BT-K The Original Airfix Spitfire
Back in 1955 a small event occurred that would have enormous far reaching consequences, the plastic moulding firm added an aircraft to its' small but growing line of self assembly polystyrene plastic models. This was the approximately 1/72nd scale 'Spitfire'. Research over the years has shown that this was an allowed if not approved scaled down reproduction of the 1954 release Aurora Plastics Spitfire in roughly 1/48th scale. This model although having many inconsistencies and inaccuracies was the first readily available aircraft model in the now standard scale of 1/72. The model size suited the plastic moulding machines used by Airfix at the time, and the scale was also the same as that used for the standard aircraft recognition models produced in World War Two.
I am not quite sure which year my actual kit came from, as all I was able to acquire was a bag of plastic parts that were moulded in a lightish Grey colour. The first few years release was either in a light Blue or Silver. The bag was also lacking as would be expected the decals and original instructions. Fortunately I had a couple of the pseudo 50th Anniversary commemorative kits that had decals that impersonated the originals.
The model itself as mentioned has many inaccuracies when compared to a particular mark of Spitfire. However it DOES look like a Spitfire, and very much akin to most peoples' perception of what a Spitfire should look like. There are also many points on the model that highlight the limitations caused by the moulding processes of the time.
My bag contained 19 out the original 21 parts as my stand was also missing, so assembly was very rapid! The main wings are single items each side as are the tail planes (and these are quite close to the correct shape) and they all slot into each side fuselage once assembled. As can be seen the wing is very thin and the shape a tad out with some strange engraved detail; but nonetheless recognisable. The main wings need the radiator and oil cooler added to the underside and the radiator is slightly odd in size and shape. The oil cooler on the other hand is quite passable for one fitted to a mark V. The undercarriage legs come with the wheels already moulded on and I have seen far worse on much more recent Spitfire kits. Interestingly the wheel wells are moulded with a set of raised undercarriage in place, I guess to enable an in-flight option without parts.
The fuselage is definitely Spitfire and without doubt based on either a mark I /II or V. This is due to if having a reasonable nose shape that does resemble that as used by Spitfires with the earlier shorter Rolls Royce Merlin. (If my memory serves correctly this is caused by them having a shorter supercharger 'plumbing' and ancillaries). The kit also has three stack exhaust pipes fitted, and these are quite nicely moulded. The rear fuselage is a little tubby, and the fin and rudder a slightly odd shape, but all definitely recognisable as Spitfire. The canopy that is included is also quite passable for the subject and although very grubby cleaned up nicely, but did not fit greatly unfortunately. There is no cockpit interior, just a pilot 'bobble head' and so to make the best of this I painted all around the pilot in matt Black. The pilot was then painted up with Brown for the jacket and helmet, Yellow for the Mae West, and highlights of Black for the mask controls along with bright Silver for the goggles. It all ends up looking quite passable from normal viewing distances.
The final parts to be added include the propeller that has a decent spinner and acceptable if rather paddle style blades. After this the rather long aerial mast and strange under wing bombs were added. These are real curiosities as no spitfire carried two large bombs under each wing, only one. Some did carry practise bomb racks that held four very small bombs but they look nothing like those in the kit.
As mentioned I did not have the original decals, but in reality I doubt they would have been of much use anyway. I therefore used those as supplied in the retro/commemorative BT-K kit released by Airfix in 2003. Supposedly a fiftieth anniversary commemorative issue, but was two years early, so counts more as a retro edition. The decals in this edition are NOT direct copies of those as supplied in the original. The roundels are the main difference, with the retro kit decals being the pre WW2 type with large Yellow outer ring for all upper surface roundels. The originals were more akin to the style seen on 2TAF aircraft in late WW2. The typeface used for the serial is subtly different and the fin flash is 'cut' in one corner. It should probably be stated that both the serial number and code letters are incorrect for a Spitfire. We shall never know if this was an accidental or deliberate thing.
The decals did help define the camouflage scheme I would paint, as they were mostly correct for a pre war Spitfire in Dark Earth and Dark Green over painted Aluminium (Silver) undersides. To be fully correct the codes should be Medium Sea Grey and no fin flash carried. Or the colours I used Humbrol 29 and an old Airfix Dark Green M2 over Humbrol 191. For the exhausts I used a Model Master Metaliser 'Burnt Metal'. As the pre war Spitfires were kept in good condition, a shiny finish seemed much more appropriate than a dull one.
There are some out there that would call building this model a sacrilege, but as it was not an unopened mint edition, and with my view that models are there to be built (like aircraft are meant to fly etc!) Here you see it, and enjoyable it was too. It also needs remembering that the all singing all dancing super kit from the Far East is its' great grandchild!