Pavla's 1/72 Boulton-Paul Defiant I
By Horacio Higuchi
This handsome aircraft with an unmistakably British silhouette was an unfortunate reflection of the shortsightedness of RAF strategists in predicting the future of aerial warfare in the mid-1930s. Specification F.9/35 of the Air Ministry asked for a fast, long-endurance "turret fighter"—a single-engine interceptor with a power-driven gun turret behind the pilot as its only form of armament, capable of rotating through a full 360-degree field of fire and attacking enemy planes from below. Boulton & Paul Aircraft, which had designed a four-gun revolving turret based on a French original project, met those specs with the Defiant, an elegant all-metal, two-seat fighter that resembled a sleeker Hurricane. The all-important turret itself had four 0.303-in. belt-fed Brownings, and a pair of retractable plywood fairings in front of and behind it on the upper aft fuselage made its complete rotation possible. There was a locking mechanism that prevented the guns from inadvertently tearing apart the tailplane or shooting at the pilot. A 1,030 hp RR Merlin III powerplant allowed the Defiant a maximum speed of about 300 mph at 17,000 ft, which was satisfactory considering the heavy weight of the turret contraption.
The earliest batch of Mk. I Defiants was sent to No. 264 Squadron at Manston, which in fact drew first blood over Dunkirk in May 1940, engaging both German bombers and fighters. After an initial success against Ju 87s, Do 17s and Bf 109s caught off-guard by the rearward firing turret, disaster followed as the enemy realized the Defiant was defenseless from ahead and below. Despite heavy losses, No. 264 and the recently deployed No. 141 Squadron fought on gallantly, trying to avoid contact with enemy fighters and concentrating on bomber targets during the early phase of the Battle of Britain. However, by August 1940, the enemy had destroyed about half of the Defiants produced, and the survivors were reassigned as night fighters. In this function they fared much better, and around January 1941, when the night bombing by the Luftwaffe was at its peak, the thirteen Defiant squadrons then on active duty accounted for the destruction of more enemy aircraft than any other RAF night fighter.
In September 1941, some squadrons were equipped with the Defiant Mk II, a new version fitted with a 1,280 hp Merlin XX engine and an AI Mk IV radar. From 1942 onward, however, with the Bristol Beaufighter taking over night fighting duties, the Defiant was given other tasks, such as air/sea rescue, training and target tug. Just after V-E Day, a Defiant was used as a test-bed for the first ever Martin-Baker ejection seat.
Much of the Defiant's overall disappointing performance can be blamed on its inadequate armament. At least one mock-up was built replacing the awkward turret with a set of eight wing-mounted machine guns, but for some reason this idea was not developed further. Defiant production ceased in February 1943, and a total of 1,060 airframes of all marks were built. Today, the only surviving Defiant is a Mk I, displayed at the RAF Museum in Hendon in the all-black color scheme of the No. 307 Lwowski (Polish) Night Fighter Squadron.
This is arguably one of the most eagerly awaited 1/72 kit among WWII RAF fans, a long overdue replacement for the old Airfix offering, which was the only generally available injection-molded model of this aircraft issued in this scale. Meanwhile, there had been a couple of good quality East European resin kits, as well as a Pegasus rendition of the target tug version that required a lot of elbow grease to properly thin all components. It has been an exercise in frustration for many modelers to correct the shortcomings of the Airfix kit; at last the limited-run model industry comes to the rescue.
The kit comes in the standard Pavla thin, wide oblong box that opens at the sides, with a nice profile of two suggested paint schemes on the top. The 40-plus injection-molded parts come in a single large tree enclosed in a plastic bag, with smaller pockets holding resin, photoetched and clear parts. The instruction sheet is the usual Czech kit multi-page booklet with clearly drawn exploded views and detail sketches showing correct angles for hard-to-position elements.
First impressions are very favorable; it seems that Pavla has corrected most of the annoying shape errors of the Airfix kit. Even the aft fuselage sides taper down in a gentle curve, acceptably capturing the elusive shape formed by the peculiar Boulton-Paul construction process of the inner rear framework. One serious mistake, however, lies on the engine cowling top contour, which should be much less rounded than it is—almost flat, in fact, as seen in published photographs. This will require some surgery and puttying.
Detail is crisply engraved, but some rather large injection pin remains must be removed from the inner faces of most major components before assembly.
The cockpit is reasonably detailed, with a resin seat with molded-in seat belts and a nice control stick with a ring handle. However, side consoles and fuselage wall detail are non-existent, and the radio box behind the pilot's seat is unconvincing. The instrument panel is simply an injected part, with no photoetched or decal alternatives. On the other hand, the rear turret is quite well detailed for the scale, with a combination of injection, resin and photoetched parts. Tailplane attachment is, of course, by means of butt-joints (which I hate) and the propeller has to be assembled from individual blades (ditto). In this kit, nevertheless, there seems to be enough surface area at the fuselage/tailplane joint for metal pin reinforcements, and the proper positions for the propeller blades are molded into the hub. So hopefully it won't be much of a pain to put them together.
The resin parts are excellent, and include three types of exhaust pipes (ejector, fishtail and six-unit, with clear instructions on which one matches which individual aircraft), as well as a built-up wheel well enclosure and a pair of replacement flattened wheels (there is another pair of injection-molded wheels that could be used to improve any old Airfix Defiant you might have in your attic, as the vintage model wheels were noticeably undersize). A small fret of photoetched details (by Extratech) includes undercarriage details and a couple of parts obviously destined for the yet-to-be-released radar-equipped night fighter and target-tug versions. Clear parts (cockpit canopy and turret) come with a spare, a welcome practice observed in some but not all Pavla kits.
Undercarriage doors come in the "closed" position; that is, the two panels of the outer door and the single panel of the inner door are displayed extended out flat and in one piece. For a "wheels down" model, the two outer panels must be cut out and assembled with a slight overlapping of the outermost panel. In any case, they should be thinned down for better scale appearance.
Contrary to Pavla's recent Curtiss Owl kit, where most of the detail parts had to be scratchbuilt, here the do-it-yourself pieces are limited to air scoop and radiator blocking plates and intake details (not very conspicuous in this scale): this time, even the ventral antenna masts and the pitot tube are included in injected form. The radiator flap needs to be cut out and repositioned in the open stance for a representation of the aircraft as seen in photographs of real Defiants on the ground.
Decals cover three versions: day fighter L7005 PS-X (the aircraft of Thorn and Barker, the most successful crew of the ill-fated No. 264 Squadron) and night fighters N1671 EW-D (No. 307 (Polish) Squadron, the machine exhibited at Hendon) and N3437 EW-K (same squadron, but in an interim paint scheme with camouflaged upper surfaces and Night undersurfaces). The yellowish gas detection square and the broken wingwalk stripe are included, but the blue hue in the roundels and fin flash seems not deep enough (but arguably correct for scale effect).
In times when most major manufacturers would rather recycle their old 1:72 kits with yet another decal variation than to produce new or revised models, it seems it's up to the cottage industry to make up for the errors and omissions of the industry giants. The Defiant is hardly an obscure aircraft, and even more important subjects such as the Curtiss H-75/P-36, the Bristol Blenheim or the P-40B are now being released in short-run form. The overall quality of limited-edition kits has been improving steadily, and we should all support those small manufacturers that are contributing to the diversity of aircraft kits in contrast to the monotonous sameness of the majors' output. Despite the disappointing misshapen cowling, Pavla's Defiant is a fine kit that should have a place in any small-scale WWII model aircraft collection.