Ever, the bridesmaid…

Ask anyone to name a famous fighter aircraft, and the vast majority will say “Spitfire”. Now, I’m not about to dis’ on Reginald Mitchell’s work of genius, but wherever there is a blushing bride there is also a bridesmaid, and the Spitfire/Seafire’s bridesmaid was the Hawker Hurricane/Sea Hurricane.

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This is an Airfix kit of the Mk.IIc Sea Hurricane. Much was as before with the Mk.XVII I told you about here. So, cut out a bit of the rear fuselage for the arrestor hook assembly, etc. The kit is very nicely modelled, needed very little filling and went together well. I went for a slightly odd paint scheme I have seen on other Sea Hurricanes and in which I understand 800NAS indulged briefly. White was applied over most of the dark colouring as a trial in Mediterranean conditions. I imagine they thought – “Hello, with the chaps all wearing tropical whites, shouldn’t the kites be blancoed as well?”

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The top of the nose was left alone, to minimise glare. 800NAS also indulged in their habit of adding red to everything, with the prop boss being a charmingly scarlet hue. The experiment was relatively short-lived, it was back to two-tone camouflage (extra dark sea grey and dark slate grey) for the rest of the war. The nice thing is that it gave me a chance to do a bit of weathering on it to make it look lived in. Very happy I am with it as well.

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A Harrier made for two…

So, what do you do if you make an aircraft that is notoriously difficult to master, does things other ‘planes cannot do and tend to do them at low level thus reducing the chance of getting back for tea and medals? You build a two-seat trainer version. The next build off the line is the Harrier T.12.

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This kit is made by Sword, with whose products I have had issues before. The fit of the pieces is haphazard, there are no alignment lugs (really useful if you are putting two halves of fuselage together), some of the components are poorly modelled, the decals are dreadfully thin and really hard to place, and so on and so on. Well, one thing I did try this time was a vacuum-formed canopy.

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Normally the kit comes with a canopy moulded in clear polystyrene, which is included along with the traditional counterpart. However, many modellers prefer vac-formed ones because the plastic is thinner and clearer and better resembles the real thing. And it’s easier to see inside. However, it is a lot more difficult to use. It has to be cut from the sheet out of which it is formed, then trimmed and finally glued to the fuselage. You have to use either superglue or PVA glue as polystyrene cement doesn’t work on it. I use acrylic as it doesn’t leave any chemical haze inside, it dries clear and also fills in any tiny gaps.

Finally, I was able to use most of the decals from the “Harrier retirement” set I got a while back – all the aircraft that took part in the retirement fly-by in 2010. Of which this Harrier T.12 was one. However, more of that sad event later…

Return of the Seafire

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Next to cross off the list, a couple of Seafire XVII from the years just after WW2. The nice thing was that both came in the one box Рa 2-for-1 kit from Sword.

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And, true to their word, in it there are two complete kits, plus two fuselages for what I suspect are Seafire Mk.XV, but without canopies for them. Bit of a waste of plastic, but there we are.

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The kits are OK, reasonably well moulded with just a bit of flash here and there. There are also some resin bits, although why you need them for 20mm guns and for exhaust stubs I don’t know – just makes assembly a bit more difficult. What is really, truly annoying is that the instruction sheet is mixed up and out of order and there are no part numbers on the sprues. The fit is so-so, but panel lines are not too deep. Of course, I couldn’t just make two Seafires from the same Mark just with different paint jobs. Oh, no. What I did was make one into a wing-folded example.

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So for this I had to make the wings then cut them with a very fine saw, add some hinges from bits of photo-etch from another kit and add some bracing rods (the red bits). Turned out pretty close to the photos I’ve seen, so I’m happy. This kit is in the slightly later colours, used in the Mediterranean, while the other is in the Northern scheme with more dark sea grey.

A Brace of SHARs…

On we go with another build. This time two aircraft from either side of a glorious time in the history of 800NAS.

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The British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS.1 was the standard fleet defence fighter from 1980, operating from “Invincible” class light aircraft carriers. All very jolly. But in 1982, Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands. British carriers were sent to the South Atlantic, including HMS Hermes which had 800NAS embarked (later with extra aircraft from 809NAS), plus No.1 Sqn RAF with Harrier GR3s and two squadrons of Sea King helicopters (826NAS and 846NAS). On the way down, some bright person must have realised that the traditional ‘penguin’ fleet colours of extra dark sea grey on top and white underneath, with a big red logo on the tail, was probably not best suited to be inconspicuous among the dark, stormy skies over the islands. So, out came more pots of extra dark sea grey and everything bright was painted over. Even the whites of the roundels were covered with blue – leaving a curious mid-blue middle ring. Anyway, the Sea Harrier force on all the ships was very effective, shooting down a total of 20 enemy aircraft with the loss of two of their own to ground fire.

So, two very different kits to make two Sea Harriers. The traditional one is from Matchbox, the post-war one from Italieri. Both have significant issues, but both ended up looking OK.

The Matchbox kit is as basic as I remember them from the old days. They were cheap and cheerful, did a job, but were not hugely accurate and economised on parts wherever possible. Italieri made a nicer kit in many respects, more accurate and of a finer mould, but also very annoying at times. For example, the pitot probe that sticks out in front of the cockpit is part of the front fuselage moulding and is really, really easy to break. In the ¬†Matchbox kit there is no apparent relationship between the stores pylons and what they are supposed to carry – the pylons designed for the fuel tanks don’t fit the holes i9n the wing for the inner stores station. The Italieri kit has a strange dent in the back of the wing box that has to be filled in.

Both of them come with decals, the Italieri ones are OK but the Matchbox ones are quite poor. I got over that by getting a set of special from Combat Decals. The fleet coloured aircraft is XZ492, which flew 57 sorties, dropped twelve 1000lb bombs and shot down an enemy A-4 Skyhawk. The other is XZ457, which notched up 56 sorties, dropped three 1000lb bombs and shot down two IAI Daggers and another A-4 Skyhawk. The pilots were Lt Cdr Neill Thomas, Lt Andy McHarg and Lt Cdr Andy Auld, all of 800NAS.

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Sea Hawk landing on…

On to the next build. What a wonderful thing eBay can be. One can find all sorts of little delights therein. One of them was the Airfix model of the Hawker Sea Hawk, a copy of which I picked up for a tuneful ditty of a song.

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It really is a pretty basic kit. It has 33 parts in total. So basic that the entire instruction sheet is on one side of paper…

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The moulding seems to be pretty much of an age with the aircraft – kind of mid- to late-50s. Little definition, loads of flash. Nothing is thin or sharp – the trailing edges of wings, tailplane and even the drop tanks are well rounded, with no hint of the exquisite design that Sir Sidney Camm and his team brought to the original. The Sea Hawk, although underpowered, was a little beauty in its own way. Most of them were actually made by Armstrong Whitworth as Hawkers was so busy with other projects.

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Anyway, the moulds are tired as the kit needs loads of trimming and filling. The fit of the parts is rough and ready, to say the least. I did manage to cut some masks for the canopy, but the moulding on the transparency is so vague that I had to resort to reference books to find out where the window frames went.

But, after all that, mixing the decals which came with it and some others I had I managed to get a pretty decent end result with something that flew with 800NAS.

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So, next up is yet another Harrier, this time the Sea Harrier FRS.1 in glorious Fleet colours from just before the Falklands war.

The WonderfulWorld of Wordpress…

When I first decided to write a blog about my project to build every type of plane flown by 800NAS, I never thought anyone would actually read it beyond a few polite friends. I suppose I did it as some kind of catharsis, although over what I’m not sure, maybe to create some kind of tribute to my father as his health becomes ever more fragile.

I really didn’t think anyone would read it who had the slightest idea of the existence of an aircraft carrier named HMS Triumph.

You will be able to imagine my surprise and delight when I was contacted by Andy Laing, creator of the fantastic Aviation Trails blog. He told me that his late father had served in the RAF in Egypt and had photographed many of the warships that had passed through the Suez Canal. He was pretty sure one of the was HMS Triumph, and that it appeared that the whole ship’s company was on deck. He offered to dig it out and send me a copy. Here it is:

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This is interesting on many levels. First, it is a photo of the ship I have never seen before. second, most of the ship’s company is indeed crowding the side. Third, the timing (1949) means my father was certainly on the ship, and may well be among those visible.

I know he was on the ship because he recalls getting sunburnt while on deck. About ten years ago he had to have surgery on his back to remove a non-malignant skin cancer. His consultant was sure that the sunburn all those years ago could have led to the cancer arising. In fact, Dad got a pay-out from the MoD because they had, all those years ago, shown a failure in their duty to protect him (they were not actually at war at the time) and there is a special compensation fund sitting in the coffers of the Ministry doing nothing else. Not a massive amount, but enough for a new carpet and for my sister and I each to get a little something (I used it to do my advanced open water diving course).

So, I wanted to make a public statement of my deep gratitude to Andy for digging out this photo. I shall print and frame it for Dad as a present. “Here Dad, here’s a photo of you earning a new carpet…”

In all seriousness, he will love it. Thanks, Andy, for a very special momento for my Dad.

Farewell Sea Harrier, Welcome Harrier…

The build of the Sea Harrier FA2 and the Harrier GR7 is complete.

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One thing that was most evident was the improvement in the quality of Airfix kits in recent years. The Harrier GR7 is plainly a lot older, with less well-defined panels and a poor fit of the parts. The mouldings are either tired or were never any good, because there is a lot of excess ‘flash’ on the mouldings. The Sea Harrier kit is newer, much crisper and of a better formulation of plastic. Some things just don’t make sense. Take the wells into which the main gear retracts…

In the GR7 model (left), there is plainly no room to fit a large two-wheel bogey, so why give the impression of an hydraulic actuator and piping on a panel that can’t be there? In the FA2 (right) the wheel well and airbrake wells are realistically deeper.

Same with the weapons. In the GR7 kit, you get an impressive choice of things to dangle from the pylons – smart bombs, ECM/ESM pods, targeting pods, etc. However, all of them are designed for pylons with tabs, all the pylons have a couple of pins instead. So the only thing that goes on without some modelling action are the full rig of 7 x BLU755 cluster bombs, which is what was supplied with the GR7 kit when it was first released. The modelling itself is not as good: compare these two AIM-9L Sidewinders. I could only bring myself to finish one type!

Still, it was fun enough. The main issue with the Sea Harrier was the array of huge decals that needed to be put on the model. These were the special colours for the farewell flight in 2004, featuring the badge of 800NAS. the biggest covers most of the back of the ‘plane. Note the espresso that must be consumed to give one courage…

The decals (soaked from backing paper in water as normal) are applied onto the model which has first been painted with some stuff called MicroSet. When it has dried you put on some MicroSol which softens the decal allowing it to sink into place properly (above right), including all the panel lines.

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Then it’s a case of varnishing, applying more decals, varnishing again, touching up paint, attaching more stuff, varnishing again and so on. (Note the home-made paint masks on the canopies – very proud of those…)

And then it is done. Actually, it is nice to have a pristine Sea Harrier FA2 to go alongside my original one which I have subsequently made to look a bit more used with some airbrushing along the panel joints.

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So, there we have it. The last ‘Sea’ anything flown by the squadron. Such a pity.