Homely but hard-working: Sword’s Gannet AEW.3, part 1

The Fairey Gannet came in a number of variants – the AS.1 and AS.4 anti-submarine warfare platforms, the T.2 and T.5 trainer modifications, and the COD.4 trash-hauler – but if any version could be said to be the most attractive Gannet, it was the AEW.3. This is truly damning with faint praise; with its bulging radome and finlet-bedecked empennage, plus its decidedly un-aerodynamic collection of antennas, scoops and other protrusions, the AEW.3 was an odd-looking machine by any standard.

Nearly everything about the Gannet AEW.3 was different from the AS.1: the exhaust was relocated, the fuselage lost its additional seats behind the cockpit and instead housed two radar observers in a compartment submerged in the redesigned fuselage; the shape of the vertical fin was changed to offset the loss of directional stability caused by the omission of the long canopy. The landing gear was lengthened by three feet to give the radome deck clearance. The plane differed so much from the original Gannet that there was talk of renaming it the Albatross, but the Royal Navy’s retirement of the anti-submarine Gannets around the time the AEW.3 made its fleet debut in 1959 limited the possible confusion.

Built to replace the Skyraider AEW.1 (an AD-4W in U.S. Navy parlance), the Gannet AEW.3 used the same electronics – the AN/APS-20 radar system. It was intended as a stop-gap measure until a British purpose-built aircraft incorporating the latest in electronics could be built for the CVA-01 class of aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, the Defense White Paper of 1966 – the same document that cancelled the TSR.2 – put an end to Britain’s plans for a large carrier for almost 50 years, and it meant that the AEW.3 would have to soldier on with no replacement in sight. They operated right up until the last carrier they could fly from, Ark Royal, was retired in 1972, and then from land bases until 1978. In the end their two biggest enemies were attrition – 22 of the 44 built were lost to accidents – and the Shackleton program. Numerous Gannets lost their radars to Shackleton MR.2s, which rendered the Gannet airframes expendable. Only seven AEW.3s survive, with six in museums and one undergoing restoration to flight.

Sword's box captures the AEW.3 in all its graceful glory.

Sword’s box captures the AEW.3 in all its graceful glory.

I’m building Sword’s new Gannet AEW.3 kit in 1:72 scale. The model features a lot of surface detail, as did the real plane; it also has a small sheet of photoetched parts, but no resin. The plastic parts for the wheel wells are somewhat under-detailed, and the cockpit sidewalls are mere abstractions of what’s actually there. That said, they give you a structural place to start.

Sword also sells a resin set for the radar observers’ position. (Read Mark Davies’ very good review of it here.) I’d seen an AD-4W at the IPMS/USA Nationals one year with the radar operators’ compartment opened and always wanted to do something like that, so here was my chance!

Step one was the seat. The kit gives you the seat itself and the arm rests as separate plastic pieces. The arm rest part will become weak and break if you cut it from the sprue with flush cutters – use a razor saw instead. I airbrushed the seat and armrest with Testors’ aircraft interior black (I sprayed the instrument panel, sidewalls and cockpit floor and rear bulkhead at the same time), then dry-brushed with gull gray and finally a little aluminum to suggest chipping. The headrest on the rear bulkhead and armrests were brush-painted with Testors leather.

Gannet seat, before addition of the sidewalls.

Gannet seat, before addition of the sidewalls.

I brushed a little Future on the seat back and added a tiny white stencil decal to duplicate photos. This was a bit of a wasted effort, since the shoulder straps almost completely covered the stencil! The whole mess was shot with Dullcote and allowed to dry.

One item missing from the kit seat was the seat cushion/survival pack, which was very apparent in photos of XL500. I made my own from a bit of shaped .040 by .030 styrene strip, with the notch carefully carved and then sanded. The cushion was painted yellow, then masked and painted sage green on the seat area. The edges of the green area were them masked and sprayed green. The resulting product was dirtied up with some pastel powder and glued to the seat pan.

Based on eye-witness accounts of Gannet AEW.3 XL500’s interior, the lap belts were painted gray while the shoulder straps were painted metallic blue. The kit’s lap belts went together well and were placed on the seat pan, with the buckle ends glued to the pan and then the fastener ends carefully folded over the seat edges. The shoulder straps were supposed to wrap around a photoetched bracket that attached to the rear bulkhead, but the bracket allowed almost no contact area for glue. Instead, I folded the bracket, wrapped the ends of the straps around it, glued the bracket in place, attached the straps to the seat back and glued the bracket to the bulkhead, allowing the straps to support it. I had to trim about a quarter-inch from each strap to achieve the correct length.

The photoetched instrument panel was dry-brushed and the acetate instrument faces were added to the back with Future as the adhesive. The panel comes in three sections, which were CA-glued to the plastic instrument panel backing provided in the kit. The AEW.3 instrument panel had its six primary flight instruments (airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, heading indicator, turn coordinator) outlined in white. I cut extremely thin bits of white decal and carefully place them where they needed to go, getting a good result for the scale of the instrument panel!

Finished panel with its primary six outlined with decal trim

Finished panel with its primary six outlined with decal trim

The sidewalls were detailed, first with the kit’s photoetched parts, then with additional details fashioned from styrene rod, Reheat photoetched switch panels, and bits of wire. The whole mess was painted, dry-brushed and then details were picked out in gray, white and red with a fine brush.

Sidewalls, dressed up with some details prior to painting.

Sidewalls, dressed up with some details prior to painting.

Next, I put the sidewalls in place and used a razor saw to remove the rudder pedals from the sprue. These were cleaned up, glued in place and painted, then dry-brushed. Now, with the exception of the control column and some handles, the cockpit’s ready to stick in the fuselage.

The cockpit with the side consoles and the rudder pedals in place.

The cockpit with the side consoles and the rudder pedals in place.

But there was one more cockpit to work on – the radar observers’ compartment. I used my motor tool and a fairly large bit to chain-drill the hatches; once I could pop out the plastic, the edges were dressed with some carving with a sharp No. 11 blade. I also carved back the interior of the hatch for a more scale thickness. The openings were then sanded with some microfiles, followed by sandpaper. The sandpaper was also used on the interior to even the interior walls out.

Chain-drilling the hatch gives you a start...

Chain-drilling the hatch gives you a start…

...And careful use of files, carving with an No. 11 blade and sanding cleans up the opened hatch.

…And careful use of files, carving with an No. 11 blade and sanding cleans up the opened hatch.

This Sword set is all resin; it gives you no color call-outs or seat belts for the observers’ seats. Thus, my first stop was the internet, where I found photos of the interior from a museum example. The basic color was British interior gray-green; I airbrushed the parts black first, then sprayed gray green. The various boxes were then painted with a mix of dark gray colors, each one being a little different. The whole mess was given a dark wash, then dry-brushed. Radar scopes, instrument dials and other details were picked out in gray or white. After a spray of Dullcote, any dials received a drop of Future for shine.

Rear and front bulkheads for the radar observer's compartment.

Rear and front bulkheads for the radar observer’s compartment.

The seats were painted and weathered, then gained seat belts sourced from an old Airwaves set, with quick-release fillings pillaged from an Eduard set.

Seats! Note the weathering to the floor.

Seats! Note the weathering to the floor.

Sword neglects to provide any color call-outs, so I recommend the images that begin here as a good starting place. The many exposed wire and cable runs are next.

Next time: extra details, closing the fuselage, and adding a lot of nose weight! Stay tuned!

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