by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
One of my fondest childhood memories is of going to the Biggin Hill Airshow in the early 1970s. I was eager to see a Spitfire - but, in fact, it was the Hawker Sea Fury which made a greater impression. The sheer sense of power and the distinctive whistling whine of its Centaurus engine (quite unlike the sound of all the other warbirds flying that day) ensured that Hawker’s final piston-engined fighter has remained a personal favourite ever since.
So it was a particular pleasure to have the chance to read Valiant Wings’ updated and expanded second edition of Airframe Album 2, which covers not only the Sea Fury in its various versions, but also its land-based counterpart.
The book follows the now established format of the series - softbound and printed on high quality glossy A4 stock, with the new edition extending to 114 pages. Author Richard Franks breaks the contents down logically into five main sections, preceded by an introduction and with a series of appendices rounding everything off.
The coverage begins with a concise history of the development of the aircraft and its service with the Royal Navy and around the world. It was an eye-opener for me to realise how many examples remained in military service well into the 1960s - over a decade after the Sea Fury had been retired in the UK - and that West Germany continued to use privately operated 2-seaters as target tugs until 1970. Quite a remarkable record for an aircraft that was facing obsolescence almost as soon as it left the drawing board with the dawn of the jet-age.
Next follows the Technical Description - which is essentially a highly detailed 40-page “walkaround”, combining modern colour photos of preserved airframes with vintage shots and illustrations from original servicing manuals. I always really like the way Valiant Wings utilise vintage illustrations, because they provide extra clarity on areas that are hard, or impossible, to photograph clearly and the result (for me, at least) is, for want of a better term, a "Walkaround Plus". The Sea Fury coverage is an excellent example, breaking the material down into the following categories:
Group 1 - Fuselage
Group 2 - Undercarriage
Group 3 - Tail
Group 4 - Wings
Group 5 - Engine
Group 6 - Weaponry
Group 7 - Electrical
Group 8 - Miscellaneous
Each group is further sub-divided so, for instance, Group 1 covers:
1 - Cockpit Interior
2 - Canopy
3 - Main & Aft Fuselage
4 - Fuel Hydraulic, Oil and Oxygen Systems
The cockpit coverage alone spreads over six pages, and this degree of detail extends to other areas, with five pages devoted to weaponry and four to the undercarriage - all packed with just the kind of close-ups and diagrams we modellers demand.
Evolution looks at each prototype and variant in turn, with concise notes and an annotated isometric illustration by Jacek Jackiewicz, backed up in most cases by a period photo. This section was a revelation for me, not least in showing just how ugly the Fury looked when fitted with a Griffon 85 engine, an annular radiator and contra-props! By contrast, the same airframe refitted with a tightly cowled Sabre VII looked like a muscular thoroughbred - and (perhaps not entirely coincidentally) proved to be Hawker’s fastest ever piston-engined aircraft, clocking up an impressive 485mph.
Camouflage & Markings covers the Sea Fury throughout its long career with various operators, detailing each in turn with plentiful photographs. The author does a fine job going into detail to clarify the development of the colour schemes for each. There may be a few surprises for some readers along the way; for instance, he explains that there were four distinct schemes adopted by the Royal Canadian Navy, with plenty of scope for variations on individual airframes.
To accompany the historical description, Richard Caruana contributes 36 excellent profiles to get the creative juices flowing - from the classic Navy schemes, through land-based fighters serving with smaller air forces and ending with the striking scarlet German target tugs. Ever a sucker for the weird and wonderful, I must admit the standout scheme for me is the Morrocan Air Force Mk 60 on display in 1988. I've just got to find out more on that one...
Highly-regarded modeller Steve Evans contributes two excellent builds for the Models section - both in 1:48 and to his usual top-notch standard. First off, it’s Airfix’s recent FB Mk 11 in Korean War colours. Interestingly, Steve’s kit doesn’t seem to have suffered from the short-mould on the fin which blighted many when the kit was first released (my own included).
For the second build, Steve tackles AMG’s T Mk 20 2-seater, and it’s clear from his build that this isn’t a kit for beginners. The result is impressive, though - and unless Airfix see a market for a 2-seater, this may remain the only option for most modellers.
Survivors is an interesting chapter, covering a topic which I haven’t seen in other Airframe Albums. The author gives details and a known history of every surviving Sea Fury - and it’s encouraging to read just how there are, including many airworthy examples. There’s a selection of colour photos - but remember, these are restored airframes, so the colour schemes should be treated with a degree caution. One sad revelation is the number of airframes used as airfield decoys in Iraq in 2003 in the Second Gulf War. How many of those are still extant in some form, only time will tell...
The Appendices give useful lists of the Sea Fury kits, decals, accessories and references released over the years. I hadn’t realised that Frog released their 1:72 kit way back in 1963, but one thing is clear - there’s a glaring gap in the market for an easily available and affordable high quality mainstream 1:32 kit. Hint: any manufacturer reading this...
ConclusionsWhile I didn’t see Valiant Wings’ original study of the Sea Fury, the revised edition is easily the most comprehensive modellers’ guide to the aircraft that I’ve read. Although it’s clearly aimed at modellers, aviation historians and enthusiasts certainly shouldn’t dismiss it, because there’s plenty to interest them too. The new edition is nicely timed to coincide with the latest crop of 1:48 kits from Airfix and AMG, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend this as a reference if you’re tackling these or any other Hawker Fury or Sea Fury model.
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