Airfix 1/48 Gnat T.1

KIT #: A05123
PRICE:  £16-99
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Frank Reynolds
NOTES: New tool kit


The Folland Gnat was initially designed as a low cost lightweight single seat interceptor fighter, armed with twin 30mm cannon and it first flew in 1955. It was designed by W.E.W Petter, the engineer whose talent included the design of two highly influential military jet aircraft , the English Electric Lightning and the Canberra. The single seater was not required by its intended customer, the RAF, but was exported to Finland, Yugoslavia and India, the latter building it under licence and developing it as the HAL Ajeet. However the Royal Air Force issued a requirement for a high speed jet trainer in 1957 and an extensively redesigned unarmed two seat Gnat first flew in August 1959. The RAF issued orders for a series of production batches, totalling 105 aircraft, the last being delivered in 1965.

Powered by a Bristol Siddeley Orpheus engine of 4,700lb thrust, the little Gnat had a wingspan of just 22ft 1in. and a length of 28ft 8ins. It was capable of Mach 0.95. It was unconventional in size and appearance with its highly loaded shoulder mounted wing and the fuselage mounted main undercarriage served as the airbrakes. The tandem cockpit was a tight fit with the rear seat occupant seemingly crammed into a notch in the leading edge of the wing and hemmed in by the engine air intakes. It was also a mechanic’s nightmare with equipment crammed into small spaces and it had needed the design of special light weight ejector seats and miniaturised motors for the powered flight controls.

The Gant was a hot ship but a useful link between a basic trainer such as the Vampire and the front line Lightning. However it was not perfect, being so small that pilots of above average stature could not comfortably fit in and forcing the RAF to maintain some Hawker Hunter two seat trainers in order to cope. The Gnat found its fame as the public face of the Royal Air Force, equipping its official aerobatic team, the Yellow Jacks, in1962, that evolved into the Red Arrows in 1964. The small, agile Gnat had a high rate of roll and was ideal for a nine-ship flight demonstration team, remaining in the public view until 1979 when the Red Arrows re-equipped with the BAE Hawk.


This is supplied in Airfix’s now familiar style of tray-type top opening box with spectacular full colour artwork. There are three parts frames in pale blue plastic and one of clear. A comprehensive decal sheet has extensive airframe stencils and walkways and a choice of two colour finishes, both RAF, since this air arm was the only user of this aircraft. They are:

Central Flying School, Little Rissington,  Gloucestershire ,England 1964 – an incredibly English location.  Silver airframe with large areas of Dayglo Orange to nose, tail and wingtips.

No 4 Flying Training School, RAF Valley, Anglesey, Wales, 1973.  Mainly Red with white fuselage flashes and Light Aircraft Grey under wings. 

The instructions run to twelve pages in an A4 booklet with full colour four-views keyed to Airfix paint numbers and exploded views running to 38 stages of construction,

The parts are sharply moulded with no trace of flash that I could find, although one tiny part of an ejection seat headrest was short shot and needed a repair with a small triangle of plastic card and similarly the rear corner of the lower right wing tip. The etched surface detail seems to be more subtle than some of the recent offerings from this manufacturer.

The kit provides options that must be decided before construction :  It can be built with the undercarriage retracted, using a stand that can be bought separately. The canopy can be open or closed and separate mouldings are provided. Flaps and control surfaces can be deflected. One pilot figure is provided but if not used, there are separate seat cushions that have the straps moulded in. The hatch to the nose avionics bay can be posed open. Wing mounted pinion tanks are optional.


A close study of the instructions identified the optional parts that I would not be using. These were cut from the parts frames and set aside in a ziplock bag, just in case I had got it wrong or had a change of heart during the build. I elected to have all of the control surfaces neutral and the nose bay closed up, realising that if I omitted the nose bay avionics tray there would be room for some nose weight before the hatch was glued shut.

The breakdown of parts is a little unconventional, so instead of looking for sub-assemblies I aimed to follow to the sequence set out in the instructions, but with some minor variations to make painting easier. The interior parts were pre-painted in their base colour while still on the parts frame using Tamiya XF-20 Medium Grey.

Construction begins with the cockpit area and a tub forms the floor and side walls, to which the front and rear bulkheads are glued. The nose wheel bay is a well detailed box that glues into an opening under the rear seat position. The front and rear instrument panels/pedestals have raised dials, detailed with instrument decals that shrank over the raised detail with the application of a little Micro Sol. Separate rudder bars are provided for each seat position.

The two ejection seats each consist of seven parts and the seat cushions were painted Olive Green with the seat belts picked out in medium grey. The seats are reasonably well detailed and include the skeleton mounting frame and tiny pull handles to the head rests. The front seat is glued onto a dividing bulkhead and the rear seat onto the rear bulkhead, but I decided to keep the seats separate for the time being in case they needed any adjustment to clear the canopy. The two stubby control sticks were glued in place and when dry, the cockpit area was detailed by picking out some of the boxes and switches to the side panels in matt Black, then gently dry brushing the cockpit are in Dark Grey to highlight some of the detail. A quick search of the internet revealed a good range of cockpit photos for reference purposes.

The structure of the main airframe is a little unconventional and illustrates to art of the toolmaker in the 21st century. The fuselage halves are split conventionally but the intake fairings from the side of the cockpit, all the way back past the trailing edge of the wing, are separate sections. Once they are glued in place, they are followed with a main wheel bay that is detailed with raised internal ribbing and a small internal box with some pipework detail. Next follows a two-piece intake trunking that features internal joints at the lower corners, effectively hiding the joint. The interior of the intakes seems to be silver or white, depending on the external colour scheme and I elected for matt silver. These sinuous intakes are fitted from inside each fuselage half and if you trust the confidence and the skill of the toolmaker they will settle down inside the curves of the fuselage. Some time spent dry fitting before committing to glue and joining the fuselage halves will pay dividends because the combined parts are a very tight fit and even the thickness of a coat of paint can make a difference.

One satisfied with the fit, I glued the engine front that joins the two intake trunks into the right hand fuselage half, together with the jet exhaust, both of which feature raised fan blade detail, although little of that can be seen, buried deep within the structure. The cockpit tub was glued into the right hand fuselage half and the two halves joined. 

Attention now turns to the wing and the upper surface is moulded in one piece, tip to tip, eliminating any problems with setting the angle of the wing’s anhedral. Marked out holes need to be drilled out on the lower surfaces to locate the pinion tanks, if required. The lower wing surfaces are in left and right halves and intended to trap the ailerons when they are glued in place, allowing them to pivot. Some Gnat colour schemes require the flight control surfaces to be in a different colour from the surrounding structure, so some builders might prefer to cut away the tiny hinge pivots so that the control surfaces can be added after painting. By contrast, the adjoining trailing edge flaps are fixed in position and alternative mouldings are provided or fixed or extended options.

The wing drops in place as a large saddle-like structure that wraps around the rear cockpit and once again it was a tight, but positive fit, requiring a minimum of fettling to get to close up. The structure was left overnight to dry after which the first order of business was to dry fit the ejector seats and test fit the canopy and I found the need to shave down the base of the rear seat to allow the canopy to sit down satisfactorily. So the seats were glued in followed by the coaming between the front and rear cockpits and the clear blast screen for the rear seat. The canopy was masked with Tamiya tape, trimmed with a fresh scalpel blade and fixed with Humbrol Clear Fix. The masking was relatively simple, since, unusually for a British-built aircraft of the period, the framing was minimal.

I decided to leave the tail planes off until final assembly, so that they could be painted separately. The vertical tail consists of one half moulded into the left fuselage side, to be completed with a separate panel glued onto the right side, trapping the rudder in place. I trimmed off the tiny pivots on the rudder so that too could be added after painting.

The nose area of the fuselage has a car hood type of panel that can be installed raised to permit access to the nose avionics bay. I had already decided to omit the well detailed boxes from the nose bay and instead inserted 5 grams of lead shot, mainly as a precaution against the Gnat being a tail sitter, although the main gear is so close to the trailing edge it might not need it. So the upper nose hood was glued shut to conclude the basic build.


 I had chosen the option with large areas of dayglo, so after the transparencies were masked with Tamiya tape the whole airframe was painted with Tamiya White Fine Surface primer applied from a rattle can. Thanks to Airfix’s precise engineering, no filler was required and I could proceed to painting the large areas of dayglo to the wings, nose and tail, using Humbrol acrylic No 209 Dayglo red-orange. To my surprise this proved to be the hardest part of the build. This particular paint has the heaviest pigment that I have found in years and straight from the pot has a glue-like consistency. It took me the best part of a day of trial and error, mixing and spraying, variously trying to thin the paint with water and proprietary thinners,  until I found that about 20% Tamiya thinners was close enough. Even so, the first attempt with this combination had runs all over the finish, so it was stripped and redone. At last I had a dayglo that I considered acceptable but there are still one of two areas that are patchy, so I had to convince myself that this would be an accurate rendition of a paint finish that soon weathered in service use. The bright areas were masked off and the main airframe finished in Tamiya XF-16 Flat Aluminium – this is a silver that I  find gives an effective scale-like representation when later covered with a couple of hand brushed coats of Future/Klear floor polish. The paintwork was finished with a squirt of XF-1 Flat Black to the masked off nose area and the tail pipe hand painted in Tamiya X-32 Titanium Silver washed over with some dirty thinners to give a used effect. The airframe was treated to two brushed coats of Future/Klear floor polish to provide a base for the decals.

The decals sheet is fully up to the current good standards to be found in an Airfix kit, with bright colours and sharp printing and they went on easily, responding well to Microscale’s Micro Sol and Micro Set decal solutions. There are nearly 100 decals to place, so a methodical plan is needed. I dealt first with the under surfaces, then the top, then the sides, crossing each decal off the colour plan in the instructions as I went along. The sheet includes extensive stencilling and warning signs and a few of the tiniest proved too much for my eyesight. The dayglo showed through the white of the roundels as a pink tinge, so those under the wing were doubled up, using two spares from the kit’s sheet and the upper wing insignia doubled by applying a pair from the decal dungeon.  I then added the pre-painted wing tanks, horizontal tail and rudder. . The airframe then received a further coat of Future/Klear to seal the decals in place

It was now time to add the undercarriage and Airfix have done an excellent job in moulding the complex gear legs essentially in one piece, providing positive alignment and detailed notes in the instructions showing the angle of the main legs. The legs were painted Light Grey and the wheels have White hubs with the tyres picked out in Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black.

All that was left was attachment of the wing tip and nose landing light covers, the gear doors and a few blade aerials to complete a very satisfying build. 


This sort of product puts Airfix in the front rank of kit producers in my opinion. It can be built straight from the box with a satisfying result, yet provides scope for more refinement for those who need it.

It builds fairly easily, providing that the complex interior is carefully assembled, bearing in mind the parts are so finely engineered that even the thickness of a coat of acrylic paint, especially brush painted, can interfere with a precise fit.

It was a pleasure to build and adds to what has now turned out to be a short theme of jet trainers in my showcase. It keeps company with my attempt at the same subject in 1:72 scale. Highly recommended for its quality and bargain price.


The kit instructions; the Internet; my own photo archives.

Frank Reynolds

February 2015

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