by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundThe Vickers Type 161 COW Gun Fighter resulted from an Air Ministry requirement for an interceptor capable of mounting the formidable 37mm Coventry Ordnance Works cannon. In what was a foretaste of Germany's WW2 "Schräge Musik" mounting, the weapon was angled forward and upward at 45º to be fired into the belly of an enemy bomber. A single hit was considered sufficient to bring down its victim.
Vickers' answer was to produce an aircraft reminiscent of their WW1 "pushers" - a biplane, with the pilot sat in an open cockpit in a nacelle strengthened to bear the 200lb weight of the COW gun and a supply of 50 shells. The tail was mounted on booms to clear the 4-bladed propeller and, with a nod to streamlining, behind the propeller a strange conical "fuselage" tube extended to the tail, supported by struts from the booms.
The Type 161 first flew in January 1931 and, after some modifications to provide the required stability as a gun platform, seems to have performed surprisingly well in the following trials. The COW Gun mounting apparently worked well, although none of the photos I've seen indicate how it was aimed. Despite the favourable showing, there was no further development and the aircraft was never accepted for service.
In kit formThere's something about buying a kit for your own birthday present; you obviously want to get something a little bit special, so for the last few years I've treated myself to some very nice resin kits. This year I went one better and chose some something plain barmy to boot!
I've reviewed quite a few ambitious kits for Aeroscale that fall into the "experts only" category, but I think I can safely say that Karaya's COW Gun Fighter is among the most daunting kits I've ever bought. This is no comment on the quality of the kit (which is excellent), rather it's down to the design of the original aircraft which looks like it was sketched out on the back of a place mat during a quiet moment at the Mad Hatter's tea party! It's almost as if the aircraft's designers had a saying "If in doubt, add a few more struts."!
But back to basics. The kit arrives in a small, but tough, conventional box that protected everything perfectly. The resin parts are contained in two zip-lock bags, with a small etched fret in a third. The kit comprises:
115 x grey resin parts
31 x etched brass parts plus a printed film
Decals for the single prototype
The casting is really excellent, with a very fine finish and with no bubbles or other flaws in my kit. The nacelle features finely engraved panel lines, plus delicate raised louvres and rivets, while the fabric flying surfaces are subtly depicted.
A full test fit is obviously out of the question, but the two nacelle halves clip together neatly and even have locating pins, while the wings and tail are nice and straight with thin trailing edges and separate control surfaces. The top wing attaches directly to the nacelle, but that's about the end of anything simple in this kit. No locations are marked for the struts, and what is a little scary is the sheer number of them and the angles involved around the tail cone. A jig, and very precise measurement and construction are going to be absolutely essential.
A few detailsThe cockpit is quite straightforward. There's some neat framing on the sidewalls, and a seat with an etched harness. A rudder bar and control column attach to the floor, and the brass instrument panel features a printed film for the instruments.
The COW Gun is very detailed with no less than 13 parts, some of which are quite tiny. Fitting it requires slotting it through an opening in the nacelle before the halves are joined, which is obviously inviting damage later, so you may want to make some sort of temporary shield to protect the barrel while you build the rest of the model.
The engine is quite exquisite, with separate cylinders, crankcase, pushrods, exhausts and etched oil cooler - that's 74 parts in all! The pusher propeller has separate blades that fit onto the enormous hub that forms the start of the COW Gun Fighter's bizarre conical rear "fuselage".
The latter is moulded solid and should provide a firm mount for the tail surfaces. The down side of this is that it's quite heavy - probably too much to be supported easily by the tail booms. So, although the cone was totally separate from the spinner and removable on the real aircraft, I'll probably fix the model version firmly to the propeller with a clear rod to take the all load, and let the tail booms be purely decorative. The booms themselves aren't supplied in the kit, and the instructions suggest making them from plastic or metal rod. That's fine, but no dimensions are given, so you'll have to rely on the plans that are included to work out the lengths.
Instructions & decalsThe instructions are adequate for seasoned builders. There's an overall exploded view and a very good set of 1:48 plans. Construction is further broken down into stages with clear, if basic, drawings. But the resin parts aren't numbered, so you'll need to sift through them carefully to ensure that you've got everything you need.
No interior colours are given, but there's a small colour illustration which serves as the overall painting and decal placement guide. The decals themselves are beautifully printed in perfect register, with minimal carrier film. The rudder serials are printed integrally with the stripes, which is a pity for anyone who prefers to paint the rudder.
ConclusionI quite often say "not for the faint hearted" when describing short-run kits, and it's never been more true than for the COW Gun Fighter. This one really is only suitable for modellers who are experienced with both mixed media kits and quite complex biplane construction. WW1 builders with a few DH2s or similar under their belts should relish the challenge of this bizarre 1930s throwback to an earlier age, but I'd have to advise average modellers to think twice before tackling it. I'm very glad I bought an Aeroclub Biplane Assembly Jig recently - something tells me I'm going to need it for this little devil!
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