Trio of Attackers

Another day, another aircraft type crossed off the list.

To be fair, before I started this I thought there was one mark of the Supermarine Attacker. The one where they put it into service at sea, saw how it performed, thought “Hmm, maybe not…” then ordered a load of Sea Hawks. Well, part of that might have been true, but there were three versions of the Attacker: the F.1 fighter, the FB.1 fighter-bomber that had a strengthened wing with pylons for bombs or rockets, and the FB.2 with a different canopy, uprated engine and better stores carriage. I had completed the Attacker FB.2 already, now I have all three!

Attacker_00

So, I got two copies of the same kit, the AZ Model Attacker ‘prototype’ which also covers the F.1 and FB.1 versions. They call it ‘new tool’, well that makes their designers look bad because the model has the same problems as the FB.2 did – lots of bad moulding, flash, inaccuracies and so on. The PUR parts were, in fact, one part – the cockpit tub with ejection seat.

Attacker_01

The decals are for the prototype and for a pre-production F.1, so I got a set of after-market decals that had two aircraft from 800NAS. For the FB.1 I also got a wing fold set from Airwaves. Only the very outer section of the wing folded on the Attacker, but it must have made a difference. Essentially I think it was so they would fit on the lifts that carry them from hangar deck to flight deck.

Still, 800NAS were the first in the UK to operate jets at sea. Assembly was much as experienced with the FB.2. I salvaged a bomb pylon from a Sea Hawk, used two 1000lb General purpose bombs from a Pavla resin set I got a while back (same set as the 500lb SAP bomb as used in the Blackburn Skua build).

Attacker_05

Something else I got recently was a reel of 2mm masking tape from Tamiya. This is made of something like ptfe tape, so it is really easy to tease into very tight curves. The normal masking tape, made of paper, just won’t do it. Live and learn.

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And with some painting, decal setting and weathering, the Attacker F.1 and FB.1 are complete. The F.1 is in the colours of 800NAS during their working up period with the Attacker at RNAS Ford, the FB.1 in the squadron colours when embarked aboard HMS Eagle (hence the ‘J’ on the tail – the identifier for Eagle. E, A, G and L were already taken!). Dad was on that first cruise, they sailed up to the Arctic Circle along the coast of Norway.

Attacker_08

Just for fun, I also gave the FB.2 I made earlier some rockets. You will notice how far spread apart they are under the wing, odd in contrast to other attack aircraft such as the Hellcat II and the Sea Hawk. This is because the latter were designed with structural support from rockets close packed, whereas with the Attacker it was a retrofit and they had to follow the structure of the original wing that was never intended to carry stores.

So, what next? we are getting perilously close to the outrageously difficult kits – and the outrageously expansive. I might try to get both versions of the Seafire XV to fill in a gap.

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Osprey rigged for action

OK, so I decided to go for a biplane…

Osprey_I_01

The Hawker Osprey dates from the birth of 800NAS. The Osprey Mk.I was taken into service in November 1932 in Nos. 404 and 409 Flights, and in the changes of 1933 No.404 Flt amalgamated with No.402 Flt (with Hawker Nimrods) to form 800 Naval Air Squadron.

Osprey_I_02

The kit is from A Model, as the only one available really. They also do a Mk.IV Osprey which I will get hold of at some point. There are five sprue of components, a small clear plastic sheet and some decals. The markings supplied are for 801 Squadron (I think), anyway, I need to do my own markings. Now, A Model moulds are distinctly old. The plastic they use is of poor grade and there is tons of flash around the components.

In general, all the fitting lines are quite poor and there is considerable filling to do to get components to match up. However, the mouldings are detailed enough to see where rigging lines would have gone through the fuselage to the rudder and elevator, so I have used 0.3mm brass wire for this.

Then I decided to do most of the painting as I went along. With the fuselage put together, I masked off the blue squadron stripe and sprayed with RAF insignia blue. One dried and hit with a little varnish, I put the mask over the stripe so I could paint the rest of the aircraft later.

Osprey_I_08

Once I had the lower wings installed, I sprayed the engine cowling with aluminium and the rest of the fuselage with silver with 1 parts in 8 white added. I think this gives a nice ‘silver dope’ look. Then I finished the rest of the fuselage.

Osprey_I_09

The rudder was painted separately, with the red white and blue stripes sprayed. looks pretty sharp, I think. More wire bracing added too.

Osprey_I_11

The inter-plane struts are a bit of a problem in terms of assembly. I remember from a recent Airfix Swordfish that they had an ingenious way of fitting them. Not so A Model. So I used a couple of pots of weathering powder to support them on the lower wing while the glue set up enough for me to fit the upper wing (pre-painted).

Osprey_I_10

Problem is, the struts actually lean outward, so the thing to do is wait for the glue to start welding but before setting. Then you can line up the struts with the holes in the upper wing and use various things to hold it in place while the glue sets up. Once dried, the struts between fuselage and upper wing go on. This really sets the wing in place and allows ups to turn to the small matter of the rigging.

Osprey_I_14

For each bit, I cut the wire to approximate length, offer it ups to check the fit, trim as needed then fix with a tiny blob of PVA glue. This has the benefit of being transparent when set and it shrinks back quite a lot too. There are bracing wires on the undercarriage too.

One thing that is a bit of a pain is the windshield. This has to be cut out of a sheet of acetate – a tiny thing (number 1 in the picture) that also needs to be scored where the frame would be. This then has to be fitted, the central bit with PVA then the two sides are fixed with a dab of superglue. Then we paint the rigging. I used a grey acrylic primer brushed onto the brass wires, then a coat of black. Also some bits of soot and oil staining.

Osprey_I_17

In all, I am very pleased with the result. A Hawker Osprey of 800NAS on HMS Courageous in 1934. I’m actually looking forward to the Osprey IV kit whenever I get it as I have learned a lot of lessons in this build.

Skuas Away!

With the choice of a jet, a biplane or two Skuas, I decided to go with the Skuas. Both are from Special Hobby and differ only in the decal set and suggested paint schemes.

One is very special. L2940 was flown by Captain Richard ‘Birdy’ Partidge, RM with Lieutennant Commander Geoffrey Hare, RN as the telegraphist air gunner (TAG) in the back. This aircraft was ‘Yellow One’ from 800NAS that, with other aircraft from 800 and 803 NAS, attacked and sank the German cruiser ‘Königsberg’ on 10 April 1940. This was the first major ship to be sent down by allied air attack in the war. On 27th April, with Lieutenant Robert Bostock, RN as his TAG, Birdy was credited with shooting down an enemy Heinkel 111 bomber.

skua13

On 13 June 1940, 800 and 803 NAS were tasked with bombing the German battleship Scharnhorst in what can only be described as almost suicidal conditions. Eight Skuas were shot down. ‘Birdy’ Partridge and Lt. Bostock, this time flying in L2995, were set upon by two Messerschmidt Bf-109 fighters. Bostock was killed during the chase, ‘Birdy’ (by then acting Major Partridge, RM) managed to bail out from low level. Suffering burns to his face, he was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.

For many historians, especially in the USA, the passage of time between the outbreak of the war and the start of The Blitz is often referred to as the ‘phoney war’. For the crews of 800 and 803 NAS, they were nothing of the sort. They carried the fight to German forces in Norway with extreme courage. A typical mission would take them beyond Bergen, a two hour flight each way when their endurance was 4 1/2 hours at the very best. The camouflaged Skua here is intended as a tribute to them all, and is painted to look as if it has seen some hard North Sea service.

On to the builds.

skua01

The Skua kit is very much like the Blackburn Roc of recent memory – not surprising as they are from the same source. Three sprues of plastic, one for the canopy, some polyurethane resin bits for the engine, wheels, exhaust etc., some photo etch and clear plastic and the decals. This one is for the plane is finished in pre-war silver dope, the other kit is intended to be the northern temperate camouflage colours adopted once we realised how much more beastly the Bosche were going to be second time round.

 

The main difference is, of course, in the cockpit area as there is no rear turret. Plenty of detailing in the photo etch, including some rudder pedals (about 1.5mm wide!) and a film backing for the instrument panel to give some detail to the artificial horizon, etc.

The wings have inserts for the wheel wells, but these protrude a bit too much so need some judicious filing to allow the two wing halves to fit. I am using the bomb rack on the camouflaged one, with a 500lb SAP bomb from a Pavla set as the kind of thing they dropped on the Königsberg. The photo etch includes the extra cross-bracing bars you can see here.

As I say, it all went together reasonably well and we could get on to paint. The pre-war scheme is all over silver dope with some red highlighting. I used aluminium paint with a few drops of white, followed by satin varnish, to try to get the ‘dope’ look. I always feel, by the way, that a model only really starts to come alive when the decals start going on!

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Finish for the pre-war plane was very straightforward and, I have to say, looks quite smart. You will notice that I have cut the rear cupola window and put it in the retracted position so I can show off the rear gun to better effect. In normal flight, the cupola would be closed and the gun sat in the channel just being the canopy.

The 1940 aircraft needed more love and attention.

Skua18

For a start, it had the bomb fitted, painted with semi armour-piercing (SAP) colours as used in 1940. The trapeze was used to throw the bomb clear of the propeller arc when dive bombing, one of the first aircraft in the world to do this.

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Then it needed some roughing up. This was a mix of aluminium paint for bare patches, dark brown powder for the panel lines, bits of rust and some oil staining. The whole thing is supposed to look battered.

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I hope the result looks right enough to stand as a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of the Fleet Air Arm in the early days of the Second World War.

A Cast of Sea Hawks

I have been chasing around on Ebay looking for the MPM kit of the Hawker Sea Hawk FB.3 for some time. Not that I have been especially wanting to build another Sea Hawk, although they are pretty, but I have a wing fold conversion kit that specifies it is for the MPM kit.

SeaHawk_FB3_02

Then I discovered via the invaluable ScaleMates web site, that the MPM kit plus a few extras is the more recent Special Hobby kit. And I found one of those on Ebay. Best of all, the seller had used the photo of the contents as the main picture on the item, not the box lid. This meant they probably got at least £5 less than they normally would have done. But I’m not telling.

SeaHawk_FB3_01

The kit consists in two main sprues, a clear canopy and some decals (the MPM bit), then a bag of resin pieces and a sheet of photo etch (which makes it a Special hobby kit). The kit includes the normal tail plus the extended height tail of the Mk.100/101 export versions. There are very few parts, in fact, for the standard FAA fighter.

SeaHawk_FB3_03However, there are lots of detailing bits in the wing fold kit I had, so happy days. Among the resin pieces were a huge fully moulded cockpit tub. However, this is quite light and leaves no room for additional ballast so I was worried about it being too tail heavy, as with previous Sea Hawks. So I used the detailing from the wing fold instead.

SeaHawk_FB3_05
The first job, as this is a wing fold, is to chop off the outer wing panels. Simple enough with the fine saws I use these days.

SeaHawk_FB3_04Next up was to install the cockpit floor so I knew where the ballast could go. Then put in the ballast in the form of crushed up .22 lead air pistol pellets. Then PVA glue to hold it all in. I think I managed about 8 pellets, which was enough.

I would point out that Special Hobby, like Hobby Boss, don’t tell you of this ahead of time.

Then comes the detailing panels. These were all pre-sprayed cockpit black then fitted together. Then I used a small brush with almost-dry white paint to pick out the relief and to give some dimension to the panels. finally, a few spots of red and yellow for levers and stuff.

In the main it looks pretty convincing if not 100% accurate. But then this isn’t a museum piece…

SeaHawk_FB3_11The ejection seat had some seatbelts added along with the upper and lower firing handles from the wing fold photo etch. Apparently the seat belts were blue. Maybe to distinguish them from the parachute harness the pilot would also have? In any case, it looks cool. SeaHawk_FB3_13Then the two halves of the fuselage go together, the joystick and gunsight added, and the whole thing tarted up with dry brushing and spots of colour.

All looking quite jolly.  Given the time and effort expended on this part of the build, it seemed stupid to do a closed cockpit. However, the kit only comes with a one-piece hood. Therefore, out with the 133-teeth per inch saw blade and ‘presto!’, sliding hood and windshield are two items.

SeaHawk_FB3_10

Each is then masked out and put back on the fuselage with little bits of Blu Tack. So, a bit of priming and filling and priming again and spraying and the fuselage and the outer wings are ready to be joined together “en replié” as it were. That’s folded.

SeaHawk_FB3_14

This time, instead of superglue as I used on the Fulmar I have opted for some quick drying 2-part epoxy. it gives a minute or so of messing about before it starts to set up. As the parts are quite light, that means the wings go on quite quickly. When the epoxy has set, any gaps can be removed with filler and light sanding. Other bits and pieces can be added to improve the bracing. There are also a couple of locking tabs, but I couldn’t be bothered with them.

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With a bit of final finishing, some weathering around the panels and some oil staining around the wing fold mechanism, it’s not a bad look if I say so myself.

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This completes the Sea Hawks. from left to right in the photo below, the FGA.4, the FB.3 and the FGA.6.

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I’m conflicted about where to go next. There are lots of biplanes yet to do, two Skuas, three Seafires and two Attackers. Plus two Scimitars if I can ever find them. I’ll muse on this…

 

In need of beauty

Well, after the trauma of making a kit of a ‘plane as awful of aspect as the Blackburn Roc, I needed to get my aesthetic on, so time for another Sea Hawk – the FGA.6.

This is the same Hobby Boss kit as I did recently, as the difference between the FGA.4 and the FGA.6 was the engine. This gave me the chance to use a later paint scheme as well.

The build was pretty much as before. This time I have done a closed cockpit and have not put any underwing stores so as to emphasise the aircraft’s very clean lines. seahawk_fga6_1What IS different is that this time I have put some weight in the nose ahead of the game – in the form of some squashed .22 lead air pellets glued into the fuselage underneath where the cockpit goes. As it turned out, this wasn’t quite enough and I had to add another one inside the nose wheel well later.

The paint job is the later FAA scheme of extra dark sea grey (EDSG) over white, what some refer to as ‘Fleet’ colours. With the exception of the all-over EDSG used by later Buccaneers, this scheme was in use up until the Falklands War, when Sea Harriers were repainted double-quick to get rid of the white.

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I think this one really shows off the lines of such a beautiful aeroplane. Sadly the last airworthy example, WV908, is no longer, well, airworthy and is in storage.

So, one more Sea Hawk to be made – one that will present some challenges…

 

What were they thinking?

The Blackburn Skua was a decent enough aeroplane, its shortcomings being largely the fault of the committee nature of the Operational Requirements to which it was designed. No-one really seemed sure whether they wanted a dive bomber that could look after itself, or a fighter that could do some dive bombing, or whatever other jack-of-all-trades they could come up with. But with some amazingly brave crew members, it did a job at a dark time, especially in the Norwegian campaign in 1939/40.

Blackburn Roc_1

So, how to make it a better fleet defence fighter? Well, the outcome was the Blackburn Roc, one of the most ill-considered ideas in naval aviation history. What they decided to do was add a turret mounting four machine guns behind the pilot. This had the wonderful effect of reducing the maximum speed even more, so many German bombers could just out-run it. The turret concept was that one  would ‘sneak up’ alongside an enemy aircraft, then attack from the sides using the turret guns. Presumably the enemy pilot has to be blind and reasonably cooperative for you to get an extended burst of fire in, and certainly won’t be using any of his defensive guns to shoot back.

Aircraft_of_the_Fleet_Air_Arm,_1939-1945_-_Blackburn_Roc_floatplaneTo go the extra step towards insanity, one of the prototypes was fitted with floats. I suspect the gap between stalling speed and maximum cruise was about four or five knots. Kind of tempted to build one some day though…

Where this is an outside possibility for the Roc to succeed is at night, where one could in theory sneak up on a raider providing one’s exhaust were suitably masked. That as how the RAF ended up using the Boulton Paul Defiant, and how the Fleet Air Arm eventually used the Roc.

Blackburn Roc

So, this kit comes from Special Hobby. It is pretty extensive, with three polystyrene sprues, one of clear plastic, four bits of moulded resin, some photo etch, some printed film and some decals. As with the other Special Hobby kits I have done, the mouldings are clean enough and in general fit together well despite having no alignment pins anywhere. Detailing is nice and crisp.

Blackburn Roc_2

The cockpit is well put together and fits in place easily. On the basis of some photos I had seen I chose to paint the fuel tanks aluminium instead of interior green. I lost one of the fuel filler pipes so replaced it with an off-cut of 0.75mm plastic rod I had lying around. The gunner’s area is pretty sparse, but I imagine it was anyway. The two halves of the fuselage aligned well and needed very little filling and sanding.

Blackburn Roc_4One thing I couldn’t work out was how the turret guns fit together in a space to poke through the glass – they were too wide if I followed what the instructions appeared to say. So I rigged up the glass and the guns in reverse, allowing me to get the alignment before fitting them properly.

Note also the painting mask on the half of the turret – very useful in this model and only about £3.

The resin engine comes with 20 resin extractor pipes, these  fit behind the collector at the front of the aircraft and take the exhaust to an exhaust pipe. I’m not sure if I’ll bother when I come to the last two Skua kits (with identical engines) as they were a proper faff and pretty much invisible when the engine is mounted. The triangular bracing rods are a photo etch piece, and sit nicely inside the cowling and behind the propeller.

Blackburn Roc_7

As to colours, I have used the northern temperate fleet colours of extra dark sea grey and dark slate grey (which looks green), but for the underside I have gone for black. A few Rocs were painted up for night operations (including one painted black all over – I was tempted!), they used the odd yellow-blue-red roundel seen here and had white lines on the wings, possibly an aid to formation flying. I have also done some weathering on the upper side, with some bits of exposed aluminium and a bit of corrosion and oil staining. The wing lights don’t come as clear plastic, so I paint the area of the light covers in silver paint, then clear red or green on top. Seems to work.

Blackburn Roc_6

Overall, I’m very happy with the build. It’s a bit of a freak, but it flew with 800NAS and the fellows who got into these and took them to war should be remembered for the heroes they were.

Striped Sea Hawk (Hawker pulchrissimus)

After the dodgy entry into jet aviation in the Fleet Air Arm that was the Supermarine Attacker, the next aircraft to equip 800NAS was the beautiful Hawker Sea Hawk.

SeaHawk_FB4_7

Sir Sydney Camm was a genius. His designs for Hawkers at Kingston-upon-Thames (the town in which I was at school) broke the rules at every turn, yet became legends. His first design (one year after joining the company) was the Hawker Tomtit, a remarkable biplane that weighed just 373lb empty (165kg), that’s not much more than two of me. Scary to think that a capable flying machine might have its gross weight increased by 50% just by my getting into the cockpit…

He then went on to design some absolute beauties – for example the Hawker Hart (a light bomber that was faster than most fighters of the day), the legendary Hawker Hurricane, the Typhoon and Tempest and the ultimate piston-engined fighter, the Hawker Sea Fury. After the war he designed many fine jet aircraft, not least of which were the Hunter (the prettiest aircraft of all time in my eyes) and the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel, which later became the world-beating Harrier jump jet. The first big jet project he got across the line and into FAA squadron service was the Hawker Sea Hawk.

SeaHawk_FB4

Having already done the ancient Airfix kit, I wanted to look further afield and plumped for the Hobby Boss model. I have to say, this was (in the main) a good choice.

SeaHawk_FB4_1

The kit comes with four sprues plus one for the canopy (in two parts, so an open cockpit is easy), plus two decal sheets. The yellow and black panels are for aircraft used during the Suez crisis of late 1956 in which 800NAS took part flying from HMS Albion – but more of that later. The whole front fuselage and wing comes halved, so no wing joints to worry about. The cockpit comes as a tub with instrument panel, stick and ejection seat as extra bits.

This means one can assemble and paint these while other things are getting assembled, such as the very good inlets and exhausts for the engine and the superb main gear bay.

 

The pieces are very well moulded, very precise and clean. I didn’t have to clean any flash from anywhere and most parts fit together precisely. The holes for mounting the fuel tanks and rockets need to be drilled through – but this means that if you want to do a ‘clean’ aircraft you don’t have to do any extra filling.

Where I will quibble is that the rockets have the main body and the rear body moulded separately. They are not easy to glue together, and I can’t really see why the couldn’t be done as one piece. But then I’m not a plastics engineer so there is likely a good reason for this.

On to paint, and it is the standard extra dark sea grey over sky type B. Now, for those Suez stripes. The decal sheet is numbered, but the instructions don’t say which of the two panels that form the stripes around the rear fuselage is which – one goes on top and one underneath. So i guessed that one was the top one, put it on and discovered it wasn’t. In trying to get it off and onto the underside, it tore in several places. Bugger. So, I decided to paint them instead.

SeaHawk_FB4_6

This was quite the process. First, masking off the areas for the stripes and covering all the rest. Then spraying a coat of white, then two coats of yellow. Yellow paint is terrible at covering other, darker colours. I have found this for years and years, even when I was doing Napoleonic figurines. These days it is things like propeller tips, you need to do white first, then yellow. So, once that has dried and has been varnished, more masking tape for the black stripes which get painted over the yellow. Again, generally two coats.

SeaHawk_FB4_8

But, I will say that after all that faff, they look pretty bloody good and probably better than the decals would have done. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. So a last few things like the remainder of the decals (in fact, very good they are), a few pinched from other sheets to make an 800NAS aircraft, attaching aerials and the open canopy and voila! A nice example of a very, very beautiful aeroplane.

Then the final kicker – it is too tail-heavy. No mention of this in the instructions – people must do free-standing ones so Hobby Boss must know of this. To add a counter weight I chopped up some lead airgun pellets and added them to the nose undercarriage bay. Not enough. So then I started pushing them through the engine inlets and letting them fall into the nose. Eventually I had enough and the Sea Hawk sits nobly on all three wheels.

The next kit has already arrived. Try to imagine the polar opposite of the Sea Hawk in terms of elegance and utility.