December 2021

Blackburn Firebrand TF Mk.5

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Blackburn B.46 Firebrand TF Mk.5

827 Naval Air Sqn,  RN Air Station Ford, 1951.

1/72 Valom,

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Building the Valom Firebrand Mk.5:

Valom are a well regarded short run manufacturer from the Czech Republic.  I already have their Firebrand Mk.2 kit and although I haven’t built it yet, it certainly looks good in the box.  

However, the Mk.5 kit is not related to the earlier variant in any way, with many more parts and an entirely different sprue layout.  First impressions are that this is not quite so nice. On my kit, surface detail was a little soft, but despite the lack of any locating pins, the parts fit was generally good, with only a little fettling of the wing joints needed.

The cockpit is provided as a nice looking resin single piece, to which you add side panels and a mix of resin and white metal parts.  I decided to leave the  main part on its pouring stub to ease handling while painting and this was a mistake, as the main floor cracked when I cut it off.

The resin side panels are nicely formed, but bear little resemblance to the parts show in the instructions, either in size or orientation.  Eventually, after several trial fits, I got them to fit very snugly in place, but I suspect not the right place, as I then had lots of trouble fitting the cockpit and seat in place. The finished cockpit looks very good, but almost none of it can be seen through the small cockpit aperture.

The undercarriage assembled well, albeit that it looks a little fragile.  I broke the extending struts as I removed them from the resin block, so have replaced with some (stronger) plastic rod.  The torpedo comes with a myriad of individual brass etch propeller blades, guaranteed to drive all but the most precise and gentle modeller mad - I used the spare one from a Trumpeter Wyvern instead! Two vacform canopies are provided, along with a diagram showing how to cut them into the open position.

Two decal options are provided, for an entirely grey operational 827 Sqn aircraft at RNAS Ford in 1951, or a sea-camouflaged 703 Sqn training aircraft from RNAS Lee on Solent in 1947. I chose the 827 option, but after studying several references decided to paint it in the full temperate sea camouflage scheme - possibly reflecting its earlier Squadron life. The decals were good, but the re is a little intense, and the numbers on the decal sheet repeat themselves.

The main frustration with this kit was the instructions, whose drawings contain several strange errors, omissions, some vagueness and they also repeat themselves at one point.  It builds into a nice replica, but I couldn’t help feeling that it did not entirely live up to my expectations and rather than proved the very fine detailed (and for many of us, unusable) brass, it might have been better, for example, to replicate the very distinctive and very large flaps that were such a distinctive feature of this aircraft. However, it looks good and I think the TF.Mk.II needs to be built next!

The assembled resin and brass cockpit and resin side panels before being fitted into the closed fuselage, never to be seen again !  The brass seat bets are very well done - in the picture, I have yet to paint the buckles and bend them into place.

The box for the tail wheel looked very crude on the sprue, but fitted remarkable well.

Despite the lack of location pins, the two fuselage halves fitted together nicely, as did the wings.

The Blackburn Firebrand was conceived in the early 1940s as a short range fighter to replace the Skua and Fulmar in RN carrier service. Powered by the massive Napier Sabre 24 Cylinder  engine, it was also envisaged that it could operate from shore in defence of naval bases (another area of naval aviation that the RAF had badly neglected during its tenure of the Fleet Air Arm).

In its original form, it was a two-seater like its predecessors, hence its very large size and long fuselage.  Unfortunately, shortages of the Napier engine (they were re-allocated to the Hawker Typhoon, which was at a more advanced state of design) pushed Blackburn to use the Bristol Centaurus instead, with its lower power making the Firebrand unsuitable as a fighter.   The Air Ministry quickly reassigned it as a single seat long range Strike Fighter, to carry an anti-shipping torpedo or 2 bombs and unguided rockets as well as its existing 20mm cannon.   Blackburn widened the fuselage (and wing span) slightly to accommodate the torpedo, increased the size of the fin and rudder to improve longitudinal stability and the Firebrand entered service just after WW2 ended.  

Firebrands saw relatively limited service, but remained operational for over 8 years, until replaced by the Westland Wyvern in the early 1950s.  The aircraft was large and ungainly on the flight deck, with its long nose and rear-set cockpit making pilot visibility very poor.  It was also difficult to maintain, making it generally unpopular.

© IWM  (ATP 16298C) - The real thing !

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