by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
backgroundThe Seafire Mk.XV was a naval adaption of the RAF's Spitfire Mk.XII, and the first Griffon-engined variant to enter service. With the new engine driving a 4-bladed propeller, the Mk. XV was about 25-30 mph faster than previous Seafires, but the introduction into service was beset by problems. Torque from the Griffon caused increased directional instability, resulting in poor gunnery results, and early aircraft suffered with aileron reversal which caused a number of fatal crashes. Early Seafire Mk. XVs featured a V-frame arrestor hook under the fuselage, but this was later changed to a "sting" hook in the tail with a modified rudder. Later aircraft also introduced a long stroke undercarriage which made deck landings a lot easier.
Squadron's began working up on the new Seafire Mk.XV towards the end of the war, and some idea of the unpopularity with which it was greeted can be judged by the rumour that Pacific squadrons were set to beg, steal or borrow their old Mk.IIIs back for the planned invasion of Japan...
the kitSpecial Hobby's Seafire Mk.XV arrives in a solid and attractive top-opening box, with the sprues and accessories bagged separately for protection. The kit comprises:
113 x grey styrene parts
12 x clear parts
19 x etched brass parts, plus a clear film for the instruments
Decals for 4 x colour schemes
From their traditional short-run beginnings, the latest Special Hobby kits are in many ways just one step away from what you might term "mainstream" so, while the detail in their kits may actually be superior in some cases to that produced by the "majors", you can expect to need to do a little extra preparation work.
The Seafire is very nicely moulded, with no problems of flash or ejector pins in the review sample, although I did find a couple of shallow sink marks near the tail where there's a deep moulding on the inside for the tailwheel mount. The exterior finish is excellent, with the parts smoothly polished with neatly engraved panel lines and embossed fasteners. Something I think is unique to Special Hobby's Spitfires and Seafires is the way they have appliqué panels on the fuselage which may surprise anyone who expects these elegant aircraft to boast a perfectly smooth surface. It's not(!)... having spent a few hours cleaning the exhibits at the RAF Museum, I can vouch for the fact that they are surprisingly "industrial", with overlapping panels in places (as bruised fingers and skinned knuckles can witness!).
sizing things upA dry fit of the main components is very encouraging. Everything clips together neatly, with nice tight joints at the wing roots and tail.
After all the at times ill-natured furore that accompanied the release of Airfix's Griffon-engined Spitfire Mk.XII and Seafire Mk.17, it's inevitable to compare Special Hobby's take on the broadly similar Seafire Mk.XV. I am indebted to Edgar Brooks who kindly provided copies of original Supermarine drawings and scale plans. By comparing the kits against these and my own photos and other references, I came to the following "broad brush" conclusions:
In my opinion Airfix have captured the nose profile best, as Special Hobby's seems a tad too flat and long, with a spinner that is slightly too great in diameter (although the size and position of the propeller openings look better). Conversely, Special Hobby's kit captures the look of the rear fuselage better, maintaining the subtle "hump", but avoiding the overly stocky look at the base of the fin.
The difference is small in both cases, and most modellers will be equally delighted with both manufacturers' kits. However I can foresee some ambitious kit-bashing ahead, as the most determined seek to combine the best of both worlds.
a few detailsThe cockpit is very neatly fitted out, with a combination of styrene and etched parts. I've no doubt there will be detail sets hot on the heels of this release, but Special Hobby have really provided a pretty good "office", with a choice of etched or moulded instrument panels and an etched seat harness, along with neat touches like brass straps for the rudder pedals and even a separate top section for the control column so that it can be positioned to match the ailerons. The sidewalls have separate details such as the undercarriage selector and throttle, while there are lower sidewall extension panels to blank off the hollow wing-roots that mar so many Spitfire/Seafire kits. One small omission seems to be that although a flare rack is shown on the front of the seat in the instructions, there doesn't seem to be one among the parts.
The wheel wells are are boxed in and include rib-detail at the wing-fold point, but Special Hobby have avoided the complication of offering a folded wing option. The landing gear is neatly moulded, with a choice of plain or 4-spoked hubs. A neat touch is the inclusion of decals for tyre-creep indicators.
The propeller is constructed with separate blades, and these have square lugs to set them at a consistent pitch. A simple jig will also help ensure they are mounted at precisely 90° to each other.
The canopy is moulded in three sections and is crystal clear with crisp framing. A rear-view mirror is provided, along with an etched release for the interior. The separate entry door has an etched locking catch.
For stores, just a centre-line drop tank is included, along with empty bomb racks under the wings.
A sign of more versions to come is the inclusion of moulded-on external plates on the fuselage. These must be sanded off carefully for this version - a little bit of a pain, as it will require some rescribing (perhaps separate etched parts would have been a better idea?). Another indicator of future versions is a V-frame arrestor hook and alternative cannon covers that are unused in this boxing.
instructions and decalsThe assembly guide is printed as a 12-page A-5 booklet in black and white. Colour illustrations of the colour schemes are available online, and I have reproduced them here.
The construction drawings are neatly done and laid out in a clear and logical order. Overall, the Seafire doesn't look a difficult build for anyone used to limited run kits and using a few photo-etched parts. Colour matches are given for Gunze Sangyo paints.
Decals for four colour schemes are included:
A. Seafire Mk.XV, "White 122", 806 Sqn. FAA, HMS Glory, September 1946
B. Seafire Mk.XV, s/n SW786 "White 11-4/Y", 806 Sqn. FAA, HMS Glory and Kai-Tek airfield, 1946
C. Seafire Mk.XV, s/n SR537 "White 132/N", 806 Sqn. FAA, HMS Implacable, February 1946
D. Seafire Mk.XV, "White 13-9/T", 806 Sqn. FAA, RAF Trincomalee, Ceylon, Summer 1945
Scheme A is painted in post-war Extra Dark Sea Grey/Sky, while the others wear full wartime camouflage.
The decals are produced by Dead Design and AviPrint and look to be excellent quality - thin and glossy, and in perfect register on the sample sheet.
conclusionSpecial Hobby's Seafire looks set to be a very enjoyable build. I'd have to say honours are divided equally in my opinion between this and the Airfix kit, and they should look great sat side by side. Notwithstanding Special Hobby's traditional short-run background, this is at the cutting edge of the genre, and anyone with a little experience should have few problems with the Seafire. Recommended.
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