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Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Improving the Old Frog Kit
Part 1

n by Mark Davies



The Whitley was one of three new strategic bombers operated by the RAF at the beginning of WW2, and the only purpose-designed night bomber. Ordered in 1934, it was already considered obsolescent by 1937 when aircraft like the Stirling, Manchester and Halifax were being anticipated. Despite this, Whitleys conducted the first British leaflet and bombing missions on mainland Germany, including being amongst the first types to bomb Berlin. They were also the first RAF aircraft to cross the Alps and bomb Italy. Later versions served in the vital fight against U-boats with coastal command using radar and depth charges. The Whitley helped develop British airborne forces by serving as parachute and glider-tug trainers, as well as parachuting SAS and agents into occupied Europe. It also served with BOAC as a civilian transport flying to Malta and Stockholm until replaced by more suitable aircraft.

The Whitley was Armstrong Whitworthís first aircraft to incorporate monocoque construction, and proved to be a very strong and robust aircraft. Originally designed without flaps, the wing had an 8.5 degree angle of incidence which resulted in its characteristic nose-down flight attitude. It went through several design changes during its life, including the addition of split flaps and dihedral to the wings, this dihedral being increased on the Mk III onwards. The shape of the fins and rudders became more angular with the Mk V. The most significant change occurred with the Mk IV where Merlin in-line engines replaced the underpowered Tiger radials, effectively giving the Whitley a new lease of life.

Defensive armament changed several times through the Whitleyís life. The Mkís I & II had all manual front and rear single-gun turrets, and an ineffective dustbin ventral turret was added to the Mk II onwards, although usually omitted in later Merlin-engined marks. A power-operated single-gun front turret was introduced with the Mk III, then a four gun power operated four-gun rear turret with the Mk V onwards.

All Whitleys other than The Mk V were officially declared obsolete in 1944, and the Mk Vís fooled in 1945. The last Whitley was retired in 1947 after being used by Armstrong Whitworth to tow their AW 52 tailless glider. Sadly no Whitleys survive intact.

The Raw Materials

This conversion used the Frog kit, Flight Path Tiger-engine conversion set, Airwaves photo-etched (PE) detail set, and Falcon replacement canopies.

 

Click to enlarge

The Frog Kit

At first glance the Frog kit seems quite good, with very delicate raised detail and straight forward parts breakdown. The Merlin engine cowls and radiators that are too tapered in appearance, the clear parts are too heavily framed, and too simplistic in the case of the turrets. Closer checks also revealed the rear fuselage to be too narrow in plan view, the upper-side of the ailerons to be too large, and the chin below the front turret to be wrong. A build-review of this Frog kit (albeit a Maquette re-issue) and photo of it finished out of the box as a Whitley Mk VII can be found at http://www.fortunecity.com/meltingpot/portland/971/Reviews/raf/whitley.htm.

I had long thought this to be the only 1:72 Whitley kit, but have since briefly seen a largely assembled Contrail vac-from kit that I think offered both Tiger and Merlin engined options. This kit was owned by a mate whose father flew Whitleys and had the unpleasant experience of baling out of one which was on fire.

Falcon Canopies

Falconís canopies are superb as always, although perhaps compromised in that the front turret and forward fuselage are one-piece and designed to replace the kitís parts directly, meaning the turret lacks a rear side as it is moulded with the clear nose panels of the fuselage. I would have preferred an entire and separate front turret.

Flightpath Conversion

Taking the kitís weaknesses into account building a Tiger-engined variant (Mk's I to III) seemed the best option as it eliminated the engine problem and allowed me to use my Falcon canopies. This last choice limited me to building a Mk III as the Falcon canopy only caters for the power operated FN turret used by Mk IIIís onwards. Furthermore, I have read that the Mk III onwards had increased dihedral on the outer wing panels compared to the Mkís I and II (the very first Whitleys had no dihedral), so once again a Mk III made most sense as the Frog kit is of the later Mk V or VII which had the same dihedral as the Mk III.

The Flightpath set provides:

Also provided in white metal is a ďregularĒ Lewis gun, plus one with a WW1-style jacket around the barrel, along with a rather useless hoop to mount them on.

The resin is of reasonable quality, although the engine faces in the one-piece mouldings are a bit messy where they meet the cowl interior. This said, I must say that once painted they do capture the clutter of pushrods that characterise Tiger engines quite well. Once cleaned up and polished the propellers are probably the conversion setís best feature, capturing well the look of the real propís hub and centrifugal weights. The rear manual turretís cupola is a pathetic attempt at vac-forming acetate; being undersize, the wrong shape, devoid of framing, and so thin as to be unusable. The bomb aimerís window didnít look much better, but I had no need of it anyway. No attempt is made to provide a manually operated front turret to replace the Frog kitís power operated turret, an important oversight in a conversion kit for a Mk I or II Whitley.

Airwaves Detail Set

The Airwaves PE set is OK, although I feel the seats are a bit too large, the table too simple, and itís not entirely accurate regarding the instrument panel as it instructs you to have this place this vertically rather than inclined forward (something the Frog kit does correctly with its panel). I didnít use the ladders or radar antennae, but I feel they look a bit on-dimensional.

Cockpit Construction

I scratch-built the cockpit floor, front and rear bulkheads, radio operatorís desk, navigatorís fold-away table, parachute racks etc from plastic card. I replaced the kitís control column with one from an Airfix SM 79.

I modified the Airwaves instrument panel to sit at correct angle on plastic card backing plate and added cut rod to represent the instrument casings behind the panel. The bottom portions of the instrument panel were removed enabling a see-through effect to bomb aimerís compartment. I used Airwavesí cockpit set for seats and harnesses, instrument panel and throttle quadrant (this last item is a bit oversized). The radio operatorís seat was modelled facing forward based on photos, unlike the Frog kit Mk V and Airwaves detail set instructions which have the table facing sideways facing to port. Iíve since seen photos that suggest this seat was different to the Pilotís and Navigatorís seats, but I can live with it. The bomb aimerís floor was made from plastic card, and some general details added to this area using items from my spares box. A bombsight was scratch-built from plastic card and scrap brass sheet.

 

Detailing the Turrets

The Fraser Nash FN16 turret was scratch-built based on photos and drawings, as was its single Vickers K gun. The hooped frame that connected the real turretís services via the bulge above the turret was backed by a clear section from a modified and cut-down spare Falcon Lancaster turret. This was necessary as the Flacon Whitley nose turret is moulded integral with the nose glazing behind the turret, an so has no rear to the front turret. As an aside, it seems incredible that it was the front and not the rear manually operated turret that was replaced by a power turret first with the Mk III, especially on a night bomber where being intercepted from the stern was far more likely than a head-on attack.

 

Click to enlarge

The rear Armstrong Whitworth turret was again scratch-built based on photos. It was necessary to widen the rear fuselage ad Airwaves resin turret base as these are far too narrow. I sued a wedge of plastic card to achieve this top and bottom. An Italeri Ju 86 provided the Lewis gun as this was in better condition than the Airwaves item. The Airwaves rear turret canopy was worthless, being moulded from wafer thin acetate, and of course was far too narrow. The turret canopy was sourced from Falconís Avro Anson replacement for the Airfix kit as the Anson (and the Oxford) used the same AW manual turret as the Whitley. A small ring to mount this on was made from thin zinc sheet and curved around a pen. The top of the Airwaves resin rear fuselage had to be extended and re-profiled to correct its appearance and closely cowl the Falcon turret canopy.



Click to enlarge

The Whitley Mk II was the first fitted with an AW dustbin turret. These ineffective turrets were usually omitted from aircraft after the Mk III, although the hole they protruded through was retained for dropping parachutists. The basics of a dustbin turret were made from a scrap plastic pen barrel and its lowering and traversing frame were made from plastic card. This was kept very basic as very little would be seen later.

Continue to Armstrong Whitworth Whitley - Improving the Old Frog Kit (Part 2)

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