Star-Spangled Spitfire! A Spitfire PR Mk11 in 1/48
The Supermarine Spitfire needs no introduction, as almost everybody in the free world knows the story of one of the most beautiful fighter planes of WW2, and arguably of all time, and what it means to the country it flew in defense of.What is less known is it’s service with other allied countries, including Australia, Yugoslavia, the USSR and the USAAF. The Yanks used the Mk5, 8 and 9 initially in the ETO, then in larger numbers in the MTO until replaced by another aviation icon, the NA P-51 Mustang. The PR11 was used exclusively by the 7th Photo Reconnaisance Group attached to the 8th AF at Mt. Farm, Oxfordshire, along with the F4 and F5E Lightnings, from October 1943 all the way to VE Day.
One fine evening a couple of years ago a good friend of mine put out a query on FB seeking information on her grandfather’s WW2 service. All she really knew was that he had been a pilot, his theater of service, and that he flew a plane called “Upstairs Maid”. Chalange Accepted…
Lt Robert E Sanford was one of the famous “Photo Joes” of the 14th PRS, 7th PRG, 8th Air Force, tasked with providing photography of selected areas for target selection, pre and post-raid damage assessment, and strategic and tactical recon at both high and low level.
Like all of the other 14th Group pilots Lt Sanford flew to multiple targets on each mission, armed only with his wits, 2 or 3 cameras and SPEED, as recon aircraft were prized and highly sought-after targets by the Luftwaffe. The PR11 was a welcome addition to the 7th’s stable of aircraft, as the F4’s and F5’s were, just like the P-38’s they were based on, less than steller performers at the high altitudes they had to fly. The heating system at high altitude was virtually none existant, earning them the name “ice Wagon”. If a pilot lost an engine on an F-5E, he was very likely to spend the rest of the war in a Stalag, or worse. The PR11’s speed made it much better suited for the recon role and was very much loved by the men who flew her. Lt Sanford had his own share of hair-raising missions, being chased by 12 Fw190’s straight into a US Army AA battery, which he was able to evade, and numerous missions to Berlin, where on one mission he managed to evade an ME 262! Lt Sanford survived the war, raised a family in Washington State, just like so many of the unsung heroes who came back without fanfare to resume their lives, into a world made safe (at least for a while)…
“Upstairs Maid” as it turned out, was the longest-serving PR11 in the group, being transfered from RAF stocks in October of 1943 and serving until March of ’45 when it was returned to the RAF. Officially known as MB950, she was the most-photographed of all the 7th’s planes. There are quite a number of pics of MB950 in various configurations, from the basic PRU Blue, short carb intake and hub caps, to the added Volks filter sans hubcaps, to the added red strips under the nose and green rudder, to it’s final return, looking somewhat worse for wear, in it’s original albeit faded PRU blue. Upstairs Maid, unlike other birds in the 7th, never hade a name painted on her, but all her pilots knew her and were always happy to fly her. Although Upstairs Maid was likely scrapped soon after the end of the war, the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton Ohio has a beautiful example in the her markings, MB950.
I’ve been wanting to build Upstairs Maid after all the research and learning about Lt. Sanford’s and the exploits of the pilots of the 7th PRG. I was able to do a 1/72 conversion of Airfix’s PRXIX using FreightDog’s conversion and an oop set of decals for MB950 from Illiad. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, as part of a wall plaque for my friend’s mother, Lt Sanford’s daughter. But I still had the bug to build a PR11 to add to my own growing Spitfire collection, but there is no injection-molded PR11 as of yet. There are several conversions and resin sets in various scales but after reading the reviews none of them seemed to fit the bill, mainly a PR11 in larger scale.
Enter Quickboost…I found they had a resin conversion in 1/48th scale that included the deeper oil cooler, the wing panel replacements, and the standard short and long Volks carb intake, and another set that includes wing camera bulges, fuel pump bulges, clear resin lens and a pe template for rescribing some panel lines and hatches. Only one small hitch…They are designed for Hasegawa’s very nice but very flawed 1/48 Spit Mk 8. I do have a few Eduard spits in my unbuilt pile, and it seemed at first like it was doable but to use the QB parts would require quite a number of mods to the Eduard kit, and would not allow the use of the biggest part of the conversion, the deeper nose, and I did not feel I could form the correct nose profile from Milliput so…I decided to see what I could do with the Hase kit.
The biggest issue with the Hase kit is that the fuselage is not just short, but actually underscale, which gives it a squashed appearance. So to improve that I resorted to the tried and true method of stretching the fuse a scale 6″ by cutting the tail off, adding sheet styrene and Milliput and sand and smooth and Done! After checking against the Eduard fuse length I was a lot happier with the appearance, so the build could procede.
The QB set includes wing panel inserts that fit almost perfectly, just a little light sanding and filling of the unused shell ejection ports and several panel lines, the addition of the underwing fuel pumps, some rescribing and the addition on some .03mm Albion tubing to simulate the wing tank vent tubes close to the wing tips.
I found an unused Eduard Spitfire Zoom set I used for the interior, and added a small rectangle of plastic in place of the gunsight to simulate the camera selector switch.
The PR11 used an unframed windscreen, so I used the screen from an Airfix PRXIX and it fit just fine. After the wing and fuse mods the kit went together pretty quickly and soon I was ready for paint.
I tried a new paint set for this build, the AK Real Colors PRU blue. I used the recommended proprietary thinner and was Super pleased with thses paints, They are somewhat thin but level out extremely well and are semi gloss. A word of warning though…although you can mix in Taniya paints for tinting, DON’T use Tamiya’s thinner, use either the Real Colors thinner or GS Mr Color Leveling Thinner.
I wanted to depict MB950 in the livery worn in late May ’44, with the red stripe on each side of the nose and the Olive green rudder for the 14th PRS. I tinted the blue to show wear and use, giving the plane a somewhat mottled appearance. For the markings I used a Techmod white 45 degree letter/number set that included letters and numbers in variuos scale sizes, perfect for what I needed, as other than the national insignia, most planes only showed their RAF serial numbers on the fuse sides and horizontal tail surfaces.
I am very pleased with the result of this build, I have to say. I was able to honor my friend Jennifer’s grandfather, learned about a relatively unknown aspect of the air war over Europe and expanded my modelling skills, and I enjoyed every minute of this build!
10 additional images. Click to enlarge.