Once, or perhaps twice, upon a time
Over the last several years - not least since I started writing for SAM, and you probably know how long ago that was - thoughts of a Hunter have intruded into my reminiscences and my writings, and regularly in to my modelling. If I'm right, and when raiding my memories in public I have to scatter a selection of assorted caveats, I made the original Frog kit of a 43 Squadron F.1 when I was on the course being introduced to the real thing at Chivenor in the shiny summer of 1956. After nearly a year flying Hunters, mostly in Germany, I climbed out of the cockpit of a 67 Squadron F.4 in mid-April 1957 for what I expected to be the last time, though I did get one more opportunity with what had been "my" XF317 - I knew this because my name was still on it - when as you can see on the Mike's World section it had become an instructional airframe at Halton labelled 7773M. The word on the nosewheel door had nothing to do with me, obviously! You should disregard the hat as well.
My first personal memory of a Hunter - it may even have been WB188 - was seeing Neville Duke taking off from Farnborough not long after the DH.110 had broken up just in front of the spectators. In the following years the type became widely known and appreciated, recognised by many who were not necessarily aerophiles; I was so fortunate that it played a brief part in my early life, and though my personal connection didn't last it became for me a sort of totem, perhaps a virtual household god (was that lares or penates?). Many plastic examples have followed the early Frog kit through my hands, concluding recently with the plethora of Freightdog conversions; over the years nearly all had the modified later wings especially in the larger standard scales, but I needed to wait for the second iteration of the Airfix 1:48th kit to make "my" F.4 without major surgery amounting to Modelling (cunningly devised by the kit designer to whom my thanks). The other timely essential was from Xtradecal, who had thoughtfully included XF317 as seen here at Bruggen in February 1957 on their recent F.4 decals, with an unexpected bonus to which I hope to return.
I seem to have given up writing "reviews" on these pages, either fortuitously or possibly intentionally, but the Airfix 1:48th early Hunter is well up to their current good standard, and the number of judges who can tell an F.5 from an F.4 is surely limited and indeed declining; mind you, if I get a set of markings for 34 Squadron - probably the most colourful on any Fighter Command Hunter - I shall overlook the Sapphire's idiosyncracies apart possibly for the oil streaks. It has the great benefit of the "straight" leading edge, though the ingenious way in which it's been executed comes perilously close to Modelling; I was reminded of the excellent kits of the splendid Mike Eacock, who had a talent for finding engineering solutions for modelling problems, but always with very satisfactory results. It took me a while for largely external reasons to get started on this model, and it took its time in allowing me to finish it, but we got there, and I may even have learnt a lesson or three (or perhaps re-learned them). I hope to make use of them when I come to mark XF317's later existence; Xtradecal have equally thoughtfully included on the same set the markings for its later Chilean days as J-734, and the F.4 kit has the necessary rear fuselage with the "pen-nib" fairing to be grafted on the an F.6 kit for which I already have the PJ resin "photo" nose. After some thought I fancy marking our reunion in longish grass, when both of us had a slightly dodgy left leg (though it's possible I may have done that already on my XF317, and if so I must work out how I did it).
A couple of post-scripts; I have shown the model on this page from the starboard side; my name was only applied on the port side underneath the cockpit rail and it was sadly not on the decal sheet, and if you consult Neil Robinson's excellent Airfile on RAF Hunters not only will you find the b&w above but also the detail that the name was painted in three inch white letteing, and I just know I couldn't cope with that in 1:48th. And the unit markings are not only small but also fairly basic; this was deliberate to help distinguish 67's aircraft at middle distance, particularly while taxying, from those of the other three squadrons on the station (go on, look them up). I know, because after badgering the Boss for getting the hitherto absent markings on to our aircraft I was duly tasked with getting it done. And XF317 was the first, though less than half our aircraft were decorated before the squadron was disbanded in April.
One late dicovered surprise on the decal set; on the two sideviews of XF317 I found to my delight that the pilot wore "my" bonedome in the squadron colours that I'd applied in 1956. Really thoughtful!
Long Telford Shadows; ah, Sir Sidney!
The second greatest pleasure in going to Scale Model World at Telford every November, apart from the plastic equivalent of craic and that of knowing that I'm maintaing my tradition of more than fifty years, is the anticipation and fulfilment of bringing back some goodies; this was one that I wasn't expecting. Seeing a copy of "Typhoon to Typhoon" on the Crecy stand, even though I wasn't able to carry one off on the Sunday evening, was in itself a major pleasure; and the warm glow of anticipation was justified when my copy arrived late in December. Given that I was living on the edge of Bournemouth bay for the last year of the war I can't believe that I have no memories of seeing a Typhoon in the air, and it's one of the few regrets that I allow myself. I am of course hoping to be able to see RB396 when it takes to the air again, but I wish that its target date wa a little closer than four years away (it's all right for you young chaps!).
From its inception the Typhoon was distinguished by its black and white underwing stripes well before they were applied to allied aircraft for the invasion of Europe; and the two, together and separately, have become iconic symbols for post D-day air operations in northern Europe. The Typhoon's operational history is covered by the invaluable Osprey books and by careful perusal of all four volumes on 2nd TAF by Christopher Shores and Chris Thomas; and now Chris Gibson has used the aircraft and its well-remembered role as the starting point and initial core of an account of RAF air/ground operations from 1946 to 2020. It develops the constituent parts of the expected operations and the equipment of the ground forces which would be involved as the cold war would turn increasingly hot, including the possible use of "tactical" nuclear weapons. The RAF's aircraft were throughout most of this period adaptations of intended inteceptors, notably the FGA Hunters, and trainers, culminating the the transformation of the BAe Typhoon in to a weapons delivery system. There are as you would expect from author and publisher many unrealised proposals for this role included in the narrative, and modellers with a What If? bent will find much to intrigue them with several of them already on offer from Unicraft!
As well as the "D-Day stripes" the other feature of any mental picture of Sir Sydney's Typhoon in its heyday is the characteristic underwing load of eight rocket projectiles. As the book progresses their increasingly sophisticated successors and their roles, development and use become an essential core of the story. We have become accustomed to the standard and quality of the illustrations and as well photographs the familar line drawings of the occasionlly odd aircraft - which of course are essential to the counterfactually-minded, like me - there are many very enlightening diagrams of the weapons, their use and their potential targets. It is enlightening to those of us with an aviation bent to find out the degree to which the development of the aircraft involved is propelled by the progressive changes both in the weapons which those aircraft are to carry and the the targets which require their use. This aspect is covered with the detail and research to which we are accustomed in this series, and the illustrations which I found explanatory and enlightening. From a modeller's viewpoint - well, mine anyway - my memories of the sixties are of a growing accumulation of "things under wings" which did little to enhance the visual attraction of the aircraft that carried them, and that coincided with the apparent slowing of a new subjects for our shelves.
It's with some relief that as the designs progress in to the eighties and later that there has been a substantial number of projected designs dedicated to what was known at the start of this tale as "ground attack", and illustrated in profusion ; there are some with evident degrees of familiarity, and some with more adventurous aspects of their design. Passing succinctly over what would have been the Eagle GR.1 and paying due respect to the Jaguar as the backbone of the RAF' low level attack force the timeline leads us through the Tornado era - including some interesting projected variants - to the current Typhoon, neatly illustrating the author's theme and point that in nearly all cases the service's answer to the army's call has been in the form of a re-roled interceptor. I find Chris Gibson's approach to the subject as intriguing and instructive as always, and with some design ideas which were totally unknown to me; "base burning" is a concept I've never heard of, and I haven't yet decided how to show it on a model desined at some long distant date for the SIG stand - it may involve very careful singeing.
An author's introduction can be very useful in revealing a point of view before his book starts to unfold, and in offering enlightening intentions. In this case, there's a final paragraph headind "Personal Prologue" which as Chris Gibson says must be read before you start on chapter 1; and for me, it must be read when you read the last page. And it can be a telling constant subtext at irregular points in Chris Gibson's story.
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