A Bomber of distinction

A Bomber of distinction

Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. Our previous blog marked three successful years of Workbench production and the sharing of Airfix modelling information much earlier in the development of new models than had previously been the case. As we enter our fourth year, we intend to continue bringing you the exclusive announcements and product updates which have proved so popular to this point, but would greatly values your opinions on other features and articles you would like to see included in future editions – this is your opportunity to possibly shape the future of Workbench. All suggestions will receive our full attention and you never know, your idea may become one of the most popular features of our blog in the years to come – please use our usual workbench@airfix.com contact address.

In this latest edition, we will be bringing you full updates on two magnificent new kits which are fast approaching their scheduled release dates, both featuring aircraft which are amongst the largest to wear the famous roundel of the Royal Air Force, with two of the scheme options covered presenting aircraft which have gone one to be lovingly preserved at two different museums in the UK. Significantly, both are available for enthusiasts and the general public to inspect and admire, with both representing different eras of RAF bombing capability. Both of the new kits also feature distinctive fuselage artwork as their lead scheme options and already appear destined to be popular residents on modellers workbenches over the coming few months. This edition also serves as our first IPMS Telford countdown marker, as following the publication of this blog, there will only be six further editions of Workbench before the doors open on this ever popular event and the latest extravaganza of modelling delights. In subsequent editions, we will be bringing you updates and details regarding our plans for this year’s event and we certainly hope to be meeting plenty of Workbench readers over the weekend of 10th/11th November. Look out for our updates in future editions, but for now, let’s begin by taking a closer look at one of Britain’s most famous wartime aircraft.

From Manchester to Lancaster and on to Hendon

Lancaster Centurion R5868 S for Sugar on the Airfix Workbench blog

Stunning wartime image of Lancaster R5868 ‘S for Sugar’ being bombed up at Waddington, in the hours prior to embarking on her 97th operational sortie

The Avro Lancaster is undoubtedly one of the most famous British aircraft of all time and arguably the most effective bomber of the Second World War, but from an aviation history perspective, no accurate assessment of the Lancaster’s many qualities can be written without paying at least some credit to the aircraft’s immediate predecessor. The Avro Manchester was designed in response to Air Ministry Specification P13/36, which required the production of a highly capable medium bomber to replace existing twin engined types currently in service with the RAF, such as the Whitley, Hampden and Wellington. Avro’s innovative design submission retained the twin engine configuration of existing medium bombers, but from the outset, made use of the Rolls Royce Vulture engine, a new powerplant which promised impressive power output from what was essentially two Rolls Royce Peregrine engines bolted together. The two 12 cylinder V shaped Peregrines were mounted one on top of the other (the bottom unit inverted) to produce the 24 cylinder ‘X’ shaped engine block of the Vulture and whilst capable of producing great power on paper, this innovative design proved to be somewhat under developed, did not produce enough power and had serious reliability issues.

It is generally accepted that the unreliable and underpowered Vulture engines were the main reason behind the perceived failure of the Manchester. Ground crews were sick of constantly having to nurse the aircraft into the air and many aircrew simply did not trust the aircraft to bring them home from the latest raid. The psychological impact of this cannot be underestimated, because during the flames of war, trust in your equipment is of critical importance and can have a devastating impact on both morale and fighting effectiveness. From bitter experience, when flying on a single engine, the Manchester would lose altitude at an alarming rate, whilst also placing great strain on the troublesome, yet still functioning Vulture. Apart from the engines, the Manchester had the usual issues associated with a new aircraft entering squadron service during wartime conditions, however Avro technicians had an excellent reputation for applying upgrades and improvements to service aircraft and the Manchester had some significant advantages over earlier bomber designs. By positioning the aircraft’s fuel storage exclusively in the wing structure, this allowed the designers to incorporate a large unobstructed bomb bay in the aircraft, allowing it to carry an impressive variety of offensive stores. This also produced a relatively spacious fuselage and when combined with the excellent general handling characteristics of the aircraft, it did show great promise. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you look for the many undoubted qualities of the Avro Manchester, aviation history (and those disastrous Vulture engines) has decided that it will always be castigated as something of a Bomber Command failure. Only 202 Avro Manchesters were eventually produced, even though some of cancelled airframes already under construction would eventually go on to become its replacement and something of an aviation classic.

Aware of the problems with the Vulture engines, Avro’s chief designer Roy Chadwick and his team were already working on an improved version of the Manchester, designated Avro Type 683 Manchester III. Replacing the troublesome Vultures with the less powerful, but much more reliable Rolls Royce Merlin, the wing of the new aircraft was lengthened to accommodate four engines, but still utilised a Manchester fuselage from the production line – when the prototype aircraft made its first flight from Manchester Ringway on 9th January 1941, it showed many similarities to the earlier twin engined design, including the distinctive three tail arrangement of the Manchester Mk.l and same impressive modular construction method. The four engined Manchester III was a revelation and having overcome the major power issue which had plagued its predecessor, highlighted the many impressive design features originally incorporated into Britain’s latest bomber by the Avro team. Existing Avro Manchester production was switched in favour of the new design, which later became known as the Lancaster, an aviation classic which was pressed into RAF service from early 1942. It went on to earn an enviable reputation as Britain’s principle heavy bomber of WWII, operated by many British, Commonwealth and European squadrons serving in the RAF. Despite possessing many of the design characteristics of its twin engined predecessor, it seems that at least from an aviation perspective, history had decreed that it is not quite the ticket to mention the names Manchester and Lancaster in the same sentence.

An Airfix classic honouring a Bomber Command icon

Exclusive new Airfix Avro Lancaster Hendon Centurion A08013A on the Airfix Workbench blog

This latest exclusive Workbench artwork reveal is definitely one of the most appealing we have ever featured and perfectly captures the majesty of this famous aircraft in the golden evening light at RAF Waddington

It seems as if Airfix and the Avro Lancaster are a modelling marriage made in heaven and there is no disputing that this classic WWII bomber has always been amongst the most popular kits in any Airfix range in which it appears. The original Airfix Lancaster B.1 tooling appeared back in 1958 and was responsible for bringing a scale version of this magnificent aircraft into millions of homes all over the world, as well as starting many young modellers off in this rewarding hobby. For an aircraft and indeed a kit of this pedigree, no one could argue with the decision to re-tool the mighty Lancaster in 2013, presenting this famous aircraft using the very latest design and manufacturing technologies the industry had to offer, whilst also allowing the Airfix development team the opportunity to incorporate impressive levels of detail into the new kit. Bringing the undoubted qualities of the Avro Lancaster to a new modelling audience, the first B.l(F.E)/B.lll version of the new kit appeared in the 2014 model range, allowing modellers to build this classic version of the Lancaster and instantly proving to be just as popular as the original tooling was in the late 1950s. With this magnificent kit due to announce its impending return to the 2018 range, it is about time we featured the impressive scheme options which will accompany its release, marking two Lancasters which are equally appealing in their own way.

Before we move on however, it would be remis of us not to pass comment on the latest exclusive Workbench box artwork reveal, which will feature on the packaging of the new Lancaster kit release, as well as on the Airfix website (and in the 2019 catalogue, if the kit is still available at that point). This outstanding piece of work actually needs no introduction from us and is a quite magnificent and truly evocative depiction of a Bomber Command Lancaster running its engines up at its home station. Featuring one of the most famous Lancasters to see RAF service, it depicts the lead scheme option to be included with the new Lancaster release A08013A, R5868 ‘S for Sugar’, a Lancaster Centurion, which is now on display at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon. The picture shows a fiery start for Sugar’s outer port engine, as it runs up at RAF Waddington in the late evening sunlight, prior to the commencement of its latest operation – of all the many artwork reveals we have been privileged to bring you over the past three years, this has to be one of the most appealing and perfectly illustrates the majesty of this historic machine.

Avro Lancaster B.lll R5868 PO-S ‘S for Sugar’, No.467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Air Force Waddington, Lincolnshire, England 1944.

Exclusive new Airfix Avro Lancaster Hendon Centurion S for Sugar A08013A on the Airfix Workbench blog
Exclusive new Airfix Avro Lancaster Hendon Centurion S for Sugar A08013A on the Airfix Workbench blog

Full scheme decal and painting details featuring this most famous Bomber Command Centurion and oldest surviving Avro Lancaster

It is difficult to imagine how the young men of Bomber Command had the mental and physical fortitude to climb into their machines night after night, heading out over enemy territory, facing the very real possibility of these being their final hours on this earth. Placing great faith in their mighty bombers, mechanical failure, pilot error, the weather, collision and accurate navigation were all very real perils which faced each aircraft and their crews, even before they approached the searchlights, flak and enemy fighters over their intended target area, not to mention the obvious fact that they were flying in an aircraft full of fuel, bombs and ammunition. Many have since described the sheer terror they experienced in advance of every operation and the despair of losing friends and comrades who could have been sharing a joke in the morning and simply did not return from the latest operation in the early hours of the next. The crews formed in to tight-knit groups of seven men, often forming themselves, with one crew member keen to recommend his mate who might be an excellent rear gunner, but all bonding for both camaraderie and their mutual survival. Yet the odds were stacked very much against them, with the average survival of a Lancaster being around 22 operations, but reduced dramatically for aircraft engaged in flying against targets deep into Germany two or three times a week. Despite these sobering statistics, at least 35 Lancasters would go on to reach, and in some cases exceed, the incredible achievement of completing 100 hundred operational sorties and are celebrated as the famous ‘Lancaster Centurions’ - each one would have been flown by hundreds of different airmen during its service career, many of whom would not have been lucky enough to have survived so many missions as these aircraft.

One of the most famous Lancaster Centurions was B.Mk.l R5868 PO-S ‘S for Sugar’, which is now the oldest surviving Lancaster and is on display at the RAF Museum Hendon. Built by Metropolitan-Vickers at their Mosley Road, Manchester factory, R5868 was originally part of an order for 100 Avro Manchester bombers which was placed in 1939, however only 43 were competed as Manchesters, with the remaining 57 (including R5868) becoming Lancaster Mk.ls. Following assembly and flight testing at Woodford aerodrome in Cheshire, the bomber was delivered to RAF No.83 Squadron at Scampton at the end of June 1942 and took part in its first operational sortie early the next month. Originally, the bomber was coded OL-Q ‘Q for Queenie’ and she would go on to be quite a prolific aircraft with No.83 Squadron, completing 68 operations with the unit. On her 46th operation, an attack against targets near Berlin, the aircraft was lucky to make it back in one piece – damaged by flak, the Lancaster was ‘coned’ by several searchlights for an agonising nine minutes and attracted the unwanted attentions of both Fw190 and Bf 110 nightfighters during this time, both intent on claiming their latest victim. Thankfully, although damaged, Queenie made it back home to Scampton, thanks to the actions of her capable crew.

As No.83 Squadron were due to convert to the Lancaster Mk.III in September 1943, R5868 was transferred to No.467 RAAF Squadron at Bottesford, where she was given the codes PO-S ‘S for Sugar’ as the replacement for an aircraft which had recently been destroyed. In November, the squadron moved to Waddington and Sugar’s operations tally continued to increase – as she approached the almost unimaginable figure of 100 ‘ops’, she began to attract the attention of the press. At the time, the aircraft is reported to have been sporting a pin-up ‘nude’ as her nose artwork, but the RAF top brass felt that simply would not do for an aircraft so firmly in the public gaze. This was duly removed and replaced by Herman Goering’s pre Battle of Britain pledge to the German people that ‘No enemy plane will fly over the Reich territory’, with a yellow arrow pointing to the aircraft’s increasing operations tally.

Exclusive new Airfix Avro Lancaster Hendon Centurion S for Sugar A08013A on the Airfix Workbench blog

A rare time for celebration. Personnel from No 467 Squadron RAAF toast the incredible achievement of the RAF’s first Lancaster Centurion

Highlighting the dangers faced by courageous Bomber Command crews on a nightly basis, Sugar almost didn’t achieve her ‘100 Ops’ landmark – during yet another raid to Berlin (her 96th operational sortie), R5868 collided with another Lancaster over the target area at 20,000 ft and went into a steep dive. The crew managed to bring the aircraft back under control and she limped back to England, but the aircraft required extensive repairs, including a complete port outer wing section, resulting in a temporary rest from the action. Thankfully, both Lancasters and their crews survived this unfortunate incident.

Avro Lancaster R5868 ‘S for Sugar’ completed her 100th operational sortie in early May 1944 and on her return to RAF Waddington, found almost the entire station and British Pathe News there to greet them. During the previous night, the crew had just fought off ten concerted attacks by Ju88 nightfighters, which seemed determined not to allow this famous aircraft to have her moment of glory, but in the euphoria of the moment, this detail seemed to be of little interest. ‘S for Sugar’ would end the war with an impressive 137 operational sorties to her name, with her final ops being repatriation flights for Allied prisoners of war in May 1945. It is fitting that this historic aircraft now serves as a treasured centrepiece display item at the RAF Museum, Hendon and is reason alone to visit this exceptional museum.

Avro Lancaster B.lll LM624 DX-A, No.57 Squadron, Royal Air Force East Kirkby, Lincolnshire, England July 1944.

Exclusive new Airfix Avro Lancaster East Kirkby Bomber Leader A08013A on the Airfix Workbench blog
Exclusive new Airfix Avro Lancaster East Kirkby Bomber Leader A08013A on the Airfix Workbench blog

As a slightly more colourful lead bomber, this RAF No.57 Squadron Lancaster scheme option may prove difficult to resist for many modellers

RAF No.57 Squadron began the Second World War flying Bristol Blenheims and was one of the first units to be posted to France in September 1939, flying reconnaissance missions searching for signs of German troop concentrations and impending military operations. They retained their links with the Blenheim until January 1941, when they converted to the Vickers Wellington and began their night bombing campaign against targets in occupied Europe and Germany, a duty they would continue to perform for the remainder of the war. By September 1942, No.57 Squadron had traded their Wellingtons for the new Avro Lancaster and a move to RAF Scampton, where they continued to lead the night bombing offensive against Germany. After a relatively short stay at Scampton, the squadron transferred to the newly constructed airfield at East Kirkby in August 1943, a base they would call home for the remainder of the war.

The unusually colourful tail displayed by Lancaster LM624 DX-A, marks the aircraft as a ‘Lead Lancaster’ and one which was equipped with Gee-H radio navigation equipment. As the red colour would be difficult to distinguish at night, it can also be assumed that this aircraft was involved in daylight tactical bombing missions, where it would use the latest navigational aids to accurately mark an intended target for bombers following in its wake to obliterate. No.57 Squadron made several raids against the great Mittelland Canal network, a vital German transportation route for steel and other raw materials essential for their war industries. This would prove to be a notoriously difficult target to hit, requiring precise bombing accuracy on a relatively small target, which was heavily defended by flak and nightfighters. On the night of 6th/7th November 1944, a force of 235 Lancasters and 7 Mosquitos of No.5 Group Bomber Command attempted to attack the Mittelland Canal at Gravenhorst, where it crossed the river Aa. The target marking force had some difficulty in finding the target and the one bomb which was dropped accurately was actually proved to be delivered too precise, falling into the canal itself and detonating with little effect. As the main bomber force approached the target area, they were attacked by a strong force of Luftwaffe nightfighters, causing chaos amongst the Lancasters still waiting for their bombing indicators – in a savage period of combat, it is reported that as many as 11 British aircraft were shot down either on their way to, or from the target area. After 31 Lancasters had released their bombs with little effect on the intended target, the raid was abandoned and the all aircraft set course for home. Tragically, having received no communication from the crew of Lancaster LM624 since leaving their base at East Kirkby, it was assumed that this was one of the aircraft which fell victim to the prowling Luftwaffe nightfighters.

The mighty Avro Lancaster is always a popular subject for modellers, no matter how many times you have built one in the past and with aircraft possessing such rich history as the two machines described above, it is little wonder that this popularity shows absolutely no sign of waning any time soon. This impressive 1/72nd scale Airfix kit is packed with detail, allowing the modeller to produce a faithful scale representation of one of the world’s most famous aircraft - when combining this with the iconic markings worn by the two wartime Lancasters featured as decal scheme options, it will be a difficult combination to ignore. Our latest Lancaster B.l/B.lll release A08013A is due to arrive in all good model stores during August and is surely destined to become one of the most popular kits of 2018 – this is your final opportunity to pre-order this modern Airfix classic.

Britain’s former V-Bomber turned fuel provider

Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker 'Lusty Lindy' at Elvington A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog

This magnificent Gulf War RAF in-flight refuelling scene will grace the box top of the second release from the 1/72nd scale Handley Page Victor tooling

The years which followed the end of the Second World War saw aviation develop at an astonishing rate, with the advent of the jet engine determining the future of aircraft design and the nuclear age ensuring an uneasy stalemate between nations, with the deterrent threat of new weapons possessing ever more destructive potential. This ‘Cold War’ period saw the introduction of three mighty jet bombers by the Royal Air Force, each intended to protect Britain by offering an effective nuclear strike back capability against potential Soviet aggression, the third and final of which was the Handley Page Victor. Viewed as something of a radical design, the Victor had a distinctly different appearance to any British aircraft which had gone before it and incorporated a sweeping crescent shaped wing, which had three stepped ‘kinks’ from the wing root to its tip, reducing in angle at each point. The Victor was without doubt, one of the most distinctive aircraft to ever see service with the Royal Air Force and went on to play a significant role in its future.

Designed with high speed flight stability as a primary consideration, the Victor had a high T-tail unit, crescent wing and a distinctive pointed front fuselage profile, all of which endowed the bomber with a unique appearance, but certainly not at the expense of its operational effectiveness. The Victor was the last of Britain’s three ‘V-Bombers’ to enter service in April 1958 and is generally regarded as the most capable aircraft of the trio, even eclipsing the capabilities of the much loved Avro Vulcan. The flexibility of the Victor design was to see the aircraft significantly outlast both the Valiant and Vulcan in RAF service, albeit by trading its original bombing role for that of an inflight refuelling platform. In this role, the mighty Victor would see operational service during the Falklands War of 1982 and the Gulf War of 1991, proving to be an invaluable asset to the Royal Air Force during both conflicts and continuing through to their eventual withdrawal from service in 1993. This Cold War nuclear bomber turned inflight refuelling specialist marks a time when British aviation designs were the envy of the world and is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive (many would say beautiful) aircraft to serve during this first 100 years of the Royal Air Force.

Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker 'Lusty Lindy' at Elvington A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog

These two computer rendered images feature some of the additional parts included in this new kit, which allowing the K.2 Tanker variant of the Victor to be constructed

Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker 'Lusty Lindy' at Elvington A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog

No collection of 1/72nd scale British aircraft models can be considered complete without a Handley Page Victor sitting majestically in the centre of it and for this reason, the announcement at Scale ModelWorld 2015 that Airfix were intending to produce a newly tooled kit of the Victor for inclusion in the 2016 range was understandably met with some excitement. This initial release (A12008) presented the aircraft as a B.2 bomber version, including the ability to finish your model carrying an under-fuselage mounted ‘Blue Steel’ nuclear missile. We began 2018 by announcing the second release from this magnificent tooling, which this time included additional parts to allow the construction of either an SR.2 reconnaissance Victor, or one of the final aircraft to see RAF service, the K.2 tanker – you may recall that we even brought you a very early exclusive look at the box artwork which had been produced in support of this future release. As Victor A12009 is now fast approaching its September release date, we would like to bring you details of the three scheme options which will be included in this superb new kit and highlight why this release could prove to be even more popular than its predecessor.

Handley Page Victor K.2, XL231 ‘Lusty Lindy’, No.55 Squadron, Royal Air Force, ‘Operation Granby’ (Desert Storm), Bahrain, 1991.

Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker 'Lusty Lindy' at Elvington A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog
Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker 'Lusty Lindy' at Elvington A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog

This is the scheme option that many modellers have been looking forward to, Gulf War veteran XL231 ‘Lusty Lindy’

As the latest B.2 versions of the Victor bomber began to enter RAF service at the beginning of 1962, earlier machines were considered to be obsolete for the role of strategic bombing. A feasibility study began to see if these earlier aircraft could be utilised as flying tankers, an exercise which became all the more necessary following the grounding of all Vickers Valiant tankers after fatigue was discovered in their airframes – there was now no need to conduct trials and the aircraft were duly converted. Considered the definitive version of the Victor tanker, the K.2 variant was developed following a change in the strategic bombing role of the V-bomber force, from high to low level, an environment which was not best suited to the qualities of the Victor. Leaving remaining Avro Vulcans to fulfil this role, 24 former Victor B.2 were converted to K.2 Tanker configuration, but with the recent demise of the Handley Page company, this work was carried out by Hawker Siddeley, rather ironically at the old Avro factory at Woodford in Cheshire, home of their Vulcan rival. The K.2 tankers would employ the probe and drogue method of delivering fuel in flight, using two refuelling HDUs (Hose Drum Units) mounted one on each outer wing section and a third unit mounted under the fuselage centreline – this unit possessed a much greater fuel flow rate than the wing mounted units. In operation, either the two wing drogues could refuel a pair of aircraft simultaneously, or a single (possibly larger aircraft, even another Victor tanker) could take fuel from the centreline drogue – it was considered unsafe to refuel from the centreline and either of the wing fuel points at the same time and it was never possible for all three to be used at the same time.

Built by Handley Page at their Radlett factory in 1961, XL231 was the first Victor B.2 to be taken on strength by the newly re-formed No.139 (Jamaica) Squadron at Wittering early the following year, wearing the distinctive white ‘anti-flash’ scheme designed to protect the aircraft in the event of a nuclear delivery. The adoption of the ‘Blue Steel’ stand-off nuclear missile saw the aircraft return to Handley Page for modifications allowing the aircraft to carry this weapon in its bomb bay - once returned to Wittering, it would not be long before her white scheme was replaced with a camouflage upper surfaces, as the V-Bomber force was required to change from high to low level strike operations, due to the effectiveness of Soviet SAM missile systems. With the design of the aircraft not suited to the rigors of this kind of flying, XL231 was selected as the airframe to serve as the prototype K.2 tanker aircraft and underwent trials at Woodford and Boscombe Down and proved significant in the ultimate conversion of 24 former Victor B.2s to airborne refuelling configuration. After undergoing full conversion herself, she joined the other Victors in the tanker fleet at RAF Marham. Operational demands on these aircraft were high and XL231 would go on to make significant contributions to both the Falklands War of 1982 and the Gulf War (Operation Granby) of 1991. Indeed, during the Gulf conflict, the Victors of No.55 Squadron were the only RAF aircraft to post a 100% serviceability record – quite impressive for an old lady like this!

Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker 'Lusty Lindy' at Elvington A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog

This imposing relic of the Cold War is now a star attraction at the impressive Yorkshire Air Museum

It was during her time in the Gulf that XL231 acquired some rather distinctive additional artwork and a name which would stick with her to this day, ‘Lusty Lindy’. Reputedly applied in honour of the Crew chief’s wife, the nose artwork inspired a number of other ground crews to similarly adorn their aircraft, which resulted in one of the most popular (and heavily photographed) periods of aircraft presentation in RAF history, once these fascinating aircraft had returned home to the UK. Time was eventually called on the Victor’s RAF career in the autumn of 1993 and XL231 was to take part in the final official RAF Victor flight, when she performed in a station flypast at Marham on 15th October. Just ten days later, she was flown to the former RAF station at Elvington, where she was to go on display as part of the impressive Yorkshire Air Museum. Maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers at the museum to a serviceable and taxiable condition, ‘Lusty Lindy’ regularly thrills visitors to Elvington by firing up her mighty Rolls-Royce Conway engines and has even been known to speed down the length of their huge runway during one of their ‘Thunder Days’ - an experience well worth heading to Yorkshire for.

Handley Page Victor K.2 XH669, No.57 Squadron, Royal Air Force, ‘Operation Black Buck’ (Falklands War), Ascension Island, May 1982.

Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker Falklands War Black Buck A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog
Handley Page Victor K2 Tanker Falklands War Black Buck A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog

Every aircraft has its own fascinating story and this Victor played a significant and rather unusual part in support of a Falklands War ‘Black Buck’ mission

The effectiveness and general serviceability of the Victor Tanker force was never more in evidence than during the Falklands War of 1982. Even before the Task Force had arrived in the South Atlantic, Victors were performing reconnaissance flights over the region, gathering information on shipping in the area and assessing the general conditions for potential military operations. Their most telling contribution however, was to support Vulcan Bombers on their ‘Black Buck’ strikes against the Argentine held airfield at Port Stanley. The operations to deny Argentine forces the ability to use Port Stanley airfield called for a single Vulcan bomber (with others acting as reserve aircraft) to attack the airfield and render the runway unusable to Argentine aircraft and therefore helping to protect the British Task Force. With the nearest suitable airfield available to the British being on Ascension Island some 3,800 miles away, the Vulcan would have to rely on the in-flight refuelling support of Victor tankers and would have to undergo the refuelling operation many times during the flight, if they were to successfully accomplish their objective. This impressive feat of airmanship and aviation logistics would go on to become the longest bombing mission in history. The complex refuelling plan to support the Port Stanley Vulcan attack would call upon the services of no fewer than eleven fully fuel ladened Victor tankers, each one taking off from Ascension at the same time and all needed to provide fuel for both the Vulcan and the other Victors in a carefully planned fuel management programme. Once the attack had been completed, five more Victors would be needed if the Vulcan was to make it back to Ascension safely. The operation proved to be a success and even though huge strain was placed on the men and machines of the UK tanker force, each aircraft played its part and returned safely to its temporary South Atlantic island home.

Handley Page Victor XH669 was constructed as a B.2 in 1959, making its maiden flight at the beginning of August. Before entering squadron service the aircraft was loaned back to Handley Page, so they could display the Victor at the 1960 SBAC Farnborough show, where it was seen wearing its distinctive all-over anti-flash white scheme. She was later converted to B.2R standard and modified to carry the ‘Blue Steel’ missile, going on to serve with the Victor Operational Conversion Unit at Wittering. XH669 was one of the 24 airframes selected for conversion to K.2 tanker configuration at Woodford and joined the rest of the tanker fleet at RAF Marham in the colours of No.57 Squadron, where like all the other Victor tankers, she traded her white anti-flash scheme for camouflaged uppers. One of the many Victors to take part in the Falklands War, XH669 had a rather dubious claim to fame – whilst taking part in one of the ‘Black Buck’ missions, in support of Avro Vulcan XM607, this Victor was taking fuel from another aircraft to leave it as the sole fuel support for the Vulcan. Unfortunately, the fuel probe broke off during the transfer procedure and the Victors had to trade places, with XH669 now having to give fuel to the other Victor (XL189), before making a hasty return to Ascension.

Handley Page Victor XH669 ended its RAF career with No.55 Squadron at Marham and was not one of the eight aircraft which took part in the Gulf War. In June 1990, she made an emergency landing at Waddington, after reporting an engine issue which had caused damage to the flying controls – although no engine fire broke out, the aircraft was not deemed cost efficient to repair and was eventually scrapped, with just the nose section saved for future renovation.

Handley Page Victor SR.2 XL193, No.543 Squadron, Royal Air Force, ‘Operation Attune’, Lima Airport, Peru, 1971.

Handley Page Victor SR2 reconnaissance Operation Attune A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog
Handley Page Victor SR2 reconnaissance Operation Attune A12009 on the Airfix Workbench blog

The Strategic Reconnaissance version of the Victor B.2 was an extremely capable aircraft and further highlighted the versatility of this distinctive aircraft

Another consequence of the fatigue cracks found in Britain’s Vickers Valiant fleet was the loss of the RAF’s strategic reconnaissance fleet, a role for which the Victor B.2 had already been earmarked. The permanent grounding of the Valiant fleet in 1964 resulted in an acceleration of this work and saw the first Victor SR.2 taking to the air in February 1965. Modifications incorporated in this variant included the adoption of ‘Yellow Aster’ radar and a combination of up to 15 F49, F89 and F98 film cameras in the altered bomb bay, along with 108 photo flash flares, carried in three bespoke containers. These aircraft could also carry equipment housed in the front of the wing tanks, specifically designed to collect air samples whilst flying over the sites of nuclear test detonations. Only eight Victor B.2s were converted to this reconnaissance configuration, with a further airframe being something of a hybrid, having been partially converted, whilst also retaining the ability to carry a ‘Blue Steel’ missile.

Handley Page Victor SR.2 XL193 was one of three RAF No.543 Squadron aircraft sent to operate out of Lima International Airport in Peru, in support of ‘Operation Attune’. Between 1966 and 1974, the French had been conducting atmospheric nuclear tests in French Polynesia, detonating devices on barges in the sea, whilst suspended from helium balloons, or dropped from aircraft. These denotations released clouds of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, with the prevailing winds carrying them towards the coast of South America. These specially modified reconnaissance Victors were deployed to assess the contamination levels, flying over these dust clouds and gather samples in canisters designed by engineers at AWRE Aldermaston. As they could potentially be flying in hazardous conditions, the crew were also had the benefit of radiation sensors to warn them of dangerously high concentration levels and additional air filtration for the cabin conditioning system. The Lima airport detachment consisted of three Victor SR.2 aircraft and their support personnel, deployed for a 5 month period, rotating at the halfway point. These reconnaissance Victors were extremely effective aircraft in this role, capable of conducting long, wide ranging sorties and gathering a bewildering amount of information – it was said that a single Victor SR.2 could map the entire Mediterranean region in a single sortie.

In 1/72nd scale, the Handley Page Victor is an impressive model by any standards and the September debut of the second release from this newly tooled kit, presents us with three fascinating, yet contrasting scheme options in which to finish our example of this distinctive aeroplane. Whether we decide to finish our Victor as one of the most impressive preserved aircraft in Britain, as a famous Falklands ‘Black Buck’ support tanker, or as one of only eight specialist reconnaissance versions of this mighty jet, we will certainly end up with a fitting centrepiece model for our aviation displays. Victor K.2 A12009 is still currently available for pre-order, but with just a few weeks to go until its scheduled release date, this situation could change very quickly – it will certainly be interesting to see how many of these kits end up passing through the gift shop at the Yorkshire Air Museum.

3rd Anniversary competition update

Exclusive Airfix competition prizes on the Airfix Workbench blog

The previous edition of Workbench saw the welcome return of Airfix prizes being up for grabs over on our competitions page and we are delighted to report that thousands of our readers decided to enter. They always say that you have to be 'in it to win it', so if you were not one of the lucky ones this time, please don’t worry – we are intending to feature many more competitions over the coming months and your time may well yet come. The winners of this competition should check their e-mails right now, as they have already been sent notification of their success and we will publish the names of the lucky few in the next edition of our blog – the only thing we ask is that you send us a quick ‘selfie’ of you with your prizes, so we can share your delight with fellow readers in a future edition of Workbench. Once again, thank you to everyone who took the time to enter our third anniversary competition.

That’s it for yet another edition of Workbench, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more Airfix 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 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 17th August, when we look forward to bringing you all the latest news, updates and exclusives from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.

On behalf of the entire Workbench team, thank you for continuing to support our Airfix blog.

The Airfix Workbench Team


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