I’ve always been a huge fan of airplanes in general, and World War II aircraft in particular. My dad was a private pilot, so as a kid, aviation was a constant part of my life. Added to it, my dad was friends with many WWII veterans, and most of them were pilots. If that was not enough, we lived in a town near an Air Force base… and fighter pilots lived all around me, one next door in fact.
So it’s no surprise that I had an early interest in things with wings. I read every book in the school library on aviation multiple times. The librarian told my mom she was having a hard time ordering books to keep up with the pace I devoured them.
And I knew a great deal about the major types for a kid. My dad recounted years later how surprised one of his friends was when he mentioned flying a P-51 in the war. I immediately asked “Was it a B model, or a D model?” I knew all the specs for each type, and had read so many pilot accounts that I was fairly certain I could have at least done a fair start up procedure.
Of course, there were a few types that I never spent much time on… those aircraft that were less glamorous, poor performers, or… Axis. Though that is another story…
A type I did know of, but never really bothered researching, was the Fairey Firefly. The name itself was not really intimidating. You have Mustangs, Thunderbolts, Spitfires, Hurricanes… and here’s the Firefly. Made by Fairey. My 10-year-old mind was not impressed.
And while it didn’t look too terribly odd, nothing about its shape said “fighter”. Rather large in size, with the glazing over the observer’s seat, it seemed to be fighter in name only. And though I did know the specs on it overall, with so many more interesting and exciting types available in book form, the idea of spending much time on what I saw as a “wanna be” fighter relegated it to the “nice to know” category.
Years went by, and I returned to scale modeling as an adult. I once again picked back up where I’d left off, reading every book I could about airplanes. Thankfully (or not if you’re my wallet) the Amazon library did not seem to run out of books so fast.
A Remarkable Turn
One of the books I read was “They Gave Me A Seafire“, by Commander R ‘Mike’ Crosley DSC RN. It details Commander Crosley’s experiences as a Fleet Air Arm pilot in World War II. Several times in its pages he mentioned the Fairey Firefly. The picture he presented was quite different than the impression I had as a youngster. It sounded like it was a capable strike fighter, and did good service in World War II, and even Korea.
What caught my attention was further reading about its flight characteristics. The Firefly was equipped with flaps that could be used in several scenarios. For normal flight, they stayed tucked up away under the wings. Landings, of course, they were fully dropped. However, they had an intermediate position that allowed for greater maneuverability in flight.
The source went on to say that in tests against various Axis types, it performed wonderfully in that flight mode. So well, in fact, that it could turn with a Japanese Zero. Of course, if you know a bit about World War II fighters, you know the axiom “never get in a turning fight with the Zero.” That nimble little fighter was a master of the turn. Yet this big, ungainly looking type could turn with it?
That certainly changed my view of it. And it made me want to model it. In 2016, I built a Mk. I in 1/48 scale, from Special Hobby. It wasn’t a bad kit, but… it was Special Hobby. Even their best kits tend to be a bit overpriced and frustrating to build. While their Firefly was a bit better than others I’d built from that company, nothing about it made me want to do another.
Still, I hoped that someday in the future a company that produced easier to build kits might release this strange but wonderful fighter in kit form. I’d actually grown to like the airplane.
Fast forward to 2018…
Thank You, Trumpeter
Happily, a new tool 1/48 scale Mk. I Firefly has been produced, this time from Trumpeter models. Of course, as with any model from Trumpeter, it has its pluses and minuses.
The interior is reasonably well detailed, though as is so often the case, the research was not great. Special Hobby’s effort is more detailed all around, and judging by a few photos, more accurate. However, nothing is so egregious as to warrant overlooking the Trumpeter offering.
The pilot and observer modules build up into nice sections, each having various floor, side, and firewall pieces that build into a small sub assembly.
Detail in the pilot sidewall area is limited to raised structural detail, with none of the various boxes and greeblies of the real aircraft provided. The instrument panel looks OK. The seat seems to be rather generic looking, though passable. For some odd reason, Trumpeter did not provide a rudder bar and pedals, so I made a simple scratch build addition for that.
The rear observer’s area has a bit more detail, with various boxes and dials and gauges present, though none has any cast in detail.
I briefly considered adding a bit of scratch detail, but decided to just go with a (mostly) out of the box build.
Painting And Detailing
I gave all the interior parts a coat of Tamiya’s XF-71 Cockpit Green. The color is actually meant for Japanese naval aircraft, but it’s close enough that I’ve always found it suitable for use in British types from WWII. To save time, the paint was thinned with Mr. Color Leveling Thinner. On most plastic models, this provides enough adhesion to skip the priming coat.
That was followed up with a bit of sponge chipping and dry brushing with a lighter green shade of the cockpit green. This helps give a slightly worn appearance, and also helps to highlight the edges of parts. Next, various boxes and bits were painted Vallejo Black Gray (or Gray Black… I can never remember). I like to use this because it’s not as stark as pure black, allowing for a better scale appearance, and also for pure black to be added for shading.
All the knobs and dials and switches were painted white, using a fine liner brush. Even if a button or dial will later be painted another color, I like to use white as the base to help the later color stand out more. When the white was dry, I added a few touches of red. A kit supplied decal was applied to the instrument panel.
More weathering was added, in the form of both Prismacolor Silver pencil chipping, and using a mechanical pencil. While both provide a metallic sheen, I like the contrast each brings to the table. The mechanical pencil suggests older, more worn scratches, while the Prismacolor Silver replicates newer scuffs and scrapes.
As a final touch, some pre-painted Eduard seatbelts were added. They’re not the exact ones used in the Firefly, but… they were the ones the local hobby shop had available. So they’ll do.
My next step was to do a panel line wash. My typical procedure in past models was to give everything a good gloss coat, apply enamel or oil washes, wipe off the excess after a few minutes, and then… wait. It has to dry. Sometimes it can take several days. Adding a matte coat later, if the washes aren’t dry, can leave the matte varnish looking a bit crinkly and grainy.
So I decided to try something new I’ve been doing – use Citadel’s Gloss Nuln Oil. Nuln Oil is essentially an acrylic wash. By using a gloss acrylic wash over a gloss coat, it greatly reduces the surface tension, and helps to avoid the “tide marks” that often accompany applying acrylic washes.
I was quite happy with the results. And even happier with the drying time – about half an hour. For me, moving projects along quickly is critical, so any time saving methods are welcome. This one is very helpful. I’ve yet to try it on the external surfaces of a model, so I may use this Firefly as a test subject.
So far, I am happy with this Firefly from Trumpeter. While not quite as detailed as the Special Hobby kit is internally, the assembly I’ve done so far has been much, much better. The wings fit together, the test fit of the fuselage halves and wings are flawless, and the surface detail is excellent. Trumpeter’s lack of research is a bit of a disappointment, but I’ll trade that in any day for buildability.
Up next will be the full assembly and priming! And then those Fleet Air Arm colors… my favorites!