Kit No. 221
Decals: Two versions
Comments: Old kit, basic cockpit, raised panel lines, simple construction; minor fit issues with canopy
Originally named the “Spider Crab,” the De Havilland DH. 100 Vampire flew for the first time on September 20, 1943, but only six were built by the time the war ended in May 1945. Despite this, and the fact that its development was spurred by the threat of Germany building jet bombers to attack Britain, the Vampire managed to avoid becoming the victim of extensive post-war budget cuts, which ended production of many other existing aircraft types along with the development of several more. The first production Vampire Mk I did not fly until April 1945, and the type did not formally enter service until 1946. In July 1945, with famed test pilot Captain Eric Brown of the Royal Navy at the controls, it was the first jet aircraft to take off and land from an aircraft carrier, the HMS Ocean.
In 1946, the first Vampire Mk I fighters entered RAF service in the interceptor role. Soon thereafter, considerable numbers of Mk I aircraft began equipping RAF squadrons of the Second Tactical Air Force stationed in Germany, often to replace wartime fighters such as the Hawker Typhoon, Hawker Tempest, and North American Mustang. On July 3, 1948, the Vampire became the first jet aircraft to equip peacetime units of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, gradually replacing the de Havilland Mosquito. A trainer version, the T.11, began equipping training squadrons in 1952, only being phased out with the arrival of the BAC Jet Provost in 1965.
Ironically, de Havilland were initially more interested in building a jet bomber, but were approached by the Air Ministry in 1941 to build a fighter airframe for a newly developed Halford H.1 centrifugal flow turbojet as insurance against Germany using jet bombers against Britain; this was considered a higher priority. Their first design, designated DH.99, was an all-metal, twin-boom, tricycle undercarriage aircraft armed with four cannon. The use of a twin boom enabled the jet pipe to be kept relatively short, which avoided the power loss that would have occurred if a long pipe was used, as would have been necessary by a conventional fuselage. It also put the rudder empennage clear of interference from the exhaust. Performance was estimated at 455 miles per hour (732 km/h) at sea level and initial climb of 4,590 ft/min (1,400 m/min) on 2,700 lb thrust. The Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) doubted the estimations for the aircraft’s performance and weight, but the project received permission to proceed in July 1941.
With modifications incorporating combined wood-and-metal construction based on MAP recommendations, the design was renumbered DH.100 by November 1941. It was considered largely experimental due to its use of a single engine at a time when two turbojets were deemed essential for the desired performance, and some unorthodox features, unlike the Gloster Meteor which had been specified for production early on. Construction of the “Spider Crab” exploited de Havilland’s extensive experience in the use of moulded plywood for aircraft construction; many design features that were used on the DH.100, such as the fuselage nacelle and tall triangular vertical surfaces, had been present on the company’s preceding Mosquito, a highly successful and widely produced fighter bomber built mostly of plywood and balsa wood, and for a time the fastest aircraft in the European theatre. Design work continued through 1942 and 1943, leading to the September 20th test flight, but aside from more a more powerful Goblin engine, the airframe remained true to its initial form with a twin boom design, small fuselage and four nose-mounted 20mm cannon.
The first prototype of the “Vampire Fighter-Bomber Mk 5” (FB.5), modified from a Vampire F.3, carried out its initial flight on 23 June 23, 1948. The FB.5 retained the Goblin III engine of the F.3, but featured armour protection around engine systems, wings clipped back by 1 ft (30 cm), and longer-stroke main landing gear to handle greater takeoff weights and provide clearance for stores/weapons load. An external tank or 500 lb (227 kg) bomb could be carried under each wing, and eight “3-inch” rocket projectiles (“RPs”) could be stacked in pairs on four attachments inboard of the booms. Although an ejection seat was considered, it was not fitted. At its peak, 19 RAF squadrons flew the FB.5 in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. The FB.5 undertook attack missions during the British Commonwealth’s campaign to suppress the insurgency in Malaya in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The FB.5 fighter-bomber became the most numerous single-seat variant, with 473 aircraft produced, most of them built by English Electric Aircraft at its Preston, Lancashire factories.
During its service life, a total of 3,268 Vampires were built in 15 versions, including a twin-seat night fighter, a trainer, and a carrier-based aircraft designated the Sea Vampire. The Vampire was used by some 31 air forces; Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.S. were the only major Western powers not to use the type. While built to address a specific wartime threat, the Vampire survived to become a mainstay of Western air forces in the early Cold War years of jet fighters.
Heller’s SNCASE SE.535 Mistral, a French license-built version of the De Havilland Vampire, provided the basis for this kit. Construction of the kit was trouble free, as Heller is known for reasonably good fit, even on its older kits. The cockpit features a seat, control stick, and instrument panel with raised detail. Minor puttying and sanding were required for the air intakes, and to fill the seam at the nose where the fuselage halves joined. Sanding was also required where the twin booms are cemented into the trailing edge of the wings. The only glitches were that the jet exhaust pipe did not quite line up perfectly, and should have protruded from the aft end of the fuselage just a bit more on one side; also the canopy fit leaves something to be desired, particularly for the windshield, which did not nestle in as snugly as it should have, resulting in a small gap between the windshield and the canopy. Other than these minor issues, this was a simple and enjoyable build, not terribly detailed or problematic.
The Vampire is airbrushed in Polly Scale Night Black, No. 505214, and out-of-production acrylic that I wish I’d bought more of way back when. It goes on smooth as silk with a nice flat sheen and does not clog the airbrush at all. The paint scheme of the Mexican Air Force actually called for a very dark green, but it appeared black on the color decal sheet, which looked more appealing to the eye. As the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana only operated 15 of these aircraft, who’s to say that one or two weren’t painted black?
The Vampire bears markings by Aztec Models for the Mexican Air Force (Gothic Warrior Vampire, Sheet No. 72-041), which purchased 15 of the type from Fliteways, Inc., a Wisconsin-based business, in December 1960. Fliteways had previously purchased 27 Vampires from the Royal Canadian Air Force with the intent to sell them to private entities until blocked by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The Mexican Air Force put them into service by February 1961, initially without assigning them to a specific squadron, but eventually they were integrated into Escuadron Aereo 200 (Aerial Squadron 200). Mexico had been interested in the purchase of jet fighters since a number of Mexican fishing boats had been machine-gunned by Guatemalan Air Force P-51’s.
- Aztec’s Gothic Warrior Vampire, Sheet No. 72-041