Airfix 1/72 Fulmar I
|NOTES:||Reboxed Vista kit|
Some aircraft from World War Two seem destined to be permanently under-rated; less glamorous perhaps than cutting edge fighters or heavy bombers, their exploits confined to less spectacular campaigns or perhaps employed in the early war period when defeat was more common than victory. The Fairey Fulmar encompasses some of these factors for history tends to treat its contributions as footnotes in the story of Allied victory. Yet the record shows that it was an excellent aircraft for its time, in battle it had a surprisingly good kill ratio and it served the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in significant numbers.
The Fulmar originated in response to a technical requirement issued to Britain’s aircraft manufacturers in 1938, in a remarkably far-sighted move to provide the fleet with a fighter that had a similar eight .303in gun armament to RAF types of the period such as the Hurricane or Spitfire. Contemporary thinking dictated that the aircraft should carry an Observer (navigator) to assist the pilot in long over water lights. The result was a purpose-built naval aircraft, not a landplane lash up hastily adapted for naval use. Deck arrester gear, catapult spools, folding wings and naval equipment were all incorporated. Fitted with a 1,300hp Rolls Royce Merlin engine and with an all up weight of 10,000lbs the Fulmar was, at 230 mph maximum cruising speed, a full 100mph slower than a Spitfire or similar single seat fighter of the period. It was, however, a sweet flying machine and not difficult to land on a carrier deck. It is also remarkable for the speed with which it went into service for the first prototype flew on January 4 1940 and the first production aircraft were in combat in the Mediterranean theatre in September of the same year.
The Navy had not anticipated going to war against land-based enemy fighters so the Fulmar had what was considered an adequate specification for protecting naval assets against probable threats such as enemy long range bombers. The ammunition carried, at 750 rounds per gun, was twice that of a Spitfire of the period and the patrol endurance of five hours was comfortably in excess of that of a single seat fighter. So, heavy with the extra crew member, the weight of ammunition and fat with fuel the Fulmar was never expected to be a twinkle-toed dog fighter, but it was a rugged and efficient armed reconnaissance and fleet defence aircraft that could hold off enemy bombers. Unusually for the time, the occupant of the rear cockpit was provided with no defensive armament, although in service some squadrons unofficially provided a hand held Thompson sub-machine gun for emergency use.
The Fulmar II was fitted with a 1260hp Merlin 30 engine, intended to provide commonality with the Navy’s planned Barracuda strike bomber and could be distinguished externally for the Mark.I by external tropical filters located on the sides of the nose intake.
The Fulmar gained its honours in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea throughout 1941 and 1942. Support for the besieged island of Malta was only possible through convoy support and aircraft ferrying though Gibraltar and Fulmar squadrons were in the thick of the action, at times acting as navigational guides for groups of Hurricanes and Spitfires on their long overwater journey to the island. Nos 803 and 806 sqn.s operated from the carrier Formidable during the vicious battle for Crete, claiming 56 enemy aircraft destroyed. The Fulmar operated on anti-submarine patrols in the Straits of Gibraltar where its long loiter time and heavy forward armament could be put to good effect. 809 and 844 Sqns from the Victorious provided low level fleet cover for the vital Operation Pedestal relief convoy to Malta, in August 1942.
Fulmars were withdrawn from the squadrons in early 1943 as faster and more agile Seafires became available. Small numbers were converted to night fighters for trails and training use but it was never employed as a front line night fighter.
Some 600 Fulmars were built (250 Mk.I, 350 MK.II.), yet only 40 are recorded as lost to enemy action in combat. Over 125 enemy aircraft were claimed as victories by Fulmars – more than any other British naval aircraft.
This kit had been languishing on the shelves of my LHS for over two years when it finally persuaded me to take it home.
The mouldings seem to have appeared under a number of different labels in recent years originating with Vista in Eastern Europe and variously boxed by Smer, Revell and , as in this case, Airfix.
Outside of snap and fix kits, they do not come much simpler than this offering. Just 37 parts in pale grey plastic of medium density and three in clear. Surface detail is engraved in a crisp and reasonably subtle manner, with just a trace of flash around some of the parts that was easily stroked away with a scalpel blade. Instructions are an 8-page A4 booklet in greyscale and the standard kit offers two colour finishes. First is a standard 1941 scheme for a Fulmar I of 806 Sqn. of HMS Illustrious, 1941, with upper surfaces of Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Sky under surfaces. The second is the rarer NF. MkII night fighter in RAF-style camouflage of overall Sea Grey Medium with Dark Green patches over the upper surfaces. This is from the shore based training squadron, no. 784 from Royal Naval Air Station Donibristle, 1944. Decals are nicely printed with good register and the colours, particularly the dull red of the national insignia are convincing for the period. However the sheet is simple and no airframe stencilling is provided.
Parts are provided for both Mk.I and Mk.II versions, whereby the MK.II has two additional cheek intakes to the sides of the lower nose intake. The instructions also note that the Mk.II night fighter version requires two small exhaust flame dampers to be made from thin card
Commencing with one long floor section that reaches from the pilot’s cockpit through to the observer’s rear compartment, the interior is simplicity itself. The pilot has a seat, control stick and rudder pedals, the observer a bucket seat only. Two small bulkheads divide the front and rear compartments and a small instrument panel completes the interior. I decided to keep it all simple for this build with minimal alteration so the crew seats were treated to seat belts fashioned from masking tape and nothing further. The interior was painted in Xtracrylix XA1010 Aircraft Grey Green, with the instrument panel picked out in black and the seat belts in a dark brown wash. The fuselage halves were quickly closed up, adding a small blanking plate within the nose intake and an insert in the lower rear fuselage which incorporates the arrester hook housing. Throughout the build I was impressed with the good fit and positive location of the parts. This is a well-engineered kit. The wing consists of a one piece full span lower section with separate upper wing halves, simple and effective with no worries about setting dihedral. The only real limitation of this kit is the see-through wheel wells, so the edges of the wells were lined with strips of plastic card as a representation of the wing’s internal structure. I made a small modification under the centre section where the mould maker has formed a pair of solid triangles to represent the catapult spools and I substituted two sections of plastic rod to hint at the tubular framing that exists in this area.
The horizontal tails were added next and the basic airframe left overnight to dry before some light attention from sanding sticks and a coat of grey auto primer from a rattle can. No significant areas of filler were found to be necessary.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
I used Xtracrylix XA 1005 Extra Dark Sea Grey, XA1007 Sky and XA1025 Dark Slate Grey. For the Sky Grey I used Tamiya XF-80 Royal Light Grey. This four colour scheme required a little more masking than usual, but nothing too difficult, although masking the 23 separate areas of glazing on the canopy provided a separate evening’s entertainment.
The exhaust pipes were picked out in dark bronze with a dark colour wash. The propeller and spinner were Tamiya XF-1 Black with the prop tips picked out in yellow. The airframe was airbrushed with my Iwata HP-C and the paint overlaid with a brush coat of Future/Klear in preparation for the decals, which went on without any drama, having good adhesion and colour density. The only challenge came in getting the large tail fin red/white/blue decals to conform without leaving a nasty join at the leading edge and in the end I resorted to using two sets, one from the Hannants aftermarket sheet and one from the kit-supplied Airfix set to get satisfactory coverage. The colours from each sheet matched perfectly, suggesting that they may be from the same source. I used off cuts from the unused roundels to make the red-brown patches on the wing leading edges that cover the gun apertures.
The decals and paintwork were sealed in with an air brushed coat of Xtracrylix Flat varnish.
The three-strut main gear legs are stoutly moulded in one piece and have a good positive fit in the wheel wells. Main gear doors are moulded in one piece and the inner and outer sections have to be separated but this is easily done with a straight cut from a scalpel blade.
Then it was just a case of adding the prominent landing light in the leading edge, roof aerial, pitot tube under the Port wing, tail wheel and the arrester hook
Simple, straightforward, stress-free and fun. What more could I ask from a project? Low cost too. Recommended.
Today, the sole remaining Fulmar is on public display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, England. It is the first prototype, which survived as a Fairey company communications aircraft post-war, being finally retired for museum display in 1962. Today it sits, quiet and unassuming, with its wings folded along its flanks, in a tight space that links two galleries of that fine aviation museum. Visitors can sweep past, eager to see the Avenger, Hellcat, Sea Fury or Seafire in the main display. There is just the faintest hint of irony in this, for once again it is all too easy to overlook the Fulmar. It is worth just stopping awhile for this under-rated shipboard star. It met its design specification, went promptly into service, was reliable, effective and gave valuable service until replaced with more sophisticated equipment. It did the job.
Warplanes of the Second World War, Vol. 2, Fighters by William Green. Macdonald 1961.
Profile No 254, Fairey Fulmar Mks. I & II, by David Brown. Profile Publications Ltd., 1973.
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