Gloster Gladiator Mk.I
The Gladiator was developed by the Gloster Aircraft Company as a private venture with the aim of fulfilling Air Ministry Specification F.7/30. This specification called for a fighter aircraft capable of 250 mph and able to carry four machine guns. Rather than opt for a new design, Gloster decided to develop a proposal based on the existing Gauntlet fighter. The resulting aircraft featured improved aerodynamics, cantilever undercarriage, an extra pair of machine guns, a more powerful engine and an enclosed cockpit. The Gladiator flew for the first time in September 1934 and entered service in January 1937.
Such was the pace of aeronautical development in the late 1930s that the Gladiator was becoming obsolete even as it was entering service. Nevertheless, over 700 examples were built (including navalised Sea Gladiators) and it saw action in most theatres of the Second World War. Despite being more demanding to fly than the Gauntlet, the Gladiator was popular with pilots. The Galdiators finest hour was probably the battle for Malta in 1940, when a handful of aircraft formed the entire air defence of the besieged island.
Airfix's ambitious release schedule for 2013 raised a few eyebrows when it was announced just before Christmas, mainly due to the quantity and variety of new releases. The Gladiator must have been one of the more surprise announcements, as I don't remember anyone on Britmodeller predicting it's release! The kit is part of Airfix's Series 2 range, and arrives packed into a red top-opening box with the usual high-quality Adam Tooby artwork and the Shuttleworth Collection logo (presumably because one of the sets of markings included are for the aircraft belonging to this museum). Inside are two sprues of grey plastic and a single clear sprue, holding a total of 54 parts. The mouldings are clean and crisp, with fine, recessed panel lines around the nose of the aircraft and a subtle but effective stretched fabric effect elsewhere.
The cockpit is well appointed, being comprised of a framework floor, seat, headrest, and a single piece for the control column/rudder pedals. A pilot is also included for those who like to use them. The inside of the fuselage sidewalls are also nicely detailed and you have the option to remove the access hatch and replace it with a dedicated part which can be fixed in the open position. Before closing up the fuselage halves, you must also fix the fuselage mounted .303 inch browning machine guns through the muzzle holes in the fuselage. These are quite finely moulded and should look much better than if they were just moulded as lumps on the side of the airframe.
The remaining steps in the construction process are fairly conventional, but with some clever twists. The upper fuselage immediately in front of the cockpit is moulded as a separate part. The inner struts, the rearmost of which also includes the instrument panel, have to be sandwiched between this part and the fuselage. The lower wing follows, and as you can see from the photograph below, Airfix have marked the points you will need to use if you want to rig the model top marks, Airfix! The engine and cowling is quite a complex assembly, made up of no fewer than ten parts. The Bristol Mercury engine itself is comprised of the exhaust manifold and the single row of nine cylinders, as well as some smaller parts. The cowling is made up of four parts, necessary because of the shape of the cowling.
The inter-wing struts have to be added before the upper wing can be fixed in place. Airfix have taken a novel approach to what is traditionally one of the most challenging stages in building a biplane. Each pair of struts is joined by a small sprue which holds each strut at the correct angle. These have to be left in place while the wings are joined together and then removed afterwards. This is a clever twist, and it's nice to see Airfix have tried to make this model as easy to build as possible but without compromising on detail.
Once the upper wing is in place, the tail planes can be added. The rudder is moulded as a separate part, but all of the other control surfaces are moulded in place. The undercarriage is simple but effective, and the wheels have separate hubs, which will aid painting. A choice of tyres is provided, both with and without flat spots. When it comes to the canopy, Airfix give you a choice of using either a single part or a canopy split into two parts. There are also different windscreens depending on whether you choose to build the RAF or Irish Air Corps version. If you choose to rig your model, a full page diagram is provided, which shows how to break the job down into simple steps.
A choice of two schemes is provided on the decal sheet:
- Gloster Gladiator Mk.I K7985 (L8032/G-AMRK) of the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden Aerodrome, Bedfordshire, England, 2012. This aircraft is flown in the markings of Edgar James "Cobber" Kain, No.73 Squadron, Hendon Air Pageant, 1937; and
- Gloster Gladiator Mk.I. No.1 Fighter Squadron, Irish Air Corps, Baldonnel Aerodrome, Ireland, 1940.
The decals are nicely printed and include the full range of stencils, as well as a decal for the instrument panel. The colours used look fine to my eyes.
This isn't the only available kit of the Gladiator, but on the basis of what I've seen here, it is the best. Although I have a soft spot for the Matchbox version, Airfix's new kit has a wealth of extra detail, more options and should be just as easy to build. It's nice to see Airfix putting so much thought into their new kits, and details like the pre-marked rigging points are most welcome. Overall this kit looks like a real gem and should build up into an excellent model. Highly recommended.