Airfix 1/72 Defiant I
KIT #: A02069
PRICE: GBP 7.99, which is about $11.75 USD
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Bill Michaels
NOTES: New tool kit- Airfix's best yet?



In 1935, the British Air Ministry issued a specification for a “Turret Fighter”.  The thinking at the time was that turret-armed fighters could get into the enemy bomber stream and be effective at bringing down enemy bombers, especially if they attacked from below and coordinated their fire.  


Of the seven designs submitted by various firms, Boulton Paul's was number two, behind the Hawker entry. B-P had experience with the 4-gun turret used, and their experience showed in their design. Normally being in second place doesn't win you a contract, but in this case, the Air Ministry wanted Hawker to focus on the Hurricane, so B-P ended up with an order for its design. There were two prototypes built, and then the aircraft went into production as the Defiant Mk I.  According to the Wikipedia article, 723 Mark I aircraft were built.


The first Defiant squadrons were formed at the end of 1939, and the first operational flights were in the summer of 1940.  The aircraft had some early success, as the turret was effective against enemy bombers.  The Defiant squadrons had some initial success against Luftwaffe fighters, too-  when German fighters would attack from the rear, mistaking the planes for Hurricanes. But the Germans soon learned that the Defiant was very vulnerable when attacked from the front.  Losses mounted, and the plane was soon withdrawn from use as a day fighter, and used for training and night fighter duties. 


Another factor that contributed to the Defiant being pulled from front line use was the high casualty rate among the gunners, compared to the loss rate of fighter aircrew in other types.  To bail out, the gunner had to rotate the turret to point 90 degrees off the aircraft's centerline, in order to be able to open the hatch on the rear of the turret. The extra time this took was undoubtedly a big part of the reason why fewer gunners escaped from the aircraft on the way down!  


Another unique feature of the gunner position was that there wasn't room for the gunner to wear a standard seat pack or backpack type of parachute.  Instead, he wore a “GQ Parasuit, commonly called a “Rhino Suit” by the crews.  It was a special all-in-suit that enclosed the parachute and inflatable life vest close to the body.  Gunners weren't too keen on it, but there was no alternative-- unlike in a bomber, you couldn't stow your chute close by in a Defiant.



 This is an all-new tooled kit, released at the start of 2015.  The kit includes a variety of parts for different configurations. You get parts to build the model gear down or gear up, and different configurations for the canopies. You get three different canopies – one with the streamlined fairing raised, one with it lowered, and one with the pilot's canopy open. You also get two version of the rear fuselage fairing- raised or lowered.  The kit also includes a pair of nicely sculpted pilot and gunner figures.


Markings for two aircraft are included in the kit-- a day fighter from 264 Squadron, July 1940, and night fighter from 151 Squadron, 1941.

The kit includes a comprehensive set of stencils, as part of the “common” decals used on on both aircraft. The instructions also come with a separate sheet that shows the stencil placement. I found it interesting that the fuselage squadron codes and roundel are all one large decal-- it makes placement and alignment easy, but I was concerned about the all the clear film connecting the letters. Also, the decals have a very flat sheen to them- which reminded me of old matchbox decals and such awful sheets. But my experience with the decals in other recent Airfix kits has been terrific, so I hoped and expected these would work out too.




The first thing you need to do is decide which version you're doing-- day or night fighter?  (There are different bits for each version.)  Right after that, you need to decide how to build the model-- wheels up or down?  Canopy and turret fairings raised for streamlined cruising or down to clear the firing arc for the turret?  Are you going to use the figures?    I was torn-- the only decision I was sure of before I started  was that this would be an OOB build of the Day Fighter version.  I decided to delay the other configuration decisions until I had to make them....


Construction starts with the cockpit.  You can't get far before you need to decide about the figures-- if you're going to use them, you need to paint and install at least the pilot before you close up the fuselage.  At this point I noticed that my pilot figure had a big molding defect-- a huge sink mark in the middle of his chest.  While I could fill the cavity with some filler, I'd lose all the nice uniform and harness detail.  So. In the end, I decided not to use the figures.   Also, I noticed that the gunner figure isn't wearing the “Rhoino Suit”-- he is sculpted just like a standard pilot.  So he would make a nice addition in another model, so I saved him for later.  (The pilot figure could still be used in a bomber or other aircraft with limited visibility into the interior.)


The cockpit has a decent amount of detail, with molded on the inside of the fuselage, a seat, control stick, and an instrument panel with some raised detail that worked well with the included IP decal.  I think the detail is fine, especially in this scale, given that the cockpit opening is so small.   The one thing the cockpit could benefit from would be the addition of some seatbelts-- especially if you're going to build it with an open canopy. 


Most of the basic airframe went together quite well, and fit of the parts was mostly quite good.  The only place I needed filler was a small amount on the fuselage joint on the top of the engine cowl. I did encounter one part that didn't fit at all--  the rear fuselage insert for the lowered fairing didn't fit at all-- it just fell into the fuselage. I was left wondering if I had done something wrong and made the opening too wide.  But then I tried the other part-- the fairing in the raised position and found that it fit fine.  So there was another decision made for me-- build the model with the fairings raised.  (It didn't occur to me until much later that I could probably have just sanded down the raised fairing piece to use as a replacement for the “lowered” piece. )



The model was painted with Tamiya acrylics. The underside was easy-- XF-21 Sky went everywhere.  I painted both sets of landing gear doors, as I still hadn't decided whether I'd built it wheels up or down.  After it had cured for a couple of days, I masked it off, and then applied XF-52 Flat Earth (brown) to the entire airframe.  I let that cure for a couple of days, and then used Silly Putty to mask for the XF-81  Dark Green.  After that dried, I removed all the masks, and set it aside to cure for a few days.   (They long cure cycles are because of my schedule-- I didn't have a lot of modeling time-- and  not because I think the Tamiya paints needed it!) 


While the paint was drying, I used my limited modeling time to work on other parts. I found it was easier to mask and paint the clear turret before attaching it to the rest of the turret parts.  I masked the turret framework with a mix of Tamiya tape and clear masking fluid. I them filled the turret with some Silly Putty to keep any overspray from coming through the gun slots and getting on the inside surfaces.   I then airbrushed the turret with MM cockpit black.  (It looks “black”, but isn't quite as jarring as pure flat black.)


A few words about turret color:   The Airfix instructions and box art made it look like the turret of the day fighter was painted black-  but that seemed odd to me.  I did a little researched, and posted some questions on a couple of forums frequented by people that know a lot about RAF aircraft.  I found that most planes did indeed have the entire turret black, while a few had the framing around the glazing black, but the lower part of the turret ring was the same green as the adjacent fuselage.  I didn't find a picture of “PS*U”, so I decided that Airfix was probably correct.  (Plus, it was easier to go with all one color!)


To prepare for decalling, I airbrushed a couple of light coats of Future clear acrylic on the entire model.  I let that cure for a day or so, and then was ready for decalling.   I started decaling my model with the stencils on the underside.  (They are the only markings on the underside of the plane.)  The decals went down well, and nestled down into the recessed detail with a little bit of decal solvent.


I then moved to the top side, and started applying the stencils there.   That's when I ran into a problem-- even though the model had a nice gloss coat, I couldn't get the tiny little topside stencils to go down without silvering. They were also hard to see on the dark paint, so after trying a couple of different techniques  to fix them, with no success, I gave up on them and decided not to use them.


When it came time to put the large fuselage decals on the model, I was really concerned-- I expected more trouble.  But they actually worked out well-- even though they looked bad when they went down.   The clear areas in the decals stood out like a sore thumb.  But I decided to go with them because this was an OOB build, and I didn't have any aftermarket decals on hand!  


In the end, the reason things looked bad was because the decals have a very flat sheen to them- so the clear portions of the decal stood out on top of the gloss-coated model.  The final flat clear made the paint match the decals, and the carrier film (finally) disappeared. 



I now had to make a decision- was I building the model wheels up or wheels down?   The club meeting was now only 2 days away, so I went with the expedient choice--  wheels up!  I know that several other reviewers (including one in a recent issue of Airfix Model World) had built the model wheels down, and there had been no complaints about the fit.  So I figured I'm covering part of the kit that no one else has reported on!


I found that the closed landing gear doors were a little long-- if you install them as supplied, they will bow out a little in the middle, and won't settle down flush with the wing surface.  I had to sand the tabs on the inboard ends, making them shorter, and thinner, so the doors would fit properly.  Once I did that, the doors fit so well I didn't need to glue them!  (So I could install the landing gear later, if I want to.)


Once the model was flat coated, the final details were put into place.  Because I built the model wheels-up, this was pretty easy.  I drilled a tiny hole in the radiator cover to hold the metal rod I'd be using to mount the model.  I attached the tail wheel, exhausts, and prop.  Getting the turret in place was a tight fit-- I ended up sanding a little off the forward edge to make it drop into place without needing a lot of force.  (You can't see the spot I sanded, so I didn't bother to repaint it.


The Defiant had a couple of radio antenna masts that are missing from the pictures.  There is a fixed mast that extends downwards from the center section of the wing, and another retractable one that extended from under the fuselage near the tail wheel.   I knew there was no way they'd survive the trip to/from my club meeting for the photo session, so I left them off until after the model was home for good.


One more omission:   After I got the model home from the photo session, I realized I never painted the tip of the spinner white.  I had intended to use a circle template to mask the spinner and airbrush the white on the tip.  But now that the model is complete, I'll probably just leave it be-- I'd be afraid I'd do more harm than good trying to paint it now!



Highly recommended.  


This is another winner from Airfix. It is a great little kit, and even more impressive because it only cost about $12.  The detail level is good, and fit is pretty good throughout. The kit isn’t perfect- but it is nicely done, at a very reasonable price, too!  Also, it is so much nicer than any of the old kits available in this scale—I think it makes the others essentially obsolete.   


Review kit courtesy of my wallet. When the kit first hit the market, it wasn't available here in the USA. I ended up getting mine thanks to a friend who was traveling to the UK—he was able to pick one up for about 8 pounds.   Since then,  I understand it has pretty much sold out,  but do not despair.   The kit will eventually appear in the US, either by itself, or as part of a Dogfight Double with the new Do-17z, which might be an even nicer kit than the Defiant! 


Special thanks to Pip Moss of the IPMS Patriot Chapter in Bedford, Massachusetts for taking all the great pictures.



Kit Instructions, Wikipedia, assorted modeling forums.


Bill Michaels

April 2015

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