In Search of the Accurate Spitfire Mk.IX - Update 1
Never has there been such a debate over kit accuracy than over the various releases of the Supermarine Spitfire. While the debate began at a lower tempo with the various attempts at the Spitfire Mk.V, it reached fever pitch with the Ocidental releases and has not tapered off with either the ICM or the more recent Hasegawa versions.
When I saw the re-issued Ocidental Spitfire kit at the 1999 RCHTA show, it was obvious to me that they had attempted to overcome the nose profile problems of the kit within the limits of the existing molds. Unfortunately, too many folks condemned the kit without really taking a good look at Ocidental's work. This prompted the February 2000 article that compared the various Spitfire Mk.Vs & Mk.IXs that were then available.
While there have been some excellent points raised about the limitations of such comparisons, I decided to update the article with the latest Spitfire IX offerings. To approach the first article (and continue with this one), I made the following assumptions based on historical references and logic:
The Spitfire IX was essentially a Spitfire V airframe with a longer nose that housed a more powerful Merlin engine and associated plumbing. Later Spitfire IXs received additional enhancements in the form of a new rudder and horizontal stabs/elevators.
The most accurate Spitfire Mk.V kit in size and shape available in 1/48 scale is the Airfix kit.
Using two-dimensional drawings as a profile backdrop would provide a common frame of comparison between kits.
To that end, I scanned and scaled up several sets of drawings in order to provide the framework for comparison. To my surprise, one of the more popular UK aviation history publications had drawings that had seriously disproportionate wingspans when the fuselage was lengthened to 1/48! The one set of drawings that I had available that gave an accurate wingspan when the fuselage was set to 1/48 scale was those from the Squadron 'In Action' publication. The first test was passed.
The next test came with the Airfix kit, the fuselage profile and wing profiles were perfect! It was almost like the artist had traced the Airfix kit and then drew the larger Merlin on the firewall. Again, this approach does not allow for three-dimensional shape, just profile. So with these understandings, I compared the Ocidental and Japanese kits to the baseline drawings.
Lengthwise, the Ocidental kit was the easy winner as the Japanese kits were shorter by varying lengths. The wings of the Ocidental kit are actually a little too large by a fraction but the shape was fine. The major problem with the kit was still in the nose - the lower cowl bowed a little to much near the spinner. This was corrected with the new nose and other great details released by Aeroclub (reviewed in July 2000). The cockpit was also a little on the spartan side, but there are also numerous detail sets on the market to overcome this as well.
So how do these previous offerings stand up to the latest releases? Let's take a look:
ICM Spitfire Mk.IX
The ICM 1/48 Spitfire Mk.IX kits are the most detailed offerings I've seen of the subject straight out of the box. While they don't simply 'fall together' like many of Tamiya or Hasegawa's kits, this model was nicely engineered.
On the templates, the fuselage is the best match in length and profile I've seen yet. If I still had the Airfix kit available, I bet the fuselage halves would match up nicely. The wings also match up with the dimensions and shape of the drawings. Even the gun ports and gun bays match up nicely.
Hasegawa Spitfire Mk.IX
The Hasegawa 1/48 Spitfire Mk.IX is an impressive kit out of the box. While not as detailed as the ICM kit, the molding and scribed details are some of Hasegawa's best. The wings matched up with the drawings perfectly, though the fuselage is still a bit too short in the tail as was their Spitfire Mk.V kit.
While there is still no perfect Spitfire model out there, the ICM kit is the current winner in my book for the most accurate Spitfire Mk.IX available. Despite some minor problems with sink marks, this is still a great kit. The Tamiya Spitfire Mk.V is still my choice for this version in 1/48th.
While the 'religious debates' will continue on this subject for some time to come, I hope this comparison is useful as a starting point. Please bear in mind that while the experts continue to grind away at the warts and faults of each Spitfire kit released, there are still modelers out there winning model contests with these so-called 'flawed' kits. At the end of the day, all of these kits will look like Spitfires with some good modeling skills and an eye for the details.
Let's keep this fun! After all, this is supposed to be a hobby...