My main aircraft modelling passion is the Battle of Britain. I did a CSE history project on the Battle when I was a teenager, and I became hooked on the period ever since. As well as amassing a fair library on the subject, I’ve tried to get a scale model of each of the aircraft types that served both sides during the period from the Phoney War to the beginning of the Night Blitz.
For the Bomber Command representatives, I’ve always wanted a Whitley. In fact, safely stored in my stash I have an old unboxed unbuilt Frog kit I bought at an IPMS show many years ago. I also have a later boxed Novo version. Both have been patiently waiting for me to pluck up the courage to attempt them.
Then Airfix announced they were releasing a brand new tooling of the Whitley, I must have been one of the first in the pre-order queue! At last, an accurate representation of a type that is often overlooked. I couldn’t wait.
The box duly arrived. I had to inspect the contents, of course, but the actual build would have to wait for some time between my other commitments. Ah, the joys of being a professional modelmaker - someone else’s model always comes first.
The contents of the box showed a well thought out model. Plenty of small details for the cockpit, bulged main wheels, clean transparencies… I was itching to begin putting it together. I decided I would like to lash out a little and get some cockpit PE detailing, and a transparency mask set. From what I could see, little else needed upgrading.
I followed the instructions, and started with the flight deck and nose assemblies. While the PE set included a lot of new parts for the navigator and wireless fittings, I reasoned there was little point going boss-eyed trying to fit them as they’re not visible once the flight deck is installed in the nose parts. I encountered a small amount of mis-alignment with the fuselage nose sides, but a smear of filler solved that.
Next was the wing spar section. I loved the way the kit had been designed to essentially follow exactly how the real thing was constructed. No issues encountered here, but if I build another I won’t bother painting so much that won’t be seen!
The nose, central spar and rear fuselage came together and the characteristic drooping chin becomes apparent. Some variation in the thickness of fuselage windows meant I had to sand them down. A drop of gloss varnish after finishing would restore them to something with a glint, event if you couldn't see through them.
Next came the wing and engine assemblies. I had a lot of problems with the fit of the nacelles on to the wings. I thought at first I may have inadvertently swapped the nacelles over, but the problem persisted. Some rude words, a fair amount of filler, careful sanding and replacing panel lines followed. I am not really happy.
A note about the construction sequence might be prudent: The engine chin radiators really ought to be fitted at the same point as the nacelle halves are assembled. I followed the instructions, and found it very difficult to insert the parts through the hole and fix them.
The main undercarriage legs are well detailed. There’s a lot going on, and inevitably a lot of is all but invisible when finished. Still, we know it’s there. I didn’t like the vague way the rear main wheel strut is located through a gap into an invisible location hole within the nacelle. It took several attempts, and in the end I’ve cheated with a drop of cyanoacrylate securing the strut to the edge of the slot. By the way, I tend to paint tyres using Hu32 Tank Grey. 33 Black is just too black. I find the grey better matches the colour of rubber tyres.
I wanted the model to be shown in an early stage of preparation for a mission. I have a photo in mind of just such a situation. So, the main bomb bay doors are posed open. There’s not much to locate them, spatially or physically. The first attempt was very flimsy, the centre doors held only by the extreme edges at each end. I decided I needed to add a styrene strip reinforcement along the centre line to give the door edges something to glue to. Now it’s very firm.
With the wings and fuselage assembled, the empennage was fitted quickly. I posed the rudders slightly offset, because we can. The horn balances were very vulnerable, and indeed broke off pretty quickly. I stashed them safely, and eventually drilled the weighted end to take a short length of fine brass wire. This was glued into a hole in the top of the rudder near the end of the main construction.
Other vulnerable parts to note are the aerial masts and the DF loop fairing. There isn’t much in the way of a peg and hole to locate these, so again I drilled them to take short brass wire pegs. I still managed to knock one off, but at least it was easy to relocate!
Before long, the main construction was complete. Time to get painting. I grew up with enamels, and find acrylics a dark art. Nevertheless, I had opted for aftermarket transfers for this Whitley (the kit covers a plane from March 1940 and one in 1941, outside my preferred time slot), and I thought it might be an idea to acquire the same maker’s paints. With luck that would avoid a while sequence of gloss varnish before the transfer stage, as the paints are already effectively gloss, or at least a good satin finish. I wanted the enamels, but they appear to be like hen’s teeth. I could get one colour, but not the others. I was almost resigned to the good old Humbrol enamel route, when I thought it might be worth tracking down sources of the suitable acrylics from various places.
Finally, I managed to get the brown, green and black, from two different suppliers. The next question was should I break out the airbrush? I’ve never airbrushed a model aircraft from choice before, but I thought it was worth the go.
The transparency masks went on over a couple of days. I placed felt tip dots on the parts so I could find them on the sheet as I worked! Like acrylics and airbrushing, this was my first precut mask experience. It wasn’t entirely successful, but that’s my inexperience showing through.
I painted the undersides first, having laboriously masked off the upper surfaces. Acrylics dry quickly, so I could get the masking off and consider the reverse for the upper colours. Of course, idiot here didn’t think to prime the model first. So, the black didn’t adhere to the surfaces properly, and lifted as I tried to mask it for the upper colours.
Swear words at my own stupidity. Why didn’t I prime it? Gawd knows! Anyway, I gently rubbed down the black paint so the loose stuff flaked away. I’d make good later, and decided to press on with the upper surfaces - this time spraying primer first.
I managed to get a good coat of earth brown on. It was slightly patchy, but I felt this would help represent a somewhat weatherworn aircraft.
After my experience of masking the black, I really didn’t trust the brown even on a primer layer, so I brush painted the green. There is some discussion online about whether the edges of the camouflage pattern ought to be feathered. It boils down, at least for 1/72nd scale, that if any feathering was evident it would be all but invisible at scale. A hard edge is was then. Finally, I brush painted the black undersides, and I was more or less back where I started.
The transfers went on okay-ish. Sadly, the printing hadn’t been quite on the mark, and a fine white line was evident along the edges of the grey code letters. Too late now. Live with it. I used some of the smaller detail markings from the Airfix sheet. While I used the traditional setting solution to get the transfers to sit down nicely, there was some silvering where they went over the brown paint. Another lesson learned. The sprayed paint had ended up slightly duller than the brushed paint. Perhaps brush painting isn’t so bad after all!
Once the transfers were dry, over a couple of days as it turned out, I got some matt varnish on to flatten everything down and protect the transfers. Finding a good matt varnish is a trial, I find. I know there are some good makers out there, and such products can be purchased from some importers. However, in my “day job” I need some good varnishes, and the pre-thinned airbrush ready enamel varnishes from Phoenix Precision paints have been a god’s send to me. Additionally, their matt varnish is actually what is says. It dries absolutely flat, with no shine to speak of.
A day or so later, it was time to remove the transparency masks. Not so clever. The build of up paint, allied with the lack of primer probably, meant some of the panels came away with the surround paint. Perhaps I should have run a sharp scalpel blade around to help. Inexperience shows. Anyway, it wasn’t a total disaster, and some careful retouching using an old draughtsman’s bow pen (I use it for lining coaches in the day job) repaired the worst.
Where I had rubbed down the sides of the fuselage, inevitably some of the tiny oblong portholes had become frosted. I dabbed some gloss varnish on them.
The final step was to rig the wireless aerial. My favourite fine copper wire, 0.2mm thick, I think, was carefully threaded through holes I’d drilled through the masts before they had been fitted. I began with the rear mast, tied a with tiny knot, secured later with a drop of cyano. Passing the wire through the front mast, I gently pulled it as tight as I dared, and again secure it with a drop of cyano. The tail end was passed into a hole drilled in almost the right place in the transparency. Matt black enamel was painted on the wire, and a thicker blob was placed near each mast to represent what was either a balun or tensioning block on the real thing.
Just to fit the props, access ladders and the plane was complete. I set up my light tent to play dioramas.
I will talk about the vehicles another day.