From around 1950 to
1975, the pilots of the Royal Air Force
were in the enviable position to be flying the hottest rods around. The Javelin,
the Lightning, the Vulcan and Victor bombers - all pieces of hardware whose
looks clearly said "We mean business".
It is not hard to
imagine the effect this had on some of the pilots' egos. They became
increasingly cocksure, insolent and unprofessional in the execution of their
duties. The psychological mechanism
behind this behavior can be studied in the 1986 documentary feature "Top
Gun" in which a small wimpy fellow who looks like Tom Cruise is transformed
into a veritable Superman by a few training lessons on considerably less
impressive hardware and a few dogfights against enemies inexplicably flying
By 1954, the
situation in England had deteriorated to a point where more pilots were being
killed by carelessness than by the quality of British engineering. Clearly,
something had to be done.
such as the ones employed by the Luftwaffe during the late years of WWII (the
Bachem Ba 349 "Natter" was never really meant to be a point defense
fighter) were not considered appropriate by the RAF. The way they would do it
was by restoring some sense of modesty in the pilots by assigning them to
altogether unglamorous duties. Simple disciplinary measures such as maintenance
of sanitary facilities proved ineffective, however. Something much more
disgraceful was required. Why not make them fly for a while in something that
looks like, say - a cross between a bathtub and a pregnant
Thus, in 1955 the
Air Ministry issued specification DM.1/55 which called for "a misshapen
contraption with a silly name". Although the American F-86 "Dog Sabre"
was readily available, a homegrown solution was favoured.
The remainder of the requirements of DM.1/55 were in line with those of other
British specifications of the time, such as "an insufficient engine yet to
be developed" and "severely
undersized fuel tanks".
companies (joined by a number of comic book artists and the people who would
later become set designers for the Monty Python troupe) submitted their designs,
but it was clear from the start that a company with a name like "Fairey"
would have an obvious advantage.
specification was, as usual, to undergo a number of substantial changes - at one
time or another, the following items were added to and removed from the list of
requirements: the ability to carry nuclear devices (for incurable cases of egomania
pilotis), skis in lieu of landing gear, Warp 10+ speed, and a silly hat.
The end result of
this process, however, is history. In 1957, the Fairey Gannet was declared
winner of the competition, and went on to become the plane we love to hate.
As it was feared
that the British public might mistakenly see the whole operation as a waste of
taxpayers money, a cover-up story was invented in which the Gannet (alluding to
the hunting habits of the bird whose name it carries) was assigned the role of a
submarine hunter - an
obvious lie as the Gannet's fuselage wasn't watertight, and the ungainly
fowl featured neither a periscope, nor a snorkel.
The Fairey engineers
(who preferred to be called "the engineers at Fairey") arrived at the
general shape of the aircraft by distorting a rubber model of a Supermarine
Spitfire beyond all recognition, using a complete disregard for aerodynamic
requirements and liberal amounts of bad taste as general design guidelines.
The airplane was
driven by two counter-rotating propellers, one providing forward thrust, one
backward thrust, the net effect being a speed barely sufficient to counter the
effects of continental shift. When faced with head winds of a speed of 10 knots
or more, Gannets would usually go backwards.
A crew of three was
required for operation (one to pilot the plane, and two to operate the fuel
pumps). The most obstinate of the crew members was made to sit in the isolated
rear seat, facing backwards.
At air shows,
Gannets would regularly score awards for "Most Ludicrous Aircraft" and
"Worst of Show". An enhanced version of the original Gannet, the
AEW.3, went on to win the 1963 "Silly Protrusions Award".
The Gannet was
exported to countries whose air forces suffered from similar disciplinary
problems: Australia, Indonesia (where it replaced the traditional canoes) and
Germany. In Germany, the last of the Gannets was subjected to the ultimate
indignity: it was handed over to the "Luftwaffen-Museum der Bundeswehr"
at Berlin-Gatow which, in spite of its name, is a deplorable open air dump for
aircraft the Luftwaffe has no money to properly scrap. There, it is rotting away
in ignominy, and the sad state of the airframe served as inspiration in the
construction of this model.
The kit featured in this article
is product number S-124 from Polish manufacturer "Plastyk" and was
bought recently in a department store in Wroclaw (like other products from the
same stable, it is also sold under the "Eastern Express" label). It
pays full homage to the atrocity of the subject matter, being another rip-off of
the classic Frog offering and featuring, on top of that, all the characteristics
of a third generation tool copy. Most of the panel lines are raised; the width
of the few recessed panel lines tends to exceed their depth.
The decals enclosed are for a
"Fairley Gannet" [sic] of either the Royal Navy or the Indonesian LAUT
and represent the barest minimum possible; to add insult to injury, two
copies of the decal sheet are provided. A revised tool set was used in the
building of this kit.
images below to see larger images
Construction begins with the cockpit. That is,
construction would begin with the Cockpit if there was one.
Construction really begins by removing all parts from the
tree by means of a medium size chainsaw.
According to the instructions, the propeller/spinner
assembly is tackled first. The amount of plastic that has to be sanded off from
the spinner parts to make them align with each other and the fuselage is almost
sufficient to fill the gaping holes serving as openings for the propeller
blades. Application of copious amounts of putty, using the nail polish remover
technique explained elsewhere on this site, almost results in a fair
representation of the original.
Fit of the finlets on the tailplane is surprisingly good,
as is the marriage of the wing roots with the fuselage. The fuselage halves
arouse suspicion as to whether they belong to the same aircraft and/or scale,
but simple brute force is all that is required to make them fit. Minor seams are
filled using the stretched sprue technique, only this time the sprues do not
The parts breakdown of the landing gear proves that the
people responsible for the tooling of the model shared the sense of humor
employed by the visionary designers of the original airplane: seemingly
unconnected items (struts and wheel bay covers) are molded as a single part,
whereas parts traditionally represented as a single piece (wheel and hubs) are
supplied as ill-fitting sub-assemblies. The wheel bays represent no major
obstacle in either construction or painting as they are simply non-existing.
The kit layout suggests that the cockpit was usually
filled with concrete which encased the crew up to their necks.
After cleaning the finished assembly with hydrochloric
acid and a sandblast unit, the basic camouflage is applied as per the Polish
language instructions: "Ciemnoszary morski" for the upper color,
"Jasnoszary lotnicyz" for the remainder. A major benefit over second
rate products such as those by Tamiya is immediately apparent: color references
are not only by name, but equivalents are given for Humbrol, Xtracolor, Testors
and Federal Standard - only Accurate Miniatures offers a more comprehensive
The decals seem to react adversely to water, so they are
cut from the dry sheet and applied with white glue (thank god for the second
Pathetic efforts to weather the model are made. Silver is
dry brushed onto sensitive areas (raised panel lines and rivets, exposed areas
of the airframe, and my index finger). A wash of black is used to highlight
recesses (flaps, weapons bay, forgotten seams) and later toned down with the
base color - thanks to the Grand Canyon sized recessed lines. Pastel chalks are
used to add, in an impressionistic manner, hints of blue, green, fresh vomit and
lemming droppings. A random selection of other enamels, acrylics and substances
you really don't want to know about
is smeared indiscriminately all over the fuselage and wings in a vain attempt to
reflect the fact that both pilots and ground crew usually treated this aircraft
with either neglect or open hostility.
images below to see larger images
This kit presents a welcome
change from the perfect, "shake-and-bake" type of model we have come
to take for granted these days, such as the Zhengdefu 1/72 scale Mig-25 or the
Modelcraft 1/48 scale F-82 (both of which are
currently on my workbench).
this kit proved to be challenging in all respects; I found it
especially hard not to break into fits of hysterical laughter while measuring
the kit's dimensions against profile drawings of the aircraft - in the case of
this plane, both deviation from AND adherence to the original shape must be