Eduard 1/72 Spitfire
KIT #: ?
PRICE: $15-25.00
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Ryan Grosswiler
NOTES: Weekend Edition and overtrees

    It's hard not to at least like the Spitfire. You might as well deride the works of Bach and Mozart, like some of my music-snob friends feel inclined to do for some reason. The last great work of a talented man in the process of dying way too young, the Spitfire was one of the greatest dogfighting airplanes ever produced, limited only by its short range and lack of ability to haul much in the way of ordinance. It would also subtly change shape over the course of its decade in developmental life as technological progress and the demands of its use evolved.
   The novice can easily identify in a general sense early-middle-late Spitfire production on sight, because the aircraft's nose kept getting longer as it went from the early 10- and 40-series Merlin, to the longer 60-series Merlin, to the big Griffon engines. Along the way it kept gaining propeller blades as well, from the two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden prop on the first few production Mk.Is to the six-bladed counterrotating unit fitted to the final Mark 47 long after the war. Throughout all this, however, the basic airframe remained unchanged for most of the time: it wasn't until the stiff-winged Mark 21 coming on line at the end of the war that the tooling needed to be altered significantly.
   Owing to the fact that they were born out of intense fear, the mid-production 'four-blade' group of Spitfires, the Marks VII-IX and XVI with the medium-length nose, were the most numerous of them all. 
   The story goes like this: for the first two years of war, the Spitfire Mk. I had been very much able handle its primary enemy, the Bf-109E. The German fighter was better in climb rate and inverted flight (thanks to its fuel-injected engine), the Spitfire balancing this with a tighter turn radius. Even the introduction of the cleaner, meaner -109F was balanced by the introduction of the Spitfire Mk.V summertime, 1941. 
   However, right about this time RAF fighters returning from sweeps over occupied France began reporting a mysterious new Luftwaffe fighter with a round engine that was smacking everything the RAF could put up against it right out of the sky. Including even that Mark V Spitfire--itself the latest and greatest, just entering service. So much so that the RAF drew back from offensive combat for a short period. The nasty little Teutonic surprise would of course turn out to be the previously unknown Fw-190, and a counterpoint was obviously needed right away. There was a reason the -190's nickname in English was Butcher Bird. However, the new Hawker Typhoon wasn't living up to expectations and a totally fresh fighter design could be expected to require fully four years to design, develop, and deploy. The Brits, still on their own in the west, just didn't have that long. Things were looking dim, but in one of those odd coincidences that mark the twist and turns of war, a solution just happened to be on hand. 
    High-altitude reconnaissance versions of the Junkers Ju-86 had appeared a year or two earlier over the British Islands, coming in for their photo runs sometimes in excess of 40,000 feet.  While carrying no bombs, these unreachable intruders had put the RAF Air Ministry into understandable fits about the war potentially moving to these altitudes. They therefore went about hyperactively developing the means to engage in combat way up there, and two aircraft had resulted: 1) that weirdly bulbous, pressurized version of the Wellington bomber, and 2) the gawky Westland Welkin interceptor. Neither type would end up firing a shot in anger as their intended battleground around the tropopause would never actually come to pass over Europe. However, a specialized engine developed for both airplanes was available as a result: the Merlin 60. This involved a standard Merlin cylinder block with a two-stage supercharger added. The innovation here was two blowers mounted in series with a new cooling element--the intercooler--mounted between the two, lowering the temperature of the intake charge even further, thus increasing the density of intake air, thus more bang. This new accessory section increased brake horsepower 30% over the earlier Merlin 45 while retaining the same frontal area and increasing the length of the engine less than a foot. It could probably be slapped on the firewall of the existing Spitfire to give Britain the fighter it needed.
    There remained intimidating questions. Would that wispy airframe absorb the massive increase in torque forces without damage? Would pilots be able to stuff enough rudder in to counteract the asymmetrical yank of the big new four-bladed prop on throttle-up? The engineers immediately went to work dealing with these problems with their slide rules and calculations, putting into development the Marks VII (pressurized) and VIII (unpressurized) as a solution. But a new Spitfire was still needed right now, damn it, and the workshops in fact did end up simply slapping the new Merlin on the nose, and adding another radiator under the wings while they were at it. This was the Mark IX. The dangers above were simply accepted with a shrug in the face of wartime emergency, part of the daily gamble. The need was in fact so pressing that the first examples were actually Mark V airframes pulled from frontline squadrons and converted at the depot level while proper production lines were hurriedly set up, and the very, very first ones sported hand-shaped, individually-fitted engine cowls in a total lash-up.
   By now the RAF had gone almost a year in this painful situation. The souped-up Spitfire IX finally appeared over the Channel and pilots began scoring their first kills against the dreaded Focke-Wulf at the end of July, 1942. When released for squadron service, it immediately restored the technological balance, the Luftwaffe never able to properly exploit the Fw-190's superiorities anyway owing to that huge and ultimately catastrophic project to the east, the USSR. Also, it meant that because of frantic production efforts that the Mark IX appeared before the properly-engineered VIII, and because of the anxieties under which the 'nine was initially produced, several ironies resulted: this 'temporary solution' would outnumber all other marks except the V by the end of production. It was kept in Europe by the RAF while the VIII was generally passed off to the Australians and their ilk elsewhere. Finally, it had a longer and more storied postwar career (particularly surrounding the dramatic emergence in 1948 of the state of Israel), though this may have been a by-product of its superior numbers.
   Even as the ultimate Spitfire with the even more powerful Griffon engine entered production and service in 1944, these Merlin-60 powered versions remained in production alongside, gradually shifting to a role of ground attack. The final Merlin Spifire Mark XVI was merely an IX with an American-built Packard Merlin, now pouring in from that side of the Atlantic, courtesy of the P-51's engine upgrade. Later examples of this XVI were given the low-cut fuselage and bubble canopy which was appearing at the same time on the Griffon Spits. Since the various details (the long carburetor intake, smaller cannon bulges, bigger pointy rudder, etc.) of the VIII gradually were incorporated over the course of the IX's production, with the exception of that properly-engineered fuselage, the only certain way to tell the two solutions to the original problem apart visually is the telltale retractable tailwheel of the VIII.
   Being what it is, the wartime Spit has always been very well served in all scales of plastic. For these mid-series subtypes, we've had many in 1/72, the KP and Frog examples being the best of the old school. Then the scale modeling boom of the '90s gave us a few new ones with the mandatory recessed panel lines: a comprehensive range of resin/photoetch kits by CMK, extremely expensive and not easy to find; a flawed Mark IX by Italerei; and finally a set of IX/VIII kits from Hasegawa, very good if still a tad pricey (and marred only by the minor points of prop blades too skinny and tailwheel area generalized to cover both Mk. VIII and IX). These last have been the standard for the two decades which followed, as New Airfix hiccuped and released a sound but very uninspired IX in 2009.
   Come 2016, Eduard blew into the octagon with this family of kits by scaling down their 1/48th line. The result is a little bit mind-blowing, particularly for a kit that costs less than $20 on the street. Given that Eduard got their start as one of the pioneering aftermarket suppliers, there is also a dizzying (and expensive) array of resin and photoetch accessories to cover all these boxings.
   I use the term "kit family", because Eduard took the time to cut completely different molds to account for the retractable vs. non-retractable tailwheel fuselages as well as the low-back of the late XVI, plus wings with both the early and late cannon bulges. These are united to common sprues covering the different horizontal stabilizers, wingtips, carburetor intakes, and subtly different upper engine cowls. Two more sprues comprehensively cover differences in armament, rudders, tailwheels, wheels, tires, external fuel tankage, exhaust pipes, wing root bulges, landing gear struts, and (seriously!) seat bulkheads and gear well interiors.
  Whatever your building experience, you'll end up with a giant pile of unused parts upon conclusion! I've already set aside an assortment for my Sword Mk. XIVE.
   I was so thrilled with this kit that in blind faith I bought several variations, plunged carelessly into the VIII, whipping the parts together just as soon as I could merrily cut them from the sprue. Suffice to say that with hindsight I don't recommend the 'slammer' approach to this particular kit, because it bit back. I was rewarded with quite few seams which required tedious and time-consuming filling, sanding and rescribing. All these different options make up for a very complex, modular kit for a 1/72 single-engine fighter, especially at the front end. I did recover, but it was a bigger pain in the ass than it should have been. That little bugger was taunting me! I wanted an immediate re-match. 

   The Mark IX was therefore dealt with differently, lessons learnt thoughtfully applied. I started by assembling the entire cockpit (except the control column and gunsight) with slow-setting cement to the left-hand fuselage half. If you're building the model with the canopy closed, add the entry door at this time--and slice off the flanges in its frame: you can close it more flush that way. The other fuselage half was dry-fitted and then taped to the first, the assembly left to cure. Check the canopy parts for correct fit while the fuselage is in this state. The following day the halves were opened and the cockpit painted and weathered    (If you're depicting the canopy opened, a separate, enlarged piece {#C12/C13} is used. Sand down the thickness of the entry door as much as you are able or use a resin aftermarket replacement)
   Next, the upper cowling halves were cemented not to each other but to their corresponding fuselage halves, then the fuselage halves were once again taped accurately together and with the cemented joints still pliable, the upper cowl halves gently nudged and poked here and there 'til they were lined up properly. The separate lower cowl was also test-fitted at this time; no issues.

   While this assembly was again set aside to cure I sanded down the mating surfaces of the upper wing trailing edges (Parts G33/35) just a little bit, 1/64" /.2mm or so. This will eliminate a tiny but annoying little step at that location. Also, per standard procedure for wingtip parts engineered this way glue the wing tips to the same upper wing parts and ensure they're flush with the upper camber: it's much easier to take care of any fit discrepancy if it appears at the wing leading edge rather than on top or bottom!
   The rest of the assembly was straightforward. Except for one thing: Eduard has molded the forward wing roots separately to cover still more variation. Just as you did with the upper cowls, cement these little pieces to the fuselage shortly before you fit the wing assembly to make sure they line up properly. 
   Oh, and the radiators, too. They're four parts each, six with photoetch, and they're 'handed'. Cement the sides and top and yes, you guessed it, dry-fit them to the wing to let them cure. Then fit and paint the etch radiator detail, if appropriate, glue the separate flap in the desired position, and glue the whole business in place.
   One more firm kick in the crotch was experienced with the tiny main wheels, engineered incomprehensibly into four parts. Each. Save yourself the swelling, ice pack, and octave change by purchasing BarracudaCast's resin wheels, available in a money-saving 3-pack. 
   Having engineered things this way, Eduard--with a Lee Harvey Oswald smirk on its face--offers us the wheels, radiator housings, upper cowling, and lower cowling, all as single-piece resin castings. Draw from that what you will.
Finishing was nothing mind-blowing here, just my usual combination of enamels sealed in by Future before a wash and other weathering.  I did take the time to really clean things off the second time around so all that fine surface detail would mean something. I used a combination of the Eduard kit decals, plus Fundekals and Kagero to provide individual markings for Texan Lance Wade's Mk. VIII and a Mk.IX from the RAF's Polish-manned 131 Wing. All these products performed well. 
   Despite almost everything I have written above, I conclude that this is a bold, magnificent little kit--a true milestone in the 1/72 world. I slightly regret passing on the Quattro Combo. But--if you haven't been picking up what I've been throwing down--it's a fiddly 'un! World War II single-engine fighters are normally an excellent entry point for the new modeler, but that's very much not the case here! Take your time, dry-fit, and think several steps ahead.
   If you want Eduard's resin and photoetch goodies and canopy masks, buy the Profipack or Quattro Combo kits. These accessories by themselves are prohibitively expensive, at least here on the left side of the Atlantic. The company's unique Overtrees offerings--only a buck or two cheaper than the street price of their Weekend editions are therefore not really a good deal either unless you have all these bits and a set of decs accumulated already.
   The moniker "Spitfire" is appropriate here. Sort of like a testy relationship with a complex and maintenance-intensive but ultimately beautiful and good woman, this kit will frustrate the unwary and reward the patient. 
   Hands-down the best Spitfire in 1/72. Caveat emptor!

Scutts, Jerry. Spitfire In Action. Squadron-Signal Publications, 1980
Sweetman, Ethel, Watanabe, et al. The Great Book of World War II Airplanes. Bonanza Books, 1984
Price, Alfred. Late Marque Spitfire Aces. Osprey Publishing, 1995

Ryan Grosswiler 

7 December 2020

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