No 56 Squadron, RAF, 'The Firebirds', 1918 - 2008.

Discussion in 'Modeling' started by Airframes, Jun 27, 2009.

  1. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    A Condensed History in Miniature
    I've long wanted to model a 'Squadron History', where every type of aircraft operated by a particular R.A.F. Squadron would be built and displayed. The original idea has been mulling around in my head for decades, with the intention being to do this in 1/72nd scale. The reason for the choice of the smaller scale was fairly simple - there are more kits available, less display space would be required, and the overall cost would be considerably less than larger scales. However, I more or less gravitated to 1/48th scale (and a growing number of 1/32nd scale) quite a few years ago, and now, unless the subject is something like a Lancaster bomber, I would find 1/72nd scale a tad difficult to handle, especially in the detailing department, due to the ongoing effects of this stupid disease that now plagues me.
    But, when Jan started talking about doing a sort of 'unofficial' Group Build based on Squadrons, the idea raised its head once more and, after some careful thought, I decided I could produce a reasonable representative selection of aircraft from one Squadron in 1/48th scale, if I stuck to fighters!
    I had already considered 'doing' 43 Squadron, 'The Fighting Cocks', and already have a couple of models finished in that squadron's markings. However, in order to produce a more diverse cross-section of types, I looked at other long-serving RAF squadrons, and considered both 74 and 111 Squadrons.
    But, Jan beat me to those avenues, so I plumped for 56 Squadron, one of the oldest, and most famous, of the RAF's fighter squadrons.
    Number 56 Squadron was formed on 8th June, 1916, as a Squadron of the British Army's Royal Flying Corps, when it flew a variety of aircraft, until equipping with the famous SE5 in March 1917. This type was supplemented, and eventually replaced, by the superior SE5A, a very advanced machine for its day, and the Squadron counted among its 'Aces' such famous names as Ball and McCudden, and had an interesting history, which I will endeavour to relate as the 'Build' develops through the stages.
    The Royal Flying Corps, a Corps just like any other unit of the British Army at the time, with the obvious difference of being airborne, became an independant Force on 1st April 1918, when the Royal Air Force became the third arm of Britain's Armed Forces. At that time, 56 Squadron, now 56 Squadron Royal Air Force, were equipped with the SE5A and, until their disbandment as a fighter squadron 90 years later, on 22 April 2008, operated 18 different types of aircraft (excluding sub-types or Marks.), culminating with the Panavia Tornado F3.
    The Squadron had been a 'true' fighter squadron up until 1992, when they replaced their Phantom FGR2's with the Tornado, and became 56(R) Squadron, 229 OCU - the Operational Conversion Unit for Tornado crews, based at Coningsby, in Lincolnshire. The 'R' in the title means 'Reserve', a term applied to a small number of once front-line squadrons whose role changed to that of a 'Shadow Squadron' in the training role, who would become operational in time of war or other 'emergency' or conflict, the aircraft crewed by (very experienced) instructors.
    After ninety years of (almost) continuous service as a Fighter Squadron, No 56 Squadron disbanded on 22 April 2008, and the number was allocated to the AIRC21 SR OEU, operating the AWACS and Sentinel aircraft in the Intelligence and Airborne Command and Control roles.
    So, it is now my intention to build a selection of the major aircraft types operated by 56(F) Squadron, in 1/48th scale, from its inception as a RAF squadron in 1918, to disbandment in 2008.
    Of course, there are some restrictions that will apply, not least of which is availability and cost of the relevant kits, as well as time, and space in which to display the finished models! (I am considering donating the finished collection to the present Squadron, or a suitable museum, but that has yet to be decided upon!!)
    In order to present a reasonably balanced display, I have selected 10 types which are either readily available, or can be obtained as 'out of production' kits from specialist dealers, or other outlets, at realistic prices - I do not intend to have to pay 'silly money', just for the privilege of obtaining a particular kit!
    It is possible, depending on circumstances, availability, opportunity etc, that other types may be added, and, of course, some types may be deleted from the list.
    It is my aim to produce these ten models over a period of between 18 months and 2 years, give or take, in between Group Builds and other modelling, writing and painting projects, and I'll be providing a brief history of the period concerned as each model-build is posted here.
    The periods represented will be World War One and the 1920's, the 1930's, World War Two, the 1950's to 1960's, 1970's to 1980's, and finally, the 1980's until disbandment in 2008.
    The first kit (The E.E. Lightning) has already been obtained, and another type (Phantom) is almost complete, having been built some time ago, although the squadron markings need to be changed from those of 43 Squadron. It is therefore highly probable that the builds will start with the Lightning, finished as an F1A, in the striking bright red over natural metal livery of the 'Firebirds' aerobatic display team of the 1960's.
    So, the intended line-up is as follows, availability permitting:-
    SE5A
    Bristol Bulldog MkIIA
    Gloster Gladiator Mk1
    Hawker Hurricane Mk1
    Hawker Tempest MkV
    Gloster Meteor F4
    Hawker Hunter F6
    E.E. Lightning F1A
    McD.D. Phantom FGR2.
    Panavia Tornado F3.

    At least four of the above kits are out of production, although I have traced sources for those particular ones, and have already obtained one (Lightning). Some of the manufacturers chosen possibly aren't the best kits on the market, but they are good enough and, more importantly, don't cost a King's ransom!
    If one or more of those chosen should be unavailable when the time comes to obtain them, then it may well be that another type will be substituted. For example, I am aiming to use the Esci Tempest, and I also know that the Eduard kit, which itself is, I believe, based on the Esci kit, is also available, at much greater cost, but should this situation change, it may be that I will substitute a Typhoon, either the Monogram or Hasegawa kit, or perhaps even a Spitfire MkIX, even though this type was only used by the Squadron for two months.
    So, that's the plan - hopefully!
    With a bit of luck, and continued enthusiasm, plus a lot of time and patience, I hope to be able to provide a series of informative and entertaining builds over the coming months, fingers crossed!
    Thanks for looking, and I hope you'll be able to see the first build in the not too distant future.
    Terry.
     
  2. Wayne Little

    Wayne Little Well-Known Member

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    Best of luck with your project Terry!:D
     
  3. lingo

    lingo Member

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    As my dear old granny used to say "Some people are gluttons for punishment!" :oops:
    Good luck with your ambitious project. :)
     
  4. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    That's actually a pretty cool idea, good luck!
     
  5. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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    Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. Good luck!


    Wheelsup
     
  6. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Thanks for the encoureagement and good wiahes guys.
     
  7. Wurger

    Wurger Siggy Master
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    A good idea Terry...Good luck !!!
     
  8. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Thanks Wojtek.
     
  9. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    Just as an source for isnpiration old boy! :D
     

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  10. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    I say, thanks awfully old chap! Extremely useful, and has given me a kick up the jacksie to get started!
    I'll be starting soon on the Phantom, which is finished except for a few details. It just needs a couple of pieces removing, the 44 Sqn markings painted out, and the 56 Sqn decals adding, plus some small bits specific to the FG1 as opposed to the FGR2. Pics soon.
     
  11. muller

    muller Active Member

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    Looking forward to pics Terry, also looking forward to the Lightning in that scheme! 8)
     
  12. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Thanks Keith. The Lightning will more than likely be the next one I do - got the kit already!
     
  13. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    #13 Airframes, Jul 8, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2009
    So, time to get the show on the road, or the 'plane on the pan! Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.
    56 Sqn. History, Part One.
    As it happens to be more or less complete, I'm starting with the penultimate fighter used by 56 Squadron, the McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom.
    From January 1961, the Squadron had been equipped with the English Electric (later BAC) Lightning, culminating with the Lightning F6. On 22nd March 1976, a Phantom element was formed at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, and this replaced the Lightnings of 56 Squadron at Wattisham, Suffolk, on 29th June, 1976.
    These Phantoms, built to a British specification requirement at the McDonnell plant at St.Louis, (although later, sections were manufactured and assembled in Britain) in 1967 were in two distinct forms. The first, the F4K, was designed to a Royal Navy requirement, and designated in that service as the FG1, whilst the version destined for the R.A.F. was the F4M, known in British service as the FGR2. There were distinct differences between these 'British' Phantoms, and the previous 'American' models, the most obvious being the fitment of two Rolls Royce Spey engines, which neccessitated a widening of the fuselage and the air intakes, and also resulted in a distinctive 'droop' on the underside at the rear. British avionics and radar, as well as Martin Baker Mk7A ejection seats were also fitted, and, of course, there were many further modifications, which all resulted in a delay in the aircraft entering service, starting in 1968. But that part of the Phantom story is beyond the scope of this article.
    Apart from a brief re-location to Coningsby whilst some runway work was carried out, the 56 Sqn Phantoms remained at Wattisham until 1992, and the Squadron was employed as one of the front line units in the ADGB Region (Air Defence of Great Britain), operating on immediate standby, 24 hours per day, every day of the year. During this time, many interceptions of Soviet incursions into UK airspace were carried out, virtually every week, mainly against the massive Tupolev 'Bear', a task that was also undertaken by the Phantom squadrons at Coningsby, and at Leuchars, in Fife, Scotland. I was given an interesting snippet of information by one particular Phantom jockey, who told me that the contra- rotating props on the 'Bear' were so large, that their noise could actually be heard inside the cockpit of the intercepting Phantom!
    Although the Phantom was the penultimate type operated by 56 in the Fighter role, in some ways it was the last type they operated as a true Fighter Squadron. In 1992, the Squadron re-equipped with the Panavia Tornado F3 and, although retaining the 56 number, and the Squadron crest, the famous Phoenix badge which gave rise to the name 'The Firebirds', it became a 'Shadow' squadron, 56(R), or Reserve, and operated as the Operational Conversion Unit (O.C.U.) for Tornado crew advanced training, now based at Coningsby, the details of which will be presented in the build featuring the Tornado.
    The Model.
    This is the Hasegawa 1/48th scale kit of the FG1, the Royal Navy version, which I obtained when first issued, in 1986. This kit has very recently been re-released, and I can thoroughly recommend it to any Phantom fans wanting to build a 'British' Phantom. I didn't build the model until, I think, 2005, maybe 2006, and never got around to finishing it fully. This was mainly because I originally intended to place the model in a small diorama. As I had built the FG1, but wanted to finish it in a R.A.F. scheme, I was limited to two Squadrons. When the Royal Navy relinquished their 'conventional' fixed-wing aircraft, in favour of the Sea Harrier, mainly due to the decommissioning of the larger carriers, Ark Royal being the last of these, the Phantoms were handed over to the R.A.F., going to 111 and 43 Squadrons, at Leuchars.
    Consequently, I chose 43 Squadron, and finished the model in the appropriate markings. Now, mainly as a way of saving on expenditure for this series of builds, I've decided to use the model, and change it to the FGR2 variant used by 56 Squadron.
    Outwardly, there is little difference between the two types, and only small variations in the cockpit(s) fittings, and most of these can easily be modified on the model by removing some of the parts fitted, and adding some different pieces, such as antennas, and the 'blanks' for the catapult 'strop' attachment hooks. The main thing, of course, involves a change in the markings, although the overall colour scheme remains the same.
    The model is finished in the colours first adopted in the early 1980's, generally referred to as 'Air Defence Grey', and consists of the upper surfaces and outer wing panels in 'Barley Grey', with the main wings in 'Medium Sea Grey', whilst the undersurfaces were 'Light Aircraft Grey', all of which were semi-matt. This paintwork soon became somewhat grubby in some areas, and many panel lines were visible, even from a distance. When doing some work at Coningsby in the early 80's, I was a little puzzled as to the cause of a number of dark, almost black, vertical lines, or 'streaks', visible on the fuselage sides of these grey Phantoms, which I had never seen on the previous green and grey disruptive camouflage scheme. It wasn't until I saw members of the ground crews sliding down off the top of the fuselage that I realised the 'streaks' were caused by the rubber heels of the mens' shoes or boots! Some of these 'streaks' have been included on the model's paintwork.The pics show the model as it is at the moment, somewhat dusty and unfinished, and the areas that require attention. It will be finished as FGR2, XV500, coded 'J', as seen in August 1985.
    PIC 1 is a 56 Sqn aircraft at Wattisham in 1985, clearly displaying the famous red and white checks and the 'Firebird' badge on the nose. This will be added to the model from the decals I already have.
    PICS 2 and 3 are general views of the model as it is at present.
    PIC 4 The nose gear door and antenna need to be changed from the Navy version.
    PIC 5 The extra (rear) torque link for the extending nose gear leg has to be removed.
    PIC 6 The 43 Sqn black white checks need overpainting.
    PIC 7 The 43 Sqn markings, code and serial number (out of shot) will have to be painted out, and the red white checks of 56 Sqn added to the RWR pod on the top of the fin, together with the red 'J' on the rudder, and the white serial number on the rear fuselage.
    PIC 8. If possible, I want to change a couple of small details in the RSO's cockpit, and both the central canopy pillar and the windscreen have yet to be cleaned up and blended into the fuselage. The canopies and their operating rams are yet to be fitted.
    PICS 9 and 10. Two more general views. Although the drop tanks and fuselage mounted 'Skyflash' missiles were included in the kit, the AIM9L 'Sidewinders' were not, and the pair currently mounted were retrieved from a wrecked FGR2 I had converted from a Monogram kit many years ago. I have since acquired another two 'Sidewinders', from the Academy Sabre kit, which can be painted to represent the '9 Limas', and mounted on the inboard launch rails, giving a full weapons load to the former FG1, soon to be FGR2 Phantom.
    So, a slightly unusual start to a 'Squadron History' build, commencing as it does so late in the story. However, it is a case of building the models as and when they are available, and it's very likely that the next one will be the Lightning F1A, the first of the type used by the Squadron. However, when all the models have been completed, I will present a complete, but brief, potted history and portfolio.
    Thnaks for looking, and I hope you like what you see so far.
    Terry.
     

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  14. Heinz

    Heinz Active Member

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    Great stuff Terry :)
     
  15. Catch22

    Catch22 Well-Known Member

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    Very nice Terry!
     
  16. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Good God man, the font wheel alone looks awesome!
     
  17. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Thanks very much indeed guys!
     
  18. Vic Balshaw

    Vic Balshaw Well-Known Member

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    A man after my own heart Terry. I stumbled on you article while looking for pictures of 56 Squadron Tornadoes. You are setting out on a path that I have been following for about 5 years now. I chose 56 Squadron as my theme because of my association with then during my RAF career. My first posting was to RAF Wattisham where 56 were just converting to the Lightning F1A. I was also lucky to still be there when they were the "Firebirds" display team. With Lightning's, that was really something.
    As for the modelling of the squadron aircraft, I currently have 22 completed in 1:48 scale, these range from the initial SE5A to the impressive Lightning F6. In construction are 2 Phantoms (one for the Alcock and Brown commemorative flight cross the Atlantic in 1996) and 2 Tornados. Most of the kits constructed have been injection mould, but for many of the earlier types as well as the Swift F1 I had to resort to vacform.
    In my collection I have also tried where possible to construct the varying Mk's of aircraft, i.e. Hunter F5 and F6 and also have added a know target towing Canberra which the squadron housed during its time at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus. Another area where I was again associated with 56.
    Anyway Terry, good luck with your quest and I hope you get as much fun out of it as I am.
    Vic Balshaw
     
  19. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    You forgot the pics Vic! Where's the pics of the above models!? :lol: I bet that when Terry get back to you, there'll be a certain poor wee lad that'll get the blame....
    I'm doing the No. 74 Squadron myself (working on their F.6 Hunter) and a few of the No. 111 Squadron, which Terry tricked me into doing....

    Welcome to the family Vic! Looking forward to see more from you, both stories and pics....
     
  20. Vic Balshaw

    Vic Balshaw Well-Known Member

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    That’s got me going, I had to get the models out and dusted down, pics now taken, six in all, but all are over 2Mb, and I've no idea how to reduce the size and don't want to overload the system. Anybody have any suggestions, all files are JPG in Adobe Photoshop. I'm not all that well up on computer literacy, modelling and cooking being my thing.

    :p111 Sdn was at Wattisham at the same time as 56, both just converting to the Lightning. 111 at the time were still revelling in the glory of having been the "Black Arrows" display team with Hunters. The squadron actually hung onto a couple of the Hunters in the all black livery.
     
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