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Modeling Spitfire cockpits: Building a compass

One of the more visible and distinctive elements that is easily visible in either a closed or open canopy configuration of the Spitfire is the compass. Unlike many aircraft that had the compass mounted in the instrument panel, directly facing the pilot, the Spitfire had a horizontally mounted compass, hanging just below the instrument panel. Though some kits already have a well detailed compass supplied, others either have a poorly cast one, or no compass at all.

Creating this compass is not very difficult when you break it down into a few simple shapes. Essentially, it is a small, horizontal rectangular base-plate (with slightly rounded corners), fitted to a rectangular back plate which attaches to the “bottom lip” of the instrument panel. There are two triangles on the sides to support the base, and a small cylinder sits in the middle. A quick Google image search pulls up several examples for reference.

For materials, sheet styrene works very well. Of course, if you don’t have that available, just about any thin plastic that can be glued together will work. For the compass itself, a punch and die set will pop out a few plastic discs to use. (I use Micro-Mark’s set for this.) Or, simply cut off a slice of your kit’s plastic sprue, and sand to shape with a sanding stick.

For sizing the pieces, I generally make the compass disc about the size of the largest dial on the instrument panel, and then size the other pieces accordingly. It’s not exact, of course, so if you prefer to be a bit more adventurous you can work out the correct scale size. I use a punch and die set to punch out three discs, and I glue them together.

Next, cut out  out a long strip of plastic, (slightly wider than your disc in the previous step), that will form the base, sides and the back. This will make sure they are the same width and to scale with each other.

The basic parts to build a compass

From one end of the strip, cut off a square, and then cut that into two triangles.

Next, score the remaining plastic strip lightly to form the area where the compass will sit, Leave some excess on the longer piece that will fold up. You’ll cut that to an appropriate length later.

Now fold the piece along the score, and glue on the triangle sides. For additional realism, use a sanding stick, lightly sand the two corners of the base, to give them a rounded shape. You’ll probably need to make your triangle pieces a bit smaller to do this. I typically go for the simpler method myself, and not worry about. it. Those triangles are almost too small for my eyes to see clearly as it is!

Glue the punched discs from earlier on to the base, and there you have it- a Spitfire compass!

Starting to look like a compass

All you need to do now is test fit the compass backing to the lower part of the instrument panel, cut accordingly, and glue it on, centered on the lower edge of the frame. This instrument panel is from Academy’s 1/48 Spitfire Mk. XVIe “bubble top”.

The kit supplied part is a bit lumpy looking
The new compass mounted to the IP

The compass itself is is black, and the frame is cockpit green. Adding a small instrument decal to the top, like one from Mike Grant Decals, will give it extra realism. Top it off with a drop of gloss coat, such as Future, to resemble the glass cover.

Of course, you can go for extra detail, such as using multiple sized discs to really replicate the shape of the compass. You could also drill out the holes in the sides of the small triangle pieces, and cut a notch in the back of the vertical mounting frame.

Regardless of whether you take the simple approach, or a more detailed one, the addition of the compass will really set your Spitfire’s cockpit apart.