Modelling Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk. XIX
The Complete Conversion Guide for 1/48 Scale
Part 1 - Conversion
Having been in the reconnaissance business myself, I have a special
fondness for “recce” aircraft. Some time after Academy released their 1/48
scale Mk XIV Spitfires, I ran across an excellent walk around of the Swedish
S-31 (PR XIX) in the IPMS Stockholm
web site archives, and I was off!
Then, one of my local model geek buds found out I was thinking about
doing the PR XIX, and he “steered” me to one of the aircraft used by (then)
Flt/Lt Ed Powles. During construction, Wally also arranged for me to have a
conversation with Mr. Powles; what a kick in the pants to speak with the man
who flew the exact airplane you’re building! Flt/Lt Ed Powles led a
two-plane detachment from 81 (PR) Squadron, based in Hong Kong in the early
1950’s. His exploits included some early cold-war aerial reconnaissance, as
well as taking some of the first meteorological measurements at altitude in
that region of the world. And then there was the time he took his PR XIX up
to 51,000 ft. Noting a problem with the cabin pressurization, he put the
nose down- and darn near went supersonic during the ensuing plunge back
toward the sea. He later calculated that he got up to at least .96 Mach
before regaining use of his flight controls in the denser lower air (having
encountered locked controls due to compressibility near Mach 1), and
levelled out approximately 1,500 ft above the sea. To top it off, Mr. Powles
is over 6 feet tall and barely fit into the Spitfire with the seat fully
lowered. What a great story!
Academy produced two Mk XIV Spitfire kits, including both the ”c” winged
version and the later bubble-canopied one with the “e” wing, in 1/48 scale.
The Mk XIVc kit became the basis for this project.
The Academy kits build up pretty well and feature fine panel line
engraving. It has some accuracy issues which will be described below. The
interior detail is rather Spartan for my taste, and the propeller looks
rather bad. Parts fit is fair, but this isn’t a “shake ‘n bake” kit.
KMC produced a nice resin upgrade set for this kit, and while it’s
currently discontinued, it can be found. It provides a complete cockpit, new
spinner and props (which is also available as a separate set, I believe), a
new upper engine cowling, and new radiators, much of which I made use of to
Converting the Mk XIV into a PR XIX proved to be deceptively non-simple!
First, let's address the accuracy issues.
- While the wings in the Academy kit are especially nice in shape,
they are rather thick.
- I have also come to the conclusion, along with some Spitfire
experts, that the fuselage is a bit deep.
- The spinner and prop require some real work. Broadly speaking, the
spinner is too large and the propeller blades have the wrong shape.
In my opinion, the dimensional errors with wings and fuselage would be a
very difficult thing to fix. I limited myself to sanding down the forward
nose area somewhat on the top and bottom during construction.
The spinner/propeller areas can be corrected by sanding.
Fuselage Tweaks List
The conversion procedure was as follows.
- Using references, I marked and scribed camera access panels onto
each fuselage side. The left one also got a camera port drilled out.
- The standard pilot’s entry hatch was glued into place and the seams
filled in. Only the first couple of dozen (give or take) Mk. XIX
aircraft were built with unpressurized cockpits and featured the
standard Spitfire pilot entry hatch on the left side. Eliminating the
access door only applies to pressurized aircraft, like the one I
- New cabin pressurization scoop was fabricated, to go below the left
engine exhaust pipes. Again, if you build a PR XIX from during WWII,
check your references to see if you need to add this scoop or not.
- The rear, fixed portion of the canopy on the Academy kit is too
short from front to back and must be replaced. In addition, this piece
extended down about 2” lower than normal Spitfires. I cut the rear area
down even with the sliding section canopy sills, made a master, and
vac-formed a new rear section. I glued this piece in place, smoothed the
joins, and simply painted the horizontal frames in their correct
location during painting.
- Solid pressure bulkhead at the rear of the cockpit was added. Again,
this feature applies if if you’re doing a pressurized bird.
- I also decided to add some camera details since they are visible
through the ports. I made a second bulkhead for the back of the camera
bay, a rough approximation of the camera bodies, then added lens tubes
using 1/8” plastic tubing (approximating the 6” width of these lenses).
Here’s how they looked after finishing. This is not very accurate, but
they look great through the camera ports! Also note the three oxygen
bottles used in the XIX mounted to the front bulkhead.
- The kit’s windscreen had to be replaced with a one-piece curved
unit. One of the Falcon conversion sets has one, and Aeroclub makes a
set of four Spitfire canopies for different marks, including a PR. When
I test-fit this piece, the leading edge sits back farther than the
standard kit piece, and the round shape of the bottom of the piece
doesn’t fit the kit. I added some sheet plastic to the front of the
cockpit and shaped it to fit the new windscreen. 7. Using references,
mark and drill out the two lower camera ports; note that they are offset
slightly from the centreline of the aircraft. Mine are 3/16” diameter.
Wings Tweaks List
- The Mk XIV wings in the kit feature (correctly) the short- span
ailerons used on the type; unfortunately, the PR XIX had the normal,
longer-span ailerons, so I filled the outer ends of the kit’s ailerons
and extended the hinge line out to where the wingtip joins.
- The PR XIX was unarmed, so of course the cannon and their upper wing
bulges had to go. And so did all of the gun access panels, panel lines,
shell chutes, the whole lot. I filled in all the gun panel lines with
superglue, using a pin as an applicator, a short section at a time, and
then hit it with accelerator. Remember to sand each line down as soon as
you’re finished getting the superglue dry, before it hardens completely.
Then rescribe the remaining panel lines as needed. This proved to be the
most tedious part of the project!
A shot of the airframe much later during construction. Looking down the
wing, you can see the rescribed ailerons and the absence of gun access
panels. Also note the dropped elevators and the scratchbuilt scoops, on the
engine (the original having been lost!) and the pressurization exhaust just
behind the cockpit. Finally, although it’s all but invisible here, you can
see the fixed rear portion of the canopy and how my vacuformed piece comes
down even with the sliding section rails.
- Next, I made the two fuel boost pump fairings that go under the
wings, in front of the wheel wells. The XIX had the entire front of the
wings forward of the main spar made into fuel tanks, with a boost pump
for each. I started with half-round strip plastic stock and
carved/sanded these pieces; the hard part was getting them to match!
- There were also two small, thin fairings at about mid-span on the
lower wings. I robbed them from a spare Otaki (Arii) Mk. VIII kit;
otherwise, they’re another scratchbuilt item.
I needed to see how all this work looked before proceeding,
so I airbrushed a thin coat of the bottom colour (PRU Blue) on portions of
the lower wing to see if things looked right. Also, note that the rear tips
of the fuel boost pump fairings have been cut flush with the front of the
wheel wells. The tips were added to the landing gear doors to match the