For the most part, the aircraft models produced by Dinky were impressive and desirable miniatures. But they were also toys, so how would you play with them?
Obviously, armed with a fertile imagination, the models could become props for enacting various dramatic episodes – desperate air combats, thrilling long-distance flights, glamorous holidays by air. But the models themselves, albeit reasonably accurate, are small and fairly featureless, with only their tiny rotating propellers and rolling wheels to enliven play; and Dinky didn’t create any accessories such as airport buildings which might have assisted play scenarios.
Nevertheless, Dinky did come up with one, rather surprising, method of getting more from their models. To explore this, let’s use as an exemplar, a wartime aircraft – the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley.
The Whitley Bomber
The AW Whitley was one of three heavy bombers with which Britain entered World War 2. After a first flight in 1936, it began RAF service in the following year. The Whitley, being a slow flyer, was earmarked for night bombing duties, replacing the biplane Handley Page Heyford. By 1942 it was retired as a bomber, although continuing to serve as a transport and coastal reconnaissance aircraft, glider tug and trainer. In all, roughly 1,800 were built.
The aircraft carried a crew of five, and a bomb-load of 7,000lbs, but like many early war bombers was lightly armed, eventually sporting a four-gun rear turret but no other defensive armament except for a single gun at the front. It was a large aircraft, with a distinctive long straight fuselage, and a slightly drooped attitude when flying level.
The Dinky Model
Dinky 60v Whitley
Year first produced:1939
L97xW118xH18, Metal 62g, Scale 1:220, Features: 2
Our model is fairly simple, consisting of a single mazak casting, plus two propellers & retaining pins, and two main wheels and axles. The propellers and wheels rotate. The scale is slightly smaller than usual at 1:220, but even so the model of this large aircraft is quite big with a wingspan of just under 12cm. The main features of the Whitley are nicely captured: the large squarish wings, the long straight fuselage, the pronounced ‘chin’ at the lower front of the plane, and the unusual tailplane configuration.
Underneath the model on the other hand, there are several concessions to ease and economy of manufacture. The underside of the wings is cut away into a concave section, thus saving metal. The wheels are held on necessarily thick legs; in the middle of the fuselage bottom there is a round hole, used during manufacture for holding the casting while it was spray painted; and of course, there are the usual identification marks
“DINKY TOYS”, “WHITLEY BOMBER” and “MADE IN ENGLAND BY MECCANO LTD” (but no model number).
The model is painted silver, reminiscent of the ‘silver wings’ scheme in use in the RAF during the inter-war period, and applied to the Whitley prototypes. Two large roundels on the upper wings are decals. We can say that the model represents an early version of the Whitley, because it is powered by two radial engines, whereas the main production version produced during WW2 was equipped with inline Merlins (which vastly improved its otherwise sluggish performance).
The model was supplied, like all of the early large aircraft, in a smart blue cardboard box, with a lift-off top printed with a potted description of the Whitley.
Before we leave the model, one small detail must be mentioned. In the upper middle of the fuselage is a square hole. We’ve seen this before with other models produced in the late 1930s, so what is it for?
Dinky also released a model of the Whitley decorated with a wartime colour scheme (and catalogued as 60t), so let’s take a quick look at it. The upper surfaces are painted with a brown and green camouflage scheme, while the lower surfaces are black. The glass of the turrets and cockpit is picked out in silver, and the aircraft is decorated with early-war roundels on both the upper wings and fuselage sides.
Our model is somewhat battered with worn paint, and some cracking at the cockpit suggesting the onset of metal corrosion (see my story about the Mayo Composite for further information on this). Intriguingly, we can see that in this model, a split pin is fitted into the square hole in the upper fuselage, leaving a protruding rounded loop.
The Gliding Game
So, what is the loop for? The answer to this lies in a leaflet that was supplied with the models, entitled “GLIDING – a new game with Dinky Toys aeroplanes”. The leaflet explains how to ‘fly’ your aircraft by the ingenious use of two threads. The first carries the weight of the model by passing it through the loop, and stretches from the ground (where it should be secured to a peg) upwards at an incline of 1 in 3 to a wall or other convenient attaching point, such as a screw-eye fixed into a door or window frame. The second thread is tied to the tail of the model, and passed through a second screw-eye fixed just below the first. The ‘pilot’ holds onto the free end of the thread, and hauls the aircraft up to the highest point desired ready for the flight to begin. Then by gradually paying out the thread, the model glides down the flightpath to a (hopefully!) safe landing on the ground.
Well, it all sounds like good homespun fun, and I can imagine young model owners in days of yore badgering their elders to set up the necessary threads. The leaflet suggests that owners could stage races between themselves, or conduct some formation flying by attaching the second thread to several models (presumably flying in line astern along the guide thread, and then – tragically – piling up in a multi-aircraft crash when they land!).
Luckily, the Dinky models were robust beasts and could probably withstand such mistreatment, er I mean play, at least for a few attempts. However, I doubt that some of the more elaborate biplanes could survive a few crash landings and the odd mid-air disaster without showing some signs of distress! Which brings us back to the purpose of the models. When they were made, they were toys for playing with.
And just in case the thought of damaging those precious models gives you the jitters, remember that, as the great G.B.Shaw is said to have remarked “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”. So, I’m off to the shed to find some thread and screw-eyes…
A good selection of early WW2 RAF aircraft was available from Dinky. In addition to the Whitley, this included the Fairey Battle (60n) and Bristol Blenheim (62b) light bombers, and the Hawker Hurricane (62s) fighter.