The Blackburn Blackburd:
The World’s Ugliest Aircraft?
1/72 Scratchbuild

By Joel Christy


In 2002 Harry Woodman wrote an article in Windsock International, volume 19, number 5 on the Blackburn Blackburd. He entitled it Blackburn’s Caliban, by which he meant something deformed and brutish. Well, he was spot on. The Blackburd has to be one of the least graceful and homely aeroplanes to ever take to the skies. Designed by Harris Booth to Admiralty specification N.1B for a torpedo carrying aeroplane, the Blackburn Company was well equipped to carry out this order as it had already built some of the Sopwith Cuckoos and had developed the torpedo carrying and release gear as well as the split undercarriage. Booth came up with a three bay biplane with folding wings. So far, so good; but the fuselage and landing gear were something else. The fuselage had absolutely no streamlining and can only be described as a flying box. The landing gear incorporated wheels and landing skids; the former for takeoffs and the latter to land on. For in order to drop the torpedo the wheels and axle had to be jettisoned and then the aeroplane was to land using the ski-like skids. As the Blackburd landed, because of the strange landing gear, it appeared to be walking! Another oddity were the many struts which were ribbed throughout their length. All this and more information is contained in the article and is well worth reading.

Modelling the World’s ugliest aeroplane wasn’t all that difficult. Since the fuselage was a “box” I made it out of 15 thou slabs of sheet plastic and 40 thou formers. The Blackburd had a cockpit set well back from the wings with a large opening giving one plenty of scope for detailing. Fortunately there is a good photo of it in the article.

Turning to the wings, I decide to display the finished model with them folded or extended which meant I could make four sections to form in a jig and then sand to shape. Once formed and sanded I scribed the rib positions with a sharp scalpel blade. I cut a centre section out of the wings which could be mounted on the fuselage. Now came the most tedious part, those strange looking struts. The Blackburd had struts made of steel rods which were streamlined by adding ribs shish kebab style and covered with fabric. This gave them a scalloped effect. To achieve this I had to score strips of Contrail strut material four times per line. This amounted to over 1,000 cuts for all the struts. By the time I had finished I wished I had never started! But without this feature one of the main bits of ugliness would not have been present and the overall effect would have been lost. I have seen pictures of the Karaya model of the Blackburd and this detail appears to be lacking which is a pity, because combined with the odd landing gear and boxy fuselage it makes the Blackburd truly ugly. But as we all know, "there is no such thing as an ugly biplane!"

Once I had finished making the main parts I attached the wing centre sections to the fuselage and made the two wing cellules. Next came the landing gear and the skids. As I couldn’t get any Tamiya Bare Metal spray paint I decided to use Humbrol number 56 aluminium. Strangely for 1918 the Blackburd was painted overall silver. Number 56 worked splendidly and gave the model a nice even finish.

As I mentioned earlier I wanted to display the model with the wings folded or extended. This wasn’t as difficult as it might seem. Bits of flower arranging wire inserted through the wing centre sections held the two wing cellules in whatever position I desired. I detailed the cockpit with the odd steering wheel column and a seat of etched brass. The radiator front was made of 80 thou sheet with a bit of etched brass screen set into it. The rigging is hot stretched sprue. The torpedo came from the spares box.

That is about it. I suppose the Blackburd’s ugliness made it easier to build except for those weird struts!

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