Modelling the Blackburn Skua and Roc - Notes for modellers
Click here for list of kits of the Blackburn Skua
Click here for list of kits of the Blackburn Roc
If you are building a model of the Skua the following photos and diagrams will be of use.
Underside of the Skua .
It's important to realise the Skua had a recess under the fuselage to hold a single bomb (some internet forums claim that this recess could be covered by a plate when the Skua was not required to carry a bomb, but I've never seen any photographic evidence for this). That recess was well back and started immediately to the rear of the main spar. The bomb was provided with a hinged "crutch" to swing it away clear of the prop in a dive-bombing attack (the crutch was removed when not required). Each side of the bomb recess had a small bomb-bay covered by doors used to house smoke-floats. Because of the way the fuselage sat on top of the wing the trailing edge of the wing was well below the fuselage and had to be mated to the wing with an extensive wing fillet to reduce interference drag. This gave the undersurface a very complex shape (not unlike the Supermarine Spitfire which also had extensive fillets). The Blackburn Roc did away with this complex shape, replacing it with a simple "flat bottom".
This view of the Skua illustrates the way the fuselage sits on top of the wing and then tapers towards the tail requiring large "fillets" to merge the two together with the underneath of the wings having to adopt a subtle "inverted gull" aspect near the roots.
The above sketch shows the underside of the Skua. Note that the bomb recess is well aft and does not go forward of the main wing spar. Also note the way the V frame arrestor hook sits inside the wing fillets. Only the very first batch of Skuas off the production line had landing lights on both wings.
Well here it is in close up. The bomb recess of the Blackburn Skua in all its glory. You can clearly see it has straight edges rather than the "bathtub" way it is represented on the Pavla and Special Hobby (1/48th scale) models. The bomb crutch is not fitted on this aircraft. Note the two small "bomb-bays" with doors that flanked it and the "V" frame arrestor-hook in its recess. Once released in the air the hook could not be retracted again until the aircraft had landed.
Half-tone image of the underside of Skua L3007 in "tiger stripe" target-tug livery. Again you can see the recess for the bomb with its straight edges, and the curved section of the fuselage between the wing-fillets. This time the Skua has the bomb-crutch fitted. You can see the apex of the crutch attaches some distance behind the leading edge of the wing. Notice also the light showing through the hand-holds at the extreme tips of the wings. These would be extremely hard for a manufacturer to reproduce on any model kit, certainly not in 1/72 scale. If you build a 1/48 scale Skua or Roc you might want to try to reproduce them with a shallow nick in the wing-tips then spanned by some very thin stretched-sprue.
The Skua had "Zap" flaps which doubled as dive-brakes . As they came down the front of the flap moved back in the recess. This kept the centre of gravity in the same place and meant the Skua did not need to be re-trimmed when they operated.
No model of the Skua or Roc gets the undercarriage covers completely right. The diagram below was prepared by Brian Derbyshire to illustrate the configuration. Note in particular panel "B" which ends up at right angles to the airflow once the u/c is extended. Also note there was a subtle difference between the undercarriage of the Skua and the Roc.
Not a Skua, a Roc, but it clearly shows the two small panels marked "B" in Brian Derbyshire's diagram above which pop open when the undercarriage is extended, at right angles to the airflow like two tiny flaps or air-brakes. It also illustrates the "flat bottom" of the Roc and you can just make out the gunner's trapdoor exit.
Look at the photo above of Skua L2867 taken at the Blackburn factory airfield at Brough next to the Humber. It is important to understand that the undercarriage legs of the Skua are vertical when the aircraft is on the ground. This means that once the aircraft is in the air they look "raked back" slightly. This is not the way most WW2 tail-wheel aircraft sit on the ground and catches out many modellers. You can also just make out the cable to release the anti-spin parachute running down the fuselage. A very fine detail hard to reproduce on any model.
Another view stressing that the undercarriage of the Skua was upright.
Here is a photo of a recovered Skua bomb crutch from the Norwegian Aviation Museum at Bodo.
Unfortunately Special Hobby got the shape wrong on their 1/48th scale Skua (put right on the 1/72 version).
Here is a the rebuilt Skua Cockpit from the Norwegian Aviation Museum at Bodo as it was displayed at a reunion of surviving Skua crew at the FAA Museum Yeovilton in 2006. Of particular note is the joystick, it is in two parts, the top half only goes side to side and is mounted on top of the thicker bottom half that goes back and forwards. The whole thing is surmounted by the usual British circular "spade grip" with firing button and wheel-brake handle. The top of the joystick is almost level with the very top of the instrument panel, which makes you appreciate just how high in the cockpit the pilot sat and just how large an aircraft the Skua was. Imagine yourself sitting with your feet on the rudder-bar and you'll appreciate how vast the cockpit space was.
One thing missing from the rebuilt cockpit is a reflector gunsight. There seems to have been two different ways of mounting this, illustrated by these two photos.
This colour photo taken of L2991 shot down over Norway clearly shows some struts going up to either side of the front windscreen to the mounting on which the reflector gunsight would sit.
Yet this photo shows a reflector gunsight fitted but there is no sign of those struts. A mystery? Examination of photos show both styles of sight on both Skuas and Rocs, so it is not a matter of one style being for Skuas and another for Rocs. Rocs used gunsights for fighter training along with a camera gun mounted near the wing root. The turret guns of the Roc could also be fired by the pilot from a button on the control column in a "no-allowance shooting" scenario. The extended tinted sun glare protector goes up much further than that on fighters like the Spitfire and Hurricane, suggesting its use for no-allowance shooting.
The photo above shows the view looking forward towards the pilot's position. You can see the large oxygen cylinder mounted high behind the pilot, the two fuel tanks with the tubes to fill them. The colour of the cockpit was the standard British "interior green", although the fuel tanks and oxygen bottle look to be in natural metal. It would seem that the pilot's seat has been removed to give a better view of the forward cockpit. The seat had a wide range of travel up and down and it looks as if there was some sort of roller arrangement to keep the seat harness taut.
The rear cockpit was occupied by either an Observer (the FAA's term for a navigator) or a Telegraphist/ Air Gunner (TAG). In the space between the pilot and the second crew-member were two fuel tanks, side-by-side, with just enough room between them for the second crewman to make his way up to the pilot if required. In fact on combat missions the second crewman was issued with a bag of corks of various sizes so they could attempt to plug any bullet holes in the fuel tanks! The conditions for the second crew-member were very Spartan. There was no chair as such, just a bench that spanned the fuselage with a bit of padding in the middle. The bench meant that the Skua could easily accommodate two people sitting side-by-side in the back. There was no seat harness to restrain the second crewman in place for take-offs and landings, just a simple webbing strap to attach to the floor to hopefully prevent you falling out! There was no bulkhead between the bench and the fuel tanks, but a bar could be clipped across to give something to hold onto. Many model kits get this area of the Skua wrong, providing a non-existent seat or a bulkhead to separate off the fuel-tanks.
The view looking aft from between the two fuel tanks towards the Observer/ TAG position. The scale is somewhat misleading as you naturally tend to think of this as a tiny space (like a DH Chipmunk), but the Skua was a very large aircraft. Between the two fuel tanks is the top of the bomb recess. On top of this was put a "bench" with a bit of padding the second crewman sat on, . Beyond that, would have been the radio kit (removed in this photo) and above that the machine gun mounting that folded down when not in use. The second crew-man did not even have a proper floor to stand on, just a pair of metal extensions, one for each foot. In this picture the folding rear of the canopy has been removed altogether. It is important to understand that the machine gun COULD NOT BE USED until the canopy was swung up. The second crewman had to leave his bench, stand precariously on his foot-panels, swing the canopy back so it was behind him, only then could the machine gun be bought out of its recess into position to have the magazine fitted and be ready to fire. The magazine could not even be fitted if the gun was in the "stowed" position. It is true that the gun barrel could protrude a little out of its recess, which has lead some people to think it could be fired when the canopy was down (rather like the Ju 87 Stuka) but this was not the case.
During take-off and landings it was usual for the second crew-member to lock the rear-cockpit covering open and stand at the rear of the cockpit bracing themselves.
This photo shows the machine gun (Lewis .303) in its stowed position. The barrel sits in a recess in the top of the Skua's fuselage. The cylinder protruding from the top of the gun is where the circular magazine would be placed. There is not enough room for the magazine to be fitted until the gun is swung up out of it's recess. In turn that cannot be done until the rear canopy is swung forward. Spare magazines were fitted to the sides of the compartment. The gun mounting was a variant of the Fairey "high speed" mount also used on the Fairey Swordfish torpedo-bomber and Fairey Battle bomber. You would expect to see a lever (looking like the "brake" lever on a bicycle) mounted on the spade grip of the gun, but it is missing from this photo (see next photo). When this lever was pulled the gun mounting was free to be rotated on the metal quadrant visible on the base of the mounting. When the lever was released the mounting locked to give a stable firing support. This gave the mounting a surprisingly large arc of fire, to the sides and even downwards over the side of the combing.
The Skua rear machine gun in raised position. In this image you can see the "brake lever" that should be attached to the spade grip has been disconnected and is dangling down below the machine-gun. Also of note is the prominent shelf-like structure on the side of the cockpit (presumably repeated on both sides of the cockpit) which incorporated the hinge for the rear canopy. This shelf is not featured in any rear-cockpit detail on any Skua models.
Here you can see the rear machine gun poking up from its recess with the rear section of canopy closed. It could not have been fired when in this position. Other things to notice in this view are the footstep left in the down position and behind it the protruding pipe through which a trailing aerial could be lowered for long range radio communication via morse code. Also visible is a square of light coloured gas detection paint on the wing, this changed colour if exposed to mustard or chlorine gas. Behind the pilot is a cylindrical oxygen bottle.
A detail of Skua L2942 which crash-landed in Sweden after a raid on Trondheim launched from HMS Furious. This was late in September 1940, and you can clearly see the extra thickness of armoured glass added to the front windscreen and the extra metal plates added to the bottom of the two side sections of the windscreen for extra protection. Also of note in this photo is the obvious indent of the window nearest the rear of the canopy. These windows on either side of the second crewman could be slid back. Notice the two air intakes which look like "eyes" and the triangular supporting structure inside the engine cowling.
Details of the engine mounting. Most of this would be hidden on any model of a Skua. But notice the baffles between the engine cylinders to concentrate the airflow over the cylinder cooling fins. These probably would be visible and noticable through the front of the engine cowling in 1/48th scale. Such baffles are rarely included in kits, even in after-market engine upgrade kits. Such kits are usually based on photos of engines in aviation museums, where the baffles are not in place.
Make sure you don't miss the pages on Skua and Roc Colour schemes.
LIST OF KITS RODUCED OF THE BLACKBURN SKUA (CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER)
FROG - 1939.
The first model kit of the Skua was in Frog's very early "Penguin" series of the late 1930's. Contemporary with the Skua. It was made from a different type of plastic to that used on kits today, a type of cellulose acetate, a hard plastic most commonly seen in spectacle frames. If you should ever stumble upon such a kit dont build it! It is worth a lot as a collector's piece in it's unmade state. Below are two photos of a fantastic pristine example from Peter van Loon. A "Penguin" was RAF slang for a ground-based officer who did not fly. Frog adopted the name to distinguish their new non-flying plastic models from their existing range of balsa flying model kits (FROG stands for "Flys Right Off the Ground).
You can visit Peter's web site at www.frogpenguin.com
FROG 1/72- 1964 (Reissued by Novo, Air Lines, Chemetic, Donetsk TF, Revell, Eastern Express, Ark Models)
The original Frog packaging when first released in 1964 showing a spurious colour scheme and that infamous machine gun poking through the rear of the canopy, where it never was.
The box art as reissued by Frog kit of 1968
Back in 1964 Frog issued a 1/72 scale model of the Skua (sold under the brand name "Air Lines" in the USA). Exactly the same mould has been used to produce the same product under the name of Novo, Donetsk, Chematic, Revell, Eastern Express and most recently by Ark Models. Back in 1964 it was a bad representation of the Skua and the same holds true today, their having never been any effort to correct the many errors. To list them...
1. The wings and tailplane are both incorrect, being much narrower in chord than they should be, thus the wing area and tailplane areas are much too small.
2. The fuselage bottom aft of the wings is represented as a flat area with no effort to represent the wing fillets.
3. The rear gunners canopy is represented as if the machine gun protruded through the canopy itself. It did not, it sat in a trough in the upper fuselage and could not be used until the rear canopy was swung back.
4. There is no recess for the bomb (and no bomb) and no bomb crutch.
5. There is no effort to reproduce the "V" frame arrestor hook.
6. The front pilots windscreen is represented as a rectangle, in fact it was virtually triangular with the broadest part at the top of the canopy.
The dotted lines represent the size of the wings and tailplane in the Frog/Novo/Chemetic/Revell/Eastern Express kit
Even allowing for the age of the model these are amazing inaccuracies. The most glaring problem of the undersized wings and tailplane can be cured with a replacement set made in resin by either Magna models or Final Touch Products , both of which also provide a vac-form replacement canopy. The engine detail is basic, what one would expect for a model of this age.
The picture above is of a masterful reworking of the standard Frog model with corrected parts by Bernard Le Guenno - It goes to show what can be done with a lot of hard work. It is a reproduction of one of the Skuas involved in the sinking of the Königsberg.
You can follow Bernard's build of this Skua by <clicking here> . Bernard had to do a lot of research for the project, including the scratch-build of a 500 pound SAP bomb.
Also see Kim Elliots build of the Frog model, correcting the wings and tailplane, on the modeling madness website <click here>
Airwaves etched brass kit for the Frog/Novo/Revell kit
Airwaves released a set of etched brass accessories for the Frog kit. A large number of the parts are for detailing the cockpit. They include a seat for the rear Observer/TAG which is completely wrong (there was only a rudimentary bench in the back cockpit of the Skua, no seat). There are some fine cooling gills, zap flaps and undercarriage doors, albeit the undercarriage doors include some extra sections that completely cover the wheels., this was only the case on the first Skua prototype (K5178), and even then for only a short period. The doors also miss the characteristic "bulge" adjacent to the wheels.
In 1964 aircraft modelling was such a popular hobby in the UK that the release of a new kit would be accompanied by adverts in boys comics along with the modelling magazines. Shown above is the black and white artwork used in the original press advertising for the Frog model Skua when it was first released in 1964.
The box art for the Air Lines incarnation of the kit, the same artwork was used for the Novo release. Frog models were sold under the Air Lines brand in the USA.
Box art for the Revell rebrand is shown below. The text on the box seems to suggest the Skua only ever shot down one aircraft! There are a lot of German aircraft at the bottom of Norwegan fyords, and Italian aircraft in the Med because of the Skua!
Above: box art for the Revell offering. The Revell version had some good decal options.
The box art for the Chemetic release featured an RAF rather than FAA camouflage scheme.
The latest reincarnation of the old Frog moulds.
Above: Box art for the Eastern Express version, the same box art is used by Ark Models.
S MODEL 1/72- Date Unknown
I am aware that S MODEL issued a 1/72 scale resin model of the Skua, but have never seen a photo of it. If anyone can provide further info please contact me.
MAGNA MODELS 1/48 - 1990s
A magnificent 1/48 scale resin and white metal model of the Skua was issued by Warrior models in Poland. When this was first released it was at the cutting-edge of what was possible in resin and was very welcome to anyone who wanted to make a model of a Skua, having only had the poor Frog mould available beforehand. It has lots of interior detail and the overall lines seem spot on. The bomb recess is in the right place, being well aft and not going forward of the main wing spar.. The windscreen in front of the pilot is triangular, as it should be. The wing fillets do not look quite "right" to me, but at least the underpart of the fuselage rear of the bomb recess is curved rather than flat. The bomb crutch is slightly the wrong shape. The one thing that lets the kit down when first released was the decal sheet included with the kit which was hopeless and seems to have been made for another kit entirely. However Warrior then bought out an add-on replacement set of decals (cat No D 48001) which was excellent and enabled a whole range of different Skuas to be represented.
PAVLA 1/72 - 2002
At the end of 2002 Pavla released a 1/72 injected moulding kit of the Skua. It has no less than 4 decal options. A silver Skua of (L2887) from 803 Sqdn in 1939, camouflaged L2953 from the attack on Mers-el-Kabir, camouflaged L3048 of 803 Sqdn 1940 and L3007 in "tiger stripe" target towing livery. It has some very fine resin parts. Can I stress that this model is not from the old Frog mould - It was a completely new model. The outline of the wings is spot on, The bomb recess is in the correct position, and the bomb crutch is the right shape. Very welcome is the addition of a nice resin representation of a 500 lb SAP bomb. The engine is well detailed although it has no air baffles between the cylinders (hardly noticably at this scale). The only very minor flaws in an otherwise outstanding model are the wing fillets which are not quite right (see my pencil diagram above for the correct cross-sections), the undercarriage leg covers which do not have the correct "bulge" in them and the inclusion of a "seat" for the rear Observer/TAG (the rear cockpit had a "bench" rather than a seat). 10 out of 10 for effort.
Box art for the Pavla "Octopus Range" Skua has some impressive side-view profiles.
The image above is of an excellent model built from the Octopus kit built by Bernard Le Guenno of the Skua to achieve the Fleet Air Arm's first aerial victory of the war.
SPECIAL HOBBY 1/48 - 2007
In 2007 "Special Hobby" issued a limited edition injection moulded 1/48th scale Skua with resin parts. It was released in two versions "Silver Wings" and "Norwegian Campaign" , the box art and decals being different for each. The kit has to be applauded in this scale and enables you to make a 1/48th scale Skua much more easily than with the resin Warrior version. However it does have a few fairly minor issues. The bomb recess is too far back (it should start directly behind the wing spar) and the wrong shape , being more like an inverted bathtub with curved edges rather than straight (see photos above). The undercarriage doors are also not quite correct, being the shape required for the Blackburn Roc, not the Skua (see the diagram in the notes section below) . The bomb crutch shape is completely wrong (again see photo in the notes section above). Also there is a solid bulkhead provided between the rear cockpit and the fuel tanks which was just not there in the real aircraft (again see photo above). The resin engine is very detailed with individual cylinders and exhaust pipes, together with the air intake "eyes" and triangular truts within the cowling. Unfortunately it does not duplicate the air baffles that sat between the cylinders, which would be just about visible in this scale (see photo in section above) but that is easily put right with a bit of Milliput. The tiny undercarriage door "panel B" needs to be altered if modelled with undercarriage down, an easy thing to do (see diagram above). Lastly, in this scale you might want to attempt to duplicate the hand-holds on the wing-tip.
Special Hobby Blackburn Skua "Norwegian Campaign" boxart.
SPECIAL HOBBY 1/72 - 2009/10
Special Hobby then in 2009/10 followed up their 1/48 scale release with a version in 1/72 scale. Like the 1/48 scale version it was released in two versions, "Silver Wings" and "Norwegian Campaign", each version uses the same box-art as the 1/48 scale version. Again it builds into an excellent representation of the Skua. Special Hobby have taken the opportunity to fix all of the issues with the 1/48 version, the bomb recess is further forward and of the right profile, the bomb crutch is correct, and the main undercarriage doors are also correct for the Skua. The engine and cowling details are very detailed for this scale, although once again there are no baffles between the cylinders, but they would be hardly noticable in this scale anyway. So this is by far and away the best model representation of the Skua out there. Only two very minor errors are left. First is the inclusion of a solid bulkhead between the rear cockpit and the fuel tanks (just leave it out). Second is the position of the small undercarriage cover plate when the u/c is extended (section "B" in the diagram in the notes above), but no Skua kit gets this right and it is easily rectified with only the tiniest scratch-build.
Above, the Box art for the "Silver" Wings version of the Special Hobby 1/72 kit. This is by far the best choice for building an accurate representation of a Skua "out of the box". Well done Special Hobby!.
A comprehensive article on building the 1/72 scale Special Hobby Skua written by Brian Derbyshire appeared in the May 2018 edition of "Scale Aircraft Modelling".
Some Pictures of other Skua Models
This magnificent 1/12th scale Skua (above)belongs to Øyvind Lamo, who runs the Operation Skua Website. Øyvind did the colour scheme, the model was built for him by Arild Kjaeraas who runs Profiles Norway.
Øyvind used the model to recreate this photo taken in 1940, combining the model with a photo taken at the same spot. The original Skua L2940 which sank into the lake is now preserved in the Fleet Air Arm Museum Yeovilton. See the Operation Skua website for the full story.
Showing what is possible with a lot of skill and attention to detail the photos above are of two Skua models built by Tony O'Toole. One is L2991 as featured on the "Skua Colours" page. The other is a Skua target tug .
Here's a handsome rubber powered balsa model of a Skua in Target tug livery courtesy of Kevin Lehnert of the Alamo Escadrille Flying Aces Squadron #26. It is based on a kit plan from the early 1940's. "Dime Scale" models of this class compete to stay in the air longest and the added dihedral of wings makes it more stable.
Pavla kits are imported into the UK by Hannants, 159 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5HR You can buy online at www.hannants.co.uk
Model Aircraft Monthly, Vol 6 Issue 10 October 2007. Has a series of articles on the Skua, including a very extensive potted history of the type by Tony O'Toole. This is illustrated by a really nice selection of photos, including colour shots of L2991 and a page full of shots of L2942. There is also an article by Tony O'Toole on building the 1/48 Special Hobby Kit.
An 8 page article on modelling the Skua by Neil Robinson was featured in the June/July 1978 edition of "Plastic Aircraft Models International" magazine (issue 22). Well worth looking out for on ebay.
Matthew Willis's book on the Skua and Roc is published by Mushroom Model Publications. It is an outstanding work with lots of original research, colour profiles and plans.