Airfix 1/72 Lancaster B.III (special)

KIT #: A09007
PRICE:  £29.99 SRP ($42.99 in the US)
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Frank Reynolds
NOTES: New tool kit


Avro Lancaster. A legend. Borne out of necessity by a redesign of the unsuccessful twin-engine Avro Manchester, the Lancaster was recognised as a primary tool of the Royal Air Force in prosecuting a strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany between March 1942 and May 1945. It was good but imperfect; of some 7300 built nearly half were lost in action; its defensive armament was considered poor to pathetic by the standards of the day and its underside was cruelly vulnerable to night fighter attack. Its undoubted assets were a long range, surprising agility for such a large machine and an unusually large and uncluttered weapons bay that was adaptable to a wide range of weapons. Its interior was dark and cramped and passage down the length of the fuselage was hampered by the intrusive bulk of the wing spar. Powered by four reliable Merlin engines the Lancaster was altered relatively little during its four-year production cycle but detail differences between sub-variants make it an interesting challenge for the researcher and modeller. Mk.I airframes are essentially an all-British affair with Rolls Royce engines, Mk IIIs are powered by the US-built Packard Merlin.

Much of the legend of the Lancaster was forged in one operation in the dark days of early 1943, when Britain was slogging its way through the middle years of that awful conflict. The strategic bombing campaign had yet to build any momentum and bombing accuracy was questionable with a large percentage of bombs dropped missing their target by hundreds of yards – in some cases by miles. Little wonder then,  that a sensational attack on the Ruhr region dams in Germany’s industrial heartland should go down in history as a momentous feat of arms. The legend was compounded by the fact that the specialist 617 Squadron had formed at short notice, trained in a matter of weeks, used a new and untried form of weapon and had flown in the dark at ultra -low level over hostile territory to achieve their success.

19 Lancasters were specially adapted for the raid with defensive armament stripped to a minimum.

The cost to the attackers was high. Of those 19 aircraft that set out from Scampton, Lincolnshire on 16th May, only 11 would return in the early hours of the 17th. The 8 losses represent 42% casualties, for 53 aircrew had perished and just 3 survived as POWs.


The Lancaster in 1:72 scale has been a staple of kit manufacturers for decades. Airfix brought one to the marketplace around 1960 and replaced that offering in 1990. The now defunct brands of Frog and Matchbox took their turn in committing the legend to plastic. Revell brought their version in the late 1960s and in turn provided a wholly new replacement to 21st century standards a few years back. Hasegawa, too have a competitive product to current standards, so it is no real surprise that the newly resurgent Airfix should rise to the challenge of providing a good quality Lancaster in this brand new moulding.

 Unusually Airfix has chosen the modified dams raid version as its first release of the kit, although this appears to be a conscious decision to co-incide with the 70th anniversary of the raid. Contained in a stout top-opening box, the parts are crisply and cleanly moulded in a pale grey plastic, together with a frame of clear parts and well printed decals giving a choice of two aircraft. All of the specially modified elements of the B.III special are present, the cut away weapons bay, support arms and chain drive for the rotating mine and the mine itself which may be posed next to the aircraft on a special ground handling trolley. The kit contains a wide range of alternative parts applicable to a standard Lancaster I/III none of which are applicable to the variant boxed. These include full size bomb bay doors, early type needle blade propellers, unshrouded exhaust pipes, mid upper turret and fairing, two-gun Rose-type tail turret, plain side windows to the pilot canopy, shallow type bomb aiming blister, oval nose window. Absent, however, are any bombs other than the special mine and the kit only provides the shorter type astrodome to the rear of the main canopy.There is only one type of tail wheel on offer, with a grooved tyre and some sources suggest that the 617 Sqn aircraft had the earlier type of smooth tyre.

With this mass of unused parts there is clearly much scope for more Lancasters to come from these mouldings. This provides a generous harvest for the spares box, but since Airfix is not inclined to include parts frames diagrams in their instructions nor to identify parts “not for use”, a careful study of the instructions is required. The instructions run to a 24-page A4 size book in black and white, detailing no less than 110 constructional stages.

A separate 2 page full colour leaflet gives a choice of aircraft for Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy, a US citizen in the Royal Canadian Air Force or that of Flight Lieutenant Robert Barlow of the Royal Australian Air Force. I chose to model the Barlow aircraft in tribute to the fact that he and his crew were among the heroes who did not return from the raid.

The main wheel tyres have a subtle flat moulded onto them. Neat touches abound throughout the kit. The main undercarriage doors each have a steadying strut moulded on and this simplifies alignment at the finishing stage. There is a tiny decal for the navigator’s table forming a clearly identifiable map of North-West Europe.

This is a kit that requires time and patience in the build working progressively from one stage to another. There is some scope to build up sub-assemblies for those who like to take that route.


Assembly begins with the interior, using the long bomb bay roof as the fuselage floor and building up the flight deck in the nose area. Good basic details are provided with the pilots’ instrument panel and throttles, internal bulkheads and tables for the navigator and flight engineer. The crew seats are reasonably well detailed, but for some reason the radio operator has no seat. The fuselage windows are provided as clear strips, but I chose to omit these and install windows of Micro Kristal Kleer at the painting stage. Two stout wing spars are fitted across the floor assembly at this stage. Blanking plates are provided for the mid upper and ventral gun turret positions, since this armament was omitted for most dams raid aircraft. The kit nevertheless provides the single hand held belly gun that was fitted to McCarthy’s aircraft. Much of the interior is the standard medium green of the period, with the cockpit walls in night black. My current choice of finishes come from Tamiya Acrylics using XF-71 IJN cockpit green and XF-1 black.

Closing up the fuselage halves proved to be quite a chore, since my kit had quite the most distorted fuselage halves I have found in years. The components are certainly complex, featuring cut outs for the many windows, cockpit and turret openings and bomb bay, but my samples must have left the mould too soon and were both twisted and warped. It took a couple of days of progressive gluing and strapping to get them to close up and a good deal of filler along the fuselage spine. However having subsequently examined other kits at my LHS, I feel that I might have just been unlucky. There are two prominent windows on the fuselage spine that Airfix have omitted. They are shown as solid on the kit parts, so I drilled them out, to be finished later with Kristal Kleer.

Attention now turns to the wings and this concentrates the mind. The wheel wells are built up with fore and aft ribs between the front and rear wing spars that poke out from the fuselage centre section. Then the upper and lower wing halves are glued together while trapping the spars and wheel wells inside. It works, and works well but a clear head and plenty of dry runs will pay dividends. Next the tailplane halves were added but I left the fins until much later since they would be painted and added separately. The basic airframe was left for a couple of days to harden, while the engine nacelles were built as separate assemblies – a perfectly straightforward exercise and once everything had dried they simply slip in place under the wings.

Now the awkward part, for the main gear legs must be added next and will stick out and dangle around for the whole of the rest of the build. Not my ideal, but I am not clever enough to work my way around it.

At this stage I painted the main airframe in camouflage colours and most of the doors and fairings that were still on the parts frames.

The whole airframe was then propped upside down on the work bench while the underside was detailed. The main gear assembles are well detailed and sturdily engineered. I needed some reference to photographs to pick out the black legs with silver detailing and I used a colour wash to dirty it up a little. Airfix offer dropped wing flaps and I chose this option so that the green painted flap interior provides some contrast against the black undersides. The modified bomb bay proves the educational value of modelling since there is a small concealed electric motor to spin the bomb and the small spotlights under the nose and bomb bay that provided the crews with height measurements at ultra-low level.

The final challenge came in masking off the gun turret transparencies, done by carefully slicing Tamiya/Kabuki tape – necessary since I have not yet found any after market masks for this new kit. The turret frames are clearly defined and their interior frameworks have enough detail to be convincing to my eye. Then on with the props., a few aerials, stand back and look.


 The decals went on without fuss and reacted well to Micro Sol and Set. There is little in the way of stencilling but the prominent wing walk lines are crisp and clearly defined.

The Lanc. was painted as follows: Dark Earth, Xtracrylix XA1002; Dark Green, Tamiya XF-81; Black, Tamiya X-18 Semi Gloss Black; all flatted down with a coat of Xtracrlix Matt varnish. The area on the fuselage spine, where the mid upper turret was removed, was painted over in a noticeably different colour when the Lancasters were modified for the Dams Raid. Arguments continue as to the exact colour but I went for the school of thought that says it was a form of primer, so the area was marked out in pencil using the redundant turret fairing as a pattern and then hand painted in Tamiya XF-62 Red Brown.

I used just a hint of weathering by tracing the exhaust staining on the wings with a blow over of Tamiya Smoke X-19. This should be subtle since the aircraft were virtually new when issued to the squadron. There are only three exhaust trails over the upper surface of each wing due to the effect of the dihedral on the outer wing panel which causes the exhaust from the outboard side of the outboard engines to pass straight under the wing.


I liked it. This was a satisfying exercise. There were some niggles with warped parts, but nothing that could not be corrected. The kit is well engineered, the decals are comprehensive and of good quality. It certainly supplants Airfix’s old 1990 version of the  kit.

I liked it sufficiently to place an order with my LHS for the forthcoming Lancaster II.

The small query? It sells for £29-99 in the UK and goes head to head in the market place with Revell’s equally comprehensive version which sells at £18-99. I think that the Airfix offering is the better kit, but is it 63% better?


“Lancaster, The Story of a Famous Bomber”, Harleyford Publications, 1961

“The Dambusters Raid” by John Sweetman, Cassell 2004

 Frank Reynolds

July 2013

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