Kevin Powling describes how he replicated the varied all metal finish of his Mick Reeves Spitfire using just one base colour
For many years I have had an interest in aviation. This was sparked by the fact that, in my early years, my parents had a farm that was situated at the end of the runway of Martlesham Heath Aerodrome, in Suffolk. It was close. One of the landing lights was outside the kitchen door! At that time, in the early 1950s, it mainly had Lincolns, then later Meteors, Canberras and other jets.
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This interest lay dormant for many years, but I still maintained a connection by collecting RAF militaria, mainly WWII flying helmets. I had, by then, become a partner in a Visual Merchandising business. This gave me the opportunity to do some sculpting, which, in time, brought me to sculpt a couple of WWII pilot figures, which were then produced in bronze and sold through Flypast magazine. The art side continued to evolve and the techniques also, which proved to be useful in later R/C model projects.
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When my partner and I moved to East Sussex I decided to rekindle my interest in flying. A great way to start was by flying models so in 2013 I bought my first electric foamy and joined the Eastbourne & District Model Flying Club and, later, Hastings MFC. My real goal was to model and fly WWII fighters – what we now call ‘Warbirds’ – the bigger, the better as there was more surface area on which to apply scale detail.
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My technique was to build the models relatively quickly but concentrate on the finish in order to make an impact. This is where my experience in Visual Merchandising proved to be useful, using quick and relatively cheap methods to obtain a good representation. I gradually progressed to larger ARTFs and it was with these models that I realised I could obtain a specific look from starting with the ready-made kits, but then be able to adapt them and introduce details. I could alter these kits and make them my own with weathering and a good paint finish.
As the planes got bigger my fascination for IC engines developed, especially the larger engines. Now my scale warbirds could really develop, with great sound, great power and a great finish – the ideal scenario.
My preferred subject has always been the Spitfire, along with Thunderbolts, Mustangs and Hurricanes. I was definitely stuck in a time warp. I have since owned many examples, weathered them and given them a make-over and re-sold them.
I perfected my techniques and my approach on each of the projects and therefore I started to understand what works and what does not. For example, it is important to remember that whilst it is great to go scale mad at close quarters, when it is in the air, where you want to make the impact, these details disappear.
I had an opportunity, whilst calling into a model shop in Kent. Hanging there was a 1/4 scale Mick Reeves Spitfire, an electric version, which I acquired. I added detail and weathering. It did fly well but the never ending charging and short flights made me convert it to IC using a Valach 120. I had a liking for the Mick Reeves kits and as I became to understand their qualities and nuances, I realised that they would provide good base designs for my purposes. They are quality detailed kits that can be built upon.
Up until then I had bought a number of different Spitfire kits and this led me to my final choice. The idea to build a model of my own from the bottom up was born. So, another Mick Reeves kit was bought, to be powered by a DA 85. I had done a bit of investigation into which engines could fit in the MR Spitfire and hence I came down to these two makes – Valach and Desert Aircraft. Final choice is mainly down to the carburettor positioning.
The end result is this all aluminium finished MJ250 QUF Spitfire. I chose an impressive finish to replicate, as used by 601 Squadron in Italy during 1943 to 1944. For some reason the paint had been stripped back to bare aluminium and this allowed me to do a more interesting finish, which I found rather interesting. The goal was to achieve a look that resembled a working subject that had been abused by the extreme climate and the continued maintenance of opening and shutting inspection panels, not to forget the engineers walking over the wings.
The fuselage is made from the four-part fibre glass moulds with its embossed rivet detail. The wings and elevator were all built up. This combination allowed for a lighter model. The other Spitfire I have is much heavier because it was all built up. The lighter model allowed for better flying characteristics and it is quite stable when flown. Also, let’s not forget, it’s a quicker model to build. My approach was to cover all the built-up parts in epoxy glass, finishing with panel lines and rivets in the normal way. I then sprayed the model in aluminium colour paint as a base coat using normal rattle cans. My approach is to use one colour and knock it back, a relatively cheap process.
To achieve the variations in colour I used wire wool to lightly apply T-Cut, which dulled the silver down. This process is labour intensive, but it allows you to decide on specific groupings and what visually looks right.
There is also extra detail to be had from simulating the panel lines. To do this spray a darker colour, which is considered pre shading, over a second coat of the aluminium spray. By lightly spraying over the panel lines, you can achieve a gradation. For the inspection panels and further panels, which I chose at random, I masked them off and sprayed again using the same paint and then T-Cut again. I repeated this until I was happy with the result, which was to achieve a variation in colour and depth to look like weathering and replacement panels. This is where my display background came in. This is a relatively cheap process that uses just one colour, rather than buying a multitude of variations in metal colours. With the above process you have more control, as you take away or add as needed, and if it is not working you can re-spray that area again.
The overall look should present itself as a worn, working aeroplane. The subject can then be taken further if required, to achieve a gnarly look. The elevator, rudder and ailerons were covered in Solatex and cut tapes were applied to replicate the original control surfaces. The decals, which were obtained from Flightline Graphics, were then applied.
At this, stage you could add a bit of weathering to the edges if required. A little chipping effect allowed the base colour to show through. Then post-shading, using a lightly thinned airbrushed wash of a darker colour, was applied to the panel lines to give them more depth. Once this was completed a coat of satin Klass Kote fuel proofer from Fighter Aces was applied. Further weathering can then be applied if required. I had already visualised how I wanted it to look and decided at what point to stop.
The model is fitted with a working scale exhaust system and this leaves a residue of oil down the side of the fuselage, which meant I did not have to simulate this effect. The cockpit has an instrument panel from Mick Reeves and a pilot from Real Model Pilots. At the moment no more work has been done in this area, mainly to save weight, but in due course an opening door may be fitted. The landing gear comprises of retracts from Electron (I prefer electric ones) with oleos and wheels from Mick Reeves. Overall weight is 16.5kg. It flies really well, is stable and lands just like a real Spitfire. It has completed 33 flights to date.
What you see is quite eye catching and it was all achieved relatively cheaply, but it does need the visualisation and patience. The process took six months.
At this moment my next build is an Me 108 and hopefully it will be flying by the end of the summer. An interesting, speckled camouflage will be applied to replicate an example used in the North African campaign.