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The Quest for Speed : 1/32 Travel Air Mystery Ship with some hi-tech

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Good evening all,

Time to start a new WIP, and to (at last) live by my chosen monicker and deal with a ... racer !

The Travel Air Mystery Ship created created quite a stir when it was unveiled in 1929. Developed in great secret with the support of the CEO of Travel air Walter Beech, it was built to win the National Air Races, which up to then had been dominated by the fast Army and Navy Curtiss thoroughbreds.`
It featured two characteristics that were to mark durably the design of racers and, beyond that, that of American fighters : a big powerful radial engine (the Wright J6-9 Whirlwind) and the then newly developed NACA cowling, which had demonstrated its tremendous aerodynamic benefits.

The Travel Air type R, dubbed "Mystery Ship" by the Press wondering what was being secretly "cooked" behind veils by the firm, sporting a gleaming beautiful red color with black scalops edged by a green trim line, went on to win the 1929 Thompson trophy, at an average speed above 200 Mph.

I have always loved the stubby little racer, and always wondered why Williams Bros had never released an IM kit of it. I was tempted to scratchbuild one in 1/32, but was held up by the color scheme: not sure if I could manage the green trim line along the black scalops.

Needless to say I was overjoyed when I learnt that Lone Star Models had planned one in 1/32 resin. The waiting lasted somewhat, as the kit was announced in 2013, to be released for the Nats in 2014, when it was not really ready, Mike West, LSM's owner, struggling with the decals apparently.
I placed my order as soon as it was available, in October 2014, together with the then forthcoming Bugatti racer.

LSM is a one-man operation, typical old style "cottage industry", and my order lingered on for some time - but no worry. I was regularly in touch with Mike, and given my kit ouput and the size of my stash, I could wait and knew it would come.

The box finally arrived this week. And, pronto, rather than store in the stash, I have decided to tackle it immediately.

This fist post will constitute a review of what you get.

The review

The kit is a fairly simple one : two fuselage halves, two plain wings, two stabilators, a one-pîece fin and rudder, two plain wheel spats and wheels, a two-part cowling, 4 parts for the cockpit (floor, dashboard, seat and rear bulkhead), 11 parts for the engine (crankcase, and 10 - one extra - cylinder) a vac-form windshield, a propeller, and 7 white metal parts, 6 for the landing gear structure and one for the tail skid. The instructions mention a piece of Plastruct streamlined rod to cut the 4 wing to fuselage struts. Mine did not have any, but this is a porduct I have plenty of in my set of modeling aids. So no problem here, for me at least.



Add to that 6 pages of instructions and pictures, and a magnificent decal sheet, incorporating all the black scalops, with the green trim line. This decal sheet is the highlight of the kit, and alone justifies buying it IMHO. Btw, I had a double decal sheet in my box. I think it's not wanted, but it means I can make mistakes with little consequences :).


The resin is typical LSM beige, bubble-free, with little flash and significant pour stubs. The surface detail is restraint and rather fine. The Mystery ship was a very smooth airframe, the wings and fuselage being plywood-covered, with just the cowling, psts, and fuselage from the engine mount to the instrumenrt panle metal covered. The kit should present no problem reproducing this smooth glinting surface. The fin and stabilators display a nice rendering of the fabric-covered surfaces



The shape appears good overall, with some caveats described below. The dimensions are good, without any impact of potential resin shrinkage. the wingspan is spot-on for the "long" wing which was brought the wingspan to 29'2", i.e. 27.8 cms. The Travel Air in the 1929 Thompson had a short wing (27'8") which should not be a problem to carve out of the one-piece outer wings. The adjustments of the two fuselage halves are OK, and again, whilst not up to the latest Sliver Wings or Fisher products are a fair effort.


TBC next post ...

Edited by MostlyRacers
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The kit suffers however from some issues, which, whilst solvable, may irrate some.

1. The engine

LSM have manifestly been inspired by the Williams Bros engines. The problem is the engine depicted in the kit is consistent with a Pratt & Whitney design, with the rounded reduction gear crankcase, and the pushrods on the front face of the engine. It is also consistent with Frank Hawk's Travel Air Type R, which was equipped with a P&W R-985 Wasp Junior.



The first Mystery Ship R614K, the one decpicted in the kit, had a Wright J6-9 Whirlwind, characterised by the pushrods behind the cylinders, and the cylinders themselves had the exhaust port on their side, not their back. Conclusion : none of the parts of the kit's engine can be used if you want an accurate Mystery Ship :fight: !


There is hope however, thanks to Mrs Williams Bros. The J6-9 has been represented by Williams, as it was used on the Curtiss Sparrowhawk. It was also sold individually, and, as far as I am concerned, I had the (good) idea of getting one some time in the past. So problem #1 solved, for me at least :) !


Please note that the engine crankcase in the center of the pic is not from Willimas Bros, but my own scratchbuilt  part, detailed with some Scale Hardware stuff.



2. The fuselage in plan view

The Mystery Ship was initially designed for an in-line engine, by Chevrolair. When the future of this engine was becoming obscured, Walter Beech and his design team decided to switch to the big Wright radial. The design however had been set around the narrow in-line engine, and the fuselage had to be streamlined from the circular firewall to the rounded rectangle shape of the rear fuselage. This resulted in a distinctive "kink" in plan view, at about the middle of the cockpit.

LSM Mystery Ship displays a smooth continuous fuselage line from the firewal to the tail, without the "kink". It is at this point some 6 mm too wide. The resin, whilst thick (about 2 mm) is not thick enough for this correction.


You can discern some of the lines I have started drawing. The solution will be to saw the fuselage sides, and rebuild them. It should not be too difficult, as the shape here is almost of a rectangular box, with some convex sides.
In the process, the (spurious) interior detail will be lost, but it is not a big deal, as it is not right for the Type R anyway ... which leads me to my issue #3 ...


And whilst we are at it, the fuselage will benefit from some refining of its shape behind the cockpit (headrest area), and at the fin level (wider than the kit's reprsentation)

3. The cockpit detail

The Mystery Ship was built around a welded steel tube box-shaped structure. None of it is represented in the kit, and it will have to be added.

The Instrument panel, whilst good-looking and representing this area quite faithfully, is not right for R614K. It is again based on Frank Hawk's Texaco airplane, fitted with some instruments for long-distance flying, the most significant difference being the rectangular-shaped instrument in the middle of the IP. A new IP with the correct distribution of dials (and Airscale decals) will be a fairly simple fix.


So this will have to be corrected to represent more accurately R614K. Ditto for the seat which is more reminiscent of WWI era seats. The one pic I have found of R613K (the Chevrolair-engined airframe) shows the seat to have a "classical" rectangular shape.

4. The wing-to-fuselage wing-stub joint

The Mystery Ship had a RAF 34 airfoil (used also on the DH-88 Comet of Mc Robertson race fame, and the DH-98 Mosquito). The wings were built with a wing-stub that was an integral part of the fuselage, with the struts and landing gear bolted to this structure. With LSM's kit, we have a significant difference in profile and depth between the wing-stubs and the outer wing. The stub is concave, and 3mm deep when the wing is more like 4 mm deep ! :doh:

This should not be too difficult to correct however, as the outer wing is correct in depth and profile. Building-up the underside of the fuselage wing-stub with card or Milliput should fix it rapidly.


Overall I am very happy to have this kit. The global shape and dimensions are there and it is unlikely anyone else would have tackled it.

Yet it is a bit annoying to see the problems above. That the IP is wrong can be understood, knowing the scarcity of (good) pics for this part of R614K. But the engine mistake could have been avoided. Ditto for the wing-stub depth and profile.And finally, all good drawings of the Type R show the fuselage kink, and it is hard to understand why it has been missed.

It is probably a typical result of an old-fashioned one-man cottage-industry approach. The good comes with the bad in equal parts.

The good news is that all the issues described above can however be fixed fairly easily (the only major surgery being the fuselage sides). And above all, the decal sheet is great, and alone justifies waiting for the kit.

My own rating : 6 / 10.

The next post will deal with starting the kit, beginning with correcting the engine. I have done some work, but will probably post tomorrow my WIP.


Edited by MostlyRacers
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This, along with the Wedell Williams, are two of my favorite 20's racers! Or 20s airplanes, period.


I'm looking forward to seeing this come to fruition.



Looking forward to watching this one!



Awesome project, Hubert!  This is one of my all-time favorite subjects and look forward to watching this one come together.






Cool project, Hubert!




Many thanks guys. I hope I will not disapoint you.


Some progress made yesterday, but no pics yet. Not much anyway as I could not spend too much time at the workbench. The weather was really hot on thursday and yesterday, and modelling was unconforable. Working in the evening with an open window was better, but then the myriads of flying ants and various bugs-with-wings who decided to come and have a close look at my work made it impossible anyway.


Continued pouring over my references, and came to an unexpected conclusion : the Wright J6-9 used by the Mystery Ship was not only special because of its higher compressions. It had also a unique exhaust port arrangement, still exiting to the font of the cylinders, but not on the side, as usual with this engine, but dead in the middle of the head. So I corrected my Williams Bros' cylinders by cutting off the side protuberances for the exhausts, and drilling a location to plug in the exhausts in the middle of the front head. The good news for those who will want to correct the LSM-supplied engine is that by turning the cylinders 180°, you could have a passable (not totally correct, as the two protuberances for the rocker arms were not symetrical on the Whirlwind) representation. That would leave you with just the crankcase to correct ...


But wait ! When used in Cleveland, and later, the type R had a rounded fairing affixed to the front part of the engine, painted in red ! This means that all I have done will not be visible anyway :). Oh well, i'll finish it nevertheless, for the fun, and because "I will know it's here"  :mental:


Off to see friends for the week-end. Hopefully more next week.



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Fantastic project and eagerly waiting to follow your progress


Wow...Cool.....looking forward to see more.


Wasn't there one or two of these made as full scale reproductions?

Probably no high performance Wright, but still a nice red/black facsimile of the Mystery Ship.

Thank you for your interest, Peter and Mal :)


Ernie, yes two replicas have been built, one in the US and one in the UK. The UK one has a radial Lycoming R-675, and the US one seems to have a P&W WASP Jr, IIRC.


As I want to build the 1929 original R614K, I will modify the engine. Most of this modification will be invisible anyway, as the Whirlwind's crankcase was hidden behind a - hemispherical apparently - metal fairing. Using the kit-supplied P&W type cylinders, turned 180° to have the rocker-box covers protrusions facing rearward,, could do the trick, provided that one finds a way to fill-in and fin at least one (the right one) of the intake and exhaust ports.


The Williams' Whirlwind cylinders, especially the head, are a bit rough, typical short-run, but should be OK with some tweaking ...


I'm 500 kms away from the bench this WE, so no progress for the time being ...



Edited by MostlyRacers
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Good point. I tend to overlook that the subject is not as well known as the Spitfire of the Me-109 :)


Here is a pic of the original Mystery ship R614K




Of one flying replice, in color




As for the engine, a photo of a typical Wright J6-9 Whirlwind




... compared to a P&W wasp Jr




As a side comment, please note that the replica, based on the orgiginal R613K, which was built with the inline Chevrolair engine, before being purchased by Pancho Barnes who re-engined it with a Wright Whirlwind, has a different shape for the top fuselage ahead of the windscreen. R614K was built from the start taking into account the need to fair the big radail engine into a fuselage designed initially around a slim in-line engine.


To illustrate my point about the "kink" in the fuselage because of this fairing, a pic of Frank Hawk's Texaco type R preserved in Chicago, painted in clear colours, gives a good illustration :




(above photo found on the net, by John Tamer, Skytamer Archives, http://www.skytamer.com/Travel_Air_R.html ) All the photos in this post gathered from the net, and posted here under the "Fair Use" principle, for illustrative purposes.



Edited by MostlyRacers
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