by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Brief HistoryThe Avia B.534 is an aircraft dear to Czech hearts. It both embodies the final stage of biplane fighter development and the fearful plight of European nations at the mercy of the Nazi juggernaut. The aircraft grew from a series of designs beginning with the B.34 in 1931, which featured an all-metal structure with a fabric covering and was powered by a 650hp Avia-built Hispano-Suiza Vr 36. With minor modifications, the aircraft showed sufficient promise to warrant a production batch of 12 machines.
Meanwhile, Avia conducted a series of design studies around the same basic airframe using a variety of both in-line and radial engines. Two of the designs went forward - the B.234 powered by a 580h.p. Avia R29 radial and the B.534 powered by a Hispano-Suiza 12 Ybrs in-line. The Avia R29 suffered so badly from vibration problems during ground trials that it was clearly unsafe to progress to test flying, leaving to the Avia B.534 to become the definitive Czech fighter aircraft of the 1930s. Two prototypes were constructed, the second introducing the then radical innovation of an enclosed cockpit.
The B.534 was built in a number of production batches:
Series I aircraft were almost identical to the second prototype, but reverted to an open cockpit. The armament comprised a pair of 7.7 mm Model 30 machine guns in the fuselage sides, with the provision (seldom fitted) of an extra pair of guns in the wings.
Series II aircraft were armed with 4 x 7.7 mm guns mounted in pair in the fuselage sides under enlarged covers.
Series III aircraft introduced streamlined wheel covers and changes to the nose profile.
Series IV aircraft brought back the enclosed cockpit of the 2nd prototype and a metal propeller, which combined to give an increased top speed of 252 mph.
Meanwhile, alongside the earlier series, came the Bk.534 intended to carry a pair of 7.7mm guns in the fuselage sides and 20mm Oerlikon FFS cannon firing between the cylinder banks. Due to the short supply of the cannon a machine gun had to be substituted, leaving these aircraft actually armed with just 3 x 7.7 mm guns.
The Avia proved a popular fighter in service and attracted some interest on the export market, with Greece purchasing 3 or 4 aircraft (records are unclear) in 1937, while Yugoslavia took delivery of a further 14 (some of these seemingly joining the Greek aircraft to oppose the Italians in 1940).
As tensions grew between Germany and Czechoslovakia, the Czech government ordered mobilisation in September 1938, fully intending to fight for their rights. 370 Avia B.534s and a further 54 Bk.534s were in service, but the Munich Agreement undermined all their defence plans and the Czech pilots could do little but watch the Germans occupy the Sudetenland virtually unopposed. There were exceptions - notably the case of Josef Frantisek who ignored orders not to fight and took off in a B.534 and machine-gunned German columns before escaping to Poland.
When the Nazis dissolved the Czechoslavok Republic in March 1939, large quanties of B.534s were seized and saw widespread service with the Luftwaffe as fighter-trainers and glider tugs. There were even tests conducted to determine the aircraft's potential as a carrier-based fighter for the Graf Zeppelin (which was never completed, thus ending the project). Aircraft of the former Czech 3rd Air Regiment became the property of the Slovak State and about 65 B.534s formed the fighter element of the Slovak Air Force, fighting a series of skirmishes with Hungarian Fiat C.R.32s, before fighting alongside the Luftwaffe in the Polish Campaign and the invasion of Russia. In August 1944, the people of Slovakia rebelled against their puppet-government and an assortment of available aircraft was assembled including a pair of B.534s and a Bk.534. By now hopelessly obsolete, Avia's little bi-plane finally got its chance to fight for Czechoslovakian independence and, despite the odds, one pilot managed to down a Hungarian Ju 52/3m before the insurgents were forced to abandon their unserviceable aircraft and fight on as guerillas.
The KitThe Avia B.534 holds a special place in Czech hearts, so it's not surprising that Eduard have really pulled out the stops on it, treating this relatively obscure subject as something of a labour of love. Packaging and presentation is second to none and the kit comprises:
88 x olive green styrene parts
1 x clear styrene part
66 x etched steel parts (some pre-painted)
1 x sheet of painting masks
Decals for 4 x colour schemes
As you'd expect with a new-tool model, there's virtually no trace of flash and the moulding is very crisp throughout. A thorough inspection revealed a couple of faint sink marks on the fuselage where there are holes for locating pins and at the roots of the propeller blades - none are serious and should be quick to deal with.
Surface detail is really excellent, with finely engraved panel lines, tiny raised fasteners and what must be Eduard's best depiction yet of fabric surfaces - delicate stringers-effect on the fuselage and rib tapes with stitching on the flying surfaces. It's a little surprising that the exhausts are moulded integrally with the fuselage sides - but they still look fine, with hollowed-out openings.
It's hard to do a full test-fit with a biplane, but the lower wings and stabilizers slot in very positively - the former taking on the correct dihedral without any help. The top wing in the review sample shows a slight tendency to bow upwards, but this could well disappear when it's anchored by the interplane struts. The fuselage is a little tricky due to the parts breakdown; to allow for a Series IV with an enclosed cockpit, Eduard have moulded the entire top-decking from the cockpit forwards as a separate part. This is fine in principle, but is means some awkward sprue attachments to clean-up while trying not to damage the delicate raised panel fasteners and a long joint which is prone to flexing because it's rather unsupported. No great problem, but it'll need a little extra care in assembly to ensure a good fit.
Detail-wise, the Avia looks great. Construction begins with the cockpit which is neatly furnished with a combination of moulded and etched parts. The side-frames trap neat little machine guns in the bulged fuselage sides and there are etched throttles and cocking handles. There's a choice of pre-painted etched metal or plain styrene instrument panels, while the distinctively shaped seat comes with a nice etched harness. Everything matches the colour walk-around photo-composites in the HT book on the aircraft (see references at end) except for the rudder pedals - but remember, the Prague museum aircraft featured in the book is a replica, so I'm happy to go with Eduard's version.
For the first time in one of their kits (as far as I know), Eduard have included etched rigging attachments. These must be folded to shape and fitted before the upper wing is attached. Judging the correct angle to bend them to could be a bit fiddly, but I'm looking forward to seeing how they work in practice - they should certainly be more effective than my previous efforts with stretched-sprue.
The undercarriage offers a choice of bare or spatted wheels and the tyres have miniature Dunlop logos moulded on them. Construction rounds-off with fitting the propeller, which features a novel conical boss to allow it to rotate and a neat set of 10kg bombs with etched tail vanes and neatly moulded racks.
The instructions are very clearly drawn over 6 pages and have Gunze Sangyo paint matches keyed to most parts. Thankfully, Eduard have included rigging diagrams - the Avia's rigging isn't complicated, but it's nice to see a manufacturer go to the extra trouble of illustrating it.
Painting and decalsThe kit includes decals for 4 aircraft:
A. Avia B-534. 149, "V4" of the 2nd Air Regiment, 51st Fighter Flight, May 1937-March 1939.
B. Avia B-534. 165, "D5" of the 4th Air Regiment, 34th Fighter Flight, August 1937.
C. Avia B-534. 158, of the 3rd Air Regiment, 37th Fighter Flight, summer 1937.
D. Avia B-534. 158, the same aircraft as above, but now serving with the 11th Flight, Slovak Air Force, wearing a mix of Slovak and Luftwaffe insignia for the invasion of Poland.
The decals look excellent quality - thin and glossy with crystal clear carrier film. Registration on the review sample is spot on.
All the colour schemes feature a wrap-around of the top colour onto the undersides of the wings and tail and Eduard provide painting masks to accomplish this.
ConclusionEduard's Avia looks like it'll build into an excellent model. This isn't a kit where you can rattle the box and expect it to build itself - especially if you choose to use all the etched details - so it's probably not really suitable for total beginners. Eduard have admitted the kit is partly aimed at their home market, but fans worldwide of WW2's less well-known aircraft should delight in the chance to build such a detailed model of an attractive subject.
ReferencesProfile #152 - The Avia B.534, Josef Krybus, Profile Publications, 1967
Avia B-34, B-534 a Bk-534 HT Model Special, Peter umichrast and Josef And'al, HT Models
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