Trumpeter 1/48 Seafang 32
Among the fighter aircraft of World War 2 there is something of a “Lost Class of ‘45”, being the promising advanced aircraft types that were cancelled as no longer being needed with the coming years of peace. The Allies’ aircraft manufacturers had responded to the rise of the Axis Powers in the late 1930s with an intensive effort to design and build ever more powerful, faster, and more capable aircraft, so that by 1945 they had designs and prototypes that were close to the fabled 500mph speed barrier, almost the physical limit that could be achieved by propeller driven piston engine fighter aircraft. Most of the gains in performance came with a long series of incremental improvements to existing designs, although in a handful of cases there were wholly new aircraft. The USA produced the Curtiss YP-60, Republic XP-72 and North American XP-51J. Australia built the Commonwealth CA-15, Great Britain the Martin Baker MB-5, the Supermarine Spiteful and its naval equivalent, the Seafang. All were pushing the limits of what could be achieved with state of the art piston engines and in most cases provided only a small margin of improvement over in-service types. So their development was curtailed and they would remain as exotic examples at the end of a highly developed technology.
Supermarine’s Spitfire series had gone through eight years of intense development with upgraded engines, a new wing design and progressive strengthening of the airframe to the extent that, by 1944, the later versions, the Mk 21 and beyond, were almost twice the all up weight of the 1936 original and about 100 mph faster. Supermarine proposed amalgamating all of its knowledge and technical innovation into a wholly new state of the art design as the type 371 Spiteful that first flew in April 1945. Its specification included some of the features that had been such a success in the P-51 Mustang, such as a laminar flow wing for greater aerodynamic efficiency. There was an exceptionally wide track undercarriage and the pilot sat at the highest point of the fuselage for the best all round view from a bubble canopy. A large fuel tank was built into the fuselage immediately behind the pilot and on the centre of gravity. To accommodate this a large horizontal and vertical tail was developed to aid stability. This proved to be so effective that the entire tail unit was fitted to the last series of Spitfire and Seafires. Armament was standardised at four 20mm cannon, acknowledging that the dominance of .50cal machine guns was coming to an end. Large low profile radiator housings were fitted under the wings, giving greater aerodynamic efficiency.
navalised version of the Spiteful, was developed in parallel and had the
manufacturer’s designation of Type 382; 150 examples were ordered in May 1945 to
British Specification N.5/45 and to be known as the Seafang F.32. In order to
speed type development, ten development examples, designated
the Mk.31, were
ordered, being little more than a Spiteful with a hook and the first example
flew on January 26 1946. The fully navalised version, the type 396, as the
Seafang 32, featured a modified main fuel tank in the fuselage to permit room
for a reconnaissance camera installation and folding wing tips. Its most
dramatic feature was the contra rotating propeller assembly, fitted to cancel
out the torque effect of the 2,400 hp Griffon engine and improve deck landing
characteristics. The lower nose was modified by extending the carburettor air
intake forward to the fuselage nose, in a more aerodynamic form.
The pace of so many military aircraft projects slowed dramatically in the immediate aftermath of war. Programmes were dramatically cut back or cancelled and the Royal Navy decided that the Seafang did not offer any significant performance advantage over late model Seafires being introduced into service. Just eight Seafang 32s were delivered, six in component form, and the production order was cancelled.
official trials the Seafang 32 achieved 475mph at 21,000ft, a range of 390 miles
and an initial climb rate of 4,630ft./min. This was impressive and put it into
the top league of fighter designs that pushed towards the magic 500mph.
There were however, potential limitations. The laminar flow wings on the prototypes were hand built and had excellent aerodynamic characteristics, but production versions would need engineering compromises so that the good results shown in tests were unlikely to be achieved in aircraft subject to the wear and tear of front line service.
The Seafang came to nought and is another of history’s “What Ifs”. The wing and main undercarriage design saw successful, if limited, service when incorporated into the design of the Royal Navy’s first jet fighter, the Supermarine Attacker.
The initial mild surprise is that the kit is not Trumpeter’s previously released 1:48 scale Spiteful with a few add on parts to convert it to the naval variant. Of the three main parts frames two are wholly new. One frame provides the main fuselage halves, components for the propeller spinners and the tail hook assembly. The second provides a one piece lower wing, left and right upper wing halves, ribs and hinges for a folded wing option and the two propeller assemblies. The whole of the lower front engine cowl is moulded integrally with the full span lower wing. The third grey parts frame is common with the earlier Spiteful kit and provides all of the external parts that dangle, droop or otherwise decorate the exterior such as the undercarriage, flaps, radiators and fuselage interior.
All of the parts are crisply moulded and feature delicate engraved lines. I found no trace of flash and just the smallest amount of sinkage of the fuselage sides in the cockpit area. The parts are neat, clean, and well engineered. One of the peculiarities of Trumpeter is the way in which the parts join the plastic frames, via commendably thin tags that are jointed onto the edge of many parts, but the result is that when they are cut away for assembly a tiny tag remains on the joining faces of the parts. It is important to ensure that these tiny residual tags of plastic are removed with a sanding stick or similar so that the parts can be joined snugly.
Instructions consist of an eight page booklet in greyscale, showing a parts chart and six stages of construction, with exploded views. There is a separate two-sided full colour A4 sheet with three-views of the three alternative paint schemes offered. Colour call outs are geared to Mr. Hobby, Vallejo, Model Master, Tamiya and Humbrol paint ranges.
There is a simple sheet of decals, that turns out to be if limited use, as discussed below.
This begins with the interior and a simple cockpit tub that provides side consoles with a representation of instruments and controls. There is a simple rear bulkhead, instrument panel and seat – although the latter is omitted from the assembly drawing, as are the rudder pedals. The interior is essentially fictional, but in the style of British aircraft of the period just about everything is Black and little is likely to be seen through the smallish canopy when closed so I sprayed everything in Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black. An adequate decal is provided for the instrument panel and simple seat belts were added from masking tape. The interior of the fuselage halves around the cockpit was sprayed Black at this time and when the paint was dry the cockpit area was lightly dry brushed with silver to bring out the raised detail. The next six sub- sections of Stage 1 related to the propellers, undercarriage and radiators as sub assemblies. These are components that I prefer to deal with later, so I went straight ahead to Stage 2, the fuselage assembly. I chose to commit all of the components for the recce camera to the spares box, concluding that a test aircraft might not be fitted with such equipment.
There is a little work to do before the halves are joined. Trumpeter invite you to cut out a flashed over hole moulded in the left fuselage half to accommodate a window for the recce camera. Here they have got themselves confused, having moulded one window in the left side only, while the box top illustrations show two, one on each side, which is in fact correct and can be confirmed by photographs. It is easy enough to drill a second hole to match. Trumpeter only provide glazing for one hole, but this is not a problem for me since I prefer to do such glazing in Micro Kristal Klear after all paintwork has been finished. The tail wheel is to be secured in one fuselage half with a positive socket before the fuselage halves are joined.
fictional cockpit interior is glued snugly into a tongue and box arrangement in
the right fuselage half and this now reveals more speculation of the part of
Trumpeter. They have moulded a one piece saddle back to fit behind the pilot’s
seat, set just below the top edge of the cockpit opening, rather in the style of
a P-51. Examination of photographs shows that this area under the canopy,
rear of the pilot’s seat, is an extension of the fuselage spine and flush with
the top of the fuselage, in the style of a low back Spitfire. Trumpeter’s
arrangement appears to be an attempt to allow the rather thick bubble canopy to
sit down over the down slope of the fuselage sides. I decided that any attempt
at trying to reconstruct this enclosed area up flush with the rear spine would
result in a risky attempt to butcher the canopy to fit. This was not worth the
risk, so I just painted the area Extra Dark Sea Grey and hoped that it would not
be too obvious
on the finished product. The fuselage halves were glued and closed up without
any further problems. I added the gun sight and the canopy glazing was masked
with Tamiya tape trimmed with a fresh scalpel blade.
Attention next turns to the wings and the kit offers the option to cut away the wing tips along engraved lines and assemble them with the tips folded. I elected to go with the full span configuration. The wheel wells are separate units that glue into positive locations in the one piece lower wing, which was then glued onto the fuselage structure and left overnight to dry. The following day I added the left and right upper wing panels and was pleased to find that they fitted perfectly, no gaps and no trimming required. The two large underwing radiator assemblies are moulded in one piece and just require the etched metal grilles to the interior to be tacked in place with superglue. When this had settled the main radiator housings were glued in place. The last job required to complete the basic airframe is the tail assembly. Trumpeter have gone for a rather eccentric parts breakdown here, in that the lower section consists of the fixed portion of the horizontal tail – as though a separate elevator is to be added, yet the upper section is all one piece with fixed and elevator sections moulded as one. The horizontal tail parts are glued into positive slots either side of the lower fin.
|COLORS AND MARKINGS|
The decals supplied are of limited use. Two are for entirely fictional “what ifs”, a machine in Spanish markings and a Royal Navy scheme of a style carried by Westland Wyverns in the Suez campaign of 1956. I wanted a finish for an aircraft that had actually flown, so I considered the third option, a standard Royal Navy Grey/Sky finish of the early post war period.
lower surfaces were airbrushed in Xtracrylix
XA1007 RAF Sky and the Upper Surfaces in XA1005 Extra
Dark Sea Grey/ Wheel wells and undercarriage details were finished in Tamiya
Only two Seafang 32s were flown, serial numbers VB895 and VB 893. Trumpeter offers one Royal Navy version, as VB 885, so the serial number needs to be modified or replaced. I opted to replace all of the serials by examples from generic sheets in my decal dungeon, since it would be hard to find a replacement number “9” of the correct size, font and matching colour density. The national markings are also wrong, in that the six roundels are of identical C1 type, each with a yellow outer ring, a style that is only applicable to the fuselage.
All of the decals were applied using the Microscale system of Micro Set and Micro Sol decal setting solutions and they settled down neatly onto the subtly engraved details in the plastic mouldings. A final single coat of Future/Klear sealed the finis, followed by two misted coats of Xtracrylix satin Varnish.
Attention now turned to the external details and fittings.
Each main undercarriage unit consists of eight parts. The wheel halves are reasonably well detailed and the legs fit neatly onto the two part main gear doors. Each leg is provided with a two part scissors link, but these are not obvious on the real thing so I did not fit them. The legs fit firmly into sockets in the wheel bay and the assembly is completed by gluing the inner gear doors in place. The inner face of the gear doors and wheel bays were painted in Tamiya XF-16 Aluminum Silver.
separate radiator doors and wing flaps were fitted in the lowered position, so
as to add some interest to what is otherwise a fairly dull airframe, lacking as
it does in unit markings or other insignia.
Finally, the matter of the contra rotating propeller assembly. Unheralded on the box, Trumpeter has provided an engineered gimmick, with the option to have an operating contra rotating system. The prop hubs have a clever system of gear cogs hidden within. However they will only work if the whole system is incorporated into the fuselage when the halves are joined. I prefer to add propellers when an aircraft is nearly complete, so the gears and the rear gearbox housing were omitted and I merely glued the propellers and spinners in place.
Finally the exhaust outlets, arrester hook and tail wheel doors completed the build.
This is a prime example of a Trumpeter kit. Finely engineered with exquisite subtly engraved detail that is marred by infuriating errors in the instructions and basic errors in design. The decal sheet is poor. It is not a difficult kit to build, but more difficult to get to a reasonable standard without resorting to the aftermarket. Nevertheless the result is a good model of an interesting and unusual type and Trumpeter should be congratulated on choosing such an esoteric type. For a Spitfire nut it neatly closes off the historic line and it looks great in my showcase. Recommended to fans of the exotic.
Warplanes of the Second World War, Fighters Volume Two, by William Green. Macdonald 1961.
Spitfire, the History by Eric B. Morgan and Edward Shacklady, Key Publishing. 2000
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