|PRICE:||£15-00 (see notes below)|
|DECALS:||None in my sample|
|NOTES:||Available periodically under different labels.|
The Avro Shackleton was a fourth generation aircraft, evolved from a 1930s concept for a long range bomber for the Royal Air Force. The unsuccessful twin engine Manchester bomber evolved into the legendary four engine Lancaster, itself updated and improved in the form of the Avro Lincoln. The Lincoln’s sturdy wings were married to a new enlarged fuselage to form the basis of a long range maritime patrol aircraft for the RAF’s Coastal Command as the Shackleton MR.1, which first flew in March 1949. By 1951 the design had been modified as the MR.2 to carry twin 20mm cannon in the nose with a distinctive clear hood for the gunner, a triangular bomb aimer’s window in the flat fronted lower nose section and a clear vision streamlined tail fairing was fitted. In common with its Lancaster forebear the Shackleton featured a large weapons bay that was also able to accommodate airborne rescue equipment. The most distinctive feature of the Shackleton both visually and aurally was provided by its four mighty Rolls Royce Griffon engines driving six-bladed contra rotating propeller units. Its nickname of “Growler” was truly appropriate. 76 Mk.1 aircraft were delivered to the RAF and 70 Mk.2. The last version of the Shackleton was the further modernised MR.3 which first flew in 1953 and entered service in 1955. A tricycle undercarriage was fitted, shortening the weapons bay slightly and the wing altered to permit the fitting of tip tanks. Considerable internal alteration was carried out to improve crew comfort and new clear canopy was fitted over the flight deck. Exhaust extension tubes were fitted to carry the exhaust under the wings in an attempt to reduce noise in the cabin. Just thirty four Mk.3s were built for the RAF and it registered the type’s only export success when 8 were sold to the South African Air Force in 1957.
Versatile long range aircraft, RAF Shackletons were to be found anywhere around the World that the British had interests, until their retirement in 1971 in favour of the jet-powered NImrod. However 12 surviving Mk.2 aircraft were converted to a stop-gap Airborne Early Warning platform and trundled on until 1991.
In the maritime role, it would be the South African fleet that served the longest, from 1957 to 1984, a dwindling complement of No 35 squadron that relied upon the cannibalisation of higher houred aircraft until the last three Mk.3s were stood down in a ceremonial flypast on 23 November 1984.
This is my third attempt at this kit in some 47 years. I remember building it around 1967, when a brave and determined Frog company were going head to head with Airfix, Monogram and Revell in providing spectacular state of the art kits and this was one of Frog’s headline offerings. Even then, its highly riveted exterior caused some raised eyebrows and since there were no decal setting solutions in those days, I never saw a finished one that was free from silvering under the decals. The kit also appeared under the Hasegawa label, under a sharing arrangement between Frog and the newly emerging Japanese brand. My second attempt was in the late 1980s , in my pre-airbrush days. I wearily sanded off all of the rivets of my RAF version and I recall painting multiple coats of white to the fuselage roof to try and cover the dark blue plastic.
When Frog went out of business, in 1974, its aircraft kit moulds (of non-Nazi subjects) remained in production in the USSR and the Shackleton has subsequently appeared under different vendor labels such as Chematic, Museum, Novo, Eastern Express, even Revell. It reappears on the market with random frequency and can be found on sale with kit dealers, certainly in the UK, at the time of writing at prices around £25-00 to £30-00.
It was the release of the new Airfix Lancaster that set me off on the trail of a new theme - Avro “heavies”.
I spotted an original Frog Shack on a vendor’s table at the Duxford Spring Air Show in 2013. It was a familiar first series box with the lid illustration of a roaring Shackleton over a foaming sea. Even now I find that I am easily swayed by box art. But did I really want the hassle of that trip down memory lane? I must have walked past the vendors stall six times during the day and as the show wound down I went for a last look. It was still there. The downside – missing decals. The upside – mine for £15-00 cash. The deal was done.
I convinced myself that, having a first edition of the kit, it should have the crispest version of moulded parts and the clearest of transparencies, at least compared with some of the subsequent releases from the gradually ageing tooling that has come onto the market from that variety of sources over the years. Decals might have been a problem, but I found an excellent aftermarket source.
The parts were loose in the battered box, but, miraculously, all were present, even though many had broken off the sprues. Moulded in the original dark blue/grey rather brittle plastic, there was some flash on the parts but the legendary rivets, densely sprinkled over all of the major parts were crisp and sharp. And sharp they really are! You could abrade skin with them. The original instructions were there in 15 stages of pictograms printed in black and white in newsprint style. The large box is hinged so as be used as a building tray according to the “Top Model Tips” on the instructions. The bottom of the box has full colour 3 views of both versions available with the original decals, one from RAF Coastal Command and one from the South African Air Force. Now it may be rude to be picky after all these years, but if the box is the building tray would it not be a little tricky to have the colour information on the underside of that tray? This piece of modelling archaeology was complete with a packing slip that listed the wide range of Frog kits then available priced from 2 shillings and 6 pence (12.5 pence or about 20 cents) and a “16 page gaily coloured catalogue on sale at your local toyshop”. Packed into the cram full box was a large and spectacular display stand in bright red plastic.
I was delighted to find that the transparencies were commendably thin, clear and free from major scratches. The box enthusiastically proclaims that the kit has 147 parts and a 20” wingspan. Over the years the kit has been acknowledged as having reasonable proportions but apart from the over-enthusiastic application of rivets, it is quite starkly detailed. Interior features are no more than plain bulkheads; pilot seats and control columns and the undercarriage legs are heavy one-piece lumps, in the case of the latter no bad thing, since the kit seems to weigh a ton and requires a massive amount of nose weight. The basic shapes are all there and viewed from a 21st century perspective, this Shackleton is rather like a short run kit. I almost found myself looking for a bag of resin parts that does not exist.
Detailing is absent from the inside of the undercarriage and weapons bay doors although some attempt is made to provide raised detail to the roof of the bomb bay and the inside of the wing flaps. Both the bay doors and wing flaps are described as being moveable, as are the ailerons, elevators and rudders. In the manner of some kits of the period the wheels are over-simplified and the instructions direct that the nose wheels be installed by melting the axle ends with a heated knife blade. I opted to fix all of these movable features with permanently glued joints. With so many moving parts the kit has an almost toy-like quality.
There is nothing in the way of stores for the weapons bay, but the most glaring omission from the kit is the prominent pair of nose cannon and the mouldings give no hint that they ever existed.
For detailing, there is limited help available from the aftermarket since the Airwaves range offers an etched fret (no AEC72199) for the interior. This covers the main cockpit instrument panel, side consoles and seat belts and by way of a bonus, some exterior parts including engine grilles, wheel chocks, access ladder, dipole aerials and windscreen wipers. This is available from Hannants in the UK, price £6-12. The same company also offers a set of detailed wing flaps (AEC72198 at £13-27) but I decided not to push the detailing too hard and just settled for the interior set.
Although simple in its structure, the real slog with this kit is the preparation, since I set out to eliminate the rivets. First I carefully examined all of the external surfaces and identified the panel lines that I wanted to keep and scribed them in with a Trumpeter scribing tool and a steel straight edge. Eliminating the rivets took three days of modelling sessions and I estimate a total of ten hours of such work. I started off using 400 grade wet and dry paper on a cork sanding block, used wet with a very great deal of water, carefully guiding the sander around the various bumps and bulges on the airframe that must be retained. Next a medium grade sanding stick was used to get into the nooks and crannies around the wing roots, the nose structure and the under fuselage fairings. Any remaining rivets in the tightest corners were picked off with the tip of a scalpel blade. Next I sprayed a coat of auto primer from a rattle can over the external surfaces of all the parts that I had de-riveted, let it dry and then sanded all of the primer off. I reasoned that if the primer was removed, then so were the last of the rivets. All of the major components required de-riveting, the wings, fuselage halves, all tail surfaces, engine nacelles and bomb bay doors.
I began the build as a series of sub assemblies. The fuselage went together fairly easily with a series of interlinked bulkheads and floors to form the compartments around the nose area and bomb bay. A search of the internet disclosed a copy of the Revell instruction sheet that called out 42 grammes of nose weight. By some minor miracle I found a solid metal cylinder of 41 grammes in my “keep it forever in case it comes in handy” storage box and this was tacked in place in the nose compartment with epoxy filler. I kept cockpit detail to a minimum with the use of the Airwaves etched seat belts and instrument panel. The substantial nose leg was simply pushed in place unglued when the fuselage halves were stuck together and could be temporarily swung up into the wheel bay during construction. The whole of the main fuselage interior was left bare and simply painted dark grey, since little can be seek through the fuselage windows. In accordance with my plan to keep everything simple, the bomb bay doors were glued shut. The cannon locations were established by photo references and scribed onto the nose area.
The port and starboard wings came next. The moveable ailerons and flaps have rather clunky hinge arrangements and an excessive gap along the hinge lines. I cut off the hinge pivots and packed out the leading edges of the flaps and ailerons with strips of plastic card to tidy things up. The engine nacelles required a lot of fettling and filing to close up the joints and the main wheel legs, as with the nose leg, were given temporary “moveable” status to enable them to be folded out of the way during the build. These main undercarriage structures consist of a substantial one piece main leg and strut and a separate diagonal strut, each section plugged into the side of the nacelles. They were left “as is” without any additional detailing.
The tail surfaces are as over engineered as the wings, consisting of upper and lower panels for the horizontal surfaces with separate elevators and two part fins, each with a one piece rudder. I glued up all of the parts as non-moving, to eliminate any excessive gaps.
Both the wings and tail planes have substantial locating tongues to lock the components in place and the main wing/fuselage joint has the luxury of a substantial spar running from the inboard engines right through the fuselage.
The wing and tail assemblies were glued to the fuselage and the main transparencies fixed and masked up ready for painting. Small fuselage windows would be added at the finishing stage.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
After a light overall sanding the whole airframe received a coat of grey auto primer from a rattle can. The basic airframe is airbrush finished in PRU Blue XA 1008 from Hannants Xtracrylix range. The upper surfaces of the wings, engine nacelles and tail surfaces in XA 1005 Extra Dark Sea Grey. The cabin top received three thin coats of White from a rattle can of Tamiya Fine Primer. Propeller front spinners are Tamiya XF-7 Flat Red. The prop blades – all twenty four of them – are Flat Black with Yellow tips. Undercarriage legs and wheel hubs are Medium Grey. A thin wash of dirty brown was applied to the engine front intakes and exhausts to bring out the detail.
The airframe was prepared for the decals with two brushed coats of Future/Klear.
The problem of missing decals was solved with the discovery of MAV Decals from South Africa. (http://www.mavdecals.co.za)
This company has an amazing range of decals for aircraft operated on the African continent and its web site lists 100s of subjects in scales ranging from 1:144 to 1:32.This is a tour de force of specialist aviation decals and I was astounded by the range. They offer sheets covering all eight Shacks operated by the South African Air Force, featuring both the early type of insignia with an orange Springbok on a blue roundel and the later type “castle” insignia with a gold Springbok. I ordered the sheet “SAAF Shackleton (late version)” at 77 Rand, at 2013 exchange rates that’s about £4-90 in UK currency and with Air Mail charges I received my order in four days at a total cost of just under £10-00, which I consider to be great value for money. The sheet includes full serials, wing walks, national insignia and squadron badges and beautiful gold printing of the Springboks. The decals may have been generated by an ALPS-type printer since the instructions call out the need to spray the whole sheet with varnish before use and to cut out each subject close to its outline. The instructions are very brief and include a small 2-view in colour for one sample aircraft. A trawl through the web or a series of reference books is essential for further information. Fortunately the SAAF Shacks have been well filmed and photographed over the years.
The decals are incredibly thin and fragile, even after the recommended coat of varnish that is to be applied while they are still on the backing paper – in this case a coat of Future/Klear. They release from the backing paper almost immediately on contact with water, so no decal setting solution was needed. They are so thin as to tend to curl up easily and need great care in handling. I did not want to risk the long wing walk lines breaking up, so these were replaced with strips of yellow 1/64” decals from the Superscale range. It took a couple of days to complete the decals. They were sealed with an airbrushed coat of Xtracrylix Semi-Matt varnish.
The four sets of contra rotating rotating propellers need some care in setting up, since the rearmost set of blades have a reverse pitch to those of the front and they can be assembled incorrectly. Each unit consists of three blades that slip onto central shafts that carry the front and rear sections of the spinners. Parked Shackletons often have the front and rear propeller units lined up one behind the other with only a small amount of offset. I was pleased to find that, all those years ago, Frog had captured one of the subtle details of this aircraft, for the rearmost set of propellers are correctly moulded as having a slightly smaller diameter than the front ones.
The remaining small fuselage windows were glazed with Micro Kristal Klear, a method that I find useful since it saves fiddly masking of small windows during the construction and painting phase.
Photographs of SAAF Shackletons in service show them operating both with and without the nose cannon fitted, so I chose to model the type with them removed.
The undercarriage units were swung down and glued into position, then I added the wheels, undercarriage doors, aerials and the distinctive “spark plug” antenna to the fuselage spine. The towel rail aerials aft of the flight deck were made up from brass wire.
f you want an injection moulded Shackleton, this I still the only game in town. The outline shape looks fine to me, but it is a long slog to get there. Imagine a short run kit in terms of accuracy of moulding, but very basic in terms of detail. Preparation of the parts is as time consuming as a vacuform. A good deal of filler is required around the engine nacelles. The finished article is amazingly solid and heavy. The Shackleton Mk.3 is a big aircraft and its menacing bulk looks suitably impressive in my collection. The build is not complex but justifies steady work. There is scope for much more super detailing for those who have the skill and inclination.
Still recommended after all these years.
Avro Shackleton by John Chartres, Ian Allen Publishing 1986.
Avro (Hawker Siddeley) Shackleton Mks. 1 to 4. Profile Publications (No 243), 1972
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