MPM 1/72 Stinson L-1 Vigilant
KIT #: 72503
PRICE: Around $25.00 msrp
DECALS: Four options
NOTES: Short run with injected canopy


            Anyone interested in the history of drafted light planes should pick up L- Birds, by T.M.Love, Flying Books International 2001, from which this summary is extracted, and which provided the photos for this model’s livery.

            The L-1, also known as the O-49 and attributed to Vultee, which in 1940 acquired Stinson (and soon after merged with Consolidated Aircraft), owes its existence to the German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (Stork).  At the 1938 Cleveland Air Races, the Luftwaffe demonstrated it along with some of its other vaunted aircraft. The Storch was the first ever designed-from-scratch military STOL liaison plane. Its performance and utility so impressed US observers that they began chanting “IWANTINEEDIGOTTAHAVEONEOFTHOSE”. 

            Out of the resulting competition, Stinson won the only production contract with a design that mimicked the Nazi A/C, particularly in the installation of full span automatic leading edge slats and slotted trailing edge flaps. Slow speed, stability, and short field load capability were the Vigilant’s strong points; while its size, weight, and complexity less than endeared it to personnel who had to service it in the field.

The L-1 upstaged its replacements, the O-52 Owl and O-47, whose speed and power were attributes precisely not needed in the observation / liaison role. It served in all theaters throughout the war, equipped sometimes as an ambulance, and in one version on amphibious floats (an enticing variant which MPM has so far not picked up on).


This kit really snuck up on me.  There I was on a roll of   utility – transport – liaison models, and didn’t know a thing about MPM’s release until reading an off-hand remark on some WEB site. Luckily, I was able to procure one (From NKR Models down in Oz) before it went out of stock and production, which these Czech short runs quickly do.

The molding is a progress / regress move for MPM. The step forward is the perfectly clear injected canopy, which comes in two parts joined along a central longitudinal framing line. The framing is scribed as shallow channels, not sufficiently deep  to facilitate hand painting of the side window and door frames.

The back step is the lack of resin details, which that huge clear canopy is dying to  show off. Nothing is provided of the jungle-gym of structural tubes that filled the real greenhouse, nor do the instructions provide any directions for the do-it-yourselfer.

The 7-cylinder button type engine face is also a disappointment – especially since the history on the instructions sheet clearly claims the use of a 9 jug radial. The other disappointment is failure to mold deployed slats. Photos show that’s how they were usually, possibly always, configured on the ground. There are no mounting slots, tabs, pins, or holes, but locations are engraved for struts and tailfins. Dimples are even punched for the aft surfaces’ rigging wires. Take care not to obliterate any markings during sanding – little of which is needed anyway.

Control hinges and balance horns come on a photo-etched fret. Instead of soft brass, however, it is steel or some impervious element from the planet Krypton, that  resists all efforts to cut the parts free, a recalcitrance exacerbated by lack of  etched parting lines. Attempts to cut the hinges off with a shears just turns them into curled pointed shrapnel useful only for causing  painfully embedded subcutaneous wounds. I was lucky enough to find a suitable replacement fret in the spares box. I super glued them on prior to painting and attaching the wings, and continually knocked them off thereafter.


I was to start with the canopy, but first the fuselage halves had to come together so the transparency could be properly fit. Mating two clear clamshells without glue glops or fume fogging is always a challenge. Testors Liquid Cement seems to have the proper grab and consistency to be used in minimal amounts. When smoothing the resulting seam mask the surrounding area to avoid scrapes (guess how I realized that necessity!). The fit to the fuselage required some tweaking but still left gaps that would have to be caulked.

The build would look utterly bogus if the canopy was left empty of at least a suggestion of the tangle of tubes that in real life supported the wing (or by which the wing supported the fuselage). Toward fulfilling that goal I had, several years earlier while visiting Kermit Weeks’s aviation museum near Tampa, taken detailed photos of a stripped down L-1 in his restoration shop (the best part of the museum tour). The photos were carefully filed, but not carefully enough to avoid discovery by the Model Airplane Gremlins, who delight in such pilferage. An SOS on this site brought a set of nearly identical photos from a poster who had been to the same place with the same idea (though a few years later, when the L-1 still sat undressed). With those, a 4X magnifier over whatever other pics I could find, and a yard of stretched green sprue, I managed to more or less reproduce the interior framework. Any divagations from precise placement are acceptable under the Neo-Platonic Philosophy of Plastic, to which I subscribe, which posits that models are approximate representations, not exact shrinkifications.

Even with all the framework, the cockpit still needed noodling. The passable bucket seats received Tamya  Tape belts. The side walls were dolled up with more “tubing”, and a scratched throttle quadrant and PEB trim wheel gave the pilot something to play with. The canopy got stuck on with Testors liquid, which is really a loose gel, and gaps were caulked with aqueous varnish, whose leveling qualities, clarity, and moisture resistance make it superior to white glue.

Butt joining the wing roots to the canopy with minimal glue was a challenge. I should have left some of the “tubes” poking through as stub spars. The right  wing panel flopped over the top, dragging with it a gloppy glue string, one of the many catastrophes that plagued this project.  I was able to sand and polish the damage, except for a deep pit that was passably filled with a whopping dose of Future.

Another challenge is figuring out how to attach the wing struts.  Three locator ovals are engraved on the fuselage side, one for the struts, one for the gear legs, one for good luck. Trial and error revealed that the highest one is where the strut gets stuck, but first a millimeter of length should be spliced on to achieve the properly prominent dihedral. A third perplexity is posed by the mid-wing “U” struts, which are too short and too wide.  These parts are best discarded and stick built with lengths of .025 rod.

As I said, the engine button is two jugs short and otherwise unconvincing. A perfectly proportioned radial popped out of the spares box. It was, for some reason, devoid of push rod tubes, which had to be fashioned from pulled sprue stuck into radially drilled holes in the crankcase.

Wheels seem to be a sore point with the Czechs, who insist on molding them as split halves.  That wouldn’t be such a problem if they didn’t always embellish the hubs with sink holes. Filing the filler wasn’t as difficult as expected.  A few wiggles of a half round riffler file followed by a bit of buzzing with a converted toothbrush vibrating sander.


Four or so schemes are included on the decal sheet, none of which approximated the early wartime “meatball-in-star” clad version I wanted. 

Suitable decals dropped out of the spares box.  Individual numbers had to be cut from an ancient Microscale sheet. This L-Bird wore its unit identification on the upper port wing. Interestingly, “22012” was the postal Zip Code of my house in Brooklyn (NY, or course) where I re-discovered modeling. A misting of Future sealed the transfers and semi-glossed the enamel shine.



This build was prolonged by an endless string of paint touch-ups and  minor disasters, such as losing PEB hinges and snapping the monofilm antennae.


 I know, I’d promised to move on from utility-transport thingies to something else; but I just couldn’t help myself.

Joel Hamm

March 2007

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