by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
The idea behind the turret-fighter was simple enough - let the pilot concentrate on flying, while the gunner dealt with targeting the enemy. Only two of the competing designs for Specification F.9/35 actually flew - the Hawker Hotspur, which bore a close similarity to the Hurricane and the Boulton Paul Defiant. The Defiant was chosen for RAF service (Hawker was fully committed to Hurricane production) and the first aircraft were delivered in December 1939.
Powered by the same engine as the Spitfire and Hurricane, but encumbered by the added weight of a gunner and his turret, it was clear from the start that the Defiant would struggle against single-seaters despite every effort to fair in the turret smoothly. Nevertheless, the first combat results were spectacularly good, when Luftwaffe pilots made the mistake of attacking from above and behind in a conventional manner - only to be met by a hail of fire from the Defiant's 4 x .303 machine guns. In one day during the fierce fighting covering the evacuation from Dunkirk, Defiants claimed no less than 38 kills and 65 (mostly bombers) by the end of May.
But it couldn't last; German pilots soon realised that the Defiant was defenceless against attacks from head-on and below, while splitting the tasks of flying and fighting between two crew made both the pilot's and gunner's tasks next to impossible in a dogfight. As a day fighter, the Defiant's days were numbered; at the height of the Battle of Britain, 264 Sqn was reduced to just 3 serviceable aircraft after less than a week in the front-line and the type was hastily withdrawn from the fighting. It was decided to use the Defiant as a night fighter and the new, top secret AI radar was installed. In this new role, the Defiant proved a success and provided a valuable part of Britain's early night-fighting force, notching up the highest kill ratio during the Winter of 1940-41.
The kitClassic Airframes' first released a 1/48 scale Defiant almost 10 years ago. The early kit was typical of short-run kits of its day - definitely one for the experts and condemned by many modellers for some dimensional inaccuracies. Recognising the continuing appeal of the Defiant, Classic Airframes have taken the bold move of scrapping the original kit entirely and releasing a series of brand new models which incorporate all the advances in short-run injection technology over the intervening decade. So far, 3 kits have been announced:
Kit # 481 Boulton Paul Defiant Mk. II Night Fighter
Kit # 482 Boulton Paul Defiant TT Mk. I / TTMk.III
Kit # 471 Boulton Paul Defiant Mk. I Day Fighter
This review is for the Mk. II, but should be applicable to the other variants in most respects.
The new kit consists of:
65 x Main plastic parts
20 x Resin detail parts
5 x Injected clear parts
1 x Etched fret
Decals for 2 schemes.
Main PartsThe kit is moulded in mid-grey plastic which is good quality and easy to work with. The sprue gates are reasonably small, but some of the smaller parts will need extra care in removal and clean up. The main parts have a high gloss surface and panel lines are all very neatly engraved. The control surfaces feature a nice subtle fabric-effect, but no attempt has been made to depict the fabric covering of the rear decking behind the turret or the heavy riveting which is so apparent in photos of the Defiant.
There is a little flash, here and there, and there are a couple of ejector-pin stubs to take care of inside the fuselage before assembly, but clean-up should be quick and easy. The detail is mostly excellent excellent, although the radiator grills might have been better cast in resin. The one real problem concerns the rudder, which has pronounced sink-marks which will need filling - while trying to preserve the fabric-effect.
Test FitI test-fitted the main parts and the results were excellent; there's no warping and the fit is very precise. There are no locator pins, but the fuselage halves fit line up perfectly. The nose is moulded separately (like Hasegawa's Hurricane) to allow for different versions. This is often a recipe for trouble but, in this case, the fit is spot on. The instructions show the nose being fitted after the fuselage is complete, whereas many modellers prefer to fit the halves early for a more conventional assembly; based on the test fit, both methods should be trouble-free. Finally, the fuselage to wing joint is almost perfect.
Resin PartsThe detail parts are beautifully cast in grey resin. The cockpit consists of 8 parts, plus a further 8 for the turret. Detail throughout is superb, with excellent cockpit side-walls and instrument panel. The machine gun barrels feature delicate cooling slots and hollow ends (a spare is thoughtfully included).
The wheel wells show some very nice detail and fit the openings in the wing fine. They are moulded on heavy plinths but, as far as I can tell without a full-build, once they're cleaned up they look as though they'll fit inside the wings with no problem.
Etched PartsClassic Airframes supply a small etched fret which includes seat harnesses for the pilot and gunner, plus a number of aerials for the AI Radar. The instructions show the fuselage aerials mounted only on the port side. They aren't always easy to see in photos, because wartime censors often did their best to scrub out the evidence of the top-secret radar, but most of my references show the aerials fitted on both sides. The etched fret actually includes sufficient parts for both sides, but only one resin mount is provided - still, it'll be simple enough to use this a pattern and make another.
Clear PartsThe kit includes injection moulded transparencies and they are crystal-clear, with very neatly done framing. The canopy is moulded closed and the plastic is rather thick, so it'll be hard to pose it open or with the turret fairing down. Hopefully, Falcon / Squadron will come to the rescue with a vacuform replacement to show off the lovely internal detail.
The turret itself looks pretty good - it's moulded in halves, but the joint is on a frame line. Compared with plans, the turret looks as though it might have a tendency to sit a little too high, but it's a drop-in fit, so it should be possible to sort this out.
Instructions and decalsThe assembly diagrams are neatly drawn and include colour notes at each stage. These call for the cockpit to be painted grey-green, which I believe is correct for the day-fighter, but my references for the night-fighter describe the cockpit as mostly black.
The position of the various aerials is a bit confusing and some separate scrap-views would do no harm - this is certainly a case of measuring carefully before drilling any holes.
Decals are provided for two aircraft in a choice of colours which Henry Ford would have approved of - black or black. The decals are custom-printed by Microscale and are of superb quality - thin and perfectly in register. Two sheets are provided - one seems to be generic to all the Defiant versions, while the second carries the codes and fin-flashes for two night-fighters.
The generic sheet features some stencilling, but none is shown on the painting diagrams for the night-fighter. It's not obvious from photos how much stencilling the night-fighters carried, but one wartime shot clearly shows W/T marks on the rudder (presumably painted in dull-red).
ConclusionThis is an excellent kit and a vast improvement over Classic Airframes' previous version - full marks to them for bringing out a new model. The clean fit and simple construction should make it an ideal first short-run kit and suitable for any modeller with a little experience. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of the series. Recommended.
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