured an all-metal aluminum fuselage, with a distinctive turtleback, wings made of wood and covered with canvas, braced by wires, but with corrugated aluminum rudder, elevators and ailerons.  It was a successful naval carrier aircraft because it was not only rugged; its nose tapered down toward the engine, offering pilots above-average visibility, a key factor in being able to walk away from carrier landings.  Developed from the Army’s P-12 fighter, the F4B was navalized with the addition of an optical gun sight, an arresting hook, and structurally reinforced undercarriage.

Boeing's F4B series entered service with carrier-borne U.S. Navy units in the Summer of 1929, but the F4B-4, the most numerous of the series, did not follow until three years later, in July 1932. Easily distinguished from its predecessors, it featured a wider tail fin and an enlarged "turtleback" spine housing an emergency life raft behind the pilot's headrest. The F4B-4 had a top speed of 184 mph and a range of 585 miles, which could be extended to nearly 700 miles with a 55-gallon fuel fitted beneath the fuselage, seen here.

Boeing’s F4B series entered service with carrier-borne U.S. Navy units in the Summer of 1929, but the F4B-4, the most numerous of the series, did not follow until three years later, in July 1932. Easily distinguished from its predecessors, it featured a wider tail fin and an enlarged “turtleback” spine housing an emergency life raft behind the pilot’s headrest. The F4B-4 had a top speed of 184 mph and a range of 585 miles, which could be extended to nearly 700 miles with a 55-gallon fuel fitted beneath the fuselage, seen here.

The landing gear configuration was split so that a bomb could be carried between the F4B’s wheels; at the time the Navy required its fighters to perform double-duty as dive bombers.  The first F4B-1’s served aboard the USS Lexington and USS Langley, two of the Navy’s first aircraft carriers.  The F4B-2 incorporated a swiveling tail wheel and provisions for floatation, key features in any naval aircraft.  It also had the capacity to carry 116 lbs. of external stores, in keeping with the Navy’s use of its planes as fighter-bombers.  The modification that led to the F4B-3 was the extended use of duraluminum throughout the aircraft, doing away with the wood-and-fabric wings — contrary to the fears of some engineers, the added weight did not significantly degrade the plane’s performance.

Here, the Starfighter Decals resin cockpit sidewalls have been glued in and airbrushed with Tamiya Flat Aluminum. These parts require careful alignment since the instrument panel is mounted on notches in the sidewalls. The floor and pilot's seat await cementing.

Here, the Starfighter Decals resin cockpit sidewalls have been glued in and airbrushed with Tamiya Flat Aluminum. These parts require careful alignment since the instrument panel is mounted on notches in the sidewalls. The floor and pilot’s seat await cementing.

The F4B-4 was the final and most numerous variant of the program, accounting for 92 of the 187 F4B’s built for the U.S. Navy — at the time, the largest order ever placed by the Navy with any single manufacturer.  It sported several modern innovations (all-metal fuselage; inclusion of a life raft and other emergency supplies behind the pilot’s headrest; improved ordnance-carrying ability; stronger wings, and a redesigned tail for increased stability).  It became the flagship of the program, and remained in active service with the Navy until 1938, when it was phased out in favor of the Brewster F2A Buffalo. The small size of the F4B-4 and the proximity of its controls gave pilots the feeling of strapping it on rather than climbing into it.

 

boeing-f4b5While somewhat under-powered, the F4B-4 was reportedly a joy to fly and developed a reputation as a very forgiving airplane, allowing a pilot to fly by the seat of his pants.  While in active service it fulfilled the role of dive bomber also, but had a limited payload of two 100 lb. bombs and a maximum diving speed of 280 knots, and had it faced actual combat conditions in the early phases of World War II its effectiveness would have been questionable, and the casualties would probably have been high.  But fortunately the SBU Vindicator and SBD Dauntless had replaced it in Navy service by the time of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The simplicity of Monogram's 1968 kit is evident here, with the relatively few fuselage parts assembled and the lower wing ready to be cemented on. Note the white Tamiya putty filling the seam where the upper decking joins the fuselage, one of the few areas needing filler. The large dorsal antenna was later removed, since no photos of the F4B-4 in service showed this.

The simplicity of Monogram’s 1968 kit is evident here, with the relatively few fuselage parts assembled and the lower wing ready to be cemented on. Note the white Tamiya putty filling the seam where the upper decking joins the fuselage, one of the few areas needing filler. The large dorsal antenna was later removed, since no photos of the F4B-4 in service showed this.

When the U.S. entered World War II, some F4B’s and P-12’s were being used as radio-controlled drones.  Boeing used shrewd marketing to pitch the basic airframe of this aircraft to both the Army and the Navy, but in just a few years time, new monoplanes such as Boeing’s own P-26 Peashooter would spell the demise of the bi-plane in front-line military service forever — at least as a fighter aircraft.

Specifications

Wingspan: 30 feet
Length:  20 feet, 1 inch
Height: 9 feet, 4 inches
Powerplant: One 550 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340-16 radial air-cooled engine
Maximum speed: 187 mph at 6,000 feet
Service ceiling: 27,500 feet
Range: 734 miles (with addition of 55-gallon underbelly tank)
Weight: 2,185 lbs. empty, 3,611 lbs. maximum take-off weight
Armament: Two .30 caliber machine guns, or one .50 caliber and one .30 caliber machine gun, plus 232 lb. bomb load

boeing-f4b2The Kit

Released in 1968 and consisting of 25 plastic parts injection molded in grey, including a one-piece display stand and a small clear windshield,
Monogram’s F4B-4 is a fairly detailed, easy-to-assemble kit.  There is no cockpit interior, but a pilot figure is provided, and he is to be glued to the fuselage interior.  There is a gun deck which forms the upper forward part of the fusleage, atop which the windshield and optical sight are cemented.  The upper and lower wings each form a single piece, with the lower wing including the curved 55-gallon auxiliary fuel tank which extended the F4B-4’s range to over 700 miles.  There are support struts for the elevators and landing gear, and owing to Monogram’s engineering they are fairly rugged parts, not spindly and delicate as you might expect in this scale (it could be that these parts are not to scale, but as someone who appreciates an easy build, and has done his share of wrestling with, breaking, and sometimes losing, small fiddly parts, I was grateful at the construction stage).

boeing-f4b-4-boxThere is a pretty good radial engine with a two-piece cowl ring, and a two-bladed propeller that has to be attached the old fashioned way — heating up the end of a knife or flat head screwdriver and melting one end of the propeller shaft once inserted into the engine.  There are very good fabric-over frame effects on the wings, but I don’t know if this is accurate since by the time the F4B-4 came along, Boeing was supposed to be transitioning to all-metal wings for this type.  Certainly earlier versions of the F4B had fabric-covered wings.

Construction

I used the following aftermarket accessories in building the F4B-4:

  1. 1) F4B-4 Cockpit from Starfighter Decals (manufactured by Mark’s Models & Toys of Stephens City, VA): this is an injection molded soft plastic cockpit set adding a great deal of detail that –full disclosure — is kind of hard to see, except for the seat and instrument panel, once the fuselage halves are cemented together.
  2. 2) Boeing F4B-4 decals 1933-37, Part I by Starfighter Decals
  3. 3) USN-USMC Aircraft Insignia 1930’s Part I by Starfighter Decals
  4. 4) EZ Rigging for Monogram F4B-4 (also by Mark’s Models & Toys), consisting of photo-etched flat wire

boeing-f4b12The aftermarket cockpit set for the F4B-4 by Starfighter Decals was a little challenging since the two sidewall parts have to be very precisely aligned, as they contain notches which are used to position the cockit instrumentation.  The set also includes a floor, a seat, seat adjustment lever, a main instrument panel, control yoke and rudder pedals.  Care will have to be taken with the rudder pedals in particular, as they are quite small and must be positioned just so.  I airbrushed the entire cockpit interior Tamiya flat aluminum, as called for in the Starfighter instructions.

boeing-f4b6Construction involving the kit parts was unremarkable except for two stages: the part for the gun deck on the upper forward fuselage, and the two-piece cowl ring both required some seam hiding (as did the lower wing where it meets the fuselage, but I admit I cut corners on that seam), and I used Tamiya putty to very good effect on both seams for the first time.  The major benefit of Tamiya putty is that it goes on fairly wet, but is of somewhat thicker constituency than other putty (Mr. Surfacer, for example), and so can be ideal for totally filling in a seam on the first attempt.  Masking the tail for painting was easy, since I left the elevators off until the final stages of construction and airbrushed them separately, and the vertical tail was easily distinguished from the rest of the fuselage due to its corrugated surface.

boeing-f4b8The last major hurdle was cementing the radial engine into the cowl ring.  An important point to remember at this stage is that the F4B-4’s cowl ring is an early 1930’s design; it is wider in diameter at one end, and that wider end faces the propeller and the front of the aircraft — in later years, cowlings would taper to a smaller diameter at the front.  This will help position the engine correctly, which took some persistence, since initially it did not adhere well to the contact points for the cement along the cowl ring interior.  While bi-planes are almost always a headache when the time comes to cement on the upper wing, attaching the F4B-4’s upper wing was easily the best experience I have had in this department.

Painting

boeing-f4b11The F4B-4’s fuselage was airbrushed in Model Master Enamels, Light Grey (FS36495) and Cobalt Blue (cowling and tail).  The top surface of the wing was airbrushed with a Polly Scale Acrylic, (F505220) Orange Yellow  4 USGM3-1.  The underside was airbrushed in Model Master Flat Aluminum.  The propeller is Humbrol Metal Cote, and the tri-color tips are Model Master enamels.

Decals

boeing-f4b5The original Monogram decals appeared quite intact but had suffered some oxidation and yellowing, since no effort had been made to preserve them.  I used two sets of Starfighter Decals for the markings: the first was 72-102, Boeing F4B-4 1933-37 Part I.  The markings used from this set are for a machine operating from the U.S.S. Lexington, circa 1934.  A second set of Starfighter Decals provided the individual squadron logo on the side of the fuselage just forward of the cockpit; 72-105, USN USMC Aircraft Insignia 1930’s, Part I — this set provided the top hat marking seen on the F4B-4 in the photos, and is the logo for VF-2, the “Tophatters” which used the distinctive logo from 1927 — the year carrier aviation began — until 1941, when it came to full flower with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Starfighter Decals are truly an excellent brand, on par with Aeromaster in terms of color, registration, thickness, adhering to the model surface, and responding well to decal solvent. They appear to be very well researched and have no carrier film whatsoever.

Conclusion

This is a neat little kit of an interwar fighter that formed part of the critical evolution of U.S. carrier aviation in the 1930’s.  Highly recommended for historical interest and ease of construction.

boeing_f4b9References

  • The American Fighter Plane by Amy E. Williams; Copyright 2002; Barnes & Noble, New York
  • “Flying the Boeing F4B” by Boone T. Guyton, Wings Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2, October 1971
  • Monogram instructions’ aircraft history
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