First 2019 new tooling announcement
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. We are guessing that the title of our latest blog has already managed to grab your attention, particularly as we are under absolutely no illusions as to what you all like to hear about more than anything else. We are delighted to confirm that the main subject of this latest edition of Workbench will be the unveiling of our first 2019 new tooling announcement, including a series of exclusive ‘First Look’ images from the project, made available to Airfix Workbench readers before anyone else gets to enjoy them. But what will the new model be and importantly, which scale will it be produced in? For the answers to these important questions and for your first look at this fantastic new kit project, please keep reading – it would also be interesting to hear your views on the new model, so please head over to our Airfix Forum and letting us know what you think. OK, that’s enough with the delaying tactics, now let’s get on with making that all important announcement.
Aviation classic for Airfix in 2019
Exciting times – there is nothing quite like the unveiling of a new Airfix kit
Throughout the history of powered flight, there have been numerous aircraft types which can claim to have made a significant contribution to man’s dream of conquering the skies, many of which have gone on to earn almost legendary status, however, the term ‘aviation classic’ is one which is used all too readily these days and should really be reserved for a small number of the most famous aeroplanes from the past 115 years. Undoubtedly, we could all present perfectly reasonable arguments for any number of the aircraft we are most passionate about to take their place in this aviation hangar of classics, but space is limited in there and should really be reserved for the most significant aeroplanes in history and the ones which are not only familiar to industry professionals and aviation enthusiasts, but also to a large percentage of the general population. On both of these counts, the subject of our latest new model tooling project is indeed an aviation classic and if not the single most famous and instantly recognisable aircraft type in the history of flight, it can certainly claim to be within this exalted formation.
Can you tell what it is yet? Last chance to guess before the big reveal
As far as the development of aviation is concerned, there can be no disputing the impact that two devastating world wars had on the pace of technological advancement and witnessed the aeroplane evolve from a slow moving flimsy wood and fabric reconnaissance platform, to the speed and destructive power possessed by the world’s first operational jet fighter, with many significant aircraft in between. It is therefore not surprising that many of the world’s most famous aircraft and many of those which could qualify for the coveted ‘classic’ status either served in or were developed during either the First or Second World Wars and it is this era of flight which served as inspiration for our latest new model tooling project, a mid-production version of one of the world’s most famous fighting aeroplanes – something of a ‘Super Spitfire’.
The aviation pedigree of the Supermarine Spitfire is beyond reproach, one of the most famous aircraft ever produced and an aircraft which symbolised the defiance of the free world against the aggression and military might of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. Testament to the enduring fascination of this magnificent aircraft, even though the prototype Spitfire took to the air back in March 1936, thousands of people attended the recent Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow for the chance to see 18 restored examples of this famous fighter flying in formation for just a single historic and extremely evocative flypast. Produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft, the Spitfire was in constant production throughout the Second World War, with the basic airframe capable of readily accepting upgrades and improvements which maintained the aircraft’s position as one of the most capable single engined fighting aeroplanes of WWII. With the first Spitfires arriving at RAF Duxford in August 1938, the final operational RAF Spitfire sortie took place on 1st April 1954, with the final non-operational THUM flight occurring three years later – indeed, with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight still regularly flying several restored examples of the Spitfire at Airshows and commemorative flypasts around the country, it could be argued that this superb aircraft is still flying from operational RAF bases 80 years after they first entered Royal Air Force service. A wartime British aircraft which is familiar to millions of people all around the world.
The ‘Beast’ of Eastleigh
The mighty Griffon powered Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV was a brute of an aeroplane
Even before the Spitfire rose to prominence during the savage dogfights of the Battle of Britain, engineers at Rolls Royce had already started the development of a more powerful version of the Merlin engine which was proving to be such a successful powerplant in British aircraft, but which only had limited future development potential. Using what they had learned with the Merlin programme, the new engine would still have twelve cylinders, but would be a larger and more powerful unit, with an increased capacity of 36.7 litres and a power output of 1,700hp (as opposed to a Merlin II, which had an output of around 1,000hp). Clearly, this would make the new engine both larger and heavier than the Merlin, however, the most impressive aspect of the design work behind this latest engine was that through clever engineering and the repositioning of various components, all this extra power was achieved at the expense of just a modest increase in the engines length, width and weight. Essentially, with just some relatively superficial improvements and alterations, this new engine could be used to power a Spitfire.
In keeping with the Rolls Royce tradition of naming their engines after birds of prey, their powerful new unit was named Griffon, after the Griffon Vulture and work to marry the engine with the Spitfire airframe began in the late summer of 1941. The first Griffon powered Spitfire took to the skies at the end of November 1941 and was basically a Mk.V airframe with this new beast of an engine attached – this first configuration highlighted that there was still much work to do before the Spitfire could be powered by this new unit, but encouraged everyone involved with the project that it possessed great potential and was worthy of further development. A second aircraft flew for the first time in August the following year and was used in comparison trials with both a Hawker Typhoon and a captured Focke Wulf Fw190, where it proved to be an impressive performer, especially at lower altitudes. One of the major differences noted with the new engine was the totally different sound it gave the Spitfire – gone was the cultured purr of the Merlin engine, to be replaced by the aggressive growl of the Griffon.
Sharing much commonality with the classic Spitfire shape, this image of a restored Mk.XIV clearly shows where this Griffon powered machine differed from earlier types
The first Rolls Royce Griffon powered Spitfires to enter Royal Air Force service were the Mk.XIIs of Nos 41 and 91 Squadrons from January 1943, which whilst representing a significant stage in the wartime development of the Spitfire, were not regarded as an overwhelming success. The extra power provided by the Griffon engine posed some initial problems for pilots converting from Merlin powered machines, not least of which was the significant torque produced by this powerful engine and its massive propeller, allied to the fact that the propeller turned in the opposite direction to the Merlin. As earlier Spitfires had a tendency to swing to the right on take-off, this was reversed on the clockwise turning Griffon, which could have serious implications for a converting pilot calling on his previous Spitfire experiences. Employing a single stage supercharger, the Spitfire Mk.XII proved to be something of a disappointment at higher altitudes, even though it was more than capable of challenging the hit and run Luftwaffe raiders which were attacking southern coastal towns in the months following its service introduction. Around 100 of these aircraft would eventually be produced, serving for twelve months in the home defence role, although they were also employed on fighter reconnaissance sweeps over Northern France and their own strike raids against Luftwaffe bases on the near continent. Ultimately though, only two squadrons would be equipped with the Mk.XII, as something much more capable was just around the corner.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV – The Griffon comes of age
As was the case with many of the Spitfire variants throughout its service career, the Mk.XIV was only intended as an interim version of the fighter, with the later Mk.XVIII being fully developed as the next major variant of the fighter. As it was, the Mk.XIV would go on to be the definitive fighting Rolls Royce Griffon engined variant of the Spitfire, ensuring that this classic aeroplane remained at the forefront of world fighter design in the final months of the Second World War. Most of these aircraft were powered by the Griffon 65 series engine, which featured a two speed, two stage supercharger with intercooler, which gave the Spitfire Mk.XIV excellent performance at all altitudes and significantly, made it a match for anything the Luftwaffe had in widespread service. The adoption of this new powerplant gave the Mk.XIV a very different appearance to that of the earlier Griffon powered Spitfires, particularly as this latest powerplant was mounted ten inches further forward from the engine bulkhead, with the top angled slightly towards the ground. Producing 2,050hp, the engine drove a huge five bladed Rotol propeller, the torque from which necessitated some lateral stability modifications and the adoption of an enlarged vertical stabiliser and larger rudder. The intercooler also necessitated the inclusion of two larger underwing radiators, although initially, the famous Spitfire elliptical wing was still employed.
Spitting fire! The mighty Griffon engine busts into life on this rare example of a restored Spitfire Mk.XIV
The front profile of the Spitfire Mk.XIV is dominated by the massive 10ft 5in diameter, five bladed propeller and its huge spinner, coupled with the bulged upper cowling – this is undeniably a beast of an aeroplane. It is also noticeable how little clearance there is between the propeller tips and the ground, something which required careful management by the pilot during both take-off and landing and when combined with the significant torque produced by the engine/propeller combination, these powerful fighters were definitely something of a handful. With the swing on take-off and the propeller turning in the opposite direction to the Merlin engine, pilots were initially extremely weary of this new breed of Spitfire, feeling that whereas the earlier Spitfires they were used to where a forgiving, gentleman’s type of aeroplane, these new monsters appeared to be trying to kill you from the minute you strapped yourself in. Once these initial conversion misgivings had been overcome, the Mk.XIV proved to be an exceptional fighting aeroplane and a significant improvement in almost every aspect of its operation, when compared to the existing Spitfires in RAF service, including an all important speed increase which approached an impressive 80mph over the first Mk.I machines. Once tamed, the Spitfire Mk.XIV proved to be superior to the latest versions of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke Wulf Fw190 and provided the RAF with a capable new fighter at a critical period in WWII, when Allied superiority was finally beginning to grind the Luftwaffe into inevitable submission. Significantly, the benefits of marrying this latest version of the Griffon engine with the Spitfire airframe was achieved with relative ease and other than design modifications to both the nose and tail sections, this was basically a Spitfire, only bigger and more powerful.
The first RAF squadron to receive the new Spitfire Mk.XIV was No.610 (County of Chester) Squadron based at Exeter in January 1944, quickly followed by Nos 91 and 322 Squadrons. The pilots of these units had managed to get to grips with their new Super Spitfires by early June, just in time to challenge a sinister new threat facing southern Britain, as the Germans unleashed their indiscriminate V1 flying bomb campaign in the wake of the successful Allied D-Day landings. These speedy new Spitfires were charged with combatting this flying menace and powered by new 150 octane fuel, which provided an additional 30mph speed boost, they could easily catch the pulse jet flying bombs, which began to fall in some numbers to their guns - by the end of the V-1 bombing campaign, over 300 Doodlebugs had fallen to the guns of RAF Spitfire Mk.XIVs, which must have saved countless innocent lives below. The Spitfires were also required to hunt down high altitude Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft sent to gather information over Britain, as the pace of technology saw a significant increase in the performance of both Allied and Axis aircraft at that time.
One specific area of concern regarding the service introduction of the Griffon powered Spitfire Mk.XIV was the discovery of localised stressed skin wrinkling on the wings and fuselage at loading points. Although reassured by Supermarine that the airframe had not been over-stressed and the aircraft were not in danger of suffering structural failure, the RAF insisted that all F and FR versions of the aircraft should be fitted with clipped wings, thus reducing the potential impact of wing stress and irreversibly altering the appearance of the aircraft. As the war progressed, the Mk.XIV was used extensively by the 2nd Tactical Air Force in northern Europe as both their main high altitude air superiority fighter and as a high speed reconnaissance platform, proving to be proficient in both roles. As something of a speed machine, the Griffon powered Spitfires were also employed in hunting the new Messerschmitt jet fighter, the Me 262, but these were to be elusive targets for RAF Spitfires, with American units proving to be more successful in finding and shooting them down. For what was originally intended as an interim Spitfire upgrade, the Mk XIV would become a major and extremely successful variant of this famous aircraft, with 957 examples constructed before the end of 1944 – the cultured Spitfire had been given muscles and a distinctive growl.
Airfix to introduce a new Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk.XIV in 1/48th scale
A first look at one of the computer rendered 3D images produced in support of our new Spitfire Mk.XIV project and doesn’t she look magnificent … Spitfire heaven
As far as the plastic modelling hobby is concerned, Airfix and the Supermarine Spitfire have always been inextricably linked, ever since our first aircraft model kit was released back in 1955, which was of course a Spitfire. Since that date, there have been hundreds of different Spitfire releases, representing various marks of the fighter in kit form and in several scales, as the modellers fascination with this most famous fighter continues to endure to this day. Indeed the current kit range can boast examples of Britain’s most famous fighting aeroplane from the Mk.1a to the F.Mk.24 and Spitfire models are always amongst the most popular kits in any Airfix range. Not only is the Spitfire a particularly handsome and instantly recognisable aircraft, with 20,351 examples produced (and a further 2,646 Seafires) there is no shortage of subject matter for either Airfix as a manufacturer or the modeller who is looking for an interesting build project to tackle.
With such a rich heritage in producing scale representations of the Spitfire, we have manged to build up a vast collection of research materials, original drawings and photographs relating to Spitfire production, meaning that we probably know the Spitfire better than any other aircraft. This certainly proved advantageous when the decision was taken to further increase our Spitfire kit line-up with the inclusion of a newly tooled example of the Fighter/Reconnnaissance version of the Spitfire Mk.XIV in 1/48th scale, arguably the most purposeful and aggressive looking of all the Spitfires produced. With its slightly longer nose and larger tail section, the Mk.XIV’s appearance is dominated by the massive five-bladed Rotol propeller which could drag this Griffon powered beast to speeds in excess of 390 mph (when using 150 octane fuel) and turned it into an extremely effective V-1 killer. Although retaining the centre section and classic lines of the cultured Spitfire, the Mk.XIV was something of its big brother who nobody wanted to mess with.
An exclusive selection of screenshot images taken from various stages in the development of our new Spitfire Mk.XIV. This image is the project starting point and shows shape data from the 2014 Spitfire Mk.1 base model. The solid coloured areas are sections which can be used on this new project and illustrate just how much the Spitfire changed throughout its production lifespan. As you can see, our designers have much work to do
A copy of the original Supermarine ‘lines’ drawing, showing the shape of the 2-stage Griffon cowling. It shows how to lay out a set of 3D coordinates to trace the panel shapes around the mighty engine
This Supermarine offset table was the key to producing the correct shape of the cowling and cam covers for the Griffon Spitfire. The information had to be re-calculated down to 1/48th scale, before it could be used in design software – highly technical work
Our popular 1/48th scale range of kits has been growing steadily over recent years and has benefitted from such recent significant releases as the Walrus, Sea Fury and Mustang, so it was definitely about time that a new kit of the Spitfire joined its popular ranks. For an aircraft with such an impressive appearance as the Spitfire Mk.XIV, this larger scale will really help to give a greater appreciation of the awesome power possessed this fighter and how it must have been a fearsome aircraft both to fly and to face in combat. Representing a significant stage in the development of the famous Spitfire, our new 1/48th scale FR Mk.XIV is the first new tooling announcement from our forthcoming 2019 kit range and we are delighted to be sharing these details with you now.
Over the past few years, Workbench readers have become familiar with the methods used by the Airfix design team in taking existing data, be this from accurate scans, or from original production drawings and converting this information into digital information which can be used by their powerful design software and helping them produce the most accurate model representations of some of the world’s most famous aircraft. As modest as they are, they will always make this process sound much simpler than it actually is and often omit to mention that certain projects could result in them spending many months working on a particular kit. They also conveniently forget to reaffirm that they not only have to produce an accurate representation of a famous aeroplane, but they also have to prepare it for manufacture as a scale kit, accepting all the limitations of current manufacturing technologies and making it a logical and enjoyable experience for the modeller. Although they wouldn’t admit it themselves, they are quite a talented bunch really.
A nose section curve, drawn using the scaled down dimensions. The CAD software did highlight some minor errors in the original data, but this was easily remedied by our designers
More Supermarine drawings, this time showing the complex shape of the cam cover blisters and acting as a reference for the offset table data. The new Airfix Spitfire was built up in the same way as a Supermarine built machine, just using different technology
Once the datum curves have been ‘plotted out’, the surface skin of the Spitfire can be laid over the top, revealing the distinctive shape of the longer Griffon nose of the Mk.XIV
The design lead on this new Spitfire project was only too happy to let us have details of the work he has been engaged in over the past few weeks, which included sending us a fascinating selection of images to illustrate some of his points. The huge amount of Spitfire data the team have built up over the years certainly came in useful at the outset of this project and they were able to call upon computer base model shape data from the Spitfire Mk.1 kit, which was produced back in 2014. This allowed common areas of the Spitfire’s design to be used, leaving areas such as the nose, tail, canopy, undercarriage and radiators to be further researched and designed. He could then call upon such information as original Supermarine ‘lines’ drawings, which detailed the shape of the Spitfire’s front cowling, over the Griffon two-stage engine – all this information has to be collated with the design software used in the production of new kits and meticulously checked and verified against photographs and actual production drawings from the 1940s.
One of the most interesting discussions we had was in connection with the original Supermarine ‘offset data table’ information, which proved so crucial in ensuring the correct shape for the cowling and cam covers of the Griffon powered Spitfire. Each one of these values represents an individual shape plot which can be imported into the CAD software, but before that can happen, each figure must be painstakingly re-calculated to a 1/48th scale value. This work requires meticulous attention to detail and actually highlighted some anomalies in the original Supermarine data, producing a plot value which was clearly outside the line of the section profile. During wartime Spitfire production, this would have easily been spotted and rectified during construction, as it simply would not have looked right, however, these were the days of engineering craftsmen and well before the advent of computer aided design. Where these computer anomalies occurred, the designer would have to use his experience in ensuring that the incorrect values could be tweaked, allowing a smooth and realistic Spitfire shape to be mapped.
A final development selection. The mighty tail of the Griffon powered Spitfire was needed to counteract the significant torque produced by the engine. Again, archive drawings were used to construct the geometry needed
Datum lines and curves are drawn to act as a skeleton for the model, carefully following the original Supermarine engineering drawings
Detail can be added once the basic shapes have been constructed. Here, ribs have been added to allow a subtle fabric effect to be included on the kit
Copies of Supermarine General Arrangement drawings were used on this project, along with the careful checking of photographs, to ensure the authenticity of detail included
Using the original Supermarine drawings, it is possible to see how the complex shape of the engine cam cover blisters were constructed and how this correlates to the offset table data values on the chart. In essence the creation of the Airfix Spitfire production model data is done in the same way as a full size Spitfire was designed, just using very different technology and fewer people. Once the basic skeleton of the Spitfire has been produced, the software is powerful enough to allow numerous design options to be accessed by the designer, including the creation of internal detail, texturing of the aircraft’s skin where required and a host of other options to help illustrate how the new model will look. All this is constantly checked against original drawing data to ensure the shape accuracy of the overall aircraft and that of individual components.
Rendering a Griffon Spitfire
As fascinating as the design engineers work is, the computer generated images which always command the most attention are the three dimensional renders which really bring the project to life and even at this early stage of development, make the new Airfix Spitfire seem a reality. Used to illustrate new development projects within Airfix catalogues and circulated to the modelling press in advance of a new kit’s release, these appealing images are now very familiar to Workbench readers and help us all to get quite excited about these future projects, even though they may be some months away. The creation of these images is just another feature of the powerful design software used at Airfix, although they certainly require the input of a knowledgeable CAD design professional to ensure the images are as appealing as they could be. Always operating under a heavy workload, a project designer may be asked to produce these images many months after completing his work on a particular model, requiring him to break off from his latest ‘Top Secret’ modelling project to do so. Here is a final selection of computer rendered 3D images from the new 1/48th scale Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk.XIV (A05135):
A virtual computer generated 3D rendered image tour around the new 1/48th scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV A05135, a kit which is surely destined for future Airfix greatness
Still retaining the classic shape of the Spitfire, the powerful Mk.XIV was a beast of an aeroplane and needed taming by pilots who were converting from the Merlin powered machines
The computer rendered images we are now so familiar with can show some of the detail incorporated into the new kit
We are looking forward to bringing you much more detail from this exciting new tooling project over the coming months, as the Spitfire Mk.XIV approaches its 2019 release date
The Supermarine Spitfire is without doubt, one of the best looking aircraft ever to take to the skies and one which earned a reputation which is unequalled in the world of aviation. Of the various marks of Spitfire manufactured during its ten year production run, arguably, the aggressive looking Griffon powered Mk.XIV appeared to be the most purposeful and certainly made the Merlin powered fighters look a little tame by comparison. Retaining the heritage of this classic Supermarine fighter, the Mk.XIV was a bit of a beast and seemed to be the result of a desire to fit the largest and most powerful engine available into the diminutive frame of the famous Spitfire. Rather than being an ungainly looking hybrid, the Mk.XIV was a thoroughbred in its own right and ensured that Britain’s Spitfire remained one of the world’s most capable fighting aeroplanes until the end of the Second World War.
Our new 1/48th scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV kit will be available during 2019 and we look forward to bringing you further updates from this fantastic new model as they become available – we also hope to have a prototype sample model of the kit on display at November’s Scale ModelWorld Show, which is just one of many reasons to come and visit the Airfix stand at Telford. We look forward to showing you our all new Spitfire then.
Modellers Special event with the Historic Aircraft Collection at Duxford
In a development which may feature some of the details included in this latest edition of Workbench, the good people at the Historic Aircraft Collection will soon be holding their first ‘At Home’ event dedicated to the world of plastic modelling and in particular, the accurate scale representation of Spitfires. Featuring a presentation by our Lead researcher Mr Simon Owen, the event will be held in the HAC building at Duxford on Saturday 20th October - attendance is by prior booking only and places are extremely limited.
As well as enjoying Simon’s fascinating talk, all guests will have the opportunity to experience unrivalled access to the HAC aircraft collection, which includes a Great War de Havilland DH9, Hawker Fury, Hawker Nimrod, Hurricane and Spitfire, which will certainly be a real bonus for modellers. For everyone else, some memorable Spitfire selfies will be very much on the cards. Attendees will also have the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of famous Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb BM597, one of the most active airworthy Spifires on the UK Airshow circuit. In the words of the HAC team, why not ‘put the reference books down and come see, feel and smell the real thing for yourself?’
That’s another edition of Workbench completed and the first of our 2019 new tooling announcements exclusively revealed to our readers. We will be back as usual in two weeks’ time and although we can’t promise more new tooling scoops, we will have a further selection of Airfix modelling delights for your enjoyment. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for subjects you would like to see covered in a future edition of the blog, or ways in which we could enhance your enjoyment of Workbench, please do not hesitate in contacting us. We can be reached via our usual e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org or by contributing to our Workbench thread over on the Airfix Forum. If social media is more your style, you could access either the Airfix Facebook page or our Twitter channel, using #airfixworkbench where you will find plenty of modelling news, views and discussion. Whichever medium you decide to use, please do get in touch, as it is always interesting to hear from fellow modelling enthusiasts and the projects you have on the go at the moment.
As always, the Airfix website is the place to go for all the latest model release information, with our New Arrivals, Coming Soon and Last Chance to Buy sections all accessed by clicking on the above links. As updating the website is a constant process, a quick search through each section of the Airfix web pages will reveal new information and updated images in many of the product sections and this is always an enjoyable and rewarding way to spend a few minutes.
The next edition of Workbench is due to be published on Friday 12th October, when we look forward to bringing you all the latest news, updates and exclusives from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.
On behalf of the entire Workbench team, thank you for continuing to support our Airfix blog.
The Airfix Workbench Team
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