Spitfire – The Rollout

Well, I’ve finished it! Today was the last day of the “Great Spitfire Build”. I started this back in January 2016, there have been periods where I haven’t done any work on it for various reasons (e.g. eye trouble!), however I have been gradually chipping away at the  outstanding tasks over the last couple of months,.

After the main assembly was completed at the beginning of March, I gave the model a couple of coats of Humbrol matt varnish spray, this was to give me a decent non absorbent surface ready for painting.

Next up was painting. I used Humbrol enamel paints – the same as I’d use for plastic kits. I didn’t want to use acrylic paints as those are water-based and I wasn’t sure what effect that would have on the tissue covering. The upper surfaces were painted in Dark Earth and Dark Dreen (Humbrol codes 29 and 30). I had wanted to use Duck Egg Blue (23) for the underside but this was impossible to get hold of (and I was getting a bit impatient by this time!) so I went with Aircraft Blue (65). RAF fighters of the period had their undersides painted in either one blue or the other so it wasn’t as if I was committing a major historical faux pas. OK, WWII pedant alert: that’s apart from the ones painted half black and half white. Moving on.

Next up, the markings. The kit was supplied with roundels and tail markings printed on a sheet of thin paper, so I cut these out and glued them in place using diluted PVA. I also wanted to add some squadron markings. I couldn’t find any suitable decals so I made some stencils using “Frogtape” masking tape. The result is a bit rough but I think it looks OK. “Good enough for Government work”, as American WWII pilots used to say.  After that, just a bit of detail painting (gun port blanking, undercarriage, exhaust pipes, etc.) and a final finishing spray with the matt varnish.

Job done. I think it looks quite good, particularly as it’s the first non-plastic model I’ve made.

A note on the markings – I’ve painted it to depict Spitfire EB-G of 41 Squadron, flown by Eric Lock DSO DFC and Bar, on the 5th September 1940 when he shot down 3 enemy aircraft in one sortie.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Spitfire model topside

Spitfire model underside


On a ‘dark day’ in September I was supposed to be at RAF Hendon sitting in the cockpit of a Spitfire. Instead, I found myself in Addenbrooke’s Hospital having major eye surgery so I sent Bob in my place (he really enjoyed it!).

Luckily, the museum released some new dates and so, sitting at home waiting for my vision to return, I booked myself on another ‘Spitfire Cockpit Experience’. Something to look forward to as I recovered from my eye Op!

Fast forward to the very last day of October: here I am at the RAF Museum, Hendon.

me about to climb into the spitfire

So, I’d finally fulfilled one of my boyhood dreams: to sit in a Spitfire! I wasn’t disappointed.

Clambering in through the small door and sliding down into the pilot’s seat.

With the cockpit door closed I immediately felt part of the aircraft, scanning the instruments, handling the controls and breathing in the smells of ‘old aircraft’.

Bloody marvellous!

me in a spitfire

A view of the cockpit , I’ve even got my boots into the picture!

cockpit view

This is the sort of view the pilot gets while taxying, i.e. bugger all. He would have to zig zag to get a view of the runway ahead before accelerating to get the tail up.

view forward from cockpit

They even loaned me a WWII flying helmet so I could do the full Biggles impersonation. Tally Ho!

me in the spitfireme in the cockpit - thumbs up

‘My’ aircraft was Supermarine Spitfire MK XVI built at Castle Bromwich in 1944. Serial RW373, she spent her early life in a training role before moving to 31 Squadron at RAF Hendon in 1949 as the personal aircraft of the AOC Fighter Command. Damaged in a landing accident at Hendon in 1951, after repair she moved around a lot, including a spell as a Gate Guardian and museum displays, until finally returning to her current location in July 2015. You can get the full history from the RAF Museum archives.


V-Force Tour

This weekend, Vulcan XH558 (the sole Vulcan flying today) has been travelling the UK. When I saw the flight plan for today I knew that this might be my last and only chance to see her in flight. Here are the details for the Salute to the V Force Tour.

Today’s flight plan:

VForce Tour flight plan

One of the waypoints was over Leavesden. Now home to the Warner Brothers Studios and the Harry Potter studio, in the old days this airfield was a Rolls Royce jet engine factory so I think this waypoint was chosen to commemorate the link between Rolls Royce and the Vulcan’s Avon and Olympus engines. So, off I went to Leavesden and parked up near the studios. Within about 15 minutes I was joined by numerous enthusiasts who all had the same idea!

XH558 was tweeting her progress so, once she had cleared RAF Halton we knew she was en route for the RAF Museum at Hendon and would be passing overhead soon.

We all spotted her in the distance then, very quickly, there she was! Almost overhead, she made her planned turn to starboard and within a couple of minutes was gone. I managed to fire off a few photos but I had a spot of trouble with the camera; the continuous AF wouldn’t lock on, so I quickly switched to manual focus, then I had to get her in focus as she flew away from me. Plus I was using my good (left) eye – before my retina detachment I’d  always used my right eye as my “viewfinder eye” and I’m not used to using that one yet. Argh!

Anyway, here she is:

Vulcan XH558 Vilcan XH558 Vulcan XH558

What a beauty!

I’m still hoping to see her again  this year but, if I don’t, today was a fitting salute to the V Force and the iconic Vulcan. I’m really pleased I saw her.

Vulcan Visit

Avro Vulcan

I visited the RAF Museum at Hendon, London, recently. I’d booked one of their open cockpit opportunities, in this case the rare chance to gain access to the flight deck of their Avro Vulcan B2 bomber.

Potted history: This particular aircraft – XL318 – has been a museum exhibit since 1982. Designed in 1947 to fulfil the Cold War role of nuclear strike, XL318 was delivered to 617 Squadron in 1961. In those days it was painted in the white “nuclear blast reflective finish”. Here’s a picture of some Vulcans on a QRA dispersal:

Vulcans on QRA

By 1966 XL318 had been repainted in the low level camouflage finish it wears today. In December 1981 it made its last flight, at which time 617 Squadron was disbanded as a Vulcan squadron (later to reform as a Tornado Squadron in 1983).

On to my visit. I was met underneath XL318 by one of the Museum’s volunteers. Then up the crew ladder I went!

Up the crew ladder

Once inside, I was met by two more volunteers who started off by showing me around the “back seat” crew area where the Navigator Plotter, Navigator Radar and Air Electronics Officer were stationed. Revealing its early post-war design, the Vulcan has a conventional bomb aiming window, a feature it shares with its wartime ancestor the Avro Lancaster. The Vulcan was never fitted with an optical bomb sight, however, as by the time it went into service it was equipped with a radar bomb sight which was operated by the Navigator Radar.

Here’s me looking out of the bomb aimer’s window (photo taken by my daughter!)

Note the yellow ladder up to the flight deck – this is just for visitors and wouldn’t be there in an operational Vulcan.

Old school bomb aiming window

Then came the tricky bit, climbing up to the flight deck and swivelling myself into the right-hand, or co-pilot’s, seat. In the photo below you can (sort of) see the rear crew area behind me. It was pretty dark inside the fuselage. What little illumination there was, was provided by some hand held working lamps, The Museum opens this aircraft so rarely, I guess it isn’t practical to set up permanent interior lighting. Also, it was surprisingly cramped up there. Every inch was occupied by equipment and it was an interesting exercise moving about in there. For once I reckon it helped being a short-arse. Maybe the 1960’s RAF selection process weeded out anyone above 5’6″.

The pilot and co-pilot (who was also responsible for looking after the engines, transferring fuel around the many tanks to balance the aircraft, in-flight refuelling, etc., there being no flight engineer) enjoy the luxury of ejection seats. In the event of an emergency, the other three crewmen would have to exit the aircraft via the same crew hatch I used to get into the aircraft. Once they had left the aircraft the co-pilot and pilot would then jettison the canopy and eject upwards.

Me in the right hand seat

So, I’m sitting there, in the surprisingly comfortable, right-hand ejection seat, soaking up the sights and smells of this awesome piece of aviation history. If you’ve ever been inside an old aircraft you’ll probably know what I mean about the smell. It’s a mixture of metal, rubber and… something else, I’m not sure what, old air? Anyway it’s distinctive and instantly recognisable.  I quite like it.

The volunteer sitting in the pilot’s seat had been a Navigator in 617 Squadron Vulcans back in the day. Between them, the two volunteers talked me through the instruments and controls, the engine start procedure – explaining the “green button” used when the aircraft was on quick reaction alert at the height of the cold war.  When the Vulcans were scrambled the crews could be in position and starting the Olympus jet engines within a minute; and be airborne within 5. That’s going some!

Flight Deck

They also explained the equipment designed to block off the flight deck’s windows, this was designed to protect the crew’s vision in the event of a nuclear blast. It’s chilling to think that these chaps could have been alone up there after a series of nuclear strikes with quite possibly no home airfield to return to. Down to a sunless sea indeed.

After a few years, the Government transferred the nuclear deterrent to rocket technology – the ICBM – and so XL318 and her friends were reconfigured to the more conventional bomber role. We had a chat about “Black Buck” and the bombing of the runway at Port Stanley during the Falklands war, and the radar bomb aiming techniques they used.

cockpit selfie

All too soon my time in XL318 was up. I managed to grab a quick “selfie” of me in the right-hand seat. With apologies for the rubbish quality – blame the limited light and lack of a flashgun on my phone’s front (selfie) camera. 🙂

I managed to extricate myself from the seat and reverse the sequence of 3 ladders back down through the hatch. Time for a quick pose for the waiting photographer (my Daughter).

Me posing in front of XL318

Wow. That was great. What an awesome aircraft.