The Blackburn Skua is an aircraft dear to the hearts of FAA modellers - and almost totally ignored by the vast majority of others. This is certainly unfair as, despite it's rather ungainly and slightly antiquated appearance, the Skua held an impressive number of "firsts" in its day; Britain's first purpose-built dive-bomber and the FAA's first monoplane introducing such novelties as flaps, a retractable landing gear and a variable pitch propeller.
But behind the headline-grabbing features lay a fundamental problem. Built to Spec.0.27/34, the Skua was designed to fill two totally incompatible roles - both 2-seat fighter and dive bomber. Nevertheless, the Skua was surprisingly successful at the beginning of WW2 - adding more "firsts" to its tally by claiming Britain's first "kill" over the Luftwaffe (a Dornier Do 18) - and the first sinking of a major warship by aerial bombing in the attack on the German cruiser Konigsberg. But the Skua wasn't destined for a long first-line career; the few spectacularly successful dive bombing missions in the Norwegian Campaign of 1940, were balanced by brave but bitterly costly attacks on other targets such as Narvik and the Scharnhorst. Meanwhile, as a fighter, the Skua was hopelessly outclassed.
The Skua was replaced in FAA squadrons as soon as more potent replacements became available (primarily the Fulmar and Sea Hurricane) and ended its days as a trainer / target tug. Ironically, despite its obvious obsolescence as a fighter, the Skua was still more successful in that role than its own direct successor - the dismal Blackburn Roc - but that's another story...
The Skua is an aircraft I've wanted to model in 1/48 scale for years. It's only been available previously as a resin kit, so I was very excited by the announcement of Special Hobby's semi-short run injection-moulded version. The kit arrived in an attractive and sturdy conventional box which had survived mail-order delivery perfectly. That was the good news... less so was the ominous tinkle of detached pieces as I lifted the single bag containing all the sprues and other parts out of the box...
"Please, not the clear parts..." I prayed silently, but my worst fears were exceeded - the clear sprue had taken a particular battering, with two parts coming adrift and the main canopy breaking in half. Sitting down to survey the damage, I found things weren't much better on the other sprues - the propeller was minus two of its blades and a number of other parts had been torn off their sprues, while some smaller items had cracks in them. Despite being well packaged for posting and a decent box of its own, my poor old Skua really hadn't had a pleasant journey at all. (So, I have to own up - some of the accompanying sprue shots involved positioning quite a few parts where they'd once belonged...)
As I say, there was no sign of external damage to the mail order package, so it can't have been treated that roughly in the post so, sad to say, I think most of the blame must lie in how the kit is designed and packed. The single bag of parts is a rather loose fit in the box, so there's plenty of scope for it to rattle from one end to the other. Putting clear parts in with the rest of the sprues is always a recipe for trouble - if the transparencies aren't broken, they risk getting scratched. And, finally, the propeller is moulded right on the end of one of the sprues, with no protection at all for the protruding blades - it was almost guaranteed to take any knocks and bumps, with predictable results. I'm just surprised no-one at Special Hobby foresaw the problems.
Overcoming my disappointment at its condition, looking at the kit itself is much more encouraging:
95 x grey styrene parts on 4 x sprues
6 x clear styrene parts
38 x beige resin parts
14 x etched metal parts, plus a clear film
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
Moulding is very good indeed for a semi- short run kit. There's next to no flash and just a few sink-marks on the thicker interior detail items and a couple of flow marks on the wheels. The surface finish is very smooth, with finely engraved panel lines and a nice restrained fabric effect on the control surfaces. There are a few ejector pin marks, but Special Hobby have kept them clear of the cockpit area, so they should all be out of sight.
The fuselage halves in my kit have a slight bow in them, but this is easily held with tape and the tail is actually clipped together by the horizontal tail, so no problems there. All the panel detail lines up and the trailing edge of the rudder is nice an thin. Likewise with the wings, with nice thin edges and correctly upturned tips. Interestingly, Special Hobby have split the wings along the fold-lines of the original. There's no option to display the wings folded - but maybe there's something planned for a later release? However, the split wings do mean a little more care will be needed aligning everything, but the fit at the fold-line looks pretty good. Conversely, a bit of filler looks like it'll be needed at the wing-roots.
Things kick off, largely as you'd expect, with a nicely detailed cockpit, which is built-up from a combination of plastic and etched parts. It's surprising and rather a shame that no use is made of resin because, although the plastic parts are far better than we could have hoped to see in a kit of this nature just a few years ago, they still don't have the delicacy and detail of resin pieces - and the sink marks on some of the thicker parts could have been avoided.
Anyway, back to what is supplied - the seats come complete with etched harnesses (note: lap belts only for the gunner) and the instrument panel is a classic etched-plus-film affair which should look excellent when finished. Other details include the prominent mid-fuselage fuel tanks separating the crew positions (they must have inspired confidence when under fire!...), small consoles and spare ammunition drums. The gunner is provided with a lovely resin Vickers K and the sidewalls have a cleanly moulded-on structure that should give a good basis for a suitably busy office.
The engine is a real gem. Cast mostly in resin with a separate crackcase and cylinders and exhausts (all 18 of them), plus styrene carburettor intakes and a support for the cowling exhaust collector ring. Obviously the separate pots and exhausts will need extra care in alignment, but the results should be really spectacular and I can imagine some modellers wanting to open up the cowling for a servicing scene to show off more of the detail.
The undercarriage consists of resin wheel wells - which thankfully need little sanding down before they're ready to use - and styrene gear legs and wheels. The plastic parts are fairly good and should clean-up nicely. The wheels have good detail on the hubs, but I did notice some flow marks in the styrene which look like they'll show even under a coat of paint, so I think filling will be needed.
The canopy is divided into 4 segments and there's the option to pose the gunner's section open. The pilot's canopy is separate too, but I couldn't do a test fit to see if it will sit too high in the open position because of the damage to my kit.
A couple of obvious points Special Hobby missed are the pilot's gunsight and a bomb for the empty crutch under the fuselage. It seems we could be in for the same annoying situation as with their earlier Fairey Barracuda - i.e. having to wait for the release of the "hi-tech" version before external stores are included.
Instructions, Painting and Decals
The assembly diagrams are very well drawn and break the construction down into 14 stages. The construction sequence is all pretty logical and each stage features painting keys for Gunze Sangyo colours.
There are 3 x colour schemes catered for. All are basically the same and clearly illustrated with 4-view drawings, with Dark Slate Grey and Mixed Grey topsides, over Sky Grey with Black and White identification under the wings. There has been some speculation over the years that the Mixed Grey was in fact merely heavily weathered Extra Dark Sea Grey:
1. Skua Mk.II, L2963, "F", 803 Sqn. HMS Ark Royal, flown by Lt. C.H. Filmer and Mid. T.A. McKee, D.S.C., shot down attacking the Scharnhorst.
2. Skua Mk.II, L2940, "A6A", 800 Sqn. HMS Ark Royal, flown by Capt. R.T. Partridge, D.S.O.RM and Lt. R. S. Bostock, again shot down attacking the Scharnhorst. This crew had earlier shot down a Heinkel He 111.
3. Skua Mk.II, L2991, "Q", 803 Sqn. HMS Ark Royal, flown by Lt. Cdr. J. Casson and Lt. P.E. Casson, once again shot down attacking the Scharnhorst.
The small sheet of decals is very well printed - the items are thin and glossy and the register is good on my sheet. One point of interest is that the upper wing roundels differ on the sheet and painting diagrams from the boxtop artwork. The decals are for Type A roundels (red/white/blue), while the box shows the later Type B (red/blue) style. If Skuas' Norwegian Campaign camouflage is open to debate - the same is certainly true of their markings! Looking at a number of photos in Peter C. Smith's excellent book "Skua!", it appears that both styles could be correct (depending on the precise date), as the fleet was in a period of transition. There are shots clearly showing Skuas still wearing Type A roundels and others equally clearly with Type B (including colour German shots of downed aircraft).
Mushroom books have a new reference book - "Skua and Roc" - which should be available very soon. If this is up to the standard of their previous excellent titles, this will hopefully provide more information on the matter of colours, as well as reference photos of the interior.
A great online reference for the Skua is: http://freespace.virgin.net/john.dell/blackburn_skua.htm
My view of the kit is inevitably tempered by the sorry state in which it arrived and this is reflected in the score I've given it. But even here I'm lucky that there's nothing irreparable; the propeller blades are a clean break and easily re-attached, while the canopy has broken along the solid roof. Nevertheless, the problems could have been avoided with better laid-out parts on the sprues and by not penny-pinching over a separate bag to protect the clear parts. My recommendation to anyone buying the kit is, if at all possible, check the contents first.
The kit itself is great - a very nice model that should be deservedly popular. It's semi- short run, but standards of "buildability" have risen sharply over the last couple of years, so any modeller with a little experience with etched and resin parts should be able to tackle the Skua happily enough. OK, we've got a lovely Skua... and now Special Hobby have a Roc lined up. I can't wait!
Special Hobby's Blackburn Skua is available from Modelimex - specialists in Eastern European short run kits.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE