Octopus 1:72 Scale Seafire III

Octopus seems to be the Pavla brand for naval aircraft (Firefly, Devastator, Sea Wolf, etc.) Compared to the latest products from the MPM conglomerate, Pavla seems like something of the backwards cousin of the family of Czech model makers. The main parts of the Seafire are injected-moulded, while resin details are provided for the cockpit, wheels, oil cooler, torque links, rear-view mirror, exhausts and arrestor hook. A pair of vacuformed canopies round out the package. Initially this kit was well received, as it represented a complete kit alternative to previous conversions such as that offered by Airwaves. Unfortuately, the kit is let down by the cardinal sin of model Spitfires/Seafires - no representation of the 'gull wing' section at the trailing edge of the wing roots, amongst other vices.

Aside from that error, the kit features decent resin details for the cockpit, visible through a thin vacuformed canopy. Another nice feature is decals for an aircraft of Flottille 1F aboard Arromanches in 1948. Surface detail is scribed, with raised representations of the Seafire's reinforcing plates. All the injected parts have a coarse surface texture that will require sanding and polishing to remove.

I started construction by cleaning up the major parts. The surface detail is good, and matches the drawings in Frelaut and Pierquet exactly. I used sanding sticks to eliminate the moulding texture. The rudder in my kit was marred by a large sink mark. Most of the openings suffer from thick flash, so all edges need to be cleaned up. The kit provides resin sidewalls for the cockpit (moulded flat, despite the curvature of the fuselage). I sanded the sidewalls paper thin, and used a Dremel and knife to reduce the thickness of the fuselage halves on the corresponding areas. I then used superglue and clamps to form the sidewalls to the shape.

The resin details are certainly better than typical injection moulded parts, but these seem a bit amateurish compared to typical aftermarket resin sets. Still, with the small cockpit opening, they suitably busy up the interior. I had to sand the edges of the bulkhead and instrument panel to get them to fit in place. I also had to trim some details from the "floor" to avoid interference with the sidewall details. I painted all the parts with Humbrol British interior grey-green, then shaded and highlighted with variations on the base colour. I picked out the sidewall details with black. The Bakelite seat was painted a dark red-brown, with an off-white harness.

One prominent detail missing from the kit cockpit is a gunsight. As far as I can tell, the Seafire III was fitted with the lead computing gyro gunsight, characterised by its boxy shape and rectangular reflector glass in contrast to the sight fitted to the Mark V. I scratchbuilt the sight, and added it at the end of construction.

One of the beauties of most Spitfire kits is that you can assemble the fuselage and then insert the cockpit detail through the wing opening. I used a little superglue on the seams, but generally the halves fit well. I cleaned up the arrestor hook opening to match the kit resin hook, then added some scrap plastic to create a roof for the opening. Pavla tell you to install the exhausts before closing the fuselage halves, however I simply backed the openings with card and installed the resin exhausts after painting.

Octopus mould the wing in the normal three parts - two upper halves, and a one piece lower. In theory this avoids seams and ensures the correct dihedral. I say in theory because they managed to really screw this part up. The wing as moulded has several flaws: the trailing edges are very thick, but I can put this down to a limitation of the moulding process, and its nothing a little (or a lot) of sanding and scraping can't fix; the lower wing has almost no dihedral; and the lower wing is missing the Spitfire/Seafire's trademark gull wing section at the rear of the wing/fuselage junction. The last one also throws off the section of the rear fuselage moulded with the wing, which does not angle up to meet the rest of the fuselage. My first thought on all this was that it was nothing a little sanding coulding fix. I started by thinning the wing halves. I opened up the shell ejection ports with a sharp knife after Dremelling the surrounding areas thin. I then glued the uppers to the lowers and clamped the parts while they set.

When I offered up the assembled wing to the fuselage, I could see that I was in for a lot of work. My plan was to cut and bend the innermost sections of the wing to create the gull wing section. After a lot of sawing through the very thick plastic, and some not entirely successful bending, I decided this was going nowhere. Instead I grabbed an Italeri Spitfire Vb from the stash (which had already donated most of its cockpit details to my FR.14e). A razor saw separated the inner section of the lower wing from the outers. I had to add plastic to fill in the hole for the glycol radiator, and add a small splice to extend the chord to match the Octopus parts (and the drawings I was using). I fit the Italeri centre section to the kit fuselage, and with some filing it fit reasonably well. I then cut the outer sections of the kit wing to match my new centre section, and installed them with a little more dihedral. Lots of gap filling superglue, lots of sanding, repeated ad nauseum, and I had a new wing, with a gull section and dihedral! The kitbashing process took about 2-3 hours work in total.

With the wing in place, the rest of construction proceeded relatively smoothly. The tailplanes require care to ensure the elevator hinge line is at a right angle to the fuselage. Just watch what your doing, and don't do what I did - mount the tailplanes upside down! (The trim tab actuator should be on top.)

The one piece prop avoids misalignment issues, but required a lot of cleanup. I added some scrap wire mesh to the faces of the otherwise featureless radiator. I had to refine the fit of the radiator faiing because of the addition of the gull wing section.

Another ares for refinement is the landing gear doors (very thick and poorly shaped) - I replaced mine with laminated thin plastic sheet. I thinned out the kit aerial mast, though the cannon barrels and pitot were useable after minor cleanup. The kit does not provide a bomb rack, so I scratchbuilt one from wire and rod to match the part in the Airwaves set. I added a 500-lb bomb left over from the Tamiya Mosquito.

The last task before painting could start was to fit the canopy. Pavla thoughfully provide two. After much fiddling with the first, I concluded the canopy was unlike to fit well as moulded, so I elected to cut the second into three separate sections, each of which I could fit independently. My tool of choice for this was an old number 11 blade, with serrations cut into it with a cut off wheel in my Dremel tool - be sure to wear safety goggles if attempting this at home. I found the windscreen fit well, but the rear section required careful fitting. I eventually superglued it in place in sections and sanded and polished it to fair it into the fuselage. All the clear parts can benefit from a dip in Future - preferrably before you get the superglue out! I masked the canopies with a combination of Tamiya tape and Baremetal foil, and was then ready to start painting.

After a primer coat of grey enamel, I applied the camouflage. French Seafires wore the standard FAA scheme of Dark Slate Grey and Extra Dark Sea Grey over Sky. I used Sky and Dark Slate Grey from Testor Model Master, with EDSG from Humbrol. The sky was applied over black preshading, while the topside colours were post-shaded with lightened versions of the original colour. The topside camoflauge was sprayed freehand with my Paasche H fine tip, while the demarcation against the sky was masked to give a hard edge. The rudder was painted to resemble silver dope, per the instructions and photos in my reference. The prop hub and tips were painted white, then masked and painted red and yellow, respetively, before a final round of masking for the black on the blades. Before applying decals, I sprayed a coat of Humbrol gloss, then added a watercolour wash, which was then sealed with another clear coat.

Looking at the Pavla decals on the sheet, I anticipated some issues with the their fragility, but I had no idea of how much trouble they would cause. The decals themselves are thin and well printed (although the choice of blue for the French roundels and fin flash is a bit questionable). The decals are also completely inflexible, translucent, brittle, and unresponsive to setting solutions. My first attempt at applying the decals ended in disappointment. The translucent markings looked terrible over the dark topside colours, the fin flashes didn't come close to meeting at the leading edge, and when I tried to conform them to the curvature of the leading edge, they fell to pieces. Worst of all, the fuselage roundels must be applied over the raised reinforcements, and when I tried to force them down, they also fell to pieces. Of my first attempt at applying the decals, the only ones that could be salvaged were the fuselage codes and the underside roundels.

I was lucky enough to track down a replacement set of decals (thanks Al!). This time I took some precautions. I masked and sprayed white under the roundel and fin flash areas. I also tried Solvaset on the decals for the first time. I'm not sure Solvaset worked any better than Supersol, but with some care, I was able to get a halfway decent result the second time around. The fin flashes still failed to meet, so I used a mixed blue based chiefly on old Testors gloss blue in the square bottle to touch up the gap.

With the decals finally behind me, I sprayed a coat of Humbrol cleat flat. I added some paint chipping, and exhaust and cordite stains. I added all the small pieces, and at last this quick build was done, two and a half months after starting it.

While I have not seen the Hi-Planes kit, I can definitely say that I do not recommend the Octopus Seafire III. I'm mostly happy with the end result (though it took a contest judge to point out to me that my surgery to the wing had resulted in a skew between it and the fuselage that I hadn't noticed!), but it was a painful process to get there. I will try another Pavla kit (I actually picked up their Tiger Moth while I was working on the Seafire), but I should be more prepared this time.

The best reference on the Seafire in my collection is the monograph by Frelaut and Pierquet. You can also check out the old Aircam Spitfire/Seafire book.

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