I recently picked up an example of one of the earliest Airfix Zero kits, possibly from its first year of issue in 1959 with the original shield-shaped base. On examination I discovered a very cleanly molded kit in a duck egg green plastic with a mix of delicately inscribed and raised surface detail. I was mildly surprised to find no dreaded rivets or overdone fabric sacking - they came later when the kit was "improved". The biggest surprise was when I test fitted it together (as you do). The later issues are a somewhat "iffy" fit to say the least, after all the mold is nearly fifty years old, but this one went together almost without glue, each piece clicking positively into place. The canopy is not great but at least the frames can be seen.
It just goes to show that if you want to get maximum enjoyment from a retro-build you probably need to find one of the earliest examples of the kit!
Box art for the USA issue from Airfix Corporation of America
There is no copyright date on the 'Airfix-72' issue by the Airfix Corporation of America but the kits were subsequently issued from 1966 to 1969 with the 'Craftsmaster' logo added. This one is moulded in silver plastic but with the same markings as the UK issue.
Roy Cross later painted new artwork with that iconic image of a trio of Zeros diving through sunlit clouds spitting fire. He depicted the unique replacement cooling louvres fitted to the Chinese captured example P-5016 when damage was repaired. In our days of Zero ignorance these louvres were once believed to represent a pre-production version.
The later MPC US issue with a modified presentation of the Roy Cross art included a sprue of additional chrome-plated parts and some wild 'customizing' decals but unfortunately no black dragon!
Built and painted model on the Type 8A 1984 box
Halcyon days are conjured up by this simple model, although I have stronger memories of building the Frog example. They were flown over the "jungle canopy" of the freshly mown lawn during those long worry-free school summer holidays when we were too poor to go abroad and climate change had not been invented. Always predatory and often in pairs, courtesy of the inspiration provided by the Fleetway Publications Air Ace Picture Library, the Zeros would pounce on "Battler Britton" in his lone Hurricane (Airfix Mk.IV complete with rockets and European camouflage & markings). Ah, the smell of new mown grass and Airfix polystyrene in the morning . . .
With one exception (the Sakai special edition in the Aircraft of the Aces series - above) the Airfix Zero had always offered the same spurious "Army-style" tail insignia in the kit. In 2009 it was issued as a new starter set with new box art and the Sakai markings.
The original decal sheet, repeated in almost every issue of the kit for fifty years
The special edition box art included a pretty good likeness of Saburo Sakai too!
Last outing for the Roy Cross art on the Type 11 box
Image credits: © Airfix & Roy Cross