Ancestral roots of a squadron

In 1923, it was decided to permanently attach aircraft from the RAF to the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy. Previously, aircraft from RAF squadrons had been used at sea – for example, in 1922 Gloster Nightjars of 203 Squadron were embarked on HMS Argus and were shipped to the Dardanelles during the Chanak Crisis. So it was that in April, 402 (Fleet Fighter) Flight was formed at RAF Netheravon, three months later 404 (Fleet Fighter) Flight was established. These were merged in 1933 to form 800 Naval Air Squadron.

Anyway, when the Fleet Fighter Flights were mustered some Gloster Nightjars were assigned to the embryonic marine units. They were very soon replaced with the Parnall Plover and the rather better and more numerous Fairey Flycatcher. But the Nightjar served briefly under the colours of 404 (Fleet Fighter) Flight, so it must be made.

There was a reluctance on my part to do it. First, the only kit of the Nightjar is the vanishingly rare Blue Rider edition from the late 1980s. Second, that kit is a vac form, and I have never done one of those. However, eventually I bit the proverbial bullet and found a Gloster Nighthawk (from which the Nightjar evolved) also from Blue Rider.

The kit itself is, let’s say, basic. Vacform is made by heating a sheet of rigid polystyrene (the stuff injection moulded kits are made from) then placing the pliable material over a mould and pulling it into place using a vacuum. The kit parts stand out in relief. More detailed parts, such as the engine, wheels and propeller, are cast in white metal and a few bits etched in brass.

The first issue is cutting the parts from the plastic sheet. This requires much attention. If you just cut around the edges, you also have an extra thickness of plastic left on the part, so you have to sand everything down to the right thickness. This is OK on the fuselage, but on the tailplane it is a pain and needs very careful work.

Too much and you lose part of the tail, too little and it doesn’t look thin enough. All the cockpit parts are here too – including the tiny instrument panel and the seat base. The seat back is on the photo etch, as its the control column.

The two halves of the fuselage are joined together using little bits of plastic sheet as guides. Jut a little trick I picked up on t’internet!

Plenty of tape to hold it in place and beads of normal polystyrene cement and the fuselage is built. There is a bit of filling and sanding needed, but really not as much as I had imagined.

The wings come out of the sheet flat, but in reality they had a slight dihedral.

The cure was to clamp them in this home-made jig, saw the joint where the dihedral starts (outboard of the central fuel tank) then apply more poly cement. This softens the joint first, allowing the wings to straighten, but eventually sets the joint at the right angle.

The last piece of the puzzle was to replace then engine and propeller. The kit comes as the Nighthawk VI with a 14-cylinder Armstrong-Siddeley Jaguar II radial engine. This drives a big prop, way too big for the Nightjar. The latter used a 9-cylinder Bentley BR.2 rotary engine – about half the size of the Jaguar – with a more modest propeller.

Finding this proved a bit of an issue, until I came across the excellent Joe’s Models web site in the USA. Joe has collected a huge array of out-of-production bits made by companies such as Aeroclub that have sadly gone to the wall. A few emails back and forth and a lovely Bentley BR.2 engine and sensible propeller arrived in the post. I also got Joe to send me a couple of Vickers guns to add as armament, the kit having no weapons. $20 the lot including postage. Cheers, Joe!

With the engine in place I could attach the photo etch undercarriage pieces and the cast wheels. Coming together now, especially with some decals applied. I always feel this starts to bring a ‘plane to life…

The next bit was another problem. Fitting the upper wing. The kit doesn’t include the struts. The instructions, an exercise in brevity, simply says “Cut strut lengths from Contrail strut.” OK, will do. Where do I get Contrail strut? Nowhere, it appears, as they also disappeared a while back. But there is a company called Evergreen that makes polystyrene sheet, rods, tubing and so on and that are easy to source on eBay. Bits of 0.5mm x 1.5mm strip do the job. Of course, the Nightjar needs eight struts. Oh, you also need some smaller strips to do the cabane struts that connect the fuselage to the upper wing.

Then we start on the rigging. All of it. Essentially a cross of wires in each empty bay – 12 in total. And the control lines.

But then, before you know it and having taken only the three weeks, it is done.

5 thoughts on “Ancestral roots of a squadron

  1. Good grief it sounds like it was a real challenge! No wonder the companies went under. It’s a marvellous example though and extremely well finished! A very impressive example to add to your collection.

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    1. Thanks! To be fair, back in the day vac form was a low-cost way of making kits of some real rarities while the big manufacturers stuck to the rest. There was a time when that was the only way to make a Vulcan, or a TSR-2. But so many manufacturers now do real rare aircraft, especially in resin. Anagrand do some incredible stuff in 1/144. Still, glad to have made it and to have experienced the medium which wasn’t as terrifying as I had thought!

      Liked by 1 person

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