Vickers Vildebeest – Magnificent ‘Beest from Azur
The Vildebeest belongs to that category of aircraft that look so ungainly and ancient that it is actually beautiful in its own way. The little known aircraft has a name that (I think) is pretty well matched with its appearance. Already obsolete at the beginning of WW2, these aircraft were distributed across the more remote corners of the British Empire where the likelihood of war was seen to be low as compared to Europe. One of those “peaceful” outposts was the island of Singapore…
The Vildebeest bore the brunt of the Japanese invasion of Malaya, flying torpedo sorties against Japanese landing ships off the East Coast of Malaya out of their base in Seletar airfield.The aircrews flew these relics bravely against their modern Japanese opponents and inflicted losses on Japanese shipping. In the climactic battle of Endau on January 26th 1942, less than half of the Vildebeests survived the mission and these were withdrawn to Java. None of the Vildebeest survived the subsequent Java campaign.
Azur of France partnered with Czech manufacturer Frrom to make this rarity in a limited run kit in 1/72 scale format. Despite the small scale, the kit is very detailed and comes with resin parts and photo-etched fret. Since the open radial engine was so visible, having it in resin form really provided great detail that stood up to close inspection. I decided to build the 1942 color scheme of Sqn 36 in Seletar.
Like all interesting projects, this one begins with surgery when I slice open the hatch space immediately behind the pilot’s cockpit. The ‘Beest had 3 crew positions although many were flown with only two crew members. All reference pictures of the Far East ‘Beests show that hatch in an opened position (probably to help air the interior).
The interior of the cockpit was painted in British Interior grey-green. I used my precious last bottle of Poly-S paint, although one can also substitute with Tamiya XF71 cockpit green as well. The panels were painted with Tamiya XF69 NATO brown. I also rigged the interior panels with brass wires at this time.
After the halves were joined, I could install a replacement hatch for the 3rd crew compartment using Tamiya masking tape and stiffened with diluted white glue.
Preparatory work for painting was done by masking off all the side windows and crew cockpit ports.
The camouflage scheme of this aircraft was pretty unique, a blue and green pattern that I have not encountered with any other British aircraft from the WW2 period. Painting started with the undersides airbrushed with Duck Egg Blue. This was followed by Euro Dark Green FS34092 lightened with some white for scale effect on a 5:1 ratio. The camouflage pattern was then completed with Blue Angel Blue FS15050, again lightened with white on a 5:1 ratio. The upper surfaces of the lower wing is further lightened for both green and blue to a ratio with white of 3:1.
While the main sections dry out, i worked on the fiddly bits like the “bee-hive” engine, wooden propeller and the torpedo.
The decals were applied to the fuselage and upper wing section before they were joined together (more of that perennial biplane nightmare coming up next!). The decals settled nicely and the quality was excellent.
Upper wing attachment is always tricky so I always have to remind myself to breathe, and allow a lot of time to align the struts. I start with the lower cabane struts, followed by gluing the outer interplane struts to the upper wing. Then I lower the upper wing assembly carefully onto the lower wing, get the struts into their position holes….after 10 attempts. With much care, I install the upper cabane struts in the middle that will give the upper wing much more support. There are NO shortcuts to this procedure.
Once the upper wing was firmly attached after overnight drying, I installed the undercarriage with the wheel spats. I must say that the latter gives the aircraft that really ‘Beest-ly look.
The rest of the underside details get added on after the undercarriage. The torpedo carrying frame is spectacular and the makers of the photoetch frame did an outstanding job.
The final topside detail was the rear gun assembly.
After my usual brass wire rigging for the interplane area and stretch sprue for the antenna rigging, the ‘Beest is ready to fly.