Matchbox Skybusters – Fantasy

Flights of Fancy


All of the first selection of Skybusters released in 1973 were models of real aircraft, and recognisable as such. 40 years later, under Mattel ownership, manyof the new releases were wildly fictional! The main reason for this is no doubt the changing tastes of the young audiences that the toys are aimed at, for whom fantasy and science-fiction genres have become commonplace. But when exactly did this change begin?

Skybusters SB18 Wild Wind

Matchbox Skybusters SB18 Wild Wind

Year first produced:1976

L80xW99xH28, Metal 64g, Scale 1:72?, Features: 2

The main elements of the model are the usual upper and lower metal castings: the upper fuselage incorporating the wings and tailfin, and the lower fuselage with the horizontal stabilisers and, unusually for a Skybuster model, the undercarriage legs. At the front of the model, the silver rotary engine block is a separate piece (in plastic, I think) and to that is attached a two-bladed black plastic propeller. The cockpit is not enclosed, but some protection is afforded to the pilot by a clear plastic windshield.

Underneath the model, it becomes obvious that the cast undercarriage is an outer cover to the actual wheels and axle, which fit neatly inside it. The standard arrangement used during the middle years of Skybuster production can be seen: a black plastic bracket holding a metal axle with two black plastic wheels. At the rear, a single thin black plastic wheel protrudes slightly from a fairing in the fuselage. By the way, the wheels are fairly low friction, and given a shove, the model will roll quite a long way before slewing to a halt. Indeed, the earliest advertising for the range described the models as being fitted with Superfast wheels, although I don’t think this is actually true.

The underside of the model. Note the cast spats enclosing the wheels, a feature unique to this model during the Lesney era.

Embossed under the wings are the usual identification marks:


The lower casting is painted white, and the upper a lime green. To the upper casting, stickers have been added. On the tail are roundels with the number 7, and on the upper wing surfaces the words “WILD WIND”, one per wing, in a very 1970s psychedelic style.  


As far as I know, Matchbox never called SB18 anything other than ‘Wild Wind’. I can’t find any historical reference to an aircraft with that name, so what might it represent?

It is probably a small aircraft, judging by the size of the cockpit and the massive rotary cylinder block on the front. In fact, I would make a guess that the scale of our model is somewhere around 1:72. The numbers on the fin and the apparently powerful engine strongly suggest it was a racing aircraft.

The most likely era for the aircraft is probably the 1930s, which was a popular era for air races. However, the style of the stickers on the wings just shouts the 1960/70s – and given that the model was released in 1975, is this meant to suggest an aircraft from, or copying, the pre-war era but being flown in then contemporary airshows?

The front of our aircraft showing the massive engine and unusual bend to the wings.

One of the most prominent features of our model is the unusual bend to the wings. The wings go upwards from the fuselage, then quickly bend flat so that they are level with the ground. This configuration is called gull-wing after the bird of that name. The inverted form of this (in other words, with wings bending down then up) was used on several aircraft, because it raised the fuselage higher above the ground, giving improved clearance for a large propeller (e.g. the Vought F4U Corsair) or a bomb (e.g. the Ju 87 Stuka).

The other obvious feature is the massive rotary engine. Rotary engines were fairly common, and were sometimes married to very small airframes in the 1930s, for example in two warplanes: the Russian Polikarpov I-16 and the Boeing P-26. The latter was modelled by Matchbox in their range of 1:72 plastic kits at round the same time as our Skybusters model and thus Matchbox would have had plans of it. Several racing aircraft of the 1930s were also small and rotary-engined, but none of these aircraft had gull-wings.

The Boeing P-26 is small, rotary-engined and has sleeved undercarriage (but no gull-wings). Close, but not a match.

There are a few 1930s aircraft that combine a rotary engine with gull-wings, for example the Polish PZL P.11 and the French Loire 46 fighters. Sadly, none of these are small enough to match our model.

The Loire 46. It’s too big for our model, and note also the engine cowling and three-bladed propeller.

I’ve not been able to find any aircraft with rotary engines and a gull-wing and diminutive size. Of course, I may well have missed something, but if so, it must surely be obscure!

So, it looks like our aircraft is based on a 1930s racer, but does not represent a specific aircraft. The gull-wing and WILD WIND stickers have probably been added to make it more exciting to a 1970s audience. In other words, in 1975, a mere two years after the start of the range, Matchbox modelled their first imaginary Skybuster. This isn’t entirely surprising, since this is exactly what Matchbox did with their range of vehicles during the 1970s.

However, it does beg the question why? After all, there were plenty of weird and wonderful real-life aircraft that they could have reproduced. What could be more weird than the Gee-Bee pictured below, for instance?

The eye-catching Gee-Bee Model Z Super Sportster (Valder137, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Losing It

I shouldn’t have asked that question in the previous section…

Mention was made at the start of this story of the prevalence of imaginary aircraft in the Skybusters range in recent years. Some of these are simply generic aircraft, loosely based on actual real-world examples but (intentionally) not accurate representations. Others are truly amazing fabrications, bearing no resemblance to any existing aircraft and in some instances, completely unviable.

A good example of the latter is SB113 Fang Fighter. Not to be confused with a spacecraft of that name dreamed up in the Star Wars universe, it appears to be a fantasy craft entirely from Mattel’s imagination.

The Fang Fighter, apparently ready for lunch (yes, that’s right, lunch not launch)!

The Fang Fighter is a twin-engined jet aircraft styled to resemble some sort of dragon, shark or similar creature. It looks as though it just might be a plausible design, until, that is, you notice the huge opening at the front of the craft. It looks like a giant mouth, complete with serrations resembling teeth. A massive lower jaw, of prominently bolted construction, is hinged so that it can swing open and shut, so presumably it is intended to take chunks out of anything it can catch. I don’t recommend this as a viable fighting tactic…


Aircraft used for display flying feature elsewhere in the Skybusters range. Released at the same time as the Wild Wind (and similarly impressionistic) was SB17 Ram Rod, an inline-engined monoplane also reminiscent of 1930s racing designs. Returning to real aircraft, SB12 Pitts Special models a perennial airshow aerobatics visitor, and SB37 BAe Hawk T Mk1 was released in the livery of the RAF Red Arrows display team that fly it.

Author: hexeres

Amateur photographer, military toy enthusiast, footslogger, dog lover, history buff and ebay trader to mention just a few...

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