January 2022

Blackburn Firebrand TF.II

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Blackburn B.45 Firebrand TF.II

708 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Lee on Solent, 1949.

Valom 1/72 .

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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.   

The TF.II was based on the Sabre-engined fighter variant converted to carry a torpedo by widening the wing centre section and moving the undercarriage outwards..  It was used purely for evaluation, with only 12 built.

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.e.  

Building the Valom Firebrand Mk.II Kit:

This is very much a follow-on build from last month's Valom Firebrand TF.5 and I think that in some ways this is my preferred kit of the two.  The longer Napier Sabre III cowling and the wider cockpit definitely convey the "Seafire on Steroids" size of the Firebrand more effectively for me.

It is also, I reckon, the nicer of the two kits, with less parts and a generally better fit, except around the front edge of the wing to fuselage joint which needed some fettling. In general, parts fit (including the vacform canopy) was commendably good for a short-run kit although once again, the instructions contained some surprising mistakes. The undercarriage doors need to be fitted the other way around from the instructions (found that out too late), plus they will need to be splayed out at an angle to allow torpedo fitment.  Surface detail is engraved, perhaps a little too lightly, but much sharper than the Mk.5 kit.  

I was a little surprised to see the propeller is moulded as a single part, which harks back to the olden days of FROG.  It's OK, but I would have expected a little more detail for a modern kit. Blades also look a little short to me - I have no way of confirming this, but given the engine's power surely a bigger diameter would have been needed? As it stands the kit's 3 blades are shorter than the 4 blades of the less powerful Centaurus engine on the Mk.V kit.

Decals are good, but far simpler than those for the Mk.5, with fewer stencils and other engineering markings.  

The kit is intended to represent an early aircraft operated for evaluation by 708 Sqn at RNAS Lee on Solent in 1945. Here once more there is some confusion in the instructions, which show a different aircraft from the decals and the box top illustration.

Unlike my rather worn looking operational Mk.V model, I have gone for a pristine finish on this Mk.II evaluation machine. Paints are hand-brushed Humbrol enamel as always, with acrylic Klear used to bed the decals in and a W&N matt varnish top coat.

The Real Thing!  These photographs, taken in 1943 onboard HMS ILLUSTRIOUS in the Clyde, look to be a prototype Firebrand fighter (there is no space between inner gear doors for the torpedo).

Above: © IWM A 14852

Below © IWM A 20648

A Firebrand TF Mk.II with torpedo. © IWM MH 4526

Below:  My Firebrand Mk.II and Mk.5 kits together