Ocidental's 1/48 Spitfire IXe
By Tom Cleaver
The arrival of Focke-Wulf's Fw-190 on the Channel Front in the Fall of 1941 came as a nasty surprise for the Royal Air Force. The Spitfire V, introduced earlier that year, was barely keeping its own with the Friedrich series Bf-109s that equipped their opponents in JG2 and JG26. The Focke-Wulf could literally fly rings around the Spitfire (provided it didn't do it on the horizontal plane), with more speed, double the number of heavy-hitting 20mm cannon, and aileron maneuverability that R.J. Mitchell's masterpiece couldn't begin to equal. When the RAF eventually obtained access to a Fw-190 thanks to Arnim Faber's confused navigation, and was able to compare it directly to the Spitfire, it was found that the only thing the Spitfire V did better was turn. As one RAF ace said, "Turning doesn't win battles." As the Fw-190s proliferated to equip nearly the whole of the two German Geschwaders in Northern France, Fighter Command began experiencing losses reminiscent of "Bloody April" in 1917.
Supermarine was already in development on a Spitfire powered by the Merlin-60 series with its two-stage supercharger, the Spitfire VII and VIII, which had an airframe modified to take maximum advantage of the additional power. However, neither of these types could be available in the time frame the RAF required to meet the threat posed by the Focke-Wulf. It was therefore decided that the company would proceed with an "interim stopgap" solution: mating the Merlin-60 series engine to the Spitfire V airframe. The airplane, the Spitfire IX, first appeared on operations in the Summer of 1942 with 64 Squadron, and its performance was such that it closed the gap created by the introduction of the Fw-190. The big problem was availability - it would be another year before it became more numerous than the Spitfire V within Fighter Command. Interestingly enough, this stopgap, interim solution would become the most-produced Spitfire of all, amounting to nearly 30 percent of all Spitfires ever built.
After meeting the Focke-Wulf menace, the Spitfire IX went on to become the backbone of 2TAF following the Normandy Invasion. Armed with a 500 pound bomb on the centerline and two 250-lb. bombs underwing, the Spitfire was turned into a battlefield dive bomber that supported the Allied armies throughout the Northwestern European ground campaign to the last day of the war.
Ocidental is a Portuguese company that has been previously known for the release of their North American T-6 last year. Additionally, the company has been an anonymous producer of plastic kits for such as Airfix for several years before that. Their Spitfire IX, announced for release in 1998, is the first model of this most-produced Spitfire ever made in 1/48 scale. Up to now, modelers had to be content with an offering from Otaki that tried to be both a Spitfire VIII and a Spitfire IX, and ended up doing neither job particularly well without a lot of effort from the individual modeler. That day is now over.
Ocidental's release is the Spitfire IXe, the version in which the cannons were swapped from the inboard to the outboard position, with provision being made for installation of a .50 caliber machine gun in the space previously given over to the cannon, as replacement for the virtually-worthless rifle-caliber machine guns in the outer wings. That the Spitfire IXc is on the way is revealed by the fact that the cannon bay covers come separately, in the same manner as Academy's Spitfire XIV series. The kit as released also has the early, small rudder as a separate piece, which allows one to suspect that the broad-chord pointed rudder will show up in a Spitfire XVI, and perhaps even a Spitfire VIII. As the most popular British airplane among modelers, all these variants would certainly be hot sellers.
When one opens the thin cardboard box with its so-so artwork, what comes out is a bag with two sprues of parts in a very light-grey plastic, a clear sprue for the too-thick canopy (which does come in three separate parts), and a sheet of decals with the Sky codes and fuselage band that are obviously too green, giving markings options of a 132 Squadron airplane during D-Day, or a 341 "Alsace" squadron machine of the Free French Air Force in late 1944, with French roundels.
Past that, the kit itself looks like a cross between Tamiya and Hasegawa Spitfires in terms of surface detail. As with the T-6, there is a "pebbly" effect to the surface finish which can be solved by five minutes spent with a piece of 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper, smoothing off the parts.
The cockpit interior detail is heavy, and this would be a good opportunity for a modeler to get hold of one of Roy Sutherland's Spitfire I-V cockpits (which are indistinguishable from a Spitfire IX cockpit), which would really improve things. While one is at the hobby shop buying this kit, remember to pick up a Squadron vacuform Spitfire V to XIV canopy - it will be money well spent. With the plethora of decals from Aeromaster and SuperScale, markings alternatives are easy to come by.
While this is not a Tamiya or Hasegawa "shake 'n' bake" kit, it is far and away better than the alternatives, and provides the modeler willing to put forth a modicum of effort with all the basic material to create a model of one of the most famous airplanes in history. I'm already thinking of doing mine as the black Spitfire IXe flown by Ezer Weitzman as commander of the Israeli Air Force (SuperScale does the decals).
1/32 Scale Guide $18.00
1/48 Scale Guide $25.00
1/72 Scale Guide $25.00
HH-43 Huskie Color
Reference Guide $15.00
Please add $3.20 Postage in the US.
PO Box 90933