Tamiya Color For Westland Whirlwind (Fighter)

One of the questions that brought someone to this weblog yesterday was about Tamiya colors for Whirlwinds. I presume they mean the fighter and not the license-built Sikorski helicopter of the same name (Everyone does it, Hawker built at least two “Fury”s and Lockheed made any number of “Electra”s.)

Short form: Like any and all RAF day fighters in the WWII era, Whirlwinds were originally camouflaged with Dark Earth and Dark Green upper surfaces. Sky (aka “Sky type S” which just means Smooth, ie finely ground pigment) was used on the underside, Propellers black with yellow tips, spinners black. Landing gear and landing gear wells Aluminum paint, not bare metal. Cockpit “British Interior Gray Green”- a hydraulic-fluid and fuel-proof paint with a semi-gloss finish.

In mid 1941, a Sky band 18″ wide was painted around the aft fuselage, just ahead of the fin and rudder. This is conveniently 1/4 inch, exactly, in 1/72 scale, and 3/8″ in 1/48. In metric that’s 25.4/4 or 6.35mm in 1/72, 76.2/8 or 9.53mm in 1/48. Prop spinners were also painted Sky at this time.

In late 1941, the Dark Earth color was replaced with Ocean Gray, which was both an official color and the name for a locally-prepared “Mixed Gray” consisting of 7 parts Sea Gray, Medium and 1 part Night (ie black). The underside became Sea Gray, Medium, but the ring around the aft fuselage and the spinners remained Sky. For added recognition help at short range, the leading edge of the wings (viewed from in front) got a yellow stripe, 2 or 3 inches wide at the wing tip, 5 or 6 (in the case of the Whirlwind) where the leading edge blended into the engine nacelles. Propellers remained black, landing gear Alumiunum and so forth. Only the outside colors changed.

There’s a raft of additional history of what color the squadron and aircraft codes (DW K, etc) were to be- a Gray, then Sky, then… and the wing and fuselage roundels AND fin-flash changed size and relative color areas.

THEREFORE, among the Tamiya AS spray paints, you can find an RAF Dark Earth, Dark Green, Ocean Gray, Sea Gray, Medium, and Sky. I know they make a Sky in their alcohol/water based brushing paint, I’ve got a bottle of it, but I tend to use the Polly Scale product because I find it easier. Not sure if any of their green, brown or grays are direct matches.

For British Interior Gray Green, Tamiya offer the following formula:

XF-5 Flat Green: 1 part, XF-21 Sky: 3 parts, XF-65 FIeld Gray: 1 part.

That looks plausable, I’ll have to mix some and see some day.

For the Landing Gear, inside of the gear doors and wells, you could use Tamiya XF-** Flat Aluminum. I would not recomend their XS-** Bare Metal spray paint, as the real thing was Aluminum Paint, not bare aluminum. This would NOT be an easy job with a brush and here’s where I’d strongly recomend using Polly Scale (metalics are still available in their Railroad line) or Model Master Acryl II (the stuff you can buy now). Maybe the Flat Aluminum bottled paint sprays easier than it brushes- probably so. Maybe they have a Flat Aluminum spray paint.

Semi-gloss black XF-** for propellers and tires, your choice of rusty brownish-blackish-metalic (custom mixed) for the exhaust covers.

If you’re building a Whirlwind with the green and grays Day Fighter Scheme, you could use XF-** Flat Yellow for the wing leading edges, outboard of the engine nacelles.

I hope this helps. I should make a TIME LINE of all the permutations of the Temperate Land scheme, the Day Fighter scheme, under side colors (only with the Day Fighter Scheme did upper and lower colors change together), along with roundel geometry, size and color (“indian” (subcontinent), sometimes called “brick” or “dull” red replaced the pre-war bright red.) call letters, prop spinners and interiors. All of the exterior and interior finish orders are essentially orthagonal to the aircraft- all day fighters, night fighters, day bombers, night bombers, night intruders, ocean patrol, carrier based, reconnisance, transport, trainers, prototype, etc, aircraft were to be finished to a common standard.

The LIKELY color of a given airplane, at a given squadron, in a given place, and with a given role, therefore depends on the date you’re interested in, possibly when the airplane was issued to the squadron and/or when the airplane was built or recived factory paint (major repairs for example) It never hurts to have a photo, black and white if it must be, of the precise airplane you are attempting to duplicate in miniature.

If you aren’t after a particular airplane, just want a particular scheme, go ahead, and if you are a bit, er, retentive, you can pick a real-life airplane that probably (or provable) had those colors. Or paint the airplane you want in the colors you want and enjoy it. This is a hobby. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

The prototype Whirlwind was dark gray, the second was Aluminum painted. One that came back to the factory for repair was stripped of weapons, painted RAF PRU Blue and flown as a utility hack by Westland, with a civil registration, from the end of the war until the later 1940s, when it was the last example to be scrapped. None survive today.


Late war RAF fighters were built with the cockpit painted black above the pilot’s lap or so, interior gray-green below that. But the Whirlwinds were not in active service by then.

For airplanes with Sky undersurfaces, in late 1940-early 1941 period, one wing or one half the airplane underside including wing, horizontal stabalizer, etc, was painted black for recognition. This black half was an on and off thing with the RAF, in 1939-40 they had 1 black and 1 white wing and the rest aluminum paint (not bare metal), sometimes done as half black and half white down the middle, then Sky in place of the black and white, then Sky, then Sky with one wing black, then Sky without the black, and finally Sea Gray, Medium (aka Medium Sea Gray)

All this color changing was by order across all aircraft types, not just fighters, not just a particular fighter, and in some cases, was to be completed by dawn on a particular day, in other cases as time was available. In all cases, factory finishes, repair-and-storage-depot finishes and squadron-personel-applied finishes were done by people with differing facilities, materials, imperitives and experience. Though the orders were uniform, the results were not! For example, the MIxed Gray (a post-war name coined by enthusiasts, never used officially) and the officially issued Ocean Gray are not the same color- Mixed gray looking more purple to me.

Moreover, the relative pigment density of the Sea Gray, Medium and Night (black) used to make Mixed Gray would obviously affect the result- not only how much the finish was stirred before being applied, but how much the two ingredients were stirred before being mixed would affect the result. So I can mix my Sea Gray, Medium Polly Scale paint with Black Polly Scale paint, but I’d be a rash man indeed to claim the result is precicsely what someone mixing RAF-issued dope or lacquer in 1941 would have produced. A 7:1 ratio of finishing material, by volume, says nothing about the relative amounts of pigment!

Also, the official order, couched in officialese, was subject to mis-understanding. Cases are reported where the Mixed Gray was made from 7 parts Sky, one part Night ( wow :^P I have to try that some time ) or 7 parts White and one part Night… clearly that would be a much lighter result.

Not to mention that the RAF (like all airplane painters) applied enamel paint, lacquer or nitrate dope, depending on the underlying material (enamel on wood, steel, lacquer on aluminum, dope on fabric). Even if they looked them same when dry, they’d weather differently.

2 responses to “Tamiya Color For Westland Whirlwind (Fighter)

  1. Dear Sir

    Thanks for the details. I have read the Whirlwinds had a blue underside finish which was half black during the winter into ’41 and remained so longer than other RAF fighters in order to distinguish the Whirlwinds.

    Best regards,

    • Thanks Matt.
      Neat. I’ve read in more than one place that the change from black, white and aluminum underside paints to all Sky, in later 1940, was as chaotic as could be imagined, what with a war going on, the fall of France, and Sky having previously been little used. Sky code-letters only came in with the Medium Sea Gray underside color. The resulting “Sky” of 1940 was said to be a range of colors, from pale blues through richer blues, blue grays and even greens. (no doubt based on verbal or written descriptions of ‘Sky’ but no actual sample or standard…). Some hard working depots, squadrons and manufacturers even got it right!
      It wasn’t as if all the quartermasters went down to their local hobby shop and picked up a bottle of Sky!
      I’ve also read of squadrons which mistrusted identification markings such as black wing undersides, white or yellow stripes, etc, and didn’t apply them when called for, or kept them once they have been applied past official discontinuance.
      In addition to scale effect and weathering, the variability of original color mixes is something that’s underrepresented in model box art and the popular imagination. Contemporary color photographs, even allowing for color shifts, show a wide range of actual colors seen in practice. I like Mr. Bell’s semi-serious comment in his USAAF Colors book that “no two USAAF aircraft were ever painted exactly the same”!


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