Kit No. 72015
Cost: $30.00 (Limited Run, Out of Production)
Decals: Two versions – U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines
Comments: Hard plastic, engraved panel lines, basic cockpit, vacuform canopy, some scratchbuilding or kit-bashing skill required
Long before the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II contested the skies over Southeast Asia, there was another Phantom, ordered into production during World War II. It was a small, straight-winged single-seater, built for the Navy when jet propulsion was still relatively new. It was anything but supersonic, with a top speed in level flight of 479 mph, and entered service with the U.S. Navy in the summer of 1947, just a few months before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. It had four .50 caliber machine guns as its main armament and pre-dated the appearance of reliable air-to-air missiles. The first Phantom, progenitor of its more well-known namesake of the Vietnam era, was the U.S. Navy’s very first jet fighter and it too was built by McDonnell Aircraft. It took its maiden flight just three months before the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In August 1943 the U.S. Navy tasked the relatively new McDonnell Aircraft Corporation with designing a carrier-based jet fighter. At the time, McDonnell was only four years old and had mainly built components of aircraft for other manufacturers, but it was a logical choice in that the manufacturing operations of other major companies like Boeing, North American, and Grumman were straining to meet the demand for their aircraft due to the war effort. The result not only gave the Navy its first jet fighter, but it set the stage for McDonnell to become one of the world’s leading combat aircraft manufacturers.
Early designs were radical for the time, some featuring three small Westinghouse turbojets in each wing, but the final configuration had two Westinghouse WE19XB-2B turbojets in the wing roots, part of a conventional straight-winged, flush-riveted airframe that was finalized by December 1943. Two prototypes were ordered under the designation XFD-1and were later named Phantom — due largely to company president James McDonnell’s interest in the supernatural.
The first prototype was ready for its maiden flight by January 1945, but only one engine was available. The maiden flight was performed with just the one engine installed on January 2nd, and the first proper flight with both engines on January 26th. An order for 100 XFD-1’s was placed in March 1945, cut to 30 when the war ended in August, and eventually increased to 60. Meanwhile, the second XFD-1 prototype had flown in June 1945. Initial carrier trials were conducted aboard the U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1946 — the first time an American-designed jet fighter had flown from an aircraft carrier. Production aircraft were delivered with the designation FH-1, due to the U.S. Navy’s designation for the McDonnell Company changing from “D” to “H,” owing to “D” already being taken by Douglas Aircraft (hence the designation SBD for its famous Dauntless dive bomber).
The first production FH-1 flew on October 28, 1946. Deliveries to U.S. Navy Squadron VF-17A (VF-171 as of August 11, 1948) began in July 1947. VF-17A, which did not fully complete its transition out of its F8F Bearcats and into the FH-1 until 1949 due to the need to have pilots undergo conversion training at the Naval Air Test Center, became the world’s first operational carrier-based jet fighter squadron and the sole Navy front line unit to fly the Phantom, from the carrier U.S.S. Saipan, deploying operationally during the Saipan’s May 1948 cruise. Two Marine Corps Squadrons (VMF-122 and VMF-311) also flew the FH-1. The Marines briefly operated one of the world’s first jet air show teams (the Flying Leathernecks) while flying the Phantom.
The FH-1 was in front-line service for only three years, due partly to its conventional airframe design, imposed on McDonnell due to the wartime need for speedy production. It had no ejection seat, something not seen on U.S. Navy fighters until the F2H Banshee entered service. The Phantom could be challenging to maintain due to the location of the engines in the wing roots, which made access difficult. And firing its nose-mounted guns at night could temporarily blind the pilots.
McDonnell built a total of 62 FH-1 Phantoms, with the last one delivered in May 1948. Due to the rapid development of jet technology, the FH-1 was soon superceded by newer types. The Navy began phasing out the Phantom when delivery of McDonnell’s F2H-1 Banshee began in March 1949. The last Phantoms were withdrawn from front-line service in July 1950 in favor of the Grumman F9F-2 Panther. The Phantom was subsequently employed for jet pilot indoctrination training by seven Naval Reserve units before being retired in July 1953.
The FH-1 Phantom had a brief career, as it represented cutting-edge technology that was nonetheless evolving ever more rapidly even as the Navy’s first jet fighter was coming off the drafting boards of McDonnell’s engineers. While it is all but forgotten today, it’s place in aviation history is secure. Within a decade of its retirement, the name Phantom would return in the form of another, superb McDonnell design that would completely overshadow its predecessor, and immortalize itself in aviation lore.
At least one FH-1 Phantom can be seen in its restored state at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Wingspan: 40 ft. 9 in. / 12.2 m
Length: 37 ft. 3 in. / 11.35 m
Height: 14 ft. 2 in. / 4.32 m
Weight: 6,683 lbs. (3031 kg) empty; maximum take off weight 12, 035 lbs. (5,459 kg)
Performance: Maximum speed 779 mph (771 km/h) at sea level, 505 mph (812 km/h) at 30,000 ft.; Crusing speed 248.5 mph (400 km/h); Initial climb rate 4,230 ft (1,289 m) per minute;
Service ceiling 34,500 ft.
Range: 604 nautical miles / 1118 km (this could be extended with a 295 gallon jettisonable belly tank)
Armament: Four nose-mounted Colt-Browning .50 caliber machine guns, with 325 rounds per gun; eight zero-length rocket launchers could also be fitted beneath each wing, firing 5-inch air-to-ground rockets identical to those employed in WWII
Powerplant: Two Westinghouse J30-WE-20 turbojets of 1,600 lbs. thrust (7.1kN)
MPM’s FH-1 Phantom, released in 1992, is the newest kit of this type on the market. Prior to that time, only the Griffin and Airmodel kits were available. MPM’s kit is molded in pale grey and consists of 31 parts including the vacuform canopy. It has very nice engraved panel lines. One thing that immediately strikes the modeler is how hard the plastic is compared to nearly any other injection molded brand — it is still sandable, but it’s quite solid. The cockpit consists of a floor panel, a bucket seat that is slightly oversized, a control stick and an instrument panel featuring molded detail. There is no interior sidewall detail.
The instructions consist of a four-page fold out that features a three-view profile illustration, a diagram of all the kit’s sprues, and a single exploded drawing of the kit, which given the 31 parts is about all the modeler needs. There are also profile drawings of the Navy and Marine Corps versions of the FH-1 to assist with decal placement. The decals are by Techmod and are sealed in a separate clear plastic bag — for this reason they were in pristine condition although this kit is nearly 20 years old, having suffered no oxidation to age or yellow them. The kit instructions call for four antennae, none of which are provided, to be cemented to various points on the fuselage.
To begin with I used a number of aftermarket parts or components from other kits to improve the Phantom:
1) Quickboost .50 caliber machine gun barrels
2) Academy Hellcat seat
3) Intake fans and rear internal exhaust nozzles from the Airfix F2H Banshee kit
4) Eduard WWII USAAF seatbelts
5) Evergreen strips for internal ribbing in the wheel wells
6) Aftermarket wire for antennae
Construction begins with the cockpit, cementing the seat, instrument panel, and control stick to the fuselage floor. There is small ledge on both interior fuselage sides upon which the floor must rest, but the ledge on the starboard side is not cleanly molded, and a fair amount of excess material must be removed in order for the cockpit floor to sit in a level position. A metal square file is recommended for this, since sanding with an emery board or section of sandpaper may damage or even eliminate the ledge.
Once this is complete, the nose section of the fuselage must be fitted with a weight of some kind to avoid building a tail-sitter. Like many model kits with tricycle landing gear, the FH-1 has a tendency to sit on its tail when complete unless precautions are taken. packed the interior of the nose with Millliput putty, then pressed as many ball bearings as would fit into either half of the nose and still allow the two halves of the fuselage to fit together with a flush seam. Be careful at this stage not to use so much putty that the floor of the cockpit will not fit comfortably on its ledge; the cockpit floor doubles as the nose wheel well interior.
The pilot’s seat was oversized, so I cut off the upper quarter of it containing the headrest and put the rest. in the spares box, replacing the original with the square-backed seat from a 1/72 scale Academy F6F-3 Hellcat. I then cemented the seat and the headrest to a piece of sheet plastic cut and sanded to fit the other components. The seat assembly was then airbrushed an acrylic interior green, along with the fuselage interior in the cockpit area and the cockpit floor. Eduard seat straps were added using cyanoacrylate glue.
Being a limited run kit, the detail on the intakes and exhausts of the FH-1 is rather sparse. The instructions call for the intakes to be blocked off with what appear to be foreign object damage covers, but these are often painted red or white (although I don’t know what color the Navy painted them in the early jet days), yet the instructions call out no special painting instructions for these parts. I used intake fans from the old Airfix F2H Banshee kit instead, sanding them down to fit into the Phantom’s significantly smaller intakes. Repeated dry fitting is advised if you go this route — since the FH-1’s engines were located in the wing roots, once the wings are cemented on, the intake fans must sit flush against the fuselage once seated in the intake area of each wing. For the cones inside the exhaust nozzles, I again took similar parts from the Airfix Banshee kit and sanded them down until they fit in the Phantom’s exhausts. The McDonnell Banshee was a redesigned, scaled up version of the Phantom with more powerful engines, so the Airfix kit was an ideal source for cannibalizing parts. Once the exhaust nozzles were cemented on, it took a bit of sanding and putty to eliminate the seam.
The Phantom had four distinctive bulges on its nose for the main armament: four .50 caliber machine guns. MPM’s kit only provides the two lower gun bulges. To create the second set of bulges, I used two Quickboost .50 caliber machine gun barrels from their P-47 set, using 1/48 scale since the 1/72 gun barrels looked a bit small for the FH-1. The barrels were carefully cut and sanded, then glued onto the nose with liquid cement, then puttied and sanded again using Mr. Surfacer 500. Fine tweezers come are indispensable at this stage. Finally holes were drilled in the two lower bulges using a pin vise to simulate actual gun barrels.
The cockpit floor doubles as a floor for the nose wheel well, and I cemented Evergreen strips to this for a measure of detail. There are no wheel wells to speak of for the main gear, which need a flat surface inside the wheel well that is parallel to the wing itself to attach to, in order to sit at the correct right angle to the wing (and the ground). I did not scratch-build wheel wells, but instead cemented Evergreen strips to the inner surface of the upper wing to give the appearance of detail. The photos show the landing gear situated at a slight angle in relation to the wing; although this gives the Phantom a somewhat more rakish appearance, an accurate rendition of the FH-1 would show landing gear situated at a right angle in relation to the wing. The landing gear doors must be cut into sections, then cemented in place. Careful handling with an Xacto blade will accomplish this smoothly. The doors contain no detail but are realistically thin.
The Phantom is airbrushed in Model Master acrylic Dark Sea Blue, with Tamiya Semi-Gloss Black walkways on the wings. The jet engine exhausts were airbrushed in Alclad Aluminum, and required careful masking. Since Dark Sea Blue is a fairly dark color, I airbrushed the jet exhaust nozzles in this color as a primer along with the rest of the airframe before applying the Alclad.
The decals are by Techmod and are quite good, both thin and strong. They reacted well to decal solvent. Despite the age of the kit (1992), the decals were like new as they had been sealed in their own plastic bag, and had suffered absolutely no oxidation — a notable innovation that all other kit manufacturers should consider adopting. The markings provided depict an aircraft of VF-171, the only U.S. Navy unit ever to fly the FH-1 Phantom.
For the antenna I used a combination of Minimeca wire for the larger antenna on the tail and dorsal section; for the smaller antenna on the nose and dorsal area I used ceramic glass wire from Precision Enterprises, Unlimited.
As a limited run kit, MPM’s FH-1 Phantom requires a bit more work to get it into presentable shape than the standard Japanese, European or even American kits, but having said that, this kit is still a beauty, more appealing in this author’s opinion than the vacuform kit of the same name by AirModel. Great historical significance. Very highly recommended.
- Combat Aircraft Since 1945 by Stewart Wilson, Copyright 2000 by Aerospace Publications; Fyshwick, Australia.
- FH/F2H Banshee in Action: Aircraft Number 182; Copyright Squadron Signal Publications, 2002.
- Jet Deck: The Story of America’s First Carrier Jet; Copyright 1996 by Jet Pioneers
- Naval Fighters Number Three: McDonnell FH-1 Phantom; Copyright 1981 by Steven J. Ginter
- Photo File: McDonnell FH-1 Phantom; published by International Masters Publishers, AB.