We are pleased to bring you the latest edition of our Workbench blog, with all the news, updates and modelling exclusives from the fascinating world of Airfix.
After the frenetic activity of range launch week, it can be quite therapeutic to get back to the comfort zone of a standard edition of Workbench, even though we have a busy schedule of content to get through over the coming months. With new tooling projects, kits benefiting from the addition of new parts and a host of re-issued models featuring new schemes and box artwork to get through, it’s already clear that every edition is going to be packed full of exclusives, but that’s just the way our readers like it. There are also lots of plans afoot at Airfix HQ for modellers and blog regulars alike and we are very much looking forward to bringing you all these details as soon as we are in a position to do so – these are exciting times!
For this first standard edition of Workbench for 2021, we start with a real new tooling bang, as we take a detailed look at one of the new projects announced with the launch of the 2021 model range, the hugely popular de Havilland Chipmunk T.10. This latest addition to our 1/48th scale kit range caught many people off guard when it took its place as one of the headline releases in the new range, but from the order numbers which have come flooding in over the past two weeks, we are already fully aware of how popular this famous training aeroplane is with modellers. Appearing in a Workbench blog for the very first time, we have been lucky enough to speak with the designer responsible for this project and have been given an exclusive selection of development images to share with our readers. Matt has also kindly given us an insight into the project and allowed us to ask one or two questions on behalf of our readers, as we find out how he went about incorporating this extremely famous aeroplane into the Airfix kit range. Proudly taking its place as our first major subject of the new year, strap yourself in for a first flight with the new Airfix de Havilland Chipmunk T.10.
There can be absolutely no doubting the aviation pedigree of the de Havilland Tiger Moth and just as the de Havilland designers had to come up with a replacement for this aviation classic back in the 1940s, so did one of our product designers, when he took on a similar task in a scale modelling sense
Now already a hugely popular model in the Airfix 1/48th scale kit range, it could be argued that the de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane is perhaps the most famous training aeroplane type in the world, familiar to many millions of people and responsible for training many tens of thousands of pilots all over the world. An absolutely crucial component in the Allied wartime elementary flying training of so many young men destined to contest the war in the air during WWII and the men and women who ferried aircraft between factories and active stations during the Second World War, the Tiger Moth may not have sported any guns or bombs (we will overlook Operation Banquet Light in 1940), but it was still very much a war winner nonetheless.
After becoming such a famous aircraft the world over and generally regarded as being exceptional in the role for which it was intended, it must have been quite a headache for various former Allied air forces, as the aviation world headed towards the jet age and they were faced with accepting the fact that they were in need of a modern replacement for the venerable old Tiger Moth. How do you replace an aviation classic of such magnitude? With another classic, of course! To that end, the de Havilland Aircraft Company were ideally placed to begin work on developing the new aircraft, but as they were heavily engaged in producing new jet powered aircraft designs in the UK, this new trainer was not going to be a Hatfield designed aircraft.
With huge pressure being placed on de Havilland’s manufacturing capacity during the final few years of the Second World War and with a desire to support increasing numbers of Allied airmen being trained across the Atlantic and away from the rigors of war, de Havilland established an overseas subsidiary in Canada, the de Havilland Aircraft Company of Canada. Following the end of WWII, the company began design work on a new aircraft, one intended as a replacement for the ageing Tiger Moths still in RCAF service. A tandem two seat monoplane, the new trainer incorporated many advances over its predecessor, but shared many of its design philosophies, in that it was intended to be both simple to maintain and relatively forgiving to fly – these aircraft needed to be in the air, earning their keep.
Having the distinction of being the first aircraft type designed and built by de Havilland Canada, the first Chipmunk took to the skies in May 1946 and almost immediately gained interest from the military. By April 1948, the Royal Canadian Air Force had taken delivery of their first Chipmunk, but they were not the only ones admiring the qualities of this extremely capable aeroplane. The vast majority of the 1,283 de Havilland Chipmunks built would be manufactured under licence in the UK, in factories at Hatfield and Chester, with around 735 of these going on to see service with the Royal Air Force, again as the direct replacement for the venerable old Tiger Moth. In RAF service, the British built machines were known as the de Havilland Chipmunk Mk.10 and they would go on to provide basic flight training support for many thousands of future military aviators, in addition to providing air experience opportunities for many more as part of the University Air Squadron organisation.
An appealing 3d rendered image produced from the CAD files during the design of the new de Havilland Chipmunk T.10, giving us all an idea of what we have to look forward to a little later in the year
Despite being a Canadian design, the Chipmunk has become one of the most recognisable Royal Air Force aircraft of the post war era and has enjoyed a military career which began in the early 1950s and continues to this day. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight still operate two Chipmunks regularly, providing currency training for aircrew assigned to fly the unit’s historic ‘taildraggers’ and also to allow crews to reconnoitre new display venues in advance of their show appearance. In other situations, the aircraft can be used to deliver replacement aircrew or spare parts, whilst the Flight’s Spitfires and Hurricanes are out on display duties during the Airshow season. These two Chipmunks have ensured that the aircraft must now be regarded as one of the longest serving types in Royal Air Force History.
With such an impressive military pedigree as this, it is also interesting to note that the Chipmunk has gone on to become one of the most popular aircraft types on the civilian aviation scene and it is estimated that well over 300 aircraft are still in airworthy condition worldwide. Sometimes unfairly described as ‘The poor man’s Spitfire’, the Chipmunk surely now has to be regarded as a historic aircraft in its own right and one which continues to underline the effectiveness of its design. With aircraft formerly serving with the RAF, Army Air Corps, Royal Navy and the mount of several RAF display teams, there is no shortage of attractive schemes available for you to present your Chipmunk in if you are lucky enough to own one, not to mention the fact that the aircraft would also be operated by several overseas air forces all over the world.
As a training aeroplane, it is obvious that more people would have had personal experiences with the de Havilland Chipmunk as opposed to perhaps the more glamourous front line aircraft types which are so popular with enthusiasts. Indeed, the greatly increased possibility of actually flying in one of these equally historic aeroplanes has ensured that the Chipmunk is held in great affection by owners and enthusiasts alike and as we have already discussed, is an aircraft type which is not out of the reach of prospective pilot/owners. Significantly, the Chipmunk is still fulfilling the aviation role for which it was originally designed when making its first flight 74 years ago, training new pilots and allowing people to experience the thrill of flying for the first time.
Another 3d rendered image of the new 1/48th scale Chipmunk tooling, which clearly shows why this pretty little training aircraft is going to be a popular addition to the Airfix model range
With aviation credentials such as these, surely the task of producing a scale model kit representation of this magnificent aeroplane is enough to daunt even our most experienced product designer, knowing that many thousands of modellers are going to be scrutinizing his work in the years to come. In a strange scale model design sort of way, he would be doing in modelling terms what the de Havilland Company of Canada had done back in the 1940s, as his new Chipmunk tooling project would be the follow up to our successful 1/48th scale Tiger Moth tooling of 2019. Add to this the fact that this coming May will mark the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the de Havilland Chipmunk and it was clear that Senior Product Designer Matt W had a significant new model project on his hands.
Over the course of the past five and a half years producing the Workbench blog, we have been fortunate enough to feature Matt’s design talents on a number of review features in previous blogs and he is always really generous in giving up his time to discuss some of the finer points of his highly specialised work. Although we don’t intend to cover exactly the same areas Matt has already covered for us, in these rather unusual times, we asked a few questions we thought Workbench readers might ask if they were given the opportunity to quiz Matt directly, as well as asking one or two specific Chipmunk related questions. We are also delighted to say that Matt took time out from working on his current design project to supply us with an exclusive series of images to illustrate this feature. Let’s now spend a little time with Matt and his Chipmunk.
The obvious first question to ask one of our designers at the start of any newly announced tooling project is “When did you start work on the Chipmunk and how was the job allocated?”
You might think that this answer would be pretty similar in the majority of cases when discussing new tooling projects with one of our designers, however, that doesn’t necessarily appear to always be the case. Anyway, as far as the modelling enthusiasts is concerned, we are always interested to learn such facts. Matt told us how he took on the 1/48th scale Chipmunk in October 2019 and how sometimes, seniority and experience can influence the allocation of various projects within the team. As an extremely close knit team, younger designers are always encouraged to push themselves when it comes to learning new skills and taking on challenging projects, however, they can always count on the support of more senior designers at any stage of any project. Having said that, there are definitely some occasions when greater experience means certain projects have to be placed with more senior designers. This could be for reasons of design complexity, or for the simple fact that they are working to a tight deadline. When costing a new tooling project, many factors have to be taken into account before it can be deemed viable, which has to include a designers salary. Sometimes, the certainty that a project will be completed on time can make the difference between a project being signed off, or not. In such cases, a senior designer will usually take on the project.
The result of our scan trip to Vintage Fabrics at Audley End, but just the start of our work in bringing the Chipmunk into the Airfix model kit range
Specifically talking Chipmunk, Matt started work on the project by building an information base, looking at what research the company already had in our extensive archives and scouring the internet for any additional books, plans and information he felt he was going to need. Completely immersing himself in the project, Matt also worked closely with the Lead Researcher to find where preserved examples of the aircraft were available for them inspect and potentially secure for scanning purposes. This is not as straight forward as it sounds, because the team will have already discussed what they wanted to achieve with the tooling and which variants of the aircraft they intended to model. All these specifics would have to be incorporated in the subject aircraft to be scanned, but they also had to be aware of any non-standard modifications a particular aircraft may exhibit, any damage which had been repaired and generally anything on the aircraft which would not have appeared on the aircraft for the time period the team were intending to model. Even if the aircraft to be scanned does exhibit some of these features, as long as the designer is aware of it, he can account for this during the design process.
For the new de Havilland Chipmunk T.10 project, Matt and the team were fortunate enough to have access to a machine which was more than suitable as a scan subject and we were once again incredibly grateful to Clive Denney and the support of his Vintage Fabrics business. Heading for their facility at Audley End, near Saffron Walden in Essex, de Havilland Chipmunk T.10 WB585 had been specially positioned within the hangar to allow a detailed LIDAR scan to be completed, something when once cleaned up and sent to Matt in a format he could use, would form the basis of this interesting new project. It would be used alongside all the other research materials Matt had amassed in preparation for taking on the famous Chipmunk.
“Have the pandemic restrictions had an impact on the way you work and indeed, on the timescales associated with new tooling projects?”
Most of us would assume that just like every other business around the world, Airfix and specifically the design of new model tooling projects, would have been adversely affected by the different way we have all been required to go about our lives over the past year or so, something which seems likely to continue into the coming year. Matt told us that they have clearly had to go about things in a slightly different way, but from a design and team dynamics perspective, there have not really been any issues and in some areas, have actually made them more effective. We all know that the Airfix design team possess a unique set of skills and abilities which are not shared by any other people outside of the business and whilst this close knit group meet regularly to discuss projects, seek advice and to share information, the actual design work itself is quite a solitary process and will see each designer spending many hours ‘in the zone’, just them and their computer. With that in mind, it didn’t really matter if their work computer was situated in the office, or at home and with the availability of accessible and easy to use on-line meeting tools, staying in contact with the rest of the team has been absolutely no problem. Holding design update meetings as regularly and effectively as required, everything has carried on more or less as normal.
Another powerful software tool available to our product designers is the ability to produce these attractive computer rendered 3D images of the new model, images which often appear in the Airfix catalogue at the start of the year and on our stand at the annual Scale Modelworld show. They help to give an idea of what new models still in development might look like once they are released and certainly highlight the impressive levels of detail the designer has captured
Working remotely has actually brought about some beneficial changes to the way the team works, as it has probably resulted in a more formal structure to the meetings, giving each member of the team the opportunity to discuss and record the status of their individual projects and everyone able to see exactly where their colleagues are with regard to existing projects. As a senior designer, Matt has also found the changes really positive when it comes to supporting less experienced members of the team if they require advice, or just simply giving them a one-to-one opportunity to talk about anything that may be on their mind. Ultimately, from Matt’s perspective, he doesn’t think the changes have been detrimental to the design team at all.
“How different is it working on a famous training aircraft, as opposed to something like a Spitfire or Mustang?”
From the perspective of wanting to produce the most accurate representation of the subject aircraft you are working on and continuing to develop your skills, Matt told us that there is absolutely no difference whether your aircraft is a trainer or a famous WWII fighter, both are equally rewarding. Clearly, you could argue that more people will be familiar with the Spitfire than they would with a de Havilland Chipmunk, but it would be equally true to say that more people have been close to, or flown in a Chipmunk than they would have a Spitfire. This brings its own pressures for a designer taking on such a project, as he knows that more people will have a personal connection with the Chipmunk that they would a WWII fighter and he will have to prepare himself for plenty of modeller feedback once the kit is unleashed on the modelling world. Importantly, as more people will have experienced the delights of the de Havilland Chipmunk, this new kit could actually prove to be a more popular subject than many other kits in the range.
Even though Matt knew his Chipmunk design work would not require him to incorporate guns or bombs into the tooling, he also knew that there would be plenty of opportunities to add real character and detail into the new kit, details which would be familiar to a great many people. The cockpit was an area of the design where Matt knew he wanted to pay particular attention to, incorporating plenty of the fine detail into the new kit, so that anyone who had ever flown in a Chipmunk would find this detail reassuringly familiar. It could be argued that most people would probably be more familiar with the rear seat of the aircraft, as their time in the Chippie was spent undergoing flight training or enjoying an air experience flight, but as the Chipmunk also has the rather unfairly title as the ‘Poor man’s Spitfire’, this also suggests the aircraft is popular with private individuals looking to own a former military aircraft, so the ‘front office’ will need to be similarly detailed.
The result of many hours of painstaking work, this impressive image shows some of the detail which Matt has incorporated into his latest design, details which will be extremely familiar to anyone who has spent time in the company of a de Havilland Chipmunk
With the Chipmunk featuring a rather distinctive ‘fixed’ main undercarriage, Matt knew that this was one area of the design work where things would be a little less complicated than on other projects and therefore would save him a little time. He also knew that there were plenty of other areas where he intended devoting a little extra time, to ensure as much details as possible could be replicated. Of particular interest to him was the de Havilland Gipsy Major engine and the ability to allow the modeller to build their kit with the engine cowling panels displayed in the open position, revealing the engine detail in all its glory. Another significant area of the Chipmunk’s design where Matt was able to devote more time was the representation of the fabric covered wings and how they contrasted with the rivetted metal leading edge sections. Hopefully, this is another feature of the new model’s design he hopes will appeal to the modeller, once the Chipmunk is released.
“Did you encounter any particular challenges whilst designing the new Chipmunk?”
Although Matt would definitely not tell you so himself, he is our most experienced product designer and whilst he is always looking to further enhance his already impressive design CV, there will be few occasions when he his daunted by anything he is asked to work on. He told us that he was really looking forward to working on the Chipmunk, but one thing which became apparent to him quite early in the information gathering phase of the project is that there is not much technical literature available for the Chipmunk, which certainly made periods of the design work a little more challenging. Quite a number of modifications were incorporated into the design of the aircraft throughout its service life, with late model Chipmunks displaying quite a number of differences from earlier aircraft. The challenge for Matt was trying to work out when all these changes were applied to the aircraft and whether they would need to feature on the variants of the Chipmunk kit he was working on.
It is interesting for us modelling enthusiasts to learn that whilst the Chipmunk project is breaking news as far as we are concerned, Matt has spent over a year working on this new model and has already moved onto a new project, one which for the time being must remain in the Top Secret area of the Airfix office.
“Clearly you will be proud of every Airfix kit you were involved in designing, but is there anything in the new Chipmunk’s design which you are particularly pleased with?”
This seemed to be quite an easy question for Matt to answer, as he quickly responded with the word – “Engine!” He was really pleased with how much detail he was able to incorporate not only into the design of the de Havilland Gipsy Major engine parts themselves, but also how everything around the engine supported the inclusion of impressive detail. From the modellers perspective, the ability to construct the kit with engine access panels open to reveal all this detail will be a real benefit and an appealing option which will hopefully see many deciding to go down this route.
This ‘Scan Detail Positioning’ image allows us to see all the detail areas of the Chipmunk’s wing Matt has plotted for his future design attentions
The image which shows the Chipmunk wing with a series of purple blocked protrusions on it is described as ‘Scan Detail Positioning’ and is just another extension of the process described above. This time, as well as showing the frame section overlay lines on the scanned wing section, this image shows where the designer is looking to clarify the scanned data information, tracing over the scan to plot where all the surface detail should be positioned. The unusual raised areas you can see on the screen grab mark all the positions of wing surface detail which the designer will have to work on when accurately representing things like fuel filler caps, bolts, rivets and hatches. This important work reassures him of accurate positioning, with all this information imported into the cad design software, where he can begin working on individual components. Highlighting why the design of a new model tooling can take so long, it is interesting to note that each and every one of the purple boxes and tubes you can see on the image are individual items of detail which will require the design engineers attention at some point in the future.
The images above show some of the various stages of the wing’s design and how Matt took the basic shape and gradually built up the surface detail in stages. If you refer back to the ‘Scan Detail Positioning’ image and all those purple boxes, you can begin to see how Matt used all those individual positioning plots to locate the areas which were going to require further attention and how they are going to look on the finished model. It is still important to stress that these are all development images, but this Chipmunk wing design walk-through shows how Matt expertly replicated the rib structure and fabric covering surface detail, right through to the final image, where all the wing detail has been added. Knowing that each detail had to be designed separately, it is easy to see why our product designers become so familiar with the subjects they have worked on and how they must become quite attached to them.
The de Havilland Chipmunk is a magnificent little aeroplane and one which is definitely worthy of being inducted into the Airfix model kit hall of fame. With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the prototype and the fact that the aircraft was used by the RAF, Royal Navy and Army Air Corps and is still being used by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the availability of attractive scheme options for the aircraft is almost endless, not to mention the people who have gone on to operate the aircraft in a civilian capacity. We really hope that modellers are looking forward to spending a little quality workbench time with our 1/48th scale Chipmunk T.10 once it is released and are especially looking forward to seeing all the colourful and imaginative ways in which you will be finishing your model builds.