1/72 Airfix Swift FR.5 (OOB)         

Evolution and revolution are the opposite sides of the same coin. When discussing aircraft, evolution encompasses small changes that, over time, create a new variant or sub-variant of an existing design. This is what happens over the life of most planes as they are improved based on experience and new technology. Revolution, on the other hand, generally encompasses radical new paradigms that fundamentally alter an aircraft or even all of aeronautical engineering in general. Examples include such things as cabin pressurization, the jet engine and swept wings.

It’s very common for something that is at first revolutionary to evolve with time. The transition from subsonic straight wing jets through transonic aircraft to the Century Series is a great example of how several revolutionary technologies matured through time. So, then, what happens when something evolutionary is hit with a revolution? The answer, it seems, is a “make or break” fork in the road. Depending on the design’s soundness and nature of the revolution, a great new plane may emerge. This can be seen in the example of taking a straight-winged jet like the FJ-1 Fury and applying swept wings to make the FJ-2, essentially a navalized F-86.

However, this “jump to glory” isn’t guaranteed, and even applying the same changes to another airframe won’t necessarily produce the same kind of result. The counter example to the one above is what happened when swept wings and tricycle landing gear were applied to the portly, pedestrian and all-too-transitional Supermarine Attacker. The result was the Supermarine Swift. The hopes for the Swift were, not irrationally, quite high. It was ordered as a ‘backup’ for the Hunter, in case that aircraft failed. In a cruel twist of irony, though, it was the Swift that failed. Just as the B-29 easily tossed its backup (the B-32) into the dustbin of history, so too did the Hunter relegate the Swift to little more than a footnote.

The Swift had a lot of problems. Early marks had dangerous flight characteristics and engine performance wasn’t great. Despite this, it entered service as an interceptor with No. 56 Squadron in 1954. None of the early aircraft were very successful, with very tricky handling and an engine that couldn’t enter reheat at higher altitudes.  Eventually, the FR.5 reconnaissance version entered service. This mark had a longer nose to house cameras and a variable incidence tailplane to solve the handling issues. Since it was intended for low altitude operation, the reheat problem was also bypassed, and the plane was actually something of a success.

Given its history of mediocrity bordering on failure, it’s not a surprise that the shelves of hobby shops everywhere aren’t overflowing with kits of the Swift. There was an ancient Hawk kit, since repopped by Testors, but beyond some vacuform and resin kits, there’s never been much for aviation enthusiasts to choose from. Thankfully, Airfix decided to step up and bring modellers everywhere a bit of relief for their “Swift withdrawl” by kitting the FR.5 in 1/72.

As this is one of their new moulds, there was great expectations for the Airfix Swift. Let’s take a look and see how it pans out, shall we?

The Box:

The new Airfix boxes are pretty nice and splashy, I must say. Like all new boxes, this top-opening affair is very red and has a CG artwork on the front. The box displays a very nice picture of two Swifts scooting through the clouds, with one breaking away, presumably for landing  since the planes are above the clouds; much higher than they would operate in combat. You get a good feel for the colour scheme of the Swift from this shot. As far as CG goes, it is very good, and almost looks like a photo. There’s nice shading on the planes and even hints of contrails on the wings of the one craft.  Despite this, I personally CG a bit too “clinical” in appearance. I prefer something that looks a bit more rough and ‘hand drawn’. Of course, that could be because of my love of Matchbox kits!

It’s all shiny and new, but the CG just lacks some of the good old-fashioned “sucke rpunch” of earlier Airfix and Matchbox box art.

Also on the front of the box are two side elevations of the decal/paint options in the kit. These are repeated on the one side of the box, where they are printed upside down along with all the text on that side. I don’t know why Airfix does this, but it’s annoying as all get out, and I wish they’d cut it out.

I’ve turned it around for your viewing pleasure. These are the two decal options in the Swift kit. I do like the PRU Blue underside, I must say…

The other side of the box has some pictures of an unpainted prototype, zooming in on some of the detail sections. Looking closely, these might actually be CG again, based on the solid model for the finished kit. I really can’t say, but they’re flawless, so I’m leaning towards CG. Regardless, they are at least right side up, which is a far cry better than the other side! The back of the box is the usual ad for the Airfix club.

Some nice views of an unpainted prototype. Things are looking pretty darned good, I have to admit. I was pumped to see this kit!

The box itself is very glossy and while thin, doesn’t feel cheap. I have high hopes that what’s inside follows this precedent!

The Kit:

Inside the box you’ll find 4 sprues of a light bluish-grey plastic, typical of recent Airfix releases, as well as two small clear sprues, separately bagged. There’s a nice instruction booklet and a separate stencil plan.

This is what’s in the box. It looks good, I won’t lie!

Looking at the kit, I can’t help but be impressed. After the somewhat painful experience that was the Spitfire F.22, I really want to hate on the Swift. I want to find some mistake or something to justify why I hate Airfix as much as I do. But I can’t. It looks beautiful. The panel lines look just perfect for how I do my models; they’re fine, yes, but they won’t be covered by a few coats of paint and primer. Even someone with a shotgun for an airbrush can expect you’ll still see a lot of fine detail when you’re done. I like that.

Look at all the detail on the underside of the fuselage/wing pan! That’s truly amazing!

The clear pieces are very clear, too. They are neither prone to distortion nor overly thick, save the camera windows. However, there’s nothing to see in the nose anyway, so painting them black will solve the problem. One thing that I noticed right away was that Airfix has gotten rid of a lot of the “phantom gates” that afflicted the Spit F.22. The parts aren’t festooned with extra bits of plastic just tacked onto them. Yes, they’re attached to the main sprues adequately, but there’s no extra ‘end bits” to make trimming parts extra difficult! Good work, Airfix! See, being the Antichrist and daring to question the almighty Airfix might actually have paid off!

The kit looks extremely well detailed, inside and out. The cockpit tub has some detail in it, although instruments and ‘armrests’ are decals. There are two seats cushions too; one with belts moulded in, and one with nothing on it, so you can use your own choice of photoetch or other aftermarket belt. That’s thinking ahead! The engine exhaust is three pieces, and reproduces both the flame ring and the unique ‘eyelid’ design of the Avon engine quite well. A full intake is provided along with a nice compressor face. You can see how narrow the engine would be compared to the fuselage; this is because the original engine was to be the centrifugal Nene, but the axial Avon replaced it. Rather than redesign everything, the designers at Supermarine just left the Swift as is, resulting it its rather corpulent appearance.

Both a flame holder and a compressor face? Wow! Airfix is learning, I tell you. This is good detail at this size.

There are separate flaps, ailerons and rudder for the Swift, so you can position them however you like. Sadly, it seems that the gear doors are usually closed and the flaps up when the plane is at rest. However, the detail inside the wheel bays and upper wing look so nice that I’m going to leave everything hanging out! On that note, there are separate gear doors for retracted and extended modes. I love it! No more cutting the closed doors apart to make them “open”. This is particularly appreciated on this kit, since the plastic is pretty soft.

This shows the inside of the upper wings, with the flap bay detail as well as landing gear bay detail. This is going to look really good when picked out with a wash. Nice work, Airfix!

Therein lies the rub. As expected, Airfix has used its uniquely mozzarella-like plastic on the Swift, meaning that cutting and trimming parts is going to be not only more tricky, but also more dangerous to the parts themselves. Sharp, precise cutters are going to be needed to get the smallest pieces off the sprues, so take that into account when you go to work on one of these!

Instructions and Decals:

Again, I find myself at a loss for words. Well, not really. How often does that actually happen? (Hint: Literally almost never.) The instructions on this kit are astounding. Most models, including Airfix’s prevous “new releases” such as the Spitfire F.22, Gnat and Vampire T.11, use line drawings. This is pretty much a given for a model kit. However, the Swift’s instructions are all CG. Now, while I might not like it for box art that much, I do for instructions.

The folks at Airfix have decided to use the solid models of the kit’s parts to make the instructions, and the result is a set of steps that is absolutely clear as to where everything goes. There’s no more guessing “Is that bump this one, or this one?” and no more disagreement between the actual kit and what’s drawn in the booklet. Add to this that the booklet is HUGE, and even those with poor eyesight won’t have a problem seeing what’s going on.

A common problem with instructions printed using solid models is that the contrast is often off. Thus, the images are either too dark and muddy or they’re too light and washed out, making it hard to see what’s going on. That is most definitely not a problem here! The instruction makers have used very clever lighting and shading to make each step almost look three dimensional. Add to this that key items are also highlighted in light red, and you have the best instructions I’ve ever seen, on any kit. Ever.

Now this is how you do instructions; nice and clear! Take note of piece 85. That’s important later. Note the two different seat options, too. Brilliant!

There’s also a full colour paint plan for both variants, and a separate black and white stencil plan. This seems to be something the folks at Airfix have learned from the Japanese and Chinese, and it works. It’s so nice to have a colour painting guide on a plane kit, and even better when it’s not crowded with callouts for every stencil.

Here’s the paint plan for one of the variants. I like how they keep the deal references to only those specific to this airframe, with stencils separate.

Here’s the stencil plan in all its glory! Keeping this to a black-and-white line drawing reduces confusion and makes decalling much easier.

As for said stencils, they are beautifully reproduced on the decal sheet, all of which looks extremely sharp. I can tell you right now I’m not going to bother with most of the stencils because, quite frankly, I don’t care. Major stencils and markings are enough for me. However, if you’re really into it and want to go all out, you can definitely “have at ‘er” with this decal sheet! Everything’s nicely coloured and in register, so there’s nothing to complain about here.

The decal sheet is very comprehensive, and if you don’t want to use all the stencils, you’ll get a lot for your spares box!

Always Something:

It wouldn’t be an Airfix, though, if something wasn’t screwed up. In this case, it’s a missing piece. Look at the photo of the parts layout above and see if you can see it. No? Neither did I! The cockpit floor is missing! This should be on the same rack as the upper wings, but you can see a gap where there should be a part.  Grrr… I couldn’t see this when I bought the kit, and I can’t take it back now because it’s opened.

However, that photo was taken immediately after I opened the plastic bag containing the four racks of parts, too. That part was never in the kit. It wasn’t loose in the box or anything either. So, I emailed my issue to Airfix, but have yet to hear back. I’m assuming I won’t, either. Shoot.

I must say that this is very disappointing. I was so sure that they’d gotten it right this time. However, it could just be an issue with my particular copy, and I’m not willing to rate the kit badly as a result of that.

Conclusions:

The Swift itself is an interesting transitional airframe and a neat thing to have in a collection if you’re into the Cold War, early jets or the RAF in general. I can’t imagine there’s going to be a better detailed or more widely available kit of the Swift any time soon, either.

Overall, I like the look of this kit a lot. Of course, I said the same thing about the Spitfire F.22, and it had some issues. Still, the gang at Airfix have come a long way in the moulding even from that Spit, and the Swift looks like it should be an excellent kit. There are a number of very finely detailed parts, and some of them are small. This, combined with the soft plastic, means that this is not a good kit for a beginner, or a modeller used to being able to brute force through issues. This kit is definitely going to need finesse, and thus it’s better for more experienced modellers and those with great patience and sharp kinves!

The only drawback (save the missing floor) is the cost. This is an expensive kit. It cost me more than twice as much as the Gnat, Spitfire and Vampire kits. I realize the Swift is bigger, but it isn’t THAT MUCH bigger. I count on Airfix as being an affordable alternative to the pricier Japanese and Chinese kits. For what it cost, all I can say is that it had better go together as well as those other brands. I remain full of trepidation for the coming build. However, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic that this will go together better than the Spitfire.

I would say that Airfix sure looks like they’re on a winner with the Swift. Time, and building, will tell for sure, but it’s a nicely detailed kit with knockout instructions and a great decal sheet. So far, so good!

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