Thursday, September 17, 2015

Making a Wooden Curtiss Goshawk (Legends of the Air Kit)

As I've said on numerous occasions...I'm a sucker for $1 Store wooden toy kits, especially airplanes. It's fun to try and turn them into something that that is immediately recognizable as a particular plane and give them some fun historical detailing.

While you come to expect the sub $5 arc welder, 20' band saw or 3,000 ton industrial press from Harbor Freight, you might be surprised to know that they also sell little wooden airplane kits for under $2. The line is called "Legends of the Air." They are made in Taiwan and the pieces are punched from 1/8"sheets of plywood not balsa wood and they are not puzzles as the HF site says.

There are six kits in the line. Four are WW1 aircraft. Two of those are Allied - a SPAD and a Nieuport, and two are German - a Fokker Triplane and an Albatros. The other two kits in the series are interwar biplanes - the Bristol Bulldog and this model, the Curtiss Goshawk.

So this is actually the Curtiss F11C Goshawk that was made for the US Navy in the 1930s. The Navy only had a few dozen of them in service. There was another more widely produced version of the actual aircraft and it had retractable landing gear, not the fixed "spatted" gear on this model. A little bit of an odd choice as a "Legend of the Air" but still reasonably cool.

So I started on this model over a year ago. I had finished the Fokker Triplane from this series and was ready to tackle this one. Over the course of a weekend little one and I painted parts and glued parts up following the "directions" included. The instructions consist of an exploded view of the numbered parts. It is an exercise in patience and clairvoyance to put them together.

I covered a bunch of this when I wrote up the Fokker build but these kits really aren't for unsupervised construction by the "Age 6+" crowd. Besides the issues with the instructions, the wood is fairly stiff and you are going to need to use rubber bands and or clamps to hold the pieces in place while it is gluing up. I even boiled some pieces to make them bendable. Speaking of glue... not for one minute did I think about using the white glue that came with the kit. I went right to my wood glue.

So after some initial work, it all went into a clementine box with the intention of being pulled out the next weekend for completion. Well, something, or a lot of things, must have come up. Quite a few weekends went by and the box sort of bounced around in different places throughout the house for a year before making its way to my work bench a couple of weeks ago.

Only one piece was missing; a vertical strut. I was able to trace out a pattern on a scrap piece of the 1/8" plywood all the pieces were punched out of. That trick is something that I learned to do when I built my first balsa wood and tissue airplane from way back in the day. (A Guillow's Hawker Hurricane, thank you very much.)   You certainly can't do that with plastic models if you break or lose a piece.

In my book a toy airplane has to have a spinning propeller. Unfortunately, these kits are not designed with that in mind but where there's a will, there's a way.  This one took a little figuring to get to a way. Basically I assembled the cowling and then drilled a 3/16" hole through the center. I assembled the prop but drilled a shallow 1/8" hole in the back of the spacer so I could put a piece of 1/8" dowel to use as the shaft. I also made a small nut with a 1/8" hole in it to place at the end of the opposite end of the shaft.

I then used a forstner bit around the back of the cowling to make a hole deep and wide enough that I could put a disk on the end of the shaft that would allow the shaft to spin freely once the assembled engine was glued to the fuselage.

Hole deep enough to allow
nut to spin freely.

Wood nut cut from scrap
and glued to shaft.

The wing roots needed to be trimmed up a bit to fit into their slots on the fuselage. Again, this is one of those things that will be a little tough on the 11 year olds who work on the kit but dad can lend a hand. Just remember the woodworking truism... You can always remove more wood but you can't add any back on. Take off a little at a time and keep checking the fit.

I paint as much as I can before I assemble things because sometimes it is awfully hard to get the paint in there with parts in the way. I made a mistake in initially painting the struts black so I repainted them silver and then took my time and glued them up carefully. Take your time. No rush. Make sure everything lines up. With the outside struts in place, I fit the small ones on the fuselage. They needed to be trimmed up to fit in their slots the same way the wings did.

US planes from this era are often called "Yellow Wings" because... well... THEY HAD YELLOW WINGS! They also tended to have red and white tail stripes and brightly colored cowlings and markings. It's a very classy look and a big part of the reason for this was to make them highly visible for search and rescue efforts. It was also a bit of a bold confident statement but the idea was never to go into combat like this. I went with the blue stripes and cowling on this so that it would look like a Goshawk that was assigned to the USS Saratoga. Blue painter's tape gave me great lines for what I needed. After I glued the top wing in place and let it dry, I put the single rear struts in place on each side.

I probably glued the landing gear a bit higher into the fuselage than the plans called for but it seemed to match the scale better that the picture on the box. I also think it will make the landing gear less fragile. I had temporary shims wedged in while the gear dried. I made sure the wheels were level and the angle was the same on each side. After they dried, I added the external fuel tank... which had two different size teardrop sides... weird.

Last thing was I printed out some US 1930's roundels with a color printer on regular paper. I carefully cut out and glued the roundels in place and then sprayed the whole toy with several coats of clear gloss acrylic. (We stopped using those roundels early in WW2 because the red dots could be confused in the heat of battle with the markings on Japanese aircraft.)

There you go. I like how it came out and it makes me want to make more "Yellow Wings" era themed toys.

Again... these Legends of the Air kits have poor instructions and some questionable fits but are really fun to turn into a neat looking little toy. Now to make a toy aircraft carrier for it to land on...


  1. Great job.

    "Now to make a toy aircraft carrier for it to land on..."

    Exactly. I was thinking you could make a squadron of them, and then make a Saratoga for them to land on!

  2. Im trying to make this model for my son but im having trouble with the frame are parts 9L &9R supposed to bend also part to is not at all shaped correctly did you incounter this as well?

    1. Pyr21 - I took a look at those parts on my finished plane. The front parts of 9L & 9R have two little slits cut in them. I didn't cut through them on my plane because I worried that the crack would continue down the rest of the side. In retrospect, it is plywood, so it would probably be okay. Those cuts would help the front conform more to the shape of the engine.As for shaping them down the rest of the body, I used rubber bands on the first few sections and let it dry completely. Then the next day, I glued the rest of it and it conformed to the taper back through the tail using more rubber bands and maybe a small clamp. This kits are close to being amazing (especially for the price) but they really can't be done in a single sitting and there is some oddness just like you are pointing out. Let me know how yours come out. Take it easy.

  3. I like to use circular cuts of clear plastic from a 2 liter bottle to make the props so it looks like the engines are running.


Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.