Wellington VC and Royal Navy Phantom unveiling

Wellington VC and Royal Navy Phantom unveiling

We are extremely pleased to be bringing you this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. One of the most rewarding aspects of producing our regular Airfix blogs is the opportunity to bring our readers exclusive information announcing the production of new model toolings and to follow these projects right through until their impending release dates. We are pleased to confirm that this latest edition features the final update and therefore the imminent release of a new 1/72nd scale kit, which has proved to be exceptionally popular since it was first announced and also marks one of the most important British bombers in this RAF centenary year, the Vickers Wellington. You can look forward to the exclusive first reveal of the magnificent box artwork which will accompany the release of this beautiful new model, along with the incredible story behind the lead scheme option available with this fantastic kit.

If that were not reason enough to have you reading on, we also have an exclusive report from a recent high profile event in Northern Ireland and one aviation society’s determination not only to expand their impressive collection, but also to present their latest acquisition in a beautiful new authentic livery and commemorate one of Britain’s most striking combat aircraft. We have a report from the event, including the moment this fantastic aircraft was unveiled to a specially invited audience in the hangar at Maze Long Kesh, near Lisburn and how the beautiful new artwork has something of a link to the recently released 1/72nd scale Airfix Phantom kit. With so much exclusive content available in this latest edition, we had better not delay matters any longer and make a start straight away.

Bomber Commands only Wellington VC

New Airfix Vickers Wellington Bomber A08019 on the Airfix Workbench blog

Test build model image featuring the impressive new Airfix Vickers Wellington kit, which will be a fine addition to our 1/72nd scale range

During the early months of the Second World War, the importance of the Vickers Wellington long range medium bomber to Britain’s war effort cannot be overstated. Tasked with carrying out early bombing raids against German targets in conjunction with around 300 strike aircraft in service with Bomber Command at that time, including Hampdens, Whitleys and Blenheims, the Wellington was Britain’s most effective means of striking back at Germany and helped to establish a concerted bombing campaign which would rage throughout the conflict. In the month in which we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the famous ‘Dambusters Raid’, it is significant to note that the Wellington was another product of the brilliant mind of ‘bouncing bomb’ inventor Barnes Wallis and utilised his geodetic construction method, which endowed the aircraft with great strength and impressive combat survivability. This inherent strength would be called upon in dramatic fashion on the night of 7th/8th July 1941, when a brave Wellington crew battled to save their burning bomber and resulted in one of the most extraordinary aviation related incidents of the Second World War.

Workbench readers will probably recall that the 68th edition of our blog included an interesting look at the history behind the second scheme option to be included in the impending release of our newly tooled 1/72nd scale Vickers Wellington 1C (A08019), the Brooklands Museum’s ‘Lady of the Loch’ N2980 ‘R for Robert’. Adding to this initial feature, we are now pleased to bring you full details of the lead scheme to be included with the kit , a scheme which is equally appealing as the one already covered and will probably ensure that most of us will be building at least two examples of this magnificent new model.

New Airfix Vickers Wellington Bomber A08019 on the Airfix Workbench blog

The geodetic construction of the Wellington can clearly be seen on this picture of the RAF Museum ‘Wimpy’ undergoing renovation at Cosford

When the Vickers Wellington entered RAF service in October 1938, it was undoubtedly one of the most advanced medium bombers in the world, possessing heavy defensive armament and capable of carrying a significant bomb load over a relatively long distance. One of its most distinctive design features was its adoption of the geodetic construction method developed and designed by British engineer and inventor Barnes Wallis, used previously on the R100 airship and Vickers Wellesley light bomber. The design employed a Duralumin W-beam lattice framework, onto which wooden battens could be screwed, which in turn allowed a doped fabric outer skin to envelope the entire aircraft. Whilst this method of construction was considered relatively complex and posed challenges for manufacturing companies engaged in Wellington production, the resultant aircraft was relatively light, yet possessed great inherent strength, attributes which would prove crucial once the aircraft was thrust into combat. Capable of withstanding significant battle damage, many Wellingtons were able to bring their crews home from operations where other bombers would have failed to do so, quickly earning the respect of the brave men flying them in combat. This Geodetic method of construction was to prove significant to the crew of Wellington Mk.IC L7818 (AA-R) on the night of 7th/8th July 1941, as they were forced to endure a frantic battle to save their aircraft following the night’s bombing raid.

A new ‘Wimpy’ arrives

Aware that they were scheduled to take part in the coming nights operation, a young Wellington bomber crew made up of men from Canada, New Zealand, Wales and England waited patiently at RAF Feltwell for their new Vickers Wellington to arrive, knowing they would have little time to familiarise themselves with the aircraft, before taking it to war. When they eventually took off from their home base, along with nine other 75 Squadron Wellingtons just after 11pm on 7th July 1941, they had only managed a fifteen minute test flight in L7818 during the afternoon, an aircraft which was now taking part in its first operational mission. With the Squadron’s aircraft taking their place in an attacking force of 41 Wellingtons sent to bomb targets around the German city of Munster, every man involved would have been hoping to arrive back at their home bases following the successful completion of a particularly uneventful mission and having avoided the attentions of Luftwaffe air and ground units.

The crew of Wellington L7818 arrived over the target area with the city already ablaze and with little in the way of defensive flak to contend with, they had no difficulty releasing their bombs over their primary target – in fact, they could hardly believe how little opposition they had encountered during the entire mission, as the mighty bomber turned for home. As the pilot Sqn Ldr Widdowson took a course over the Zuider Zee in Holland, his second in command Sgt James Allen Ward, who he had flown with on five previous missions, was positioned in the astrodome on top of the fuselage, keeping a watch for enemy aircraft. With the bombs dropped and the mission proving relatively uneventful, the crew must have started thinking about the breakfast waiting for them on their return to Feltwell and some well-earned rest following another successful mission. Suddenly, Sgt Ward noticed a shape silhouetted against the glinting sea in the distance, which he quickly recognised as a Messerschmitt Bf 110 nightfighter, which by now was positioning to make an attack run. With the intercom system inoperative and no guns with which to engage the enemy fighter, Ward watched helplessly as the Luftwaffe fighter passed underneath the bomber and unleashed a hail of cannon and machine gun fire, inflicting significant damage on the aircraft and injuring the tail gunner who, like the rest of the crew, was completely unaware of the predators presence. Startled by the sudden noise (and pain from his wound), the rear gunner scanned the night sky for signs of the attacker, to be met with the sight of a Bf 110 appearing from underneath his position and diving away following its onslaught – revealing its undersides as it made its escape, he quickly positioned his turret to enable him to bring the full fury of all four machine guns to bear against the enemy. He reported multiple strikes on the fighter, which he saw smoking and burning as it headed towards the ground.

New Airfix Vickers Wellington Bomber A08019 James Allen Ward VC on the Airfix Workbench blog
New Airfix Vickers Wellington Bomber A08019 James Allen Ward VC on the Airfix Workbench blog

Full scheme details of Vickers Wellington Mk.IC L7818 AA-R in which Sergeant James Allen Ward performed his heroic action during the night of 7th/8th July 1941

The attack had left the bomber severely damaged, with no hydraulics or communications, the bomb doors involuntarily lowered and the undercarriage stuck half way deployed, both due to the loss of hydraulic pressure. More significantly, fuel lines to one of the engines had been ruptured and a fire had broken out on the starboard wing, centred around the engine but threatening to burn through the wing. Illuminating the aircraft in an otherwise dark night sky, Ward informed the pilot of the extent of the damage, who in turn instructed Ward to prepare the crew to abandon the aircraft – as a throw-away comment and illustrating the dark humour often present in people involved in potentially dangerous work, he also said, ‘and see what you can do about that damned fire!’ Once back in the mid fuselage of the bomber, Ward and two crewmates immediately cut a hole in the side of the bomber and used their extinguishers to attempt to put out the flames, however the slipstream simply dissipated the liquid before it could have any effect whatsoever. In desperation, they even threw their remaining coffee from their flasks at the inferno, but with similar ineffective results. Ward did notice that the fire appeared to be remaining fairly stable and was not spreading rapidly, therefore not placing any immediate danger to the structural integrity of the wing – again, he reported his findings to his pilot.

Widdowson had been flying a course parallel to the North Sea since the incident, in the hope of allowing his crew to bail out over land but on hearing this latest update, he immediately set a course for home, thinking that a cold night spent in a dingy in the North Sea was a better option than spending the rest of the war as guests of the Wehrmacht. Thinking that every extra mile he could nurse his aircraft away from enemy occupied Europe would give his crew a better chance of escaping this situation whilst avoiding capture, he could not have imagined the drama which was taking place just a few feet behind him. Fearing for the safely of his fellow crewmates and desperate to put out the fire which was threatening the aircraft, James Ward had an idea – he would climb out of the astrodome hatch and attempt to damp down the flames with a canvas cockpit cover. Astonished at the idea, his wide-eyed crewmates thought he had lost his mind, but were soon convinced by his insistence and determination to take action. Hoping to provide Ward with a modicum of protection during his perilous journey, they fitted a parachute on his chest and tied one end of the dingy rope around his waist, with the other anchored around the waist of one of his crewmates and removed the astrodome panel. Wriggling through the opening, Ward was immediately buffeted by the strong slipstream, which would surely rip him from the aircraft and into the dark night sky behind the Wellington. Unperturbed, Ward kicked through the fabric covering the geodetic structure of the aircraft, using the exposed metal framework as hand and foot holds, inching his way towards the burning wing. Trying to lie as flat as possible on the wing to avoid the effects of the slipstream, the chest mounted parachute made this impossible and he was almost ripped from the wing on several occasions, as the wind got underneath his body and flung him about in the air.

New Airfix Vickers Wellington Bomber A08019 James Allen Ward VC on the Airfix Workbench blog

Exclusive Workbench reveal of the dramatic artwork which will adorn the box of our impending new Vickers Wellington Mk.IC release, featuring the incredible actions of Sergeant James Allen Ward

Using all his strength to hold on, Ward stuffed the canvas sheet into a hole he found in the wing, which was spewing flames and appeared to be the most significant fire – in what must have seemed like hours but actually only took a couple of minutes, he fought to hold on to the aircraft with his left hand and work to dampen the fire with his right, whilst all the time being subjected to the unrelenting force of the slipstream. Exhausted, he was unable to keep hold of the canopy cover any longer and it disappeared into the dark abyss of the night sky, but incredibly, he had managed to stem the spread of the fire. Aided by his fellow airmen, he slowly crawled back along the wing using the holes he had already made in the aircraft and was eventually bundled back inside the astrodome hatch completely exhausted. Astonished at his achievement, the situation was relayed to the pilot, who actually stood up from his seat to look at the wing in total disbelief and even though the flames continued to appear throughout the remainder of the flight back to England, they quickly died down again as a result of Wards heroic actions.

As Wellington L7818 made its approach to RAF Newmarket at around 4.30am on 8th July 1941, the crew still had much work to do. With no hydraulic power available, the half deployed undercarriage had to be manually hand cranked down for landing and the pilot would not have the benefit of either flaps or brakes during this critical phase of flight. On touching down and having already used the entire length of the runway, the Wellington continued on to plough through a hedge and finally came to rest against a reinforced security fence, which surrounded the airfield. There are conflicting reports as to what the eventual fate of L7818 was, some stating that it never flew again, with this incredible flight being its one and only mission, whilst others report it was repaired and used in a training capacity, only to be destroyed in a tragic mid air collision with a Spitfire during poor weather in April the following year. One thing which we can say with absolute certainty, Vickers Wellington Mk.IC L7818 played a significant role in one of the most incredible stories of wartime airborne bravery and helps to illustrate both the unique construction of this famous bomber and the international contribution to Bomber Command’s operations during WWII.

For his unimaginable courage and selfless bravery, Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross, becoming the first New Zealander to be so decorated and the only airman to be awarded the VC whilst flying a Vickers Wellington during WWII. A shy and unassuming man, it is reported that when he met Winston Churchill at his award ceremony, Churchill said to him, ‘You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence’, to which Ward quietly replied, ‘Yes Sir’. Churchill immediately went on to say, ‘Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours’, which he must have genuinely felt on numerous occasions when meeting the many ordinary men and women who performed so many extraordinary deeds during the Second World War.

New Airfix Vickers Wellington Bomber A08019 tooling at IPMS Telford 2017 on the Airfix Workbench blog

Last year’s IPMS Telford show saw the debut of the new 1/72nd scale Vickers Wellington tooling

As modellers, we take inspiration from many things when deciding on the subject of our next build project, but hearing amazing aviation incidents such as the one described above can make that job much more straightforward. With the impending release of our new 1/72nd scale Vickers Wellington tooling, it is fitting that such a high profile release should include the option to finish our models in the markings of the aircraft which was involved in this incredible wartime story and further helps to increase awareness of the heroic actions of Sergeant James Allen Ward on the night of 7th/8th July 1941. Vickers Wellington Mk.IC A08019 is scheduled for a June release and this could be your final opportunity to reserve your example of this fabulous new model in advance of its arrival.

Exclusive Ulster Aviation Society Phantom event

Royal Navy McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 A06016 on Airfix Workbench blog

The British Spey engined Phantom holds a special place in the hearts of aviation enthusiasts all over the world

One of the most significant recent events in the preservation of British aviation history took place at the home of the Ulster Aviation Society at the end of April and Airfix Workbench were privileged to be invited to attend this memorable occasion. It marked the culmination of an ambitious project to return a British McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 to Northern Ireland, some 40 years after the last example of the aircraft had passed through No.23 Maintenance Unit at nearby RAF Aldergrove. In addition to this, the event also promised the reveal of a smart new look for this former Fleet Air Arm and RAF fighter. As the project also had something of an Airfix link, we could hardly cross the Irish Sea fast enough to join UAS members, former 23 MU Phantom technicians and specially invited guests for this momentous occasion.

Members of the Ulster Aviation Society have long harboured a desire to obtain an example of the British version of the McDonnell Douglas Phantom, partly due to the aircraft’s links to local aviation heritage and partly down to the fact that this is one of the world’s most famous jet aircraft – it also happens to be one of the most exciting aircraft to see British service, particularly when operated from the deck of HMS Ark Royal. When the society heard that the former RAF QRA base at Leuchars were inviting bids for their gate guardian Phantom XT864, they immediately registered their interest and were ultimately successful in securing the aircraft – now all they had to do was dismantle their Phantom and transport it back to Northern Ireland. The size of the task before them cannot be overstated, as this is an entirely volunteer group, relying solely on membership fees, events and charitable donations for their survival. Fortunately, they can also count on the determination and engineering prowess of a committed group of people, who clearly feel that no problem is insurmountable and honest endeavour comes as standard. Thanks to the support of the Leuchars base and the loan of a former Phantom hardened aircraft shelter, over a period of several months and numerous trips between Ireland and Scotland, this challenging work was completed and Phantom XT864 triumphantly arrived at their Maze Long Kesh museum site, in something of a Phantom homecoming for Northern Ireland.

Ulster Aviation Society McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 on Airfix Workbench blog

McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 arrives at the Ulster Aviation Society’s Maze Long Kesh museum site

This special event was the culmination of many years of planning and much hard work by the members of the Ulster Aviation Society, in this their 50th Anniversary year. The group have amassed not only a fine collection of preserved aircraft and aviation related artefacts, but are also responsible for preserving the significant aviation heritage possessed by this part of the world and if you have yet to visit the museum site, you can be sure you will enjoy something of an eye-opening experience when you do. On our arrival at the museum, we were introduced to Society Chairman Ray Burrows, who kindly took time out from making some last minute exhibit re-arrangements, to welcome us to this important event for his museum. As other more important guests were also beginning to arrive, we were handed over to other members of the society and shown to the entrance of No.2 hangar, which would be the centre of attention during the main event of the day. The second of two historic hangars at the Maze Long Kesh site, it was previously used in the manufacture of Short Stirling bombers, which hold the distinction of being the RAF’s first four engined heavy bomber in service. Looking past the rows of seats neatly arranged for the invited guests, a huge expanse of plastic sheeting was draped across the entire width of the hangar, masking the newly painted Phantom, which was to be the focal point of the day’s events. We playfully asked if we could just nip behind the sheeting to have a quick look at the Phantom, knowing what the answer would be, however the stony glance which met our request left us in absolutely no doubt whatsoever – nobody was going to be viewing this Phantastic sight today, before the Chairman was good and ready!

Ulster Aviation Society Royal Navy Phantom XT864 unveiling event review on Airfix Workbench blog

Before and after views of the exclusive Phantom reveal event, from our lofty vantage point at the entrance to hangar No.2

Ulster Aviation Society Royal Navy Phantom XT864 unveiling event review on Airfix Workbench blog

Searching for an advantageous position from which to record this significant event in UAS history, an elevated spot just inside the entrance to the hangar was secured and camera checked and re-checked in preparation. As the allotted hour approached and the guests and official dignitaries began to take their seats, excitement levels also began to increase. Following a welcome speech by the Chairman and additional addresses by society patron Air Commodore Harvey Smyth and two local mayors, we were all treated to an entertaining speech by a former Phantom pilot who had actually flown this aircraft off the deck of HMS Ark Royal, which left everyone eager for the imminent unveiling event itself. Accompanied by a suitable fanfare played by an excellent local brass band, the sheeting cover dropped as intended (to the relief of the Chairman) and revealed a most magnificent aviation sight – McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 resplendent in her former 892 Naval Air Squadron ‘Silver Jubilee’ colours. The sight of the aircraft brought a discernible gasp from the crowd, followed by rapturous applause, as everyone showed their appreciation for this exceptional piece of renovation work and the preservation of another endangered example of British aviation history. If this were not exciting enough, the chairman invited everyone to prepare themselves for another Phantomtastic treat and we all watched in awe as the aircraft slowly reared up on its extendable nose oleo, recreating the dramatic and iconic view of a Fleet Air Arm Phantom in the seconds prior to blasting off the deck of HMS Ark Royal, a sight which most of us have only ever seen in books and on video clips – a truly awesome sight.

Ulster Aviation Society Royal Navy Phantom XT864 unveiling event review on Airfix Workbench blog

A phabulous sight to behold. Invited guests marvel at this beautifully presented aircraft, in its iconic naval pre-launch pose

Ulster Aviation Society Royal Navy Phantom XT864 unveiling event review on Airfix Workbench blog

The UAS team have worked wonders, not only in securing and transporting this historic aircraft to Northern Ireland, but also in returning it to its former 892 NAS ‘Silver Jubilee’ markings

Following the end of the dedication ceremony, we were all invited into the adjoining hangar to take refreshments, but most stayed exactly where they were and attempted to spend some quality time with this beautiful Phantom. Indeed, for the rest of the afternoon, XT864 commanded an extremely healthy gathering of new admirers, making it extremely difficult to obtain a clear picture of this magnificently presented aircraft. Whilst waiting for a suitable photo opportunity, we were fortunate enough to spend some time with society member and former RAF painter Ian Hendry, who singlehandedly repainted the Phantom, following much preparatory work done by a veritable army of society members. It also transpires that the recent 1/72nd scale Airfix Phantom FG.1 new tooling release (A06016) provided the renovation team with some reference detail used during this project, especially with regard to the stencil placement instructions. This kit included two different scheme options featuring XT864 during her service career with the Fleet Air Arm, firstly with 892 Naval Air Squadron and secondly during service with No.767 NAS and for the Airfix team, this proved to be a particularly special occasion. Getting close to the actual aircraft which we presented as a scheme option in our extremely popular new Phantom release proved to be quite emotional, especially when seeing what an impressive job our designers had done in immortalising this magnificent aircraft as a scale plastic kit. Although visitors to RAF Leuchars will certainly remember the aircraft in her RAF No.43 Squadron colours, few could argue that returning this Phantom to her former Royal Naval plumage was not a masterstroke by the UAS, who now have one of the most attractive British Cold War jets as the centrepiece of their impressive collection.

Royal Navy McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 A06016 on Airfix Workbench blog

The recently released 1/72nd scale Airfix Phantom FG.1 instruction sheet came in handy when repainting the real XT864

Royal Navy McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 A06016 on Airfix Workbench blog

The detailed stencil placement sheet included with our kit would certainly have helped with some of the fine detail facing the renovation team

UAS Chairman Ray Burrows Royal Navy McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 A06016 on Airfix Workbench blog

Box art inspiration. Society chairman Ray Burrows knows what he wants his new Phantom to look like following its repaint

UAS paint specialist Ian Hendry Royal Navy McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 A06016 on Airfix Workbench blog

Former RAF paint specialist Ian Hendry proudly stands beside his latest project and pride of the Ulster Aviation Society

The Airfix team would like to sincerely thank the Ulster Aviation Society for their kind invitation to their Phantom dedication event and for making us feel so welcome throughout the day. Special thanks must go out to Mr Tony Osborne from the society, who kindly ferried us about all day and generally kept us fed, watered, informed and entertained – thanks Tony. We can honestly describe this magnificent venue as one of the best kept British aviation secrets outside of Northern Ireland and if you have the chance to pay a visit to Maze Long Kesh, please do so as you will not be disappointed. Please contact the society directly via their website if you intend to travel to the museum, as all public visits must be made by prior arrangement – it is worth the effort just to view their magnificent Silver Jubilee Fleet Air Arm Phantom.

We are afraid that’s it for another edition of Workbench, but we are already looking forward to bringing you more Airfix modelling goodness in two weeks’ time. We hope you enjoyed our exclusive Wellington box artwork reveal and VC scheme details, along with our trip to the Phantom unveiling event in Northern Ireland. 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 contacted via our usual e-mail address at workbench@airfix.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 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 25th May, when we look forward to bringing you all the latest news, updates and exclusives from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.

Thank you for your continued support.

The Airfix Workbench Team

 

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