Grumman’s mighty cat unveiled at Telford
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. The spectacular Scale Modelworld show is over for another year and the organisers have to be congratulated for serving up yet another modelling extravaganza, which again was enjoyed by ever increasing visitor numbers. Anyone who has attended one of the shows will attest to the fact that you probably need two full days to do this event justice, as there is simply so much to see, especially if you are intending to make one or two additions to your collection of books and kits during your visit. From a blog production perspective, we tend to gather so much information during the weekend that we could probably include Telford related features in every edition of Workbench right up until the eve of the next show. In this latest edition of our blog, however, we will be taking another look at our big 2019 new tooling announcement from two weeks ago and how this was received by the Telford masses, as well as those commenting via social media. Not intending to stray too far from the Airfix stand in this edition, we will also be looking at the impressive model display we had on show at Scale Modelworld, paying particular attention to two aircraft models, one which has just been released and the other which is due to be released over the next few weeks. We are pleased to announce that we will be unveiling the Workbench debuts of both box artwork images for these fantastic new models, so without further ado, let’s head back to the excitement at Telford and the coordinated announcement of our latest 2019 new tooling project.
Enter the US Navy’s ‘Ace Maker’
A stunning built sample image of the newly announced 1/24th scale Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, shown for the first time on a Workbench blog
In an unusual departure from our regular Friday lunchtime publication slot, the previous edition of our Workbench blog was delayed by one day for one very BIG reason – the announcement of our latest 2019 new tooling subject at Telford’s Scale Modelworld show. Aware that not only enthusiasts attending the show, but also modellers all over the world would be interested to see what we would be announcing, we went to some lengths to ensure that all would have the opportunity to see our latest new model tooling at exactly the same time. This required the blog, product web page, announcement e-mail and social media posts to be produced well in advance, at the same time as the rest of the Airfix team were putting the finishing touches to the Telford display itself. With information becoming available right up until the days prior to our show attendance, we were all running to the tape with this one. As the main Airfix team prepared to make the announcement at 11am on Saturday 10th November and other members were in position to document proceedings, one of our hard working on-line team had the not insignificant responsibility of ensuring all the web-based material went live at the same time as the announcement was being made and hopefully dealing with any technical issues, should they occur. We are all grateful that Giorgia handled this with her usual style and professionalism, despite having to do so on her day off – thank you Giorgia, you are an Airfix star!
As one of the most important weekend’s in the Airfix calendar, the Scale Modelworld show requires many weeks of preparation from a great many people at Hornby HQ, however, for this latest new tooling announcement, we really did pull out all the stops. Not only did we have test samples of our new Hellcat available for visitors to the Airfix stand to inspect, we also had a fully completed and professionally painted example of this beautiful model on display in our now famous Telford presentation plinth. In addition to this, as the announcement itself was being made, the team had positioned a large vinyl banner on the balcony overlooking the stand itself, perfectly centred above the model of the moment to act as a unique backdrop to the day’s proceedings. The banner featured beautiful digital artwork created by Adam Tooby (who is now famous for producing much of the impressive Airfix box artwork) and showed a rather distinctive US Navy Hellcat in combat with a Japanese Zero fighter over the Pacific Ocean, a theatre which this magnificent aircraft would come to dominate. At the allotted time, the banner was unfurled to allow the sizeable crowd gathered around Airfix stand to gain their first glimpse of our new model, as it would be some time before most of them would have the opportunity to view the actual model sitting majestically in the centrally positioned display plinth. There would always be a sizeable gathering around the new Hellcat for the remainder of the show.
A delicate operation. The Airfix team conceal the BIG announcement, as it is smuggled onto the display plinth in preparation for the unveiling
Mission accomplished. Under the gaze of the world’s media, the new Hellcat is safely placed under cover, ready for the big reveal
Chris and Tom from the Airfix team moonlight as modelling minders, protecting the new model from any unwanted attention – you would not want to mess with these guys
The big reveal. A healthy crowd and plenty of smartphone coverage greeted the announcement of the new 1/24th scale Hellcat
Everything regarding the announcement and the model unveiling went exactly to plan, even though this did mask some feverish activity in the hours leading up to the unveiling itself. If the team had a pound for every time they were asked ‘So what is the new model announcement then?’ on Friday as we were setting up the display and on Saturday morning prior to the announcement, we would have had plenty of money left over after all our Telford book and kit purchases had been made. Fortunately for us, the cloak of modelling secrecy surrounding the Hellcat project had ensured that we had all been well drilled in evasive answering techniques and just in case of unforeseen slip-ups, use of the ‘H word’ was banned until 11am on Saturday. With the stand ready for business on Friday night and Workbench hinting of a BIG show announcement in the weeks leading up to Telford, we did still have one sizeable problem to overcome. How were we going to smuggle a 1/24th scale model past hundreds of expectant and knowledgeable modelling enthusiasts and secrete it in our plinth mounted display case without it being noticed? In situations like this, you have to rely on two things – lots of willing team members and a couple of large red cloths. As the model was taken from its protective packaging behind the Airfix stand, the majority of the team shrouded the entire operation behind some makeshift curtains, before placing the covers on top of the newly filled display plinth, in preparation for the grand unveiling. Until that time arrived, our sinister looking security team ensured no one got too close to the big secret – no matter how desperate you were to find out the subject of our latest model announcement, you would not want to be messing with these guys.
The built sample model we featured in the stop press section of our previous blog looked magnificent on the Airfix display plinth
These sample builds show some of the impressive detail the team have managed to incorporate into this build and came in for plenty of attention during the show weekend
Pictured with the Perspex protective cover removed, the opportunity to have a fully built and finished model available for a Telford new tooling announcement was an unusual treat
Hellcat heaven. Our new model tooling announcement dominated the Airfix stand at Scale Modelworld 2018
Clearly, the selection of any new model tooling will be of great interest to many and undoubtedly a slight disappointment to some and although the reaction following our unveiling was overwhelmingly positive, there will be some people who were slightly less enthusiastic about our choice of subject. Historically, our large 1/24th scale aircraft releases tend to be kits which are attempted by modellers looking to either announce their hobby credentials, or for those searching for a level of detail and authenticity which cannot usually be obtained in smaller scales. Indeed, many of the modelling club and Special Interest Group displays at Telford featured one of our previous large scale kit releases, as these impressive models make ideal display centrepiece items, as well as fascinating modelling subjects in their own right. It is also somehow fitting that a show of this international modelling magnitude should be the occasion for launching such a new model, one which will incorporate all the latest industry design and production technologies available to the Airfix team and provides modellers with something really special to look forward to. It had been five years since our previous 1/24th scale tooling was announced (the Hawker Typhoon) and we felt it was about time that we visited this impressive scale once again. The magnificent Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat was felt to be an ideal choice due to its unequalled WWII credentials, international aviation appeal and the new model filling a sizeable gap in the marketplace. With over 12,000 examples built in a production run which lasted under three years, there will be no shortage of subject matter for modellers looking to immortalise one of the greatest fighter aircraft in the history of aerial warfare in 1/24th scale plastic.
Grumman’s complete fighting package
Although a relatively new company in the manufacture of modern fighting aeroplanes, Grumman had already earned an enviable reputation in the quality of their mass production techniques and the rugged nature of their designs, as typified by the diminutive F4F Wildcat which was in US Navy service at the time of America’s entry into WWII. Many of the desirable qualities possessed by this fighter would be incorporated into its successor, however, even though it undoubtedly shared something of its overall appearance and is sometimes mistakenly described as a big Wildcat, the F6F Hellcat was a very different beast altogether. Completely re-designed, the Hellcat was bred for fighting, with the Grumman design team having the opportunity to speak with both serving US Navy Wildcat pilots and those who had used the aircraft in combat against both German and Japanese adversaries. As a result of this input, the new fighter would be faster, heavier and possess much greater firepower than its predecessor, whilst retaining the rugged qualities and ease of maintenance which made the Wildcat such an impressive aircraft. With the first production F6F-3 Hellcats rolling off the production lines just four months after the first flight of the prototype, it would not be long before this significant new fighter would be arriving with US Navy units, preparing for their combat introduction.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Hellcat’s design and introduction was its use of the finest existing aviation technologies, combined with world leading mass production techniques and uncompromising quality control. This ensured that the new aircraft would be built to an exceptionally high standard, able to absorb significant punishment and still bring its pilot home. Designed to operate from the punishing environment of aircraft carriers at sea, the Hellcat was relatively easy to maintain for such an advanced fighter and incorporated many features which must have reassured pilots that this was the right aeroplane at the right time. Giving them greater speed and firepower with which to take on the Japanese, the aircraft also boasted increased range, the option to carry additional fuel in an externally mounted tank (which could be jettisoned) and impressive levels of armour plating, not only protecting the pilot, but also many of the important systems on the aircraft, benefits that Japanese Zero pilots could not call upon. When operating over vast expanses of ocean, these must have been attributes which helped US Navy pilots concentrate on the job at hand, rather than worrying that if they sustained even the slightest combat damage, the least they could expect was a spell in the Pacific Ocean. When the Grumman Hellcat arrived on US carriers, it was very much ready to go to war.
A further selection of 1/24th scale F6F-5 Hellcat built sample images, which are being shown for the first time on a Workbench blog
Despite the undoubted combat credentials of the Grumman Hellcat, it was the effectiveness of the Grumman production facility which ensured this aircraft would become one of the aviation legends of WWII. As more US Navy units converted to the new fighter, they began to score victories against some of the most experienced Japanese fighter pilots still in service at that time. As the US pilots themselves quickly gained more combat experience, the nature of aerial combat in the Pacific Theatre ensured that most Japanese pilots shot down were unlikely to return to combat duties and as the war began to turn inexorably in favour of the Allies, these losses were quickly proving unsustainable. With war materials becoming more difficult to obtain with each passing week, replacement aircraft and adequately trained pilots were no longer readily available and obsolete aircraft with novice crews were sent to face the ever stronger American forces. By contrast, the Grumman company were producing more than 600 of their impressive new Hellcat fighters every month and the aircraft already in service were scoring ever increasing numbers of aerial victories, whilst also posting enviable serviceability figures. Even if the Japanese could develop an aircraft to challenge the dominance of the Hellcat, the overwhelming number of American fighters and a lack of production materials in Japan would quickly render the situation futile.
As one of the least developed aircraft of the Second World War, the Hellcat was only produced in two major variants, the F6F-3 and the F6F-5. Building on the success of the earlier variant, the F6F-5 was the most heavily produced version of the fighter with 6,681 aircraft built, all of which incorporated a number of significant improvements over its predecessor. With an uprated engine and additional armour protection, the F6F-5 had stronger main undercarriage legs, spring loaded aileron tabs (for greater manoeuvrability during combat) and the ability to carry two 1,000lb bombs and/or six underwing mounted unguided air to ground rockets, all of which significantly increased the aircraft’s operational effectiveness. Outwardly, the appearance of the two variants were very similar and you would have to look hard to distinguish between the two. The later model incorporated such improvements as a more effective bullet resistant windshield, different aerial mast and removal of the rear visibility windows on both sides of the fuselage, behind the cockpit – this variant also used an altered cowling to accommodate the uprated Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp powerplant.
When this new model is released in May 2019, it will provide the modeller with the most accurate scale representation of this famous US Navy fighter
With over 6,600 F6F-5 variants of the Hellcat built and aircraft serving with the US Navy, US Marine Corps and the Fleet Air Arm, there will be no shortage of schemes to inspire modellers
On reviewing the effectiveness of the Grumman Hellcat, it is difficult to ignore the dramatic impact this aircraft’s introduction had on the Pacific air war and the terrible toll it exacted against Japanese Army and Naval air forces. With a combat kill to loss ratio of 19:1, the Hellcat ruled the skies in the Pacific and effectively disabled Japan’s ability to challenge America’s inexorable march towards their home islands. Without control of the air, Japanese forces were unable to mount anything but futile and increasingly desperate attacks against the Americans and after the disastrous Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, their air force was all but destroyed as a viable fighting force. Underlining the overwhelming dominance of the Hellcat during this period, US Navy ace Alex Vraciu destroyed six Japanese aircraft in a single sortie on the morning of 19th June 1944. On landing back aboard his home carrier, his ground crew discovered that he had achieved this impressive feat using just 360 rounds of ammunition through his six machine guns.
Although the Hellcat is regarded mainly as a US Naval fighter, it was also used by Marine Corps units and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, with around 1,200 aircraft eventually wearing the British roundel and serving on board Britain’s relatively small aircraft carriers. In short, this new 1/24th scale Airfix release marks one of the finest fighting aeroplanes of the Second World War and one which proved decisive in ensuring a hard-fought Allied victory. Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat A19004 is scheduled for a May 2019 release and we look forward to bringing you further project updates as this date approaches – we will certainly be hoping to see many built examples on display at next year’s Scale Modelworld show.
Britain’s ‘fighting twin’ arrives
Although the 1/48th scale Blenheim has already been released, this is the first time that we have featured this magnificent artwork in a Workbench blog
In all the Hellcat excitement of the past couple of weeks, another spectacular new model tooling has finally arrived in model shops all over the world and it is a real cracker – the magnificent 1/48th scale Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF. Having followed this project for many months now, it was just our luck that the release of the spectacular box artwork would come right in the middle of the Hellcat announcement and in between editions of our blog, however, we are determined to put that right now. Having brought readers news of several 1/48th scale new model toolings over the past few years, the Blenheim has to be considered one of the most impressive, with the extra size of this famous twin engined aircraft really lending itself to this slightly larger scale. Despite the embarrassment of modelling riches we had on display at Telford this year (and excluding our Hellcat debutant), it was the two built examples of the new Blenheim fighter which appeared to be attracting the most attention and admiring glances. If comments overheard are to be believed, the initial supply of these impressive models will not be around for long, as a great many people visiting the stand over the show weekend claimed to have at least Blenheim kit on order.
The release of the box artwork is always an exciting time for the development team here at Airfix, as well as for modellers looking forward to adding a new model to their build schedules and usually signifies the impending release of the kit. In this case, we are unusually bringing you these details after the model has been released, however, with such an eagerly anticipated model as this, we don’t think we will have many readers against this final review of the Blenheim project. The artwork features a Blenheim fighter flying above a winter landscape, presumably whilst conducting its latest standing patrol and will serve as inspiration for many a model build. Although the Blenheim was the most numerous aircraft type available to the RAF at the start of the Second World War, it is most readily associated with the light bomber role and the brave British and Commonwealth airmen who took this aircraft into combat when Britain was ill prepared for war. As the only suitable aircraft in service at that time, the Blenheim was also pressed into service as a long range patrol aircraft and nightfighter, as the RAF explored the heavy fighter concept championed by the Luftwaffe and their much vaunted Messerschmitt Bf 110 Destroyers. Fitted with an external gun pack, the Blenheim fighters were equipped with four forward firing .303 Browning machine guns and 2,000 rounds of ammunition, capable of inflicting significant damage on any target they managed to get in their sights. By the start of the conflict, some 111 Blenheim Mk.IF heavy fighters were in service with Fighter Command, employed mainly on convoy protection flights and rarely engaging in combat with the Luftwaffe – when they did, the limitations of the aircraft were clearly in evidence. Lacking the speed and manoeuvrability of single engined fighters, the Blenheim was outclassed as a fighter and quickly relegated to nightfighter duties, where the cloak of darkness gave the aircraft a better chance against the medium bombers it would be stalking. The arrival of the more capable Bristol Beaufighter and early airborne interception radar technology brought about the gradual withdrawal of what was always intended as an interim fighter type and consigned this interesting variant of the Blenheim to the aviation history books.
Although this particular scheme option is not included with this first release from our new 1/48th scale Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF tooling, it has featured in Workbench previously and certainly shows off the impressive lines of this beautiful new model. It attracted plenty of attention whilst displayed on the Airfix stand at Telford
The Blenheim looks particularly attractive wearing this circa 1940 black nightfighter scheme and will make a stunning companion display model with one of our Boulton Paul Defiants
The box artwork depicts a Blenheim Mk.IF of RAF No.23 Squadron from early 1940, a scheme which has been made famous by the Aircraft Restoration Company and their magnificent aircraft which thrills millions of spectators at Airshow events around the country each year – the only airworthy Blenheim in the world. With two previous UK Blenheim restorations ending with unfortunate accidents, the decision to rebuild Bristol Blenheim G-BPIV was certainly significant for the UK Warbird movement, especially as this latest project would produce a rather unusual variant of this famous aircraft. The previous two restorations had been completed as long-nosed Mark IV versions of the Blenheim, however this latest attempt would aim to produce an early short-nosed Mk.IF fighter, which would give the Blenheim a dramatically different appearance from the earlier projects. The team had managed to secure the nose section of Bristol Blenheim L6739, which had a rather interesting story behind it. Blenheim Mk.I L6739 was issued to No.23 Squadron at RAF Wittering following its construction, where it would serve as a night fighter throughout the period of the Battle of Britain. Struck off charge in December 1940, it went back to the manufacturers, where it was simply left to deteriorate in their scrapyard. After the war had ended, an innovative electrician by the name of Ralph Nelson who was working at Bristol's, was given permission to buy the nose of the aircraft, which he then went on to convert into an electric car. After mounting it to the chassis of an Austin 7 he fitted an electric motor of his own design and registered it as a 'Nelson' with the index JAD347. Ralph drove the car for 10 years before it suffered a fire which damaged the systems beyond repair, however, he had heard of the ongoing second Blenheim restoration at Duxford and donated the car to the project in 1992.
With the restored nose section now mated with the rest of the Blenheim airframe, L6739 made her first post restoration flight as a short nosed Mk.I at the end of May 2014 and has since gone on to be one of the most popular historic aircraft on the UK Airshow scene – a true British aviation classic and a fascinating link back to the RAF’s struggle to halt the Luftwaffe in their attempt to secure the skies over southern England as a prelude to invasion. This scheme will surely prove popular with modellers attracted by the stunning good looks of this latest 1/48th scale release – Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF A09186 is available now.
Fist of the Falklands
We will all have our personal favourites, but this latest RAF Phantom artwork has to be amongst the most appealing we have ever featured on a Workbench blog
We are excited to end this latest edition of Workbench with yet another of our ever popular exclusive box artwork reveals, this time featuring McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 A06017 and what a stunner it is. After something of a troubled beginning, the British took the Phantom to their hearts and it became a significant aircraft in the post war history of both the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. The artwork featured above has to be considered amongst the most dynamic we have ever included in Workbench and depicts a pair of white tailed RAF No.1435 Flight Phantoms transiting at high speed and at low level across the barren landscape of the Falkland Islands. Even though there are three striking scheme options available with this latest release from our new Phantom tooling, the sight of this beautiful artwork will surely make these 'Falklands Defenders' impossible to resist and rekindle interest in the RAF aircraft which have carried out this important role since 1982.
Perhaps the most fascinating period of RAF Phantom operations was when the aircraft served as ‘Falklands Defenders’ in the wake of the 1982 conflict. Whilst the Phantom did not take part directly in the Falklands War, 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 been forced to endure 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.
This built example of the forthcoming RAF Phantom FGR.2 has been finished in the colours of No.6 Squadron, the first RAF unit to be equipped with the Phantom - Please note that this build includes additional parts which will not be included in the kit (A06017)
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 at any one time, 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, however, they were to suffer 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 aircraft serving in this important South Atlantic role. 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 looking to add one of these fantastic new kits to their winter build schedule. 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.
One to look out for in the run-up to Christmas. This December Phantom release will shift faster than Santa’s sleigh
As one of the final updates to outstanding 2018 releases, this magnificent new 1/72nd scale McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 A06017 is scheduled for a December release and will certainly be a popular modelling gift, if you are lucky enough to find one under your tree (even if you have to put it there yourself, just to be on the safe side). Still available for pre-order at this present time, this could be your final opportunity to reserve one of these stunning new models before they are released.
RELEASE UPDATE - As we were just about to post this edition of Workbench, we received the latest shipping information for kits due for Christmas release. Phantom production is running a little late and is now likely that this highly anticipated kit will not be available until January.
That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench, which we hope you found an enjoyable read - we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with a further selection of 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 7th December, 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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