Vickers Valiant BK.Mk.I
The Valiant was the first of the V-Bomber fleet into service, and was also the most conservative of the three, being of a very conventional design. It had the dubious distinction of dropping Britain's first Atomic bomb during exercise Grapple, but once the nuclear deterrent role passed to the Royal Navy, shortcomings in its design became evident.
In the low level bomber role, where the air is more turbulent, and the demands on the airframe during manoeuvres are more intense, the spar of the aircraft was found wanting. One aircraft's rear spar fractured during flight, but it managed to limp back to base and landed safely. Examination of the rest of the subsequently grounded fleet found that tiny stress cracks were starting to appear, which led to the remaining serviceable airframes being re-tasked with in-flight refuelling before they were permanently grounded on the basis of the cost of repairs in January 1965.
Sadly, the B.2 "Black Bomber" version that had progressed to prototype stage as early as 1955, with upgraded wing strength and extended fuselage would have been a much better aircraft for the Valiant B.1's eventual role, but that was cancelled and ended its days as a gunnery target.
The kit arrives in a gigantic top-opening box, with a lovely CGI painting of a Valiant in anti-flash white banking over a coastline. Inside are five sprues of light grey styrene, one of clear parts, a large decal sheet, instruction booklet and a large folded A3 decal instruction sheet.
The color of the styrene, and the thickness of the sprues initially made me think of the Illustrious kit of last year, but on inspection of the parts, it is entirely evident that this is a product of the current generation of toolings from Airfix.
Having built the awful Mach 2 kit, I can assure modellers everywhere that this is in a different league entirely. Detail throughout is good, with the plenty of features that will doubtless please most modellers.
The cockpit is depicted with all 5-seats, with the three rear crew situated on a lower platform facing the rear. Decals are provided for both instrument panels and side consoles, as well as control yolks for the pilots and a ladder for the pilots to exit the cockpit. Detail here is acceptable and streets ahead of the Mach2 kit, but given the small size of the windows, very little will actually be seen, even if the crew access door on the port side is opened. The large coaming behind the pilots is included, scoring point here for accuracy over expediency, as it will hardly be visible.
The bomb bay can be posed open or closed, and a separate set of bay doors is included if you opt for the closed version, as well as four strengthening bulkheads, which are numbered for ease. If opting to open the bomb bay, the modeller can choose configurations for Blue Danube or conventional bombs, and again two bay roofs are included depending on which option you choose. The Valiant had a retractable portion of the fuselage behind the bomb bay, which stopped any falling munitions from impacting the rear of the bay due to the speeds at which the Valiant could fly. This is depicted by an insert that fits behind the open bomb bay, or if you close up the bay, this panel is attached to the main bay doors.
The open bomb bay roof was a criss-cross pattern of ribs and stringers, which is replicated well here, and the bomb "pallets" for the conventional bombs are supplied, plus a full complement of 21 x 1,000lb iron bombs. The Blue Danube nuclear weapon filled the bay, and was suspended from the roof by a cradle, which is depicted here. The bay doors retracted almost totally into the bay to reduce drag, and here they plug into sockets in the bay roof, with the actuating arms also provided.
Once the cockpit and bomb bay are completed, the fuselage can be closed up, and here a nose weight of 22 grams is suggested, although there is room here for plenty more.
The engines are mounted in the wing root, and on the old Mach2 kit were a source of much woe from modellers everywhere both in terms of shape and fit. Here the story is substantially different, with the intakes narrower in the vertical plane, which is more accurate. Each pair of intakes are made up from top and bottom halves, and once a couple of ejector pin marks are removed, the two parts can be glued together. A pair of compressor faces is supplied for each trunk, and these are noticeably smaller from the Mach2 offering.
A quick test fit using tape to hold the parts together shows that fit won't be an issue, although the small vane inside the outboard intake will need removing and putting to one side while filling takes place.
The intakes and the main gear bay boxes fit into the underside of the wing, with the intakes being supported on three platforms to ensure correct positioning. At this point the modeller must drill out the external fuel tank mounting lugs before offering the two wing undersides up to the one-piece wing upper. This route is a great idea, as instead of two long seams running over the smooth upper wing area, the modeller only has to deal with the two short seams fore and aft of the wing. The underside seam will be very difficult to see, so as long as care is taken here, it should need little in the way of filler.
The horizontal tail slots into a hole in the vertical tail, and the vortex generators should be on the underside once installed. It has posable flying surfaces, so the modeller can add a little visual interest to the tail, and indeed the main wings. The rudder is moulded integrally however. If modelling the Grapple airframe a portion of the rear fuselage under the tail should be cut off, as this was a different shape in later models, while a choice of tips is given for the other versions.
The exhaust cans slot into their fairings and are glued to the main wing, and care should be taken here to ensure that the fine trailing edge segment lines up with the rest of the wing.
The landing gear are nicely detailed, with a large retraction jack moulded into the roof of the wheel bays (paint this part white), and the main X-supports mounting in turn in the middle of the bay. If you choose to model the Valiant in flight, the same bay doors can be used but with their mounting tabs cut off. The main doors are ribbed just like the rear thing, and have strong mounting surfaces, so shouldn't be knocked off too easily. The main wheels have separate hubs to help with painting, and the tyres have circumferential tread moulded in, as well as a discreet flat spot to give a realistic impression of the weight of the airframe on the tyres. The door jacks on the outer doors are missing, but these can be quickly fabricated from rod, or brass tube.
The twin nose wheels have their guards built in, which seems a shame, but the detail is crisp, and careful painting will convince the viewer that they are separate parts. The nose gear leg is detailed, and looks to be correct from my memories of hacking about the Mach2 leg. The bay doors fit into the notched edges neatly whether posed open or closed.
The underwing fuel tanks that were almost ubiquitous in contemporary photos are quite cleverly moulded, and stronger due to the fact that the tanks sandwich the base of the pylon with large attachment tabs ensuring a good fit. The large round pegs then attach to the wing, making them harder to knock off.
The glazing parts are All crisp and clear, with the non-glazed parts of the mouldings frosted over, making masking a doddle. There are two Bomb Aimer's windows provided, as the 2nd Prototype had a simple oval window with no side-panes. The main glazing in the prototype also didn't have a quarterlight above the cockpit side windows, so two are provided here. The small oval window next to the crew door is there, as is a large clear insert that looks to be for a reconnaissance bird's bomb bay, with 10 raised clear squares. No bomb-bay pack is included however, so this is either for a later recon boxing, or to help the enthusiast to create their own recon Valiant.
Decals are printed by Cartograf in Italy, and from the box you can build one of four options:
- BK.Mk.I XD823 No.49 Squadron, Christmas Island, Operation Grapple, June 19th, 1957 (anti-flash white)
- BK.Mk.I XD857 No.49 Squadron, RAF Marham, England 1963 (anti-flash white)
- BK.Mk.I WZ404 No.207 Squadron, RAF Marham, England 1964 (grey/green over white)
- Type 667 WB215 2nd Prototype A&AEE Boscombe Down, England 1956 (all over natural metal)
Decals have good register and color density, but the hiviz roundels seem to have a slight purple tinge to my ageing eyes, although I'm sure that will look fine on the airframe. A huge compliment of stencils is included, both in black and low viz blue, and some of the dielectric panels on the underside are also included on what appears to be a very comprehensive sheet.
Many modellers have been waiting for this kit for a long time before it was announced (after the disappointment of the Mach2 kit), and there have been many delays in release. It is here now, and Airfix have done a great job in turning it into a proper kit that has been worth the wait.
The inclusion of four variations on the decal scheme is welcome, and I'm sure it won't be long before the aftermarket companies jump in offering different versions not kitted here. I for one would love both a prototype with the narrow grille covered intakes, and most definitely a B.2 with its landing gear pods and extended fuselage.
Heartily recommended to everyone. Buy one... buy lots!