Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vb Floatplane
The first real consideration of making floatplane fighters out of the Spitfire and Hurricane came during the 1940 Norwegian Campaign, and work began on both aircraft at that time. At the end of the campaign, development ended, and the Hurricane project was stopped. Known as the “Narvik Nightmare”, the Spitfire project languished until just before Pearl Harbor, when work was reinstated, this time with the Mk. Vb airframe. This time, instead of Blackburn Roc floats, specially designed Supermarine floats were used, along with additions to the vertical fin to offset the aerodynamic effects of the floats. The result was a highly successful conversion, with excellent flying and water handling characteristics. In fact, it turned out to be the fastest floatplane fighter of World War II.
The initial prototype, W3760, was converted by Folland Aircraft, and had a four bladed prop, a modified fin and rudder, and, of course, twin floats mounted on cantilever struts. To protect the engine against spray, an extended carburetor intake scoop was installed under the nose. Although some sources claim that the aircraft had a tropical Vokes filter as used on the Desert Air Force Spitfires, I searched every source I could find, and found only a couple of references of this filter being installed, and no photo of one in that form came to light. I will assume, therefore, that the plane existed in three basic forms. W3760 at first had standard Spitfire vertical stabilizer, which was later extended for more area. The next two conversions, EP751 and EP754, were identical except for the extended vertical stabilizer. Eight sets of floats had been manufactured, but only one additional conversion was made, a Spitfire Mk. IX, MJ892. This plane had a maximum speed of 377 mph. at 19,700 ft., as opposed to 306 mph. at 15,000 ft of the Mk. Vb, a decided improvement. At least two of the Mk. V’s were taken to the Middle East, where they were operated briefly. There is no record of the aircraft being used in combat, and the project was ended early in 1944.
I had never seen a product of this Czech Republic producer before, but since the kit number is BRP72009, I will assume that they have produced several kits previously, one obviously being a Spitfire Mk. Vb landplane, as the kit includes the landing gear, wheels, and prop for this version.
Cast in light tan and pale grey styrene, the kit is well molded with only a little flash that required trimming. The original molds appear to be AZ Models, with the floatplane parts sprue produced by Brengun. The kit includes 64 injection molded parts, 1 resin part, a small sheet of photo etched parts, and two clear canopies, one of which fits and one requires some filler. The differences are not clearly explained in the instructions. Fully 27 parts are marked “do not use”.
The photo etch parts include very detailed seat belts that are almost visible through the closed canopy. If they are going to go to the trouble of making detailed cockpit interiors, they should at least provide an open canopy option so you can see all of this detail inside. A tropical scoop is provided, which, of course, should not be used, on this model at least.
Decals are provided for four aircraft, and although the Mk. IX is not part of this kit, that serial number is also provided. I’m going to use mine to do a Mk. IX, using either the Hasegawa or Airfix Mk. IX airframe mated to a set of floats from the old Pioneer kit, which involves a similar composite of a Mk. V and floats. However, the Pioneer kit is the Mk. V Trop., which isn’t correct for any Spitfire Floatplane, so the best use of the floats would be to use them for a Mk. V or Mk. IX conversion. Since I did the early Mk. V conversion years ago, I’ll save my Pioneer floats for a Mk. IX conversion. Another issue is the color scheme. The box art shows the original prototype, W3670, with tropical scoop and yellow underside markings, and a large yellow “P” marking typical of RAF prototype aircraft. It is interesting that the RAF went to all kinds of trouble to hide prototype aircraft in their serial number ranges, and then painted a bright yellow “P” on the fuselage to indicate that it was a prototype, along with training yellow undersides. Maybe “Military Intelligence” really is an oxymoron.
The instructions are nicely printed on a letter size sheet, with four pages. There is no aircraft history provided. The first page includes a sprue diagram and cockpit interior assembly guide. Pages 2 and 3 are basic assembly guides, with little language except for the differences between variants. The back page is a standard stencil marking guide for maintenance markings carried on all Spitfires. The problem here is that many of the numbers on these tiny decals do not coincide with the numbers on the decal sheet, and it is not clear what goes where. The decals, however, go on easily, although they have a very shiny finish and require a coat of DullCote to tone them down.
The kit goes together logically, with no surprises, and only a few frustrations. The cockpit interior, consisting of an instrument panel, floors, seat, seat armor, control stick, and rear bulkhead, is easy to assemble, although you have to follow the directions carefully. There is a lot of sidewall detail, and all of this should be painted RAF Interior Green, with black and silver details, before major assembly is done. Placement of the assembled cockpit is a bit dicey, as the locations are a bit confusing. However, I managed, and the result was pretty good. The whole assembly needs a little bit of filing down, as it was slightly too wide to allow the fuselage to fit together properly. The wings also need a little bit of scraping and trimming, and the wheel wells need to be covered over, as this variant didn’t have them. Actually, the little wheel covers fit nicely into the wheel wells, and a little putty to smooth things out make them invisible, especially as the float struts attach directly under the wheel wells. It took several coats of putty, but I eventually got them smoothed over. Wing to fuselage fit, however, is poor, and this requires a lot of trimming to get it right. Then you need to use putty to smooth out the glitches, and you’re all set. The elevators attach in a butt fit method, and the rudder and stabilizer need to be test fitted and filled in, as this is a fairly complex arrangement. Of course, if you are doing the original prototype, the fin is retained, and only the rudder needs to be replaced. Two choices are given for the cowling underside, including the standard nose and the tropical scoop. I used the regular scoop, as I could find no documentation on the Vokes filter. The floats go together nicely, but I would suggest weighting down the front ends of the floats, as otherwise the plane will sit back on its tail. In any event, it would be wise to construct a wheeled dolly for the plane to rest on, and photos of this are available on line. I didn’t think of this until the floats were glued together, so I poured some lead shot down the nosed of the plane, although it is not heavy enough to make the plane sit properly. There is no mention of this problem in the instructions.
Painting and Finishing
Once the model is basically assembled, it is ready for painting. I painted the airframe and the floats separately. The colors on the box art, which double as a painting guide, appear to be RAF Dark Sea Grey and Dark Green over Medium Sea Grey, with the first prototype having yellow undersides. However, the colors listed in the instructions are Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Sky. I opted for the Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Green over Medium Sea Grey, and the result is, to my way of thinking, totally acceptable. Anyway, in the Middle East, the colors would have faded rapidly anyway, so I’ll stick with the colors I selected.
I had a couple of problems after assembly. In the PE sheet, there were some float rudder hinges that are VERY tiny. These need to be bent over, and are to be attached to the rear floats and rudders. These are very tedious to cut and trim, let alone bend, and I gave up on that detail, and just scratchbuilt them. But they are there in case you want to use them. The prop and spinner are very nice, but they are to be glued in place and do not spin. One other thing I noticed is that the floats seem to be mounted at a slightly exaggerated downward angle. Be sure to test fit these before final assembly, as they might require some trimming.
This is a very nice little kit of a plane rarely seen in model collections. It appears to be accurate, and although I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners, any competent modeler should be able to build this in a weekend. There are three different ones you can build, and if you get a fourth kit, build it as a standard Spitfire Vb, and use the floats on a Mk. IX and you’ll have them all. Highly recommended
Thanks to Hauler for the review sample and to IPMS/USA for the chance to review it.