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The shape of the Navy’s future fighters

The 1950s were a time when the future looked bright. Influenced by German designs for their “Wonder Weapons” of the Second World War. Chance-Vought took a radical leap into the future with the F7U Cutlass. Ultimately the sleek tailless design didn’t quite pass muster. Poor performance and a high accident rate led to a short service life.

Our Cutlass was inspired by this fighter being used as a testbed for an early model of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile, the AAM-N-2 Sparrow I. (U.S. Navy)

Did our feature on the “Gutless Cutlass” in the September 2016 Aviation History pique your interest in filling that hole in your collection of 1950s U.S. Navy jets? If so, you have your work cut out for you. In spite of the futuristic Buck Rodgers look of this fighter, few kits featuring it have reached hobby shop shelves. Among the few choices available, Hobbycraft of Canada released and then rereleased a 1/48th-scale kit in the 1990s. It’s out of production now, but after some hunting on eBay, the kit (and the challenge) is on the workbench.

Getting started

The basic outline of the model is good; however, it is short on detail and has more than a little flash, so cleaning up parts is a must. Dry fitting helps determine where there are areas that need plenty of filling and sanding. The instructions are pretty basic, and you’ll want to decide in advance the steps you need to take in construction. After a careful look at what’s in front of you, it’s off to the races!

Detail in the cockpit leaves a little to be desired. The good news is that Lone Star Models, a small aftermarket company from Texas, makes an excellent resin cockpit. The set has four nicely cast pieces, a cockpit “tub,” the rear cockpit deck, an accurate ejection seat and the control panel along with the forward cockpit coaming. A little surgery on the kit, and the resin pieces fit as advertised. The additional detail will make a big difference.

Lone Star Models resin cockpit adds nice detail. A little work to the forward fuselage parts the resin seat fits just fine.

Next glue the top and bottom fuselage parts together, then assemble the left and right vertical stabilizers and the flaperons. The model is now essentially divided into two major subassemblies—the forward cockpit area and the fuselage, which includes the wings and the vertical stabilizer that make up the rest of the jet. After attaching the two halves you’ll find that a fair amount of putty filling and sanding will be required.

I swapped out the landing gear for a cast-metal set that has a little more detail. The gear and interior of the wheel wells are painted a flat aluminum color. A wash of dark grey and black will bring out some of the detail. The kit includes four AAM-N-2 Sparrow air-to-air missiles. The Sparrow was only just being fielded in 1956, and early test versions were quite colorful.

A Natural finish

In the mid-1950s, camouflage had gone out of favor and many jets had a “natural metal” look. I’ll admit some of those shiny fighters looked fast just standing still, and on the Cutlass the look is downright futuristic. There are a number of ways to replicate a natural metal finish. For our Cutlass we’ll use a spray that is designed to buff to a metallic sheen with a soft cloth. It comes in a variety of colors from “aluminum plate” to “stainless steel” and “titanium.” Once you’ve polished the surface, a coat of sealer keeps the paint where you put it. These spray colors are a challenge to work with, but in the end the effect works pretty well.

The Hobbycraft F7U is a relatively simple kit by today’s standards but with a little patience, and a few “extras,” your Cutlass will look anything but “gutless” on the display shelf. 

After a coat of gloss varnish, the airplane is ready for a set of markings. Hobbycraft has included decals for no fewer than seven different aircraft, in both natural metal and the follow-on U.S. Navy white and grey scheme that would become standard by the late 1950s.

The decals go on well with a nudge from a setting solution, and they snuggle right into place. The pylons and the landing gear are next. Be sure to pack the nose with plenty of weight. The aircraft sits at an odd nose-high attitude, and you’ll need the extra weight to get it to sit properly. Some light weathering and an aftermarket canopy (the kit version doesn’t have the right “bulged” shape to it) help complete the project. Your shiny Cutlass will look great between that dark blue Grumman F9F Panther and your grey and white McDonnell F3H Demon.

Want to know more about this futuristic fifties fighter? Read Vought’s Visionary Fighter by Warren Thompson from the September 2016 issue of Aviation History Magazine.