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1/48 scale Grand Phoenix kitbash
Fairey Firefly FR.5

by Mike Prince


Fairey Firefly FR.5


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The Fairey Firefly was originally designed as a two seat naval fighter to meet specifications issued by the British Admiralty in June 1940. Ultimately, this aircraft evolved into a true multi-role aircraft, with various marks performing roles as diverse as fighter / reconnaissance, night fighter, anti-shipping and anti-submarine warfare, dual control trainer and, in later years, target tug.

The first Fireflies reached squadron service with the Royal Navy in late 1943 and were operational in time to participate in attacks on the Tirpitz in Norwegian waters in July 1944. By late 1944 Fireflies were operating with the British Pacific fleet.

Australian Service

In 1948 HMAS Sydney was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), followed thereafter by HMAS Vengeance (on loan from the United Kingdom) then HMAS Melbourne in 1955. Sydney’s Air Group initially consisted of Hawker Sea Furies and Fairey Firefly FR5s, the individual squadrons embarking in Sydney in 1949 following workup in the UK. Ultimately, the RAN took delivery of 108 Fireflies, including two FR4s, 37 FR5s and 69 AS6s.

In October 1951 Sydney deployed to Korea to relieve HMS Glory with 805 and 808 Squadrons embarked, both equipped with Sea Furies, along with 817 Squadron equipped with Firefly FR5s. These FR5s were transferred from other RAN squadrons as the cannon armament of this version was considered to make it more suitable for operations over Korea than the AS6s with which 817 Squadron had previously been equipped. Roles performed by the Fireflies included spotting for naval bombardments, dive-bombing of rail targets, bridges and other transport infrastructure, attacks against troop concentrations and armed reconnaissance. A number of aircraft were lost or damaged by enemy ground fire, whilst the hazards of operating from a small escort carrier also took their toll. Operations continued until 31 January 1952. Attrition replacements were drawn from Royal Navy stocks both during the deployment and during the return passage to Australia. Following a subsequent deployment to the UK and return via the United States, Sydney conducted a second deployment to Korea from November 1953 to June 1954, this time contributing to enforcement of the truce signed between North and South Korea in July 1953. No combat flying was undertaken during this second Korean deployment.


With the arrival in Australia of Melbourne with a Carrier Air Group consisting of DeHavilland Sea Venoms and Fairey Gannets in late 1955, both the Furies and Fireflies became obsolete. Between 1957 and 1959 the vast majority of Fireflies were retired from service, though a number soldiered on as target tugs until the mid 1960s.




The Kit

I have long wanted to build to models of the aircraft operated by the RAN, preferably in 1/48 scale. A few years ago Grand Phoenix released an excellent model of the Firefly Mk1, however, with its beard type radiator, shorter fuselage, three bladed propeller and lack of radar and fuel pods on the wings, it was not entirely suitable. Whilst rumours of a kit of a later mark abounded, no injection moulded kit of a more suitable version has appeared to date. Therefore, it was time to undertake some relatively serious kit-bashing to convert a Mk1 into an FR5 as used by Sydney in Korea. As no conversion kit was available, this was undertaken using sheet styrene, parts from the spares box, and a degree of lateral thinking. Whilst this conversion might initially appear complex, once a solution had been identified for each discrete step, there was nothing that was ultimately too difficult.

Summary of conversion

  • Fuselage: Lengthened 8mm using plastic sheet between windscreen and firewall. Wing fold braces added to rear fuselage. Various bulges and vents added to upper and side cowl panels.

  • Lower cowl: “Beard” type radiator removed, new carburettor intake and lower cowl built up using plastic sheet. Revised cowl panel lines scribed.

  • Spinner: Kit spinner re-profiled from rounded to pointed and converted from three bladed to four bladed arrangement. Backplate modified to match.

  • Propeller blades: Scratch built from 8 Academy Spitfire Mk XIV blades.

  • Wing radiators: Scratch built from sheet plastic, sections from discarded wings and brass wire.

  • Wings: Wing tips clipped, landing and navigation lights cut out and replaced with clear lenses, landing light from scrap, (wing spar built to compensate for sections removed to accommodate new radiators). Rockets from spares box.

  • Fin: Straight leading edge removed and replaced with extended leading edge and fillet. Actuating rod added to rudder trim tab.

  • Tailplane: Elevators separated, balance horns altered from 45º to fore / aft alignment.

  • Front cockpit: OOB except for gunsight from spares box and windscreen replaced from clear sheet. Canopy runners added.

  • Rear cockpit: OOB except for canopy cut open, with open sections replaced from clear sheet.

  • Markings: Roundels and parts of aircraft serials from Eagle Strike “Sea Fury Pt 1”, black and white side numbers from Aussie Decals (generic), remainder of serials hand painted.

Fuselage (1)

The fuselage was initially built as per the kit instructions, though the resin exhausts were left out as they were at risk of being damaged when conversion of the nose was undertaken later. The resin components for the two cockpits were painted extremely dark grey (almost black) and dry brushed with a lighter grey and silver. The two small levers either side of the pilot’s seat were replaced with wire, the etched seat belts were painted and installed, and the instrument panel assembled then fitted. Dry fitting showed that only a little thinning of the completed cockpits was necessary, after which the two fuselage halves were joined and the aft cockpit glued in, though the forward cockpit was left loose. Before addressing the changes to be made to the fuselage the fuselage and forward cockpit were then put aside while the internal structure of the wing was addressed.

Wings (1)

Having completed the fuselage more or less as per the kit instructions so far, the first stage of building the wings was undertaken. First up, the mating surfaces of the upper and lower wing halves were sanded smooth. The tops of the resin wheel wells were thinned to allow the upper and lower wing surfaces to mate, then once correct, the wheel wells were glued to the lower surface.

The next few steps were then developed to ensure that the relationship of the wings to the fuselage would be maintained once the leading edges of the wings and the lower front fuselage were removed a little further down the track.


To maintain the dihedral already moulded into the kit’s lower wing, a main wing spar was fashioned from sheet styrene and fitted to the forward faces of the wheel wells where it would later be enclosed and hidden. Next, the upper and lower wing surfaces were taped together and the depth of this spar, and the thickness of the resin on the base of the forward cockpit, were both repeatedly filed and dry fitted until the wings fitted the fuselage correctly.

Following this, the leading edges of the wings were cut away from 2mm inboard of the wing fold lines. On the lower surface care needed to be taken not to interfere with the resin wheel wells and the new wing spar on the forward face. The lower fuselage area immediately ahead of the wheel wells was also removed where the kit’s wing was shaped to fit the aft end of the beard radiator. Finally, the upper and lower wing skins were glued together and, once set, the wing tips removed approximately 4mm outboard of the outer end of the ailerons. This excess was then filled and filed to shape to represent the clipped wingtips of the later marks of the Firefly. Concurrently, the opportunity was taken to thin the trailing edges then re-scribe any lost detail. At this point, the focus of work returned to the forward fuselage.

Fuselage (2)

The forward cockpit was permanently fitted in the fuselage at this stage. Next, the nose was separated from the fuselage using a razor saw to cut vertically mid way between the two vertical panel lines immediately behind the engine exhausts. The lower cowling was also removed; cutting along what would eventually be the new panel line dividing the new lower cowl from the side panels. It should be noted that this panel line lies further down the fuselage than on the Mk 1, the panel line ending mid way down the wing radiator openings rather than above the wing as on the earlier version. Side views of the aircraft show this quite clearly once the difference has been identified.

A 38cm stretch was included on versions of the Firefly following the Mk1 to counteract the additional weight of equipment fitted to the observer’s cockpit. The fuselage was therefore extended 8mm using sheet styrene glued inside the fuselage to provide some structure, with a second 8mm wide strip wrapped around the outside to fill the resultant gap. Once this strip was faired in and the panel lines replaced, the kit’s resin exhausts were then fitted through the new opening in the lower cowl. The prominent flame dampers over the exhausts were left off as these were not fitted to all aircraft, and seemed to be rarely fitted to FR5s.


Finally, the leading edge of the fin was removed, then the fin extended forward using sheet styrene to reflect the curved leading edge and large fillet that characterised Fireflies from the FR4 onward.

Wings (2)

Having extended the fuselage the wings were then fitted to the fuselage with the primary mating surfaces being the wing upper surfaces to the wing fillets, and the wing spar to the base of the resin cockpit.


The lower cowling of the nose was blanked off using a single layer of sheet styrene to form a base for further construction. To this was added a new carburettor intake below the spinner, resulting in an intake about 3mm deep. The remainder of the lower cowl was then built up using successive layers of sheet styrene, extending in a smooth curve all the way back to the wheel wells. Once complete this was carved, filed and sanded to shape, with a coating of CA glue used as filler to ensure that the edges of each layer would not be visible once the model was painted. Finally, the inner ends of the wing radiator housings were shaped from two layers of sheet styrene and glued to the sides of the nose ahead of the cut down wings. These were cut so that they extended forward until mid way between the two vertical panel lines immediately behind the exhausts, and created a blunt airfoil shape extending forward from the existing upper and lower wing surfaces.


The radiator housings were built by shaping and fitting the upper surfaces, then hanging the internal details off the lower (inner) surface. This consisted of the outer end of the radiator housing, a styrene strip running span-wise to represent the front and rear faces of the radiator, an inner surface for the radiator outlet (attached to the lower wing skin just ahead of the wheel wells), then the lower skin of the radiator housing.



The upper and lower radiator skins were cut from the upper and lower surfaces of wings from the spares box, in this case from an Airfix MkV Spitfire, as there was potential for sheet styrene curved to the same shape to warp as a result of handling. The outer ends of the radiator housings were then faired in, the bracing visible in the radiator inlets fitted by drilling and inserting brass rod through the lower surface, then outlet doors made from styrene sheet and fitted.



Propeller and Spinner

Whilst the Mk.1 Firefly had a rather bulbous spinner and a three bladed propeller, the spinner on later marks was much more pointed, while the propeller was four bladed, with each blade considerably broader than the finely tipped blades of the earlier version.

The spinner was first converted to accept four blades, with two of the existing three holes for blades filled then reinforced internally, then three new holes cut and filed to the same shape as the one remaining original hole. The spinner was then re-profiled from the existing bulbous shape to something much pointier. The thickness of the plastic allowed this to be done with a file. Finally, four small pieces of styrene were glued to the back-plate behind where each propeller blade was to be later fitted. These were then filed to shape so that when the spinner and back-plate were joined, the hole for each blade was round rather than “U” shaped.

The propeller blades were tackled next. Although my spares box has lots of propeller blades that rotate to the right, Fireflies were fitted with a Griffon engine that rotates to the left (as per a late mark Spitfire or a Typhoon). To solve this I found that I could make a broad enough and long enough propeller blade by splicing together two blades discarded from an Academy Mk14 Spitfire kit, using eight blades in total to make the required four. I think a spare four bladed propeller from a Typhoon kit would have been much simpler; unfortunately none was available. Once set, the blades were filed and sanded to shape to match the references.

Radar Pod and Wing Fuel Tank

Almost all Fireflies from the FR4 onward were operated with a surface search radar in a pod on the starboard wing, with fuel contained in a similar pod on the port wing. Photographs taken onboard the Sydney off Korea indicate only a few FR5s without these fitted. However, around half my reference photos of restored Fireflies show the aircraft without them.

The front portions of these were constructed from the “aluminium” drop tanks of an Accurate Miniatures P51 (the diameter of the “paper” drop tanks in other kits is too small). All detail was removed and the diameter reduced slightly at the widest point. The back third of the drop tank was then cut off and the length extended with sheet styrene to create a long and streamlined pod. Finally, the top of the pod was cut to roughly match the shape of the wing’s lower surface. This cut-out was refined by wrapping the wing in sandpaper (rough side outward), then sanding back the top of the pod using the wing to define the shape.

Additional Details

Two bulges on the sides of the engine cowlings were cut from sheet styrene, shaped, fitted and faired in. A small inlet was fitted on the top of the engine cowl. Louvres on the lower cowl were cut in and shaped using a sharp blade. The elevators were separated from the tailplanes, with the balance horns reshaped so that the extreme tips point directly forward. The trailing edges were thinned. The coamings of the pilot’s cockpit were extended upward to include runners for the canopy. The kit’s gun sight was replaced with a gyroscopic sight from the spares box, with a small piece of acetate used to model the reflector. The landing light was cut out, boxed in then built up with scrap plastic, then covered with clear acetate curved to shape, while the navigation lights were cut out and replaced with sections of clear sprue that were later filed to shape and polished. Catapult hooks were fashioned from scrap plastic and fitted beneath the fuselage just inboard of the radiators. The pilot’s windscreen was replaced with a scratch built item from clear sheet, while the rear canopy opened up with the opening panels then replaced with new items rolled to shape from the same clear sheet.

The kit’s cannon barrel fairings were replaced with sections of round sprue, cut to length and sanded to shape, with the protruding barrels fashioned from brass tube. The mounting panels for the rocket rails were cut from thin sheet styrene, with the rockets coming from the spares box. The bomb carriers were shaped from underwing gun pods from an old Monogram T-6 Texan kit, reduced in both depth and length. A pitot tube was sourced from the spares box and cut down for fitting under the outer port wing after painting.



Painting and Markings


Ultimately, I wanted an RAN aircraft wearing Korean War stripes. This was easier said than done.

My primary reference only included a profile of FR5 WB377 / 201K as operated by 817 Squadron from Sydney during the first Korean deployment. However, this was an attrition replacement borrowed from the Royal Navy. The profile loosely follows photos available from the Australian War Memorial that show the aircraft on deck in a damaged state following Typhoon Ruth on 15 Oct 51. In these photos, the “1” of “201” has been over-painted by the leading black fuselage stripe, presumably to be replaced by a white “1” in due course. (Note that Typhoon Ruth occurred during the first few days of operations.) This would agree with photos of other aircraft on deck where the side numbers are black on white / sky and white on black. It also agrees (in part) with photos of the restored WB518, purportedly in the markings of WB377, though with the aircraft’s true serial used instead. Further, the profile does not depict the medium blue spinner denoting aircraft from 817 Squadron, as shown on the restored WB518 and on the example in the Museum of Flight at Nowra. On both WB518 and the Nowra example the wing stripes are further inboard than on the original 1951 photos of WB377 (and all but one other Firefly photographed during the 1951-52 deployment).


In order to model an RAN aircraft, I chose to depict FR5 WB393 / 204K, which was downed by ground fire while operating over Korea on 26 October 1951. Fortunately, the pilot made a successful forced landing, albeit behind enemy lines. After being protected for the remainder of the day by aircraft from Sydney and Meteors from 77 Squadron RAAF, the crew; LEUT Neil MacMilland and CPO Phil Hancox, were rescued in fading light by the USN helicopter embarked on Sydney. I have assumed the aircraft was in the same common scheme of Extra Dark Sea Grey and Sky with blue spinner, black and white stripes around the outer wings and aft fuselage, with the side numbers contrasting the fuselage stripes and prominent serials beneath the wings that have been partially obliterated by the stripes. Roundels and parts of aircraft serials came from Eagle Strike’s “Sea Fury Pt 1” sheet, with the black and white side numbers from Aussie Decals (generic). Remaining parts of the aircraft serials were hand painted.





  • Sea Fury, Firefly and Sea Venom in Australian Service, Stewart Wilson, Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 1993

  • Tale of Two Fireflies, Flightpath, Vol 14 No.2, November 2002 – January 2003

  • The Journey, Aeroplane, Vol 30 No.11, November 2002

  • ADF-Serials.com

  • Australian War Memorial


Additional Images


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Model, Images and Text Copyright © 2005 by Mike Prince
Page Created 30 June, 2005
Last Updated 29 June, 2005

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