Although only 66 Fireballs were built and they were withdrawn from service by mid-July 1947, the design was still of sufficient interest to warrant further development. NAVAIR requirement SD399 called for a single-seat fighter powered by a jet engine in the tail with one of the newly developed breed of turbo-props in the nose. The XF2-R1 Darkshark took the basic airframe of an existing Fireball (s/n 39661) and modified it to fit a 1,700 shp General Electric TG-100 "prop-jet", which gave the aircraft a longer, sleeker appearance than its predecessor.
The top speed of the Darkshark was 500 mph at sea level (75 mph faster than the Fireball) and the rate of climb was 5,000 ft/min. Allied to the new engine the Darkshark pioneered the use of a propeller which could act as an air-brake by providing "reverse thrust" for shorter approach runs for carrier landings.
Although the Dark Shark was impressive - it set a new world altitude record for a turboprop aircraft of 39,160 ft in May 1947 - there was no production contract from the Navy. Good as its performance was, the Darkshark was actually eclipsed by a further Fireball-development - the XFR-4 - which used the standard radial engine plus a more powerful J-34 jet engine and proved to be 25 mph faster still.The final interest came from the USAF, with the request for an XF2R-2, which would have combined the Darkshark's turboprop with the XFR-4's J-34 jet, but this never progressed beyond the mock-up stage and, with that, the Fireball / Darkshark saga finally came to an end.
As you expect, Czech Model's Darkshark is based on their earlier Fireball and the bulk of the kit is identical (but note: the Mini In-Action rererence book isn't included this time). Rather than repeat myself laboriously, I'll concentrate on what's new and refer readers to the Fireball review
for a detailed look at the shared parts.
The kit consists of:
57 x parts moulded in mid-grey styrene
33 x resin parts
1 x vacuformed canopy (plus a spare)
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
Czech Model have substituted a new "Sprue A" containing revised fuselage halves, a spinner-front, propeller blades and a cowling lip. The moulding is well up to par; this is a short-run kit, but Czech Model kits are among the best available. The parts seem to originate from the MPM stable, and they have their characteristic "satin" smooth finish with neatly engraved panel lines. The styrene is fairly soft and easy to work with and the fuselage halves are warp-free and line up well (as did those of the Fireball).
The prop blades capture the distinctive "square paddle" look of the originals, but superdetailers may want to add the small ribbed plates visible at the roots of the real thing.
As with the plastic parts, so the bulk of the resin details are unchanged from the Fireball. The cockpit features new sidewalls which are cut away to allow for the turboprop's exhausts. If this arrangement is accurate, the Darkshark's cockpit must have been frighteningly hot because the exhausts are perilously close to the pilot's legs...
The exhausts themselves are neat little pots which simply slot into the fuselage openings. They aren't overly deep, so a section of tubing might look more convincing. Note that the Darkshark prototype flew with several exhaust configurations, so there is some scope for modifications here, including faired-over troughs with n/m blanking-plates.
The spinner is a little odd, in that it's a mixture of resin and plastic parts. The elements should marry-up fine, but there's no option to choose the angle of the propeller.
The wheels have the same distinctive tyres with prominent lips that were included with the Fireball. I have to say that I can't find a photo of the Darkshark fitted with these tyres, but that's not to say that they weren't fitted at some stage...
Instructions & Decals
The assembly diagrams are very clearly laid-out and illustrated with excellent exploded diagrams, backed up with smaller scrap diagrams of the details. Each stage has colour notes, which are discussed in greater detail in the painting guide on the rear page with FS equivalents given where appropriate. The model is a natural tail-sitter and the instructions indicate that weight is needed in the nose, but don't say how much. Err on the safe side - it'll be almost impossible to add more weight once the wings and fuselage are joined.
The painting guide gives colour-schemes for two aircraft:
1. The XF2R-1 in its roll-out scheme of overall Glossy Sea Blue with a red spinner.
2. A speculative scheme of a "production" Darkshark in the colours of VF-41 Firebirds, complete with the distinctive white tails and wing-tips applied to their aircraft at one stage.
The decals are thin and glossy. The registration is spot on but, as with Czech Model's Fireball, I can't help but think the Insignia Red in the "stars and bars" is a bit too dark. Replacements can be found easily enough, so this is hardly a major problem.
I was especially delighted when Squadron announced the Darkshark, because they'd originally stated that there was no intention to produce this version. The kit certainly doesn't disappoint and will look great stood next to their earlier Fireball. The simple basic construction, combined with a very good set of resin parts make this an ideal choice of short-run kit for intermediate-skill fans of Navy fighters looking for something "different" to add their collections. Now all we need is the XFR-4 with it's NACA fuselage-intakes to complete the family... how about it Czech Models?
Czech Model's Darkshark is available for $35.96 direct from MMD-Squadron who kindly supplied the review sample.