Exclusive 2018 New Tooling Announcement
We would like to wish our readers a warm welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and our regular look behind the scenes at the fascinating world of Airfix. Although we always strive to bring you blogs full of interesting modelling content and the very latest news and updates from the most anticipated Airfix projects, we are under no illusions as to what our readers are most interested in hearing about – new model tooling announcements! That being the case, this latest edition of Workbench is certainly going to be a popular one, as we bring you news of a magnificent new tooling project that will be released during 2018. This spectacular new model will be a significant addition to the Airfix range, with the subject aircraft being a particularly important one for British air power during the 1930s and in to the Second World War.
An aircraft to put ‘Britain First’
The period between the two World Wars was a fascinating one for the development of aviation across the world. The Great War had proved that the aeroplane would have a significant role to play in any future conflict, and had developed from simple airborne observation platforms to deadly dominators of the skies in just a few short years. Although this development did continue into the 1920s, the pace had slowed somewhat as the world recovered from the carnage and expense of war, although always mindful that a strong air force could help to prevent a repeat of this devastating conflict.
The decade that followed saw the clouds of war gathering once more and aircraft development taking on a renewed level of impetus. Existing biplane designs were perfected to produce the finest of their breed, resulting in fast, highly manoeuvrable aircraft entering service across the world. Even as these gleaming new fighters were being adorned with the markings of their parent units, new aircraft shapes were beginning to come off the drawing boards of the world’s foremost aviation manufacturers and take to the skies for the first time, as the quest for ever increasing speed was prevalent. It was during these times that Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail Newspaper and keen observer of the aviation scene, grew increasingly frustrated at the number of records being set by other nations and invited Britain’s leading aircraft manufacturers to do something about it. As a private venture and determined to capture the civilian aircraft world speed record for Britain, he offered to fund the development of an aircraft capable of achieving this, which resulted in the Bristol Type 142 taking to the air - a sleek, twin engined design whose profile was dominated by its two imposing Bristol Mercury radial engines. Capturing the world speed record for a civilian passenger aircraft, the new Bristol design gave Lord Rothermere what he had been desperately hoping for and he christened the spectacular new aircraft ‘Britain First’.
Cutting edge aviation technology of the mid 1930s, a Gloster Gauntlet and Fairey Swordfish
Flight trials of the new Bristol aircraft proved to be something of an embarrassment for the Royal Air Force, who had just introduced their latest fighter into squadron service, the Gloster Gauntlet. Although the Gauntlet was undoubtedly an excellent aircraft in its own right and a full 56 mph faster than the Bristol Bulldog it replaced (it was actually the fastest RAF aircraft in service between 1935 and 1937), it was bettered by Rothermere’s Bristol Type 142 by a significant 77 mph. Indeed, even the Gloster Gladiator, which is regarded as the pinnacle of biplane fighter design and still under development at this time was slower than the new Bristol passenger design by some 50 mph.
Hoping the performance of the new Bristol design would sting the British aviation industry into action, Lord Rothermere gifted his ‘Britain First’ to the nation, with the Air Ministry immediately sending the aircraft for evaluation trials and to assess its suitability for conversion to a fast attack bomber. Possessing a host of advanced design features, such as all metal stressed skin construction, retractable undercarriage and flaps, and variable pitch propellers, the new aircraft represented a significant leap forward in aviation technology and impressed military officials so much that they placed an immediate order for a bomber version of the Bristol Type 142. With an official designation of the Bristol Type 142M, the new RAF bomber was soon to be given its now famous service name of Blenheim Mk.I and it heralded the arrival of a new breed of advanced RAF aircraft.
The Bristol Blenheim – leading from the front
Bristol Blenheim l K-7033 served as the only military prototype, making its first flight from Filton on 25th June 1936
The first Bristol Blenheim Mk.I light bombers entered service in March 1937 with RAF No.114 Squadron, based at Wyton in Cambridgeshire. Replacing the squadron’s Hawker Hind biplane bombers, the new Blenheim immediately presented the RAF a welcome increase in offensive capability, as it was over 100 mph faster than the Hind and at that time, the fastest light/medium bomber in the world. Significantly for the Blenheim, this was now the aircraft against which all other fighters would be judged and whilst it was undoubtedly an extremely capable aircraft at the time of its service introduction, its performance was now a benchmark for all future designs. This significant fact would work against the Blenheim and over the course of the next few years, every aircraft currently under development, especially ones which may potentially be sent against it in combat, would have the opportunity to assess its capabilities and ensure they could overcome them. In just a few short years, aviation technology advanced at such a rate that this record breaking aircraft from 1935 would prove to be extremely vulnerable to the latest breed of fighters it would engage in combat only four years later.
Although rarely regarded as one of Britain’s foremost aircraft of the Second World War, it is difficult to think of a more important type to the Royal Air Force as the clouds of war gathered in late 1938. As one of the most advanced aircraft in widespread service in the lead-up to conflict, the Blenheim would be used extensively in preparing Britain for war, whether that be training crews for both defensive and offensive operations or assisting in establishing a cohesive ground based detection and observation network. Although most Blenheim crews would have been unaware of the tactical importance, numerous sorties were flown to test the effectiveness of the Chain Home early warning radar network established to provide Britain with a viable ground controlled interception system. They would also be employed in perfecting the back-up system manned by the Royal Observer Corps, which proved to be equally critical and was essential in providing air raid warning notification and tracking inland enemy aircraft incursions for RAF interception.
Profile artwork of a Blenheim Mk.lF wearing typical RAF day fighter camouflage scheme
Crucially, at the outbreak of the Second World War, the Royal Air Force had more Bristol Blenheims in service than any other aircraft in both the fighter and bomber roles, and they were to see extensive service during the battles to come. Indeed, just 63 minutes after Britain had declared war against Germany, a Blenheim of No.139 Squadron from RAF Wyton carried out the RAF’s first operational sortie of WWII, as it conducted a reconnaissance flight over the German naval base at Wilhelmshaven – the crew became the first airmen to cross the German coast in WWII. The following day, Blenheims of Nos 107 and 110 Squadron attacked shipping at Wilhelmshaven, but were forced to make their attack run from inland, flying back out towards the sea. This was to avoid the possibility of inflicting civilian casualties, but allowed ground defenses and the Luftwaffe extra time to intercept the raiders. Five Blenheims and three Vickers Wellingtons were shot down, becoming the first RAF aircraft casualties of the war and unfortunately for Blenheim crews, a sign of things to come.
During the early months of WWII, Blenheim crews would carry a heavy burden of strike operations against enemy targets, both from bases in the UK and in France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force and British Expeditionary Force. Being relatively lightly armed and with constant equipment additions increasing the aircraft’s weight, the Blenheim was no match for the modern fighters of the Luftwaffe and despite the heroic actions of a great many Allied pilots, the RAF suffered significant losses during this period. Blenheim crews were also tasked with flying lengthy missions over the vast expanses of the North Sea in support of the Norwegian Campaign, the RAF lost as many Blenheims to weather related issues and engine problems as they did to enemy action.
A fascinating picture of two early war Fighter Command Blenheim Ifs preparing for a sortie
Also in service as a long-range heavy fighter, RAF Blenheims continued to strike first in this role as well, conducting Fighter Command's first attack against German territory on 28th November 1939. Aircraft from Nos.25 and 601 Squadrons mounted a fighter sweep operation against the Luftwaffe sea plane base at Borkum, with a number of enemy aircraft damaged or destroyed during the raid. The Wilhelmshaven area was also the scene of another Blenheim first in March 1940, when an aircraft of No. 82 Squadron, piloted by Squadron Leader Miles V. Delap attacked and sank German U-boat U31 – this was a significant action, as it was the first U-boat to be sunk by unaided aircraft attack.
By the time of the Battle of Britain, the limitations of the Blenheim as a day fighter were already apparent and although the RAF had nine operational squadrons equipped with the aircraft, heavy losses in daylight operation quickly saw them withdrawn from this role. Re-trained to help establish a cohesive night fighting force, these aircraft along with countless Blenheim crews serving in many theatres of operation, by both day and night, would go on to make a significant contribution to the British & Commonwealth war effort throughout the duration of WWII. With over 4,400 aircraft built and large numbers in service during the early months of the Second World War, the Blenheim was used extensively as Britain attempted to halt the advance of Axis forces across Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean and really has to be considered as one of the most important British aircraft of the Second World War.
New Airfix Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF in 1/48th Scale
Exclusive CAD screenshot from the new 1/48th scale Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF project
As one of Britain’s most important aircraft of WWII, the Bristol Blenheim has also been a popular subject with Airfix modellers since it first appeared in the 1/72nd scale range back in 1968, with its classic lines attracting many people to take up this fascinating hobby by building an example of one of the Second World War’s aviation unsung heroes. Although clearly regarded as something of an Airfix classic, the Blenheim was overdue an upgrade to current manufacturing standards and the 2014 release of a newly tooled example renewed interest in the Blenheim and ensured it continues to be one of our most popular WWII kits.
To further ensure scale modelling immortality for this magnificent aircraft, we are excited to bring Workbench readers the exclusive news that a newly tooled example of the Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF will be taking its place in our ever popular 1/48th scale model range in 2018. This will delight fans of this larger scale of kits and WWII modellers alike and will provide them with a highly accurate and impressively proportioned model representation of this classic aircraft. This will also be a significant addition to the Airfix range, being the first twin engine WWII aircraft type to be produced using the very latest design and manufacturing techniques. Even though our existing 1/72nd scale kit builds into an impressive example of the famous Blenheim, this new 1/48th scale version promises to be something very special indeed and one that will serve as a centerpiece in many a model display, in the weeks and months following its release.
Airfix designers use powerful computer software in the development of new model kits
Clearly, in this larger scale, the Airfix designers have been able to incorporate far more detail to the Blenheim than in the smaller 1/72nd scale version, with the physical size of the new model being one of its most significant and appealing attributes. Determined to produce the most accurate kit possible, attention to detail is absolutely paramount and this began right at the outset of the project, with our lead researcher leaving no stone unturned in obtaining the critical detail he needed. We were once again fortunate to be able to count on the invaluable assistance of the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford and their magnificent airworthy Bristol Blenheim Mk.I, however enthusiasts with knowledge of this particular aircraft will be fully aware of its heritage and how it could possibly be described as having certain elements of its profile which are a little more Bolingbroke than Blenheim.
This magnificent Blenheim Mk.IV (BL-200) is on display at the Aviation Museum of Central Finland
Our search for the most accurate Blenheim information took our lead researcher to Finland and the Aviation Museum of Central Finland at Tikkakoski. The museum has a fine collection of original Blenheim drawings in their archive which we were allowed to inspect, as well as having a beautifully preserved example of a Blenheim Mk.IV on display in their museum, which our researcher was able to photograph in detail. Finland was the first export customer for the Bristol Blenheim and were later granted a manufacturing license to build the aircraft in Finland – they also acquired around 20 semi-complete examples of Blenheims courtesy of the Germans. Only partly completed, these airframes were captured by advancing Wehrmacht units in Yugoslavia and sent to Finland, complete with drawings, manufacturing tools, production equipment and a handsome collection of spare parts.
In total, no fewer than 97 Bristol Blenheims were to see service with the Finnish Air Force, with the last example only being withdrawn from service (albeit as a target tug) as late as 1958. The aircraft was known as ‘Tin Henry’ by crews who flew and maintained the Blenheim in Finnish service, which was one of the most advanced bomber types operated by the force during WWII. We have been told by our lead researcher that his trip to Finland was memorable for a number of reasons, not least of which was the opportunity to view original Blenheim drawings which included instruction details in English, Finnish and what he assumed was Yugoslav – absolutely fascinating from the aviation historian’s perspective.
Another view of Blenheim BL-200 at Tikkakoski
The entire Airfix team would like to sincerely thank both the Aircraft Restoration Company and the Aviation Museum of Central Finland for their invaluable assistance in researching this exciting project, which will result in a very special new addition to the Airfix range in 2018.
1/48th scale Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF – a Development view
A montage of CAD screenshot images from the new Blenheim project
Regular Workbench readers will now be familiar with the many challenging processes involved in the production of a new model tooling and whilst we will not be covering these during this new 1/48th scale Blenheim announcement, all previous blogs containing these details are still available for inspection on the Workbench Homepage. What we are going to be sharing with you are the latest development images from the project, which have proved so popular with our readers over the past few years. A critical stage in the production of any new model tooling is the creation of the CAD model, which is used to check every aspect of the new design for shape and accuracy, allowing even the most intricate of detail to be displayed and perfected. Always conscious of the scale in which the new model will be produced, these digital files allow designers to create individual model components that are as accurate as current injection moulding tolerances will allow. Expert in their craft, they are always challenging themselves to push these manufacturing boundaries to their limits, determined to produce the most accurate representation of the subject aircraft and provide Airfix fans with an enjoyable build experience.
The design team have built lots of fine detail into their new Blenheim kit
As important as these files are in producing the new model tooling itself, there is another aspect of the CAD model file data that consistently fascinates the modelling world and helps us all visualise what the new model will look like when it is eventually released – the computer rendered 3D images. These images are now used extensively to promote any new model tooling project in catalogue, website and magazine features, allowing us all to visualise what the model will look like and serving to raise our excitement levels still further. They also act as proof that the project is already underway and we can begin to book a future space in our build schedules for an exciting new addition to the Airfix range.
Here is a further selection of exclusive development images from the new 1/48th scale Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF project.
These computer rendered 3D images really do bring the new 1/48th scale Airfix Blenheim to life
Computer renders showing cockpit and undercarriage detail on the new model
Dorsal turret and Bristol Mercury engine detail
The unmistakable profile of the Bristol Blenheim in this CAD screenshot image
The new Blenheim will be a significant new addition to the Airfix range and one which will surely be of interest to a great many modellers around the world. This exciting new 1/48th scale project introduces a twin propeller engined WWII aircraft to the range for the first time, utilising the very latest research, design, development and manufacturing techniques currently available to the Airfix team. It certainly underlines the ambition of the Airfix team and their determination to both listen to the requests of their loyal customers and bring innovative and interesting new products to the modelling world. We intend to have a prototype sample of the new 1/48th scale Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF on the Airfix stand at the upcoming Scale ModelWorld show at Telford and we look forward to bringing you both a review of the show, plus updates from this fantastic new project in future editions of Workbench. If you are heading down to Telford in November, please don’t miss the opportunity to come and see our beautiful new Blenheim prototype, along with the other modelling delights we will have on display.
One final look at the CAD screenshot profile of the new 1/48th scale Blenheim
There is only so much spectacular Airfix news that we can bring you in one blog, so that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench. As always, we are interested to hear what you have to say regarding this exclusive announcement and indeed all matters Airfix, including suggestions for possible future subject matter. We would be particularly interested to hear from any readers that may have an interesting build project on the go and may care to send details that we could share with our readers in a future edition.
There are several ways in which you can contact us, which include our dedicated e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org 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 as it is always interesting to hear from fellow modelling enthusiasts and the projects you have on the go at the moment.
Finally, the Airfix website is the place where you can always find all the latest model release information, with our New Arrivals and Coming Soon sections all accessed by clicking on the 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 27th October, so until then, thank you for your continued support of our Airfix blog.
The Airfix Workbench Team
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