1:48 Supermarine Walrus - latest ‘Steam Pigeon’ update

 

Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and our regular look behind the scenes at the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. One of the major benefits of producing our fortnightly blogs is that it allows us the opportunity to keep readers informed of the progress of new tooling projects, which tend to be announced from around October each year. Even though modellers understand that the business of producing a new model tooling can be time consuming, it is always interesting to see how a project is progressing, especially if it is one you are particularly looking forward to adding to your build schedule once it is released.

In the thirtieth edition of Workbench we brought you the exciting news that we were producing a Supermarine Walrus in 1/48th scale and whilst this ungainly looking biplane may not be one of the most attractive aircraft ever to take to the skies, it did prove to be particularly effective in the roles it was required to undertake. Demonstrating Supermarine’s expertise in producing rugged and purposeful sea-plane designs, the Walrus cannot claim to be as graceful as the Spitfire, but it is certainly no less interesting. We are pleased to be able to bring you the latest update from the Walrus tooling project, including decal scheme options, box artwork and some magnificent built sample model images, all of which will further increase the interest in this fascinating aircraft.

Naval Spotter turns to Search and Rescue

B_Airfix_Supermarine_Walrus_Mk1_RAFComputer rendered 3D CAD image of the impressive new Walrus

 

Originally developed as a robust amphibious reconnaissance spotter for the Royal Australian Air Force, the highly capable Supermarine Seagull V quickly captured the interest of Britain’s Royal Navy. Successful trials of the new aircraft at Felixstowe illustrated how effective it was and with a large expansion of British naval forces underway, the Seagull V offered the Admiralty an effective aircraft for reconnaissance spotting and gun targeting for their cruisers and battleships. After using one of the Australian machines in operational trials, they decided to place their own order for this latest Supermarine amphibian, with the British machines being called Walrus, even though they were almost identical to the Seagull Vs of the RAAF.

A particularly interesting fact that demonstrates just how robust the Supermarine Walrus (Seagull V) design actually was came during the 1933 Hendon Air Pageant. Even though the prototype Seagull V had only flown days earlier in the hands of famous Supermarine test pilot Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers, the aircraft attended and was demonstrated at the huge Hendon Airshow. Belying its rather ungainly appearance, Summers stunned the huge crowds by proceeding to loop his new aircraft, a feat that was only possible due to the inherent strength of the Supermarine design and how it had been stressed for catapult launching from battleships and cruisers. The Supermarine Walrus would go on to become one of the finest amphibious aircraft ever produced and was responsible for saving the lives of a great many downed Allied and Luftwaffe airmen.

 

C_Airfix_Supermarine_Walrus_Mk1_RAFModellers are already looking forward to the release of the new 1/48th scale Walrus Mk.I

 

It quickly became clear that news of Airfix’s intention to produce a new version of the Supermarine Walrus was well received amongst modellers and enthusiasts, especially when they realised that it would be in the larger 1/48th scale. Publication of the computer rendered 3D CAD images further increased this interest, as they clearly illustrated how the new Walrus tooling would build in to a truly spectacular model and one that would certainly be a fascinating addition to any model collection. With high levels of detail and a number of alternate construction options (most significantly the ability to construct the model with the wings folded back for deck stowage), this new kit draws attention to one of WWII's unsung heroes of the air war and one that displays Supermarine’s manufacturing prowess and heritage in producing effective maritime/amphibious aircraft.

 

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Exclusive first look at the box artwork that will feature with the Walrus release

 

Now such a recognised feature of any new Airfix model release, the artwork which will adorn the box of this exciting new release is suitably dramatic for the often-hostile environment in which the Walrus was tasked to operate and will act as inspiration for many a build project. It shows a Walrus crew arriving to rescue a downed airman in the nick of time, whilst a squadron mate of the stricken pilot marks the ditching site by circling above. Although this is a relatively accurate description of how a search and rescue mission might take place, the aircraft circling above was more likely to be a SAR Spitfire, or Avro Anson spotter aircraft sent to locate the airman and relay the position to an approaching Walrus crew. Also, the squadron mate of the downed airman would typically either be engaged on his latest mission, or returning from it and low on fuel - he would not want to make the situation worse by doubling the size of the rescue operation. Also, the ditched aircraft would usually sink quite quickly, which made locating the airman even more difficult and the speed of rescue much more critical. Whatever the situation, the sight and sound of an approaching Walrus must have been an extremely welcome one for the pilot stranded in the water.

 

Walrus Scheme and Decal Options

As the Walrus project continues to advance towards its release date, we are pleased to bring you confirmation of the three decoration and decal options that will accompany the new Supermarine Walrus Mk.I kit, any one of which would be an attractive option for a model build.

 

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Supermarine Walrus Mk.I, P5658 AQ-M, No.276 Squadron, Royal Air Force Harrowbeer, Devon, England, 1944.

 

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Full decoration detail for Supermarine Walrus Mk.I scheme A

 

The early aerial skirmishes fought over the English Channel during WWII saw the need arise for a dedicated and coordinated aerial search and rescue service. It became a critical requirement to ensure as many downed airmen as possible could be saved from the sea and the existing High Speed Launches of the Royal Navy were struggling to perform this task. In order to reach the airman as swiftly as possible, aircraft would need to be deployed, but as the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the RAF were needed to repel the attacks of the Luftwaffe, the first aircraft to be used in this role were Westland Lysanders and Boulton Paul Defiants. Although these aircraft had the ability to locate a downed airman quicker, they could only report his position and drop items to aid his survival, which would hopefully preserve his life until the rescue launch could arrive. Although certainly an improvement, what the service really needed was an aircraft that could land on the water, saving critical minutes in preserving the lives of airmen stricken in the cold seas that surround Britain’s coastline – the Supermarine Walrus.

Stationed at RAF Harrowbeer in Devon, No.276 Squadron was dedicated to the location and rescue of airmen forced to ditch in the seas around the coast of Britain. The unit was equipped with various different aircraft to help them perform their crucial task, but typically used the Avro Anson for longer search patrols, dingy equipped Spitfires for shorter range spotting and fighting off the attentions of enemy aircraft and the Supermarine Walrus for undertaking the sea rescue itself – an effective sea rescue would possibly involve the use of all three of these aircraft.

Walrus Mk.I P5658 entered service with the Royal Air Force in the Air Sea Rescue role and was to prove particularly effective in saving downed airmen. The aircraft is interesting for the modeller as it displays lifebelt ‘mission markings’ on the port side of the forward fuselage, which proudly display not only the number of successful rescue missions the aircraft was involved in, but also the number of airmen rescued on each occasion. The first one is marked with ‘Seven’ airmen rescued and was the crew of a ditched B-17 Flying Fortress, which is definitely a story in itself. The Walrus had a crew of three and could take off with a maximum number of five people on board – this suggests that whilst the B-17 crew would have been relieved to have been picked up by the Walrus, they would have floated to safety, as opposed to being flown.

This famous Walrus later transferred to Royal Navy service and as one of the more interesting aircraft of WWII, will undoubtedly be a popular scheme choice for many modellers.

 

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Supermarine Walrus Mk.I, L2228 ‘Spotter of Spartivento’, No.700 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Navy, on board HMS Sheffield, 1941.

 

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HMS Sheffield’s Walrus spotter from around 1941

 

The Royal Navy became early admirers of the qualities of the Supermarine Walrus and saw the aircraft as the ideal choice for an effective reconnaissance spotter and gunnery range-finding aircraft for its battleships and cruisers. Despite its unusual and somewhat antiquated appearance, the Walrus was an incredibly tough aircraft and was ideally suited to the rigors of operations at sea – the wings could be folded back for stowage in the limited space available on the Navy’s ships and the robust hull was capable of withstanding catapult launches and being winched back aboard its home ship.

As well as spotting for the gunners aboard some of Britain’s most capable warships, the Fleet Air Arm Walrus reconnaissance aircraft were tasked with searching for enemy surface raiders and U-boats, plotting their position and reporting their movements back to an Allied force rushing to face the threat. These ‘eyes in the sky’ were crucial during the early months of the war and as these operations could be carried out in the hostile, open oceans, the rugged construction of the Walrus earned the aircraft an excellent reputation. As the war progressed however, the improved effectiveness of radar, as well as greater numbers of Axis fighters sent to challenge the Navy’s Walrus spotters dictated that these aircraft would be used less in the range-finding/spotter roles and moved to Air Sea Rescue duties, a task at which the Walrus also excelled. Indeed, as naval gunnery spotters, the Walrus was only used in two naval actions, those being the aircraft of HMS Renown and Manchester during the Battle of Cape Spartivento and the Walrus of HMS Gloucester at the Battle of Cape Matapan, both of which were engagements with the powerful Italian Navy.

No.700 Naval Air Squadron was responsible for both supplying the Walrus aircraft stationed aboard Britain’s battleships and cruisers, as well as providing the training for the aircrews that manned them. At the height of its strength, the squadron had no fewer than sixty-three Supermarine Walrus aircraft under its charge, one of which was the Walrus Mk.I (L2228) assigned to HMS Sheffield, which makes reference to the actions against the Italian Navy at Cape Spartivento by carrying the wording ‘Spotter of Spartivento’ on the starboard forward fuselage of the aircraft – certainly one for Fleet Air Arm modellers to consider.

 

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Supermarine Walrus Mk.I, X 9515/FK-A, No.5 CF (Fleet Co-operation Squadron), Royal Australian Air Force, Australia and New Guinea, early 1943.

 

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A Pacific Theatre scheme for this Australian Walrus

 

It is interesting to note that development of the Supermarine Walrus is very much linked with the Royal Australian Air Force and their search for a rugged and effective fleet reconnaissance amphibian, which was capable of being catapult launched from their impressive HMAS Albatross sea-plane carrier ship. They were already successfully operating Supermarine’s Seagull III amphibian and when the company unveiled their much-improved Seagull V prototype (later renamed Walrus Mk.I), they had found their aircraft. Despite initially not being of interest to the Royal Navy, the result of deck trials proved so impressive that they quickly changed their minds and placed an order for this extremely capable aircraft.

The huge expanses of ocean in the Pacific Theatre made the deployment of effective amphibious aircraft absolutely essential and many Walrus aircraft were to see service in these slightly warmer, if no less hostile waters. Again fulfilling a variety of roles, but specialising in Air Sea Rescue duties the rugged nature of the basic Walrus design would allow a great many Allied airmen to be rescued from a watery fate and provide anyone flying on operations over the ocean with the reassurance of potential rescue if they found themselves in difficulties. This aircraft (X 9515) was involved in the rescue of a downed Avro Anson crew in 1943 and a P-38 Lightning pilot in July 1945 and this third supplied scheme option will tempt many modellers to look at an RAAF livery for their first Walrus build.

 

Built sample shows Walrus appeal

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Magnificent Walrus built sample model produced by Jim Bren

 

We are pleased to end this latest Walrus update by bringing you a series of images featuring a built sample model from the new 1/48th scale tooling, which has been finished using the second ‘Spotter of Spartivento’ scheme detailed above. An important stage in the development of any new model tooling is the ability to inspect the first plastic kit frames to be produced by the tool and assess every aspect of the individual components. This will involve looking at the accuracy of the kit parts and how they fit together during the build itself – at the end of this stage, the team will have produced a detailed review file and may include instructions for the model tooling to be modified.

As the development team began their work on the first sample sprues, one set of model parts were sent to long standing modelling friend and supporter of the Airfix brand, Mr Jim Bren, who was asked if he would kindly build and finish an example of the new Walrus kit. What he produced was simply breath-taking and clearly shows why this new model will be a popular subject with modellers all over the world when it is released later in the year. As you may well imagine, on its arrival at Airfix HQ, this beautiful model came in for some significant attention and must have been a moment of great pride for not just the designer responsible for the Walrus tooling, but also for the entire Airfix team, who were seeing a fully finished example of the model for the first time.

 

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The Supermarine Walrus Mk.I is a fascinating WWII aircraft and one which most certainly does not receive the attention its service record deserves. Heralding from the same stable as the later and infinitely more famous Spitfire, this ungainly looking amphibious biplane operated in some of the most demanding and inhospitable environments imaginable for an aeroplane and whether it was being catapulted into the sky to hunt for U-boats, or hoisted back aboard its home cruiser, the Walrus got on with the job with a minimum of fuss - there is no doubt that many a downed Spitfire pilot would have been grateful for the rugged effectiveness Supermarine’s classic amphibian. Hopefully, this stunning new Airfix kit will help to raise its profile somewhat and bring modellers a better appreciation of its many qualities and whilst aviation beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder, the Walrus is surely about to become the talking point of many a model collection.

 

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The instructions include detailed control cable and bracing wire guidance

 

The new 1/48th scale Supermarine Walrus Mk.I is currently scheduled for a July release and we would like to thank Jim Bren once more for producing such a stunning kit and allowing us to show it to fellow Workbench readers.

 


 

Current Starter Set range – Airfix for everyone

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The Lightning is one of the most exciting aircraft to ever serve with the RAF

 

We end this latest edition of Workbench by taking a quick look at our current range of Starter Sets and how these great little models consistently find their way into the hands of modellers of all levels of experience and abilities. Intended as a great way for anyone to take their first tentative steps in the fantastic modelling hobby, these sets include everything you might need to construct, paint and finish your first plastic model kit. This popular range has expanded to include not only the aircraft that Airfix are famous for producing, but also tanks, ships and classic motor vehicles. Rather than restrict the subject choice to established kit releases, the Starter Set range can boast some newly tooled models in its ranks, such as the fantastic 1/72nd scale Boulton Paul Defiant and the Jet Provost, along with some much loved classics like HMS Victory and the King Tiger. Indeed, if the modeller were to restrict themselves to building starter sets alone, they would have a busy build schedule ahead of them.

 

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The current Starter Set range includes some varied subject matter

 

As far as our beloved hobby is concerned, perhaps the most significant aspect of the starter set range is their widespread availability. Many readers will have obviously seen these models in their local hobby store, large supermarket or in the pages of a catalogue company, but they can also be found in hardware stores, garden centres and gift shops all over the UK. In fact, it would be interesting to hear from Workbench readers if they have seen one of our starter sets on sale in a particularly unusual place, or somewhere you least expected to see one – we can surely rustle up a prize for the most amusing/unusual sighting, with bonus points for supporting photographs.

 

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A beautifully finished Lightning F.2A Starter Set kit

 

Far from simply being models attractive to the younger and slightly less experienced modeller, we regularly hear from customers that these sets equally appeal to modellers who may be coming back to the hobby after a period of inactivity, or more accomplished builders who have an eye for a bargain and use the starter set extras to further swell the contents of their spares box. As you can see from the fantastic Lightning F.2A build above, these sets contain everything you need to produce something really special, but surely the fun is simply opening the box and having a go at modelling.

 

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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 workbench@airfix.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 26th May.

The Airfix Workbench Team

 

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