September 2022

Part 1 - AW101 Merlin HM.1

Part 2 - Grumman Avenger AS.4

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Leonardo AW101 Merlin HM.1 (Model 111)

814 “Tiger” Naval Air Squadron, HMS ILLUSTRIOUS / RNAS Yeovilton, 2012

(Aircraft deployed to RNAS Yeovilton providing security for 2012 Olympic sailing at Weymouth)

Revell 1/72 .

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The Royal Navy operates the advanced AW101 (formerly EH101) in the Anti Submarine and Surface Warfare roles.  Built by Agusta Westland, (now Leonardo Helicopters), in RN service it is known as the Merlin and is operated by 3 Fleet Air Arm Squadrons, 814, 820 and 824 Sqns, normally based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, but deploying regularly to sea onboard HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, HMS PRINCE OF WALES and from the small Type 23 Frigates, as well as from amphibious ships and Royal Fleet Auxiliaries.

With a comprehensive ASW mission suite from Lockheed Martin, Thales and IBM, Merlin is optimised for anti submarine warfare, with a Thales FLASH active dipping sonar, passive sonobouys  and SELEX Blue Kestrel surface search radar. Able to carry 4 Marconi Sting Ray torpedoes, 4 Mk.11 depth charges or a mixed load, it is widely acknowledged as the most capable ASW helicopter currently in service around the world.  Stripped of their ASW equipment (it is designed to be removable within a few hours), Merlins are also able to carry a large load of troops and equipment.

From 2007 onward, 30 Merlin HM.1s underwent a capability enhancement programme to become the HM.2 variant, achieving full operating capability in 2015, ready to embark on the RN’s new aircraft carriers..

Building the Revell / Italeri Merlin Kit:

This is the 4th Italeri/Revell EH-101 / AW-101 kit that I have built, so the idiosyncrasies of this particular mould are now quite familiar to me and it is one of my favourites.  

The Merlin kit first appeared in an Italeri box in 2001, nominally as a HAS.1, representing one of the early trials aircraft, with decals for 700M Sqn operating from Type 23 Frigate HMS NORTHUMBERLAND and no weapons pylons or torpedoes. I built my first one shortly after it was released and was really pleased with it, but my modelling skills have moved on and last year I decided it could be sacrificed to create a “Crowsnest AEW” conversion and that I would do a new model HM.1 with a full weapons fit using one of the more recent issues.

The ASW kit shares several sprues with the Revell HC.3 kit that appeared a year earlier, with the fuselage broken into two main parts, allowing either the

troop carrying ramp or the ASW tail (with stowage fold) to be fitted, depending on which kit you have bought.  Different inserts in the fuselage sides allow the varied window and door configurations to be accommodated. It has also appeared as a Canadian Cormorant SAR helicopter, an Italian Navy utility/troop carrier, the villain's helicopter from James Bond and also as the cancelled AH-101 US presidential helicopter (I’ve built many of these, which can be seen on my Helicopters page.

This is a more recent Revell HMA.1 issue (originally released in 2003, although mine is the 2012 re-issue), which includes an extra sprue section and additional parts within the existing sprues to represent an in-service aircraft more accurately, adding weapons pylons and Sting Ray torpedoes, pilot's wing mirrors, a proper winch, folding blade cuffs and many other antennae/lumps and bumps, including the all-important dipping sonar well (but sadly, not its internal parts) which Italeri missed. This updated kit also appears in later Italeri boxes. Most importantly, it also includes nice looking decals for 3 RN aircraft (but more on these later), one of which is one of 814 Sqn's "Tiger" decorated striped Merlin and it is this aircraft that I intend to build!

Two Merlins of 814 Sqn land onboard HMS ILLUSTRIOUS

(© Crown Copyright MOD 45153852 used under OGL)

Assembly "out the box" is generally straightforward, but a little extra work and care will improve the kit massively. The fuselage side inserts are not a good fit and need either careful alignment, or perhaps even a shim to ensure a good fit.  There are some unexpected mould release stubs in awkward places, such as the instrument panel, that need to be removed and location holes that need to be drilled before assembly. I found several omissions in the instructions, including a definite vagueness over the extra port window that needs to be cut out (I'm not entirely sure that the marked window part is the right one) and seat holes that aren't shown as needing to be cut out.

For my first ASW Merlin kit, I left the main cabin door closed, but opened the forward one so you could see the mission consoles. For this one I intend to do the opposite.  The kit's internal cabin arrangement is good, perhaps one of the best helicopter interiors I have seen, but still has some shortfalls that need to be addressed to leave the big door open.

As I found with my previous kit, the mission system operators' seats sit too far forward, not so obvious if you leave the smaller door closed.  Pictures of the rear cabin are scarce, but Britmodeller website members have kindly provided a comprehensive internal walkaround. Just be careful not to mix HM.1 Merlins with HM.2s as there are internal differences and this kit is definitely an HM.1, although the Tiger Striped aircraft is one of those that were upgraded and much of the same scheme could be displayed on an HM.2 if you are willing to do the small external changes. Only one set of twin rear "passenger" seats should be fitted, with a Sonobouy stowage in front of them (for this I used a cut down spare piece from another kit)

The forward cabin seats, whose mounting holes positions are not marked, should be a triple row. Behind them should be the sonar winch assembly and a sonobouy launcher cassette; I scratched a representation of these up from spare sprue and plastic card. The rear part of the mission console also needs to be extended aft and squared up. I also opened the internal cabin door and added an additional single seat on the forward starboard bulkhead. A pilot and co-pilot/Observer from the spares box were added in the cockpit with a little surgery to make them fit and a third aircrewman was created by joining together the body of a standing figure (from a Hasegawa tank kit I think) with some more radical surgery to give him/her an aircrew head.  The interior cabin wall looks a little plain, so I added some internal lagging, using aluminium fil that had been brunshed against a textured cutting board, giving a diagonal surface effect.

With the interior finished, the fuselage halves can be joined together.  No problems here, although note that the placement tabs are on the starboard fuselage, so the inserts should go in here first.  You will of course, have fitted the forward undercarriage bay before joining the two halves (hahaha, yes I forgot).  There is about a 1mm gap between the top of this and the cockpit floor, so I fitted a small plastic card shim to hold it in place. The rear fuselage is a separate assembly, which is attached after you have joined its two halves.  Again, fit is good, but needs a little pressure to ensure that you get a smooth and gapless joint.  Revell would have you drill a hole for the Crash Position Indicator (the black button) on the starboard rear half, but I reckon this is overkill (and I suspect the part is a little too small), so simply sanded mine flat and glued it to the surface.

The canopy is fairly easy to paint, thanks to prominent frames, but remember to painting the distinctive black surrounds seen on RN Merlins. Windscreen wipers need a little care as they are delicately raised from the surface. Some light dry brushing works, although I did have to re-do mine as the paint was a little thin!  The upper window sections need to be tinted and as with my previous kits, I used a blue permanent magic marker for this.  Its quite an effective technique, although the real thing is perhaps not as blue as mine.  The prominent interior sun blinds can be achieved using simple folded brown paper, attached to the rear bulkhead before the canopy goes on. Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm to get the canopy on, I forgot these and the roof switch panel (with decal); fortunately the missing panel is not obvious !

As you proceed onto the various antennae and other protuberances that adorn the exterior of the aircraft, it becomes more and more difficult to handle the kit without doing damage.  It also becomes obvious that this issue of the kit is far better than the original Italeri one - as well as the extra new parts, some existing parts look better formed and the detailed exterior parts are much more accurate. The thin engine exhausts go together well, but they will need a little sanding and they are very thin, so take care!  I lost one of the nose pitots early in painting - I know I put it somewhere safe to re-attach later, but can I find it?

For my previous kit I allowed the tail to fold - it worked reasonably well and lasted nearly 20 years before the joint broke. It won't remain unfolded on its own though and I used a piece of invisible tape to hold it open when required for display. For this kit, I have gone for permanently unfolded.  In theory you can also fold the main blades as they attach to a simple pivot joint.  I did so on my last kit to assist kit stowage and it also helped prevent breakages when transporting to model shows. However, if you want to have the blades realistically folded, you will need to bend the two outer/lower blades considerably to get them into the right position and angle, after which, of course, they will not unfold, so its actually either/or.  After market resin parts are available to give a more accurate fold if you wish, although it shouldn't be too difficult to achieve using the kit bits, provided you are happy to sacrifice a little accuracy.  As I now have two HM.1 kits, I decided to convert the older one so that I can swap folded and unfolded between kits as I wish.

The four GEC Marconi/BAESYSTEMS Sting Ray torpedoes and their pylons are a welcome addition over the earlier kit, since these are the "business end" of the Merlin. However, the kit parts' shape seems a little suspect to me and the painting instructions are definitely badly wrong.  Sting Rays, even drill ones, are satin black overall.  Inert Exercise torpedoes (they float to the surface after dropping) have dayglo ends, a blue band and a yellow notice telling any finder to report to the police or coastguard.  A frangible plastic Flight In Air Material (FIAM) cap covers the sensitive sonar transducers at the front end of the torpedo, however drill ones don't always carry these (they break or fall off).  Sting Rays also have a large aluminium coloured "strap" to hold them to the aircraft and a white CofG marking to assist when hoisting them onto an aircraft pylon or a STWS Torpedo tube. The flat plate at the back holds a retarding parachute that ensures the torpedo enters the water at the correct angle.  It should be a yellow anodised colour, with a green/olive cloth cover on the back. A cable goes to the extending bar on the pylon.  There are also prominent red cables emerging from the fuselage bottom and leading to the pylons - these were added from some copper wire.

As on my previous kit, I painted the cabin window surrounds black as per the real thing. The moulded kit surrounds are far too prominent, but difficult to sand down without damaging other detail - painting them black helps reduce this prominence.  The last part of the main fuselage to attach is the cabin door.  Here the Revell instructions contain a significant error, telling you to cut out the larger door window. This is not correct for an ASW Merlin, which retains the very small window.  I couldn't find a clear part for this on the sprue, so used some Krystal Clear PVA instead.  

Decals are a bix of a mixed experience.  As with most Revell kits, they are well printed and comprehensive. The Tiger stripes went on without any issues, although note that these need to be applied before any other markings. However, they do seem to have a major issue with the upper fuselage walkways.  These decals are too large for the kit, and also have bright yellow lines on their perimeter.  Whilst some real Merlins do have yellow lines, they should not be as large or as bright.  I dulled mine down with a thinned grey overcoat.  Unfortunately, the Tiger stripes are too light in colour, so that they are difficult to see on the completed model.  The real thing does seem to have varied during its life, from very high contrast to less obvious, but these are just a little too light.

Instead of the "Blue Nose" (actually dark grey) on the kit scheme, I built mine as a slightly later aircraft (from 2012 when they provided security overwatch for the Olympic sailing at Weymouth), by which time this aircraft wore 814 Sqn’s tiger motif on the nose.   

The tiger decal came from a Model Art set and although it was quite difficult to get it to conform to the nose shape, I prefer the look of it.

Paint is Humbrol 164 Medium Sea grey, a colour that I find varies considerably between tins and coats. Two thinned brush applied coats was sufficient to give good coverage.  The real thing has quite varied panel colours, but I shied away from trying to emulate this.

Alongside the detailed painting of weapons, I always find that rotor blades are worthy of particular attention on helicopter kits, since they are so prominent when completed and make such a significant contribution to people's perception of the kit when finished. The composite BERP blades fitted to the Merlin are a very significant feature and it is worth spending some time to get these correctly coloured.  I assembled these after the main fuselage was complete, keeping them unattached for storage and transport, and also allowing me to swap with a folded set on my other Merlin kit when I want to!

This is a really enjoyable kit of acceptable accuracy for most modellers.  It needs a little care in assembly, but nothing too hard.  Roll on my next one, which will be an HM.2, with all the added external equipment.

The real thing - Merlins at RNAS Yeovilton:

Merlins and a Cormorant - more on my Helicopters Pages

With my Crowsnest ASACS /AEW Merlin:

Background: Merlins of 814 Sqn land onboard HMS ILLUSTRIOUS

(© Crown Copyright MOD 45153852 used under OGL)

September 2022 - Part 2

On to Part 2 - Grumman Avenger AS.4 >>

Part 1