Home  |  What's New  |  Features  |  Gallery  |  Reviews  |  Reference  |  Forum  |

Airfix's 1/48 scale
Supermarine Spitfire IXc

by Brett Green

 

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IXc

 


Airfix's 1/48 scale Spitfire IXc / XVIe is available online from Squadron


 

Introduction

 

Background

The search for an ideal 1/48 scale Spitfire Mk.VIII / IX / XVI has been something akin to the quest for the Holy Grail. Every time modellers get a whiff, that potentially perfect Spitfire rapidly recedes into the mist.

Hopes were high for the Ocidental offering, but that kit had some serious dimensional and cross-section problems. The ICM 1/48 scale Spitfire IX was more accurate, but early pressings were plagued with moulding flaws and the fuselage was a bit skinny. Over-engineering also made this kit a challenge to build. Hasegawa's 1/48 scale Spitfires are beautifully detailed, but the whole family is blighted with a noticeably short fuselage and related detail issues.

It is as if this great aviation icon is cursed.

Airfix is the latest company to roll the dice for this most-produced of all Spitfire variants.
 


Airfix's 1/48 scale Spitfire IXc / XVIe in the Box

Airfix released their almost new Spitfire IXc / XVIe early in 2006. It comprises more than 70 parts in injection moulded plastic, some of which were originally included in their Mk.Vc kit from a few years ago

The new parts are well done. Panel lines are crisply recessed, supplemented with subtle rivet and fastener detail in places. The texture of the new parts is satin, and benefits from a light overall sanding. There were only a couple of minor sink marks on my sample. These are on the starboard side of the fuselage under the canopy, and were quickly dispatched with putty and a sanding stick. The only other moulding eccentricity is the massive sprue connectors on the wing parts.

The wings are noticeably thick, as are the trailing edges of all the control surfaces.

It is a great relief to find that the general outline of the airframe, and the overall dimensions, correspond with respected plans. The shape of this Spitfire is basically accurate.

So, what can we build from the parts in the box?

 



Airfix supplies us with a standard "razorback" fuselage, plus a late elliptical wing. In addition to this basic canvas, Airfix offers two styles of upper cowl (early "flat" style and the later bulged version, usually seen covering Packard Merlins), three varieties of separate wing tips (standard, clipped LF and the pointed HF versions), and three versions of wing gun covers (standard two-gun C, four gun C, and E). Only the flared style of exhausts are in the box. Two wheel patterns are included though - four spoke and covered, both with smooth treaded tyres. Elevators are the late "kinked" style only, and the intake under the nose is also the late style. Early (rounded) and late (pointy) rudders are also included.

Taking all these options into account, we can build any razorback Spitfire IX or XVI straight from the box except the earliest production Mk.IX. And even if you do want to build an early Mk.IXc from, say, 1943, you will only have to rescribe the elevator hinge line and replace the intake.

Airfix has also provided separate flaps. Keep in mind, though, that the flaps were either full up or full down, and it was rare to see flaps down when the Spitfire was parked.

In the cockpit, a few prominent features such as the oxygen regulator, oxygen hose and some wheels and boxes are missing, but they are very easy to add from scrap plastic and wire if you feel so inclined. The seat looks somewhat oversize.

The exhausts, propeller blades and wing bulges are poorly shaped, and there is no face detail (neither front nor rear) inside the big radiators.

The six clear parts are very clean, but thick.

 

 

Construction

 

Although the cockpit can trace its roots directly back to the 1970s-vintage Airfix Spitfire Vb kit, I actually like the deep, albeit sparse, features. It is a good basis for further detailing, and takes painting and weathering very well.

I replaced the pilot's seat with an Ultracast item due to its nice detail and also because it was the only Q harness that I had. I accidentally broke one of the plastic floor rails, so I replaced them both with brass wire. Apart from that, I only added some boxes and punched wheels from scrap styrene, rudder toe straps from lead foil and an oxygen hose from UpNorth flexible wire. Reheat cockpit placard decals were also used for effect.

The beautifully detailed pilot's door is from Ultracast too. It is designed for the ICM kit, but fits the Airfix Spitfire quite well. By the way, the red crowbar is a feature of postwar restorations, but I could not resist the splash of colour.

 

 

After posting the above photo to HyperScale's Plastic Pics Forum last year, one of our eagle-eyed visitors pointed out the the Mk.IX would not have been fitted with the cushioned headrest. I therefore sliced this part off and repainted the armour plate. This was a little tricky as I had already glued the fuselage halves together!

I disregarded the suggested construction sequence and completed the main fuselage components before offering it to the wing. Using this sequence, it is easy to get a perfect fit between the fuselage halves and the separate top and bottom cowl pieces. It also ensures the correct spacing on the bottom of the fuselage at the front of the wing root.

Test fitting showed that there would be a gap between the wing and the fuselage at the wing root. The solution was to spread the fuselage. Fortunately, I had not glued the bottom half of the rear cockpit bulkhead to the fuselage halves. This was just as well, as it offered the flexibility to insert two wedges of plastic on either side of the bulkhead. This spread the fuselage at the mid section.

Further test fitting indicated that there was still a gap toward the front of the wing root. A length of sprue was tested, then glued into place to spread the fuselage in this area too.

The bottom of the rear bulkhead seemed to foul with the mid flap roof section, so I cut a few millimetres off the bottom of the bulkhead.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

[../../photogallery/photo00029969/real.htm]

I could not find any credible reference photos that showed the wheel bulges on the wing of an early Mk.IXc during wartime, so I used the top Mk.Vc wing supplied in the kit instead. There was a slight overhang at the front and the rear, and some additional trimming and sanding was necessary at the wing root to obtain a perfect fit, but a perfect fit was eventually had.

The wing was secured with Tamiya Extra Thin Liquid Cement and copiously taped while the glue dried. The dihedral was set with tape stretched from wing tip to wing tip.

The result was a near perfect fit in all the most important places - the wing root, top cowl, bottom cowl. Underneath is a little less tidy, but still easily manageable. I used Milliput to fill the small gaps at the front, rear and on the wing fillets.

Note the upper wing overlapping the lower wing halves in the photo below. I sanded a smaller but similar overlap at the leading edge. The trailing edge overlap was filled with Milliput and sanded razor thin.

 

 

The wing tips did not fit well, with a step at the top and bottom and not conforming to the profile of the ailerons' trailing edges. Putty, sanding, re-contouring and re-scribing was the solution.

The trailing edges of the control surfaces are unacceptably thick. I knew that I would have to virtually rebuild them if I took the thinning option, so I replaced them instead. I used the small rudder from the ICM Spitfire VIII kit (I did not need that version of the rudder anyway). This was much sharper at the trailing edge, and slimmer overall. Before the fuselage halves were joined, the fin halves at the rudder hinge line required significant thinning in order to avoid a noticeable step between the thick kit fin and the nice skinny rudder. A small shim of styrene strip was also added to the top of the fin to fill a small gap. The leading edge of the fin was slightly lumpy after the rudder was glued in place, but a couple of minutes re-profiling smoothed over that problem.

I was planning to finish my Spifire as an early Mk.IXc, but the Airfix kit only supplies the "cranked" late version elevators. I fitted Ultracast's early uncranked elevators instead. They did not need much work to adapt them to the Airfix kit, and they are appropriately thin at the trailing edge. The Ultracast control surfaces also offer the benefit of some of the best fabric rendition in the business.

The result was a much more convincing tail end for my Spitfire.

 

 

This 453 Squadron (RAAF) Spitfire was responsible for both escort and fighter-bomber missions, so I decided to add a bomb to the centreline. The rack and bomb were sourced from the ICM kit - not only a nice model but also a fabulous source of spare parts. The support struts were supplied in very fine styrene. I replaced them with more rigid steel rod. ICM's bomb was coated with Tamiya Surfacer and stippled with a short brush to obtain a slightly rough cast effect.

The exhaust stacks as supplied by Airfix are blobby, to put it kindly. I replaced these with exhaust stacks from the Hasegawa kit (the Hasegawa kit will be fitted with Ultracast exhausts - around and around we go...), which are not perfect but much better than the alternative. The mounting strips behind the Hasegawa exhausts were sanded back around 1 millimetre to achieve the correct protrusions of the stacks.

 

 

The propeller assembly was also replaced. Aeroclub' plastic replacement spinner and propeller assembly fitted almost perfectly and represented a major improvement over the shape of the kit parts.

This early Mk.IX retained the small carburettor intake of the Mk.V. These parts were taken from the ICM kit.

Airfix's clear parts are reasonably accurate, but they are very thick. The centre canopy section would not have a hope of sitting down convincingly on the spine when posed open, so I once again delved into the Alladin's Cave-like ICM kit for a thinner replacement. This fitted reasonably well after a few tiny plastic tabs were glued to the inside front corners.

 

 

Painting and Markings

 

Prior to painting, the main joins were brushed with lines of Tamiya Liquid Surface Primer as insurance against any fine gaps, and the entire model was sanded first with my Blue Mastercasters sanding stick, then with 3600 grit Micro Mesh cloth.

The canopy parts were dipped in Future then masked with Tamiya tape and sprayed black prior to the application of camouflage colours.

I primed the entire airframe with Tamiya Grey Primer straight from the can. I like the Tamiya primer, being fast drying and a good way to quickly check for any persistent gaps or other surface imperfections before the final colours are applied.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

[../../photogallery/photo00029391/real.htm]

The Testor Aztek A470 airbrush fitted with the "Fine" tan tip was used for all remaining painting.

I acquired a pack of three "Mr Color" lacquer paints for RAF fighters some time ago. This seemed to be as good a time as any to use them.

First, the white area of the invasion stripes were sprayed and masking tape applied to protect this coat during subsequent painting. Next, Mr Color Medium Sea Grey was sprayed on the bottom of the model. I found that I could spray these colours very thinly, around 70-80% lacquer thinner, for fast drying and good coverage. The only problem is the cloud of toxic vapour. You will need very good ventilation when using these paints.

When the upper surfaces were coated with Ocean Grey, the hard-edged camouflage pattern was masked using a combination of Tamiya's wide masking tape and sections of Post-It Notes. Several fine coats of RAF Dark Green was misted over the surface to ensure that there was no build up of paint along the demarcation lines.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

[../../photogallery/photo00025910/real.htm]

Following removal of the masking tape, the black portions of the invasion stripes were masked and sprayed.

The airframe was shaded with a thin mix of Flat Black and Red Brown. This was sprayed along control surface hinge lines, selected panels, in a few random spots and streaks and along the demarcation line between the Ocean Grey and Dark Green. This slightly reduces the harshness of the sharply masked demarcation.

The carefully masked invasion stripes looked very attractive and tidy, but reference photos showed 453 Squadron's stripes to be a bit messy. I brush-painted Flat Black acrylic paint along the demarcation of the stripes on the fuselage to obtain a less regular line. For the wings, I carefully tore strips of masking tape and sprayed over these.

The model received a coat of Polly Scale Gloss acrylic in preparation for decals.

National markings and stencils were sourced from the Airfix decal sheet. These performed well, with good colour saturation and minimal silvering.

The unique aircraft markings came from Ventura Decals V4821. These arrived after I had painted the entire model, including the Sky fuselage band and spinner. I should have waited for the decals before I started painting though, as the Ventura version of Sky was quite different to my Tamiya paint. Next time I will match the paint with the codes.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

[../../photogallery/photo00025290/real.htm]

Contemporary photos show that 453 Squadron's invasion stripes were painted around the code letters and fuselage roundel using a paint brush. There are narrow but irregular gaps between the markings and the invasion stripes, especially obvious on the white sections. I had partially prepared the fuselage while painting the invasion stripes by masking a section just larger than the diameter of the roundel inside the stripes.

The code letters were a bit more complicated. While the decal code letters were still on their backing sheet, I carefully drew an outline around them with a fine medium grey Letraset ProMarker. I cut the decals out of the backing paper using a sharp hobby knife, going as close to the letter as I dared and leaving only a tiny grey outline. I touched up the edges with white paint when the decals were safely in place on the fuselage.

All the decals performed flawlessly with the help of Mr Mark Setter and Mr Mark Softer.

A finishing coat of Polly Scale Flat sealed the decals and the paint job.

 

 

The undercarriage, bombs, flaps and other detail parts were painted and installed without incident. 

Finishing touches included a rod aerial underneath the wing, and antenna wires from the tips of the horizontal tailplanes to the fuselage sides made from E.Z Line elastic thread.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Airfix has delivered the classic "Curate's Egg" with their 1/48 scale Spitfire IXc / XVIe - it is good in places.

At the end of this project I find myself disappointed at the missed opportunity for Airfix to create the definitive late-Merlin Spitfire.

I think that the fuselage shape is really very good; probably the best of any of the Spitfire kits. The subtle bulges of the cowl look right, and the smooth transition from the nose to the spinner is especially good. The Hasegawa kit looks lumpy and inelegant in this area, being a bit pinched at the front of the fuselage. Surface detail is fine, crisp and consistent. Decals are produced to a high standard and work well on the model. The supplied options are impressive, with parts for high altitude, clipped wing and Seafire versions. Even the cockpit, wheel wells and undercarriage are acceptable. Fit is generally pretty good too.

Unfortunately, there is a correspondingly long list of shortcomings. The rudder and horizontal tailplanes are very thick and need replacing. The wing is also noticeably thick, and the dropped flaps are an unnecessary gimmick. The shape of the propeller blades is poor, as are the blobby exhausts and the slab-like cannon bulges on top of the wings. Canopy parts are far too thick for this day and age as well. 

 

 

Except for the thick wing, all these deficiencies can be addressed by the after market and spare parts from other kits. However, it really should not be necessary to scavenge a dozen parts from alternative sources simply to achieve an acceptable replica, particularly considering the amount of research available on the Spitfire and the current state of injection moulding technology.

In conclusion, I believe that this is a kit with some merit and a worthwhile modelling project, but the Airfix 1/48 scale Spitfire must be content to take its place on the "close but no cigar" pile along with Ocidental and Hasegawa.

Aeroclub has now released a replacement fuselage for Hasegawa's 1/48 scale Spitfire. Perhaps this will be the most direct route to an accurate Spitfire.

Thanks to Hannants for the sample kit.


Model, Images & Text Copyright 2007 by Brett Green
Page Created 21 February, 2007
Last Updated 24 December, 2007

Back to HyperScale Main Page