Fairey Swordfish Mk. 1 Floatplane
The Fairey Swordfish, while appearing to be outdated at the beginning of World War II, actually became one of the outstanding airplanes used by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. While most were land- or carrier-based with wheeled undercarriages, a significant number of Swordfish Mk. I’s were operated as twin-float seaplanes, mainly from battleships and cruisers, or from shore bases such as Gibraltar, where they were used for fleet reconnaissance, gunfire spotting, and anti-submarine patrol. Probably the most famous action in which Swordfish floatplanes took part was the April, 1940, Second Battle of Narvik, where they spotted gunfire for HMS Warspite, resulting in the destruction of seven German destroyers, plus the sinking of the submarine U-64 with bombs.
The Airfix Swordfish kit was originally issued back in the sixties, and it certainly was crude by modern standards. Two other kits have been issued of this aircraft over the years, including the Frog landplane/seaplane combination, and the Matchbox Mk. III which can only be built as a landplane, although it can be easily backdated to a Mk. I or Mk. II.
The new Airfix issue is a totally new kit, with many new features that we have come to expect from the recent reissues of Airfix products. Consisting of 149 parts molded in light grey styrene, plus a clear windscreen and landing light covers, the kit actually provides a wheeled landing gear and all of the parts necessary for the carrier-based version, although I can’t imagine buying the floatplane kit to do and wheeled version.
The instructions, 10 pages of drawings and text, and two sheets of four-view color paintings, are well detailed. The only problem is that the colors are only in Humbrol references, requiring some on-line research in order to find the colors using other paint brands. Official RAF/RN colors would have been helpful, and I suspect that a few of the references, such as those listing the engine colors as “light olive”, are incorrect. RAF Interior Green, perhaps? Otherwise, the instructions are useful and should be relied upon for assembly sequences. There is no hint of the colors of some of the ordnance carried, or that of the bomb racks. Photos show some of them a dark color. Since these aircraft carried a variety of weapons, it would have been helpful to know what racks to install. However, having the Squadron-Signal In Action booklet and the Profile publication, I managed to sort that out. The torpedo rack under the fuselage could also be used to carry a drop tank, and this is also included in the kit.
One problem I had was that two parts were missing from the sprues, Part 11B (crankcase cover) and 22F (Float Strut). I emailed Airfix on 8 December, and they immediately acknowledged my email request, with the parts arriving in a plain brown package about 3 weeks later. No problem here. That was excellent customer support!
There are 6 major sprues, A-F, and the parts seem to be very disorganized, with parts from several sprues going together in one assembly. I was constantly going back and forth between sprues during the whole assembly process. On the positive side, the kit is VERY detailed, with the interior providing intricate detail, including a cockpit floor, sidewall structure, interior cockpit fixtures including seats, controls, gun mounts, extra fuel tanks, and other parts not normally found on 1/72 scale kits. There were a few small parts that broke upon separation from the sprues, and the small horizontal stabilizer bracing struts were in such condition that I merely trimmed them off and replaced them with strip plastic.
The wings are designed to be installed either in flying position or folded back, and different parts are required for each configuration. You could even have one in extended position and one folded back, if you want to be that creative. There are jigs provided for this process, and the instructions are quite clear as to what is to be done, and when. The rudder and elevators can be installed in any position, but they are quite fragile, so I would advise waiting until the majority of the kit is assembled before attaching these.
I found that I was running out of Tenax-7R glue, and none of the hobby shops had it in stock. As many may be aware, the production of Tenax-7R solvent had been discontinued, making the product unavailable. Faced with this problem and the fact that other formulas do not seem to work as well, I came upon a very interesting alternative solution. Tenax-7R contains a chemical known as MEK, or Methyl Ethyl Ketone. I was in a friend’s hangar the other day, rolling his airplane back into the hangar after a flight, and saw that he had a quart of MEK on his shelf, probably used in some kind of engine cleaning operation. It is listed as a fast-drying thinner for boat, auto body, and epoxy resins. I talked him out of a small amount, actually filling an old Tenax-7R bottle, and found that it works just as well as Tenax. It dries just about as fast, and seems to be only very slightly thinner in consistency than Tenax. I used a drafting pen as an applicator, just as with Tenax, although a small paintbrush would probably work just as well. You have to use very small amounts or it will run all over the place, but after building a couple models using the stuff, there isn’t really a lot of difference between the two. I used it on the Swordfish, and it worked fine. I did notice, however, that some hardware stores are selling an “MEK Substitute” in place of the real thing, and I don’t know how that would work, but if it is typical of what our wonderful government bureaucrats are trying to do to us, it probably doesn’t work as well, if at all. If it works, find a substitute that doesn’t work as well, and import it from China. Kind of like tungsten filament light bulbs.
One good thing is the price. I paid about $10.50 for a quart can, or about 33 cents an ounce. The last bottle of Tenax-7R I bought cost about $4.00 for a one-ounce bottle, and the other competing plastic glues aren’t much cheaper. As a comparison, a gallon of gasoline is currently selling for approximately $3.00, or about 10 cents an ounce. Considering how much MEK we would use, a quart would probably last a 1/72 scale modeler at least two or three years, and maybe more than that.
Enough digression. Now back to the Swordfish review.
The kit goes together quite easily, although you need to read the instructions carefully. There is no sprue diagram, so you have to search for each part and decide which version you are going to build before you get very far. There is also no rigging diagram, but references will help to solve that problem.
The only real problem I had with this kit was the attachment of the floats. There don’t seem to be any secure attachment holes for the inside rear struts, and the instructions are unclear. I suppose that drilling a hole in the bottom of the fuselage would solve the problem, but you have to know where the hole should be located. I trimmed the inside rear strut slightly, and the floats then sat at the right angle.
One thing I didn’t think about when building this kit was the balance. The kit provides four small wheels on attachment points somewhere near the center of gravity on the real airplane. However, the real airplane has a heavy engine on the nose, and if you want to display this model on its wheeled undercarriage, you will have to put a significant amount of weight forward, either in the fuselage or in the forward sections of the floats. I, of course, did not foresee this problem, so when I sat the model down and put the small sawhorse arrangement under the float tips, the plane sat backwards with the tail down. The other alternative would be merely to display it without the wheels. Next one I do, I’ll weight the nose. Also, part 18B is the crankshaft, and on my kit it was just a small disk with no shaft attached. A short piece of plastic rod solved that problem. In addition, and a small one, there were no aileron horns provided, but these can be made from small strip plastic with no effort.
Painting and Finishing
Obviously, the cockpit details should be painted before the fuselage halves are joined. I painted most of the major components before final assembly, including wings, fuselage, tail surfaces, engine, struts, and floats. Following this, I gave the whole thing a coat of Glosscote, then applied the decals. These are of very high quality, and with a little Microsol they snuggled down nicely on some fairly irregular surfaces. On the camouflaged version, which I did, there were not a lot of decals aside from the insignia and serial numbers, but on the silver pre-war model, there are more markings available. The decals do not require trimming, although I did trim the fin flash.
I painted the major assemblies before attaching the wings and moveable control surfaces. I do this with all of my biplanes if they have more than one basic color. The wings and floats can then be attached securely.
The kit provides marking for two aircraft, a silver pre-war Swordfish of No. 814 Sqdn., from HMS Ark Royal in 1938, and a camouflaged Swordfish from HMS Valiant, a battleship, in 1940. Both would make colorful models, but since I had a Frog plane built up as a floatplane in pre-war colors, I chose the camouflaged example.
It is good to know that we have a really good state-of-the-art model of the Swordfish. It can be built out-of-box resulting in an excellent model, and you have the options of folded or extended wings. Any armament combination except rockets (which the Mk. I never carried) can be fitted to the model, and the detail on this kit is better than any of the others I’ve seen. And the new Airfix series kits aren’t very expensive, so this kit will give you a lot of bang for the buck. If you haven’t built one, get several, as the landplane and floatplane belong in any collection of 1/72 scale British aircraft. And I was impressed with the speed of delivery of the missing parts. Highly recommended.
Thanks to IPMS and Hornby-America for the review sample.