Monday, July 29, 2013

Mk Va, R7347, USA Summer 1941

Spitfire Mk Va, R7347, assigned to USAAF for testing, Summer 1941

It seems there is always much to learn about the Spitfire.  When my interest in the Spitfire first began, I probably did what most modelers do:  I made a list.  The list started with Mk I, followed by II, III, IV, et cetera until I thought (wrongly at the time) that I had the full List of All Spitfire Marks that began with I in 1939 and ended with XVI in 1945.  I filled it in as I read about the different marks and where they were used.  Rarely did I see the II, never a III or IV nor a VI; an occasional VIII, lots of V and IX.  No X, XI or XIII.  No XV.  Oh joy, it’s really not a big list so it won’t take me long to make one of each just to see what they looked like, in the flesh (plastic) which was all I’d expect given how rare they are.

Then those darned suffix letters cropped up.  What could that be?  After nearly a year of reading and collecting books I realized it was the armament...sort of.  And the Mark number was basically tied to the engine...sort of.  Some other minor refinements came to play as well.  Suddenly my list grew.  And I hadn’t considered where the PR variants fell, nor those prefix letters.  That's a story for another day...

The Mk V came about as a response to the Me-109F.  Faster and higher flying than the Emil it was replacing, it outclassed the Mk I/II in frontline service with the RAF in 1940-41.  Like any good aircraft manufacturer, Supermarine was working with the RAF to develop a better Spitfire in the guise of the Mk III.  However so many improvements to the basic airframe as well as a new engine meant critical delays in production and one must remember that at the time, the RAF was licking its wounds from the BoB and facing Rommel in the desert.

So the obvious question was asked, “What if we stick the new Merlin on a Mk II airframe, and do it such that we don’t have to modify the airframe so much?”  The engine in the Mk III was the Merlin XX; which was needed for the Hurricane II so an uprated Merlin 45 that was based on the Merlin III was chosen.  It fit the cowling of the Mk I/II and just needed some slight mods that were easy and quick to implement.  The engine was “hotter” so needed a bit more cooling...the larger oil cooler from the Mk III would do.  A bit more torque so we’ll need to stiffen the fuselage...that’s a bit easy.  The Mk V was born and would be a short production run until the Mk III was ready.

History tells us the Mk III was cancelled and the Mk V the most produced single Mk of the Spitfire family (if one doesn’t combine the Mk IX and XVI production).  So much for an interim type.

The Aircraft
When Mk V production began, the cannon armed wing was still causing problems.  So initial production was the 8-gun Va. The intent all along was to make the Mk V a cannon armed variant. Some Mk V were conversions from earlier Mk I/II airframes.  Later in 1941 when the cannon armed “b” wing was fixed most surviving Mk Va aircraft were retrofitted to the Vb standard; as well as any Mk Ib/IIb that were still operational.  Some didn’t but those generally were no longer considered front line aircraft and were used for OTU duties.
R7347 was one of the last of a batch of Mk I’s ordered as Mk I’s but delivered as Mk Va.  Delivered in April 1941 to 39 Maintenance Unit, then transferred to the USAAF for testing at Wright Field later in April 1941, arriving in November 1941.  It remained there for testing until January 1943.  Unfortunately, I do not yet know the fate of R7347.

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

The Model
There are currently three alternatives for making a Mk Va:
  1. AZModel (limited run, limited availability but a very nice model)
  2. Airfix Mk I/IIa (contains the parts but no instructions)
  3. Bash together a Mk I/IIa with a Mk Vb to get a Mk I/IIb and a Mk Va (been there, done that, it didn’t work for me)
I have the AZModel kit but I’m reserving that for the usual Va subject, Douglas Bader’s W3185/DB that he was shot down in while over France in 1942.

The recent tooling by Airfix includes not only all the parts necessary to model the Mk I and Mk II, but the larger oil cooler for the Mk V as well as the proper De Havilland prop.  When first released in 2009 there was speculation that a Mk Va was soon to follow, but after 3 years still no Mk Va from Airfix.  So it was off to the spares box for decals.

It turns out the AZModel boxing has the decals for R7347 when tested in the US.  That certainly makes this all very easy. 

Construction is straightforward, but use part numbers 41 and 42 for the oil cooler, the round exhausts parts 21 and 22, and the DH prop.  Photos show the IFF aerials, so I drilled 0.1mm holes on each side, at about frame 17.5.  That is about 12 inches forward of frame 18, which is the extreme trailing edge of the wing/fuselage fairing.  I then measure up 9 inches from the horizontal stringer that aligns with the bottom of the cockpit door.  My method for installing these after all painting and decalling is done, is to superglue one end of the invisible thread into the elevator hinge line (underneath where you can't see them) and once cured run each into the holes.  Using tweezers I pull the IFF antenna taught through the cockpit opening and put a drop of glue to hold them.  I then put the canopy on. You won't see them on this model as I didn't put them on...frankly I forgot and the canopy is on, so there you have it.

Now, technically when on the ground the IFF aerials should be disconnected from the horizontal stabilizers so a ground mechanic or plane captain cannot accidently break it; but it looks "wrong" to me as a model when done correctly because it appears the antenna are broken off. 

Painting is standard Spitfire scheme for April 1941: Temperate Land Scheme of Dark Green (Humbrol Hu116), Dark Earth (Hu29) with Sky (Hu90) undersides, spinner and fuselage band.  I used acrylics throughout.  Night serial and no squadron codes.

An easy build, albeit I didn't do this one over a weekend, I could have had I wanted to.  I spent extra time on it and unfortunately the build got delayed by 3 months when I transferred due to a job change.

Thanks for looking...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mk VIII, A58-464, CR-C, 80 Group, RAAF, 1944

Group Captain Clive R. Caldwell's personal aircraft

Always a subject I wanted on my shelf, G/C Caldwell is the leading RAAF ace with 27.5 victories (some sources say 28.5). When I decided to make 2013 a Spitfire year and July's challenge was a subject from "down under" necessity met opportunity.

The Subject

A58-464 is a Mk VIII delivered in the Desert Scheme of Dark Earth, Middlestone over Azure Blue. Upon receipt at 8 OTU in Australia it was repainted. In my search for the proper scheme I convinced myself that most in this batch of Mk VIII's were painted Foliage Green over RAAF Sky Blue. I've subsequently (after applying decals) discovered that possibly only the Middlestone was replaced by Foliage Green, making the scheme Dark Earth, Foliage Green over RAAF Sky Blue; so when I redo this scheme in the future, I'll get it right...whatever that scheme is.

This Mk VIII appears to be one of 3 (or 4) Mk VIII's with CRC codes flown by G/C Caldwell in 1944/1945.

The Model

I have a few of the older Hasegawa Mk VIII kits in the stash, but recently purchased the AZModel Mk VIII simply because it is supposed to be more accurate. It certainly is NOT as easy to build as Hasegawa, but I wanted to see if it really looks better.

The short answer: it does. The tail and nose looked balanced in length and overall it looks the part better than the Hasegawa kit...if sitting next to each other. If your Mk VIII's are all Hasegawa and don't sit next to more accurate late Merlin Spitfires, then it's a good choice, if you can find them.

Construction was straight forward with one exception: the wing tips. Why did AZModel choose to mold the wings with short span tips? It would certainly make a short span subject easier, but unfortunately I found the normal span tips to be thinner than the kit's wing, resulting in a step that required filling and sanding, losing a bunch of detail on the lower wing.

On the positive side, the canopy fit perfectly and all other construction was no harder than any other kit of a Spitfire.

I painted the kit using a mix of acrylics over Tamiya rattle can primer. The white trim is Humbrol, the Foliage Green is Model Master European I Green, and the RAAF Sky Blue is from Polly-Scale.

I used Master brass barrels for the guns, my first time trying them. At only about $6 per set, I think they are well worth it as they make a huge difference in appearance.

The decals are Propagteam, trimmed very close as the carrier covers the entire sheet. While the decals are thin, they readily broke apart, and are opaque resulting in a muted white with the green underneath showing through. The G/C badge was destroyed, I'll find a replacement eventually. I used some white to touch up the areas that tore, since most acrylic whites don't cover well, it actually turned out okay. The decals were expensive, but if you can find two sets cheap, douple them up and they'll look much better.


I'll do another one of these once I find some better decals. I will use the AZModel Mk VIII as the basis unless a better kit comes out, but I'll spend more time on those tips and hopefully not ruin as much detail.

Thanks for looking...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

RAAF P-40N Cleopatra III

P-40N A29-629, Geoffrey C Atherton, 80 Squadron, RAAF, New Guinea, 1943

This model sat on the shelf of doom for years...and all it needed were the kit decals! To be fair I completed the construction around 2002 just before we moved from California and only last winter did I finally open the box it was stored in. I'd forgotten about it, and when I quickly checked the Academy P-40M/N in my stash the box was empty, save for the decals and instructions! Well, this is an easy one to finish.

Since the July theme is "Down Under", it's a natural.

The Subject

Cleopatra III is a somewhat familiar subject to P-40 officionados and is well photographed. Geoff Atherton made ace flying this aircraft when he shot down a Japanese G3M "Betty" bomber on 13th June, 1943 over Milne Bay, while flying out of Horn Island, New Guinea. It was his last kill of the war.

The Model

Unfortunately I don't remember much other than my notes on the paints used. What I do remember is that this was a very easy kit to build and at the time I'd wished I'd picked up more while I was in Pusan, Korea on a port visit in 2000. I do remember paying a couple of dollars each for a dozen Academy kits, but for some reason I only got one P-40.

Of course, being Academy there is something wrong with the kit, right? Other than the prop spinner I can't see anything wrong with it. A search online indicates the canopy may also be too tall, but other than the spinner it looks right on my shelf next to other P-40's.

I used Aeromaster 9043 Neutral Gray and Modelmaster FS 34079 enamels for the camouflage. The decals went on a bit silvery over a coat of Future/Klear, but with progressive coats of Micro Set, Micro Sol and finally Daco Products decal setting solution (red label = strong version) they layed down okay. I purchased Daco at a show years ago and only use it for really thick or stubborn decals as its "hot". On thin or weak decals it'll bubble them up and ruin them faster than sandpaper.

I added some True Details weighted wheels, simply because I had them in my spares box.


I'll build this kit again in a New York minute! I will look for a better spinner, maybe from Quickboost. For the price it can't be beat.

Thanks for looking...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Progress, even if just a little bit, is still progress

Well, that sounds cynical when I say it out loud.

My shipment showed up at the end of April and I finally got my kits out, the ones I'd started last year and packed up for the shipment across the pond. Everything arrived in good shape, and other than some key supplies like masking fluid and decal setting solutions, I got up and modeling by mid May.

So why am I just now, in July, providing a real update? Progress has been slow as I enjoy the Lake District and do some walking in the fells, which is competing with my modeling time. Work takes me to another city at least one night a week, but I've devised a way to bring a kit to work on in my hotel room. I'm actually starting to "ramp up" on my production.

The Airfix Mk Va conversion is almost done, just need to finish the canopy and decals.

The Airfix PR XIII conversion is in a similar state, just needing another try at the canopy; the first looked okay until I masked and painted it. I was quite proud of how the vac canopy looked, too. That'll be another day of trimming and sanding...

The AZModel Mk VIII is ready for decals and final assembly of the fiddly bits.

The CMR Speed Spitfire is ready for the blue, now that the silver has cured. Need to start on the vac canopy...

The Three Mk IX's (2 Airfix and 1 AZmodel) are almost ready for paint.

The AZModel cannon armed Mk I is ready for primer.

In the queue are an AZModel Mk Vb, Sword Mk Vc and Seafire IIc, AZModel and Airfix Mk Ia, MPM FR XVIII, Airfix Mk VI conversion, and an Airfix Hawk T.1 in 19 Squadron Spitfire commemorative markings. All of which has at least a cockpit and most have a fuselage together with a wing assembly.

Not as far along as I'd hoped before I left the States, but considering I'm barely 10 weeks since I got my stuff...and six of these kits are new starts since my arrival...I'm happy with the progress.

My cottage has a few shelves, I may be able to display a dozen or so at any given time. I'd planned for that and actually brought some storage boxes for the kits once I'm ready to cycle them out and put new ones on. Some I'll take back to the States for show-n-tell if I'm home during the meetings.

I brought all my Spitfire kits here to complete during my tenure. That's the goal anyway, a guy can dream!

Until next time...