Kit No. 31-1.95
Decals: Two versions – One for Colorado Airways U.S. Mail aircraft; One for Pacific Air Transport Air Mail version
Comments: Limited run kit from 1971; builds either the J-4B radial engine version or the Hisso V-8 version
First flown on February 14, 1926, the Ryan M-1 was a parasol-wing design monoplane that had an important role in the early days of air mail service, operating in the Western United States in the mid to late 1920’s. It was America’s first production monoplane and the first original design built by Ryan Aeronautical Company of San Diego, California. Known as “the plane that pays a profit,” it was the first plane to begin commerical air service along the West Coast with Pacific Air Transport (PAT), making the first run linking the cities of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles by air on September 15, 1926. Early air mail flights were anything but comfortable, with the M-1’s two open cockpits, and could be quite dangerous — five of Pacific Air Transport’s original fleet of six M-1’s crashed during the first year of operations.
After World War I, air mail kept the post-war aviation industry going in the United States, when Congress privatized the air mail business in 1925, offering private carriers like Pacific Air Transport and Colorado Airways the potential to provide air service (consisting mostly of mail, but also a few intrepid passengers) at a profit. Congress opted for privitization after several fatal crashes of U.S. Postal Service planes. In the 1920s, U.S. government contracts for flying air mail on a dollar-per-mile basis was about the only thing keeping commercial aviation alive and growing. The M-1 was the first aircraft to fly with Pacific Air Transport, which operated M-1’s fitted with Wright J-4B radial engines. Colorado Airways operated the Hispano Suiza V-8 engined versions on the run between Cheyenne, Wyoming and Pueblo, Colorado.
The Ryan M-1 has the distinction of being the precursor to the Ryan NYP — better known as the Spirit of St. Louis — the aircraft that Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic during his historic 1927 flight. The NYP was actually a highly modified version of the M-1’s successor, the M-2, which looked virtually identical externally to its predecessor.
Manufacturer: Ryan Aeronautical Company
Power Plant: One Wright J-4B Whirlwind 220 h.p. engine
Length: 24 ft.
Span: 36 ft.
Wing Area: 228 ft²
Empty Weight: 1,550 lbs.
Gross Weight: 2,700 lbs.
Maximum Speed: 125 mph
Cruising Speed: 110 mph
Range: 400 miles
The Ryan M-1 is a “garage kit,” produced in a limited run in 1971 by Greenbank, and as far as the author knows has not been manufactured since. It is relatively rare, but can still be found intact with patient internet research. It comes in the form of a bagged kit, with a clear plastic bag and what appears to be a placard up top, but is really the instructions sealed inside the bag in a three-way fold format. The M-1 consists of 53 parts and is injection molded in white and silver plastic. It has raised panel lines and a realistic ribbed look for the large parasol wing, and particularly for the elevators and rudder. The M-1 includes two small black rubber wheels, to be attached to fixed landing gear that are completed by a faithfully recreated tail skid.
The kit has optional parts to build one of two versions, the V-8 engined Hisso (short for Hispano-Suiza) or the radial-engined J-4B version. There is a decal sheet depicting both the U.S. Mail-Colorado Airways Hisso version, and the radial-engined Pacific Air Transport Air Mail version. There are two curious parts molded in clear plastic that appear to be dunce caps but are actually the landing lights, to be cemented beneath each wing tip. The instructions consist of a single exploded drawing and profiles of the two versions of the M-1 to assist with decal placement. There is also a rather basic paint guide. The detail on the Whirlwind radial engine is impressive, considering this is a rather old limited run kit.
The cockpit is basic with a seat, instrument panel and a control stick. One thing readily apparent about this kit is that the pilot’s seat is a little too small, so I fashioned a replacement out of sheet plastic, and added Eduard seat belts from an RAF WWII photo-etch set. The instrument panel has raised detail which can be brought out with a litlle dry brushing — an impressive feature on a limited run kit of this vintage. Once the cockpit parts are in, it’s time to seal up the fuselage, and the fit is very good. Extreme care must be taken removing the landing gear components, elevator struts and the wing support frame (which is cemented to either side of the fuselage just outside the cockpit), for these parts are highly delicate and can easily break at this stage, or when sanding them down to remove the minor amount of flash on each of them. When the time came, I cemented the very flimsy-looking wing support frame to the fuselage using two-part epoxy. Cyanoacrylate gel sufficed for the landing gear, wing, and wing support struts.
The M-1’s parasol wing is a one-piece affair with fairly good stretched fabric-over-frame effects. The clear “dunce cap” landing lights are cemented on the underside of the wing near the edges. These parts were painted in Alclad Aluminum along with the rest of the airframe, with the convex lens caps protected by Blue Tack. Reference photos revealed that the landing lights had what appeared to be a copper ring around their forward edges, near the lens of each light, so I used Humbrol copper enamel paint to reproduce this effect. Once dry, the lens caps were polished with Micro Mesh and treated with Future to make their convex shape highly reflective, like glass.
The Wright Whirlwind J-4B radial engine had a small amount of flash on it, which was sanded down before the engine was painted gloss black. Some versions of this engine had a magneto with two red flashes on it, and I recreated this effect during painting. The engine exhaust manifold consists of six very small, individual exhaust vents that are cemented to the sides of the pistons of the radial engine. Reference photos again provided a great deal of help here. The kit has an extremely delicate main axle, which must be gently threaded through the two main support struts for the landing gear. The M-1 features genuine rubber tires, each of which are pressed over a two-piece wheel. A notable feature is that the propeller has very nice raised detail to highlight the metal that reinforced the leading edges and propeller tips.
The decals are extraordinarily good for their age. All but the largest decal, “U.S. Mail” for the under surface of the wing, survived contact with water largely intact. The Ryan M-1 is painted in Alclad Aluminum overall. This paint, being a lacquer, provided an excellent surface for decal adhesion, and in most cases a little Decal Set was enough to make them lay down. However, the decals are nearly 40 years old (and were well-preserved in a sealed bag until I actually started the kit), and the “Pacific Air Transport” decals for the fuselage sides broke up into at least two pieces each in the water. I used decal set and a little Future applied with a paint brush to seal them in once I got them reassembled on the fuselage.
The “U.S. Mail” decal was more challenging. It had to be cut into three pieces, and parts of these shattered — luckily into large pieces — upon contact with water. I was able to transfer them to the wing and reconstruct them, but they required extensive touch-up painting with gloss black enamel to conceal the damage. They would not lay down completely on the somewhat concave surface found on the underside of the wing, even after repeated applications of Decal Set. Although it was risky given the age of the decal, I finally got them to lay down with selective applications of decal solvent. A day later, when I was sure the decals had laid down permanently along the contours of the wing, I applied liberal amounts of Future to the under surface of the wing with a paintbrush.
This is a great historical kit from the Golden Age of Aviation, highly recommended. Patience and extreme care are required for some of the assembly steps, involving both small and highly delicate parts, so it is probably best for modelers with at least intermediate experience.