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XP-56 Black Bullet

by Matthew Shipp




The XP-56 was Northrop’s response to a 1939 proposal for a high-speed fighter of “entirely new design.”  The other contenders were the Curtiss XP-55 and the Vultee XP-54.  All three designs featured pusher propellers, the goal being to reduce drag and allow space in the nose for weaponry. 

The XP-56 design incorporated a number of unusual features.  It was powered by a rear-mounted R-2800 radial engine driving counter-rotating propellers. 



The long, swept wing featured elevons (serving as both elevators and ailerons) and split rudders, which were operated by airflow through “aero boost ducts” on the wingtips.  The XP-56 was intended to carry four .50 calibre machine guns and two 20mm cannon, although these were never installed.

Two prototypes were built, but tests revealed that Northrop’s design possessed some rather unpleasant flight characteristics.  The first XP-56 was destroyed on its fourth flight and the second was grounded after only ten flights.  Work on this project was not wasted, however, as Northrop used the knowledge gained from the XP-56 when developing the XB-35 a few years later. 



A year or so ago, Hyperscale featured a very detailed and positive review of Czech Model’s 1/48 scale limited-run kit of the XP-56.  Since getting back into modeling a couple years ago, I’d wanted to try my hand at a limited-run kit.  The XP-56 seemed like a relatively simple one to start with. 



The review here on Hyperscale includes a very detailed explanation of what is in the kit.  I was unable to take any construction photos, so I would refer you to this excellent article for a description of the interior bits.  I will just try to explain some of the steps I found to be a bit challenging.



All the wing components fit together rather well.  The kit includes well-detailed resin inserts for the wheel wells and cooling intakes at the wing roots.  Both fit nicely, although I did have to sand down the backside of the wheel wells quite a bit so that the wing halves would fit together.  Just to spruce things up a bit, I added some wire mesh to the cooling intakes and nav lights to the wing tips.

Almost as an afterthought, I decided to check the fit of the main landing gear before proceeding with the rest of the kit.  The main gear on the XP-56 was a double-jointed affair, similar to that on the F8F Bearcat.  To replicate this, Czech Model molded each main gear leg in two parts: an “L” shaped bracket that attaches to the gear well (in two tiny spots), and the gear leg itself that attaches to the bracket (again, in two tiny spots).  This seemed like a rather weak setup to me. 



After pondering it for a while, I decided to drill a hole in the top of the gear leg and insert a length of brass tubing, basically extending the length of the gear leg.  I then drilled holes through the “L” shaped bracket directly into the resin gear well.  Later, during final assembly, I was able to mount the extended main gear directly into these holes.  This ensures that the gear is solidly fixed to the wing. 



Next came the fuselage and cockpit.  The main components for the cockpit are three large resin castings: the cockpit floor and aft bulkhead, both of which fit over the nose gear well.  The only guide you get in positioning these pieces is one small raised ledge on one fuselage half.  After several frustrating minutes of trying to dry fit the interior bits in place, I took my best guess and tacked them together using small dabs of CA.  It took a couple tries, but I finally positioned them to my satisfaction.  I then used liberal amounts of CA to firmly join them together.



The only other major challenge in the cockpit was the instrument panel.  Czech Model provides this in three pieces: a center panel and two small side panels.  Again, there is very little indication of how these are supposed to fit together.  I had no photos of the prototype cockpit, so I just took my best guess and installed them so they looked about right. 

Once all the cockpit pieces were installed, I painted them (again, taking an educated guess as to the proper colors) and used a dark gray watercolor wash to accent all the nooks and crannies.  I used some ProModeler decals for the dials on the instrument panels.  Sometimes, these look a little too bold to me, but they sure are a lot neater then anything I could paint.  



Next, I tackled the engine exhaust stacks.  The XP-56 was powered by a radial engine buried inside the fuselage.  This configuration resulted in a prominent ring of exhaust stacks around the rear of the fuselage, represented on the kit by simple depressions in the plastic.  I drilled out these dents and used small sections of brass tubing (painted appropriately) to represent the stacks.  The tubing is held in place by blobs of Miliput on the inside of the fuselage.



The aft end of the fuselage contains a simple circular plate to which the propellers are attached.  I used three pieces of brass tubing, one inside another, as shafts for the props.  This allows both props to spin independently (not really a necessary feature, but it was kind of fun to do).  I also used sections of fine wire to represent the linkages that controlled the cowl flaps.  Most photos of the XP-56 show the cowl flaps open, but I wasn’t feeling that ambitious.



I added several lead fishing weights inside the nose then joined the fuselage halves together.  The fit here wasn’t great, particularly along the lower fuselage.  I spent several sessions filling and sanding before I was happy with the seams. 


Final Assembly and Painting

Once all the detail work and subassemblies were done, construction proceeded rather quickly. I joined the wings to the fuselage and checked all the seams.  I also took the time to run a scriber through all the panel lines.  On my kit, some of the lines were rather shallow and, in a couple spots, were totally filled in.  A quick rinsing, and I was ready to paint.

I painted the lower fuselage with Polly Scale Neutral Gray and the upper fuselage with Model Master Acryl Olive Drab.  The top of the fin was painted insignia yellow (the kit supplies a decal for the fin tip, but I thought it would look better painted). 



Next, I sprayed on a coat of Polly Scale clear gloss and applied the kit decals.  Then I sprayed another coat of clear gloss to seal the decals, followed by a wash of dark gray watercolor to accent the panel lines.  Finally, I sealed everything up with a coat of Polly Scale clear flat. 

Other then some exhaust staining, I kept weathering to a minimum since the XP-56 flew only ten times before being grounded.  After everything was dry, I attached the landing gear and antenna, dropped in the prop and there it was: the XP-56. 



I was quite pleased with this little model.  There are a few tricky steps, but its relatively simple configuration (no tail surfaces, no under wing stores) makes it a good choice for anyone wanting to try a limited-run kit.  Its distinctive shape also makes it stand out from all those other World War Two fighters on my shelf.



More Pictures

Click the thumbnails below to view larger pictures:

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Copyright © 2003 by Matthew Shipp