As anyone who’s gone through adolescence before can tell you, it can be difficult adjusting to a new body. Given that sizes, weights, proportions and capabilities can change almost literally overnight, it’s not a surprise it can take people a little while to get it all sorted out and running like it should. And it’s not only people; many animals are born with features that are out of proportion for their early lives, that they must “grow into” (Think big-dog puppy feet!). Of course, any act of growing up, growing into, and maturing, is going to result in some missteps.
It’s no different in aviation. There have been multiple points in history when a combination of new technology, aerodynamics and tactical reasoning have seen the size, shape and abilities of airplanes change dramatically. The transition from fabric-swaddled biplane to metal-shelled monoplane is one of the more easily recognizable. However, after WWII, even more drastic and unprecedented changes took place.
The arrival of the jet engine and non-straight wings utterly transformed the airplane. The jet age was almost like the meteors strike that killed the dinosaurs; while everything before it was just fine, nothing after it was the same. Instantly, the propellor-driven fighter/fighter-bomber and interceptor were rendered either obsolete or served notice of impending doom. However, like a teenager with limbs that seemed to be too long, finding out how to co-ordinate and exploit the new reality took time.
Unfortunately, time was something that WWII had shown was likely in short supply. The USSR’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, shameless copying of the B-29, and the development of powerful new bombers, told a foreboding tale to the West. Despite the rebuilding to be done, defence couldn’t be neglected. Even before the closing of the Iron Curtain clearly demonstrated a chilling of East/West relations, the British aero industry was planning for the next steps in its continued mastery of the air.
One of the most important considerations was the development of high-speed jet interceptors to knock out enemy bombers before they could deliver their hellish payloads to British soil. To this end, specifications were put forth in 1946 (F.44/46) for a jet powered night fighter capable of hitting enemy bombers at up to 40,000 ft. It’s not a surprise that the British expected night attacks; after all, they had embraced night bombing, usually with smaller numbers of aircraft (vs. USAAF daylight raids), as a way to defeat enemy air defenses. It only made sense to assume an enemy would do the same, given the overall success of the approach, and the fact that, with nukes, you didn’t need 1,000 bombers to wipe out a city.
One of the designs that responded to this was the DeHavilland DH.110, that eventually fell out of favour with the RAF and became the Sea Vixen for the Royal Navy. Another competitor was Gloster, who not only made the first British jet (the E.28/39 – Yes, I have the FROG of that, too!), but also Britain’s first Jet Fighter with the successful Meteor series. One of the designs that was put forth was the futuristic-looking Javelin, which used not only the new-fangled delta wing, but also a large delta tailplane!
While the Javelin did succeed in winning the competition, and was in service for around 12 years, it cannot really be considered a dramatic success. It was, in fact, the poster child for most of what was wrong with the British aero industry in the early jet age. Protracted development did nothing to add capability, only serving to make the eventual service aircraft closer to obsolete when it finally went into service in 1956. While it did have many different variants, production numbers were not great; less than 450 were built.
The problem was that it demonstrated a considerable lack of understanding of the aerodynamics of transonic flight. It was also, like so many British aircraft of the period, a flying compromise. It needed to be fast, so it had to have swept, or delta, wings. Okay. But it needed big range, so it needed a lot of fuel. This meant that the wings had to be big. Not only big, but also THICK. Now, if you check, you’ll see that usually a thick wing induces drag (like on the Amiot 143). So, you need more gas. And the death-spiral continues. While the immortal Mosquito broke free of the cycle of size/defence, the Javelin never really got out of the fuel/drag debate intact.
Added to this that, like so many other British planes of the era, there was no use of the Area Rule to minimize transonic drag, and what you ended up with was a Brobdingnagian aircraft with the aerodynamics of a brick. While it has one of the biggest wings (in terms of area) fitted to any fighter, it’s also only stressed to 4g, and the big wing does little but slow it down. There were even losses when the huge wing blanked the tailplane completely, and in a stall made the aircraft uncontrollable and irrecoverable. This is likely a reason you don’t see many tailed deltas, save the MiG-21 and A-4, both of which have their tailplanes pretty clear of the wing’s aerodynamic shadow.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Javelin, though, was its armament. All it had was guns at the start. It had four powerful 30mm cannons. That was fine in WWII, but since the name of the game now was to intercept far out, having to close with the target and use guns seems rather quaint. While later marks did get the Firestreak missile, even that wasn’t a great improvement. It’s very telling when you compare the Javelin with its closest contemporary, the US’ F-102.
While the YF-102 also failed to use the Area Rule and was slow and fat as a result, Convair fixed their mistakes. The folks at Gloster did not. Thus, despite having two engines instead of only one, the Javelin was slower than the F-102, had LESS RANGE (seriously… about 400 miles less!) and could only climb at far less than half of the Dagger’s rate. The two craft had very similar thrust to weight ratios, too, so it seems like finesse was the difference, and the Javelin was among the bluntest of instruments available at the time.
Despite the Javelin’s qualitative failings, design inadequacies and the inability of the British Government to speed along development at time that planes entered and left service more frequently than most people visited the dentist, it was still a revolutionary craft, especially in its homeland. Just as the F-102 and other “Century Series” fighters were the “new thing” in the US, the Javelin was Britain’s “space age” darling. Indeed, it did more resemble a spaceship from a matinee serial than any previously-accepted concept of an earthly fighter plane.
All this meant that there was a lot of interest in the Javelin, and toy and model companies took the opportunity to solicit the funds of schoolboys everywhere by producing replica Javelins in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There was a Dinky Toy Javelin (Yes, I have that!) and of course, models of the Javelin. First to market, I believe, was FROG, who produced a model of the prototype in 1955, before it even went into service!
This is one of the kits I recently picked up as part of my 1950’s FROG Haul, and was the one most people were interested in. So, let’s take a look at this ancient replica from a time when the future was limited only by imagination, and when the promise of “farther and faster” was just as real as “death and taxes”.
Kits from the mid- to-late-‘50s have a very distinct air about them. The FROG kits from then are no different, and the Javelin is as stereotypical of the breed as any. The box is plain, the art is simple, but it has an innocent charm and excitement so missing from today’s glossy, almost jaded, presentation. The box isn’t even shiny; it’s semi-matte, and this adds a bit of class and certainly a lot of agedness, to it. Like the Hupmobile box, the Javelin’s box is surprisingly staid.
The art of the Javelin itself is pretty sedate; There’s a nice, very ‘50s rendering of the Javelin against a lightly clouded sky. It has a lot of the visual weight and visceral appeal of the Strombecker Pinto box. This is from a time when the shape of the plane was all you needed to sell the kit. An exciting box wasn’t even necessary; just having that futuristic grey and green arrowhead of a plane on there did the selling for the producer. Thus, the art on the box is not dynamic. It does, however, give you a great look at the Javelin.
This is where you can notice some interesting details. For one thing, there’s no black radome. The first two prototypes didn’t carry the radar set, and thus there were no “radomes”. The nose of the plane was therefore painted in cammo, just like the rest of the bird. You can clearly see this painted nose on the box; note that the shape is also a bit different than the standard production machine. Even stranger is the rear cockpit canopy. There isn’t one! It was felt that any light would be a hindrance for using the primitive CRT radar scopes, so they just didn’t put a glass canopy at the back. They used painted metal, instead. On production machines, this was not the case, and the rear observer was given a tradition clear cockpit canopy.
So, it’s clear then, that this kit is so early that it’s of the early prototypes. There are other clues, besides the style and content of the drawing, that this is an early kit. Nothing screams this more than the line: “No Shaping or Sanding”. This is from a time when wooden models, with approximately-shaped fuselages and wings were still a major force in the world of scale modelling. The fact that the kit goes out of its way to tell you that it’s styrene, and that thus you don’t need any shaping tools, is telling of the age of the kit. But more than that, it is a window to another time, and it’s a handy waypost that demonstrates just how far our hobby has come!
The sides of the box aren’t all that exciting. The one side is blue, mentions the stand, and that’s about it. Sadly, none of my FROGs came with stands! So, wheels out it is on this one. On the other side of the box is the inevitable cross-sell. On slightly later boxes, these were full-colour illustrations, but on this box, from 1956, there is only a white outline on a red background, to get you excited for the other kits in the series. Interestingly, they list the “Javelin” as one to collect, along with the DH.110 and the Canberra. Seems silly to include the model you just got as an “also available”, but there likely weren’t a lot to choose from when the box was made!
To be honest, a lot of people won’t want to build this kit. It’s more collectable if it’s unbuilt, so a lot of people who will want this kit have no desire to assemble it. However, if you did want to get your “retro fix”, then this kit will certainly do it for you!
The kit comes moulded in silver, because silver meant fast back in the ‘50s. There aren’t a lot of parts, and that’s not an understatement! In fact, there are only 17 parts in the entire kit, and two additional nose weights. Yeah, you read that right: 17 parts. There are modern kits with 17 parts just for the resin cockpits As you might expect, most of the kit comes in halves (fuselage, wings) and there are single parts for the stabilizer and the vertical fin.
Landing gear are equally simple, with each main gear leg, wheel and door being a single piece! YIKES!! The nosewheel is deluxe, with the leg/wheel being one piece, and the doors being two separate ones. There’s no ‘cockpit’, per se. There’s a single piece with some rudimentary instrument panel coaming and heads/shoulders of the two crewmen. Here are also very basic ejection seat headrests behind these Moai-like edifices, but that’s all you get. I don’t think there’s a resin cockpit or this kit either, so take it as you get it!
It should be obvious that a kit from 65+ years ago is not going to be up to modern standards. There are other massive deficiencies in this kit. Firstly, like most (if not all) of its brethren, the Javelin has no landing gear bays. This means that, if you want to build it “wheels up”, you have it really easy, kinda. The gear doors are marked as “closed” on the underside of the wing, and thus you don’t have to frig around with gear doors that don’t fit properly into their intended openings. However, there are some slots, for fitting the “open” gear doors and legs, and these show in “flight” mode. So, you either have wheels coming down from no bays, or you have sealed wheels with holes in them. Of course, you can put small bits of styrene behind the holes, putty them in and sand them down and you’re set. If you want wheel bays, though, well… yeah, have fun with that.
Another major feature is that the plane is hollow. (This is a “feature” the same way that trailers on DVDs are “Features”. Don’t get me started on THAT!) There are NO compressor faces or jetpipes. Those are for wimps. If you look into the intakes, you can see out the exhausts. If you go about it the other way, you can use the Javelin as the wackiest pair of binoculars ever! Is this a deal breaker? Maybe. However, there are lots of newer kits that have this problem too; the Heller Lansen and Matchbox Hunter are two of them. Simple solutions include cutting out some styrene sheet and painting it black, or, if you prefer (and what I’d recommend here) is filling the body with black Crayola Model Magic. Just paint the inside black too, and then when you slam it together, and look in, you’ll see literally nothing. Model Magic is super-light too, and you can glue it in place with things like Plast-i-Weld, or Tacky Glue if that’s your thing.
What is amazing, though, is the amount of surface detail on this thing. I mean, for a kit as old as it is, it’s very well-detailed. Sure, it’s all raised (which means I’d have to rescribe it all), but it is fine and straight, and it’s quite dense. There are some rivets, but it’s not like the Airfix gang snuck in and puked all over this thing. Yeah, they’re a bit big, but they’re not everywhere like mushrooms in a lawn after a good rain. You’d also be best to call the “transparency” a “translucency”, though because that’s more accurate. Thick as armour and highly distorted, the cockpit canopy comes moulded as one piece. There’s a front frame, but no other frames are moulded in. Since the prototype has the metal rear section, though, it’s not as bad as it could be. The small portholes normally associated with the rear seat are not moulded in as a detail. I’m sure we’re shocked…
The landing gear are brutally simple, and there are injection pin marks everywhere on the gear doors. The massive control surfaces are nicely delineated, though! One interesting thing is that the jet exhausts are just “straight”. Production machines had an aerodynamic fairing between the pipes, commonly called a “pen nib” fairing. It’s similar to the swoopy bit you see on a MiG-19’s rear-end. It was, I imagine, to improve airflow and reduce drag. Because you know, the Javelin is clearly all about the slippery shape.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are, expectedly, pretty simple. There’s a single large exploded diagram with copious written explanations on what should be done when. The instruction sheet is very large; it’s folded in sixths in the box! It’s quite fragile, and was printed on a paper one or two notches above newsprint. Obviously, it’s pretty brown now, but I can’t say that I feel it was ever white.
The decals are basic, with roundels, call numbers and fin flashes. They look to be in generally good shape, except for the clear film which as turned brown. I’m thinking you’d try for some aftermarket decals, although you could scan these, manipulate them with something like Photoshop, and still get an okay result. The serials could just be faked in Word, as they’re very simple. Whether they will work or not I couldn’t hazard a guess… however, I’d hit them with Testors Decal Bonder and give ‘em a shot after I scanned them. What’s to lose?
My favourite part of the instructions is the head-on view of the Javelin in the upper left-ish area of the sheet. What the heck kind of juvenile, grade school doodle of a fighter plane is that? It’s so, soooo THICK, so unrefined. There’s not an ounce of finesse in it, and the worst part: it’s very accurate. Yes, friends, that’s why the Javelin was subsonic; that is a lot of frontal area to present to the atmosphere, and drag was appropriately generated as a result. I couldn’t put it clearer than that picture does.
The Javelin was the product of its time, although by the time it got into service, most of that time had passed it by. A product of rapidly changing technologies, policies and requirements, it, like so many of its contemporaries, had a relatively short life that saw it quickly eclipsed by other designs. Its complexity and size made it unsuitable for export, as planes like the “do it all” Hunter had a lot more sales potential. It was, perhaps, a fitting poster child for the challenges and ills of the British aero industry in the swiftly developing post-war environment.
In a lot of ways, this kit is a perfect representation of the Javelin. It is brutish and simple, yet it is also breaking new ground. As an early all-styrene kit, it clearly shows limitations. However, just as the Javelin’s general shape and concept pointed the way to much better things, so to does this kit offer a glimpse into the future of the all-plastic kit. It’s a future we live every day, and it’s important for us to remember whence our hobby evolved.
As a model, the FROG Javelin isn’t the best around. It’s overly simplified and lacks for even the most basic features, like wheel bays and an actual cockpit. However, it’s also designed to be simple enough to let novices and excited school boys gluebomb it together so they had a new, flashy interceptor by the time their mums called for “lights out”. For that reason, it has merit as a training aid for novice modellers. However, the high value of these ancient kits precludes their use as such.
Thus, while it’s a passably decent kit that would challenge you to improve your basic skills, the FROG Javelin is really more of an artifact than a kit. The awesome ‘50’s box and thick, simple pieces are better appreciated as an exhibit in a modelling museum, than as a kit to throw on your bench.
While it’s awkward and low-tech compared to today’s kits, there’s a definite charm to this old chestnut. I can’t be the only one who thinks so, since I’ve already sent this guy flying to a new owner! I wish him and the Javelin the best of times together. Having a chance to have history like this in the palm of your hand is not something that happens all that often, and the power of the kit to rekindle fond memories of modelling exploits past is definitely a major charm of this, and other, ancient kits!