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In-Box Review
Grumman SF-1 Fifi
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Boxtop

by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

Brief history
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.

The kit
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.

Construction breakdown
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.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Highs: A very attractive subject. Well designed with generally good finish. Excellent decals.
Lows: Let down by some variable quality casting.
Verdict: Recommended for experienced modellers prepared to spend some extra time preparing / scratchbuilding a few of the parts.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:48
  Mfg. ID: 48018
  Suggested Retail: € 39.75
  PUBLISHED: Apr 01, 2007
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright ©2021 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


She is a fine looking kit and it gives me the opportunity to Brag on the National Museum of Naval Aviation again. "It was just two months after the stock market crash of October 1929 that six men led by Leroy Randle Grumman, a former naval aviator, formed the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, their first work for the Navy being the construction of pontoon floats for seaplanes. The floats, which featured retractable landing gear, attracted the interest of the sea service for the potential application of retractable landing gear to fighter aircraft to improve their performance. Grumman submitted a design proposal and on 2 April 1931, the Navy awarded the company a contract to build what would become the FF-1, the first in a long line of Grumman fighter aircraft to serve the Navy. The FF-1 proved revolutionary not only in its retractable landing gear, but also with its all metal, stressed skin fuselage and enclosed cockpit, all giant steps forward in aircraft design. Though its forward fuselage was bulbous in order to house the retracted landing gear, the FF-1's top speed of 207 M.P.H. belied its less than streamlined appearance. This became readily apparent to a U.S. Army squadron commander, who upon seeing one flying during an exercise over Hawaii, decided to jump the strange bird with no wheels. "Great was his amazement," reported the Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter on 1 March 1933, "when his dive upon the innocent looking target failed to close the range." In fact, the only significant drawback to the aircraft was its poor climb capability, taking over six minutes to reach an altitude of 10,000 ft. Quickly called "Fifi," by pilots, a nickname derived from the aircraft?s designation "FF-1," the new fighter entered fleet service in May 1933, first equipping the Fighting Squadron (VF) 5B "Red Rippers." Grumman also manufactured a scouting version of the "Fifi," designated the SF-1, which served as command aircraft in fighter squadrons and also equipped Scouting Squadron (VS) 3B. All told, sixty-four aircraft (both fighter and scout versions) rolled off the Grumman assembly line. Though their service as front-line aircraft in the Navy would last but two years, FF-2s (FF-1s modified with dual controls) received a new lease on life in the training command. In addition, in 1936 Canadian Car & Foundry acquired the rights to construct a version of the aircraft designated the G-23, examples of which were operated by Canada, Japan, Mexico, Spain and Nicaragua. In Spanish livery the aircraft served the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, with one claiming a kill of a Legión Cóndor Heinkel aircraft, the only combat victory ever scored by a Grumman biplane. The sole G-23 purchased by the Nicaraguan government was one of three different aircraft procured to form the basis of that nation's air force. After seeing limited service, it was relegated to a scrap yard at Zololtan Air Field in 1942, destined to remain there until good fortune shined upon it and the keepers of naval aviation history. In 1961, J.R. Sirmons, an Oklahoma fertilizer and spray plane pilot hired to work in Nicaragua, discovered the G-23. Noting its similarity to an early-Grumman biplane fighter, Sirmons paid $150 for the machine, which was virtually intact other than missing elevators, tail struts, one cabane strut, and all flying wires. Obtaining erection and maintenance information from Grumman, Sirmons set about putting the G-23 into flyable condition, substituting parts from other aircraft and replacing the existing R-1820 engine (which would not exceed 1,500 RPM) with a R-1340-AN-1. Additionally, Sirmon's wife and daughter helped sew fabric where needed. By February 1966 the aircraft was restored to flying condition and Sirmons took it on a test hop, which revealed the G-23 to be "a delight to fly." After displaying the plane in Managua at the Annual Nicaraguan Armed Forces Day Celebration and a heated argument with a junior customs official, which resulted in a brief jail stay, Sirmons departed for the United States. After stops in El Salvador, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, the aircraft arrived in Longview, Texas. It remained there until 9 June 1966, at which time Sirmons flew the aircraft to Bethpage, New York, where officials at Grumman inspected it. That fall Grumman acquired the G-23 from Sirmons and began to complete the restoration of the aircraft in the FF-1 configuration with the intention of displaying it around the country for a year before donating it to the Naval Aviation Museum. Painted in the markings of the "Red Rippers" of VF-5B, the aircraft flew the air show circuit until June 1967. On 6 June 1967, Captain Bill Scarborough, USN (Ret), departed Bethpage bound for Pensacola. After stops along the eastern seaboard, the "FF-1" arrived at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, three days later. After making low passes over the training carrier Lexington (CVT 16), Scarborough made a landing at Forrest Sherman Field. There, Vice Admiral Alexander S. Heyward, Chief of Naval Air Training, Rear Admiral Dick H. Guinn, Chief of Naval Air Basic Training, Captain James H. McCurtain, Officer-in-Charge of the Naval Aviation Museum, and others accepted it for the Navy. It is one of only a few aircraft to have been displayed in both museum buildings. Specifications for the FF-1 Manufacturer: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation Dimensions: Length: 24 ft., 6 in.; Height: 11 ft., 1 in.; Wingspan: 34 ft., 6 in. Weights: Empty: 3,076 lb.; Gross: 4,655 lb. Power plant: One 750 hp Wright R-1820-F engine Performance: Maximum Speed: 207 M.P.H.; Service Ceiling: 22,400 ft.; Range: 365 miles Armament: Two fixed forward-firing .30-in. guns Crew: Pilot Aircraft in the Museum collection FF-1 (painted in markings of BuNo 9351)- On indoor static display."
MAR 31, 2007 - 05:59 PM
Here is there URL. They seem to be very responsive to inquiries. http://naval.aviation.museum/home.html
MAR 31, 2007 - 06:05 PM
Hi Stephen Many thanks for the link. If I ever manage a trip to the States, I can tell it's going to end up as one long museum visit! There's just so much to see! All the best Rowan
MAR 31, 2007 - 07:23 PM
The only thing I don't like about the RVHP Grumman FF/SF/Goblin series is the canopy - it doesn't seem tall enough. When I get to it, I think I'm going to vacuform a replacement using a Classic Airframes Grumman Duck canopy as a master. The FF/etc canopy and the Duck canopy may be the same (they certainly look very similar) and although the CA part won't fit the RVHP kit directly - it is longer. But by making a vacuform copy, and doing some carefuly cutting of the various sections (or leaving the rear part in the open position) this can be overcome.
APR 02, 2007 - 06:31 AM
Merlin - thanks for the review!! I have been trying to acquire this kit or the FF-1 kit for a while. I have several 1/72 kits from MPM. I too have photos of the example at Pensecola and one day will get them on the web. Now, if someone would just produce a 1/48 Grumman F2F-1 - we would have all the Grumman bipe fighters in that scale
APR 02, 2007 - 10:07 PM

What's Your Opinion?

Click image to enlarge
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Contents
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Parts_1
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Parts_2
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Canopy
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Decals
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Instructions
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Surface_2
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Surface_1
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Surface_3
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Seats
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Instruments
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Browning
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Mainwheels
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Engine_Parts
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Engine
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Exhausts
  • RVHP_Grumman_SF-1_Casting