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'A gaping silken dragon,/Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God./We, not the City, are the Empire's soul:/A rotten tree lives only in its rind.'

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Tough ...

... old bird.

 FROG kits always had something slightly exotic about them back in the day. For one thing, they were harder to find, and more expensive, than Airfix kits, for another FROG seemed to cover rare and wonderful aircraft. The two FROGs that I bought in the early 1970s were the Heinkel He 219 ‘Uhu’, which with its tricycle undercarriage, sticky out radar bits, and funky camouflage, looked like nothing else in my collection. The other was a Blackburn Shark, whose floats I subsequently salvaged from the Shark’s back garden ‘crash’, keeping them for a never to be completed float equipped Spitfire conversion. And now, over 40 years later, I’ve got hold of a very old boxing of FROG’s Blackburn Skua, courtesy of my son - a present for his ageing pater.

A quick google, and it looked like the ‘red series’ boxing that I had was one of the earliest, some 50 years old. The box was in pretty good condition, and all the parts, excepting the wing light transparency, were there, as were the decals and single piece instruction sheet – both of which were rather spectacularly yellowed. 

Now, the Skua is still a rare bird, and as far as I know only Special Hobby have kitted it, in the gentleman’s scale. There is also limited information available, but Mushroom Model Publications came to the rescue with Matthew Willis’ fantastically informative Blackburn Skua & Roc. Willis’ book gives a good account of both aircraft, their development, and deployment, along with masses of photographs and 1/72 scale drawings and colour views. The Skua was a typical naval compromise, designed to give the FAA an accurate dive bomber, and an escort fighter to see off threats to the fleet. The particular demands of the Navy meant that the Skua had a good range and was strongly built, even if it was underpowered and not up to facing land-based fighters. At the outset of the war it took a number of ‘firsts’. A Skua was credited with shooting down the first German aircraft (though later evidence gave this accolade to a Fairey Battle, of all things). More spectacularly, Skuas from 800 and 803 Squadrons, FAA, were the first aircraft, and the first dive bombers, to sink a warship, when they sank the cruiser Königsberg on 10th April, 1940, during the Norwegian campaign. 

The kit plastic was fairly thick, and, of course, boasted extensive raised panelling and rivets. Given the age of the kit, and the fact that I wanted a real FROG, I was happy with that. The scale plans in Willis’s book showed that everything was good in terms of overall dimensions, with the odd exception of the fin and the horizontal tail planes. Both of these were undersized, but of the correct, slightly complex shape. Not willing to face fabricating replacements, I decided to live with that. Inside the fuselage, things were pretty bare, with a floor, two comfy chairs, two pilot figures and a misshapen machine gun for the Telegraphist Air Gunner (TAG). I had a reasonable Lewis gun from a recent build of a Matchbox Heyford which replaced the blob, but something more was needed. Although the long ‘greenhouse’ canopy of the Skua is more like a shed, with heavy framing and small windows, I still wanted a bit more inside. Looking at the photographs in Willis’s book, what struck me was the unfortunate position of the TAG. Effectively he sat on a cushion stuffed between two long, unprotected, fuel tanks that ran nearly the length of the cockpit. I added these out of plasticard, plus two seats from the spares box, a fuse wire control column, and an inaccurate instrument panel. I reckoned that would suffice for peering at through the cockpit windows, and turned my attention to the underside of the fuselage. FROG’s Skua had a completely inaccurate underside, being a flat panel from engine to tail. In fact, the Skua carried its main bomb load semi-recessed in the fuselage, and it was delivered towards the target by a bomb crutch. In addition, being designed for carrier operation, there was an arrestor hook. I cut out the bomb bay, which was open, and fabricated a bomb crutch with brass rod and stretched sprue. Plasticard and brass rod made up the arrestor hook, and I was ready to close up the fuselage.

The profile in Willis’s book show L2928 sporting an individual code ‘S’, which was not included on the small decal sheet. Also missing were the underwing roundels. I was able to source those from an Airfix post-war PR Spitfire, but had no luck in my decals library (old fag packet from the 1970s full of tiny clipped off decal bits) with the ‘S’. After a couple of coats of Klear, I was ready to try the ancient decals on their little square of yellowed paper. I expected them to explode into fragments when they hit the water, but, not in the slightest. In fact, it took a good while to separate them from the backing paper, but with some setting solution, they worked perfectly, and settled nicely over the raised panels and rivets. The training aircraft looked used, tired, and pretty grubby, so I added finishing touches with a wash, some chipping, and pastels, and there she was, sitting on the grass strip, waiting to train more FAA heroes, in 1/72. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Sunset Boulevard...

Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, my adoring public (well, Chris Platt) have been calling 'encore'! Who am I to deny them? Who am I to rest on my laurels? To digress for a moment, I recently bought a biography of James Kennaway, the author of that perfect first novel, Tunes of Glory (also a major motion picture starring....) , and read an amusing story of his early days in the army. When Kennaway joined The Black Watch for his national service, the adjutant told him that he could apply for a commission after his basic training, or he could have two easy years as a corporal 'in the Intelligence Corps, whose badge is a pansy resting on his laurels.' Not exactly politically correct (and would an officer of the Black Watch care?), but of its time, and with a link to laurels. To return to the point at hand....

It is some four months since I posted last, and little in the way of glue and paint has taken place. However, I have, not so long since, completed the Airfix Whitley, and what a lovely, lovely kit:

As you can see, it's factory-fresh. If you know your Whitleys, you will, by now, have spotted the missing bit. After finishing the paint job, the decals, the wash etc, I went to add the aerials and the rather prominent DF loop housing. No problem with the aerials, there they were, on the sprue. But the DF housing ?? Where? Why? WTF?? Not there.   That will teach me to spend months doing a kit.

On a different note. On the 24th July, it was exactly a century since the photograph below was taken:

It is entitled 'Sgt. Gregory's squad', and shows a newly trained squad of men from the King's (Liverpool) Regiment (the old 8th Foot). One of the men is my maternal grandfather. Of all the men in the photograph, only my grandfather and five other men survived the Western Front.  I wasn't sure what to do on the 24th July, a century later.  I had an idea of taking the photograph on a pub crawl around the town, but, then, I didn't want to end up dropping the photo.  In the end, I cut some leaves from an oak tree in my garden (in a pot!), and decorated Sgt. Gregory's squad with English oak. God rest their souls.

I haven't been doing nothing at all since I last posted. My allotment plot has gone from fit only for an agent orange attack to a nicely productive 1/16 of an acre. I've also written/had published a few bits and pieces, with some relevance to those who are interested in the Very British Civil War type world. For these latter, see the sidebar.

Sunday, 17 April 2016


... the Whitley?

So far, so good. In fact, Airfix have a winner with this kit. The planning and engineering that has gone into the kit is first rate. Everything has gone together smoothly, and the wing spars made a real difference to fixing the huge wings to the fuselage.  Here's the state of play tonight:

Hopefully, I'll get these sub-assemblies together tomorrow, and it will start looking like the 'Barn Door'.  Top kit!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

First plastic...


Not quite as exciting as first metal cut, but not as noisy either.

So, I have begun the AW Whitley, with the beginnings of the cockpit:

'Nice plastic, not too soft, not too brittle', said Goldilocks...

I've been collecting together a few bits and pieces of references on the Whitley. I've mentioned my copy of the 1967 'Profile' by Philip J R Moyes. I'm a great fan of Profiles, even with their blurry, tiny photos; they were real pioneers. Top stuff. I've got the February and March 2016 issues of Model Aircraft, with their two-parter on the 'plane, and a build review in the March SAMI. But, I  was also able to buy this:

It's by Kevin Wixey, and it's the first 'Warpaint' series I've bought, and I rather like it - a sort of updated Profile, with some good photos,  and good, detailed, useful text. I bought it on Friday, when I had a trip, with my son and grandson, to the Midlands Air Museum, a mere 10 miles from where I sit. It's located at Coventry Airport (now just for some freight and light aircraft), near the village of Baginton.  Now, if you know your Armstrong Whitworths, you'll know that Baginton was their factory, and almost all the Whitleys built were built there. Same site. Marvellous!  Sadly, this is the only major piece of the 1,814 built which survives, and is back at Baginton:

As you can see, below, I doubt the crew returned home though:

On a happier note, the little gallery at the museum devoted to the Whitley also has this pub sign, of a Coastal Command Whitley:

If you're in the Coventry area at any point, I'd strongly recommend a visit to the Midlands Air Museum. In a relatively small space, it has some cracking aircraft - Meteor, Vampire (in 605 Warwick RAuxAF colours), Mig-21, Hind, Voodoo, Vulcan (and Blue Steel stand-off missile), DH Dove, Lightening, Phantom, Harrier, Starfighter, Sea Vixen, Javelin, Sea Hawk.... and more! Also, and importantly, the volunteer staff there are very, very good. My grandson (aged 7) took two tours of the Vulcan cockpit because the chap was so informative, pleasant, and friendly. Excellent!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Happy Birthday to Me...

... I'm a hundred and three...

That being a version sung to me by my grandson. However, as he also bought me an Airfix Spitfire PRXIX, I'll forgive him.

And...the Whitley...aaaah.  A big, shiny box (a proper, tray style too), with a really rather atmospheric bit of artwork showing Whitleys coming into land:

The Whitley was manufactured just a few miles from where I live. In a neck of the woods called Baginton, now part of Coventry. That city was such an aeronautical (and automotive) powerhouse in the 1930s and 1940s. In consequence, it had zero unemployment in the mid and late 1930s, and the only notable extra-parliamentary political activity was in the form of the Greenshirts (the Social Credit types. That was just a tit bit for any VBCW chaps reading). Of course, Coventry still has an automotive edge in the form of the increasingly successful Jaguar-Land Rover; but, alas, like steel, not owned by a British concern.

Enough of all that dribbling. The kit? How does it look, out of the box?  Nice, clean, sharp, light grey plastic:

Look at those wings! Look at the chord! The thickness of the wings! This was such a feature of the Whitley. My 1967 Profile Publications; The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, number 153, price TWO SHLLINGS, has some pilot reminiscences of the aircraft (which was, of course, frontline only 24 years earlier). The big wings produced a high degree of lift: 'When lightly loaded it tried to float quietly off the ground before the pilot had got both throttles up to take-off power. Similarly, its arrival on the ground was uniquely an affair of its own. "One motored gently in with the two Merlins singing their customary varying song, and proceed to attempt a hold-off. That part was all right, but when one tried to get the tail fully down nothing very much happened. The thing just wheeled itself quietly and softly on the ground and seemed to take no notice whatever of the driver."'

More above of the nice, crisp bits.

Now, below, the new style instructions:

I'm not sure what I think of them, but will wait and see if they are ok; they seem a bit busy.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Whitley est arrive...

... or something like that.

My wife originally ordered one of the new Airfix Whitleys for a Christmas present, but, as you know, the shop keeper had to fight Airfix/Humbrol every inch of the way for them to agree to send him one, for money.  Strange, perhaps Airfix/Humbrol is actually controlled by a modeller who just can't bear to part with the kits, no matter how large his stash grows.  However, one has arrived in time for my birthday (which approaches fast), so I will, at last, get my incompetent, kit-bashing mitts on one of Coventry's finest.

Speaking of these - incompetent mitts - I have just finished one of AZ Model's  MeBf109s. That noble manufacturer appears to be happily kitting its way through the entire Bf109 series. What attracted me to their boxing of the Bf109G-6AS was the choice of three night fighter scheme, including an all-black one. Now, we are all familiar with the difficulties of an all-black finish, and you will see that I am now even more familiar with those difficulties:

I had intended to make the black look faded, reasoning that matt black is a finish that does, indeed, fade quickly.

I achieved a sort of faded look by dint of a finishing disaster - the final coats of matt varnish unaccountably decided to leave a streaky finish.  I had no idea as how to counteract that, so, trying to make the best of a bad job, I left it, telling myself that it was 'fading'.

Still, being both long and short sighted, aged, and addled, it doesn't look too bad at the back of the shelf.


Saturday, 20 February 2016


... from ignominy.

Have I spelt that correctly? Which reminds me of the original bit of  Dad's Army's repartee from the very early days when the boys are joining up:

Mainwaring: 'Occupation?'
Fraser: 'I own a philatelist's shop.'
Mainwaring: 'How do you spell that?'
Fraser: 'S. H.O.P. Shop'.

Now, back to business.  Those of you who have been paying attention will know that some months ago, I began the very simple task of kit-bashing the old Airfix 'snap-together' Me Bf109 G-6. The idea being to add another aircraft to my small, late war Italian, Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR) collection. Surely there could be no problems for a kit basher of decades? Mmm, well, apart from the rather basic nature of the cockpit, which was remedied with one of Yahu's quite marvellous 1/72 instrument panels, it should have been a piece of carrot cake.  But.  But, I didn't wash the parts, so when it came to removing the masks, the paint came off in strips. Then I left the masks on the canopy for too long, and the tape welded itself to the 'clear' plastic. Then I broke off the tail wheel. At that point, I did something I have never done before, I gave the thing up, and left if to gather dust in the shed.

But, I just couldn't leave it. Even though I moved onto British bi-plane bombers and German jets, while waiting for lumbering Whitleys.  So, chastened, I brought the 109 in from the cold:

Above, after I'd started to rub down the damaged paint  job.

Primed, again, looking a bit better.

Basics done. I can never get the German 'graus' right, even when, supposedly, using top stuff - here, Xtracrylics. I mixed the hellgrau, but ended up with too much hell and not enough grau.

And, above, as it looks at the moment. The markings come from a 20-25 year old set ('Blue Rider' perhaps), and I've already used up all the stencils, so it's just the basics, but as they incorporate a nice combination of wing fasces, fuselage balkenkreuz, tricolour and blue chevron, it looks quite neat. All that's needed is some washes, a bit of weathering, aerial, and matt varnish.

Above is a photo of the original (including DF loop - not on my version!) from the excellent tome by Nick Beale et al.

All that has rather re-whetted my appetite for Me109s - especially as I have a very, very unusual one sitting in its box. One that does not require mottling.  But, on the other hand, there is the He floatplane waiting, all clean and ready to go; not to mention the Whitley, which could, just could, be on the way... (especially now Hornby have sacked their CEO).

Sunday, 10 January 2016

From the sublime...

... to another type of sublime...

The marvellous Heyford, which featured in my last post, was still (just) in first-line service with the RAF in August 1939, when another aircraft took off for its initial flight. That aircraft, the He178 V1 is seen here with my Matchbox Heyford:

A tad smaller, as you can see.
The first prototype He 178 later received longer span wings, and a retractable undercarriage, but the RLM wasn't interested, and there was no production version.  The model is by 'Special Hobby', and is short-run:

The fit overall isn't great, but ok, and would be even more ok if I was more than a mediocre kit-basher. Still, the diminutive kit was a change from my Christmas hol Heyford bash. 

Poor finish in evidence here - the Humbrol acrylic seemed gritty, no matter how I stirred the pot. Odd.

I had hoped to have my hands on one of the new Airfix Whitleys, which  have on order at my local, independent, sort-of-a-model-shop.  But the proprietor tells me that he is having real problems with Airfix, and thinks they are playing tricky games. He says that they are announcing kits, putting them in their online catalogue, and taking orders, all at an announced price. However, it is taking a long time for orders to appear, and the prices have then been raised, sometimes considerably - he gave me an example of one of their 1/72 V bomber kits. All rather naughty - trying to see what price the market will bear. That's fine (it's known as 'cost-plus pricing'), but seems a bit underhand when done in that way.