Build Report: Special Hobby’s 1/48 Fairey Firefly Mk. I

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In a moment of insanity, I decided I wanted to build a Special Hobby kit.

Well, not so much a Special Hobby kit in general. But circumstances conspired so that I had to logically arrive at that conclusion. (And yes, I just used the word “logical” in reference to a Special Hobby kit.)

The impetus of all of this was a book I was reading, “They Gave Me A Seafire“, by Commander R ‘Mike’ Crosley DSC RN. It’s an excellent account of Commander Crosley’s experiences as a Fleet Air Arm pilot in World War II. Several times he mentioned the Fairey Firefly.

Fairey-Firefly-FR-II’d always thought of the Firefly as simply a poor attempt at a fighter that was quickly eclipsed by actual fighters- like the Sea Hurricane and Seafire. As it turns out, I was wrong.

While the Firefly was certainly not the sleek and maneuverable Seafire, it was actually an important aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm. Its role evolved into that of a strike fighter, and it turned out to be well suited for that. It even served on into the Korean War.

What really made me sit up and take notice was when I read a report detailing the Firefly’s handling characteristics. The airplane had a set of flaps, with various positions. For higher speed flight, they could be tucked away. There was also a position for landing, to allow for a slower and more controlled approach for landings. But one of the settings was designed to improve handling during maneuvering. The report said that in this position, the Firefly could outturn the Zero.

That blew my mind. Of all the aircraft in World War II that comes to mind in terms of tight turn radius, the Zero would usually top anyone’s list. And yet the Firefly could do better?

I decided it was time to build one of these airplanes that I now had a new appreciation for.

After reviewing the kit choices in 1/48 scale- Grand Phoenix/AZ Models and Special Hobby, build reviews showed the Special Hobby kit to be the better of the two.

So gritting my teeth, I went on Ebay and found a reasonably priced one.

As with most Special Hobby kits, examining the parts in the box gives one a great deal of hope. Generally the detail is nice, surface detail is good, and the parts breakdown is fairly conventional. Enough so that is lulls you to sleep. “This will be fun”, you think. You naively wade in, and suddenly you hear a vaguely familiar voice in your ear shouting “It’s a trap!” Too late….

Anyway…. so how was the build?

The cockpit is very detailed. Thankfully SH decided to set aside the resin and photoetch parts, and focus on injection molded detail. Lots of parts to glue in- but it all fit. (Unlike my past experiences with the Il-10 and CA-13.) I did add some tape seat belts, but apart from that, it was out of the box. Test fitting into the fuselage showed some minor sanding was needed to allow the fuselage to close up nicely, which it did so to my surprise.

I was a bit frustrated that SH chose to only provide a closed canopy option. With all the nice detail, I would have liked to have seen an open canopy option. I considered cutting the canopy open, but decided against it, as I figured simply getting through the kit was good enough. The rear canopy section did not fit well at all, being a bit too narrow. However, I once again decided to leave well enough alone and use it as is, gaps or not.

With the fuselage closed up, I moved on to the wings. Special Hobby did mold the wheel wells as a single piece resin part, and to my complete surprise, it fit without any adjustments or fuss at all. However, I was quickly reminded that yes, I was indeed building a SH kit when I put the upper wing parts on. They had a slight “overhang” on the leading edge of the wings, and the join itself was not great. It was as if the angle of one mating surface was slightly off, requiring either a good deal of sanding to address before gluing, or some putty after gluing. I chose the latter route.

With the wings squared away, fitting them to the fuselage was anticlimactic. It was a pretty good fit for a SH kit. I did use some Mr. Surfacer to minimize the gaps a bit, but other than a bit of sanding where the trailing edge of the wing joins the fuselage, it went fairly well.

With the major portions of the fuselage squared away, it was time to move on to painting. I really like the look of the Fleet Air Arm colors, but unfortunately Tamiya (my favorite paint) doesn’t have a good match for Extra Dark Sea Gray or Extra Dark Slate Gray. I did find some “recipes” for mixing the paint, and because it was on the Interwebs, it must be correct.

I painted the undersides in Tamiya XF-21 Sky, and the uppers in my own mix of Tamiya paints. While the colors turned out pretty good, I thought there wasn’t enough contrast, so I think next time I’ll factor that in to the mix. (I’m a firm believer that there is a difference between being correct and looking right when it comes to scale models.)

I did a bit of artists oil splattering to break up the monotone appearance, but I didn’t go too heavily into the weathering. A few grime, oil and exhaust streaks were added, as well as my usual post-shading and fading.

The Special Hobby decals performed well, though they were so thin I ended up ruining one of the numbers that went on the nose, so I just left those off. They were just a slight bit too transparent for my tastes, but otherwise they worked well.

I finally added the fiddly bits, gave it a flat coat, and called it done.

I was definitely happy with how it turned out overall. And I can say with certainty that if Special Hobby would at least maintain this standard, I’d be more willing to build their stuff. If they could just work on their precision, they’d be starting to reach the level of Airfix. Their accuracy seems to be good, and they get a nice level of detail in the interior, and the surface detail is very nice. (In fact, I’d say it’s a tad bit better than Airfix in that area.)

And please, Special Hobby- give an option for an open canopy!

Given what you pay for their kits, and the overall level of difficulty building them, I’d still only recommend them to advanced modelers. And if there is a reasonable alternative from another mainstream manufacturer, go with that kit instead.

But if you want a nice looking Fairey Firefly- definitely get this kit.