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A Modeler's Evolution

Part Two

by Russell M. Field

1/72 Spitfire I





This is the second in a series of articles chronicling my re-entry into plastic scale modeling.  Like the first piece, this is not a kit review nor a construction article.  The intent is to:


1)      give other novice modelers a different skill level and progress reference than provided by viewing the works of more advanced “gurus”, and

2)      provide real-life illustration of some “lessons learned” about techniques, research and the build process.


This kit was my first serious experience with photo-etched interiors and multi-colored camouflage paint schemes.  It’s the older 1/72 Hasegawa Mk I Spitfire, featuring a 3-bladed Malcolm-hooded version and a two-bladed flat-topped bird (#K9794, which IIRC was the eighth production Mk I).  I chose the latter, with a white/black underside pattern.  Plenty of masking experience on this one …  

Once again, please excuse and bear with my evolving photographic skills. Focus on the points the pictures illustrate, but any helpful hints will be appreciated!  




I accumulated a lot of references for this project. I read a BUNCH (and bought FAR more books than I could afford!), but my major information source was responses to questions on sites like the “Remembering the Battle of Britain” website (special thanks to Doug Tidy, Peter Weston and others) and Hyperscale.  It will take years for me to absorb all the wisdom and insight – and sort out the speculation from the flyspecks – that these generous folks provided. This was really the first of my projects that I can say was “built on the internet!

My primary published references included the Squadron-Signal Spitfire In Action, “Spitfires and Polished Metal” (a must-get for Spit fans) and the Arco-Aircam series.



Key Features


It seems this kit provides a fairly accurate Mk I outline if you’re not picky about the cowling; or the total absence of the gull wing shape.  The interior is dead simple and the panel lines are raised. The wheel wells are completely open and devoid of detail, but the separate exhausts are easier to work with.  

I made some “in-process” decisions that really should have been made before starting. “Lessons learned” are often more like “experiences repeated”! 

Some of the major features and modifications included:

·        Eduard photo-etch interior (with a little sheet styrene for dimension and artists’ colored pencils for depth), flaps (full open) and flap actuators;

·        Reset all control surfaces (and matched the joystick position, of course!);

·        Modified the exhausts with brass tubing (too big), installed hypo-tube outboard gun barrels and scratch-built the reflector gunsight;

·        Plunge-formed a new flat canopy (THIS was a real joy … took around 20 tries to get “close enough”, but the kit canopy was too thick to pose open);

·        Added gear-down indicators (made from scrap photo-etch fret), a gas-detection patch on the port wing and detailed the wheel wells (pretty simple; a ring of flat sheet and a couple of shallow stringers in the roof);

·        Opened the cockpit door and added armor over the main fuel tank (historically inaccurate and another lesson in relative scale – at 1/72, the .010” sheet I used would be almost ¾ “ thick on a real plane!);

·        Installed brake lines as well as both standard and IFF antennae;

·        And the biggie:  opened the radio hatch and installed the radio.

In the previous article, the “biggie” was dropping the P-40 flaps. On this one, when I got the fuselage together it looked rather plain, so the cure was to break it up a little.

This task wasn’t all that hard, but it sure would have been easier to do BEFORE gluing the little beastie together!  The radio is block styrene with a couple of True Details P/E radio faces stuck on. The hatch door is .010” sheet.  

Why can’t I bang a kit out in a week? …  

Here’s a close-up of the office (wait’ll I get GOOD with this camera!) and a view that illustrates several features:  the exhausts, the landing gear indicators, the gas patch, the flap actuators and the cockpit.  You can see the scale problems with the exhausts and the fuel tank armor.    




Painting and Decals


This was my first experience with multi-color camouflage schemes. I practiced on some “painting drones” – cheap or discarded kits that I use for technique practice – but actually “doing the deed” on a piece you’ve put so much time and effort into still gives one pause (“paws”?).  I’m beginning to realize that a major chunk of my build time is working up the courage to try new stuff!  

The challenges were the appearance of the top pattern, and getting crisp demarcation between the black and white underside halves. I decided to go after scale effect by post-shading and weathering, rather than lightening the paint.  I used Testor’s Model Master acrylics straight out of the bottle.  This worked OK, but now I thin with isopropyl alcohol, which lets me vary the pressure more and gives me better control over the density of a coat.  

The entire underside was painted white (cut with a little “Panzer Interior Buff” to reduce starkness) and allowed to cure completely. I then masked off the portion that was to remain white and the white sprayed again to seal the edge of the tape and prevent bleed-under by the black paint.  This worked well, but watch out for the build-up of a paint ridge along the edge of the tape.  

I sprayed the black side, getting a little denser coverage than I wanted.  I had hoped to lessen the intensity of the black by painting over white, but the unthinned paint covered a bit too well.  

I masked the underside edges and sprayed Earth Red on the entire upper surface, with the door and radio hatch temporarily attached in closed positions and the cockpit masked off.  When dry, the green pattern areas were lightly outlined in pencil and sprayed.  

I was dismayed to find that the green areas showed “pooling” and hard edges where the spray had been too wet; this resulted from moving too slowly while following the pencilled guidelines.  This disrupted the smooth expanse of color I had been hoping for, so a little light touch-up with a soft brush ensued.  This helped, but pointed out the need for more airbrush practice.  

When I got it as good as I could (aka “I’m ready to move along on this”), I clear glossed the whole plane with Testor’s spray (the can) and applied the decals.  These went on well with no significant issues except that not all the required white decals for the underside were furnished.  I had to use a stylus and white paint to represent three of the white stencils on the black surfaces.  

Next came the coat of Testor’s Dullcote, after which the weathering began.  This was an experiment with oil paints and pastels;  light drybrushing with yellow ochre on the upper surfaces, drug lightly down the sides produced a nice effect.  The upper surface decals were drybrushed with white.  The beauty of oils on a hard finish is that if the effect is not acceptable, it’s easily modified or removed!  

A couple of errors I made were in drawing on the wing walkway line – first, I drew it in a water soluble pen (oops!), then I discovered later it should NOT go over the roundel!  The research gremlins again … oh, well…  

The weathering on this plane was limited to some fading of the paintwork. I assumed that it operated from grass fields and wouldn’t really get all that dirty.  Exhaust and gunpowder stains were accomplished with a compound of pastel dust and acrylic paint, drybrushed on.  The initial coats were too thick, but in my panic I found that I could use the Acryl thinner to remove it a little at a time. This let me get just the effect I wanted, although going about it backward.  

The wing leading edges were “chipped” by drybrushing using a makeup sponge dipped in light gray paint (more like dry-pressed).  The prop blades aren’t chipped because on the real planes the two-bladers were wooden, and I didn’t know how to show chipping and wear on those! Assuming frequent use, the wing walkway wear is fairly heavy. This degree of wear is supported by several pictures I came across.  

Finally, the aerials and upper navigation light were installed and the wingtip navigation lights painted with clear red and green over white.  The underside ID light is a scale-sized hole filled with International Orange and covered with clear glue.  

Big sigh … another 3-month model …



Lessons Learnt


Here are a few things I learned while working this kit: 

  • Photo etch work is not all that difficult, just tedious (and hard on the eyes in 1/72).  I didn’t have to anneal anything on this one, but I added some sheet and rod to give some of the components a more three-dimensional look. P/E is flat unless folded, and levers and quadrants need some depth.  Painting is an issue: I didn’t prime the P/E, and probably should have. 

  • The impact of scale appearance was reinforced.  The oversized exhaust stacks and the overly-thick (and again, historically inaccurate) fuel tank armor were the offenders here;  the use of thin sheet for the doors and finer wire for the brake lines were “did-rights”.   

  • I used fine copper wire for the IFF antennae, and fishing line for the regular radio antenna.  I prefer the fishing line, and have been using 2 lb. monofilament fishing leader the last few times.  The wire is too stiff and does not “hang” properly.   

  • I REALLY liked the effect I got with the oil paints.  Experiment with using these for weathering and post-shading, and I think you will agree.  The pastels work well also, and I didn’t seem to lose anything with the overcoat. 

  • I fairly specific build plan is a tremendous help.  I listed all the major tasks and modifications (except the radio, of course!) and then numbered them for sequence.  I created a similar list for the painting plan, which organized the effort and gave me a chance to make sure it would come out OK.  You’ll find that some tasks can be worked on concurrently, others must follow a strict sequence.  Technically, you’re constructing a “work breakdown structure”; welcome to the wonderful world of project planning!   

  • I adopted the practice of attaching landing gear, canopies, and propellers where possible AFTER the primary paint coats were applied.  Depending on the situation, certain smaller parts may also be attached later to avoid paint and clear-coat buildup around them and possible damage during weathering.  This is just easier for me, though there is a risk of surface damage if gluing is not really precise.  


Next Project:  R-S Tuck’s Mk I Hurricane!

Article, Model and Images Copyright © 1999 by Russell M. Field
Page Created 25 October, 1999
Last updated 26 July, 2007

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