Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Mat Irvine reports
Today’s the day in 1959 that test pilot Scott Crossfield took the North American X-15 rocket plane on its first flight. This was an unpowered glide only, after being dropped from under the wing of an eight-engined Boeing NB-52, and reached a speed of 840 km/h (522 mph), just ‘one small step’ compared to the X-15’s eventual record of 7274 km/h (4520 mph).

Aurora makes the first X-15 kit
Because of its exotic nature, the X-15 was a natural for model kit companies, especially in the early years when plastic kits were part of a new industry. One of the first such kits came from Aurora in 1959; the real craft had only just been revealed, which makes it understandable that some details were wrong.

X-15 in fit-the-box scale from Revell
After this came Revell’s far more accurate version, one that has survived in various releases for many years. But it had a slight problem in that it was not made to a generally accepted scale. It came from a time when many kits - especially kits from American companies - were made to ‘fit the box’. The companies had a set number of box sizes, and new kits were literally built to fit inside these standard boxes. So Revell’s X-15 ended up being made to 1:65 scale, not that far from the more usual 1:72, but not really close enough for purists.

In fact, it was not until 1987 that Monogram issued the first conventional injection-moulded X-15 kit to the popular international 1:72 scale.

New X-15 kits from Czech model companies
In recent years the Czechs have taken over the X-15 kit world with MPM and Special Hobby (both part of the CMK empire) both issuing kits in 1:72, 1:48, and even 1:32 scale. To date, the X-15 remains the most kitted of all the X-Planes - the number of different issues has reached almost 30.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1 The first kit of an X-15, from Aurora. It had no undercarriage, was moulded in white plastic, and had spurious markings. Model courtesy the Collection of Andrew P. Yanchus.
2 Aurora’s second X-15 issue had an undercarriage, came in black, and had more accurate markings.
3 The box for Revell’s first X-15. This has lasted the longest of any X-15 kit, and was available until very recently.
4 The first conventional injection plastic kit to 1:72 scale, from Monogram. It was the X15A-2 version, with external tanks. The kit could be finished in black, or the ablative white used for some flights. Of course, that original Aurora ‘in white’ issue wasn’t entirely wrong - although no-one could have known then that white X-15s would eventually fly!
5 The 1:48 scale Special Hobby X-15A-2.
6 The biggest X-15 is the 1:32 scale Special Hobby kit. This picture shows a display at the One Small Step exhibition, currently showing at the Sensation Science Centre, Dundee, Scotland. The 1:32 Gunze Sangyo Ford  Galaxie Skyliner makes a good looking in-scale companion.

Visit the Sensation Science Centre here.

You can view a selection of X-15 models at the UK store Hannants here.