Strike fast and low in 2019
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. This latest edition is unusual in that we are bringing it to you just one week after the previous blog was published, as we finally get back on track with our normal schedule following the Christmas holidays and the new 2019 Airfix range launch. From this point forward, we will be back to our usual publication format of one new blog every two weeks.
Our previous blog brought you an overview of some of the many highlights which feature within the recently launched 2019 Airfix kit range, including news of a trio of new model tooling projects which we were announcing for the first time. Clearly, this means that we are a little behind the game in bringing you all the initial development information relating to each of these projects, however, we intend to start putting this right straight away and will be taking one of these new models and bringing you an exclusive look behind the scenes at the work that has taken place to this point. Showcasing the talents of our design and development engineers, we begin by looking at the project which will immortalise one of Britain’s most effective post war strike jets in the Airfix range and will eventually result in the release of what we believe will be the most accurate scale model representation of this aircraft ever produced – the robust and purposeful Blackburn Buccaneer. As usual, we will be bringing you a fascinating selection of exclusive images which will illustrate much of the work already completed on this project and reveal how our team have managed to replicate the unusual shape of this famous aircraft. We already know that many Airfix fans are looking forward to adding this model to their build schedule, so we hope you enjoy finding out a little more about the story behind the new model, which all begins in a historic hangar in Northern Ireland.
Blackburn’s mighty flying ‘BANAna’
A computer generated side view showing the distinctive shape of the new Airfix Buccaneer kit
Throughout the history of aviation, there has always been a particular fascination about the operation of aircraft over water and especially those intrepid aviators who flew aeroplanes from the heaving decks of ships at sea. Most aviation enthusiasts can only imagine how magnificent it must be to have the talent and opportunity to pilot an aeroplane, dancing amongst the clouds in the playground of the gods, completely remote from the world below. This rather idealistic impression of what it must be like is quickly wrestled back to reality when considering that you will have to land your aircraft on the relatively small deck of an aircraft carrier, positioned somewhere in a vast expanse of ocean, when your fuel reserves may be running low – perhaps that is ultimately why we are more than happy to leave this job to the professionals. Undoubtedly, this respect for naval aviators has resulted in a fascination for the aircraft types they operated at sea and especially for British airmen whose home carriers did not increase in size, even though their aircraft most certainly did. For example, the decks of HMS Victorious were home to both the slow moving Fairey Swordfish biplane and the mighty Blackburn Buccaneer strike jet, an aircraft which was significantly larger and over seven times its weight – this was not an occupation for the faint of heart.
The recent news that a newly tooled classic British naval aircraft would be joining the Airfix range in 2019 has obviously been of great interest to the modelling community over the past few days, especially as the subject aircraft has to be regarded as one of the most successful British built naval strike aircraft ever produced and the one which was packed with the latest technical innovations - the extremely capable Blackburn Buccaneer S Mk.2. This magnificent aircraft may now be out of service, however, it is remembered as a highly successful strike jet, which saw service with both the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force and despite its slightly bulbous appearance, it proved to be a devastatingly effective and extremely manoeuvrable performer, especially when operating in the high speed, low altitude environments for which it was designed.
The Blackburn Buccaneer can trace its development history back to the 1950’s and a massive naval expansion programme undertaken by the Soviet Navy. With their intention to introduce large numbers of their new Sverdlov Class Cruisers into service, the Royal Navy were concerned that they would not be in a position to mount an effective defence against this new threat with their existing force alone. Simple economics dictated that Britain would not be in a position to undertake a similar expansion programme of their own, so it was quickly decided that a capable new naval strike aircraft would be the answer, one able to operate from existing carriers, but possessing the ability to detect and destroy the new Soviet vessels. The aircraft would be the first of its type to be developed from the outset as an ‘under radar’ design and would need to provide excellent performance at low altitudes, as well as the capability to deliver nuclear munitions on their target, if required. Clearly, these parameters would place extreme demands on any aircraft, however, the new jet would need to achieve all this whilst operating from one of Britain’s diminutive aircraft carriers – this would have to be a very special aeroplane indeed.
Developed under a cloak of international secrecy, the favoured design was submitted by famous British naval aircraft manufacturer Blackburn and was referred to as the Blackburn Advanced Naval Aircraft (BANA), an acronym which would stay with the aircraft throughout its life and a somewhat predictable nickname of the ‘Banana Jet’, although its fuselage did certainly possess a banana like resemblance. Although well versed in the production of naval aeroplanes, this would be the Company’s first jet aircraft and the demands placed on its operating and performance criteria dictated that the project would pose many manufacturing problems for the Blackburn team, not least the fact that the strength and durability of the aircraft would require components to be worked from solid blocks of metal. The technology required to undertake this kind of work would usually be sourced from the US, however, this would not be possible in this case, as the lead time would be an unacceptably long three years – Blackburn set about producing their own bespoke machinery. Clearly, producing an aircraft capable of withstanding the rigors of carrier operation and the stresses associated with fast, low level operations dictated that their new aircraft would have to be tough, but this strength would come at a cost. Building in the necessary levels of strength and durability into the design resulted in an aerodynamic penalty and the performance of the aircraft would therefore be compromised, nevertheless, what they eventually produced was a truly exceptional aeroplane. Their Buccaneer may not have been supersonic, but it was manoeuvrable, built like a brick outhouse and the most capable aircraft of its kind in the world – it also just happened to be the heaviest aircraft the Royal Navy had ever operated.
This beautifully preserved example of a Buccaneer S.1 at the Newark Air Museum shows the aircraft as it was powered by the smaller de Havilland Gyron Junior engines
Although developed as a naval aeroplane, the Buccaneer was also offered as a capable strike aircraft for the Royal Air Force, however, at the time, they only had eyes for the BAC TSR-2 and dismissed the Buccaneer almost out of hand. Even though the RAF would ultimately come to appreciate the many qualities of the Buccaneer and it would also see extensive land based service, in support of the new 1/72nd scale Airfix tooling announcement, we are going to concentrate on the naval heritage of this distinctive aircraft, as the scheme options already published in support of the initial release feature two Fleet Air Arm Buccaneers.
During a lengthy development period, the technical challenges facing the Blackburn team were significant, as their new aircraft was packed with the latest innovation and the specification requirements were intimidating at best. As this was always intended as a naval aeroplane, perhaps their biggest challenge was to make the aircraft as light as possible, however, from the very early stages, it was clear that the Buccaneer was going to be a bit of a brute. The initial engine choice allowed then to save a little weight, as they adopted the relatively small and highly advanced de Havilland Gyron Junior turbojets and if you look at the early Buccaneers, you can clearly see relatively small, circular intakes associated with these engines. Unfortunately, for a heavy aircraft operating at sea, the Gyron Junior was found to be unsuitable due to lack of power and the later S.2 variant was redesigned to accept the famous Rolls Royce Spey turbofan, which presented the Buccaneer with an extremely welcome 40% thrust boost and help to earn this aircraft an almost legendary status.
Of all the clever innovations incorporated into the design of the Buccaneer to help it achieve its demanding specification requirements, the adoption of Boundary Layer Control was perhaps the most ingenious. A system which directed high-pressure air blown from the engines over the wing leading edges, top surfaces of the flaps and ailerons and the under surfaces of the tailplane, this dramatically reduced the approach speed of the aircraft during the critical landing phase of flight. This proved absolutely crucial in allowing this large aeroplane to be operated from the decks of Britain’s relatively small aircraft carriers and was just one of the many challenges facing the Blackburn design team. Another was the overall length and height of the aircraft – if they didn’t already have enough to worry about, the aircraft had to be small enough to fit on the existing lifts on British aircraft carriers and of low enough height to be safely stowed below deck. As was common with many naval aircraft, the wings of the Buccaneer folded upwards for stowage, but ingeniously, both the nose (radar housing) and the split rear speed break could be folded back and split open respectively, thus allowing for effective carrier stowage, whilst not compromising the aerodynamic integrity of the aircraft.
The Buccaneer provided the Royal Navy with one of the most capable strike aircraft in the world and one which would go on to enjoy an impressive 31 year service record
Other significant design features incorporated into the Buccaneer were a revolving bomb bay, which allowed bombs to be carried internally and thus significantly reducing the effect of drag on the aircraft, along with the adoption of a miniature detonating cord in the canopy, which was designed to explode and shatter the canopy prior to crew ejection and making the process of water ditching and subsequent ejection much safer. This innovation proved so successful that it has been incorporated on many aircraft designs which followed the Buccaneer into service, such as the Harrier, Hawk and Tornado. Not only was this an extremely effective aeroplane, it was packed full of the very latest aviation technology.
On entering service, the Buccaneer provided the Royal Navy with a devastatingly effective strike weapon, however, its operation depended on the expertise of talented airmen and their deck handling crews who were not intimidated at the prospect of taming this aviation beast and taking it to sea. In true British fashion, the Royal Navy saw no benefit in producing a dual control training variant of the Buccaneer, so pilots selected to fly the new aircraft would take their first flight in the aircraft as an observer in the rear seat. The first flight as pilot would therefore be their first Buccaneer solo, although they did have the reassurance of a qualified instructor in the seat behind them, providing verbal encouragement as they came to terms with this huge and complicated aircraft. Aware that this would be the case, the designers at Blackburn produced a roomy cockpit for the pilot and included many automated features, intended to reduce his workload. Despite this, operating a Buccaneer from the decks of a British aircraft carrier would challenge the capabilities of even the most proficient pilot and would be a proud boast for anyone who had this in their log books.
For those of us who have never experienced the drama of a carrier deck landing, we can only marvel at the expertise of the men you regularly carried out this dangerous and demanding procedure, particularly when in control of such a huge aeroplane as the Buccaneer. Accepting the fact that they had already coped with the demands of a carrier take off, completed their mission effectively and managed all the many demanding tasks associated with military flying, let’s assume that our Buccaneer pilot had located the wake of his home carrier and was lining his aircraft up for an arrested landing. With the Boundary Layer Control system reducing the approach speed of the aircraft to around 130 knots, the engine was at a high power setting to blow the necessary bleed air over the control surfaces, with the large rear speed brakes opened to help control approach speed. The Buccaneer could make a ‘non-blown’ landing, but this would only be attempted in training, or in the event of a systems failure, as it would increase the approach speed of the aircraft by at least a further 20 knots. If everything went to plan, the correct glidepath would result in the jet’s arrestor hook engaging with the arresting wire and as the jet slammed down on the carrier deck with the engines still running at high power, the aircraft would come to a halt at break-neck speed. There then followed a period of intense activity as the Buccaneer had the clear the landing space – engines quickly reduced to idle, arrestor hook disengaged and raised, along with the outer sections of the wing being raised for stowage. As the aircraft was manoeuvred to its deck position (which would usually be with the rear part of the fuselage overhanging the ocean) and lashed down, the next Buccaneer was already on approach and ready for the same wild ride.
Operating the mighty Buccaneer from the decks of Britain’s diminutive aircraft carriers must have been a challenging and exhilarating posting for any military airman
In the event of a slightly inaccurate approach or the arresting gear failing to engage, the pilot and deck crews were dealing with a ‘Bolter’. With his engines already at a high power setting, the lack of immediate rapid deceleration resulted in the need to raise the arrestor hook and prepare for immediate take-off, to repeat the landing process once more. Returning to the landing pattern, as long as the fuel situation of the aircraft allowed, the pilot would usually be given several opportunities to land on the carrier, however, repeated failures would dramatically increase his stress levels and the landing controller may decide to send him to a shore station if this option was available – if not, he would have to keep going until he succeeded, or the fuel ran out. Once back onboard, the aircraft would be parked, lashed down and the engines shut down – now there was just the ignominy of facing your colleagues, who will probably be more than happy to regale you with tales of your inadequacies (all good humoured of course). The usual aircraft complement aboard a British Aircraft carrier at that time would be 9 Buccaneers, 12 Sea Vixens, 4 Fairey Gannets and 6 Wessex helicopters and if the aircraft were not in maintenance, they would usually be stored on the deck of the ship, exposed to the elements, but easier to prepare for operations. Without doubt, the life of a naval aviator must have been an exciting one, especially if your mount was the mighty Blackburn Buccaneer.
A British aviation classic in plastic
Magnificent Buccaneer XV361 is one of the prized aviation assets of the UAS at their Long Kesh site and was the subject aircraft of our LIDAR scanning trip for this new project
Over the years, Airfix kits have inspired and enthralled modellers all over the world, with their scale representations of some of the most iconic aircraft in the history of flight, but as we add the decals to our latest build project and place it with our ever growing collections, we rarely spare a thought for the design team who are charged with the responsibility of producing accurate kits of these famous aeroplanes. The technology associated with the kit manufacturing industry has improved significantly over the years, to a point where computers have now become essential in allowing greater levels of accuracy to be incorporated in designs, as well as helping to speed up the entire process, however, despite all this technological innovation, there is still no substitute for the experience, dedication and attention to detail of a talented product designer.
With many thousands of modellers ready to enjoy (and scrutinize) his latest efforts, it is not difficult to imagine the pressure which must have been on the designer charged with creating the most accurate scale representation of the Blackburn Buccaneer, one of Britain’s most important post war jets and a definite favourite within the modelling community. Thankfully, with years of experience behind him and a real passion for detail and accuracy, this was not something which daunted Senior Product Designer Matthew Whiting, who grasped the project with both hands and was determined to produce something both he and Airfix could be proud of. The beginning of any new tooling project revolves around the gathering of appropriate research material and usually by searching the extensive Airfix library we have at Head Office. For a project as significant as this and knowing that the 15 tonne plus Buccaneer is one complex curve after another, Matt wanted the certainty of LIDAR scan data on which to base his work and he just happened to know of a group of people who had a suitable Buccaneer – an Airfix team was duly dispatched to Northern Ireland.
A series of images taken at Long Kesh during the Buccaneer scanning day, which also afforded the Airfix team the opportunity to take a large number of detailed reference photographs
The LIDAR scanning machine is placed at various positions around the aircraft and can record incredible levels of detail, which will prove vital during the development of the new kit, particularly when ensuring the complex curves of the Buccaneer are accurately modelled
One of the most impressive exhibits at the Ulster Aviation Society’s Maze Long Kesh site is Blackburn Buccaneer S.2B XV361 and the committed volunteers of the group were only too pleased to help us with our request. The aircraft has an interesting history of its own, being delivered to the Fleet Air Arm in 1968 and going on to serve with 809 and 800 NAS in both the strike and tanking roles, based on HMS Eagle and Ark Royal. Upgraded to S.2B standard, the aircraft was later transferred to the Royal Air Force, where she would provide a further 16 years of exceptional service and become one of the six airframes selected to commemorate Buccaneer operations on the eve of the types retirement. This group of aircraft were repainted into the colours of all six of the RAF squadrons which had operated the Buccaneer during its service life and XV361 was presented as a No.15 Squadron aircraft. Put up for disposal by the Ministry of Defence in 1994, she was purchased by the Ulster Aviation Society and plans were immediately made to fly the aircraft to RAF Aldergrove. Once there, that is were the fun really started. Northern Ireland had its Buccaneer, but how would they transport the aircraft from Aldergrove to their original museum site at nearby Langford Lodge, a satellite station for the wartime RAF Aldergrove? Despite the rigidity of the Buccaneer’s undercarriage, it was deemed impractical to transport the aircraft by road, which left just one option – one extra short flight for the crew. In April 1994, XV361 made a record breaking flight for the Buccaneer, taking off from Aldergrove and landing at Langford Lodge – a flight lasting just 92 seconds, which even included a flyover of the intended landing site. This was the shortest flight of a Buccaneer and one which was so short that the crew didn’t even bother retracting the undercarriage. On landing, the aircraft passed to the care of the Ulster Aviation Society.
Diagrams such as this cockpit structure illustration, show the location of the internal frames and stringers and can be cross referenced with photographs to allow fine detail to be accurately positioned
A daunting place for a pilot making his first Buccaneer flight, this level of intricate detail must also have provided a few headaches for the Airfix design team
The Buccaneer was moved to the society’s new site at Long Kesh in 2005 and is now housed in a former WWII hangar, part of an impressive and extremely historic collection of aircraft and artefacts which celebrate the significant aviation heritage of Northern Ireland. With the ability to clear the area around the aircraft, XV361 made the ideal starting point for our new Buccaneer project and she became the subject aircraft for a detailed LIDAR scan. Here, a specialist laser scanner creates a high resolution 3D image of its subject by illuminating it with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected light from the subject, using specialist software to create an incredibly accurate 3D map. This type of scan reveals even the finest of detail on the subject aircraft, including contour variations in its metal skin if there are any, including any areas of damage which may have affected an individual airframe and subsequently been patched up during its life. In the case of the Buccaneer, the scan accurately represented the complex curves which are associated with this aircraft and gave the design team great confidence during this early stage of the design process. Standing next to the Buccaneer, you really do get a sense of how massive this aircraft is and marvel at the fact that these monsters were operated from the decks of Britain’s small aircraft carriers. You can also see that this beast is just a sizeable collection of curves and unusual contours and leaves you with a real admiration for what Matt has managed to achieve with this new kit.
A tale of two scans
As impressive and accurate as the LIDAR scan data is, this is only a starting point for the project and signifies the beginning of a very busy period for the designer responsible for the project. As detailed as this information may be, it is not in a format that can be used by the CNC milling machines which will eventually be used to produce the model tooling blocks and must be converted using more clever software and lots of experience. Using the LIDAR scan as a hollow outline, Matt will need to create a 3D CAD version of the information, which will serve as a base model shell, from which the individual components of the kit can be produced and every aspect of its design assessed and perfected. For the purposes of this blog, we are simplifying the process dramatically, but needless to say, this is a very lengthy process and will require every ounce of Matt’s experience if the resultant model is to be to the high standards he sets himself and will draw upon the countless other model projects he has been connected with over the years.
Raw LIDAR scan data of XV361 at Ulster Aviation Society, showing the faceted surface finish. The model is ‘hollow’ and needs rebuilding into a solid model in a 3D CAD format, which can be used to make the Airfix moulds
Close up of the open air brake, which acts as a good example of the level of detail the LIDAR scanning system can pick up
The start of the 3D modelling process. 2D curves are carefully drawn, following the complex surface contours of the scan data. Where possible, these are positioned to line up with the frames and ribs of the full size structure, so that the original drawings can be referenced
Original reference manuals are invaluable in allowing a greater understanding of how the full size airframe is constructed, allowing the model to be as authentic as possible. The new Airfix kit is broken down into sections which mimic the real aircraft
Other details, such as the wing-mounted ‘slipper’ fuel tanks which are unique to Royal Navy versions of the Buccaneer can also be found within the incredibly detailed ‘A.P’ manuals
The first stage in converting the scan software into a set of 3D drawings to create a base model is to carefully draw a series of 2D curves, following the contours of the scan data. From drawings and other data, Matt is aware of the internal construction splits used in the manufacture of the real aircraft and wherever possible, he tried to replicate this on the new model. This will yield a number of significant benefits for the new kit over and above the obvious consideration of overall accuracy, such as minimising unsightly join lines on the finished model and providing a much more robust kit for the modeller to work with. Matt’s experience also extends to an extensive knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of previous Buccaneer kits and he was determined to make this the most accurate scale representation of the aircraft. Essentially, using all the technology at hand and his industry experience, he was designing a 1/72nd scale version of the real aircraft, which will be constructed in a similar way to how a Buccaneer was manufactured and broken down in to sections which follow the construction of the real aircraft. In addition to this, the software will help him to incorporate even greater levels of detail into the new Buccaneer kit, which will delight modellers everywhere and introduce yet another impressive new model to the Airfix range. Staying as close to the LIDAR scan data as possible, he will only make the slightest of alterations as required by the injection moulding process.
The 2D curves traced from the LIDAR scan model are used as a reference in the construction of a new surface shell, which will form the basic shape of the new Airfix kit
The structure is broken down into smaller areas for simplicity. Here, the wing shaped have been added, complete with the distinctive ‘kinked’ leading edge
At the rear of the model, the bulged ‘area ruled’ tail has been added, along with the jet exhaust fairings. The shapes are kept as close to the LIDAR scan as possible, with small modifications being added to suit the injection moulding process
The complex air brake mechanism had to be reverse engineered, as the full-size airframe had been scanned with the air brake in the open position. This allowed the shapes to be modelled as open and ‘virtually’ closed into the correct position
The large jet intakes which are such a distinctive feature of the real aircraft, were carefully modelled to ensure the shape of the curved leading edge was captured correctly
Making the entire process even more demanding, Matt will also be attempting to incorporate greater levels of accuracy and detail to his new model, which will include areas such as the revolving bomb bay, cockpit and wheel wells. The kit will also allow the modeller to finish their Buccaneer with the wings extended or folded and with an accurate representation of the various positions of the distinctive rear fuselage airbrakes. With distinct differences between Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force aircraft and a number of different weapons options, his job will have not been made any easier by the fact that the Buccaneer S.2 had at least 29 modifications added to the aircraft during its service life and the Airfix team would have to make a call as to which period in the Buccaneer’s history they would be aiming to represent and how many of these modifications they would need to incorporate. Clearly, there is much more to producing a new Airfix kit that initially meets the eye.
Once the exterior features are complete, attention is turned to the position of the important internal components, such as the off-set ejection seats for both the pilot and navigator
An easy to assemble internal framework of spars has been included in the model, which together with the jet pipes, forms a strong structure to support the model’s fuselage and to ensure the parts locate accurately
A series of different angle views looking at the completed model file, which presents a really accurate representation of the Blackburn Buccaneer
Once Matt is happy with the huge amount of computer design work he has completed on the project, the individual kit components will need to be created by a specialist company, using a process called Stereolithography, which is basically a high tech 3D printer. The process uses laser technology to ‘cure’ layers of resin, which accurately ‘build up’ to produce the individual components – these pieces can be easily identified as prototype pieces as you can see what appears to be grain on the component, which is actually the individual layers built up by each pass of the ‘curing’ laser. Unlike the traditional kit frames we associate with an Airfix model, these components will be produced individually and will need to be assembled individually using super glue, which will be yet another job for Matt. He will need to assess every aspect of the components fit and overall model accuracy, producing a detailed review document and highlighting any alterations to the computer files, before the new Buccaneer can be released for tooling manufacture. That is where we are going to leave this review of the development of our new Blackburn Buccaneer S Mk 2 kit, but we will return in a forthcoming edition of Workbench, where we will look at the construction of the prototype model, the exciting arrival of the first tooling test frames at Airfix HQ and the remaining work involved in producing a new model kit. Buccaneer A06021 is available to pre-order on the Airfix website and is scheduled for a September release.
A final look at the subject of this latest edition of Workbench. This computer rendered 3D image of the new Buccaneer shows what we can all look forward to later in the year and helps to give us some indication of how accurate the model will be
That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench, however, we hope you enjoyed this slightly more detailed look at the work already been completed in relation to the new Buccaneer project. 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 email@example.com 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 sections, which are both quickly 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 often reveal new information and updated images in many of the product sections and this is always an enjoyable way in which to spend a few spare minutes.
The next edition of Workbench is due to be published on Friday 1st February, 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 your continued support our Airfix blog.
The Airfix Workbench Team
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