On 5 March 1936 the Supermarine Spitfire flew for the first time. The aircraft required considerable work to become the combat-ready Mk I, but even at this early stage it was unmistakably a Spitfire. In order to celebrate the event, the Editor presented Tony O’Toole with two routes to providing a 1:72 model of K5054, with a mind to deciding which was best. Tony didn’t come to any conclusion, but instead produced two beautiful and very different models of the same machine, depicting it early on in its career as a pure prototype and later as an armed warplane.
Czech Master Resin is well known for its high quality resin kits, and on opening the flimsy polythene bag packaging -which is almost a Czech Master trademark – for the company’s Spitfire Prototype kit, I was not disappointed with its contents. All of the parts are crisply detailed and optional parts are included for building this famous aircraft at various stages in its career. There are two different canopies, both of which have spares, with the original and later windscreens, and two different propellers, the shallow-pitch, two-bladed unit used on the first flight and the more usual two-bladed propeller that was used subsequently, apart from some experiments with fixed pitch wooden four-bladers.
The first stage in constructing this kit is to paint the cockpit interior, but the instructions provide no clue as to what colour it was. After viewing as many old black and white photographs of the original aircraft as 1 could find, I decided, rightly or wrongly, to paint it silver, using Humbrol Metalcote Dull Aluminium, with black for the cushion on the back of the pilot’s seat, the instrument panel and throttle quadrant, etc. In a close up picture of the prototype’s cockpit I noticed a prominently large handle with a knob at its end. This was pumped by the pilot to raise and lower the undercarriage and since it was not included among the kit’s parts I reproduced it with a piece of fuse wire bent to shape and a blob of PVA to represent the knob, before painting it black and adding it to the right hand cockpit wall. The only other addition to the interior was a set of seat straps made from strips of Tamiya tape.
The cockpit of this model is in fact identical to that of CMR’s other short Merlin-engined Spitfire/Seafire kits and the fuselage halves of these kits all appear to come from the same master mould too, but with minor changes for each version. The instrument panel and the rear bulkhead of the completed cockpit needed to be trimmed slightly to fit between the fuselage halves, but with little effort the fit became snug and the cockpit assembly was attached to the right hand fuselage half, while the cockpit access door in the left hand side was cut out using a razor saw. The fuselage halves were then joined together and the tailplanes and rudder attached. The former needed a little filler to help them blend into the fuselage. Then the fuselage was lowered onto the one-piece wing to demonstrate a reasonable fit, although filler was needed to smooth out the wing roots and remove the join line, since most of the panel lines on the Spitfire prototype had been filled, making this one of the sleekest looking Spitfires ever built.
Now that the model was looking every inch a Spitfire, it was time to decide which stage of the prototype’s life I wanted it to depict. I wanted this model to wear the beautiful blue/grey colour scheme and this ruled out using the early propeller, which was worn only for the first flight when the aircraft was still overall natural metal. I decided to depict the period before the wing guns were fitted to the prototype, meaning that the smooth windscreen without the gunsight dimmer screen was needed. This was separated from its vacform backing and the sliding canopy section, and attached with PVA glue, along with the small section behind the pilot’s seat, although much trimming was required to obtain a decent fit. Photographs of this famous Spitfire, taken during the period being modelled, were studied and it was established that there was a pitot tube projecting from the left wing in the area where the outboard gun port would eventually be. This was fabricated from plastic rod and a hole was drilled into the wing leading edge to accept it. These photos also revealed that the undercarriage doors still had the original extra panel which covered up the entire wheel bay when the gear was retracted. These were soon removed because they had a habit of hanging down in flight. Since they were included in the kit they were easily attached to the undercarriage legs, which were then fitted to the model, along with the tail skid. As the propeller spinner on the real aircraft was highly polished bare metal at this time, I substituted the kit’s resin propeller for the metal item from Aeroclub’s Spitfire prototype conversion and the white metal was sanded and polished until it gleamed.
With the model all but complete the seam lines were sanded smooth and it was then time to decide what colour to use to represent the blue/grey paint scheme. This was reportedly applied by Rolls-Royce using automotive paint. Unfortunately, although the original finish was pristine, this paint was not designed for the rigours of flight and it was prone to crack and peel off. Apparently the paintwork was forever being touched up until the aircraft was eventually given a coat of camouflage. The exact colour used on the Spitfire prototype seems to be unknown, so I was forced to check out various options using black and white photographs and various paintings and colour side views. After much deliberation I decided that the colour that most resembled my impression of this scheme was RLM65 Hellblau, by Xtracolor. This was then brushed over the entire model, including the propeller blades. After two coats the result was a really nice smooth and glossy finish, which was just what 1 wanted.
Certain aspects of the kit’s decals did not seem to match the photos that I was working from, especially the serial numbers, since their white surround seemed to be too narrow. This was rectified by contacting Mike Acteson of the IPMS(UK) Decal Bank, who provided me with a couple of decal sheets from the old Pegasus kit, as well as the part of Tasman sheet V7204 that includes the Spitfire prototype. By pooling all of these decals and using the best from each I managed to more accurately depict the prototype in its blue/grey guise and later still in its final form.
The decals were sealed into place using Johnson’s Kleer floor polish and a few of the lines around panels that would have been removed regularly were highlighted using a colour wash of Paynes Grey water-colour, while Black was applied around the control surface joints. This was then rubbed off using a piece of damp kitchen paper, leaving the paint in the recessed areas. Once this had fully dried the entire model received a coat of Kleer, which was later polished with a soft rag to enhance its glossy sheen. All that remained now was to add the sliding canopy using PVA, and the opened cockpit access door, and the model was finished.
The prototype Spitfire is not the sort of subject that I would normally choose, but I enjoyed the challenge of this model and I‘m pleased with the results.
This would be the much more difficult of the two options for building K5054 if you wanted to depict the aircraft during its early to mid-life. The engine cowlings were quite different at this time and the kit would require extensive re-profiling. Luckily, 1 wanted to represent the aircraft after it had been updated almost to production Mk I standard and camouflaged, with new cowlings that resembled those of the Airfix kit. Ejector exhausts had also been fitted to the prototype by this time, so the inserts provided by Aeroclub to represent the earlier six plain holes can be left off and the Airfix items used instead. Since the Aeroclub white metal propeller had been swapped for the CMR resin item and this kit was also providing a canopy with the later, dimmer, screen, the only other parts of the Aeroclub conversion to be used were the wheels. The Aeroclub exhaust inserts and canopy were therefore put into the spares box. This still leaves one distinct part of the Airfix kit that needs to be altered for it to represent the Spitfire prototype, so, resorting to plastic card and filler, the radiator housing was extended forward until it was parallel and almost flush with the wheel bay. The CMR plans were of great help when carrying out this work.
The cockpit detail of the Airfix kit can best be described as sparse, so to hide this 1 decided to use a pilot figure to represent the famous Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill, wearing his customary white flying suit and helmet. A suitable figure from an Italeri Dakota was painted accordingly and placed on the seat of the silver-painted cockpit, which also had its gunsight modified into the ring and bead type. The fuselage halves were then joined and the wings assembled and added to the fuselage, along with the tailplanes. Everything was now held together using tape while the glue set overnight. The Airfix Spitfire Mk I must rank as one of the easiest and quickest ever kits to build; an ideal starter project!
Since the Spitfire prototype had most of its panel lines filled in and was a very smooth looking aircraft, all of the raised panel lines of the Airfix Spitfire were sanded off, with just the recessed engine panel and pilot’s access door lines being retained, although the gun access doors above and below the wings were lightly rescribed. By now the aircraft was fully armed with eight 0.303-in Browning machine-guns. On photographs of the prototype taken around this time it can be seen that the muzzles of the outer two Brownings on each wing project forward of the leading edge. Four lengths of plastic strip were cut to size and located into the respective gun ports to represent this. While searching for photographs 1 found a rare view of the aircraft’s underside and noticed another alteration that needed to be made. The rear of the oil cooler had been blanked off with ducting that went up into the wing, maybe to help keep the guns warm, so this was reproduced by carving a piece of scrap plastic to shape and then using filler to blend it into place.
Details and decals
With the basic airframe together and the joints sanded smooth, items such as the main undercarriage, with its white metal wheels, and the kit’s tailwheel (by now the prototype had a wheel fitted instead of a skid), could be fitted, along with the CMR vacform canopy and the propeller. The kit radio mast had to be replaced by a much thinner cylindrical part made from plastic rod, and another piece of scrap plastic was used to replicate the anti-spin parachute bracket that was by now fitted just in front of the tail fin. In photographs of the aircraft at this time the pitot tube appears in different places, with one showing a type similar to that used by the Blenheim and early Hurricanes, that was fitted to the right side of the fuselage near the cockpit. This view was none too clear though and 1 eventually used a piece of plastic rod to replicate a small pitot fitted outboard of the outer gun port on the left wing.
After having suffered a belly landing on 22 March 1937, the Spitfire prototype was taken back to Supermarine’s works for repairs and alterations, one of the latter being the application of the new standard RAF camouflage scheme of Dark Earth and Dark Green with Silver undersides. On the model these colours were represented by Polyscale paints of the same name on the top surfaces, with Humbrol Metalcote Dull Aluminium underneath. These were all brush painted and then given a coat of Humbrol Gloss Varnish ready to accept the decals and, again, help was received from Mike Acteson of the IPMS Decal Bank. Decals from this source were used for the serials on the fuselage and tail, and under the wings, the roundels coming from Modeldecal. All of the decals were sealed in place using more gloss varnish, but once this had dried a couple of coats of Polyscale Flat Varnish were applied to dull the finish down again. All that remained to do was to apply a colour wash to the engine panel lines and control surfaces to highlight the recessed detail and to add a radio antenna using lycra thread.
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