by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
backgroundWhen measured against the total number of Spitfires produced, the Mk. XII was insignificant, but it's importance lay in the fact that it was the first version to enter production powered by the Rolls Royce Griffon. The Mk. XII was the only Griffon-engined Spitfire with single stage supercharging and retained the early-style oil cooler under the port wing. The Mk. XII was in its element down low, Jeffrey Quill describing the prototype DP845 as "… my favourite Spitfire. It had a wonderful performance at low altitude: it had a low full throttle height, and a lot of power on the deck." In fact, DP845 was one the fastest fighters in the world at low altitudes at that time, outperforming a Hawker Typhoon and a captured Fw 190 during comparative trials.
First appearing towards the end of 1942, the Mk. XII was essentially a Mk. VC airframe with revised engine bearers to take the larger and heavier Griffon. Apart from the first production machine, EN221, all Mk. XIIs were fitted with clipped wings. Later aircraft were fitted with Mk. VII-type tails with retractable tailwheels. Only two squadrons fully equipped with the Mk. XII, No. 41 soon being followed by No. 91. When production ceased in September 1943, 100 Mk. XIIs had been built.
the kitIt might not have quite the dramatic impact of their recent Sea Vixen, but Airfix's decision to release a 1:48 Spitfire MK.XII is very welcome nevertheless, marking the first time this version has appeared as a mainstream kit in this scale. The kit arrives in an attractive top-opening box, with the transparencies bagged separately from the main sprues for protection. The kit comprises:
92 x grey styrene parts
6 x clear parts
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
The moulding is generally very good. I found a few whisps of flash and a couple of faint sink marks, but the designers have done a good job keeping most of the ejector pin marks out of harm's way (see later for a couple of exceptions). Exterior surfaces have a satin finish with neatly engraved panel lines (arguably a tad heavy, but they should look fine under a coat of paint and will lend themselves to weathering nicely) and quite a restrained fabric effect. Perhaps it's the colour of the plastic used, but details look a little soft on the sprues – softer than they really are, because things "sharpen up" as you paint them.
The breakdown of the parts is logical and straightforward, and the fit is very positive. The fuselage and wings halves line up well, with a neat joint at the wing roots. However, you may need a smear of filler at the trailing edge of each root where there's an odd little moulding step, and to prevent daylight showing through where the landing flaps are separate, and I also adjusted the fit where the wing blends into the base of the rear fuselage to avoid a step. Along with the flaps, all the control surfaces are separate and positionable.
accuracyThere's a debate running online about the overall accuracy of the model, which I'll try not to stoke up here because I certainly don't claim to be an expert on the Spitfire by any stretch of the imagination, but I do share a couple of the concerns. However, if nothing else, reviewing this kit has taught me the perils of relying slavishly on published scale drawings without verifying them personally.
Let me explain: I've had Aircraft Modeller International's "Spitfire Special" among my references for a dozen or so years, and it includes an article and scale drawings of the Mk.XII. I've never questioned their accuracy, so it was a considerable shock when I compared the new Airfix kit with them and found they don't match at all! The kit's nose, in particular, is MUCH shorter. So I dug the well regarded Aeroclub aftermarket conversion out of the Stash and checked that too. The nose matches the plans – being 3mm longer than Airfix's version.
The fun really started as I went back to basics and measured the Airfix kit, and found it agrees precisely in length with published dimensions. What on earth was going on? I gathered every photo I could find of the Mk.XII, and set about comparing the kit parts with the real thing. I know this is a less than ideal approach (you can't guarantee that photos printed in books or posted online have been reproduced without distortion, and of course when viewing anything on your computer screen, you are totally at the mercy of how the monitor is set up), but it helps get a "feel" for the subject, and the more I looked, the more convinced I became that Airfix's interpretation of the nose was by far the most accurate, both in overall length and the position of the exhausts and cowl bulges.
Things aren't 100% though. The cowl bulges are separate parts, and aren't quite parallel on my kit when fitted – but we're talking .5mm here, so a couple of swipes with a sanding stick will rectify that (in fact, they aren't parallel on the Aeroclub conversion either).
Looking at the rest of the kit, I have to admit I can't quite shake off the feeling that the rear fuselage looks a bit stocky. Again, we're probably only talking a millimetre in 1:48, but without a set of plans I can vouch for, and no longer being in the enviable position of being able to access the RAF Museum exhibits to find out for myself, I can't say for sure. Spitfire experts seem generally happy with the shape, but I probably will still run a sanding stick along the base of the fuselage to refine it a little, as the plastic is plenty thick enough to allow this.
A few details The cockpit is quite well fitted out for this scale with 18 parts that capture the overall look nicely. There's correctly no cockpit floor, as such, and Airfix have included a little detail on the inside surface of the wing's lower half, including a clear lamp housing. The lower sides of each fuselage half are open where the contour follows the wing root, so purists may wish to blank that off for a more realistic appearance. The seat is a bit heavily moulded, but it's nice to see a flare rack on the front edge. Frustratingly, there's a prominent ejector pin mark in the seat pan just where it's hardest to deal with (despite a veritable forest of sprues around the seat, presumably to help push it out of the mould), but this will be hidden if you fit the nicely moulded 3-part pilot figure, or attach a seat harness (not supplied). The rudder pedals are simplified, but the rest of the cockpit equipment looks good, and really starts to come to life as you paint it.
With a nicely detailed cockpit, the chances are you'll want to open the canopy to display it. This raises a problem with small scale kits of the Spitfire, because the thickness of an injection-moulded canopy means it's likely to sit too high when posed open. Airfix have got round this with a very novel approach that I've not seen before; in addition to supplying a crystal-clear 3-part canopy, they've also included a piece for the open canopy that features the sliding hood moulded "over" the fixed rear section and part of the fuselage. Fitting this requires carefully removing part of each fuselage side – and painting the canopy neatly will be an unusual challenge - but the end result should look far more convincing than is possible unless you fit a vacuformed canopy. The cockpit door is moulded closed, but a separate part is also included to pose it open. Ironically, this is marred by a couple of really awkward ejector pin marks, so you're actually better off removing the integral door carefully and using that.
There are a few optional parts in the kit. There is a slipper tank and an IFF aerial, and Airfix offer a choice of raised or lowered landing gear, two styles of mainwheel hubs, weighted or unweighted tyres and a fixed or retractable tailwheel. The designers have gone for the later style of main gear with oleo scissors and bulged doors, but photos MB882 (one of the decal options) seem to show early-style gear. I don't know if the kit parts are correct for some Mk.XIIs, but I've opted to leave off the oleo scissors, file the doors flat and reshape them and the wheel wells – all a quick "fix" that probably isn't 100% accurate, but should do for all but ardent rivet counters.
Instructions and decals The assembly guide is supplied as a 10-page A-4 booklet. Construction is broken down into 45 simple stages and the sequence is straightforward and easy to follow. Humbrol paint numbers are keyed to most of the details.
The exterior painting guide is printed on a separate sheet in full colour and depicts two schemes:
a. Spitfire Mk.XII s/n MB882, EB-B, flown by Flt.Lt. Donald Smith (RAAF), No. 41 Sqn, Tangmere, October 1943.
b. Spitfire Mk.XII s/n EN6252, DL-K, flown by Sqn.Ldr. R.H. Harries, No. 91 (Nigeria) Sqn, Hawkinge, May 1943.
The decals look very good quality, printed with a satin finish in perfect register on my sheet. The carrier film is trimmed tightly around the designs, and the colours look very good, with a nice dull Roundel Red and convincing Sky. The sheet includes a good selection of stencil markings.
Conclusion I like Airfix's Spitfire Mk. XII. It's well priced to appeal to the mass market and, while dyed-in-the-wool rivet counters will undoubtedly never be satisfied, it seems more accurate to me than previous attempts to depict the type. The kit is well engineered and simple enough for beginners, while offering enough detail to satisfy more experienced modellers. As Mal Mayfield would say "You can't have too many Spitfires", and it's great to see the first of the Griffon-powered production fighters finally available as a mainstream kit. Recommended.
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