Just occasionally a stash proves its worth. A couple or so years I picked up the Alley Cat 1/48th resin kit of the prototype Spirfire with of course the serious intent of getting on with it quite quickly and as always Something Else cropped up - I can't remember what, but as always there was an unexpected change in priorities (aren't they all?). I don't think it got properly stashed; it's box seems to have been sharing my room with the workbench and the laptop ever since if frequently changing resting places, taking lessons I suspect from the cat and copying the feline habit of finding new and slightly more comfortable places to curl up. Cats and modelling have shared my workspaces as you may recall from Tailpieces of long ago, Tallulah being our eleventh. I should have foreseen this activity as the kit is by Alley Cat; every so often the box reminded me it was in my line of sight but never quite persuaded me that I should get to work on it until the beginning of the year, when I realised that timing, as so often, would be important.
It's just about to be - at least, at the time I'm writing this - the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Supermarine 300's rollout at Eastleigh and the beginning of the legend, which gave me one good reason for adding another to my recent burst of Spitfires even if the name with which it became more than just famous wasn't to be attached to it for a little while. The resin kit came with a couple of solutions to recent if possibly self-imposed problems; it's in 1:48th which makes it easier for me to handle and to spot the occasional dropped part, and there are fewer parts to drop. The wing is in one piece, and so more or less is the fuselage, though the interior of the cockpit has to be inserted from below; this offered a slight challenge to my diminishing dexterity, and though I hope you won't see it the headrest and bulkhead behind the seat are slightly out of place. The quality of the resin castings was really very good, with very little work need in assembly and minimal filler.
One of the problems that for modellers making K5054 in its early life was its colour, and interpreting the black and white photos of its day has been a fruitful source of discussion. The kit instructions give very clear descriptions of its appearance in its first few weeks, until it appeared in public at Hendon with a large number 2 and a couple of external changes, notably to its rudder for which two alternatives are included. As so often when I've made Spitfires I spent some time referrring to the Eric Morgan and Edward Shacklady "Spitfire the History" - pages 28 and 29 in particular - and to be indubitabl y informed I consulted Neil Robinson. It's not what you know that counts, it's what who you know knows! The instructions describe a yellow/green zinc chromate primer finish, and after one or two test splodges and light stirring I settled on Tamiya's acrylic Royal Light Grey - does anyone know what makes it Royal? - with a smidgen of Humbrol's 226 interior green; I can see the tinge on the model, but it doesn't seem to show on the snaps I've included.
I like the result, and the flaws that I think are there are my doing rather than anyone elses. I was initially nervous about overlaying the black serials on their white backgrounds and ensuring that none of them appeared slightly offset; I timed their application for good morning daylight with a modicum of sun, and the first serious use of my new reading/modelling glasses. The style is so evident on the photos with which I was working that it would have looked quite wrong, and indeed disappointing, if I'd got any of it a millimetre out, and at the end I sat back with a substantial dose of smug. I have another personal reason for the timing which I've imposed on this, to which I may return in a couple of weeks; but making it did remind me that Eastleigh was where I learned to fly the Tiger Moth only seventeen years after K5054 got airborne; time, as they say, flies!
My time being taught to fly by the RCAF was enjoyable in so many ways, not least because of my double happy endings on both Harvard and T-33A. A rare bonus of my time there was the chance to see a Canadair-built Sabre; my abiding memory is of a camouflaged example from the Trenton-based Central Flying School parked in an evening sun (if only I could find the photo!). The Sabre has always been a photogenic aircraft, and had a multi-service career to enhance its name; several of my slightly older colleagues on the Hunter squadron with which I had a brief time had been on 67 on the Sabres that were its previous mount
It seems only right that having recently covered the Hunter in 1:48th, Airfix has tackled the RAF-flown Canadair Sabre F.4 which had been bought as an interim interceptor until the Hunter, and for a time the Swift, came on stream. For once I was delighted to find a model I really wanted to build in the larger scale and paused only very briefly on its arrival to ease the large box open and to check out the comprehensive build instruction to check how I was going to approach it and how I was going to re-shuffle my work bench on which I hadn't really left much room; still, it didn't match the acreage of the recent Javelin. Part of the Sabre's appeal as a subject for me is that most of its time with the RAF was spent with 2nd TAF; Linton's 66 and 92 were all very shiny and well, but the Sabre does look better with PRU blue undersides.
Just about everyone's instructions these days are pictorial, usually multi-part coloured, and definitely multi-paged; I tried to follow the build sequence set out on the several pages, but found that some of my instincts made me scratch my head from time to time. This was probably both helped and confused by the number of "extra" parts; there are several panels and pieces to enable furnished gun bays to be included, and accessed. I suspect that there are many modellers, especially those who prefer 1:48th, who want to make full use of these, but in this case I wanted to get with on the the aircraft quickly, not least so that I should get it up on GOMcom as quickly as possble after an overlong period of silence! I would have liked to have finished it with 67 Squadron's "fighter bars" but sadly they're not yet available in this scale (I live as always in constant hope). The Xtradecal set does however include the 93 Squadron colours, and I had a very good friend in my early days at the Southern Air Traffic Control Centre who had bent one of these at Jever, and I've always liked the markings.
In retrospect I would have found my going through the instructions easier had I had enough space to lay out all the sprues (or if you prefer "runners") while working the progress through the eighty-nine steps! Maybe next time, or if/when when the Mark 6 appears (434 Sqn "Bluenose", please). Once I'd decided what I could ignore it became simpler, with only one fit problem which maybe evident in the photo; part B5 is the panel covering the port gun bay but being inserted in to the port fuselage half and it wasn't a flush fit (I've subseqently found that this wasn't just with mine). Otherwise I've very pleased with the outcome, and I would like to be in a position to build two more just as soon as the decals are available! Among the several useful books which you should consult is RAF Sabres by Duncan Curtiss from which I learned, before it went to ground under another pile of research material, that 93 formed a four-plane aerobatic team that became known as the Golden Arrows (some time before the black ones!). The Boss, Sq.Ldr Desmond Browne, was able to get permission from 2TAF to fly without drop tanks to make aerobatic practice easier, which means there were another six plastic pieces I didn't have to use.
I like the idea of being able to leave the airbrakes open; the kit decals are designed to make it easy to fit each marking in two parts, and dividing the Xtradecal panels provided extra amusement. They're often visible open on photos of parked Sabres, and my memory is that the big inner undercarriage doors, and the rear nosewheel door, were also often seen hanging vertically. I think that this happened as the hydraulic pressure died once the aircraft was shut down and I suspect that flaps also drooped for the same reason, but I need more research; this will surely ask for a little minor surgery.
There is a particular reason I want to make a 434 Mark 6. Not long before many of the 2TAF Hunter units were disbanded 67 had a week detached to Zweibrucken hosted by Canadian "Bluenose" squadron, and incidentally celebrating my 21st birthday. With my T-Bird training I was offered the chance of a flight in one of their F-86s which I accepted very gratefully, only for the weather on our last day to stop it. I try very hard not to have regrets but this is one after all these years which still nags, I don't care what Edith Piaf sings!
I took the just-completed - I'm reluctant to say finished - the Sword, with which I was pleased for the reasons I've outlined to the grand reopening of the Thames Valley group's monthly get together, where I was offerred some critical comments from a very good modeller I must have known for well over thirty years, with which I couldn't disagree. I am told that Airfix'x expected re-issues don't involve an early slatted wing, so could someone please work out a resin conversion to cover the RAF's early arrivals to coincide with 67 decals? And with a rumoured possibility of an Canadian Mark 6 kit, someone please produce a comprehensive selection of their unit markings. I'll probably down lay at least one more of the current kit, just in case the rumours are not necessarily true; no conflict with my current considerable stash clearance programme of course!
If there's any doubt on RAF unit decal opportunities, please consult any of Dick Ward's 1:72nd sets - of course you've got then somewhere - or Volume 2 of Roger Lindsay's invaluable Cold War Shield series. No home should be without any of them!
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