1:72 Cornell/Jackson Special "American Spirit" (Bu. No. N5032Q/#12) Air Speed Record/Reno Unlimited Class Racer, 1998 (Whif/kitbashing)
Instead of a story compiled/edited by myself, a very good “real” source: an article about the “American Spirit” project from 1996, scanned from a magazine and posted elsewhere:
This and some more information, including a drawing of the (apparently never) finished aircraft and a photo of the semi-finished airframe on airliners.net were the basis for my build.
The kit and its assembly:
This is my third and last entry to the “Racing” group build at whatifmodelers.com that ended in Feb. 2019. It is nothing less than the attempt to re-create the potentially fastest piston engine aircraft in the world as a model, based on the sparse information I was able to gather (see above). The aircraft’s design is quite odd, and it is worth reading the design background in the article, because it was a true “garage build” with the intention to use as many existing components in order to save costs and development time.
This was, more or less, mirrored during the building process, and like the real “American Spirit” the model consists at its core of a Matchbox T-2 “Buckeye” jet trainer! The T-2 fuselage lost its nose section, the ventral engine bay and the original cockpit fairing. This left a lot of fuselage surface to be re-constructed. The fin was clipped, too, just like in real life. At the fin’s base I added a cockpit opening and implanted a cockpit tub, taken from a Revell G.91. A new bucket seat (probably from an Academy Fw 190) was installed, and a new, tight canopy – I think it originally came from a Revell Go 229, but it was trimmed down considerably to match the T-2’s fuselage lines. The canopy was blended into the fin root with massive 2C putty sculpting, and the area in front of the windscreen was created with 2C putty, too. Both a tedious PSR process.
Once the upper fuselage shape was finished I started searching for a cowling and a matching propeller. After several attempts with bigger engines (e. g. from a Super Constellation) I eventually settled upon a rather narrow (but bleak) cowling from an Pioneer2/Airfix Hawker Sea Fury, which turned out to have just the right diameter for the re-constructed T-2 fuselage and matched the “American Spirit” drawing’s well.
It also had at the front end the right diameter for the propeller: it comes, just like in real life, from a C-130 Hercules, even though I used a late variant with six blades, a resin aftermarket piece, taken from an Attack Squadron engine nacelle set. Unfortunately, the spinners were molded onto the engines, so that I had to cut my donor part away. Three of the six propeller blade attachment points were faired over. While the original “American Spirit” carried clipped blades from an Electra airliner, I used parts from a P-3 Orion – the come very close in shape and size, and were easy to install. Finally, the propeller received a metal axis and a matching styrene tube adapter in the Sea Fury cowling.
Once the engine was in place, the cowling was filled with as much lead as possible, since the model would be built with an extended landing gear.
However, a large ventral section was still missing, and it was created with a leftover underwater section from a model ship hull, and lots of more putty, of course. A small tail bumper was added under the fin.
Once the fuselage was more or less finished, I turned my attention to the wings and stabilizers. The latter were supposed to be “un-swept F-86H stabilizers”, but unfortunately I could not find visual evidence of what this would have looked like. I tried some donor parts, including stabilizers from an F-86A and D, as well as from a MiG-15, and eventually decided to use individual parts, because nothing looked convincing to me, either swept or straight. Actually the MiG-15 parts looked the best, but they were too small, so I used the wings from an 1:144 Panavia Tornado (Dragon) and tailored them into a sweep angle similar to the MiG-15 parts, but with more depth and span. Not certain how “realistic” this is, but it looks good and compliments the swept T-2 fin well.
The T-2 wings saw only minor modifications: the wing tip tanks were cut off and the tips as well as the flaps faired over, since the “American Spirit” did not feature the latter anymore. The small LERXs were cut away, too, and instead I added small air intakes – the “American Spirit” probably did not feature them, but I wondered where the aircraft’s engine would feed its carburetor or an oil cooler? The respective gaps on the fuselage flanks were filled accordingly.
Some more work waited on the fuselage, too. The aircraft’s drawing showed shallow openings on the forward fuselage’s flanks, but their function was not clear – I assume that the exhausts from the 18 cylinder engine were collected there, 9 on each side, so I carved the openings into the massive plastic and putty fuselage with a mini drill tool and added exhaust stubs as well as deflector plates.
Another issue was the well for the front landing gear – this came, together with the complete front leg, from an Italeri F-100, just like in real life. The good thing about the Italeri kit is that it comes with a separate well tub, which made the installation quite easy. I just cut a square section out of the lower fuselage behind the engine and the landing gear well snuggly fell into place, with only little PSR effort. And, to my surprise, the end result seems to be a very good match to the real life design – even though I was not able to confirm this with picture material.
The main landing gear was taken OOB from the Matchbox T-2 – and it is really a weird sight, since the T-2’s track is very wide while the wheelbase is unusually short. But the source article indicates that this must have been the designers’ plans!
Painting and markings:
While the model’s hardware came quite close to the real thing, the livery of the “American Spirit” was totally open, so I created my own. I felt that two design directions would be appropriate: either a relatively dry and clean design, e. g. in overall silver or white with a little trim, or something patriotic, reflecting the aircraft’s name.
I eventually settled for the latter, and considered several approaches in white, red and blue, and eventually settled for one of my first ideas, a kind of “flying American flag” in an asymmetrical design, somewhat inspired by a Bicentennial F-106A from 1976: this machine carried a white fuselage with some red trim stripes and a blue nose section that featured lots of tiny white stars. I took this layout a little further and gave the “American Spirit” a dark blue engine cowling and front fuselage section, as well as a single blue wing. From that, wide red and white stripes stream backwards across the other wing, the fuselage and the tail. The design was mirrored on the undersides.
The stripes were painted with a wide brush with Humbrol 19 and 22, after the kit had been primed with white and had received an overall white basic coat with acrylic paint from the rattle can, too. The blue section was painted with Revell 350 (RAL 5013/Lufthansa Blue). I tried to add some “wavy flag texture” effect to the basic paints with slightly different tones, added wet-in-wet to the basic paints, but the visual effect turned out to be minimal, so I left it like that.
The stars are all individual waterslide decals, coming from an 1:87 Allied WWII markings sheet from TL Modellbau. The big white stars that are the background for the starting numbers on top and below the blue wing come from an 1:72 F4U. The red and blue starting numbers themselves were taken from a TL Modellbau sheet for firefighting vehicles: they are actually parts of German emergency telephone numbers…
Some stencils and leading edges on all wings, created with generic silver decal material, completed the outside, and finally I painted some fake panel lines onto the hull with a soft pencil. The T-2 air brakes, which were retained for the “American Spirit”, were re-created with fine black decal lines. Similar material in silver was used to simulate panel lines for the cooling air outlet flaps on the cowling. Unfortunately, the T-2 kit itself did not come with much surface detail, and any leftover rest (like the air brakes) disappeared during the extensive PSR sessions and under the primer and paint coats. Finally, the kit was sealed with a coat of semi-gloss acrylic varnish (Italeri).
A massive scratch-build. While challenging the work on this model was fun because it followed in its creation a similar process as the real “American Spirit”, which was, AFAIK, sold and never completed. In the end, I am positively surprised how close the overall outlines seem to come to the real (and odd-looking) aircraft, even though the garish livery is purely speculative, so that this model is, despite its roots in the real world and the attempt to stay true to the original, a fictional/whif piece. The finish is a bit rough, though, but that’s probably the price to pay when you create things from scratch.