by: Tim Hatton [ ]
The de Havilland DH.88 Comet was a twin-engined British aircraft that won the 1934 Britain to Australia MacRobertson Air Race, a challenge for which it was specifically designed. It set many aviation records during the race and afterwards as a pioneer mail plane.
Despite previous British air racing successes, culminating in 1931 in the outright win of the Schneider Trophy, there was no British plane capable of putting up a challenge over the MacRobertson course with its long overland stages. The de Havilland company stepped into the breach by offering to produce a limited run of 200 mph (322km/h) racers if three were ordered by February 1934. The sale price of £5,000 [yes £5,000!] each. In 1935, de Havilland suggested a high-speed bomber version of the DH.88 to the RAF, but the suggestion was rejected. [De Havilland later developed the de Havilland Mosquito along similar lines as the DH.88 for the high-speed bomber role].
Three orders were received, and de Havilland set to work. The airframe consisted of a wooden skeleton clad with spruce plywood, with a final fabric covering on the wings. A long streamlined nose held the main fuel tanks, with the low set central two-seat cockpit forming an unbroken line to the tail. The engines were essentially the standard Gipsy Six used on the Express and Dragon Rapide passenger planes, tuned for best performance with a higher compression rate. The propellers were two-position variable pitch, manually set to fine before takeoff and changed automatically to coarse by a pressure sensor. The main undercarriage retracted upwards and backwards into the engine nacelles. The DH.88 could maintain altitude up to 4,000ft (1,200m) on one engine.
De Havillands managed to meet their challenging schedule and testing of the DH.88 began six weeks before the start date of the race. On the day of the race, the three distinctively coloured planes took their places among 17 other entrants ranging from a new Douglas DC-2 airliner to two converted Fairey Fox bombers.
First to take off at 6.30 a.m from Mildehall on October 20 were Jim and Amy Mollison in their own G-ACSP Black Magic. They made a faultless journey to Baghdad and reached Karachi at around 10 a.m. on the second race day, setting a new England to India record. Problems began for the Mollisons when their landing gear failed to retract, and after returning Karachi for repairs they were again delayed by an inability to navigate at night. Further problems followed when they made an unscheduled refuelling stop at Jobbolpore but found no aviation fuel. Running instead on fuel used by the local bus company, an engine piston seized and an oil line ruptured. They flew on to Allahabad and retired. Black Magic is currently being restored at Derby Airfield, Egginton, Derby.
The box is a end opening affair normally associated with Airfix series one kits. The colour paint guide is on the reverse of the cover. Contents include :
4 x light grey plastic sprues.
1 x one piece canopy.
Four page instructions, illustrating four building stages.
Small decal sheet, with gold lettering, names and cheat lines.
The cockpit is none existent. Where the cockpit should be there is a moulded plastic cover, with what looks like the heads of two frogmen sticking through it. It should be a simple matter to cut the plastic over the cockpit away and scratch build some detail in there. The reference below will be very helpful. Fuselage shape is generally good, but the shape of the upper nose does not look quite right. The kit nose looks too symmetrical in shape when viewed from the side. There are no locating points in the fuselage. One thing that is missing is the distinctive landing light on the nose, but this would be a simple matter to correct. The line of the rudder looks suspect and there is no mass balance. The line representing the gap between the rudder and tail has been rather clumsily reworked. The trailing edge of the rudder will benefit from thinning down once the fuselage halves are joined.
The two wings are moulded with upper and lower surfaces. The tape on the wings are depicted as raised lines, although they are a bit woolly. The gap between the ailerons and the wings are a bit wide and ill defined. It would probably be best to fill the gap and re-scribe. A raised mould mark on the under surface of each wing should be simple enough to eradicate. There is a stub to aid the attachment of the wings to the fuselage. The instructions advice that there is a slight dihedral of 3 degrees for the wings. The flash on the mating surface will need to removed before joining. There is a bit of a gap on the wing/fuselage joint underneath that will need filling. Trailing edge will benefit from thinning down. Shape wise the wing looks very good. Some details will need scratch building such as mass balances, navigation lights and pitot tube. On the engine nacelles, the open vents on the side are depicted as raised lines. The fastidious might want to open these up. Each nacelle comes in two parts. The air intake on the front is correctly depicted, but there is no engine. The first cylinder is fairly prominent behind the air intake. What looks like internal detailing in the wheel bay is actually guide marks for the undercarriage legs. The distinctive panel line on the nacelles on the real thing are not very clear on the kit. The rivets are raised and look more like mould faults. Probably best to sand down and re-scribe. Also the kit does not feature the exhaust pipes, which extend along the line of the inboard wheel bay. Also the small scoop air inlet on the outer engine nacelle is missing. Tail plane is similarly to the main wing and has both upper and lower surfaces moulded, the shape looks good. Again there is a lack of mass balances. Undercarriage detail is very simplified. There is a fair bit of flash on the legs and the undercarriage doors. The doors are not very accurate and will need re-shaping or replacing. Wheels need some attention, one side of the wheel looks a bit odd and could do with sanding down. The propellers are moulded into the spinners with a fair bit of flash, but the shape looks good. The one piece canopy and windscreen is pretty thick and will present some distortion.
Markings and Decals.
Only one set of markings for this kit, “Black Magic”. The small decal sheet contains the gold lettering, names and cheat lines. The colour looks good although the carrier film is very matt and obvious. It is possible to cut around the larger letters with a sharp knife to achieve a more satisfactory effect.
With the number of parts totaling 24, including the one piece canopy and the simple paint scheme the build of this kit should be pretty quick. The kit has the feel of a limited run production. The small number of panel lines should make any fit problems relatively easy to sort out. Panel lines can be easily redone. The only thing that needs serious sorting out is the cockpit. Once the initial shock of the simplified nature of this kit is overcome, the potential for this kit is excellent particularly for someone looking to ease themselves into the world of the short run kit. I must admit despite the small list of negatives I am really looking forward to building this beautiful looking little piece of history. Come on Airfix, do one in 1/48.