In 1932 a small business called SKYBIRDS began making a series of model aircraft in 1/72 scale. However it was not long before they introduced metal figures and accessories, including military equipment. The first in this range was an Anti-aircraft gun in 1934. Later, in 1937, came an army lorry with a wire tilt frame, and in 1938 an Electric Searchlight. In 1938 these items, plus some other items of equipment, were combined into an Anti-Aircraft Gun Unit and a Searchlight Unit.
In comparison, similar items produced by Meccano under the Dinky Toys label were not available until slightly later - the Anti-Aircraft Gun (161b), the Lorry with Searchlight (161a) and the Mobile Anti-Aircraft Unit (161) all in the same year, 1939.
So it is interesting to compare the models produced and one can speculate whether the Skybirds items were the inspiration for the equivalent Dinky items.
At first sight the Dinky and Skybirds items look similar, both with 6-wheel lorries towing an anti-aircraft gun on a 4-wheel trailer. When looked at more closely the two lorries have several differences. The Skybird item is made of lead and does not have the same detailed finish as the Dinky. It also does not have a towing hook - the AA gun trailer has a wire hook which attaches to the rear axle of the lorry, and there is no driver figure or spare wheel on the side of the cab. The most obvious difference is that the Dinky lorry has the searchlight fixed into the rear bed, whereas the Skybird model has a lorry with wire tilt frames and the searchlight is a separate item which can be removed from the lorry.
The small searchlight made by Skybirds is a very good replica of the 90cm searchlight used before and during World War 2. It has an electric globe which can be connected to a battery. It is also more accurate than the Dinky searchlight fixed into the rear tray of the lorry. This is because the Skybirds searchlight is mounted on small caterpillar tracks and was designed to be carried in the lorry , then dismounted to its operational site.
Both Skybirds and Dinky made excellent models of the Anti-Aircraft Gun. This was the Quick Firing (QF) 3", 20cwt weapon, introduced in 1914 and used until the end of WW2. Both have gun barrels which can be elevated by a small knob on the side and it can be turned on its axis. The Dinky version (161b) has the gun fixed to the trailer but the Skybirds version is loose and can be removed. While the Dinky version has tinplate folding extensions to the trailer platform the Skybird version has removeable extensions which can be put in either the folded or extended positions.
So, while there are certainly differences between the models the Skybirds models were produced ahead of the Dinky versions and so it is interesting to speculate that they could have been the inspiration for the Dinky models.
What do other members think?
(1) "Skybird Notes", A.G.Sinclair, 1994.
(2) "The Great Book of Dinky Toys", Mike & Sue Richardson, New Cavendish Books, 2000.
Nice comparison and evaluation! See also: British Dinky Toys > British Gift Sets > -161
Here are the real things.
Photographed at the Duxford Imperial War Museum
The searchlight made by Skybirds is a much more realistic reproduction than the Dinky Toys one but the Dinky truck
and trailer are better reproductions.
In the real world the truck carrying the searchlight was probably not towing a gun but a generator which Meccano missed to produce.
Photographed at the Woolwhich Royal Artillery Museum