Bristol Sycamore H.14 and the Precarious Perch
Between 1948 to 1960, Great Britain and the Commonwealth troops fought a full scale war in Malaya, called the Malayan Emergency. Their opponents, the Malayan National Liberation Army called it the Anti-British National Liberation War. For most part, this was a war fought in dense jungle that spread in an almost continuous blanket (in pre-industrial Malaya) from the coastal swamps to the mountainous spine of the peninsula. The Bristol Sycamore was one of the first operational helicopters available to the British Army to link isolated outposts scattered in the interior, ferrying supplies, casualties and the occasional prisoner.
In 1955, RAF 194 Sqn was based in Kuala Lumpur air station (later to become Sungai Besi Airbase), flying daily supply missions deep into the interior. Using Sycamores and Westland Dragonflies, these flew unarmed into small jungle clearings and the occasional wooden platform built over hilly terrain, the subject of this diorama. It is inspired by a painting by Michael Turner entitled the “Precarious Perch” with a Sycamore approaching a hillside platform barely enough to take the helicopter’s footprint. This is my second post on a subject from Operation Firedog, the air campaign in Malaya.The previous post on the Spitfire also comes from this period.
I start with a Glencoe kit, itself a re-issue in 1991 of a much older 1960’s kit. The molding was typical 1960’s in loose trees and thick clear parts. Surface details have large rivets, again showing its vintage. Many of the outer appendages found on the actual aircraft were missing from the kit and these will have to be kit-bashed later.
The interior details are rudimentary and the co-pilot’s joystick is not included in the kit. The interior surface of the craft is painted black and highlighted with some grey paint and a Prismacolor sliver color pencil.
Then I made a duplicate joystick for the co-pilot, bending it out of stretched sprue and using the kit parts as a template. There is also a long slot at the base of the fuselage that may have once been used to fit into a display base that is no longer around. I filled that section in with plastic card and filed it smooth.
Making cockpit details, I scratch-built the center console with photo-etched levers and panel sections from my spare parts box. Masking tape seat belts are added to the black seats. The fit of the floor board to the fuselage was not good, leaving a 4mm gap on one side of the open door that I will have to fill in later.
Since the helicopter has a very long tail, it will tend to become a tail sitter unless weighed down in the cabin. I placed about 20g of line sinkers secured with CA glue (split into halves to fit under the cabin floor board) before sealing the fuselage. The fit of the fuselage halves are surprising good and the seams were neat and tidy. The tail region needed some pressure applied by clothes line pegs. I left it to dry over-night.
After the fuselage dries, it is time to install the cockpit glazing (except for the nose bubble) and prep the side doors that will be temporarily attached for painting but will be glued in the open position. The overhead skylight is painted Tamiya Clear Green. I also fill the gap between the fuselage and the floor board at the cockpit car doors with plastic card stock carefully shaved down to size.
The windows are masked over for painting. Notice the diamond-shaped pieces of acetate beside the fuselage. I had decided to replace the kit’s thick window glazing for acetate pieces for the open cockpit doors to improve the appearance of the model. These will be installed at the end of the build.
The panel lines are pre-shaded with Tamiya Nato Black.
The main color scheme is Testors Dark Earth followed by Dark Green FS34096. Based on war-time photographs, there did not appear to be a hard line between the 2-shades. The colors are sealed in with clear gloss varnish for decal work.
The rear doors were left as bare aluminum. I masked off the surrounding areas and applied Metalizer non-buffing aluminum. Later on in the war, these doors were either removed or a clear bubble door was installed in its place.
While a fuselage paint is drying, I proceeded to work on the main rotor and rear spinner. The rotor hub is very nicely detailed with 13 parts to make the full assembly. Care had to be taken not to break the insertion points and I used CA glue to reinforce them.
Someone did their homework on the rotor assembly back in the 60’s. The level of detail here will rival any modern kit. Shortly after, the masking gets removed to reveal the glazing.
Decal work has to be done carefully since the 20-year old decals tend to be brittle in some places. I also used a fair bit of setting solution to soften the decals to wrap around the curved surface. The kit provided decals for 6 aircraft, none of which were in Malaya. I combined decal numbers to form “XG518”, that was actually in Kuala Lumpur at that time. The large “A” marks also came from my decal spare box. Decals are then sealed under a satin varnish.
More detailing work at this time to install the 2 “butterfly” steps fitted just below the pilot and co-pilot’s doors. These were kit-bashed with odd-and-ends photo-etch parts. Below the starboard rear door, there is also a step bracket that was kit-bashed from 8 mil brass wires. A nose antenna made from stretched sprue completes the underside detailing. I also added the clear nose bubble at this time.
Finally the tricycle carriage sections get installed. Once “on it own feet”, I install the opened cabin doors and their acetate windows. More photo-etch parts are added for the handles. The soot marks are sprayed on and pastel chalk weathering completes the paintwork.
Finally, the main rotor unit and the rear spinner are attached to the fuselage and the Sycamore is ready for action.
I built this base to replicate the top of a small hill in the Malayan Titiwangsa Range which rises 7000 feet (2500 meters) above sea level. I will feature the making of this base as a tutorial in a future post. It is a project all by by itself. To finish the feel, monkey and java palms complete the scene. I also added an Airfix Royal Gurkha Regiment sentinel to guard the helipad.