Depending on who you ask, being different can be good. Let’s face it, we’re told all the time that life would be no fun if everyone was the same. However, sometimes, different isn’t always the way to go. This is particularly true when it comes to military aircraft. The history of the fighter aircraft is full of examples of “different” ideas that just didn’t quite work out, such as parasite fighters and flying-boat jet fighters. Another example is the turret fighter.
The idea behind the turret fighter was to take a fighter’s armament and, rather than concentrate it in the front of the wing, put it in a turret on the plane’s back. That way, you didn’t have to point the entire plane at a target, and a fighter’s traditional vulnerable spot (the 6 o’clock position) could be defended. On paper, this idea looked great, and the added bonus of having a second crewman to help scan the skies for opposing aircraft was also thought to be a plus. For intercepting enemy bombers, it was felt a turret fighter could get inside the bomber stream and create havoc in several different directions!
To this end, the British armed forces put two turret fighters into operation. The Royal Navy had the ungainly and poor-performing Roc turret fighter, while the RAF purchased the Boulton Paul Defiant. While the Roc looked like it flew (and that was none-too-pretty), the Defiant looked every inch a fighter. With a Merlin engine and lines somewhere between a Hurricane and Spitfire, the Defiant certainly had the right visual cues for a fighter/interceptor.
However, the weight of the turret and extra crewman slowed the Defiant down considerably, and there was another problem: ALL of the Defiant’s guns were in the turret. That meant there were no forward facing guns at all. Once the Luftwaffe learned this, a head-on attack (usually suicidal in a dogfight) could spell doom for a Defiant and her crew. This was proven handily very early in the war, and Defiant units suffered heavily when faced with Bf-109s during the early day combats. It did much better at night, and was perfect for second-line duties like target towing, where many ended their days.
Despite the rather lacklustre combat record of the Defiant, it is a rather interesting and unique-looking aircraft, and it has always surprised me that there haven’t been more kits of it. For far too long a time, the only mainstream 1/72 Defiant was the old Airfix kit, and as anyone who’s built one can tell you, it is far past its prime (if, indeed, it ever had one).
That’s why there was excitement aplenty when the New Airfix announced a completely new-tool Defiant for 2015. Finally, modellers could look forward to building this aerial oddity with a kit that promised to be light years ahead of its forbear, and still be affordable. It seemed to take Airfix some time to get the kit out to the market (at least here in Canada), but at last I was able to snag one! Despite being let down several times before with the supposedly messiah-like New Airfix, I wanted to give them one more chance. The Defiant seemed like a good kit to do that on.
The Defiant’s box is typical New Airfix. It’s a glossy, red, top-opening affair that is full colour on all sides. The front of the box shows a Defiant day fighter slugging it out with the Luftwaffe in the middle of a heated air battle. Already the valiant crew has made its presence felt, as an He-111 is in the middle of going up in flames. The art is done in the hyper-realistic CG that the most recent Airfix boxes use, and it looks good.
In today’s world of political correctness run amok, it’s nice to see the box art for a warplane showing it doing what it was designed to do! So often, in order to not offend people, the box art just shows some planes transiting, or maybe flying above an enemy, about to pounce. Not so here. This is full-on 1960’s-level mayhem. There’s smoke billowing, things are on fire and, to quote the heavy metal band Saxon, it’s “all guns blazing”. The Defiant may look a little worn, and the pilot is likely quite rightly nervous about the escorting Bf-109 that’s rolling in to intercept him, but the scene shows the Defiant squarely in control. It’s very much like something out of an old Warlord Boy’s Annual!
Beside the image are two small profiles, showing that this kit can be built as a day or a night fighter, and on the side of the box these two schemes are called out in more detail. This is where the devil that lives in the details manifests himself. For some reason, Airfix prints the profiles and info on the side of the box upside down. I guess it’s so that if you are looking at the lid, and tilt it towards you, it’s right side up. Okay, that makes sense, but since no one else does it that way, I have been conditioned to put the box flat and rotate it. Airfix might have a good idea, actually, but it’s just one little thing that never ceases to give me that little moment of frustration when looking at the box.
The Defiant is, I will admit, a very, very nice looking model. There are three sprues of plastic in the box, and one of clear parts for the canopy and the turret. The plastic is the typical bluish-grey, soft-as-cheese plastic that all of the new Airfix kits seem to be made from. This is both good and bad; it’s easy to sand and shape, which is nice, but it’s also a lot easier to overstress and the plastic makes it harder to cut small components off of the main sprues. I really am not a fan of the Airfix plastic, but I’ve gotten used to it, and as long as you take its interesting properties into account, it’s not such a big deal.
Unlike the Spitfire F.22, but more like the Swift FR. 5, the gates on the Defiant kit seem to be much more ‘under control’. They are not so large and clunky, and they do not completely dwarf the finer parts. Also, there aren’t the same “phantom gates” just randomly stuck on, and that’s definitely a good thing. This makes it much easier to clean parts up, and reduces the chances of breaking a small or delicate part.
One thing I do like is the canopy/turret options. In order to try and streamline the Defiant, Boulton Paul’s fighter had some moveable surfaces on the fuselage. There’s a panel aft of the turret that is normally raised, and another just aft of the canopy and in front of the turret, also normally seen raised. These could be lowered in flight to give the turret more clearance. This kit gives you almost every possible combination! There are separate parts for the aft-of-turret panel to be built up or down, and the same goes for the aft-of-canopy panel. This is particularly important, as the aft-of-canopy one is moulded in one piece with the canopy! This makes life much easier, but it does mean you can only have a closed canopy, because the piece is a single unit. However, Airfix comes through and gives you a three-piece canopy too; the middle section can be positioned open in one of the iterations. The only variation you can’t do is an open cockpit with the aft-of-cockpit panel down; the open canopy’s rear section is only give with it up. If you want to complain about that, well, life’s just too tough for you, I guess.
The detail on the kit looks very nice. I won’t lie; I don’t like to praise Airfix kits, and if I say something nice, it’s well-earned. Well, this is me praising them, and it is well-deserved. The detail is excellent. Sure, it’s not as fine as on some much higher-priced kits, but it will survive a bit of painting, and that’s a plus in my book. The interior detailing on the cockpit walls looks nice as does the cockpit itself. It doesn’t look like it has quite as much fiddliness to it as the Spit F.22, but that’s not all bad either. There’s good detail in the gear bays as well, and the fabric covering on the control surfaces looks amazing, especially the ailerons. The kit looks detailed without looking manic, and it gives an impression of quality at least at, if not above, its price.
That last point is important. The impression of the kit is that it will go together nicely and will be fairly painless to build. However, I’ve seen the “new Airfixes” bite me on that before. I can’t tell what the main fuselage seams will be like. My guess is they will round in and require some putty; that’s the way it’s been on the couple I’ve built so far. Not only that, but the Defiant is a much more square aircraft in cross-section than others, and I’m worried that this is going to exacerbate things. So, it might look close to a Tamigawa kit, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to expect it to be a pure shake-n-bake build. Go into this wary, and you won’t be caught off guard!
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are like those in the newest “new Airfix” kits. They are masterpieces, plain and simple. They are black and white, but shaded like 3D CAD models (which they likely are). This gives a depth that is remarkably handy and helps with figuring out exactly what goes where. New things or points of interest are highlighted in light red in most steps, so there’s little opportunity to mess something up.
One thing I don’t like though is the colour callouts. There is just a number given, and these are for Humbrol colours. In some cases, the colours are shown on the paint plan, but some of the interior colours are not shown on the plan, and simply telling me that the cockpit interior is “78” is of absolutely no use. If there was a list of the colours somewhere, that’d be fine, but there isn’t. That means I have to look up the colours on the internet and write them down first. That may not sound like a hardship, but it cheeses me off. There’s no reason Airfix couldn’t have just made a bloody chart themselves.
As for painting the finished plane, there are two very nice colour painting plans. These have the colours called out and an example of each, and that’s very nice. There is a night fighting scheme for a No. 151 Squadron machine that is all black and has a distinctive and unusual shark mouth on it. The second scheme, and the one that I like better, is for a day fighter from No. 264 Squadron in July of 1940. I like this one because my grandfather was in England with the 1st RCR at the time. I also have a soft spot for the very brave and much unsung “few” who got stuck with trying to halt the Luftwaffe with such an inappropriate aircraft in such desperate circumstances.
The decals are very nice, as I’ve noticed on all the New Airfix kits. Full markings are provided for both machines, and there is a good selection of stencils. There aren’t as many as for the Swift, though, and that’s fine with me. I don’t use most of the stencils anyway, but a few are nice to have, and they’re always good for the spares box. The instrument panel is a decal, and it looks good; it better be since there’s no moulding on the instrument panel if you want to go that way. The standard separate line artwork for the stencilling plan comes as a separate sheet. I really like this approach and applaud Airfix for coming up with this method to make stencilling easier. This way, if you have custom decals, you can easily see where the “general” decals go.
The Defiant was a plane that was played up as the next great thing, but which fell short of the lofty expectations attached to it. In many ways, it seems the perfect subject for the New Airfix, since it is a brand that has been somewhat that way for me, too. Having a new kit of the Defiant is definitely nice, and I’m very excited to have it.
The kit looks simple enough for most builders, but there are some fiddly bits to be aware of. The extra complexity of the turret is something fighter-builders aren’t really used to, and I’d caution those who are relatively inexperienced to consider building his kit twice. It might not be as simple as its size would suggest, but with some patience and skill, it should reward careful building.
With both wheels up and wheels down options, as well as all the cockpit options, the Airfix Defiant is definitely a kit you can build up to your personal taste. It’s an excellent-looking kit of a bizarre and underappreciated subject, and anyone interested in the Battle of Britain, aeronautical oddities or the “bad ideas given flight” that seem to have characterized the late ‘30s RAF, should seek this kit out. Let’s just hope that the Airfix Defiant lives up to the promise better than its real life counterpart!