Curtiss XP-40 by LF Models

1/72 scale
Kit No. 7259
Cost: $45.00
Decals: One version – U.S. Army Air Corps
Comments: Limited run injection molded kit with resin details and vacuform canopy; engraved panel lines

History

The P-40 was developed directly from the Curtiss P-36 Hawk, and work on the next generation of Curtiss Hawk fighter began almost the moment the P-36 began rolling off the Curtiss assembly lines. In July 1937, aware of the P-36’s shortcomings in firepower (early versions had only one .50 caliber and one .30 caliber machine gun) and speed, the United State Army Air Corps ordered the tenth P-36A off the assembly line to be converted to replace the P-36’s Pratt & Whitney radial R-1830-13 engine with a supercharged in-line Allison V-1710-19, producing 1,150 horsepower.

This was remarkable given the Army’s bias in favor of radial aircraft engines, and may have been driven by the fact that the British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Bf 109, both new, impressive fighters, were powered by in-line engines.

The new Curtiss machine, dubbed H-81 by the manufacturer and the prototype XP-40 by the Army, had a lengthened, redesigned nose to accomodate the new engine, and had a decidedly rakish look compared to the P-36. It took its maiden flight on October 14, 1938. Other than the alteration to the nose of the airframe, the XP-40 and the P-36 had most other components in common. While the XP-40’s top speed, 327 mph, was only 14 mph faster than that of the P-36, it had a cruising speed that was 24 mph faster.

Although this increase in performance seems marginal, it was good enough for the Air Corps to order the type into production after certain modifications were made. The original XP-40 had a large radiator scoop beneath the rear fuselage; this was moved forward to become a chin scoop directly beneath the engine. Dummy gun fairings in the nose were replaced with two .50 caliber machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller arc, and with rather long blast tubes protruding almost to the propeller itself. With these changes, the P-40 Warhawk was born, ultimately leading to the production of 13, 738 aircraft of all variants.

The Army’s decision to put the P-40 into production was a compromise made in reaction to the looming prospect of war. The Army knew the P-40 offered neither the speed nor the altitude performance required of truly modern fighters, nor would it match the performance promised by the P-38, P-47, and P-51. But mass production of each of those planes was at least 2-3 years away, whereas large-scale production of the P-40 could be accomplished in half that time. The P-40 represented a decision to build the largest number of the best available fighter in the shortest period of time, against the tense international situation of 1938-39, which seemed certain to drag the U.S. into a second world war.

The decision proved timely; deliveries of the first P-40’s to Army Air Corps units began in June 1940, the same month of the infamous British evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk in France. Flown by the British RAF in North Africa, the Russians on the Eastern Front in Europe, and the Flying Tigers in the Far East, P-40’s led the fight against the Axis powers in the early stages of the war. And of the handful of fighters that managed to get airborne to challenge the Japanese during their attack on Pearl Harbor, two were Curtiss P-40’s.

The Kit

The LF XP-40 comes in a lightweight, square box measuring 4.5 x 5 inches bearing attractive box art in the form of a painting of an XP-40 based on an original photograph of the prototype. The box bears the words “(Initial Configuration)” — as if the large, tell-tale radiator scoop beneath the fuselage and behind the cockpit were not hint enough. The kit is heavily based on the AML Hawk Model 75 kit (in fact, part of the kit instructions are clearly labelled as the instructions for the Curtiss Hawk 75A-4 Mohawk IV) and consists of 56 resin parts, two injection molded plastic parts, two vacuform canopies, a photo-etch fret for the cockpit and other details, together with a sheet of clear acetate for the instrument panel dials. The resin parts are cast in two different colors: grey (wings, nose section, and tailplane), and tan (detail parts for the cockpit including seat, floor and sidewalls). The fuselage halves are injection molded plastic and come in an olive color.

In a sense the LF XP-40 is a conversion kit for the AML Hawk Model 75, but so few parts of the original AML kit are used (the fuselage halves, and that’s it), this kit is more of a manufacturer’s kit-bash between the LF and the AML kits, with two core parts of the AML kit being integrated into the LF kit. The resin cockpit is clearly from the AML Hawk Model 75 (the export version of the American P-36 fighter), but the instructions give no hint of the work that will be required to fit the somewhat bulky resin cockpit into the tight confines of the P-36 fuselage. Using the P-36/Mohawk fuselage is entirely appropriate and historically accurate, since that is exactly how the actual XP-40 was born. However, since this is a kit-bash of an injection molded plastic P-36 fuselage and the aftermarket resin wings and nose section of an XP-40, at least intermediate modeling skill will be required. Proper adhesives, putties and seam-hiding techniques will definitely be needed. Like the original, the finished kit will be a true hybrid.

The kit bears very nice engraved panel lines and the wing is a single piece of cast grey resin, with wheel wells that are crisply done but lack any real detail, and a gentle, and very realistic-looking fabric-over-frame effect for the ailerons. While resin parts are provided for ribbed, internal wheel well detail, the instructions clearly indicate these parts are for the P-36, which had a three-piece wing rather than the single-piece cast wing of the XP-40, so the resin wheel well parts are still usable, but a bit of imagination, and the patience to sand the square resin parts into circular ones that can then be cemented into the XP-40 wheel wells, will be needed.

The fuselage consists of four parts, with a separate resin nose section in two halves, and separate parts for the spinner and propeller. The interior of the fuselage halves bear raised detail for the cockpit sidewalls, so the modeler will have to choose between this and the somewhat crisper resin sidewalls that are provided on a separate block. If the resin cockpit is used, it appears that sanding to thin down both the fuselage interior walls and the center section of the one-piece wing will be necessary, as a dry-fit test indicated that the internal dimensions of the cockpit area will be tight indeed.

The resin cockpit features a very crisply done floor and rear bulkhead, as well as almost paper-thin, detailed sidewalls. The pilot’s seat is nicely done and appears above average in accuracy as it includes the rear frame, but no seatbelts. The landing gear doors are appropriately thin and to scale, and the landing gear are reasonably detailed.

Decals

Markings are provided for a pre-WWII fighter aircraft, complete with a “U.S. Army” decal for the underside of the wings and the national markings of a white star with a red circle in the center on a blue circle. At a glance the decals appear to be of good quality, appropriately thin with a semi-gloss finish to them. However, close examination reveals that the red circles on the national insignia, are tiny red stripes arranged in a circular pattern, rather than a solid red circle. It is not obvious except on very close examination, but it is the kind of visual detail that a camera might pick up.

Conclusion

The hybrid, mulit-media nature of this kit (plastic, resin, and photo-etch) is probably going to require intermediate and possibly advanced modeling skills. Still, it is highly recommended because of the unique and historic subject matter.

Reference

  • P-40 Warhawk in Detail: Part I by Bert Kinzey: Squadron Signal Publications; Carrollton, Texas, Copyright 1999

 

The Curtiss XP-40 prototype in flight.

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