Think of airshows of the 1950’s and 1960’s and you get a lot of images in mind. Prototype aircraft that were once in a life time opportunities, trialling the speed of modern aviation design, and the emergence of formation aerobatics – now in jets!
Jets were the future. That much had been clear since the second world war. Though propeller aircraft would (and still, thankfully, do) have their place in the world – jets would be the overwhelming majority in airforces across the world.
The same way that swimming in the ocean is not the same as your local swimming pool; flying a propeller aircraft and a jet fighter had dramatic differences. It was becoming clear that as jets became more complex, with higher speeds, and vastly improved manoeuvrability; people would need to be trained in jet aircraft too.
Earlier in Europe, the Meteor was adopted for training (perhaps one of the first jet trainer aircraft). The rest of the world was starting to adopt their aircraft too. But this was an era where aviation was constantly changing. Just as this years smartphone is next years trash – aircraft were constantly being developed, upgraded, and replaced.
In Europe – a continent torn in two – some simply stunning and vastly different designs developed. Luckily, with this article, we’ll get to examine some of those including where you can find the kit to build it.
The Fabulous Five
There are perhaps 5 designs that I feel are the most famous of the 1950/60s ‘first wave’ of jet trainer aircraft. We’ll start in Czechoslovakia. Interestingly, of the nations they’re from 3 chose separate tail designs (standard, T-tail, V-tail)
The L-29 Delphin was built by Aero Vodochody with it’s first flight being in 1959. The aircraft was chosen by the USSR as the standard jet trainer across the Soviet states. It’s adoption was massive – production reaching 3,500. Some are still in use at the time of writing.
Despite it’s massive ‘real life’ success – there aren’t many kits to choose from.
In the 1/72 scale, we have a kit by Bilek (there appears to be a KP boxing of this kit too).
As far as i can tell this is still in production in 2 variants at €9.60 each (from Bilek’s site), which seems quite reasonable. One kit is the L-29R (reconnaissance or camera mounted variant) and the other is the standard trainer. The standard trainer comes with the markings for 5 air arms including Czech, Russia/USSR, and Iraq.
AMK have also released a kit in 1/72. Personally, don’t know a lot about the kit but on other forums it appears that the 1/48th variant (also available) is in pretty good standing but lacks some detail. It may be that with some patience the Bilek version offers better value for money.
The Fouga Magister, how does one begin to describe this aircraft? Clearly, I have some bias here. Although I’ve seen all 3 of these aircraft fly – I think this holds a special place in my heart.
The Fouga Magister was developed in 1952 and came into service in 1956. Although not built in quite the sasme volume, it still managed 929 production aircraft (including some as licence-built aircraft). It features a v-tail arrangement which is very striking. The aircraft served with air arms such as France, Finland, Ireland, and Israel.
In terms of kit your options are pretty large. Of course, the French model manufacturer Heller has a nice 1/72 scale Fouga available. This comes with Patrouille de France and Luftwaffe options. Airfix also has a kit, which comes with Irish Silver Swallows and Belgium options. Valom, then, offer a few kits – between the three you get options for Finnish, Israeli, Brazilian, Austrian, and Irish options.
Coming from Britain there are 2 aircraft that marked the era of British jet trainers – the Folland/Hawker Siddley Gnat and the Percival/BAC Jet Provost.
The Jet Provost was first on the scene, with a conventional straight wing design with traditional tail design. The aircraft come into service in 1955 with just over 740 built. It’s traditional design stems from it’s origin aircraft – the Percival Provost (a piston-engined design). The aircraft served with a number of display teams – notably the Pelicans.
In terms of kits you have a number available. Airfix, unsurprisingly, made a number of kits. These are still available and tend to sell for between €8-15 on eBay and second hand model shops. One of these kits is labelled as a Strike master, but can easily build a T.3 of the Pelicans display team. There is also a new T.3 being released (new tool) this year. Sword has recently released a Jet Provost/Strikemaster kit too. This requires more work to get to the Provost standard, but isn’t a massive effort. Finally there is the Matchbox effort too. This is an older kit but still builds a pretty nice model but they are all labelled as Strike Masters. Other than these injection kits, there is Czech Master Resins Jet Provost. I would only recommend this to more experienced modellers as resin takes a lot more effort in order to produce good results.
The other well known trainer from the United Kingdom was the Folland Gnat (later made by Hawker Siddley). The Gnat was a very light aircraft, and had a very aggressive shape. It was an aircraft designed as a trainer, but looked more like a fighter than many of it’s counter parts listed so far today. It was exported worldwide – including Finland, and famously India. The aircraft first flew in 1959 and did not serve as long as the Jet Provost – as it was replaced in the 1979 by the Hawker Siddley Hawk (more on that in another article). Nearly 450 were built (including licence built “Ajeet” variants by HAL in India).
The main kit – which is widely available – is by Airfix. It’s been under 3 main versions
– standard trainer, Red Arrows, and Yellowjacks. The kit is a new tool (though the older tools are ‘ok’ and easily and cheaply available on eBay) and fits very well. The decals are lacking much variation – so after market decals may be wanted if you want to build a couple of each. Matchbox also had a version. Again, it’s alight for a kit – but I’d go for the Airfix variant considering how easy it is to get hold of, and how good of a kit it is. Special Hobby also released a kit for the Finnish variant. Finally there is a resin kit (or several) from Pro Resin – in particular they released a version of the HAL Ajeet which is slightly different in shape than the standard Gnat.
The MB326 by Aermacchi is the final of these five coming from Italy. This was an aircraft that was used as a trainer, and for light attack and has a design that is perhaps most
similar to the Jet Provost out of those on this list. The aircraft first flew in 1957 and was exported to Brazil, Australia, and South Africa – but of course Italy had large use of the aircraft. Italy could not afford a purpose built trainer so focused on an aircraft that could carry out light attack as well. As is well known, it was the steed of the Roulette’s jet display team in Australia.
In terms of kits you’re limited in your options. Italia has a kit which fits really well and makes a really well finished model. Comes with optionsn for the Italian airforce,as well as RAAF. There was a release of the light attack version (the Impala) which features 4 airforces, once again including Italy. As far as I’m aware this is the only kit of the aircraft.
So there you go – the five ‘large’ European first wave jet trainers. I know not all kits have been covered, but I’ve focused on the most accessible and available kits on the market. I’ll be writing more of these articles to look at other ‘less known’ European jet trainers, and also Jet Trainers from other continents.