Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Building a Flying Legend........MH434.

Building a Flying Legend....My story of building my dream warbird MH434.

There are some aircraft more than any other that we love. In my case it is the Supermarine Spitfire. I have been building models of Spitfire's for as long as I can remember and as a boy I became fascinated watching them in movies and later, seeing them at airshows.

The first time I saw a Spitfire in the air was when as a teenager. I was taken to RIAT the Royal International Air Tattoo. It was a lovely summer day and standing by the flight line I heard the roar of the Merlin engine at full throttle. A Mk.IX Spitfire screamed across the runway at low level..........

MH434 at RIAT 1996. Photograph Copyright: Darren McGuinness. 

From that moment on I was obsessed by Spitfire's! Years later when I came back to the hobby of scale modelling I became more knowledgeable about the subjects I was building through research. By chance I came across a film all about one certain Spitfire known as MH434. I recognised her instantly and revelled in the film called "A Spitfire's Story."
Its a great film for Spitfire fans, it shows 434's story from her beginning in a factory to her rebuild in 1995. If you get the chance, do give it a watch. Its a great film.

I have always loved 434 because she was a combat Spitfire with a long and remarkable history and she was the first warbird I ever saw flying. She had a profound impact on me that sparked my interest in warbirds, military aviation and modelling. It could be said that a Spitfire changed my life!

MH434 through the years has seen a lot of flying, she literally is flying history!
 Built at Castle Bromwich in 1943 she saw combat with 222 Sqn. RAF and retired in March 1945. From there, she served with the Royal Netherlands Air Force and later, the Belgian Air Force.

MH434 with 222 Sqn at RAF Hornchurch 1943.

MH434 returned to England in 1956 and was given a full overhaul and civilian markings. She was then flown purely for pleasure, but made her first silver screen appearence in the film Operation Crossbow..........shen has since gone on to feature in other film and television work, including the films A Bridge Too Far, the Battle of Britain and more recently, The Monuments Men.

In April 1983, MH434 was sold at auction to Ray Hanna, who founded the Old Flying Machine Company based at Duxford. MH434 has been based there ever since and is one of the most famous airworthy Spitfire's in the world today. Over the years I watched Ray Hanna and his son Mark Hanna display their warbirds with remarkable skill and precision at airshows all over the UK. They are no longer with us now, but both these men were RAF fighter pilots through and through taking to the skies on the front line in combat jets and later on delighting thousands with thrilling air displays.

I never met them in person. Those who did spoke of two men who were the most wonderful  gentlemen one could hope to meet. This build is my tribute to them. To say thank you for all those displays and for keeping MH434 flying.

Being a huge fan of one particular Spitfire meant at some point I would be seeking to build a model of MH434. My first model of 434 was in the guise of the 1/48
Airfix Mk.IX that I built in 2007. It was before Hornby had bought Airfix and it was what we would have expected at the time. It was a simple kit with decals that were........well, lets say a bit on the thick side. The big draw for me was that this kit had decals to build MH434.

Here's the result:

I thought it was nice at the time, but to be fair it was not my finest hour! I was still learning then as I am still learning now-I like to think that I have improved a little over the years! 

When the new tool Tamiya 1/32 Spitfire Mk.IX was released I was amazed by the engineering of the kit and by just how much detail there was in the parts and moulds. I wanted one there and then! Then I saw the price and realised that I would have to save up my pennies for a mighty long time................

In 2011 a good friend sent me my dream kit, I had no idea! He just told me that he picked up something he thought I'd like and that it was on the way. When this kit arrived I was amazed and deliriously happy! I still thank my lucky stars I have such amazing friends in my life. 

This kit is expensive and its a gift from a great friend, I was scared to actually build it! It took me a couple of years to pluck up the courage to start this one, I wanted it to be my best effort. 

When I was planning this build, I knew that I would have to build her as MH434! As there were no decals readily available, my friend donated some limited edition decals for 434. I was on my way! It became clear early on that with the decals, there was no nose art, so I would be building 434 in her wartime guise. As it turned out, 434 had her nose art when she was at RAF Hornchurch in 1943. Flying Officer Pat Lardner-Burke was 434's pilot at 222 Sqn and he had his wife's name painted on the side of the aircraft with his victory markings. Lardner-Burke was an ace scoring eight and a half combat kills.

However 434 did see combat without the nose art as evidenced in the photograph above so with the decals I had I was good to go!
Whilst in conversation with some friends, the subject of which paint scheme I should choose came up and we discussed just how many schemes that 434 has worn over the years. Wartime, civilian, PRU Blue, modern day, the choices are many and varied! 

In the end it came down to which paint job was my favourite. I decided to build her as she was right after her rebuild in 1995. There is a scene in the film "A Spitfire's Story" when Ray and Mark Hanna are standing with 434 outside a hanger at Duxford. 434 is is freshly painted and her engine is exposed. Its a picture that has stayed in my mind for years and I thought it would be a fitting tribute. 

That's how this project started and the rest as they say.........is history!

So, now you know the why, here is the how. Tamiya's 1/32 Spitfire Mk.IX built as MH434.


As usual I commenced work on the cockpit area first. The inside of the fuselage was sprayed with aluminium and RAF Interior Green.

Interior cockpit parts were also painted and detailed

The Instrument Panel that Tamiya have produced for this model is fantastic. It is assembled in three layers just like the real thing!

Here the all the cockpit elements are assembled together before the fuselage is closed up.
I added extra details after studying photo's of MH434's cockpit. It's seat, wiring looms and piping have all been modified. 

The Airframe:

Tamiya have engineered this kit most carefully to accommodate different wing configurations, so check references to be sure! 

Tamiya make it easy to achieve the correct dihedral angle for the wing with its design.

Fuselage to wing root, careful here! Take the  time to dry fit first! 

Here we have the airframe fully assembled. This kit includes movable flying surfaces, so one can pose the Rudder and flaps as  they wish. A note of caution: This model is so finely engineered that you need to be accurate in lining up the parts to fit properly. A careless mistake at this stage of the build will come back and bite you later!!! 

The Engine:

Here we have a high spec model of the Rolls Royce Merlin Engine. I have replaced the kits Rocker Covers with  aftermarket resin parts which include the Rolls Royce logo.

Here is the finished engine! I added a lot of detail to this piece as it will be on view in the finished model.It is well worth putting some extra work into this as it really makes the finished model look the part!

First step in the paint process was a pre-shade of all the panel lines and and moving surfaces.

Here the airframe has been airbrushed with several light coats Tamiya RAF Ocean Grey. This photo shows the last coat with the dark edges of the panel just showing through.
The Tamiya RAF Light Grey has been applied in mist coats from the airbrush. This photo shows how spraying several light coats of paint can alter how weathered an airframe can be made to look.
Here I have masked off a camouflage pattern using blu tac "sausages" and a liquid mask. The rolled blu tac edges provide the modeller with a soft edge between the colours the airframe. 
Here the masks are removed and we have our first look at the camouflage  pattern. My next task is to apply the markings to the airframe. 

The Markings-Using Masks! 

I'll start right here by holding my hands up and saying that this is my first attempt at using paint masks for markings instead of using decals. I had never wanted to do this, however when my mate Frank mailed me a custom set of Ad Astra masks, my mind began to wonder..........

Over a long period of time Frank and I discussed using these masks and I kept resisting the idea stating that it would be too difficult for me to do. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to use these on the most expensive kit I've ever built and I took the plunge! 
My heartfelt thanks to Frank for once again being so generous with his kindness, time, advice and understanding! 

This was not an easy process. However if it's planned out and carefully executed, even someone like me can make it look good! 

The toughest job was the four colour roundels on the fuselage, they are very tricky to get right! But I did it and it really make the model pop when the markings are painted on! 

The following photo's show how the masking was done and the Blue/Red shades for the tail flash and roundels were mixed Tamiya shades. Nothing scientific here-I just kept mixing paints until I found a shade I liked! 

Here the roundels and walkway markings are applied. And yes, they are meant to be like that. This is how 434 looked back in 1995! 

All done! Tad Daaarrrr!!!!!
I used aftermarket brass cannon barrels, there were a real pain to fit to the wing as they did not have any lugs to attach to the wing! I drilled the barrels and made lugs from brass rod. Next time, I'll choose different barrels.

The barrels did go on. With a fight! 

I also used aftermarket wheels, these resin pieces are from Barracuda and they are excellent. 

Engine and Prop installation:
A real beauty! 

One thing that really bothered me was not having a decal for the nose art, I looked all over to no avail. I then got some quotes for custom decal printing and for me, some of the prices were bloody outrageous! 

A friend of mine in the USA came to my aid with some custom decals for the nose art and I have to say the decals were fantastic. I applied them very carefully and my own version of MH434 came to life before me! 

It was just a matter to adding the "Fiddly bits" and she would be finished at last. I sculpted two figures using spare figure parts to represent Ray and Mark and when I thought I had got as close to their likeness as my meagre skills would allow, I placed the model and figures in a purpose built display case. This is my most ambitious build to date and my all time favourite. I can honestly say it has been a true labour of love. 

As I said at the beginning of this post, this build is a tribute to Ray and Mark Hanna and 434. The world was a better place for them being in it and they are missed. I have been told by some who knew them that they would have liked this tribute. I hope so, it's my small way of saying thanks to them for all the great pleasure they gave us. 

Blue skies lads.............