It's hard today to imagine just what a radical advance the 2-seat Grumman XXF-1 represented in 1931. With it's all-metal stressed-skin fuselage, it was the first US Navy fighter with a retractable landing gear and soon outperformed contemporaries such as the single-seater Boeing F4-B. Marking the beginning of Grumman's link with the Navy, the FF-1 enterered service in 1933, followed a year later by the SF-1, and acquired the familiar name "Fifi". Such was the pace of change in the '30s, the type only remained in front-line service with the US Navy until 1936, thereafter being converted into dual-control trainers.
In addition to the US Navy aircraft, Turkey ordered 40 FF-1s (under the export designation G-23) and Canada a further 15, licence-built by the Canadian Car and Foundary Company as the Goblin 1. In a rather clandestine arms deal, the Turkish aircraft passed on into Spanish Republican hands, gaining the distinction of being the first American naval fighters to see combat, despite their obvious obsolescence in the face of more modern German and Italian types.
RVHP is a Czech resin kit producer - the contact details in the kit give the appearance that they are very much a one-man operation and, if this is the case, the SF-1 is an impressive effort for such a small company. RVHP have released their Fifi in a number of guises - this is the SF-1, but an FF-1, Goblin and G-23 are also available, which will presumably only differ in small details and the decals provided.
The kit makes an immediate good impression by arriving in a very sturdy box. I presume this is standard packaging for RVHP since, strictly speaking, it's far too large in this case for the parts inside. RVHP has overcome this by the simple, effective, measure of taping the bags of parts to the inside of the box and everything arrived totally intact.
The kit consists of:
50 x beige resin parts
1 x vacuformed canopy
2 x white metal landing gear legs
2 x lengths of aerfoil metal rod
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
Instructions and scale drawings
The casting is best described as variable; where it's good it's excellent - with crisp detail and little clean-up needed; where it's poor it's realy quite rough - some parts will need considerable work to make them presentable. Overall, there are one or two pin-hole bubbles and some small details such as navigation lights weren't completely formed on my kit.
So, on the plus side, the fuselage is very neatly cast in conventional halves and features fine engraved panel lines, well executed wing roots, landing gear openings and engine louvres. There are two ventral strakes under the front fuselage and one of these wasn't fully cast on my kit - it's a little diappointing, but shouldn't be hard to repair. The fuselage halves are cast from the nose and are dead-straight in my kit, promising a solid foundation for the rest of the kit.
The wings are equally good - thin and straight, with well done fabric surfaces and impressively sharp trailing edges. The lower panels are an exact match for the wing roots and the butt-joints may benefit from additional metal pins for a rigid assemly. Access panels marked on the underside of the main wing aren't so impressive, simply looking like adhesive tape applied over the existing detail - unfortunately with some dust trapped underneath(!) - but they should look fine smoothed down and with some fasteners added.
The tailplanes present something of a mystery; while the fin and rudder are fine - smooth and with neat scribed detail - the stabilizers are quite nasty, with a crickled "skin-like" texture that'll definitely need sanding smooth.
Smaller details are mostly cast on wafers and are a similarly mixed bag. Items like the exhausts are really impressively cast, but others are quite rough with lumps of excess resin to trim/sand down. The worst example is the propeller hub, which is a shapeless blob with a very rough surface - although in its favour, the blades themselves have an excellent aerfoil profile.
Assembly looks pretty straightforward - which is just as well, since the instructions have just a single rather crude exploded diagram.
The cockpit comprises 18 parts. The seats are neatly cast, but there's no harness provided (I presume just lap-belts are appropriate for the period) and details like the gunner's .30 calibre machine gun are quite well done. The rest of the parts are fairly simple and there's no detail inside the fuselage halves so it'll be worth trying to busy things up a bit. The cockpit parts also form the interior of the wheel-well and, with a little trimming, this all seems to dry-fit together quite well. There are no painting instructions for the interior, so I'll refer to the Accurate Miniatures FS-23F-1
The undercarriage itself consists of 10 parts, including very nice white-metal gear legs that should give the necessary strenth to bear the weight of the model. The wheel are a bit basic, lacking some of the detail shown on the very useful 1/48 scale plans included in the kit.
The engine is a single casting and does suffer from a bit of flash - but once it's cleaned up there is some nice detail on the crankcase and pushrods. It fits well into the one-piece cowling. As mentioned above, the exhausts are excellent and the propeller should look good after a fair bit of work on the hub.
Most of the interplane struts are resin and look fine, but RVHP have wisely decided that they are aren't up to supporting the weight of the top wing, so they've included aerfoil-section metal rod to make additional struts (aileron actuators?). Dimensions aren't given, so the actual-size plans will reall be a help here - and the kit includes ample strut material for several models. There's also some thinner metal rod to make the stabilizer supports from - again, masses more than will be needed, so it'll make a handy addition to the spares box.
If RVHP have been generous in supplying spare metal rod, sadly the same can't be said of the vacuformed canopy; there's just one provided, so there's no room for error in trimming and fitting it. The canopy is nice and clear, but has a slightly pitted surface which a dip in Future/Klear might help with. The frames are rather indistinct, so I'll definitely represent them with tape or decal (rather than try to paint them) to sharpen everything up.
Painting and decals
RVHP include a very clear painting guide for the two colour schemes provided, with FS equivalents for the original Navy colours:
1. Grumman SF-1 FIFI BuNo 9476 of VS-3B in 1936 with Willow Green trim
2. Grumman SF-1 FIFI BuNo 9484 of VS-3B with White trim
Decals can make or break short-run kits because it's often hard to find alternatives. Happily, the decal sheet in the SF-1 is small but excellent quality - the colours look accurate and the items are thin and glossy, printed in perfect register.
This is the first RVHP I've seen and it's a little like the proverbial curate's egg - good and bad in parts. The standard of craftsmanship for the kit's masters is generally excellent and if RVHP could get all of their casting up to the standard of the best bits it would be a very impressive kit indeed. As it is, the amount of clean-up needed in some areas means the SF-1is really only suitable for experienced modellers. The kit will undoubtedly build into a very actractive model of an important aircraft in the history of naval aviation. Despite some of the casting issues, I certainly look forward to seeing more RVHP kits and I give the SF-1 a qualified recommendation for Navy fans.
RVHP's Grumman SF-1 is available from Modelimex - specialists in Eastern European short run kits.
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