You have to walk before you can run. It seems simple but it’s true. Training and building up a solid foundation of skills is important no matter what you’re working to achieve. Whether it’s breaking your back building old, somewhat dodgy kits (thanks Farpro and FROG, you guys rock!) or learning the basics of a musical instrument, you’ve got to start somewhere. This is even more true when the skills upon which you are focusing are not just for enjoyment, but also for your career. In this case, it is essential to get a good, solid foundation; after all, in some jobs, not knowing what you’re doing can be fatal not only to you, but also to others.
While this applies to many endeavours, it most certainly describes the field of military aviation. Since the “seat of your pants” days passed at the end of the ‘20s, formalized flying training has been a critical and essential part to any and all advanced air arms. As aircraft performance increased in leaps and bounds during WWII, it became apparent that even more advanced training aircraft would be needed in the post-war era. The advent of the jet engine and the swept wing did nothing to mitigate this, and today’s trainers are far more advanced than some of the fighters made only a generation ago.
It’s easy to see the importance of high-performance training aircraft when the air forces of the world are flying supersonic, multi-role aircraft. In the 1950s, it was just as important, since the new jet engines added complexity not been previously encountered to the already hairy task of flying a frontline combat aircraft. However, this is running. Well, maybe not quite, but it’s definitely jogging when you’re talking about the path taken by a developing military pilot.
Remember, you have to walk first. In airmanship terms, this means you literally have to learn how to fly. It’s easy to forget about basic flight training, and the aircraft that carry it out. They’re generally not glamourous, fast or exciting. In fact, despite being military aircraft, their performance is often not much greater than the more sedate of civilian aircraft. Other than the TT-1 Pinto, though, throughout the jet age it has been acknowledged that before tackling a jet, a pilot candidate must learn the basics of aircraft handling and basic flight maneuvers in a durable, albeit somewhat pedestrian, machine.
One such machine was the Percival P.56 Provost. First designed in the late 1940s to replace the same manufacturer’s Prentice trainer, the Provost entered RAF service in 1953. It was about as basic a basic trainer as could be imagined. It was a low-winged monoplane with fixed tailwheel undercarriage and a 550hp radial engine. In terms of performance, though, it was quite good, and apparently had excellent handling and climb. Like so many British trainers, it used a side-by-side seating arrangement, which is actually very practical for a basic trainer, since it’s easier for the instructor to interact with, and correct, a novice flier when sitting right beside them.
The Provost was typical of the British products of its time. This means it was a solid aircraft, excellent even if not outrageously glamourous, and it achieved decent success on the export market. It saw use in the Middle East and Africa, and its robust, simple airframe made it a natural light attack craft for use in counter insurgency and “bushfire war” situations. Despite this, though, the Provost is not one of the more kitted aircraft out there. Sure, there are several kits of its direct descendent, the Jet Provost (and Strikemaster attack variant), but not so much when it comes to the Provost itself.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Provost was only kitted by Matchbox. Oh, Matchbox, my love for you continues to grow! Say what you will about them, Matchbox understood that one niche in the model marketplace was to make kits that no one else did. The Provost fitted this bill, and thus Matchbox issued a typically simple 1/72 rendition back in 1976. That’s actually really cool for me; that’s the year I was born, and I don’t have many kits from that year!
So take a step back from your most recent superkit of whatever superfighter you’re building. Let’s take a look at a simpler time in both aviation and modelling, and see what the good folks at Lesney gave us with their Purple Range rendition of this last piston-engined plane in the RAF.
If there’s one thing you have to give Matchbox, it’s that it knew box art. Box art has to grab, and not let go. It has to make you want a kit, even though the subject might not be of a lot of interest to you. It has to be dynamic, compelling and exciting! Well, that used to be the case, at least, and Matchbox box art often fits the bill. That having been said, though, it’s understandable that the box art for the Provost is a little bit… reserved.
I mean, let’s face it: we’re dealing with a basic trainer, here! There’s not going to be explosions and flak and contrails and all that good stuff. Still, given the subject, the box art is pretty nice. Right up front and center is, of course, a Provost. This one is on its takeoff run, and part of the excitement comes from the rather garish paint scheme, which represents one of the two options in the kit. However, there’s a lot more going on visually than first might appear. For one thing, excitement is added by the fact that the plane’s tailwheel is off the ground already. That means it’s only seconds until this bird is airborne. It’s likely going full-out, and is already hurtling down the runway.
This implies that there’s a lot going on for the student pilot, and one can’t help but imagine the sound of the engine under wide open throttle, the vibrations as the plane picks up speed and the sense of nerves involved. Is this the student’s first-ever flight in an RAF plane? Is this his first solo flight? The blurred background adds to the feeling of speed, and adds tension to the knife-edge balance that the illustration depicts. It is only the briefest portion of the aircraft’s mission that sees it in this state; tail up but wheels still on the ground. We’re seeing an instant in time; that moment when the pilot must decide to power through to flight, or shut it all down. Even though the plane may seem pedestrian, the situation depicted is anything but.
Adding to the image further is another Provost already airborne behind the main focus of the illustration. The fact that his wingman is already up really drives home the point of just how close to flying the main Provost is. If you look, you can see the elevator on the second machine is already angled to begin climbing; this pilot has already won his battle with gravity! This contrasts nicely with the main illustration that shows the plane still struggling to free itself from its earthly shackles. Add to this a small write up at the bottom edge of the illustration, and of course the obligatory (and none-too-subtle) announcement that this is a TWO-COLOUR KIT and you’ve got a box with amazing busy-ness for such a small size. Like many Matchbox kits of the era, you can JUST make out some fine black writing at the bottom of the box art. It says this actually depicts students on the instructor course doing “Circuits and bumps”. However, before you read this, you can’t tell that, and my analysis of the box art stands, I think.
The one side of the box has some cross sells for other Matchbox kits. A quick glance at the variety of the subjects drives home why Matchbox was so great; everything from Siskins to Starfighters and Hawks to Hs.126s are on offer. Surely, there’s got to be something in there for everyone, no? The other side of the box shows the kit in its unpainted form in red and white. Normally, Matchboxes try to get something that is close to what’s shown on the box. However, this time it seems that brightness was the key, as the amount of red present really doesn’t match with anything.
On the back of the box is, as always, the full colour painting plan showing the two different paint and marking schemes that the kit can be finished in right out of the box. One is for a typical RAF machine, silver with bright red/dayglow stripes. This doesn’t do much for me. However, with the second scheme, Matchbox once again shows why it is the champ of obscurity. The second option is a Sultanate of Muscat and Oman Air Force example. Wow. It’s not even called that now! Unfortunately, the Omani aircraft were actually armed trainers, but the kit doesn’t have provision for this. Still, that’s what the spares box is for, should you decide to go that route.
As befits a plane as simple and rugged as the Provost, there’s not a lot to the kit. There are two sprues, one red and one white, plus the clear canopy and “M-Stand”. Anyone familiar with Matchbox knows the M-Stands; they are a multi-position stand to display your kit in flying condition. Their base is shaped like an “M” and they have a ball joint at the top. I almost never use them on Matchboxes, but I do find them incredibly useful for almost everything else, especially space ships! Finishing off the package is of course the simple instruction book and the decal sheet, which is in amazing shape for its age.
One thing that blew me away was how BRIGHT this kit is. Normally, you get more sedate colours, or at least ones that look sort of like they’re trying to be sedate. Things like greens, greys and browns, even blues. However, RED, for an airplane? That’s…. weird. Well, that’s Matchbox, and you really can’t help but smile. In today’s world of super-detailed plain-grey model kits, a clunky, brittle bright red sprue can’t help but kick your modelling fanny back about 40 years to a simpler, maybe less stressful time. The white, too, is WHITE. Not ivory, off-white or bone-white. No….it’s WHITE-white.
As far as detail goes, well… that’s not why you buy a Matchbox, now is it? That’s what the Tamigawa-ZvezMura kits are for. The detail on this kit is pretty typical. You get a couple (literally) of raised lines on the fuselage, a couple on the wings and a few recessed panels on the fuselage. That’s it. Oh, the control surfaces are recessed, too. What? What else do you want/need/think-you-deserve? This is a small kit of a small plane. You likely wouldn’t even see most of the panes on it in 1/72 anyway, so don’t sweat the small stuff. As is tradition, the raised lines are quite fine, and largely straight(ish) and the recessed lines appear to have been made with an Iron Age axe, wielded with Viking-like fervor by the legendary “Matchbox Trencher” himself.
There aren’t that many pieces to this kit, but that’s not a surprise. The landing gear come as a single piece, with the legs and “pants” all in one. The engine is very simple, although you can see what is likely pushrod detail on it, and there is a separate front cowling ring. Sadly, this looks like it has to go on such that the engine has to be mounted inside first. That means you’ll have to paint the inside of the cowling and the engine itself before gluing it all together. I hate that. Oh well…
One place that Matchbox actually fell a bit short on this was the cockpit: The Provost’s front office is really, really bare. There are two seats and a floor. Oh, and a rollbar. Oddly, there’s space behind the seats – maybe it’s like on a pickup, and this is where you either sit the kids or can at least squeeze in a lawn chair or two. There’s no instrument panel per-se. There is a vertical, flat plate with moulded-in coaming at the front of the cockpit, but there’s no decal for instruments, nor are there any moulded in. To make matters worse, this is a dual-control trainer, with NO CONTROLS!! What the… No stick, wheel, pedals, nothing. I have to say, that’s pretty weak. However, I guess it’s also a Matchbox standard for trainers, since the Hunter T.7 was no better!
The clear canopy is amazingly, almost radiantly clear, but it’s also arctic-ice sheet-thick, so there’s a smidgeon of distortion through it. That’s good, because there’s nothing to see in there, and the bent light will help people to think there’s more going on in the cockpit than there is. The framing is typically very heavy, and that’s good for me; makes it easier to mask that way! The control surfaces do have some texturing on them. This, though, is wrong. It makes them look like their surfaces are either supposed to be fabric or metal with reinforcing bars. Neither of these is correct. The control surfaces on Provosts that I’ve seen pictures of are just riveted metal, like the rest of the wing. That means those “details” will have to go.
Instructions and Decals:
For such a simple plane, you don’t need much in the way of instructions, and this kit delivers, so to speak. The instruction booklet is actually rather physically large for what it needs to do, but it is not complicated. There are nine steps to the build, and even that’s being generous. The instructions are very clear and easy to follow. There’s no way you should be able to screw this one up based on what Matchbox has given you. Also, there aren’t any options on this kit, and this makes worrying about “should I use this piece or this other piece” a complete non-issue.
The decals on Matchbox kits are generally, I find, simple but good. Those with the Provost, however, don’t seem to be up to Matchbox’s usual standards. The Omani decals look nice, and I’m sure all the decals will go on fine. Matchbox ones usually do. However, the RAF roundels are a bit “off”-looking. I mean, take a look at them! The red central circle is not concentric to the rest of the roundel. There is no way, not under any circumstances, orientation or specific lighting, that these roundels are anything but junk. If you were to use them, you’d end up with a Provost that looked “googly-eyed”, like some crazy cross between a crop duster and a dollar store sock puppet! No, if you’re going to do this one in RAF paint, you’re going to have to source the roundels elsewhere. The codes, orange ID bands and even the diamond insignia on the side seem okay. However, the roundels, and even the fin flashes, are just plain goofy. That’s a surprising disappointment, but not a biggie for me, since I don’t intend to do it in RAF paint.
This kit is all about the basics. It’s a basic kit of a basic plane used for basic training. Basically, it’s about as simple a kit as you’re going to find, and it’s of a subject that basically no one else has bothered to kit. I say this now, and I’m sure in about a month Sword will come out with one, or there will be a new Airfix of it. Regardless, as I write this, this is the only game in town for mainline Provost kits.
Just because it simple and there’s not a lot to it, that doesn’t mean it’s not deserving of being built. It is. It’s a fantastic kit for a beginner. With low piece count, there’s less to lose/break/get frustrated with, and the pieces that there are great for developing skills in hand/eye co-ordination and other fundamental modelling skills. There’s going to be a lot of sanding, puttying and re-sanding needed on this kit; there always is on Matchbox models. However, these basics, the arts of wing blending and seam removal, are easier to practice on a kit like this, than on a $60 wunderkit. There’s no extraneous fineness to worry about, and inexperienced fingers can get glue marks all over this little guy without having to fret about obliterating surface detail! It’s also a good kit for practicing the fine arts of painting and decal application. The large, flat surfaces will make both easy for new hands.
Originally, Matchbox kits were made for schoolboys to buy with pocket money, and it shows. For more experienced modellers, there’s a load of opportunity to detail this little kit; Lord knows it needs the help. However, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to go crazy. For those of us who’ve built a lot of kits, a simple one like this might help break a case of AMS (Advanced Modeller Syndrome). Sometimes, it’s nice to just have a model to work on that you can actually get built, and the Provost is a perfect candidate for that!
Overall, I’m satisfied with this kit. It’s exactly what I expected (save the google-eyed roundels) when I picked it up, and as always, Matchbox delivers consistency, even if not excellence, in a plastic kit. While not the most advanced model in my stash, it is generally correct in outline and should build up, with some elbow grease, into a nice display piece. If you are an RAF fan, someone into trainers or just want something unusual, then this is a great choice.
The Matchbox Provost makes a perfect kit to either learn the basics, or get back to them. It’s a trainer of a trainer. If that’s not just a little bit of “modelling meta”, I don’t know what is. There’s no reason not to like this kit, and I’m sure you can find it cheap. If you see one, grab it; you’ve got nothing to lose, and who knows, you might remember some skills you thought you forgot!