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Kyle Koppos
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The V-173 "Flying Pancake," did it stack up?

October 20, 2020 · in Aviation · · 28 Comments

Aerodynamics are a funny thing. In the 1930s, flight was only three decades old. People who had never seen a man fly let alone an aircraft at one time were still very much alive, in fact only middle aged. As new as the concept was, aviation was rapidly evolving, and what the "traditional" shape and form of what an aircraft was constantly changed. There were many brilliant minds attempting different techniques and technology to "make a better mousetrap," as they say.

This was the life's work of a man named Charles Zimmerman. He ran on a principle of the "discoid" flying surface, or placing the propellers at the end of the wings and using the body for lift, you could get rid of the drag-inducing nonsense known as "wings," kind of. The , built by , could achieve a vertical take off in a strong headwind. This appealed to the Navy, who wanted a plane with a slow take off and landing speed for work on aircraft carriers.

Important moments of the project: it did land upside down on one occasion, but the pilot survived unscathed, and Charles Lindbergh who was watching was impressed enough to fly the thing himself, which he praised. They did see-'er-up, and it was repaired. The pilots who flew it noted its unwillingness to stall completely or enter a spin. In fact, they said that its steep decline in speed during turns enabled fancy dog fighting tactics. In a word it indeed did break-fast.

You can find a solid history of this curiosity here:
Wonderful in-flight footage:

The model: 1/48th scale kit. The cockpit had to be completely redone, as OOB it is completely spurious. The aircraft still survives completely restored, so there are a wealth of photos online (kind of confusing how you can get it wrong then). The V-173 had these gigantic wooden props, and they are very prominent. I had this bright idea to use wood grain decals, which was not fun. Each blade has 7 coats of paint and three decals each. It took me two weeks of a few hours a night to complete. On top of that, the grain is not dark enough (the real thing had richer wood color). Next time, I will try oil paints, yeesh.

Thanks for looking.

6 additional images. Click to enlarge.

28 responses

  1. Good work. I binned my kit halfway through as being "hopeless." Good to see someone with more tenacity achieve such a great result.

  2. Looks great, a very unusual aircraft.

  3. Great work, Kyle (@kopperhed). Immaculate work on an unusual airplane. I just finished a Special Hobby kit that was a real challenge, so I appreciate the work required to build one this nicely.

  4. Excellent! I posted my own Special Hobby V-173 here last month, so I know how difficult it is to make this kit look good. Congratulations on a job well done.

    • That wood grain you have looks a lot more true to life. Good job.

      • I wonder if you could still (very carefully) mask the props and spray them with a glossy transparent brown to deepen the color. You'd have to then re-apply the six logo decals, but Special Hobby will send you a replacement decal sheet for free if you ask them.

        • I could in the future, if I feel brave enough. It would lose the decal's grain, though. It's too fine.

          It was an experiment, and I think I'm okay with it for now.

  5. Excellent result, Kyle!
    Wood props look spotless at the pics.
    Fantastic result with the yellow color.
    Got the Sword on to build. I hope it's not a rebox of yours (or vice versa), so I can sort of justify my final (less than yours) result -lol.

  6. That looks awesome! I love the yellow!

  7. With a few succesful builds of this one posted, I think I might have to order one of these - splendid job sir! I'm off to hit the star on your build Kyle (@kopperhed)

  8. Unusual aircraft.
    You did very well on this one, Kyle.
    Engineers were very inventive and creative regarding the shapes during those years.

  9. Great job on the build, Kyle. A stunning, display eye catcher for sure. The yellow came out really nice...always a hard color to paint.

  10. You did a great job with this kit! Looks fantastic.

  11. I agree. You did a great job with this Pancake, Kyle (and so did Tom Hering). It seems like Special Hobby kits are always a bit of a pain to construct. I am disappointed that SH blew the cockpit so badly which is the main reason I purchased this kit in the first place. I built the much less detailed 1:48 Sword version years before the SH released theirs and I can tell you they are completely different kits. Based on all the not so encouraging comments about this Special Hobby V-173, it’s going to continue sitting on the doom shelf unbuilt and I will admire my Sword Pancake instead.

    • I would like to clarify, the model was fun to build for me. Besides the chin cockpit piece fitting not so well, the kit isn't too hard to assemble.

      It isn't a bad kit, it was part of thier progression period where they slowly improved (this has few multimedia bits) and it shows. I was blissfully aware at first and merely glued it together, before i learned about the botched cockpit (fortunately before i glued the fuselage together.

  12. I have mine about 80% done now for about six years! Just nervous about doing the props! I have KH's XF5U to go with it. Wish the XF5U could have had the same fate and still be around to see. (More of a shame they didn't even fly it at least once seeing that it was completed! I'd imagine the low speed would be comparable to the 173 but having a higher top speed as it had more power and retracting gear.)

    • Josh: There are plenty of "how to paint wooden props" demos on YouTube. It's not as hard one would think. You can even do it with acrylics! Maybe practice on a spare prop or plastic spoon first.

      By the way, that KH XF5U is a fun kit as well and you can view my attempt on my iModeler blog page. The kit wheels and tires are all wrong and way too small. Just replace them with Hellcat or Corsair spoked wheels and you're good to go. And don't forget to add the belly antenna posts and wire. Yes, it is a shame the XF5U never got to fly.

      For a good reference book on both the V-173 and XF5U-1, get a copy of Steve Ginter's "Naval Fighters No. 21: Chance Vought Flying Pancakes".

  13. That looks batter than I thought it would. Great job on a weird one.
    Beautifully colorful foliage up there.

  14. Wings? We don't need no stinkin wings! Nice job on a very unusual A/C Kyle.

  15. 🙂 ... Greetings ... 🙂 :
    A true model of aviation history, and one that say's so just by looking at it.
    Great work on those propeller's Kyle.

  16. Beautiful Work! I would SO Love to build one of those, but want to avoid all the rework of kit to make it presentable. Excellent work.

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