by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Frank Whittle's determination to develop his turbojet engine in the face of total lack of official interest has become the stuff of legend. In 1939, Whittle finally received the Air Ministry support he had so long been denied and the search began for a manufacturer to build a test aircraft around his revolutionary W.1 engine. The choice fell on Gloster - a small company which had the necessary design capacity at the time.
The Gloster design team, led by George Carter, produced a very neat machine which began taxiing trials on April 7th 1941. A day later, the Gloster E.28/39 made three straight flights of between 100 and 200 yards at a height of about 6ft. The distances and height may not be impressive - indeed some historians dismiss the flights as accidental "hops" - but the event was enormously significant... Britain had entered the Jet Age.
After a series of modifications, the first "official" flight took place on May 15th at Cranwell. Bad weather had kept the aircraft grounded all day, but conditions finally cleared a little in the evening and the Pioneer flew for 17 minutes. Despite the historic occasion, it was far too late in the day to arrange any proper celebrations, so the everyone gathered for an impromptu party in the Sergeants' Mess.
the kitA 1/48 injection moulded kit of the Pioneer has been high on modellers' of British subjects wish lists for far too long. Despite the aircraft's historic significance, major manufacturers have ignored it, so it's been left to Special Hobby - a producer of short-run kits - to come to the rescue. Luckily, they've made a pretty good job of it - don't let the short-run nature put you off; Special Hobby's models seem to improve with each new release and their Pioneer is a very neat little kit.
44 parts are moulded in grey plastic, backed up by a one-piece injection moulded canopy and 3 etched-metal parts.
The parts are well moulded - as might be expected with any short-run kit, there is a little flash present on the smaller parts, but cleaning them up will only take a few minutes. Internally, there are a few ejector-pin marks - most won't interfere with assembly, but those inside the nose intake will be visible, so they should be removed. Panel lines are beautifully engraved and the fabric-covered control surfaces are delicately done. The overall surface is blemish free and very smooth.
test fit A test fit is very encouraging - the wings and fuselage are warp-free and fit together well. The wings are moulded with full-span top and bottom halves, which ensures an easy build and the correct dihedral. The fuselage sits neatly on top and the joint at the wing roots is perfect. The fit on the underside is a bit loose, so there are a couple of gaps to fill.
details The cockpit is nicely detailed with an excellent instrument panel and joystick. Photos of the Pioneer show there were a few extra controls and a centre console under the instruments, but the basics are all here. The rear bulkhead lacks any detail, but it won't be hard to add the framework and other items visible in photos. Disappointingly, given that the kit includes etched parts, Special Hobby haven't included a seat harness.
The distinctive "kneeling" main undercarriage is neatly done and will repay some careful assembly and the wheels have good hub detail. The nose wheel is quite intricate, comprising 10 pieces including etched details. A small intake behind the nose wheel-well hasn't been included, but its position is clearly shown in the painting instructions.
the canopy The one-piece canopy is crystal clear. It's injection moulded, which many modellers prefer over vacuformed, but this has meant a degree over compromise in this case. The original sat slightly proud and overlapped the fuselage at the rear when closed; due to the thickness of the plastic, this is impossible with the kit canopy and the designers seem to have made the cockpit opening slightly too large to allow the canopy to fit. The rear corners of the original were rounded, but replicating this on the kit will result in a gap.
The "obvious" solution is to carefully saw the canopy apart to pose it open - after all, the Pioneer's canopy was open for the first flights - but the thickness of the plastic means it will sit too high, so a vacuformed (or plug-moulded) replacement is really the best answer... or, alternatively "leave well alone" and live with the canopy as supplied...
Instructions and decals The instructions are clearly drawn and easy to follow. A small sheet of decal is neatly printed and and supplies markings for the first prototype in both it's raw state, with primer on the control surfaces, and its camouflage scheme of Dark Earth / Dark Green with Yellow undersides. No prototype "P" is provided, but this doesn't appear in the only known photo of W4041/G at the time of its first official flight. No stencil markings are included.
I say "raw state" because, while many references mention the aircraft being in a natural metal finish at the time of the taxiing trial and unofficial flights, a close look at photos casts doubt on this this. The finish looks too dark and even to be n/m, and views with the engine covers removed seem to show where a painted finish ends...
Simple black and white stripes are provided to represent thermal paint along the rear fuselage sides - on the real a/c the horizontal stripe appears darker, with groups of 5 stripes of thermal paint applied at intervals - it would interesting if anyone can confirm the colours.
ConclusionOverall, this is a great little kit of an important aircraft which is bound to be snapped up by fans of British aircraft. The problem with the canopy aside, I have no hesitation in recommending Special Hobby's Pioneer to all modellers with a little experience - the simple construction would make it an ideal choice for anyone wish to dip a toe into the exciting world of short-run kits.