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Tamiya's 1/48 Bristol Beaufighter TF.X

By Tom Cleaver

 

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The Airplane

Before the Second World War, the twin-engine two seat fighter was seen primarily as a day interceptor, a task better fulfilled by the single-seat single-engine fighter. Germany created the Messerschmitt Bf-110, which was found sadly deficient in speed, acceleration and maneuverability when ranged against smaller and lighter fighters in daylight.

In Britain just before the war, it was suddenly realized that there were other important tasks the large multi-engine fighter could perform that its smaller counterparts could not. The result of the specification then issued was a piece of true British improvisation, the Bristol Beaufighter, which first entered service in late 1940.

The Bristol Aeroplane Company had foreseen this need; in 1938, L.G. Frise and his team began what was essentially a fighter variant of the Beaufort general-reconnaissance and torpedo bomber. The economy of the proposal was of obvious appeal to the RAF, and the first prototype flew July 17, 1939, two weeks after a production contract for 300 Beaufighters had been placed.

The Beaufighter IF arrived at the right time. British technology had created airborne radar, which needed a large airframe to carry the equipment and the weapons necessary to destroy the target. Beginning in November 1940 with 29 Squadron, the airplane became progressively responsible for the aerial defense of Britain by night, a task it performed admirably until replaced by the faster Mosquito beginning in 1943.

At the same time, Coastal Command discovered that a heavily- armed long-range fighter for anti-shipping strikes was just what it needed over the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean. 252 Squadron was the first Coastal Command squadron mounted on the Beaufighter. On April 4, 1943, the airplane added torpedo strike to its repertoire when two ships were sunk off Norway.

The success of the Mk. VIC "Torbeau" led directly to the TF.X, which was powered by a modified version of the Hercules VI engine having cropped impellers and the superchargers locked in "M" ratio. These engines, designated Hercules XVII, proved 1,735 h.p. at 500 feet, which gave the airplane its maximum performance at the low altitudes at which Coastal Command operated its airplanes. The TF.X, the last major production variant, passed through several important modification stages without any change in its mark number. These included the introduction of A.I. Mk. VIII radar in a "thimble" nose, and later a large dorsal fin to provide the required directional stability.

When the last Beaufighter (SR919) left the factory on September 21, 1945. 5,562 of Bristol's big twin had been produced in Great Britain. After the war, the airplane served with the air forces of Portugal and the Dominican Republic. As the TT.10 target tug, it flew with the RAF around the world until the last one went off service in May, 1960. The Beaufighter may have been an improvisation, but it was remarkably successful.

The Kit

Tamiya first released its Beaufighter in June, 1997. Modelers in England were dismayed that it was not as detailed as they had hoped, and that there were several things "wrong," most notably the elevator trim tab actuators, which were on the wrong side of the horizontal stabilizer. There was nothing that could not be solved with a modicum of modeling skill, and the kit has been quite successful. In its initial release, it came as a Mk. VI, but with the "thimble" nose and the autopilot fairing of the Mk.21, it was not difficult to make every version of the airplane other than the Merlin-powered Mk.II and the small-elevator Mk. I; aftermarket sets were released which allowed these versions to be built, also.

The new kit differs from the first version released by providing the larger rudder with the long dorsal fin, an 18" aerial torpedo and mounts, and two 500 lb. bombs and racks, which comes on a separate sprue.

Decals allow the modeler to make the well-known early Mk. X, NT950 "T-Tommy" of 236 Squadron, Banff Strike Wing, in attractive D-Day markings, and "F-Frankie" of 254 Squadron, also in the Banff Wing. While the instructions call for overall Extra Dark Sea Grey upper camouflage with Sky lower surfaces for both aircraft, I think from studying the well-known set of air-to-air photos of T-Tommy that the airplane had the earlier Coastal Command camouflage of Extra Dark Sea Grey/Slate Grey in a disruptive scheme over Sky lower surfaces.

This is probably not an argument that will ever be resolved one way or the other decisively, but I already did NT950 with the earlier kit. I think I will modify the earlier model with the torpedo armament, and then turn this Beau into a TT.10 in the postwar scheme, since RD351 - the airplane for which markings are provided here including the large underwing serials - was later converted to TT.10 standard and eventually became one of the last Beaufighters operated by the RAF.

Conclusion

Overall, this is still the same nice kit that has been around the past two years, with the same easily-solved problems, and some new items. Those who like the big bad Beaufighter will be glad this has arrived.

This kit is available from Hobby Link Japan, which kindly provided this review copy.




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Air Intelligence
1999 Modelers'
Reference Guides

1/32 Scale Guide $18.00
1/48 Scale Guide $25.00
1/72 Scale Guide $25.00
HH-43 Huskie Color
Reference Guide $15.00

Please add $3.20 Postage in the US.

TacAir Publications

PO Box 90933
Albuquerque NM
87199-0933
USA

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