Airfix 1/48 Spitfire I

KIT #: A05115A
PRICE: $24.95 MSRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Aeromaster decals: BoB Spit I/II


          The first Spitfire is immortal as “the plane that saved Britain” (even if Britain was really saved by the Hurricane) in the Battle of Britain.  A delicate blend of aerodynamic excellence, the Spitfire I almost wasn’t there to do its part in saving Britain.

          R.J. Mitchell, the Spitfire’s designer, was known for his series of racing seaplanes that culminated in the Supermarine S.6B, which won for Britain final ownership of the Schneider Trophy and was the first aircraft to post a speed record over 400 mph.  Three years later, the Type 224, designed to official Air Ministry specifications, came a cropper for being everything the Spitfire would not: a pedestrian design powered by the wrong engine, with the wrong armament.

          Mitchell immediately set to work on his own design of what he thought a “proper fighter” should be.  It was entirely state of the art, with fully cantilever structure and stressed skin construction, equipped with retractable landing gear and an enclosed cockpit.  As first designed it was under-gunned, with only four .303 caliber machine guns.  Consultation with RAF figures he was acquainted with led to Mitchell changing the design to incorporate eight .303 Colt Browning machine guns, with 250 rounds per gun.

          The Spitfire prototype first flew in March 1935 and was a winner from the beginning, requiring far fewer changes between prototype and production aircraft than was the case with the airplane that would be its arch-rival, the Messerschmitt Bf-109.  With war clouds gathering so strongly that even the British could see them, the Spitfire was placed into mass production in 1937.  The problem was that Mitchell had never designed an airplane to be mass-produced, and Supermarine had never mass-produced an airplane.  The Spitfire took approximately 40% more man-hours to produce than the Bf-109 - primarily due to the beautiful elliptical wing.  Supermarine did not know how to handle such widespread production and soon fell behind in deliveries.  Fortunately, the “shadow” industrial system had been established, and a factory run by managers who understood mass production was established at Castle Bromwich to back up the Supermarine factory in Southampton.  Eventually the majority of Spitfires would be produced at Castle Bromwich, particularly after the bombing of the Southampton factory in 1940

          The essential part of the Spitfire was the engine, which began as a development of the Rolls-Royce Kestrel and resulted in the Merlin.  The initial Merlin 1 provided 950 hp using 87-octane av gas, and gave the Spitfire I a top speed of 350 mph.  Further development of the Merlin and the adoption of 100-octane gas would up these figures when the Spitfire II entered production in 1940.

         19 Squadron was the first to re-equip with the Spitfire I, in the summer before the Munich Crisis in 1938.  Throughout the year between Munich and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, there was a race to produce enough Spitfires to equip the RAF.  Fortunately the Hurricane was far easier to produce and Hawkers had better industrial management.  By the time the Main Event began after the fall of France in the summer of 1940, over 2/3 of the fighters that would defend in the Battle of Britain were Hurricanes.

          Legend has it that Spitfires were supposed to take on the 109s while the Hurricanes went after the bombers.  While this would have been desirable, the reality was that both aircraft fought whichever they ran across - bombers or fighters.  Both aircraft suffered from inadequate high altitude performance, thus the 109s were usually met as they dove out of the sun from above.

          Today, there are some eight original Spitfire Is that have been lovingly restored to flight.  One of these days, I am going to see one of them in flight, in person.


           This kit by Airfix can be considered the last product of “Old Airfix,” and the first release of “New Airfix.” As such, it suffers from all the problems imposed by the beancounters on the designers during the fall of Airfix.  Overall, it is based very obviously on the old Spitfire V kit released some 36 years ago, with the “modernization” of engraved surface detail.  Enough work was done to the wing to change it accurately to an 8-gun wing, though the detail is still heavy.  The trailing edges benefit greatly from sanding-down from inside before assembly to get a more accurate trailing edge.  As with a lot of Airfix kits, the canopy suffers in production and is barely acceptable for overall shape and thinness.  The kit provides a good Watts two-blade prop, as well as acceptable versions of the deHavilland two-position prop and the Rotol constant-speed unit utilized by each mark of early Spitfire.

           While the Tamiya kit first released 20 years ago makes up into a better-looking model, in fact this Airfix kit wins hands-down for overall shape accuracy: the fuselage is properly petite without Tamiya’s “fatness”, and the wing is the proper outline.

           Three Spitfires can be done with the kit decals, which are quite nice: an original Spiitfire I in 19 Squadron in 1938, a Spitfire Ia of 610 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, and a Spitfire IIa of 118 Squadron in the spring of 1941.


          On opening the box, it was immediately obvious what the heritage of the kit was, being a modification of the old Spitfire V first released in around 1978.  I started by sanding down the rear of the fuselage halves, to result in a sharp trailing edge for the rudder.  I then did the same for the wing and then glued it together.

          The cockpit is the same as the original 1978 kit.  Once assembled, there really isn’t all that much of the detail later kits provide that one can really see, so it is possible to get away with leaving this as is, which I did.  I don’t personally think this is the Spitfire I kit one wants to spend the money on to provide one of the many better-detailed resin cockpits.  Once assembled, I glued the fuselage together and then attached the fuselage and wing.  Fit was such I didn’t need a lot of filler other than along the centerline and the wing/fuselage upper surface joint.  I made the mistake of drooping the elevators, cutting them off and then shaping to fit.  In retrospect, those horizontal surfaces are best left as the kit provides them.


          The model was painted with Xtracrylix RAF Dark Earth, RAF Dark Green and Sky.  The nice thing about Xtracrylix is that one can mix brush painting with airbrushing without any obvious differences, so after applying the Dark Earth, I brush-painted the outlines for the Dark Green in an A-scheme pattern, and then airbrushed them.  That way I didn’t have to mask to get a hard edge and risk the fragile coat of Xtracrylix pulling up when masked.

I used the old Aeromaster sheet, “Battle of Britain Spitfire I and II” to do a Spitfire I of 609 Squadron R.Aux.A.F. from the middle of the Battle of Britain.

          I attached the landing gear and prop and unmasked the canopy, then attached the side flap.


          While not up to current kit design and production standards, the Airfix early Spitfire is affordable and provides good value for money, with the most accurate shape of any early Spitfire kit.  The model presents no difficulties in assembly, and would be a good “first Spitfire” for either a newcomer or someone returning to the hobby.  The kit decals are good and for those who want something different, the plethora of aftermarket decals produced 20 years ago in the Golden Age of Aftermarket Decals can still be found.

Tom Cleaver

November 2014

Review kit courtesy of my wallet.

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