1/48 Recon Spitfire Mk.IX

Model &Text by Tony Bell


Can there be an aircraft that is more pretty, graceful or elegant than the Spitfire? Well, OK there may be a few, but not many. Of all the Spitfire marks, the photo reconnaissance PR.XI has to be the most pure of line. It has the longer nose of the two stage Merlin 60, but with out the incongruously muscular rocker bulges of the later Griffin nose, while the clean ellipse of the wing is unblemished by cannon barrels, machinegun muzzles, shell ejector ports or magazine blisters. The frameless windscreen fairly oozes speed, with neither the external armoured glass (which always looked to me like an afterthought), nor the angular internal armoured glass. To top it all off, most PR.XI’s were finished in overall PRU blue with undersized markings, emphasising the Spitfire’s flowing lines.

My Primary reference was Robert Bracken’s Spitfire: The Canadians, which included a colour profile of the specific aircraft I wanted to model along with detailed drawings of various Spitfire marks, including the PR.XI. The scale of these drawings is somewhere in the vicinity of 1:100, so some creative math with a photocopier was necessary to provide 1:48 scale drawings.

Three years ago when I decided to build a photo recce Spit the only option was the Falcon Triple Conversion coupled with either the old Otaki spitfire VIII/IX, or the Hasegawa or Tamiya Mk.V. Because the Otaki kit lacked the characteristic gull shaped curvature under the fuselage at the back of the wing and because of the overall inferior level of detail, I decided to go with one of the Mk.V’s. I chose Tamiya’s offering mainly because I had already built the Hasegawa kit and wanted to compare the two.

Although the Otaki kit is out-dated by today’s standards and is hampered by the egregious omission of the underwing gull shape, the surface detail is still quite nice. I happened to have an example of the Otaki kit in the to-do pile which was raided for small parts which would be necessary for the conversion.

The Falcon Triple Conversion provided two full fuselage halves complete with the broad chord pointed rudder (which I didn’t use – more on that later) and deepened chin faring (to house a larger oil reservoir) along with a replacement under wing gull section (intended for the Otaki kit) and a vacuformed canopy (which I didn’t use, either).

I started, not surprisingly, with the cockpit. I figured that if I was going to go through all the effort to do the conversion, I may as well go to town on the cockpit as well. So I picked up a Cooper Details Spitfire Mk.V resin and photoetch cockpit. This has got to be the most impressive detail set I’ve ever seen. With somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50 parts, it is a kit unto it’s self. Many of the smaller resin pieces were attached to a thin wafer of carrier resin which was gently sanded away using 600 grit wet ‘n dry. These were attached to the sidewalls, floor, front and rear bulkheads with CA glue according to the instructions. The overall interior was painted Poly Scale acrylic British Interior Green. I applied an overall wash of Windsor & Newton burnt umber oil paint followed by drybrushing with light grey enamel. I then picked out the various details with black, silver and red enamels. The instrument panel was painted a very dark grey, drybrushed with light grey, and again various details were picked out with black, silver and red enamels. The seat was painted a reddish-brown mixed from Tamiya acrylics to reproduce the look of unpainted Bakelite. The seat cushion was painted semigloss black and drybrushed with tan to replicate worn leather.

Referring to pictures on the IPMS Stockholm website’s walkaround of a Spitfire PR.XIX. I scratchbuilt the camera control box from a chunk of 0.080” styrene dressed up with clear stretched sprue and styrene disks punched out with a Reheat punch & die set. The box was attached where the gun sight would normally go.

Referring to the drawings from Spitfire: The Canadians, I removed all the unneeded bumps, blisters and stiffeners and filled in all the necessary panel lines and shell ejector ports with CA glue and Gunze Mr. Surfacer 500. Additional panel lines were scribed with a sharp sewing needle chucked in a pin vice using a piece of electrical tape as a guide. To scribe a panel line I first marked the location on the wing in pencil then, using the electrical tape guide, I made several passes with the sewing needle scriber. The first few passes were done using only light pressure to establish the line which was then deepened on subsequent passes using heavier pressure. Once the line was the correct depth I removed the electrical tape and ran a small amount of liquid plastic cement into the line. After this had dried completely (overnight) I sanded the surface with 800 grit wet ‘n dry to remove the raised plastic burr.

One major difference between the Mk.V and the PR.XI (and Mk.VIII, IX and XVI) was the shape of the radiator/oil cooler under the port wing. The later Spits had the larger rectangular radiator/oil cooler housing identical to the starboard one, whereas the Mk. V had the smaller, circular oil cooler. I cut an appropriately sized rectangle in the bottom of the port wing, fabricated an inlet ramp from sheet styrene and cannibalised the radiator face and faring from the Otaki kit.

The fuel pump blisters on the undersurface of the wing, just in front of the landing gear were supplied with the Falcon conversion set. These were simply removed from the backing sheet, sanded to match the contour of the wing and glued in place with liquid cement. The last little detail to be added was the fuel dump pipe (?) located on top of the wing near the tips. These were little lengths of stretched sprue, again glued in place with liquid glue.

The primary difference between the fuselage of the Mk.V and that the PR.XI is the longer nose and deepened chin of the latter. Although the Falcon conversion provides an entire fuselage, I opted to use just the portion forward of the firewall, as the Tamiya fuselage has vastly superior surface detail which I could ever reproduce by hand on the vacuform part.

Before gluing the fuselage together, I cut the Tamiya parts along the kinked panel line at the engine firewall, forward of the fuel tank. I didn’t cut the wing root faring off, leaving it whole instead. I then removed the vacuformed fuselage from it’s backing sheet by scribing around and snapping away the excess and cleaning up the edges with sandpaper. I cut the nose off a the same kinked panel line and carefully trimmed it to fit with the Tamiya fuselage along the panel line and wing root fillet. The openings for the exhaust ports were opened up with an X-acto knife and jewellers files and backed from the inside with black painted sheet styrene to provide a mounting surface for the Moskit exhausts. I attached the nose with CA glue which was also used to fill the seam between the injection fuselage and vacuform nose. This was then sanded for a smooth transition between the parts.

The port radio hatch (actually a camera hatch on the PR.XI) was cut away and the edges thinned from the inside. The lip of the opening was made from 0.005” sheet styrene and attached to the interior. Referring to photographs in the SAMI Modeller’s Datafile on the de Havilland Mosquito, I scratchbuilt a camera from a cube shaped chunk of epoxy putty and various bits of stretched sprue, Evergreen strip and styrene disks. The hatch its self was made from a piece of 0.010” sheet plastic curved over an X-acto handle with details added from styrene strip, sprue and tube. On the starboard side a second camera hatch was scribed, the shape and location having been determined from the drawings. I made a template from 0.010” styrene which was used to guide my sewing needle scriber.

After attaching the Cooper Details cockpit to the sides of the fuselage, the halves were glued together with a combination of liquid styrene cement and CA. All visible seams were filled with CA glue and sanded smooth. The kinked panel line was rescribed and the fuel filler cap was drilled out and replaced with a slice of styrene tube and a disk of sheet plastic. The dzus fasteners on the nose were created with a piece of stainless steel hypodermic tubing, the end of which had been bevelled in a motor tool. The hypo tube was chucked in a pin vice and the fasteners created by simply pushing it into the plastic and giving it a few twists. A tiny amount of liquid cement was run into each fastener and left to dry after which they were sanded with 800 grit wet & dry used with lots of water. Finally each fastener had a little indentation drilled in the centre with a number 78 drill bit.

Once more referring to the drawings from Spitfire: The Canadians, I used Mr. Surfacer 500 to fill in the panel lines around the Mk.V’s fixed tailwheel and scribed the panel lines of the PR.XI’s retractable unit. The opening for the tailwheel was cut away and the doors smash moulded from 0.010” sheet plastic. The wheel its self was pinched from the Otaki Mk.VIII.

The Tamiya early style rudder was replaced with the broad chord pointed rudder taken from the Otaki kit. It goes without saying that the Otaki rudder has much better surface detail than Falcon’s vacuform offering. It came as a pleasant surprise when I found that the Otaki rudder mated perfectly with the Tamiya vertical fin. The Mk.V style elevators were rescribed with the larger balances of the PR.XI and the earlier style outboard hinge lines filled in.

The vacuform frameless windscreen provided with the Falcon conversion was inaccurate for a PR.XI. Being rounded in front, it was more appropriate for a PR.XIX. The PR.XI had a windscreen that was flat in front, looking like a Mk.I/II/V external armour windscreen, but without the armour. I made a female mould of the Tamiya external armour windscreen from RTV and cast a copy in resin. I filed and sanded the armour off the resin copy which I then used as a master to vacuform a windscreen from 0.010” butyrate. It took a few tries, but I finally managed to get an acceptable windscreen which was trimmed to fit the fuselage and dipped in Future floor wax. It was then glued to the fuselage with CA glue (the Future prevents fogging from the fumes somehow) and any remaining gaps filled in with Gunze Mr. Surfacer 500. The aft most portion of the canopy was the Tamiya kit part which was carefully glued in place with liquid cement.

The fit of the wings to the fuselage was typical Tamiya, which is to say near perfect. An oval piece of 0.010” sheet styrene was cemented to the underside of the fuselage for the camera ports, the size, shape and location of which was determined from the drawings. Two holes were drilled and styrene tube which had been painted black was glued in place. Disks of 0.010” butyrate were punched out and used for the camera lens covers. These were glued in place with Future.

The universal filter carburettor intake was taken from the Otaki kit. Not surprisingly, this did not fit at all well with the combination Tamiya/Falcon nose. I fixed this by applying a piece of Scotch Magic Tape to the fuselage where the carb intake goes, applying a thin layer of epoxy putty to the mating surface of the intake and smushing it in place on the tape, squeezing as much putty out as I could. Once the epoxy putty had cured, I removed the intake and Scotch tape and trimmed away all the excess putty. I attached the intake with CA glue to the fuselage and voila, perfect fit!

The prop and spinner from the Otaki kit were assembled and the tips of the prop blades painted yellow and masked off with strips of Tamiya masking tape. It was then sprayed black and the masking removed. I set the prop/spinner aside to await final assembly.

The canopy pieces were masked with Tamiya tape and the cockpit was stuffed with tissue paper. The canopy frames were first sprayed with Poly Scale British Interior Green, and then the entire model was airbrushed with Tamiya flat white. The white invasion stripes were measured and masked and the black stripes sprayed with Tamiya flat black, which in turn were masked off themselves. The rest of the model was then “pre-shaded” by airbrushing narrow black lines along all of the panel lines and in areas that would be in shadow. Aeromaster acrylic P.R.U. blue was then sprayed over the entire model in light, heavily thinned coats. I wanted to build up the colour gradually and evenly to the point where the “pre-shading” was just barely visible, yet not obscured altogether. Once this was accomplished, the masking was removed and a coat of Future was airbrushed on in preparation for decals.

The markings for this aircraft were simple, consisting of B-type roundels on the upper wings and fuselage (no roundels were carried on the wings lower surfaces), a small fin flash, a tail number and stencils.

The roundels came from Aeromaster sheet number 48-082 “Recce Aircraft”, the fin flash was cut from a normal sized one off of a Scalemaster sheet of flashes, the stencils came from Aeromaster’s Spitfire stencil sheet number 148-009 and the tail number was taken from Watermark’s D-Day Spitfires sheet number 48003. Gunze Mr. Mark Softener and Solvaset were used to make the decals conform the panel lines, etc.. Once the decals were dry they were sealed in with another coat of Future.

Since these birds were well maintained and kept clean, I tried to restrain myself when it came to the weathering. I applied a light wash of Windsor & Newton burnt umber oil paint thinned with mineral spirits to all the panel lines. A heavier, darker wash was applied to the control surface separations. Once this was dry I wiped the excess off with a tissue just barely dampened with clean spirits. I simulated the oil streaks on the under belly behind the engine by applying little blobs of unthinned burnt umber and black oil paints which I smeared back in the direction of the airflow with a soft, broad, dry, clean brush. I pulled the streaks in toward the centre line as I drew them aft in order to reproduce the characteristic flow pattern seen on the Spitfire’s lower fuselage between the wings.

Some light paint chipping was added around the cockpit, wing leading edged and engine panels with Testors Model Master Non-Buffing aluminium paint applied with a fine pointed brush.

I felt that the white areas of the D-Day stripes were too pristine, so I decided to grubby them up a bit. I took chalk pastels in various shades of greys and dark brown and ground them up on some 400 grit sandpaper. Using an old brush I made a goopy mixture of the pastel powder and water which I applied to the areas that would see more wear and dirt. These included the wing walks, the leading and trailing edges of the wings, the fuselage undersides, landing gear and engine access panels. I used a cotton swab moistened with water to refine the placement and application of the “dirt”.
Once I was satisfied with the washes, chipping, streaking and dirt, I sprayed a coat of Poly Scale acrylic flat finish.

By this point I was entering the home stretch: It was time to attach all the fiddly bits. Tamiya’s landing gear was painted PRU blue and the gear doors painted black and white to match the wings’ D-Day stripes. The wheels were painted with Aeromaster’s Tire Black and a small flat spot was filed to give the appearance of the aircraft’s weight. The gear legs were first attached to the wells and then the wheels attached with five minute epoxy to allow enough time to adjust them to achieve the proper sit.

The Moskit exhausts were also attached with five minute epoxy. Since they already had the appearance of burnt metal they were left unpainted. Once the glue had set, exhaust stains were airbrushed on using a mixture of Tamiya flat black and dark drown thinned approximately 90% with household rubbing alcohol (70% U.S.P.). This was applied at high pressure with the paint flow closed down next to nothing so that colour has to be built up over several passes and individual mistakes remain undetectable.

The prop and spinner were attached with white glue, as was the port camera hatch. The wingtip navigation lights were first brush painted with silver enamel (Humbrol 11) and then painted with Gunze clear red and green for the left and right lights, respectively. A short length of hypodermic tubing was used to replace the underwing pitot probe.

Finally the sliding Malcolm hood canopy was attached in the open position using some Future floor polish that had been left sitting out for a few hours to thicken up.

With the release of the ICM and more recently the Hasegawa Spitfire Mk.IX kits in 1:48 scale, it is inevitable the one or both manufacturers will produce an injection moulded photo recon Spitfire PR.XI in the not-to-distant future. Until then the Falcon, and more recently the Airwaves conversions are still the only options available. Although this was only my second attempt at a (semi) major conversion, the combination of the Tamiya Mk.V, Otaki Mk.VIII and Falcon Triple Conversion, all high quality products, made this an enjoyable and satisfying project.

Copyright (c) 2001 by Tony Bell


Tamiya Mk.V Stock Number: TM61033
Airwaves Spitfire Mk.XI Conversion: AW485051

Moskit Exhaust Stock Number: AW485051