KIT: AMT/ERTL 1/72 X/Y-B-35 Flying WIng
KIT #: 8615
PRICE: $Long OOP but available
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna
NOTES:  

HISTORY


        Looking like something out of a science fiction story, the Northrop B-35 and follow-on B-49 Flying Wing is a classic example of a technological idea that was too far ahead of its time.  Proposed in 1941 by Northrop in response to an inquiry by the USAAF, the futuristic bomber was given the green light for construction of a prototype plus four smaller proof-of-concept aircraft.  These test aircraft, dubbed N9M, flew first to validate that the design of a flying wing was viable and could deliver the perceived advantages of lower drag and higher lifting capability than convention aircraft configurations.  The flights of the N9M were generally successful, although they were affected by the inevitable teething problems of any new aircraft design.  The fourth and last N9M built still exists today at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California and flies occasionally.

        The XB-35 emerged from the Northrop manufacturing plant in Hawthorne, California and took to the air on June 25, 1946.  Powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major engines which drove contra-rotating four-bladed propellers in a pusher configuration, the XB-35 was instantly beset with problems with engine cooling and reliability of the complex gear box arrangement.  A second XB-35 was built and joined the first at Muroc Army Air Field (later renamed Edwards Air Force Base for Air Force pilot Capt. Glenn Edwards who died coincidentally enough while testing the YB-49) for flight test.  The third airframe, designated YB-35, dispensed with the contra-rotating props in favor of a more conventional design, but results were still disappointing as the range and top speed were much less than originally predicted.  Consequently, the design was vastly modified to accommodate the newly emerging jet engine technology, and the remaining YB-35s in the pipeline were built up as the all-jet XB-49.

            As a combat weapon, the B-35/B-49 aircraft were not very good.  In addition to the disappointing results of flight-testing that revealed shortcomings in range, payload, and top speed, the aircraft wasn't a particularly stable bombing platform, which made for poor bombing efficiency.  After an extended test program and the realization that the design wasn't living up to its promise, the Air Force abandoned the project and scrapped all the airframes and the tooling.  Much has been made by conspiracy theorists about the underlying reasons for this vendetta by the US government against Jack Northrop, but the simple facts were that the flying wings weren't as capable as the B-36 and B-47 programs that they competed against.

            All was not lost, however, as four decades later came the Northrop B-2 stealth bomber, a legacy to the original flying wing design.  With the help of computerized flight controls and modern manufacturing technology, the flying wing is now a much more viable weapons system and has entered the operational inventory of the US Air Force

THE KIT


        This kit, released in 1995, came very near to the end of the line of AMT/ERTLís manufacture of aircraft model kits.  It was an audacious choice of subject and coincided with a release of a kit of the jet-powered YB-49 flying wing.  The modeler has the choice of either making the first of the two XB-35s with contra-rotating propellers or the sole YB-35 with conventional four-bladed props.  The model is molded in light gray plastic and comes in a huge sturdy box.  The box is almost too big for the contents.  A fairly detailed interior is provided.  There arenít a large number of parts to assemble.  The tires are flattened on the bottom, a nice feature, and the clear parts are thin and transparent.  The instructions guide the modeler during assembly to the slight differences between the XB-35 and YB-35, and decals are provided for one example of each.

        Since I built my kit in the XB-35 configuration, I concentrated my research on that and found a few minor things missing.  There is a prominent pitot tube on the top of the wing near the co-pilotís greenhouse that is not provided, as well as a couple of aerial posts further back on the wing and on the inside starboard drive shaft nacelle.  One set of engraved panel lines doesn't line up as it crosses the joint between the wingís center section and the outer wing panels.  Initial inspection of fit reveals that this model will require filler in rather large quantities.  Problem areas are the wing leading edge air intakes and the fit of the outer wing panels.  Since natural metal is the only accurate finish for this aircraft, the modeler will have to exercise care in insuring as smooth a surface as possible before applying their metallizer of choice.

CONSTRUCTION


        The instructions call for an all aluminum interior (instead of the expected Interior Green), so I went along with that recommendation and painted the interior pieces with Floquil Platinum Mist enamel.  The seat cushions are Insignia Red and the instrument panels are flat black with white instruments.  One thing I've learned about 1/72 scale bomber kits is that I know that spending a lot of time detailing the interior is not warranted, as one can't see much if anything once the fuselage is together.  The XB-35 is a slight exception as the pilotís and gunnerís seats are very visible under the big bubble canopy, so you might want to spend some time there by adding harnesses.  Everything else is pretty much hidden, though.

        I glued the cockpit interior into the bottom of the center portion of the wing and stuck an automobile tire wheel weight right next to it to insure that the model sits forward on its tricycle landing gear.  If you don't add the weight, the model will be a tail-sitter, which is kind of ironic because it really doesn't have much of a tail to begin with.

        I glued all the major pieces together and got to work on filling the large seams encountered with the leading edge air intake pieces and the join of the outer wing panels.  I filled everything with thick CA glue and sanded and polished until I was satisfied with the result.  On the underside of the model, the air intake piece cuts right across the four engine exhaust fairings, making for more of a challenge to get a smooth and seamless appearance.  I wasn't terribly successfully, but fortunately that area is not really noticeable unless you pick the model up and look underneath.

        The propeller drive shaft nacelles were glued on next.  Fit is merely adequate, and I used putty at the transition between the nacelle and the wing to fill in a gap there.  I spent a lot of time cleaning up all thirty-two propellers and the spinners to remove mold marks.

I did a quick check of the fit of the clear parts.  The bubble canopy fits very well, as do the gunner observation blisters.  The large blister in the tail was faired over with aluminum in the XB-35, but is clear in the YB-35.  The co-pilotís window and greenhouse comprise two pieces and don't fit well at all.  They really should be faired into the wing, but I didn't have the fortitude to mess with it, since I had just recently spent dozens of hours doing the same onerous task with a Monogram P-61.  The fit of the transparency is merely okay on the topside, but large gaps abound around the bottom piece.  Again, I figured that no one would be picking up the model to look at the underside, so I let it slide.

        Since the model was going to be finished in natural metal, I carefully sanded and polished out each seam, them went on a mission to find any stray scratches on the other portions of the model that would stand out like a sore thumb under the metallic paint.  Everything was smoothed with a tri-grit sanding file, followed by Novus plastic polish #3 and #2.  I restored the panel lines obliterated in the sanding process with a scriber and a flexible ruler and washed the model in the kitchen sink with some dishwashing soap and warm water before heading out to the paint barn.

COLORS & MARKINGS


            I primed the model with Floquil Old Silver enamel.  This allowed me to spot and correct any areas that I didn't get totally smooth on the first go-round.  After making the necessary repairs, I sprayed the model with Alclad II Lacquer White Aluminum.  After studying every photo of the X and YB-35 that I could find, I determined that the rear portions of the wings were made of a darker aluminum, with an even darker band of metal around the ailerons.  I masked the appropriate areas off and sprayed the rear parts of the wings with Alclad Dark Aluminum, while the ailerons got a spray of Testors Metalizer Stainless Steel.  I masked off a few more random panels on the wings and used Alclad Duraluminum and Testors Metalizer Aluminum Plate to add interest to the otherwise bland finish.

            My kit decals had yellowed, so I used aftermarket sheets from AeroMaster and Eagle Strike for the national insignia and the serial numbers.  Note that the XB-35ís wing insignia are aligned in a non-standard manner for either 1940s aircraft (perpendicular to the centerline) or 1950s aircraft (in line with the wing centerpoint).  I don't know why, but the photos are clear about this, so I set my decals accordingly, canting them at about 10 degrees off from perpendicular.  After the decals dried, I sprayed a very light coat of Future floor polish to blend everything together with a uniform sheen.  Photos show very prominent exhaust staining on all the piston-engined flying wings, so I used Tamiya Smoke to replicate that.  The landing gear wells were painted with Polly Scale Interior Green.  I added a black acrylic wash to bring out the details.  The landing gear and wheels were painted with Floquil Platinum mist and the tires were painted with Polly Scale RLM 66 and weathered lightly with Polly Scale Dust.

            I masked the canopy pieces with drafting tape and sprayed them with aluminum.  The attachment of the sprue to the main bubble canopy left a very noticeable mark that I could not eliminate with sanding and polishing, so I took a little artistic license and painted over that blemish as well.  I don't think anyone will ever notice.

            Masking and painting the yellow propeller tips, flat black blades, and aluminum spinners was time consuming.  The fit of the completed propeller assembly is not very precise, either.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

 
            I glued the landing gear on and was pleased at how everything aligned properly.  The clear parts were attached with Micro Krystal Kleer.  I glued on the pitot tube and pushed in all the propeller assemblies to complete the project in just 32 hours of effort, which is a very low total for me.

CONCLUSIONS


            I know I'm going to sound like a broken record on this: this is a model you never see built.  It is funky looking to be sure, and somewhat challenging to do well because of its fit issues and the requirement for a natural metal finish on a relatively large model.  These kits aren't made anymore and I don't know when or if they will ever be reissued.  Fortunately, you can pick one up fairly easily on eBay or at model swap events for not a lot of money.  It builds up quickly and you can definitely be assured that you will the first (and only) person on your block with a model of this interesting airplane.    

July 2005   

REFERENCES

 
Baugher, Joseph: Northrop B-35,
http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b35.html
 

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