The Airfix Spitfire FR Mk XIV: The First Few Days

When I first saw the photos of the Spitfire FR Mk XIV from Airfix, I wanted to build it. The mark fourteen is arguably the best looking Spitfire that was ever produced. The clipped wings, bubble canopy (on the later XIVs), Rolls Royce Griffon in the nose, and 5-blade Rotol propellor made it one of the sexiest aircraft in the sky and deadly at lower altitudes. It was also a quick and stable photo reconnaissance platform, which is what this kit represents.

This is now the fourth Spitfire I’ve built so I have some experience with them. I built the Eduard Mk VIII (1/48) a few years ago as Lonesome Polecat. Then in 2017 I built the Tamiya Mk IXc (1/32) as Pierre Clostermann’s Normandy ride with Invasion Stripes. 2018 saw me build Lonesome Polecat again, though this time with the Tamiya Mk VIII in 1/32.  Airfix’s offering is the weakest out of this bunch, but these other kits are really just outstanding.

The Airfix kit is pretty simple out of the box. It actually is very reminiscent of the “two sprue wonders” – the older, but excellent, Tamiya boxing’s in 1/48. 4 gray sprues (that really should have been 3) and one clear make up the entirety of the kit. The clear parts aren’t as clear as what came in the Airfix Blenheim, however. The gray sprues all have a little bit of flash that I’m noticing to be typical of Airfix. Also some significant ejector pin flash on a few pieces but they were on areas that would eventually be hidden.

The cockpit comprises 17 parts, 8 of which are for the seat alone. Also included with the cockpit assembly is the camera since this is the FR version of the Spitfire. I painted everything with AMMO of Mig “interior grey-green” over a base of black Mr. Surfacer 1500. AMMO paints don’t have the durability of lacquers like Mr. Color or MRP but I like having the ability to touch up areas with a brush and I can also achieve some interesting effects while brushing the paint. I also used metallic colored AK Interactive weathering pencils for some chipping and wiring.

I’m going to be finishing the build in a small vignette of Eindhoven airfield during the wet winter months of early 1945. Some of the photos I’ve seen of Eindhoven show tons of mud on the airfield so I dirtied up the cockpit floor with AMMO “airfield dust” pigments and a mix of oils to vary the final color.

One downfall to the kit is that it doesn’t include belts for the seat. This is fine if you include the pilot, but I don’t think I’ve ever included the pilot in one of my builds. So I purchased Eduard steel belts that also came with their LööK instrument panel. The panel is hard to see in the tiny cockpit but it’s still an improvement over the clunky kit panel. After attaching the belts I added some shading with oils.

As I mentioned earlier, the camera is included as part of the cockpit assembly so before I can close the fuselage, it needs to be dealt with. It’ll be next to impossible to see once closed so I didn’t go overboard. I simply painted the framework interior grey green and the camera black. I used some liquid mask to cover the lens of the camera, which comes as a clear part, just in case it could be seen.

Closing the fuselage came pretty easily. The fit is snug, but there were no real gaps anywhere. I did have to keep pressure on the nose while it dried but that was only to keep everything aligned. I’ll mention this now but didn’t notice it until later, but there is apparently a notable twist in the tail. I’ll go into more detail on that shortly.

Airfix, for some reason, decided to leave the fuel tank forward of the cockpit as a separate piece.  This would have been ok if the piece fit properly, but it doesn’t.  It sits skewed with the whole thing sitting slightly clockwise compared to the rest of the fuselage.  It’s also too narrow.  Holding pressure while MEK setup allowed me to force it a little bit wider, but I still needed some filler along the starboard side where it nears the cockpit.  I used Bondo Spot and Glazing Putty for this job.  I like Bondo because, once dry, it’s very similar to the plastic and, because of it’s lacquer base, it bonds well.  In addition to that, it scribes nicely with only a little bit of pressure.

I cleaned up the seams with CA glue and sanded everything smooth. The lower wing section was attached to the fuselage at this point. I noticed a section of the wing was warped as well. I found this before it was attached to anything so I was able to fix it with some heat and brute force. The joint between the lower wing and fuselage is, again, pretty tight and I had to keep my hands on it while the MEK set up, otherwise the wing would have pushed away from the fuselage. Once it was solid, I test fit the top wing sections before adding the wheel well walls that slot into the lower wing section. The upper wings appeared to mate well with only a small gap and an area at the trailing edge where some filler was needed to make the surface flush.

While waiting for glue to dry between the wing halves, I built the prop and spinner for the Griffon engine. It appeared that the molds for the prop weren’t polished very well and there were some machining marks that transferred to the plastic. With Airfix’s soft plastic it was a little bit challenging to sand the rotol prop without damaging anything. The five bladed propeller looks very mean once it’s together and gives the whole aircraft a rather stunning look.

At the same time I was able to start installing the gun barrels and clipped wing tips.  The shape of the 20mm barrel is a little questionable and it it needed a lot of filler where it meets the wing.  The clipped wing tips come as clear parts and, to attach them, you have to cut the original tips off of the upper wing sections.  I carefully cut the original tips off with a #11 blade and a razor saw. A quick test fit of the tips showed that I had to make the molded-in hole bigger to make the tip piece line up. The tip blended seamlessly into the wing.

This is where the tail twist was found. Because of the shape of the fuselage, the twist couldn’t be seen earlier. But at this point I attached the horizontal stabilizers to the tail. They should sit perpendicular to the vertical stab and they do. The fit is very good here (once you remove some flash from the holes). After getting the stabs located, I sat the plane on my bench and looked at it from the front to make sure they were aligned properly. The twist became clear as day here.

The only way I could think of to try to fix it would be to heat it up and bend it back where it should be. But at this point, with the fuselage glued and everything attached to it, I didn’t think the reward was worth the risk. It’s also not quite as noticeable with the elevator in position. I decided to drop the elevator a little bit just to give the plane a slightly dynamic pose.

I had already sprayed some seam lines with primer to check for seams, but now started putting it down on the rest of the plane. It took a few layers as I always seem to find a spot that needs to be fixed up as I prime. So I fixed the few spots and gave it a quick polish with a buffing stick.

And that’s where we stand. I’m ready to start laying paint which will start with aluminum in strategic areas for chipping. I’m happy to be at this point only a week into the build. It’s a nice change after spending months on my two previous builds. I’ll pick back up with part two once I get painting.

Stay tuned.

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The Blenheim Part 2 – Building the Thing

The Blenheim – Part One

I know every modeler goes through it, but I’ve been in a rut again for the last, I don’t know, two months? I finished up the Blenheim at the end of March, just in time for Pittsburgh’s TRICON show sponsored by the Three Rivers IPMS. It was another good show. I brought home some gold and silver as well as best aircraft for my Mk VIII Spitfire. But then I started a project for the Fighter Pilot Podcast.

It was going smoothly for a while. Using Kinetic’s F/A-18C as a base, I’m building the host’s (Jell-o) Bug from VFA-94. I was able to find squadron markings from a few sources but obviously had to make custom decals for his individual plane. The custom markings really slowed me down. So much so that I really lost interest and have spent a good bit of time away from the bench.

I usually take photos of my finished builds as soon as I finish them but the Blenheim was a different story. For whatever reason, probably the Pittsburgh show, I didn’t take the pictures and stuck her on a shelf. I also didn’t take the time to write the second part of this review which is now a few months behind. So without further ado, let me give you a look at how the Blenheim went together.

It’s cliche, but I started in the cockpit.  Everything went together well there for the most part.  The plastic that Airfix uses seems rather brittle and one of the mounts for the pilot seat was broken.  I was still able to get it together but it made construction in that area a little more challenging.

The assembly does go together well, though (even with the broken mount), and with the wing struts connected it is very solid.

After assembly I painted the cockpit and interior walls with AMMO of Mig’s Interior Grey-Green and an assortment of other colors for the details.  I was unable to find Eduard’s photo-etch belt set so I made my own with some rolled lead wire and photo-etch buckles.  Once covered by the glass they’ll be a good enough representation. I’m still not sure, however, what the big pack is behind the pilot’s seat. I’ve heard that it’s a raft or some kind of parachute but I’ve found nothing definitive.  It probably shouldn’t be grey-green but until someone can show me otherwise, that’s how it is.  (Also too late to change it at this point)

Once all the detail work was finished and the halves were closed up, I was able to install the cockpit glass. As I mentioned back in Part 1 of the review, the clear parts are beautifully molded, but I’m not a fan of how they go together with the fuselage. The way it is engineered, two halves of glass mate on either side of the fuselage and if anything is off just a little bit, it throws off the alignment of the entire thing. Fortunately, the gaps that I had left were manageable and I was able to move onto masking the individual panes quickly.

I masked with a combination of Tamiya tape cut into thin strips and Gunze Mr. Masking Sol Neo.

It was time to prime, but first I sprayed the framework of the clear parts interior grey-green so it would be the proper color from the inside. On bigger projects I like to mask and paint the inside of the glass, but on something this small, it was just easier to paint in reverse from the outside.

I used my favorite primer for aircraft, Mr. Surfacer 1500 Black, to get an even surface for the coming paint layers. The MS1500 does a really nice job of highlighting areas that need some touch up work while sanding smooth and providing depth to my paint work. I prefer to use it on aircraft over Badger’s Stynylrez or AMMO’s One Shot (both are the same primer, just rebranded for the European market) because of its durability. MS1500 is lacquer based so it really likes to hold onto the plastic. On armor or vehicles the self leveling properties of the Stynylrez/One Shot make it ideal for getting in some of the nooks without paint building up or spidering out of control.

The first application of primer revealed some minor areas that needed work, mainly around the cockpit and at the wing root, so I took care of them and laid some more primer to cover the freshly worked spots and to have a solid surface on which to begin actual paint work.

One thing I’ve noticed about Airfix plastic is that it’s relatively soft.  And because it’s soft it shows some sink marks that are especially noticeable in large flat areas with little detail.  In the photo of the wing root above, you can see some of the sink marks in the trailing quarter of the wing as well as right in the wing root.  It’s not a death sentence, but it is something to keep in mind and to correct if you’re looking for a perfect surface.

I didn’t worry about filling the sink marks and, fortunately, they hid pretty well after I started getting paint down.  I used Gunze Mr. Color paints for a few reasons.  The first being that I prefer to use lacquers on aircraft due to their strength and resistance to lifting.  I can mask all day over colors that are already put down without much of a concern of pulling anything up.  Granted, I still don’t pull tape off like a gorilla but keeping the tape close to the surface as I pull it back over itself gives great results.

Another reason for these paints is the color.  There are no paint manufacturers out there who get colors exactly right, and the way I vary the surface it doesn’t mean much anyway, but I’m a fan of Gunze’s representation of RAF Dark Green and Dark Earth.

Finally, lacquers, and Mr. Color in particular, can be sprayed extremely small.  I generally have a process when I paint.  I start with a black primer and once it’s down and I’m happy with the surface, I’ll begin with a marble coat that breaks up the solid color that would be found if I just sprayed evenly.  This marble coat, especially on 1/48 and smaller, needs to be sprayed in a very tight and controlled randomness.  The Mr. Color line can be thinned very far and is perfect for this tight pattern.

For all my love of the Mr. Color line, when it comes to painting black, nothing beats MR. Paint’s black for night camouflage.  It’s a perfect not-black.  We all know that when you actually paint black, you don’t want to use black so you have somewhere to go with shadow and depth.  The MRP night black is just dark enough to look black, but it’s gray enough to allow for some room for shadow.  When I painted the black on the belly, I preshaded a few lines with some RAF Ocean Grey from MRP. This gave me exactly the look I was going for on the belly.

At this point we have a mostly finished aircraft. What we don’t have are markings. I always feel like this is when a model really comes to life. Weathering helps but it’s really once markings start going down that I start getting excited. There aren’t a lot of markings included so quick work was made getting them put on. I’d typically mask and paint the RAF roundels on the wings and waist, but I decided to use the nicely printed decals that came along with the kit. They’re not the best decals I’ve used, but they’re quality. With some microset and microsol the decals conformed to the few panel lines I needed them to.

One of the few things left to do were the engines. They’re pretty simple and what you’d expect from a 1/48 piston fighter. Detail is a little bit clunky on the engine pieces but once they’re inside the cowl and behind the prop, they’re pretty hard to see anyway. There is something interesting about the Blenheim’s engines, it’s a trait they share with the Bristol Beaufighter. There is an exhaust collection ring that sits on the forward part of the cowling that has some very distinct heat staining. Unfortunately, they didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped. The engine assembly then mounts to a keyed lug on the wing.

Just like that there is one final thing to do before I can call her done. The dorsal turret. The Blenheim came with a spine mounted .303 Vickers VGO machine gun that provided defense above and behind the aircraft. Airfix includes a jig for aligning all the parts of the turret which went together without out much of a problem. Where I did have an issue was with the soft plastic. The very tip of the Lewis Gun barrel broke off and, because it’s so thin, was very difficult to reattach. The better solution here would have been to try to replace the barrel with some wire. Unfortunately the only wire I had was soft and would not have looked the part, so I repaired the barrel the best that I could. It passes the eye test.

Installing the turret came with no real surprises. Airfix engineered it in such a way that it slots in and can be installed after everything is together.

Overall, I was happy with the build, there were things I wish I had done differently but that’s the case with everything I finish. Part of my process is always to go back and review the build and see where I could make improvements. In this case, I wish I had taken more time in the actual finish. I could have worked more layers into the dark green/dark earth that would have added some visual interest. I’d also replace the Lewis gun in the turret with something aftermarket that had better detail as the gun is a visible part of the finished kit.

I’m glad to have done her though and she was a good experience for my first Airfix kit. I may end up putting her on a small base but right now she’s happy to sit on a shelf in my newborn’s nursery.

Luftwaffe Double Build – Update…final.

The themed double build that turned into a slightly off theme triple build ended with a spectacular…fizzle.

To recap, the build started with Eduard’s FW 190A-5 and Italeri’s JU 87B-2 Stuka.  The 190 was completed with some hair-pulling due to decal silvering.  Similarly frustrating, some parts issues with the Stuka put it on pause, so I started and completed a Hobby Boss Mig 3.  And then, things fell quiet for a few weeks while I waited on replacement canopy parts to arrive from Italy.

And then, more waiting.

In fact, I waited so long that I decided to just try to repair the short-shot pilot’s canopy (having already fixed the destroyed-on-sprue bomb trapeze). And, I did. It took about a week of piddling around with superglue, abrasives and bondo, but I finally got it to a place where I felt I could mask and paint the part. That I did, and like Pontious Pilote, I washed my hands of the whole ordeal.  I wasn’t terribly happy with Italeri’s customer service, but I wasn’t terribly upset at the kit. In fact, I think it turned out well despite of the effort it took to get some of the kit parts to usable form.

And then after all of that effort…the canopy parts finally arrived to great pomp and circumstance. Frankly, I might use the replacement canopy, but don’t hold me to it.

So, without further ado here are the completed builds (Stuka; 190; Mig 3).

 

 

 

Luftwaffe Double Build – Update 6

head·way
noun
  1. move forward or make progress, especially when circumstances make this slow or difficult.

Finally progress on the Stuka.

In fact, I’ve made some pretty significant movement towards the goal of finishing this beast up.  In the time it has taken me to get this far on the Stuka, I have finished Trumpeter’s Mig-3, and Eduard’s FW 190A-5.  As I have mentioned ad nauseum, part of the foot-dragging on the Stuka build has been wading through some broken part issues.  Figuring those out has taken some of the wind from the proverbial sails.

As she stands right now, all of the parts issues have been addressed (no telling how long it will take me to get a replacement canopy from Italeri), and the model is almost ready for the gloss clear.  I am actually very happy with the way things are coming along with the paint.

The paint, minus the primer, are all from Vallejo’s model air Luftwaffe set (RLM 02, RLM 04, RLM 65, RLM 70, RLM 71).  I still think I prefer Model Master enamels, but these were not bad to shoot, dry quickly, and are easy to clean up. The downside is that they don’t seem to be as durable. I’ve read horror stories of Vallejo paints peeling under masks, but that isn’t a problem I have faced.

I’ve grown to prefer the so-called black basing method over pre-shading, but it takes significantly longer.  Using this method I literally paint each panel individually. This technique gives some nice subtle variation between the panesls that I find comparable to models that I’ve seen using pre and post shading methods.

For both accuracy and speed, I used LF Models pre cut vinyl masks for the camoflage. I’ve used these on several builds and really like them. Admittedly they are less helpful with the straight lines of Luftwaffe splinter camouflage than RAF schemes found on the Spitfire, Tempest, or Mossie.  Total paint time is somewhere in the 4 hour range, not including drying time between colors or masking.

I think I am on schedule to finish this kit this weekend (replacement canopy notwithstanding).  That’s a good thing as my wife is about to pop. For her sake, I hope it happens soon. She looks very uncomfortable.

Once baby day arrives I will take a couple of weeks away from the bench to get situated with a new child, but then I have a couple of builds in que for the fall.  I committed myself to the Multi-Engine (bomber) Group Build on Facebook’s Military Model Graveyard. For that I have Monogram’s 1/48  Heinkel HE 111 – H4/6 lined up, with Eduard’s PE, and other goodies. I have to submit my build in early January.  I’ve also committed myself to a Reddit s/modelmakers Strike Fighters groupbuild.  For that, I’m doing Revell’s F-15E Strike Eagle with enough ordinance to single handedly win a war. It has a tentative start date of November 1st through February 1st.  Join me there!