Avro Lancaster B.III (Special) the Dambusters
Few aircraft have the ability to capture the imagination and affection of the public, but the Lancaster surely ranks as one of them. The basic design of the Lancaster evolved from the less than successful Avro Manchester. Although the design of the aircraft was sound, its performance in service was significantly undermined by its chronically unreliable and underpowered Rolls Royce Vulture engines. Avro's Chief Designer resolved the problem by proposing an improved version with a larger wing and four of the less powerful, but far more reliable, Rolls Royce Merlin engines.
Initially designated the Manchester III, the aircraft was renamed the Lancaster and entered service in 1942, the same year that the Manchester was retired from front line service. Once in service, the Lancaster proved to be an excellent aircraft. Its vast bomb bay could accommodate any bomb in the RAF's wartime inventory, right up to the 12,000lb blockbuster. Later in the war the aircraft was adapted to carry a range of special weapons, including the innovative Upkeep mine and the huge 22,000lb Grand Slam bomb, both designed by scientist and engineer Barnes Wallis.
The Lancaster's place in history was secured on the night of the 16th/17th May 1943. On this date, a force of 19 Lancasters of the specially formed 617 Squadron attacked a group of four dams in the heart of Germany's Ruhr Valley. The aircraft carried the unique Upkeep mine, popularly referred to as the bouncing bomb. This weapon was the brainchild of Barnes Wallis and was designed specifically for use against these dams. As a result of the raids the Möhne and Edersee dams were breached, causing massive flooding and the loss of electrical power for hundreds of factories in the region. Eight of the participating aircraft failed to return, and of the 133 crew who took part, 53 were lost. It is estimated that around 1,600 individuals were killed on the ground. 34 of the survivors were decorated, with the leader of the raid, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, awarded the Victoria Cross.
When Airfix announced their release schedule for 2013 just before Christmas, it was the cause of much celebration and excitement around these parts. One of the many cherries on the cake was a new tool Lancaster, promised in both Hercules-engined B.II and Merlin-engined B.III special versions. First to be released is this, the B.III special version. The kit is presented in a fairly large top-opening box adorned with an atmospheric image of a Lancaster cutting through the moonlight skies of the Ruhr Valley. Six sprues of plastic have been crammed into the box, and together they hold a total of 265 parts. Four sprues are given over to the Lancaster B.III itself, the fifth is for the Upkeep mine, its trolley and the conversion parts for the airframe, while the last sprue contains the transparent parts. The kit is nicely moulded. Whilst I've seen finer panel lines in my time as a reviewer, the panel lines on the external surfaces of this kit don't stand out as being overly trench-like. The overall shape of the model looks good and I couldn't detect any serious shape errors from examining the parts on the sprue.
Those hoping for a richly detailed kit will not be disappointed with this model. The interior is very well appointed, providing plenty of interest where needed. Assembly begins with the roof of the bomb bay and the spars for the wing. The rest of the model builds up around this core structure. The bomb bay itself is very nicely detailed, although little of it will be seen unless you choose to finish the model as a standard B.III (and if you choose to do this, you'll need to provide your own decals and ordnance). Onto this part are added the spars for the wings. The spars form internal bulkheads at their centre, and extend as far as the main landing gear bays in the inner engine nacelles.
The flight deck is comprised of a raised floor, a two-part pilot's seat, a folding seat for the flight engineer, a control column and a two-part instrument panel. Forward of the cockpit is the bomb aimer's position, for which a nicely moulded bomb sight is included. Aft of the cockpit are the navigator's and radio operator's stations. Sidewall detail is moulded in place on the inside of the fuselage halves and in my opinion it looks excellent. An optional ventral gunner's position is provided too. Before you join the fuselage halves together youll need to drill a couple of small holes in pre-marked positions. These are required in order to fit the mechanism for the Upkeep mine later on. The fuselage window glazing must be installed at this stage too. I for one dont fancy masking all of these windows, so I'm hoping that Eduard will release a set of masks for this kit before too long!
Once the fuselage halves have been joined, assembly moves on to the wings. I have to doff my cap to Airfix at this point, as they have been very clever indeed. Not only do the two wing spars mentioned above aid with the alignment of the wings and strengthen the structure of the model, but they also form the fore and aft walls of the main landing gear bays. To complete the structures, you just need to add the rib and frame details which run parallel to the fuselage. The end result should be a pair of landing gear bays which are superbly detailed as well as nice and strong. The ailerons are moulded in place but the landing flaps are separate assemblies, and very nice they look too. The elevators and rudders are all moulded as separate pieces and so can be posed in a variety of positions if so desired.
The engine nacelles are fairly simple, but the front faces of the radiator intakes are moulded as separate parts. This means that you wont have troublesome seams to clean up, which is always a plus. The struts which connect the landing gear doors to the undercarriage legs are moulded in place. This means that, should you build the kit with the gear down, you should be able to achieve a good, strong fit at the first time of asking. If you wish to build the kit with the gear up, then you just need to cut them off. I really like this approach and I hope it works as well in practice as the instructions suggest. The landing gear legs themselves are well moulded and nicely detailed and the wheels have flat spots moulded in place.
At this stage you are required to add the assembly for the Upkeep mine. If you paid attention and remembered to drill the required holes at the start of the build, then this should be straightforward. The mechanism itself is very nicely detailed, as is the large, drum-shaped mine. As mentioned above, there is a very nice loading trolley included. If you want to build the model as the centrepiece of a diorama, this feature will be a real boon. All that remains to do now is add a few small parts such as the DF loop and elevator actuators, the propellers and the transparent parts. Airfix have suggested that you assemble the turrets last of all, but you could just as easily build them at the outset and set them to one side. The frame lines on the transparent parts are clearly marked and there are some spare turrets included which hint at future options.
A choice of two schemes is provided on the decal sheet:
- Avro Lancaster B.III Special E0825/G, reserve aircraft flown by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Charles McCarthy DFC (Royal Canadian Air Force), No. 617 Squadron, Operation Chastise, Scampton, 16/17th May 1943; and
- Avro Lancaster B.III Special E0927, flown by Flight Lieutenant Robert Norman George Barlow DFC (Royal Australian Air Force), No. 617 Squadron, Operation Chastise, Scampton, 16/17th May 1943. This aircraft and the crew were lost in action.
The decal sheet is nicely printed and includes a small selection of stencils, as well as a decal for the instrument panel and a rather nifty little map for the navigator's table.
Lancaster fans already have a reasonable choice of relatively modern kits from Hasegawa and Revell. Although neither kit is flawless, both are pretty good. In light of this, some may be surprised that Airfix have chosen to go to the expense of tooling yet another new Lancaster. They shouldn't. Airfix sell kits of Lancasters like Ford sell cars; it's simply what they do and a decent Lancaster is essential to their continued success. Happily, this kit looks to be a real gem. It is nicely detailed, well moulded, cleverly designed and combines detail and buildability in a single, clever package. I can't wait to get stuck in!