Special Hobby 1/72 Bell X-1B

KIT #: 72168
PRICE: $33.00 SRP
DECALS: Four options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: Short run kit with photo etch and resin parts


The X-1B (serial 48-1385) was equipped with aerodynamic heating instrumentation for thermal research (over 300 thermal probes were installed on its surface). It was similar to the X-1A except for having a slightly different wing. The X-1B was used for high speed research by the US Air Force starting from October 1954 prior to being turned over to the NACA in January 1955. NACA continued to fly the aircraft until January 1958 when cracks in the fuel tanks forced its grounding. The X-1B completed a total of 27 flights. A notable achievement was the installation of a system of small reaction rockets used for directional control, making the X-1B the first aircraft to fly with this sophisticated control system, later used in the X-15. This aircraft had broader wings and tailplanes developed for this program. The X-1B is now at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton, Ohio, where it is displayed in the Museum's Research & Development Hanger.


As you'd expect from modern MPM kits, the exterior molding is very nicely done. I'm thankful that MPM molded in the large elevator hinges as the thought of applying that in photo-etch is not a pleasant one. It wouldn't be an MPM kit without resin and photo etch. The resin is limited to the main wheel wells and a flat fairing aft of the nose well. Photo etch is mostly for the cockpit along with a few exterior bits. The cockpit is well done with sidewalls to add some additional detail. Thanks to the one piece wings and stabs, construction should go quickly. I was somewhat surprised that it has a separate rudder, but that my well have been done for trailing edge thinness. This particular boxing fills in the gaps in the previous X-1A/D sprues with the different and more square tailplanes and wings that have the reaction jet nozzles. There is also an additional resin part for the ailerons on these newer wings.

Instructions are well done as usual, with Gunze paint references. I was surprised that no nose weight information was provided. I'd add it in as the X-1 landing gear has a short wheelbase. The kit does come with a one-piece injected canopy that is a bit thick, but is clear enough to see interior details. Though only three pages are needed for construction, eight are needed for markings and decals. The instructions point out the differences in the different aircraft and most of it hinges around what wings it has and what you do to the wings. One option requires removing the thinner wing's ailerons and installing the resin ones. All of them are in overall unpainted metal with white keels.  Decals are superbly printed by AviPrint and shown still in their sealed plastic bag.


Step one was to do a bit of research. Reading through the instructions, I was struck by the requirement to paint the cockpit in Steel. Seemed wrong to me so after a bit of quality Google time, I found that, at least in the final version, the cockpit had grey padding on most of the side walls/bulkheads and those areas with visible metal were painted interior green. Floor seemed to be dark gull grey. I also discovered that the final variant had a bang seat and that in the kit is very wrong in this regard. Seems that Special Hobby did one sprue to cover all the X-1 variants and did not bother to research any differences that would be in the interior. Choice is to do some scratch-building or leave it as it is and fake it. I chose the fake it option.

That said, the initial construction was painting. All the seat bits were painted bright orange and the interior painted a dark grey. While still on the sprues, all the aluminum bits were painted, knowing that I'll have to repaint once I remove the mold lines.

Then the interior parts were assembled, which included the seat, control stick and rear bulkhead. The resin main gear wells were then glued in place. Next step was to finish gluing the bits to the interior, which included the etched rudder pedals. Actually, much of this will be invisible once the canopy is installed. The right sidewall was glued on and the cockpit was then glued in place. I found that not only did I need to do some trimming to the sidewall, but it has to fit atop the ridges on the floor and rear bulkhead piece. Best to glue this on when gluing the cockpit in place so you'll have wiggle time.

With that cemented in place, some weight was added just in case it is needed. Then the other cockpit sidewall was glued in place, trapping the instrument panel between the two, and the fuselage halves cemented together. I did this in stages starting at the front, making sure the halves were clamped or taped together. The rocket nozzle section appears to be glued in the fuselage halves, but do that and you'll never get the rear assembled. I cemented mine on the outside then filled and smoothed the join.

The usual filler and sanding was needed on the fuselage halves. I know that many will do all this sort of thing once the airframe is complete, but I'd rather have it done before adding a bunch of stuff that could get knocked off in the process.

The next step was attaching wings and tail planes. There fuselage has a small wing root stub molded in place. If doing the box art plane with the wider wings, these stubs will be a hindrance as there will be a large gap at the rear of the wing. The wings fit pretty flush all along the wing root on the real plane. No choice but to sand away the wing attachment area and butt join the wing to the fuselage. I was tempted to do the same thing on the tail planes, but decided against it as the overhang isn't as noticeable.

The next step was to glue on the vent pipes on the rear and the resin piece on the lower keel. There is a probe that fit on the lower nose. In this aircraft, it is cut very short, but one still has to install it. The opening in the kit is half the size it needs to be so this was drilled out until the kit part would fit.

At this time, I painted the keel with Boyd's gloss white and when cured, it was masked. Landing gear was next. The instructions are somewhat vague on just how the main gear is installed. The piece carrying the axle sweeps up to the well. The other assembly fits into the corner of the wheel well and butt joins just behind the axle stub. It is quite fiddly especially as one needs to use super glue to attach the plastic bits to the resin wells. Be sure the axle assembly is thin enough to fit into the holes in the well or you'll have real alignment issue.

Things were looking good and only three weeks into the build! When removing the canopy section, the front right corner snapped off when trying to clean up the sprue attachment stub. Much muttering and grumbling followed. Looking at it, I though it might be repairable so I used a small section of plastic card. This was glued to the chipped area and when dry, sanded down (carefully) to blend things in. Then the already masked canopy was cemented in place. Time for some paint!


Painting is actually quite simple. The lower keel was already painted and masked so the rest of the airframe was painted with Alclad II aluminum. A bit more masking for the black anti-glare panel using Floquil's racing black lacquer. No gloss coat before hand and no clear coat afterwards, though I guess I could have used some Testors Metallizer Sealer.

Back at the bench, the wheels were installed and touched up any scratched paint in the process.

The decals were a very long and involved affair. I'd say it was easily two weeks of work as I installed a couple of handfuls a day and there are a LOT of very small markings. However, the kit looks fine as it would be rather naked without them.


With all the markings in place, I cut off most the nose probe as shown by the instructions. Then the gear doors were glued in place. The nose gear door has two tiny hinges to be attached. I did just that and within a space of five minutes, the whole gear door assembly just disappeared. No sound of a transporter, but when I went to retrieve it from where I had placed it, it was gone. Much searching turned up nothing, though I'll bet I find it some time in the future. In its place I cut a piece of white card and used that instead. Not the best but for me, good enough until the real deal appears. A bit of touch up painting, the masks were removed and it was done. No weathering as this was the commander's plane and kept in a clean condition....no....wait...that's another article. Actually, research airplanes were kept very clean, only accumulating dirt during the flight and touchdown. Soon after they were cleaned up again.


If you like X planes, then get this one (assuming it hasn't sold out). It is a fairly straight forward build, though one does have to build it with care. I've not much of an X plane collection, but it has been slowly growing for many years and this one will be added to it.


How about wikipedia, eh?

March 2011

Thanks to me for this one.

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