Carrying things on your back can be a good thing. Ask any turtle or snail, and they’ll tell you that having a defensive shell over their vitals is a definite plus. The same can be said for the turrets on WWII bombers. A typical weakness of many Axis designs was insufficient defensive weaponry, or weapons that were poorly mounted and thus restricted in their arcs of fire. The Allied system of powered bubble turrets certainly seemed to be the right solution to the problem of self-defence. Thus, it only seems to make sense that if you could combine the usefulness of a powered turret with the airframe of a much smaller, more agile aircraft, you would have a hybrid that had the best of all possible worlds.
As it turns out, this is not the case, and the fact that only Britain put any such “turret fighters” into widespread service should be a good indication that maybe, just maybe, putting a fighter’s armament in a turret on its back isn’t the best course of action after all. Despite this, the Boulton Paul Defiant had two things going for it in the dark days of the early 1940s. Firstly, it was available to the RAF in sufficient numbers so as to be potentially useful against Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Secondly, it did possess good firepower, and so, if used properly, it could be effective. Sadly, the strikes against the Defiant were many in comparison to these two positives.
When faced with the Bf-109s and Bf-110s of the Luftwaffe in traditional daytime dogfighting, the overweight Defiant suffered very badly. The design itself was sound, and the aircraft gave good account of itself as a night fighter, bomber destroyer and in secondary roles. The problem was that it was slower, heavier and less maneuverable than its enemies. Couple this with the fact that it had no forward facing guns at all, and the Defiant was simply outclassed. Nonetheless, there were many brave souls who clambered into these station wagon-like fighter/interceptors and did their duty to protect their country even in the face of impossible odds.
Even though it wasn’t the most important type in the RAF during the Battle of Britain or even the Night Blitz, I’m always amazed that the Defiant gets as little Styrene Love as it does. Other than some short run kits, the only injection moulded Defiant I know of (until now) is the old Airfix one, and man, to be frank, it sucks. Thankfully the new Airfix has fixed this, and there’s now a shiny new 1/72 Defiant to be had!
The Defiant is likely the most impressive-looking of all the New Airfix kits that I’ve seen. Some of the earlier ones left a bit to be desired, but taking a look in the box of this one got my hopes up. For more detail on the kit itself, take a look at the Out of Box Review, linked below:
Building the Defiant:
Two Seats Where One Would Have Sufficed!
Despite the aircraft’s unusualness and unorthodoxy of design in real life, the Defiant kit goes together much like any other 1/72 WWII fighter. The exception, of course, is the turret behind the main cockpit, but Airfix did a great job with this. They designed the turret so that it could be inserted afterwards! That means that you don’t have to worry about finishing part of it, then capturing it with the fuselage halves or any such nonsense.
Thus, as one might expect, the build starts with the cockpit and interior of the turret bay. There is actually a bit of detail on the cockpit walls, definitely not something I’m used to seeing on most kits in this price range. The Defiant isn’t the cheapest kit around, but it’s right on par with the Academy WWII planes (some of which are real gems), and much less that a Fine Molds or a Tamigawa. Yet, it’s that kind of detail you get on the Defiant! To augment the texturing on the cockpit walls, there are two pieces, one per side, that glue onto the walls for even more detailing.
The location of these parts is critical for when the cockpit and fuselage halves come together, so alignment is important. Once again, New Airfix has it covered, and there are “bald spots” that serve to help align these interior bits. The location is very positive, and there’s no need to guess if you’ve got it right. Everything just falls into place. I glued these pieces in place before painting. The rest of the cockpit is made up of a floor section to which a seat, some very fine and finicky rudder pedals and the back bulkhead are attached.
The instrument panel actually fits into the aircraft separately from the cockpit floor, unlike some other kits in this scale. It fits in front of the front bulkhead. Again, both the bulkhead and the instrument panel are an excellent fit, and there is no problem getting things properly lined up. Despite all the great things I’ve said so far, though, there are a couple little gripes that I can see people having with this kit. One is that there are no seatbelts. Nothing is moulded onto the seat, and there isn’t a decal provided. This is a shame, since the detailing in the cockpit is otherwise very good. To cure this deficiency, I went “old school” and used a couple thin pieces of masking tape. The decal fits passably on the instrument panel, but there is a bit of clear overhang, and this needs to be trimmed off. Overall, it’s a bit of a downer. The good thing is that I decided to build my canopy closed, so you won’t really see it anyway.
I primered the various components, as well as the walls, with a coat of Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Grey Primer using the good old white-handled Testors brushes. Despite their dollar-store appearance, these little guys really do work well, especially in small areas like this. It was a lot easier to primer by hand this way than bust out the airbrush or rattle can, and the advantage is that the MMA primer dries almost instantaneously, so building the interior is very quick indeed!
I painted the entire interior, and that of the turret bay, in MMA RAF Interior Green. This seemed appropriate, and went on very nicely, covering in two hand-brushed coats. I painted the various electronics boxes in black and then applied some Citadel Nuln Oil wash to bring up the detail on the green bits. I also added some light wear and tear by using a silver Prismacolour coloured pencil to ‘drybrush’ on some bare metal. This is a super-fast way of doing this, and is much easier, I’ve found, than dry brushing. The instrument panel was installed before the floor/seat, contrary to the instructions. I decalled the panel in place, and this turned out to work surprisingly well. The cockpit was then installed along with the “shelf” and turret mounting ring, which were painted the same way as the cockpit.
Close, But Not Puttyless!
The fuselage halves fit together with a minimum of effort. There was no muss, no fuss, just a bit of Tamiya extra-thin liquid cement and a quick squeeze. One thing to note: I don’t like to use the Tamiya cement on any part that will be “buried” while it dries. I’ve found that if the Tamiya cement goes into, say, a blind hole, where it can’t properly outgas, it can melt even the stout plastic of a Japanese Gundam kit. Given the softness of the Airfix plastic, I fear you’d have a literal meltdown. However, since the fuselage seams can ‘breathe’, the ability of this glue to melt the plastic together is a positive in this case.
While the fuselage dried, I installed the one-piece landing gear bays into the lower wing, this time using Ambroid ProWeld just to avoid any melting issues. The bays fit extremely well, and there’s no issue mating the tops and bottoms of the wings, either. This is totally different from the abysmal fit of my Spitfire F.22, and it was a wonderful surprise. As it turns out, there’s very little sanding to be done once the wing glue dries; the seams disappear very well and the fit leaves little need for putty. That’s not the case for the wing lights, though. They don’t fit quite perfectly, so I glued them in and sanded them to match the wing contours. I buffed them up using 4000 grit sanding cloth, and this seemed to do the job. The wingtip navigation lights are moulded into the grey plastic, so foil and clear paint will be needed for them, but at least they’re flush with the rest of the wing!
Unfortunately, the matching of the fuselage halves is not as good as it is for the wings. Looking at the dried assembly, I determined that some putty would definitely be needed. I dissolved about 1/3 of a tube of Tamiya grey putty in some acetone to create a very, very thin, almost liquid, putty. This has the advantage of being able to not only be brushed on, but also run into any tiny gaps. It self-levels quite well, and drives very quickly. I was able to sand the first pass of putty within 15 minutes of applying it! However, it took several light applications to build the fuselage seams up to where the two halves were level. I used this approach instead of the old “heavy grind with sandpaper” method because the detail on the Defiant is quite fine, and I didn’t’ want to completely destroy it. I will admit that I was pretty surprised just how much putty was needed given the ease with which the fuselage went together. However, using the liquid putty made the job very easy, and a smooth seam was the result.
There were a few small sections of panel line on the engine cowling and the rear fuselage that needed to be rescribed, but that was no big deal. What IS big deal, though, is how the wings fit on. We’ve all built those kits where the wing/body junction is more like the Great Rift Valley than a panel line, and to be honest, I expected that. To my joy and surprise this wasn’t the case at all! The whole wing assembly just popped into place perfectly. The join line is beautiful, needed no adjustment or putty; just a light sanding with a needle file to get rid of a tiny bit of glue melt. A bit of putty was needed at the back of the wing/fuselage junction where the pan meets the belly, but that wasn’t a hardship at all.
The tailplanes fit on just as well, if not better. The only gripe here is that there’s not a lot of positive location, so you have to make sure everything’s set square before the glue dries. I found my port tailplane kept wanting to sag more than the starboard one. The panel behind the turret is also an excellent fit; it simply drops onto a set of locating rails. A touch of liquid cement finishes the job perfectly.
The Defiant has two scoops on the underside. One is for the engine air intake and is just in front of the wing, under engine cowling. I opted to paint the inside of this one before attaching it. I used Testors MMA RAF-Sky Type S. Unfortunately, I think this is a little greener than the colour is supposed to be, but I just went with it anyway. Sure, it might look like a pistachio when I’m done, but with some flat coating hoped it would be okay. Midway down the intake scoop is a piece that has fine grating printed on it. I painted it black and used the silver pencil crayon to pick up the mesh. I glued the “mesh” in place and then glued the assembled scoop under the nose. To protect the “mesh” during painting, I plugged up the front of the intake with Silly Putty.
The other scoop is for the oil cooler, and is located right at the back of the wing, under the fuselage. Unlike the Bf-109 and later Spitfires, there is only one of these, and it’s a much larger and draggier affair than on either of those designs. This is unfortunate, since the Defiant could have used the reduction in drag of a slimmer system. This scoop has two “mesh pieces”, which I painted the same way as the nose intake’s. However, I opted to attach this scoop assembly after the rest of the painting was done. It fits into very pronounced recesses in the wing pan underside, so there should be no problem getting it on there with a minimum of fuss, I figured.
The landing gear, tires and gear doors were all painted separately. The few photos of a preserved day fighter Defiant showed the doors to be Sky on both sides, with black gear legs and actuators. I painted the inside of the gear bays in MMA aluminum and gave them a wash of Nuln Oil as well. There is a nice bit of detail in the bays, and this really set them off.
Before doing any primering work, it’s necessary to mask the canopies, which means choosing a canopy option. I decided to make my life easier and go with the closed canopy with the rear shield raised. The canopy piece itself is very nice and clear, with what I thought would be easily maskable frames. I was wrong. I tried several times to burnish my Tamiya masking tape into the corners of the frames, but they were a bit too indistinct to work properly. Thus, to my chagrin, I was forced to re-etch the entire canopy and turret, so that I would have a sharp line for my knife to follow.
I’ve gotten used to this particular kind of surgery, and I compliment the Airfix canopy for withstanding it so well. It looked like it would be too fragile for a re-scribe, but it wasn’t, and in the end it wasn’t too arduous to really bring up the panel lines. After this, masking went easily, and I attached the canopy to the fuselage with a lump of Silly Putty I the cockpit. I left the turret off of the plane since it is black anyway. Many thanks to the good folks at Boulton Paul who decided the turret should always be black; it makes modelling the Defiant a lot easier!
I primered the entire plane with two very light coats of Paint-It!-brand primer. This is the Walmart house brand, replacing “Colorplace”, but it seems to be the same paint. If misted on very lightly it dries smoothly and quickly. If you get a bit heavy-handed, it will still turn out okay, but you’ll have to wait a while to let it dry. There was no risk at all of the Defiant’s detail being washed out, since the lines are a bit deeper than maybe they ought to be, according to some purists. This is why I prefer it the way Airfix did it; I can hit it with primer, paint, gloss and sand it, and there’s still enough of a panel line to be able to highlight!
With the primer dry, I used the MMA Sky for the underside. Again, it looked too green, but I decided just to go with it. Even if it isn’t perfect, it certainly looks appropriate, so that’s enough for me. I airbrushed it using my Badger 155 at about 22 psi. For thinner, I use a 2:1 mix if 99% Isopropyl Alcohol and Future. The alcohol dries fast and thins the paint, and the Future holds the acrylic pigment in suspension well. The only issue with MMAs and airbrushing is that they tend to be a little less smooth than Tamiya or Gunze paints. However, a light sanding after glossing takes care of this.
The underside was masked easily; it’s a straight demarcation line on the fuselage and it follows an engine cowling panel line up the nose. I then sprayed the entire topside with my own mix of various MMA paints to approximate RAF Dark Earth. I find the actual colour offered by Testors a bit dark, so my mix is a bit lighter and maybe a bit redder, but it matches various profile drawings I have pretty well. With the brown dry, it was time to do the camouflage.
For the cammo, I decided to try something different. A couple of my fellow modellers at my local club (IPMS London – that’s in Ontario, Canada) had given me some pointers on my last RAF build (the Hercules Engine tester Wellesley). They suggested drawing on the cammo with a pencil, and then painting to just over that line. It sounded better than trying to figure out where I was going WHILE airbrushing, so I gave it a shot. I drew in the cammo lines I wanted, based on the painting plan, and then used Testors MMA Dark Green to “fill in” the areas marked.
This is a brilliant idea and technically it worked out great. The problem was the green paint. I had it pretty thin (MMAs need to be pretty thin, I thought, to work) and I found it hard to get a nice tight edge. As a result, I got a lot of green oversprayed onto the brown, making it look olive. So, back for a touch-up pass it was! I used slightly thicker brown this time and shot it at around 27 psi. This allowed me to get in close, keep my lines tighter and minimize overspray on the green. I did have to essentially redo all the brown, but it’s not like I had to repaint it from scratch, so it didn’t take long.
The key was the touch up coat of green. I shot it a bit thinner than the previous “bulk” session, but kept the pressure high. Staying close to the surface and minimizing the amount of paint I was pulling through careful trigger action, I was able to get a pretty tight line with the green too. To prevent “oliving” the brown, and thus setting myself up for a never ending touch up war, I shot the green so that I kept the “edge” well inside the appropriate blobs of cammo. The idea here was to get the overspray to cover the brown’s overspray, and thus cancel it out. It sounds complicated, but once I figured out how it would work, it was a breeze, and the result was actually very much what I wanted!
With the paint dry, I unmasked everything and found there was very little touch up that had to be done. The Tamiya tape has leaked in only a very few places, and since Testors MMAs don’t change colour when touched up by hand, I had these few “oopsies” taken care of in minutes. I compared the colour scheme in the instructions with the final model and while it’s not quite right, to my eyes, it was good enough. To seal the plane for decalling, I applied a few light coats of Future, and then baked the Defiant in my dehydrator at about 42 degrees Celsius for about 8 hours
The decals provided in New Airfix kits are generally very good. They’re completely in register and the colour density is excellent. The reds and whites don’t show any of the colours under them, and for that they should be commended. However, the decals aren’t perfect. They have two strikes against them. Firstly, they are matte finish. I don’t like this because matte decals tend to silver more (I’m not sure why, or if that’s even scientifically true, but it’s been my experience) as well as being tougher to cover with Future and integrate into the paint. Secondly, they are thick. The New Airfix deals do not mind conforming to gentle curves, but they do not like to sink into panel lines.
For some of these decals, I put down a mostly water-with-a-drop-of-Future puddle where the decals are going to go. I then put the decal on that puddle and align it. I padded it dry with a paper towel and then applied Future thinned to about 50% with water. I have found that once the Future/water on the decal is mostly dry, it will have softened the decal enough to push it into the panel lines. I did this using a blunt end of a square toothpick, and while laborious, it did work. In the past, I’ve had no luck with Micro Sol or Micro Set, but I thought I’d give them a try this time.
I applied the Micro Set as directed, onto the glossy surface of the plane. It wanted to bead on the surface, but there was enough for the decal to settle on. I then laid the decal on it and got it positioned. Once in place, I applied a good coat of Micro Sol. This wanted to sink into the decal, so I put enough on to submerge it. The first application did little, but after two more the edges of the decal started to curl; a tell-tale sign something was happening! Eventually the decal did sink into the panel lines, and I didn’t have to touch a thing. I decided to use this on the port wing roundel, and the fin flashes. However, I stuck with the Future on the side letter codes. Why? I wanted Future on and under those codes with their big expanses of decal film, so as to prevent any silvering. It worked!
One interesting note: Once the decals were soaked in Micro Sol, they repelled Future mightily. It took a lot of work to beat the Future into the decal to reseal it! Weird, eh? This is why I tend to eschew these other decal setting chemicals; however, in this case, it was just a hurdle that had to be overcome.
In the end analysis, I was very pleased with how the decals went on. They look great and there’s really no silvering anywhere. I would have preferred them to be a bit thinner, or to conform better, but I’ve worked with a lot worse. Once the decals were dry, the entire Defiant was sealed with two light coats of Future. It was then power-dried at 40 degrees Celsius in my dehydrator for a day, to make sure the Future was good and dry. This is important because the next step was to sand the future down to integrate the decals into the paint. I sanded with 4000 and 6000 grit to get things since and smooth, and one final coat of Future sealed it all in, ready for aging and final coating.
Shady Operations: Aging the Defiant
I will be the first to admit that I’m still trying to work out the best way to shade and weather my models. This is only something I’ve tried to do in the last few years, and I have my own way of doing it. One way is to grind up pastels into an approximation of the colour over which they go, and then apply them on the panel lines. This can and has worked in the past. However, it is very difficult to control, contrast-wise, and I will admit that sometimes I think the panel line highlighting is too stark. I really wanted the Defiant to be a bit more subtle than that.
That’s when I decided to try the approach I learned for using “filters” on armour kits, but to adapt it. At our local IPMS club, a member did a demonstration with various pigments that he used to add shading to his tanks. In that case, he would use pre-made greens and apply them in thin layers to build depth and colour variation. I figured I could do the same thing for the Defiant. However, I made a change. I realized, after experimentation on previous kits, that the “coloured filter” approach wouldn’t work. I mean, I don’t want brown filtering on my green, or vice versa, right? Then I hit on a new scheme. Grey.
I want to create slight variations in the colour of the plane, not put down a new colour. So, I figured that if I applied a light grey shading over the Sky, and a slightly darker one over the cammo, I could get a nice result. I ground up some light grey chalk pastels and applied them with Varsol to the underside, spreading them very thinly. Once they were dry, I wiped off some of the excess, and the Futured it all in place. The result wasn’t bad. The grey had flowed into the panel lines, too, which kept them from being too dark. I normally use a pencil for panel lines, but in this case, I only did that on control surface separations and the gear doors (since they are actually two separate doors in real life). Overall, the result was pretty good, and I was stuck with it anyway. I did notice it was a bit blotchy, so I decided to modify my approach slightly.
I applied a darker grey to the topside cammo. It was washed on and filled the panel lines, just like below. Once it was dry, though, the pastel showed up much LIGHTER than the paint. This was expected and welcomed. It showed me where the patchiness was. Then I remembered the key to doing any work on aircraft – always move in the direction of airflow! I took a wide, soft brush and streaked the patchy pastel film in the direction of flight. This evened things out, as well as removing excess, and it gave a decidedly more intuitive appearance.
The key here is how you nail down the pastels. If you use Flat coat, they will not contrast highly. Future, though, will make them look “wet” and increase the contrast. I wanted them to be darker, so I went with Future. The problem was that the effect was TOO subtle. So, I applied a second coat of the pastel, the same way. Even after that, it seemed barely perceptible. This is when I remembered something I read about shading. “If you can see it, it’s too much.” Basically, the guru who said this implied that the variations should be perceptible, but not something you outright “see”. In other words, you want to create the illusion of shadow, and trick the viewer into filling in the rest. It works. WELL.
Once the two layers were on the cammo, I matte coated the entire plane in Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish. This made the Defiant dead flat. This is perfect for applying pastels on panel lines. I ground up a darker grey and applied it sparingly to the panel lines. Again, the idea was to tint the paint below, not to apply a different colour. Once the lines were highlighted, I also applied some grey to the fabric areas of the rudder, tailplane and wing control surfaces. With all the chalk on there, I then re-flatted the entire plane. At this point, the grey was almost invisible, but you could JUST make it out as a change in colour. Perfect!
To finish off the paintwork, I applied a semi-gloss varnish made from the same Matte Urethane as before, but fortified with Future. This gives a massively tough finish that self-levels very well. It takes a day to dry, though. I have found that you CANNOT power dry something coated in the Ceramcoat. Why? All my versions of the Ceramcoat have at least a tiny bit of Future in them (even the matte coat), and when heated, the Future comes to the fore. Thus, if you power dry a matte-coated plane, it will go slightly shiny in spots. Same with the satin coat. Just leaving it overnight or for a full day, though, will result in a perfectly uniform finish.
The final assembly on the Defiant isn’t much, but it was troublesome. The landing gear go on very nicely, however. There was no issue getting the gear legs to positively lock into the holes provided, and the gear doors also fit on nicely. The pre-flatted tires can only go on one way, and he end result is a surprisingly sturdy, yet simple, arrangement. Only the inner gear doors are hard to position, and there’s no real location for them, so getting the right angle is tough.
On the other hand, the various aerials and tubes are NOT so nice to work with. There is a pair of radio masts below the airframe, and they are devilish to cut off the sprues. They are very thin, very flexible and very prone to breaking. I would advise using a brand new knife for them. You need to minimize the amount of flexure and cutting time. I broke the longer of the two, so I ended up using it for the retracted rear aerial, while I glued the rear one in the front, at full length. The Pitot tube was similarly problematic, and I replaced it with a piece of piano wire, CA’ed in place. Normally, I don’t do things like that, but the pitot promised to be nothing but trouble once attached, so I went with a more durable solution!
The cockpit fit on beautifully, better than almost any other cockpit I’ve ever used. The turret, though, was a fight. The actual glass part fit onto the “guts” very well, but the entire assembly didn’t want to fit into the plane. The small metal triangles behind the turret interfered, and in order to get the turret in, I had to push hard and ended up scraping the paint off the turret ring in several locations. This was easy to touch up, but it was a bit nerve wracking putting that much force onto a completed kit. Part of the issue is likely the thicknesses of paint and varnish on the various components, but I still think a tiny bit of leeway on these parts would help. After all, it is meant to be painted, so leaving a bit of “slack” on the tolerances wouldn’t go amiss.
The Defiant was a very unfortunate plane, especially in its day fighter guise. It was ill-conceived and forced into situations that could do little but spell disaster for it and its crews. Despite this, the plane served to the best of its abilities, and its brave crews rose dauntlessly and stoically to meet a superior enemy time and again.
As a kit, the Airfix Defiant does not disappoint. There has been a real need to get a good 1/72 Defiant, and Airfix has replaced its former offering completely with this model. The detail and fit are, by and large, excellent, and given that this is not that expensive a kit, there’s nothing to complain about. There’s enough room for superdetailers to go to town, but enough detail that those who want to just build it out of the box (like me!) can.
Is it perfect? No, not quite. The decals were a bit problematic and the fit of the fuselage was not perfect. Yes, some putty was needed, but come on now; it’s a model! Where’s the fun in just having it fall together? That being said, it is easily the best of the New Airfixes I’ve yet built, and if Airfix can keep this kind of quality and detail in their kits, as well as keeping them at their current price point, then I think we can look forward to the New Airfix being around as long as the Old one.
I would say that this kit is suitable for almost any level of skill. The only issue is that the small, think parts like landing gear struts, the turret guns and aerials are very fragile, so a bit of skill and a good knife are a must. Still, if you’ve built one or two models before, I think you can handle the Defiant. The more skill you have, the better it will turn out, but I can’t foresee it disappointing too many out there.
Often, when people think of Winston Churchill’s “Few” of the Battle of Britain, only the Spitfires come immediately to mind. These folks are usually admonished to remember that the bulk of Fighter Command’s planes were actually Hurricanes, and then everyone goes away feeling more educated. However, the Defiants are rarely mentioned at all. They are the fewest of the Few, it seems. It is for that reason I have always wanted to build a day fighter variant, to honour the Defiant and those that flew her into the pitiless maw of some of Britain’s darkest days. Thankfully, Airfix have produced a kit that really steps up to the plate and delivers on the hype, providing a suitable canvas for modellers everywhere to do the same.