by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundThe Seafire F Mk XVII was essentially a modified Mk XV; the most important change was the reinforced main undercarriage which used longer oleos and a lower rebound ratio. This went some way towards taming the deck behaviour of the Mk XV, reduced the propensity of the propeller tips "pecking" the deck during an arrested landing, and the softer oleos stopped the aircraft from occasionally bouncing over the arrestor wires and into the crash barrier. Most production XVIIs had the cut down rear fuselage and teardrop canopy (the windscreen was modified to a rounded section, with narrow quarter windows, rather than the flat windscreen used on Spitfires) and an extra 33 gallon fuel tank fitted in the rear fuselage. While the bubble canopy gave greatly improved visibilty, the cut-down rear fuselage caused instability problems and pilots were instructed to use the rear fuel tank on take off (as incorrect use of fuel could cause the CG to fluctuate), and were forbidden to make any violent manoevres until it was empty. In addition the wings were reinforced, with a stronger mainspar necessitated by the new undercarriage, and they were able to carry heavier underwing loads than previous Seafire variants. 232 of this variant were built by Westland (212) and Cunliffe-Owen(20).
Sources: Wikipedia and AMI's Spitfire Special.
The kitThe first surprise on seeing the new Seafire in my local model shop was the size of the box; it's half as big again as Airfix's earlier Spitfire Mk.XII, and a couple of quid more expensive too. The reason soon becomes clear when you open it; there are two complete sets of wings to cater for folded and unfolded options. But more of that later, getting back to basics, everything is well packed in a very solid box, with the clear parts bagged separately from the main sprues, and a nice big sheet of decals is at the bottom protected by the instructions booklet. The kit comprises:
128 x grey styrene parts
6 x clear styrene parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
The Seafire is moulded in India, and the look and feel of styrene used is quite different to recent Airfix kit's I've seen. If anything, the detail seems a little crisper, although this may just be an illusion. The moulding is good and free of flash or sink marks in my kit, but the parts display a slightly textured satin external finish that could benefit from a bit of polishing in places, and there are a few faint marks along the fuselage joint that appear to be from mould inserts. Panel lines are very neatly engraved – perhaps a little heavy for some tastes, but they'll serve well as a basis for washes. The fabric effect on the rudder is nice and subtle.
A test fit is very good, although there are a few ejector pin marks toward the wing tips that need to be sanded down before assembly. Overall, the basic airframe seems excellent, but the trailing edges of the ailerons and wingtips are quite blunt and will definitely look better thinned down.
When I reviewed the Spit Mk.XII, I commented that the rear fuselage seemed a little deep. Well, the Seafire's is identical at the base of the fin, but I must admit it matches online photos of the restored s/n SX336 very precisely (recognising all the perils of trying match anything against photos on a computer monitor that may not be calibrated correctly), so I think any problem (if indeed there ever was one) is even smaller than I thought.
I really like the way Airfix have tackled the folding wings. Whereas many kits use the same parts for both folded and un-folded configurations and are criticised for the consequent poor fit, Airfix's designers have solved the problem by supplying two complete sets of parts for the wings – one for full-span and one for folded. Both fit really neatly at the wing roots but, as with the Spit Mk.XII, I'll refine the joint under the rear fuselage a little for a cleaner fit.
The new fuselage halves feature some decent internal sidewall detail (not identical to the Spit), and another nice touch is that most ejector pin marks have been kept clear of the cockpit including the separate pilot's door, the only one I could find being on the seat, which will be hidden if you use the pilot figure supplied, or add your own harness.
The undercarriage can be built raised or lowered, and there are optional weighted tyres. One point to note is that the boxtop depicts treaded tyres, whereas those in the kit are bald. Modern restorations are usually seen with treaded tyres, but I'll leave it to the experts to decide what's appropriate for a Seafire in service.
Airfix provide a selection of external stores – a 50 Gallon centre-line tank, and underwing rockets and 22.5 Gallon blister tanks. The tail fins of the rockets are pretty thick, so you may want to replace them for a better scale appearance.
The canopy is designed to be displayed open or closed, and Airfix have learned the lesson from their old Spit Mk.22/24 and Seafire Mk.47 kits where the sliding section sat too high in the open position. This time there are optional parts provided, and both sit perfectly. The curved windscreen features the internal armoured glass. The shape of the Spit/Seafire bubble canopy is often a bone of contention, seeming to have more of a "kink" in some shots than others; I'll leave it to the experts to argue the toss, but Airfix's looks a close enough match to pics of that fitted to s/n SX336 to satisfy me.
Instructions and DecalsThe assembly guide is printed as a 16-page A4 booklet, with construction broken down into no less than 60 stages. That sounds an awful lot, but in truth the assembly isn't nearly as complicated as the number may suggest. It's just that Airfix like to break things down into a lot of little "bit sized chunks" rather than have cluttered and confusing diagrams trying to show too much at once.
The actual construction looks pretty straightforward and the sequence is mostly logical – the only point where I'd take issue is assembling the folding wings completely before attaching them to the fuselage, something which will make cleaning up the wing roots very awkward (not to mention painting).
Matches for Humbrol paints are included throughout and the kit provides decals for three colour schemes:
A. Seafire F.XVII s/n SX358, No. 800 NAS, HMS Triumph and Hal Far, Malta, 1947
B. Seafire F.XVII s/n SX273, No. 714 NAS, OFTU, Air Warfare School, St. Merryn, 1947
C. Seafire F.XVII s/n SP343, No. 1832 NAS, RNVR, Southern Air Division, Culham, 1950
The decals are custom printed by Cartograf with a satin finish. The colours look excellent and the registration is perfect on my sheet. Along with the main markings, there's a generous selection of servicing stencils whose positions are clearly noted in the full-colour painting guide.
ConclusionAirfix's new Seafire looks an excellent kit and is good value for money. It should be simple enough for less experienced modellers, while still providing enough detail to keep the experts happy. The results should be excellent straight from the box, and the kit deserves a place in any quarterscale collection of Spits and Seafires or naval aircraft. Recommended.
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