Monogram 1/72 Boeing F4B-4
KIT #: 6795
PRICE: Originally under a dollar, it's $23 when you get the Accurate Miniatures boxing with the P-6E
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Brian Baker
NOTES: Starfighter Decals and cockpit set.

HISTORY

The Boeing Company was formed around Seattle in 1916, and really got started producing airplanes in quantity when it landed a contract to build 200 Thomas Morse MB-3 fighters for the Army just after the war.  Boeing made some improvements in the MB-3A, including a metal fuselage replacing the wooden one, and later produced a biplane fighter prototype development, designated XPW-8, and a mid wing monoplane fighter, the XP-9.  Neither was successful.

I n the early twenties, Boeing developed a taperwing biplane fighter influenced somewhat by the Fokker D.VII, which became the Army PW-9 through PW-9D, and the Navy FB-1 through FB-5.  These were built in quantity, and paved the way for the improved F2B and F3B series, which served until the early thirties.

Boeing’s final efforts in the biplane fighter category came with the Model 83 lightweight fighter prototype for the Navy, and the Model  89 for the Army.  These were powered by the 450 hp. Pratt and Whitney Wasp radial, and were originally manufactured in quantity for the Navy as F4B-1 and the Army as P-12.  Early production models had fabric covered fuselages and small tail units, but eventually, Boeing used the monocoque stressed skin fuselage of the XP-9 to produce the F4B-3 and P-12E variants. These evolved into the P-12F and F4B-4, the most popular versions, although earlier models remained in service, some with F4B-4 tail units on the old fuselages.(Incidentally, there is an old Airmodel Vacuform conversion kit for the fabric covered fuselage P-12/F4B-2, and if you can find one, it will allow you to build the early models, even if you only have the Matchbox kit.)

The Navy’s F4B-4 had an enlarged fin and rudder, and a headrest that also contained a liferaft.  These were powered by a 500 hp. P.W. R-1340-16 engine, and a total of 92 was built.  They were used by a number of Navy and Marine Corps units, including VF-3B  (Langley), VF-6B  (Saratoga), VF-9M and VF-10M (Marine units).  Later, a number were used by reserve units  after they were replaced by the later Grumman biplanes.  Some F4B-3’s and F4B-4’s were used as staff transports by VIP’s at NAS Anacostia, and these were finished in highly polished aluminum, a worth subject for any serious modeler of Navy aircraft of this period. Even later, in 1940, the Army transferred 23 P-12’s to the Navy as F4B-4A’s, and these were used as target drones at San Deigo in 1940 and 1941. They were overall yellow.

 Note:

 When building any model of the Boeing fighter series, be sure to check photographs for the exact configuration, as even the well-researched decal sheets may not contain correct information. The Navy and Marine Corps F4B- 4‘s had detail differences, including engine exhaust systems, radio antennas, and tailhook installation. Navy planes generally had the tailhooks installed, while Marine Corps aircraft usually had them removed. Photos of Marine aircraft show a triangular fairing under the rear fuselage, which probably housed the mechanism, as only the hooks were removed for shore operation.  Photos show some F4B-4’s with the large antenna mast behind the cockpit, while others show it missing.  It doesn’t seem to have any wires connected to it in any case, but you need to study period photos of the airplanes to make sure. Some Navy planes had tall masts on top of the fin, while others had a short installation.  Many aircraft had LF antenna wires extending to the wingtips, while others did not.  The decision on the configuration should be made before basic kit assembly is done, otherwise some fancy trimming will be needed to remove the extras.  In addition, Marine Corps markings weren’t always standard, so watch for variations there.

THE KIT

In 1968, Monogram produced a series of 1/72 scale models of aircraft of the thirties, including the Curtiss P-6E, the Curtiss F11C-2, and the Boeing F4B-4.  These were excellent models in their day, and are still useful today, over 40 years later.  They were designed to be easy to construct, and had the cabane struts and the outer landing gear struts attached to the fuselage halves, making alignment almost idiot proof.  They were very  sturdy, and easy to attach the wing and gear struts to.  The kits were accurate, cheap, and had very little trimming required. They had good detail and slightly raised panel lines. In their day, they were the easiest and probably the most accurate biplane kits available.  The only thing lacking was  cockpit detail. This was filled up by the pilot figure anyway, but for those of us who consider that “we” are the pilot and discard the pilot figure, it leaves hole to be filled.

Fortunately, we have been rescued.  Starfighter Decals has produced a very neat little resin cockpit conversion kit, which includes a floor, two cockpit sides, an instrument panel, machine gun breeches, control stick and seat adjustment lever. These are moldings originally done my Alex Bernardo, and are $7.50 each from Mark’s Models and Toys, 124 Highlander Rd., Stephens City, VA, 22655.  The set comes with a full size instruction sheet, in color, outlining the parts and how they go together in the conversion process.

To make up for the lack of decal choices, Starfighter offers  three sets of decals for the Monogram F4B-4.  They are as follows:

72-102  F4B-4 Part 1

72-103  F4B-4 Part 2

72-104  F4B-4 USN USMC1930 Pt. 1

In addition, they offer decals for 1.72 scale SBC-4’s, TBD-1’s, F4F-3’s, P-36A’s, and F8F-01’s.  Check their website, as they have some interesting things there. (All of these sheets and the cockpit set have been reviewed here in MM and are in the appropriate sections of the archives. Ed)

CONSTRUCTION

Once I had a photo of the aircraft I was going to model, I began. I decided on a Marine Corps F4B-4, BuNo 9242, Number 22, operating from MCAS Quantico, VA, in 1934.  Instructions are given in the decal sheet.  However, a photo in Larkins’ U.S. Marine corps Aircraft, page 53, shows some interesting differences.   The instructions show a red cowling and wheel covers. The photo, taken at night after a forced landing, shows part of the cowling as light colored, either grey or white. The wheels are probably white or grey, but they don’t show in the photo.  There is no radio mast or tailhook installed. A short LF antenna runs from the fin to the wing center section just ahead of the windshield.  The instructions show a red cowling and wheel covers. I opted for the photo version, with white cowling.  Apparently there was a red-cowled F4B-4 with a black number 22 at another time, as I recall seeing a photo of it somewhere, but it’s not the one in the photo I have, and the serial, or bureau, number doesn’t match.

COLORS & MARKINGS

 At this stage, I did some painting.  I did the whole engine cowling, wheel covers, and tail unit in gloss white, and then masked them off. The light grey metal panels on the wing were then painted and masked, along with the engine face plate, wheel insides, and struts.  After the light grey, I masked off the panels, including the undersides of the ailerons, and painted the fabric areas and prop silver. After masking these, I painted the upper surface of the top wing chrome yellow. Then I was ready for assembly.

 I started with the cockpit interior, trimming it and painting it aluminum.  I detailed the interior by painting the appropriate places black or red as shown in the instructions. Then I trimmed off the fuselage interior and glued in the sidewalls in the proper locations.  This takes some care, but it is not too difficult to get them lined up, as the instructions are very precise.  I glued the instrument panel to the forward fuselage deck after painting and detailing it. Photos help here, as apparently not all F4B-4’s had the same instrument panel arrangement.

 Once the interior was installed, the fuselage halves were joined.  The floor, with seat can then be slid into position with tweezers. Then the forward fuselage decking can be attached, including the instrument panel.  I didn’t use the machine gun breeches, as when installed, you couldn’t see them anyway.  The fuselage seams require some filling, but nothing serious. The lower wing can then be attached. There is a slight gap between the fuselage sides and wing  roots, and I used very thin plastic car to fill these, although filler or white glue would have worked. A rubber band over the wingtips got the right dihedral angle, although this is really dictated by the rigidity of the upper wing. At this point, I sanded the fuselage filler joints smooth, and painted the entire fuselage light grey.

 At this point, the upper wing can be attached. Be sure to check the alignment, as the slots that the struts fit into are a little big, and the wing can be misaligned if the struts are not in the correct position.  If the struts are pressed in far enough, everything should be aligned properly.  Then the “N” struts and aileron control struts can be popped into place with very little effort.  A little glue in the joints with an applicator, and the model  is assembled.  Once the wings are lined up, attach the horizontals and glue them in position.  The bottom section of the landing gear can also be placed into position, and then basic assembly is almost done.

I hand painted the cylinders black at this point, trimmed the pushrod housings in silver, and inserted the engine into the cowling.  The exhaust stacks had been painted a medium grey, and these were then glued onto the rear part of the cylinders on the left side of the airplane.  With the prop completely painted (the tip decals actually work out OK), the prop can be inserted into the engine. I heated the end of the shaft, making a permanent installation.  With the gunsight and windshield now attached, the model was ready for decals. All masking tape was removed.

Decal

A coat of Testor’s Glosscote was applied before the decals were applied.  I selected the proper decals from the sheet, and cut them out individually. I did not need to trim them.  They all went on flawlessly, and there was only one problem.  The “U.S. Marines” on the top wing was way too small, so I replaced this with a set of proper size from the spare decal box.  I think they were old Microscale.  That problem solved, I let them dry and gave them another coat of Glosscote. 

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

I use unstranded electronic wire for rigging, so I cut out enough wires for the job and began the process.  The wings have only two sets of landing wires on each side, plus four sets, in two pairs, of flying wires. I measured the lengths, and applied them with little spots of white glue.  Parallel wires are not difficult, and it took about 20 minutes to rig the entire airplane.  The horizontal stabilizers and fin required two small bracing wires, but these were easily made from scrap from the longer wires. This is an easy model to rig.

CONCLUSIONS

These old Monogram kits are little gems, and are certainly worth building.  The fuselage interior really adds to the realism, and it is not an awful lot of work for the effect you get. Without the pilot figure, you can actually see inside th3e cockpit, and the model looks complete.  Now I’m anxious to do Starfighters’ F11C-2 and P-6E and see how much better they look than the ones I did years ago without interiors. Highly recommended.

REFERENCES

There is a lot of material on the Boeing fighter series, as they were often photographed by collectors during the thirties during stopovers at civilian airports.  Many books have extensive coverage of these aircraft. A few  of my sources include:

Squadron In-Action Series:  P-12/F4B

William T. Larkins,  U.S. Navy Aircraft (1921-1941) and U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft (1914-1959).

Profile Publications:  Peter Bowers.  Boeing F4B-4  (A P-12 booklet also exists)

J.V. Mizrahi,  Carrier Fighters, Volume 1.

Munson and Swanborough,  Boeing:  An Aircraft Album, No. 4

Thanks to my kit stash and my wallet for the model.  And Thanks to Alex Bernardo for doing the masters for the cockpit set.

Brian Baker

July 2009

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