Revell 1/32 Spitfire I

KIT #: 03986
PRICE: $29.95 SRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna

 BarracudaCast resin correction set, EagleCals decals, Scale Aircraft Conversions white metal tail strut, Eduard harness

            The Spitfire is the iconic RAF fighter aircraft of World War II, serving throughout the entire conflict in a wide variety of variants.  Even though it is acknowledged that the less-photogenic Hurricane bore the brunt of the fighting during the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire will be forever etched in our collective memories as the airplane that staved off the hordes of attacking German bombers and saved the realm from certain defeat.  While that last sentence is highly debatable, it in no way detracts from the capabilities and accomplishments of the Supermarine fighter.
            The Mk II variant of the Spitfire was essentially a Mk I with a more powerful Merlin engine and was virtually identical externally.  The Mk IIa was armed with eight .303 inch machine guns and saw limited action in the latter stages of the battle.  A very small number of Mk IIbs were made featuring two cannon and four machine guns.  A Mk IIc variant confusingly described a standard Mk IIa that was outfitted for air-sea rescue duty.  Production began to be phased out starting in March 1941 in favor of the Mk V after over 900 examples were completed. 
            1/32 scale fans rejoiced when Revell announced this kit with an astoundingly low price for a newly-tooled offering in this scale.  It would replace the fifty-year-old Revell model, as well as the interesting Hasegawa/Revell hybrid that was released in the early 2000s.  With Tamiya now the King of the Hill with the definitive Spitfire IX (and VIII and XVI variants), modelers were eager to embrace a low-cost kit of the short-nosed Mk I.  That is, until the kit arrived and the boffins started to see what was in the box, and the initial reports were discouraging.
            There are so many things that are wrong with this kit Ė inexcusably wrong Ė that a detailed list of them would extend for pages and pages.  In the spirit of brevity, I will try to highlight the major issues and suggest ways to fix them.

Oil cooler.  The big, stinking flaw in this kit is the fact that it features an underwing oil cooler that belongs to a Mk V, and not the half-round version found on the Mk I and II.  Fortunately, Roy Sutherlandís Barracuda Studios provides a resin replacement and I strongly recommend that you purchase this set if you tackle this kit.

Ailerons.  On a Mark I and II, these should be fabric covered, not metal-covered as provided in the kit.  You can sand the metal panel lines down and re-scribe the stitching or use the replacements included in the above-mentioned BarracudaCast set.

Spinner.  This is another howling error that has one scratching oneís head as to how Revellís designers could make such an obvious shape error.  The kit piece is way too short and squat, not looking like either the blunt Rotol spinner seen on most Mk IIs or the pointed deHavilland spinner seen on most Mk Is. Grey Matter and Eagle Editions make resin Rotol replacements, but I had a deHavilland spinner leftover from a Hasegawa Mk V kit that I used on my model.

Propeller blades.  The blades are too fat at the ends and not properly tapered.  I sanded the pieces down to the correct shape.

Canopy.  The most labor-intensive issue for me to fix was the too-short rear-vision piece that accommodates another surprising flaw of a square notch cut out of the upper rear corner of the cabin door opening.  No Spitfire had this notch, ever.  It was something that Hasegawa messed up with their Mk V kit from the 1970s and for some bizarre reason Revell copied it onto this kit.  One solution is to add sheet styrene to plug up the notch, and carve a new backlight master for use to vacuform a properly-sized replacement piece. Thatís a lot of work, so I took a shortcut and grafted on a thin slice of sheet styrene on each side of the backlight, knowing that it would partially hidden underneath the open canopy and therefore not very noticeable.  Speaking of the canopy, it is not quite wide enough to be posed in the open position.  I had to really force it down on the spine to get it to sit properly and would not be surprised if the piece didnít split because of the pressure.  Finally, the windscreen comes in two pieces, one for the windscreen itself and one for the armored glass seen on all Mk IIs.  I understand why Revell engineered this the way that they did because early Mk Is didnít have the armored glass, but I really wish they had provided an extra clear piece that combined both elements as I found it a real pain in the neck to get them both glued on and properly blended into the surrounding fuselage.

Aerial wire posts.  The main post is missing the characteristic triangular attachment point for the wire.  I fabricated an addition using very thin sheet styrene.  The post on the top of the vertical stabilizer is not correct and the top of the T should be lopped off.

Flaps.  Revell provides these as separate pieces as do a number of other model kit manufacturers.  The thing is, the flaps were never left down on a parked Spitfire unless there was some kind of maintenance procedure underway.  Pilots were even fined by their Squadron Leaders if they forgot to pull the flaps up immediately after landing.  The kit flaps add unnecessary complexity and donít fit very well.

Wheels and tires.  The five-spoke kit wheels are dished outwards, instead of inwards.  BarracudaCast has very nice resin replacements.  I had a pair of wheels leftover from a Pacific Coast Models Mk IX kit, and while they are a bit too wide, are still an improvement over what Revell provides.  The instructions direct the builder to add the tail strut before gluing the two fuselage halves together.  I did this and broke the piece three times in the course of construction.  I strongly recommend leaving the piece out until the very end, as it is quite fragile.  My broken strut was replaced with a Scale Aircraft Conversions white metal piece I had lying around.

Rudder and elevators.  The fabric ribbing tape depicted on the kit pieces is ridiculously oversized.  I recommend sanding these down to near imperceptibility.  But I do give Revell kudos for making these separate pieces, as nearly every photo of a Spitfire at rest shows the elevators deflected downwards at an 18 degree angle.

Crowbar in the cockpit access door.  Mk IIs didnít have one, so the modeler is advised to scrape it off the kit piece or purchase a BarracudaCast resin replacement.  And for goodnessí sakes, NEVER paint a wartime crowbar red on any Spitfire!  This is a post-war/warbird characteristic that modelers unfortunately repeat over and over again on their models.

Cockpit.  In general, there is actually a decent amount of detail although one could get very nitpicky as to the equipment provided and whether it is appropriate for a Mk II.  The seat does not have a padded leather backrest, so I grafted on a piece of sheet styrene and carved in groves for the stitching.  I used an Eduard photo-etch Sutton harness.  Unfortunately there is no pilotís armor provided, so one can be fabricated from sheet styrene.

Fuselage.  The kit is covered in recessed divots representing flush or raised rivets on the real aircraft.  I donít get too upset about this as it seems to be the standard for all new models now, but I do object to the exaggerated raised fasteners around the engine panels.  On a Spitfire, these are actually recessed slightly from the surrounding fuselage so I sanded all of them off and replaced each of them with a few turns of a twist drill.  There is a slight mound on each wing root fillet that should be removed by sanding, and the profile of the cowling just ahead of the windscreen is a bit too squared off.  I bent the kitís plastic with my hands to give a more circular profile but it really isnít noticeable to anyone other than a Spitfire fanatic.  There are tiny clear windows on either side of the fuselage that are probably inspection ports of some kind.  These were fitted to only a few airframes in the Mk II run, so unless you have clear evidence that they existed on the aircraft you are depicting, I would recommend filling the holes and painting over them.

Wings.  The area of the wings directly under the fuselage should be flat whereas the kit has an odd mounded profile.  I bent the kitís lower wing piece until it was as flat as I could make it without breaking it in two.  This imparted a nice crack in the piece that had to be filled afterwards.  There are two hexagonally-shaped raised strengthening plates on the tops of the wings that need to be sanded flush.  The same is true for two oblong raised plates underneath the wings.

            Oh my.  How could so much be wrong on a brand-new kit designed in Germany with relatively easy access to real Spitfires in museums and flying examples?  In discussions amongst Spitfire boffins, it appears Revell used a warbird for some of their research, a Mk II that is flying around with Mk V parts on it.  This is a common and understandable situation in the expensive world of warbird operations.  That would explain the wrong oil cooler, prop blades, ailerons, missing armor plate, and strengthening plates.  But the other stuff like the squat spinner and the too-short clear backlight smacks of sloppy design work.
            This poses an interesting philosophical point: does the low price of this kit excuse the research errors?  It does, after all, look like an early Spitfire and there are several examples of out-of-the-box builds that are nicely done.  But they arenít accurate and I guess it comes down to what levels of accuracy one is looking for in their own modeling projects.  For me, I try to fix what bothers me the most either with aftermarket items or using my own skills, and then leave the rest.  In this case, a pretty good-looking Spitfire can be made if the oil cooer is fixed, the prop blades narrowed, the spinner replaced, the wheels replaced, and the canopy backlight lengthened.  This means that the price of the project more than doubles with the addition of aftermarket items.  That said, the total cost is still well under $80 and that is not too bad in todayís world of 1/32 scale models.

            The first thing I did was install the resin radiator pieces as provided by the BarracudaCast set.  Like all aftermarket items Iíve ever dealt with, it required a bit of work to implement and wasnít quite a drop-fit replacement.  I cut out the kit radiator and oil cooler and attached the resin pieces with CA glue.  I had to cut away some of the wheel well structure to clear the resin. Seams were filled around each radiator piece.  I glued the wing pieces together and thinned the attachment points for the ailerons as instructed by Barracuda. Getting the ailerons to fit into the slots in the wing is a little tricky and a lot of filing and sanding was required before I was satisfied.  The part of the wing directly underneath the fuselage should be flat whereas the kit piece has a slightly bowed profile.  To reduce this effect I bent the wing severely with my hands, pressing down with my thumbs until the plastic flexed and cracked under the pressure.
            The cockpit required some work to make more accurate.  The seat back is missing the leather pad.  I added a piece of sheet styrene and carved notches for the stitching.  The seat was painted red-brown and the leather pad was painted black.  The Very pistol cartridge storage rack on the front of the seat was left off Ė this was not likely present on these aircraft.  I drilled out the lightening holes in the bulkheads.  Using a piece from Tamiyaís Mk VIII kit as a guide, I fashioned a piece of armor plating from sheet styrene and glued it between the seat and the bulkhead.  Eduard photo-etch harness pieces were used.
            The crowbar molded into the cabin door was scraped off.  These didnít start appearing until later in the Spitfire line.  The notch in the upper right hand side of the opening was filled with a small piece of plastic and sanded smooth.  Overall interior color was Interior Gray-Green with black instrument consoles.  A dark wash was added to bring out the details and some paint chipping was added with a silver pencil.  Note that the gun firing button on the control spade was most likely natural aluminum, and not painted red.
            The area of the fuselage in front of the windscreen is too squared in cross section, so as I did with the wings I bent the two halves very hard with my thumbs to impart a more rounded profile.  The fuselage halves were glued together and the seams were filled.  I added the tail wheel strut as instructed to by the kit directions, a decision that I would later regret as I broke it three times during construction and painting.  The last break was not repairable so I strongly recommend leaving the tail wheel strut off until the very end of the project.  I added the wings and horizontal stabilizers.  Because of all the bending of the fuselage and wing pieces, the resulting seams were bigger and more severe than if I had just built the kit out of the box.  Thick CA glue was used as the filler and Mr. Surfacer 1000 laid on as a final step to insure that no tiny air bubble holes were left visible.
            Spitfires at rest almost always are seen with the elevators deflected slightly downward, so the pieces were attached accordingly.  The rudder was also glued on at this stage.  It was then time to add to the clear pieces, which made for the most tedious part of the whole project.  Since the rear vision panel is too short due to the inaccurate compensation of the notch in the top right hand corner of the cabin door opening, I had to graft on a piece of tiny sliver of sheet styrene on either side to lengthen the entire piece.  When that was done, I filled the seams, polished the clear section to remove all the sanding scratches, and dipped it in Future to make it as clear as possible.  It still doesnít look great but fortunately it is hidden mostly by the main canopy piece which it sits under on the finished model.  The panel was then glued to the fuselage and once again the resulting seams were filled and sanded smooth.
            Since I had changed the cross section profile of the front fuselage, I had to do a lot of sanding of the attachment points of the windscreen in order to get it to fit without any noticeable gaps.  After the windscreen was glued on, I filled the seams with CA glue and blended the transition between the windscreen and surrounding fuselage.  Finally, the armored glass was added and the seams again filled.  This whole process was a real pain in the butt and I lost my desire to continue working on the kit so I put it away for a month and worked on another model before I could muster up the enthusiasm to resume work.
            The kit is covered with small depressions to depict the flush and raised rivets of the real aircraft.  Panel lines lost in the seam filling process were restored by scribing with a sewing pin chucked in a pin vise.  The lost rivet holes were restored using a small ponce wheel.  The raised dzus fasteners around the engine access panels are not correct and way too prominent.  I sanded these off and replaced them with very shallow drilled holes.
            Since I was making a Spitfire I, I left off the bulge for the Coffman starter and I threw away the terrible kit spinner.  Finding a deHavilland spinner in my spares box leftover from a previous Hasegawa Mk V, I modified the kitís propeller blades to be mounted in the Hasegawa part as well as sanded their tips to a more accurate tapered profile.
            The model was washed with warm water and dishwashing soap in the kitchen sink and allowed to dry in preparation for the painting stage.

            I chose to depict a Spitfire I of No, 610 Squadron, DW-Q with markings provided on a beautiful sheet produced by Eagle Editions.  What drew me to this aircraft was the relatively rare underside half-black, half-white scheme that was used by the RAF for only a few months very early in the war as an aid for identification to ground AAA units.  I used my last remaining stock of Polly Scale paints, using Reefer White under the right side and Steam Power black under the left.  The insides of the wheel wells and landing doors were painted with Floquil Old Silver.  The standard A Scheme camouflage pattern of Dark Green and Dark Earth was done with Testors acrylic paints.  The demarcation between the top and bottom was hard-masked, but the topside pattern was free-handed with multiple passes made to insure the slightest feathering between the two colors that I could manage.
            A coat of Future floor polish was applied to allow the decals to be laid down on a smooth surface.  The Eaglecals decals were an absolute delight to use Ė some of the best I have had the pleasure to work with.  They laid down beautifully with almost no silvering and responded well to Micro Sol when they needed a little extra help to conform with the underlying surface.
            After another coat of Future over the decals, I applied a dark wash from MIG Pigments in the panel lines and wheel wells only, making sure not to accentuate the rivet depressions themselves which would not be in keeping with the smooth appearance that most Spitfires exhibit in period photos. Weathering was limited to slight exhaust staining on the fuselage, some gun reside on the underside of the wings behind the shell ejector chutes, lots of messy oil stains on the belly (a Merlin engine trademark), mud stains around the wheels, and very slight paint chipping around the wing root and canopy door opening.  This airplane didnít last very long in combat, having been shot down over Dunkirk in May 1940, so a light hand was used in all weathering application.
            A coat of Testors acrylic clear flat sealed the paint, decals, and weathering effects.  
        I used resin wheels leftover from a Pacific Coast Models Spitfire IX project and after painting and dirtying them up a bit, glued them onto the kit struts.  I drilled a hole in the aerial post and attached a small piece of brass rod to make for a very secure attachment to the fuselage spine since the whole thing would be under tension from two aerial wires which were fashioned from nylon ďinvisibleĒ thread and painted with dark gray paint.  The kitís post is missing the characteristic triangular pip, so I fashioned that from tiny pieces of thin sheet styrene and glued them over the point where the wires intersect.  The top of the T was lopped off from the aerial post on the top of the tail and the wire attached with CA glue and accelerator.  The exhaust stubs were glued in as was the pitot tube underneath the wing.  The final step was to attach the canopy, which is not wide enough for properly fitting over the fuselage spine as mentioned above.  I added two tiny drops of CA glue on the rails and forced the canopy down on the spine, holding it there for several minutes until I was sure the glue had dried to prevent the canopy from popping back up.  It held, but there is so much tension there that I will not be surprised if sometime in the future it either pops off or the canopy splits in half.
            Is a kit excused from harsh criticism because it is inexpensive?  Does $24 plus another $50 or more in necessary aftermarket items make this a less attractive proposition?  I have a hard time coming to a conclusion that doesnít slam Revell for not getting things right from the get-go.  This is an iconic airplane and modelers deserve to have a really good kit of it.  The Revell kit disappoints in so many ways, from overdone surface detail to inexplicable accuracy goofs to fit that shouldnít be as poor for something designed in the 21st Century.  Does it look like a Spitfire?  Sure.  Can it be made to look like a really good model of a Spitfire?  Of course.  Would I recommend it to other modelers who want to build a model in this scale of one of the most beautiful airplanes that ever flew?  Maybe not.  I leave it to the reader to decide if all the trouble I went through to get to a finished model is worth it to you.
            But I do have a message for Revell, if they happen to read this:Shame on you!

Lucas, Paul: Camouflage & Markings No 2 Ė The Battle For Britain Ė RAF May to December 1940

Humphreys, Robert: The Supermarine Spitfire, a Comprehensive Guide for the Modeller Part 1: Merlin Powered

Brooks, Edgar: Posted comments about the kit on Large Scale Planes forum

Summerfield, Ben: Posted comment about the kit on Large Scale Planes forum

Bradshaw, Derek: Posted comments about the kit on Large Scale Planes forum

Olgivie, Iain: Posted comments about the kit on Large Scale Planes forum

Lee Kolosna

October 2015

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