Second try’s the charm: Special Hobby’s Firefly F.I

I battled my way through Special Hobby’s Firefly FR.5 a few years ago, and found that it was missing details, the fit was rough and it had no useable ordnance. It was also missing the formation and landing lights, the landing gear had to be scratch-built, and the gear doors needed to be replaced and detailed. Also, the exhausts were easily knocked loose, the slipper tanks didn’t fit and the gun fairings needed to be replaced.

 

Other than that, this is a great kit! My FR.5 took a second at the 2017 IPMS/USA Nationals, which was a really pleasant surprise considering the amount of work it took to get it together.

The finished Firefly FR.5, wearing Royal Australian Navy markings.

So, what do you do to recover from such a model? You build another one!

 

Actually, that’s not true. I finished up the excellent Eduard 1:72 Fokker Dr.I and salvaged a shelf-of-doom Avro CF-100 Canuck first. But the memories of my first Firefly were fresh in my mind – so I figured I’d at least know when the rough spots were coming and have a better chance of avoiding them on my Firefly F.1.

 

The F.1 was the first Firefly in combat. Although it was never widely deployed during WWII, the Firefly was in on all of the Fleet Air Arm’s big actions in 1944 and 1945, most notably Operation Tungsten (the attack on the Tirpitz) and Operations Meridian 1 and 2 (the attack on oil refineries at Balikpapan in Borneo). The Fireflies were used primarily for flak suppression on those missions, but later demonstrated their ability as a fighter-bombers while ranging over Japan. The Firefly didn’t look like a classic fighter, but the Fireflies of 1770 Squadron shot down nine Japanese planes (four Ki-43s, four Ki-51s and a Ki-44), their 20mm cannons proving lethal.

 

The Special Hobby Firefly F.1 is less deadly than the FR.5. The FR.5 has wing-mounted radiators that impaired the wing-fuselage fit and those miserable slipper tanks, but the F.1 does not, so I expected the F.1 to be easier. I conveniently forgot the F.1 has a chin-mounted radiator and strange carburetor intake ducts, so the degree of difficulty is about the same.

 

However, I came to this fight armed with knowledge of the kit’s quirks. That helped a lot!

 

My first stop was, as usual, the cockpit. The resin and photoetched parts in the kit are rather nice, and I realized during this build that Special Hobby includes different details specific to the variant for the rear of the observer’s cockpit among its resin parts. These include the cockpit floor, the forward bulkhead and control panel bulkhead, the cockpit sidewalls, the cockpit rear bulkhead and seat, the forward bulkhead and radio shelves for the observer, the observer’s cockpit rear shelf and the observer’s rear bulkhead. These were all painted a very dark gray, then all except the instrument panel bulkhead were shot with British interior gray-green from the direction of the top of the part, which imparts a nice shadow effect. The F.1 had a green interior, while the FR.5 was primarily black – something I learned from the previous build.

All the detail parts were lightly glued to some spare chopsticks for ease of handling during painting.

With the basic colors in place, I applied a dark gray wash, then drybrushed the parts with a lightened shade of interior gray-green. That set me up to pick out the details; I started with the radios in the rear cockpit, which were carefully painted in slightly different shades of black, then detailed with switch and dial detail. Switches were picked out not with a brush but with the end of a fine wire; dials were detailed, then given a drop of Future to simulate a glass dial face.

The various radios in the observer’s compartment were detailed and lightly weathered – even though they’re hard to see once the models’ finished!

That basic approach was used on the sidewalls and the rear shelf. Once the detail was painted, I very carefully drybrushed these parts with a lighter gray, then gave them an even more careful drybrushing of aluminum to indicate chipping and wear.

 

The photoetched instrument panel was airbrushed a very dark gray and drybrushed with a lighter gray, and the acetate instruments had their backs painted white. I used the same wire for detail painting to add the colored bezels to three instruments: the red bezel around the boost pressure gauge, the blue bezel on the radiator temperature gauge, and the yellow bezel on the oil temperature gauge. I cut out the acetate and added it, adhering it with more Future.

The control panel is very small but still benefits from some detail painting.

The compass in the kit was a little lacking, so I substituted one from the Obscureco Tempest Mk. V detail set (when the sprues aren’t quite perfect, I set them aside – if you need one, let me know!). The compass was painted, the face was drybrushed and the clear lens was added with Future. Once dry, it was added to the bottom of the instrument panel.

The Obscureco compass looks at home below the instrument panel.

The Bakelite seats were painted using ModelMaster burnt sienna, then washed and weathered. The seatbelts were painted in a light tan color and the buckle hardware was carefully detailed with a dull metal color. Details behind the pilot, were painted green and blue, and the headrest was finished in a semi-gloss black color.

The cockpit, with its Bakelite seat and the detailed sidewall.

Next, I painted the tailwheel well and the exhausts. The previous build showed that the design of the exhausts was faulty: They had to be added before the fuselage halves were joined. That meant they were susceptible to being knocked loose in to the fuselage, resulting in a frustrating process of rattling the parts around until they poked through the slot and then carefully re-gluing them. This time, I got smart: I CA-glued styrene strips on the tops and bottoms of the exhausts from the inside, increasing the surface area for the CA to grab on to. Then, I added a rectangle of sheet styrene inside the fuselage over the exhausts, again adding more CA and more reinforcement.  I also added some styrene strip to sandwich the tailwheel well in place and prevent it from coming loose during construction.

 

The cockpit parts all fit into the fuselage reasonably well. The one weak spot is the sill of the observer’s compartment; in real life, it’s a single shaped piece, but the kit requires three resin parts to link together perfectly to form the sill. Instead, I added strips of .005 styrene to cover the joints and create a single-piece sill.

The observer’s seat and a few of the partial sill, which was replaced with strip styrene.

The radiator for the nose came in two resin pieces: a front, which included the bottom of the nose below the spinner, and the exhaust section. I painted these Interior gray-green, then masked and painted the radiator faces a steel color. The parts were carefully located in the nose and set in place with CA glue.

 

With the interior in place, I joined the fuselage halves, then added the cut-out section that housed the arrestor hook. The fit here was sloppy, but lining the cut-out with .005 styrene on the sides made the fit nice and snug and reduced the sanding and filling to a minimum.

 

The radiator scoop in the chin had a gruesome seam down the middle, and the usual techniques for sanding were useless. Instead, I made a .005 styrene shape that fit tightly into the nose and painted it interior gray green, too. After smoothing the inside of the intake as much as I could, I added the styrene shape with plenty of CA glue. Once dry, I trimmed any excess and then sanded the lip. Just like that, I had a seamless intake.

Seam in the chin intake? What seam in the chin intake?

The carburetor intakes are mostly included on the fuselage, but for some reason their openings are provided as small resin pieces. I used and engraving bit in my motor tool to open the openings, then used a curved microfile to clean up the interiors. These were added to the fuselage ducts with CA and smoothed with files. These intakes really should be oval, not half-circles, but the kit provides oval photoetched covers that should disguise the intakes’ true shapes.

The fuselage, joined up and described. The silver Sharpie ink on the top of the fuselage helps reveal unfilled seams.

Next came the clear parts. I knew the observer’s canopy would sit proud of the top of the fuselage, so I sanded the bottom of it carefully until the problem disappeared. Then, I used a cut-off disk in my motor tool to open the observer’s canopy, carefully cutting and then filing the edges to get a good, square opening. I also separated the sliding canopy from the windscreen. All the removed parts would be replaced by vacuformed parts later. The transparent parts were dipped in Future and placed under a bowl to dry in order to avoid dust settling on the still-wet parts.

The canopy was sanded down to ensure it fit without standing proud of the fuselage…

…And then a black Sharpie was run around the edges to provide the inner lip and to eliminate the strange reflective appearance of the clear parts where they glue on to the model.

The kit gunsight broke off somewhere during construction, so I replaced it with A Quickboost GM2. I cut a piece of the Quickboost-provided acetate and sanded it to have the correct round reflector glass. I carefully ran a black Sharpie pen around the reflector glass’ perimeter, creating a “frame.” The gunsight was added to the top of the instrument panel and painted and airbrushed in place, then the reflector was added to the gunsight with white glue.

The gunsight and reflector both in place atop the instrument panel.

The windscreen was added next in order to protect the gunsight. The observer’s canopy came next. Both were added with CA glue, and the fit required a lot of extra sanding; the canopies were polished back to clarity with several grades of fine sanding sticks and a final buffing with Blue Magic auto polish. A final brush-applied coat of Future completed the clear parts.

 

Next time: the wings and, wheel wells and the propeller!

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