When the Airfix Bristol Blenheim Mk I showed up on the kits available for review, I quickly put my name in the hat for it. I had seen the results of a 1/48 scale kit and was eager to try my hand and add to my RAF Battle of Britain collection.
A few paragraphs of history: The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War.
It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter. It was one of the first British aircraft to have all-metal stressed-skin construction, to utilize retractable landing gear, flaps, a powered gun turret and variable pitch propellers. A Canadian-built variant named the Bolingbroke was used as an anti-submarine and training aircraft.
The Blenheim Mk I outshone most biplane fighters in the late 1930s but stood little chance against the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 during daylight operations, though it proved successful as a night fighter. The Mark IV variant was equally unsuccessful in its daylight bombing role, suffering major losses in the early stages of the war.
In 1934, Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, challenged the British aviation industry to build a high-speed aircraft capable of carrying six passengers and two crew members. At the time, German firms were producing a variety of record-breaking high-speed designs, such as the Heinkel He 70, and Rothermere wanted to recapture the title of fastest civilian aircraft in Europe. Bristol had been working on a suitable design as the 'Type 135' since July 1933, and further adapted it to produce the Type 142 to meet Rothermere's requirements.
Named 'Britain First', this first flew at Filton on 12 April 1935, and proved to be faster than any fighter in service with the Royal Air Force at the time. The Air Ministry was obviously interested in such an aircraft and quickly sent out Specification B.28/35 for prototypes of a bomber version; the 'Type 142M' (M for military).
To achieve its relatively high speed, the Blenheim had a very small fuselage cross-section, with its upper front glazing all at one angle in the form of a "stepless cockpit", that used no separate windscreen panels for the pilot. The pilot's quarters on the left side of the nose were so cramped that the control yoke obscured all flight instruments while engine instruments eliminated the forward view on landings. Like most contemporary British aircraft, the bomb bay doors were kept closed with bungee cords and opened under the weight of the released bombs. Because there was no way to predict how long it would take for the bombs to force the doors open, bombing accuracy was consequently poor.
The aircraft was ordered directly from the drawing board with the first production model serving as the only prototype. The service name then became Blenheim Mk I after the famous battle during the War of the Spanish Succession. Total production of the Blenheim Mk I in England was 1,351 aircraft.
Opening the Box
The box art is well done and would compel interest. Sadly, the depiction of the Blenheim Mk I is accurate in that the pictured aircraft is on fire after being shot up by a pair of enemy fighters.
The instruction booklet (European “A4” size, which initially feels a bit strange to a US consumer) gives a brief history of the aircraft in five languages and instructions in twelve! Pictographic symbols help bridge the language barrier in 48 step-by-step instructions. Color codes in callouts are only for Humbrol paints. The colors used on the exterior also show names for those who use other brands of paint. If you favor Aeromaster, Gunze, Tamiya, Xtracolor, Polly S or Model Master, try the IPMS Stockholm conversion charts.
Wash the parts before construction, as usual. Each sprue tree comes in its own poly bag. General perception is that the light gray styrene is mostly flash free. Such push pin marks as are evident seem to be in hidden places when assembled.
The styrene tires (or “tyres” to our British friends) provided in the kit are already appropriately flattened. There is an option to build the plane in flight (i.e. with retracted landing gear) when a stand (Part # AF 1006 with an Internet price of about $9.00USD ) is used. If you do that, be sure to rotate the tires to have the flattened side “up” or inboard.
There are options in the instructions, such as flaps up or down, that are a matter of choice. To place the flaps retracted, the builder cuts off the positioning tabs. There are two different clear-part dorsal turrets (G3 and G6) provided with no particular guidance as to why one would model one over another. There are two different engine cowling sets (part #C12 and #D11) with nothing to differentiate one’s choices. There are likewise two options for air cleaner intakes (E5 or E11), but no reason why to choose one from another. In each case, I picked the one shown in the painting diagram. There are two sets of landing gear doors, but only one specified for use here. There are some parts that are not used, such as extended cockpit walls (Mk IV version?).
For some reason, the air screw shafts and hubs (part E19) were missing. I substituted styrene rod with white glue “hubs.”
Some parts are mislabeled in the instructions . C5 for E5 for example. D19 was found to be E19. D8 parts for the engine are perhaps E8, as the former only have two instances in the parts sprue. D17 should read E17 and D6 was actually E6. The oil cooler air intake parts are labeled D8 in the instructions but E8 have the size, shape and number to do the job.
The panel lines are fine an crisp. The fit of the parts is generally excellent. If this is the quality of the new Airfix releases, they have a new fan -- me.
An exception was the clear glazing that makes up the cockpit and the forward part of the fuselage. When attached to the halves of the nose, the clear parts do not fit well to each other, requiring some filler. It might have been nice to provide an option to pose the top mounted sliding access window in the open position, but that is a minor thing. The bomb bay doors do not fit as flush as I would like, but this may be due to the location at the junction of four subassemblies. I elected to build this example with the bomb bay doors closed and none of the available exterior bomb load.
A pilot figure was provided, but it was not of the same level of excellence as plane itself, so I left him out. The now-vacant pilot’s seat could use some photo-etch seats straps, but I did not have any of accurate detail to place.
There are two exterior painting and decal options in the kit. Option “A” is an RAF plane flown by Squadron Leader Arthur Stewart King Scarf, VC, in Malaysia, 9 December 1941. The option “B” is of Escardilla 4 Recunoastere, Forcele Aeriene Romane (Romanian Air Force), Brasov, Transylvania 1939. As a fan of the RAF, I chose option “A.”
Painting the exterior is fairly straight forward if the modeler has done any early war RAF color schemes. The undersides are instructed to be black, but I actually used a mixture of Model Master Flat Black and Euro Gray I to give it a bit of “scale effect.” The panel lines were pre-shaded with an artist’s XS black pen. While not called for in the instructions, I chose to paint areas on the wing tips outlined by panel lines as navigation lights. Photos of the actual aircraft show this, but the painting diagram is silent.
After a coat of floor polish to create a smooth surface, I applied decals. The colors are solid and about the right shade. The decals, at first, appear to be rather thick, but they responded to setting solution and settled into the panel lines nicely. There were several decals I did not use; these were of the “balance here” sort.
Instruction related parts confusion aside, this was a fun build. The engineering was first rate, the plastic was pleasant to work with, the decals behaved, and it was a subject I had been wanting to do. This kit is “recommended” by this reviewer.
My thanks to Hornby Airfix for providing the kit and to IPMS for the opportunity to review it.
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