|Azur 1/72 Breda Ba.65
By Chris Bucholtz
Every major nation in World War II had an aircraft whose performance in combat fell horrendously short of expectations, with disastrous results for their crews. The U.S. had the TBD Devastator, the British the Boulton-Paul Defiant, the Germans the Messerschmitt Me 210, the Japanese the Ki.49 "Helen" and the Soviets the Yak-4. For reasons of space, we wont go into French aircraftthe list would be too long.
The Italian aircraft industry had a few notable dogs of its own. The Breda Ba.88 Lince was a colossal failure thanks to engine problems, and most of them did their best duty as airfield decoys. A sadder fate befell Bredas earlier attack plane, the Ba.65; every example was expended in combat against the British, the last serviceable planes destroyed in February 1941.
The Ba.65 was conceived as a single-seat multi-role aircraft, able to serve as a fighter, light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. The plane was living proof of the aeronautical engineering axiom, "if it looks right, it is right"because it didnt look right. An ungainly-looking, hump-backed beast with an unswept windscreen, partially retractable landing gear and a strut- and wire-braced horizontal tail, the plane entered production in 1936. In 1937, the Ba.65 saw combat over Spain, and its weaknesses were quickly evident. Although it had the same approximate dimensions, weight and engine power as the Spitfire, it was 145 mph slower, making it worse than useless in the fighter role. Though well-armed for its day, with two 7.62mm and two 12.7mm machine guns, it could carry its maximum load of 2205 pounds of bombs only at a great range penalty. A load of 600 pounds was more common. When the fighter role was phased out, many aircraft were modified to carry a gunner in an open dorsal position; a few had the Breda Type L turret installed.
Although this experience pointed out the Ba.65s inherent flaws, the Regia Aeronautica was slow in developing a replacement, and when war came to Italy in June 1940, the 5th and 50th Stormi brought their eight squadrons of bombers to the desert. The hot, sandy conditions resulted in a miserable serviceability rate, and when the Ba.65s could fly, British opposition chopped them out of the sky. At a top speed of 255 mph and a range of 342 miles, the Ba.65s helped many British pilots achieve ace status.
Azurs short-run kit of the Ba.65 is the first injection-molded stab at this notable failure. The model has the look of an MPM kit, which is not surprising; even though Azur is a French company, this kit was tooled and molded in the Czech Republic. Although the kit doesnt specify which variant it depicts, the parts allow the modeler to build a Ba.65bis, powered by the Isotta-Fraschini K.14 engine, a license-built Gnome-Rhone powerplant. The main structure of the plane is molded in plastic, but the engine and cowling, with its multiple rocker-arm cover fairings, are cast as a single, beautifully executed piece. Only a bit of flash at the cowling opening will need to be removed.
The plastic parts feature petite scribing, with a bit of flash around the landing gear well openings, fuselage and tail. The right fuselage half has two prominent raised ejector pin marks on the outside of the fuselagean easily remedied but unnecessary problem. Some decisions will need to be made up-front about your Ba.65; an insert for the dorsal gun position is included, and a chunk of the upper fuselage will need to be removed to fit this option. A fret of brass by Eduard provides seat belts, a bit of sidewall detail and an instrument panel, complete with photo-negative instruments. The other cockpit componentsthe spade-style control column and seatare quite crude and might best be replaced by after-market parts. The dorsal machine gun, its scarf ring and a gunners seat are provided, but all are rather nondescript. There is no sidewall detail included for the rear compartment and some basic work with styrene strip and wire would enhance this area a great deal. The kit provides a vacuformed transparency for the belly window, but the opening is faired over and a serious amount of plastic will have to be removed. For the faint of heart, the framing is molded into the fuselage, so some judicious use of paint might be a suitable option for some modelers.
The landing gear struts, once the mold part lines are removed, are rather nice for a short-run kit, as is the propeller. The wheels, however, are another storythey are molded in halves. Check your spares boxamazingly, Mustang wheels are a close match! The brass sheet provides the curious geared retraction mechanisms, and the chunky gear covers look like the real items. The exhaust stacks are another problem area, but it would be difficult for mainstream manufacturers to duplicate these flared and flattened pipes. Superdetailers may want to try some rudimentary metalworking to turn brass tubing into a representation of these unique stacks.
The wings, tail, rudder and engine assembly all butt-join to the fuselage, making it important that the modeler test fit frequently and pay close attention to alignment during assembly. The instruction sheet, which is hopelessly jumbled in its sequence, includes instructions on where to place the rigging on the tail. The canopies are vacuformed and are very clear; the long canopy for a single-seater and the shorter canopy for the two-seater are included. Take care in cutting them out; the lower windows below the windscreen on the sides of the fuselage are in a perfect position to be sliced off by the impatient or unwary.
The kits real highlight is the decal sheet, printed by Propagteam. The markings are sharp and in register, and although black is the predominant color, all the printingincluding some very small letteringis clean and legible. The markings provided allow you to build three planes. The first two options are for an 8a Gruppo, 94a Squadriglia single seater and a 8a Gruppo, 93a Squadriglia two-seater as they appeared in Italy in 1938, wearing three-tone camouflage schemes and a green-white-orange rudder. The camouflage patterns are different for each plane. The third set of markings is for a Spanish Civil War single-seater from the 65a Squadriglia at Tudela airfield in 1938 in the green/sand/dark brown mottle scheme. No FS numbers are given, so the modeler will have to do some research to nail down the colors precisely.
Building other variants of the Ba.65 from this kit will be difficult unless Azur decides to add a few partsnamely, a engine/cowling plug for the Fiat A.80 RC 41 and the Breda Type L turret. That could be an entirely new kit, and portray the aircraft supplied to Iraq and Portugal. While there are plenty of problems with the kit that could confound new builders, anyone whos ever built an MPM-quality short run kit should be able to handle this Italian job given some scratchbuilding skills and resourcefulness for scavenging from the spares box.