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1/72 Airfix Lancaster B.I / B.III

Article by John Ratzenberger
Gallery Pix Gallery Pix Gallery Pix

Kit Review
Avro Lancaster B Mk.I / Mk.III 'G for George'
Manufacturer: Airfix Kit # 8007
Scale: 1/72
MSRP: $39.00 (Online: around $30.00 US)

Bottom Line Up Front:
I haven't built an Airfix kit in some 40 years, but working this one took me back to my basement workbench almost 50 years ago when Airfix kits were my mainstay. I almost thought I could hear my Dad calling me to mow the lawn, then I realized it was just my wife. <grin>.

Hasegawa has just released the latest "challenge" to the Airfix kit. I have the kit but haven't built it or compared the two in great detail, so I won't comment further.

At this point and for what it is worth, I think the Airfix kit is a good buy for an experienced modeler.
-- On the plus side, the scale is great, the representation is good, the raised detailing is acceptable, the decals are good, and the general build is not difficult. Airfix has released several variants, there are lots of after-market detail and conversion sets -- one can build a good collection of Lancasters. The after-market makes up for the lack of optional parts such as props, etc, in the released kit.
-- On the other hand, the fuselage seams, the nacelle seams and fit to the wings, and the clear parts require a lot of work to make a good model.

So, I guess that is a qualified recommendation -- it sure isn't a "don't buy" recommendation.

I would like to thank Airfix and IPMS the opportunity to review the Lancaster and for the review kit.

The Lancaster, Britain's mainstay heavy bomber should need little introduction, but I want to cover a couple things germane to this review. The B.I was the basic Lancaster. The B.III was the same aircraft but with US-built Packard Merlin engines. The B.X was the B.III built in Canada, eh. For our purposes, there was little difference among the three except for two items.
  -- The B.I had a smaller, flatter bomb-aimer's window - the B.III was larger and more rounded.
  -- Also, the B.I had deHavilland props with a "thin" profile, while Hamilton Standard props with a "paddle-blade" profile were introduced with the B.III.
Many B.I were retrofitted with the B.III bomb-aimer's window and the deHavilland and Hamilton Standard props could be used by any model, although not intermixed on one aircraft. So, as always, check your reference photos to be sure.

Airfix released their first kit of the Lancaster in 1958 -- I remember building it. They released the second version in 1979 -- by that time I was building other things, so I guess catching up 26 years later isn't too bad. Through the years Airfix has released some half-dozen variations on that second release, of which this kit is the most recent (2005).

Other manufacturers released the Lancaster, but the Airfix kit has been pretty much the de facto standard. One thing it could not be faulted on was the fidelity to scale -- and it still measures out to a few real-inches. As one would expect, there are a lot of after-market enhancements and variations available, so one can do quite a bit with it.

Opening the Box:

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The kit comes in a nice box with a sturdy cardboard bottom. You get 4 gray plastic sprues with a total of 118 parts, a clear sprue with 18 parts, a decal sheet, and instructions. The parts are not bagged which almost cost me two loose clear parts and probably contributed to the scratches on a couple more clear parts.

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We'll talk more about the parts, but I want to mention that a quick inventory reveals the kit only has the B.III bomb-aimer's window and the deHavilland props -- so although the box claims this to be a B.I/B.III kit, you are constrained in what you can do out-of-the-box. I think having both windows and both prop-sets would be welcome in any future releases of this kit. It turns out the only construction option is whether the H2S dome is used or not.

Since this kit is of the "work-horse" bombers you get none of the special weapons the Lancaster was famed for carrying. The kit gives you a pretty nice 8000-lb HC.II and six of what I think, by the body shape, are 250-lb Semi-Armour Piercing bombs -- but the cylindrical and support vanes are way over-thick. See build notes below -- I now question the inclusion of the 8000-lb HC.II without the modified bomb bay doors - a 4000-lb HC.II would have been better, I think.

Might as well get this out of the way -- it has raised rivets and raised panels. Having said that, with a couple exceptions they are very finely done. Looking at photos of the Lancaster, rivets are prominent, as are raised or overlapping panels. The representation isn't bad, but as you will see later, correcting blemishes and fit issues will destroy the raised detail in places and you will have to choose how to deal with it.

A quick look at the instructions shows this to be a re- release of a previous kit, Gallery Pix Gallery Pix but the instructions are a hack of yet another kit. The short history text mentions that you will be building aircraft which are not found on the decals, and indeed steps 9 and 10 show you how to attach the H2S dome for HW-A, when in fact it should be VR-R. The color sheets are correct for the two aircraft offered, so I gather they were the only pages changed out.

The color sheets and the decals reveal the markings for two aircraft. The first is for the kit's namesake 'G for George' -- a B.III, AR-G of 429 Sqdn, RAAF. Gallery Pix In fact you get two sets of markings for this aircraft -- the wartime markings and those it carries on display at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) -- the difference is primarily in the red and, to a lesser extent, the blue colors. The second set is for a B.X, VR-R of 419 Sqdn, RCAF. Not only is this a nice touch, a Canadian Squadron and a Canadian built aircraft, but this particular one had sharks teeth on the engine nacelles which is a break from the traditionally reserved color schemes on Commonwealth aircraft in the ETO. I have seen online comment that the Canadian aircraft, VR-R, did not carry the sharks teeth operationally but was decorated thusly for the trip home. I also saw a comment that the aircraft may not have always carried the name "Ropey". I did not run these to ground.

There are plenty of stencils, in particular for the "cookie" and wing-markings. The red portions of the roundels and the fin-flashes are separate. While registration of the roundels is fine, the fin-flashes have a very slight mismatch on the blue and white that can be trimmed out easily.

If you followed the background discussion, you can see that although the kit purports to be a B.I / B.III, the aircraft modeled are really a B.III / B.X -- a little misleading. That would be OK, but the AWM website says that 'G for George' is a B.I, not a B.III. I found wartime and reconstruction photos to confirm the "thin" DH prop blades, but these photos also show the flatter B.I bomb-aimer's window -- so you cannot build 'G for George' correctly from the kit parts. I did find one wartime picture of the RCAF aircraft, VR-R, with the "thin" DH props, and as expected, the B.III bomb-aimer's window -- thus the kit best represents this aircraft.

Building the Kit:
The first thing to be done is clean the parts -- I found just 3 small sink marks, about a dozen ejector pin holes, and a fair amount of flash. The sprue runners are thick and you need be careful when removing parts to not distort them while chopping through the attachment point.

The Instructions would have you build as follows: turrets, cockpit, bombs, bomb bay, fuselage, nacelles and gear, and the wings, tail, and final assembly. Given the issues I saw with seams and gaps, I changed that -- I didn't want vulnerable gun tubes, clear plastic, landing gear, etc, around the sanding.

At this point, I've decided to do pretty close to an OOB build for fun & across-the-room appearance. This means that rivets and panels will be sacrificed for fit and cleaned up gaps and seams. Likewise, I've decided to do the interior in flat black and not worry about cockpit or turret detail.

The upper turret is going to look bad because it is split vertically -- yes along/near a frame, but still an issue. The gun barrels have flash on them and need to be carefully scraped clean -- I did it while on the sprue for strength. While the nose and dorsal guns come in pairs, the four rear guns are single. Gallery Pix I didn't want to put the turrets into the fuselage to avoid problems working around the guns and protecting the clear parts from paint, so I modified them to be inserted at the end. There is significant flash inside the clear parts, especially the dorsal and nose turrets, that takes careful work to get out. The dorsal took some shaving to get the guns in place. The instructions do not show exactly what are painted/clear panels on the turrets so you'll need some reference photos. Also, the instructions don't tell you how the angled rear guns mount -- the drawing implies the inner guns are upper, but in fact the inner guns are lower. The clear parts don't mate well with the nose and tail turrets, necessitating fill with white glue and some sanding.

You get a floor, a seat, a yoke, decals for the instrument and radio panel, and two pilot figures sitting with their hands folded sedately in their laps, or maybe they are fighter pilots holding a stick. The canopy is in 3 pieces due to the side blisters. The framing is raised and significantly so. See the Fuselage steps below -- I chose to glue the blister panels to the canopy rather than to the fuselage.

Bomb Bay & Ordnance:
As mentioned, you get an HC Mk.II and 6 250lb SAP. The "roof" has detail lines and you get door actuating rods. The bomb bay doors come in one piece, handy if you are displaying the model with doors closed, or you can open them up. The doors have three pin marks each and the fuselage in the bomb bay one on each side. Airfix provides a nice little arrow inside the bomb-bay and gear doors to indicate front -- when you clean them up, be sure you have some method to remember where the front is.

The cylindrical and support vanes on the SAP bombs are crude and I considered replacing them. In the end, I left them as is and just reamed out the back of the cylindrical vanes with an Exacto blade. The HC.II goes together fine. I did not mount the bombs in the bomb bay until the end, and then discovered there are not six 250-lb bombs, but a front set of 3 bombs and a rear set of 3. When you take them off the sprue to build and paint, keep the front and rear bombs (by part#) separate or they won't sit right fore-and-aft. Also, once I put the HC.II in, I could see that the doors would not close around it and now question whether this aircraft should have the 4000-lb bomb instead, or have the modified bomb-bay doors to handle the 8000-lb bomb. I chose to just keep on going. Gallery Pix

I mounted the end pieces to the bomb-bay floor but did not fasten the door actuating rods or the bombs themselves. There is a seam/gap between the fuselage and the end pieces once you put the bomb-bay in the fuselage and the actuating rods get in the way of filling/hiding that -- also those actuating rods would be vulnerable while working with the fuselage. Once I got to adding the actuating rods and doors, I made the mistake of gluing in the actuating rods (and letting them sit for a day) and then the doors -- not everything lined up and you can see warped rods in the photo. I think if one adds the doors first then the rods one can juggle things much better.

All 3 sink marks, although small, occur here. One is on the fuselage in front of the windscreen on the right side, the other two are on the lower rear fuselage on the left side -- all near locator pins/holes. Gallery Pix There is also a lot of flash, some of which appears to have made a small ridge along the edge of the fuselage. When cleaning flash, be aware there is a little light on the back part of the dorsal turret fairing and two more below the rear turret -- don't trim them off. Also note the rivets around the dorsal turret are significantly larger than elsewhere -- I swiped them a few times with fine grit to bring them down. Be very careful cleaning the flash and runners to do as little damage to the rivets and panel lines. A test fit indicates the fuselage sides do not match exactly, especially in the rear. The holes for the astro-nav bubbles on the top do not exactly line up, but can be fixed. Oh, yes, the Lancaster had a row of small windows along the fuselage on each side -- Airfix has molded them into the plastic and not provided clear parts -- in practice these were often painted over (check your reference photos) so it isn't a great issue.

This is a large step where you put in the turrets, the cockpit, the instrument panel, the bomb-bay, and the side windows. Gallery Pix Gallery Pix Again, there are no painting instructions and I just hit it all with flat black as there isn't much to see. As I left out the turrets for later, this seemed easy, but I soon found the side windows did not fill the holes in the fuselage, necessitating lots of white glue fill. I'm glad I held off putting the bombs in because I had to hook a scriber into the holes in the bomb-bay roof to yank it into place. The only other pieces of note are the two blister windows for the main canopy -- the instructions would have you glue them to the fuselage sides here, but I chose a different route and glued them to the main canopy itself. I left off the bomb-bay doors, the main canopy, and nose blister off until later.

Once the fuselage was together I tackled the gaps and seams. Despite my best intentions to preserve some detail, I soon found myself chasing those seams and gaps -- the band of sanding on the top and bottom widened with each attempt to get a smooth join. When satisfied with that, I then knocked down the rivet and panel detail on the rest of the aircraft to match (almost nothing) since I was not interested in re-scribing it.

The inner nacelles have wing rib detail in the gear well, but also 3 ejector pin holes in each -- there are other holes that may be visible once assembled. Each nacelle has two air intakes but these are solid, not open, and have a solid tab in front that I assume represents the filter. I chose to just lop off the tabs and then drill/cut/ream out the intake openings. Likewise, the exhausts have flame-suppressing covers, but both the front and back are solid -- again, I opened them up. The nacelles have the same problems as the fuselage -- be careful cleaning them, especially the adjoining edges, and a test fit shows that once you put them together, there will be gaps/seams to correct while dodging the rivets and panel lines. The seams are very noticeable inside the wheel wells -- I think rather than filling, I'll just glue in some .010 Evergreen. The seams also show up under each nacelle at the outflow for the radiator air.
Gallery Pix There are three main parts to each -- two sides and a nose cap. The sides fit together reasonably well, but the nose caps do not match up and need fill. Again cleaning of gaps and seams killed detail. The instructions have you build the landing gear into the inner nacelles, but it can be left off and inserted later -- again protecting it from the clean-up process. If you install the gear afterwards, I suggest you glue in the retraction struts, then glue in the main gear -- this will keep parts fitting together and ensure the main gear correctly leans slightly backwards.

When cleaning the wings, do not knock off the 8 or so little stubs on the leading edge of each wing -- they represent cable cutters but are a bit overstated. The ailerons are separate, while the flaps are in-scribed (vs raised). The 3 little lights on the trailing edge of the wing tip are not present but could be added with some Evergreen rod.

Gallery Pix The attempt to represent fabric-cover on the ailerons is over-stated and I lightly sanded that detail down to barely visible, representing rib tape. There are, on the upper surface of the ailerons, 3 overly large rectangular holes representing hinge points -- these need work.

The wings go together fine, with little clean-up, although the trailing edges are too thick, made worse by the thin aileron trailing edges. I found the underside of the ailerons to have significant sink marks, something I missed in the initial clean-up.

Gallery Pix Gallery Pix The outer nacelles fit just fine underneath and require little if any fill. The inner nacelles do not and require work to fill gaps between the nacelles and the lower wing surface. From the top, the fit of all four nacelles isn't always good -- more filling and sanding.

As with the fuselage, I knocked down most the detail to be consistent.

Landing Gear:
The gear doors come in a single piece, handy if you are doing in-flight, or that you split if gear down. There are two pin holes in each that must be filled. They appear thick, but the Lancaster doors were hollow so it isn't too bad. The main wheel tires are smooth -- which is correct. The landing gear has the major pieces, but I think Airfix should have included the rather prominent K-shaped piece that connects the two jack pistons on the retracting assembly of each one. The dual-contact anti-shimmy tail wheel is in two parts -- unfortunately right/left and not yoke/tire. This leaves you with a seam to fix and some effort to make the yoke look like it is not part of the tire.

The horizontal stabilizer and elevators are separate. The elevators suffer the same overstated fabric/rib representation as the ailerons and I treated them the same way. Gallery Pix On the other hand, the balance and trim tabs are not consistently inscribed and need a few swipes with the scriber. The vertical fin and rudder are a single piece and I'm not sure why given the other positionable control surfaces. I found one ejector pin mark on the inside of the right vertical-stabilizer below the horizontal-stabilizer. The panel and inspection plate lines are overstated compared to the rest of the aircraft and I sanded them down a bit. The mass balances are not provided -- they are fairly obvious on the real aircraft and I think should have been.

Final Assembly:
The wings slide into the fuselage cleanly, with no fill needed. The tail planes do not fit as nicely and some fill underneath would be appropriate. At this point, I discovered what appeared to be a warp in the fuselage because the tail planes and main planes were not in horizontal alignment. I attribute some of that to the main wing attachment that puts a lot of weight on the fuselage sidewall. I wish the main wing tabs extended across the fuselage as the tail plane tabs do -- I hesitate to pick this thing up by a single wing-tip for fear something will flex and crack a seam. I twisted and pulled and got it pretty close. Oh, yes -- the tail wheel assembly is easy to break -- I finally drilled out the strut and strengthened it with a piece of wire. The bomb-aimer's window and the main canopy don't fit cleanly, again needing white glue filler. Gallery Pix Gallery Pix Gallery Pix

Painting Instructions:
The sheet lists, by number, 5 Humbrol colors to be used -- 3 of them are id'd by name (Dark Green, Dark Earth, Matte Black) but the other two (Silver, Yellow) are not. Other than the basic exterior color scheme and a note to paint the roof of the bomb bay Matte Black and the bombs Dark Green, there are no painting instructions for the interior. The "normal" scheme would have the cockpit in Interior Green and the bomb bay and gear wells in black.

I used Tamiya rattle-can acrylics for the basic camouflage, Model-Master acrylic and enamel for details and touch-ups. This was my first time using Glad Press'n Seal for masking and it works great. I basically followed the kit's limited instructions, but used some variations of silver, steel, gun-metal, etc, to get some variety. The kit essentially tells you to paint all canopy and turret frames Dark Earth, but I believe the bomb-aimer's window, nose turret and tail turret should be Matte Black, while the main canopy and dorsal turret would be Dark Earth or Dark Green to conform to the basic camouflage scheme. The landing gear is done along the lines of a couple of restoration photos.

I did no shading or weathering so I picked the RAAF Museum version of the decals -- that accounts for the red-red color. The kit decals have a good supply of stencils, wing-walks, etc, but I only applied the basic national and squadron code markings. The decals went on nicely without trimming, withstood moving around, followed contours, stayed put when dry, and don't show film -- I was very pleased with them. As mentioned earlier, the blue/white on the fin flashes are slightly out of registry -- they can be trimmed but then you have to trim the red to match.

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