AIRFIX 1:72 WESTLAND WHIRLWIND MK.1

 

airfix_whirlwind-mk1.jpg (12303 bytes)

Reviewer: Myself  (braithy@bigpond.com)

When you hear the name "Westland Whirlwind" you have to ask whether it's of the fixed or rotary wing variety as the name is also given to a helicopter.  However, this Westland Whirlwind is the early fighter design for RAF in WW2. It was accepted for production to meet a specification for a fighter carryng very heavy armament of four 20-mm cannons and twin engines for better performance. It was only a fraction larger than the Hurricane, it had twin engines of 885 hp variety with coolant radiators inside the wing centre section that offered minimal drag.  The wing was also set low which afforded the pilot excellent all round vision.  The guns were grouped in the short nose and the tailplane (or rear stabiliser as some call it) was mounted very high on the tall fin to keep it clear of the wake from the Fowler-type flaps.  Despite these flaps the Whirlwind had what was then considered a very high landing speed, making it difficult to operate from short grass strips.  Wing loading was high, which made manoeuvrability poor as a fighter. The engine was quite unreliable and because of other priority commitments, Rolls Royce was never able to upgrade the engine. Only two squadrons operated the Whirlwinds, using them mainly as attack bombers, in which they achieved moderate success at low altitude, one of their better achievements being a day/night intruder attacker in 1942 (attacking shipping).  But with all the problems that occurred, the original order for 400 was reduced to 114 and the type was withdrawn from service in 1943 when it was replaced by the Typhoon.

Airfix have re-released this kit in newer and more sturdier injected plastic.  It comes in a small, thick box with a list of Humbrol enamel paint numbers needed and is marketed as a "Skill 1" kit claiming that it is suitable to beginner modellers.  Four sprues of light grey plastic that is one of the better quality molds I have seen from Airfix is packaged in a 'plastic bag'.  There is no flash and all the parts are crisp with finely raised panel lines and engraved aircraft lines like flaps etc.  The kit contains about 30 parts including a well detailed pilot figure and one-piece canopy.

The Instructions come in the form of two A3 sheets folded to make an A4 sized booklet.  It contains its own brief history on the aircraft and about 7 well detailed steps for construction.  All colour call outs are in Humbrol enamel paint reference numbers which is great if you use Humbrol (like I do) but terribly annoying if you don't - because the color names are not provided.  You will therefore have to use a cross reference chart for your brand of paint if unsure of the colour name and there is a few sites on the Net which can cater for this - some are summarised in my links page.

To speed up the process I started painting the pilot figure and paint/assemble the propellors at the same time before anything else is attempted - while one dries the other gets the attention.  The pilot figure is quite detailed and for once is given the correct RAF early WW2 uniform colour which has been a bone of annoyance of mine, in other kits who forget to do their research.  That is, RAF blue uniform with chocolate coloured boots + helmet and a dark yellow life-vest.  The propeller is constructed with a beige green cone and fixed against a shaft so that it is moveable when encased in the cowling.  If you want a moveable propellor don't let the shaft stick out through the propellor assembly bit into the nosecone otherwise the best you can achieve is a very tight fit without being able to spin it. A bit of logical dry fit testing may help to overcome any problem here and get the correct amount of gap to slot the shaft into.

The cockpit interior is almost non-existant - you attach your figure to a make-shift seat which in turn is attached to the rear internal panel (that sits behind the seat and under the canopy).  This has a number of small blisters to represent detail, and its good to see Airfix didn't forget to include that rod thinga-majigg that goes from the back of the cockpit to the back of the seat - a bit like a steel stake holding up a country power-line pole.  I have no idea what it is but it appears prominently in all my Whirlwind reference side-on photos.  Back to the non-existant cockpit detail:  there is no instrument panel, joystick or floor to speak of, you can perhaps use the affixing area between the two fuselages as a make-shift instrument panel at the front of the cockpit (which appears its intent) but that's about it.  I painted the cockpit with interior green which is exactly what is called out by Airfix, and matches the colour photo I have as reference material.

The fuselage halves are glued together easily and while this was drying I assembled the wings and engines.  This is where you find dry-fit testing of the propellor and shaft was necessary.  Mine is a very tight fit and the propellors are unmoveable because I did not dry fit test first.  Encasing the engine and wing upper/lower halves is pretty easy although you will need pegs just to ensure it holds together while it dries.  The rear cone of the engine when it is attached does not line up correctly - the lower part slightly larger than the upper, so some minor sanding was required to fix this up. The whole wing section requires a minor amount of filling and sanding in spots to get it looking really nice.

A dry fit of the undercarriage struts looks like it will present no real problems but the wheel well covers need to be cut in half and these are adequately shown for in the instructions.  I have decided to build my model in flying configuration so I simply attached the main and rear wheel covers.  While all covers fit with a minimum amount of coaxing all of them are slightly out of shape and a combination of sanding and filling was necessary to make it blend smoothly into the wings and fuselage respectively.  The nose attaches itself to the front of the fuselage which also requires a touch of sanding so it has equal alignment (one fuselage a very slight overhang to the other). You have to put the cannons onto the nose yourself and it goes without saying that you have to be extremely careful when removing these from the sprue. I cut the sprue section the guns were attached in so as the nippers could have unrestricted access to snip the gun from the tree.  The canopy is not the correct shape for the cockpit allocation, the front of it is squared off whereas the fuselage has a rounded cross section for the windscreen to attach to.  It didn't cause any major problem, the canopy still went into place without hassle but left two tiny holes in the front corner which have to be filled.

The kit replicates two aircraft: a No.137(F) Squadron Whirlwind based at RAF Matlask, June 1942 in ocean grey and dark green camouflage and light grey undersides.   The second is a No.263(F) Squadron, RAF Exeter, of Dec 1940 in overall dark green and earth camouflage with beige/green undersides but the underside of the port wing being finished in black.  I wasn't initially sure whether this was correct because the instructions do not provide any assistance, and I assumed that perhaps it was to show that aircraft's role as a night-fighter. My thanks to Jason Sou who provided the following information on RAF WW2 fighter underside schemes.

Many RAF fighters of the 1940 period wore half/half undersides of either Black/Sky Blue or Black/white.  These include such aircraft as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Defiants, Gladiators, Brewster Buffaloes in Malaya 1941 and even twin-engined types including the Blenheim Mk.1.  I have also seen photos of Gladiators with black and silver undersides, the colours meeting on the centreline of the fuselage. One variation was a Spitfire Mk.1 of 19 Sqn, which wore white (starboard) and silver (port) undersurfaces!  The Kookaburra publication (now out of print I assume) "Westland Whirlwind Described" by Bruce Robertson includes a photo on page 5 which clearly shows a Whirlwind with black and sky undersides. Part of the caption reads "........the two-colour lower surfaces were supposed to provide an optical illusion for the enemy and induce him to fire at the black middle portion of the wing, thus drawing fire away from the pilot himself!" Interestingly this
particular aircraft , P6985 J-HE of 263 Sqn , had an all sky coloured underside of the tailplane. Another good reference is the publication "Fighting colours" by Michael J.F.Bowyer, but I think this is also out of print. This publication was available through Kookaburra publications and covers RAF ifghter camouflage in the period 1937-1975.

After giving my Whirlwind a gloss coat I applied the nice quality decals that were provided in the kit. Using Humbrol decalfix these fixed without any dramas at all. However, depsite their good quality they are not exactly perfect. The fin flashes were different, one having a slightly larger middle white strip than the other - just as well they are on different sides of the aircraft!  The yellow ring on the side-fuselage roundels is out of shape - in particular it looks as if the red/white/blue roundel within has been placed off-centre.  Likewise the upper and lower wing roundels show a white band bleeding around one edge of them.  For the perfectionist an aftermarket decal source is therefore recommended.

It appears to be quite accurate when compared to reference photos on hand but it may be a touch undersized - especially the nacelles which look too skinny . References indicate the Whirlwind measured 32 ft, 9 in - the model weighs in at about 13.8 cm which basically makes it spot on.  Likewise the span is 45 ft on the aircraft, the model replicates 19 cm - again spot on.

This is a delightful kit that only requires a bit of sanding to fix some parts up.  It was an easy build and is an accurate replication of the early WW2 fighter.  Disappointingly you might need to replace the kit decals with an aftermarket source for reasons stated above but otherwise this kit is highly recommended and is suitable for all modelling skill types.

 

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