In 1942, US Navy planners were faced with a dilemma; jet power clearly held the key to future development, but also presented a number of seemingly insoluble problems. Chief among these were the high fuel consumption of early jet engines, coupled with the long take-off and landing runs which early jet aircraft needed, making them unsuitable for carrier operations. Added to this, any switch to jet operations would also mean that carriers had to carry both jet fuel and conventional aviation gasoline.
One possible answer lay in a compromise; an aircraft which combined both jet and piston engines. The piston engine would provide the necessary power for take-off and landing, along with longer cruising range, while the jet engine would provide extra power for combat. Such an arrangement would also give a measure of twin-engine security for added survivability over water.
The Navy approached 9 manufacturers in the winter of 1942. The Ryan proposal was deemed most suitable and a contract was signed for 103 aircraft, including prototypes. The Fireball was powered by a 1,350 hp Wright Cyclone radial engine in the nose and a General Electric 1,600 lb thrust I-16 turbojet in the rear fuselage, fed by intakes in the wing roots. In a neat answer to the fuel problem, both engines ran on conventional gasoline. The aircraft featured a number of firsts for the Navy; apart from its radical propulsion system, it introduced the first laminar flow wing designed for carrier operations, the first all-flush riveted Navy airframe with all metal control surfaces and a tricycle landing gear.
After some modifications to the prototypes, including redesigning the tail, the Navy placed an order for a further 600 machines and Ryan began to deliver production machines in January 1945. The aircraft were pushed straight into pre-combat work-up with a specially formed squadron of handpicked pilots - the VF-66 Firebirds.
The Fireball never had a chance to prove itself in combat, but the evidence from trials shows that it was a very potent fighter for its day; it could engage an enemy at all heights from sea-level to over 40,000 ft and had a range of over 1000 miles. In mock dogfights, there was nothing in the Fleet to touch the Fireball; it combined high speed and astonishing rate of climb with superb manoeuvrability - the Fireball could out-turn all other Navy fighters at 200 mph and could outmanoeuvre almost all contemporary fighters at 300 mph, with a rate of roll double that of a Bf 109.
Had history taken a different course, the Fireball would undoubtedly have been an important weapon in the Navy's arsenal. As it was, of the 703 aircraft ordered, just 66 were delivered - all the rest being cancelled at the end of the War. The Fireball only had a short service life, as the last was retired in 1947 after all the aircraft were found to be suffering from structural deterioration. Nevertheless, during its short career, the Fireball played an important role in introducing the US Navy to jet operations.
I believe the latest kit from Czech Model is the first time the Ryan FR-1 Fireball has been produced as an injection-moulded kit in 1/48 scale. Bear in mind that Czech Model kits are produced using short-run technology, so be prepared to do a bit of extra work compared with "Tamigawa" releases.
The kit consists of:
54 x grey short-run styrene parts
51 x resin parts
1 x vacuformed canopy (plus spare)
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
A copy of Squadron's Mini In Action for the Fireball.
The parts are moulded quite cleanly in good quality styrene - fairly soft and it cuts and sands nicely. There is very little flash and the sprue attachments are mostly quite thin and there are only a few ejector-pin marks to tackle. The surface finish is “satin” rather than full gloss, with neat engraved panel detail throughout.
Despite the kit's short-run nature, the detail on smaller parts is pretty good, but on the review sample there were several sink-marks on the undercarriage legs and doors. I don't think these will be too hard to deal with - a filler made by mixing cyano-acrylate and talcum powder will probably be ideal, rather than risk softening the gear legs with conventional plastic filler.
The gear itself looks quite good, with separate torque links and retraction arms and the main-wheel doors are nicely detailed on the interior face. For ordnance, the kit includes a pair of drop tanks and pylons.
This is something I've learned not to take for granted on any kit, particularly short-run models. Happily, with Czech Model's Fireball, the main parts fit very well indeed. There aren't any locating pins, but the fuselage halves match up precisely - all the panel lines join up and the fin and rudder are impressively thin.
Likewise the wings - the fit is good and the trailing edges are very sharp. The chord matches the wing root and the wing/fuselage joint is pretty good. Most short-run kits feature butt-joints for the tail. Not the Fireball... the stabilisers have conventional locating tabs and, amazingly, they fit perfectly! On the basis of the test fit, the basic airframe should be a quick, painless build.
Czech Model have supplied a comprehensive set of resin parts designed and cast by True Details. The cockpit consists of floor, sidewalls and seat (the instrument panel is among the plastic parts - but it's quite nice). The detail on the resin parts is excellent, with the sidewalls showing nice panel detail, trim wheel and throttles etc. The seat features a good moulded-on harness, but be careful - on the review example at least, the seat back is very thin, so go easy when removing the seat from it's casting block.
The wheel wells show some neat interior detail and match the openings nicely. As with most kits of this nature it's vital to remove as much excess material as possible to give the wing halves a chance of closing. Czech Model have helped out here by casting the wells on a thin cross-shaped pour-stub, so there's much less tedious sawing and/or sanding to do.
A resin alternative is provided for the nose-wheel (actually, it seems identical - it simply saves joining the two halves of the plastic version). The main-wheels are a different matter though; at first glance they look decidedly strange... with an almost rectangular cross-section and a pronounced lip at the edge of the tread. Checking the In Action provided shows a couple of pics of these distinctive tyres - so Czech Model got it right, although it does look like Fireball's were fitted with more conventional tyres too.
The last major resin parts are the engine and spinner. Beautifully cast and detailed, the engine consists of a separate crankcase with individual 2-part cylinders. While it may seem laborious, casting the parts this way removes the danger of a nasty seam to clean up and actually makes painting much easier. Past experience of True Details engines suggests it will fit together well and, with an ignition harness and push rods added, should look spectacular. The spinner is cleverly cast and will allow the separate plastic blades to be posed “feathered”.
Finally, the resin parts include sway braces for the pylons, control surface actuators, gunsight etc.
The vacuform canopy is moulded closed and captures the distinctive look of the original. It's pretty thin and clear and should really sparkle after polishing and a dip in Future/Klear. Czech Model thoughtfully provide a spare in case of accidents.
Instructions and Decals
The assembly is clearly illustrated in 9 stages. The drawings are excellent and include scrap diagrams to help locate parts. The model is a natural tail sitter and , while the instruction state that weight is needed in the nose, they don't indicate how much is necessary. Each assembly stage includes a list of the colours needed and the last page gives a clear description of the overall colour scheme, along with decal placement guides which are also printed in colour on the back of the box..
Decals are provided for Fireballs of two units:
1. FR-1 39670 of VF-66 in 1945 during the type's pre-combat work-up
2. FR-1 39687 of VF-1E in 1946.
Both aircraft are painted overall Glossy Sea Blue, so it is a little disappointing that Czech Models didn't also include an aircraft from VF-41 (VF-1E's earlier designation) sporting the unit's distinctive white tail and wingtips.
The decals themselves are excellent quality; thin and glossy and printed perfectly in register. Some “no step” and “no push” stencils are included, but their positions aren't shown. To me the red of the later national insignia looks rather dark - but will be simple enough to find alternatives or simply add Insignia Red bars on the early style.
Ready made reference
Last but not least, Czech Models have included a copy of Squadron's Mini In-Action about the Fireball. This is a 50 page booklet giving a detailed account of the design and career of the aircraft and is packed with useful photos. There is a colour spread in the centre of the book with six profiles, including the aircraft in the decal options and a short walkaround section with photos of the sole surviving Fireball, on display at Planes of Fame.
The book also includes a sections on the XFR-4 and XF2R-1 Dark Shark, which would make a fascinating stablemates for the Fireball. Sadly, when I asked Gary Newman of Squadron, he stated that there are no plans at the moment to produce kits of these exciting successors to the Fireball design.
Czech Model's 1/48 scale Fireball maintains the good quality of their recent kits. As a short-run, mixed media kit, it's obviously not a beginners' kit but, while the box recommends it to adult collectors, I don't think anyone with a little experience of working with resin parts will have many problems. Despite the problem of sinkage on some of the small parts, the plastic parts are basically good quality and, with impressive resin details, plus the inclusion of the reference book, Czech Model's Fireball is an impressive package which should prove popular with Navy fans. Recommended.
Thank you to MMD-Squadron for kindly supplying the review sample.
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