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1/39 Revell/Monogram 1903 Wright Flyer
by Lee Rouse

 

Being a resident of coastal North Carolina, I’ve always felt a special affinity for the Wright Flyer. I’ve visited the Wright Brothers Memorial several times, and each time I’m impressed by what this pair of bicycle mechanics from Dayton Ohio were able to accomplish.

Revell/Monogram’s Wright flyer has been around for a long time, 1958 to be exact. My earliest memory of this model dates back to the around 1960 when I, about 6 years old, happened to be playing at a neighbor’s house and noticed that big brother had built this very model. I don’t recall that I recognized it as the Wright flyer, but I was impressed by all the thread and plastic which comprised the model.

So here we are in 2003 and Monogram’s product is still the only all plastic kit of the Flyer. Sure, there’s the 1/16 scale multimedia Hasegawa kit, but how many of us can afford it $200-300 price tag, or even want anything that large in our display case?

I’ll have to admit that the thought of building something produced from molds as old as the Monogram kit really put me off, and it wasn’t until a coworker offered an enticing commission for building the kit, that I was motivated to take up the task.

In the box, Monogram’s (now marketed under the Revell label) kit contains 48 parts- 37 for the aircraft, and the remaining for the stand, dioramas figures and tools. The kit, while not up to today’s standards, is surprisingly well molded and basically flash free. The real booger is the number of ejection pin marks, which are as prevalent as chicken pox on a 3 year old.

I filled each one on the top of the bottom wing, but decided to leave the ones on the underside of the top wing alone, as they are not readily visible once the Flyer is assembled and rigged. I found the easiest filling method was to use my Waldron punch set to punch out thin plastic circles the approximate size of the ejection pin depression. These were secured with a small amount of gel superglue, and shortly thereafter, sanded carefully so as to lose minimal fabric detail on the bottom wing. Following the example of Mitsuo Kashiwagi in his excellent article in the December issue of Fine Scale Modeler (Accurizing the Wright Flyer), I preshaded wing ribbing by airbrushing each rib line with a mix of Tamiya red and yellow (i.e., orange). I then significantly lightened the orange base with white until I had a cream color that I felt would be compatible with the main color of the fabric. This was then airbrushed on top and bottom wings, rudder and tail pieces until the orange ribbing was toned down enough to give the wings a more pleasing 3 dimensional appearance.

Fabric parts painted, I then followed the construction sequence pretty much as outlined in the instructions. That means beginning with the engine. It took a while, but I was able to accumulate images of the Flyer engine from the Internet. Using these, I spruced up the engine but drilling out 4 exhaust holes on the outside side, and drilled holes to accept tubing for the radiator and fuel line (added after the wings were joined but before rigging). As recommended in the excellent color pamphlet that accompanied the kit instructions, I notched the propeller chain assembly to provide a more realistic impression of individual chain links. I did this by first locating the approximate midpoint between chain pins. I then scored each location with a number 11 blade. This provided a guide for the edge of a triangle minifile. This process was rather tedious but resulted in a much more realistic “chain”. Engine and chain were airbrushed Polly Scale steel, and treated with a sludge wash of Polly Scale “ grimy black” mixed with dishwashing detergent and water.

Engine, propeller shaft supports (pts 1&2), and chain guide (pt 17) were glued to the bottom wing. There is no color guide for the propeller supports, but my research suggested that these should be painted black. Two of the front struts (pts 18) are added and the bottom and top wing are joined together. Steps 2 and 3 then call for completing the subassemblies of the front and rear rudder. I saved these for later and instead concentrated on adding the remaining front and rear wing struts. Since the top and bottom wings were now joined, each additional wing strut was added by securing the strut in its bottom wing slot, bending it slightly, and fitting it into its top wing slot. You should separate front and rear struts into two piles, so as not to get them mixed up. Also, pay careful attention to which side of the strut faces outward (toward the wing tip).

All “wooden” parts of the model were first airbrushed with Tamiya Buff. Once this was dry, a mix of Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna oil paints were mixed together with a little thinner and then brush painted onto each piece. I did not try to achieve a wood grain look- the struts are small enough that attempts to show the grain would have been difficult and not worth the effort. The result of my efforts was in my opinion a much more realistic wood appearance than would have been obtained by simply airbrushing a “wood” color.

Rudder and tail assemblies were completed and set aside. The wings were rigged, CAREFULLY following the kit instructions. Although a spool of gray thread is provided, I elected to use 4 lb. Monofilament fishing line that I pre-colored black using a permanent ink laundry marker. Rigging the Wright flyer is really “weaving” the line through each attachment point. Each strut has a notch at each end that allows you to “catch” the line onto. I pulled the line taught and each locating point, applied a small amount of superglue, followed by a wisp of accelerator on the end of a brush, and then moved on to the next strut.

Completed rudder and tail subassemblies were next added to the aircraft, followed by rigging. I had some difficulty determining just where the attachment points were for the rigging that ran from the main wing assembly to the rudder, so I made my best guess. The result of all this rigging is a model that is quite sturdy despite its delicate appearance.

Propellers were painted silver, and attached to the propeller support shafts.

Although I did not plan to create a diorama, I did want to include the figure of Orville. Painting the figure was really a simple task, as Orville’s suit is black. I painted his clothing a very dark gray, then painted black into the creases, and dry brushed a slightly lightened base color on the clothing high points. Once hands and face were painted, I carefully inserted Orville into position. It was at this point I discovered that the figure did not lie properly- lowering his arms enough to put his hands in contact with the controls resulted in his legs and feet being raised a noticeable amount off the surface of the wing. The solution was to break Orville’s arms at the elbow (OUCH!), and reposition them so that his hands were touching the controls while his feet were resting on the wing.

Finally, the stand, a clear styrene two-piece construction, was added. The attachment points for the stand are very tenuous and unsteady. I was able to remedy this using two-part clear epoxy to attach the stand to the bottom wing. Resting on its stand, the Flyer gives the appearance of just skimming over the ground with one wing tilted downward.

And that’s it - about 5 weeks from start to finish- a pretty quick finish time compared to most of my models. This project was a mild challenge and a lot of fun. It goes to show that even at 45 years of age, the Monogram model can still be made into a nice model! 

 

Resources:

Kashiwagi, Mitsuo. Accurizing the Wright Flyer. Fine Scale Modeler, December 2003.
http://www.wright-flyer.net/

http://www.mn1903flyer.us/eng_assy_dwgs.htm

http://www.griffwason.com/gw_pages/WF_Engine2.htm