The V-173 Flying Pancake was designed for Chance-Vought by Charles Zimmerman as a low speed research aircraft to test the radical new circular wing he proposed for the XF5U carrier-based fighter. Powered by a pair of 80 hp engines buried within the disk-wing body eventually driving special massive counter-rotating 3-bladed propellers via extension shafts, the V-173 first took to the air in November 1932. Accounts of its performance differ (being alternatively sluggish or highly manoeuvrable(!)), but all sources agree on the V-173's remarkable STOL capability, and the aircraft clearly exhibited sufficient potential for construction of the high-powered fighter to commence before being abandoned with the advent of the jet age.
Eventually, the V-173 completed over 190 flights and survived a number of low-speed crashes, finally retiring in 1947. The aircraft has recently undergone a full restoration and arrived in Dallas on March 27, 2012 for long-term display at the Frontiers of Flight Museum.
(see video report HERE
A strong contender for the most unusual aircraft kit of the year so far must surely be Special Hobby's new 1:48 Flying Pancake. The kit arrives in a very attractive top opening box, which is really a bit too large for the contents so they do tend to rattle around inside. However, my kit arrived perfectly intact and comprises:
109 x grey styrene parts
4 x clear styrene parts
8 x resin parts
Decals for the single prototype aircraft
From its short-run beginnings, MPM Production (who produce the Special Hobby range) is progressing steadily towards mainstream standards, and the V-173 is right at the threshold - almost there, but not quite (but it is certainly a lot more advanced than the old Sword Models kit released some years ago). The kit embodies two distinct styles of moulding - the old and the new, if you like. So, we have the main parts of the airframe moulded in MPM's traditional style, while the smaller details are clearly designed with the latest CAD technology.
In practical terms, this means the basic "pancake" features an excellent rendition of the fabric surfaces (always one of MPM's strong points) neatly engraved panel lines and a few embossed fasteners. There are no worries about flash or sink marks, but what is rather disappointing is that the exterior has noticeably rough texture. It only just shows up in the photos, but there's a distinctly "gritty" feel when you handle the components, so a good polish will be the order of the day. In contrast, the "new style" sprues have no such issues, and the parts are very smoothly finished.
There's not a lot you can check for a basic test-fit, but the "pancake" is totally free of distortion and the top and bottom halves line up perfectly with quite a sharp trailing edge. The slots for the vertical fins need easing a bit in my kit, but with that done the parts are a solid fit. The horizontal tail surfaces each attach with a single stub pin, so they can be pivoted if you so desire.
a few details
The cockpit is built up as quite a complex self-contained unit comprising 31 parts. Traditionally in a short-run kit, it might have been a slight problem ensuring the basic structure was straight and true, but these parts are CAD-produced, so fit should not be an issue. The detail is crisp, if a little heavy, but there are some nice touches like the well-padded pilots seat. What is noticeably absent though - and this seems ironic in a Special Hobby kit - is any use of photo-etched parts, so there's no seat harness provided. Likewise, the main instrument panel is plastic with rather stylised "doughnut ring" bezels, when an etched version would have been infinitely better (even stranger - a blank version of the panel is included, as though it was intended as the base for non-existent etched parts...).
The air intakes are each constructed from 7 parts, some with a faint wood-grain finish, and these sandwich alongside the cockpit in the leading edge of the circular body. Checking photos of the real thing, you'll to take a little care to smooth the openings and vanes neatly into the wing.
The stalky main undercarriage combines a mix of plastic and resin for each 7-part unit. Two sets of wheels are included, with alternative open and plain hubs. Only the latter are shown in the instructions, so perhaps another boxing is planned with the undercarriage modelled in its early form without wheel fairings.
The huge propellers have neatly moulded strengthening plates at their roots, and are designed with a square locating stub that fits into an angled socket on the base-plate of each spinner to set the pitch. Another couple of "mystery parts" unmentioned in the instructions are what appear to be plain spinners - perhaps for an in-flight option?
Lastly, the injection moulded transparencies are very good quality, being crystal clear with crisply defined frame lines.
instructions and decals
The instructions are printed in black and white as a folded A-5 pamphlet, but the painting guide is also available in colour on the company's website. The diagrams are neatly drawn and the assembly is broken down into 15 stages and it all looks pretty straightforward (the only vague point I've noticed is how the control panel attaches, but that might become self-evident when actually building the model). Gunze Sangyo paint matches are included throughout.
The decals provide "star and bar" insignia for the V-173 in the later stages of its flight testing, along with serials, walkway markings and logos for the propellers. Printed by Aviprint, the quality looks excellent, with perfect registration and minimal carrier film on the thin, glossy items.
Special Hobby's Flying Flapjack is a neatly produced kit that should appeal to anyone looking for something distinctly "different" to add to their collection. Personally, I'd have liked to see the model make greater use of resin and add some etched accessories for the details in the way we've grown to expect from this manufacturer - but, as it stands, although it's semi- short-run, the straightforward assembly should make it suitable for anyone with a little experience and, in fact, it would make an ideal way to cut one's teeth on this type of kit.
Further LinksReview of the Sword Models 1:48 kit
YouTube footage of the original aircraft in flight
Prime Portal's walkaround of the V-173 before restoration
Prime Portal's walkaround of the V-173 after restoration
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