Weathering a Spitfire!
by: Mike Still


Painting and weathering a Tamiya 1/48 Spitfire Mk. Vb, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Hard-edged Camouflage

If you're reading this, the number of articles on building, painting and otherwise reviewing the Tamiya Spitfire Mk. Vb and its companion kits has not reached critical mass and irradiated a large chunk of the planet.

Plenty has been written on the Web and in printed magazines on the Tamiya Mk. I/Mk. V 1/48 kit series, and I can add little to what has been said consistently -- they are great-fitting, well-detailed kits that kicked off a long-overdue string of Spitfire kit releases from other manufacturers.

When my local IPMS club held its quarterly contest with a 1/48 aircraft theme, I already had an 80-percent completed Spitfire Mk. Vb sitting on the project shelf. Seizing on that as a chance to return from over a year of airbrush inactivity, I decided to go with a basic Temperate Land Scheme in Dark Green/Ocean Grey/Medium Sea Grey using the kit's already adequate decal option.

Aside from a scratchbuilt Sutton harness, I also cut the elevators from the horizontal stabilizers and added rounded strips of plastic along the elevator leading edges. After milling grooves in the rear of the stabilizers, I test-fit and adjusted the elevators before setting them aside for later masking and painting.

I first primed the whole model with Model Master flat Light Gull Gray from a spray can, wet-sanding the dried paint with 800 and 1,000 grit sandpaper. I then scraped paint from the areas where the canopy parts would attach (Fig. 1).

I already had a complete airframe sans canopy. Since I'm suffering from aging eyesight, I wasn't pleased with the idea of masking and painting canopy interior framing from the inside, so I decided to cheat with layered external colors.

Copyright 2002 - Text and Photos by Mike Still (modelcitizen62). All Rights Reserved.

Project Photos

Figure 1

Keeping it Clear

Attaching clear parts before painting may seem an unnatural act -- maybe it is -- but doing so carefully can add more realism to a model by making the frames look like part of the aircraft structure. Since the Tamiya parts fit so well, I didn't have to worry too much about filling large gaps between the clear framing and the fuselage. Using sparing applications of Ambroid ProWeld, the windscreen and rear fixed section fitted in a tight, scale-like panel demarcation.

I use Parafilm M for most canopy masking. Once you get used to the idea of using a fresh X-Acto blade and a light touch to cut along canopy frame lines, the stuff gives much better results than masking tape, clear tape, masking fluid, PVA white glue or any other masking medium you can choose for canopy masking.

The cockpit and canopy insides were then covered with strips of 3M blue Painter's Masking Tape and damp facial tissue (Fig. 2). A wet brush allows you to poke and prod the tissue to seal off openings, while the Painter's Tape removes easily with effectively no residue up to seven days after application. I also masked the main canopy section inside and out, mounting it on a piece of dowel rod.

Humidity is a summertime occupational hazard in my area, but I had to wet sand only a couple of small sections of orange peel with 800 and 1,000 grit before wiping the Spit down with a denatured alcohol-soaked piece of t-shirt and a tack rag.

Using the various commercially-available military standard paint raises an issue -- the paints are generally mixed to exact milspecs and are going to look unnaturally dark on a model due to scale effect. Generally speaking, the further a full-sized painted object is away from you, the lighter the colors are going to appear.

Copyright 2002 - Text and Photos by Mike Still (modelcitizen62). All Rights Reserved.

Project Photos

Figure 2

Lighten Up!

I use a generalized rule of thumb I pirated from a Scale Aircraft Modelling article from about 20 years ago -- lighten colors for 1/32 aircraft about 10-15 percent from the bottle, 20-25 percent for 1/48 scale, and 25-30 percent for 1/72 scale and smaller. As this project reminded me, this is a general rule of thumb. The point here is to make it look right to your eye, not to follow strict color codes.

I also used a 60-40 or 50-50 paint-thinner mix in most cases for airbrushing, depending on out-of-the-bottle consistency. The old saw about "consistency of table cream" is still a good rule to remember.

My airbrush -- a Testors internal-mix, double-action using Aztek tips -- worked well with this paint mix at about 13-16 psi. I also use a Campbell-Hausfield QuietAir compressor with a moisture trap between the regulator and the airbrush.

Loading the airbrush with Testors Model Master RAF Interior Green, I misted three light coats of paint over the canopy, in the wheel wells and on the main gear legs .I used unlightened paint because I needed a more intense green to show well through the canopy framing. After that dried for a day, I filled the wells with blobs of poster mounting putty (Blu-Tak is the best known brand, but it comes in yellow and white as well -- color doesn't matter) and covered the gear legs with folds of Painter's Tape.

The aft fuselage Fighter Command ID band and the assembled spinner were sprayed with unlightened Model Master flat Sky. The spinner was set aside, and the band masked with strips and patches of Painter's Tape.

I mixed up a batch of Testors Model Master Medium Sea Grey with 20-percent flat white -- the underside color for the post-1940 RAF Temperate Land Scheme -- sprayed and found it looked almost as dark as the upper Ocean Grey in color photos from the WW II period. After letting that coat dry a day, I went back with a spray of Medium Sea Grey with 30-percent white that made things look more scale-like.

Copyright 2002 - Text and Photos by Mike Still (modelcitizen62). All Rights Reserved.


The debate over hard-edged vs. feather-edged camouflage lines on Spitfires has and will be a hard-fought battle among modelers that I'm not going to rehash here. Supermarine and most of its subcontractors and licensees used rubber mats to mask and paint new-production Spits, and I chose the hard-edged route for my subject, a UK-based No. 243 Sqdn bird from late 1942.

Before I get into the camouflage, I should add a warning here. I chose to use the kit's leading-edge yellow ID wing stripe decals for time reasons. The next time I do this kit, I'd spray the stripes over a white base coat with Model Master RAF Trainer Yellow -- a perfect match for the decals for touch-up, by the way -- and mask the stripes before painting the camo.

I masked the upper-lower camo demarcation with thin strips of Painter's Tape, then covering broader underside areas with larger pieces of tape. I used Model Master Ocean Grey, lightened 25 percent with white, to spray the base for the upper camouflage.

The real fun began with masking the upper grey areas for the Dark Green. Tamiya, thankfully, included a separate 1/48 camouflage diagram for the upper, right and left sides of the plane. I made photocopies of each side of the diagram and used them to cut the upper wing grey masks. Since the diagrams are two-dimensional and the model is three-dimensional, the fuselage masks had to be tweaked from the printed patterns with extra sections of cut tape.

Color photos of RAF aircraft from WW II are affected by the usual photographic variables of light, shadow and exposure. Other variables come into play -- wear on the painted subject; the sometimes use of orthochromatic film that darkens yellows, whitens reds and throws off the color tones of some camouflage paints.

Plenty of color Spitfire photography can be found in books and magazines and on the Web, so consult that when mixing colors for your Spitfire, or Hurricane, or Typhoon, or Beaufighter . . . .

I chose to go with a low contrast between the upper grey and green on my Spit, indicating a fair bit of outside use, and mixed some 20-percent lightened Dark Green to give it a greyish cast. Three misted coats, a half-hour's drying time and peeled tape later, I had the three-color camouflage ready (Fig. 3).

Copyright 2002 - Text and Photos by Mike Still (modelcitizen62). All Rights Reserved.

Project Photos

Figure 3


Before decaling, I applied two coats of Testors Glosscote. The kit decals were used with no real trouble, Micro Set and Micro Sol being used to settle them into the panel lines. The upper and lower wing roundels are located on gun access panels and gun bay vents, so I used extra applications of Micro Sol and Solvaset decal solvents to make them conform. Even so, I had to prick air bubbles with a knife blade and apply more Solvaset over two days to make the decals lie tight on the surface.

After a day for the decals to set. I wiped excess solvent residue from the model with water and a rag before misting two coats of Testors Flatcote to seal everything.

My basic approach to weathering is, when it looks like it's not quite enough it's time to stop. This Spitfire was UK-based, most likely at a developed grass field, and groundcrew were probably spending a great deal of time wiping off exhaust and gun blast stains and leaks and repainting damaged or worn airframe areas. You're not going to see the same sort of sun-bleaching that you'd see in North Africa or Burma -- paint on a European-based Spitfire generally faded in a more subtle, water and wind-worn manner.

Again, consult photos from a particular time period and theater of operations to guide your weathering.

I first mixed a dark gray wash from Apple Barrel acrylic craft paints and dish soap, applying the wash with a fine brush in panel lines and control surface hinge lines. After that dried, the dish soap made it easy to clean up excess wash with a damp cotton swab.

Adding a touch of brown to the wash, I then streaked it on the lower fuselage from the undernose oil tank area to simulate prop-blown leakage (Fig. 4). Oil leaking along panel lines often seeps into the paint, so allow washes to flow slightly outside the panel lines in such cases.

I then took a Prismacolor silver pencil and applied a few chips, mainly in areas where skin panels would rub and in walkway areas along the wing root and leading edge (Fig. 5) The Prismacolor pencils can be blended by rubbing with a cloth or paper towel, so I used it to scuff up the wing root areas where the pilot would be boarding and the ground crew climbing to fuel and rearm the plane. I also used a microbrush to dab almost-dry Testors Silver paint on the walkways to better simulate a scuffed rather than chipped effect (Fig. 6).

Weathering the spinner and propeller is an opportunity to make a highlight of any model stand out (Fig. 7). The basis for this model swung a Rotol propeller with wood/composite Jablo blades, which makes weathering even more interesting. I lightly drybrushed the blades from leading to trailing edges with three shades of increasingly lighter gray paint, and chipped the leading edges with Testors Brass. The real Jablo blades had brass cap strips on the leading edges, and that applies to blades on Mk. IX Spits as well -- try that on contest judges and your friends!

I also scuffed the inboard wing leading edges with silver paint (Fig. 8), because groundcrew often hung over that area to slide off or to work on the upper areas of the engine.

I also used an O brush and Testors silver to lightly chip at the dzus fasteners along the engine cowling panels, screw holes on various access panels on the wings and fuselage, and to apply minimal chipping along the canopy frames and cockpit access door (top figure).

Copyright 2002 - Text and Photos by Mike Still (modelcitizen62). All Rights Reserved.

Project Photos

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8

Finishing Up

A mix of white and gray pastel was lightly applied aft of the exhaust stacks to give a heat-worn look to the paint while suggesting that the ground crew had wiped the stains clean with gasoline or even soap and water. I then applied some of the thinned 'oil' wash from the upper nose fuel cap, allowing it to flow down the sides of the nose to simulate staining from a gasoline spill (Fig. 10).

Another small touch is the tire slippage marks on the main wheels and tires (Fig 11). These were made with chalk, white tape, red-doped fabric patches, paint, whitewash . . . . you get the message.

And, courtesy of RAF medical services, are "rubber"-ized muzzle covers on the 20 mm cannon barrels (Fig. 12). This wasn't a frequent occurrence, but they were used when the standard muzzle covers were unavailable. I made these by dipping the muzzles four or five times in Testors Clear Parts Cement and painting the dried covers with thinned Testors Model Master Radome Tan for a latex appearance.

You may thing the finished product is missing the radio aerial wire and the tail-to-fuselage IFF wires. A photo in Squadron/Signal's handy little Spitfire in Action contains an in-flight photo of SN-M, and all three aerial wires are conspicuously absent. Always check your photos . . .

The weathering on this model may not be the most spectacular, but sometimes understated weathering does look more realistic. The point is to make your model look less like it did ten rounds in a junkyard and more like it saw a realistic period of service.

When you think it's not enough, maybe it is a good time to quit.

(A big thanks to Bob Swadding for forcing me to rethink everything I thought I knew about Spitfires!!!)


Spitfire In Action, Squadron Signal Publications

Spitfire: The History, Eric B. Morgan and Edward Shacklady

Copyright 2002 - Text and Photos by Mike Still (modelcitizen62). All Rights Reserved.

Project Photos

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 12

This article comes from AeroScale