Kit No. 11628
Decals: Two versions: Pre-war yellow wing version, and a Navy WWII version
Comments: Fine engraved detail; revolutionary 1930’s design for naval fighter that ultimately led to Grumman F7F Tigercat
The Grumman XF5F “Skyrocket” lightweight fighter was originally envisioned as a fast shipborne interceptor with the handling and performance capabilities to match enemy fighters of the period. Once Grumman presented the US Navy with its radical design, the Navy ordered a prototype on June 30th, 1939 – nearly two and a half years before America’s entry into World War II. Grumman gave it the designation Model G-34.
The XF5F was unique by any measure of the period. It sat the sole crewmember in a truncated fuselage capped at its nose by a straight-edged wing which mounted the two engine nacelles at their leading edges, giving the fighter a wholly unique appearance. The tail unit was set in its usual place but carried a twin-rudder configuration set about a pair of upward-cranked horizontal planes. A “tail-dragger” undercarriage rounded out the design.
Dimensions included a running length of 28.8 feet, a wingspan of 42 feet, and a height of 11.3 feet. Empty weight was 8,110 lb against a Maximum Take-Off Weight of 10,900 lbs. The powerplant was a pair of Wright XR-1820-40/42 “Cyclone” 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, capable of 1,200 horsepower each. The engines drove the three-bladed propellers in opposite directions, cancelling the natural torque effect generated by each engine’s spinning blades and making for a more steady flying and gunnery platform. As a Navy fighter, it was originally proposed that the new aircraft carry two 23mm Madsen cannons. Beyond this fixed armament the aircraft was designed to carry two 165 lb. bombs for ground attack.
The entry of the XF5F during this period of American naval aviation history was of particular note as it was a twin-engined fighter at a time when the first monoplanes were just being accepted into USN service. Twin engines offered better range and power at the expense of complexity, maintenance requirements, and overall size on space-strapped carriers. Regardless, the Navy was willing to consider any fighter design that promised an advantage against potential enemies.
The XF5F prototype took its first flight on April 1, 1940 and this early period of testing revealed issues that forced revisions including a lengthening of both nose and engine nacelles and a reworking of the engine cooling system. Aerodynamics were further addressed by the addition of spinners to each propeller and lowering the cockpit canopy. Armament was changed from two cannon to two 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns and two 0.30 caliber medium machine guns. This combination was common to many interwar American fighter planes – particularly before it was realized that a full battery of 0.50 machine guns offered the best firepower against more modern enemy fighters. On the whole, the fighter proved to have exceptional straight line speed for its time, good maneuverability, and a stellar rate-of-climb.
When tested against its contemporaries, partly due to its impressive top speed of 358 mph, the Grumman aircraft outshined the competition – including such war-winning classics like the British Supermarine “Spitfire” and the then-in-development Vought XF4U (which would become known as the F4U Corsair). But the Navy was gearing up for war and was hesitant to order production of a complex twin-engine aircraft. The Bureau of Aeronautics wanted a design that could be readily mass produced and easily maintained in the field, and more conventional monoplane designs like Grumman’s other product, the F4F “Wildcat” seemed to fit that bill. Another factor weighing again the Skyrocket was its engine nacelles, which were so large that they could block the pilot’s view of the landing signal officer, making the carrier operations for which it was designed problematic.
With that decision, the XF5F slipped into aviation history. It was resurrected for a short time as the land-based XP-50, a design that did not advance past one flying prototype. Both programs were ultimately cancelled, but Grumman built upon the lessons learned and ultimately produced a superb twin-engine fighter that saw action late in WWII and later in the Korean War — the F7F Tigercat, which saw production reach 364 units. Tigercats would see combat with Navy and Marine Corps units as a heavy fighter/night fighter over Korea.
Minicraft’s Grumman Skyrocket consists of 82 parts, 78 in grey plastic with engraved panel lines, and 4 of clear plastic. This is a detailed kit, involving 9 parts for each engine, engraved detail on the cockpit instrument panel and sidewalls, and a separate control stick and rudder pedals. There are detailed landing gear and 4 machine guns, although the well laid out and clearly illustrated instructions do not reference an assembly step involving the guns at all. In addition, a portion of the nose must be cut off and sanded, to make way for the nose cone, evidence that this kit is a re-working of the Minicraft’s original short-nose mold of the XF5F-1, on which the nose did not extend past the leading edge of the wing.
The kit decals are high quality ScaleMaster by Microscale examples and should present no difficulty. For the pre-war version, which appears in natural metal and yellow wings, the national insignia are complemented by red circles which are separate decals, as well as decals for the tri-color propeller tips (red, gold and blue). The decals for the two Navy versions are almost identical. The major difference between the pre-war and wartime versions (although the Skyrocket never served as an operational fighter), is that the wartime version excludes the red circles as well as the tri-color propeller tips – and involves an intermediate blue over grey paint scheme. An interesting note is that the decals include markings for a hawk’s head — a nod to the insignia that appeared in a World War II era comic book, Blackhawk, which featured an international group of aviators who flew Grumman Skyrockets — each adorned with a hawk’s head on its nose — on a series of adventures intended to help defeat the Germans and the Japanese. Blackhawk ran continuously until it was cancelled in September 1968, revived briefly in 1976 for a year, again from 1982-84, and yet again in the form of a mini-series in 1988-1990; in this latter iteration as a gritty WWII and post-war espionage thriller with political overtones, geared more toward adults than children.
This looks like it will build into a fine kit. Highly recommended.