|Classic Airframes 1/48 Westland Whirlwind
By Tom Cleaver
Seldom if ever was a British airplane as wrapped in red tape as was the Westland Whirlwind. Designed in response to Air Ministry Specification F.37/35 of 1935, the prototype flew in 1938 and entered service in 1940 as the first single-seat twin-engine fighter used in any numbers by any of the leading air forces. A closely-guarded secret from the British public, the Whirlwind appeared in a French technical paper in 1938, and was featured in a German aircraft recognition handbook in 1940; it was not officially revealed by the Air Ministry until August 1941 and details were not released to the press until February, 1942.
The basic feature of the Whirlwind was its four closely grouped 20mm cannon in the nose, with a rate of fire of 600 lb./min., which placed it ahead of any fighter in the world prior to the introduction of the Bristol Beaufighter. Along with heavy firepower, it had first-rate speed and climb performance, excellent maneuverability and a pilot's fighting view hitherto unsurpassed. In its day, the Whirlwind was faster than the Spitfire low down, and with light lateral control was considered one of the nicest "twins" ever built. The airplane's nickname, "Crikey," was inspired by a famous Shell advertisement of the day which depicted a worker with a swivel neck seeing something flash past him at high speed, exclaiming "Crikey, that's Shell, that was!"
Unfortunately for designer W.E.W. Petter - who went on to design the classic Canberra ten years later - the official specification saddled the airplane with the Rolls Royce Peregrine, an engine badly in need of further development which Rolls Royce - committed as they were to the Merlin - could not give. The Whirlwind was great below 15,000 feet; unfortunately, by the time it entered combat, most air fighting was happening at far higher altitudes. Had bureaucracy not held up production, the Whirlwind would likely be immortal for its service as a bomber destroyer in the Battle of Britain, the mission for which it was originally designed.
With the heavy armament and excellent low altitude speed and handling, the Whirlwind became a strafer par excellence, and on July 21, 1942, became the "Whirli-bomber" with the provision of racks that could take either 250 or 500-lb. bombs under the outer wings. The aircraft only equipped two first-line squadrons, 263 and 137, since the Air Ministry did not extend production past the first 200 Whirlwinds ordered because of the engine problems that restricted high-altitude performance.
In September 1941, four Whirlwinds of 263 Squadron on a low-altitude sortie over the Cherbourg Peninsula were intercepted by 20 Bf-109s. Although outnumbered 5-1, the Whirlwinds gave good account of themselves and destroyed two of the 20 attackers. Two Whirlwinds were damaged and a third force-landed on return to base. Whirlwinds were used extensively as night intruders, specializing in train busting at night when passenger trains could be attacked, since only Germans were allowed to travel at night.
137 and 263 Squadrons exchanged their Whirlwinds for Typhoons in 1943, and the type passed unlamented from the wartime scene. One, used as a company hack by Westland, lasted until it was dismantled in 1948. None exist today.
With its slim, elegant lines and distinctive look, one would assume the Whirlwind was a "natural" for kit makers, and one would be very, very wrong. For nearly 30 years, the only available kit of the Whirlwind was Airfix's 1/72 offering, which - even after it was updated in the late 70s - leaves a lot to be desired insofar as accuracy of outline and look is concerned, not to mention there is virtually none of the detail modelers consider de rigeur in the 1990s. Fortunately, some six years ago, Roy Sutherland's Cooper Details came to the rescue of those of us who build in 1/48 - the scale of the Large Powerful Gods - with one of the most detailed vacuform kits ever produced by anyone. I picked one up four years ago and had one of the most pleasant modeling experiences of my entire career.
However, for those who consider vacuforms the spawn of the devil, Jules Bringuer's announcement two years ago that Classic Airframes would produce a limited-run injection molded 1/48 Whirlwind has had modelers salivating ever since.
The fact that Classic Airframes purchased the rights to Roy Sutherland's incredible cast resin cockpit from his kit for theirs is a dead giveaway as to the lineage of this kit. It is the Cooper Details kit minus the vacuformed parts. With 18 nicely-molded limited-run injection-molded parts, and a cockpit with over 40 parts, this is the way limited-run kits should be. Previously, Classic Airframes has gyrated from the heights to the depths quality-wise from release to release. Considering that the C.R.32, released this past summer, and the G.55 which was released virtually simultaneously with the Whirlwind, are all to a similar standard of excellence, this reviewer has been provided hope that Jules Bringuer has finally figured out the mold makers to work with and the ones to avoid.
Construction starts with the cockpit, the most detailed part of the model. After washing the resin parts carefully, I shot them with British Interior Green and set them aside to dry. While that was going on, I cleaned up the five-part wing and the engine nacelles, glued them together, puttied the joins as necessary, and set the sub-assembly aside to dry.
The cockpit has a lot of detail, but is easily constructed. Comparing this one to the cockpit of my Cooper Details vacuform, I think it's fair to say the Classic Airframes version has been somewhat simplified. It's not a problem, and only a direct comparison with the earlier cockpit would reveal this fact to anyone. The only really hard part of this work is that there are a number of small parts and they have to be assembled; the work is merely time-consuming rather than difficult.
Once the cockpit was assembled, I sanded the interior of the fuselage halves to insure a smooth fit for the cockpit - with considerable, and set it in place. I glued the fuselage halves together, fitted the horizontal stabilizer, and attached the wing. Here is where the test-fitting of the cockpit into the fuselage counts: if you've gotten it too wide, you have to cut and fiddle the wing-to-fuselage joint. Once everything was together and aligned properly, I puttied over the seams and joins, and set the model aside for the night. Light filing and sanding the next day had all the joins and seams smooth and looking good.
The kit provides markings for two aircraft: one 263 Squadron machine from Spring 1941, in dark earth/green uppers, sky lowers with left lower wing painted black, and one 137 Squadron Whirlibomber from 1942 in Ocean Grey/Dark Green upper-Sea Grey Medium lower. The 137 Squadron plane, SF-P "Comrades in Arms" was also covered by the Cooper Details kit and has been sitting on my shelf for 4 years, so the choice was easy.
I painted the sky lower surfaces, masked them off and painted the lower left wing black. Once all that was dry, I did the upper surface camouflage. British aircraft were painted using masking mattes, which gives a "hard" edge in 1/48; if you mask off the dark earth with tape directly to the surface, the result will be a "paint line" distinct enough to be felt with your fingertips. The solution is to cut the drafting tape, then run thread along the demarcation edge, about 1/16-inch inboard. When you place this on the model, the thread will raise the edge and give the proper look, with some slight over-spray, while retaining a smooth overall surface. I used the very nice color 4-view to get the pattern right.
I might note that there is evidence to support the idea that early Whirlwinds were painted "Duck Egg Blue" instead of "Sky" on the undersides and the fuselage stripe, with the spinners in Sky, with some aircraft repainted Sky before the entire fleet was repainted Ocean Grey/Green uppers and Sea Grey Medium lowers. You decide.
Hooray! Hooray! Classic Airframes has decided to have their decals done by Microscale!! The Propagteam decals used previously have the problem of being a bit too thin, and wanting to adhere to whatever surface they were set on, immediately - this made moving decals into position a bit of a dicey operation. Fortunately, the kit decals work just like Microscale decals are supposed to.
Since this would have been an airplane that had only recently entered service, I was light on the paint chipping and other weathering, though I did "smoke" the nose slightly and do the exhaust stains. I used nylon "instant repair" thread for the radio antenna and IFF antennas. A bit of "mud" on the tires since these airplanes flew from grass strips, and the Whirlwind was finished.
The only inaccuracy I discovered is that the rudder does not have the concave profile curve it should have. Had I not had the Cooper Details model at hand (which gets it right) and the old Profile Publication on the Whirlwind, I would not have noticed, and most everyone else won't, either. This is a nice-looking, fairly easy-to-do model of an interesting airplane. Those of us who prefer the RAF-waffe to the Luftwaffe have another winner for the collection.