May 2020

Fairey Firefly FR.4

Fairey Firefly F.1

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Fairey Firefly FR.4

814 Squadron Fleet Air Arm, HMS VENGEANCE, 1949

Airfix 1/72 Firefly V with  scratch modifications and Airwaves wing fold, decals from the spares box and inkjet

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The Rolls Royce Griffon-powered Firefly continued the FAA policy of large 2-seat Fighter-Reconnaissance aircraft that had started with the Hawker Osprey. Built to replace the Fulmar, it was a far better aircraft, particularly well suited to open sea and long range missions. Its development took longer than hoped, so that by the time it entered service in 1944 it was no longer credible as a fleet fighter, but it was well matched to carrier operations and its agility, long range and heavy load made it an ideal strike and anti-submarine aircraft.

Fireflies remained in Fleet Air Arm service until the mid 1950s, with some Dutch Mk.4 aircraft taking part in active combat operations against Indonesian forces in Dutch New Guinea as late as 1962.   

Fireflies also served in numbers with the Australian, Canadian, Dutch, Thai and Indian Navies as well as limited service with the Swedish Airforce as a target tug.  Perhaps its main contribution was during the Korean War, where RN and RAN Mk1 and MkV Fireflies flew from British and Australian carriers to undertake strike operations against North Korean targets ashore and in coastal waters. RN Fireflies also undertook strikes against communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency.   

The initial Mk.1 Firefly was superceded by the Mk.4 (subsequently the FR.4) at the end of WW2. A more powerful Griffon 72 engine with wing root radiators, instead of the Mk.1’s large chin radiator, provided improved performance.  Clipped wings improve agility and an ASV/ASW radar set was provided with antenna in an underwing pod, balanced by a fuel tank on the other wing. Additional equipment reflected the Firefly's strike role.  The FR.4 remained in service for a relatively short time before being replaced by the Mk.5, which emphasised the anti-submarine role with a sonobouy fit and other new weaponry. Existing FR.4s were progressively upgraded to Mk5 standard alongside new builds.

Fireflies remained in front-line RN service until 1956, when they were replaced by the Fairey Gannet.

Building and folding the Airfix Firefly kit:

This has long been one of my favourite Airfix kits; relatively accurate and easy to build, but with some very satisfying detail and a genuine attempt to replicate the complex wing fold arrangement.  Even better, although you can build the kit with the wings folded, it also builds well with them spread (often kit manufacturers manage one, but not the other!).

This one was is quite an early Airfix moulding in the distinctive light blue plastic so reminiscent of Airfix in the 1970s, so the parts were crisp and flash free.  My Mark V model was a more recent (Heller era) issue, but still good. This one came without decals (as did my previous one), but no problem since I wanted to build it as a Mark IV/FR.4 in a Temperate Sea Camouflage scheme. The Mark IV was largely identical to the Mark V, with the main changes being internal mission and avionics equipment fitted.  

I  did have a small wobble when I noticed that the Mk.IV nose intake seems to be a rather narrower shape in some reference photos, plus there are two very small intakes on the top of the nose that Airfix have not included.  I'm not sure if these are real differences between a VI and a V, or basic errors in the underlying kit. So I ignored them!

The after cabin received a few scratch additions to represent the radio set and the forward cockpit received a sprue headrest for the pilot. Both then received seat belts cut from brown paper.  Other than the wing fold, there is little more to say about this kit.  It didn’t require any filler, although I did lightly sand down the prominent rivets to a more realistic size.  Not only does this look better, but it helps with decal application. Painting the complex canopy requires a lot of care;  my favourite "thin" paintbrush has finally expired, so I did struggle with it somewhat; my canopy brushing definitely needs more work.


For the wing fold, I used the Airwaves etch set, which also provides some useful external details such as catapult hooks, the surrounds for the wing-fold struts, a nose intake gauze and the bomb crutches. I also added some styrene strip framing details in the rather empty undercarriage bays.

The wing-fold etch works well, but the Airfix wing attachment solution is very fragile and missing the prominent fuselage support struts (which I made from styrene rod). After some experimentation, I replaced the plastic fixing lug with metal rod cut from a paper clip; not only was this much stronger, but it allowed me to move (bend) the wings after attachment to give the desired positioning.

Paint, as always, is hand-brushed enamel (Humbrol 123 Extra Dark Sea Grey and 224 Dark Slate grey, plus Revell 59 for the Sky undersides).  A top coat of Klear was used to bed in the decals, which were mostly from generic Modeldecal sets, plus some inkjet printed serial numbers. Finally, some thinned Windsor & Newton matt acrylic varnish provided an even top coat.

This is a delightful Airfix kit, whose only complexity and weakness (literally) is the wing-folding arrangement.  I have another one of these in the stash, but not sure whether to build it as an AS.6 or as a target tug.  Comparing with my FROG Mk.1 and my reference pictures, its fuselage does look a little narrow, but in most respects it builds into a fine model of this important Royal Navy aircraft!

Fairey Firefly Mk.1

766 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, RNAS Lossiemouth, 1949

Novo (FROG) 1/72  with  some scratch updates and markings from the spares box and inkjet

Despite the arrival of the improved Mark.4 and  Mark.5  Fireflies, the early variants remained in active service beyond the end of WW2,  including the FR.1 which was equipped with the ASH radar, carrying its antenna in an external  pod below the  forward fuselage.  Production stopped in 1946, but 11 new squadrons  converted to Firefly Mk.1s after 1945, mostly as a replacement for the ungainly Fairey Barracuda.  Firefly FR.1s of  827 Naval Air Squadron, embarked in HMS TRIUMPH conducted the first British strikes against the Korean mainland (alongside Seafires of 800 Sqn), attacking Heiju airfield on 3rd July 1949.  

This particular aircraft is depicted whilst serving with 766 training squadron in 1949, based ashore at RNAS Lossiemouth in North East Scotland.

Building the Novo (FROG) Firefly kit:

This is another classic British kit, first released by FROG in 1972.  For its time, it was a reasonably accurate kit, much simpler than, but nicely complementing the Airfix issue of the later Mk.V variant.  Mine was box/bagless, but its fine moulding and hard dark blue plastic suggest it was a reasonably early Novo issue from 1976-1977.

The pilot’s cockpit is very basic, although a more reasonable attempt was made on the Observer’s work space.  Nevertheless, based on my previous build and the very poor clear parts that come with this kit (thick & rough) I made only very small attempts to improve these by fitting paper seat-belts, plus adding a simple shelf and radio set in front of the Observer.  However, I did add some card and strip detail to the undercarriage bays, which FROG would have you leave completely see-through.   The kit fitted together very well, with filler only needed  at the wing to fuselage join, where a small gap exists. Surface detail is lightly raised, a little toolightly, and the underwing detail is a little disappointing, with no indicaiton of the wing-fold or complex Fairey-Youngman flaps on the inner underwing sections

Have a look at many more RN post war aircraft  on my Flight Deck pages

My full Firefly collection (to date - I still have an AS.6 and an AS.7 to build!)

The Real Thing: Fireflies at the Fleet Air Arm Museum:

Have a look at many more RN post war aircraft  on my Flight Deck pages

The Real Thing: © Crown Copyright IWM ATP 15171D

For the colour scheme and markings, I wanted to show a late Firefly in EDSG and Sky, contrasting with my FR.4 in its wartime temperate sea scheme.   Research showed a number of options for this, but to keep things simple and avoid needing to build the ASH radar pod, I chose to copy one of the options on the Trumpeter 1/48 kit, not least because it has some nice profile pictures.   With the exception of the roundels, my decals are home-made and inkjet printed, so the font on the side number is not correct, but was the closest I could find.

Paint is brushed on enamel, with Humbrol 123 for the top surfaces, and Revell Matt 59 for the Sky lower surfaces.  Once again, applying the Revell paint felt like spreading filler, far too thick and lumpy despite extensive thinning and it did not cover the dark plastic well, requiring 3 coats before I was happy. For future builds I think I may return to the Humbrol equivalent, although it does feel a little to light and blue for early aircraft.  Klear was used to bed in the decals, then a top coat of Micro-Sol satin varnish to finish.

So there we have it, two highly enjoyable “lockdown” Firefly builds of classic kits in slightly different colours from normal.  

Now about that vacform AS.7; do I feel brave enough to try yet ?