Grand Phoenix 1/48 Firefly I




$45.00 MSRP


Three aircraft


Tom Cleaver





The Fleet Air Arm was the only carrier air arm to carry on with the development and operation of the two-seat carrier fighter past the early 1930s.  Both the Japanese and American naval air forces determined that the extra weight of the second crewman had too much negative effect on aircraft performance to justify the "safety" of over-water operations with a dedicated navigator-radioman aboard.  As was shown during the Second World War, this was the right decision.

      The Fleet Air Arm continued with development and operation of the Osprey,  a carrier-based version of the land-based Hawker Demon through the 1930s, and followed this up with the Fairey Fulmar, which first flew in January 1940.  Using the same engine as the Hurricane and Spitfire, the Fulmar was 50 percent larger and more than 50 percent heavier, with subsequent loss of performance and maneuverability. Unfortunately for the FAA, the war was upon them and the Fulmar was the only aircraft even approaching the performance of modern fighters that was operating on their carriers.  With a top speed of only 258 mph, even though it had the same eight-gun armament as its land-based compatriots, the Fulmar was hard-pressed in combat against agile Italian fighters in the Mediterranean, and could only hope to intercept the S.79 Aerosiluranti if it was favorably positioned for a diving attack from sufficient altitude to build up the necessary speed.  Nonetheless, until the arrival of the Sea Hurricane in sizeable numbers in 1942, the Fulmar gave a good account of itself over the Mediterranean, as well as on the Arctic convoys where it fought Ju-87 and Ju-88 dive bombers and He-111 torpedo bombers.

      In July 1939, while the Fulmar was still under construction, the FAA put out another requirement for a modern carrier-based fighter to be powered by the then new and untried Rolls-Royce Griffon. Specification N8/39 calling for a two-seater powered by this engine and armed with 4 20mm cannon or eight .30-cal machine guns.  Fairey responded with a somewhat smaller, Fulmar-type aircraft, to be armed with 20mm cannon, with an empty weight barely less than the Fulmar's loaded weight.  By June 6, 1940, the mock-up had been inspected and approved, and specification N5/40 was written around the design.  Thirteen months later, the first Firefly I, Z1826, flew on December 22, 1941. 

      The airplane was the first to make use of the Fairey-patented area-increasing Youngman flaps, which provided the necessary maneuverability in combat, and lowered the landing speed of this heavy aircraft to a speed compatible with carrier operation.  The first production aircraft was turned over to the FAA on March 4, 1943, a very respectable timetable for wartime aircraft development.  The FAA was fortunate with this, because every other British-designed carrier aircraft that was ordered in the same timeframe as the Firefly ran into development difficulties and failed to fly before the end of the war.  Thus, the Fulmar would be the only really modern, high-performance carrier aircraft of British design to fly off British carriers in the war it was designed for.

      Unfortunately, even with the 1,735 horsepower of the Griffon IIB, the Firefly lacked performance, with a top speed of only 319 mph and a climb rate under 2,000 fpm, though it had a useful range of 774 miles on internal fuel.  The Firely was destined to become a strike and tactical reconnaissance aircraft, rather than the fleet defense fighter originally called for.  Fortunately, it was more than capable of the mission, and the aircraft in its developed versions would form the backbone of the Royal Navy's aerial strike force through the end of the Korean War.

          Interestingly, on all points save speed, a Firefly I sent to the US Navy test center at Patuxent River in 1944 more than held its own in air combat against the standard U.S. Navy carrier fighter, the F6F Hellcat - those Youngman flaps worked.

      1770 Squadron formed on Fireflies on October 1, 1943, followed by 1771 Squadron in February 1944.  1770 participated in Operation Mascot, the failed attack against the German battleship "Tirpitz" on July 17, 1944, operating from HMS "Indefatigable."  1771 Squadron, aboard HMS "Implacable," flew strikes in Norwegian waters that October, by which time "Indefatigable" and her Fireflies had moved on to join the British Far Eastern Fleet.

      From January 1-7, 1945, 1770 Squadron's Fireflies flew rocket strikes against the Pangkalan Brandon refinery on Sumatra, during which Lieutenant D. Levitt shot down a Ki.43 Hayabusa while Sub Lieutenants Redding and Stot shared another in air combat on January 4. 1770 scored two more Ki.43s on January 24, during strikes on the Palembang refineries at Pladjoe and Songei Gerong that required the aircraft to attack through balloon barrages and heavy AAA fire.  On January 29, the Fireflies added three more Ki-43s to their score before departing Southeast Asia for service with Task Force 57, the British Pacific Fleet, during the coming invasion of Okinawa.

      Five days before D-Day, TF 57 launched strikes on Miyako-jima, southwest of Okinawa, following up during the next 25 days with 13 days of strikes against Japanese forces on Okinawa and Taiwan, with the Fireflies participating in all these actions.

      When the BPF retired to Sydney for replenishment in late May, they were joined by  HMS "Implacable" and the Fireflies of 1771 Squadron.  After strikes against Truk, 1771's Fireflies gained the distinction of being the first British aircraft to fly over Japan on July 10, 1945; on July 24, Fireflies from 1771 and 1772 Squadrons - the latter having relieved 1770 aboard "Indefatigable" - became the first British aircraft over Tokyo.  By VJ-Day, another Firefly squadron - 1790 - was operating with the BPF in the night fighter role.  A year of successful combat had only begun to show what the airplane was capable of.


     Please follow this link to see a preview of this kit.


     Construction begins with cleaning up the resin detail parts.  I had the good fortune of having Ian Hartup's information on the kit, which he had built for Scale Aircraft Modeler a few weeks earlier.  Thus, I knew that the key to this kit is to remove all of the resin blocks on the main gear wells and the cockpit tubs, and to insure that the tops of the wheel wells and the side panels of the cockpits are sanded paper-thin so you can see light through them.  This insures that everything will fit and that the rest of the construction phase is easy.       It also helped to have access to a page of walk-around photographs of the Firefly I on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton.  Follow this link: to see these photos. 

     After I had cleaned up the resin parts, I painted the cockpit parts in British Interior Green, for which I used Gunze-Sanyo H-312 "Light Green."  I painted the pilot's and observer's seats with Tamiya XF-64 "Flat Red Brown" since these were made of Bakelite, with the leather padding painted with Gunze-Sanyo H-17 "Cocoa Brown."  The instrument panel and other details were painted with Tamiya X-18 "Semi-gloss Black," and then picked out with other colors from study of the cockpit photos at the walk-around.  The radiator interior, wheel wells, landing gear and interior of the main gear doors were also painted British Interior Green per the photos in the walk-around.

      Once all this was accomplished, I glued the wheel wells in position on the lower wing part, and then attached the upper wing halves.  If you are certain to cut off all the mold-release pins inside these injection-molded parts, the fit will be very easy.

      I then turned to the pilot's and observer's cockpits.  I attached the photo-etch seatbelts and other photo-etch detail, then assembled the cockpits and glued them in position inside the fuselage.  I also glued the radiator in position.

      Gluing the fuselage halves together was the one place I encountered any difficulty; the injection parts would not come together immediately forward of the pilot's cockpit and immediately aft of the observer's cockpit without the use of cyanoacrylate glue and accelerator - once I did that, everything closed up without trouble.  I then glued the wing subassembly to the fuselage sub assembly, and assembled and attached the horizontal stabilizers. 

      I found I needed Mr. Surfacer 500 on the leading edges of the wings, the upper wing-fuselage joint, the horizontal stabilizer-fuselage joints, and the centerline seam of the fuselage.  When that was sanded down, the seams disappeared; I rescribed panel lines where necessary and the model was ready to paint.



      I first "preshaded" all the panel lines with Tamiya Semi-gloss black, then painted the camouflage.  I used Tamiya XF-21 "Sky" on the lower surfaces.  The upper camouflage of Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey were done with Tamiya XF-54 "Flat Dark Sea Grey" and Tamiya XF-22 "RLN Grey" for Slate Grey.  I freehanded all of these, fading each color before proceeding to the next.  The propeller was painted with Tamiya Semi-Gloss Black.  Do note that the camouflage pattern shown in the decal profiles that accompany the kit is wrong - I used the pattern shown in a profile in an article on the Firefly published in the November 1971 issue of "Air Enthusiast."

      When this was dry, I gave the model two coats of Future and let it set up overnight.  One thing to note here is that, once the model has been painted, the very-deep engraved panel lines do not look so bad as one might expect.


      I was originally planning to do the markings for the 1772 Squadron airplane with the British Pacific Fleet.  However, I made the mistake of applying the upper wing national insignia with Micro-Sol put down on the surface of the wing first.  These decals are thin, and a bit sticky.  Trying to maneuver the decal into position, I managed to tear it badly.  I then went to the fall-back position of doing the 1770 Squadron airplane with the British Far Eastern Fleet during the Sumatra refinery strikes in January 1945.  This time, I put water on the model surface before placing the decals - I was able to move them in position easily, blot the water with a Kleenex, then apply a coat of Micro-Sol.  The decals melted into the surface and into the panel lines without difficulty.

Under wing Armament:

      I really wish Grand Phoenix had included under wing armament with this kit.  However, it was not that hard to scratch build the under wing blast plates for RPs with Evergreen sheet.  I used the rocket rails and rockets from a Tamiya Mosquito F.B.VI kit, which looked exactly right according to the photos I had.  This was particularly needed for the particular airplane I was doing, since the Fireflies that flew the Sumatra strikes used the 25-lb solid shot rockets in their attacks on the oil refineries.

 Final Finishing:

      Once the decals set up, I washed the model to get rid of any decal solvent residue, then gave the model another coat of Future.  When that was dry, I "scuffed" the wingwalk areas by drybrushing with Testor's ModelMaster Metalizer Aluminum, and applied exhaust stains with Tamiya X-19 "Smoke".  When all that was dry, I applied three coats of thinned Testor's "Dullcote."


      The cockpit canopies are thick, but clear.  I decided at first to use the kit-supplied canopy for the observer's cockpit.  However, I found when I attached it that it is just a bit wide on its base as molded; when I squeezed it to get it to fit, I ended up with a pressure crack on the inside surface.

      Since I had already decided to vacuform the pilot's canopy, I also vacuformed the observer's canopy.  Once I did that, I had a bit of trimming along the canopy base to get it to fit correctly to the fuselage.  I decided to open the observer's canopy, which has a very interesting configuration:  the upper-right-center section folds down, into the cockpit; the upper-left-center section also folds down like the right side, then the left side of the canopy folds down externally.

 Final Assembly:

      I attached the canopies with cyanoacrylate glue (since they had been Futured, and wouldn't fog), then filled the narrow gaps with white glue which dries the color of the paint. I glued the blast plates in position, then attached the rockets and rocket rails to the blast plates. I painted the exhausts with Testor's Model Master Metalizer "Burnt Metal." The antenna wire is nylon repair thread, attached with cyanoacrylate glue.


         I have always thought the Firefly I was a very good-looking airplane, and this model certainly lives up to my expectations.  It looks great on the shelf next to my PP Aeroparts Firefly V in the Fleet Air Arm section of my collection.  I really hope Falcon comes up with vacuformed canopies for this kit soon - I'll replace mine immediately.  If an aftermarket decal company comes up with markings for the Firefly Is that were on HMS "Triumph" in 1950, I'll do another to sit beside my Seafire 47.

      This is a great first kit from Grand Phoenix.  It assembles easily and makes up into a good-looking model.  I'm looking forward to the coming Firefly V.

Tom Cleaver

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