The Handley Page 0/400 was the ultimate
wartime development of the original 0/100 "Bloody Paralyser",
built for Britain's Royal Naval Air Service in 1915. A huge, slab-sided,
twin engined biplane of conventional wood, wire and fabric construction,
the 0/400 became the mainstay heavy bomber in one of the first "strategic"
campaigns in history. During the summer and autumn of 1918, Handley
Pages of the RAF's Independent Force took the war into the German
homeland, bombing factories and railyards and other fat targets
far behind the front lines. After the November 11, 1918 Armistice,
several examples of the beast were fitted with up to 16 seats and
used as airliners, trading bombs and bullets for passengers and
I like scratchbuilding. Few things
in the modelbuilding world are more satisfying than taking raw hunks
of wood, plastic sheet, assorted wads and gobs of glue, putty and
paint, and creating a miniature version of an actual object. One
of the most exciting parts of the process is figuring out "What
shall I build next?". The Handley Page 0/400 has been one of
my favorites for years, with its ugly-beautiful lines that seem
suggest some sedate and squat building, rather than a flying machine.
Also, thinking that an affordable kit in at least 1/48 scale was
a pipe dream, I decided an 0/400 must be built. The ancient (going
on 30 years!) and venerable Airfix Handley Page is in 1/72 scale
so if I wanted a real "Bloody Paralyser" of a model, scratchbuilding
was the only way to go.
Whether kit or scratch, the first
thing is to gather references -- the more the better and, when working
without a net, "more" can't be stressed enough. A flat
sided, angular airplane would seem to be a simple thing, but after
devouring a stack of research 18" thick, and having the model
almost 95% finished, I was still scrambling for details.
I was haughty and self assured: "Of course I've got what I
need, no problem". Wrong!
Starting with pretty good drawings
by Colin Owers and some detail photos, I went to
work. The overall size and shape quickly formed on my drawing board.
So far, so good; I started construction and thought I could pick
up the details later. Big mistake! As work progressed, I started
finding more anomalies in individual 0/400s. Fuel systems varied
from plane to plane; several nose configurations were noted; rear
gun mounts could take many forms; maintainence platforms above the
engine nacelles presented themselves only to disappear on another
machine. All of these had severe visual repercussions on the final
product. The markings were in fact decided because I happened to
luck into three shots of the same airplane taken at the same time,
from different angles.
Anxiety-driven complications arose
from my decision to make sure that no probing by the "penlight
brigade" would reveal any non-modeled areas, no matter where
the brigade decided to insert their instruments! This meant that
almost the entire fuselage interior would have to be made,
which comes out to only a few hundred parts going into the bomb
cells, fuel tanks and fuel management systems, which all had to
be researched, drawn and built and almost all would never
be seen again after the fuselage was closed up. BUT.... they are
in there if anyone ever assaults the poor model with dental mirror
and flashlight in hand.
The Fuselage Structure:
All this was waiting for me when
construction actually got going. I started the old fashioned way:
building the fuselage right over the plans. Taping wax paper over
a profile of the fuselage structure, I proceeded to build each side
from HO railroad scale
basswood lumber- 2"x3"s, 3"x3"s, and 4"x4"s.
Before using any of this stock, I treated it to a coat of water-based
light brown stain with a top coat of thinned Testors acyrlic gloss,
sanded lightly to de-fuzz the mess. Positioning each stick with
straight pins, all joints got a blob of thick Zap-a-Gap. The two
sides were then jigged up on a balsa block, held once again with
pins, and the cross members cut to size and glued in to form the
basic box girder. My structure was now starting to resemble something
belonging to an airplane, but it was a little wobbly and needed
rigging between all members at all joints, just like the real thing.
Holes were drilled using a homemade
bit. A 1" long section of bamboo skewer, available at most
supermarkets, had a 3/8" long piece of .008" steel guitar
string crammed into one end, leaving about half sticking out. Slathering
on a generous glop of Zap-a-Gap, I had a fine bit that would do
this gentle job. Not perfectly centered, one
does need to poke a slight centering dimple at the place where a
hole is desired. Chucking up this thing in a cordless Dremel, I
made precise holes at every place in the box where two or more structural
members met. The real fun was beginning: I ran so-called "invisible
thread" -- prepainted a steely dark gray -- through all the
holes and pulled the structure true. Brand name Krazy Glue was generously
spread over all points; now the box was starting to show some strength.
Part of the bargain in this type of construction is learning just
how strong a bunch of sticks can be. The logic of actual airplane
construction techniques start to become apparent!
The internal stuff holds no surprises
for anyone with an easy conversion or two under their belt. Sprue,
bits of sheet plastic, wire, the usual. The seat cushions are epoxy
putty, all the slatting is HO lumber. Also, this center section
received all manner of hidden wood braces and blocks, because of
the extra strength needed to anchor the wings. The twin main fuel
tanks, resembling large trash cans, were sawn from 3/4" hardwood
dowel. After grain filling and painting and installation, they helped
stabilize and strengthen this structurally important section of
the model. The almost invisible bomb cells were cobbled up from
plastic rod, .005 plastic sheet, and Krazy Glue saturated typing
paper, sanded smooth. A few words about different C/A adhesives:
for general construction I use Zap-a-Gap Thick, but for sticking
invisible thread and nylon mono fishing line, I use good ol' drug
store Krazy Glue. It sticks better to nylon, and after curing, doesn't
have as much "stretch" in it; a glued line pulled taut
will stay taut. It also behaves better when I make my typing paper
The model was built inside out, all
the internal detail being incorporated before the outer skin was
applied. The skin is .015 plastic from the nose turret back, and
the nose itself is covered in 1/64 aircraft plywood. The various
windows punctuating the sides
and bottom were sliced out and covered in cigarette package cellophane
that had first been dipped in Future floor wax. This material nicely
duplicated the wrinkly glazing of the original. Frames were made
from my stock of C/A saturated and sanded typing paper. The gun
ring is one of the few non-scratch items, being an old Aurora gun
ring from some I-don't-know-what kit.
After the fuselage was closed up,
duplicating the lacing was next -- a most labor-intensive step.
Fine lines were incised where the "fabric panels" came
together and each lace was "painted" over the slit with
a tiny brush loaded with a mix of yellow aliphatic resin glue, and
whatever acrylic color happened to be handy; this color merely tinted
the glue so I could see where I'd been!
The wings were built in the traditional
method of plastic skin over a wood core. .015" plastic sheet,
with ribs embossed from the inside using an old ball point pen,
was glued over a balsa plank that had been shaped to the correct
airfoil and planform, but a little smaller to make up for the extra
thickness of the plastic. Heavy dowels were
fitted into holes at the ends of the wing sections where the spars
would be so that I would have sturdy gluing points when final assembly
time rolled around.
After some general cleanup of leading
and trailing edges, the next laborious task was started. I wasn't
truly happy with the ribs -- they just weren't prominent enough.
To remedy this and to add another extra dollop of realism, I added
rib tapes. Many of us old geezer modelers still think of fabric
covered wings as having a great deal of "sag" between
ribs, because that's the way Aurora and other companies presented
these wings. But except for a few isolated airplanes, and mainly
early in the war, airplane fabric was taut with almost no sag. The
most visible remaining evidence of ribs was the tapes that were
doped and stitched over each rib. To simulate these, I masked off
EVERY rib station, top and bottom of each wing, and airbrushed several
heavy coats of Testors oil base neutral gray. After drying and removing
the tape, very prominent "tapes" stood proud above the
surface, to be gently sanded to the correct height. All the tail
surfaces were built the same way as the wings.
Struts were made in a variety of
ways. The mainplane items are wire core plastic rod, built up with
thin bass wood sheet fairings, the whole covered in Zap-a-Gap, sanded
and then painted with thick paint to sculpt the fabric wrappings
that are evident in photos of the real objects. The cabane, tail,
and landing gear struts are made from the thickest bamboo skewers
I could find- a pack that contained sticks up to 3/16" diameter.
From these, I shaved thin planks of airfoil section, cut to length
and shaped, and glued wire pins into drilled holes in each end of
each finished strut.
The engine nacelles started as rough bass wood blocks that were
tortured into shape and skinned with plastic to avoid the always-unwholesome
task of grain-filling. The exhaust manifolds were made from flame-broiled
and bent plastic tube. The radiators are the usual sheet plastic;
next time I think I'll use brass! (also note that the engine instruments
are mounted in the nacelles, rather than the cockpit.)
Most subassemblies were pre-painted
and the major components were ready to mate. The aforementioned
spar stubs of the bottom wing were slathered in 5 minute epoxy and
inserted into holes in the fuselage. Still having a few minutes
left before the glue set up, I taped the monster down on the kitchen
table over a gridded drawing of right angles so I could make sure
everything was right and true. The extra work time epoxy offers
over C/A allows for adjustment, and after tweaking the top view
and getting the dihedral just so, I stabilized everything with telephone
books, cookie jars, and whatever else I could grab to hold everything
Although called "5 minute epoxy",
I always like to allow a little more time for curing, so for the
next couple of hours, I wandered around the house aimlessly, resisting
the temptation to "Just check a little". When I finally
gave in and extracted the model from all its jigs and braces, I
was relieved to the point of offering a small prayer of thanks --
everything had set up in line and in tune!
Assembling The Wings:
A deep breath, and it was time for
the real make-or-break step...attaching the top wing! Giving all
the interplane struts one final length check, I was ready. The wire
in the struts fitting into holes drilled into the solid wood inside
the wing gave strong joints. First, I taped the airplane solidly
to the table, stuck the inmost pair of struts into the bottom wings
on each side, got out the triangles and squares, sighted in all
the angles and set one strut at a time into position with Zap-a-Gap.
When I had these four struts solid, I removed the model from its
sticky prison so I could handle it freely. I placed the top wing
onto the four struts, wishing I had four hands; when all was right
and true, I locked it up with tape. Now with a few drops of Zap-a-Gap,
my wing was solid and I could continue working my way outward one
side at time through each pair of struts.
For the cabane struts, I snipped
off most of the wire ends and glued these into small dimples I had
previously made in the fuselage and bottom of the top wing. The
tail surfaces were installed in the same fashion, with the rudders
acting as the major struts.
The functional rigging was accomplished
with different gauges of mono fishing line, pulled through holes
drilled through all major components. Minor adjustments were still
possible at this stage so I could pull the whole into alignment.
Each place where a rigging line came through received a very generous
slopping of Krazy Glue. In my
world, it's much more important to get everything lined up and sturdy
and worry about body work later.
After rigging, my 0/400 looked as
if it was sprouting strange alien foliage until I snipped off all
the rigging ends. Snipping finished, I still had quite a bit of
cosmetic fine tuning: glue blobs that needed grinding down and holes
that needed to be filled. Luckily, before I started this thing,
I mixed up two 35mm film canisters (Kodak -- they seal better than
other brands) of my basic WW I British P.C.10 khaki-O.D. brownish
green color so matching the color over surface dings wasn't much
of a problem. I needed a lot because almost everything on the model
was painted with this color -- don't ask for my color formula! I
just mixed a bunch of Testors ModelMaster oil base stuff until it
looked correct. Even the colors were truly "scratch" as
I started with basic red, yellow, blue, black and white.
At this point I had a perfectly strong
structure ready for the final details. The landing gear sticks were
glued into place as was the tail skid, all made from bamboo. The
wheels are?????? I can't remember from what they sprang. I do remember
it was a little difficult to get a good-looking Handley Page wheel.
They're fatter than the average WWI shape, but not fat enough to
substitute a WW II tire. Also, no plumbing "o" ring would
do the job. But what, oh what, did I use? Beats me!
The guns were scratched from plastic rod and tube,
as were their mounts- except for the serrated arc on the nose ring
-- that's a Tom's Modelworks brass part. I should tell you that
at this point laziness or exhaustion attacked and I made the rear
Lewis gun without an ammo drum; I couldn't face it. The model was
already three weeks late for a contest that I had planned on using
for the public debut.
By now I was getting sick of the
whole thing. I never wanted to see the words "Handley-Page"
again. The Wife told me that if I gave up now, after putting in
all this time with nothing to show, she'd have to rethink my position
in the cosmos, and threatened to change said position. A gentle
re-introduction to resumed construction was called for.
The fuel and oil lines! All external
fuel lines were made from thin string soaked in cheap craft acylic
paint. I first coated the string with aliphatic resin glue and then
sanded it. (Egad! The man sands string!) This
de-fuzzes it, and then I put on five, maybe six heavy coats of cheap
craft acrylic paint. Now I had miles of flexible line.
The engine nacelles were mounted
on their little forests of bamboo struts, hand carved mahogony props
were installed, huge aileron cranks( more bamboo!) glued on, control
line rigging put on and in, and now I sat back to see what's what.
The Home Stretch:
Hmmm... where DO those aileron control
wires exit the fuselage? On no -- I should've put the fuselage walk
rails on before now. Ouch! What else have I missed? Uh... generators...
fuel pumps (those little cups spinning through those dumbbell shaped
openings in the fuselage sides, like anemometers), pitot tubes,
wing tip landing flares, gas caps on the top wing, rope pull handles
on the rear fuselage, nose bomb sight mount -- the list seems endless.
I'm again ready to have a breakdown; none of these items are difficult
to construct -- bits of plastic sprue, a piece of guitar string
there -- but there are just too many for my brain to get a handle
on. By now, I HATE scratch-building. The Wife says "Just
step back, take a look at it, it's turning out great and you're
in the home stretch". The Son comes out of his lair, sniffs
around and makes about the same pronouncement.
OK, back to it, one final push. The
last bits are made and stuck on. Decals are custom sprayed on clear
stock and applied. I let everything rest for a few days. British
WW I dopes went on glossy but dulled out in a short time, so I shot
a mix of 50-50 dull-gloss over the top and let this dry, to be followed
by an overall mist of the weakest light gray sprayed at high pressure.
This gave the final look of a large airplane with uneven coloration.
0/400s were hangared when possible, but the amount of exposure they
did receive, coupled with the difficulty in getting an even color
on so much surface made them... not blotchy... but... uneven. That's
the best word. An oil streak here and a mud blotch there, and it's
It was finished!!! I hated it. I
thought it was the worst piece of #$#%$# I'd ever made. I couldn't
look at it. But slowly, I began to appreciate the beast. Maybe I
did accomplish a little of what I set out to do. Another contest
was looming. A big one. One whose top prize was a ride in a P-51
Mustang. My killer instinct was rising now. Allright, this thing
IS more than OK -- this thing has a shot. I'm gonna win
that prize and give the ride to the Kid, being a firm believer in
the idea that every 13-year old needs to be upside down at 350mph
at least once.
Contest day dawns: load the thing into the van,
get to the contest, sign in, check out the other entries. My heart
sinks -- there are some GREAT models here. Oh well, maybe I'll come
home with a trophy or something although I'm usually not that trophy-hungry.
My ordinary contest mindset is geared toward having a good day hanging
out with fellow modellers, getting some good deals at the vendors,
and if a win comes my way, it's just gravy. But this day was different:
I was on a mission. The Kid NEEDS this ride.
The award ceremony begins. Good models
winning good trophies. Finally down to the "Best of Show".
The Handley-Page wins!!!! Yipe! I get to send the Kid off in a screaming
metal tube at several hundred miles per hour for who knows how long!
In almost fairy-tale fashion all
went well, the Kid got his ride and landed intact with a smile that
almost had to be surgically removed.