Airfix’s big Typhoon is a complicated beast of a kit, and not for anyone who likes things to go together nicely in a straightforward way. Well that rules me out…
Subject: Hawker Typhoon Mk.Ib
Extras: HGW seatbelt, Topnotch camo and insignia masks, Aerocraft brass gear legs, Yahu instrument panel, Eduard canopy mask
Fit: 2/5 You would think that in this scale the little steps we smooth off in 1/48 would barely be visible. No. If you scaled this fit down to 1/48, it would be poor. That’s before you get to the nightmare that was the nose.
Engineering: 3/5 It’s only this high because I respect the ambition. This level of full interior with a closed-up option is very hard to make both work. And they didn’t quite manage it.
Detail: 5/5 This is easily one of the most detailed kits I’ve built, and it gives you so much straight from the box. Full marks, hands down.
Accuracy: 5/5 It looks like someone took a real Typhoon apart, scaled it down and turned it into plastic. If Haynes’ Guides did model kits, they would be like this.
The Typhoon was a plane I didn’t much care for as a kid. It was ungainly, unglamorous, lived in muddy fields in Normandy, and whenever it was mentioned someone would add that it was a bit of a failure until Tempest got a slimmer wing. This perspective is rather unfair on the Typhoon, and does rather illustrate the problems with aviation books for casual audiences.
Typhoon became interesting to me when I learned more about the technical and political sides of aircraft design. You see, Typhoon is what you get when you’ve built the Hurricane, know that the trend is toward larger and more heavily armed fighters, and the engine manufacturers are throwing numbers around like “24 cylinders” and “2,000hp” which were double the figures of the early Merlin engines used to date, but you also want to keep your construction methods as traditional as possible. One could easily imagine that a senior Hawker engineer had thrown a massive hissy fit at the idea of making Hurricane a monoplane, and no one dared suggest that, just maybe, stressed-skin structures might be the way forward and worth at least looking at.
It also continued the twin 1930s Air Ministry trends of adding firepower while on no account changing gun calibre: the 0.303” worked just fine in 1916, there was no need to ever change. At least, that’s the only rationale I can come up with for the shift in the course of about six years from two 0.303” guns to first four as on the Gladiator, then the eight of the early Spitfires and Hurricanes, to, insanely, now a proposal for no fewer than twelve of what was rapidly becoming an underpowered weapon.
The Air Ministry was not alone in this: British tanks and anti-tank gunners would for a long time be stuck with the rapidly underpowered 2-pounder QF gun, a 40mm weapon which most problematically lacked a useful bursting charge or high explosive round, meaning you could put a hole in a tank but do little else. They were stuck with this because after Dunkirk it was deemed more important to produce something now than something better in six months once the factories had been retooled. That something better being the 6-pounder, with a massive 57mm shell at a time when everyone else had already recognised that you really needed something of at least 75mm… Oh well, muddling through worked last time, and the time before that, surely a stubborn unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through, what’s the worst that can happen?
I suppose pretty close to the worst is being the poor sod baking inside some unfit-for-purpose light (sorry, “cruiser”) tank, desperately trying to convince the people shooting 88mm rounds that might not even notice they’ve gone through your tank to please go away by threatening them with a tiny popgun that will require a direct hit on a near-invisible target to even be noticed. But funnily enough the people making decisions seldom end up in that situation and don’t seem to take it into consideration as much as one might like.
Where was I? Oh yes, a specification calling for twelve – at least! – 0.303” machine guns. They must have known you could get a larger calibre, but probably had the same problem as with the 2-pounder that they could make the 0.303” in sufficient numbers and knew it worked. I’m thinking specifically of something on the order of a 0.5” like the US went to, since although cannon armament was being considered, there were a lot of problems actually getting the Hispano cannon to work. Certainly one concern was the firing time, in that you could fit a lot more small bullets into the plane, but again the RAF was quite happy to adopt an all-cannon armament (during the Mk.II Spitfire production when it was realised that the 0.303” wasn’t hitting hard enough) long before it considered switching to 0.5” (during Mk.IX production I think).
Typhoon continued to have a lot of development problems. The Napier Sabre engine had been selected over the Rolls Royce Vulture (this would allegedly be the cause of many of the bad press around Typhoon engine failures, with RR reps touring squadrons and actually telling them they had a poor, unreliable engine. Shocking if that’s true) and Napier couldn’t do mass production. The engines were being built by another firm which cut corners leading to a lot of mechanical failures early on.
Then you get the wing issues. As with Hurricane, Hawker provided a very thick wing which created a lot of drag and buffeting at high speeds (400mph and above), the buffeting becoming serious enough to cause structural failures. This is often portrayed as a poor decision that handicapped the plane, but realistically this was a combination of practical tradeoffs and the rapid development of aircraft technology. The thick wing gave many advantages, such as allowing plenty of room for weapons installations and ammunition storage, permitting strong landing gear mechanisms to be located outboard, and of course giving a large internal volume for fuel tanks. It would also give very good lift at low speeds, and I suspect this was another Hawker traditionalist design element. The problem with a thick wing is that drag increases very quickly once speed passes a certain point and at that point the airflow also separates from the airfoil causing buffeting.
Was this foreseeable? Sadly it probably was, and this was likely a self-inflicted problem. NACA (now NASA) in the US had been doing a lot of research into aerofoils and other aerodynamic issues, and had been publishing this research throughout the 1930s. This was one reason why German aerodynamicists had been able to make up a decade of lost ground, doing a lot of collaborations. However, it seems the British did not make much use of this resource, possibly out of a sense that they knew more and didn’t want to give up their secrets. Fw 190, P-47, and Hellcat were all being designed around the same time, and none had this problem.
This was not one of my happier builds. In fact, there were two points at which I thought I would not be able to finish it at all. I certainly didn’t manage to get it done as nicely as I had hoped, but it is done and it is what it is.
Concerns were raised as soon as I started building. The plastic was very strange: extremely soft, with an odd, soapy feel. I think it was less good than the plastic used on their Hurricane, but as I started this one before that it is hard to be sure. The very soft plastic had actually caused the wing spars to warp: neither of them was straight and when I came to fit them into the wings each end wanted to lie at least 5mm away from its intended position, even though at this point the wing itself should be helping hold them in place.
Most parts had a large and extensive parting line (much like on Eduard’s older toolings) which has to be laboriously scraped away. This is difficult on many parts because of their shape, and often means you risk damaging the curve of an otherwise beautifully-reproduced detail part.
My greatest surprise was two parts actually exploding. I don’t mean breaking. I’ve had plenty of parts break: they tend to bend or snap and you get both halves lying more or less where the whole piece was. One part was the main canopy which burst while Eduard masks were being applied: the part didn’t travel far because it had masking tape on it, but there was a loud crack and half the canopy was hanging loose. This was the second time I thought I might not be able to get it finished, but fortunately Airfix spares came through with a replacement sprue, and were very helpful so they should at least get credit there. The other part was a large oval frame that sit just at the back of the cockpit. This exploded as I was gently scraping the parting line off, and when I say “exploded” I mean one part flew over my shoulder and landed several metres behind me. My guess is that there may have been quite a bit of shrinking as the parts cooled, which may have put a stress into them. There certainly is shrinking, as many parts exhibit really bad sink marks, something you just shouldn’t see these days (but which are of course present on Revell’s P-51 which also has unpleasant plastic).
The Yahu instrument panel took quite a lot of fettling to get it to fit, but as with all aftermarket stuff that is sadly typical. I’m not going to blame the kit even though that really did not go together the way Yahu says it should.
The other notable thing I added to this was the brass landing gear legs from Aerocraft. I wouldn’t normally go for something like that, but I was hearing (admittedly conflicting) reports about the strength of the legs. Some say they are fine, others were showing photos which clearly showed the legs bowing such that the flat parts of the wheels were no longer on the ground. I suspect the kit plastic may be variable (this would account for a lot since the people with strong enough gear legs also claimed not to have experienced the assembly problems I encountered) and as mine seemed quite poor I opted for the replacement. The Aerocraft legs are very nice: they are supposed to be drop-fit replacements which isn’t quite the case because they had to amalgamate a couple of parts which complicates assembly, but nonetheless they do fit and they are strong.
I added a HGW fabric seat belt which is my preferred option for all kits. Airfix provide plastic belts which would probably look decent actually, but in this scale the HGW really works – and becomes much easier to assemble too!
That brings us to the other point where I thought I would not be able to finish this kit, or at least that it would not be worth finishing it because it would never be what I wanted. That was closing the cowling. Airfix give this as one of three options called out throughout the instructions, but the parts just would not go together. The shape and size were wrong, as in parts had or lacked a twist that left a multi-millimetre step, or were too short and left multi-millimetre gaps. This comes back to my thoughts on shrinking: no part was too long, so it seemed that the cowl parts were all undersized. It is also possible that the very house-of-cards assembly that is the cockpit framing and engine bearers hadn’t quite seated properly over so many parts that it now couldn’t be closed, but if that were such an issue you would expect it to also be present around the cockpit and the wings, all of which were not really problematic.
Some thoughts on injection moulding
I suspect that while the engineering is too ambitious, the problem is not the tooling but the production. You see, injection moulding isn’t like a desktop printer where you tell it to print and it does its thing: the mould temperature has to be carefully controlled, as do the injection pressure, the temperature of the plastic going in, and the cooling time. The way it works is that you heat plastic beads to a “glass temperature” which is the point where it becomes ever so slightly mobile, then inject it into the cavity at great pressure so it conforms to the mould, and let it cool. The cooling rate is critical, and modern toolings contain cooling channels which allow the operator to ensure the temperature is within the right range and also helps cycle time. However the most important thing is that the plastic must reach a certain temperature before being released, otherwise it will not be fully solid and can warp. Further, the mould ensures a safe cooling rate: if it cools too fast you can get all sorts of stresses and uneven shrinkage. All of these things depend on the specific plastic used, and there are a great many options that fall within what we use for scale modelling.
To me, this kit looks like a decent (but incredibly complex and unforgiving) tooling that was then cycled too fast and with the wrong settings for a cheap plastic. This would be how the mould operators (outsourced) will make their money, and I think Airfix cheaped out on production. The tooling itself may or may not be good: I was shown an Airfix mould by an injection mould expert who pointed out many details that indicated it was made to a low price by someone who wasn’t very competent. It wasn’t this one so I don’t know how they compare.
It’s a shame that what could be a tour de force of scale modelling design is instead an absolute shambles, but this probably doesn’t hurt Airfix too badly. It is a truism in the hobby that your typical Airfix builder cares greatly about detail and accuracy, and not a whit (sorry for my deviation into the archaic, but that’s another element of the truism) about how well the damn thing goes together. Either because they think building poorly-fitting kits means they are a good modeller (joke’s on you: I’ve built them as well) or because they just bought the kit for stash-cred and have no intention of actually building it.
Well, whatever. Multi-millimetre steps and gaps all over the cowling area. The only way I could think to get anything remotely acceptable was to fill it all with 3M red putty, then go at it with sandpaper and chisel, carving an approximate Typhoon nose out of the dross like Michaelangelo’s incompetent cousin. Then slathered sprue goo over that, sanded smooth to finally get back to a smooth plastic skin. This was important because all the lovely detail Airfix provided was sunk like Atlantis beneath the goo and the beauty of sprue goo is that being dissolved kit plastic, it scribes and drills just like kit plastic. Normally it’s a little on the soft side but I think it may actually be harder than the original stuff in this case.
So I was able to scribe in the panel lines, then spent… some time… (time has no meaning at this point) with a pin vise and 0.3mm drill bit reproducing every single rivet over that nose. Also the kit has some lovely raised detail of fasteners which was of course gone, so I did something I always swore I would not do and bought 0.5mm styrene rod, cut tiny slivers off and stuck them in place before drilling a little hole into the middle of each one. I think I counted about 80 of them. All because the cowling didn’t fit.
This step may also explain the exasperated tone of this write-up.
Scheme-wise, I tried to reproduce this rather nice example which I found a photo of. Through some Googling I was able to take a guess at the squadron and serial number, and yet again being able to cut masks on my Silhouette cutter gives the freedom to model a specific aircraft. No, I didn’t manage to pull it off or even get very close. That’s what struggling just to get it done cost.