Kit No. F174
Decals: One version – Royal Air Force
Comments: Neat little kit for a quick weekend build; historical interest; separately molded ailerons, elevator flaps and rudder; raised panel lines.
Ex-Frog mold, made in the former USSR; optional position landing gear
The Gloster E.28/39 “Pioneer” holds a unique place in history as the United Kingdom’s first jet aircraft, taking to the air for the first time in May 1941. It was never a fighter; although there were plans to mount two .303 Browning machine guns in each wing, these never materialized. This jet holds the distinction of being a successful testing platform for the jet engine which led directly to Britain’s first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor. The Meteor in turn saw limited action in World War II, primarily in intercepting V-1 rockets launched from the Continent. The Pioneer’s W.1 turbojet engine, manufactured by the British Power Jets Company, was later license-built in the United States by General Electric and used as the powerplant for the first American jet fighter, the Bell P-59 Airacomet.
In September 1939, with the coming of war in Europe, the British Air Ministry decided to proceed with plans to build an aircraft to prove the feasibility of jet propulsion — specifically, to test one of engineer Frank Whittle’s turbojet designs in flight. Working closely with Whittle, Gloster’s chief designer George Carter designed a small low-wing aircraft of conventional configuration around Whittle’s jet engine. The jet intake was in the nose, and the tail-fin and elevators were mounted above the jet exhaust pipe. On February 3, 1940, the Air Ministry signed a contract for two prototypes, and the first of these was completed by April 1941.
The E.28/39 designation came from the fact that the aircraft was built to the 28th “Experimental” specification issued by the Air Ministry in 1939. Manufacturing started in secrecy in Hucclecote near Gloucester, but was later moved to Regent Motors in Cheltenham High Street (now the Regent Arcade), which was considered a more secure location, safer from bombing as well as espionage.
The first prototype, W4041, took its maiden flight on May 15, 1941 at RAF Cranwell, with Gloster’s chief test pilot, Flight Lieutenant Gerry Sayer at the controls. Sayer taxied about 600 yards, running the engine up to its maxium of 16,500 rpm before taking off. After landing 17 minutes later he reported that he had found the aircraft to be incredibly quiet, vibration free and easy to control. Sayer logged another 10 hours over the next 13 days at speeds of over 300 mph without any need to remove the engine covers, including one flight of almost an hour with its maximum fuel load of 81 gallons, and on another flight reached 25,000 feet.
Testing continued over the following months with increasingly refined versions of the engine, built by Frank Whittle’s Power Jets company, and continued until 1944, by which time more advanced turbojet powered aircraft were available. Although the E.28/39 never achieved particularly high speeds (its fastest was 338 mph, similar in performance to the Hawker Hurricane), it proved the feasibility of jet aircraft and had a good climb rate and service ceiling. Most importantly, it led directly to the first British jet fighter to enter production, the Gloster Meteor.
The E.28/39, unofficially called the Pioneer, was an innovative design in that it had both a tricycle landing gear and a mid-fuselage-mounted engine behind the pilot with the jet exhaust protruding from the rear fuselage and fed from a bifurcated duct in the node of the aircraft. This proved more than satisfactory despite some loss of efficiency and was later used in a number of other designs, such as the F-86 Sabre and English Electric Lightning.
There were a total of two Gloster Pioneers. The second aircraft, W4046, rolled off the assembly line in 1946 but had a short life as it had to be abandoned in flight by Squadron Leader Douglas Davie when the ailerons jammed at high altitude which gave him the distinction of being the first pilot to bail out of a jet aircraft in Britain. W4046 crashed near Bramley in Surrey.
Length: 25.3 feet or 7.72 meters
Width: 29 feet or 8.84 meters
Weight: 3699 lbs. or 1678 kg
Maximum Speed: 338 mph or 544 km/h
Powerplant: Power Jets W.1 turbojet engine of 860 lbs. thrust (390 kg)
The Novo kit dates back at least to the 1970’s and is based on the original Frog mold from the 1960’s. The Gloster E.28/39 consists of 33 injection molded grey parts, including a single piece canopy and a choice of pilot figures, one for the spartan cockpit, and another test pilot who presents a rather dashing figure, standing in full kit with one glove held behind his back. The cockpit consists of a blank two-piece tub and a seat — there is no other detail. The kit is Spartan but has reasonably accurate exterior lines, with the exception of the small vertical fins on the horizontal stabilizers, which are completely absent. Also the Pioneer may have had a pitot tube on its left wing which the Novo kit does not provide. Finally the splitter for the jet intake is disappointingly crude, making no effort to come to a point. In fact, there is a gap between the two cockpit halves which form the splitter, which I had to fill with putty. The Pavla version of this kit, released in 2004, offers superior detail in this area with resin accessories.
It is best to glue the tub together first, decide which fuselage half to glue it into, then tape the fuselage together while it dries to ensure proper alignment with the internal fuselage locator pins on both sides. Otherwise, you may have two halves of a cockpit floor that are not properly aligned. This matters only because you will want the seat to sit on a flat horizontal plane, not tipped to one side of the aircraft or the other. You then glue the seat and pilot in.
This is a bagged kit and there is a nicely done color paint guide on the back of the cardboard placard, but there is no paint guide for the pilot. As the E.28/39 was first flown in 1941, I used as a reference for the pilot a color photo of a pilot’s full kit from The Battle of Britain, an excellent cocktail-table-sized reference book by Richard Townshend Bickers — this jet’s first flight was scarcely nine months after the height of the Blitz.
The E.28/39 Pioneer is airbrushed in a camouflage scheme of Ocean Grey (Aeromaster enamel) and British Dark Green (Polly Scale acrylic) over RAF Trainer Yellow (Model Master enamel). All interior surfaces are British Interior Green, also a Polly Scale acrylic.
Given their age, the kit decals not surprisingly shattered into a spider web pattern on contact with water. I improvised, using decals from a variety of sources. The roundels on the fuselage sides and upper surfaces of the wings are from Aeromaster’s Fleet Air Arm Part II, Set No. 72-193. The roundels on the undersides of the wings are from a Letraset sheet of C type RAF roundels, 1942-47 — these are dry transfers which are applied by rubbing them down using the blunt end of a ball point pen or similar object — no water involved.
I was quite skeptical that such a technique would work, but the Letraset decals went on beautifully, all the more impressive since the red circles in the centers were separate decals. They looked quite good once treated with a glossy topcoat of lacquer. Finally, the “circle P” markings, the serial numbers, and the fin flashes for the tail came from the decals of the 1/72 Eastern Express example of the same kit, which for those who care is an exact re-boxing of the Frog/Novo mold, right down to sporting the same minor sinkholes in the nose of the plane.