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Nova's 1/72 scale
Northrop XB-35
Flying Wing


XB-35 Flying Wing


How To Cope With Earthquakes

by Bill ‘C2C’ Dye*


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“Planes, tanks, guns . . nothing will stop them,” the General said covered with dirt and dust in the fox hole.

“Take my word for it General, this type of defense is useless against that kind of power. You’d better let Washington know!” the Doctor said.

“If you’re interested in Martian blood you can get all you want after the plane drops the bomb. The Flying Wing is going to carry it.”

Ah yes, these fantastic scenes from the 1953 original version of “WAR OF THE WORLDS” (insert scary music here). I think I’ve watched that movie a hundred times . . . . would you believe 50?

So when I saw an ad for the propeller version of the Flying Wing many years ago (couldn’t find the jet version . . . yet) the HTHI (Had To Have IT) syndrome ignited my wallet.

We all know (well most, I guess) about ‘The Wing’. Even today the controversy persists with stability issues, or not and/or politics with the B-36; but that centered mostly on the jet version. Did I mention that this is the propeller version? But this one had its problems; mainly vibration with the contra-rotating props. It was so bad that during the test flights the spinners fell off – all of them. Later they switched to (huge) standard propellers but the jet version was already on the manufacturing floor.


This aircraft, the XB-35 and both jet versions, the YB-49 and the YRB-49A are up there on my top 10 favorite airplanes . . . . . . Hmmm that leaves only 7. Well they’re on my top 40 list!

Note the references at the end of this dribble. They provide a much better and very complete story of this really cool airplane.

I do remember reading in maybe Wings/Airpower, I can’t remember so don’t quote me, that they tested the jet version against the radar facility that used to be on the mountain just south of San Jose, California. They even told the radar operators that they should see something. The YB-49 flew right over the radar station . . . nuttin’ not even a tinee tiny blip. Maybe that’s what inspired the B-2???!!!





WOW! Look at those huge white blobs of plastic! Look at the metal parts that look like something from my Grandfather’s tackle box. White blobby cross (X) thingies-oh, wait, those are the propellers!

Get my drift here. I jest but, really, I was so thankful NOVA made this kit! One can fix almost anything – except changing my car clock twice a year for the time change. I was just grateful that the basic shape was provided as a start. So, with apologies to the manufacturer . . . this would definitely qualify as: (horns) ta daa . . . .CRAAAAAP TOOOOO CAAAAAAAAAAKE*. The plans were pretty good though and were a necessity in making a good rendition of the airplane. The Execuform vac kit (which came out later . . or at least I didn’t discover it until later) has all three versions: XB-35, YB-49 and the YRB-49A; you choose which to build. And the plans are to die for!!! Wish I had that kit then as well as the plans when I built this thing!!

To make things worse, I decided to jam more sticks in my eyes (don’t try this at home). I decided to lower the elevons (the flying wing had no horizontal tail surfaces so they combined the elevator controls with ailerons and got ‘elevons’), open the wing vents, detail the cockpit, re-form, no, make, intake ducts, make the contra propellers and greatly embellish the landing gears. . . . . A snap . . . .what could go wrong?


After I cut out the two main pieces of the kit, that would be the top of the wing and the bottom of the wing, I found that, guess what, they didn’t fit together properly. How hard can it be . . . two bloody pieces, albeit large, but gees! Several days of filing, bracing, etc. and they went together acceptably well. Yes, you’re looking at the photos wondering why I used balsa strips for bracing. This comes under: It was what was available at the time in the ol’ workshop. Hey, it worked rather well. Did I mention that the wing had a root to tip wash out angle that had to be ‘twisted’ in with the bracing?

Next, I spent weeks on the cockpit that you can see very little of through the canopy and/or front windows (why do I do this?). I glued the wing halves together but not before engineering the landing gear anchor points. That turned out to be a plastic bridge frame if you will. Lots of epoxy to be sure the bridges didn’t come down – so to speak. Then I built up the landing gear wells hiding this ‘bridge’ structure for the main gears. I added some hydraulic lines & stuff that you can’t see. (Sigh.)

A week later I glued the halves together and started working on the intake ducts. I had to build another plastic bridge spanning the intake and fill in behind it. This was quite challenging but seemed to be worth the effort – at least I kept telling myself that..

Engine Nacelles:

I looked at the engine nacelles that were provided in the kit. I looked at the reference photographs I had then at the white blobs and then the photographs. Sigh. They, well, didn’t look right. I found a couple of pieces of balsa and shaped my own (it wasn’t that hard. It took about an hour . . . if you mess it up, build another one; big deal). I coated it with primer, glossed it and then made an RTV mold (it’s NOT that hard; you make a little box thingy, stick the part on a stick and put it in the box such that you can get it OUT of the mold when you’re done. Get RTV from TAP plastics or MicroMark, mix it and pour it in. Next day pull the new mold out of the box and then mix and pour some resin (same source) into the mold. Do that 6 times (you’ll mess up two so make a couple of spares).


The parts looked terrible. But after I cleaned them up and coated with some primer, they looked better. I fixed little dings and bubbles and primered again. See, how tough was that?!

Next it was mating the nacelles to the wing surface. The angle of the thrust centerline was tilted down slightly. It was just a matter of sanding, fit on to the wing, sand some more, fit on to wing, repeat, repeat, repeat. Two hours later: IT FITS! Then I did that three more times. In each nacelle I drilled a hole and inserted a brass tube one size up from the propeller shafts to be the receptacle for the, ah, propeller shafts.


I bought some Aeroclub B-29 resin propeller blades that looked close to these. I built a jig to standardize the shape of each blade. The XB-35 hubs were unique. BTW, did I mention that I wanted the model to look like it had just come back from a test flight? That would mean – no spinners. More sticks in eyes (again – don’t try that at home). I made a little jig and used the 8 hubs from the kit and drilled holes in each. One set of 4 would have a small brass rod about a 16th inch diameter; the next set would have a brass tube with the ID a tad above a 16th. Then, one slides inside the other, voila, contra rotating props. I drilled and then inserted very small brass rods into each of the propeller blades after they were sanded and shaped – this to make the props look like the photos. I used another jig to align the props while they dried in the hubs. Let’s see: 4 propeller sets times 2 (contra rotating) =’s 8 times 4 blades per set =’s 32 propeller blades. At this point, I was really looking forward to the JET version?!


I made the wing cooling vents from scrap plastic. No big deal.

Finally I had the wing with nacelles together. I hosed on some primer and spent the next two weeks finding and fixing dings, etc. Hindsight: I should have filled all of those Morris Code panel lines – dots and dashes, i.e. I’m an engraved panel line, now I’m not, yes I am, no I’m not).

I hosed on some S&J (before Alclad) and polished it.

Landing Gear

The landing gear with the kit was, how shall I say . . . . less than optimal (it was crap). Well, maybe that’s too strong. I just felt that it would be easier to build my own secondary structure parts (struts, etc.) than to spend the time cleaning the barnacles off of the kit parts.



So, I got a bunch of tubing and wire, studied the photos and drawings in hand and I built-up my own. I soldered the brass rods and glued the aluminum pieces. Looked OK.

Rocking the Boat:

And now this is where the story takes a twist.

The model was virtually done. The silver ‘quilting’ as I call multiple panel coloring was done, the fine details were about to be applied. The landing gear assemblies were in the vice waiting to be glued in.

I was driving home from work one October day. It was around 5 o’clock. I left a little early so I could watch the World Series game between The San Francisco Giants and The Oakland Athletics. It was 1989. I was approaching a traffic light on Wolfe Road in Sunnyvale, California. Suddenly my car started to swerve on its own. There were about 5 cars waiting at the traffic light that I was approaching. I managed to pull up to them and stop, still within my lane, but barely. Then I saw the cantilevered signal light going up and down three feet at least. The car in the lane next to me was going up and down too! Almost a foot! The guy’s eyes were the size of saucers. Mine were too. I looked back at the signal light. The power went off. Past the light Wolfe road continued up a bridge/via duct that rose over some railroad tracks. On it was a lone VW bug. He swerved and stopped about a third of the way up the bridge – turned almost 90 degrees. The concrete bridge was undulating like an aircraft carrier in a storm on “Victory at Sea”. I looked next to me. The cars were still going up and down. It was like being on a gigantic water bed.

“Holy cow!” I muttered. “This is the big one”.

The radio announcer said, “Ladies and Gentlemen I think we’re having an earth–.” The radio went to static. I waited for buildings to fall, for the water tower just over there that was swaying back and forth, to fall. But they didn’t. Finally, it subsided. I felt like I was sitting on a now smaller water bed. I started feeling a little nauseous (motion sickness). And then the rolling stopped all together – in my stomach as well as the earth.

The guy that was in the VW was on the bridge outside of his car. The traffic light was out but everyone waited. I’m sure everyone was thinking: ‘Is the bridge over the tracks OK?’ The VW guy walked to the crest of the bridge, peered over, turned around and came back to his car. Before he got back into the Bug, he turned to the 50+ cars a few hundred feet away, all waiting to see his fate. He shrugged his shoulders with his hands out by his side as if saying “Beats me!”

He got in the Bug and drove over the mound out of sight. We waited. No smoke . . . nothing. Must be OK! Charge! Everyone went over the bridge and on to home.

I took surface streets. Except for no power, I saw no changes. No burning or collapsed buildings. No fires. I arrived home and noticed that the garage door was up. The only thing that looked out of place was a ski pole hanging from the rafter. ‘Big deal,’ I thought.

My wife, Joyce, came to the door. I got out of the car and said, “I guess it wasn’t that bad.”
She motioned with her finger ‘come here’. She was white as a sheet.
I went into the house . . . Take a house, pick it up and shake it like a paint bottle for 15 seconds and put it down. That’s what it looked like inside. The TV had done a face plant from a book shelf. The books then covered it to keep it company. The contents of the refrigerator were now on the kitchen floor along with all of the dishes, glasses, oatmeal and cereal boxes, vinegar, honey, flour – in that plastic bag with the hole in it that I’ve been meaning to replace and that knife set we never used. Book shelves emptied; plants and their dirt on the floor, medicine cabinet contents in the bathroom sink and on the floor and splash evidence from the toilet! From the toilet folks!

[Later I noticed my wife’s bicycle that was leaning against the sheet rock wall in the garage. It was still against the wall but you could see where the handle bar moved up and down scraping the sheet rock about +/- 3”!]

Fortunately, there was only superficial structural damage (cracked sheet rock).

Then I went into the ‘model room’ (extra bedroom).

I noticed that my book shelf had emptied all over the work bench. But perched proudly above it all was an XB-35 landing gear in the vice –untouched. Ouu, good sign. I picked up a bunch of magazines and then I saw it: The History of Aviation. It was a tome weighing about 100 lbs or so (would you believe 10?). I saw the book. Beneath it I saw a wing tip – a silver wing tip. Yes, the XB-35. I peeled away the book and found that the cockpit area took a direct (corner) hit from the missile. Holy cow! It was badly damaged. But before I could get upset I realized that: I was alive, my wife was alive, the house was OK and we faired OK . . . unlike others who died in this 1989 San Francisco earthquake (which, by the way, was NOT centered in SF it was in the Santa Cruz mountains about 40 miles away – 7 miles from us!). So, seeing this damaged model airplane was the absolute least of my worries. After five days without power (and that’s another story), normality started to come back (for us, anyway). We then learned of the fatalities from the quake. Something like that really puts things into perspective. I can only imagine what the folks in New Orleans must be going through. My experience was absolutely nothing compared to that.

So, a few months later I decided to fix it. I had to rebuild the intake ducting and the cockpit area, re-vac’d another canopy, re-primered and repainted –see photos. Looked OK. I put on the gears, decals and little thingies.


One of the still doesn’t quite look right from the damage. I decided to leave it – as a reminder, of how our lives can change in just 15 seconds – and also because I got sick of the project!

You might be wondering why I submitted this article. The injection kits are out for the Flying Wing and so . what’s the point? I guess I wanted to relate my earthquake experience to illustrate that when bad things happen to plastic model airplanes the great majority of the time they are fixable. Fix things! Don’t throw it away or shelve it. It’s only plastic! What’s the worst that can happen? OK, OK, that T-33 model that you accidentally dropped into a bucket of lacquer thinner – that’s the exception. 

Bury me with sandpaper!




  • Maloney, Edward T., Northrop Flying Wings, 1980 3rd printing

  • Northrop Aircraft, Inc., Pilot’s Handbook for Model YB-49 Airplane,1977

*C2C: Crap To Cake, a la Roy Sutherland at a Fremont Hornets meeting several years ago: “Leave it to Bill to turn crap [bad kit] to cake.” (Or words to that effect.)


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Model, Images and Text by Copyright © 2006 by Bill Dye
Page Created 01 June, 2006
Last Updated 31 May, 2006

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