Northrop N-9 MA by Sword

1/48 scale
Kit No. SW48001
Cost: $25.00 – $45.00 (Out of production)
Decals: One version
Comments: Engraved panel lines, detailed cockpit, vacuform canopy, resin parts for propeller hubs and rear auxiliary wheel well

History

First flown two days after Christmas, 1942, the Northrop N-9M was an interim flying wing test bed and a follow-on research aircraft to its predecessor, the smaller N-1M. Representing an incremental increase in size and power, it would ultimately aid in engineering, design and development advances that would culminate in the Northrop XB-35 and the jet-powered Northrop XB-49 flying wing bombers.

Its construction was much like that of the N-1M (which featured a wingspan of 38.72 feet, compared to the N-9M’s 60 feet) and was primarily of wood, specifically mahogany and spruce. Metal components used only where absolutely required. In all, four versions of the N-9M were built, but each differed in their control surfaces, radio, and electrical equipment.

The N-9M was literally a stepping stone between the N-1M and the much larger XB-35, yet another flying laboratory to continue the exploration and refinement of the flight characteristics of the flying wing. Scaled to be one-third the size of the XB-35, the N-9M contributed to the development of the flight data that made the larger, more powerful flying wing possible. The Army Air Force was interested in the project since the flying wing design promised natural lift, a shallower profile, and more internal capacity for fuel and weapons. It also, in one test, demonstrated a significantly reduced radar signature, but no one seemed particularly interested in that characteristic at the time — perhaps because radar itself was a relatively new development in the early 1940’s.

Like the N-1M, the N-9M was modified many times during the course of its flight test program, including experiments with different powerplants and control surfaces. Many flights were frustrating, due to the temperamental technology and the mechanics involved in building a functioning flying wing. The first three N-9M’s, including the N-9MA, had the Menasco C6S-4 six-cylinder air-cooled in-line piston engines, while the N-9MB was fitted with Franklin O-540-7 engines. As the engineering requirements for these aircraft decreased, they were pressed into a training role in which both Northrop test pilots and U.S. Army Air Force would-be XB-35 pilots received flying wing familiarization flight training.

The Northrop N-9 MA during a test flight over California, early 1942.

Despite the crash of the first N-9M prototype on May 19, 1943, killing test pilot Max Constant, the N-9M was a success in that it led as planned to the XB-35 bomber, which flew for the first time on June 25, 1946. Neither the XB-35 nor the XB-49 went into production, largely because the computer and fly-by-wire technology needed to adequately control the aircraft throughout its flight envelope — including combat conditions — did not yet exist.

The Kit

Sword’s Northrop N-9 MA is injection molded in grey plastic and consists of 64 parts, including three resin parts and a single vacuform canopy. The wing structure itself is comprised of six parts, upper and lower halves for a center section, and two outboard wing assemblies, and features delicate engraved panel lines. Dry fitting the two center sections together, the lack of locator pins (also missing from the outboard wing assemblies) is noticeable, but the fit is fairly good despite this, although care and some filler will be required. Also noticeable is the unobstructed view from the wheel wells clear through to the cockpit, but the cockpit tub, once cemented in, will remedy this.

Many of the parts have a small amount of flash, but this will be easily cleaned up in a few moments with a hobby knife. Overall the molding is fairly crisp, above average for a limited run kit. The cockpit is highly detailed, featuring a separately mounted seat and rudder pedals, a main instrument panel with fine raised detail, two similarly detailed sidewalls with raised relief, and a bomber-style control wheel whose column extends horizontally from a console on the port sidewall.

There are interior parts for the wing that provide boxing for the two intakes in the wing leading edge, and have the added benefit of providing the kit with additional structural strength when finished. The wheel wells have no real internal detail, save for the raised ribbing in the interior surface of the upper wing which will remain visible after the two halves of the center section are cemented together. The engine nacelles are relatively small and consist of two halves which will require some seam-hiding skill; there are a pair of two-bladed rear-mounted propellers which are cemented to resin parts which fit into the nacelles, and the spinners are to be cemented over them.

In what may have been a serious security breach, the Northrop N-1, the N-9’s predecessor, made the January 1942 cover of Model Airplane News.

The only other resin part is a slender wheel well to be cemented into the N-9’s rear center section for the fourth wheel of its landing gear. In reference photos the plane looks as if it has traditional tricycle landing gear. However, a smaller, fourth wheel with a slightly curved gear leg lowered from the rear fuselage center line to extend slightly rearwards. It was not quite long enough to touch the ground when the plane was resting on its landing gear, and was not always seen in reference photos. Its sole purpose appears to have been to prevent the N-9’s propeller blades from striking the ground when the plane angled upwards upon take-off or landing — thereby avoiding a likely fatal accident. The landing gear are fairly detailed, with separate oleo struts and diamond tread on the main gear tires, some of which may be obscured if the tires are sanded once their solid halves are cemented together. Likewise the landing gear doors have nicely done interior detail.

The markings are simple: two national insignia for the upper left and lower right wing surfaces, and the Northrop Aviation Corporation logo. All are perfectly in register and have realistic color. In terms of the actual aircraft, photographs show variation on where the national markings were placed, with one photo showing a formation of three N-9’s, two with the national marking on the upper left wing, and one with it on the upper right wing. In addition, although the box art shows an N-9 MA in a paint scheme of chrome yellow upper surfaces and light blue under surfaces, at one point the N-9 MA was painted entirely in chrome yellow.

A fully restored version of Jack Northrop’s revolutionary N-9 takes flight.

Conclusion

For a short run kit, Sword’s N-9 MA features a fair amount of detail, and looks like it will build into a high quality kit. The only curiosity about the kit is why Sword bothered with resin parts at all, since the few resin parts it contains are not those typically found in aircraft kits, and could easily have been molded in plastic. The fit will not be on par with Tamiya, but with care this should build into an excellent example of the flying wing.

References

  • The Flying Wings of Jack Northrop by Garry R. Pape with John M. Campbell and Donna Campbell; Copyright 1994 by Schiffer Publishing; Atlglen, Pennsylvania
  • www.militaryfactory.com
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