Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The General Aircraft Ltd., GAL 49/50 Hamilcar Mk I Heavy Assault Glider - Own your own in 1:72 Scale

Some people in their lifetime can either individually, or as part of a group, accomplish a particular lifelong desire. While I was able to visit The Assault Glider Trust, which is completing the restoration of a WWII Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Mk I Assault Glider, I only wish that I lived in the immediate vicinity of RAF Shawbury, and could have volunteered to take a more direct and active, hands-on role in the project. As an alternative, wish that I could have assisted in the limited restoration of a General Aircraft Ltd., GAL 49/50 Hamilcar Mk I Heavy Assault Glider. Judging from the popularity of two articles on this blog discussing the Hamilcar glider in some detail, apparently there are quite a few others who may well share the same ambition.

When I was a young man, I’m sure that had I already developed my current interests and knowledge, that a Hamilcar glider would have been amongst the many aircraft from kits, as well as scratch-built, that hung from the ceiling of my room. To my knowledge after an extensive search of the internet, there are only a very few sets of plans, let alone model kits of the Hamilcar presently available. Explored having a semi-professional model builder construct only the forward part of the fuselage including the cockpit in 1:30 scale (coincident with scale miniature figures of the Parachute Regiment, Glider Pilot Regiment, Airborne Forces and AFV’s), but have been told even that would be a “fairly extensive effort”, i.e. very expensive!

Finally, as a best remaining option for me personally, found that Planes Showcase could build an approximately 1:72 Scale GAL 49/50 Hamilcar Mk I Heavy Assault Glider in mahogany as a special order, and the company was having a free shipping sale. That is the same scale as the Airfix/Italieri/Revell plastic model of the Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Assault Glider that has been available for decades, thus affording a direct comparison of the sizes of the two gliders. Built to a “nominal” 1:72 Scale gives the Hamilcar model an 18.00 (should be 18.33) inch wing span and overall fuselage length of 11.00 (should be 11.33) inches The finished glider still has to fly from the Philippines to the United States via international postal service undamaged, and this day in age that is no mean feat. So if anyone else happens to be similarly inclined, this is what you may expect as an end product. Update: The glider arrived safely (very well packed), and the actual model meets and exceeds the photographs in all aspects.

Expert critics (also known as “rivet counters”) will be quick to point out the following details, some of which I intend to add and/or correct, but overall I personally think the company’s craftsmen have done an outstanding job, particularly given the media and scale. In addition, compounding the problem, is the fact that to the best of my knowledge a complete set of original plans for the glider have yet to be discovered. This is quickly realized as you review the various artist's interpretations shown in the drawings that are available on the internet.
1. The precise size of the model is off by .333 in. in wing span and overall fuselage length to be exactly 1:72 (Consistent, just slightly smaller scale, so somehow that doesn’t exactly bother me).
2. The towline slope indicator is too long (already shortened).
3. The towline slope indicator should be off-set to left of centerline of the glider.
4. Horizontal stabilizer trim tabs are not shown (can be added).
5. The forward radio antenna mast is not present (optional, as needed on the real glider, radio was intended for training missions only).
6. The rear radio antenna mast should be off-set to the port side of the fuselage (if required).
7. Nose landing light, wing navigation lights, recognition lights, tail navigation light are not present (can be easily added).
8. Pilot’s walkway (port & starboard) from pilot’s hatch to cockpit is not present (can  be added).
9. Pilot’s hatch from cargo deck is not present(can be added).
10. Aileron trimming tab (starboard wing only) not present (can be added).
11. Tow line pick-up shackles in both wings not present.
12. Tail number (not present on a majority of the actual aircraft).
13. The outline of the massive front nose cargo door is not shown (can be added).
14. The side cabin door is oversized (This does detract from an accurate appreciation of the size of this giant).
15. The cockpit should be longer and slightly flatter on top.

The majority of these details can be seen in these two detailed drawings.

An associated aspect to the above set of details is the fact that we are talking over 70 years since the Hamilcar was introduced into operational use. In addition, compared to the Spitfire, Lancaster or even the Horsa, it is a relatively obscure aircraft, and it takes a considerable effort to ferret out accurate details, having personally observed several inconsistencies and/or errors in the very few available plans, drawings and paintings. One original source document is the RAF manual; PILOTS NOTES FOR HAMILCAR I GLIDER with Appendices for tug aircraft pilots (2nd Edition), A.P. 2219-A P.N., January 1944. However, this document does not include any plan drawings of the glider. In order to download a copy of this document see; http://www.scalesoaring.co.uk/VINTAGE/Books/Hamilcar%20Manual.pdf

An excellent photograph from a WWII LIFE magazine article showing the significant size of the Hamilcar with air crew, and a Universal Carrier emerging from its cargo bay. Note complete absence of any radio antenna masts.

There is also a excellent series of photographs of a restored Tetrarch Light Tank Mk VII in its stored position within the cargo bay of a partially restored fuselage of a Hamilcar glider, clearly showing the extremely close dimensions. These images, taken at The Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset, U.K., may be seen at; http://www.flickriver.com/photos/tags/hamilcar/interesting/.

For those who might be interested here is a short vintage British Movietone News clip of the Hamilcar glider in flight, landing and off-loading a Universal Carrier; http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=d99_1295756711. The tug aircraft depicted towing the Hamilcar is believed to be the most commonaly used Handley Page H.P. 57 Halifax a heavy bomber, one of only three aircraft in RAF operational inventory, rated to pull the glider into battle. The other two being the Avro 683 Lancaster Mk I or III  and Short S. 29 Sterling heavy bombers. The weight of the Hamilcar unloaded was 18,400 lbs. It was rated capable of carrying a combat payload of 17,600 lbs., virtually double its weight.

In the opening paragraph two other pages in this blog were briefly mentioned. These pages cover both the operational use of the Hamilcar in general, and specifically its employment in Operation Market Garden. They can be found at; http://arnhemjim.blogspot.com/2011/09/general-aircraft-gal-50-other-wwii.html and http://arnhemjim.blogspot.com/2012/06/hamilcar-gliders-at-operation-market.html.

The following is a two page article from a contemporary (March 1945) aeronautical magazine written prior to Operation Varsity, and includes a brief biography of its designer at General Aircraft, Ltd., F.F. Crocombe, B.Sc.,F.R.Ae.S.

A closing word of advise to anyone one seriously contemplating acquisition of one of these models. They are available in a range of scale sizes from a group of companies, and predominately, if not totally, built in the Philippines. The one I purchased, and is shown, is the closest to 1:72 Scale I could find, and comes from a company with an established excellent reputation. They even sent me the above set of photographs for approval, prior to their shipping the model. For this specific configuration see; http://www.ebay.com/itm/General-Aircraft-GAL-49-58-Hamilcar-Desk-Wood-Model-Replica-Large-Free-Shipping-/200998176513?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2ecc6cc701(for one reason or another you will have to cut and paste this URL, it does work, having tested it several times).  Depending on your personal preference you may want to specify a gloss or matte finish.