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!


Masking a Maryland

It has been a while since I worked on my Martin Maryland – since August, to be exact. That was when Norm Filer delivered a set of custom-made decals for my model, an act which I have no means to repay (other than the usual resin items!). My delaying has resulted in the news that Special Hobby plans to put out an “Adrian Warburton Edition” of the kit with the same markings Norm made for me, so I need to get cracking. (You can all thank me for that – clearly my model karma made Special Hobby do this famous Maltese Maryland.)

Before applying the decals, however, I’m tightening up the camouflage. My friend Ben Pada, the last time he saw the model, asked in his familiarly brutal Hawaiian-accented way, “you gonna clean up the camouflage, right?” At the time, I wasn’t, but Ben convinced me that I should. The feathered edges were just not sharp enough, so I went and masked the French khaki and French chestnut brown areas – leaving the oversprayed areas un-masked – and feathered on some French dark blue gray. When the masks were removed, those spray lines were indeed tightened, with a hint of a feathered edge. Pretty convincing – although I have a few spots to touch up, and I have to get the lower surfaces’ camouflage lines masked and resprayed yet, too.

Then, I’ll gloss the model and decal it and get into overdrive toward completion. The props, wheels and turret are done; I’ll need to make up the bombardier’s upper and lower clamshell doors and the pilot’s canopy, and I desperately need to address the wing leading edge lights, but that will come later. This will also be a fairly heavily weathered machine, so some silver pencils and pastels will come into use.

The landing gear struts were almost comically simple in real life, so they’ll just need some clean up and some simple brake lines. I also have to add the observer’s seat belts. I keep forgetting to do this; now, it’s going to be like a game of Operation fitting the belts to the seat. Just another minor issue to contend with.

I’m still not used to the French camouflage – but this is the first French camouflage-clad plane I’ve ever built. When the markings are on, I’ll be more comfortable with it.

Hopefully, I can get the model decaled by the end of day, Saturday. If I do that, it’ll be nothing but finishing work until the Maryland is done.

How much blacker could a Firefly’s interior be? None. None more black.

In an effort to mix things up, I busted out the Special Hobby Fairey Firefly V this weekend and started work on its cockpit. The Firefly V had one interior color option straight from the dealer – basic black. However, there were some nice little color flourishes thrown in, and black is a fun challenge to paint and drybrush. A lot of people fear black – as an inside color or as an outside color – but I like it. That may be because I was an art student at one time – when I was 12 or 13, I began painting landscapes in oils and took a mess of lessons. When I was 17, I sold enough paintings to fund my way to Washington D.C. for a trip with a classmate and my social studies teacher, Helen Mineta; we stayed at her brother’s Norm house and I was there to see him and Daniel Inoyue testify at the hearings on reparations for the Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
Of course, that adventure has squat to do with painting a Firefly interior. You know what does, though? This page. Go to “Media Gallery,” then select “Search the Media Gallery!” and in the first three blocks enter “photo,” “detail” and “interior.” You’ll be rewarded with 10 shots of the inside of Eddie Kurdziel’s Firefly WB518, an immaculately-restored Firefly VI, which has a very stock-appearing cockpit (period covers are in place over modern instruments).
I had a lot of fun working on the instrument panel, with its red, yellow and blue bezels in certain spots. I airbrushed the photoetched kit panels with Testors’ aircraft interior black, then drybrushed them with panzer gray. The bezels were painted the appropriate bright colors, and then the acetate backs were added with Future floor polish as an adhesive – it creates its own clear lens over each instrument!
The rest of the interior will get a going-over next. It’ll be an exercise in drybrushing – the many resin parts are already painted a very dark gray, so a wash would be pointless. Picking out the various “black boxes,” however, is where the tricks will come in. Since these came from subcontractors, often there were minor variations in finish – some were more glossy than others, some more gray. Mixing aircraft interior black, flat black, glossy black and various shades of gray can give you many sheens and shades of black (okay, really, dark gray) and helps break up the “black hole” appearance. Fairey was also kind to us modelers by using a bright red-brown Bakelite seat in the cockpit, another colorful detail in a dark interior.
Stand by for photos…