by: Mal Mayfield [ ]
The early Spitfire. The first production Spitfire was K9787, which first flew, at Eastleigh, on the 14th May 1938. This aircraft was issued to 19 Squadron RAF, the first Squadron to receive the new fighter, on the 29th July after having been used for handling trials at the A&AEE Martlesham Heath. By the end of the year both 19 and 66 Squadrons were fully equipped with the type. The first 77 aircraft were fitted with a mahogany two-blade fixed pitch propeller. From the 78th aircraft onwards a three-blade de Havilland unit was fitted as standard. This propeller was retro-fitted to all surviving Spitfires still fitted with the two-blade unit. In June 1940 the propeller was again upgraded to a three-blade constant speed unit. Other features of the early production Spitfires were; a pole aerial mast, a flat topped sliding canopy and a windscreen without armoured glass, and an antenna lead was carried but no IFF wires. On 31st October 1938, 19 Squadron showed off their new mounts to the press and for this occasion the planes had the number “19” painted on their fins in their flight colours. Markings were the colourful type A1 roundels on upper wings and fuselage.
I thought that when Airfix brought out their 1/48 Spitfire Mk IX it would have been the ultimate model Spitfire of that mark, something of the same quality as their F 22/24. However, possibly due to their pending demise, at the time, it was something of a none starter, as far as I was concerned. I read the reviews, took a look at one in the box, and decided that others on the market were a better option. This was a real pity, as I really wanted Airfix to do well with the kit. I believe that if they had gone for the Mk IX instead of the F22/24 it may, at that time, been the ultimate Mk IX, but then we wouldn’t have had those wonderful F22/24’s 46/47’s. When I saw the adverts for the new Mk I/IIa I had my concerns that this too would let me down. Let’s see if that was the case.
First of all those that know me know that I just love the Spitfire and as we all know, “you just can’t have too many Spitfire’s”. This, however, does not make me an expert, so this review is based on my observations and little knowledge, with reference to the SAM Datafile No3, The Supermarine Spitfire Part 1: Merlin Powered and the plans therein.
In the Box. The box painting is of a group of 19 Squadron Spitfires painted for the press day in October 1938 which, despite the drab camouflage colours, make colourful subjects. In the box you get 7 sprues of light grey plastic, containing 76 items and 3 clear sprues containing 14 items. It is clear that some of these items come from the Mk IX issue. There is an eight page instruction booklet, a double sided colour markings guide with information to make an early, 19 Squadron aircraft, from Duxford August 1938, or 31st October, if you include the “19” on the tail. The other side has a presentation machine from 118 Squadron, from Iversley May 1941. A sheet of decals for the 2 aircraft mentioned.
The Plastic. The surface is finely engraved and looks matt although it is nice and smooth (unlike Airfix’s re-boxing of their Mk V, which had a quite fine but rough surface). However all the moving surfaces are also as finely engraved so these will really need deepening. The 2 sprues containing the cockpit components are, I guess the ones from the Mk IX as they contain cannon barrels, blister gun panels, 4 spoke wheels and Mk VIII retracting tail wheel covers. This is not a problem though as the Spitfire cockpit didn’t change much, The cockpit is quite well detailed, if a little “chunky” in places, such as the seat and seat support frame. The instrument panel is reasonable, with raised instruments but with no dial detail, or decal. The easiest way to deal with this is to paint the dial faces white, paint the panel black. When dry, using a sharp pin, scratch in the dial hands then fill with gloss varnish. When dry and inserted into the aircraft this can look as good as a decal. The rudder peddles are just blobs but will make a good base on which to add PE replacements, they will be difficult to see anyway. The main difference in the cockpit was that the early Spitfires had a pump handle to raise the undercarriage. This is provided on one of the new sprues. Another item supplied on the new sprues is a pair of undercarriage doors. This is a very good thing as the doors on the Mk IX sprues are hideous, looking like you might expect vac form components to be, but with interior detail, very weird.
The two new sprues also contain 3 different propellers and spinners, the prototype two-blade and de Havilland and Rotol three-blade types. There are 2 styles of oil cooler, 5 spoke wheels, 2 styles of exhaust. Two different aerial masts are included but the pole type has flat sides (I thought that it was a round cross section but I could be wrong). The other one doesn’t have the triangular pulley, which was used with the earlier HF sets, but that can easily be rectified. Separate flaps are included.
The wings are moulded in 3 parts, 2 upper and 1 lower, the trailing edges are a little thick and the wing tips are moulded fully on the upper wings, but the fabric covered ailerons are well represented. That is apart from the need to deepen the line around them, as previously mentioned. From a dry test fit they seem to go together well, there is even a small step, at the wing tip, to prevent the end of the lower wing being pushed below the surface of the tip. The wings look good in shape but are a tad long, according to the Datafile plans. When compared to the same plans the fuselage is again just a tad long, but the tail is not tall enough and is slightly the wrong shape, which is more noticeable. The cockpit area also seems to be a little long, however it does look like a Spitfire. The entry door is fixed closed but can be cut out and replaced in the open position with a new door which is provided. The interior detail, on the fuselage halves, is similar but much finer than on the, older, Airfix Mk V, even down to the deep cut to remove the rear section for the Seafire arrester hook. On checking the fuselage halves from both kits (new Mk I and old Mk V) they will fit each other. They are not exactly the same, internally, position of connector pins and tail wheel method of connection, but they do fit. This is great news as it means that you can use the new Airfix Mk I fuselage to replace the Mk V fuselage in their Spitfire Mk Vc/Seafire IIIc kit, which has old, raised line fuselage halves and new engraved wings.
Clear Plastic. The 3 clear plastic sprues are a bit on the thick side but give you plenty of choices, no armoured windscreen, and external or internal armour. I’m not sure what the Mk XVI windscreen and canopy is provided for. The Mk XVI windscreen does seem more refined but it won’t fit the front opening, it is nice to have the spare though. The gun sight is included on all 3 sprues and the identification lamp on 2 of them.
Instructions. The instructions are laid out in what could be termed as Airfix’s usual style, over 17 stages. The differences for each option are annotated when the need arises. Colour information is provided using Humbrol paint numbers.
Decals. The decals for the 2 options are glossy and in register, with separate red centres for the roundels. The red is about correct for the 1941 machine, but I think that it should be more brick red. The red would have been of the brighter kind for the earlier 19 Squadron machine, but this is easy to correct. The yellow looks too mustard but will be harder to correct. It depends what it looks like after it is applied. The medium sea grey codes for the 118 Squadron machine look good, but I would paint on the sky blue band so that I could match it to the spinner.
Remember though that, for the early Spitfire, the number 19 was only added for the press day on the 31st October, but you can of course add it or leave it off.
Should you buy this model? Categorically yes, it isn’t the best Spitfire model out there but it has plenty going for it and at the price it is very good value. It is the only first production Spitfire in 1/48 scale (that I know about) and the fuselage can be used to enhance Airfix’s own re-kiting of their MK V. It will very likely form a very good basis for the prototype as well. The only real problem with the kit is the shape and size of the tail, but many will see that as being pedantic and another set of plans may show it to be more correct. I will be buying more of these, we just need Airfix to provide us with an injection moulded Prototype in 1/48 scale.