Build Report: Airfix’s 1/48 Spitfire Mk. I

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When Airfix released their Spitfire Mk. Vb in 2014, a quick look at the parts gave hints that a Mk. I would be coming along. And sure enough- it did.

I think it surprised a few folks that Airfix would release another Mark I, having only released a new tool of it in 2007. Of course, that tooling was actually a product of the “old” Airfix, pre-Hornby. And while it looked the part, it has some definite issues. So a replacement to the catalog was certainly a welcome addition, and the timing with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain could not have been better. (Airfix also released a new tool Hurricane Mk. I at the same time.)

Don’t Be Confused!

I’ve talked to several modelers who picked up a more recent boxing of Airfix’s 2007 Mk. I release, and were quite surprised to find it was not the 2015 kit.

While the older boxing is quite easy to spot, a recent re-release in the reb box is a bit more difficult. The two older kits were A05115 (in the old box) and A05115A (in a red box). The new kit is A05126.

The kit has quite a number of parts in common with the Mk. Vb release. Cockpit parts, fuselage parts, landing gear and other various and sundry parts are common to both kits. A new wing is included, and it has the parts to build the gun bays open, to display the machine guns.

The real “star” of the kit are the included options to build any of the eight gun wing early models. The two bladed Watts prop is included, as well as the DeHavilland and Rotol props seen on the Mk. I and Mk. II. Appropriate options are included for the cockpit sidewall for the early Mk. Is, included the different undercarriage lever of the early Spitfire.

A brief side note- I do hope someone will put together some aftermarket parts to build the K5054 prototype. As it is in the box, I believe it is possible to build the final variation of it. But it would be nice to have an earlier option. Of course, the best solution would be for Airfix to release it themselves. The 80th anniversary of the type is 2016…. hint, hint, Airfix. 🙂

Assembly of the cockpit is reasonably straightforward, though a bit fiddly if you don’t pay attention. In the three examples I’ve built using these cockpit parts (two Vbs and this Mk. I), I found that using a thin sanding stick to open up the slots in the sidewalls for the bulkheads to fit into helped quite a bit. The detail in the cockpit is excellent, and if you make use of the decal for the instrument panel, it looks quite nice. I did replace the kit seat- which is a nice seat- with an Ultracast resin seat, simply because the seatbelts are molded in. It did require a bit of cutting to the kit supplied armor plate to fit it in, but it was easy enough to do so.

Take your time when fitting it all together. There are several parts that must fit across from one side to the other, and patience helps to get them lined up. I never could get the flaps lever lined up, so I simply pulled it out. (Who needs flaps anyway…)

The cockpit fit neatly into the fuselage, and it all closed up nicely. A little filler was needed to tidy up the seams, but there were no gaps.

As with the Mk. Vb, the fitting of the gas tank cover was a bit of a problem. It didn’t align well. As with the Vb, it sat a bit proud of the rest of the fuselage, and where it joined on the right side, a good bit of filler was needed to assure a flush fit.

I suppose if I were to level any criticism at this kit (and the Mk. Vb and the Hurricane really), it would be that the level of casting precision that Airfix demonstrates is not quite up to this type of parts breakdown. It’s not a bad idea, but it requires a level of finesse that is simply not demonstrated in their kits. Not to say that they are bad at all- they are very good. But even Hasegawa kits don’t pull this off well. I honestly think only Tamiya possesses the precision to produce parts that fit as this type of arrangement really requires. (And perhaps Eduard, although they’d split it into seven parts, two of which would be photoetch…)

So anyway- it’s not a showstopper, but I really wonder if a better solution couldn’t have been found for the problem.

Once that was all sorted out, the fuselage was set aside to work on the wings. I’ve never had much interest in open panels, so I left those parts on the sprues. Thankfully, Airfix molded the gun doors closed, so no work was required to make sure it all fit flush. I did learn on my earlier Mk. Vb builds that the simplest way (for me) to deal with the odd landing gear parts breakdown was simply to assemble the struts and then insert them into the assembly, and finally add the gear doors. If you line it up just right, the gear doors just touch the undersurface of the wing, allowing a bit of glue to be added. This strengthens the whole affair, and makes them a bit stronger. You do have to watch out for them during assembly and painting, but I think it works much better in the long run than adding the lower half of the struts later as the assembly instructions call for.

The wing parts fit nicely together, and a sanding stick took care of the seams. The fit of the wings to the fuselage was also good, only a small amount of Mr. Surfacer was needed to neaten up the join.

I did scratch my head over the carb intake. It sort of fits into a hole on the underside of the wing, but that hole is significantly wider than the part, so Mr. Surfacer was required again to fill that in. (Again… as I mentioned earlier…. finesse…)

Once the major airframe components were in place, the paint went on. For markings, I used  Victory Productions “Spitfire Aces of the Empire” (VPD48006) set, an absolutely outstanding value. I chose Robert Stanford Tuck’s aircraft from the Dunkirk/early BoB timeframe. While the paint guide suggested the undersides were the all black/white split, a photo of Tuck and a squadron mate standing in front of another Spitfire in the squadron showed what was most likely a silver lacquer lower cowl, which would have most likely meant that the rear fuselage and tailplanes were the same color, only the wings being black/white.

(The kit comes with three nice marking options, including an early two-bladed variant.)

Armed with this evidence, I painted the undersides using Tamiya Flat Aluminum, white and NATO Black. The uppers were painted in Tamiya RAF Dark Green 2 and JGSDF Brown, which I feel is an acceptable substitute for dark earth.

Once those were applied, the dot filter technique was employed using artists oils, and then the whole airframe received a coating of Future. The decals went on next. The Victory Productions decals are made by Cartograph, and they were flawless. I did use a few kit decals, and while not up to the standard of Cartograph, they worked nicely, and responded to Solvaset well.

An oil wash was applied next, and then fading achieved with Tamiya Buff, and post-shading with a mix of Tamiya Hull Red and NATO Black. The final dangly bits were added, and a coat of Vallejo Stain Varnish finished it all off.

The obvious comparison for this kit is Tamiya’s iconic Spitfire Mk. I, which is a fine kit itself. Despite a few minor engineering issues, however, I would highly recommend the Airfix kit. Its interior detail is much better than Tamiya’s, and its overall shape looks a bit better to my eye. The surface detailing of the two is essentially equal. And Airfix’s options in the box make it stand out from Tamiya’s offering, which allows only the later Mk. I to be built. Only in ease of build would I rank Tamiya ahead of Airfix. But if you’ve built a few models, you know Tamiya is the gold standard in fit and ease of build, so no real surprise there.

I’m really excited about the kits Airfix is releasing, especially the Spitfires. I do wish they’d bring their parts breakdown a bit more in line with their molding capability. But even that is a small nitpick in the bigger scheme of things.

Airfix’s new Spitfire Mk. I in 1/48 scale is definite “must build” for any modeler!