by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundToday the de Havilland Venom is widely seen as something of an also-ran - a "swept-wing" development of the Vampire - but if things had worked out differently, the Venom could well have been the most important fighter in the fledgeling air forces of the newly re-armed post war Europe. Plans were laid for licence-production on a massive scale and some 5,000 Venoms would have been built if the scheme had progressed.
Perhaps it's fortunate that the project was largely abandoned, as the arrival of newer designs had really made the Venom obsolescent before it ever left the drawing board - and, when it did finally fly, it was beset by problems that left it far behind in the fighter stakes.
The concept for the Venom dates right back to 1944 and grew from de Havilland's wish to fit a more powerful engine into a Vampire - a Nene instead of the Goblin - but the real spur arrived later in the form of de Havilland's own Ghost. Along with a new engine, the designers introduced a new "thin" wing - sometimes described as "swept-back" but, in fact, only fitted with a tapered leading edge - which was stressed to carry 1,000lb of ordnance on each pylon and wing-tip fuel tanks. The new aircraft was originally to be named the Vampire Mk. 8 but, such were the changes, it was re-christened the Venom.
From the start, it was clear that the Venom was behind the times - by the time it flew in Sept 1949, the far superior F-86 and MiG 15 were in service - and the Venom was further hit by serious problems, including structural failures at high Gs and engine fires. In test, its handling was at best reasonable - except its rate of roll, which was described as "poor" without wing-tip tanks and "deplorable" with them fitted.
Amazingly for the date, early Venoms weren't fitted with an ejector seat and the cockpit was also notorious for being oppressively hot. Finally, in December 1953, the FB.4 appeared - introducing an ejector seat and air-conditioning as standard, along with powered ailerons and redesigned fins and rudders to improve handling. Outclassed as a fighter, the FB.4 nevertheless proved an effective ground-attack aircraft, seeing action in Suez, Aden and Cyprus - and soldiering on in RAF service until the early 1960s.
Given its relatively short RAF career, it's surprising that export Venoms actually proved to be among the longest-serving post-war fighters. The Swiss built 250 aircraft under licence and the type flew on well into the 1980s sporting a distinctive extended nose.
The kitClassic Airframes' Venom FB.4 arrives in a nice solid box. Disappointingly, the clear parts are left to rattle around with the rest of the plastic sprues, but the excellent set of resin details are protected in their own bag. I found a couple of pieces detached from their sprues - not as a result of any particularly rough handling, but because the major parts are quite heavy (especially the wings) and the sprue-attachments are very thin. As far as I could see, no damage had occurred due to this.
The kit consists of:
54 x dark blue-grey styrene parts
2 x clear parts
24 x grey resin parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
The styrene parts bear the unmistakable hallmark of being produced by Sword. They are quite thick (although the trailing edges of the wings and tail are nice and sharp) and have perhaps the glossiest surface I've ever seen. The parts are so highly polished, they almost appear varnished - you could could almost argue that they are over-polished because some of the finely scribed panel detail is in danger of being softened and lost.
I couldn't find any signs of sinkage on my kit, but there are some hefty ejector-pin marks to deal with and a few traces of flash and moulding lines - but nothing you wouldn't expect in a semi-short-run kit, and well above the standard we'd have expected a few years ago.
Test fitThis is obviously a bit awkward thanks to the twin-boom layout, but the fuselage halves line up well. The wings have large ejector-pin marks on the inner surfaces which prevent them joining and, once these are removed, I found the panels slightly warped. They are easily held with tape, so there's no real problem and, as mentioned above, the trailing edges are impressively thin.
AccuracyAfter the problems with CA's earlier Vampire, I was a little wary of the Venom, but full marks to the pattern makers for taking notice of the widespread criticism, because the nose and cockpit area now seems much better. By way of a test, I compared it with the original kit and with Aeroclub's Vampire correction set (the Vampire and Venom shared a common nose section) and it now matches the latter much more closely, with the cockpit moved forward. The canopy seems unaltered though, and doesn't capture the "blown" look of the real think - something that would be impossible without a vacuform canopy (Aeroclub have a replacement Vampire canopy) or a multi-part mould.
Construction breakdownThe assembly sequence seems very logical and the instructions are clearly illustrated in CA's usual style. Despite the kit's apparent simplicity, it's undoubtedly wise to follow the prominently placed advice to dry-fit and check the alignment of all parts during assembly. This is a kit intended for experienced modellers and has the potential to "bite" the unwary...
Stages 1-3 - The 8-part cockpit is all resin and is beautifully cast and detailed. The ejector seat is particularly nice, with moulded on harness. Apart from lacking foot-rests, it seems to match photos of a Martin Baker Mark 1F seat, which on-line sources say was fitted. There are excellent sidewalls, and they attach to a substantial "tub" for the floor and rear bulkhead and sits on a further piece which forms the nosewheel well and exterior cannon ports. A neat control column and rudder pedals round things off before the instrument panel which, by comparison, looks a little bare as there are no bezels around any of the instruments - just plain holes. There is a simple 2-part tail pipe, which features a very nice engine face. The interior of the fuselage halves has big ejector-pin marks which must be removed before the cockpit can be fitted and the halves closed. Be prepared for some adjustment before the fuselage can be completed. The instructions indicate that nose-weight is needed but not how much.
Stages 4-6 - The kit wings have early-style ailerons moulded integral with the top panels, so these must be cut away to make way for the new, separate, powered ailerons provided. The main wheel wells only have basic details, but they interlock perfectly when the wings are assembled and look very neat. Probably conscious of the difficulty of moulding attachment sockets in short-run kits without them filling in, CA have supplied separate resin locators for the main gear legs - an unusual solution, but it should work well. The wing root inlets are cast in resin and are nice and deep and a quick test fit shows they should fair in with the styrene wings with little trouble.
Stages 7-9 - Time to tackle the tail and the wing-tip tanks. Obviously, the alignment of the tail booms is crucial to the whole look of the finished model. As supplied, they fit onto a short locating stub which allows quite a bit of play, so I think it will be wise to add a length of plastic rod for extra support and use a simple jig to keep everything square while the cement dries.
Stages 10 & 11 - Sees the undercarriage fitted. This is a combination of styrene and resin parts. The legs are styrene styrene and the detail is a bit soft, but should clean up OK and the gear doors have some reasonable detail on the inside. The wheels are resin and crisply detailed, including the non-castering tyre for the nosewheel. They are cast "un-weighted".
Stage 12 - Underwing stores. CA provide 4 x rockets and pair of drop tanks. It's nice to see a short-run kit come complete with something to hang off the wings, but the rockets are pretty basic and the warheads look rather small. The styrene bodies will need a bit of a clean-up before the resin tails are fitted.
Stages 13 & 14 - Add the gunsight, canopy and final external details such as aerials which must be made from scratch from the templates provided.
Colour schemesDecals are provided for 3 x colour schemes:
1. WR431 "R", 249 Sqn., RAF Akrotiri, 1956 wearing "Suez Stripes" for Operation Musketeer.
2. WR537 "A", 28 Sqn., RAF Kai Tak, 1952? - the date seems impossible, as the FB.4 didn't fly until the following year.
3. WR441, 11 Sqn., RAF Wunsdorf, 1955-57
The decals are beautifully printed by Microscale and are thin and glossy with all the items perfectly in register. The colours have plenty of opacity - especially the yellow, which can sometimes be problematic - but the red used looks perhaps a little dark for a post-war aircraft.
ConclusionClassic Airframes' Venom can be recommended to experienced modellers. Some of the plastic details are a bit basic and it's a pity more aren't supplied in resin like the impressive cockpit. Importantly, most of the problems associated with the earlier Vampire have been addressed and, at least on the basis of a test-fit, it certainly looks like a Venom - and is a massive improvement on the ancient version that can still be found under the Glencoe label.