Airfix 1/72 Hampden I

KIT #: A04011
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Ryan Grosswiler
NOTES: Do a model then do it again!

   Named for the 17th-century nobleman who stood up to King Charles' oppressive taxation policies, setting off the English Civil War, the Handley-Page Hampden stemmed from a 1932 RAF specification (which also produced the Wellington) for a new generation of bombers with much higher performance than the Harts, Heyfords, and Sidestrands in service at the time. Compared to these open-cockpit biplanes it was replacing the Hampden must have looked like a product of science fiction when the prototype was rolled out for its maiden flight in 1936. The first couple of aircraft sported an angular and very ugly glazed bombardier's position, but this was soon given over to a much more pleasing rounded nose.
  Intended to be in a class of its own, able to look after itself unescorted in daylight raids deep into the enemy heartland, the design was given a crew of four; pilot, bombardier-nav, and two wireless operator/gunners facing aft at the root of the tail boom--all of them squeezed into a very narrow fuselage that earned the type a variety of nicknames was built in halves to ease construction. Touring the Handley-Page factory, North American's "Dutch" Kindelberger would apply many of the techniques he observed to his own P-51 Mustang. While infamously cramped, the cockpit did give the pilot a great view any direction he could turn his head and the aircraft was actually quite maneuverable. As one pilot put it, "a magnificent aircraft to fly, a miserable aircraft to fly in." The manufacturer advertised it as a "fighting bomber" and gave the pilot a forward-firing gun, implying that the bomber would actually pursue and shoot down enemy aircraft. 
   When war came reality, of course, turned out quite differently. Like all RAF twin-engined bombers its huge losses stemmed less from any flaw in the design but in a tragic combination of fervent hope and bad tactics that themselves originated in the very optimistic assessments of prewar planners regarding their bombers' survivability in hostile airspace. A maneuverable, armed bomber maneuverable relative to other bombers did not in fact imply 'able to engage in combat with fighters'.  Worse, these assessments had been formulated in that strange, brief period of the mid-30s that the new monoplane bombers were entering service while slower biplane fighters were still the mainstay alongside. In a very short time afterward fighter technology had caught up and not only were these bombers easily caught but enemy fighters were not dissuaded in the slightest by the defensive fire of a rifle-caliber machine gun or two. It was a rising squadron commander and Hampden pilot named Guy Gibson who would gain his initial experience on this platform, dropping the RAF's first 2000-lb. bomb from the type and later flying it to win the Victoria Cross in part for his attack on the battleship Tirpitz. 

  After service in Bomber Command's night raids against the Reich the Hampden passed to other duties at the end of 1942 as the RAF began shifting to four-engined equipment with the Lancaster and Halifax and got better at what they were doing. Unlike the Wellington, or even the Whitley, the extremist design did not have much adaptability and faded away quickly, lingering for a while in training squadrons. It soldiered on for another year or two dropping torpedoes with Coastal Command and the Soviets who were given about a dozen. Despite being in wide service and operated by over 25 wartime squadrons, the Hampden seems to have not really distinguished itself in any particular way or operation, except by being one of the main types the pre-war RAF learned hard lessons about night flight, long-distance navigation, and strategic aerial offensives, none of these in which the force was highly skilled before the war.
   The design's inherent inflexibility is referenced in the fact that it only saw service in one version (aside from the abortive Napier-engined Hereford), with no modifications worthy of note besides wedging in one more gun at each rearward-facing station. While a fine-handling aircraft with good bomb load, the Hampden was cursed by excessive crew size, that human-factors nightmare fuselage width which also prevented the easy installation of a defensive gun turret, a wing which would not fly any faster even with a more powerful set of engines, and the fond belief that a bomber with such pathetic defensive armament could survive in daylight raids deep over enemy territory. For the record, the concept of a fast, invulnerable bomber operating on its own did finally work out in the form of the deHavilland Mosquito. And the F-117. But this work is still always best done at night.

   No Hampdens were preserved for posterity, but there are at least three wreck-restoration projects in work including a remarkably comprehensive one by the RAF Museum in Cosford.

  Mine was an old grey box edition, molded in jet black and probably an original 1968 issue. Typical fare for the period; lots of raised detail in the form of rivets and panel lines--though these are all quite fine. No interior to speak of besides some floors and four bland crew figures. Engines are a little lame, just a set of skinny cylinders shallowly molded into a backer plate. Landing gear, wheels, and guns are all by contrast very nicely molded and detailed--even if the guns are a tad overscale. Separate parts allow the bomb bay doors to be posed open or closed.
  Clear parts are thick and full of distortion. Falcon comes to the rescue with a comprehensive vacuform replacement in Clear-Vax Set #8. AZ Models makes an injected correction set intended for the Valom kit which might fit this one, too, if working with vacuform clear parts causes you cardiac issues.
  Decals were totally shot from four decades of storage and probably not good to begin with. Though Airfix very generously replaces them free of charge in cases like this and Print Scale offers a sheet chock-full of interesting Hampden options, I decided to raid my decal stash instead.
  A check against photos and the plans in the Warpaint title reveals two very minor discrepancies: the wingtips are too rounded and the propellers stick out too far forward from the cowls.



   Nothing really challenging here, except what the modeler self-imposes. The kit goes together without any issues. I built up an interior for the visible portions under the canopies in the usual methods from bits of styrene sheet and stretched sprue, capping each position with a Falcon canopy. Some of these require cutting away portions of the fuselage to gain a simpler joint line.
   The exterior was treated to my usual approach towards raised-lines-and-rivets surface detail of this vintage: I lightly wet-sanded the exterior parts with 600 grit to tone down the raised detail until just a hint remained, and then scribed selected panel lines over this to take a wash later. I cut out and fitted clear plastic to represent the position lights at the wingtips, reshaping the tips to a more correct squarish shape while I was at it.
   I replaced the engines from a resin pair from Engines and Things, and set these deeper in the cowl than where the provided part was intended to go. The prop boss was cut back to allow the spinner to sit closer to the propeller as well. These two moves put the propeller further back in toward the cowl where it should be.
   On the real Hampden a pair of joiner strips ran fore-aft on the tail boom, one on top and one on bottom. They're molded a bit too coarsely for my taste, so I sliced them off and after filling and sanding the seam replaced them with Evergreen square stock. Carburetor intakes on the cowls were drilled out. Antennas and other stickie-outies were replaced with bits of brass and styrene depending on their vulnerability. 
   The two fuel vent tubes on the upper nacelles plus the barrels for the dorsal Vickers Ks had been crushed and lost, so I cut and soldered new ones from brass rod and tube, adding the tail-protection limiter for the guns while I was at it. My Junior Metalsmith work looked so appealing when I was done that I found myself not wanting to paint it!
    There are some references to repair work in the section above; this project is actually a do-over. I originally built and painted this model about ten years ago, but was one of those nagging completions I was never really satisfied with and when it was damaged in a move I decided to take the opportunity to give it another shot and test some new techniques.
   I started this process by peeling off the old decals with clear packing tape and lightly damp-sanding the model's topside with a 600 grit sanding pad. 'Damp sanding', because I didn't want runoff slurry seeping into the interior. I then masked off the clear portions. The black underside looked okay, so after a little contrasting-panel work was masked off and spared the rest of this treatment. The gaping void of the wheel wells had always bothered me; these were retroactively boxed in with a bit of spar detail added, following sketchy information on the Interweb.
   The topside received an overall coat of Dark Earth, my custom mix from Xtracolor with a little Testor's Yellow and White, followed by masking and a similar mix of RAF Dark Green. After curing a week or two this was shielded with Future/Pledge Floor Gloss. Decals followed after a little masking and painting to achieve the roundels on the wing topside and the fin flashes. The white serial was hand-painted with careful work and a lot of touching up with the surrounding camouflage colors. From a foot or two away it looks okay. Another two coats of Future followed.
   I post-shaded following the markings. You haven't tried this simple but effective technique yet? For these hues, I used Tamiya Clear Orange, heavily cut (something like 90/10) against thinner. With your compressor pressure turned way down, repeatedly run a line of paint on the the main panel lines. If you can't actually see the paint you're laying down right away, you're doing it correctly. After a dozen or so passes and your eyes just begin picking up the line of contrasting hue entering the threshold of your perception, stop. Your model will now sport a warmer, deeper, more interesting look.
  Collector-ring type engine cowlings are not easy to depict realistically. I tried the following approach: masked and painted the cowling lips silver with a band of red-brown immediately aft. I then dry-brushed both regions with a mix of bronze and silver enamel. The effect was encouraging enough that I'm going to develop the technique further at the next opportunity.
  As usual, I closed everything with a light gloss coat to give the model a slight sheen. While I was applying this Homicide by 999 was playing on the radio, casting an appropriately British vibe over the conclusion to the project, courtesy the UK's '70s punk movement. Actually, you would be hard-pressed to find a more totally awesome tune to cap off your second go at a "favourite" model
  The Hampden has always been one of my favorite RAF types and I'm really glad I gave this horse another run at the races. This really is a great old kit, proof that a manufacturer needn't cut new molds if it was done right the first time (well, maybe Airfix could grace us with fresh transparencies!). A great first multiengine project for the beginner. Build it stock. Or go nuts and detail it. You won't be disappointed.



Interior shots are now plentiful with all the online coverage of the Cosford restoration.
Hall, Alan. Warpaint No. 57: Handley-Page Hampden and Hereford.Warpaint Books, Ltd.
Gunston, Bill. Classic Aircraft Cutaways. Osprey Publishing, 1995
Benson, Walter. Into the Frying Pan and Into the Fire! Wings Magazine February, 2002. Sentry Books, Inc. 

Ryan Grosswiler

5 October 2020


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