As a student I was sponsored by the Ministry of Defence, and spent three summers working at RAE Farnborough in Hampshire. Some readers may be feeling envious at this point. It was common to see several of the many trials aircraft flying or parked around the airfield as I went about my work. Weekends were spent with the RAE gliding club, giving me the chance to experience some flying of my own.
In 1980 and 1982 there was the added advantage of seeing the airshow for free. I was able to spend one afternoon watching the show from the roof of the building where I worked, a viewpoint not available to the fee-paying public.
One effect this time had on me was an abiding interest in MOD trials aircraft, especially those I saw then. On the occasions I have come across them at airshows they are like old friends. I set about building up a collection of models, with modifications and home-made decals as required, and this article describes them. Over the space of twenty five years my modelling skills have improved, as can be seen in some of the photographs.
This is the old Airfix kit. Modifications were limited to filling in two of the windows. The white strip was drawn on in ink. RAE titles were made from rub-down lettering on clear decal film. I'm afraid I cheated with the serial numbers - the thought of making them up from minute individual letters and digits was too much. I used decals from an Airfix Bulldog instead, which gave XX515. These days it would be a simple matter to create them on computer.
I used the Welsh Models vacuum-formed kit. A large probe of uncertain purpose is mounted under the rear fuselage. This was fabricated from plastic rod. A large number of aerials were also required. The tail insignia was applied over a white rectangle of plain decal. Getting them matched is a challenge - it will be painfully obvious if the border is of uneven width.
This was a more substantial challenge. The Airfix kit is a Comet 4B, while XV814 was an ex-BOAC Comet 4. There are substantial differences, some of which are subtle. Fortunately I have the 1/72 Aviation News plans for the Nimrod, whose wing is basically the same. Firstly, the wings are longer. By a complete fluke, the Matchbox Stuka comes with alternative wing tips which have exactly the required taper and thickness. It was a matter of cutting them down to size, and filling in the engraved panel lines. Next came the pinion tanks, which were fabricated from drop tanks found in the scrap box. Plastic sheet and filler were required for the fairing between the tank and the wing on the inboard side of each tank. I was able to refer to photographs I took of a Dan-Air Comet at East Fortune for this purpose.
Less noticeable is that the trailing edge of the Comet 4 is straight instead of cranked. Rather than attempt to use a piece of plastic which narrowed to nothing at the inboard end, I chose to trim the kit wings to make the trailing edge straight, then make the addition constant-chord. The construction photograph shows these modifications.
A section of the forward fuselage needed to be removed as Comet 4Bs and 4Cs are longer than Comet 4s. XV814 had a prominent bath-tub shaped pannier under the forward fuselage when I knew it. Later the pannier was removed, but a fairing remained. I made this by binding thick plastic to a length of copper tube, then heating it under a grill. The pannier reduced directional stability, so the aircraft was fitted with the fin from a Nimrod. At one time it also had the fin-top fairing fitted. It was a simple matter to make the fillet from sheet plastic.
The narrow white fuselage stripe was achieved by applying a strip of narrow vinyl tape over white paint, then applying the red and blue paint. The vinyl tape was bought many years ago, intended for laying out magazines in the days before computer desktop publishing. Two black ADF aerials were made by filling in the middle of the letter "O" with paint. Numerous other aerials were made from strip and rod plastic.
This is an Airfix Dambusters Lancaster with the nose turret replaced with a part found in the scrap box, possibly from a Matchbox A-20. Large amounts of Milliput were used to make the fairings intended to reduce the turbulence caused by the missing bomb bay doors. The propellers should have been of the paddle-bladed type, but I was unaware of the Aeroclub white metal ones at the time.
Masking off the paintwork for the stripy underside was time consuming.
Airfix later issued a model of the exact same aircraft in its 617 Squadron incarnation, with parts for the modifications I'd laboriously scratch-built.
RAE Farnborough used an Avro Shackleton MR3 for parachute testing in the early 1960s. The pointed rear turret was replaced with a blunter design, so I used a turret from a Matchbox Wellington in the Frog kit. (Matchbox deserve credit for the many alternative parts they supplied in their kits. I've found them very useful over the years.)
The huge rivets were sanded down and some panel lines scribed in. Strangely, the surface detail on the engines is much more restrained. Walkways on the wings were from a variety of sources.
The Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment flew this aircraft at Boscombe Down in the fifties. To my knowledge it was the only Bristol Freighter flown in military service in Britain. Magna Models do a conversion kit for the Airfix Superfreighter. The main components are the replacement nose and tail fin. Sadly, my example had a manufacturing fault in the fin, so I ended up cutting down the Airfix parts.
The dayglo cheat line has a very fine black border to it. For this I used lining strip sold for railway models. This is of the "Pressfix" type, with a thin tissue top layer which is washed off once the marking has been manoeuvred into the correct position. It's also useful for walkway lines, and easier to get straight than normal decals. It is useful to be aware of products and techniques used in other modelling disciplines.
Another masking challenge. It was built straight from the Airfix kit, except for additional nose and wingtip probes from stretched sprue. The method I use for the sealing strips around some canopies is to use two layers of painted decal. In this case, the white is applied first, with black on top later. That way it's possible to get an exceptionally narrow line. It would be difficult to cut so thin a piece of decal, and it probably wouldn't want to stick anyway.
This aircraft was generally known as an NF11½, as it began life as an NF11 and was then updated. This is the Revell boxing of the Matchbox kit. The nose was replaced with one found in the scrap box, and an extra wingtip probe made from plastic rod. The red cheat line is painted on. I cut circles from masking film to create the white border around the fuselage roundels. It's another case where the dimensions need to be exactly right.
- with the emphasis on the (mod). I rebuilt an old Airfix Canberra, replacing the nose with a spare Matchbox Meteor nose, mounted upside down. If I recall correctly, the fairing was adapted from an F-16 exhaust. I spotted the full-size aircraft at Leuchars Airshow and took a few photographs for reference.
A personal favourite. I recall seeing this many times when it was white and grey with a blue cheat line. A Canadian Air Force machine, it carried the serial KG661 by mistake for many years before being renumbered. Some enthusiasts considered it bizarre that a wartime piston-engined transport should carry a similar serial to Tornadoes.
This is the Italeri Swissair kit with Modeldecal markings, from set 79. These decals were a godsend, with "raspberry ripple" schemes for four different aircraft.
RAE flew numerous Hunters over the years, both single seat and two seat. I believe it was popular with the Empire Test Pilot School also, as its spinning characteristics were more benign than for most swept wing aircraft. This particular plane actually belonged to the Institute of Aviation Medicine, which was based at Farnborough. I considered the IAM neighbours as I lived in the RAE Hostel next door.
This is the Matchbox kit, and uses more markings from Modeldecal set 79.
This is an ETPS aircraft. The Matchbox kit comes with this colour scheme as one of the options. I might have used the Hasegawa kit had I known of its existence. The seats are resin replacements. The original aircraft ended up in the English Channel. Sister aircraft XX916 also crashed; both planes were later replaced. Also flown was single seat Jaguar XX765 which had prominent leading edge root extensions. It's now at the Cosford Museum.
Hasegawa reissued their Tornado as a special edition with raspberry ripple colours, so I just had to buy it. It carried "Defence Research Agency" titles, which I replaced with RAE titles from the Modeldecal set. I also used the Farnborough pterodactyl. The red parts of the scheme were painted on instead of using the kit decal.
The roundels were replaced with ones with the correct proportions. However, I later realised that the actual aircraft matched the kit decals. There's no excuse for my incompetence - I had enough references, including the photograph on the box lid.
This picture also illustrates why decal setting solutions need to be washed off afterwards. Brown stains appear after a year or so otherwise.
Searching the internet for pictures of MOD Alpha Jets met with limited success for a while. I spotted one at IAT Fairford in 2006 and took a few pictures, then Model Alliance brought out a set of decals which I quickly bought. The kit is the Heller model boxed with Patrouille de France markings, which includes alternative parts allowing various Alpha Jet versions to be built.
Apparently the colours are those used by the Luftwaffe, but my knowledge of their markings only extends to 1945. I followed the Model Alliance instructions, which said the colours were Olivgrun and USAF Forest Green. I'm not so sure - Humbrol dark green and schwarzgrun look like better bets to me.
The hangar we used for storing gliders at RAE had some dismantled Sea Vixens stashed away at the back. Apparently several were acquired for the purpose of converting into drones, but only four were completed and just two saw service. XS577 had a slightly different colour scheme. XP924 was eventually sold to enthusiasts and now flies in grey and white.
This is the old Frog kit, with some etched brass parts from the Airwaves set. The nose, fins, booms, and trailing edges of the wings all needed to be extended for accuracy.
Two Bulgarian Mi-8 helicopters were acquired for training pilots of the Afghan Air Force, and flown at Boscombe Down in raspberry ripple colours for a while. The model is by Hobbyboss, and most of the decals were home made. (They can be downloaded here, along with instructions).
The sole AH5 was flown by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, and ended up with the Empire Test Pilots School. This is the Airfix kit, and again features mostly home-made decals. The roundels were taken from my stock of RAF decals, applied on top of a painted white background. I struggled to create two matching masks with my circle cutter. Since finishing the model I've dicovered that I already possess some white circles which could have been used instead - they came with Xtradecal pink/blue RAF roundels.
Three Buccaneers were built specifically for the RAE, and mostly flown at West Freugh in the south west of Scotland. I saw one once and seemed to remember it being white, yellow and grey, but apparently the darker colour is "extra dark green". In every photograph I've ever found it looks like black. It looks like black in this picture too. I used the Matchbox kit for this model as I reckoned I didn't need all the stores which come with the current Airfix model, but I forgot that pylons would still be required, plus the bulged bomb bay doors had to be replaced, so this was a false economy.
This is the new (2010) Airfix model. The ETPS and "ASTRA" markings are home made, while most of the rest are from the kit. In retrospect, the RAF insignia are too small, especially on the fin. The white serial is from the Xtradecal range of individual characters - note that they're of 6" height, apparently unique to Hawks.
These three were built straight from the box and came with the decals featured, so there isn't much to say about them. The first two are Airfix; the Gannet is Trumpeter. The Gannet ended up a tail-sitter despite all the lead in the nose. Something denser would have helped, but my stock of uranium is depleted.
After I worked there the RAE was renamed The Royal Aerospace Establishment, then The Defence Research Agency, and finally The Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. Then it was privatised, renamed Qinetiq, and sold off. All the buildings I worked and lived in have been demolished. It's a bit sad. Many of the aircraft have ended up in museums, which at least means I get a chance to photograph them - cameras were forbidden on site for obvious security reasons.
There are lots more models I could build. For example, the Model Alliance decal set also includes ETPS markings for a Gripen. The bibliography lists a number of inspiring books. Then there's my growing collection of experimental and prototype aircraft, but that's another story...
"Testing Colours", Adrian Balch, Airlife Publishing
"The Cold War Years - Flight Testing at Boscombe Down 1945-1975", Tim Mason, Hikoki Publications
"Farnborough - 100 Years of British Aviation", Peter J Cooper, Midland Publishing
"A Short Illustrated History of the Royal Aircraft Establishment Bedford", Arthur Pearcy, Airlife Publishing
"Viscount Comet & Concorde", Stewart Wilson, Aerospace Publications
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