Revell 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb (03897) Build Review

I start this build by addressing a couple of things I want to change. First is the spinner. I’m fairly certain that what Revell have done here is to simply copy the spinner and propellor originally provided with their new-tool Spitfire Mk IIa released in 2016. But the Vb spinner was distinctively different: longer and with the propellor mounted further forward (the Vb propellor is also heftier, but I can’t think of any simple way to address that, so I’ll be using the provided prop). The extended spinner does make the nose of the Vb look notably different – you can see what I mean on these images below of two Spitfires from the RAF Museum. These show a Spitfire Mk Ia (left) and Vb (right).

You’ll also note that the Vb spinner sits flush with the front of the fuselage while there is a distinct gap between the Mk Ia spinner and the front of the fuselage. The part that needs attention here is part 6 from sprue A, the base of the spinner. And while most of this kit has sharp detail and clean moulding, this part doesn’t. It has prominent moulding seams front and back, it isn’t entirely flat on either side and it isn’t even circular. In short, it looks as though it has been carved out of warm plasticene with a rusty spoon.

After I clean it up, I add a disk of 1mm thick plastic card to the front of this part, drilling the small piece of card to fit over the pin on which the propellor fits. Then, I add the prop and spinner. When the glue is dry, I sand the resulting extended spinner to something closer to the shape and size of the original. Above you can see a loose test-fit of the reshaped spinner within the temporarily joined fuselage halves. Certainly not perfect, but I think this does now look at least a little less wrong than what was provided in the box. With that small job done, I begin the next piece of work, seeing if I can cut out the cockpit access door so that I can show it open. That shouldn’t be too difficult, but to show that door open, I need to be able to show the canopy in the open position so the first step is checking that this is actually possible.

The canopy is provided in three separate parts: the windscreen, the sliding bubble canopy and the short glazed rear section. I thought that meant I’d be able to show the canopy open, in the fully slid-back position. I was wrong. On the original and in the fully slid-back position, the canopy sits over the rear fuselage, just ahead of the radio mast as you can see above. Out of the box, the sliding part of the canopy provided here does not fit over the fuselage, not even close. And while trying to wrestle it into place, I managed to split the sliding part of the canopy in half, which caused the inadvertent startling of my cat through a sudden stream of expletives. I don’t really understand this – what’s the point of providing a canopy in three parts if you cannot show it in the open position? Having said that the canopy doesn’t look too thick in the in-box review, I now have to revise this: it is too thick to be placed in the open position without a fair amount of work. It would probably be fine if you assemble the three parts in the closed position, but that’s not what I want to do.

I’ll continue with the build, but I’ll need to try to source a vacuuform replacement canopy. I said in the In-Box review that I appreciated the ability to be able show the canopy open (that was actually one of the reasons I chose this kit!) but don’t be fooled by the fact that the canopy here is provided in three parts: you can’t show it in the open position without risking breaking it as I did. At least cutting out the access door is simple. You can see above everything blue-tacked roughly into position. With those jobs done, I move on to construction, following the sequence in the instructions. I begin by assembling and painting the five parts that comprise the cockpit and I add the decals for the instrument panel and the Sutton harnesses.

The finished cockpit actually looks OK, though the decal harness straps look a little cartoon-like. I then assemble the fuselage halves with the cockpit inside. Fit is, well, sort of OK, but a long way short of perfect: no matter how tightly it’s clamped, the is a small but noticeable gap on the fuselage top, just behind the cockpit. The halves themselves aren’t flat and some filling, sanding and re-scribing of panel lines will be required to get rid of the most obvious joins.

Interlude: Replacement Canopy

Having messed up the kit canopy while trying to wrestle it into place in the open position, I have sourced a replacement vacuuform canopy. I haven’t used one of these before, so I thought I’d share the experience.  I have gone for a canopy from Czech company Rob Taurus, mainly because these seem to be readily available here in Spain and for less than €3. RT don’t do a canopy specifically for the Revell Vb, so I have gone for one intended for the Tamiya Mk V on the basis that one 1/72 Spitfire V canopy just can’t be too different to any other. I think…

And this is what you get…

The moulding looks sharp and the framing seems to be  nicely defined. Obviously, all parts will have to be carefully cut out of the surrounding plastic. One thing worth noting is that there are gaps comprising scrap plastic moulded between the windscreen, sliding section and rear portion of the canopy. I’m hoping that will make it easier to cut these out as three separate parts, but it means that even if you plan to show the canopy closed, you’ll still have to cut the three parts out separately and then fix them together. Before I start cutting, I pack the canopy with plasticene to stop the thin plastic from distorting while I cut.

Then, with a fresh craft knife or scalpel blade, you start scoring, very lightly and carefully, round the edges of the part. This does take some care and a steady hand, so make you have had (or not had, depending how it affects you) your daily coffee before you start.

This what I end up with. It still needs some cleaning up with emery paper, but it isn’t too bad. And a quick check suggests that it fits in place much better in the open position that the canopy provided with the kit.

I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be using the rest of the Rob Taurus canopy or the kit parts, but with that out of the way, it’s back to main construction. I do a dry-fit of the wings to check fit. The wing-root joins are very good and will barely require filler, which is great. What’s not so great is the fit of the separate wingtips. The join is very evident and the profile and leading edges of the wingtips don’t seem to quite match the profile of the wings – filling, sanding and re-scribing of panel lines will clearly be needed here.

I deal with the wingtips and add the wings, rudder and other bits and pieces to complete main construction. Overall, fit is pretty good in most places and no major sanding or filling is required.

Next, I begin painting with several light coats of Vallejo Light Sea Grey on the underside.

Then, I move on the top and begin with a couple of light coats of Humbrol Acrylic Ocean Grey. And it’s immediately apparent that it’s just much too dark. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader, I don’t care too much about precise colour matches on my kits, but this is too far from the original even for me.

I mix up a lightened version of the same colour and repaint, which at least looks closer to the original.

Then I add the dark green camo. The grey still looks a little dark, but I can probably live with it.

Then it’s on to painting the yellow panels on the outboard sections of the wing leading edges, something I’m not looking forward to because it involves masking and that’s something I almost always have problems with. This time it isn’t too bad – not great, mind you, just not as crap as usual.

Next, I add the windscreen and the fixed rear part of the canopy. I decided to use the kit parts rather than the replacement vacuuform parts but there is a problem: I attempt to use the larger, armoured windscreen, and it just doesn’t fit. Even after lots of filing and sanding, the lower front part of the windscreen (which does look way overscale) floats above the fuselage. Finally, I give up and instead use the smaller of the two kit windscreens which does at least fit and looking at photos, this actually looks more like the windscreen on a Mk Vb Spitfire than the armoured version!

I add the sliding part of the canopy (using a dab of PA glue) and the cockpit access door. Next, it’s time to apply the decals, and there are quite a few. They’re nicely dense and printed precisely in-register, and they’re not too thick – they conform well to what’s underneath with a couple of applications of Vallejo Decal Softener. The only tricky bits are the tail ring, which comes in two pieces with a join on the top of the fuselage and the patches over the machine gun muzzles.  Getting the tail ring lined up without any gap takes a bit of fiddling and the small red patches just don’t want to bend over the wing leading edges.  

Then, I add the propellor, undercarriage, exhausts and radio mast. No problems with fit, and finally, I add some oil paint streaks and shadows and that’s this Revell Spitfire Vb done. 

After Action Report

For whatever it’s worth, I don’t feel, as I have read elsewhere, that this is a terrible kit. Though I’d have to say that it’s not completely wonderful either. The kit spinner is too small, you can’t show the canopy open and the armoured windscreen won’t fit in any way that looks credible. Set against that, the overall shape and proportions of the wings, tail and fuselage look pretty good to me (though I haven’t measured them) and while perhaps some of the surface detail isn’t 100% accurate, overall, it doesn’t look too  bad. The decals seem comprehensive and I do like the harness decals – I think they notably improve the cockpit interior.

I wanted a cheap kit on which I could practise my rusty aircraft kit building skills, and this certainly allowed me to do that. It’s as cheap as it gets for any 1/72 kit, in most places fit really isn’t too bad and there is really nothing here that would challenge the skills of even a novice kit-builder. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed. If you want a totally accurate 1/72 Spitfire Vb, you may want to look elsewhere. 

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Revell 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb (03897) In-Box Review and History

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