by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
The latest volume in Valiant Wings’s Airframe Detail series looks at the Boulton Paul Defiant - a basically sound aircraft in which a great deal of hope was invested, but which proved to have been designed to a fatally flawed concept.
I still remember the mixed look of horror and bemusement which crossed the face of a friend of my family in the late 1960s who’d served as an RAF fighter pilot during WWII, when I said how exciting it must have been to be the gunner in a Defiant! He explained patiently how it was almost impossible for the gunner to bale out, but for a 10-year old who’d just built the original 1:72 Airfix kit, the prospect of taking on the Luftwaffe in backseat of a Defiant did seem genuinely thrilling. The veteran rightly viewed it as a death-trap, but tragically, if you could turn the clock back 30 years years earlier, you would have likely found the same misguided enthusiasm among the Defiant crews who were eagerly waiting for a chance to get into the fight.
Richard Franks’ new study of the Defiant follows the highly successful format of the Airframe Detail series, offering a nicely balanced blend of historical and modelling-focused reference material in a very accessible style.
The 98-page softbound A4 book breaks down its coverage into the following sections:
Camouflage & Markings
The Introduction takes the form of a 21-page overview of the development of the Defiant and its service history. In the process, the author takes us on a fascinating journey back to long before the Defiant was born to look at the thinking that led to the RAF's requirement for a turret-fighter and the evolution of power operated turrets that made such a fighter feasible.
Tracing the aircraft’s history through the prototype stages and the early euphoria that followed initial clashes with the Luftwaffe, quickly followed by the catastrophe that ensued during the Battle of Britain, the section goes on to describe the Defiant’s pioneering role as a night-fighter and the early development of radar countermeasures, along with its unglamorous service in target towing, air sea rescue and experimental work.
One of the surprise revelations for me is just how good the Defiant's performance was when it was converted into a single-seater to meet a predicted shortage of conventional fighters. With flight tests of a hastily converted prototype revealing a top speed of over 360 mph (basically matching the contemporary Spitfire and Bf 109 versions for speed), the stop-gap fighter would have been a worthwhile addition to the arsenal if the need had arisen.
Over the course of almost 30 pages the Technical Description covers the Defiant in far greater detail than I've ever seen before and it really is a proverbial gold mine of information for modellers. As usual with this series, the section takes the form of what might otherwise be termed a "walkaround", but with a rather unique twist; instead of relying solely on modern shots of a restored airframe, the author also includes a mass of illustrations and photos taken from original manuals. This makes an important difference, because preserved aircraft are often missing parts or have been changed to meet later standards, so (while they might not be as eye-catching as modern digital colour photos) there's nothing quite like original shots and diagrams in my opinion as a reliable source of extra information.
That said, the modern photos are equally useful here, especially since Valiant Wings were able to catch the RAF Museum exhibit during an overhaul which reveals a mass of seldom-seen detail.
For an aircraft that tends to be written off as a failure in many people's opinion, it's surprising just how many varied and interesting colour schemes the Defiant sported. Perhaps as a result of its poor showing as a day-fighter, the Defiant went on to serve in a greater variety of roles than might otherwise have been the case. So, here in Camouflage & Markings we have an attractive assortment of colour schemes, including day- and night-fighters, target tugs and air sea rescue aircraft, each illustrated with excellent profiles by Richard Caruana.
There’s masses of modelling potential presented; if you’re not interested in any of the standard RAF colour schemes, how about a USAAF target tug or doing a bit of conversion work to build the stop-gap single-seat fighter?
Tucked neatly after the colour scheme chapter is a set of 1:48 Plans. I think these are particularly welcome because they include a pattern for the rivets which anyone who’s viewed the surviving airframe at the RAF Museum in Hendon will realise are such a distinctive part of the character of the Defiant.
I always look forward to the Kit Builds in this series, as Valiant Wings have some serious talent in their team. This time there's just one build - but it's an excellent one - as Steve Evans tackles Airfix's recent 1:48 kit. I often find myself sharing Steve's opinion of a kit and the Defiant is no exception, as he's rather disappointed by the surface finish and he adds interest with embossed rivets to good effect. Otherwise, this is an OOB guide to constructing the Airfix kit, taking the reader step-by-step through each stage from basic assembly through to painting, decaling and final finishing.
Rounding everything off is a series of Appendices which cover the many model kits and accessories which have appeared over the years, along with a production and service breakdown of the Defiant and a useful bibliography for further reading.
ConclusionWhile I would no longer share my 10-year old self’s eagerness to go to war in the turret of a Defiant, the aircraft still holds a fascination for me and I really welcome this new book from Valiant Wings. It offers an excellent “one-stop shop” for WW2 historians and modellers alike and certainly warrants a place on your shelf of references.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE