Kit No. Unknown
The Bristol Beaufighter was designed from the Bristol Beaufort, a twin-engine medium bomber. The Beaufighter prototype first flew less than two months before the outbreak of World War II, on July 17, 1939. Two weeks earlier, the British Air Ministry had placed a production contract with the Bristol Aeroplane Company for 300 machines. This seemingly desperate measure was not uncommon by 1939, when there was urgent emphasis on accelerated production of badly needed combat planes. The Beaufighter was intended to fill a gap in the RAF Fighter Command inventory by providing a long range fighter with the endurance to mount effective standing patrols, something the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, good as they were, could not do. The Beaufighter was employed as a radar-equipped night fighter, torpedo bomber, and ground attack aircraft.
The Beaufighter entered service at the height of the Battle of Britain in August 1940 as a night fighter operating with the Fighter Interception Unit at Tangmere. Mk IF Beaufighters were equipped with air intercept (AI ) radar in September, and soon began inflicting punishment on the Luftwaffe. The first confirmed kill was a Dornier Do 17 shot down on the night of October 25th by R2097, an aircraft of No. 219 Squadron (Sgts. Hodgkinson and Benn) based at Redhill. The Beaufighter’s main weaponry, four 20mm Hispano cannon, provided deadly firepower that no other British fighter of the day could match. It soon bore the brunt of interception duties against German night bombers. Early AI equipment had restricted range due to the earth’s echo, but with the arrival of improved AI sets in January 1941, Beaufighter kills rapidly mounted.
Beaufighters served in Europe (in both RAF Fighter Command and, at home, Coastal Command), North Africa, the Middle East, Far East, and in the Pacific with the air forces of Australia and New Zealand, where they were known to the Japanese as “Whispering Death,” due to the speed and suddenness with which they could attack and disappear. They were particularly effective in the Western Desert due to their 1100-mile range, which could be extended to 1550 miles with overloaded fuel.
Performance (Mk. IF unless noted otherwise)
Powerplant: Two 1400 h.p. Bristol Hercules XI 14-cylinder radial air-cooled engines with two speed superchargers
Maximum Speed: 323mph at 15,000 feet
Rate of Climb: 1,960 ft. per minute (to 2000 ft.)
Service Ceiling: 26,500 ft.
Armament: 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon in nose; six Browning .303 machine guns in wings; 1 .303 Browning machine gun in dorsal position; the Mk. X could also carry one torpedo, and two 250 lb. bombs
Length: 41 ft. 4 in.
Wingspan: 57 ft. 10 in.
This kit, a Russian copy of either an Airfix or a Frog Beaufighter, came to me as a “gimme,” an extra thrown in with another kit I won in an online auction. It arrived without decals, in a worn plastic bag with a badly wrinkled, stained instruction sheet entirely in Russian. The kit sprues, stamped “Made in USSR” all had a strange, oily residue on them. I wasn’t impressed, but never being one to waste a model, threw it on the “to build” pile and returned to whatever kit it was I’d been expecting. It took a bit of detective work to establish the manufacturer as Novo, which produced several copies of Airfix kits for the Russian market prior to the end of the Cold War. It was also a “second,” a reject that was not good enough for sale in Communist Russia.
I forgot about my humble Russian Beaufighter until I needed a subject to test out a new airbrush recently. Digging it out, I realized the first order of business was to wash it thoroughly in warm soapy water. Since I’d bought an Airfix Beaufighter TFX in the meantime, I decided to cop that kit’s decals for the Russian example and get a nice Aeromaster set to replace them. Surprisingly, washing it successfully removed most of the residue.
Prepping the Kit
After the kit air-dried, I brushed it with Polly Scale Plastic Prep to remove the remaining residue. Most of the kit is pretty good, reminiscent of 1960’s Frog quality. But the Russians tried to inject a bit of detail in the cowlings that didn’t turn out quite right. This part of the mold was crude at best. I cleaned it up with an X-acto blade and sanded it as best I could, limiting my time on it since this was supposed to be just a “guinea pig” kit. As a result, one nacelle shows partially flared cowling vents, the other none at all. Many parts had to be sanded to remove pimples in the molding – not air bubbles, but little bumps everywhere. The engine cowlings, air intakes, and wheels in particular were badly formed and required a lot of sanding and filing to make them presentable. Finally, I laid down a coat of Testors primer.
Like the Frog kit, this one has an internal flight deck with separate pieces for bulkheads and seats for the aircrew. The cockpit has no other detail. The surface of the flight deck was so uneven it required heavy sanding before the bulkheads would fit flush on it. Cementing those down, I airbrushed the deck in Polly Scale Interior Green, then glued on the seats and pilots, which I’d already painted. Next I glued the flight deck in.
Next came the fuselage halves and wings, six pieces in all which assembled with no problem. The elevators on the tail were two pieces each, and were thin enough that they could easily have been molded as a single piece rather than top and bottom halves. Since they fit on the tail at an angle of 10 or 12 degrees, they have to be positioned with care. I glued the cowlings on with Elmer’s Glue in preparation for spraying the camouflage scheme, so that I could remove them easily later to attach the propellers.
A section of the fuselage directly above the torpedo is a separate piece, and is clear plastic. It would have been simpler to have two clean fuselage halves with an external attachment for the torpedo, but I painted it, cemented it in place and moved on. The manufacturer seemed to take pains to recreate the attachments for the bombs as faithfully as possible, as these pieces resemble clamp arrangements I’ve seen in photos for smaller bombs on British WWII aircraft, notably the Hurricane.
I painted the Beaufighter — outfitted as a torpedo bomber patrolling the Mediterranean — in the colors of RAF Middle East, a sand and brown scheme using Model Master enamels. The base coat was RAF Middlestone, which has a great earth tone and comes out remarkably flat. A day later I put down a coat of Military Brown in certain sections. The Beaufighter’s underside is Polly Scale Sky Blue — beautiful paint from a bottle I’ve had since the early 1980’s. Although Polly Scale still makes Sky Blue, having bought a bottle of more recent vintage, I have to say the old stuff is superior to the new.
Once the camouflage had dried, I broke off the engine cowlings to paint their interiors. The inside of the cowlings are Testors Gunship Grey, engine housings are Testors Aircraft Grey, and the engine heads are Testors Steel.
Next came the weapons. Unlike the Airfix kit, the Russian version carries what looks like a pair of 250 lb. bombs in addition to a torpedo and full set of 60 lb. rockets. I don’t know whether Beaufighters carried all this armament simultaneously — I’ve only seen rockets carried with a single torpedo — but the kit instructions didn’t show any restrictions, so I built her armed to the teeth. The rockets are painted Humbrol Steel with Model Master Light Olive Green warheads, and the torpedo is painted Polly Scale Oxidized Aluminum with the warhead in Model Master Flat Black — the best Flat Black I’ve ever seen. The bombs are Humbrol Dark Olive Matt.
I prepped the plane for decals with a few misted-on coats of Microscale Micro Gloss. The old Airfix decals held up pretty well to the decal solvent, given their age, with the exception of the roundel on the port wing, which broke into three pieces. I reassembled it with tweezers and laid down another coat of Micro Gloss. Later, with everything sealed in, I brought the high sheen of the Gloss down with three or four coats of Micro Flat.
Next came the pitot tube, dorsal antenna, and clear plastic pieces. The cockpit canopy is slightly oversized, but looks surprisingly good despite a scratch or two. I painted it freehand and cleaned up any excess with the sharpened end of a toothpick. Using a pin vise, I drilled a small hole in the tail for the radio aerial — ceramic wire from Precision Enterprises Unlimited. This is the finest material for radio aerials I’ve ever seen, and I highly recommend it.
- Profile Publications No. 137, The Bristol Beaufighter I and II