Classic Airframes 1/48 Fairey Battle Target Tug (TT)
By John Tate
Like the Boulton-Paul Defiant, the Fairey Battle was an advanced aircraft design for the mid-1930s but proved unsuited to the fast-breaking air combat conditions of 1940. Designed as a two-place, light and level day-bomber, the Battle featured a monoplane design, an early Merlin engine and retractable landing gear. By all accounts, it was easy to fly and a stable bombing platform. Unfortunately, it was also easy prey for flak and Messerschmitts, mainly due to slow cruising speed, light defensive armament and a fatal underside blind spot. With these vulnerabilities, the Battle needed heavy fighter escort to survive in combat. However, such escort was in short supply during the Battle of France and the result was a series of desperate but ineffective attack missions by small formations of unescorted Battles. These sorties were tantamount to suicide missions and after the debacle in France the RAF withdrew the Battle from daylight combat operations.
Although the Battle was considered obsolete after its poor showing in France, the RAF continued to use it as a cross-channel night bomber. The Battle's final European combat mission was on 15-16 Oct. 40, a night bombing raid on German invasion barges in the French ports of Calais and Bologne. The Battle continued in operational service as a coastal patrol plane until 1941 but the RAF found a more profitable use for it as a target tug and trainer. The easy flying characteristics of the Battle made it particularly well suited to these roles and Battles served under the Empire Air Training Scheme in Canada, Australia and South Africa until the end of the War. It is easy to underestimate the value of target tugs, but during WWII such aircraft were essential to effective air gunnery training. And as any Axis fighter pilot would tell you, by 1943 allied air gunners were the best in the business. The Battle had its revenge, after all.
The Battle is a big airplane in 1/48th scale and the largest kit yet produced by Classic Airframes. I was reluctant to tackle such a project because as most experienced modelers know, Classic Airframes kits are a mixed bag. The subject matter, resin parts and decal sheets are excellent but the fit and accuracy are typical for limited production kits. You have to work to get a decent replica. On the other hand, we all know the trade-off; Tamiya will never produce a model of the Fairey Battle so if you want one, build the Classic Airframes kit.
The kit itself is molded on three large trees in soft, light gray plastic. Two vacuform canopies and wing light cover sets are provided, a nice touch not found in kits by other manufacturers. In resin are the front and rear cockpits, radiator grille, wing lights and six late exhaust stubs.
Assembly begins with the cockpits. You assemble the resin cockpits as separate tubs and then fit them inside the fuselage without too much trouble. The cockpits look nice when they are painted, given a black wash and drybrushed. As with many British aircraft, interior grey-green is the dominant cockpit color.
The fuselage goes together without much difficulty although sanding, filling and re-sanding are necessary along the seam lines. Once the front cockpit and radiator grille are fitted and the fuselage cemented together, the next step is to add the upper half of the rear fuselage. Classic Airframes designed the Battle kit so the rear fuselage deck could be fitted separately for Bomber, Trainer and TT versions. Versatility is a good idea, but at least in this version the rear fuselage deck did not match up with the assembled fuselage. I used CA glue to attach the upper deck to the fuselage and then spent a day sanding, filling and carving to get a smooth fit. I was eventually successful but took this as a warning of other problems to come.
Once the fuselage was finished, I added the flat underwing centerpiece to the fuselage. It fit nicely but I chose to open up the rear of the under-nose radiator scoop. I spent a day cutting out the rear of the scoop, boxing it in and painting it. I also added the rear horizontal stabilizers. The stabilizers come in upper and lower halves but even after much sanding and carving, they seemed thick.
Next came the wings. This was the most difficult assembly step of the entire model. I assembled each wing separately and then had to carve out holes in the leading edges to fit the resin landing light assemblies. Once these were fitted, sanded and filled, I covered the lights with the vacuformed covers. They fit OK but required filling and sanding along the edges to match the wing contour. Then the moment of truth - I used CA glue and added the wings to the fuselage. The fit was rough, but after some carving, trimming, filling and sanding I managed to align the wings with the fuselage. However, there was a problem with wing-root thickness. The starboard wing-root was noticeably thicker than the port wing-root. I persevered and added sheet styrene to the top of the port wing root. After several days of filling and sanding I succeeded in matching wing-root thickness for both starboard and port wings.
The Battle's landing gear was complicated, featuring rear-facing hydraulic jacks and wheel mudguards. Also, the main gear struts were splayed outward while the wheels were perpendicular to the wing centerline. The instructions were vague on this area and oversimplified the landing gear assembly so this makes good references essential. The kit's main gear were glued to the wheel bays without trouble, although I cut down the port strut to match the starboard one, possibly due to the wing-root mismatch. The kit's rear-facing hydraulic struts have to be trimmed-down and thin sprue guide rods attached, a tedious process. The kit's mudguards were thick and curved, so I scratchbuilt replacements out of sheet styrene. The injected-plastic wheels were thick and had a prominent seam line when assembled. One nice feature I found during this assembly stage was the boxed-in gear wells, not found in all Classic Airframes kits.
Once the airframe was assembled, I painted it before adding the tricky vacuform canopy. The scheme I selected was one of three in the kit, a Fairey Battle TT from No. 2 Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit (AACU), RAF, 1940. This aircraft had a Type 'A' dark earth/dark green upper surface scheme with a yellow-and-black striped underside. The other schemes consisted of an overall yellow/black-striped RAAF training machine, depicted on the box art, and a camouflaged Irish Air Corps example. The Irish Air Corps had only one Battle in service, an RAF machine from No. 4 Air Observers School, which was interned on 24 April, 1941 after mistakenly landing in Irish territory. Irish neutrality was better disposed to the Allies than that of other WWII neutrals; Americans were never interned and all interned British aircrew were repatriated in 1943. Interned British aircraft were placed into Irish Air Corps service after the Irish paid for them and received British technical assistance and spares. The Irish Battle remained on strength until 1946.
After painting, I added the canopy. I was disappointed with the vacuformed canopies included in the kit because they seemed too thick, had minor imperfections and lacked clarity. I cut off the tow winch plates on the greenhouse and remove the rear sliding tow operator's canopy. The Battle had internal bracing struts within the greenhouse canopy and these had to be added to the top of the fuselage from scrap plastic rod. Photographic references show most Battles had the interior of the greenhouse painted the same color as the outside fuselage.
Finishing up, I added new tow winch plates to the greenhouse canopy and guide rails to the fuselage for the sliding rear canopy. This is another construction stage in which references are crucial.
Once the model was completed, I added radio antenna wire from stretched sprue. Also necessary were anti-snag guy wires on the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. These wires were fitted to Battle TT's to prevent the drogue chute from fouling the tail surfaces.
After four weeks of building, I had a finished Battle Target Tug. It was an impressive model but a lot of work for a target tug. The level of difficulty is more typical of a vacuform kit than an injected one and only experienced, patient modelers will get a decent replica.
A brief word on aftermarket accessories. Aeroclub has just released four separate white metal aftermarket parts sets for the Battle. These include new props with prop hub, three-stack exhausts, landing gear jacks and a tow winch. Of these four sets, I highly recommend the landing gear jacks and the exhaust sets. If I had these parts when I was building my Battle, I would have saved several days of building time. As for the props and tow winch, they are nice but not essential. Buy them if you can afford them. Anyone building the Battle will thank Aeroclub for producing these useful and timesaving aftermarket parts.
Scale Aircraft Modelling, Vol. 22, No. 2 (April 2000), with 1/48th scale drawings of the Fairy Battle by Ian Huntley
Aircraft Archive 'Bombers of World War Two' Argus Books, 1988. This volume includes the only scale drawings I could find for a Battle TT. Fortunately, they were excellent.
The Fairey Battle, Profile Publications No. 34