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1/72 scale Frog + Flightpath
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk.III

by Mark Davies

 

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk.III

 


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Introduction

 

The Whitley was one of three new strategic bombers operated by the RAF at the beginning of WW2, and the only purpose-designed night bomber.

Ordered in 1934, it was already considered obsolescent by 1937 when aircraft like the Stirling, Manchester and Halifax were being anticipated. Despite this, Whitleys conducted the first British leaflet and bombing missions on mainland Germany, including being amongst the first types to bomb Berlin. They were also the first RAF aircraft to cross the Alps and bomb Italy. Later versions served in the vital fight against U-boats with coastal command using radar and depth charges. The Whitley helped develop British airborne forces by serving as parachute and glider-tug trainers, as well as parachuting SAS and agents into occupied Europe. It also served with BOAC as a civilian transport flying to Malta and Stockholm until replaced by more suitable aircraft.

The Whitley was Armstrong Whitworthís first aircraft to incorporate monocoque construction, and proved to be a very strong and robust aircraft. Originally designed without flaps, the wing had an 8.5 degree angle of incidence which resulted in its characteristic nose-down flight attitude. It went through several design changes during its life, including the addition of split flaps and dihedral to the wings, this dihedral being increased on the Mk III onwards. The shape of the fins and rudders became more angular with the Mk V. The most significant change occurred with the Mk IV where Merlin in-line engines replaced the underpowered Tiger radials, effectively giving the Whitley a new lease of life.

 



Defensive armament changed several times through the Whitleyís life. The Mkís I & II had all manual front and rear single-gun turrets, and an ineffective dustbin ventral turret was added to the Mk II onwards, although usually omitted in later Merlin-engined marks. A power-operated single-gun front turret was introduced with the Mk III, then a four gun power operated four-gun rear turret with the Mk V onwards.

All Whitleys other than The Mk V were officially declared obsolete in 1944, and the Mk Vís fooled in 1945. The last Whitley was retired in 1947 after being used by Armstrong Whitworth to tow their AW 52 tailless glider. Sadly no Whitleys survive intact.



 

The Raw Materials

 

This conversion used the Frog kit, Flightpath Tiger-engine conversion set, Airwaves photo-etched (PE) detail set, and Falcon replacement canopies.
 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:



The Frog Kit

At first glance the Frog kit seems quite good, with very delicate raised detail and straight forward parts breakdown. The Merlin engine cowls and radiators that are too tapered in appearance, the clear parts are too heavily framed, and too simplistic in the case of the turrets. Closer checks also revealed the rear fuselage to be too narrow in plan view, the upper-side of the ailerons to be too large, and the chin below the front turret to be wrong. A build-review of this Frog kit (albeit a Maquette re-issue) and photo of it finished out of the box as a Whitley Mk VII can be found at Maquette 1/72 Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk.5/7.

I had long thought this to be the only 1:72 Whitley kit, but have since briefly seen a largely assembled Contrail vac-from kit that I think offered both Tiger and Merlin engined options. This kit was owned by a mate whose father flew Whitleys and had the unpleasant experience of baling out of one which was on fire.



Falcon Canopies

Falconís canopies are superb as always, although perhaps compromised in that the front turret and forward fuselage are one-piece and designed to replace the kitís parts directly, meaning the turret lacks a rear side as it is moulded with the clear nose panels of the fuselage.

 

 

I would have preferred an entire and separate front turret.



Flightpath Conversion

Taking the kitís weaknesses into account building a Tiger-engined variant (Mk's I to III) seemed the best option as it eliminated the engine problem and allowed me to use my Falcon canopies. This last choice limited me to building a Mk III as the Falcon canopy only caters for the power operated FN turret used by Mk IIIís onwards. Furthermore, I have read that the Mk III onwards had increased dihedral on the outer wing panels compared to the Mkís I and II (the very first Whitleys had no dihedral), so once again a Mk III made most sense as the Frog kit is of the later Mk V or VII which had the same dihedral as the Mk III.

The Flightpath set provides:

  • Canopies for the Mk Iís bomb aimerís window, and rear turret in vac-form acetate.

  • Two resin engines, their cowls and forward nacelles all in single mouldings for each side.

  • Two resin tail-fins and rudders.

  • White metal exhausts, propellers, oil coolers and carburettor intakes.

Also provided in white metal is a ďregularĒ Lewis gun, plus one with a WW1-style jacket around the barrel, along with a rather useless hoop to mount them on.

The resin is of reasonable quality, although the engine faces in the one-piece mouldings are a bit messy where they meet the cowl interior. This said, I must say that once painted they do capture the clutter of pushrods that characterise Tiger engines quite well. Once cleaned up and polished the propellers are probably the conversion setís best feature, capturing well the look of the real propís hub and centrifugal weights. The rear manual turretís cupola is a pathetic attempt at vac-forming acetate; being undersize, the wrong shape, devoid of framing, and so thin as to be unusable. The bomb aimerís window didnít look much better, but I had no need of it anyway. No attempt is made to provide a manually operated front turret to replace the Frog kitís power operated turret, an important oversight in a conversion kit for a Mk I or II Whitley.



Airwaves Detail Set

The Airwaves PE set is OK, although I feel the seats are a bit too large, the table too simple, and itís not entirely accurate regarding the instrument panel as it instructs you to have this place this vertically rather than inclined forward (something the Frog kit does correctly with its panel). I didnít use the ladders or radar antennae, but I feel they look a bit on-dimensional.

 

Construction

 

Cockpit

I scratch-built the cockpit floor, front and rear bulkheads, radio operatorís desk, navigatorís fold-away table, parachute racks etc from plastic card. I replaced the kitís control column with one from an Airfix SM 79.

I modified the Airwaves instrument panel to sit at correct angle on plastic card backing plate and added cut rod to represent the instrument casings behind the panel. The bottom portions of the instrument panel were removed enabling a see-through effect to bomb aimerís compartment. I used Airwavesí cockpit set for seats and harnesses, instrument panel and throttle quadrant (this last item is a bit oversized). The radio operatorís seat was modelled facing forward based on photos, unlike the Frog kit Mk V and Airwaves detail set instructions which have the table facing sideways facing to port. Iíve since seen photos that suggest this seat was different to the Pilotís and Navigatorís seats, but I can live with it. The bomb aimerís floor was made from plastic card, and some general details added to this area using items from my spares box. A bombsight was scratch-built from plastic card and scrap brass sheet.

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:



Turrets

The Fraser Nash FN16 turret was scratch-built based on photos and drawings, as was its single Vickers K gun. The hooped frame that connected the real turretís services via the bulge above the turret was backed by a clear section from a modified and cut-down spare Falcon Lancaster turret. This was necessary as the Flacon Whitley nose turret is moulded integral with the nose glazing behind the turret, an so has no rear to the front turret. As an aside, it seems incredible that it was the front and not the rear manually operated turret that was replaced by a power turret first with the Mk III, especially on a night bomber where being intercepted from the stern was far more likely than a head-on attack.

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:


The rear Armstrong Whitworth turret was again scratch-built based on photos. It was necessary to widen the rear fuselage ad Airwaves resin turret base as these are far too narrow. I sued a wedge of plastic card to achieve this top and bottom. An Italeri Ju 86 provided the Lewis gun as this was in better condition than the Airwaves item. The Airwaves rear turret canopy was worthless, being moulded from wafer thin acetate, and of course was far too narrow. The turret canopy was sourced from Falconís Avro Anson replacement for the Airfix kit as the Anson (and the Oxford) used the same AW manual turret as the Whitley. A small ring to mount this on was made from thin zinc sheet and curved around a pen. The top of the Airwaves resin rear fuselage had to be extended and re-profiled to correct its appearance and closely cowl the Falcon turret canopy.

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:


The Whitley Mk II was the first fitted with an AW dustbin turret. These ineffective turrets were usually omitted from aircraft after the Mk III, although the hole they protruded through was retained for dropping parachutists. The basics of a dustbin turret were made from a scrap plastic pen barrel and its lowering and traversing frame were made from plastic card. This was kept very basic as very little would be seen later.



Fuselage

All windows were drilled, Dremeled and filed open as necessary. Additional ďskylightsĒ above the instrument panel were let in, as were the three windows either side of the dustbin turret behind the rear bomb-bay. The nose and rear fuselage doors were Dremeled open and their edges thinned down for scale effect. Later the Airwaves photo-etched doors would be added to each doorway. The two small windows behind the cockpit on either side were replaced with clear plastic from the spares box as the Frog items were a very poor fit.

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:


A rear fuselage floor was made using sections of corrugated Italeri Horsa glider floor. Internal framing was made form plastic card, as was the tail wheelís internal bracing structure.

It was necessary to cut and modify quite a bit of the fuselage. The rear fuselage was removed just to the rear of the elevator hinge line to accept the Airwaves resin rear fuselage to accommodate the AW manual rear turret. The cockpit roof was removed for later fitment of the Falcon vac-from canopy, and the forward coaming over the instrument was moved in a V-shape based on photos that show this followed the line of the windscreen. I fitted a support at the rear of the cockpit to enable later sanding at the join line of the canopy and fuselage. A type of raised vent behind the cockpit was opened up and its edges thinned down

The area where the Falcon nose turret and glazing were to fit was removed and then rebated with a Dremel to provide support when the vac-from glazing was fitted. The kitís lower turret ring area was Dremeled out to accept the scratch-built front turret and its ring was glued in place. The frog kit has a distinct lip below the front turret that is not apparent in photos. Consequently I removed the front parts of the fuselage either side of the bomb-aimerís window and inserted a plastic card plug and re-attached the nose pieces either side of the window. This extension made the noseís chin extend directly down from the turret ring.

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The bombsight was fitted and the bomb-aimers window super-glued in place. This caused some dramas later when it fell loose after the bomb aimerís window had been super-glued in place. It had to be repositioned after being fed through a tiny gap in front turret ring after this too had been permanently fitted in place.

I dip all my canopies in Future to prevent fogging when superglue ids used. The canopies were then faired in and other seams attended to as required. The kitís fine panel lines were replaced where damaged from sanding with fine stretched sprue. Bombay doors were scribed in as they are barely apparent so fine are the raised lines on the kit. A disc of 5 thou plastic card was cut to represent the bottom of the dustbin turret. The wing bomb cell doors (both inboard and outboard of the engine nacelles were represented with scored 5 thou plastic card, and the flaps were made with the same material. Finally, antenna wire posts and DF lop were made from scrap.

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Wings

The kit wings were a poor fit and a bit warped. These were cemented together without the undercarriage bays being fitted. A leading edge lamp was made from scrap and glazed with a section cut and sanded shape from a spare Hawker Hurricane canopy.

The kitís ailerons had an exaggerated fabric effect which was remedied with sanding and filler. The more I looked at the wing something seemed wrong; and I realised the Frise-type ailerons of the real plane were not represented properly as the aileron was the same dimensions top and bottom. This led to the ailerons appearing far too large on the upper wing. At the same time, and having primed the wings, I found that the kitís raised lines representing rib tapes on the fabric covered area aft of the wingís main spar and torsion box barely showed.

I decided to re-skin the fabric area of the wing in 5-thou plastic card to better represent the fabric effect and resize the ailerons. This involved filling the upper aileron hinge line, and drawing the wing rib stations onto the plastic card with a pencil whilst it was supported on a magazine to enable the pencil to create a soft raised line. The skins were then attached with MEK and blended in with Mr Surfacer and Tamiya filler. The skin was sanded gently to tone the effect down.

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Engines

The rear of the Airwaves resin radial Tiger engine cowls were scraped a little thinner and super-glued to the kitís engine nacelles. These were blended in using Tamiya putty which seems to adhere to the resin very well. The white metal oil coolers and carburettor intakes were added top and bottom, as were the white metal exhausts. Al white metal items, including the very nice propellers, were sanded and polished. Finally a pitot from piano wire was added and fine stretched sprue used to replace sanded raised panel lines.



Undercarriage

The kit undercarriage doors are very thick. These were thinned down with a Dremel, files and wet & dry paper. The interiors were lined with plastic card to hide seams, although I didnít detail this area as I canít see it when the finished model is in my display cabinet, plus I lacked reference photos.

The kit wheels donít look quite right because the tyres are too pointed at the mid-point of their tread areas (fixed by sanding), and because their sidewalls donít swell enough away from the wheel hubs. This is perhaps a minor point, and I decided it wasnít worth the effort to rectify after I found I had no wheels for a simple replacement.

I also shortened the tail wheel slightly as the tail seemed to sit to high. I canít be sure, but I do wonder if the tail wheel was lengthened to allow for the increase in fuselage length when a power rear turret was added.

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:



Tailplane

The tailplane was attached and the Airwaves resin fins and rudders fitted. The holes in the fins for the Frog kití very thick and circular tailplane bracing struts were filled with plastic rod and sanded flush. The corresponding very thick strut mounting points on the fuselage were removed as well. The struts themselves were made from Contrail strut section. Finally, small mass balances for the rudders were made from stretched sprue.

 

 

Painting and Markings

 

I chose to model a aircraft from 97 Sqn which operated Whitley Mk IIIís from Feb-39 to Apr-40. I considered modelling an aircraft based on photos, but didnít have the right combination of codes and serial number, so I used a Whitley Mk III serial number and made a representative aircraft. I must also admit that I was more interested in finishing than waiting to buy some decals, and didnít want to hassle modelling mates for more decal help than I already had.

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The aircraft was painted using Humbrol paints; for no other reason than it was what I chose to run with from my paint selection, plus itís easy to brush paint if small tough-ups are needed (they were!). The model was glossed with Testor's Metalizer Sealer. I chose to use a lacquer this time for speed and because of cold damp weather prevailing when I clear coated. Testors Matt Lacquer was used after decaling.

I used some Kits at War decals for squadron codes and wing roundels. They were nice enough decals, but the ink was printed off-register with the carrier film. This meant that they had a very thin edge on one side leading to the deals curling where no carrier film support existed. I canít comment on how they reacted to any solvents as none was needed. The fuselage roundels came from an Esci sheet simply because they were the size I needed. They were of predictably poor quality (although Iíve seen worse), and were prone to cracking and flaking at their edges. All roundels were placed over a previously sprayed area to suggest the real aircraftís outer yellow rings which were painted out with fresh paint. The aircraft serial number came from a suitably chopped and rearranged Matchbox HP Heyford sheet.

All canopies were framed with painted decal film, and the small fuselage windows, instrument panel ďskylightsĒ and the six windows either side of the dustbin turret were glazed with Humbrol Clearfix. Other finishing touches included the aerial wire, DF loop, rear gun sight and open fuselage hatches and ladder.

 

 

Conclusion

 

I am pleased with the final result in so far as it seems to capture the look of the early Tiger-engined Whitleys, and the additional work on detailing turrets, bomb-sight and cockpit interior are not lost thanks to the clarity of Falconís replacement canopies.

 

 

The actual standard of finish is far from IPMS competition standard, but quite adequate as a cabinet model which is good enough for my purposes. At some stage way off in the future Iíll build another Merlin engined Whitley, but that wonít be for quite a while. It has however whetted my appetite to build my Hampden and Stirling, Halifaxes WellingtonÖ..
 


Images and Text Copyright © 2005 by Mark Davies
Page Created 10 August, 2005
Last Updated 10 August, 2005

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