- Published on Thursday, 19 January 2012 00:01 Robin Jenkins
1/72 Fairey Swordfish Mk.I
Catalogue # A04053
Available direct from Airfix for £13.99
There have been relatively few aircraft that physically looked as though they were not up to the job; as the famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "....if it looks wrong then, my dear, it is usually will be wrong." Most military aircraft have some sense of purpose about them, no matter what age they are from. Age is another key factor: what is great today will be outmoded in 10 years time and is usually retired when a better airframe comes along. So, if all this is true, why even today do we marvel at the success in WW2 of an aircraft that looked as though it belonged in a previous war or a museum, which was slow, outclassed and out of date, had an open cockpit and 2 sets of wings, yet claimed battleships as its victims as well as many, many dreaded U-Boats and stayed in service much longer than the aircraft designed to succeed it.
The Swordfish even went down in history in taking part in one of the most stupid, brave, heroic but fruitless and suicidal attacks in all of WW2, when 6 black painted aircraft (painted so because the attack was to have been at night originally) took on the might of the German Navy and the Luftwaffe (2 battleships, a heavy cruiser, a dozen destroyers and escorts and around 100 fighters) in broad daylight in the attack on the "Channel Dash", leading to the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross for the attack's leader, Eugene Esmonde This is indeed the legend that is the "Stringbag", or more correctly, the Fairey Swordfish (below).
There have been 3 extremely good Swordfish kits released in my lifetime. In 1/48th scale, we have Tamiya's highly acclaimed kit; my friend and fellow reviewer Peter Buckingham wrote of his pleasure at building the excellent Trumpeter 1/32nd kit in his personal introduction to our readers; and my personal favourite (though not really suitable for this site), a 60.5 inch wingspan flying scale kit from Complete-a-Pac (CAP) in 1/9th scale, released way back in 1973 but still under production nearly 40 years later by Anglia Model Centre here in the UK.
In 1/72nd scale, things have not been so rosy. Older efforts from Airfix, Matchbox and Frog, together with re-releases from Revell and Novo, all have inherent problems with both accuracy and surface finish. I clearly remember a magazine article in Scale Models in 1974 where the author was combining parts from various models and grafting them on to the (then-new) Frog kit to try and achieve a passable result – and not really succeeding, if truth be told.
Now, a new kit has arrived in the market after all of this time and is causing a great deal of positive noise. This is the latest 1/72nd scale kit from Airfix; after the very good recent releases in this smaller scale, I have genuinely been awaiting this kit with great anticipation. It is a completely new model, not a re-hash of their older kit.
So, in a box that is larger than expected, what do we have? Well, four light grey sprues that immediately hint at the quality of moulding that Airfix are now able to achieve, a small transparency sprue, decal sheet with 2 very different options and the instruction booklet which, as is now the norm, contains colour profiles of the marking options.
The first sprue (below) holds the upper wing upper halves, lower wing lower halves, lower centre section upper halves, the tailplane, bombs and bomb racks, fuel tank, flattened tyres and torpedo crutches with their separating body. There are also wheels for a torpedo cart. The standard of moulding on some of these smaller parts is really astonishing; ghosts of Airfix designers long departed would be truly amazed at what the company is able to produce today. Of note are the lower wing halves; these have flashed over holes for the bomb racks and stores carriers but rather than have a flat outer surface, the wing has the tiniest of dimples to simulate the positions of the mounts, something that is noticeable in photos of some wartime Swordfish aircraft.
The second major sprue (above) gives the modeller the other halves of the upper and lower wings, torpedo, cockpit floor, upper decking, upper bulkheads and other details, part of the undercarriage legs, smaller struts and the large "fuselage to lower wing strengtheners" – these may have a proper name but I cannot remember what it is - all I know is that they are a pain when it comes to painting unless you attach them later! The fabric effect on the wings is very well executed, even showing signs of distress or sagging in the wing root areas. The method of fixing the interplane struts looks interesting; they are inserted from within the lower half of the upper wing, which will leave a little cleaning up to be done, but it should ensure the correct angles for the struts with a bit of care. The wing trailing edges may benefit from a slight sanding on their contact surfaces just to thin them down slightly. Of interest, the model can be built with wings folded or extended. One small disappointment, present in the larger scale kits as well as this one, are the solid leading edge slats – aftermarket resin items, when they appear, should be the only purchase necessary for this kit, since the slats often dropped when the aircraft was parked up. My plans suggest the torpedo may be a tiny bit long, but it is hardly noticeable. The tiny Vickers K gun, however, is a gem.
The next sprue (below) is dominated by the fuselage halves and lower section with the lower half of the lower centre section attached to it but also provides the cowling, a fantastic little engine, tailwheel, stores carriers, the other parts of the undercarriage legs, arrestor hook, the tail of the torpedo with its screws and detail parts for the cockpit. Also seen is the upper wing spar – I ask you, a spar in a 1/72 Airfix kit!
A close-up photo of this sprue (above) shows the fuselage halves. Note the engraved panel line detail, panel fixing points, footsteps and restrained rear fabric effect; all are designed for the final effect under a coat of paint and as such are just about perfect for this scale.
The final major sprue (below) gives a myriad of parts: the separate elevators and rudder, belly fuel tank, major interplane struts, both halves of the upper centre section, the torpedo cart, cockpit framework, smaller munitions and the propellor., which according to my plans may need its tips sharpening very slightly through sanding. Also visible are the piece de resistance of the kit and which are the parts which show how serious Airfix are with this release - jigs to enable the upper centre section to be attached correctly so that the wings will take up the correct positions when added, be it straight or folded. This has always been a problem with all previous 1/72 Swordfish kits but is a problem no longer.
The small transparency sprue (above) is clear and just thin enough for the scale. As well as the windscreen, you are provided with the fuselage windows and wing leading edge lights.
The decal sheet (below) is well up to the standard Airfix regularly achieve nowadays, having perfect register. Even the roundel colours for the pre-war aircraft are subtly brighter, as indeed was the case. Only the decal for the instrument panel looks a little messy and cluttered.
The instruction sheet holds 2 colour profiles illustrating the decal options, which as I have said are nicely different:
- K8449, 649 of 820 NAS, HMS Courageous, March 1939 (above)
- K8393, E5A of 824 NAS, HMS Eagle, Operation "Judgement" (the attack on Taranto, Italy), 11/12 November 1940. Flown by Captain Oliver Patch RN and Lieutenant David Goodwin RN. (below)
The instruction sheet also shows the various options; you need to fully understand the correct procedures for extended or folded wing builds before starting your kit, so study carefully! It was really good to see angles within which control surfaces could move being noted, a real plus for the modeller. Be assured, this is indeed a modeller's kit; it will need care, patience and a degree of skill to achieve a good result and is not one for beginners or those who have never built a biplane kit. It is here in the instructions that the only major omission occurs; there is no real rigging diagram, something that is important for such a kit (as realised by Eduard); however, most modellers will have references to help in this area.
I have no doubt that the fantastic result that Airfix have achieved with this kit has something to do with the arrival in the last couple of years of the beautiful 1/32 scale WW1 kits from Wingnut Wings and the high quality 1/48 biplane kits that Eduard have released over the last year or so. These, above all other companies, have shown that biplane kits can be produced that are the equal in quality to models any other aviation subject, despite the difficulties of portraying fabric and wood in miniature. Airfix have taken the lessons to heart and the result is this little gem; at under £15.00, the price is also just about right for such quality and for a kit of this size.
So What Do We Think?
Modellers I know, together with reviewers in other parts of the media, have been raving about this kit and I now fully understand why. Take a classic modelling subject and throw every best effort at the development and production of it and you end up with a model that could rightly be considered to be in the top 5 kits that Airfix have ever released. Despite the need to drop the leading edge slats yourself and the lack of a rigging diagram, as a kit it is simply superb.
An exceptionally high quality model
Our thanks to Airfix for the review sample. To purchase directly, click THIS link.