Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fujimi FR Mk XIVe

Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk XIVe, 'F', 2 Squadron, Germany, 1947. 

I wrongly collected 2 extra Fujimi kits of the Mk XIVe rear view (bubble top) Spitfire thinking these were externally identical to the Mk XVIII.  My desire was to build two Far East subjects, only to find out later I'd mis-interpreted the information I had. Getting better references helped immeasurably (okay it's measured by the loss of pocket money I must now spend to get the correct kits).

The Fujimi kit is not without it's flaws, detractors or fans. Somewhat easy to find, not too expensive, a bit over engineered to allow for 4 variants (PR XIX, F XIVc, F XIVe, and F XIVe rear view), but not too difficult a build. The cockpit is wrong but easily fixed, I left mine as is. Here's an easy mod of the kit to FR standard, which most rear view XIVe marks were. 

The Aircraft

In late 1944, as the rear view (the formal name of the bubble top variants) Spitfire F Mk XIV was being developed and produced, the RAF desired a photo-reconnaissance version. After some debate over the mark number and whether it would be called a PR or FR or F Mk XIV (PR) the Air Ministry decided on FR for fighter-reconnaissance. 

As the rear view was basically a refined F Mk XIVe, Supermarine also added, and the Air Ministry accepted, the additional refinements necessary to carry one oblique and up to two vertical cameras. The specification was approved for introduction in 5 stages with Stage 1 being the basic mark. Stage 2 introduced the rear view; stage 3 added the oblique camera with rear fuel tank; stage 4 added the vertical cameras; and finally stage 5 added a second rear fuselage tank. Of note is that all this added equipment weight was offset by removing the ballast necessary in the tail due to the heavier Griffon engine.

My references indicate only 120 FR Mk XIVe were made, deliveries beginning in early 1945, in addition to the few conversions and test examples. Serials were TX974-998, TZ102-149, 152-176, and 178-199. 

The subject of my model has an unknown serial number, but is coded 'F'. All were delivered to Northern Europe in the Day Fighter Scheme of Dark Green, Ocean Grey, over Medium Sea Grey with Sky band and spinner and yellow wing leading edge. For assignment to 2nd TAF the Sky spinner was repainted Night and the Sky band over painted. For the tactical reconnaissance role, the roundels were all the same size and type at 36 inches. 

I've two references that state the paint scheme actually used was the low-level PR scheme of Extra Dark Sea Green, Extra Dark Sea Grey over PRU Mauve, however this has been universally refuted as highly unlikely. 

Reference: Spitfire the History, RAF Fighters 1945-1950 Overseas Based, Spitfire in Action

The Model

The Fujimi kit is a very good kit even with its faults. Care must be taken to make the minor mods needed when building one of the variants the basic kit can make. While the instructions generally provide most of the needed specifics, the kit is based on research done on restored aircraft so additional work is required to be accurate. As an example, other than a few early Mk XII airframes, all Griffon Spitfires had a retractable tail wheel based on the Mk III prototype. The Fujimi kit models the tail wheel down and with the door outlines; many restored Griffon Spitfires have this feature for ease of maintenance and reliability, but only rarely on operational machines.
As mentioned earlier, the cockpit is not accurate; it is represented by a half-tube or tub.  The seat is ok and the control column is right.  The instrument panel is just a half-circle disk, so I used a printed panel glued on.  With some masking tape seat belts and the canopy closed up, it will all look okay.  My other one will get a proper cockpit, either scratched or aftermarket.

I like the prop assembly on this kit.  It’s easy to paint, and although the blades are separate it assembles easily and looks the part when done.  

To correct the kit to make the FR Mk XIVe, one must do the following:
  • Scratch a boat antenna;
  • Use 3 spoke wheels;
  • Create camera ports both port and starboard;
  • Use the short span wingtips;
  • Add a whip antenna;
  • Correct the retractable tail wheel, with doors.

An additional feature that I’ve yet to determine is whether it should have round or fishtail exhausts.  Since I could not find a photo showing round, I used the kit exhausts.  My subject is post-war and many post-war machines were retrofitted with round exhausts.  

Boat Antenna
Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find a good drawing or photo of this antenna.  I’m the only one in my local area who knows it’s supposed to have one, so I decided to ignore it for now.  Eventually I’ll figure out what they look like, correct the model and post updated photos here.

3 Spoke Wheels
I believe all Mk XIVe had these due to the required capability for carriage of bombs.  The few photos I’ve got show them.  Unfortunately the kit has 4 spoke wheels.  I did not have any 3 spoke wheels in my spares box, so I stuck with the kit wheels.

Camera Ports
Unlike the PR XIX, which has a camera port on the left side, and 2 underneath, the FR XIVe has a port on both sides, opposite each other.  Since the kit has all 4 ports marked, it was easy to drill them out using a 1/16th in bit, which looked the right size by eye.  I then filled them with Microscale Micro Krystal Klear.

Short Span Wings
My references indicate the Mk XIV wings had a tendency to wrinkle under use.  So eventually all were required to have the short span wings to lessen the stresses on them.  Easy enough as the kit offers this option.

Whip Antenna
Most photos don’t seem to show an antenna for the rear view configured Spitfires.  It’s there, but is a short whip antenna installed about 3 scale inches aft of frame 18 and slightly to the right of the centerline of the fuselage.  Frame 18 is the one behind the aft camera that faces downward.  I used invisible thread, about 12 scale inches long.

Tail Wheel & Doors
As mentioned before, Fujimi molded the doors closed and provided the tailwheel as a fixed unit; used by some operational aircraft post-war and a typical modification of modern Griffon powered Spitfires (Rudy Frasca’s Mk 18 is configured with the tailwheel fixed down).  I carefully cut the doors out, then with some judicious sanding was able to use them on the kit.  I cut a piece of sprue and fitted into the hole for the tail wheel to fit.  

For decals I went to my spares; 36 inch national marking III in all six positions plus the 24 inch square fin flash marking (i).  If / when I get some Sky letters I’ll add the fuselage code letter “F”.

Thanks for looking.