Sabre parts first look exclusive
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.
The previous edition of Workbench proved to be something of a Spitfirefest and whilst we did manage to include features which included both Rolls Royce Griffon and Merlin engine powered variants of the fighter, we ran out of time and space to complete the Spitfire Vc scheme review we had planned. We are nothing if not true to our word, so as promised, this latest edition will include details of the two fascinating scheme options which will be included in the first release from our new 1/72nd scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc tooling (A02108), both of which are an interesting departure from usual Spitfire fare.
Before we get back to Spitfires, we have a host of exclusive imagery to bring you, as we showcase the first test frames from the new 1/48th scale Canadair Sabre F.4 tooling, in addition to looking at two military vehicle projects which were developed simultaneously by two of our talented young product designers – we will be including the thoughts of both within the feature. Indeed, the Airfix young guns are definitely taking over this latest edition of Workbench, as we include updates from four new tooling projects which have their names next to them.
With all the latest Airfix model development news awaiting your inspection, it’s time to pull away the chocks and speed headlong into this latest Workbench update.
A jet fighter of class and distinction
With so many new model projects advancing through the various stages of development at the moment, there is never any shortage of new content for our blog and whilst readers will undoubtedly have their own particular favourite new tooling projects, it is still fascinating to see how our team manage to bring a new model kit to market. If your modelling interest lies with classic post war jet fighters, then you would have no doubt been delighted to see the announcement of our new 1/48th scale tooling of the Canadair Sabre F.4, when inspecting the 2020 range at the turn of the year, an aircraft which definitely qualifies for the title of aviation icon. For many, the Sabre is regarded as an aircraft which could be described as the first thoroughbred jet fighter in history of aviation, but even if that statement is a little contentious for some, anyone with even the slightest interest in early jet aviation modelling will be delighted to hear that a we are now in a position to reveal the first test frame images produced from this exciting new tooling project.
When looking at the beautifully clean lines of the North American designed Sabre jet fighter, you may not initially see design elements of its famous WWII piston engined predecessor in its profile, but this was in many ways a jet powered version of the Mustang. With the P-51 Mustang having the reputation of being arguably the finest fighting aeroplane of the Second World War, it is no wonder that the design team at North American Aviation were quick to apply all their previous knowledge of high speed flight into producing a new jet powered fighter at the earliest possible opportunity. Their initial effort incorporated a straight wing design, similar to other early jet aircraft of the period, however, as the team had access to captured German flight research data, this would soon change.
Revealed for the very first time, the following series of images show the first component test frames produced from the new Canadair Sabre F.4 tooling, detailing what we all have to look forward to with the release of this exciting kit. Bringing the classic shape of the Sabre to 1/48th scale, it is already clear to see just how much detail our designer Thomas has managed to incorporate into this model, which is a representation of a true aviation icon
Their next design altered the previous wing to incorporate a 35 degree sweep, determined that their new aircraft would be able to attain speeds greater than any existing front line fighter. This search for speed also endowed the fighter with a beautifully streamlined fuselage, whilst also retaining the exceptional pilot visibility possessed by the ‘D’ variant of the hugely successful wartime Mustang. Complete with three nose mounted .50 calibre machine guns positioned on either side of the aircraft’s front fuselage, the new North American F-86 Sabre was a true pilot’s aeroplane and an extremely capable flying ‘Gunslinger’. Sharing many of the tried and trusted successful design philosophies possessed by its famous piston engined predecessor, surely this was already a future classic in the making. Significantly though, even though it may have been a beautiful machine to look at, it was a deadly fighting aeroplane at heart.
A spectacular addition to the Airfix range, there is no doubting that the aesthetic appeal of the Sabre would look great in any scale, but in the slightly larger 1/48th scale, it will be almost irresistible – a classic kit of a classic aeroplane, if you will. Possessing real display stature, the extra size of this kit will make for a spectacular display piece, showing off the smooth lines of the aircraft, whilst at the same time giving an accurate impression of its overall stature. With the CAD design complete (accepting possible design tweaks) and the tooling blocks themselves designed and approved, the next stage is to inject plastic through the tools and to closely inspect the component frames produced. These frames are sent to Airfix HQ, where the designer responsible for the project has the honour of opening the box and casting his eye over the contents first. The exclusive selection of images we are showing throughout this feature are the very first test frames inspected by our designer Thomas and even though they may still be subject to design modification, certainly show what we all have to look forward to in the near future.
Sprue exclusive, workbench view style. Now standard procedure when we show new tooling test frame images, here are the same shots featured above, but this time from a workstation angle, the view most of us will be familiar with when undertaking a new build project. This is one future release many readers will be looking forward to tackling in the not too distant future
The first release from this impressive new tooling is the Canadair Sabre M.4 variant of this historic aircraft. Following their decision to join NATO in 1949, Canada were forced to consider both the upgrade and expansion of their existing Air Force capabilities, including the selection of a new fighter aircraft. The most appropriate aircraft to fulfil this role was the American built Sabre, however, the Canadian public were not keen on their military simply buying another US built aircraft, preferring a British designed and built type, if such a deal could be struck. As something of a compromise, the Canadian military eventually did select the American Sabre, but a licence built Canadian version of the aircraft. Only the first production aircraft was built using exclusively US manufactured components, with the remainder being 85% Canadian produced – these aircraft would also be powered by engines which were entirely produced in Canada.
Interestingly, many of these Canadian built machines would be operated by the Royal Air Force during the early Cold War period, as they required an aircraft more capable than the existing Meteors and Vampires which equipped their squadrons. Although the intention was to replace these early jets with indigenously produced Supermarine Swift and Hawker Hunter fighters, both of these new types were suffering protracted development delays which proved serious enough to require remedial action. With the need now pressing, the RAF procured hundreds of Canadian built Sabre fighters as something of an aviation stop-gap, mainly to equip their front line squadron’s based in Germany. Britain received three loaned Canadair Sabre Mk.2s in October 1952, to be used in preparation for a much larger delivery of 428 Mk.4 variants to be delivered over a twelve month period from December 1952.
In this larger 1/48th scale, the new Sabre will look absolutely spectacular and from the perspective of Royal Air Force history, will sit perfectly between our Gloster Meteor and Hawker Hunter kits in a scale jet fighter timeline
Despite the fact that these aircraft would ultimately have a relatively short service career with the RAF, they played an important role at a critical time in world history and helped to ensure Europe did not explode into conflict so soon after the end of the Second World War.
This new 1/48th scale kit will provide modellers with a beautifully accurate scale representation of this historically important aircraft, one which is often overlooked as a post war RAF type. The sight of these first test frame images confirm just how good this new model is going to look and something tells us that the short, but eventful RAF career of the Canadair Sabre Mk.4 is destined to receive some long overdue attention following the release of this new kit. The next stage in the Sabre’s development is to see the constructed model from these parts, incorporating any slight alterations the designer may wish to make, followed by scheme details and a fully painted build. We look forward to bringing you those details very soon, but for now, hope you have enjoyed seeing these exclusive test frame images.
Airfix 'Young Guns' go all military vehicle
An early product development render featuring two of the Second World War’s most formidable tanks and a new tooling pairing which would see two of our youngest product designers working closely together
Over the course of the past five and a half years and 133 editions of our blog, it has been a privilege to bring Workbench readers details of all our latest model developments from inception right through to kit release. We feel sure you will agree that our talented people are as important as the projects they have been associated with and therefore it has also been rewarding to see how our product designers put all their skills into practice in this unique industry and how new members of the team are welcomed and introduced to this challenging work. In a first for Workbench, this next feature will be showcasing the talents of not one, but both of our most recent design recruits on linked projects to recreate scale versions of two of the most famous military vehicles of the Second World War. Looking at the early development of both projects, we ask each designer not only to describe how they approached the design challenges posed by each project, but also how they remember it in the context of their Airfix career as a whole. First up we have Paramjit, followed by Tom, both of whom are now familiar to regular Workbench readers, as they both now have several high profile projects to their names.
Paramjit and his Tiger
The unmistakably sinister profile of the Tiger I would become familiar to new Airfix product designer Paramjit Sembhi from only his second day with the company – talk about being thrown in at the deep end! Paramjit provided us with this screenshot from the first project design files he produced
When Paramjit joined Airfix as our new Product Designer, although he was fully qualified and an avid modeller to boot, he came to us having spent some time working in a completely different industry. As this was the case, our first question clearly had to be, ‘how long did you have to acclimatise yourself to your new role’ – his answer was somewhat surprising. ‘One day’ he proudly told us. Basically, he got to meet the team, set up his computer with mail and passwords etc and it was straight into it. Obviously having the benefit of the support of the rest of the team and the colossal combined weight of their industry experience, Paramjit was handed his first Airfix design project on his second day and what a project it was – only a 1/72nd scale version of the most famous tank in the world, the mighty German Tiger 1.
With a design brief which included the option to innovate where possible, he had to produce a kit which was both detailed and accurate, whilst at the same time being simple and enjoyable to build for modellers of all ages and abilities. Thankfully, as a modeller himself, he could not wait to get started, but as he had been away from CAD design for a short while and had never actually used the particular type of design software used by the Airfix team, he was in for a hectic few weeks.
The research file Paramjit had access to at the outset of the project was significant and included every possible detail he would need during the design process, from accurate manufacturing drawings to quite possibly every book that had been written on the subject. Also having access to a wealth of photographs and references taken from an actual Tiger tank, Paramjit also had the benefit of his general modelling knowledge to fall back on and a desire to address some of the frustrations he was aware of that other modellers had voiced about building tank kits.
More Tiger development views. This image shows the complex interleaved roadwheel configuration developed by the Germans to carry the weight of this massive tank, something which must have posed more than a few challenges for Paramjit
Track development. Dispensing with the old fashioned rubberised method of replicating tank tracks, which rarely gave the desired effect for the modeller, Paramjit had to find a new way of designing the tracks, whilst at the same time ensuring they located and sat correctly on the Tiger’s complicated running gear
As the first project he had undertaken, there was no point asking how designing a tank kit differed from working on producing a new aircraft or ship, however, Paramjit did say that from a design perspective, he actually found the work relatively easy. As a tank is a collection of simple shapes, almost boxlike, it proved to be the ideal way in which to introduce him to the Airfix design software and to incorporate some of his own ideas, all under the guidance of his new Airfix team members. It is also important to mention that this new Tiger has been produced in 1/72nd scale, as opposed to earlier military vehicle kits which were in OO gauge, or 1/76th scale.
Clearly, we were interested to find out which areas of the design posed any particular problems for Paramjit, or indeed gave him the opportunity to innovate. Quite early on and as a direct result of his modelling experience, he wanted to ensure that the main gun which was such a fearsome feature of the Tiger could be posed in any firing position and unlike some earlier model kits, would retain its position once you let go. Paramjit always found it a bit of a disappointment that when he had built tank models in the past, the gun would simply drop to rest on the hull once he let go of it.
In addition to this and with building enjoyability very much in mind, he also wanted to do something a little different with the design of both the wheels and track. In most previous cases, the complicated interleaved roadwheel arrangement employed on the Tiger needed to be modelled by fixing each wheel individually to the pins at the base of the hull, before then attempting to fix the rubberised track to the wheels. This system could prove frustratingly challenging for the modeller and leave the model with a less than convincing result.
Rather than have the modeller individually fix each road wheel to the hull of the Tiger, Paramjit incorporated a modular design to his new kit, allowing the wheel arrangement to be completed separately from the hull construction and offered as a complete unit later in the build. This should certainly make building this kit a real joy and something modellers of all abilities can tackle with ease
It appears as if the track links have also made it onto the turret of the Tiger. These track links were carried operationally both to give the crew options should they need to change damaged track sections in the field, whilst at the same time offering some welcome additional protection
Having given the matter considerable thought, Paramjit designed a system where the sprocket and road wheel assembly could be constructed separately from the hull and joined together as a completed unit later in the build. This will help with painting and the general sanity of the modeller, not to mention the overall appearance of the model itself. In addition to this, innovative plastic track sections are not only a significant improvement from earlier tank model designs, but also allow the correct ‘track sink’ to be represented. Paramjit described how in CAD, he used the skeleton model to actually produce a single track section (with its own separate sub skeleton), before patterning this across the rest of the drive and road wheels. Although he makes this sound quite a simple task, it is actually incredibly difficult to achieve and required real talent and understanding of the design software – these young chaps learn very quickly.
Extremely pleased with his efforts, the innovative track design will allow this distinctive feature of the Tiger appear as they would the real machine – after all, these were heavy metal components, and would naturally rest on top of the running gear.
The pictures shown above have been kindly supplied by Paramjit and feature CAD screen grabs from various stages of the new Tiger’s development. They allow us all to see many of the points discussed above and how Paramjit went about overcoming the design challenges he faced. The next development update we will be bringing you on this Tiger project will be pictures of the test frames and details of the scheme options to be included with this kit and we look forward to including that in the very near future. Until then, we are sure you will agree that the Tiger is an impressive first effort from one of our bright young things!
Tom tackles the Sherman Firefly
A Sherman but with a British twist. The Firefly would be Tom’s third Airfix design project since joining the company and allowed him to incorporate everything he had previously learned whilst designing two new aircraft kits. Working on a tank proved to be an enjoyable departure, from a design perspective
Another one of our young designers who has featured heavily in previous Workbench blogs over the past couple of years, Thomas is actually enjoying double exposure in this edition, as the Sabre we looked at earlier is also one of his impressive designs. Taking on a tank project at the same time as Paramjit, but starting a few weeks after his colleague, the Sherman Firefly was actually Tom’s third project for Airfix, coming after two previous aircraft designs. A development of the most widely used Allied tank of the Second World War, the Sherman Firefly was a British incarnation of this famous tank, equipping the US M4 hull and modified turret with the powerful 17 pounder anti-tank gun. The result of this combination produced a Sherman derivative which was capable of taking on and destroying the heaviest of German tanks and proved so successful that German tank commanders were ordered to take out the longer barrelled Shermans at the start of any engagement.
As Tom was taking on this project having already produced two new aircraft kits, we did have the opportunity to ask him how switching to a tank was from a design complexity perspective. He told us that aircraft can be extremely challenging to work on, with lots of complex shapes, joints and moving surfaces to be replicated. In comparison, whilst still not without its own challenges, a tank is a much simpler box shape to work with and proved to be a nice change from working on an aircraft.
As stated earlier, Tom started his Firefly a few weeks after Paramjit had started work on his Tiger, but had access to a similar amount of robust research information his colleague had called upon. He also had the opportunity to take valuable references from a preserved example of the tank, details which he would incorporate into the design of his first tank model. Gaining a wealth of experience from working on the two projects he had already completed, Tom had the same design brief with regard to the Firefly, to make this an accurate representation and to make it as easy as possible to build. This allowed him to test his newly honed design skills and to call upon everything he had learned during his previous projects – he really enjoyed the experience.
Sherman Firefly CAD walkaround. As the third Airfix project Tom had undertaken, he was keen to incorporate all his design knowledge into his first tank project, particularly as this was arguably the most effective Allied tank variant of the entire Second World War. This selection of images feature CAD screenshots from the impressive design files Tom produced
If you were a German Panther or Tiger I commander, if you saw this profile whilst looking through your sighting scope, you knew you were in trouble. The German’s quickly learned to look for the long barrelled Shermans in any engagement, as these were the tanks which could give them the most trouble
Asking exactly the same questions of Tom, he said that perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project concerned the design of the tracks. He said that designing something which was intended to replace the traditional rubber tracks associated with armour models, whilst at the same time incorporating impressive levels of detail, was always going to be difficult and it proved to be a bit of a ‘head scratcher’ at times. Working closely with Paramjit and with the two discussing and perfecting the design, it is interesting to note that Tom described how making this feature easy for the modeller to build made it more difficult for them to design. Successfully negotiating the challenge did bring with it a great deal of design satisfaction.
One of the most interesting features of the new model Tom drew our attention to was the design of the Firefly’s turret, as this was such an iconic shape and something he was determined to get right. He really thought long and hard about how he should attack this section of the project, settling on using solid geometry to ensure he faithfully recreated the shape of an actual Firefly turret – he is really please with how this has turned out.
Another feature which he thinks will be well received by modellers is that the new Firefly is constructed in three separate sections, making the build much more user friendly and allowing different sections to be worked on whilst others are drying. The three sections are lower hull (including tracks and running gear), upper hull and turret and for people such as wargamers, this should allow them to have a pretty effective model production line on the go when producing their new Firefly force.
In addition to this, many of the smaller features of the tank, such as lights and hull lifting rings, are fixed from inside the hull, something which will mask potential glue marks and lead to a more pleasing finish – this will benefit modellers of all abilities. Also featuring on this new kit, a large selection of ancillary load equipment, such as track and fuel tanks, will give the modeller the ability to ‘personalise’ their Sherman, allowing them to explore their creative skills. In operation, tank crews were given some level of autonomy in what they attached to the hulls of their tanks, for reasons of camouflage, additional protection and general operability. This could actually prove to be one of the most popular features of the new model.
Representing another option available to the designer whilst working through a new tooling project, these Sherman model images are computer rendered views taken from the design software package they use and not only allow our designers to see something of how the new model will look, but can also be used for catalogue and marketing purposes, if the project is still in the early stages of development
This Firefly render shows what Tom meant when he was describing how some details like lights and hull lifting rings are attached from the inside of the hull, giving everything a much cleaner appearance. It also shows some of the additional items the modeller may choose to include on their build, such as spare track links and fuel cans
Tom and Paramjit worked quite closely together on their individual tank designs, working out problems together and sharing elements which would benefit both models. Reviewing both projects with the rest of the Airfix team, they were allowed to show what they could do, with the added reassurance that should they need a little guidance, it was always on hand.
The Tiger 1 and Sherman Firefly may have been powerful adversaries on the post D-Day battlefields of Europe, but they proved to be on much more cordial terms in the Airfix design office – it is therefore somehow fitting that both will be released to the model world at the same time. Unfortunately, once built and painted, it is likely that old rivalries will be restored, even if only in scale terms.
We look forward to bringing you further updates from both of these tank projects and with so many updates still to cover before the end of the year, it probably won’t be too long before we are back looking at these impressive new tank models.
One very happy looking Spitfire
Spitfire revisited …. box artwork which is so appealing we just had to show it twice!
There is an absolute fact when it comes to discussing subject matter throughout the history of the plastic modelling hobby and that is that you can never have too many Spitfires. As one of the most famous aircraft in the history of flight and one which is regarded by millions of people as arguably the best looking aircraft ever to take to the skies, it is no wonder that the Spitfire has been a popular subject for kit manufacturers over the years and with almost 23,000 examples manufactured (including Seafires) during a production span which lasted almost ten years, there is never a shortage of available options to cover. When you take into account that all these model Spitfires could be produced in a variety of scales, it is not difficult to see why the Spitfire continues to be a regular resident on modelling workstations all over the world.
As this year marks the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, an aerial struggle which ensured the enduring legacy of the Spitfire, many Airfix enthusiasts would have been hoping the 2020 range would include several examples of Spitfire kits, including some which were scale representations of aircraft which actually fought during the battle. A quick inspection of the current range confirmed that they had been well catered for in this regard and were further rewarded with confirmation of a completely new Spitfire tooling to be produced in 1/72nd scale – a Spitfire Vc. A variant of the aircraft which was developed after the Spitfires of Fighter Command had prevailed during the Battle of Britain, the Mark V was an attempt to upgrade the fighter to keep pace with the latest variant of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the capable F or ‘Friedrich’.
Described as arguably the most effective ‘stop-gap’ aircraft the RAF ever introduced, the Spitfire Mk.V combined the additional power of the Rolls Royce Merlin 45 engine with the original Mk.I/II airframe (plus a number of design improvements already developed for the proposed future Mk.III) and proved to be more than a match for the Luftwaffe’s latest Messerschmitt. With the increased production capacity offered by the new Castle Bromwich shadow factory, Spitfire Mk.V fighters were produced at an impressive rate, with this interim variant going on to become the most heavily produced version of the Spitfire, with almost 6,500 aircraft manufactured. Seeing service in every theatre the Allies contested the war, Spitfire Mk.Vs fought in the home defence role, above the deserts of North Africa and in the jungles of the Far East.
The newest members of the Airfix design team have definitely hijacked proceedings in this latest edition, as the new 1/72nd scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc is another project undertaken and completed by Paramjit
The introduction of the Spitfire’s ‘C’ or ‘Universal Wing’ was something of an engineering triumph and not only provided the fighter with a wing capable of supporting several different weapons configurations, but also cut down on labour and manufacturing time. The new wing strengthened the undercarriage, angling the main gear slightly further forward, making the notoriously challenging ground handling of the Spitfire a little more manageable for pilots.
With Spitfires now free to go on the offensive, the Mark V would be required to fight extensively overseas, including in desert and tropical conditions, postings which would require some quite overt modifications to the clean lines of the aircraft. In order to preserve engine life whilst operating the Spitfire in hot and dusty airfield environments, the fitting of a Vokes Air Filter under the front cowling may have done little for the aesthetic appeal of the Spitfire, but did increase overall serviceability of aircraft in desert theatres. With a new armoured windscreen, specialised oil cooler and a jettisonable external 90 gallon fuel tank, modifications applied to this variant did induce additional drag and hampered the performance of the Spitfire by at least 20mph.
Test and evaluation trials for tropicalised Spitfires took place during early 1942 and by April, this latest variant of Britain’s famous fighter had been cleared for service. Production started immediately and the first ‘Tropical’ Spitfires arrived in Egypt in December 1942, to be pressed in to combat early the following year. The thoroughbred Spitfires which had fought the Battle of Britain were now forced to carry significantly more weight and what would be needed from this point forward were more powerful engines. Thankfully, the engineers at Rolls Royce were already hard at work developing them, ensuring more capable versions of this magnificent aircraft were always just around the corner.
Presenting the modeller with a particularly important variant of the Spitfire, our new 1/72nd scale Spitfire Vc tooling will be released with the following scheme options:
Scheme A – Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc, 307th Fighter Squadron, Twelfth Air Force, USAAF, La Sénia, Algeria, November/December 1942
When the pilots of the 307th Fighter Squadron of the USAAF arrived in Britain in June 1942, the Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters they had been assigned to fly in combat had not yet arrived, so they began training on British Spitfire Vb fighters provided by the RAF at Atcham, in Shropshire. Fortunately for them, the time difference between them arriving in Britain and their assigned aircraft arriving by sea, allowed military officials the time to lobby the unsuitability of the P-39 for combat operations over Europe and the 307th would end up keeping their Spitfires. Following completion of their training and type conversion, the squadron were moved to RAF Biggin Hill in preparation for action, with their first mission being a Circus raid 17th August.
Seeing plenty of action over the next few weeks, which included operations in support of the Dieppe Raid, the 307th would be declared non-operational in the middle of October in preparation for their shipping out to North Africa with the rest of the US 31st Fighter Group, which was now part of the 12th Air Force. Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, began on 8th November and the Spitfires of the US 31st Fighter Group would be heavily involved in the fighting. They had initially flown their aircraft from Gibraltar, landing at new bases in Algeria on 9th in preparation for what they expected would be a hectic period of operations. After pounding French positions the following day, it was not long before the French surrendered and the expected heavy fighting would descend into weeks of flying relatively uneventful patrols.
The 307th Fighter Squadron arrived at the Algerian airfield at La Sénia on 12th November and although they didn’t know it at the time, the next five weeks or so would be spent flying relatively uneventful patrols and escort missions, where the only real perils they faced were the possibility of suffering technical issues whilst flying over vast expanses of desert. It is presumably during this relatively quiet period that Spitfire Vc ER180 (MX-P) was to receive a rather unique piece of additional artwork on its front cowling, something which must have made it one of the most distinctive aircraft in theatre.
Surely, the idea behind applying shark mouth artwork to an aircraft was to make it look more sinister during combat engagements, a high profile warning to your adversaries that you were coming to get them and you were confident of success. If that was the intention when this type of marking was applied to tropical Spitfire ER180, it sort of fell a little wide of the mark – it looks more happy than angry!
The application of shark mouth type markings were first seen on a handful of aircraft during the First World War, although some of these artworks had a decidedly more macabre appearance than a menacing one. More widespread adoption of the markings occurred during the Second World War, appearing first on early variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and more famously on the twin engined Bf 110 Destroyers during 1939/40, but then famously on the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks of RAF No.112 Squadron. It appears that pilots in this squadron had encountered shark mouthed Messerschmitt Bf 110s in combat over Crete and were so impressed with the markings that they decided to adopt the artwork on their own aircraft. With regard to the application of the markings, some aircraft served as a much more suitable canvas than others and in the case of the P-40, it was absolutely made for shark mouths.
Starting with the early Allison engined variants of the fighter, the shark-like appearance of the aircraft encouraged RAF No.112 Squadron to widely adopt shark mouth markings during their time with the Desert Air Force, applying them to the radiator air inlet housing, beneath the propeller and at the front of the engine. When combined with the desert camouflage colours the fighters wore, these Tomahawks would become some of the most photographed aircraft of the Second World War and their appearance in a British magazine would lead to another famous unit adopting similar markings. The P-40 Warhawks of the American Volunteer Group would become known as ‘The Flying Tigers’, with there fearsome looking fighters earning the respect of their Japanese adversaries and the admiration of the American nation.
The shark mouth markings on all of these aircraft were intended to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy and inspire fellow pilots heading into combat, so what was the idea behind the markings applied to this Spitfire Mk.Vc (ER180) from the USAAF 307th Fighter Squadron? It is clear that the deep Vokes air filter was just crying out to have a fearsome tooth laden mouth applied, but this particular interpretation is a little light on the aggression, seemingly favouring a much more mellow attitude. Whether viewing the magnificent box artwork produced for this release, or looking at the actual aircraft as pictured by members of the 307th Fighter Squadron during WWII, you are obviously left admiring this beautiful scheme, but can’t help smiling at how happy this Spitfire appears to be – it almost looks to be smiling.
Although this Spitfire wears the same MX-P fuselage codes, this is not our ‘Smiley Spitfire’ as incorrectly stated in several reference sources. This Spitfire carries the serial JK707
This incredibly distinctive aircraft was the focus of some appealing wartime photographs and one in particular which incorrectly details this aircraft as having been shot down by friendly fire over the landing beach at Salerno. The picture does indeed show a USAAF Spitfire coded MX-P having made a forced landing on the landing beach at the shoreline, with an unloading LST in the background, however, this aircraft is coded JK707 and does not feature our smiling Spitfire’s artwork. Spitfire JK707 was apparently shot down by return fire from a Dornier Do217 it had been attacking on the day of the landings.
A really beautiful looking Spitfire and one which possesses such individuality, this option might prove difficult for many to overlook.
Scheme B – Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc, No.2 Squadron, South African Air Force, Gioia del Colle, Italy, October 1943
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the South African Air Force was completely unprepared for war and was even forced to commandeer the entire aircraft fleet of South African Airways to press into military service. From these modest beginnings, the airmen of the SAAF would go on to make a significant contribution in preventing Italian forces gaining a strong foothold in North Africa, flying offensive operations from airfields which were often makeshift at best and primitive in the main. In the early stages, South African pilots flew anything their government had managed to procure, which included such aircraft types as the Hawker Fury, Gloster Gauntlet and Gloster Gladiator in the fighter role.
Once more modern types became available, such as the Hurricane, Tomahawk and Spitfire, South African Air Force squadrons would further distinguish themselves as part of the Desert Air Force, in combat with both the Regia Aeronautica and the Luftwaffe. The North African campaign would be the main theatre of operations for the SAAF during WWII, with at least twelve squadrons being committed for much of the fighting.
One of five SAAF squadrons assigned to support the invasion of Sicily, No.2 Squadron SAAF ‘The Flying Cheetahs’ re-equipped with Spitfire Mk.Vc fighters in July 1943 and were tasked with providing fighter bomber support to ground troops involved in driving Wehrmacht troops from their positions. Often loitering in the vicinity of offensive ground operations, the Spitfires were called in to dislodge areas of stubborn resistance by highly trained forward air controllers installed with ground units. Following the success of these operations, the Spitfires of the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ moved to bases on the island and prepared to play their part in the next big offensive, Operation Avalanche and the invasion of the Italian Mainland. This time, the Spitfires were tasked with flying bomber escort missions, protecting SAAF bombers against stubborn, if diminishing Luftwaffe opposition.
As Allied forces slowly began to push Wehrmacht forces back towards their homeland, No.2 Squadron were on the move once more, this time taking up residence at Gioia del Colle, in the heel of Italy. Although they would continue flying the Spitfire until the end of the war, they would not trade their Mk.Vc aircraft for the more capable Mk.IX variant until March 1944.
‘The Flying Cheetahs’ received their first Spitfire Mk.Vc fighters in July 1943, with JL115 DB-V being amongst the first batch to arrive. With the North African campaign turning in favour of the Allies, it was not long before the squadron re-located to Sicily and with the diminishing Luftwaffe threat in the skies above Italy, they turned their hand to providing fighter bomber support to troops fighting on the ground. The mark V variant of the Spitfire saw the introduction of the aircraft’s ‘C’ or ‘Universal’ wing, something which proved to be quite a technical innovation. The wing would allow the aircraft to be offensively configured in several different ways, including the ability to install four powerful 20mm cannon and to carry two 250lb bombs, one under each wing. This offensive upgrade was exploited to the full by the pilots of No.2 Squadron SAAF, as they engaged in their ground support fighter bomber missions.
As the most heavily produced variant of Britain’s most famous fighter, the mark V plays a significant role in the wartime story Spitfire story and therefore, this new 1/72nd scale kit will be an important and extremely popular addition to the Airfix kit range. With the initial release including two decal options which present the Spitfire in the attractive Azure blue, dark earth and stone colours scheme of the desert air war, this model will make for a colourful addition to any model Spitfire collection. Significantly, both options also mark Spitfires flown by air forces other than our own Royal Air Force, marking yet another interesting chapter in the story of this magnificent aircraft.
New Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc A02108 is scheduled for release later in the year and the next update we hope to bring you will feature a built sample of this cracking little model – it remains to be seen if this sample will be finished as a Flying Cheetah or our Smiling Spitfire! We await developments with interest.
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