1:72 Blackburn B.87 "Barghest" F(AW).3; “WZ507/A” of the Royal Air Force 19 Squadron; Leconfield, Yorkshire (Great Britain), summer 1959 (Whif/Kitbashing)
+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Britain identified a threat posed by the jet-powered strategic bomber and atomic weaponry and thus placed a great emphasis on developing aerial supremacy through continuing to advance its fighter technology, even following the end of conflict. Blackburn Aircraft responded to a 1947 Air Ministry requirement for a high-performance night fighter under Air Ministry specification F.44/46. The specification called for a two-seat night fighter that would intercept enemy aircraft at heights of up to at least 40,000 feet. It would also have to reach a maximum speed of no less than 525 kn at this height, be able to perform rapid ascents and attain an altitude of 45,000 feet within ten minutes of engine ignition.
Additional criteria given in the requirement included a minimum flight endurance of two hours, a takeoff distance of 1,500 yards, structural strength to support up to 4g manoeuvers at high speed and for the aircraft to incorporate airborne interception radar, multi-channel VHF radio and various navigational aids. The aircraft would also be required to be economical to produce, at a rate of ten per month for an estimated total of 150 aircraft.
Blackburn produced several design proposals in the hope of satisfying the requirement. B.47, drawn up in 1946, was essentially a two-seat Meteor with slightly swept wings. A similar design was also offered to the Royal Navy as the B.49. The later-issued B.76 and B.77 of early 1947 had adopted many of the features that would be distinctive of the later Barghest, including the large, swept wings and the engine nacelles moved to the wing roots, integrated into the fuselage. The two projects differed primarily in role: P.76 was a single-seat day fighter with a V-tail, while P.77 was a two-seat night fighter with a radar and a mid-mounted tail plane.
The RAF requirements were subject to some changes, mainly in regards to radar equipment and armaments. Blackburn also initiated some changes, as further research was conducted into the aerodynamic properties of the new swept wings and tail surfaces. For propulsion, the new Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine was chosen and the airframe adapted accordingly.
On 13 April 1949 the Ministry of Supply issued instructions to three aircraft manufacturers, Blackburn, Gloster and de Havilland, to each construct four airworthy prototypes of their competing designs to meet the requirement, as well as one airframe each for structural testing. These prototype aircraft were the Gloster GA.5, designed by Richard Walker, the de Havilland DH.110, which held the advantage of also being under consideration for the Royal Navy (and became the Sea Vixen), and the Blackburn B.87, which was a refined B.77 with a slimmed-down fuselage and a swept T-tail.
The development of all of these designs was considerably delayed through political cost-cutting measures, the number of prototypes being trimmed down to an unworkable level of two each before the decision was entirely reversed! The B.87 was soon christened Barghest and first prototype was structurally completed in 1951. Following a month of ground testing the first prototype conducted its first flight on 26 November 1951 and the second prototype followed in February 1952 (and was in 1953 used for aerodynamic tests that led to the improved Mk. 3, see below). The third prototype, and the first to be fitted with operational equipment including radar and weapons, first flew on 7 March 1953. The fourth airframe was passed to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) in August 1953 for trials.
The original Barghest all-weather fighter was equipped with a British AI.17 radar and powered by two Sapphire Sa.5 engines without afterburner, delivering 6,500 lbf (28.91 kN) thrust each. The aircraft did not have built-in weapons, but could carry various weapon packages in a spacious, ventral weapon bay. Options included a tray with four 30 mm ADEN cannon, three retractable pods with a total of 70 unguided Microcell 2 in (51mm) missiles, or a recoilless 4.5 in gun with 7 rounds in a drum magazine, even though this huge weapon, intended against incoming bomber formations at high altitude, never made it beyond the prototype stage and ground tests. Furthermore, four underwing hardpoints could carry drop tanks (on the inner pair of pylons only), bombs or unguided SNEB rocket pods for a total load of 4.000 lb (1.814 kg).
The official production order for the Barghest was issued in mid-1953, together with the Gloster GA.5, which became the Javelin – an unusual decision, but the need for an operational all-weather fighter was so dire that two types were procured at the same time in order to fill the defense gaps as quickly as possible and to have a fall back option at hand immediately. While some delays were incurred, the Barghest's status as a "super priority" for production helped to minimize the time involved in producing each aircraft. Production was assisted by a large order placed by the United States Air Force, purchasing aircraft for the RAF as part of the Mutual Defense Aid Program.
On 22 July 1954 the first production aircraft took flight at Leeds, and the Barghest F(AW).1 entered service with the RAF in 1956 with 46 Squadron based at RAF Odiham, England. The Barghests were immediately put to use in an intensive flying program, to rapidly familiarize crews with the type. In order to assist conversion training, twelve machines from the initial production batch were converted into dual control trainers. They lacked the radar equipment and were designated T.2.
The introduction of the Barghest allowed the RAF to expand its night-fighter activity considerably. During RAF trials, the type proved readily capable of intercepting jet bombers such as the English Electric Canberra and modern jet fighters, over a hundred miles out to sea, and the Barghest turned out to be quite an agile aircraft with good flying characteristics, despite its size. By the end of July 1959, all remaining Meteor squadrons had been converted to the Barghest and the Javelin.
After an initial production batch of 48 F(AW).1 fighters and a dozen T.2 trainers, the upgraded F(AW).3 was introduced in October 1956, which featured several changes and improvements. The biggest external change was the introduction of a modified wing with a dog tooth (tested on the 2nd prototype from 1953 onwards), which enhanced airflow and handling at high speed. Furthermore, the tailplane was modified so that either the rudders could be operated at slow speed or, alternatively, the whole stabilizer at high speed. A bulbous aerodynamic fairing on the fin’s top held the more complicated mechanism.
The Barghest F(AW).3 was furthermore equipped with a more capable AI.22 radar (actually a U.S.-made Westinghouse AN/APQ-43 radar) and it was able to carry up to four IR-guided Firestreak AAMs on pylons under the wings, what significantly improved the aircraft's interceptor capabilities. The aircraft now featured a total of six hardpoints, even though the new, outermost pylons could only carry a single Firestreak missile each. The ventral weapon bay was retained, but, typically, only the pack of four Aden cannon was carried.
In order to cope with a higher all-up weight and improve overall performance, the F(AW).3 was powered by Sapphire Sa.6 engines, which delivered 23% more thrust and were recognizable by enlarged air intakes of oval shape instead of the original, circular orifices. Stronger engines with afterburners could not be mounted, though – their addition would have required a severe structural change to the aircraft’s rear fuselage, and this lack of development potential eventually favored the Barghest’s rival, the Gloster Javelin.
Beyond newly produced F(AW).3 airframes, most F(AW).1s were eventually upgraded to this standard, and a further twelve F(AW).1s were modified into trainers. All T.2 aircraft received the wing and tail upgrade, but retained the weaker Sapphire Sa.5s, and their designation was eventually changed into T.4.
Due to its higher development potential, the Gloster Javelin overshadowed the Barghest during its relatively short career. The last Barghest fighter was already withdrawn from service in 1966, with a total of 125 airframes having been produced, while the Javelin, produced in more than 420 units, kept on serving until 1968. Both types were replaced by the Mach 2-capable BAC Lightning interceptor.
However, the experience gathered from the Barghest's early development was successfully used by Blackburn during the Buccaneer development process for the Royal Navy in the mid-Fifties.
Length: 54 ft in (16,49 m)
Wingspan: 40 ft 7 in (12.38 m)
Wing area: 514.7 ft² (47.82 m²)
Height: 14 ft 9 in (4,50 m)
Empty weight: 19,295 lb (8,760 kg)
Gross weight: 29,017 lb (13,174 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 34,257 lb (15,553 kg)
2× Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire Sa.6 engines with 8,000 lbf (35.6 kN) thrust each
Maximum speed: 606 kn (697 mph; 1,122 km/h) at sea level
Range: 954 mi (1,530 km)
Service ceiling: 52,800 ft (15,865 m)
Rate of climb: 7,000 ft/min (35.6 m/s)
Wing loading: 66 lb/ft² (325 kg/m²)
Ventral weapon bay, typically carrying 4× 30 mm (0.79 in) ADEN revolver cannon with 180 RPG;
alternatively, three retractable packs with a total of 70 unguided Microcell 2 in (51mm) missiles
could be carried;
Six underwing hardpoints (The outer pair of pylons could only carry Firestreak AAMs) for a total
ordnance of 4.000 lb (1.814 kg), including up to 4× Firestreak IR-guided AAMs, drop tanks on the
inner pair of pylons, or unguided bombs and SNEB missile pods.
The kit and its assembly:
This kitbash model originally started as an early Fifties all-weather fighter for the Royal Navy, and the idea was a Gloster Meteor night fighter fuselage mated with the engines and swept wings from a Blackburn Buccaneer. However, things change and evolve as ideas turn into hardware (for another submission to the 2018 “RAF Centenary” Group Build at whatifmodelers.com), and so this project gradually transformed into an all-weather fighter for the Royal Air Force, as a rival to the Gloster Javelin, and some other fundamental changes to the original plan as things evolved on the work bench.
Work started with a Matchbox Gloster Meteor, from which the fuselage (incl. the NF.14 cockpit with its bubble canopy) and tail cone (w/o fin, though) were taken OOB. Then a Matchbox Buccaneer donated its nose cone and the engine pods, together with the inner wing sections. An initial attempt to use the Buccaneer’s fin and stabilizer was made, but it did not work at all (looked horrible and totally unbalanced!). Instead, I used a leftover fin from a Revell 1:200 Concorde because of its retro shape and depth, and waited for the stabilizers until the wings were mounted, so that size, position and proportions would become clearer.
The nose cone had to be squashed, because its OOB oval diameter would not go onto the circular Meteor front end without problems and major PSR. With some force from a vice and internal stabilization through 2C putty the shape could be successfully modified, though, and blended into the fuselage contours. Looks pretty good and fast!
Once the engine nacelles were in place, I initially tried the Buccaneer’s OOB outer wings, but I was not really happy with the look. Their shape did not look “right”, they were a bit too large and just very Buccaneer-esque. After a donor bank safari I found a leftover sprue with wings and stabilizers from a Matchbox Hawker Hunter, and after some measurements and trials I found that they could be quite easily adapted to the Buccaneer’s inner wing stubs, even though this called for more serious surgery and PSR work. The latter was also necessary in order to blend the engine nacelles into the slender Meteor fuselage – messy, but feasible.
Alas, one challenge leads to the next one: Once in place, the massive engines created a ventral gap, due to the Meteor’s slender tail section. This was eventually filled with the Matchbox Buccaneer’s extra fuel bomb bay door, simply cut away from the kit, trimmed down and transplanted between the engine nacelles. As a side benefit, its bulged shape would now simulate a fairing for a ventral gun pack, somewhat similar to the CF-100’s arrangement. More PSR ensued, though, and between and around the jet exhausts the fuselage had to be fully re-sculpted.
The stabilizers also caused some headaches. With the new Hunter swept wings tips, I also needed new, matching stabilizers. I eventually used the Hunter stabilizers from the surplus Matchbox kit sprue. At first I tried to mate them with a shortened central fairing from the Buccaneer, but this did work even less than the whole Bucc tail, and so I scratched a more slender central fairing for the T-tail on top of the Concorde fin from a piece of sprue. Even though the Hunter stabilizers turned out to look a bit diminutive, I stuck with them since they complement the wing shape so well.
The benefit of the Buccaneer engine nacelles is that they come with proper landing gear wells, so that only the landing gear had to be improvises and adapted to the new aircraft and its proportions. I wanted to use the Meteor landing gear, but this turned out to be much too short! So I replaced the front wheel with a respective part from a Matchbox Buccaneer. The main wheels from the Meteor kit were retained, but they had to be extended - with a 5mm styrene tube “plug”, which is, thankfully, well hidden behind the covers.
Others small changes/additions are ejection seats in the cockpit instead of the Meteor bucket seats, the jet exhausts were drilled open and an interior was added, and some antennae were placed on the aircraft’s hull.
The ordnance was to reflect a typical late Fifties RAF fighter, and so the Barghest received a pair of drop tanks (from a Heller SEPECAT Jaguar, with simplified fins) and a pair of Firestreak AAMs (from a Matchbox BAC Lightning) on a pair of launch rails from an Academy MiG-23.
Colors and markings:
As per usual, I rather keep complicated whiffs visually simple, so I used the standard RAF scheme of Dark Green/Dark Sea Grey/Light Aircraft Grey on the Barghest, with the Buccaneer’s typical pattern as benchmark. Humbrol enamels (163, 164 and 166) were used for basic painting.
The cockpit interior became Tar Black (Revell 06), while the landing gear and its respective wells were painted in Aluminum (Humbrol 56). The kit received a light black ink washing and mild post-shading – more for a dramatic than a weathering effect, since RAF machines in the Fifties looked very tidy and clean.
The drop tanks received camouflage and the Firestreaks became white, while their clear seeker cones were painted with a mix of silver and translucent blue. The IR sensors were created with thin decal stripes.
The decals come primarily from an Xtradecal BAC Lightning sheet (roundels and 19 Sq. markings – the squadron badges are unfortunately quite large, since they belong to a NMF aircraft), most stencils and the tactical code come from an Airfix Venom trainer and an Italeri Tornado.
Finally, the kit was sealed with a matt acrylic varnish, a mix of matt and little semi-gloss Italeri varnish, for a sheen finish.
A true kitbashing, made from many well-known RAF ingredients and a disturbing look between odd and familiar! A Buccaneer? No, it’s too scrawny. A Javelin? No, it does not have delta wings, and it’s got a tail sting. A de-navalized Sea Vixen? Well, no twin tail, and anything else does not match either... Despite the puzzling details (or because of them?), the Barghest looks disturbingly British and Fifties, as if it had been created from a profound RAF DNA pool – and it actually is! And with lots of putty. ;-)