Czech Model 1/48 Bell XP-77

KIT: Czech Model 1/48 Bell XP-77
KIT #: 4803
PRICE: $19.95 MSRP
DECALS: Two Aircraft
REVIEWER: Dale Rannals
NOTES: Short Run with resin parts.


The Bell XP-77 had its origin in a prewar USAAF request for a study of the feasibility of an ultralight fighter that would be smaller, faster, and more maneuverable than any fighter then in existence. The USAAF was particularly interested in exploring the possibility of using non-strategic materials such as wood, fearing that a shortage of aluminum might materialize.

 Bell gave the project the company designation Tri-4, the designation being shorthand for the USAAF requirement for "400 hp, 4000 pounds, 400 mph". It would be an all-wood light-weight fighter made from Sitka spruce.  The engine originally chosen was the twelve-cylinder Ranger XV-770-9 inverted-vee air-cooled engine which offered about 500 hp. It was estimated that a top speed of 410 mph at 27,000 feet could be attained with this engine. Armament was to have been a pair of 0.50-inch machine guns in the fuselage plus a single 20-mm cannon firing through the propeller hub.

 Delays in the delivery of the supercharged Ranger XV-770-9 engine caused the USAAF to reduce the order to only six aircraft on August 20, 1942, at which time the designation XP-77 was assigned, with the first airplane was to be delivered within six months.

The program had by this time become known under the company designation of Model 32. The mockup was inspected on September 1942. No less than 54 changes were requested by the USAAF. At that time, it was decided to install the unsupercharged XV-770-6 engine (which offered the same power up to 12,000 feet) as a temporary measure for initial flight test trials, pending the availability of the supercharged XV-770-9.

It soon became apparent to the Bell design team that the XP-77 as originally planned would be seriously overweight, which if left uncorrected would result in an aircraft which offered no appreciable advantage in performance over aircraft already in production. Consequently, the Bell engineers undertook a drastic reduction program to cut the weight of the aircraft down to 3000 pounds. This rework caused costs to rise and the date of delivery of the first prototypes to be delayed. Because of the incessant delays and cost overruns, the USAAF cut the XP-77 order back to only two examples on August 3, 1943. The USAAF agreed that the engine was to be the V-770-7, the AAF designation for the Navy's V-770-6. No further consideration was given to the supercharged V-770-9.

The two XP-77s were finally delivered in the spring of 1944. Serial numbers were 43-34915 and 43-34916. The low-mounted cantilever wing had a single-spar structure with stressed skin. The wing and the fuselage were largely constructed of resin-bonded laminated wood. The tricycle landing gear was electrically-operated.

When the first of two XP-77s flew on 1 April 1944 at Niagara Falls, New York, it was not unfitting that the date was April Fools' Day.  Test flights showed that the performance was disappointing, a speed of only 330 mph at 4000 feet being attained. The takeoff run was excessively long, and test pilots complained that there were some unfavorable vibrations at certain engine rpm because of the total lack of engine support vibration-damping mounts.

 Flight trials continued with the first XP-77, but the USAAF was disappointed by the aircraft's relatively poor performance. The performance of the XP-77 was actually inferior to that of aircraft already in service. In addition, by that time in the war, any danger of an aluminum shortage had passed. Consequently, the ultralight fighter project was officially abandoned on December 2, 1944.


My first impression upon opening this kit was “Wow, this thing is tiny!”  Well, actually, that’s not true.  My first was “God, I hate these end-opening boxes!!”  How much would a normal box add to the cost, really?  Okay, anyway, it comes outta the box in typical Czech Model fashion: soft-ish grey plastic with fairly heavy attachment points.  Detail is engraved and on the soft side.  Also included are two vacuformed canopies and some very nice resin pieces.  The resin bits replace a good number of the kits plastic pieces, making a simple kit (in parts count anyway) even simpler……or more difficult, depending on how you view resin parts.  One very clever resin bit is the front wheel well.  It takes up the space of the whole aircraft nose and includes an engine front. This doubles as a nose weight so hopefully it will not be a tail dragger.  One piece of resin, a cockpit sidewall, had a pretty good chunk broken off.  The broken bit was in the bag also, so no real problem, it can be repaired.  Probably just an unfortunate result of shoving a bag of delicate resin bits into that dang end-opening box!  (Have I mentioned I don’t like those?) The decal sheet looks decent.  Not much more can be said about them though, as they consist of insignia, serial numbers (for two aircraft, oh boy!!) and a Bell aircraft logo.   Color options are silver for the first aircraft, but the second aircraft……well, that was silver too.  So not a whole lot of variety there.


Yes, we start with the cockpit.  Surprise, surprise!  The cockpit tub comprises of 5 resin parts…a floor, two sidewalls, and a front and rear bulkhead.  It was a bit of a struggle for me to get this assembled; a very fiddly structure.  I also reattached the broken sidewall bit here.  When this was dry I added the stick and rudder pedals and then slathered the whole thing with a weak mix of a dark interior green.  I then turned my attention to the instrument panel and seat.  The seat I painted the same green and then painted the belts and buckles white and silver respectively.  A little dab of brown for the leather headrest and I glued this in the cockpit.  The instrument panel I painted white, let dry, then painted it black avoiding the instruments.  This leaves a bunch of white “sockets” in the panel, admittedly not the best representation, but from a distance it at least gives the look that there is something there.  This panel could really benefit from some 1/48 instrument decals, or even a spare panel decal from the stash.  I didn’t have either, so I moved on.

Next step is to attach the cockpit to the fuselage, add the wheel-well/engine/nose-weight piece and button the fuselage up.  The cockpit fit is dicey…don’t expect Tamiya-like precision fit here…well, anywhere actually.    I got the tub in straight and level and then added the nose-weight piece.  It fits quite well.  My only gripe with this piece is that the engine front shows what looks like a propeller reduction gear casing straight off a Merlin or Allison.  That would be fine except for this was a Ranger air-cooled inverted-vee engine.  There should be nothing really down at the bottom except the space between the cylinders.  The reduction gear was a small unit pretty much in line with the crankshaft….i.e., at the top of the engine.  This is nit-picking, I know, it just bugs me.  It is however, much better than nothing and is quite clever engineering.  Okay, off on a tangent there.  The fuselage halves mated up quite well, but the front cowl did not.  It seemed a bit too big, but nothing a few minutes with a sanding stick couldn’t cure.  At this point I drilled out the holes for the two .50cal machine guns.  Looks much nicer.

 The propeller and spinner come up next on the agenda.  A single piece blade would have been just fine, unfortunately this has separate blades that you sandwich between the spinner front and back pieces.  This leaves a nice seam to sand down.  Nothing difficult in itself, but this area could have been done better.  I painted the whole thing yellow, then masked off the tips and brush painted the props flat black.  The pin vise came out next and I drilled a hole in the spinner for the 20mm cannon.  Since this is total fantasy, my little ’77 was going to have the supercharged engine with the cannon.

 I next glued the wing assembly together.  Two wing tops mate to a single bottom.  Then a small insert is added between the top pieces.  This serves as a backing piece for part of the wheel wells.  Unfortunately it also leaves a seam right across both wheel wells running fore and aft.  As I don’t usually look at the bottom of my kits very much, I didn’t bother trying to fill this in.  I call this technique…..cheating.  I dry fitted the wings to the fuselage and had to do a bit of trimming to get everything right.  This does require putty on the resulting seams, at least for me it did.  After all these were sanded to perfection (yeah, right!) it was time to move to the paint shed.


  While perusing thru Squadron/Signal’s F2A Buffalo in Action book, I came across a few pictures of Buffalos painted in some bizarre camouflage schemes.  These were rakish, almost splinter style schemes with various colors.  Pretty neat looking, definitely different.  These were all designed by artist McClelland Barclay.  So who is Mr. Barclay and what is this camouflage all about?  Well, here’s the short version:

An accomplished painter, illustrator, sculptor and jewelry designer, McClelland Barclay had developed a very successful art career by the time he became a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in 1938. Barclay's first connection with the Navy came during World War I when he was awarded the Navy Poster Prize by the Committee on National Preparedness, 1917, for his poster "Fill the Breach." The following year, he worked on Naval camouflage under William Andrew Mackay, Chief of the New York District Emergency Fleet Corporation. He renewed his naval connection on 13 June 1938, when he was appointed Assistant Naval Constructor with the rank of Lieutenant, USNR. In mid-1940, Barclay prepared designs for experimental camouflage for different types of Navy combat aircraft.

The Barclay camouflage was an art deco extravaganza, full of spectacular angles, waves, curves, and swirls. Most of the designs were trapezoidal in nature, and placed at oblique angles relative to the airplane surfaces. This was intended to break up the outline of the aircraft, and confuse the perspective from which it was being observed. The colors recommended by Mr. Barclay were non-specular (flat) Gray, Silver Gray, Blue, and Green. Evaluation tests, however, showed that pattern camouflage was of little, if any, use for the aircraft.  The tests found that while one color would blend in to the terrain of the area, it made the other colors of the concept stand out even more. Although a failure in concept, it did provide one very important idea. Non-specular or flat finishes were desirable to the glossy finishes of the pre-war era aircraft.  Barclay worked on further camouflage assignments until 1942, when he was reported missing after the LST he was aboard was torpedoed in the Solomon Islands.

A failure in concept maybe……or maybe not.  When I started thinking about the Barclay camouflage, I thought it might be perfect for, say, a point defense city defender.  One that would be flying and fighting over urban, industrial areas.  All those rakish angles just might help it blend in with its concrete and steel background.  Okay, maybe it wouldn’t…….but it’s a good story and it’ll be fun to try painting something like that. 

Now when I thought about what this mystical city defender would look like, one airplane in particular leapt to my mind.  Bell’s little point defense fighter.  So, oddly for me, I started with a general paint scheme in my mind and went searching for an airplane to fit the bill.  But that’s a good thing too; it gave me the incentive to build the kit, which otherwise may have languished in the closet for some time.  I like the little fighter, but the silver scheme just doesn’t do it for me. 

 Okay, so how to do this?  First I picked out some colors, 4 to be exact.  One for the bottom, three for the top.  I grabbed paints I had ready for airbrushing from other projects, in this case some IJN Grey for the bottom, and for the top, some British Dark Green, RLM 75 grey, and a batch of RAL 7016 Anthracite Grey (a dark grey I have mixed up for a U-boat I’m painting).  So all you Purists might as well stop reading, for here I have an Army Air Force plane, applying a Navy art deco camouflage, using Japanese, British, and German colors.  Yes, this should be interesting.

 I first sprayed the bottom grey on the whole aircraft and used it as a primer to check all the sanded seams.  I then sprayed the British Dark Green on the top as a base coat.  I cut out some patterns from Tamiya and 3M Painters tape.  I made lines and circles and curves and trapezoids.  These random shapes were applied in a random fashion everywhere except the bottom.  Over these I masked off and sprayed the second color, and then the third.  Then I removed all the tape.  The result turned out pretty decent I think.   After drying for a day or two, I gloss coated the model with Future to prep for decals.  The first decal, the insignia, broke into about 20 pieces when I tried to slide it onto the wing.  Okay, so much for the decent decal sheet.  In the decal dungeon I found much more usable insignia from a P-38 Lightning sheet.  These went on with no fuss.  I added a “large” white 131 to the tail for aircraft ID, and a serial number.  I saw the Blood and Guts” decal while searching for insignia and though it was a completely inappropriate name for such a little fighter, so on it went.  I added a few kill markings to fortify the ferocious image.  Dull-coating came next, in this case Tamiya flat base mixed with Future, to keep the finish non-specular, you know.


 All the little bits came next.  I glued on the vacuform canopy (after totally buggering up the first, and almost screwing up the second, the gaps caused by my hamfistedness where filled with white glue and painted to match) and then tuned my attention to the landing gear.  When this had dried I noticed the fighter had a distinctly pompous, nose up attitude…i.e., the front landing strut was too long.  I cut out a small portion right above the wheel fork and drilled a hole in both sides.  Into these I inserted a very small piece of brass rod for strength and reassembled.  Added benefit now is I can pose the front wheel turned.  I also glued on the prop and added a piece of brass tube to the spinner for the cannon. And it was done. 


I am happy with the result of this diminutive fighter.  It sizes up nicely in the display case, and Spitfires and Mustangs look like trucks next to it. The kit itself is not difficult; it takes a little putty and sandpaper, but really, what kit doesn’t?  T’would be a good starter for anybody wanting to try short run kits.  And have fun with it.


 Dale Rannals

July 2008

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