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.

5 thoughts on “What were they thinking?

  1. Sounds and looks like a pretty decent model even with it shortcomings. A shame the real thing was a complete dog, someone at Blackburn was obviously having a bad day when they came up with the idea!

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    1. Thanks, overall it is a kit I’d make again, and both the Skuas I’m planning on doing will be Special Hobby and essentially the same as this. I am tempted at some time in the future to do the Roc again, maybe in 1/48th and with the floats – they will have used standard ones from another aircraft type (possibly the Blackburn Shark). I have been reading a book about the Skua and Roc, it reckoned that the floatplane Roc could barely keep airborne even at full take-off power!

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