AFRICAN EAGLE – MK 22 in Rhodesian Air Force Service
By Tony Dill
The future Southern Rhodesian Air Force had previously been established as the Southern Rhodesian Air Unit, which in turn was renamed No. 1 Squadron, Southern Rhodesia Air Force, on the 6th September, 1939; As such it lasted as independent organisation for only about six months. The war in Europe was developing rapidly and unfavourably for the British prompting rapid mobilisation of overseas resources for the war effort. In April 1940, SRAF was therefore absorbed into the Royal Air Force and No.1 Squadron was renamed 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron RAF. This was not a very popular move at all. Soon, the Rhodesian Air Training Group (RATG) was initiated as part of the Empire Training Scheme. During the course of the war, RATG expanded to four Service Flying Training Schools, an Initial Training Wing, a combined Air Observers and Air Gunners School and a Central Flying School for instructors. Over 7600 pilots and 2300 navigators were trained in Rhodesia during the war years.
As the war progressed two more RAF units received the name “Rhodesian”: No. 266 Squadron and No. 44 Squadron.
Immediately after hostilities had ceased the training establishments were rapidly reduced. However training of RAF crews in Rhodesia would eventually continue until 1954. In 1947 the Southern Rhodesian Air Force was re-established. Initially it consisted one Communications Flight operating a miscellany of well-worn trainers and transports left over from the Rhodesian Air Training Group. It was not until 1951 that the force received its first combat aircraft, 22 ex-RAF Supermarine Spitfire Mk. 22. These fighters equipped No 1 & 2 Squadrons in a newly-established air base in New Sarum. And that is as far as the history of the Rhodesian Air Force will concern us.
The Airfix Spitfire Mk22/24 and its stable mate, the Seafire Mk46/47, are arguably amongst their best designed kits ever and I will stick my neck out and say that they still hold their own against the newer Airfix kits.
In comparison to more modern kits, this one appears to be positively simple with a low parts count. In fact upon opening the box I was surprised to find only 2 sprues, one of which was the clear sprue.
Decals are included for 3 aircraft and despite their age worked well. I tested one on my “test bomb” an old messed up kit, more out of curiosity than any other reason.
However, I was using EAGLE STRIKE SHEET 48212, SPITFIRE, END OF THE LINE 22/24, which includes SR65, 1 Squadron Southern Rhodesian Air Force, Salisbury, June 1953.
Traditionally the build starts with the cockpit area, which seems to reasonably accurate albeit a little sparse. Not much will be seen after all is closed up, so I confined my remedial actions to the addition of an Airwaves set of etched brass seat belts. Although not the later prepainted product from the likes of Eduard, it does an admirable job of filling the very noticeable lack of seat belts. I elected to discard the pilot figure. Flying Officer Biggles….
At this point I headed off at a tangent and prepainted all the parts of the very imposing 5 bladed propeller. The 1 Squadron SRAF Spitfires had their spinners painted gloss red, so I selected an appropriate gloss red from my selection of Tamiya paints. The blades were the usual colours of black with yellow tips and I airbrushed the tips with Vallejo Golden Yellow and Satin black on the remainder of the blades. When dry, these parts were brought together, and set aside to dry.
Again, flying in the face of fashion, I ignored the instructions, and boldly voyaged where none had gone before.
No these are not the Voyages of the Starship Enterprise, merely my imagination running riot.
Back to reality, I turned my attention to the undercarriage and while Airfix appear to have done a decent job of moulding the undercarriage legs,
I felt they could be improved upon. So scratching in my Box of Never-ending Junk aka The Spares Box, I chanced upon a totally suitably length of copper wire from some long forgotten electronic device, or toy. I dutifully measured, compared, measured, and finally cut to length the required length of Brake line. Naturally, repeated for the other leg. Having still not satisfied my urge to improved I scratched further and chancing once more upon the afore mentioned Airwaves British seatbelts set was gratified to see that it included etched scissors links. They would be ideal to replace the clunky kit parts. And so it was that I added the etched scissors links to the undercarriage legs. These and the completed spinner propeller assembly were put aside till later. No need to chance damaging anything with a lot of work still to do.
Happily I returned to the main assembly, the two fuselage halves went together faultlessly with no gaps, and the wing assembly was equally good with no gaps at the wing roots or the gullwing section, which seems to be the traditional weak spots of Spitfires that I have built in the past. Certainly as good, regarding fit, as the Eduard Spitfire MkIXe that I have recently built. At this point I added the two clear parts representing the wingtip lights, predrilled and painted on the inside with the relevant green and red. My idea was to fill the tiny gaps noticeable around the clear parts and blend and fair them into the surface of the wing. A succession of filler, sanding, primer followed, using the Micromesh system of ever finer abrading cloths till the required brilliance was achieved. This alone achieved much to raise the overall level of the finished model.
Small simple things can and do make a big difference.
At this point I sprayed Tamiya Fine Grey Primer over the entire model to check for flaws. Oh yes, all relevant parts were masked. A few touch ups, a rescribe here and another there and I was happy. I then sprayed the model with primer again and when I was satisfied with what I saw, I used the ever trusty Micromesh System to polish the primer till it was smooth as glass. I removed all the sanding debris, using a Wet Wipes designed to wipe babies with. It’s soft and gentle and will not harm your paint work. Oh yes, it’s cheap.
Still bouncing around, I cleaned up the windscreen and canopy, and dunked them in my steadily diminishing bottle of Kleer. I wasn’t happy with the rear canopy as despite a coat of Kleer, it remained distorted. A moulding flaw, I reckoned as I have read other reports of this. Best pose it open then. But this would reveal another problem as I was to discover.
These Rhodesian Spitfires were painted in an overall Light Gloss Grey, and were very well looked after so I determined to finish SR65 in this manner. To this end I used a 50:50 mixture of Tamiya Sky Grey and Gloss coat. Utilising my trusty Badger 150, still going after all these years, I was soon at work. As usual the Tamiya acrylic seemed idiot-proof, and was pleased that a satisfactory finish was achieved.
The model was set aside and the paint allowed to cure for 24hours before returning with Micromesh, clean-up and airbrushing another coat with a larger percentage of gloss to Sky Grey, 60:40.
Decals followed and for once I was a tad disappointed as the Eagle Strike decals seemed far thicker than I seem to associate with this manufacturer, and it took a few coatings of setting solution, the excellent Microsol/Set system, to get them to bed down into the panel lines, but we got there in the end. After my usual 24 hour waiting period I gently washed the model down to remove any trace of the setting solutions, as leaving them will cause stains which you seal in inadvertently, when you apply the sealing coat of Clear varnish in your next step.
Following a curing period in a dust free place I returned to inspect my handiwork and decided that all was well and time to move onto the next stage.
As I have already mentioned, a friend of mine who was a serving member of the SRAF, informed me that these aircraft were kept in an immaculate state. All fine and well but I could not bring myself to stop at this point. So the next weapon in my arsenal was hauled. One of my favourites, Flory’s Weathering Wash. I used Dark Dirt in this case. What I like about this Product is that because it is a clay based wash it has no chance of damaging your previously applied paint. But remember to apply it over a gloss surface, otherwise the pigmentation will dig into and adhere to the entire painted surface, if you apply it over a matt surface, not just the all-important panel lines.
Ask me how I can impart these all important words of wisdom? Well in the school of life sometimes, I don’t bother to read the instructions…..and we all know what normally results from that. No I managed to salvage the kit but it cast me a repaint.
I stir the bottle thoroughly then using an old wide brush, apply the wash all over the model not taking particular attention to confine the application to the panel lines, after all you are going to remove it all.
Next important thing to do is to do nothing. Sounds strange when I put it that way, but that is what comes next, you put the model aside and allow the Flory wash to dry out. Make a cup of tea and a ham and cheese sandwich or whatever you fancy.
How long to wait? Now the Flory’s wash will tell you on its own. As it dries, you see, it takes on a chalky appearance. Just after application, it’s wet and shiny. Takes about 45 minutes more or less, depending on the climatic conditions, and how thickly you applied it.
Fine, now it’s all chalky and dry, using a roller towel or better still, an old piece of T-shirt material, dampen one corner slightly and choosing a point, I normally start with one of the wings, gently commence rubbing in circles, moving in in overlapping movements. Don’t try to remove everything in one go. By wiping from fore to aft you can leave streaks representing streaks and strains from movement of the airflow over the airframe. If you remove too much, just re-apply and start all over.
It might appear to be too stark and strong in some of the photos, but bearing in mind that this was exactly the effect I did not want, I continued with a process of applying, removing, applying and so forth until I had reached a state that satisfied me.
Now the Happy Time was at hand, and I could attach all the small details and do the final painting of the details. Undercarriage, main and tail wheel had been painted off the model, using Vallejo Natural steel for the struts and Vallejo Dark Rubber for tyres. The flaps were fitted at the required 66degree angle, needing a bit coaxing to assume the required position. I painted the exhausts with Tamiya Burnt Iron and then rubbed Mig Graphite pigment on the tips.
Remember my comment about the sliding part of the canopy, well when I temporarily fixed in position to airbrush the Light Grey, I noticed that it sat proud and would not conform to shape of the fuselage in the cockpit. Too small! So maybe if I positioned it open it would not be as bad. I really had no other option. I am sure a Vacform canopy exists somewhere in the world, but I had this build to complete so maybe I can source one in the future.
Put that on the Bucket List, Tony!
Plunging forward with equal parts hope, blind faith and desperation, I applied Formula 500 canopy glue to the clear part and ever so gently wedged it over the fuselage, holding it down till set, all the time hoping and praying that it would not split.
So far it hasn’t!
And I did get it to go on it the closed position.
A fun build and one that I enjoyed tremendously, a few basic detailing steps that will not break the bank and definitely improve the end result.
I do so like the powerful and mean look of these late model Spitfires. They make the early Mk1’s seem almost innocent, if that’s at all possible.