Home  |  What's New  |  Features  |  Gallery  |  Reviews  |  Reference  |  Forum  |  Search

Classic Airframes' Vampire FB.31
Noddy's Interceptor

by Brett Green
 

De Havilland Vampire FB. Mk.31
25 Sqn RAAF, Pearce, Western Australia, Sqn Ldr C.F. Favish



Classic Airframes' 1/48 scale Vampire Export Version is available online from Squadron.com

 

Top Gun in Toytown

 

NoddyIf Noddy was a fighter pilot, surely his mount would have to be a Vampire.

They have plenty in common. Both are largely constructed of wood, both are diminutive and both have a close association with Big Ears. Furthermore, the Vampire FB.5 and Noddy are each endearing and enduring relics of 1950s Britain.

Noddy's Vampire would have to wear a suitable finish. No camouflage on this little airframe. High gloss red would be the right choice for patrolling the skies above Toytown.

By happy chance, just such a Vampire flew with the Royal Australian Air Force. This was a special scheme worn by Squadron Leader C.F. Favish's Vampire FB.31 of 25 Squadron in the late 1950s. Classic Airframes' new 1/48 scale Vampire Export Version kit includes markings for this aircraft.

 

 

Construction

 

Classic Airframes recently released their 1/48 scale Vampire single seater export version kit (#495), which included the option of an ejection seat. However, I started my Australian Vampire FB.31 before this model was available, so I commenced building the original release - kit #470, the Vampire FB.5 - with the Aeroclub Martin Baker MB.2 seat

Unbeknownst to me when I started building, the ejection seat equipped Vampire featured a significantly revised cockpit. The rear bulkhead was moved further back to accommodate the much bulkier ejection seat, and it is seems that the cockpit floor was lowered for the same reason. In my ignorance, I tried to shoehorn the Aeroclub seat into the space designed for a flat pan and backrest. Not surprisingly, I had some difficulty. I trimmed a few millimetres from the bottom of the seat, and managed to squeeze the seat into the FB.5 cockpit.

I should emphasise that this was not the fault of the very nice Aeroclub seat. Classic Airframes' Vampire Export Version boxing includes the revised cockpit (the original tub is included in the kit too) and the supplied ejection seat fits perfectly.

My advice is, if you are building a Vampire fitted with a bang seat, buy Classic Airframes' kit number 495!

I also used the Aeroclub replacement fuselage, which is 3mm longer than the kit parts and locates the cockpit opening 2mm further forward. Many modellers will consider these dimensional discrepancies are not worth worrying about, but I thought that the Aeroclub fuselage delivered a noticeable improvement to the shapes and relationships around the forward fuselage pod, the canopy and intakes.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Aeroclub's Martin Baker seat was used. I had to cut a few millimetres from the bottom of the seat to help it fit into the FB.5 cockpit.

The cockpit components are painted and ready for assembly

Because the cockpit is located further forward, the fit will be improved by trimming the front corners of the cockpit floor.

Plenty of nose weight is required to avoid the Vampire sitting on its tail booms. These are small lead sinkers held in place with super glue.


Construction was typical for the current generation of limited run, multi-media kits. The most important steps are thorough preparation of the parts and test fitting.

Test fitting suggested that the cockpit floor was too wide at the front to fit between the Aeroclub fuselage halves. This was not surprising, as the cockpit is located several millimetres further forward in the Aeroclub fuselage compared to the original kit fuselage. The front sides of the cockpit floor was trimmed and tested again until a good fit was achieved in this narrower space. The sides of the instrument panel needed to be slightly trimmed too.

This model demands plenty of nose weight to avoid tail-sitting. I packed as many lead sinkers as would fit into the nose, and also in the front of the wing just behind the intakes.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

After a little fiddling, the fit of the Aeroclub replacement fuselage is really quite good. The only major area requiring attention was a gap between the fuselage halves behind the front wheel well insert.

The inside of the top wing and the top of the resin wheel well must be thinned before assembly

I also "scooped out" some material on the mating surfaces of the resin Aerclub intakes using my Dremel fitted with a dental burr to get a nice, flush fit against the fuselage side.

The fit of the wings to the fuselage was trouble free, although there was a step at the wing root. This was reduced by sanding with course abrasive paper.


After several dry runs, I glued the fuselage halves together. The fit was really quite good, with the only significant gap between the cannon access panel and the forward wheel well. Fortunately this was an even gap that was easily filled with plastic strip.

In common with many other limited run kits, the inside of the top wing halves needed to be thinned substantially before the resin wheel well inserts were installed. The top of the wheel well inserts were also thinned until the resin was almost transparent.

To their great credit, Classic Airframes corrected the shape of the wing intakes in the Export Vampire kit. They are an obvious improvement over the items included in the Vampire FB.5 kit. However, as mentioned earlier, I started my project before the Export version kit was released. I therefore used Aeroclub's resin replacement intakes. These slotted into the wings with a slight overlap at top and bottom. The step was backfilled with Milliput and, when set, sanded flush.

The wings were secured to the fuselage pod at this time. I considered installing a spar to reinforce the join, but decided that the bond was probably strong enough as it was. Once in place, the dihedral of the wings was almost flat, comparing well with the real aircraft.

Each of the tail booms is moulded with a narrow locating lip. I beefed up the joint with airfoil-shaped styrene and scrap plastic. I was originally going to use telescoping brass rods, but decided that the additional weight aft of the main wheels would more than offset the extra weight that I had so carefully squeezed into the nose of the model.

The plastic reinforcement worked well, creating a strong, positive bond.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Fine wire was inserted in each end of the horizontal tailplanes, and a corresponding hole drilled on the inside of the booms, to ensure a solid join.

Australian FB.31 Vampires were fitted with auxiliary "Elephant Ear" intakes on the lower fuselage. These are supplied in the CA kit. Rocket rails were sourced from a Dynavector Wyvern.


The horizontal tailplanes did not have any locating aids, so this join was reinforced with brass pins drilled into each end. I should have paid as much attention to assembly as preparation, though, as I glued the tailplanes on upside down!

With the main airframe completed, I filled a number of gaps and seams with Milliput.

Classic Airframes supplies a cover for the auto-pilot gyro in their new kit, but I had already formed my own using plastic strip, a hobby knife and a sanding stick. Comparing the home-made version with the resin kit part and reference photos shows that mine is a bit too big, and the Classic Airframes part is a bit too small. Having already invested the time, I used my oversized fairing. A narrow bead of stretched sprue was wrapped around the base and secured with liquid glue to finish off the distinctive cover.

I also drilled a hole in the middle of the nose, as may be seen in several reference photos of this aircraft.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

The new gyro fairing was formed from two pieces of styrene strip glued together, the cut to a rough shape.

The shape was improved by sanding.

Final sanding and shaping delivered a new, lager gyro cover for the Vampire's nose.

The kit fairing is seen on the right hand side. With the benefit of hindsight, I realise that I made the fairing too big. The correct size is probably about halfway between these two.


Another characteristic of Aussie Vampires is the fitting of "elephant ear" intakes on the bottom of the fuselage. These supplementary intakes directed additional air to the Rolls Royce Nene powerplant. By the time I got to this stage of construction, the Classic Airframes Export Version kit had arrived, which includes a pair of elephant ear intakes. These were simply glued in place.

This particular airframe was also fitted with a pair of rocket rails under each wing. I raided my unbuilt Dynavector Wyvern kit for these parts. The front mounts of the white metal rails were shortened to fit the Vampire, then secured beneath the wings with super glue.

The kit pitot tube was glued to the port side fin, and the undercarriage elements were cleaned up and assembled prior to painting.

 

 

Painting and Markings

 

Painting

This Vampire features a very, very simple colour scheme - overall high gloss Post Office Red.

I started with a coat of Tamiya Surface Primer straight from the can. This highlighted a few spots that needed rescribing or filling.

Next, two coats of Tamiya TS 49 Bright Red, also straight from the spray can. After around an hour, the glossy finish was polished with Micro Mesh cloths, starting with 4,000 grade and moving up to 12,000 grade before a final buff with the tip of my index finger.

This would have to be one of my fastest paint jobs ever!



Weathering

Weathering was kept to a minimum. A thin mix of semi-gloss black was painted into the aileron and elevator hinge lines. A sooty black-brown was also sprayed around the cannon ports. These blast stains can be seen in reference photos on the otherwise impeccably finished airframe.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

The model received a base coat of Tamiya Surface Primer before its coat of Tamiya TS 49 Bright Red. The primer and paint were applied straight from the can, then polished with MicroMesh cloths.

Thanks to the high gloss finish, no special preparation was required before decals were applied. They performed flawlessly.

Kit decals were supplemented with the star on the nose, plus the ejection seat warning triangle and Sqn Ldr pennant on the starboard fuselage side.



Decals

I have access to a colour reference photo that shows this aircraft with a rectangular Squadron Leader's pennant behind a flying bird on the starboard side, and a prominent warning triangle behind the pennant. The photo also reveals a small white or (more likely) light blue star surrounding the hole in the tip of the nose.

None of these decals are supplied in the kit, so I scrounged my decal collection. The ejection seat warning was a combination of a white triangle from a Dutch Decals sheet, superimposed with a smaller red triangle from a Model Alliance sheet. The pennant came from an Aeromaster decal set for late mark Spitfires, while the small star was sourced from a 1/35 scale Tamiya armour sheet.

The Classic Airframes decals performed beautifully. The edges of the decals disappeared against the paint - so much so that I decided not to even add a gloss coat.



Finishing Touches

Aeroclub supplied a vacform canopy with their replacement fuselage. I used the vacform sliding section - which has a better profile than the kit part - but the Classic Airframes' windscreen was installed. I sprayed the front of the windscreen Tamiya Clear Blue to represent the tinting sometimes applied to Australian Vampires.

The gear legs are positively secured in their positions via deep locating mounts. The only problem is that the front gear leg is angled forward, whereas it should be almost vertical or even angled slightly back according to reference photos. I shortened the retraction strut and bent the front gear leg back, but even this was not quite enough. Next time I will probably cut off the locating pin before repositioning the gear leg.

The final task was to install the whip antenna on the back of the canopy. I drilled through the canopy to the fuselage deck, so the whip antenna was not only decorative but also served as an anchor for the canopy.

When I placed the model on its wheels it rocked back onto its tail booms. I did not have enough noseweight! I glued another two lead weights inside the nose wheel bay and, to my relief, that was enough to make the model tip forward and sit on all three wheels.

 

 

Conclusion

 

I love the quirky form of the Vampire, and I was delighted when Classic Airframes released their new series of kits.

But how does the newcomer compare to the incumbent?

I took the opportunity to slap together the old Hobbycraft Vampire in a half-hour session to place the two kits side by side. The conclusion is unmistakable.

 

 

The Hobbycraft kit looks just awful.

The worst aspects are the fuselage pod, which is located too far forward (it does not even protrude behind of the trailing edge of the wings), the oddly shaped nose, the skinny booms and the woefully undersized fins, which are probably 25-30% too small. The booms are also too close together, and the intakes bear no resemblance to the real thing. Perhaps the most striking aspect is the anhedral (droop) of the wings. Some minor faults might have been forgivable, but the Hobbycraft kit looks almost like a Salvador Dali surrealistic impression of a Vampire.

On the other hand, Classic Airframes has nicely captured the essence of this unique jet fighter. It is clearly superior to the Hobbycraft kit in terms of both shape and detail.

Is the kit perfect? No. However, if you are the sort of modeller who is not bothered about a few millimetres discrepancy here and there, you will build the Vampire straight from the box and be pleased with the result.

 

 

For those who want a Vampire that will pass the micrometer test, Aeroclub offers a simple solution via their replacement fuselage, which also includes a new canopy. Classic Airframes themselves have addressed the problem of the intakes with their redesigned resin parts in the Vampire Export Version kit (#495).

Regardless of whether or not you use after market parts, this is the best injection moulded 1/48 scale Vampire available today.

If you have previous experience with limited run models, you won't run into any surprises building Classic Airframes' kit of this important pioneering fighter aircraft.

Thanks to Classic Airframes for the sample


Model, Text and Photographs Copyright 2005 by Brett Green
except Noddy image from the BBC website
Page Created 28 April, 2005
Last Updated 28 May, 2005

Back to HyperScale Main Page