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Clear Prop 1/48 XA2D-1 Skyshark

The Airplane:

When the AD-1 Skyraider prototype made its first flight in March 1945 both the U.S. Navy and Douglas’ chief designer Ed Heinemann were already thinking of a successor.

Douglas based their proposals on the Skyraider airframe; several options were studied, including a project with two nose-mounted Westinghouse 24C jet engines. A turboprop powerplant was also considered. It was a sensible alternative since it was more fuel efficient than a pure jet. For operations from aircraft carriers, a turboprop seemed to have advantages. Where early turbojets were notorious for their slow throttle response which would make rapid addition of power for a go-around after a failed landing attempt on an aircraft carrier too dangerous, a turboprop ran at maximum cruise output, with speed controlled by using the propeller.

However, in 1945 there was no turboprop engine available offering both sufficient power and reliability. However, there were some promising engine developments. One was the Westinghouse T100 which offered 2,300 hp. The Allison T40, based on the J-40 axial turbojet, offered double the TG100's power, and was selected as powerplant for the “Super-Skyraider.” The engine was effectively two T-38 turboprop powerplants, with each component driving a specially-developed Aeroproducts propeller; both propellers were contra-rotating to compensate for engine torque. For economic cruise one engine could be declutched and switched off with the propeller set in neutral pitch. Both engines drove their prop via short extension shafts from a common reduction gearbox.

The T40 had a calculated power output of 5,100 shaft hp maximum and 4,100 shaft hp continuously, while the exhausts each provided 180lb of residual thrust. However, development revealed a number of gearbox problems in the test running phase and the XT40 was not yet fully tested when the first aircraft prototype was completed.

While the airframe design was initially seen as a Skyraider with a different engine, only the wing and horizontal tail from the Skyraider were maintained, though the new wing had a much thinner profile. It was given the type designation and named “.” The Douglas type designation was D-557.

XA2D-1 Skyshark prototype BuNo 122988 was flown for the first time on May 26, 1950, by Douglas test pilot George Jansen at Edwards AFB. The flight lasted two minutes; after the engines started to vibrate badly, Jansen made a straight-ahead landing on the lake bed. The next flights were very short in duration, aborted after heavy low-frequency vibrations. Replacement of the first XT40 unit meant test flying was delayed until October 18, 1950.

With the outbreak of the Korean War in June, Douglas received a production order for ten A2D-1’s with options for 100 more. Both XA2D-1 prototypes were fully navalized with folding wings and arrester hooks that were later removed. None of the 10 production aircraft had tail hooks.

By early December 1950 BuNo 122988 had made 14 flights and recorded a top speed of 475mph at 25,000 feet. Cdr. Turner Caldwell, Lt Cdr. Hugh Wood and Col. Marion Carl were assigned for further flight tests. On December 19, 1950 Wood made his second flight in BuNo 122988. After two dives, one engine unit failed. Wood was unable to declutch the engine and the plane made a hard landing, shearing off the landing gear and catching fire. Wood was killed when he was unable to open the canopy.

The accident was a serious setback for the program since the second XA2D-1 prototype BuNo 122989 was not ready for flight until April 1952. The XT40 engine had problems that needed to be solved before the first flight could be made.

XA2D-1 BuNo 122989 made its first taxi runs and short hops from the long runway at Hughes Aircraft Co. near Culver City. The XT40 engine continued to give constant problems. The airplane was stripped of its Glossy Sea Blue paint and left in unpainted aluminum before it was trucked to Edwards where it made its first 35 minute flight on April 3, 1952, flown by George Jansen. Test flights continued, but on August 14 the TX40 had to be replaced because of a propeller failure. The replacement was an improved YT40-A-6A engine; the final power plant for the production model. However, the gearbox/propeller combination continued to give problems during test flying and the Navy finally decided that the Skyshark with its troublesome powerplant was unsuitable for operational service.

In the meantime, Heinemann proposed an all-jet alternative to the Skyshark that became the A4D Skyhawk.

The ten production A2D-1s, BuNos 125479-125488, also experienced the same engine problems as the prototypes. Jansen flew the first A2D-1, BuNo125480 on June 10, 1953. On October 27, Douglas test pilot “Doc” Livingston had a very narrow escape when he lost the complete nose section with the contra-rotating propellers and managed to make an emergency landing on the lakebed. When he failed to shut down the engine, the A2D-1 continued on, powered by the residual thrust of the T40 engine. Livingston had to jump to safety.

BuNo 125480 was repaired and resumed its test program. On August 5, 1954 Jansen had to bail out when fire broke out after a gearbox failure.

Six out of the ten production A2D-1’s were actually flown; three were used by Allison for engine testing along with XA2D-1 BuNo 122989 prototype. The Navy terminated the Skyshark project in September 1954.

In 1955, A2D-1 BuNo 125482 set a speed record by covering the distance between Indianapolis and Opa Locka, Florida, in 2 hours and 38 minutes. This flight, made by test pilot Bob LeSuer, was the last public appearance of the Skyshark.

In 1957, BuNo 125482 was acquired by Ed Maloney. It was displayed at the museum after its move to Chino for many years before being taken to Idaho in 1998 and restored, then sold to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, where it can now be seen, the last of its kind.

The Kit:

’s 1/48 XA2D-1 Skyshark first appeared in 2020 to cries of amazement from the international modeling community, that a company would do this airplane in mainstream injection-molded plastic, as their first 1/48 release. Then the pandemic came along and kit production, then stopped in early 2022 when Vlad the “Yard Punk” (a real Russian term for juvenile delinquents, of which he was one) unleashed his incompetent army on Ukraine. Clear Prop was able to move their operations into the Czech Republic for distribution, and the kit reappeared this summer.

The first Skyshark plastic kit was from Allyn in the 1950s, a 1/48 kit consisting of five parts that cost a who $5 - far beyond my modeling budget in those days, though I lusted for it. There were many versions of Skyshark turboprop airplanes that appeared in the droodles I did in my school notebooks back then. This kit reappeared in the 1980s, released by SuperScale with new decals. I kitbashed one with parts from a Monogram Skyraider to do the cockpit and landing gear.

In the 1980s Ed Maloney stripped off the paint from BuNo 125482 and rolled it out of the boneyard in what was then the Planes of Fame “back lot” and set it out on display on the airfield. Let me tell you, the Skyshark is biiiiig! I once climbed up on it when there was a ladder left nearby that allowed me onto the wing, and it was like scaling Mt Everest to get up to the cockpit and discover it had been gutted.

The next 1/48 kit was the very nice Dynavector Skyshark, which appeared as BuNo 125482 with underwing pylons and the production version canopy. This is one of the best vacuforms from anyone and mine still looks good 20 years later.

There have been some 1/72 kits released, which are mostly forgettable by quality, but Clear Prop has now solved that problem with a 1/72 XA2D-1 that is as good as this kit.

The kit parts make up as either of the two prototypes, which differed from each other in the exhausts on the rear fuselage, and from the production aircraft with a different canopy. Markings diagrams for the decals allow you to do the airplanes at various stages in their careers.

Surface detail on the kit is the equal of anything from Eduard, with a small bit of flash here and there that is easily cleaned up. The kit can be assembled with wings either folded or spread.

Construction:

It is best to consider this another Ukrainian “high-end limited-run” kit. While it is more mainstream in production level than anything from Dora Wings, there are some minor fit issues (more the product of a first release than anything else) that need you to test-fit parts before attaching and gluing them.

As with most other kits, construction starts with the cockpit. You have your choice of either using decals over a molded plastic instrument panel, or the old film-and-photoetch panel. I chose the latter, though in retrospect I would choose the former if I did another one. The parts provided make a good cockpit, and the ejection seat is a resin assembly.

I then turned to the fuselage. You need that extensive trunking that is provided to provide solidity to the final model. I assembled all that and installed it in each fuselage half following the comprehensive instructions, including the tail wheel well assembly and dive brake well assembly. I then attached the cockpit tub in position on the left side.

I had assembled the horizontal stabilizers, which turned out to have a very tight fit when I tested them. I glued them to the fuselage halves while they were separate, so I could work the join from inside and out. I had to scrape the opening so the tab could fit. When this was done, I glued the fuselage together. I rubber-banded it extensively and set it aside to set up.

I assembled the wing per instructions. I was uncertain at first if I would assemble it with the wings folded for storage, but finally settled on wings extended. Test-fitting parts before gluing, I got an assembly that needed no filler anywhere. I also rubber-banded the wing assembly to get everything to fit tight.

After I removed the rubber bands, I attached the wing subassembly to the fuselage. There was a gap in the upper wing/fuselage join, but rubber-banding the wing to increase dihedral and close the gap, then flooding it with hot glue and allowing it all to set up resulted in no gap there either. I attached the dive brake in the “up” position and glued it shut.

The cockpit canopy comes as either fully closed or an open option with separate windshield and canopy. Neither canopy fits closely to the fuselage open or closed as it should, I scraped down the interior of the canopy to get a sharp lower edge and did some other modification to get a “close enough” fit. With several rubber bands holding it down once glued, it set up without gaps. I chose the closed option to preserve the overall lines of the airframe.

Painting:

I decided to do the second prototype in NMF to show off the nice surface detail. The nose, wingtips and vertical fin tip may have been painted yellow, but color photos look closer to a “pumpkin” orange, so I painted those areas with Tamiya X-6 Orange, then masked them off and painted the airframe with XF-18 Semi-gloss Black, thinned 50-50 and misted on to get a smooth finish. I painted the interior of the gear wells and gear doors Glossy Sea Blue per instructions (these areas were not stripped when the exterior paint was removed), I let that set up overnight, then masked the wing and horizontal stabiliizer leading edges (which may have been Glossy Sea Blue rather than black, but it’s hard to tell), then painted the model with Vallejo Aluminum. There’s so much airframe that it’s a good idea to pause every couple of passes to let what is on the model dry to the touch, then continue. This way you will avoid the problem of an “orange peel” finish from applying too much paint before it dries. (This was something I learned the hard way, resulting in stripping the model and repainting, and is the only difficulty I have ever had with Vallejo - not a problem with the paint, a problem of applying it over a large surface). When that set up, I masked off the area of exhaust and the intakes and painted them different shades in accordance with photos of the real airplane.

Decals:

There are a lot of stencils on the Skyshark, mostly on the lower surface, and Clear Prop supplies all of them. I followed the marking diagram and applied them, then the decals for the national insignia and other markings. These are thin decals and they reacted well to Micro-Sol and melted into the surface.

Final assembly and finish

I attached the landing gear and gear doors, then the prop blades. I opted for using the plastic wingtip tubes rather than the metal parts that are also supplied, because they were easier to attach. I unmasked the canopy and called things finished.

Overall:

I for one never expected to see this odd airplane appear in a mainstream injected kit. Those modelers who wanted a Skyshark but were put off by the Dynavector kit being a vacuform can now have one in their collection with this kit. Clear Prop has an A2D-1 listed as a future release, which would open itself to lots of “what if” markings for A2Ds flown in Korea and Vietnam, etc.

Recommended for modelers with some experience in limited-run kits. Overall an excellent result is pretty much guaranteed if you follow instructions and then test fit before gluing.

18 additional images. Click to enlarge.


16 responses

  1. Well, that is unusual Tom. Another example of the "rabbit holes" designers weren't afraid to go down post-WWII. I had never known of this aircraft's existence; thanks for the lesson! And that's a cool model as well. It should have a rightful place among the other oddities of that era. @tcinla, Very well done sir. 👍

  2. Amazing model Tom! Loved reading the article!

  3. I feel an oxymoron coming on..."Pretty Ugly". Looks like Gannet mated with a Wyvern. Ugh.
    Nicely built model of it, though.

  4. What a butt ugly plane but you can really see the Skyraider genes showing up at the tail end of this beast. Saw your posting over at MM. Bullseye once again Tom, @tcinla.

  5. A not so often seen build of this unusual aircraft, Tom @tcinla
    Very nice result. The engine of this aircraft is a great piece of engineering. Thanks for the historical background.

  6. Great job, Tom! Seeing yours finished, I am just about to order their 1:72 iteration!

  7. Nice work on an interesting kit. It’s even uglier then the Vengeance.

  8. Very nice build of what has to be one of the ugliest airframes! I saw that it comes in 1/72, but not sure I'm tempted!

  9. Well done sir
    By now you must have built at least one of everything that's taken to the air

  10. Nicely done! Ed Hienemann could really innovate.

  11. Nice work Tom, @tcinla. Loved the history on the plane you supplied, and the build looks great. I will say I don't think its ugly...but do think it looks more like something you would see from one of the 1930's Matinee Serials or a Sci-fi Movie. Great stuff!

  12. Great article Tom. Was this aircraft intended to serve in the dive bomber role?

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