Merlin Models 1/72 Lockheed Orion

KIT: Merlin Models 1/72 Lockheed Orion
KIT #: ?
PRICE: $25.00 when new
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Carmel J. Attard
NOTES: Short run to the max with metal parts


 Throughout aviation history there has been aircraft, which by their very advent have changed the whole state of the art. Aircraft that have often been produced in small numbers yet their effect on aviation has been immense. When the Lockheed Orion appeared in 1931 it proved that civil aviation could be both relatively comfortable and have above all fast with a top speed of 200 mph, its performance was equal to many fighters of the period. It’s design with retractable undercarriage ahead of many of them. The Orion was in fact the last of many of famous line of passenger and mail planes stemming from the Vega.

 Lockheed was seeing a potential market for light transport aircraft when it begins development of their six passengers Orion configuration. The influence of the Orion was to extend to Europe where three were purchased by Swiss Air Company.

 The first Lockheed Orion entered service with Bowen Air Lines of Fort Worth, Texas in May 19311. The type found use with 12 other American Airlines. There were six Orion 9 delivered to Varney Air Service when it changed its name to Varney Speed lines Air Service. The aircraft were used on air mail routes and the Airline later became Continental. At least 113 Orion 9s from various sources were supplied to the Spanish Republicans Air Force in late 1936, soon after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

 The Lockheed 9D was classified as a light transport type. It was powered by a 550hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp SIDI radial piston engine. It had a speed of 205 mph, a service ceiling of 22,000 ft, a range of 720 miles and an empty weight of 3,640 lbs.


Wing span 43’ 9.25”

Length       28’ 4”

Height        9’ 8” 


The kit was released by Merlin Models as an injection moulded type. It comes packed in a sturdy cardboard box measuring 6.5”x 3.25” x 11” having an Orion depicted in Varney livery as box art cover. The fuselage halves moulded in thick transparent plastic while the main and tail planes, tail unit, cabin floor are all in grey plastic. Detail parts which include passenger and crew seats, undercarriage legs, wheels, well doors, a two-blade propeller and a radial engine as well as wheels are all cast in white metal. These required a certain amount of cleaning from flash. The overall look is that the kit is rather crude by today’s standard but then this is a short run kit and offered a good basis to build an Orion 9 either as a light passenger transport or as a military liaison and light transport aircraft.

 Instructions are printed on an 2 page Aa4 size. It contains a brief history on the aircraft and an accurate 1/72 scale 3-view drawing. A decal sheet that carries a choice of markings for two aircraft includes one in Varney livery, mainly white overall with red trimming as depicted on the Box art or a USAAF VC-85 in an overall olive drab camouflage from the 1942-45 era. In spite of the age of the kit, the decal sheet was of top quality with bright colours and not the least indication of yellowing of the carrier film.


Construction commences with assembly of the cockpit and passenger area. A double passenger seat is situated at the very back of the long cockpit floor. Before fitting the seats these require a little adjustment by filing from sides that is adjacent to the fuselage so that the halves will close correctly.. There are two more single passenger seats further up the cabin. These all face forward. A pilot seat is fixed to the cockpit floor which is elevated at a level higher than that of the passenger floor level. The metal radial engine was cleaned from excess flash, checked for fitting inside the cowling and painted silver and grey before glued in place using a tiny drop of super glue. As one could see the cockpit interior from between the engine detail, I added a round section firewall made from thin plastic card which was painted matt black both sides. Some detail as rudder pedals, control column were added and seat straps were also attached to pilot seat. Pilot seat was leather colour while that of the passengers was bright blue. With all these items fitted to one half of the fuselage it was turn to close the fuselage using liquid cement and taking care not to spoil the clear plastic and windows. While the fuselage was drying I then concentrated on the other parts as wings, tail unit which definitely needed rework.

 The main planes, tail planes and fin and rudder part were grossly undersize and out of shape. First the inner trailing edge of main planes which were set at a taper, needed to be straightened and this has reduced the wing area which was already under size. A 4mm wide plastic card was added to the trailing edge of the wings. This will in the end be reduced to 2mm added width chord wise. The tail planes also required a 5 mm plastic insert at the middle. This first needed to be split at the middle and the insert glued in place. The fin and rudder height was 2mm too short and an insert added at the base. The items were then trimmed and faired to correct shape adding filler wherever needed. The panel lines were then engraved to the added parts. The main planes were butt jointed. This required a jig made of cardboard so that the wings will set at the correct dihedral. These also required checking from the front to ensure they have the same level at the root.

 The undercarriage doors also required slight alteration to conform to wheel well shape. Due to the adjustment made to the wings, the wheel wells required a slight shifting and engraving to a new position. Unfortunately there was lack of adequate detail to the undercarriage oleo and support. This necessitated a certain amount of research and internet provided the exact detail required. Two millimeter holes were drilled to take the wheel leg, and also for the propeller shaft. The tail planes were joined to the fuselage horizontally. All wing roots required fairing with putty followed by smooth sanding using a small rolled-up piece of wet and dry.  


Although I painted the cabin seats in bright blue, one could also do these in bright red. The painting stage was straight forward. The wheel wells were painted medium grey. This area was more of guess work as I had no clear information about this area and the instructions were of no help. The likelihood was that oil leaks and fumes and dirt will darken this area. Areas around the cockpit and side windows were first hand painted in white and the clear areas masked. As the civil version I chose to build is overall gloss white this required some three coats of with a smooth sanding in between. The kit was airbrushed in Revell gloss white. Props had their pitch increased as they were too flat. This was made by bending the ductile metal to the desired pitch. These were painted silver front and matt black at the rear, while tips were red, white and blue.  As mentioned earlier the decals were of good quality. The Lockheed logo both pointed to same direction which was not quite correct. One of them was therefore slid upside down with the word Lockheed separated and placed again. There required some touching up with red pant. The front cowling red trim also needed to be hand painted to form a continuity of the beautiful red decal trim alongside the fuselage.  


 This was a change from the usual military type that I usually build. Thanks to Scott Van Aken who gently made the kit available for this review kit. Maybe this is a prelude to include more kits from the civil 1930s era and which I have to say was pleased with the end result of the Varney Orion.

Carmel J. Attard

May 2008

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