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Desert Air War Group BuildEduard 1/48 Spitfire Vb floatplane

The :

The Spitfire was the descendant of racing seaplanes. As the war developed, it appeared there were places where a high performance seaplane fighter might be useful, which led to the development of a modified Spitfire Vb with landing gear removed and replaced by twin floats known as the Type 355.

The first time such a conversion was brought up was at the outbreak of the 1940 Norwegian campaign, where the RAF found itself at a disadvantage against the Luftwaffe, with very few airfields to operate from during the German invasion. Folland Aircraft undertook the conversion of a Spitfire I, R6722, known as the “Narvik Nightmare,” using Blackburn Roc floats. However, the Norwegian campaign was over before further development of such a fighter could take place and the airplane was returned to Mk.I configuration.

The idea resurfaced in 1942, following a report from Folland Aircraft, which had continued working on the concept even after cancellation. This time a Spitfire Vb, W3760, was used for the conversion and used floats designed by Arthur Shirvall, who had created the high speed floats used on the S.4., S.5, S.6A and S.6B racing seaplanes. The initial flight took place on October 12, 1942 in Southampton harbor, with the standard carburetor intake initially replaced with a tropical Vokes filter, but this did not protect against water ingestion during takeoff and landing, and a smaller intake was developed that did keep water out. It was also found necessary to enlarge and extend the vertical fin and rudder and a larger ventral fin was added for directional stability. Following these modifications, the prototype began further tests in Glasgow in January 1943.

Fully loaded, the seaplane weighed only 1,100 lbs more than a standard Spitfire Vb, and maximum speed was only reduced 40 mph, to 324 mph at 19,000 feet. Maneuverability with the floats was only slightly less than a standard Spitfire and it was found to be more maneuverable than any other seaplane.

In the summer of 1943, planning began for an operation using the Spitfire seaplane against the Germans in the Dodecanese Islands off the coast of Turkey. This unit would be dependent for supply on air transport, and the plan was to use the Spitfire seaplanes operating from a small, uninhabited island to attack German aircraft, with a submarine used as a base. Folland was issued a contract to convert two more Spitfire Mk.Vb’s, EP751 and EP754.

The three Spitfire seaplanes were transferred to Egypt, arriving at the base at Kasfareet, where the prototype W3760 remained crated after serious corrosion was found in the tail unit, while EP751 and EP754 were assembled by 107 Maintenance Unit and taken to the old prewar seaplane station at Fanara on the Great Bitter Lake in November 1943, where they would be operated. The unit was equipped with a 40-foot high speed launch powered by two 100hp engines, an all-purpose 22-foot seaplane tender powered by a Ford V8, and a steam-operated crawler crane to lift the seaplanes onto the concrete dock. A Walrus was provided for initial seaplane training for the pilots. Five high-time Spitfire pilots were chosen for the unit, led by Flying Officer William Lindsay. Training proceeded and the pilots were easily able to fly the Spitfires after a minimum of experience with the Walrus.

Unfortunately, during training it was found that the floats leaked enough that the aircraft had to be hauled out of the water to allow them to drain. While this was not an issue at the seaplane base, it would be a serious issue at a submarine mooring near a small island in the Dodecanese Islands, where it would not be possible to haul the airplanes out of the water. It was also found to be virtually impossible to take off in crosswinds over 15 mph. It was finally found impossible to discover a suitable "secret" location in the Dodecanese Islands that would allow flexible takeoffs. The Royal Navy was not enthusiastic at all, since they saw it as an operation that would inevitably require surface units to rescue the aircraft once the base was discovered. After the Germans occupied the area and stationed JG 27 with BF-109G-6 fighters in the archipelago, the plan was abandoned. With no other operational use found for the airplanes, they were disassembled, re-crated and returned to Kasfareet, where they were eventually returned to Britain and put in storage.

The idea of the Spitfire on floats did not die. It was resurrected in 1944 as a possibility for support of invasions in the Pacific, and Spitfire IX MJ982 was modified as a seaplane and flown in June 1944. However, the plan died since by this time the American island-hopping campaign had demonstrated that there would be fewer amphibious operations and that they were easily supported by aircraft carriers.

The four Spitfire seaplanes were struck off charge at the end of the war and were all broken up.

The Kit:

The only good kit of the Spitfire Vb floatplane ever released in
came from , a sub-set of Hasegawa, which was released around 1995. The kit featured the then-new Hasegawa Spitfire Vb plastic kit, the first “good” 1/48 Spitfire kit, with a resin tail that included the larger vertical fin, larger rudder and ventral fin, a resin lower nose part providing the different carburetor intake, resin floats, resin float bases, and white metal propeller blades. (There was also a release of a conversion set for the Hasegawa Spitfire by MDC.)

released their definitive 1/48 Spitfire Vb (late) this past August, and relased Overtrees kits a few weeks later. This Spitfire kit is definitive, with superb surface detail and full accuracy for the late-production Spitfire Vb with the integral armor glass windscreen.

The Project:

I found this Gartex floatplane kit at the LHS estate sale in summer 2020, just after the shop reopened from the Covid-19 shut-down. At a price of only $50 (the kit goes to collectors for around $150) it was “an offer I could not refuse.”

Opening the box on returning home, I discovered that time has not been kind to the Hasegawa Spitfire; I guess that’s why they no longer release it. But the resin parts are still wonderful. I put it aside, to “await further developments.”

A year later, Eduard came out with their Spitfire Vb series which I really liked when I built on. The Overtrees showed up on eBay at a nice price and I ordered two. Looking through one of my Spitfire books, I ran across the floatplane again. I wondered if a model could be created mating the really great Eduard kit to the the really nice Gartex resin.

While awaiting the arrival of the kits, I fiddled with the resin and an Eduard Spitfire II kit, checking possible fit. It turns out, the Hasegawa rear fuselage really is too narrow (like 1/16 inch difference with an Eduard kit - that’s noticeable in 1/48). And then it hit me I could do what Folland did when they built the original floatplanes: add on a new vertical fin, a new rudder, and new ventral fin. All I had to do was cut the vertical and ventral fins and the rudder off the Gartex tail plug - fortunately, both kits had the same profile size. As to the floats, a little bit of sanding of the resin plugs for the float mounts had them fitting the lower Eduard wing. The resin lower nose wasn’t going to work, but it wouldn’t be hard to cut off the intake and make it fit the Eduard part.

When the kits arrived, I was primed and ready.

All I had to do was cut off the vertical fin from the Eduard kit along a panel line. Once the fuselage was assembled, the three resin parts fitted like charms, with just some Mr. Surface 500 to fill the join seams for the fins. The float pylon attachment bases fit into the lower wing like they were meant to. The carb intake was glued to the lower nose and Mr. Surfacer filled that joint. Outside of waiting for the Mr. Surfacer to set thoroughly before sanding smooth, the entire business took under 45 minutes.

Once again, I attached the lower wing to the fuselage, getting a nice tight fit, then glued the upper wing parts in position. No “industrial strength pushing and shoving” and overall better fit. I shall follow that with all Eduard Spitfires from now on.

The rest of the project was easy – attach the horizontal stabs, the gunsight, and the windshield. I then attached the floats.

The one difficult part was when Miss Molly decided to make the spinner for the 4-blade prop a kitty toy. Fortunately, Andy Abshier had a spinner from and ICM Spitfire that worked perfectly and looks better than the Gartex original.

Painting and Markings:

Photos of the Spitfire floatplanes show them dark enough that I decided it was likely they were painted in the Temperate Sea Scheme - Extra Dark Sea Grey, Dark Slate Grey, and Sky. I used my Xtracrylix paints and freehanded the scheme with my Paasche-H.

I used decals from the Spitfire Decals wing of the Decal Dungeon, piecing together the serial number.

Final Finish and Assembly:

I attached the white metal beaching gear to the floats, attached the prop, the cockpit flap and canopy in the open position, and the exhaust stacks.

Overall:

The Spitfire floatplane is popular with modelers. Eduard ought to do a limited-release of their kit, with 3D printed floats and the rest. Mounting the airplane on floats sends it back to its Schneider Cup origins. If you have one of the Gartex kits way back in the corner of the stash closet, pull it out and do this. It’s easy to mount the best Spitfire kit to the great resin parts.

Check the WIP in the Desert Air War group to see photos that explain how to do this conversion.

10 additional images. Click to enlarge.


13 responses

  1. This is not only an excellent build, but an extremely interesting one, @tcinla, demonstrating the steps that can be taken in order to fit a quite dedicated resin conversion to another manufacturer's (Eduard) kit (of course, till Eduard release their 3D printed conversion?). I am yet another one of the many that find the Spit float plane lines extremely pleasing, in fact a joy to watch, even more so in model form.

    Loved reading the story behind the plane, as well.

    One can never build too many Spits: upon the float plane kit release, this will be the Spit I am going to do!

  2. An absolutely great build on all aspects, Tom @tcinla
    You even made this attractive looking plane on floats even more attractive with the applied scheme and the way you weathered it.
    Thanks for sharing the building progress and the history background.

  3. Very nice and rare conversion! Bravo Tom 👍

  4. Nice spit and great model work Tom. back to its origins as a Racer.

  5. That is a unique, and great, build! Lovely.

  6. Well done, and an informative article, Tom!

  7. Beautiful build, Tom (@tcinla)
    Best looking Floatplane ever made - And the fastest from what I remember reading!
    Just wondering - I have the PM-216 kit in 1/72 but the mold is the Vb Trop - was there a version with the front trop filter?
    I guess I could just add the PM kit floats & tail mod attachments to an Airfix kit.

    1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

    • Yes the first build was set up with the bigger front trop filter. I was thinking of doing the same, use the PM floats on a Airfix Mk.V.

      1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

  8. Nicely done, and unusual.

  9. Interesting project, Tom. Thanks for the history on these planes. I never knew the story behind them.

  10. Fantastic. Thanks for the history too. I had assumed the addition of floats would compromise the performance so much as to be untennable. Not so it seems!

  11. Great build and a very interesting chapter of the Spitfire.

  12. Nice work Tom! I appreciate the background history for all of your builds. Great finish work too.

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