Building a Flying Legend….My story of building my dream warbird MH434.
There are some aircraft more than any other that we love. In my case it is the Supermarine Spitfire. I have been building models of Spitfire’s for as long as I can remember and as a boy I became fascinated watching them in movies and later, seeing them at airshows.
The first time I saw a Spitfire in the air was when as a teenager. I was taken to RIAT the Royal International Air Tattoo. It was a lovely summer day and standing by the flight line I heard the roar of the Merlin engine at full throttle. A Mk.IX Spitfire screamed across the runway at low level……….
From that moment on I was obsessed by Spitfire’s! Years later when I came back to the hobby of scale modelling I became more knowledgeable about the subjects I was building through research. By chance I came across a film all about one certain Spitfire known as MH434. I recognised her instantly and revelled in the film called “A Spitfire’s Story.”
Its a great film for Spitfire fans, it shows 434’s story from her beginning in a factory to her rebuild in 1995. If you get the chance, do give it a watch. Its a great film.
I have always loved 434 because she was a combat Spitfire with a long and remarkable history and she was the first warbird I ever saw flying. She had a profound impact on me that sparked my interest in warbirds, military aviation and modelling. It could be said that a Spitfire changed my life!
MH434 through the years has seen a lot of flying, she literally is flying history!
Built at Castle Bromwich in 1943 she saw combat with 222 Sqn. RAF and retired in March 1945. From there, she served with the Royal Netherlands Air Force and later, the Belgian Air Force.
MH434 with 222 Sqn. RAF Hornchurch 1943
MH434 returned to England in 1956 and was given a full overhaul and civilian markings. She was then flown purely for pleasure, but made her first silver screen appearence in the film Operation Crossbow……….shen has since gone on to feature in other film and television work, including the films A Bridge Too Far, the Battle of Britain and more recently, The Monuments Men.
In April 1983, MH434 was sold at auction to Ray Hanna, who founded the Old Flying Machine Company based at Duxford. MH434 has been based there ever since and is one of the most famous airworthy Spitfire’s in the world today. Over the years I watched Ray Hanna and his son Mark Hanna display their warbirds with remarkable skill and precision at airshows all over the UK. They are no longer with us now, but both these men were RAF fighter pilots through and through taking to the skies on the front line in combat jets and later on delighting thousands with thrilling air displays.
I never met them in person. Those who did spoke of two men who were the most wonderful gentlemen one could hope to meet. This build is my tribute to them. To say thank you for all those displays and for keeping MH434 flying.
Being a huge fan of one particular Spitfire meant at some point I would be seeking to build a model of MH434. My first model of 434 was in the guise of the 1/48
Airfix Mk.IX that I built in 2007. It was before Hornby had bought Airfix and it was what we would have expected at the time. It was a simple kit with decals that were……..well, lets say a bit on the thick side. The big draw for me was that this kit had decals to build MH434.
This is the result:
I thought it was nice at the time, but to be fair it was not my finest hour! I was still learning then as I am still learning now-I like to think that I have improved a little over the years!
When the new tool Tamiya 1/32 Spitfire Mk.IX was released I was amazed by the engineering of the kit and by just how much detail there was in the parts and moulds. I wanted one there and then! Then I saw the price and realised that I would have to save up my pennies for a mighty long time…………….
In 2011 a good friend sent me my dream kit, I had no idea! He just told me that he picked up something he thought I’d like and that it was on the way. When this kit arrived I was amazed and deliriously happy! I still thank my lucky stars I have such amazing friends in my life.
This kit is expensive and its a gift from a great friend, I was scared to actually build it! It took me a couple of years to pluck up the courage to start this one, I wanted it to be my best effort.
When I was planning this build, I knew that I would have to build her as MH434! As there were no decals readily available, my friend donated some limited edition decals for 434. I was on my way! It became clear early on that with the decals, there was no nose art, so I would be building 434 in her wartime guise. As it turned out, 434 had her nose art when she was at RAF Hornchurch in 1943. Flying Officer Pat Lardner-Burke was 434’s pilot at 222 Sqn and he had his wife’s name painted on the side of the aircraft with his victory markings. Lardner-Burke was an ace scoring eight and a half combat kills.
However 434 did see combat without the nose art as evidenced in the photograph above so with the decals I had I was good to go!
Whilst in conversation with some friends, the subject of which paint scheme I should choose came up and we discussed just how many schemes that 434 has worn over the years. Wartime, civilian, PRU Blue, modern day, the choices are many and varied!
In the end it came down to which paint job was my favourite. I decided to build her as she was right after her rebuild in 1995. There is a scene in the film “A Spitfire’s Story” when Ray and Mark Hanna are standing with 434 outside a hanger at Duxford. 434 is is freshly painted and her engine is exposed. Its a picture that has stayed in my mind for years and I thought it would be a fitting tribute.
That’s how this project started and the rest as they say………is history!
So, now you know the why, here is the how. Tamiya’s 1/32 Spitfire Mk.IX built as MH434.
As well as using the exceptionally well detail kit parts I also added some of my own wiring and I customised the seat to match photographs of the modern day 434.
I took the kit engine and enhanced it with resin rocker covers and some scratch built plumbing.
I began with a pre-shade to darken all of the panel lines and then thin coats of RAF Ocean Grey were sprayed onto the upper surface and RAF Light Grey onto the lower surfaces. The camouflage pattern was masked off and RAF Dark Green was added to the upper half of teh airframe.
The Markings-Using Masks!
I’ll start right here by holding my hands up and saying that this is my first attempt at using paint masks for markings instead of using decals. I had never wanted to do this, however when my mate Frank mailed me a custom set of Ad Astra masks, my mind began to wonder……….
Over a long period of time Frank and I discussed using these masks and I kept resisting the idea stating that it would be too difficult for me to do. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to use these on the most expensive kit I’ve ever built and I took the plunge!
My heartfelt thanks to Frank for once again being so generous with his kindness, time, advice and understanding!
This was not an easy process. However if it’s planned out and carefully executed, even someone like me can make it look good!
The toughest job was the four colour roundels on the fuselage, they are very tricky to get right! But I did it and it really make the model pop when the markings are painted on!
The following photo’s show how the masking was done and the Blue/Red shades for the tail flash and roundels were mixed Tamiya shades. Nothing scientific here-I just kept mixing paints until I found a shade I liked!
The Cannon Barrels:
To get an exact match to the barrels on 434 I bought brass aftermarket items. They were a PIA to attach!
I also purchased some Barracuda resin wheels for this build and they were well worth the extra expense.
Engine and Prop installation:
One thing that really bothered me was not having a decal for the nose art, I looked all over to no avail. I then got some quotes for custom decal printing and for me, some of the prices were bloody outrageous!
A friend of mine in the USA came to my aid with some custom decals for the nose art and I have to say the decals were fantastic. I applied them very carefully and my own version of MH434 came to life before me!
It was just a matter to adding the “Fiddly bits” and she would be finished at last. I sculpted two figures using spare figure parts to represent Ray and Mark and when I thought I had got as close to their likeness as my meagre skills would allow, I placed the model and figures in a purpose built display case. This is my most ambitious build to date and my all time favourite. I can honestly say it has been a true labour of love.
As I said at the beginning of this post, this build is a tribute to Ray and Mark Hanna and 434. The world was a better place for them being in it and they are missed. I have been told by some who knew them that they would have liked this tribute. I hope so, it’s my small way of saying thanks to them for all the great pleasure they gave us.
Blue skies lads………….