by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
IntroductionThe latest kits from Classic Airframes seem to fall into two distinct styles - which I think must reflect the companies the parts are sourced from. The first type are moulded in quite soft plastic and have what can be described as a "satin" finish and feature very fine engraved panel lines. These seem to originate from the MPM / Special Hobby. The second style are moulded in a high gloss finish with rather heavier panel lines. The plastic used is harder and quite reminiscent of Sword models. Of course, this is just my theory... so don't take it as fact. Anyway, after that little preamble, Classic Airframes' Vampire is one the latter, high gloss, kits and consists of:
43 dark grey plastic parts
2 clear plastic parts
14 resin parts
Decals for 3 colour schemes.
Main partsBear in mind that this is a short-run kit. The major parts are quite well moulded in fairly thick plastic. On first inspection, it feels as though it's quite brittle, but this is misleading - the plastic actually carves and sands very nicely. Despite the apparent gloss finish, there is a slightly "grainy" feel, so a little polishing won't go amiss. The are no locating pins and the sprue attachments are quite thick - so be careful removing the smaller pieces.
Panel lines are neatly engraved - perhaps a touch heavy for some tastes - but they match up 'round the contours of the fuselage very well. There is a little flash here and there - particularly on the smaller parts and there are one or two rough edges to deal with. That said, clean-up shouldn't take long.
Despite the thickness of the parts, I couldn't find any signs of sinkage and the only blemish on my sample was perhaps the sign of an ejector pin on the tail. Ejector pins? Yes, there are a few on the inside to take care of before assembly, because those on the wings and tail booms prevent the parts from fitting together.
The kit's smaller plastic parts are pretty good - the gear doors are quite thick, but have some nice internal detail. The legs themselves are pretty basic and heavily moulded, but they should be fine once they're cleaned up.
A choice of clipped or rounded wingtips is provided and some basic underwing stores - just a pair of drop tanks. The gun-bay doors are moulded as a separate piece, which allows the spent-shell chutes to be moulded cleanly and, of course, also invites superdetailers to go to town and build in the gun-bay itself. A simple bulkhead with a moulded-on engine exhaust (it actually looks identical those supplied in Czech Model's Skyknight...) prevents a see-through look to the fuselage.
Test Fit & accuracyThe parts breakdown is conventional, with the fuselage split vertically. The wings are a butt-joint, so careful alignment will be needed. On the plus side, the chord and air-foil match up nicely so, with careful trimming, a good fit should be possible. The wings themselves need thinning down at the training edge - as they stand, they are thicker than the tail-booms - so a bit of careful sanding will be needed. The tail-boom joints could do with some internal reinforcement to prevent any flexing. This is one of those kits where using a simple jig to keep everything square will prevent a world of pain later on.
The good news is that Classic Airframe's Vampire is an enormous improvement over Hobby Craft's. I compared the parts with photos and Ian Huntley's drawings, scaled up from Warpaint No. 27 and the results are pretty good. I'm still not 100% convinced by the nose (one of the worst parts of Hobby Craft's model) - I think it should be a little blunter and more bulbous. The nose access panel also looks oversized, but the wings and tail measure up well. Scaling up plans is always a slightly risky business, as there's plenty of scope for distortion between the scanner, software and printer...but I'll invite contradiction and say I think we've finally got a decent Vampire on our hands...
Resin partsThe kits resin parts are quite outstanding. The cockpit consists of a one-piece floor and bulkhead which are beautifully detailed. The cabling behind the headrest is incredible - but it will take to very careful cleaning-up to avoid damaging it. There's a seam to deal with down the centre of the part - a small price to pay for the level of detail included. Onto this part are fitted sidewalls, which again have great detail, along with a very nice control column. The seat is nice enough, but a little disappointing in that no harness is included - compared with the other cockpit parts it looks quite bare.
Slotting into the front of the cockpit floor are the instrument panel, complete with a good gunsight and a complex casting which includes the nosewheel bay, lower nose, centre instrument console and rudder pedals. The detail on this is, again, excellent - but the resin is very thin in places (if my samples anything to go by), so be careful...
The main wheel-wells are well detailed, without too much extra resin to remove and match up with the cutout in the wings very well. The air intakes are well cast, but a certain amount of filling around the roots looks inevitable to match the curve of the fuselage. The two small inlets outboard of the main air intakes are missing, but this is a moment's work to fix.
Finally, the wheels. The anti-shimmy nose wheel is nicely done, although the hub lacks detail. The main wheels are good, with subtle tread patterns and the correct pattern hubs. Sadly, they also had the only moulding flaws of any of the resin parts in my sample - the rear of one hub is incomplete, but this will actually be hidden so, luckily, no big deal. The tyres are unweighted.
Clear PartsThe canopy is moulded in two parts and is thin and clear. Compared with plans and photos, it doesn't look bulged enough - but this is undoubtedly a moulding restriction.
Instructions and decalsThe assembly instructions are nicely drawn in 8 stages and show the construction pretty clearly. They are generic for the single seaters, so a warning is included that not all the parts shown may be included in the model you're building. A note advises that nose-weight will be required, but doesn't state how much. I have to say that the instructions in my sample weren't very well printed - rather like a poor photocopy, in fact - so the key to the painting instructions is virtually illegible in places.
Luckily, the painting and marking guide is much better printed and the schemes and decal placement are clearly illustrated. The decals themselves are superb - custom-printed by Microscale, they are thin and perfectly in register. Markings and a good set of stencils are provided for 3 aircraft:
An FB.9 of No. 75 Squadron, NZAF, circa 1953
An FB. 5 ( a borrowed RAF machine) of No. 421 Squadron, RCAF, while rotated to the UK for operational training in 1951
An FB. 5 of No. 112 Squadron, RAF at Fassberg, Germany circa 1952.
ConclusionWe've waited far too long for an accurate Vampire and despite one or two slight doubts I'm really pleased with Classic Airframe's kit. It's certainly a huge improvement over the old Hobby Craft kit! As welcome as it is, it probably isn't a model for newcomers to cut their teeth on - the twin-boom tail is just asking to go lob-sided - but experienced modellers should have no problems building a very nice Vampire.