Clandestine Fortresses of the RAF
Welcome to this 46th edition of Workbench and our regular look behind the scenes at the world of Airfix modelling. Since posting the previous edition of our blog, we have been grateful for all the supportive emails and social media posts telling us how much you enjoyed our feature on the production of Airfix instruction booklets and the talented man behind their design. This is such an integral component of any Airfix kit purchase that we knew the feature would appeal to Workbench readers and allow them a fascinating insight into how these familiar documents come together.
With more exclusive illustrations from the forthcoming 1/48th scale Hawker Sea Fury FB.II model release, we are pleased to bring you the final instalment of our instruction booklet feature in this latest edition of Workbench, where we look at some of the challenges facing the designer and how the finished booklets make it from the development office computer to the modellers latest model project. We also have a development update from the extremely interesting RAF Boeing Fortress Mk.III project and we end by looking at how our 1/24th scale range has been inspiring modellers since the early 1970s – another feature packed edition awaits your inspection.
Flying for Confusion
The clandestine Fortress Mk.III is sure to be a popular addition to the Airfix range
Perhaps more than any other aircraft of the Second World War, the mighty Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was seen as the flying manifestation of American military and industrial prowess. Operating in massed formations, these distinctive aircraft were designed to conduct daylight precision bombing missions, against strategic enemy targets, with the ultimate aim of literally pounding them into submission. As its name suggests, the Flying Fortress was bristling with defensive armament and it was intended that formations of B-17s could throw so much lead into the air, that any attacking enemy aircraft would either be shot down, or simply fly away from their certain demise – although this thinking did not actually materialise in combat, it did help to give the B-17 a fearsome reputation.
Although obviously more usually associated with USAAF operations, the B-17 was also an important aircraft for the Royal Air Force and a future 1/72nd scale release will mark a fascinating version of the B-17, which operated on classified missions during the final months of WWII. Around eighty-five B-17Gs were transferred to the RAF, most of which came under the control of 100 Group and were referred to as the Fortress Mk.III in British service. These aircraft would be modified to perform a specific and highly secret role in the skies above Europe, using electronic countermeasures to confuse and demoralise German night defences, making them less effective and helping to protect the aircrews of Bomber Command as they went about their nightly duties.
The magnificent box artwork will inspire many modellers to finish their model in this scheme
As both Britain and Germany had effective electronic detection systems by this stage of the war, the ability to jam and disrupt the Luftwaffe’s radar network became of vital strategic importance and 100 Group was formed in late 1943 to consolidate Britain’s attempts to produce an effective and integrated electronic countermeasures system. During the last months of WWII, the aircraft of 100 Group were equipped with and evaluated at least 32 different electronic devices, each one attempting to confuse or disable the German radar network, reducing Bomber Command losses and increasing the effectiveness of their bombing raids. The highly classified nature of these missions and the equipment used dictated that these aircraft were under constant armed guard whilst on the ground at their home stations at Sculthorpe and Oulton and the schemes applied to these aircraft certainly give them something of a clandestine appearance.
This fascinating addition to the Airfix 1/72nd scale range presents the modeller with one of the electronic counter measures equipped Fortress Mk.III aircraft that spread misinformation and confusion amongst Luftwaffe radar controllers and includes a number of additional parts needed to produce this distinctive version of the aircraft. Perhaps the most distinctive difference is the removal of the chin mounted guns and the installation of an American AN/APS15 radar unit, which was housed in a large plexiglass radome under the nose. A large radio jamming aerial, which was known as an ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC) rises from the spine of the aircraft and an ‘Airborne Grocer’ anti-aircraft radar jamming installation required aerials to be fitted at the rear of the aircraft, underneath the tail guns.
Always of interest to the modeller, this is what we will be reaching from the shelves of our favourite model suppliers
Performing these secretive electronic countermeasures missions, 100 Group Fortresses would take their place in the bomber formations, attempting to protect them by jamming and confusing the German defensive network and making night interception more difficult. These missions could take the form of flying diversional raids, attempting to draw the attentions of Luftwaffe nightfighters, leaving the main force to head towards their latest strategic target, hopefully facing reduced opposition. They could also include the dropping of ‘Window’, which were thousands of paper strips coated in aluminium, designed to interfere with German radar, with all these measures attempting to blind the Luftwaffe nightfighter force and dramatically reduce its ability to intercept Allied bombers.
Scheme Options with the Fortress Mk.III
Boeing Fortress Mk.III, BU-E (KJ177/G) ‘Take it Easy’, RAF No.214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron, No.100 (Bomber Support) Group, Based at RAF Sculthorpe and Oulton, Norfolk, England 1944
This fascinating aircraft wears the distinctive scheme applied to Bomber Command aircraft, but looks very different on this US manufactured aircraft. Although we have included the serial KJ177/G in our description, there is little evidence to conclusively corroborate this detail, but existing research and a number of reputable sources are confident that this is the case – research is currently ongoing. The aircraft features attractive ‘Take it Easy’ nose artwork and the radome which houses the radar unit is depicted with a semi-opaque finish. It is perhaps one of the most interesting British bombers of the Second World War.
Boeing Fortress Mk.III, B6-G (KJ121), RAF No.223 Squadron, No.100 (Bomber Support) Group, Based at RAF Sculthorpe and Oulton, Norfolk, England 1944.
There is no doubting that the release of this latest Boeing B-17 Fortress kit will stimulate interest in this little known area of the air war during the latter stages of WWII. They mark the birth of electronic warfare as an effective method of waging war and an aircraft that spread confusion and uncertainty amongst Luftwaffe home defence units. At a time when Germany was facing increasingly overwhelming odds in the skies above Europe, the actions of RAF 100 Group aircraft further frustrated their difficult operations and possibly saved the lives of thousands of Allied airmen. These RAF Fortress Mk.IIIs will build into particularly handsome models and we are very much looking forward to featuring more images of them in the weeks to come – we can all look forward to building one of these beauties following its release, which is currently scheduled for July.
Airfix Instruction Booklets Revisited
One of the pages from the new Hawker Sea Fury instruction sheet
In the previous edition of Workbench, we featured the work of talented Hornby Hobbies artist Richard Petts and the distinctive instruction booklets he produces, which will be familiar to many thousands of modellers all over the world. Helping to guide modellers of all abilities through their latest build project, many of us are possibly guilty of taking these documents a little for granted, but they are without doubt an important component of any new model kit, with their production relying heavily on the skill, experience and attention to detail of the entire Airfix design team. As we head back to Richard’s desk at Airfix HQ, we are going to see how he manages to pull all his digital files together and create his latest modelling masterpiece – we will also see how he has managed to incorporate an interesting artistic twist to his instructions over the years.
We left our previous instruction booklet review by showing readers an exclusive preview of one of the pages from the forthcoming 1/48th scale Hawker Sea Fury FB.II, as Richard continues to work on this much-anticipated project. We also saw how he brings a wealth of experience to this type of work, as he has been involved in the production of Airfix instruction booklets since Hornby Hobbies acquired the brand in 2006. This knowledge and experience helps Richard to build a mental picture of how he will need to lay out his latest project and to anticipate areas which may become slightly more problematic as the instruction illustrations begin to take shape. This experience is perhaps also why Richard is extremely modest about his role in the development of any new kit release, even though his work is as important as it is distinctive – most people reading this review would probably be petrified of having the responsibility of producing accurate instructions.
Experience is the Key
Modellers would find a visit to the Airfix development desks absolutely fascinating
Years of previous experience not only helps Richard to produce his instructions in both an effective and timely manner from a company point of view, but also to envisage how the modeller might be thinking during the kit build process and offer additional guidance wherever necessary. He described how “After doing so many booklets over the past ten years, I’ve got a bit of a feel for what should fit on each page of the instructions and at what size the illustrations should be. It is important that the modeller can logically follow the construction guidance, with each stage clearly illustrated and even the smallest detail not being too difficult to see”.
Each stage of the build instructions includes much more information than simply an illustration of the individual parts to be constructed and when Richard is happy with the illustration steps on a particular page, it is time to add more detail. As he tries to assist the modeller to both construct the kit, whilst also drawing attention to any alternative options and additional actions that may be required, he will need to add annotations and other information to the page. This will include such details as part numbers, Humbrol paint reference numbers and any interior decals that will need to be applied at this stage. He will also need to make the modeller aware that this is the stage they may need to consider drilling holes, or opening up sections of the model, if the particular version they intend to build requires these actions. In the case of the Sea Fury, this could be intended weapons options, folded, or unfolded wings and the intended canopy display position. It may also be that a specific decal scheme included in the kit may require the model to be assembled in a specific way and Richard must provide this guidance at the relevant stage of the build.
This is clearly highly detailed work and must call on all of Richard’s experience to make sure that all the information a modeller might need is clearly available at the correct stage of the build process. Once he is happy that his artwork pages include all the various step by step graphics and relevant part/painting information, it is time to start work on producing the booklet itself. For this stage of the process, Richard uses an industry standard desktop publishing programme called InDesign, which he describes as being extremely user friendly and allows him to easily import his artwork pages, include all the build step numbers for the modeller to follow and all the graphic frames.
A selection of images showing Isodraw actions. This is something Richard does quite a lot, where he will need to ghost some hidden detail, to show the location later with an arrow. He will make a wireframe image of the part in Isodraw, so that he can draw in the hidden detail later in Illustrator.
More Isodraw work from the forthcoming 1/48th scale Sea Fury release
He will also need to incorporate a front cover, which will include some historic facts and specifications associated with the subject aircraft/vehicle modelled, which is provided by the lead researcher – this information is translated into five languages. He will also need to include assembly instruction notes, which are translated into no fewer than twelve languages, along with a list of assembly instruction icons and their descriptions, again with their translations. This is all important information that must be included and will be in Richard’s thoughts at the outset of each new project.
The final section of the booklet is usually dedicated to the painting instruction options for the model, along with the detailed stencil sheet showing the placement instructions for the exterior decals – these sheets are created for Airfix by another artist and on some larger kits, they are supplied as separate sheets in the kit box and not as part of the instruction booklet.
Space and Time
Importing the image files into illustrator and roughly positioning them as the latest instruction booklet takes shape
Although there are no real space restrictions placed on Richard when compiling his latest instruction booklet, he usually will try to include everything in as few pages as possible, but always taking as much space as is necessary. Whilst it is important to include all the build information the modeller will need on each page, it is important not to expand the document too much, making it a little cumbersome as a reference tool. The size of the illustrations used, especially the exploded views, will invariably dictate the length of the booklet. For a small 1/72nd scale kit such as the new Messerschmitt Me 262, the instructions will usually be around eight pages in size and may take about a week to produce. Interestingly, if (and when) this model is eventually incorporated into the small starter set range, the instructions will be re-worked and usually reduce in size. The painting and decal information will move to the back of the box itself, but Richard will need to include additional safety information in his booklet, as glue and paints now form part of the kit. Compare this to the almost fifty-page length of the 1/24th scale Typhoon instruction booklet and you get some idea of the amount of work involved when working in this larger scale.
Adding the part numbers to the image files
Obviously, we could not let this opportunity pass without asking Richard which instruction sheets he enjoyed working on most and if he had a particular favourite model. He told us that as 1/72nd scale has been the most popular scale with modellers over the years, he has been involved with the production of more instructions in this scale than any other. A small model may take him about a week to complete, but some of the larger models, such as an Avro Shackleton will require much more work and may take him between two and three weeks to complete. Producing instructions for the large 1/24th scale kits can be extremely time consuming and include incredible amounts of detail and large numbers of parts, all of which require construction guidance. Work on this size of model may require over forty pages of illustrations and could take Richard two or three months to complete.
Without too much hesitation, Richard told us that he enjoys working on the latest crop of 1/48th scale models most, as these kits tend to include slightly more detail and allow him to be a little more creative with his illustrations. Importantly, these projects can be completed in around three weeks, which is much more manageable than the time he needs to spend on a 1/24th scale project – working on the same illustrations for several months can challenge the sanity of even the most enthusiastic illustrator.
Sign off and Production
A section of the instruction sheet from the 1/24th scale Mosquito
With everything now completed, the next stage of the process is an exhaustive period of checking. Richard will review every page of the booklet to make sure he hasn’t omitted anything that should have been included and that all the relevant part numbers are correct. Once he has completed this work, he will review the booklet with both his manager and the designer responsible for production of the model, who between them possess an incredible amount of modelling expertise. Both of Richard’s colleagues will then attempt to build the model using the draft instruction booklet and usually the second shots from the new model tooling (if they are available). As they proceed through the build, they will make their observations and potentially request modifications to the booklet before it is released for printing.
Once the team are happy with the layout of the booklet, the files will usually be sent to a factory in Bangalore, India, where they will be printed. Many kits in the Airfix range are produced in India, as are the boxes they are supplied in, so the box, bagged sprue parts, instruction booklets and decal sheets are all assembled together in the same factory – the decals are manufactured in Italy and sent on to the factory in India. With a number of recent new tooling releases being manufactured here in the UK, this coming together of components will take place in the UK, if the kit is manufactured here.
The designer of the Airfix Hurricane also became the instruction sheet pilot
An interesting footnote to this feature concerns Richard’s artistic talents and his love of drawing caricatures. Over the years, he has incorporated the caricature faces of members of the Airfix design team in his instruction artwork, usually the person who was responsible for producing the model he is currently working on. Indeed, he informed us that Richard himself has starred in one of his instruction booklets, as the rear gunner in a Dornier bomber – if the aircraft in question had several crew members, then more caricatures of the Airfix team would be included. The idea came to Richard when he first joined Airfix and started working on his first Spitfire illustration, but it was some time before the first modellers noticed this artistic addition to the instruction booklets. Richard was proud to inform us that every member of the Airfix design and development team have appeared in his instruction booklets over the past few years, which is a really nice way to end our review of this fascinating subject.
Homework – Richard regularly produces caricature artwork for friends and family
Richard told us that he hopes most people are happy with his instructions and find them clear and easy to follow when working on their latest Airfix construction project. He does understand there are other things some modellers would like to see included in the instructions, such as naming each individual part (for purpose of knowledge and interest) and whilst this is certainly a great idea, he says that this is not really practical, due to associated translation costs and the additional room that would be required for the text in five languages.
We would like to thank Richard and the Airfix development team for their help in putting this feature together and we hope that Workbench readers have enjoyed this look behind the scenes at instruction booklet production and the sneak previews of the new Hawker Sea Fury FB.II sheets whilst they are still being worked on.
We would also like to point out that the web team have been busy adding many pdf Airfix instruction sheets on the individual product pages of the website, which are now available to download. We know that modellers like to collect things and there can be nothing finer than a collection of electronic versions of instruction sheets of the kits you have built, along with the ones you intend to build soon. They are also useful for when you misplace your instructions, or when someone kindly adds them to the paper recycling collection for the week – the new pdf feature allows you to immediately obtain the instructions you need. Just one more benefit of visiting the vibrant Airfix website.
BIG is Beautiful – Airfix ‘Super Kits’
Perhaps more than any other kits in the Airfix range, the 1/24th scale series has long been regarded as some of the most iconic models in the history of our hobby and brought new levels of detail and realism to the modeller. Ever since the first 1/24th scale Spitfire Mk.1a appeared in the early 1970s, these impressive kits have attracted enthusiasts looking to build an accurate representation of these magnificent aircraft as a centrepiece of their display and for modellers all over the world to show their prowess on these challenging projects. To this day, modelling groups and societies will use these kits as a yardstick to demonstrate their skills and abilities, with many magnificent examples occupying a prominent position on the display tables at model shows all over the country.
Along with the complexity and impressive size of these kits, new hobbyists were drawn to the innovation incorporated into models of this scale, as the kits offered appealing working features, such as retractable undercarriage, operating control surfaces and removable engine cowls. Many Workbench readers will probably remember the ability to add a motor to the models and have a battery operated spinning propeller as the most distinctive feature of these models and one that will have seen these kits added to many a Christmas and birthday wish list.
The current crop of 1/24th scale Airfix kits continue to bring new levels of detail to the world of plastic modelling and will challenge the abilities of even the most accomplished modellers. Certainly something of a longer-term build project, these kits require the modeller to commit to the build and set aside some quality time to spend with these magnificent models, knowing that this will produce a spectacular centrepiece that will be an incredibly accurate representation of the aircraft modelled and something to be admired by your fellow modellers.
We are pleased to announce that we will be featuring a full build review of our Hawker Typhoon 1B ‘Car Door’ in a future edition of Workbench, but until this is ready, we thought you would like to see these magnificent pictures of professionally built-up examples of our Typhoon and Mosquito by way of whetting your appetite. Still one of our most popular kits, the 1/24th scale De Havilland Mosquito FB.VI is a monster of a model and beautifully presents the distinctive lines of one of Britain’s most famous wartime aircraft. This particular model has been expertly finished in the colours of a No.143 Squadron aircraft of the famed Banff Strike Wing, who mounted savage anti-shipping and coastal raids against German targets in the North Sea and fjords of Norway. Wearing a colour scheme of extra dark sea grey and sky which was in many cases simply sprayed over the aircrafts previous camouflage scheme, the unforgiving environment in which these aircraft operated saw them suffer from heavy weathering, with the earlier colours beginning to show through in a relatively short space of time. This aircraft (HR405/NE-A) has a re-positioned serial number, as it previously wore the distinctive D-Day identification markings on the fuselage, which required the alteration.
This magnificent Mosquito is finished as a Banff Strike Wing aircraft
Despite the fact that the Mosquito has to be considered as one of the most attractive aircraft of the Second World War, it was also one of the most effective multi-role machines of the conflict and a significant contributor to the eventual Allied victory. In the strike role, the Mosquitos of the Banff Strike Wing were savage hunters of German shipping, but were equally adept at destroying targets of opportunity in German occupied coastal areas. If challenged by the Luftwaffe, these heavily armed aircraft were also more than capable of giving a good account of themselves and this beautiful model build is a fine tribute to this impressive aircraft and the brave men who flew them.
Hawker’s Airborne Battering Ram
Many modellers will test their skills on a 1/24th scale Airfix Typhoon
The most recent Airfix tooling release in 1/24th scale marks one of the most effective ground attack aircraft of the Second World War and one that proved to be something of a flying arsenal. The Hawker Typhoon was originally intended to be a fast, heavily armed interceptor replacement for the venerable Hurricane and whilst it certainly proved to be a much superior aircraft to its predecessor, it endured something of a troubled service introduction.
Using the latest materials and aviation technologies, the Hawker Hurricane replacement incorporated the rather thick wing of its predecessor, the most powerful engine available and extremely heavy armament – this was designed to be an incredibly capable air superiority fighter. Testing soon began to highlight some worrying problems with the design and disappointing performance figures at altitudes above 20000ft. Nevertheless, the arrival of the new Luftwaffe Focke Wulf fighter saw the Typhoon rushed into service, as it was the only fighter capable of catching the enemy fighter at lower altitudes.
Championed by such influential pilots as Roland Beamont, the development problems with the Typhoon were eventually overcome and the aircraft matured into an effective and reliable fighter, although it never overcame its performance deficiencies at higher altitudes. Defending southern Britain against increasing Luftwaffe fighter bomber raids, the fast and powerful Typhoon soon began to show its fighting prowess, but a switch to dedicated ground attack duties from 1943 proved significant. In this role, the Typhoon became one of the most devastating weapons of the war and operating at low altitude, the armament and ordnance flexibility of the Typhoon took a heavy toll of German targets. These operations were incredibly dangerous for the Typhoon pilots who flew them, but they were proud of the reputation gained by the Typhoon Squadrons and the fear their attacks struck into the hearts of the enemy.
The 1/24th scale Airfix Typhoon is one of the most detailed kits available
The beautifully produced model pictured marks a Typhoon 1B which flew with RAF No.245 Squadron and the 2nd Tactical Air Force. It was employed in flying missions to destroy German targets both in the air and on the ground, in the days leading up to and following the D-Day landings. When the weather allowed, swarms of marauding Typhoons prevented the Wehrmacht from reinforcing the invasion areas and helped to give Allied units a foothold in Northern France. If supply convoys were caught by the Typhoons, they could wield devastating firepower, often flying several missions in the same day. Seeing this shark mouthed Typhoon bearing down on you at a low altitude, with cannons firing and unleashing multiple rockets in your direction, it is difficult to imagine how terrifying this must have been, but their task was a vital one and helped to establish the reputation of this distinctive aircraft.
Modellers can view the current Airfix range of 1/24th scale kits by heading to the Airfix website and we look forward to bringing you our Car Door Typhoon build review in a forthcoming edition of Workbench.
That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench, which we sincerely hope included something of interest to you. We are always interested to hear what our readers have to say and to receive any pictures or features you feel may be of interest to fellow modellers in a future edition of our blog. There are several ways in which you can contact us, including our dedicated e-mail address email@example.com and of course the Workbench thread over on the Airfix Forum.
If social media is more your style, you could access either the Airfix Facebook page or our Twitter channel, using #airfixworkbench where you will find plenty of modelling news, views and discussion. Whichever medium you decide to use, please do get in touch with us, as it is always great to hear from fellow modelling enthusiasts.
Finally, the Airfix website is the destination to find out all the very latest model release information, with our New Arrivals and Coming Soon sections all accessed by clicking the Shop button at the top of the webpage. As work on the website is a constant process, a quick search through all the Airfix web pages will usually reveal new information and updated images in many of the product sections, so this is always a rewarding way to spend a few minutes.
We look forward to bringing you our next Airfix update on 28th April.
The Airfix Workbench Team
© Hornby Hobbies Ltd. All rights reserved.