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In Search of the Accurate Spitfire IX

By Michael Benolkin

 

 

Background

Ocidental, made famous for their beautiful 1/48 SNJ Harvard/T-6 Texan kits, decided to release another kit that has not been represented well in 1/48, the Supermarine Spitfire IX. While the molding of the kit was equal to their inaugural T-6 series, Ocidental's first Spitfire, the Spitfire IXe, had an incorrect 'sloping' nose profile. This was corrected in the subsequent release, the Spitfire IXc.

Nonetheless, there is still a perception in some parts of the modeling community that the Spitfire IXc kit is also inaccurate in shape and dimension. In fact, a friend recently told me that there were some significant differences when comparing the Ocidental kit to an 'accurate' Spitfire Mk.5 kit. This sounded like an interesting bit of research to try for myself.


Hasegawa Mk.V

Not being a Spitfire 'expert', I started by rummaging through multiple references to determine basic dimensions. I found that the dimensions for the early Spitfire IX was 31.04 ft in length with a wingspan of 36.83 ft. The revised rudder on the later Spitfire IX changed the length to 31.38 ft. These dimensions for the early Spitfire IX translate to 7.76 inches in length and a wingspan of 9.21 inches in 1/48 scale.


Tamiya Mk.Vb



Ocidental Mk.IX

Of course, the early Spitfire IXs were nothing more than Spitfire Vs that were diverted on the production line to receive a new Merlin engine and revised underwing radiators to cool it. What I needed was a decent set of profile drawings that would serve as a template for comparison of shape and size. I decided to use a profile of the Spitfire IX, as the fuselage of the Spitfire V kits should align perfectly with the Mk.IX drawing from the firewall aft.


MPM Mk.IX


I first scanned the Spitfire IX 3-view image from Spitfire in Action (Squadron/Signal number 1039). Then I used my graphics editor (Paint Shop Pro) to resizing the diagram, and printed the diagram on my trusty Epson inkjet. It took several attempts to get the diagram to scale out to 1/48. I used the wingspan as the benchmark, and once it reached 9.21 inches, I cross checked the resulting fuselage length. The dimensional proportions of Squadron's artwork was spot-on. We can now look at some kits.

Since there was a previous finding that a Spitfire V kit and the Ocidental Spitfire IX kit were not correct in length when aligned at the firewall, I decided to survey the standard Spitfire V kits first. For this exercise, I examined the Spitfire V kits from Airfix, Tamiya and Hasegawa.

Airfix Spitfire V

This kit was THE Spitfire V to build before the Japanese companies started releasing their Spitfire kits. Laying the upper wing halves and the left fuselage half on the diagrams left me wondering if the Airfix kit was used as the basis of these drawings. The shape and size of the wings are in perfect agreement with the diagram, as was the left fuselage half when aligned with the firewall of the diagram. No problems here.


Tamiya Spitfire V

The Tamiya Spitfire Vb is easily the nicest Spitfire released in 1/48. The detailing is more extensive than any other, and includes parts to build a standard Vb, or the clipped-wing LF Vb. Once again, laying the upper wings halves on the diagram revealed spot-on dimensions and shape. The tail appears to be a few scale inches too short, but not a major problem.


Hasegawa Spitfire V

The Hasegawa offering is a little more spartan in detail than the Tamiya kit, but offers nice, crisp molding, the same choice of standard 'b' wing or clipped LF wingtips, and a choice of the standard 'pointed' spinner or a blunt (rounded) spinner. Again we placed the upper wing halves and left fuselage half against the diagrams, and while the wings were fine, there is a problem with the fuselage. Upon closer examination, the alignment of the firewall to the aft of the cockpit opening is fine, but the fuselage is a scale foot too short between the rear of the cockpit and the tail. The difference is noticeable.


Ocidental Spitfire IX

The two Ocidental Spitfire releases provide the top of the cowl as a separate part, the shape of the fuselage between the two releases is identical, so this test applies to both. The upper wing halves and the left fuselage half were laid on the diagrams. The fuselage shape and dimensions were spot-on, with the exception of the curve of the underside of the cowl, it appears a few scale inches too deep. While this is correctable with a little filing and sanding, the discrepancy is hardly noticeable. The wings were a hair larger that the others but their shape and proportions were fine.

The Old versus the New

Now it was time for the real test – did Ocidental really fix the Spitfire IX mold? I dry-fit the old and new fuselage halves together. There was never a problem with the fuselage aft of the firewall, so the halves align perfectly. What is immediately noticeable is the hole for the prop shaft, it has been moved up on the new release. If that's the case, there should be a corresponding difference in the top of the cowl between the two kits. Putting the two cowl tops together, you can see a distinctive curve as the top of the nose slopes down from the firewall to the spinner. This was indeed the Achilles heel of the first Ocidental release. The new cowl top is properly flat. The Spitfire IXc has indeed been corrected.

MPM Spitfire IXc/e

MPM recently released a Spitfire IXc/e kit with the appropriate bulges, etc., between the two wings provided in resin. In fact, MPM provides a nice array of resin parts to dress up the aircraft. Unfortunately, their release is using the plastic parts from the first (inaccurate) Ocidental Spitfire IX kit. It is our understanding that MPM is in the process of developing a resin correction for this kit. We'll keep you posted.

Conclusions

Interestingly enough, I almost overlooked the minor length discrepancy in the Tamiya kit until I dry-fit the Tamiya and Ocidental fuselage halves together. Placing the two of them against the diagram revealed that the Ocidental length and shape appear to be correct and the Tamiya length may be too short. But now I can now understand how the perception of an inaccurate fuselage length might have come about with the Ocidental Spitfire - someone used the Hasegawa kit as the basis of comparison. The Hasegawa fuselage is definitely too short! The dry-fitting the Ocidental and Airfix fuselage halves revealed an almost perfect match.

Caveats

When dealing with dimensional discrepancies of scale inches, this is nothing more than interpretation differences when the molds were designed from whatever source diagrams were used. Given the major discrepancies between the Squadron and Wings of Fame drawings, it is likely that slightly different results might emerge if other references are used. So when dealing in scale models, it is safe to discount a difference in a few scale inches.

Recommendations

The industry standard Airfix Spitfire Vb is still the dimensional winner. Despite its age, it is still a nice model to start with, though you'll need to add your own detailing. The Tamiya Spitfire Vb kit is still my favorite in 1/48, it combines excellent detail with fine molding. As far as the category of Spitfire IX goes, I can recommend the Ocidental IXc release without hesitation. Like the Airfix kit, it lacks detail in the cockpit, but like its Airfix counterpart, it offers the detailer with a fresh canvas upon which to create that 'perfect' Spitfire IX.



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