"Fairley Gannet"


The Ungainly Fowl 

by Ralf Pätzold on Aug 28 2003



Historic Background

From around 1950 to 1975, the pilots of the Royal Air Force were in the enviable position to be flying the hottest rods around. The Javelin, the Lightning, the Vulcan and Victor bombers - all pieces of hardware whose looks clearly said "We mean business".

It is not hard to imagine the effect this had on some of the pilots' egos. They became increasingly cocksure, insolent and unprofessional in the execution of their duties. The psychological mechanism behind this behavior can be studied in the 1986 documentary feature "Top Gun" in which a small wimpy fellow who looks like Tom Cruise is transformed into a veritable Superman by a few training lessons on considerably less impressive hardware and a few dogfights against enemies inexplicably flying American aircraft.

By 1954, the situation in England had deteriorated to a point where more pilots were being killed by carelessness than by the quality of British engineering. Clearly, something had to be done.

Drastic measures such as the ones employed by the Luftwaffe during the late years of WWII (the Bachem Ba 349 "Natter" was never really meant to be a point defense fighter) were not considered appropriate by the RAF. The way they would do it was by restoring some sense of modesty in the pilots by assigning them to altogether unglamorous duties. Simple disciplinary measures such as maintenance of sanitary facilities proved ineffective, however. Something much more disgraceful was required. Why not make them fly for a while in something that looks like, say - a cross between a bathtub and a pregnant banana?

Thus, in 1955 the Air Ministry issued specification DM.1/55 which called for "a misshapen contraption with a silly name". Although the American F-86 "Dog Sabre" was readily available, a homegrown solution was favoured. The remainder of the requirements of DM.1/55 were in line with those of other British specifications of the time, such as "an insufficient engine yet to be developed" and "severely undersized fuel tanks".

Several aircraft companies (joined by a number of comic book artists and the people who would later become set designers for the Monty Python troupe) submitted their designs, but it was clear from the start that a company with a name like "Fairey" would have an obvious advantage.

The original specification was, as usual, to undergo a number of substantial changes - at one time or another, the following items were added to and removed from the list of requirements: the ability to carry nuclear devices (for incurable cases of egomania pilotis), skis in lieu of landing gear, Warp 10+ speed, and a silly hat.

The end result of this process, however, is history. In 1957, the Fairey Gannet was declared winner of the competition, and went on to become the plane we love to hate.

As it was feared that the British public might mistakenly see the whole operation as a waste of taxpayers money, a cover-up story was invented in which the Gannet (alluding to the hunting habits of the bird whose name it carries) was assigned the role of a submarine hunter - an obvious lie as the Gannet's fuselage wasn't watertight, and the ungainly fowl featured neither a periscope, nor a snorkel.

The Aircraft

The Fairey engineers (who preferred to be called "the engineers at Fairey") arrived at the general shape of the aircraft by distorting a rubber model of a Supermarine Spitfire beyond all recognition, using a complete disregard for aerodynamic requirements and liberal amounts of bad taste as general design guidelines.

The airplane was driven by two counter-rotating propellers, one providing forward thrust, one backward thrust, the net effect being a speed barely sufficient to counter the effects of continental shift. When faced with head winds of a speed of 10 knots or more, Gannets would usually go backwards.

A crew of three was required for operation (one to pilot the plane, and two to operate the fuel pumps). The most obstinate of the crew members was made to sit in the isolated rear seat, facing backwards.

At air shows, Gannets would regularly score awards for "Most Ludicrous Aircraft" and "Worst of Show". An enhanced version of the original Gannet, the AEW.3, went on to win the 1963 "Silly Protrusions Award".

The Gannet was exported to countries whose air forces suffered from similar disciplinary problems: Australia, Indonesia (where it replaced the traditional canoes) and Germany. In Germany, the last of the Gannets was subjected to the ultimate indignity: it was handed over to the "Luftwaffen-Museum der Bundeswehr" at Berlin-Gatow which, in spite of its name, is a deplorable open air dump for aircraft the Luftwaffe has no money to properly scrap. There, it is rotting away in ignominy, and the sad state of the airframe served as inspiration in the construction of this model.


The kit

The kit featured in this article is product number S-124 from Polish manufacturer "Plastyk" and was bought recently in a department store in Wroclaw (like other products from the same stable, it is also sold under the "Eastern Express" label). It pays full homage to the atrocity of the subject matter, being another rip-off of the classic Frog offering and featuring, on top of that, all the characteristics of a third generation tool copy. Most of the panel lines are raised; the width of the few recessed panel lines tends to exceed their depth.

The decals enclosed are for a "Fairley Gannet" [sic] of either the Royal Navy or the Indonesian LAUT and represent the barest minimum possible; to add insult to injury, two copies of the decal sheet are provided. A revised tool set was used in the building of this kit.

Click on images below to see larger images


Construction begins with the cockpit. That is, construction would begin with the Cockpit if there was one.

Construction really begins by removing all parts from the tree by means of a medium size chainsaw.

According to the instructions, the propeller/spinner assembly is tackled first. The amount of plastic that has to be sanded off from the spinner parts to make them align with each other and the fuselage is almost sufficient to fill the gaping holes serving as openings for the propeller blades. Application of copious amounts of putty, using the nail polish remover technique explained elsewhere on this site, almost results in a fair representation of the original.

Fit of the finlets on the tailplane is surprisingly good, as is the marriage of the wing roots with the fuselage. The fuselage halves arouse suspicion as to whether they belong to the same aircraft and/or scale, but simple brute force is all that is required to make them fit. Minor seams are filled using the stretched sprue technique, only this time the sprues do not require stretching.

The parts breakdown of the landing gear proves that the people responsible for the tooling of the model shared the sense of humor employed by the visionary designers of the original airplane: seemingly unconnected items (struts and wheel bay covers) are molded as a single part, whereas parts traditionally represented as a single piece (wheel and hubs) are supplied as ill-fitting sub-assemblies. The wheel bays represent no major obstacle in either construction or painting as they are simply non-existing.

The kit layout suggests that the cockpit was usually filled with concrete which encased the crew up to their necks.


After cleaning the finished assembly with hydrochloric acid and a sandblast unit, the basic camouflage is applied as per the Polish language instructions: "Ciemnoszary morski" for the upper color, "Jasnoszary lotnicyz" for the remainder. A major benefit over second rate products such as those by Tamiya is immediately apparent: color references are not only by name, but equivalents are given for Humbrol, Xtracolor, Testors and Federal Standard - only Accurate Miniatures offers a more comprehensive translation table.

The decals seem to react adversely to water, so they are cut from the dry sheet and applied with white glue (thank god for the second copy).

Pathetic efforts to weather the model are made. Silver is dry brushed onto sensitive areas (raised panel lines and rivets, exposed areas of the airframe, and my index finger). A wash of black is used to highlight recesses (flaps, weapons bay, forgotten seams) and later toned down with the base color - thanks to the Grand Canyon sized recessed lines. Pastel chalks are used to add, in an impressionistic manner, hints of blue, green, fresh vomit and lemming droppings. A random selection of other enamels, acrylics and substances you really don't want to know about is smeared indiscriminately all over the fuselage and wings in a vain attempt to reflect the fact that both pilots and ground crew usually treated this aircraft with either neglect or open hostility.

Click on images below to see larger images


This kit presents a welcome change from the perfect, "shake-and-bake" type of model we have come to take for granted these days, such as the Zhengdefu 1/72 scale Mig-25 or the Modelcraft 1/48 scale F-82 (both of which are currently on my workbench).

Building this kit proved to be challenging in all respects; I found it especially hard not to break into fits of hysterical laughter while measuring the kit's dimensions against profile drawings of the aircraft - in the case of this plane, both deviation from AND adherence to the original shape must be deemed undesirable.


Photos and text © by Ralf Pätzold