Working on a 'Stringbag'

Working on a 'Stringbag'

Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and our regular look behind the scenes at the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.  For many modellers, obtaining additional research material in support of their latest project is almost as rewarding as the model build itself, but with both historic aircraft and the men who worked with them becoming fewer with each passing year, it can be difficult to unearth new information that helps to make our models as authentic as possible.  In this latest edition of our blog, we take the opportunity to combine the impending release of an extremely popular 1/72nd scale kit with a recent visit to the Royal Navy Historic Fight at Yeovilton, where we were fortunate enough to speak with one of the talented engineers whose passion is keeping these magnificent old aeroplanes in the air.  With an intimate knowledge of the aircraft he works on, this was an opportunity to try and glean information that may be of use to our readers when building their example of this famous British naval aircraft - we will also be including some exclusive detail images that will certainly be of interest if you have a Swordfish model build planned.  We will also be taking a look at the talented modellers of the Brampton Model Club (IPMS Brampton) and how they not only provide a valuable and enjoyable service for budding modellers at several of the Shuttleworth Airshows each summer, but have also proved instrumental in helping to set an impressive new modelling world record. 


Flying the Ensign


The magnificent box artwork featured on Swordfish A04053A release


The impending release of Fairey Swordfish Mk.I A04053A will once again bring a 1/72nd scale example of Britain’s main naval strike aircraft of WWII to the Airfix range and mark an aircraft that proved to be absolutely critical to the Royal Navy during the Second World War and one that has long been a popular subject with modellers all over the world.  A recent visit to the Navy Wings Supporters Day at RNAS Yeovilton gave us an unbelievable opportunity to inspect a pair of extremely rare Swordfish airframes which are lovingly cared for by engineers of the Royal Naval Historic Flight and remain in airworthy condition to preserve the legacy of this magnificent aircraft.  From a modelling perspective, we were also lucky enough to spend some time with one of the RNHF flight engineers, who gave us a memorable ‘Swordfish Walkaround’ and afforded us a unique insight into why this was such a special aircraft.  Before we bring you this, let’s take a look at why the Swordfish is remembered with such admiration and affection by the Fleet Air Arm and the men and women who produced and operated them.


Fairey Swordfish Mk.I W5856 looking magnificent at Yeovilton


When looking at the Fairey Swordfish, it is difficult for many people to see how this aircraft which seems to have more in common with designs from the Great War period, could have had such a dramatic impact on the Second World War.  Making its first flight in 1934, the Swordfish was designed to provide the Royal Navy with an effective reconnaissance spotter and torpedo attack aircraft, at a time when naval aviation was arguably viewed as nothing more than an additional set of eyes for the mighty warships of Britain’s powerful naval fleet.  In the years that followed, the biplane Swordfish would prove crucial in both protecting these ships throughout WWII and keeping the vital sea lanes open, which allowed Britain to keep fighting.  Although dismissed by its outdated appearance, the Swordfish was ideally suited to operations from ships and at a time when Britain needed the ability to operate aircraft effectively at sea, (from what were either relatively small aircraft carriers or hastily modified merchant ships) it excelled in this unforgiving environment.  More than just a rugged and reliable reconnaissance aircraft, in the hands of an experienced crew, the Swordfish could be devastatingly effective against enemy shipping and submarines, using its slow speed and manoeuvrability to press home its attacks.  Of equal importance, inexperienced pilots would find the Swordfish a relatively forgiving aircraft to fly, as it possessed stable handling characteristics and low take-off and landing speeds, which helped to make this notoriously dangerous phase of flight much more manageable. This would be particularly important when operating the Swordfish from the heaving deck of a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.   


Royal Navy Historic Flight Swordfish Mk.II LS326 ‘City of Liverpool’


Perhaps the most enduring aspect of Royal Navy Swordfish operations during WWII comes from the aircraft’s nickname – ‘Stringbag’.  It is thought that the name refers to the ungainly and somewhat ageing appearance of the aircraft and how it was braced with a network of wires and struts to retain the strength of the airframe.  It was also a rather complimentary reference to how this magnificent aircraft could be adapted to take almost any weapon engineers attempted to attach it, likening the Swordfish to a string shopping bag, which would readily accept contents of any size or shape you cared to place in it.  It seemed that no matter what ordnance needed to be carried by the aircraft, engineers simply had to strap it to the Swordfish and the aircraft would do the rest.  Historically, the Fairey Swordfish would prove to be an exceptional naval aircraft and one that served the Fleet Air Arm with distinction.  Despite being classed as virtually obsolete at the start of WWII, the aircraft would see operational service throughout the entire war and had the distinction of being the last British biplane to see active service.  Significantly, the Swordfish outlasted more modern aircraft that were developed to replace it. 


The Ultimate in modelling research


RNAS Yeovilton is the only place in the world where you can see two airworthy Fairey Swordfish


As far as the modeller is concerned, there is nothing quite like trying to obtain as much research information about your latest build project as possible, both to make your model as accurate a scale representation as it can be and to give you a better appreciation of the subject aircraft.  This phenomenon usually dictates that many modellers not only have a handsome stash of unmade kits to their name, but also an impressive library of research material they have managed to amass over the years.  No matter how impressive your research library might be, there is still something that any modeller would give his favourite sprue cutters for and would serve as modelling inspiration above all else – the opportunity to have access to the real aircraft.  Unfortunately, these opportunities are few and far between, but if they do ever present themselves, you have to grab them with both hands. 

Our attendance at the recent Navy Wings Supporters Day allowed us the opportunity to get close to some of the rarest and most revered historic aircraft in the world, as well as giving us access to many of the impressive people who are determined to preserve them in honour of Britain’s proud naval aviation heritage.  The event was not only a celebratory gathering for supporters of Navy Wings and the magnificent aircraft of the Royal Navy Historic Flight, but also an opportunity for the current team to meet former service men and women who were associated with operating aircraft at sea and to gather inspiration from their stories and recollections. This was a unique event and one we were very grateful to be invited to attend.


The Fairey Swordfish was ideally suited to flying operations at sea


We were fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Royal Navy Historic Flight Engineer Nick Bailes almost as soon as we arrived at RNAS Yeovilton and he gave us a fascinating insight into some of the behind the scenes activities that help to keep the Navy’s historic aeroplanes in the air.  Clearly possessing skills that are fast disappearing from the world of aeronautical engineering, Nick is currently working on the Flight’s Fairey Swordfish aircraft and was full of interesting facts about Swordfish operations during the Second World War and what it takes to keep these unique aircraft in airworthy condition.  In what turned out to be one of the highlights of the day, Nick also invited us to come over to the Swordfish when things had quietened down a little and he would show us some of the interesting features of this famous old aeroplane, all of which would be of great interest to the modeller – we could hardly wait. 

Although the Swordfish of the Royal Navy Historic Flight were not the main focus of attention during this Supporters Day event, there was hardly a moment when these magnificent aeroplanes were not surrounded by crowds of people.  With both aircraft currently undergoing maintenance, there was an opportunity to view a Swordfish with many of its panels removed, revealing fascinating detail regarding the construction of this famous old aircraft.  It was also interesting to note that almost everyone who walked passed the large torpedo protruding from beneath Swordfish Mk.I W5856 could not resist giving it an affectionate little pat as they went by, which somehow seems a little strange considering the devastation it was designed to wreak.  As the crowds slowly began to dissipate, we had our opportunity for a Swordfish-fest and joined Nick who was proudly standing underneath one of his beloved charges.


Modellers would jump at the chance to inspect one of the RNHF Swordfish


If the day were not memorable enough already, it was about to get even better.  Due to his current position within the Flight and his extensive engineering experience, Nick clearly has a unique understanding of the Fairey Swordfish, but perhaps more than this, he allows anyone lucky enough to spend some time in his company the opportunity to gain an insight into what it must have been like to operate these aircraft and take them to war.  Rather than bombard you with a flood of technical information that would challenge even the most capable engineering minds, his stories and descriptions help to paint a picture of the men who built and flew these beautiful machines, which leaves you with a much greater appreciation of this classic WWII biplane.  When Nick has finished with you, you can have nothing but admiration for the people who flew these aircraft operationally. 

Having walked around W5856 and patted the torpedo just like everyone else, we were taken to a large model of the German Battleship Bismarck, which also included a scale representation of an attacking Swordfish.  The Fairey Swordfish is not a small aeroplane by any means, but compared to the size of this mighty battleship, it was tiny – how these ageing biplanes managed to disable one of the world’s most powerful warships is testament to the bravery of the men of the Fleet Air Arm.  It is difficult to imagine what these men must have endured as they turned their fabric covered biplanes towards this huge ship, which would have been firing every available weapon in their direction – there is no doubting that they were incredibly brave men indeed.  Nick followed this up by allowing us the opportunity to inspect the crew compartment of Fairey Swordfish Mk.II LS326, which certainly underlined how vulnerable these men and machines must have been to not only the hail of fire coming from the Bismarck, but on Swordfish operations in general, which were often fought in contested airspace and in some of the most hostile conditions imaginable.


Detailed Swordfish images kindly supplied by RNHF engineer Nick Bailes



Nick went on to describe why the Swordfish was such a robust and reliable aeroplane for the Fleet Air Arm and how it was arguably one of the most important British aircraft of the entire Second World War.  He pointed out some of the interesting features of the Swordfish, including the wing folding mechanism, the panel for stowing the aircraft’s dinghy and the lifting cable shackle, which was required to hoist float equipped aircraft back aboard their home ship.  We also discussed the rear facing single Lewis Machine Gun mounted on the aircraft and how it seemed a totally inadequate defence for such a large aircraft, flying dangerous attack missions.  Nick explained that this was not necessarily the case, as the Swordfish’s best defence was its manoeuvrability and slow speed.  When attacked by fast, modern fighters, the pilot would enter a tight turn and dive towards the sea, only pulling up at the last moment – if the enemy pilot was brave (or stupid) enough to follow, he ran the risk of crashing into the sea, if he had not already stalled trying to match the tight turns of the Swordfish.  When attacking the latest enemy battleships, the automatic fire control systems employed by its guns struggled to cope with the slow moving Swordfish, as they were calibrated to deal with much faster attacking aircraft. Perversely, the slow speed of the Swordfish could often be its best defence.    


These detailed pictures help to give modellers a greater appreciation of the Fairey Swordfish



As something of a Fairey Swordfish exclusive for Workbench readers, Nick also offered to supply us with a series of images which may be of interest to Airfix modellers looking to include this Fleet Air Arm warhorse in their build schedule.  His pictures show some of the features of this famous aircraft in detail and certainly help to give us a better appreciation of why it was ideally suited to operations at sea and why it managed to outlive its planned replacements.  Without question, the Fairey Swordfish has to be considered one of the most important British aircraft of WWII and certainly one that enabled the Royal Navy to take a heavy toll of enemy warships.  It contradicted its outdated appearance in serving throughout WWII, but relied on a special breed of aviator to take it in to combat.   

We would like to sincerely thank Nick Bailes of the Royal Navy Historic Flight for allowing us to share his Swordfish detail pictures with Workbench readers and Louise Evans for being our host throughout this memorable day.  We look forward to bringing you more from the 2017 Fly Navy Supporters Day in a future edition of Workbench.


Modelling Record Breakers


The superb Duxford American Air Museum display produced by IPMS Brampton


Growing numbers of modelling enthusiasts are discovering the delights of attending one of the many model shows that take place throughout the country each year. Whether you go to pick up a bargain or two, or simply to marvel at the stunning displays of modelling talent on show, you will probably have come across members of the IPMS Brampton and Brampton Scale Model Club on your travels.  Arguably one of the hardest working modelling clubs on the circuit, the group have representation at a growing number of shows each year and will capture your attention with one of their impressive model displays, which over the years have included a scale representation of Duxford’s American Air Museum and a display of Shuttleworth collection aircraft.  If the Brampton modellers were not famous enough within the modelling community, they have just added a significant modelling achievement to their name and can officially claim to be involved in setting a new Guinness World Record. 

During the summer of 2016, the Shuttleworth Collection and IPMS Brampton announced plans to attempt to set a new modelling world record for ‘The most people constructing aircraft models’ at an event to be held at the Old Warden airfield later in the year.  The existing record which was set at the RAF Museum in 2009 stood at 250 people and the team knew that a serious attempt on this figure would be a significant undertaking.  The attempt was widely publicised in the local area, with modellers of all ages and abilities encouraged to support the bid, along with air cadets, scouts and other groups.  As this would be an official world record attempt, there would be some strict rules around how the challenge must be arranged, which meant that every participant would have to remain seated for at least 30 minutes and each participant must fully construct the model aircraft for it to count towards the total.


Another view of Brampton’s fantastic Duxford display at IPMS Telford 2015


The date for the attempt was Sunday 20th November 2016 and as people began to arrive at Old Warden for an 11am start, there must have been some tension in the air.  The kit selected to be used for the record attempt was the 1/72nd scale Airfix Albatros D.V, which was chosen due to the centenary commemorations of the Great War and also marked the fact that the Shuttleworth Collection is home to one of the finest collections of WWI aircraft in the world.  With kits and construction equipment laid out on the rows of temporary modelling tables, the record attempt began and organisers must have been overjoyed at both the turn out and the strong community atmosphere of the event.  They were hoping to set a new record somewhere in the region of 300 people, which would have been a significant increase on the previous record and a stunning achievement for the organisers – could they do it?


The IPMS Brampton team at Old Warden, proudly displaying their record breaking certificate


Corroborating any official world record attempt is not a simple process and it can take some time for the Guinness adjudicators to publish their decision.  It must have been a nervous and frustrating few months for the bid team as they awaited news of their record attempt, but confirmation finally arrived and they are now Record Breakers!  Setting an impressive new mark of 369 people completing their models, the bid resulted in a significant increase on the previous record and a fantastic achievement for the Shuttleworth and IPMS Brampton bid team.  On behalf of everyone at Airfix, we would like to send our congratulations to everyone involved in setting this fantastic record, which we hope will stand until you next decide to challenge it.  


Brampton Make and Paint at Shuttleworth Shows


The make and paint tables at Old Warden shows are always popular


As well as inspiring modellers across the country with their impressive model displays, the hard working members of IPMS Brampton also provide a much-loved service to visitors at the many Airshow events held at Old Warden throughout the year.  Occupying a prominent position at the front of one of the aircraft hangars at this historic airfield, the group administer several modelling tables and encourage visitors young and old to try their hand at building an Airfix model kit, with members always on hand to enthusiastically provide help, advice and encouragement throughout the day.  It is fantastic to see so many people enjoying making a model kit and anyone who has attended a Shuttleworth show recently will confirm that Brampton’s make and paint tables are usually fully occupied for most of the day. You are always assured of a warm welcome from the IPMS Brampton team at Old Warden and if it is modelling tips and advice you are looking for, these chaps have all the answers.


Young modeller Thomas O’Connell studies his instruction sheet at Old Warden


The Brampton Scale Model Club and IPMS Brampton have been enthusiastically modelling for around 25 years and as well as boasting some incredibly talented modellers within their ranks, they also encourage and support members of all ages and abilities to have a go at the modelling hobby.  Originally meeting once every two weeks, the group became so popular that they have been holding meetings every week for the past 15 years. They currently meet every Wednesday evening from 7.30 at the Old School Hall, Sawtry, near Huntingdon (PE28 5UX) and are always open to new members, or people just wanting to see what the modelling hobby is all about.  As one of the most active groups in the UK, the members also run their own model show, which just happens to be the largest one day model show in East Anglia - this year’s event will be taking place on Sunday 24th September at the Burgess Civic Hall, St Ives and you can find full details of this and all the clubs other activities on their website.


Thomas clearly wondering if his latest effort will pass the IPMs Brampton test


It was great to meet the IPMS Brampton team at the recent Shuttleworth Fly Navy Airshow and to see them proudly displaying their record breaking certificate, as well as helping young modellers create some plastic masterpieces.  We would also like to thank the parents of Master Thomas O’Connell for allowing him to be the youngest modelling star of our latest edition of Workbench.


Workbench reaches a proud half century


We can hardly believe that the next edition of Workbench will mark a significant milestone in the history our Airfix blog – 50 editions and counting.  Rather than delving back into the archives and looking at some of the significant modelling features we have included over the past two years, we are planning something really special for our readers, including a unique Airfix legacy opportunity for one lucky Workbench reader.  We are not going to divulge too much now, but you will definitely not want to miss the fantastic 50th edition of Workbench.  

That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench – we hope you enjoyed our look at the magnificent Swordfish of the Royal Navy Historic Flight.  As usual, we are always interested to hear what our readers have to say and are grateful for any modelling features or build pictures you may care to send us.  There are several ways you can contact us, including our dedicated e-mail address and of course the Workbench thread over on the Airfix Forum.  

If social media is more your style, you could access either the Airfix Facebook page or our Twitter channel, using #airfixworkbench where you will find plenty of modelling news, views and discussion.  Whichever medium you decide to use, please do get in touch, as it is always interesting to hear from fellow modelling enthusiasts. 

Finally, the Airfix website is the place where you can find 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. 

We look forward to bringing you the landmark 50th edition of Workbench on 23rd June. 

The Airfix Workbench Team


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