by Tommy H. Thomason

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Modeling the Bell XFL-1 Airabonita

The Bell XFL-1 Airabonita was a one-off prototype based on Bell's P-39 that competed with the Vought XF4U-1 and the Grumman XF5F-1 following the U.S. Navy's 1938 carrier-based fighter competition.

It looks like it would be a colorful and straightforward conversion of the P-39, kits of which are available in every popular scale from 1/144 to 1/32. In fact, several have been done and documented in articles in modeling magazines. However, most—if not all—fall short of representing the actual XFL-1 configuration. Unfortunately, most of the structure, particularly the canopy, was different in detail from the P-39. Not even the 1/72 XFL-1 kits that are available are accurate, since they have the P-39 wing planform, which was somewhat different in taper and span.

 For example, this is what it takes to convert a P-39 wing to an XFL-1 wing:

Another, more notable difference was the canopy and door, since over-the-nose visibility was critical for a carrier-based airplane.

All this and more is contained in my XFL-1 monograph, available from Steve Ginter:


In addition to most of the photographs extant of the XFL-1, there are illustrations of the configuration changes during development like the empennage. Since the Navy specifically included the XFL-1 in the competition to evaluate the performance benefit of the new 1,000-hp Allison liquid-cooled engine,  it includes a summary of the history of aero-engine development, comparing and contrasting the benefits and shortcomings of the liquid-cooled versus air-cooled engine. It also places the XFL-1 in the context of the Navy's rapid transition to monoplanes and new requirements like armor and self-sealing fuel tanks.

Even if you don't need a model of an XFL-1, the monograph provides interesting background on aero engine and Navy airplane development between the World Wars.

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