Airfix's 1/72 scale
by Damian Coburn
Airfix's 1/72 scale Canberra B(I)8 is available online from Squadron.com
“I turned around for a second pass, firing a one-second burst … only one hit was needed to "whoosh" off the entire line of storage tanks. … we were flying through an angry hail of small arms fire, and as I pulled up I heard the ominous bang as my aircraft was hit in the nose area. My navigator, Flt. Lt. (now Air Commodore) M.M. Takle was struck in the upper thigh. I pulled up through cloud and set course for Kamina, set the controls to automatic and climbed down and forward to render first aid.” (1)
Following up some progress shots in the Airfix subforum, this is my Airfix B(I)8 finished as a B(1)58 of the Indian Air Force operating in the Congo in the early 1960s – combined with some thoughts on modeling motivations, including how buying some F-104 decals resulted in building a ‘Tusker’ Canberra in Africa.
When I’m not painting toy soldiers, my modeling habits fall mostly into two categories: 1/72 Australian military aircraft, and 1/72 jets. With the former I drive myself to distraction worrying about getting details correct; with the latter, I just want them to be sleek and have interesting (and preferably colourful) colours and markings, and I’m happy to build these OOB without sweating the details. So I tell myself. In either case, though, I’m a sucker for a good story.
When one thinks of sleek and colourful jets, of course one thinks of F-104s. On the story side, I had been jealous of 1/48 modellers who have available to them the Iliad Design “Starfighters in combat” sheet, especially the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-104 borrowed from Jordan in an interesting and unusual for F-104s tan/brown/green camouflage from the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. So when DP Casper brought out one of their 1/72 “Forgotten Conflict” sets for that war including that airframe, I snapped it up.
After a bit of research, though, I started having some doubts about whether that aircraft as depicted flew for the PAF, or even at all, in those colours (though that’s another story). No problem; the sheet has lots of interesting options, even if I disagree with some of the interpretations (another story again). Most of the options, however, required conversions and/or working with old kits and I was in the mood for something quick and simple. Solution: the new Airfix Canberra B(I)8 to be finished in Indian Air Force (IAF) markings.
Airfix 1/72 scale Canberra B(I)8 in the Box
The new 1/72 scale Airfix Canberra B(I)8 seems to be a good example of the new Airfix: an interesting subject that’s not one of the usual suspects, (with, as in this case, a focus on good old British subjects), what looks like sensible engineering … and those panel lines. Oh those panel lines. On the other hand, internal and wheel well detail is reasonable to good for a mainstream kit in this scale including some decent (for kit standard) seats, though nothing like a resin set. There is also a bomb bay with bombs provided, weighted tyres, and an array of underwing stores.
A bit of internet searching identified two minor and easily fixed shape problems: the elevators are square at the tips of the trailing edges where they should be rounded, and the fin fillet is much too large. The correct shape of the elevators is shown on the painting guide, and the fin shape is easily deduced from photos.
Three attractive schemes are provided (even though I didn’t intend to build any of them): a B(I)8 16 Sqn of RAFG in 1972 in dark sea grey and green over silver with big D-type (yes, yes, I know) roundels and a shark mouth; a 14 Sqn RNZAF B(1)12 from 1968, in the same colours (not quite correct, unfortunately, for operations during the Konfrontasi); and another B(1)12 of the SAAF in overall silver, 1969-75. Various stencils are warnings are provided, noting that Canberras didn’t carry many, though it would have been nice to have the rectangular patches under the wings supplied as decals as well.
When it came to building I found lots of little niggles. Nothing difficult or unable to be fixed with a little patience, but slightly surprising in a brand new kit. Fit was mostly not bad with and not so good in one or two places. Key issues were:
the cockpit assembly was slightly too wide, requiring some sanding of the bulkheads and floors to enable the fuselage halves to close properly. I didn’t find this out until I had installed the cockpit into one of the halves.
the separate rudder and ailerons were too thick at the leading edges and required quite a lot of thinning. The ailerons are slightly too short in span (though those panel lines meant that this is not terribly noticeable) and lacked the trim tabs on the undersurfaces, needing these scribed. The separate flaps were too broad in chord and too thick at the trailing edge.
the rudder has these bizarre superfluous horizontal panel lines as if the rudder were constructed from a stack of Lego bricks. These needed filling.
based on photos I don’t think the antennae on the fin (parts 27E and 28E) are relevant to the kit and may be for the PR.9. I had them mentally pegged as not for the B(1)58 but I haven’t seen them on any photos of B(I)8s or 12s either. I’m also not sure about the small (VHF?) antenna next to the cockpit (part 30A) – certainly not for use on my IAF version.
none of the control surfaces fitted terribly well and, despite being separate, did not want to be fitted in any position other than neutral. Given these fit issues and that one rarely seems to see Canberras with control surfaces deflected except sometimes the elevators and, rarely, the rudder, I wonder if the separate parts were really a plus.
the rear of the gun pack had a large step up to the rear fuselage which shouldn’t be there. I had already attached the pack that made fixing this, ahem, fun. According to the netz the pack is also too short and the cannon shouldn’t protrude from the pack. I couldn’t find photos to confirm and left those alone.
the wing locating tabs forced the wings out of alignment and needed trimming and thinning. Once in the right position the wing joints were OK but not great. The deep panel lines meant the not quite perfect wing joins fitted in with the rest of the surface ‘detail’.
the natural position of the main undercarriage had the legs pointing forward and – due to short retraction jacks – inwards. Slightly vague fit made getting this right easy.
bomb bay doors were too long, but also not wide enough. I fixed the latter with some strip, and also added some thin plastic rod to the edges of the doors to represent the prominent hinges in those locations. The doors also, at least on aircraft fitted with gun packs – I don’t know either way about the others – are in two parts to enable the bomb bay to be used with a gun pack fitted. I didn’t realize this until a late stage and couldn’t find good enough references to fix it, so left it alone.
the crew entrance door was undersized; I ran some white glue around the edges to prevent daylight showing around the door.
in general the mating surfaces weren’t particularly sharp, requiring filler along the entire fuselage and tip tank joins, and quite a bit of cleaning up of all the wing and tailplane leading edges. Various inside corners such as where the elevator leading edges meet the aerodynamic balancing surfaces, or where the intakes and exhausts insert into the wings, needed squaring up to get a good fit. Incidentally, I bought my first proper scribing tool during this project and it got plenty of work reinstating panel lines (plus some practice repairing errant scriber scratches).
To build an IAF example I needed to add a towel-rail antenna under the fuselage – which I didn’t realize until a late stage, which resulted in a less than perfect finish in that area (see photo) and a short rod antenna next to the cockpit, near but not quite in the same place as the kit part (30A).
As already discussed, after buying a decal sheet for (in the first instance) an F-104 scheme, I was working on an IAF Canberra, IF976 of 5 Sqn IAF ‘the Tuskers’ (2) from the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war.
I found in background information on 5 Sqn eg (3), (4), (5) of the IAF mention of involvement in UN operations in the Congo. Coincidentally, in the middle of this project my wife and I went on a cruising holiday, and one of the on-board entertainers was an Irishman who mentioned that he had served in the Congo. Even more intriguing.
The story, even the short version, is, like much of the history of the Congo, a sad one. From 1885 to 1960 what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (as opposed to the Republic of the Congo, an ex-French colony) was first a private possession of the King of Belgium and then a colony of Belgium. The country gained independence in 1960 and quickly fell apart. The army mutinied over poor conditions and perceptions of lack of promotion prospects in an army still mainly officered by Belgians. Belgium unilaterally sent paratroops into the Congo to protect Europeans and Belgian business interests. Using the unrest as an excuse, and with encouragement from the Belgian military and business interests, the province of Katanga – which had most of the Congo’s mineral resources – made a declaration of secession. With Belgian military assistance Katanga also started recruiting mercenaries including the infamous ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare.
This led to the beginning of the UN intervention and the formation of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (or ONUC: Opération des Nations Unies au Congo) (6) to support removal of Belgian forces and reuniting of the country. ONUC included contingents from a number of countries (7) including, of interest to us, Swedish J-29s, Ethiopian F-86s – and IAF Canberras.
At this point the story becomes very complicated; you can read the references. In short, initially ONUC did not take active action in support of its goals but eventually undertook armed operations against mercenaries and Katangan forces after events which included Patrice Lumamba, the Prime Minister seeking Soviet assistance due to UN inaction; a coup; Lumamba being kidnapped and handed over to and executed by Katangan forces; and the death of Dag Hammerskjöld, General Secretary of the UN in an aircraft accident in the Congo while trying to broker a peace deal.
Canberras were selected by the IAF because of their utility in a country in the size of the Congo (in square kilometers it is about the size of Europe west of and including Germany). Initially they were used for reconnaissance – somewhat unsatisfactorily as they were not fitted for that purpose and had to use bombing effect cameras – but then were used in their intended ground attack role. (1), (8).
UN operations were successful and ceased in 1964; but that just heralded new civil wars (and, by the by, the recall of Moïse Tshombe, exiled leader of Katanga to lead the country and the return of Hoare, in the service of the central government this time), wars, and periods of ‘Big Man’ government that have continued at various levels of intensity until today.
Back to the model. The DP Casper sheet had two major omissions. First, underwing serials; and secondly, and surprisingly as it is so prominent, the Tusker insignia on the nose (again see (2)). I noticed Model Alliance did both Canberra serials in the correct style (item MAS-729025), and one of its fighter canopy sheets included a Tusker aircraft – of UNOC as it happens (item M:AF-72143). The sheet had two sets of Tusker insignia so I figured I wouldn’t be wasting the sheet buying it just for those.
When I got to the point of having painted the underside in Tamiya TS-17 (straight out of the can, but let’s keep that between just us, OK?) I had a change of heart and decided to do the ONUC aircraft. At this point it meant removing the underwing stores pylons (and repairing the area I had just painted), and painting the top in silver as well. Which highlighted some less than perfect finishing on my part, requiring redoing a number of joins. My fault and not Airfix’s at that point.
I changed my mind because:
the Canberra is an attractive aircraft and the silver scheme really suits it
the interest of the Congo operations story
the IAF roundels would look really good against that silver scheme
I have in my stash a HiPlanes B.20 also to be done in green and grey, and my interest for a future build was piqued by a Malaya-based NRZAF aircraft – again in green and grey
did I mention how good the Canberra looks in silver?
This of course substantially simplified the painting and I was into decaling in no time. Ahem, well, after fixing up the unsatisfactory parts of my build.
If you like Canberras, check out the Model Alliance sheets in both 1/72 and 1/48. This particular sheet had three IAF aircraft – a colourful target tug and two silver airframes; a silver Venezuelan aircraft which momentarily tempted me, and one from Peru in tan and brown. Every option cries out to be used.
I found myself a bit stumped at first by the decals instructions which were, to be honest, not particularly helpful. Perhaps all is explained in MA’s book, but I didn’t have that. As it happens there are plenty of pictures of Indian Canberras of the web; I’ve provided links to some of the sites, so I was able to muddle through. The decal sheet provides six large and six small roundels; what is needed for one aircraft is four large (for the wings) and two small, which leaves what seems to me to be a non-useful set of remainders. The colour instructions neither mention nor show the grey leading fin leading edge section nor the tailcone which, from the one colour photo I found, seemed to be a beige colour. Helpfully, you get two each of two styles of fin flashes; a ‘tall’ style with equal-width colour bands, and a ‘short’ style with a narrower white band. The implicit message is check your references and choose; I did, and chose the latter. I already mentioned that you get two sets of Tusker insignia; it seems from photos they were only carried on the starboard side (the instructions only showed that side).
But leaving that aside, the decals themselves performed superbly causing me to forgive MA for their less than entirely adequate instructions. I’d rate them among the best I’ve ever used. I had put a coat of Tamiya gloss over the TS-17, and the clear parts of the serials and ONUC titles vanished. They also, after application, moved only with the greatest reluctance. Beware.
I also used some of the Airfix decals for stencils and warning markings; these performed very well also. While, as already mentioned, Canberras didn’t carry a lot of markings, IAF airframes seemed to carry even fewer than other air force’s Canberras. I matched the various styles in the kit decals to what I could see in photos. I finished up with a fairly matt coat, and attaching the undercarriage. Remove the canopy and window masking and voila! Done!
I’m conscious that I’ve possibly presented the Airfix kit as a bit of a dog. Yes, it required a bit more work than a Timigawa kit, but none of it was the slightest bit difficult. It’s fundamentally sound kit and I’m very very happy with my Canberra. I listed the things I fixed to encourage others to go and do likewise. As Ferris Bueller said: “if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up”. It’s sleek, it has interesting and colourful markings, and I may be lying to myself about not caring about the details with jets.
This build also gave me an opportunity to think about what excites me, modeling-wise. What gets your modeling juices flowing?
Images and Text Copyright ©
2012 by Damian Coburn
Page Created 3 January, 2012
3 January, 2012
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