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Defiant Mk.I

Airfix 1/72 Defiant Mk.I Build Review

By Michael J. Gething

Date of Review January 2016 Manufacturer Airfix
Subject Defiant Mk.I Scale 1/72
Kit Number A02069 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Simple build Cons Some delicate parts
Skill Level Basic + MSRP (BP) £7.99

Build Review

Acknowledgement: This Review is adapted from a feature I wrote which appeared in the IPMS(UK) magazine #02/2016 and is reproduced here with the Editor’s permission.

The Boulton Paul Defiant, which made its maiden flight on 11 August 1937, introduced a new tactical concept to the Royal Air Force (RAF) – a two-seat fighter with its armament (four 0.303 in Browning machine guns) concentrated in a turret behind the pilot’s cockpit, but no forward-firing guns. The all-metal aircraft was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin III engine delivering 1,030 hp, giving it a top speed of 303 mph and a service ceiling of 30,350 ft.

The first production aircraft were delivered to 264 Squadron (Sqn) in December 1939 and these first entered combat in May 1940. The type was initially successful, claiming 65 kills by 31 May 1940, many defending the skies over Dunkirk, as the British Expeditionary Force was being evacuated. This success was attributed to the Defiant’s similarity to the Hurricane in outline but, once the Luftwaffe realised the Defiant had no forward-firing guns, losses in combat mounted and the type was withdrawn as a day fighter in August 1940.

The Defiant continued to serve as night fighter, some being equipped with early air interception radar, until sufficient Beaufighter and Mosquito night fighters were available. The last two night-fighter units (151 and 264 Sqns) were withdrawn in July 1942. Some 150 Defiant Mk Is were later converted to target-towing duties (some being tropicalised for overseas duties) while others were deployed in the air-sea rescue role or as gunnery trainers.

In all, 1,064 Defiants of all marks were built, 713 being the Mk I, before production ceased in February 1943. The Mk II was powered by 1,260 hp Merlin XX engine. Visitors to the RAF Museum at Hendon, north London, can see an all-black Defiant NF (night fighter) Mk I in the Battle of Britain hall there.

Airfix first produced a kit of the Defiant NF.I in 1960, which I recall modelling in the earlier day fighter camouflage, for a school model show commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This new-tool kit depicts the day fighter scheme as its box art (L7013, PS-U of 264 Squadron, RAF Martlesham Heath, July 1940) with an option of the all-black night fighter but with a sharkmouth (N3328, DZ-Z of 151 Squadron, RAF Wittering, February 1941). As I’d done the day fighter version, I went for the all-black night fighter this time around.

Having opened the box to find three extremely well detailed and moulded sprues (plus transparencies with varying canopy options, of which more anon) and an excellent decal sheet, I opened the instructions and began running through them. The thought uppermost in my mind was “were there any optional parts?” and, if so, “was it clear as to which version they applied?”: the answers were Yes and No, respectively. So, as an aid to the modeller, before even removing a part from the sprue, let me offer some supplementary guidance.

For the cockpit interior (stage 2) decide whether or not you’ll use the well-sculpted pilot figure (important for later) and, if so, get painting now. Although not a marked option, don’t forget to use the instrument panel decal on part C5 before cementing into the interior.

The first real option comes at stage 10 and this is a configuration option rather than a variant option. The Defiant, having a four-gun turret behind the pilot had a section of rear fuselage immediately behind the turret that could be lowered when entering combat, to allow better clearance for the guns when in action. Part B6 is the lowered ‘in action’ option, part B7 is the raised ‘flight’ option.

Stage 11 reminds you that, should you wish to mount the completed model on an Airfix stand (kit AF1006, sold separately), then you need to drill out the mounting holes in the under fuselage radiator (C1).

Should you have decided to include the pilot figure, then logic dictates you include the equally well-sculpted gunner figure too. This happens at stage 26 and you should omit part A20 (otherwise he won’t fit). To be fair, this is made quite clear in the instructions. Stage 34 provides the only variant option – day or night fighter engine exhausts. If the day fighter is being modelled, the use parts A12 and A13; if it’s a night fighter, then use parts A3 and A4 with the fishtail flame dampers. Also in Stage 34 is part C18, the rear radio antenna, located just ahead of the tail wheel. In flight, this is extended (as provided) but, if modelling the aircraft with undercarriage ‘down’, then it requires trimming back to allow the model to sit on its tail wheel. Again, this is clearly marked.

Defiant Mk.IDefiant Mk.I

When the time comes to add the pilot’s canopy (stage 35) then there is a clearly marked choice of three configurations: two closed canopy options and one open canopy. Of the closed options, if ‘in-flight’ mode is chosen (with rear fuselage part B7), the rear part of the canopy (D3) is raised for better aerodynamic streamlining, while for ‘in action’ mode (with rear fuselage part B6), it is lowered and you should use part D2. To model an open canopy (with rear fuselage part B7), then you need to use the separate windscreen (D6), then the fixed rear canopy (D5) – not forgetting to paint the canopy framing – before mounting the ‘sliding’ part of the canopy (D4) over D5.

Having clarified the instruction sheet, I offer one final caution before commencing assembly. There are a lot of finely sculpted parts on the sprues and great care should be taken when detaching them. Particular caution should be taken over the control column (C10), the undercarriage components (A22, A23, C12, C13, C21 and C22), the two gun parts and connecting pivot (A19 and C20), the radio antennae (C18 and C19) and the pitot head (A24). Indeed, for me, the latter broke when detaching the adjacent undercarriage leg (A23), as a result to the pressure applied by my fingertip to ensure a clean cut of part A23! [I e-mailed Airfix via the company website for a replacement, which arrived about a fortnight later – so the system works.]

So, having delivered the Prologue, what of the construction itself? Stages 1 through 5 see the cockpit assembled and painted interior green, with details picked out with black and silver, followed by a black wash to bring out the highlights. Only after this was done did I add the instrument panel decal, pre-painted pilot figure and control column. Stage 6 adds the rear decking and turret mount (B2), pre-painted in interior green and black wash, and brings the fuselage halves together. A small amount of filler may be needed to ensure the joint ahead of the cockpit is rendered totally smooth (I didn’t use enough!). Stage 7 adds the undercarriage bay (B1) to the one-piece lower wing moulding and Stage 8 the upper wings. The whole wing sub-assembly is then attached to the fuselage in Stage 9 and it fits very neatly. The undercarriage bay was painted interior green with a brown wash over.

Defiant Mk.IDefiant Mk.I

Stage 10 adds the rear fuselage option – B6 for ‘in action’, B7 for ‘in-flight’. Stage 11 assembles the radiator – don’t forget to pre-paint the interior (I used matt black) and picked out the grills with dry-brush silver. Stage 12 assembles the oil cooler, again the interior being pre-painted matt black. Stage 13 brings attaches the radiator and oil cooler to the lower fuselage. Be aware that the line-up of the rear of the oil cooler is not a flush fit, so there is no need to filler and sand a smooth contour. Stage 14 adds the tailplanes which fit cleanly in the horizontal position and the rudder, which can be angled off centre to offer a more authentic look, if displaying ‘wheels down’ on the ground.

By now the kit is looking very complete and, at this stage, I chose to undertake the main paint job and decal application. I brush-painted the surroundings of the undercarriage bay and cockpit/turret areas matt black, as these were then masked-off with Tamiya tape, ahead of the main painting, done with an aerosol matt black. Once covered to my satisfaction, I gave the resulting model as gentle rubbing with a fine (1,500 thou) Micromesh wet-and-dry to remove any ‘dimpling’ finish where I’d over-sprayed. The fuselage and outer wings were then brush varnished with Johnson’s Klear and once dry, I applied the decals in stages, using Mr Softener and Mr Setter liquids.

Defiant Mk.IDefiant Mk.IDefiant Mk.I

For the curious among you, the yellow square/diamond decal located on the upper wing is a ‘detector’, which turned a different colour (possibly green) in the presence of poison gas, a danger still thought possible in the early stages of the Second World War.

There are many small ‘stencil warnings’ to be applied over the day fighter finish but only a handful for the night fighter finish. Experience has taught me to apply these three or four at a time and leave them overnight to set, before moving on. This application of patience should ensure one does not, inadvertently, push another decal out of its correct position. Once all the decals were in place, another coat of Klear was applied and left to dry overnight before giving the resultant model a final spray of matt varnish and, again, left at least three hours to dry completely.

I pre-painted the various main undercarriage components ahead of assembly, including the doors and wheels. Assembly of these continued the next day, with Stages 16 through 21, after which the model was left overnight to allow a solid setting before adding wheels and doors (which are scale thickness and, thus, thin and difficult to handle). I offer one tip regarding the centre doors (C6 and C7) – cement them lightly together, back to back, and then attach them to the airframe. It is so much easier than fixing them individually! While these set in place, I assembled and painted the propeller unit (Stages 31 and 32) and painted the night fighter exhausts (A12 and A14). Once dry, I attached them to the model.

By far the most ‘fiddly’ element of the build was assembling the turret (Stages 26 through 30), partly because the guns themselves were fragile and are easily bent or broken in handling, so do take care. Initially I was going to make it without the gunner figure so I opted to add part A20 (the lower turret cage) but then, as I’d taken the trouble to paint the figure, I decided to add him. As a result, to drop him into the ‘caged’ assembly, he needed a ‘double amputation’ above the knee and, also, some edge smoothing with a file on his back. However, as the lower torso and legs are totally invisible, once assembled, the amputation mattered not.

Defiant Mk.I

The twin gun mounts (both being marked A19) were cemented onto the elevation pivot and painted matt black with dry-brushed silver. Once totally dry, it was placed in the mount and the rear part carefully cemented on. Again, once firmly set, I added the gun mount to the turret cage, which had been painted interior green. I then painted the turret framing in matt black while still on the sprue. Once dry (overnight again) it was very carefully located over the guns and onto the turret cage, being cemented in place with a liquid Super Glue, using capillary action. Finally, I touched up the trim marks on the turret transparency and painted the outer rim of the turret matt black.

Dropping the turret into place (part of Stage 34) caused me a moment of panic, as it didn’t, initially, want to drop in easily ... but holding the model by the fuselage and firmly pressing down on the rear of the turret with a thumb (being very careful not to touch the guns), it clicked into place. I breathed a sigh of relief!

I had also painted the framing on the main canopy (D3) while on the sprue (using an acrylic matt black. This is easier to scrape off with a piece of sharpened sprue where you may have intruded onto the glazing. It was then cemented into (D3) place over the cockpit with Humbrol ‘Extra Bond’ white glue and, once set, the canopy/fuselage joint edges touched up with matt black. The transparencies for the two wing landing lights were carefully removed from the sprue and the edges trimmed, then cemented in place with the Extra Bond. They fitted delightfully.

As is always the case when I build tail wheeled aircraft, the tail wheel (C11) was added last of all, along with the cut-down rear antenna (C18) and the forward antenna (C19). The final touches involved painting the wingtip lights red (port) and green (starboard), and (a couple of weeks later) adding the replacement pitot tube (A24) and painting it matt black. The model was now complete.

Defiant Mk.I

While basically straightforward to construct to the main painting stage, it was the details – undercarriage and turret – that took the time, ensuring delicate parts were painted and attached with care. My modelling (and painting) skills were challenged at times but the result was, I thought, worth it. (If you model in 1/48th scale, a model in this scale is now also available.)