End of the Great Air War
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. In our previous blog, we brought you a much requested update from the new 1/48th scale Hawker Hunter F.6 project, which obviously caused quite a stir and has left many people excited about the release of this newly tooled kit later in the year. We are pleased to inform you that we have a significant follow up feature in this latest blog, including a series of exclusive images featuring the first fully completed sample built from this kit, which definitely highlights why the Hunter is considered to be one of the most attractive jet aircraft ever to take to the skies. Staying with a classic jets of the Royal Air Force theme, we will also be taking a closer look at the second release from the new 1/72nd scale British Phantom tooling, detailing the scheme options which will feature with this kit and also allowing our readers a first exclusive look at the additional parts frame which enable the FGR.2 variant of this famous aircraft to be constructed. We begin though, by heading back to the birth of aerial combat during the Great War and a look at how Airfix modellers can build their own commemorative display featuring some of the aircraft types taking part in these first aerial duels.
Bullets in the sky
Bringing down observation balloons and Airships was a skill that had to be perfected by the early aviators of the Great War
As this year marks the centenary of the establishment of the Royal Air Force, it is perhaps understandable that this historic occasion has been commemorated at countless events throughout 2018, as well as dominating the summer’s Airshows. Although this is undoubtedly a significant aviation anniversary, this year will also mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, a conflict which witnessed the dramatic development of aviation from unwieldy observation platforms, to deadly rulers of the sky in just a few short years. At the beginning of the Great War, the Royal Flying Corps (the air arm of the British Army) were equipped with just one observation balloon squadron and four squadrons of aeroplanes and as the first machines were sent to the Western Front in the late summer of 1914, it was less than eleven years since the Wright Brothers had completed their historic first flight at Kill Devil Hills, in North Carolina.
As the opposing forces of the Great War dug in for a devastating war of attrition, it was quickly recognised that the ability to see your enemy’s position and troop concentrations was of vital importance to the outcome of any battle. This information had to be gathered, assessed and distributed quickly and effectively if it was to have tactical impact and the most efficient manner in which to achieve this was initially by the use of tethered observation balloons, allowing trained plotters to gain a birds eye view of the surrounding area. As both sides used this method to gather information about their enemy, it was not long before balloons and their observers became a strategic target and as these observation units tended to require many men and often bulky ground equipment to operate, a more flexible and efficient way to obtain this vital information had to be found.
With both aircraft and engine technologies advancing to a point where the aeroplane was already proving to be a useful battlefield asset, these still relatively primitive machines clearly offered significant advantages over tethered observation balloons, allowing their crews to conduct free ranging reconnaissance flights across the front lines, provide artillery ranging support and target any enemy observation balloons they came across. As is the nature of war, as one side secured a slight aerial advantage, the other would quickly catch up and whilst early aeroplane reconnaissance flights may have initially resulted in opposing aircrews politely acknowledging and even saluting each other if they came into contact with each other, it was not long before rifles and revolvers became an important part of these missions, with enemy airmen becoming specific military targets. The relatively slow and cumbersome nature of these early aircraft dictated that this deadly aerial duel proved to be a much more personal battle than the ones raging in the trenches below, even though their outcome could have a significant bearing on the wider military operations of the conflict.
The Fokker Scourge
Duelling high above the trenches of the Western Front, early air combat was a very personal affair, where you could often see the whites of your opponent’s eyes
One of the most important British aircraft of the First World War was the Royal Aircraft Factory BE2 tractor biplane series, a type which had been in RFC service prior to the outbreak of war and one which was consequently amongst the first to be sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force. An extremely stable aeroplane, the BE2 proved exceptional in the reconnaissance and light bombing roles for which it was designed, possessing the ability to continue flying straight and level even if the pilot had to let go of the controls to take his all-important battlefield pictures. Initially, this stability proved to be a significant advantage, however, as airspace became contested and the first dedicated fighter aircraft appeared over the Western Front, this stability would see large numbers of these aircraft fall victim to enemy action, as they were almost incapable of out-manoeuvring opposing German aircraft. Although still a rather primitive aircraft itself, the Fokker Eindecker possessed one significant advantage which saw it secure a period of aerial supremacy for the Luftstreitkräfte – interrupter gear. This ingenious device allowed the pilot to fire his machine-gun through the arc of the propeller, without striking the blades and crucially, in his line of sight. For the first time, an aeroplane had been specifically designed to hunt and destroy other aircraft – the day of the fighter had arrived. The inherent stability of the BE2 meant that it was completely at the mercy of these new enemy fighters and many British aircraft and their brave crews would fall victim to this new German monoplane fighter and even referred to their own aircraft as nothing more than ‘Fokker Fodder’. What made this situation even more disastrous and earned the BE2 such a terrible reputation was that the lack of a more effective replacement aeroplane dictated that these unsuitable aircraft continued to be sent on operations over the trenches and were being shot down in ever increasing numbers – even the German pilots began to feel sorry for their opponents, referring to the unfortunate RFC airmen flying the BE2 as ‘Cold Meat’.
A gathering of Airfix Great War aviation
These two classic Great War aircraft which fought this deadly duel for early air supremacy over the battlefields of the Western Front also occupy quite a significant position in the history of our Airfix blog, as they were the first two 1/72nd scale new tooling announcements included in the very first edition of Workbench in July 2015. Incorporating impressive levels of detail into these diminutive, yet famous aeroplanes, the Airfix designers were quick to make their own contribution to four years of Great War centenary commemorations, by presenting modellers with two new aircraft from this period and as both were engaged in savage aerial combat during 1915, it is somehow fitting that both model versions were announced at the same time. Since that initial announcement, there have been several releases featuring these two kits, including a Dogfight Doubles release for which the magnificent artwork above was created, perfectly capturing the rather personal nature of aerial combat during the Great Air War.
Although the first RFC aircraft arrived on the Western Front less than 11 years after the Wright Brother’s historic first flight, the aeroplane was fast becoming an essential military asset
As we approach November’s centenary commemorations of the Great War, we thought it would be a good idea to break away from RAF 100 for a moment and try to cobble together some of the built model samples of our WWI aviation kits from over the past couple of years, to produce something of a Great Air War photoshoot. This proved to be slightly more challenging than we initially anticipated, as these models have been displayed at several model shows, as well as used for promotional work over the past couple of years and they are rather delicate items, being constructed of simple wood and fabric (ok, plastic). Nevertheless, our ever supportive company photographer managed to rescue five WWI models and created this poignant group image, featuring two Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c multi role aircraft and a pair of Fokker Eindecker fighters, although it is perhaps a little disconcerting how Germany’s first dedicated fighter aircraft have been positioned menacingly behind the poor British BE2cs. The fifth aircraft in the group is the Sopwith Camel from the RAF Centenary Gift Set A50181, which despite only entering service two years after the German Eindecker, was a significant leap forward in fighter technology and can claim to be responsible for shooting down more enemy aircraft than any other Allied type during the First World War. Both the Eindecker and the Camel represent two of the earliest and most successful air superiority aircraft and are the forerunners of today’s Typhoons and Raptors.
The RAF go ‘American’ for TSR.2 replacement
Early computer rendered 3D image used prior to the release of the new 1/72nd scale Phantom FG.1 kit, which proved so popular
It seems strange that for an aircraft which possesses such an incredible reputation as the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, that its adoption by the Royal Navy and subsequently the Royal Air Force was proceeded by such political indecision and inter service rivalry. Although the aircraft was purchased at a time of national austerity and significant political upheaval, you could be forgiven for thinking that neither force actually wanted the Phantom and it was only accepted as very much a second choice substitute procurement. Linked with the failure of the indigenous Hawker Siddeley P.1154 supersonic VSTOL fighter project and the cancellation of both BAC TSR.2 and the intention to purchase US General Dynamics F-111K strike fighters, the British adoption of the Phantom was off to something of a turbulent start, even though McDonnell Douglas were more than confident about the capabilities of their aircraft. Sending examples around the world in the hope of securing export orders, the Royal Navy had already started warming to the idea of the US jet, even before the cancellation of the P.1154 project, following the visit of a Phantom to RNAS Yeovilton. Indeed, the UK Government soon placed an order for ‘British’ versions of the Phantom to equip the Fleet Air Arm and the subsequent cancellation of both P.1154 and TSR.2 left the RAF without intended replacements for their Hunter and Canberra fleets. As Britain was already committed to buying modified versions of the Phantom, it made financial sense to further increase this order with additional aircraft destined for the Royal Air Force and whilst it would be fair to say that they were initially less than excited at the prospect, the Phantom would go on to prove an incredibly successful aircraft in British service, silencing many of their initial doubters.
This interesting image shows the scanned image data from the Airfix Phantom project displayed next to a computer rendered 3D image of the original Fleet Air Arm FG.1 release
Perhaps as a response to the cancellation of indigenous aviation projects, the British insisted that their aircraft were to be quite different from the standard American machines, particularly around the adoption of the Rolls Royce Spey engine and the fuselage modifications this necessitated. Although we will not be looking at all the differences between US and British Phantoms here, the impending release of the second Airfix British Phantom from our new 1/72nd scale tooling gives us an opportunity to discuss the differences between the Fleet Air Arm’s FG.1 and the FGR.2 of the Royal Air Force. All the British aircraft were based around the US Navy’s F-4J variant, however, the FGR.2 was required to be a multi-role aircraft from the outset, providing effective air defence, whilst also possessing strike and reconnaissance capabilities. The RAF machines would be operated exclusively from land bases, so some of the design requirements of Fleet Air Arm Phantoms were not incorporated into the FGR.2 – externally, these included a shorter, modified nose wheel, non-slatted tailplanes, a fixed radome nose and the omission of the Navy’s catapult hooks. They did, however, retain the arrestor hook of the naval machines. Electronic, navigation and radar fit were all slightly different to support RAF operations and the FGR.2s were also capable of carrying a SUU-23/A 20mm Vulcan gun pod (usually a single pod carried on the belly centreline station) or an EMI Reconnaissance pod (on the same pylon).
A first look at the additional parts frame which will allow the RAF Phantom FGR.2 to be built using the new 1/72nd scale British Phantom tooling
The picture above is the exclusive first reveal of the new parts frame which will accompany the October release of A06017 McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2, the second kit to come from our new 1/72nd scale British Phantom tooling. As you can see, it includes the non-slatted tailplanes and the two additional central stores options which were carried by the Royal Air Force Phantoms. Delivery of the British Phantom FGR.2s began in the summer of 1968 and all of the aircraft had been received by October of the following year. Every one of the RAF Phantoms initially passed through No.23 Maintenance Unit at RAF Aldergrove, which can boast quite a history with regard to Phantom operations – at one time or another every one of the RAF and Fleet Air Arm Phantoms passed through the Aldergrove site, for either service acceptance preparation, repair, re-painting or upgrade. The first RAF unit to receive the Phantom was No.228 Operational Conversion Unit at Coningsby, which would be responsible for training aircrew in how to operate this Cold War beast and one of the most successful jet aircraft ever built.
In support of the release of our new RAF Phantom FGR.2 kit, let’s take a closer look at the scheme and decal options which will be included with the new model.
McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 XV466/D, No.1435 Flight, Royal Air Force Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands, 1991.
As one of the most famous of the RAF Phantom 'Falkland Defenders', this beautiful scheme will surely be popular with modellers following the October release of this kit
Perhaps the most interesting period of RAF Phantom operations was when the aircraft served as a ‘Falklands Defender’ in the wake of the Falklands War. Whilst the Phantom did not take part directly in the conflict, it was required to provide air defence cover for the Island, once significant repair and upgrade had been made to the runway at Port Stanley – until this could be achieved, Sidewinder missile equipped Harrier GR.3s would have to perform this task, even though this was not a role for which they were particularly suited. Following completion of the runway works at RAF Stanley, the first British Phantoms arrived on the Falkland Islands on 17th October 1982, following a 3,800 mile flight from Ascension Island which required the re-fuelling support of RAF Victor tankers. Over the course of the next week, a further eight aircraft from No. 29 (Fighter) Squadron arrived at Stanley and immediately began operating QRA cover for the Islands and represented a significant upgrade in the defensive capabilities of the RAF in the South Atlantic. Although the threat posed by the Argentine Air Force was still very real, the arrival of these highly capable air defence fighters acted as a significant deterrent to further military action and would have provided untold reassurance to the Falkland Islanders themselves who had endured the recent hostile Argentine invasion. At the end of 1983, the Falklands Phantoms of No.29 Squadron were rebadged with the markings of No.23 (Fighter) Squadron, who would now assume the role of Falklands Defenders.
Over the next ten years, the McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 would serve the Falkland Islands faithfully, maintaining a reassuring high profile defensive deterrent and helping to prevent a repeat of the dramatic events of 1982. During this time, the Phantom force was regularly maintained at squadron strength, with as many as eleven aircraft deployed to RAF Stanley, with crews usually operating on a four month rotational basis. In May 1986, the Falkland Phantoms moved to the newly constructed airport at Mount Pleasant, but were to see a reduction in their numbers later the same year. Following continued political disagreement with Argentina, the British Government attempted to diffuse tension by reducing the Phantom force on the Island to just four aircraft. This move also reduced the squadron to ‘Flight’ status and heralded its adoption of the famous ‘1435 Flight’ name, its heritage from the siege of Malta during WWII and the operation of three Gloster Gladiator fighters in its defence, Faith, Hope and Charity. As there were four aircraft stationed at Mount Pleasant, this additional aircraft was christened ‘Desperation’.
The magnificent scheme adopted by Phantom XV466 is surely one of the most attractive ever applied to a British Phantom and represents an extremely eye-catching Falkland Defender. With the crest of the Islands carried on each side of its nose this Phantom also wore a smart white tail, with a red Maltese Cross carried on both sides – it must have made for an impressive sight whilst blasting around the skies of the South Atlantic and will certainly be the preferred scheme option for many modellers who secure one of these fantastic new kits. Originally entering RAF service with No.228 OCU at Coningsby, this Phantom would end its days in the South Atlantic and after providing years of sterling service, was scrapped and ingloriously buried at Mount Pleasant Airport.
McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 XV469/H, RAF No.2 Squadron, Royal Air Force Station Laarbruch, Germany, 1972
The shape of the McDonnell Douglas Phantom really does lend itself to the application of RAF camouflage
During the height of the Cold War, the RAF upheld their commitment to the defence of Europe by maintaining a large military presence in Germany, including at its maximum strength, no fewer than six squadrons of Phantoms. Often operating at lower altitudes and in the strike/reconnaissance role, these mighty Phantoms wore a striking camouflage scheme, which many enthusiasts think looks much more appealing that the lighter colours of the later air defence machines. Replacing Canberras and Hunters in both the strike/attack and reconnaissance roles, many of these RAF aircraft were stationed close to the borders of the Warsaw Pact nations and were at a heightened state of readiness, in what must be considered one of the most dangerous periods in world history. The first dedicated Phantom reconnaissance unit in Germany was No.2 Squadron, who were originally stationed at Brüggen, but quickly moved to Laarbruch, where they would stay until returning to the UK in 1976. The squadron badge can trace its origins back to the formation of the unit at Farnborough in May 1912, as one of the first three squadrons of the newly formed Royal Flying Corps. Its motto is ‘Guardian of the Army’ and it is proud to have helped develop effective aerial support tactics in cooperation with ground forces since before the First World War.
Although the Phantom was undoubtedly an extremely capable air defence platform, it was restricted to interdictor strike/reconnaissance duties whilst stationed in Germany, with the English Electric Lightning performing the more glamorous interceptor role. The introduction of the Anglo-French Jaguar in the mid 1970s saw an immediate reversal in these positions, with the effectiveness of the Jaguar replacing the Phantom in both strike and reconnaissance roles. This released the Phantom to take over from the Lightning in the air defence role, where its greater range, additional firepower and two man crew made it more suitable for the role of air defence fighter and signified the beginning of the end for the Lightning.
Representative of RAF Germany Phantoms stationed in the country during the 1970s, XV469 performed reconnaissance duties with No.2 Squadron, before going on to see over 20 years of service and time with Nos 19, 56, 92 and 74 Squadrons. It was sent to No.27 Maintenance Unit at RAF Shawbury for storage in October 1992 and was eventually scrapped in 1995. As quite a large aircraft, the Phantom took to wearing RAF camouflage rather well and made this handsome aircraft look even more appealing, a fact which will soon be forcing a difficult choice on modellers when deciding on which scheme to finish their new model.
McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 XV408/Z, RAF No.92 Squadron, Royal Air Force Wildenrath, Germany, 1992.
This striking Phantom 'Blue Bird' scheme was to mark both 75 years of RAF No.92 Squadron and the impending disbandment of this unit in 1992
Without doubt, one of the most strikingly presented Phantoms during their RAF service was this beautiful ‘Blue Bird’ from No.92 squadron whilst stationed at Wildenrath in Germany. With the disbandment of the squadron imminent and in an attempt to suitably mark the 75th Anniversary of the formation of No.92 Squadron, XV408 ‘Zulu’ was given this stunning colour scheme, which not only made it an instant hit with aircrew and enthusiasts alike, but also drew attention to the sad retirement of the original RAF Phantoms. This scheme was selected as it represented a particularly significant period in the history of No.92 Squadron, when they became the official RAF aerobatic display team of the Royal Air Force – known as the ‘Blue Diamonds’, the team were equipped with the handsome Hawker Hunter, which they painted in this same blue colour and delighted millions of Airshow-goers with their thrilling displays of precision flying and formation loops, which were performed by up to 18 aircraft. McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 XV408 had the distinction of taking part in two historic flights prior to the disbandment of No.92 Squadron – on the night of 2nd October 1992, it was one of a pair of Phantoms which performed the final ‘Battle Flight’ over the German border area, bringing the curtain down on over 14 years of Phantom operations over Germany - after this date, the German Air Force were responsible for the protection of their own airspace. XV408 also performed the final Phantom flight of No.92 Squadron before its disbandment, making this particular Phantom one historic ‘Blue Bird’.
Wearing this special commemorative scheme, XV408 would prove to be an aircraft in high demand, not only with aviation enthusiasts around Europe, but with the aircrew who attempted to fly her. Starring at the 1992 International Air Tattoo, it is almost as if this beautiful aircraft was highlighting to everyone what we would all be missing, once this much loved aircraft (which was initially thrust upon the RAF, as opposed to being chosen) was finally withdrawn from service. Entering RAF service with No.228 OCU at Coningsby, Phantom XV408 would also spend time wearing the colours of Nos 6, 19, 23, 29 and 92 Squadrons, before returning to the UK and RAF Wattisham. Spending time at both Cranwell and Halton, her distinctive ‘Blue Diamond’ scheme was painted over in a rather less inspiring air superiority grey, a scheme which she was wearing when taking part in the ‘100 years of flight’ static exhibition at RIAT in 2003. Seemingly no longer wanted by her previous guardians, the aircraft was taken to a quiet corner of Fairford and simply left, very much attracting the attention of the scrapman’s axe – thankfully, she was saved that fate by the RAF Museum, who collected the aircraft and gifted her to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum in late 2005. Still on display at Tangmere, 92 Squadron’s famous Phantom ‘Blue Bird’ has been returned to this iconic commemorative scheme and helps to tell the story of the mighty Phantom in Royal Air Force service.
Decal placement details for the forthcoming 1/72nd scale Airfix McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2
Now it is over to the modellers. Our new 1/72nd scale British Phantom tooling received popular acclaim when it was released earlier this year and this second kit will undoubtedly be equally popular. With three completely different, yet delightfully iconic schemes offered in which to finish your RAF Phantom, this is not going to be an easy choice to make and may result in many hours of head scratching and Phantom procrastinating. The sensible option would be to undertake a multi build project and complete at least two of these beautiful schemes, but having said that, which one would we leave out? This is going to be a tough one, but at least we have until October to decide.
New 1/48th scale Hunter advances further
An exclusive first look for Workbench readers at a built sample from the new 1/48th scale Hawker Hunter F.6 tooling
Moving from one classic RAF aircraft to another, the previous edition of Workbench featured a much requested update from the new 1/48th scale Hawker Hunter F.6 project, where we brought you confirmation of the three scheme options which will accompany this release. The Hunter holds a particularly significant place in the history of British aviation and the announcement of our intention to add a newly tooled example of this model to our growing 1/48th scale range of kits at the beginning of the year was met with some excitement. We have been desperate to bring you substantial updates from the project all year, but for one reason or another, have found it challenging to do so – until now, that is! Like waiting for a bus, when they come, they come in pairs and we are pleased to be bringing you a further update from the project, in the shape of a fully built and completed sample from the test components of this new kit. You will note that the scheme in which this model has been completed is not one of the schemes we featured in our previous edition and will not be included in the kit, however, this build does illustrate that the project is advancing nicely, as well as allowing us all the opportunity to admire the work our designers have put in to making this fantastic new Hunter as accurate a representation as possible. These pictures are being published for the first time and as usual, Workbench readers will be the first to see them.
A stunning selection of images featuring the first full test build from the new 1/48th scale Hawker Hunter F.6 tooling
The unmistakably clean lines of the Hawker Hunter F.6 will ensure this new 1/48th scale kit revives significant interest in this beautiful aircraft
Hawker Hunter F.6 XE584/W was produced as an F.6 fighter in 1956 and delivered to RAF No.263 Squadron just prior to the unit’s move to Stradishall in August 1957 and is a fine representation of an RAF Hunter from this period. It is interesting to note that this was one of the 22 Hunters which performed the world record aerobatic loop at the 1958 SBAC Farnborough Airshow, a record which still stands to this day. Although the ‘Black Arrows’ display team were part of No.111 Squadron, this incredible feat of airmanship required them to train with pilots of other RAF squadrons, as the number of aircraft in the proposed formation continued to grow, if for no other reason than to make it look more aesthetically appealing from the ground.
This particular Hunter would go on to be upgraded to FGA.9 standard, before being sold back to Hawker Siddeley Aviation for possible re-sale in 1976, as the international market in re-conditioned Hunters was booming at that time. It appears that no sale was secured for XE584 and it was scrapped, with just the nose section surviving – this became the subject of a concerted restoration project and can now be seen at cockpit meetings and other aviation events up and down the country.
The scheduled release month for the new 1/48th scale Hawker Hunter F.6 A09185 is November, although these consecutive project updates have just helped to make its release seem much closer. It won’t be too long before we are bringing you the box artwork reveal, which will be the final update before release and we very much look forward to including that in a future edition.
That’s another edition of Workbench completed, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more Airfix modelling delights for your enjoyment. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for subjects you would like to see covered in a future edition of the blog, or ways in which we could enhance your enjoyment of Workbench, please do not hesitate in contacting us. We can be reached via our usual e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org or by contributing to our 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, as it is always interesting to hear from fellow modelling enthusiasts and the projects you have on the go at the moment.
As always, the Airfix website is the place to go for all the latest model release information, with our New Arrivals, Coming Soon and Last Chance to Buy sections all accessed by clicking on the above links. As updating the website is a constant process, a quick search through each section of the Airfix web pages will reveal new information and updated images in many of the product sections and this is always an enjoyable and rewarding way to spend a few minutes.
The next edition of Workbench is due to be published on Friday 14th September, when we look forward to bringing you all the latest news, updates and exclusives from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.
On behalf of the entire Workbench team, thank you for continuing to support our Airfix blog.
The Airfix Workbench Team
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