Grumman F3F-2 Flying Barrel by Special Hobby

1/72 scale
Kit No. SH72106
Cost: $26.00
Decals: 4 versions
Comments: Engraved panel lines; includes resin and photo-etched parts; very detailed example of U.S. Navy’s last biplane fighter


The highly maneuverable Grumman F3F served as the Navy and Marine Corps’ premier (and last biplane) fighter of the late 1930s. Used by both the Navy and Marine Corps, the stubby fighter served from 1936 to 1941. When the Navy transitioned to monoplanes in the mid-1930s, the highly maneuverable F3F-2s and -3s became the last carrier-based biplanes. More maneuverable than a monoplane, the biplane fighter was prized as a “dog fighter,” but drag prevented it from attaining the high speeds desired for modern warfare.

The XF3F-1 was introduced in 1935 as a follow-on to the F2F-1. Powered by the R-1535-84 Twin Wasp engine and with a longer fuselage and greater wingspan, the XF3F-1 offered improved aerodynamics, especially related to spin recovery, and a larger cockpit. Later, to further improve spin recovery, a ventral strake was fitted. By August 1936, 54 of the new F3F-1s had been delivered, going to Fighting Squadron (VF) 5B aboard USS Ranger (CV-4) and VF-6B in USS Saratoga (CV-3). The two squadrons, eventually renamed VF-4 and VF-3 respectively, retained their F3F-1s until 1940.

In July 1936, the first XF3F-2 prototype was ordered by the Navy, and tested in 1937. A major change was installation of the 950 horsepower Wright R-1820-22 engine, improving performance and changing the contours of the engine cowling. In March 1937, the Navy ordered 81 F3F-2s, assigning them to VF-6 aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6) and Marine squadrons VMF-1 and VMF-2 in 1938. Finally, the Navy purchased 27 F3F-3s, fitted with uprated Cyclone engines. They were assigned to VF-5 aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5) but remained in front line service for only a year.

The Kit

Special Hobby has produced an unusually detailed model of the last biplane fighter flown by the U.S. Navy, the Grumman F3F-2, nicknamed “The Flying Barrel” due to its squat appearance. The kit consists of 46 injection molded plastic parts, 1 clear plastic canopy, 5 resin parts for the cockpit, and 20 photo-etched parts for a higher level of detail. The cockpit alone consists of 19 parts.

Special Hobby has painstakingly created a crystal clear set of directions, providing a paint guide as well as precise measurements for the distances between the engine exhausts and underwing bomb racks. There are also detailed drawings showing where tto position the supporting wires, something rarely seen in biplane kits. This will be a welcome addition for those modelers concerned about dead-on accuracy.

Finally, the kit contains decals for 4 Marine Corps versions: two are natural metal, yellow wing versions, Captain Carson A. Roberts, VMF-2, 1940; and Lieutenant Robert E. Galer (future Guadalcanal ace), VMF-2, 1940; third is another aircraft of VMF-2, NAS San Diego, 1941, painted overall non-specular light gray; and last is a fighter trainer painted non-specular blue gray over non-specular light gray, probably based at NAS San Diego 1941-43.


This kit is a great addition to the Golden Age of Aviation, a compact yet detailed counterpart to the much larger but much older 1/32 Monogram F3F-3 kit, and the more recent 1/48 version by Accurate Miniatures. Highly recommended.


  • National Naval Aviation Museum ~
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