Testors 1/48 Scale Ryan PT-20/STM-S2

Kit # 510                                            MSRP $6.50
Images, text and model Copyright © 2004 by Matt Swan

Developmental Background
        One look at this aircraft and you can’t help but say “Wow”. The Ryan PT-20 is one of those aircraft that has inherent style. They say if it looks right then it is right and the Ryan PT-20 certainly proves the point. There is just something about this plane that will bring a whistle to the mouths of aircraft lovers around the world. The Ryan STA (Sport Trainer A) and its military version, the PT-20 Recruit, began its career in the late 1930s as a braced low-wing monoplane of mixed construction; a metal fuselage, wooden wing spars with fabric covering and external wire bracing with fixed tail-wheel landing gear and tandem open-cockpit accommodation for the pilot and passenger/ pupil, and powered initially by a 95 horse power Menasco B-4 Pirate inline engine. The S-T proved an excellent design and five examples of this low-powered version were built.
        An experimental model was delivered to the Army in 1939 powered by the 125-hp Menasco L-365-1 inline engine. The Army ordered 15 more aircraft later in the year to speed up the evaluation program. Finding this tandem two-seater to be an excellent design, the USAAC ordered a production batch of 30 aircraft, designated the PT-20. The Navy also adopted the PT-20 as a trainer aircraft in 1941. The popular and stylish aircraft were nicknamed the "Recruit", which characterized their primary function of training new pilots.
        Prior to 1940, all initial military flight training took place in aging bi-planes. In 1941 the Army acquired 40 more of the aircraft and it became the first primary trainer aircraft with mono-wing design. During the following year Ryan developed a version known as the ST-3KR, which introduced a Kinner radial engine that the US Army believed would give improved performance, and the 132-hp Kinner R-440-3 powered the 100 PT-21 aircraft contracted in 1941. With flight training programs expanding across the United States, Ryan received a contract for 1,023 examples of the most extensively-built version, the PT-22 Recruit.
        The last developmental version, the STM was exported in small numbers to Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, to the Netherlands East Indies as the two-seat CTM-2 landplane and STM-S2 seaplane and to China as the STM-2E/P. Many World War 2 pilots received their first flight instruction in the PT-20 and its variants the PT-21 and PT-22. The Recruit was retired from military service in 1944, near the end of World War 2. Today there are still many airworthy examples of Ryan’s venerable and stylish Recruit operating around the world infusing young hearts and minds with the thrill of open cockpit flight.

The Kit
        This is one of those kits that proves you do not need to spend a lot of your modeling dollars to have fun or produce a fine display aircraft. It is of simple design and manufacture having raised panel lines and raised rivets throughout with very basic interior details but the original aircraft was simple and basic as well. The box contains 38 very light gray injection molded pieces that will allow you to build the spatted landing gear version or the amphibious float version and even includes a diorama base piece for use with the floats. There are two small clear pieces included for the windscreens.
        The parts are reminiscent of a limited run kit from the Czech Republic with heavy sprue gates and plenty of flash. Some of the mold separation lines are fairly heavy also but none of this is anything that the average modeler couldn’t deal with. The parts have good fit when cleaned up and we even get two adequately detailed crewmembers to help hide the lack of cockpit detail.

Decals and Instructions
        Decals are very basic in this kit, you get national markings for two aircraft; an American Army PT-20 trainer wearing that oh so cool chrome and chrome yellow livery or an all chrome Netherlands Air Force STM-S2 unit. The US markings do include the red and white tail bands as a decal and that really cuts down on the construction time since you don’t have to go through all the masking to paint those bands. There are no service stencils included for either aircraft. The decals do have good print registry and good color density. The instruction sheet is a two-panel fold out that includes a nice little section on the historical background of the aircraft, aircraft specifications and some general building/painting dialog. There are four exploded view construction steps that include very precise written directions. With only 40 pieces to build two variations these four steps are more than adequate to do the job.
        The final page of the instructions covers exterior painting and decal placement. Federal Standard numbers gives color codes here but they are for exterior colors only. There are no color call-outs for the pilots, engine pieces or propeller.

        I have always wanted to play around with some Bare Metal Foil (BMF) but was afraid to screw up a valuable model if I did it incorrectly. This kit seemed like the perfect opportunity to experiment. I cut my foil into small sections and burnished it down with the tip of a round toothpick. The excess was trimmed off with a razor knife following existing raised panel lines. Compound curves were done with several small strips of foil and the stuff went down very nicely. The cowling has a slightly different shade to it verses the rest of the aircraft and to achieve that I simply rubbed the BMF with a small piece of very fine steel wool after it had been attached. It gave it a very nice, brushed aluminum look.
        Before starting work with the foil I had painted my base colors such as the yellow tail and the black anti-glare patch on the nose. I used Model Master Chrome Yellow and that was probably the hardest part of finishing the model. I had to put down several coats to get good color density here.
        I used a little forethought and drilled out every spot where I would run rigging later on. The tail brace is actually one continuous piece of invisible thread run though a series of fine holes. Once it was threaded I secured one end with a dab of super-glue, pulled the other end tight and secured it as well. Then I went back over it and filled the drilled holes with small dabs of glue using a dental pick for application. The rigging for the wing was done in a similar manner with holes drilled into the cockpit, through the wings and through the wheel pants. It took a little effort and patience to thread the invisible thread through all these holes but when it was time to draw everything tight – it worked out so well I could not help but smile.

        Decals went on without any trouble at all. I used Micro-Set and Micro-Sol setting solutions to help them snuggle down. This was done with gloss paint and BMF, there is no Future used on this model (can you believe that?) and even after two years the decals are not showing any sign of lifting, silvering or cracking. The control surface engraved lines were accented with a Micron Archival Pen and just a little Tamiya Smoke was applied at the exhaust ports.

You may click on the above images to view larger pictures

        Sometimes I think we, as advanced modelers, lose sight of some of the fun aspects of our hobby. This kit proves that you do not need to spend a huge amount of money on a top end kit or buy boatloads of resin and PE detail packages to build a nice model or just have some fun. The model itself is well done for what it is, the parts fit well, the shape is accurate, the decals are good and the directions are excellent. Not only is this a neat little addition to any modelers’ collection but also is the perfect gift for a beginner modeler. This is the kind of kit that brings new blood to our hobby. I suggest you get one of these for your collect and then get a second one and give it to some kid that shows even the slightest interest in the hobby. Who knows what fruit that seed may bear.