KIT: Sword 1/72 Beech Staggerwing
KIT #: ?
PRICE: ?
DECALS: See review
REVIEWER: Joel Hamm
NOTES: Currently out of production

HISTORY

  Everyone thought the Staggerwing was a stupendously stupid project Ė a high performance limo in the height of the Great Depression. Walter Beech taught everyone a thing or two about market niches, though.  Despite its $18,000 sticker, the Staggerwing attracted enough takers to make it a commercial success. When wartime budgets allowed the military to grab for the gusto, the Army and Navy scarfed up a fistful for their high-up muckey-mucks to cruise around in. The subject of this build was attached to the US Embassy in London in the early Forties.

THE KIT

Sword may be a separate company, or just a separate label, associated with MPM, Pavla, and the other Czech molders who have brought us so many unusual subjects. Their quality is consistently pretty-darn good for short run issues.  This one represents two steps forward and one step back. First improvement is inclusion of half-hearted locating pins and holes on major pieces. These do nothing to hold assemblies in place, but they do help locate fins, stabs, and struts, whose location isnít always obvious. Second step up is the switch from vacu-transparencies to injected clear plastic.  This also constitutes the back-step, as these pieces are a bit thick, not terribly clear (or, rather, their clarity borders on being terrible), and all-around ill fitting. Side cabin windows are unusable translucent snippets. The windshield is molded in right and left panels.  When stuck together the piece is several millimeters too wide, and the center post scales out to the size of a two-by-six stuck flat-wise against the plexi. The centerpost framing should be sanded off each half, with additional sculpting where the window curves around to the side.  Take it just a few file strokes at a time, to avoid an acute case of gap-osis.  Had I known how much surgery the windscreen required, I would have attached it pre-painting; sanded and polished it; sealed and coated with epoxy; then re-sanded and re-polished for a seamless see-through assembly; a technique that worked so well on the rock-candy windshield of PMís BE-18 (q.v). Iíll explain anon how I got a reasonable fit without all that abrasion and ablation.

 Other than the clear parts, everything else is crisply molded and fits together with minimal fiddling. Photo etched brass would have done nicely for the complex landing gear doors, but there ainít none of that stuff. Neither is there any resin. The injected engine is OK, but I gave it a bit more realistic depth by cutting away the webbing between the cylinders, and backing it with a PEB firewall disc from the spares box. 

CONSTRUCTION

  Starts with drilling holes for the doubled flying and landing wires, facilitated by sharply engraved locating ovals on the wing panels. They will have to be cleared out again after painting, but drilling them before hand is  neater and safer.

            Next step is figuring out what to do with those aft cabin windows. I was unsuccessful is filing and fitting rhomboids of clear  plastic. More patience and additional tries might have paid off, but I was anxious to get the project on the display shelf before winging westward to winter quarters; so I opted for a standard quick and dirty fix. This entails pasting over the openings from inside with thin acetate, then, post painting, filling the depressions from outside with clear epoxy. Assuming you donít stir air bubbles into the A+B mix, this creates a clear, but somewhat unrealistic window panel.  Epoxy performs some drastic refraction on the paths of photons passing through, so interior details appear distorted.

            The other parts that need to go inside before mating the fuselage halves are the side panels representing plushy padded leather.  These must be thinned down (from the back side, of course) to leave room for the seats.  The floorboard, seats, and instrument panel can be inserted after the fuselage gets glued together.  The parts breakdown leaves the under-belly open until the lower wing and landing gear bays are built.  I added some bogus structural members out of Plastruct extrusions, in case anyone flips the plane on its back to peer into the wheel wells. A problem that persistently crops up with these Czech kits is placement of the seats too far aft. I should have test fitted and set them a few millimeters forward. There seems to be too much space behind the windshield.

As I said, wingsíníthings go together easily, aided by the locating pins. Diagrams on all 3 kits (Meikraft and Merlin, too) show  no dihedral, but I somehow ended up with a few positive degrees, undetectable viewed head-on, but pronounced from the side.

COLORS & MARKINGS

It would be a shame to plaster a plane this pretty with the drab olive drab/neutral gray called for in the kit. One of Squadron/Signals ďAir Force ColorsĒ volumes shows a blue and yellow craft assigned to the US embassy in London. This is the scheme chosen for the 1989 Meikraft kit.  I thought those purloined decals would  either be early Airfix variety, or disintegrate on hitting water; but even after 17 years of basement storage they turned out to be  the absolute best quality transfers I have ever encountered. They hadnít yellowed a bit, were printed in perfect register, with no trace of carrier film. They came away easily from the paper with little soaking; slid into place without balking or curling; and settled down snugly without use of setting fluids. After they were dry I dribbled them with Micro-Sol (after testing some of the  unused British roundels) and they seemed to conform even tighter to the surface. Several coats of Future made everything shiny. Stuff from the quart bottle I had been drawing from for about  15 years  had been getting cantankerous, but a new bottle ($6) solved all the spraying problems. Forgot to mention. Paints are Testors little square bottle enamels (the blue is lightened a bit with white). If that recent Forum posting is true about enamels going bye-bye soon, Iíll have to find a new hobby Ė or just slit my wrists. Iíve tried several acrylics and just canít get them to work.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

  I spoke earlier of  the windshield shortcomings.  Even after meticulous re-shaping it still didnít sit right. I coated it liberally with Future that had been allowed to thicken a bit in air; and that sealed the gaps and faired the glass perfectly to the fuselage, while improving the transparency. Had I paid closer attention to the instruction diagrams and Internet photos, I would not have missed the prominent inverted V strut that extends from the lower windshield corners to the center of the roof. This would have eased the unrealistic wide-open-spaces problem with the cabin interior.

 Lots of little pieces and sub assemblies frustrated a quick stick-together; particularly landing gear and doors. The kit wheels are too wide and square to fit in their forks, looking more like tires belonging on a dragster rather than an airplane. I couldnít find a suitable set in the spares bin, but lo and behold Ė those from the Meikraft kit needed only minor cleanup to fit.  No references were available for the hub color; but fixed gear blue-and-yellows had the wheels matching the wings; which was close enough for me.

I mentioned earlier my engine enhancement.  A more realistic prop  would have been welcome, but none came forward. Instead of the glue-on exhaust stubs, I drilled through the cowl and CA-ed in bits of Al tube. Rigging was done with monofilament ďinvisible threadĒ, which is somewhat more invisible than desired. If anyone knows a source of silver monofilm, or real wire that thin, please let us bipe-builders know.

CONCLUSIONS

The stash still contains a few utility-transport-liasion a/c, but I think Iíll try something different for awhile.

July 2006

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