An alternate SR-N1 Hovercraft

Back in January I wrote a piece about an idea I had for an alternate Desert Storm set in 1959.

The re-release of the Fairey Rotodyne reminded me of an idea I had for an alternative history background for gaming. The basic premise was a Desert Storm background but with 1950s tanks, aircraft, helicopters and VTOL craft like the Fairey Rotodyne.

My premise was that the British armed forced faced with a new threat would make use of aircraft such as the  Fairey Rotodyne.

I was reminded of this article following the announcement from Airfix that they are going to re-release their 1/72nd scale model of the SR-N1 Hovercraft.

Debuted in 1960, it hasn’t been seen in the range since the 1980s. 

SR-N1 Hovercraft

The SR-N1 was the first practical hovercraft and demonstrated the potential of air-cushioned transport.

On 11 June 1959, the SR.N1 performed its first flight in front of the public. The SR.N1 participated in the test programme for four years prior to its retirement, by which point it had served its purpose in successfully validating the concept and further hovercraft had been developed.

Now I actually remember building the Airfix kit, but I painted it up as a military version. I think it was all over black to be used by special forces.

Airfix on their site talk about the military application of the SR-N1.

The SR-N1 Hovercraft is an experimental machine with space for the pilot and his observer, although on demonstration it has carried 20 fully equipped soldiers. 

If I was to go down the Desert Storm 1959 idea, then I think I would get some SR-N1 hovercraft (well at least one) and build it as a troop carrier, or an armed version.

Desert Storm 1959

Today saw the announcement of the 2023 Airfix range. I generally don’t do model kits, well I haven’t made an Airfix style model kit since the 1980s… though I have built a fair few wargaming kits since then.

I still have a nostalgic fondness for some of the older Airfix kits so was pleased to see that Airfix have announced the re-release of the Fairey Rotodyne.

Airfix Fairey Rotodyne

The Fairey Rotodyne was a 1950s British compound gyroplane designed and built by Fairey Aviation and intended for commercial and military uses. The Rotodyne featured a tip-jet-powered rotor that burned a mixture of fuel and compressed air bled from two wing-mounted turboprops. The rotor was driven for vertical takeoffs, landings and hovering, as well as low-speed translational flight, but autorotated during cruise flight with all engine power applied to two propellers.

Fairey Rotodyne
Johannes Thinesen, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Due to army and Royal Air Force (RAF) interest, development of the Rotodyne had been funded out of the defence budget for a time. The RAF also placed an order for 12 military transport versions. According to rumours, the U.S. Army was also interested in buying around 200 Rotodynes.

One prototype was built. Although the Rotodyne was promising in concept and successful in trials, the programme was eventually cancelled. The termination has been attributed to the type failing to attract any commercial orders; this was in part due to concerns over the high levels of rotor tip jet noise generated in flight. 

The re-release of the Fairey Rotodyne reminded me of an idea I had for an alternative history background for gaming. The basic premise was a Desert Storm background but with 1950s tanks, aircraft, helicopters and VTOL craft like the Fairey Rotodyne.

The British forces alongside Westland Whirlwinds and Westland Wessex helicopters would also have access to the Fairey Rotodyne for transport and troop insertion. I even thought about including the Bristol Belvedere, which though entered service in 1961, had its first flight in 1958.

Airfix have also announced they are re-releasing the Bristol Bloodhound SAM missile.

Bristol Bloodhound

It was developed in the 1950s and was used for air defence until 1991 in the UK.

Alongside the aircraft and missiles I would have also added some Centurion tanks and other armoured vehicles.

I would have painted the models in a desert camouflage similar to the US Desert Battle Dress Uniform (DBDU).

Desert Battle Dress Uniform
The original uploader was Pretzelpaws at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Two shades of brown with those clusters of black and white spots.

As for opponents? Well that would have been Soviet aircraft and vehicles, also in a desert camouflage.

Airfix have said they will release these new models in the Autumn of 2023, so it may be a possibility, just maybe.

Austin K2 Ambulance

The Austin K2 is a British heavy military ambulance that was used by all Commonwealth services during the Second World War.

This RAF Austin K2 Ambulance was on display at RAF London.

Built by Austin, it was based on the 1938 Austin K30 30-cwt light truck which as the K2 chassis was built during the war for many uses.

My main memory of this vehicle is from the Airfix RAF Emergency Set.

Airfix RAF Emergency Set

Plastic Spitfire Kit

1:1 scale Airfix Spitfire as featured on the James May Toy Stories series shown on BBC2, complete with a model pilot.

To see if he can entice a new generation of kids into enjoying model kits, James May assigns a group of pupils with constructing a life-size model of Airfix’s notable kit – the Spitfire. While May must train up the pupils in becoming an organised model-making team, the kit’s life-size parts require a specialist company in Cornwall to create these and handling the issues their creation cause. When the kit is finally created and brought to an air museum for construction, the real test comes with the completed model being able to hold itself together, especially when the supports for the main body are removed. The project proves a success when the completed kit can be showcased to an audience that include the pupil’s parents and RAF WWII veterans.

Behind it is the BOAC de Havilland Comet 1XB.

Junkers Ju52/3M (CASA 352L) at RAF Cosford

The Ju52 was the last in a series of corrugated metal-skinned Junkers aircraft. The first aircraft, fitted with a single engine, flew in October 1930. The first three-engined version, the Ju52/3m, flew in April 1932. Orders for this robust aircraft, which could carry seventeen passengers or eighteen troops, soon started coming in and included an order for three from the pre-war British Airways, the Junkers Ju 52 at RAF Cosford is painted as Junkers Ju 52 (G-AFAP) of the pre-War British Airways Ltd.

By 1934, the newly-formed Luftwaffe was flying bomber-transport Ju52s and the type was soon in action with the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion, which fought on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. In August 1936, Ju52s carried out what was then the biggest air-transportation operation ever mounted, carrying 14000 of General Franco’s troops from Morocco to Spain.

During the Second World War the Ju52 became the Luftwaffe’s standard workhorse and was known affectionately as ‘Tante Ju’ (Auntie Ju). Flown mainly as a transport, it also fulfilled air-ambulance and, more unusually, mine-clearance roles. For the latter it was fitted with a large metal hoop which could be energized by a motor to explode magnetic sea-mines.

After the Second World War it was built under licence for use by the Spanish Air Force.

In its time, the Junkers Ju52/3m was rivalled only by the Douglas Dakota as a transport aircraft. It was used by the airlines of thirty countries and several Air Forces. A few examples still fly today with pleasure flight operators.

When I was younger I always wanted to have the Airfix kit when I was doing some plastic kit modelling.

Never bought it, as I moved into gaming.

 

Land Rover Centaurs in Wessex

The Laird Centaur was the brainchild of Laird (Angelsey) Limited and was the result of intensive engineering development combining the Land Rover and the Alvis designed tracks of the FV101 Scorpion light tank. 

Many years ago I wrote and had published an article in Wargames Illustrated called Wessex: The Second English Civil War.

Wessex: The Second English Civil War

On March 17th, 1998, Royalists rose up in defiance and took control of key government buildings, airfields and broadcasting stations in the West Country and Cornwall. Supported by army units and Sea Harriers from what used to be the Royal Navy, there was little bloodshed. People came out onto the streets and cheered. The King who had been in exile in Canada flew back and landed at Bristol airport. The Kingdom of Wessex and Duchy of Cornwall was born. The Republican Prime Minister was, of course, very angry at what had happened. He mobilised his Democratic Guards and ordered them to defeat the Royalist rebellion. The Second English Civil War had started. Three hundred and thirteen years after the last pitched battle to take place on English soil, there were going to be more.

My recent blog post on the Laird Centaur Half Track and their proposed different versions got me thinking about what if the Laird Centaur Half Track was a commercial and military success and was used extensively by both sides in the Wessex Civil War.

In the marketing materials they did advertise an armoured version. This got me thinking about scenarios involving an Armoured Laird Centaur Half Track in Wessex.

A Democratic Guard patrol on the M4 near Reading, comprising three Armoured Laird Centaur Half Tracks and a Scorpion Light Tank is ambushed by Royalist Special Forces. The objective of the ambush is to disable the vehicles and then withdraw.

Royal Marines Armoured Laird Centaur Half Tracks are guarding the entrance to the 40 Commando Royal Marines base at Norton Manor Camp. There then follows an assault by Republican paratroopers to rescue POWs being held at the camp.

A Royalist convoy, with Laird Centaur Half Tracks is approaching Gloucester when it is ambushed by a force of Democratic Guards using light scout vehicles, motorbikes and a single Armoured Laird Centaur Half Track.

Democratic Guards using Laird Centaur Half Tracks are landed on the beaches of North Somerset by landing craft, to sabotage the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Local royalist forces rush to defend the power station and push the Democratic Guards back into the Bristol Channel.

I’ve not found any models of the Laird Centaur, but I do remember once an article in a magazine about how to convert a 1/76th version using the (then) JB Models Land Rover and Scorpion models. Both kits are now available from Airfix.

AEC Matador and 5.5″ Gun

I have written before about the influence of Matchbox and Airfix and the impact it has on the models I buy for gaming.

When I was young, before I started this wargaming lark, I use to make up plastic kits. In the main these were the pocket money kits I could buy from my local model shop and these were manufactured by Airfix and Matchbox. I recall preferring the Matchbox kits as they came with a piece of scenery.

…I have started to realise how much my knowledge of World War Two vehicles and armour has been skewed by making those plastic kits all those years ago. They have also influenced what models I am buying and which ones I like.

A similar thing can be said when it comes to looking around Museums and seeing vehicles and aircraft. So it’s no surprise when I saw the AEC Matador and 5.5″ Howtizer at the Land Warfare Exhibit at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, the first thing that came to mind, was the classic Airfix kit.

Airfix AEC Matador and 5.5"Howitzer

The Airfix model scene is from Europe, however the actual truck on display at Duxford is painted in desert colours.

The AEC Matador was a heavy 4×4 truck and medium artillery tractor built by the Associated Equipment Company for British and Commonwealth forces during the Second World War.

AEC Matador

This truck served on Malta with the Royal Malta Artillery during World War Two.

The BL 5.5 inch Gun was a British artillery gun introduced during the middle of the Second World War to equip medium batteries.

5.5"Howitzer

This example, a Mark III, served with 25 Field Artillery Battery, RA (V), Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Yeomanry, being withdrawn in 1977 after the barrel had fired over 1500 rounds.

Imperial Guard Tank Landing Craft – Scrapped

Back in 2004 I discussed using an 1/72nd Airfix kit of the WWII LCVP Landing Craft as the basis for an Epic scale Imperial Guard Tank Landing Craft .

Imperial Guard Tank Landing Craft

1/72nd Airfix kit of the WWII LCVP Landing Craft

I saw this post as I was updating some other stuff, so I thought I would add an update. Alas this never got further than the ideas stage and the kit was eventually sold on eBay a few years ago.

Full circle

My first “experience” of wargaming was back in the 1970s with those bendy and flexible Airfix and Matchbox model soldiers and using Britain’s matchstick firing weapons.

One of my favourite toys and probably the thing that got me into gaming was the 1:32nd Matchbox Counter Attack Playset.

Matchbox Counter Attack

Combining Americans and Germans, with an M8 Greyhound, air pump weapons and an incredible building that you could knock down and put back together. It was an incredible toy that I really loved playing with.

There were of course other models you could buy and I remember having some, but aspired to buy some of those Airfix plastic 1:32 models, such as the Cromwell as well as other Matchbox figures like these Commandos.

Matchbox Commandos

I did move onto more “serious” gaming using Airfix Napoleonics. Then I started to paint them, but like a lot of gamers back then, realised the flexibility of the plastic meant that the paint would come off quite easily during games. The magazines of the time (we didn’t have the web back then) had articles about painting the bare plastic with PVA (white glue) and after painting use a range of varnishing techniques (heavy gloss varnish followed by a matt varnish) to protect the paintwork even further. The reality was that I remember discussing with friends what we really wanted were plastic soldiers made out of hard plastic., like that was ever going to happen…

Lets fast forward to last week…

I usually quite enjoy the weekly updates on the Flames of War website. Never quite sure why they feel the need to save all their updates for Thursday, why can’t they post them as and when they’re done. The main result of this is I go the website once a week rather than more regularly.

So what’s the connection?

Battlefront announced they were, having moved from metal to hard plastic, were going to move now to flexible plastic. I had to check twice, was Battlefront really going to release flexible plastic toy soldiers.

Battlefront announced they were, having moved from metal to hard plastic, were going to move now to flexible plastic.

Hmmm.

The articles talks about the advantages of this *new* material compared to metal, resin and hard plastic.

The new figures are made of a flexible ABS plastic, and combine most of the good points of the other materials.

Like with hard plastic, the casting process involves injecting the plastic into a rigid mould. The moulds themselves are not machined in the same way, but cast – it’s faster and cheaper. Unlike the hard plastic, the material itself is slightly flexible after it cures, so small undercuts are possible – not as much as with metal or resin in a soft mould, but more than with hard plastic.

They also make the point…

The tough new plastic is almost unbreakable – you could drop a rulebook on them and they will bounce straight back.

Guessing dropping rulebooks on them wouldn’t do much for the paintwork. However that would be the same for any model regardless of what material it was made from.

There must be very good reasons why Battlefront are going down this road and these are outlined in the article.

The biggest benefit is the cost – we can produce flexible plastic figures almost 40% cheaper than metal equivalent, and this will be reflected in the price, which is surely good news for everyone!

Cheaper models are always nice, but cost is just one factor amongst many when it comes to choosing models to wargame with. Personally I think it’s a backward retro step, time to ensure I have enough metal models in the cupboard. I don’t mind paying the extra.

Back to the 1970s here we come….

Airfix Supacat Coyote and Jackal

Airfix preview video for A06302 Supacat Coyote A05301 Supacat Jackal.

You may recall from a previous blog post that I thought they would make for really nice Imperial Guard armoured vehicles. As they are 1/48th scale they would fit very well with the 25/28mm size of the Imperial Guard. Of course with some ramshackle additions they would also make for some really nice Ork vehicles too.