Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF
In the late thirties, the British Royal Air Force was in the process of re-equipping its bomber units with new, high performance monoplanes. The goal was to outperform existing fixed gear fighter biplanes, such as the Hawker Fury and Gloster Gladiator. Bristol contributed a design for a twin engine monoplane called “Britain First”. This airplane was privately financed by Lord Rothmore, and was intended primarily as a business executive plane. The RAF tested the type, and was impressed, so after considerable redesign, the type emerged as the Type 142 bomber. Tests were completed by 1936, and full production was ordered under the name Blenheim Mk. I.
Deliveries started in 1937, and as many as 16 units had converted to the type by 1939. The aircraft featured a short nose, and some Mk. I’s were completed as fighters, Mk. 1F, with a gun enclosure replacing the bomb bay. Some of these were equipped with early radar units, and were used to intercept German bombers attacking England at night, but they really weren’t fast enough to be effective, and were eventually replaced by Beaufighters and Mosquitos. A photo reconnaissance version was also developed, as the Blenheim PR Mk. 1 and Mk. II. In service, however, the type was disappointing, as its performance had been overtaken by such types as the Messerschmitt Bf-109. Many units continued to use the Mk. 1 into 1942, when they were replaced by an improved version, the Mk. IV. The Mk. IV featured an extended nose, with more room for the bombardier/navigator, who sat on a small stool to the right of the pilot.
Blenheims operating over Europe suffered heavy casualties, and had to have fighter escorts to survive. They were more useful escorting convoys over the English Channel, and many were shipped to the Middle East, where Italian opposition was not so effective, and some were also shipped to the Far East.. A Mk. V was also built in small numbers, used primarily for low level ground attack in the Western Desert. It was decided to produce the Blenheim in Canada under the name Bolingbroke Mk. I. This was similar to the Mk. IV. These had American engines and equipment, and were mainly used for training by the RCAF in Canada. The Airfix kit represents the Mk. I, and can be built in both the bomber and fighter versions.
The kit comes in a large red box, and contains 6 sprues of light grey plastic, ( 152 parts, one clear sprue,(6 parts), and decals for two aircraft. The parts are well molded, with only a little flash, and provide detailed engines, props, cockpit interior, and land gear detail. Parts are provided for the bomber version, including an open bomb bay and doors, and the radar required for the Mk.IF night fighter version. Even tropical air filters are included. Landing gear can be either retracted or lowered, and flaps are provided in the up and down positions. More on this later. Not all of the parts will be used, but the extras could be useful in upgrading a Frog kit.
The instructions consist of 12 letter-sized sheets, including 2 pages of history and assembly instructions in 5 and 12 languages respectively, 8 pages of exploded view assembly drawings, and two pages illustrating the two suggested color schemes and markings provided in the decal sheet. The instructions are clear, and should be followed in sequence or assembly could be quite difficult. Problems with the instructions include no sprue diagram, and a lack of color information unless you have access to a Humbrol color chart. I had to go on line to get this, as the only colors given were exterior colors on the color four view drawings. There are many extra parts, as Airfix apparently plans to issue a Mk. IV version, which has an entirely different nose, and some of these parts are on the Mk. I sprues. The kit has good sidewall and cockpit detail, and the molding is generally good.
There is quite a bit of information available on the Blenheim, including some sources with interior views. Profiles No. 93 and 218 provide some good information, and the Squadron In-Action booklet is also very useful. The Camouflage and Markings No. 7 publication also gives a good general account of markings and color schemes for the Blenheim. In addition, a real life aircraft can be examined at the Pima Air Museum, in Tucson, AZ. It, however, is a Canadian Bolingbroke. It is really important to study the published photos of the aircraft carefully, as there are a few issues of accuracy, especially on the PE parts.
First, be sure to follow the steps in sequence as described in the instructions. This is especially important if you are using the Eduard PE aftermarket parts, as once some of the components are joined, you’ll have a tough time getting the little metal parts into place. The wing goes together first, and includes two main spars and only a top and bottom part, giving the proper dihedral angle. Interior gear parts, E-20 and 21, need to go in before the wing halves are joined. The fuselage halves, along with an interior bulkhead, go together next, and these can then be joined with the wing to get the major airframe started. Be sure to paint all interior sections with British Interior Green before joining the major parts. If you are going to install the gear retracted, the gear units need to be installed before the wing halves are joined.
After the major airframe is assembled, it is time for the detailed parts, including the cockpit and the landing gear. The cockpit has fairly good detail, and the PE parts really add to the realism. The cockpit halves allow considerable detail to be included, and with the clear plastic windows, this can be seen after the model is complete. After the cockpit halves are completed, they need to be joined together and attached to the forward fuselage. Then the top window can be slid into place. Fit is pretty good, but some filler may be needed. The engineering on the cockpit unit, by the way, is exceptional, as you can detail the pieces to your heart’s content, and they almost snap together.
At this point, the tail units, elevators and rudder, can be attached, along with the ailerons and flaps . I put the flaps in the “up” position, and I will explain later why I did this.
The engines can then be assembled. These units consist of the engine itself, some exhaust parts behind the engine, two exhaust stacks, three sections of cowling, and a cowling front. In front of the engine is a small three-pronged engine gearbox, in which a very tiny shaft goes. This shaft is used to mount the propeller so it will spin, but it wasn’t quite round and didn’t fit, so I used a small piece of plastic rod. My models are all in glass cases, so nobody will be spinning the props anyway, at least while I’m still around. The engine assembly is a rather sticky process, and the front sections do not fit too well, and had to be trimmed. Part of the problem is that the whole thing fits inside the rear portion of the cowling, which fits very well on to the front of the engine nacelle. I have a suspicion that the whole shebang would go together easier if it didn’t have to be painted first, but since the engine and rear exhaust section are black, the front gearbox silver, and the cowling, on my night fighter at least, was entirely black, it was better to paint everything first, especially since the front cowling and exhaust stacks are a bronze color. I know that the instructions say to paint them gunmetal grey, but my sources all say bronze.
Painting and Finishing
I decided to do the all-black night fighter version, a Mk. IF from No. 54 Operational Training Unit, RAF Church Fenton, flying out of North Yorkshire in December, 1940. After masking off all of the clear glass areas (the Eduard Masking Set saved a LOT of time), I sprayed the entire aircraft matt black. After installing the landing gear, I painted the exhaust stacks and cowling ring dark bronze, attached them to the completed engine, and did a little bit of touch up in some places that I had missed. Believe it or not, black is a color that you need a lot of to completely cover a model. I left the props and the radar units off for the time being.
At this point, I installed all of the Eduard Exterior PE parts that I could, using dots of superglue, and then repainted those areas with matte black. After final retouch, I gave the model a coat of clear lacquer. I used to use Testors’ Glosscote, but since this no longer seems to be available, locally at least, I use plain clear gloss lacquer from Model Master, which accomplished the same purpose.
For some reason, model producers want to include as much detail as possible when producing a kit or accessories. This is generally a good idea, but sometimes it becomes an overkill issue. This is true with the installation of extended flaps on most airplanes, and why the model builder should always familiarize himself or herself with what these airplanes actually looked like when they were in service. When I reviewed the new Airfix Wildcat recently, the Eduard PE parts included two sets of flaps, one for wings extended and one for wings folded. On my next trip to the airport, I looked around on the tiedown area and noticed that EVERY plane had its flaps up. Watching aircraft taking off and landing, you’ll notice that the flaps are extended immediately before takeoff, and retracted usually even before the airplane leaves the runway. On the ground, they make good airbrakes, but that’s about all. Most checklists bear this out. When I checked the references on the Blenheim, I came across only a couple of photos of the type with the flaps down, one while the airplane was taking off, another on final approach in the air, and several where the plane had crash landed or had wound up on its back. One “flaps-down” Blenheim was photographed years after landing in the desert. In short, unless you are planning to model the airplane in flight, or on the ground with the engines running, it is highly unlikely that the flaps would be down. Flaps are highly vulnerable to damage from rocks or other debris kicked up by the propellers, or by people on the ground walking into them.
So, when modeling an aircraft, check the photos of the plane and see how many you can find with flaps down and then engines off. True, some planes, notably p-51’s, had hydraulic flaps, and after sitting for a while, the fluid would lose pressure, and the flaps and doors would come down, but for most aircraft, flaps were generally up on the ground. I’ve talked to airline and military pilots about this, and they seem to agree. The same goes for warbird pilots. The first thing you do after landing is to retract the flaps. It’s on every checklist I’ve seen on airplanes I’ve flown. So, my flaps on this model are up.
The decals do not really need trimming, and go on quite easily, although there were a couple of places where I needed a decal softening solution to go around some curved surfaces, especially along the trailing edges of the wing roots. After they were set and dried, I gave the model another coat of clear lacquer, followed by some Testors’ Dullcote, as RAF aircraft from this time period were usually finished in matte colors. The last step was to install the decals, rear machine gun and turret, radar antennas, and the LF antenna wire. I didn’t do much “wear and tear” weathering, as these aircraft, being operated by an OUT, would have probably been in fairly good condition.
This kit basically replaces the Frog Blenheim Mk. I, which is, I understand, still available although not in current production. The Frog kit, being at least 40 years old, is outdated, although I recently built one for comparison with this kit, and found that it still builds up into a nice model, although not with the detail of the Airfix kit. Aside from a few problems, such as the engine cowlings, this is an excellent kit, and with a little work, can be the definitive Blenheim Mk. I kit. I am anxious to see what they did to upgrade their Mk. IV kit, as from the materials on the sprue, the Mk. IV has to be coming soon. Highly recommended.