Airfix’s 1/48 Boulton Paul Defiant Mk. I: An Office With A Turret

If you ask anyone even mildly familiar with World War II aircraft to name their favorite, you’ll likely hear names such as Spitfire, Mustang, Yak-3, or a some other well-known aircraft. It would probably be an odd thing to hear “Boulton Paul Defiant” listed by anyone.

And I’d suggest it would not be without reason. The Defiant was one of those airframes that periodically emerges through aviation history in response to a particular need, and only in retrospect is it seen for the less than optimal solution it was.

The reasoning made sense, at the time. In the pre- World War II era, the largest fear among the populace and planners were streams of bombers coming overhead, pulverizing a defenceless city. It was no wonder, either – the interwar era was marked by great advances in bomber technology, with fighters receiving little of the glory. There was even a period of time where the fastest aircraft in most air forces were the bombers. The fighters just could not keep up.

Of course, this presented a dilemma. If bombers could simply fly at will over any city, speeding away from fighters, very little could be done to defend against such attacks. And nowhere was this fear felt as greatly as in Europe.

Having been the through the absolute devastation of World War I, governments and people logically wanted to avoid a repeat. For military strategists, pulverizing your enemy from the air seemed quick and tidy. The effectiveness of bombs dropped from altitude was greatly overestimated at the time, but many felt that an opposing nation could be brought to the heel simply with mass bombing.

Enter The Defiant

In the UK, the Air Ministry sought to counter the threat of these bomber streams by issuing a call for what was termed a “turret fighter”. The idea was fairly simple – mount a multi-gun turret on a relatively nimble and fast fighter frame, have it swoop in and out of the incoming bomber formations, and simply hose them down with bullets. Given that the idea of escorting fighters was still not foreseen with any clarity, it made sense.

The Boulton Paul submission, dubbed the Defiant, entered production, and by the war’s beginning, several squadrons were in service. Initially it had some success. When encountering unescorted bombers, it could do its intended purpose with some profit. Even in initial engagements with Nazi fighters, it faired reasonably well. The Nazis often mistook the Defiants for Hurricanes, the two being similar in silhouette when viewed from above and behind. Of course, to their chagrin – sometimes fatally so – they discovered that instead of diving into a formation of fighters with forward firing guns, they were bouncing a hornets nest of rear firing turrets.

It didn’t take long for tactics to change. Finding that the Defiant had a particularly fatal flaw – the lack of forward firing guns – the Nazis simply changed their approach to frontal and lower quarter attacks, and that pretty much sealed the Defiant’s fate as a “turret fighter”.

It did go on to some success as a night fighter, target tug, and air-sea rescue aircraft, but for the most part, the most common memory of the Defiant is that of a reasonable idea – without full thought of all the factors.

The Kit

Airfix’s 1/48 Defiant Mk. I is a wonderful example of the kits that have been released since Hornby took the helm and purchased Airfix over a decade ago. The engineering is very good, with excellent detail cast into the parts. Having built the model previously, I was looking forward to applying the lessons learned on this one.

The interior is reasonably well detailed, with a nicely molded seat, detailed sidewalls, and an appropriately busy cockpit overall. Super detailers may want to add some additional bits, but out of the box it gives great opportunity to paint some fun detail and get a nice look.

I decided that a “Spanish School” influenced approach to the interior would be fun. I started with a black primer coat, for two reasons. One, I think it just looks cool. 🙂 Two, I wanted to shoot the later base colors of interior green from a high angle, thus allowing the primer to create more dramatic shadows.

With parts primed – using Badger’s Stynylrez Black, I loaded Tamiya XF-71 into my airbrush to begin the painting proper. While this is not the “spot on” color for RAF interiors, I like it simply because it’s close enough, and later weathering and fading/shading will introduce enough variation to mask the not-quite color match. (One fellow, looking at a model I’d built, complimented me on my RAF Interior Green being “spot on” in his words. It gave me quite a chuckle, as I knew him to be a color fiend… 😉 )

Vertical surfaces were painted from about a 45 degree angle, spraying the paint downward. I didn’t get too fussy about complete coverage, as I knew later applications would fill in gaps. For horizontal surfaces, such as the floor, I I sprayed the paint straight down, though I did leave more gaps in coverage on the “bumpy” areas.

Modulation In All Things

With that on, I began to add in some modulation. Typically, when making a lighter version of a green color, I opt for something more yellowy. This helps retain the “greenishness” of the base. However, as the interior base color was more of a gray/green, I reached for white, as this would retain the gray tone of the original. 

Thinning the paint heavily with Mr. Color Leveling Thinner (MCLT), I began to spray the lighter paint into the more prominent sections of the interior. For vertical surfaces, I again sprayed from a downward angle, though I got in much closer and worked to emphasize detail. More white was added to the color cup, as well as additional drops of MCLT, and the highlights were focused even more. I gave the seat pan special attention, as I wanted it to be a focal point if someone looked inside the aircraft.

With all the highlights added in, I cleaned the color cup, added a few drops of the original XF-71, and then thinned it highly with MCLT. This was misted over everything. The idea here is to not cover up the previous layers, but to blend them and even out any bright spots. it can be very easy to overdo this step – approach it with caution, building up the color slowly. When you get to a point of thinking “almost there” – stop. Later weathering will tone it down even more, so I try to retain some of the starkness.

A final step was to brush paint a very light mix of the base onto some of the smaller details, to help them stand out even more. Areas like the sidewall “ribs”, seat braces, seat edges, etc, were given this treatment. All recesses were then lined with mechanical pencil, to prepare for later recess shading.

Chips, Anyone?

I wanted to go for a very high contrast, stark look for the paint chips. I’d seen an example in a Facebook group of a modeler using an almost pure black color for chips, and decided to give that a shot. Opting for Vallejo Model Color Black Grey, I applied fairly heavy chipping using the sponge method. This turned out to be very effective, and the size, I think, is appropriate to the scale. And while it might not fall into the “realism” side of modeling – definitely more towards the “artistic” – I do think it fits. 

When someone views a model, I don’t know that they expect to see absolute realism, but rather a representation that “sells” itself as being what one would expect to see, given the fact that in scale, it’s as if a giant has picked up a real object. In that scenario, viewing the interior of an airplane would look quite boring. So by adding some exaggeration, both in size and in contrast, I feel that the observer is rewarded by seeing what the mind expects – despite the challenges of scale.

With the chips on, all was given a gloss coat of Future. A fairly heavy but carefully applied round of Citadel’s Nuln Oil Gloss was then added in the various recesses. As the recesses had already been darkened with mechanical pencil lines, this final step really brought out the contrast between light and shadow. Because the opening into the cockpit is fairly tight, I wanted to make sure there would be enough “pop” to make detail visible. 

Detail painting was then added, using black, white, and red, all applied with a #0 liner brush. The instrument panel was painted Vallejo MC Black Gray all over, and then the edges of the dials painted with white. The kit supplies a decal that look decent enough (I must say…), but I’ve never been a huge fan of combining painted detail with printed detail. For my own tastes, the two appear far too stark side by side.

With the white details added, a few red bits were painted on. Normally, I’d move on to painting the inner portions of the dials pure black, add a matte coat, and then touch a drop of Future to each dial to simulate the clear cover. However, on this one, I opted to go straight to the  matte coat. I then applied dots of both Citadel’s Nuln Oil Gloss, and Vallejo Mecha Color Petrol Spill Gloss. This combined the step of making it look pure black, and adding the gloss, in one step. I was also able to compare the two products, finding that in application, they look virtually identical. A set of Eduard photoetch belts was added (yes… I left the prepainting on… 😉 ), and everything was given a matt varnish.

Fitting It All In

View of the two plastic sections that will later be removed from the turret opening

Airfix designed this kit very well. Test fitting showed no problems, The forward firewall helps align the main cockpit section nicely. I did need to sand the sides of the instrument panel just a bit, and widen the slot in the sides of it, to get a good fit there. 

The upper rear deck is ingeniously designed. There is a forward section, and a separate aft section – but the parts are cast with two bits of plastic joining them. This is on purpose – it allows the parts to be aligned as one, and after the fuselage is closed up, the plastic can be snipped. As the turret fully fills the opening, there is no need for repainting the areas that were snipped.

I glued everything into one fuselage half, applying the other half temporarily to make sure all was aligned. I then allowed the glue on one half to set, double checked that everything was in place firmly, and glued the other half on. Except for one area that my nub cleanup had been a bit zealous, fit was perfect, with no more than light sanding needed to smooth things out.

Building The Turret

If anything on the kit even approaches fiddly, it is the turret.  Even that is not difficult, but as it is composed of 16 parts, it does require attention to alignment and order to get it all right. In my previous build, I’d carefully painted all the parts ahead of time, which caused no end of trouble trying to glue them together later. Later placement in the aircraft showed that NONE of what I’d so carefully worked on showed. {sigh}

For this one, I built it unpainted, only leaving the upper gun assembly off of the lower turret. Everything was given a coat of black primer, a dry brush of Vallejo Model Color Sky Gray, and then a few details picked out. Seat padding was painted VMC Leather Brown, and a lighter tone of the color was used to edge highlight and do a slight bit of glazing. The gun barrels were dry brushed with Citadel’s Leadbelcher.

Next Steps

Once the airframe has had time to fully dry, I’ll get it sanded smooth. In the next installment of this build, I’ll cover the rest of the assembly, plus some options for handling the turret that should make painting much easier.

Airfix really did a nice job with this model, having just the right mix of detail, engineering, fit, and good price. This is the type of kit that will satisfy experienced modelers as well as newcomers to the hobby.

It’s also good to see it being kitted as a way of paying tribute to those who had to brave combat in an airframe best suited for the planning rooms of the decade before its employment. It was a reasonable idea at first, but only too late was it acknowledged that the task it was designed for was not the task it was assigned to – and resulted in fairly significant losses of airframes, and more tragically, crews.

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