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Comrade Spitfire

Hasegawa's 1/48 SPITFIRE Mk Vb "Trop" in Soviet Markings

By John Lester

There seems to be an unwritten rule that every aircraft modeler will have a Spitfire in their collection - and the hobby industry has certainly given us enough kits in various scales to meet this requirement. Being a contrary individual, I hadn't built a Spit of any kind since I was twelve (Monogram's). Then one day, the local hobby shop had a sale and before I knew it I was walking out the door with Hasegawa's Mk. Vb "Trop" kit.

THE KIT

The kit is typical Hasegawa - nice box art, well-molded, good-fitting parts. There are three sprues in their typical grey styrene that make up the basic kit, plus another that contains the Volkes tropical filter (two pieces). The clear sprue tree contains gunsight, windscreen, rear glass and three hoods. Everything is present to build a "stock" Mk. Vb or a tropicalized one (at least a trop that used the Volkes filter - if you're modeling one with an Aboukir filter you'll have to find a conversion set or scratchbuild it) - with or without "clipped" wings. The decal sheet provides markings for four aircraft, including one of 84 fighters supplied to the Turks. The usual clear instruction sheet and a color marking guide rounds out the package.

In the box, it looks like a good model. On the workbench, it goes together fairly quickly and with minimal fuss. You can build it straight from the box and have a nice looking replica. You could - I just can't leave well enough alone. There are several small errors and omissions that are easily fixed, and a number of opportunities for enhancement.

GETTING STARTED

I had originally planned to do the Turkish aircraft, but then found some pictures of a Soviet Spitfire. The Voenno Vozdushnyye Sily (V-VS) received 1,333 Spitfires (143 of them Mk. Vb's) from 1943. Many of these were re-built and re- serialized RAF veterans. Some were later converted into two-seat trainers with a locally designed back seat, and at least one was converted after the war to test catapult launchings from the cruiser Molotov. A small number may also have migrated to Red China.

There are a number of references available on the Spitfire, so gathering material is not difficult. I used the "Wings of Fame" Volume 9 extensively. It has a wealth of good photos, drawings and data (plus articles and photos on the AVG and P- 70).

ASSEMBLY

The only problems I had in assembling the kit were my own darn fault. You start off in the cockpit. Hasegawa provides a simplified version of the "front office" - too simplified in my view. I added the bar between the rudder pedals, control linkage to the stick, and various wiring and cable runs from stretched sprue and monofilament line. The instrument panel could really use some effort as well - the compass is a shapeless ledge, for instance. You can use the instrument panel decal - with lots and lots of decal solvent to get it to conform to all the details - or you can use it as a guide to painting the panel yourself. About two days into this exercise I started wishing there was an aftermarket set for this kit ... but I never did find one. I was able to use a Reheat photoetched set of various British harnesses for the seat belts. For the record, the cockpit in Tamiya's Mk. I Spit looks a whole lot better out of the box....

Aircraft delivered to the V-VS wore standard RAF day-fighter paint schemes, inside and out. Therefore, I painted and detailed the interior per the instructions and photos of RAF aircraft using Testors Model Master paints throughout. The cockpit was painted RAF Interior Grey-Green, with Aircraft Interior black "hardware" (throttle, fuse boxes, gunsight etc.) and cabling, dark brown for the leather headrest, and white oxygen bottle. Missing was the seatback padding, or at least I think it was missing - I was unable to find a clear photo of the Mk V's seat, but I believe there was padding on the upright portion of the furniture, so I made this from putty and painted it black. The throttle handle, trim wheel and seat adjustment levers were made from scrap styrene rod. I then drilled small holes around the circumference of part B22 to make it look like the real aircraft's ribs.

The area directly under the rear cockpit glazing is empty, but you should at least be able to see the IFF transceiver and possibly the radio equipment that sits underneath the radio mast. I very much doubt that V-VS aircraft were supplied with British IFF equipment, but the aircraft I built had an RPK-10M (direction finding?) installation. I added two small boxes made from scrap styrene, painted black, on a small ledge (more scrap) level with the bottom of the fuselage access hatch and behind part B22. The radio transceiver sits in the center of this, with the direction finding receiver in front on the starboard side of the aircraft.

Whew. All that work - and as soon as I slipped the cockpit into place and closed up the fuselage halves most of the detail became impossible to see. Ah, well. Before moving on to the wings, I painted the radiators (on the lower wing and part C11) black, then drybrushed them with stainless steel to bring out their grilles. The exhausts (B8-10 and B15-17) were drilled out with a Dremel tool and painted Burnt Iron while still on the sprue.

Fuselage, wings and horizontal stabilizers went together almost perfectly. I'm told most folks have problems with the wing fit - I must have gotten lucky, as I only needed the barest hint of putty. Most of that went at the front. The oil cooler fairing, however, needed work to get it to blend in right. The aircraft I built did not have the Volkes filter (though a number of the Mk Vb's delivered to the V-VS did- check those references) so I used parts C4 and C5 and saved the filter for another project. I used the full wing tips as well because it appears in the photo that this aircraft did not have clipped wings. I can't be sure this particular aircraft had the bomb rack, but it seems logical it would have. I went out on a limb and drilled out the holes for it, though I didn't mount the two-piece affair until after I finished painting.

Next I installed the canopy parts - and ran head on into Hasegawa's biggest goof. The windscreen is just wrong - it's missing the prominent laminated armored glass that protected the pilot (somewhat) from head-on attacks. Every photo I have of Mk. Vb's shows this - including a picture of the Turkish machine for which decals are provided. This looked to be a pain to scratchbuild, until I remembered the Tamiya Spitfire Mk. I lurking in the closet (another sale item). I planned to build that one from the "Phony War" period, without the armored windscreen, so I stole the correct part. Tamiya's windscreen was the right width, but too high on the Hasegawa kit. That was easily solved with some careful filing and sanding and a small amount of putty at the front. After dipping the clear parts in Future floor polish, I masked them with bare metal foil (my first time trying this method, which I found much easier than using tape). I affixed the windscreen and rear glazing with thinned white glue and left the sliding hood off until the end. The frames were painted with interior green first, then over-sprayed later with the fuselage color.

Landing gear and tail wheel were painted while still on the sprue. These, and the gear bays and interiors of the radiator/cooling ducts, were painted the same color as the undersides (Medium Sea Grey in my case). I used the spoked main wheels, though Hasegawa gives you the choice of spoked or smooth types. The landing gear doors appear overly thick, and I gave some thought to replacing them with ones scratched from plasticard. I was getting tired of extra work, however, and in the end just used the kit parts (I didn't reposition the ailerons, elevators or rudder for this same reason). I did replace the cannon muzzles (parts B23) with 20-gauge hypodermic tubing, since the kit parts just didn't look right. Similarly, I slipped lengths of 18 gauge tubing into the holes for the 4 machine guns to represent their barrels. From what I could gather, it appears the V-VS was content to use the weapons supplied with their Spitfires (unlike the Hurricanes that were re-armed with Soviet cannon and machineguns as fast as they could).

PAINTING

As always, check your references before painting. Aircraft delivered to the V-VS wore standard RAF day fighter camouflage, which by 1943 was Ocean Grey/Dark Green uppers and Medium Sea Grey undersides. Some also retained the Sky Type "S" fuselage ID band and spinner, but the photo of this aircraft doesn't show that. It also doesn't appear to have been painted out, though that area is so dark one can't even tell what the serial number (if any) was. By happy co-incidence I stumbled across the Aeromaster "Red Stars in the Sky" decal sheet (48-009) which contains the markings for the fighter I built. They missed the boat on a couple of details, including the paint scheme. It sees much more likely the aircraft would have been repainted overall green, as the two PR.IX machines and the two-seaters were, rather than with standard Soviet AF colors mimicking the British cammo pattern as Aeromoster states. Aeromaster also missed the prominent RPK-10M antenna sitting where the British put the ID lamp behind the radio mast.

Basic painting was easy enough. I stuffed tissue paper into all the openings I didn't want painted and shot the entire aircraft with RAF Medium Sea Grey. That revealed a few small surface flaws that were fixed and touched up. When that had dried, I masked off the underside and painted the top surfaces Ocean Grey. Using the kit's paint guide enlarge in a photocopier as a guide, I cut frisket and tape masks for the camouflage and covered up the areas that needed to stay grey. Then I sprayed the Dark Green. When that had dried I pulled off the masking and installed the pitot tube and radio aerials. The RPK-10M loop was made from a carefully sanded slice of 1/8" diameter Evergreen tube and glued where the ID lamp would have been. Finally, the yellow ID band on the leading edge of the wings was masked with bare metal foil (I love that stuff now!) and sprayed yellow.

While that was drying I painted the spinner parts. Hasegawa provides both the Rotol and DeHavilland props and spinners, which are noticeably different. My subject had the Rotol equipment, so I used parts B18, 19 and 21. Aeromaster states the spinner was white (forward) and red (behind the props) and the picture I have seems to bear that out. Parts B18 and 19 both were sprayed flat white. Then B19 was sprayed British Crimson (a more worn looking red than Insignia Red, which I usually use). The two halves of the spinner were then glued together. Don't slide the props in place until after you put the spinner on the fuselage, or you'll have to break them out again as I did.

After three passes with Future floor polish the model was ready for decals.

DECALS AND WEATHERING

The decals were all Aeromaster - so what can I say? I used the stencils from their basic Spitfire stencil set (148-009) and the Red Stars sheet. I'll save the kit decals for another day (perhaps a Turkish Fw-190?). Everything went on nicely and responded well to MicroSol. No silvering, no translucent areas, no hassles. After decals had dried I gently wiped the model down with dilute dish-soapy water to get rid of any residues. Then I sprayed it with Testors Dullcote and when that had dried, I gently buffed the model with a piece of flannel to bring out a slight semigloss sheen.

Weathering was relatively easy as well. The photo shows a well-worn aircraft in the summer sun. The inboard upper wings, leading edges and cockpit area were drybrushed with Aluminum. Access areas (engine, radio compartment, cockpit door etc.) received heavier weathering. Wheels and gear got a good, solid wash of brown to represent the mud and dirt picked up on unimproved strips. The upper surfaces didn't get as heavy muddying - the photo shows a piece of tarp spread across the wing root, presumably to keep the worst of the muck off the airplane. A few streaks and soot stains behind gun muzzles and exhausts and I was done weathering.

The last thing to do was installing the exhausts and run a wireless aerial, which I made from 1lb test monofilament line.

SUMMARY

Good kit. Pleasant to build. Needs some small fixes, but nothing major (not like, say, Hobbycraft's MS. 406). Recommended for beginners through advanced sufferers of AMS. There are so many marking possibilities I just may break my "no doubles" rule and build another one.

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