|KIT:||Classic Airframes 1/48 Westland Wyvern S.4|
The Westland Wyvern was conceived to a similar operational requirement to that which resulted in the Douglas Skyraider - a single-seat, long-range torpedo-strike-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated from the latest British fleet carriers. The aircraft that would eventually become the Wyvern was originally seen as a high-performance day fighter that would have the additional ability to carry a torpedo for the shipping strike role.
Finally born into the slower-paced world of 1946, the Wyvern Mk.1 first appeared powered by the Rolls-Royce Eagle piston engine, which was not without its problems. While the similar Skyraider was already entering squadron service, it was decided to update the aircraft with a then-new turboprop, which was seen as the powerplant of choice for naval aviation in that it would provide higher speeds while keeping the range of a piston-powered airplane. Unfortunately for the Wyvern, Their Lordships of the Admiralty decided to power it with the Armstrong-Siddeley Python rather than the Rolls-Royce Clyde, an engine that would turn out to be far more amendable to the requirements of deck operations than the Python. This decision added at least two years to what became a ten year development program, while the throttle control arrangements of the Python were brought to the point where the Wyvern - as it was named in 1947 - could both cut power quickly in order to land aboard, or add power quickly to execute a go-around from a missed approach.
After much developmental hemming and hawing, the Wyvern S.Mk.4 finally arrived in the Fleet Air Arm in May 1953, albeit with aircraft incapable of being used aboard ship. Further incremental development resulted in the throttle problem finally being cured, and Wyverns first went to sea on HMS “Albion” in September 1954. Even then, there was more development as a result of experience, with the Python engine continuing to create problems, such as flameouts asa result of fuel starvation under high-G loading.
The final modification of the S.Mk.4 which appeared in early 1956 and was visually identifiable by the removal of the curved windscreen over the flat armored glass, a strengthened canopy, and dive brakes added under the wing center section, resulted in an airplane that still didn’t provide the performance that was needed, and only continued on into operations due to the fact there was no alternative. The airplane was so short-ranged that it needed a large centerline fuel tank in addition to the wing tanks, which meant it could not carry a torpedo, and when it was carrying enough fuel to have an adequate range, it could not get off a carrier deck even with a catapult while carrying its maximum ordnance load.
As the largest prop-driven single-seat airplane to go aboard Royal Navy carriers, the Wyvern was a temperamental beast at sea and the first squadron on operations had to be left off at Malta due to high operational losses.
In February 1956, 830 Squadron commissioned at Ford and went aboard HMS “Eagle” in April 1956. The squadron’s 16 aircraft became the only Wyverns to see combat when they participated in Operation Musketeer - the Anglo-French intervention in the Suez War of 1956. By this point, 830 Squadron only had nine serviceable Wyverns aboard ship. They mounted the first attack on November 1, 1956, attacking Egyptian airfields near the canal. A total of 79 sorties were flown by November 6 when the operation was called off. Two Wyverns were lost, at least one to ground fire.
830 Squadron was decommissioned at Ford in February 1957, its aircraft and those of 831 Squadron being taken over by newly-commissioned 813 Squadron, which went aboard HMS “Eagle” in May 1957 for a tour of duty lasting until March 1958 when the squadron was decommissioned and the Wyvern left front-line naval service after a total career just short of four years, during which it had never lived up to the potential expected of it.
33 Wyverns were lost to all causes during its operational career. All remaining airframes were melted into scrap during 1959. The only surviving Wyvern is the Eagle-powered Mk.1, VR137, on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton. It holds the distinction of being the only turboprop-powered Royal Navy aircraft to ever see combat.
The Wyvern has been a favorite of mine ever since as a wee young aeronut I picked up “The Aircraft of the World” by William Green and Gordon Swanborough at the local library. The book was an eye-opener: the first I had found with detailed information and photographs of airplanes, and some of them even had detailed three-view drawings; thus was I introduced to good technical aviation history by two of the best writers ever (one of whom I would work for 25 years later). And one of the airplanes deemed deserving of those newfangled three-view drawings was something called the Westland Wyvern. I didn’t know a thing about it; I just liked its look. I still do. And I laugh every time I think of the Very Well Known Modeler who took a look at one of my Wyvern models at the 1988 IPMS Nats and proclaimed it a “what-if” model that didn’t belong in the 1/48 Naval Aircraft category since something that looked like that could never have been actually produced. So much for Model Gods.
In 1/48, there have been two previous kits of the Wyvern, both vacuforms. One was a very primitive vacuform that expected the modeler to create everything past the basic shape, produced by ID Models, while the other was a very advanced vacuform that provided everything a modeler needed to create a beautiful model, produced by Dynavector. In fact, Dynavector’s Wyvern has been their best-seller for the ten years since its first release. With the addition of the Compass Rose resin cockpit designed by Roy Sutherland, it’s a kit that’s hard to beat.
And yet, it has been beaten. The new Classic Airframes Westland Wyvern is the most accurate kit so far released of this strangely-beautiful airplane. I didn’t realize this fact until I got this kit and compared it with my Dynavector model, but the Dynavector kit has the fuselage at the original length before it was cut back for cooling purposes early on in the development of the Mk. 4, with the spinner the length it should be for the late version with the cut-back forward fuselage. The result of this is that the Dynavector kit is 12 scale inches too long - for those of you who have the kit and intend to build it, this is not an insoluble problem if you do the exact same thing Westland did. However, Classic Airframes got it completely right, scaling out with an overall fuselage length of 42 feet, 1/4 inch - dead-on.
The kit builds up as the definitive late-production S.Mk.4, with the added-on dive brakes on the lower wing center section, the wing fences inboard of the ailerons to prevent aileron snatch, the late production windscreen with the flat armor glass, and the late canopy with the metal framing for strength. Given all this, it will not be possible to make the kit up as the early-version S.Mk.4, VZ794, of 827 Squadron aboard HMS Eagle in 1955, for which decals are provided, without removing the dive brakes, the wing fence and changing the windscreen. There is, however, no problem in doing the other two aircraft for which decals are provided - and it is likely that the overwhelming majority of modelers will go for the 830 Squadron Wyvern with its “Suez stripes” from Operation Musketeer. The decals are by MicroScale and are excellent.
The kit also provides the vertical camera ports in the lower rear fuselage only as engraved circles, which a modeler can choose to open or not - in my case they will be opened and suitable windows made from Butyrate.
As regards what’s in the box, the model is very simply designed. My only complaint is the way that the separate rudder was molded and intended to be attached, since it leaves a great bloody seam across that part of the vertical fin where there are not supposed to be any seams - lots of Mr. Surfacer and careful work with sanding sticks will be involved in finishing this off successfully.
Having already dived into this much-anticipated kit like a ravening beast, I can tell you that there are some definite problems regarding the fit of the wing sub-assembly to the fuselage sub-assembly. Be sure to test-fit, re-test-fit, and re-re-test-fit. I discovered that the wing was nearly 1/16 inch too thin in cross section at the root to fit properly to the fuselage. I made some wing spars from 25-thou plastic and with a little pushing and shoving managed to increase the wing thickness to the right dimension. I also needed to push a piece of 15-thou plastic card in between the resin wheel well and the upper wing on both sides, to increase the leading edge curvature on the upper wing surface. I also had to fiddle with the under-fuselage joint fore and aft for the wing. Once I did all that, the fit of the two major sub assemblies was very easy, and none of the modifications were hard at all, though again one will need to bring out the Mr. Surfacer and the sanding sticks.
I also should note that the plastic of my kit was very shiny, as was the case with my Classic Airframes Defiant kit. This means there is too much oil in the plastic. You will need to “scuff up” that surface with some paint thinner, and perhaps a good sanding-down with 600-grit sandpaper, or the paint you will be applying will have nothing to grab onto, with the result - if you don’t do this - being something you really, really don’t want to be involved in trying to save when the inevitable disaster occurs. Trust me on that one. (I have noted this problem more and more frequently with kits coming from eastern Europe - it’s not a complaint about this kit or any other, merely a heads-up that the cost of oil-base products is going up with the result that cheaper-quality basic materials are what is available at prices that make ultimate retail sense.)
Other than the problems noted above - which aren’t that hard to deal with - this is an easy kit to assemble and looks to make up into a very good model indeed of one of the strangest naval aircraft to ever take flight. Highly recommended to those who love naval aviation and/or weird British airplanes (as I do in both cases).
Review Kit courtesy of Hannant’s.
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