Spitfire in my workshop. David Glen BSc (Hons) MSc: Model Maker, Journalist David Glen

The pilot's door


Friday, 28th October, 2016

The pilot's hatch exemplifies how I occasionally use styrene in combination with metal to achieve a desired effect, in this case the top-hat and Z-section structural components of the door and some of the smaller, more detailed items that support the locking mechanism. Where parts are to be hidden beneath paint anything is possible!

 

The door began as a rectangle of 0.5 mm thick aluminium sheet. I simply bent the cold metal over a piece of PVC gutter pipe and then refined the shape with my fingers until it conformed exactly to the fuselage curvature. Less than five minutes’ work!

 

I fabricated the canopy rail from brass strip and channel section. Solder paint is ideal for delicate jobs like this. I milled the slots for the canopy runners, but only where visible at either end since the door is fitted permanently in the open position. My photographs show the finished piece secured in place with tiny 1/32 in. alloy snap head rivets.

 

Had the door been flat, I could easily have folded my own alloy sections from litho plate, but of course it is not flat and hence my recourse to styrene strip. My pictures show the process clearly enough. Once the four side-pieces and the two central stiffeners had been completed, the four small triangular plates were cut and installed, one in each corner.

 

When I built my Mk I Spitfire I took the trouble to make a working hinge for the hatch. This time I decided to cut the corner with something that looks like a hinge, so for this part of the work I was guided more by photographs than by the drawings. My solution, which could hardly be easier, can be seen in the photographs. Viewed from outside the cockpit, the five tiny screws that actually hold the door to the fuselage side give the game away, but you have to look very hard to see them.

 

The basic door could have been built in less than a day, but the locking mechanism took longer. Notwithstanding a little simplification here and there, it is an accurate representation of the real thing. Most of the tiny parts are milled from brass, the most challenging being the door handle itself, which required a lot of additional and careful hand cutting. The minute forked couplings on the ends of the coupling rods came a close second. Each was drilled and turned in the lathe to fit onto 3/32 in. diameter brass and secured there with a dab of solder paint, after which perpendicular holes for the pins were drilled and then the slotted ends cut using a slitting saw mounted in the milling machine. Tiny 16BA brass screws and nuts hold the assembly together.

 

Making and fitting the crowbar was straightforward by comparison: I chucked a length of 1/8 in. diameter brass rod and turned a taper at one end. I put the required ‘set’ into the annealed opposite end and cut flats to form a wedge shape using my bench mill and a file. The paired ‘spring clips’ look realistic enough, but they are dummies made from litho plate. What actually holds the crow bar in place are two concealed brass pegs which locate into holes drilled through the ‘clips’ then on through the simplified solid mounting blocks and the sheet metal door itself.

 


 


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The simple makeup of the canopy rail can be seen clearly: a length of flat brass and channel-section brass soft soldered together and slotted at the ends. It is not exactly as the original but a very close representation.
The two top hat section stiffeners came next. They are represented by lengths of rectangular section styrene flanked by strips of litho plate into which the rivet pattern has been impressed.
More styrene is shaped for the structural elements at the sides of the door.
Now two of the four corner reinforcing plates are added. These are held in place by cyanoacrylate glue and the tiny alloy rivets that act as pins.
The beginnings of the dummy door hinge cut from a scrap of 0.5mm alloy.
Unlike the working hinge fitted to my Mk I Spitfire, this one is for appearances sake only...
..but the end result looks real enough.
Work on the locking mechanism begins with a sheet styrene pivot plate for the door handle. Note how real brass screws are used in the detail.
Some of the numerous brass components that make up the locking mechanism including brackets for the fore and aft bolts, which have been made and installed.
In the full sized aircraft the mounting brackets for the crowbar are cut from top hat section alloy. I made mine solid using styrene...
..since they are all but invisible with the crowbar mounted in place.
The completed and painted door. The five tiny locating screws just visible at the top of the picture are the only clue that the hinge is not quite what it seems.
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