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Sunday, July 20, 2014

1/72 Wiley Post's Orion/Explorer Hybrid (Special Hobby modified kit with Khee-Kha floats)

From the archive (2010):

The year is 1935. Wiley Post, renowned pilot, is putting together a hybrid plane made of a Lockheed Orion fuselage and the wing of a lesser known Lockheed type, the Explorer.
The wing of the Explorer is about six feet longer in span than the original wing, and to add to that Wiley wants his plane to be able to land on water, so he attaches two EDO floats. To compensate for the increase in weight, a beefed-up power plant replaces the original one. People at Lockheed apparently weren’t exactly thrilled about those modifications at the time.
Companion in his adventure is the no less renowned Will Rogers, comedian, humorist, writer and actor.
The flight, thought as a way to explore possible routes to Russia and to provide writing material for Rogers, unfortunately ends in disaster in Alaska with the loss of the two lives.
The graceful lines of the Orion are indeed pleasant enough, but with the longer wing and the floats, the total becomes more than the sum of its parts, if you allow me this Gestaltean digression.
I got the Special Hobby Orion release as a starting point. I am glad manufacturers are venturing with iconic civilian releases, and I hope it is a trend that will continue. This kit has been in the market for a while and has been reviewed plentifully, so I won’t abound in details. Suffice to say that it is a short-run release with a large number of resin bits and vac canopy included, good cockpit detail, no cabin detail, butt joints and exuberant panel lines. A nice set of decals (that went unused for this model) completes the package. For a moment I considered using the kit’s wing, splicing it and adding a center section, but the work surely would have been long and tiring, and the wheel area had to be deleted anyway, so I opted instead for scratching a new wing.
The floats were no problem, since Khee-Kha Art Products from Alaska -besides its range of bushplane vacuformed kits- has a wonderful, well made and well detailed range of resin EDO floats. I ordered the J-5300 (based on masters produced originally by Jim Schubert) from them. They came with the water rudders, control arms and cleats, all well detailed and flawlessly cast.
I have used Khee-Kha’s products before and was extremely pleased with them and their customer service.
So I had the Orion’s kit fuselage, Khee-Kha’s floats and the scratch-built wing.
Some reports state the interior of the plane lodged quite a bit of cargo; in order to do that it is probable that some seats were removed, but lacking references on the matter I opted to paint the cabin matt black. The resin engine that comes with the kit is very nice, and given the fact that in this particular machine the engine is covered by a frontal plate used to reduce airflow in winter or cold climates, I decided to save the resin engine and swap it for a good white metal one that had a little less detail. You get a spare cylinder for the resin engine, but you get exactly the number of injected clear windows you need for the cabin, in spite of the fact that they were molded longer than necessary and that you have to tailor them to fit –as indicated in the instructions-. Guess who lost a window to the “twing” dimension and ended up making one from a cd cover?
It would be nice if the manufacturers would add a spare part when you have multiples, like in struts, seats, etc. I am sure the cost should not be impacted too much, and will give the modeler a second chance when minute parts jump into the “twing” and “twang” dimensions.
As it is almost invariably the case with resin interiors you have to spend a couple hours trying to make two objects occupy the same space at the same time, which, as anybody knows, is a physics’ impossibility (although apparently not for some manufacturers).
Once the fuselage was closed a missing luggage hatch was added, and an air intake was glued to the right-hand side of the cowl. The fit of the scratch wing was adjusted and before gluing it the wing was given some cautious surface detail. The locations for the float struts, Pitot, landing lights and nav lights were prepared. Some  hoisting lugs and bumps underneath were added at this point too.
Floats were given the right track (as per Khee-Kha instructions), bridged with two brass airfoiled struts (from “Strutz”), and the inverted “V” upright struts were also fixed to facilitate ulterior joining with the wing (after painting, since they were different colors).
Once the main parts were put together the puttying and sanding cycle ensued, the task I unfortunately enjoy the least. Well, it is not that “I enjoy it the least”, actually I really don’t like it. More so, I blatantly hate it.
Once the primer stage arrived I coated lightly some areas of the model and heavily some others (on the fuselage) in an attempt to subdue the too prominent panel lines.
Now, I must warn you here about a little known law of physics, the infamous Pugetian Principle. It states that when you don’t want to cover your beautiful panel lines, they will be utterly obliterated at the slightest pass of the primer, but when you want them to be less obvious or at least fade a bit they will resist any kind of overcoat you can throw at them, no matter how thick.
The Orion/Explorer hybrid was overall red with silver/aluminum floats, registrations, trim and tail marks. I painted the silver/aluminum color with a lacquer and coated it with Future in preparation for the subsequent actions. My plan was to cut masks for the registrations, and they came up so so. Then again to the rescue came Christos of Alabama with the silver decals. He saved my two last projects with his kind generosity.
Again, as with the Clark GA-43, I used some CMK navigation lights. They are good, although a tad expensive for my pocket. Some of them, usually the bigger ones, for some obscure reason, are mounted in flat, rectangular-section stalks, instead of the round thin stalks used for the smaller lights. This makes mounting them a pain in the neck. Why they are not all of them mounted in round-section stalks has no logic to me, since it would make installing them in a previously-drilled hole a breeze. Cutting them out of the useless stalks and then trying to glue them I lost four to the Twang dimension.
Once the main subassemblies were ready they were put together with a sigh of relief.
I added the home-made Venturis and then started to peel-off the window masks. Or try too. You see, I decided to use again the Mr. Masking Sol Neo, in spite of a not pleasant experience with the Vultee V-1. What I can say now is that my very short acquaintance –to call it friendship would be indeed excessive- with this product is hereby terminated. The mask became –because may be for the use of primers-  a sort of gooey ectoplasmatic blob that resisted removal and could make the delights of a class z science fiction producer. I was not completely successful in the removal what didn’t want to ruin the surroundings using a harsh product.
The canopy was added and its frames were represented by painted decals. Then the Pitot and the walkway were positioned and it was time to seat back after the intensive ride.
All in all not a pharaonic enterprise thanks to the readily available Khee-Kha floats and Orion kit. You only need to add that wing. And a few hours work J
 I hope Wiley is smiling somewhere.

I would like to thank Jim Schubert, Lars Opland and Christos Psarras for their generous help.

Khee-Kha (the manufacturer of the resin floats that also has a range of vacuformed bushplanes) can be reached here:


  1. Wow this is really sharp. I grew up hearing so much about Post and Rogers from my Oklahoma born and raised Dad. Have read two books on their crash. Am Leary about scratchbuilding the Explorer wing. What would be a good substitute wing or at least a starting to build the wing besides the Orion kit? Thanks again!

    1. No idea, that's why I scratched it.
      Look at plans of the Explorer wings (may be Wylam's with a pinch of salt) and see if you can butcher/splice/rework some other Lockheed wing from a kit. You will achieve two things: ruin a Lockheed kit, and take a much more devious road than just scratch it. Model never finished, guaranteed.
      If you are skeptical about scratching a relatively straightforward wing, the whole project may present some pretty big challenge.
      On the other hand, you may be perfectly able to do it.
      Tell me if you do.
      Good luck