by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Airfixís new-tool 1:48 kit of the Spitfire FR Mk. XIV arrived in my LHS last week and I couldnít resist grabbing one. After all, as Mal Mayfield is quick to remind us ďYou canít have too many Spitfires!Ē. Plus, Iíve always thought the Mk. XIV is one of the best looking Spitfire variants.
The kit arrives in an attractive conventional box, with the main parts bagged together and the clear sprue in its own bag. That sounds fine, but the clear parts in my kit were slightly scuffed. I canít figure out how it happened, but itís certainly disappointing.
The kit comprises:
108 x pale grey styrene parts
10 x clear styrene parts
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
On inspection, the moulding looks pretty good, with the soft and easily worked styrene showing neatly engraved panel lines and embossed fasteners, with a few raised details like the Dzuz fasteners on the cowls (although the latter are missing on the top of the cowl, so youíll have to add some by hand).
Thereís no flash to speak of, and I didnít notice any sink marks, but mould lines are noticeable on items like the exhausts and mainwheels. There are also a few big ejector pin marks, but theyíve been kept out of sight as far as I can tell.
Test FitA quick dry-fit of the main components was generally encouraging, but also highlighted a couple of pitfalls. While the fuselage halves clip together very precisely, the separate section ahead of the canopy seems rather a loose fit, so you might need to do a bit of work to match the surrounding panel lines. The horizontal tail is a very tight fit and has a tendency to take on pronounced dihedral. Trimming the tabs slightly should help to get the tailplanes correctly level.
The full-span wing lower panel and the upper surfaces lack any locating pins, but fit together neatly enough, and the match at the wing roots looks like itís be fine once itís cemented. Itís not all roses, though, because the port wing on my kit has a distinct downwards warp from about mid-span and extending to the tip. Itís on both the top panel and the lower one is so thin, it canít counteract it. Hopefully, it wonít be too hard to correct with hot water (the soft styrene should be a help in that respect).
A Few DetailsConstruction kicks off with the cockpit and camera bay, which are made up from 26 parts and should produce a nicely busy ďofficeĒ. The moulding is something of a proverbial curateís egg - i.e. good and bad in parts - in that Airfix have moulded some very fine details like wiring on the sidewalls that many kit producers would miss but, conversely, the bezels on the main instrument panel are rather clumsy. Still, overall, itís a very decent effort for a kit in this scale and price bracket, and the only thing many modellers will want to add is a seat harness.
Even that wonít be needed if you install the rather good pilot figure. Thankfully, this bears no resemblance to the laughable illustration in the instructions, which has an oversized head like a Gerry Andersonís puppet and is shown wearing spectacles! Perhaps itís meant to be Brains from Thunderbirds?!
One thing I noticed is that the pilotís seat isnít fitted with a flare cartridge holder. The late Edgar Brooks is credited on the instructions for his help, and (if I remember correctly) he always stated in our Forum that the holder was usually only appropriate for Seafires, so itís great to see that Airfix followed his advice.
The pilotís entry door is moulded integrally and a separate part is included if you want to display it open. To remove the door, youíll need to do a little careful surgery. Similarly, youíll need to file down the cockpit sills to model the canopy closed.
There are a couple of other small bits of surgery required when building the kit. Airfix include a choice of vertical tail types - basically a tall fin / short rudder and a shortened fin / enlarged rudder. Also, the wings feature pointed tips which you must remove to fit the clipped wingtips for the FR Mk. XIV. Iíve got to say I prefer having the wingtips moulded in place the way Airfix have done it, because separate parts seldom seem to fit perfectly and blending them in risks losing moulded details.
The wheel wells are boxed in, and the pair of spars provided should help ensure the wing sits properly with the correct dihedral.
The undercarriage can be modelled raised or lowered, and dummy mainwheels are provided to allow them to fit in the raised position. One slightly odd point is that the raised wheels donít feature the same tread patterns as those included for the lowered gear - although, to be honest, nobody is likely to notice when theyíre installed.
The main gear itself is nicely detailed and crisply moulded. While the attachments look accurate, they don't appear very positive in the instructions, so that's definitely something to check when you reach that stage of construction. Thereís a choice of two styles of mainwheels, with block or diamond tyre treads, and the tyres are ďweightedĒ (although this isnít shown in the instructions, the wheels feature oblong locators to ensure the kit sits on the ďflat spotsĒ properly). The treads arenít bad, but the detail risks being lost in cleaning up the prominent mould lines - and what there is canít really hold a candle to the resin wheels we see from companies such as Barracuda Studios and Eduard.
The tailwheel well isn't hollowed out, but the doors look very straightforward to fit. The tailwheel leg looks easy to damage, so I think it would be wise to only install it once painting and decalling is completed.
The kit comes with two styles of exhausts and, to be honest, both are pretty basic. Again, the mould lines donít help, but with a bit of work spent cleaning them up and drilling out the openings they should look more presentable. I have no doubt there will be aftermarket alternatives available and, like the wheels, the exhausts are prime candidates to improve.
The 5-blade propeller looks good and can be left to rotate if you wish.
In terms of ďstoresĒ thereís only one option - a centreline slipper tank. Itís good that Airfix have included it, but I wonít install it because it so ruins the Spitfireís lines in my opinion.
As noted above, the clear sprue in my kit arrived slightly scuffed. Iím sure it will polish-up fine though, and a dip in Future/Klear will make the canopy sparkle like a gem. The parts themselves are thin and distortion-free, with crisply defined frames. Two rear sections are provided for the canopy - one to pose closed and the other bevelled inside so that it can sit correctly open. It's great to see that Airfix have learned from the problems with their Mk. 24 in this respect. The camera windows are fitted from outside to make painting easier
Instructions & DecalsThe instructions break construction down into 54 stages. I can't pretend I'm a fan of Airfix's style of instructions. While it's good that they are presented as a booklet, they are printed on "copier-style" paper (badly creased in my kit) and the shaded diagrams are a bit murky. I also find it bizarre and irritating in that the designers insist on highlighting completed assemblies in red - the colour which conventionally signals a problem or where work is needed. (I also have to question why it's necessary to highlight previous assemblies at all, because it only makes the diagrams seem cluttered and overly busy to my eyes.) Conversely, Airfix use green - which would normally mean "good to go" - to show where surgery is required.
Anyway, griping aside, the actual sequence looks pretty logical and straightforward, and modellers with even limited experience should have no difficulties. Colour call-out are for Humbrol paints, but alternatives are easy to find if you prefer or Humbrol isnít readily available in your country.
Decals are provided for two colour schemes:
1. FR Mk. XIV, s/n NH902, ďVC-PĒ, flown by Sqn.Ldr. James Bernard Prendergast, 414 Sqn. RCAF, Germany, May/June 1945
2. FR Mk. XIV, s/n TZ112, ďOI-GĒ, 11 (AC) Sqn., 2nd Tactical Air Force, RAF, Germany, 1950/51
The decals look excellent. There's no confirmation on the sheet, but they look like they may well be printed by Cartograf. The items are thin and glossy, with perfect register on my sheet and basically no excess carrier film on most elements.
ConclusionAirfixís new kit looks to have all the makings of a very neat Spitfire FR Mk. XIV and Iím really looking forward to building it. My example is not without issues, though, and I havenít given it a % rating because I donít know how many others will be afflicted by the warped wing that is a problem in my kit. It does stick out like a sore thumb, so it needs correcting. Hopefully, I was just unlucky - but if itís widespread, it will affect the kitís suitability for beginners.
Sadly itís not something thatís obvious with the parts on the sprues and bagged-up, so thereís little point suggesting that you examine the kit before purchasing it if at all possible - it really is rather a case of pot luck.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE