Grand Phoenix's 1/48 Fairey Firefly Mk. I


 Model, Text and Photos: Steven "Modeldad" Eisenman

 

INTRODUCTION:

In 1/48 scale World War Two aircraft models there are certain significant gaps in the line of injection molded kits, as far as I am concerned. One gap is the Dornier series of bombers, the other is British carrier based aircraft. Yes, I know that for the most part they were not sexy aircraft; but they had lots of character! While the Swordfish from Tamiya is a valuable addition, there is still not a quality Seafire, Barracuda, Fulmar or Albacore. But, thanks to the people at Eagle Strike / Grand Phoenix ("GP"), at least we now have a Fairy Firefly Mk. I.

The British love tradition and I guess that is one excuse for the development of the Firefly; look how long the Stringbag remained in service. While other maritime powers had considered the type quite out of style, the British went ahead and developed the multi-role, two seat heavy fighter. But being out of style did not mean the designers at Fairey did not lack innovation in designing the Firefly. The Firefly incorporated the Youngman retractable flap. These flaps increased the wing area making for a variable geometry aircraft. In modern terms,think F-14 Tomcat....Ok enough thinking. For straight, high speed flight, the flaps were retracted on rails. But for landing, take off and to increase maneuverability the flaps would be extended. This made the aircraft more agile and reduced the Firefly's turning radius. While the heavy Firefly was not as fast as its single seat competitors, 319 mph at 13,000 ft., without carrying any stores, it was almost as agile and could slug it out with its four 20mm cannon.

But the Firefly never did get the opportunity to really show how it would do in one on one combat with single seat fighters. Rather, from its introduction in the Tirpitz and Norwegian actions to the Japanese homeland, the Firefly proved itself adept at anti-shipping, flack suppression and ground attack. Using either its 20mm cannon or detachable rocket rails, the firefly could be very, very effective.

THE KIT:

The GP Firefly is your standard, limited run, injection molded, mixed media kit from the Czech Republic. The cockpits, wheel wells and radiator all come in beautifully done resin. There is a small etched metal set that primarily provides for the seat harnesses, instrument panel and intake screens. But the odd part is the plastic molding for the wings and fuselage; the GP Firefly has quite deep and wide panel lines. This is a kit that will not need any panel line enhancement. The clear parts are quite clear, but did not fit well. Finally, the kit includes a radar pod for a radar version, that will be the subject of the second release from GP, but it does not include the mounting bracket.

 

Since this is an Eagle Strike / GP kit, the kit comes with very nice markings for three aircraft. DK438, 277/N "Lucy Quipment" of 1771 Squadron during its service on HMS Implacable with the British Pacific Fleet in 1945. The second set is for MB381 4B of 1772 Squadron stationed at RNAS Schofields, Australia. The final set are for DT934 4K of 1770 Squadron on HMS Indefatigable in the East China Seas. The marking instructions may have some errors as I will point out later in my section on painting and markings.

But it is the markings that lead you to the disappointing aspect with the kit: The absence of underwing rocket rails and rockets. The decal instruction sheet shows the second and third aircraft with underwing rockets. The first aircraft, while not shown as rocket carrying, did in fact carry them. Although not fatal to the completion of the kit, far from it, the inclusion of the rockets would have added value to the kit and made for a more accurate representation of the role these three aircraft played in FAA actions. But with a little bit of effort, and not too much colorful language, the rockets can be added...your spares box permitting.

CONSTRUCTION:

The first thing you will need to do is remove all the injection slugs off the fuselage, wings and landing gear covers. Be careful with parts 9 and 10 as the spru gate overlaps the flat of the part. You will then need to remove the resin parts from the casting blocks. Luckily, the blocks are not too heavy and separation occurs easily and without damage.

But we might as well deal with a significant problem at this point. There must be the most minimal amount of resin on the underside of the cockpit and the tops of the wheel wells; otherwise, the wing and fuselage will just not go together! There is an advantage to not being the first person on the block to get this kit. Early reports from modelers on Hyperscale.com reported fit problems with the fuselage and cockpit and wheel wells (thank you to all you brave pioneers). Now for my secret method of getting this done with the least amount of trouble. Of course some equipment will be necessary: 1) A variable speed drill - either cord or cordless model; 2) A 4 inch sanding disk for the drill..one with the foam/rubber face; 3) 80 to 100 grit aluminum oxide non-loading sand paper designed to be stuck on the sanding disk; 4) A vacuum cleaner with a hose. Now for the method.

After putting the sand paper on the disk and chucking the disk in the drill, I sat in a chair at my work bench, turned on the vacuum cleaner and held the end of the vacuum cleaner hose between my knees. I then held the drill close to the vacuum hose, turned the drill on to low speed and held the resin part flat against the sandpaper disk. You may adjust the speed as you see fit. By using this method, the drill did the hard part, the disk provided a flat surface to keep the resin reduction level....and the vacuum cleaner proceeded to suck up the resin dust thrown off by the sanding process. But note, there are limits to how much comes off. The cockpit is limited by it structure. You will want to take off the maximum possible from the wheel well tops, so that when held up to a light they are translucent. Don't worry if you sand through the tops. I did it and used a piece of 5 thou. plastic to cover. This is a paper thin stock.

 

As I usually do with resin cockpits, and as this kit is designed to do, I assembled the cockpit components first. Although the instructions are rudimentary, everything went together as it should. The rear cockpit with all the radio equipment went together smoothly and all the resin parts fit just right. I painted the cockpit British Interior Green, the seats bakelite rust colored (a redish-brown) with black leather seat cushion and the equipment boxes black. The one thing the instructions do not show clearly is how to locate part 40, upon which you attach the instrument panel. The instructions show it being placed against the fuselage wall, but it just drops into the front part of the cockpit tub.

The next step was to paint the exhausts black and super glue them into the fuselage - you know you have them properly handed if the exhausts stubs point down and to the rear. Being insecure, I glued a piece of 10 thou. card over them, to the fuselage, to insure that they would not pop out at an inconvenient time. As when I drop it when I have the fuselage closed up. I assembled the intakes and attached them to the sides of the fuselage. There is an etched metal intake screen, but not all aircraft had them in place. I have pictures showing with them on and off, regardless of the theater of operation. I then set in the radiator assembly, aligned it (it does slope down to the rear) and glued it to one fuselage side. The final step before putting the fuselage together was to set the spinner base and retaining pin. Luckily the fit of the pin into spinner base is quite tight and I was able to get a good close fit between the base and the face of the fuselage. I then put a drop of Tenax glue on the post on the front side of the base to weld the two parts together.

I next put the fuselage halves together. As is my usual practice, I covered the seams on the inside at various places with 10 thou. plastic to reinforce the seam and provide for better alignment. A carryover from building vac-form models. Then, after painting the inside of the wheel wells British Interior Green and adding some dark wash and a little aluminum dry brushing, I put the wells in the lower section of the wing, aligned them and held them in place with a piece of tape. I then taped the top parts of the wing to the bottom. I slipped the cockpits up into the fuselage. They fit quite well with just a little bit of sanding at the upper edge. I then test fit the wing assembly to see if all fit together well. If any additional sanding needs to be done..it can be done now. You can also test fit for wing root fuselage joint and fore and aft join of the center section. Here I found I did need to do some adjusting for the aft fit, and added some card stock in the rear to give a solid join of the wing to fuselage. At this point, if you are not going to add rockets, then open up the shell ejection ports.

After everything checks out, I glued the cockpits in place, glued the wheel wells in and finished the wing. Finally attaching the wing to fuselage. A little bit of putty was necessary to finish the job. The horizontal stabilizers were completed and attached.

To finish out the underside you will need to attach part 58. I believe this is part of the radiator system, but not sure. This part sat a bit proud of the portion of the wing that is just behind it. Underside photos of Fireflies show it as being even, so I needed to sand it down a bit. The rear portion of the fuselage was then attached. Resin parts 57 and 59 were then added. But I did not put on the arrester hook until painting was completed. Then minor disaster....I went to put the tail wheel yoke in and good old butter fingers let it fall (pushed it ?) into the fuselage. A little bit of shaking only resulted in it being wedged somewhere in the fuselage. Oh well, putty over the hole, find a reasonably close approximation in the spare wheel box and make like nothing happened. I found an old Mossie tail wheel, trimmed off the knee linkage and it looks just fine..if not better!

Now for the parts that should have been there, but were not....The underwing rockets. Once again, this is my own craziness, and you do not need to do it. The first thing was to recreate the detachable blast plates. I scrounged around various kits, including the Monogram Hurricane, Tamiya Swordfish and Beaufighter. After some test fitting (holding them against the wing), the Tamiya Beaufighter's held the most promise. I cut the back off so that the overall length was 1 1/16 inch. Upon reflection, I believe that may have been too short by about 1/8 inch. I then glued a piece of 20 thou. plastic card to the inside face to add thickness. Once again, using Tenax brushed on the surface gets a good bond and molds in the card stock. The blast plates seemed to have been quite thick. I sanded down the step at the rear of the plate. In the front I contoured it slightly using 10 thou. card to finish shaping the front. I glued the plates to the wings (see picture for position). I then filled in the holes in the blast plates. For the rockets, I used the Tamiya Mossie rockets and cut off the mounting pylons. I positioned the rockets on the blast plated and found the mounting location points. Basically, immediately behind the clips that hold the rocket to the rail. I then cut a very short piece of 10 x 40 thou. plastic strip and attached the 10 thou. edge to the top of the rocket rail giving a 40 thou. high mount. I used CA glue to do this. The rockets were painted black and the rails and attachment clips dark metallic gray. The rockets were attached at the end. A foot note, when the rockets were used it appears that the wing edge landing light was covered over for protection. So if you add rockets, paint over the landing light.

The final steps before painting involved the masking of the canopies with Tamiya masking tape and attaching them. I found that neither the rear canopy nor the front canopy fit well. The rear canopy seemed a little warped out of shape and required some forcing into position and using CA glue to attach. I'm not pleased with the result. The forward canopy looks like it would fit in the open position, but it does not. It sits too high. Even in the closed position it sits too high. A little cutting was needed at the rear of the cockpit to get it down, as well as removing a little bit at the forward edge of the cockpit on the fuselage. I put the front canopy and windscreen on after I painted and decaled the model. Finally, the cannon barrels were added.

Painting and Markings:

Color options here are Extra Dark Sea Gray and Dark Slate Gray, regardless of the markings you are doing. I used Tamiya Sky for the underside. But the blast plates were done in a very dark gray, you could use a tire black color or Tamiya German Gray. I found a very clear picture of the underside of a rocket equipped Mk. I, and the plates are definitely a dark color. I masked the underside, and for the topside I used Aeromaster EDSG and DSG (I still have some left). The pattern was painted freehand.

I wanted to do the markings for the Firefly of 1771 Squadron, DK438 277/N, as part of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF). The Fireflies of 1771 Squadron began their career aboard HMS Implacable in October of 1944, performing armed reconnaissance and anti-shipping duties along the Norwegian Coast. In May of 1945, Implacable and 1771 Squadron joined the British Pacific Fleet. In July of 1945, the Fireflies of 1771 Squadron became the first FAA aircraft to fly over mainland Japan. The Fireflies rocketed airfields at Matsushima, Sendai, Masuda and Tokyo over a two day period and sought targets of opportunity along the coast.

When the 1771 Squadron Fireflies were in European waters, they carried the standard B, C and C1 roundels and fin flash. But, when they became part of the BPF they were remarked in the blue and white roundel and bar of the BPF. After looking at all the Firefly pictures I could get my hands on, it appears that the European markings were painted out before the BPF markings were applied. The marking instructions for the kit's Eagle Strike Decals do not show this. For those doing Firefly DT934 4K of 1770 Squadron, this over paint of the European roundels would also seem to be appropriate. Also I believe that the code letters 4K may be too close to the South East Asian roundel. I have a picture of aircraft 4C of 1770 squadron, and the C is clearly farther forward than the instructions indicate, and the A a little further to the rear. In fact, it may be that the C1 style roundel was over painted and the smaller SEA roundel applied leaving the codes at the same place as when the C1 was there. I roughly painted, with a different brand of paint, the positions where the European markings would have been on the top and bottom of the wing, fuselage and tail. In this case I used Polly Scale EDSG and Aeromaster Sky.

When all was painted, I sprayed the model with Future and applied the decals. They went on easily, adhered quickly and only a light application of setting solution seemed necessary. I then gave a flat coat of ModelMaster Acrylic Clear Flat.

The landing gear were dealt with next. I assembled the two part wheel and drilled out the axle attachment point. I found that parts 13 and 14 were a tad too short and parts 32 were a tad too long. Could be my fault, but I adjusted with a little plastic added and a little plastic cut. The gear covers were added (painted British Interior Green on the inside) and it appears that parts 35 and 36 attach at the end of the wheel well and angle slightly towards the wing tip.

The propeller was dealt with next. There have been a lot of comments about the oversized spinner on the prop. I have to agree, it looks wrong. I replaced it with the spinner cap from the Airfix Mossie, with the base of it sanded down slightly. It looks far better.

I weathered the model very slightly with pastels, and lightly brushed over the roundels to take the newness away from the decals. The picture I have of 277 N of 1771 Squadron shows an aircraft that does not have much staining on it. Other pictures of Fireflies do seemed to indicate that they were taken care of by their crews. Of course, there is the exception of the abused aircraft. A final coat of flat was applied to seal the pastel.

I then attached the arrester hook, which was painted a dark metallic gray. Then there were the eight rockets, all carefully positioned and attached with drop of gel CA, so I would have time to adjust. The kit did not provide the small pitot tube which mounts under the left wing. The place for it is there, but you will have to make one. I made mine out of a piece of spare etched metal.

Finally the antenna wire. The kit provides for the wire to run from the tail to the mast and then to a nose mast. Not all Mk. Is had this arrangement. On many the antenna wire only ran between the rear canopy mast and the tail. The mast is not mounted on the center line of the rear cockpit canopy; it is angled slightly to the right and is attached to the right of the center line. The lead in wire goes in just behind the mast and to the left of the centerline.


Conclusions:

Haven't I said enough already? This is a nice kit with a few problems, but nothing that cannot be dealt with. I believe the big disappointment is the absence of the rockets and mounts. GP will follow up the Mk. I with the radar equipped version. But as the radar pod comes in the Mk. I kit, with a little scratch building of the mounting bracket, you could do the radar version from the basic kit.

Finally, I would like to thank Dave Askett for providing me with the diagrams for the Mk I rocket mountings. Much appreciated.

Editors Note: We just received this picture and note from Modeldad (10/29/02):

"I just received this picture of the Firefly Mk. 1 rocket blast plate which confirms two things: they should have been longer and they should have had cutouts for the cannon link and shell ejector ports. I would like to thank Mr. Axel Demerau for this rare photograph."

References:

British Aircraft Camouflage and Markings in the Far East,by Geoffrey Thomas, Scale Aircraft Modelling, Aircraft in Detail, date unknown.

Fairey Firefly F. Mk. 1 to U. Mk. 9, by Geoffrey Bussy, Warpaint Series Number 28, Hall Park Books Ltd.

Wings of the Navy, by Capt. Eric Brown, Edited by William Green, Naval Institute Press.

Fleet Air Arm: British Carrier Aviation, 1939 - 1945, by Ron Mackay, Squadron/Signal Publications.

British Warplanes of World War II, Edited By Daniel March, Aerospace Publishing Ltd.

Review kit provided by Roll Models. Thank you.

 


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