Few contemporary aircraft could claim to have outshone the Spitfire, but such was briefly the case with the Whirlwind, "Teddy" Petter's striking twin-engined cannon fighter - at least at low altitudes. I've read various accounts of how it acquired its nickname, "Crikey" (after the Shell petrol adverts of the 1930s), one being that it was the Whirlwind that stole the show during a demonstration of the latest RAF fighters, leaving the Spitfire as an almost-ran.
Be that as it may, while the Spitfire went on to achieve immortality, the Whirlwind faded into obscurity despite showing so much early promise. While the compact and aerodynamically clean fighter proved popular with its pilots and a soon gained reputation for great handling, it was doomed from the start through being designed around a pair of Rolls Royce Peregrine engines. The Peregrine was smaller and lighter than the Merlin and, crucially, a lot less powerful. As priority rapidly switched to the Merlin, the Whirlwind was left with a pair of engines that were often unreliable and with no prospect of being developed further by Rolls Royce.
As a final nail in the proverbial coffin, being tailored to fit the Peregrine, the Whirlwind couldn't simply be adapted to use the larger and heavier Merlin without lengthy redesign and an inevitable spiral of size and weight increases. Add to that the fact that Westland (a relatively small company) had limited production capacity and the Whirlwind already used more raw materials in its construction than its rivals, and the aircraft was destined to become one of the RAF's great "What-Ifs", with only 116 ever built.
Despite its short career and limited numbers, the Whirlwind gave a very good account of itself in combat, flying low-level cross-Channel sorties into occupied France and proving a match for the Bf 109s and Fw 190s it encountered. It was later adapted to carry 250lb and 500lb bombs, and "Whirlibombers" carried out highly successful strikes against enemy shipping and ground targets, the final missions being at the end of 1943.
Sadly, not a single Whirlwind survives today, the sole remaining aircraft being scrapped in 1947 despite having been retained by Westland as a company hack. However, the possibility remains of one day seeing a new example of the Whirlwind, because The Whirlwind Project has the ambitious goal of building a non-airworthy replica: https://www.whirlwindfighterproject.co.uk/
This isn't the first time Special Hobby have modelled the Whirlwind, because they produced the excellent and sadly-missed 1:48 Classic Airframes kit many years ago, with help provided by Roy Sutherland who'd previously released the Copper Details vacuform kit.
Their familiarity with the subject places Special Hobby ideally to tackle the aircraft afresh in 1:32 as what is arguably their most ambitious release to date. The Whirlwind arrives in a large and attractive top-opening box, with all the runners and accessories neatly bagged for protection in transit. All the styrene parts are packed together in a single bag, but the clear runner also has its own bag to prevent scratches.
The kit comprises:
220 x grey styrene parts (plus 52 spare)
12 x clear styrene parts (plus 3 unused)
Decals for 4 x colour schemes
First impressions are very positive. There's a touch of flash here and there (oddly, its particularly noticeable on the spinners in the sample kit), and ejection pin marks seem to have been kept pretty much out of harm's way in the cockpit and wheel wells, but there are a few raised ones to deal with on smaller parts which will need cleaning up quickly to ensure a correct fit.
One point I've found that will definitely require some work to remedy is a sink mark each side of the vertical tail along the line of the rudder where the plastic's thicker. Apart from this, clean-up and preparation should be very straightforward for modellers with a little experience.
Two things are instantly apparent when you begin to examine the parts; firstly, this is going to be a pretty big finished model, because the slender wings seem to go on forever(!) and, secondly, that the surface finish is really excellent. Special Hobby have used precisely engraved panel lines and beautifully light embossed rivets, with fasteners represented a little bit more strongly. The result should look superb under a coat of paint - in fact, I'd say there's a chance of losing the rivet detail on the fuselage entirely if you're too heavy handed with the painting.
A dry fit of the main parts is very encouraging. The fuselage halves line up perfectly, as do the wings. The only point to watch out for is that there are very few locating pins, so there's scope for the parts to flex a bit. This is particularly true on the fuselage, where you might want to add some styrene tabs to support the seam. If you're careful, though, you should be able to achieve an almost filler-free joint. The same holds true for the cowlings; the fit is very good, but there aren't many locating pins.
The wing is moulded full-span for both the top and bottom halves, which is a real blessing, because it would have otherwise needed internal spars to prevent it sagging under its own weight. As it is, it's perfectly straight and the fuselage sits on it very neatly, with no gap at the roots.
The stabilisers go together neatly and match the contours of the tail fillet well, but I did find the slots for them are a bit loose, so I've quickly added some support for the photos.
Overall, the airframe for Special Hobby's Whirlwind promises to be quite straightforward to build for anyone with a bit of experience. Modellers who are used to "old style" limited-run kits will find it an absolute doddle.
A Few Details
I won't make this an exhaustive overview of the kit, because I really want to get on and build it! So, watch out for the blog in the Forum for more coverage soon.
Construction begins logically enough with the cockpit, which is very well detailed, with over 50 parts. The moulding looks very crisp and tidy, and the instrument panels (there's a choice of early and late styles) are very nicely rendered. I have no doubt that aftermarket versions will soon appear, but Special Hobby's stock versions should look excellent with the pin-sharp Cartograf decals which are provided for the dials.
Levers for the throttles and other equipment on the side consoles are separate parts, so the resulting office should look suitably "busy". The only point which is disappointing is that the kit doesn't include a harness for the 8-part seat. Its absence really will be evident in this scale. Maybe Special Hobby reason that the kit will most likely appeal to modellers who prefer to use aftermarket seatbelts (and, indeed, Eduard's pre-coloured photo-etched set #32872 is available from Special Hobby - Price: 11.30 Euros), but it would have been nice to see even a simple harness included for those building OOB.
Inside the wings are nicely handled radiators - 7 parts each side, including channelling. The wheel wells show excellent moulded framework inside the nacelles, plus a further 6 parts in each well before the landing gear is installed.
The main undercarriage itself is quite a complex affair, with no less than 11 parts for each leg, so it'll definitely be worth taking extra care to make sure everything is lined up correctly. One rather neat touch is that the axles are separate parts, so you can install the wheels last, which will make painting easier.
The wheels themselves are weighted (as is the tailwheel) and have crisply defined hubs. The tyres are moulded plain, and Special Hobby have already produced a highly detailed resin aftermarket replacement set with maker's text and data on the sidewalls:
The propellers are produced with separate blades that lock into nicely detailed hubs to ensure consistent pitch angles, and behind each propeller is a surprisingly well detailed backplate. All of this will be hidden on the finished model, but you've probably got the basis for quite a realistic servicing scene if you want to leave the spinners off.
The quartet of prominent 20mm cannons in the nose should look fine with a little care to remove any seam lines and with the muzzles drilled out. The instructions indicate that not only are aftermarket resin barrels planned, but a complete gun bay - which should be very eye-catching.
Special Hobby haven't announced aftermarket exhausts yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they release them, because the kit versions are quite simple.
Not used in this boxing is a set of nicely detailed bombs and racks, so it's clear that a "Whirlybomber" isn't far off.
Finally, the transparent parts are very nicely produced. The windscreen and canopy are thin and very clear, with well defined framing. A nice touch is that the area ahead of the windscreen is moulded integrally with it, making it much easier to install.
Instructions, Painting & Decals
The assembly guide is printed in colour on plain paper as a folded 16-page A4 booklet. The diagrams are large and easy to follow, and I can't see any obvious pitfalls in construction. The suggested sequence looks pretty logical - the only surprise being that the seat and control column are fitted so late. I can't see a reason for this at first glance, so it's something I'll check when I build the kit.
Colour call-outs for Gunze Sangyo paints are included throughout.
Special Hobby provide markings for a quartet of Whirlwinds:
A. Westland Whirlwind Mk.I, P6985, HE-J, 263 Squadron, Exeter, March 1941.
B. Westland Whirlwind Mk.I, P7061, HE-A, 263 Squadron, Charmy Down, September 1941.
C. Westland Whirlwind Mk.I, P7118, HE-F, „Bellows Argentina No.2“, 263 Squadron, Colerne, winter 1941/42.
D. Westland Whirlwind Mk.I, P7081, HE-E, “Bellows Argentina No.3”, 263 Squadron RAF, Charmy Down, October 1941
The Cartograf decals are produced to the company's usual superb standard, with perfect register on the thin, glossy items. Excess carrier film is kept to a minimum except where it groups or strengthens items, and the colours look excellent, with a convincing Sky and Dull Red.
It's been a long time coming, but Special Hobby's big Whirlwind is a real beauty and thoroughly worth the wait. Even only a few years ago I would never have believed we'd be lucky enough to see the Whirlwind treated to such a high quality 1:32 kit. I don't foresee any real problems building it, but it might be a bit of handful for total beginners. For anyone with a bit of experience, though, it promises to be a very enjoyable build and the finished model should be a real head-turner.
Kit #SH32047 is available from Special Hobby now - Price: 69.80 Euros
Many thanks to Special Hobby for kindly providing the sample for review.
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