by: Jean-Luc Formery [ ]
BackgroundThe Bristol Blenheim can't be considered as a "glamorous" plane. It's not that it's ugly, but it hasn't the "attraction" factor of other WW2 aircraft, like the "Stuka", the "Zero", the "Flying Fortress" or the "Spitfire" to name a few. Nonetheless, it's an important aircraft that supported the first years of the war despite being very vulnerable to the most recent fighters like the Bf 109. Unfortunately the British had nothing better to throw in the battle at that time and many Blenheim crews were lost in the early years of the war.
The Blenheim first flew in june 1936 and initial deliveries to RAF squadrons (Mk I version) began in March 1937. At that time, the Blenheim was a high speed and modern aircraft and 28 RAF squadrons were equipped with this type. However, by the outbreak of the war, few Mk I's remained in service. In fact, the design of the Blenheim peaked with the Mk IV version wich saw service in March 1938 and was used by no less than 70 squadrons! It's this version that had to support the Bomber Command's "Daylight Campaign" until replaced by the Bostons and Mosquitos in 1942. A Nightfighter version was based on the Mk IV type and designated Mk IV F. The latest development of the Blenheim was the Mk V.
Other countries used the Blenheim: Canada, Finland, Greece, Portugal, Rumania, South Africa, Yugoslavia, Croatia and Free French.
The KitClassic Airframes boxes are not known to be very sturdy (picture 1) and the Blenheim one is no exception. Fortunately, the parts didn't suffer too much, except for some small resin ones, but they will be easy to fix. In the box there are three plastic sprues, a multitude of resin parts in a single bag, a rather big transparent sprue, a decal sheet, an instruction booklet and a small color and marking guide.
The plastic parts (picture 2) are typical "Short Run". While not bad (nice engraved panel lines), they have no locator pins and will need some cleaning. Surprisingly, there is little flash (picture 3) and the details on some plastic parts are quite nice as you can see on the cockpit floor and the engine cowlings (picture 4). The control surfaces are also very well rendered (picture 5) but the separation between them and the tailplane is not deep enough. The best is probably to cut the elevators and the rudder and position them slightly offset. This can also be done with the ailerons. There is nothing particular to say about the fuselage and the wings. The Blenheim was a simple design and the surface of the plane is rather smooth, therefore the main plastic parts have an even appearence with almost no relief details(picture 6).
If you have already built Classic Airframes kits, you have noticed that most of the detail parts are cast in resin. The Blenheim kit is not different, to the contrary: it's a real resin parts catalogue! (picture 7). You will find two nicely detailled one piece (no need to assemble seperate cylinders) Bristol Mercury engines (picture 8), a complete cockpit interior (pilot and bomber position) (picture 9), two gear bays (picture 10), a complete armament set (picture 11) etc... the quality of the resin parts is very good with almost no molding issues (such as air bubbles) but will require a lot of cleaning and trimming to fit properly.
The transparent parts are unusual as they are all, excepted for the forward gun station, molded in injected plastic (picture 12). I say "unusual" because Classic Airframes canopies are usually vacuformed. But not this time. This is probably because of the rather complex shape of the plexiglas nose of the aircraft. You will have to glue the two main transparent plastic parts to complete the forward fuselage. Transparent plastic parts and glue... mmm... not always the best combination! This will probably be one of the difficulties of the kit. Inside the two transparent forward fuselage halves are two ejection pin marks that will have to be removed. Fortunately, they are located on the sidewalls and not on the windows.
Two decoration options are possible (picture 13) with the kit's decals (picture 14). One represents a Bomber of No. 105 Squadron in 1941 with a Sky undersurface color and a Dark Sea Grey/Slate Grey uppersurface camouflage. The other is an all black nightfighter of No. 68 squadron also from 1941. Color indications are given in Federal Standard (FS) in the color guide and the instructions (picture 15). The latter are printed on an 8 page A5 format booklet (two folded B&W A4 sheets). The 20 steps assembly drawings are very clear and sometimes accompanied by useful notes. They tell you very precisely how to trim the resin parts so they fit properly. The decals look good and are well in register. The fuselage roundels are separated in three layers: white/yellow, blue and red . They will probably require the use of setting solution to go into the panel lines.
I'm sorry to say that, but the markings of british WW2 are quite boring in my opinion. Those of the Blenheim are a perfect exemple for this. I don't know if aftermarket decals have been produced for this kit, but with some decals from the spare box, it is possible to find more exotic decorations (Finnish Air Force, Portugues Air Force, Free French Air Force, Royal Hellenic air Force etc...) allowing you to paint yellow theatre markings, desert schemes or all metal finishes.
Accuracy and fittingI didn't measured the kit parts but the overall look of the plane once finished (as seen in SAMI July 2006) is convincing. Based on the plans and drawings I have, I noticed the back of the engine nacelles could have been rounder where they meet the upper wing. It's seems Classic Airframes have also forgotten two small bulges on the bomb bay doors. But maybe some planes weren't fitted with the same panels, especially the nightfighters with the underbelly gun pod. Anyway, these are only minor details and the kit being the only injected one in 1/48 scale to my knowledge, you can either live with it or wait for an hypothetical new release of a mainstream manufacturer... probably in the next century!
I didn't built the kit yet so the forthcoming comments about parts fitting are courtesy of Tom Hall of SAMI. I hope he won't mind me using his experience with the build of the kit. Overall, it appears from the article that it's not an easy kit. At least not one to choose for a first multimedia (read plastic and resin) project. Some bigger resin parts are very difficult to get in their locations. The engines in the cowlings and the gear bays in the nacelles for example. Taking away the excess material on both resin and plastic parts, along with regular test fittings is the key to success here. The writer also noticed Classic Airframes provided only half the exhausts needed for the engine's cylinders. In the kit there are only one per cylinder but there should be two. He made the missing ones with telephone wire. Surprisingly, the fit of the transparent forward fuselage wasn't as bad as he (and myself) would have expected. I fact the fit was pretty good! That's a reassuring news for sure! At the end, with some care and patience, he managed to achieve a pretty good replica of the Blenheim.
ConclusionClassic Airframes rendering of the Bristol Blenheim fills an important gap in the list of WW2 1/48 scale aircraft kits. The Blenheim isn't an obscure prototype or a plane produced in small quantities. This medium bomber was one of the workhorses of the RAF in the early years of the war and as such, deserves to be in any aircraft collection.
The kit is sadly out of stock and not available from Classic Airframes anymore. So if you see one collecting dust in a Hobby Shop or at a Swap Meet don't hesitate. And if the kit happens to be on sale, it will be a real bargain considering what is provided in the box!
Note: Classic Airframes also produced the Mk I (kit No.435) and Mk V (kit No.437) versions wich, I believe, have the same base except for the nose sections.
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