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Boulton Paul Defiant
The 1930s saw rapid developments in aircraft design. Most significant was the appearance of the monoplane, and especially the monoplane fighters with their greatly increased speed. This produced a great deal of uncertainty about the future of aerial combat, including a belief that these greatly increased speeds would make fighter dogfights almost impossible.
One product of this uncertainty was the Boulton Paul Defiant turret armed fighter. It was believed that fire from a powered turret would be more accurate than that provided by fixed forward firing guns. The turret would also have the advantage of a wider field of fire, and would reduce the stress on the pilot.
Boulton Paul was one of the first British companies to get involved in the production of powered gun turrets, having developed a nose turret for their own Sidestrand bomber (the resulting aircraft was known as the Overstrand). In 1935 they had acquired the rights to manufacture and develop a turret designed by the French engineer J. B. A. de Boysson. This was a fully enclosed turret, powered by a hydraulic system, and carrying four machine guns. After further work at Boulton Paul it would emerge as the Boulton Paul Type A turret, armed with four .303in Browning machine guns, and would be used in several aircraft including the Blackburn Roc and Handley Page Halifax.
The new turret greatly impressed the Air Ministry. Specification F.9/35 was written around the turret, and called for a day and night fighter. Boulton Paul were only one of five companies that responded to this specification. Designs from Armstrong Whitworth, Bristol and Supermarine were rejected at the first stage, leaving only Boulton Paul and Hawker in the contest. The Hawker Hotspur progressed as far as the unarmed prototype stage, but Hawker were now increasingly busy producing the Hurricane, and withdrew from the contest. This left the Boulton Paul Project 82, soon called the Defiant, as the only contender in the field.
The first Defiant prototype flew on 11 August 1937, without its turret. Superficially it resembled the Hurricane, especially in the lines of the rear fuselage, with the obvious exception of the Boulton Paul Type A Mk IID turret, just behind the pilot’s cockpit. The turret placement was well designed, causing relatively little drag. However, the weight of the turret meant that the Defiant was 1,500lbs heavier than the Hurricane, despite being powered by the same Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Even so, the prototype had a top speed of 302 mph. The Defiant was one of a number of aircraft (amongst then the Fairey Battle) ordered into production before the flight of the first prototype. In the case of the Defiant, the first order, for 87 aircraft, was placed on 28 April 1937.
Development was slow, partly because official tests on the turret took too long. The first production aircraft did not fly until 30 July 1939. Squadron deliveries began in December 1939, when No. 264 Squadron became the first to receive the new aircraft. Comparative tests against the Hurricane and Spitfire quickly revealed that the Defiant was comparatively slow and had limited manoeuvrability.
Despite this, the Defiant had a spectacular combat debut over Dunkirk. German fighter pilots were not expecting to encounter a turret armed fighter of this size. Encountering a formation of Defiants, the German fighters would attack from above and behind, the blind spot for most fighters, and run into a hail of bullets from the turret. On one day alone (29 May) the Defiants claimed 37 victories, although this would appear to be something of an overestimate.
The Germans did not take long to realise what was happening, and after that the Defiant’s days as a day fighter were numbered. It was highly vulnerable to attacks from below or from the front. On 31 May seven Defiants were lost, and No. 264 Squadron was soon transferred to convoy patrol duty. A second Defiant squadron, No. 141, remained operational from 1 July to 21 July before being withdrawn after suffering heavy losses.
This was not the end of the Defiant's career. The RAF had very few aircraft capable of operating as night fighters. The Bristol Blenheim, while had quickly been pressed into that role, lacked the speed to catch German bombers, while the Bristol Beaufighter was only just coming into service at the end of 1940. However, there were a large number of Defiants coming off the production lines. The main problem faced by the Defiant as a night fighter over the crucial winter of 1940-1 was that the contemporary radar equipment was too bulky to fit into the aircraft, and so its first winter as a night fighter saw it achieve very little, although some confirmed kills were made.
During 1941 AI Mk IV and Mk IV appeared, both of which could fit in the Defiant. When equipped with radar, the Defiant was designated as the NF.Mk IA, and in this configuration became a relatively successful night fighter, equipping thirteen night fighter squadrons, seven retaining the type well in 1942.
The Defiant had a final lease of life with training units, both as a target tug and as a gunnery trainer, even serving with the Royal Navy. Production continued until 1943. The Defiant had been designed to fill a possible gap if the new generation of high speed forward firing fighter aircraft failed in combat. In the event the Supermarine Spitfire and Messerschmitt Bf 109 proved that the high speed, manoeuvrable fixed gun fighter was the superior design, but in 1935 such aircraft had yet to prove themselves in combat.
Engine: Merlin II
Max Speed: 304 mph at 17,000 ft
Cruising Speed: 259mph at 15,000 ft
Range: 465 miles
Span: 39 ft 4 in
Length: 35 ft 4in
Armament: Four .303in Browning machine guns in Boulton Paul Type A turret.
Engine: Merlin XX
Horsepower: 1,280 hp
Maximum Speed: 313 mph at 19,000 ft
Cruising Speed: 260 mph at 20,000 ft
Range: 515 miles
Span: 39 ft 4 in
Length: 35ft 8 in
Armament: Four .303in Browning machine guns in Boulton Paul Type A turret.
Mk I: 705
Mk II: 220
TT. Mk I: 140
The Defiant was a conventionally constructed aircraft of similar size and design to the Hawker Hurricane. The most unusual feature was the method of attaching light alloy skins to stringers and ribs, before these were attached to the fuselage frame and wing spars. This avoided the need to preform the skins, which were riveted while flat and using countersunk holes, creating an exceptional surface finish. The fuselage was built on two sections. The forward part was built up of four L section longerons and several bulkheads, while the rear part consisted of two side panels and the top decking. Ώ]
The Deﬁant was an aircraft of exceptional qualities and an excellent ﬂying machine, and as the world’s ﬁrst ﬁghter to have an enclosed power-driven turret it made its mark on history. It was hardly to be expected that the Deﬁant, penalised by the weight and high drag of even such a compact turret as that evolved by Boulton Paul and possessing a motor of only the same power as that of the very much lighter Hurricanes and Spitﬁres, would compete in performance and agility with contemporary single-seaters, and it was not the fault of the design team that their product was born of an outmoded philosophy. The Deﬁant failed by day, but when the Luftwaffe turned to night operations, presenting the R.A.F. with a formidable problem, it found its forte, ﬁlling a gap in Britain’s defences until more advanced night interceptors became available. ΐ]
Boulton Paul Defiant
The Boulton Paul Defiant’s part in the early stages of World War Two have effectively been overshadowed by the Hurricane and Spitfire. However, the Boulton Paul Defiant was to play an important role in trying to stop the advance of the Germans into Belgium and France in the Spring of 1940. But against the fighter planes of the Luftwaffe it stood little chance once they realised that the plane had an Achilles heel when attacked.
The Boulton Paul Defiant had its main weaponry in a turret behind the pilot. In 1935, the idea of such a design for a fighter plane was still acceptable, though the armament of the Boulton Paul Defiant was soon to be overtaken by the forward facing weaponry carried by both the Hurricane and Spitfire.
The idea of placing the main weaponry of a fighter behind the pilot had first been espoused in 1935 – there were those who were supporters of the ‘power-operated multi-gun turret’. This idea had the advantage of allowing the pilot of the plane to fly the plane and leave the defence of the plane to the person who was in the multi-gun turret. This person also had the task of being the plane’s offensive officer.
The Boulton Paul Defiant first flew in August 1937. Its turret, though it contained awesome weaponry, was also responsible for increasing the drag factor of the plane which had an impact on the plane’s speed.
The Boulton Paul Defiant had a significant success in the German attacks leading up to the evacuation at Dunkirk. The sheer fire power of the Defiant took the Luftwaffe by surprise and by May 1940, the Defiant had shot down 65 German planes. However, the Luftwaffe soon learned that a Defiant attacked head on was an easy target and by August 1940 they were withdrawn from military daylight operations.
The Defiant carried on as a night fighter. In the aftermath of the attack on France, the Defiant was fitted with the A1 radar and in the winter of 1940 to 1941, the Defiant recorded more kills than any other night fighter plane. But as a daytime fighter it was simply outclassed and as fighter plane design developed, the Boulton Paul Defiant was simply overtaken.
BOULTON PAUL Aircraft Manual PDF
A BOULTON PAUL Aircraft Pilot's Manual PDF is above the page.
The origin of this unusual turret fighter, which suffered a brief moment of glory in 1940, came from the problems that pilots encountered in the late 1920s.
It was about open rifle installations of fighters and bombers, the design of which has not changed much since the First World War. The increase in flight speeds caused a proportional decrease in the percentage of hits on an enemy aircraft from a turret.
Even more worrisome was the appearance of reports from parts concerning the difficulty of controlling weapons at speeds above 150 mph (242 km / h).
In the air stream, it was not easy for the shooters to change stores with frozen fingers. Characteristically, this problem was most acute for the fastest airplanes.
In particular, the Hawk "Demon" and Boulton Paul "Sidestrand" aircraft stood out in the British Air Force.
At the last, there were a number of serious incidents when the front shooter dropped the disc from the Lewis machine gun during reloading and the air stream carried it through the screw, damaging the wooden blades.
For officials who studied these reports, it became apparent that the higher performance of modern aircraft can only be fully used when the shooters get some protection from the oncoming traffic.
Therefore, Boulton Paul received a contract on August 13, 1932 to study the possibility of creating cover for the front shooting point of the Sidestrand bomber, the fourth modification of which was at the design stage.
No.22 Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit.
|Defiant AA591 in SEAC color scheme - The subject of the colour profile above. This photo was taken at Tezgaon in 1944. This aircraft joined No.22 AACU in June 44 and served for about an year with 'B' Flight based in Digri. Photo Courtesy: Aeroplane Monthly Magazine|
The second unit to fly the Defiant Target Tugs was No.22 AACU located at Drigh Road, and later at Ambala. It was involved in training the various Anti-Aircraft Batteries around the subcontinent.
No.22 AACU had operated Lysanders and Wapitis in its earlier days, and also had Hurricanes and Vultee Vengeances at one point of time. It was a very large unit and consisted of many flights that were spread out around the Indian Sub-Continent. Throughout 1942 and most part of 1943, the majority of the pilots with No.22 AACU were Indian. Posted in fresh from the SFTS or from the OTU, the pilots gained valuable experience flying a myraid of types. Starting with Wapities, they moved onto advanced aircraft including the Fairey Battle and the Brewster Buffalo.
Towards the end of 1943, with many IAF Squadrons becoming operational and heading for the Burma front, No.22 AACU started posting out its Indian pilots out, replacing them with RAF aircrew - including many Seargent Pilots. While the Unit still had a few Indian pilots on strength, the buik of the pilots were now British. The ground crew and the winch operators, however were predominently Indian.
No.22 AACU had received as many as 55 Defiant TT.1s in late 1943. A few Indian pilots on strength of No.22 AACU flew the Defiant during this time. The Unit was commanded by Wg Cdr H J Fish RAF at that time.
A target tug Defiant (Identity unknown) - with the CO of No.22 AACU, Wg Cdr H J Fish (right). The backstory of the "Audrey"label is unknown. But the photograph was taken at Kharagpur. Lt Col Pritchard of the Army is on the left. Photo Courtesy : Clive Fish.
The serial numbers of the aircraft and the dates they were struck off are given below.
|No 22 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit|
|AA368||SOC 1-1-47?||AA567||SOC 31-5-45||AA370||SOC 30-11-44|
|AA573||SOC 2-8-45||AA372||SOC 30-11-44||AA589||SOC 27-12-45|
|AA382||SOC 30-11-44||AA591||SOC 21-6-45||AA398||SOC 12-7-45|
|AA593||SOC 30-11-44||AA399||SOC 30-11-44||AA594||SOC 1-1-47?|
|AA404||SOC 27-12-45||AA616||SOC 26-4-45||AA406||SOC 30-11-44|
|AA617||SOC 26-7-45||AA409||SOC 26-7-45||AA622||SOC 21-11-45|
|AA412||SOC 30-11-44||AA623||SOC 1-1-47?||AA421||SOC 5-1-45|
|AA624||SOC 9-8-45||AA444||SOC 26-7-45||AA625||SOC 26-7-45|
|AA447||SOC 12-12-44||AA626||SOC 29-3-45||AA472||SOC 27-12-45|
|AA656||SOC 30-11-44||AA473||SOC 26-7-45||DR947||SOC 24-6-44|
|AA474||SOC 30-11-44||DR983||SOC 6-7-44||AA476||SOC 28-2-46|
|DR988||SOC 1-1-47?||AA482||SOC 29-4-44||DR991||SOC 29-6-45|
|AA483||SOC 26-7-45||DS123||SOC 28-12-44||AA484||SOC 10-1-46|
|DS130||SOC 31-5-45||AA490||SOC 1-1-47?||DS135||SOC 28-12-45|
|AA493||SOC 30-11-44||DS142||SOC 27-2-45||AA502||SOC 28-12-44|
|DS143||SOC 1-1-47||AA503||SOC 15-4-45||DS146||SOC 21-6-45|
|AA505||SOC 30-11-44||DS148||SOC ??||AA510||SOC 2-8-45|
|DS155||SOC 1-1-47?||AA538||SOC 15-4-45||DS158||SOC 31-5-45.|
There were several accidents involving the aircraft. One of the last of these occurred on 30th June 45, when Defiant AA398 was wrecked at Ambala during a take off accident. The last ever recorded Defiant accident in history - happened on 30th November 1945 at Visakahapatnam - when Defiant AA408 had to be belly landed due to hydraulic failure that prevented the undercarriage from being lowered.
The last Defant was struck off charge sometime towards the end of January 1946, bringing to an end its career in both the IAF as well as the RAF.
One photo is from the collection of Mr. Andrew Thomas which is reproduced here, showing DS155 of No.22 AACU in Karachi, that shows the CO Sqn Ldr Young flying an example. Another photograph of Defiant AA591 can also be seen here.
Boulton-Paul Defiant TT.1 DS155 started its career in India with No.22 AACU in Karachi. Seen here being flown by Sqn Ldr W Young, RAF. The aircraft sports unusually larger roundels. These may have been modified from an earlier non-SEAC scheme. Photo Courtesy : Andrew Thomas, UK
Boulton Paul Defiant
“With hindsight the Defiant is widely thought of as being a failure in daytime operations during the Battle of Britain. As a result it is often assumed that the design itself was flawed, which was not the case. It is important to realize that the air battles between May and September of 1940 were not of the kind expected by those planning the future aircraft requirements in the 1930s.”
Intended as a two-man “bomber destroyer” the Defiant was a competent if over-specialized machine. Even if you don’t know much about aircraft, with one look at the cover you’d notice two odd tings: a gun turret (how doesn’t he shoot his own tail off?) and masts sticking out at the bottom (how’s he going to land with those in the way?) In theory, there were answers to those questions but in practice the Defiant had peculiarities, and not just that its “pilots were recognizable by having an oily left flying boot.”
Only one completely original Defiant remains these days, at the RAF Museum in Hendon (right). It is extensively referenced in this book and at just about the time it was released, the Kent Battle of Britain Trust unveiled a faithful recreation built by volunteers of the Boulton Paul Association of which the author is a member. But that is not the reason for this book, which, rather, came out alreadyy ten years earlier (ISBN 83-89450-19-4) and just happens to be part of a widespread reprint undertaking by this publisher.
As all MMP books in this Yellow Series it is a thorough look at technical detail and model-to-model modifications with peripheral exploration of operational or in-depth development history. From an engineering point of view the Defiant is noteworthy for introducing tubular frame construction (as opposed to stressed skin) and having entire assemblies made separately in a modular manner that would later lend itself well to farming out production.
The aforementioned peculiarities, along with all other pertinent detail, are discussed. This book is particularly enlivened by pilot Colin Bryant’s first-hand experience (“If the gunner was killed it was supposed to be his last despairing action to turn the guns forward and elevate them 19 degrees. This cleared the prop and he could transfer the firing mechanism to the pilot by a switch. No one ever told me, however, how I was expected to aim them.”) Likewise the pilot, upon expiring, was supposed to lower the undercarriage and retract the radio mast lest the gunner would be impaled while trying to bail out the rear hatch. You can see this was one challenging aircraft!
Modelers know that getting the complicated interplay of curves and bulges and flat planes on the Defiant just right is difficult (many kits are quite inadequate) so a number of the illustrations that make up a good 2/5ths of this book are offered with just that in mind (cf. cross section shapes). Some of the walk-around color photos, too, are intentionally over-lit so as to bring out rivet(ing) detail not otherwise visible on the nightfighter black of the survivor at Hendon.
As always, there are dozens of detailed 1/72 scale plans and multiple-view color drawings of all variants (including special equipment such as the external winch for towed targets for gunnery practice, or the wing-mounted dinghy for rescue service) and camo patterns (RAF, USAAF, Canadian, Polish. There could have been Belgian Defiants but the RAF couldn’t afford to spare production.) A few illustrations from the pilot’s or maintenance manuals are reproduced. Several tables of specs and lists of serial numbers.
Boulton Paul Defiant - History
An example of a less than fully successful concept, the Defiant was one of the first generation of fighters that Great Britain had on entering World War II.
Let’s look an interesting idea that never fulfilled its promise.
Readers of this site may recall several years back I tagged this as one of the “worst aircraft of World War II”. Although I won’t back track on that, it is worth exploring the idea behind it and why it ultimately failed.
In World War I several two seat fighters, with separate pilot and gunner, saw some success. This was usually in the role of bomber destroyer and balloon buster. The two seater had some advantages with a pilot wholly dedicated to flying the plane, and gunner completely focused on his own specialty. Makes some sense. Even in World War I it was apparent the two seater didn’t generally fair as well against single seat fighters.
But for big targets in the rear areas (London!) a two seater never had to fear encountering a single seater.
The fairings ahead and behind the turret drop down to allow the turret full 360 deg traverse. It can’t lower the guns to shoot into its own forward fuselage!
In the early 1930s the Boulton Paul Aircraft company came up with a pretty efficient powered turret design for use as a defensive position on bombers. This proved to be more effective than free mounted guns, especially as aircraft speeds and the resulting effects of wind on handling a gun were becoming a bigger issue. As a bonus, the power turret could allow a gunner to control more guns. Add in optical gun sites of the late 1930s and the RAF felt the power turret could effectively fire at twice the range of a free mount.
So it seemed an appealing idea to build a defensive fighter, a bomber destroyer, that could protect English cities. A formation of bombers could be met by a formation of fighters that would slide in alongside and trade fire for a sustained period. Like ships-of-the-line dueling it out.
So an order went out in 1935 for such an aircraft. The two most prominent interested parties were Hawker and Boulton Paul. Pretty soon it became obvious Hawker was heavily committed to their more conventional Hurricane and Boulton Paul, already the main turret provider, became the only contender for a turret fighter/bomber destroyer.
So much fine detail in the turret, will never again be seen by human eyes…
The type first flew in July 1939 and entered squadron service from October of that year. So this was very much an early War type and its operational abilities had to be sorted out quickly. That first Defiant Squadron, No. 264, worked with bomber squadrons flying Blenheims and Hamptons as they developed tactics. Plus some flying against Spitfires to assess its abilities against a fighter. As Spitfire pilot Robert Stanford Tuck affirmed, the type was best as a bomber destroyer and was found wanting as a pure fighter.
The four gun turret (4 x .303 cal) had about the same ammunition supply as the Spitfire or Hurricane, but with half the number of guns it could fire twice as long. The Defiant could also come in below a bomber formation and not be easily seen by the flight crew. Its best option if encountering enemy fighters was to adopt a Lufbery Circle, where the squadron aircraft could all cover each other’s tails.
Unfortunately in the chaos of war its missions were not so tidy and predictable. The Defiant was initially used to provide fighter cover for shipping in the English Channel and North Sea where had some success against bombers. But the first time Bf 109s were encountered 5 of 6 Defiants were shot down. This would continue to be the theme. There were a few cases where enemy fighter pilots were apparently unfamiliar with the type and came in for a tail attack those didn’t end well for the attacker. But that was always the exception, most often Defiant squadrons were shredded by opposing fighters.
A Defiant NF Mk II. The rear fairing has been lowered here. [photo via Mary Evans Prints]
A Second Defiant squadron, No.141 Sqn was added during the Battle of Britain. They failed to heed No 264 Sqn’s “lessons learned” and were handled very roughly by the Luftwaffe. And I believe that was the end of the Defiant as a day fighter. Up to 11 squadrons used the type as a night fighter during the Blitz, some even getting an early airborne radar system. And there was a Defiant Mk II with a Merlin XX engine. Defiant night fighters relied heavily on the “attack from below” tactic that served them fairly well, but night time intercepts did not really become regularly effective until Beaufighters, with better radar and much heavier firepower, entered service the following year.
The concept was that power turret would give the Defiant a range advantage for engaging German bombers that only used hand held guns.
What went wrong with the turret fighter? There were two big problems right with the initial concept. First, the pilot had no forward firing guns and the gunner often could not intuit what the pilot was doing. So the division of labor was somewhat counter-productive.
Second, an aircraft with the same engine as the early Hurricane and Spitfire was slightly bigger than the Hurricane, with an extra 800lbs of weight behind the pilot. Its flying and handling qualities were fine, but pleasant flying and not enough power are not good qualities for a fighter.
Operationally it was difficult to find a use for the aircraft from the start. Apart from maybe a permanent rear guard it didn’t mix well in contested airspace. Then France fell. That’s something planners had really never even considered. That meant those German bomber streams coming over London would be escorted by single engine fighters. And there was simply no place for the Defiant to execute its planned mission.
The reality was escorting Messerschmitts would never let a Defiant squadron line up against their bombers.
This model represents one of No. 264 Squadron’s fighters in those initial battles of July 1940. It is the Airfix kit. Really a fun build. The turret itself was the main source of complexity and was like a whole model in itself. Following the directions I had a brief crisis of confidence, I simply did not believe the turret would ever fit in the tiny opening for it! And indeed significant pressure was required. But surprisingly, it ended with a satisfying click and everything ended in place with nothing broken. I wish I could say that more often!
Could the Defiant carry three, such as when Algy used it to paradrop Biggles and Ginger in Sweeps the Desert? A study of the Pilot's Notes (AP1592B) reveals that one of the prescribed emergency exits for the gunner was to rotate the turret fully forward. The gunner then crawled through into a space in the fuselage aft of the turret and then exited by a service hatch in the floor of the aircraft. This space in the fuselage might have fitted a third person and the hatch itself could have been used when it came time for Biggles and Ginger to jump out.
Alternatively, Biggles and Ginger could have used the standard way for the gunner to exit the rear cockpit, but rotating the turret to one side and opening the panels at the rear of the turret.
Boulton Paul Defiant - History
|Type:||Boulton Paul Defiant Mk I|
|Owner/operator:||256 Squadron Royal Air Force (256 Sqn RAF)|
|Fatalities:||Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2|
|Aircraft damage:||Written off (damaged beyond repair)|
|Location:||97 Reads Avenue, Blackpool, Lancashire, England. - United Kingdom|
|Departure airport:||RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire|
|RAF Squires Gate|
Four Defiants of 256 Sqn were conducting formation flying practice at about 2,000 feet over Blackpool.
At the same time three Blackburn Bothas of No. 3 School of General Reconnaissance, also based at Squires Gate, were flying nearby but about 500 feet lower.
The leader of the Defiant flight ordered a practice formation break and the first two aircraft did so uneventfully, but the third Defiant collided with one of the Bothas, L6509, cutting the fuselage of the bomber in half and removing a motor and part of a wing. The Botha fell into the booking hall at Blackpool Central Railway Station and exploded in flames, killing the three crew and 14 others in the station.
The Defiant, having also lost a wing in the collision, spun down and crashed on a house at 97 Reads Ave, bursting into flames and demolishing the building. Two persons at home at the time miraculously escaped injury.
Building the Airfix 1/72 Boulton Paul Defiant
After all those years of WW1 aircraft modelling, and a long pause of some 20 years, when I decided to go back to the workbench again it was to build all those models I had always wanted to but, for some reason, actually never built.
One of those marvelous subjects (to my eyes, at least) is the Boulton Paul Defiant. The happy owner of an old 1970s Airfix kit in the original blister package, I was nevertheless glad enough to see the renowned British manufacturer releasing their new tool kit in January 2015.
The kit is a very good one, extremely good value for money. It captures the nice lines of the original aircraft very well and offers some fine detail, although wing trailing edges are thick, the reason of which escapes me.
With nicely detailed cockpit and wheel wells, the kit promises to be an enjoyable build.
I chose the day fighter version, to honor, albeit in such a small way, the memory of those gallant crews who fought bravely to defend the United Kingdom (and indeed all the civilized world) from Nazi fury back in 1940. Lest we forget.
On the 29th May 1940, Defiants of 264 Sqn (F) achieved a brilliant success over Dunkirk, claiming no less than 37 German machines shot down in a single action. The success was made possible by the fact that they found themselves in the correct situation to do their kind of job, which was to destroy enemy bombers, not to fight against Me 109s or 110s.
German fighter pilots quickly found the Defiant weak spots and life became hard for British crews, as their mounts were easily outperformed by the Messerschmitt Bf 109E.
The Defiant was a good airplane, well-engineered, but since it operated from the south of England (instead of from the east coast, where Luftwaffe bombers came unescorted) it had no chances to do its job (for which it was intended and conceived) before being tackled by superior enemy fighters.
75 years on, it is pretty clear that the airplane itself was not fully understood by the Fighter Command, which forced it to be flown in unsuitable conditions. Not surprisingly, the Defiant performed well as a night fighter.
Boulton Paul Defiant "PS U" belonged to 264 Sqn (F) RAF, the first unit to bring the Defiant in combat in May 1940. It force landed at Manston after having been attacked by three Bf 109 Es on 24th August 1940. Pilot and gunner (Campbell-Colquhoun and Robinson) were luckily unhurt. Later, the aircraft was strafed while refueling at Hornchurch, during a bombing raid on the airfield. Again, aircraft and crew escaped without injuries. They survived the Battle of Britain and continued service elsewhere until the end of the war.
As a wise first step, a complete dry run of major parts was done and this showed very good fitting overall, even in the fuselage/wing mating area, which is often a critical point.
To get perfect alignment between fuselage halves, I erased the relevant locating pins.
After a careful wash with dish soap, cockpit main parts were glued in place and interior green was sprayed.
Cockpit parts offered by the kit are nice and well molded, but they can be improved by careful painting and by adding some small details here and there.
Although aftermarket items available for interiors are very well done and of course of a high degree of precision and detailing, I always prefer scratchbuilding. My hands and eyes cannot compete with photo etching machines, but at least I know I did those details myself and this is part of the fun for me.
A few details were added to the cockpit sides, seat belts were made from paper and the control column was replaced by a new scratchbuilt item.
The raised, central rectangular part of the instrument panel was cut from 0.1 mm plastic card and holes were drilled for the instruments, as in this area the latter were built in.
Wire segments were straightened by rolling them under a wooden plate and rolled around nails of suitable diameters. Once cut with a sharp blade, they were glued on the panel as instruments frames. Dials were cut from 0,065mm stainless steel wire, previously painted white and glued with a drop of Humbrol Clear varnish. The other dashboard details were cut or carved from plasticard sheet or stretched sprue.
The compass as supplied by the kit is too small and was replaced by two sections of heat stretched sprue.
The final result is not too bad.
Once fuselage halves are glued together, a few additional details can be added to the turret interiors, such as a new seat with straps and the gun butts. 9
And now to the wings. As already mentioned, they need their trailing edges to be thinned down considerably and this was done from the inside, by scraping with a sharp blade.
Ailerons, which were cut from the wing, were reworked on their undersurfaces only and new ribbing was added by means of decal strips.
The wheels well is well detailed but again a few more items can make it even better.
Once wing main parts are glued together, the well can be painted aluminum, drybrushed and washed.
Wing lights can then be added from clear sprue and major assembly can take place.
Only a minimum of filler was required to finish the model, so the painting stage was reached quickly.
The model was primed using Humbrol 90 sky. Then it was the turn of dark earth (Humbrol 29). "PS U" was painted in the Temperate Land Scheme B. Dark Green (Humbrol 149) was painted by brush, thinned down to 33%.
Three light coats of Livax (Future is more common) acrylic wax, applied by brush, made the model ready for decaling, which was a pleasant phase, as Cartograph decals, which comes with Airfix kits, are of excellent quality and react well both to Humbrol Decalfix and to Microsol/set liquids. The decal sheet is very complete (about 65 items in all) and includes stencils. After some light weathering, a satin coat sealed the complex.
The undercarriage posed no problems. One must take care, as parts are necessarily thin, but this is all that's needed to end up with a nice reproduction of the peculiar Defiant retracting system, which is intended for a parked aircraft of course (thus with compressed undercarriage legs). As usual, a couple of tiny details, including brake pipes, were added.
After the usual series of bits and pieces, also in the area behind the pilot's cockpit 20, antenna wires and isolators were added as a final touch.
All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable project, mainly thanks to the kit's excellent quality. It may well not be my last Airfix Defiant. And now, for that old Fairey Battle.