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Tamiya’s super early Spitfire

FineScale Modeler reviews the 1/48 scale aircraft kit with fine surface detail
Singing the praises of Tamiya kits is easy, but the Japanese manufacturer may have exceeded its past achievements with its new 1/48 scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I. Not only is it beautifully molded to capture the shapes and subtlety of the fighter’s lines, but the engineering is first rate eliminating common Spitfire bugaboos, such as the angle of the main landing gear legs and wheels.

The kit includes several nice options, including different windshields, antenna masts, pitot tubes, and some cockpit controls to model pre-war and early war Spitfires. 

Posing Spitfire cockpits open has always presented problems for kit manufacturers because the sliding section is usually too thick to sit properly over the spine. Tamiya provides optional upper fuselage inserts to solve this problem. For the open position, a recess section holds the sliding section perfectly without being visible on the finished model.

Other features include a photo-etched (PE) fret with seat belts, radiator and oil-cooler screens, an early iron-circle gunsight, rudder pedal straps, rudder-hinge detail, and an antenna wire attachment for the later mast.

In addition to beautifully printed decals for three aircraft, the kit provides printed, but not pre-cut, masks for the canopies, and a set of self-adhesive “molding stickers” — 3-D metal details for the pre-war fuel tank cover and canopy vent.

The instructions clearly point out which options are appropriate for the marking options. In the cockpit, several controls and instruments need to be modified for the different versions.

Before starting, decide whether you are building the canopy closed or open; I chose the latter. The optional fuselage inserts fit along panel lines, but they presented the only fit challenge. Perhaps because they are long and plastic is thin, the inserts wanted to bow in slightly as the glue set. I was trying not to put too much pressure on them to avoid squeezing glue out of the seam that would interfere with the recessed panel line. In the end, I had to prevent a step forming on the seam.

From there, construction progressed smoothly. The detailed cockpit benefits from careful painting, so pay attention to the color callouts.

The PE seat belts have nice detail and are flexible enough to conform to the seat with gentle pressure and super glue. 

Tamiya provides a brace so you can’t pull the frames out of alignment while installing the long shoulder harness that mounts on the rearmost frame. An optional harness is provided to fit the pilot if used.

The instrument panel decals conform to the molded dials and instruments. The cockpit is comprehensive and a few placards are the only detail needed. 

With the cockpit painted and ready, the rest of the airframe went together in a couple of hours. 

I needed just a little super glue to eliminate the seam along the top of the engine cowl and on the spine. Be sure to remove any trace of the join at the rear of the upper nose (part G30); the entire upper cowl is one panel on Spitfires.

The horizontal stabilizer includes a full span lower part that fits a slot at the base of the vertical tail for perfect alignment. 

The wing is another fine piece of engineering including three-part wheel well surrounds that lock into alignment and a long center piece for the leg bays. The separate wingtips slip into perfect position thanks to long locating tabs as do the separate ailerons. Then, the entire wing clicked into place without needing any filler or sanding. Again all of the joins, including the wing roots and rear fuselage, fall on panel lines.

I can’t say enough about how easily Tamiya deals with the main gear legs. They are molded together with a long bracket in-between. Once mounted on the fuselage the alignment is set without the need for constant adjustment as the glue sets. Separate panels and the chin intake conceal the central bracket. I left off the gear legs for painting, but taped the panels in place with white glue. Sturdy axles set the wheels at the Spitfire’s distinctive angle.

Careful cutting with a new No. 11 blade separated the masks for the canopy and they fit their respective sections easily. I attached the windshield and rear section with clear-part cement before painting. These are the best fitting clear parts I’ve seen; they virtually click into place!

Choosing the Dunkirk Spitfire from the options, I painted it with AK-Interactive Real Color acrylic lacquers. The aircraft  looks especially sharp with the black, white, and aluminum undersurfaces.

The decals, including numerous stencils, went on cleanly over a coat of clear gloss with a little setting solution.

After final assembly, my Spitfire was ready for flight. An enjoyable build from start to finish, I recommend it to just about anyone, but a little experience with PE is an advantage. Kudos to Tamiya for continuing to engineer first-rate kits and I hope it continues the Spitfire line.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the May 2019 issue.
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