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1/72 De Havilland Dominie (Dragon Rapide) "Merlin V" FAA air ambulance, crashed 1946 Scafell Pike (Heller etc.)


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So with this I'm breaking my "one at a time" rule, but I think this will be a long-term background project rather than a "main build".

 

The subject will be a De Havilland DH-89 Dominie, as the Dragon Rapide was known when flown by the military. Serial number X7394, operated by 792 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, out of RNAS Donibristle (AKA HMS Merlin) as an air ambulance, named "Merlin V". Sadly this aircraft crashed on Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain, on 30th August 1946, with the loss of four crew and one patient. As well as progress on the build I'll be researching the aircraft and its story as I go.

 

I have a rather lovely photograph of the aircraft, but I don't think the terms of the licence allow me to post it here (it's from the SCRAN archive - you can see the thumbnail at least!) so this digital mock-up gives an idea of roughly what the aircraft looked like (there are some errors in this):

 

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I hope to have two kits at my disposal, both reboxings of the old Heller kit. 

 

One is the Airfix boxing:

 

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The other is the Tasman "Upgrade" boxing with the extra goodies (white metal instrument panel, vac-form canopy etc., impressively researched instructions etc.) which arrived the other day all the way from Australia and unfortunately is a complete mess! Possibly stored somewhere very hot but all the sprues are warped and it's unusable, so I'm in the process of sorting it out with the seller.

 

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I expect I'll be picking up some aftermarket gubbins along the way.

 

As I said I'll be taking my time on this one, it will have a kind of "labour of love" status out of respect to those lost in the accident, corny as it sounds. I've seen some stunning examples of the type here on BM - @Moa's work springs to mind - so the bar has been set pretty high!

 

I visited the crash site earlier this week which turned out to be quite a powerful experience, I'll post some pics along with a little more of the unfortunate history of "Merlin V" soon.

 

Thanks for looking!

 

 

 

Edited by TonyOD
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Hi Tony nice choice with your first build the Airfix kit and presume this is the Heller kit too is very nice indeed, I had the same boxing and built the Royal Navy Dominie option in the kit.  It builds up very nicely. , It is a real shame about the Tasman boxing that is Very warped, if you get to keep it it may be worth experimenting with the wings being taped down to a flat surface and apply some hot water to see if it will straighten out.

 

With the Air Ambulance was there an additional door on the port side just aft of the main door or am I thinking of another type ?

 

Good luck with your build.  You will enjoy this kit

All the best

Chris

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Tony I have just checked Scale Aircraft Modelling December 1991 volume 14 issue number 3 and there is a side profile of your machine Merlin V and this shows the extra side door.  If you want I can scan the article and side profiles and email them over.

Chris

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16 minutes ago, bigbadbadge said:

Tony I have just checked Scale Aircraft Modelling December 1991 volume 14 issue number 3 and there is a side profile of your machine Merlin V and this shows the extra side door.  If you want I can scan the article and side profiles and email them over.

Chris

That would be awesome. According to the information I have the side door was extended aft to allow easier loading of stretchers (and incorporating a small square window) but this is actually not very clear on the photograph I have. RAF Dominie air ambulances were similarly configured, apparently.

 

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1 hour ago, TonyOD said:

That would be awesome. According to the information I have the side door was extended aft to allow easier loading of stretchers (and incorporating a small square window) but this is actually not very clear on the photograph I have. RAF Dominie air ambulances were similarly configured, apparently.

 

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Hi Tony, yes it goes up at the same angle as the bottom of the main door immediately aft of the door and has a small window in as you stated, I will scan in tomorrow and send over. 

Chris

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Some people have a nerve don’t they, that Tasman kit should have been binned not sold!

 

AW

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6 hours ago, Andwil said:

Some people have a nerve don’t they, that Tasman kit should have been binned not sold!

 

AW

I can’t imagine anyone would knowingly sell it in that state. Surely the damage was done after it was boxed?

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1 hour ago, TonyOD said:

I can’t imagine anyone would knowingly sell it in that state. Surely the damage was done after it was boxed?

Maybe.  But you said it came from a vendor in Australia.  Storing the kit in an un-insulated shed, or worse, in the loft, will certainly do that to a kit.  Come to think of it, leaving it in the car in summer will do the same thing.  I recall many years ago putting a Hurricane on the window sill for display, when I came back to it some time later it looked like a carrier plane with its wings folded, didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

 

AW

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This is me at the final resting place of Merlin V on Monday. The crash site is on the northwest face of Broad crag, a subsidiary summit of Scafell Pike, which is England's highest mountain with an elevation of 3,209 feet. Behind me is Great Gable, about as fine a mountain as you'll find anywhere. The location of the crash site is indicated by the red dot:

 

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The crash took place on Saturday, 30th August 1946. X7394 was transporting a seriously ill patient from RNAS Abbotsinch (the site of modern-day Glasgow Airport) to Rochester in Kent for surgery. It was due to stop at RNAS Stretton near Warrington, Lancashire, probably for refuelling, but crashed into the mountain in low cloud, killing all five on board. The wreckage was located by an RAF Avro Anson the following day and the bodies recovered by Sunday evening. The five lost in the accident were:

 

- pilot: Sub Lt. (A) Sidney Kenneth Kilsby RNVR, aged 24

 

- airman: Chief Petty Officer Harold John Clark RN, aged 25

 

- surgeon: Commander Surgeon William Tudor Gwynne-Jones RN, aged 54

 

- sick berth attendant: Leslie Howard Watkinson RN, aged 19

 

- patient: CWM Charles Robert Allwright DSM RN (ret.), aged 61

 

The aircraft is recorded as having been flying at around 2,500 feet when it struck the mountain. Wreckage is scattered over quite a large area of the mountainside; the engine above was at 2,617 feet according to my GPS, though I found other parts of the aircraft over a hundred feet lower down the hill. In fact I found a further piece of aluminium wreckage almost half a mile away near the head of Greta Gill (I camped at Lambfoot Dub, and had a dramatic night of spectacular thunder and lightning!) though it might have been assisted in its journey, or who knows, could have been part of a completely different aircraft. The likely flightpath was from the Keswick/Derwent Water direction (NNE), and while it's unfortunate that the 'plane encountered the highest landmass anywhere between its departure point and destination, there is plenty land over 2500 feet in that vicinity, and at that altitude X7394 would have had to be many miles to the west and even further to the east (but not as far east as the North Pennines!) to have avoided its fate.

 

Further debris:

 

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The Gipsy Six engines are in remarkably good condition, considering they have been exposed to the elements for 74 years:

 

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Wheel oleo remains further down the mountain:

 

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That wreckage was scattered so widely, and that aluminium was melted, suggest that the aircraft exploded on impact:

 

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Other than the wreckage there is nothing to commemorate the unfortunate five who lost their lives in the accident. It's a desolate but beautiful place, and feels very remote even though it overlooks the Corridor Route, one of the most popular paths to the summit of Scafell Pike, which with Monday's fine weather was very busy. I've visited quite a few mountain crash sites but I found this experience particularly powerful and moving. This, ridiculous as it probably sounds, is why I want to make the very best job I possible can of my 1/72 recreation of Merlin V.

 

Thanks for looking.

Edited by TonyOD
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What a shame, such a sad event .  The parts remaining there and the one of the engines being in that condition, I always find amazing.  I am sure you will do them proud and create a fitting tribute to the lost creaw and passenger with your build. 

All the best

Chris

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5 minutes ago, bigbadbadge said:

I am sure you will do them proud and create a fitting tribute to the lost creaw and passenger with your build. 

Thanks, I'll do my best!

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Thank you for giving the historic context behind the model. I haven't been up Scafell Pike since 2018. I must check the site out next time.

 

By the by, in 2016 I was eating my sandwich on the top on my birthday and got a flypast by two Tornadoes. My wife claims that she arranged it specially for me...

 

Looking forward to the build. Hope you resolve the problems with the Tasman kit.

 

Regards,

Adrian

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14 hours ago, AdrianMF said:

in 2016 I was eating my sandwich on the top on my birthday and got a flypast by two Tornadoes. My wife claims that she arranged it specially for me...

I'd give her the benefit of the doubt on that. She's a keeper!

 

There was something (at least three somethings, actually) making a hell of a racket the other side of the ridge when I was up there on Monday, but I never caught sight of what it was. I had a low pass from a shiny black Hawk trainer on the drive out from Buttermere next day.

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Great piece of history Tony.  

 

When I hear these stories and then do some research into the subject I feel involved in the historical event.  The collection of models I have built up is actually becoming more about the people rather than the airframe.  Mrs GB does a bit of genealogy around the people I am researching to fill in more of the detail.  I then attempt to build an aircraft that represents them.  

 

I am really behind the piece of history you have discovered (sorry but to me backstory sounds like a fiction), good luck with your build, I’m sure it will be brilliant and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished result..

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3 hours ago, Grey Beema said:

When I hear these stories and then do some research into the subject I feel involved in the historical event.

True that. The thing with this modelling game is that eventually you can find yourself as much an amateur detective or historian as a modeller, and that can be part of the pleasure, or the frustration. When I'm knocking a 'plane together I like to have at least some awareness of the history of the actual aircraft, and sometimes I might do one that was flown by a notable pilot in a notable action, but this is a bit different. There are just hints of information out there on the web about the type, the specific aircraft, the crash and the servicemen, and I'm sure there must exist, or have existed, documents like service records for the crew and patient, an official accident report, coverage in the press, a De Havilland specification for the military ambulance variant of the Dragon Rapide (what I wouldn't give for that...) There may be stuff out there buried in old books or magazines on eBay etc. but I could spend a small fortune on this stuff and turn up absolutely nothing useful! The question is... where to stop and make a policy of "educated guesswork". I've even tried reaching out to the gentleman who did the impressive research for the Tasman kit but haven't got anywhere yet...

Edited by TonyOD
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Before I even think about taking blade to plastic, I have to have some idea of what how the interior of Merlin V will look.

 

If you type “Dragon Rapide interior” or “cabin” you will get loads of fantastic photographs (especially because there are number of fine examples of the type still flying), but no two are alike. The Dragon Rapide was conceived as a short-haul airliner, and just like modern airliners they would have been fitted out to the specification of the client operator. Some photographs show some rather luxurious interiors, with stitched, padded leather on the bulkheads and those rather elegant “tripod” chairs upholstered in all kinds of hues. To add to the fun, many DH.89’s were pressed into military service from civilian use, and after the war many went in the other direction; RAF Dominies were refitted for civilian use at De Havilland’s own factory or by third party contractors.

 

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This lovely promotional drawing from the period shows the “saloon” of the aircraft occupied by a rather stylish bunch of travellers. According to the blurb, buyers could choose from a “variety of accommodation schemes from five lounge fauteuils to ten seats”. Lounge fauteuils! The decadence! (That adjuster wheel on the side of the pilot’s seat is going to give me something to think about. And ooh look! A toilet! Did military Drag Raps have loos? I never thought of that…)

 

Well, at least I know that Merlin V was for all its brief life a military aircraft, and not a former airliner pressed into service. She was delivered to 9 MU on 18th August 1941, before joining 792 NAS on 25th September, and was an air-ambulance from the get-go. So there’s no danger of left-over trimmings from civilian use. I actually quite like the look of this interior, pictured on Wikipedia, of all places. Not sure about the red carpet, but it has a Spartan, workmanlike look to it that might have been in keeping with a military aircraft, and that green even looks a bit like good old Humbrol 78.

 

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A big question is how the cabin was configured for ambulance use. This, a sketch from the apparently very well researched instructions that come with the Tasman boxing of the kit, is pretty much all I have to go on, and I have no idea what the source material for this is.

 

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It makes complete sense, apart from the fact that five people are known to have been on board X7384 when she crashed, and this set-up provides seats for only three, including the pilot. The unfortunate patient Mr Allwright was laid on one of the stretchers, presumably, so did one of the crew members sit on the spare stretcher? Seems unlikely.

 

 

This very lovely Pathé newsreel video looks at another DH.89 air ambulance, this one in civilian service operated by Channel  Island Airways (note the awkward loading of the stretcher – military AA’s had a larger door – though this aircraft was actually a converted military ‘plane, RAF serial number NR811). A tantalisingly brief glimpse of the cabin at 01:39 shows only one stretcher, and seating for at least three people forward of and alongside the stretcher, including a lady wearing a splendid woolly hat. Possibly this was a temporary set up where they just whipped a few chairs out to make room for the patient. It’s all a bit of a mystery…

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It looks like you bought an example of Tasman's "Salvador Dali" Special Edition Rapide:

 

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Hope you can get everything sorted out with the seller, this looks like it's going to become a very special project.

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A most interesting read and project Sir,this type of historical research is something that one enjoys so very much.

 

To that end,if one will permit Sir,a little more grist for one's mill so to speak.

If however one has already viewed and appraised these links,please accept one's sincere apologies:

 

https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/140533

 

http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/lakes/x7394.html

 

Decals are available:

http://decals.kitreview.com/decals/dragonrapidedecalreviewgp_1.htm

 

*Addition*

Might one also aim you here Sir?,after a little more research this has shown up,but one cannot say whether this is an RAF or RN example,second post down:

 

 

David.

Edited by DaveWilko
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Hi Tony that's a cracking film and gives some good views as does the interior shots too. Nice views if the radio too.  I am adding this thread to Favourites so I can use also.

Thanks fella. 

All the best 

Chris 

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Thanks @DaveWilko and @bigbadbadge, just back from another mountain trip, North Wales this time, so I'll have a look in the morning. I didn't see any plane crash sites this trip, but had the opportunity to watch HM Coastguard's rescue helicopter at work close up!

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Very nice indeed Tony. I get to see the Coastguard helicopter everyday.  They are based a Lydd Airport which is a just about a mile behind my house on the coast, they are out a lot at the moment what with all the migrant boats and lots of tourists.   The helicopter flies almost directly over my house  a lot and does look very impressive when flying fast and low to a shout.

 

Quite interesting to watch them at work too.

All the best 

Chris

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22 hours ago, bigbadbadge said:

Very nice indeed Tony. I get to see the Coastguard helicopter everyday.  They are based a Lydd Airport which is a just about a mile behind my house on the coast, they are out a lot at the moment what with all the migrant boats and lots of tourists.   The helicopter flies almost directly over my house  a lot and does look very impressive when flying fast and low to a shout.

 

Quite interesting to watch them at work too.

All the best 

Chris

We'd just come off Crib Goch when I heard the helicopter coming, it flew over Glaslyn and hovered incredibly close to the cliffs on the east face of Snowdon for a while (there was a bunch of people down there) before pulling away and flying a number of circles, eventually we lost sight of it because cloud came in but it was around for about 40 minutes.

 

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Later in the day we saw it (well, assumed to be the same aircraft) hovering directly over the summit of Tryfan as we drive past Llyn Ogwen. We did the north face yesterday in hairy conditions and that isn't a mountain to be trifled with even on a fine day. Possibly someone came a cropper jumping from Adam to Eve...

 

The helicopter crews do a great job and the pilots are incredibly skillful, I'm sure they're being kept very busy at the moment. The hills are exceptionally crowded right now, what with staycations and so on, there are a lot of people up there that have no experience, no competence, inadequate kit and little understanding of the risks involved. On the summit of Snowdon we were greeted by the extraordinary sight of 70+ people queueing to take pictures at the trig point:

 

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Many - most, even - of them were inadequately equipped and dressed, and clearly very cold. I do a lot of this stuff and consider myself pretty competent, and it's too easy to be sniffy about "amateurs" on the mountains getting themselves into avoidable difficulties - there's plenty of that on Facebook right now. In fact I'm all for people getting out on the hills, the more the merrier, especially the kids (joining the Scouts and spending time on the hills was the making of me), but it's important to engage and educate so people enjoy their time in the hills and get up and down safely, as well as respect the countryside and local communities of course.

 

Anyway, I digress. Back to the tiny world of 1/72 scale modelling...

 

 

Edited by TonyOD
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On 8/19/2020 at 2:37 PM, DaveWilko said:

 

*Addition*

Might one also aim you here Sir?,after a little more research this has shown up,but one cannot say whether this is an RAF or RN example,second post down:

 

Many thanks, I thought I'd exhausted every avenue of research available on the internet and then you turn this up. It's gold!

 

I've managed to find a better copy of the picture:

 

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In fact this is an RAF air ambulance. one of two ("Women of Britain" and "Women of the Empire") presented to the RAF by the Silver Thimble Fund, pictured side by side further up this thread. This is a press picture of the presentation of the picture by Lady Maud Carnegie at RAF Hendon in May 1941.

 

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Here are the two air ambulances in flight:

 

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I'd have to do some digging about production batches etc. but Merlin V is a very close contemporary to these two aircraft and it's fair to assume that they would have been built to the same, or a very similar, specification.

 

There are several points of interest to the photograph, which looks like a view aft from behind the cockpit bulkhead:

 

- curtains!

- ceiling braces without the padding usually seen on civilian Drag Raps - to allow more headroom, possibly?

- a raised stretcher cradle aft with a seat (possibly partially folded?) behind it or possibly underneath it.

- stretcher cradles attached to the wall on one side.

- something folded and strapped to the wall on the right? Another chair? A wheelchair even? I'm still trying to get my head around the "extra seat" on Merlin V, I think it was unusual to have so many people on board, it's recorded that the patient was "seriously ill" which might be why a surgeon flew with him - was the equipment they needed in Kent and the surgeon had to travel with the patient to get to it?

- stitched, padded coverings to the rear bulkhead, like many civilian DH.89's I've seen.

- what's that top right? Spare blankets, or another stretcher, strapped to the ceiling?

 

How much of this I'll be able to present in 1/72 is anybody's guess, but again, thank you, it's a pretty reliable indicator as to what the cabin of Merlin V would have looked like.

 

(I'm conscious that at some point I'm going to have to stop yacking about this build, and start building this build! 😁)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by TonyOD
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