In-Box Review
Martin KIII Kitten
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by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

The Martin K-III Kitten was designed in 1917 as a high-altitude fighter for the US Army. Its designer, J.V. Martin (no relation to the famous Glenn Martin) incorporated many of state of the art features into his design, including oxygen tanks, provision for an electrically heated flying suit and, most far-sighted of all, a semi-retractable landing gear. The Kitten was very small and powered by a two-cylinder ABC Gnat producing just 45hp. Perhaps it was a case of including too many untried features in one design - Martin also dispensed with conventional ailerons, preferring pivoting wing-tips instead, and eschewed tried-and-tested interplane struts in favour of unique "K-struts" - but the K-III proved stubbornly unwilling to fly, let alone prove itself as a high altitude fighter. In the summer of 1919, about sixty test flights were attempted in Ohio. "Flights" is perhaps a rather generous description - "hops" would be better - as the aircraft never flew for a distance of more than 300 feet at just a few feet off the ground.

With WW1 over, any pressing need for new fighters disappeared and, not surprisingly in view of its dismal performance, the Army rapidly lost interest in the K-III - a situation only made worse by Martin's flat refusal to make changes in his design as demanded by Army evaluators. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the one and only K-III survives to this day, having been donated to the Smithsonian Institute by K.V. Martin in 1924.

The Kit
The Martin K-III Kitten is one of the strangest looking aircraft I've ever seen! I can never resist "weird & wonderful" aircraft, and spotting this extraordinary little plane in Ardpol's range was enough for me!

As I unpacked the parcel from Poland, I did a double-take... the box is labelled 1/72 scale on the ends, and 1/48 scale on the top! After a quick panic (I don't build in 1/72) and checking the parts against the 1/48 scale plans included, I was able to relax. The kit is absolutely minute - but it really is 1/48 scale. The kit is produced in a similar manner to the recently reviewed Grunau Baby IIb, but is a lot more complex, something which isn't helped by rather vague instructions.

The kit is cast in what I know take to be Ardpol's trademark white resin and includes:

45 x resin parts (but I think an extra 4 parts are missing from my kit)
26 x etched brass parts, plus accompanying film instrument faces.

The casting is mostly excellent. There is very little flash on even the smallest parts, which are cast on thin perforated plinths. This makes removal and clean-up much quicker than in most resin kits. The fuselage is cast as separate sides, front and rear top-decking, headrest and lower cowl - 6 parts in all and surprisingly complex for such a tiny model. One fuselage half showed the only tricky casting flaw on my kit - an incomplete exterior stringer, which will be "fun" to replace without damaging the surrounding detail.

The tiny wings are taped to a card backing and have a nice fabric effect and thin trailing edges. The lower wings come complete with fairings for the semi-retractable undercarriage.

So far so good, but a kit like this really cries out for good instructions - and I'm afraid that's what's really lacking. The assembly is broken down into just 5 stages and some of the parts bear little resemblance to the illustrations. While the cockpit diagrams aren't bad, in later stages it's as though the illustrator ran out of patience - or, more likely, didn't have the finished parts to work from. Basic assemblies such as the 3-part top wing, plus etched ties, aren't illustrated, while the outer wing struts are shown as single "K"-shaped parts but, in fact, they are constructed from 2 x resin pieces plus a photoetched binding.

With no parts list provided, very careful examination of the parts and the instructions is vital, identifying parts through a process of exclusion. In a way it's fun - but this certainly isn't a kit for beginners - and, sadly, when I was done, I came up 4 parts short... the cowling and underwing undercarriage fairings seem to be missing from my kit. They won't be hard to make with reference to the 1/48 plans, but it's a shame that the kit is let down by a simple bit of quality-control at the packing stage when Ardpol have obviously gone to a lot of trouble to include as much detail as possible.

The cockpit is nicely detailed with a combination of resin and etched parts. A resin floor and 3-part rudder-pedal assembly provide a foundation for a joystick and seat which benefits from etched harness. A resin instrument panel is provided, but the etched version looks much nicer with its film instrument faces.

The trickiest part of the kit? The award must go to the spinner. This is the one part where I'd criticise the design; it's cast so that there's a plinth on it's outer surface - all in the aid of a pointless locating pin. Preparing it will really require mounting the part in a motor tool to guarantee a smooth and symmetrical finished spinner.

Thankfully, for the future of aviation, there was only one Martin Kitten, so painting options are understandably limited - just one scheme, devoid of any markings. The actual painting guide consists of top and bottom views and profiles of each side - definitely adequate for the simple scheme of clear doped linen with n/m cowlings. Struts appear to be black on the diagram, but this is contradicted by the boxtop, which shows them as plain wood. A check of whatever references are available is the order of the day...

If Ardpol's Grunau Baby IIb is a "weekend project", their Martin Kitten is a kit to remind you what real modelling is all about! The instructions are an exercise in code-breaking and there are a few tricky stages in the construction to test you. Despite their efforts to cast the resin parts as close to an injected kit as possible, I can only recommend Ardpol's Kitten to experienced modellers - this is a kitten with claws! That said, I'm really looking forward to tackling this surprisingly complex kit of a truly peculiar little aircraft.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here on AeroScale.
One of the things I love about our hobby is its diversity. While the major manufacturers understandably concentrate on classic aircraft, the thriving small producer industry gives the chance to model unfairly neglected subjects and, as in the case here, what could be an entry in the Worst Aircraft In History competition.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:48
  Mfg. ID: 48-201
  Suggested Retail: 86.00zł
  PUBLISHED: Sep 05, 2006

About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright 2021 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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