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Classic Airframes' early Bf 109 in 1/48
Augsburg's First Eagle

by Brett Green

 

Messerschmitt Bf 109 "6-1"

 


Classic Airframes' 1/48 scale Messerschmitt Bf 109 A  is available online from Squadron


 

Introduction

 

Early Bf 109 Prototypes and Production Variants

The earliest Messerschmitt Bf 109 variants were fitted with the Jumo 210 engine. Compared to the the later and more familiar Daimler-Benz equipped versions, the Jumo powerplant rendered a very different profile to the nose of these early 109s.

The first Bf 109 to be fitted with the Jumo engine was the second prototype, the V2, which differed from the first production models in a number of respects. The V2 was unarmed, featured a streamlined upper cowl, different spinner design, large main wheels requiring a long "bump" on the top of the wings (similar to the later model Bf 109s such as the G-10 and K-4), small tail wheel with no oleo scissor and other detail variations.

The next prototype, the V3, was fitted with cowl armament and a revised windscreen, but was otherwise similar to the V2. It is generally acknowledged that the V3 was the prototype for the Bf 109A series.

The V4 introduced the production-style engine cowling and tail wheel, narrower main wheels (with the upper wing bump deleted), and a separately-framed quarter panel on the bottom of each side of the windscreen. Other changes included the provision for a centre mounted machine gun firing through the propeller hub, relocation of the pitot tube from the side of the fuselage to under the wing, and a new style of oil cooler mounted close to the port-side wheel well. The Bf 109 V4 was the prototype for the Bf 109B production series. A variable pitch metal two-bladed VDM propeller assembly was planned for the Bf 109B, but delays in supply meant that the first production machines were fitted with the wooden Schwarz propeller.

It should be pointed out that there are discrepancies between reference sources regarding identification of some of these prototypes and early production models. One recent case in point relates to the first production machines. Conventional wisdom has been that the Bf 109B was the first variant to reach production status but recent sources, including Lynn Ritger's new Bf 109 "Modellers' Datafile", suggest that there might have been a small Bf 109A series production run. Regardless of the label, however, these early production machines varied little. For example, the main feature suggested as distinguishing the Bf 109A from early Bf 109B production machines is the location of the underwing oil cooler.

 

 

In service, these "Jumoschmitts" were relatively underpowered, and the initial armament of two cowl-mounted machine guns quickly proved inadequate compared to the emerging generation of European fighter aircraft.

Despite these limitations, however, the Messerschmitt Bf 109B, C and D dominated contemporary fighters in combat over the skies of Spain. The Messerschmitt airframe also proved adaptable, with continual development ensuring that the Bf 109 remained the Luftwaffe's first-line fighter weapon (although it was undeniably surpassed by other German designs) for the entire duration of the Second World War.



Jumoschmitts in Plastic

Although modellers have a great selection of Messerschmitt Bf 109E, F, G and K kits to choose from, the situation has been fairly grim for fans of the early Jumo powered prototypes and early production models.

Hobbycraft's 1/48 scale kits are widely available and inexpensive, but they are seriously flawed in terms of accuracy, especially their Bf 109B model. Problems include too shallow and misplaced gun slots, incorrectly positioned carburettor intake scoop, inaccurate panel lines and cooling slots on the cowling, poorly shaped and poorly detailed radiator intake, very poor Schwartz propeller, short wing slats, undersized canopy (and one-piece too), cockpit configuration more typical of a later model and some 109E attributes on the fuselage.

Classic Airframes has now come to the rescue of 1/48 scale modellers with the first in their family of Jumo-powered Bf 109 kits. This premiere offering is labeled Bf 109 A, but this undersells the kit. In fact, you can build the Bf 109 V4, V5 or any early production machine with long leading edge slats.

For a detailed look at the contents of the box, click here to view my review of Classic Airframes' 1/48 scale Bf 109 A kit posted last week on HyperScale.

 

 

Construction

 

Parts Preparation

Careful preparation is the key to a successful and enjoyable project when building any limited-run kit. Although the surface quality and detail of Classic Airframes' smooth plastic parts are the equal of many of today's best mainstream manufacturers, absence of locating pins and the inclusion of resin parts means that clean-up and regular test-fitting is essential.

I started by preparing the resin parts. These are beautifully cast and superior to the detail moulded onto most conventional plastic kits. A razor saw was used to cut each resin part from its casting block. A few swipes with a sanding stick was enough to clean up after the parts were separated.

Extra care is required when removing the engine cowl and the Schwarz prop from their blocks. Make sure you cut very close to the casting block in both cases. The casting stubs on top of the wheel well parts must also be completely removed, and the top of the part reduced to wafer thinness.



Cockpit

Two sets of cockpit sidewalls are supplied. I chose the starboard sidewall without the map case and glued it to the fuselage interior before I realized that the oxygen bottle was not fitted to this part. I sliced the oxygen bottle from the alternate starboard sidewall using a sharp hobby knife and glued it into place.

Two seats are also included. I chose the separately bagged version, as detail was noticeably better. The photo-etched harness looked great when assembled and attached to the seat. Foot straps were cut from lead foil and glued to the rudder pedals.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Classic Airframes' resin parts are crisply cast and beautifully detailed

Sidewalls were glued to the fuselage interior before painting. Caution must be exercised to ensure the correct location of the cockpit components.


I glued the trim wheels onto a short length of copper wire, spaced the wheels slightly, then glued the wire axle into a hole that I had drilled into the sidewall. Test fitting the cockpit components showed that I had got the position of one of the sidewalls slightly too far forward, and that the extra width I had added to the trim wheels would cause them to foul against the trim wheel mount. I cut the trim wheel mounts from both the seat and the cockpit floor, and glued one to the trim wheels themselves. I also thinned some of the detail on the port side of the seat.

Next time I build a Classic Airframes Bf 109 I will thin the sidewalls before gluing them to the fuselage and I will not space the trim wheels so far from the sidewall. This should avoid some of my self-induced complications!



Wheel Wells and Wings

Classic Airframes has supplied attractive resin wheel wells in the kit. In addition to adding detail, these also offer positive location for the installation of the main gear legs.

The top of the resin parts should be thinned until they are almost transparent. In fact, you will note in the photo below that I have broken through the wheel well ceiling in a couple of places. These gaps were later filled with super glue.

 

 

I also thinned the inside of the top of the wings until a good fit was achieved. Take your time when thinning the top of the wing to avoid breaking through or melting the plastic - a real risk if you are using a Motor Tool.

The wing goes together beautifully once the tedious task of thinning is complete, and the integral wing spar guarantees the correct dihedral.



Fuselage and Main Assembly

With the cockpit and wheel wells installed, construction is no more difficult than many mainstream kits.

I fitted the instrument panel then glued the fuselage halves together. When the fuselage halves had set I installed the cockpit tub from the opening underneath.

At this stage the wings were offered to the fuselage. The wings are cleverly designed so that the front centre section forms the top of the outlet ramp for the radiator. I lightly sanded and test-fitted the joining surface at the centre rear of the wing several times until a perfect gap-free fit was achieved. The important thing here is not to shave too much plastic from the back of the wing centre section - just sand lightly, test-fit and repeat as required.

With a nice tight fit between the wing and the fuselage, Tamiya Extra Thin Liquid Cement was flowed into the join lines at the wing root, and the front and rear of the wing assembly. A length of Tamiya tape was stretched across the top of the model from wingtip to wingtip to ensure there would be no gaps at the wing root.

Once these main sub-assemblies had thoroughly set, I installed the resin engine cowl. Test fitting exposed a tiny step between the resin cowl and the bottom cowl / rear of the radiator. Rather than fill this step later, I decided to deal with it now. Two cocktail sticks were cut to size and glued inside the cowl to marginally spread the resin part. This eliminated the step. The upper cowl was set in place using thick super glue before the lower forward cowl was added to complete the nose.

The result was a gap-free, step free join. The photo below shows that no filler was required in this important area.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Dihedral is set by the wing spar, but Tamiya tape was used to guarantee a gap-free join at the wing root.

Cocktail stick spreaders were installed to ensure a perfect fit of the resin engine cowl.

Fine copper and steel wire was used to add braces to the front of the radiator.

As can be seen, with sufficient preparation, the fit of the resin and plastic parts is excellent.

A hole was drilled into the mating surface of each horizontal stabilisers. A metal pin was used to strengthen this join.


I decided not to glue plastic part 20 to the front of the cowl. I left this part on the sprue and glued the perforated photo-etched cowl face direct to the nose instead. In my opinion, this shows off the ventilation holes to better advantage and improves the fit in this area too.

The resin radiator intake includes nicely cast detail for the radiator face, but even better detail is available on the supplied photo-etched part. This metal face was glued inside the resin intake. Reference photos show that the radiator was fitted with two diagonal and one vertical brace. These were added from fine brass and steel wire.

Horizontal stabilizers are supplied without locating tabs. To reinforce this join, I drilled holes in the mating surfaces of the stabilizers and through the fin. A steel pin was inserted to assist alignment and strengthen the join. Stabilizer struts, parts 25 and 26, fitted perfectly.

 

 

Painting and Markings

 

Metal or Paint?

Close examination of reference photos from the Spanish Civil War reveals an ambiguous finish on the earliest Bf 109s. On the one hand, the finish often displays the distinct irregularity of tone and sheen consistent with a natural metal surface, but some angles suggest a flat puttied and painted airframe.

In his recent book, "Luftwaffe Camouflage and Markings 1933-1945 Volume One", Ken Merrick states that these early Legion Condor Bf 109s were sprayed in a thin protective finish which was tinted in a colour similar to RLM 02. The result was a translucent coat that clearly showed the irregularities of bare metal, but with a greenish tinge.

Even with this information available, however, I had a great deal of trouble trying to replicate the finish. I first tried to spray a thin coat of RLM 02 over a natural metal finish. The result just looked like regular RLM 02. Next, I tried to tint Alclad with Gunze acrylic RLM 02. Two drops in half a paint cup had no noticeable effect, while four drops converted the finish to something that just looked like chalky RLM 02. Three drops in half a paint cup of Alclad still did not really tint the colour, but it did take the high gloss edge off the shiny metallic paint. That would have to be close enough!

I started by spraying the entire model with Tamiya Grey Primer, straight from the can. The primer was buffed to a high gloss with Micro Mesh cloths.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Very little filler was required before painting. The surface was polished before primer was applied.

Tamiya Grey Primer was sprayed onto the model direct from the can.

With the primer polished to a high gloss, control surfaces were painted RLM 02 Grey and masked.


I assumed that fabric surfaces would be primed, so control surfaces were sprayed with Gunze RLM 02 Grey, except the rudder which received a coat of Flat White. These painted surfaces were then masked in preparation for the metallic finish.

Gunze-tinted Alclad was loaded into the paint cup of my Testor Aztek A470 airbrush and applied in an overall coat. The result was a perfectly blemish free, uniform metallic finish. In fact, the tinted Alclad seemed to be less temperamental than 100% Alclad. I usually get a few rough patches but had no such trouble this time.

Reference photos show that a number of panels that were consistently darker than the rest of the aircraft. These panels were masked and sprayed with Alclad Dark Aluminium. Other selected panels were masked and sprayed using Tamiya AS-12 Airframe Silver, decanted into a bottle. This is a suitably ambiguous shade which could represent either a weathered alloy or a silver painted finish.

Access and filler hatches were masked and sprayed with the same colour to add a little more variation to the finish.

The exhaust panels and radiator surrounds were masked and sprayed with Tamiya Flat Black. I then masked off the radiator and sprayed a 50/50 mix of Tamiya Flat Black and German Grey onto the exhaust panel at a downward angle. This reinforced the impression of the deep exhaust holes.

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

The basic paint job is finished and awaits decals and weathering.

Small access hatches were masked with a dymo-tape template, and sprayed Tamiya Airframe Silver

Classic Airframes' decals performed flawlessly.

Cutting Edge's Black Magic masks for Hobbycraft's 109B were used as a basis for masking the Classic Airframes canopy. Modifications were required!


Markings

Although they are not mentioned in the marking instructions, I used decals supplied for Trautloft's "6-1".

Sources are at odds about this machine (presumably the reason that this option was not officially included in the kit instructions), but several references suggest that this machine was actually the Bf 109 V4 sent to Spain for evaluation. There is also a photo of this aircraft on a web page, "The Bf 109 in Spain" http://www.zi.ku.dk/personal/drnash/model/spain/bf109.html , which displays all the characteristics of either the Bf 109 V4 (which was the B model prototype), or an early production machine.

However, one unusual feature of this aircraft is the installation of the pitot tube on the starboard fuselage side, just forward of the windscreen. Lynn Ritger believes that "6-1" might actually be the Bf 109 V3 prototype which was previously photographed in Spain as "6-2" (with a crude skull and crossbones painted under the canopy), but renumbered and retrofitted with the new style wing, canopy, engine cowling, propeller and tail wheel.

On the other hand, "6-1" may be another prototype or an early production machine that had its pitot tube relocated for some reason lost in the passing of the decades.

Regardless of ultimate identification, however, this is an attractive and interesting machine.

Classic Airframes' decals performed flawlessly in concert with Micro Set and Micro Sol.



Weathering

I kept weathering light.

 

 

A thin mix of Tamiya Red Brown and Flat Black was sprayed along selected panel lines. I focused on panels around the rear and bottom of the engine cowling. Light stains were also sprayed around the wing roots, and on the bottom of the fuselage behind the radiator outlet.

A thin wash of Raw Umber oil paint was applied with a fine brush to a few areas including rivets on the wing root fairing, filler hatches, fin fairing, gun troughs, fuselage vents, and release latches.

A thin coat of Gunze Flat Clear was sprayed over the decals to tone down the glossy markings.



Finishing Touches

I used the resin Schwarz propeller for Trautloft's aircraft. The shape looks good but I cut too much of the spinner base off when removing the part from its casting block so I beefed up this area with a disk of plastic.

I painted the blades to represent wear and tear to the leading edges, where bare wood would have been visible.

The small metal spinner cap was represented with a circle of self-adhesive aluminium foil (created using my Waldron Punch and Die set); while the metal propeller tips were masked and sprayed Tamiya Airframe Silver.

 

 

Three choices are offered for gear doors. I selected the photo-etched doors without the cut out at the rear corner. I also added brake lines to the front of the gear legs using fine wire from "Up North".

Wire was also used to fabricate hand holds in the top corners of the windscreen, and small scraps of plastic delivered a release handle to the inside of the canopy.

The sides of the tyres were dusted using Tamiya's new Weathering Pastels.

At this stage all the details were brought together and assembled to complete this attractive and well-detailed model.

After the model was completed, thanks to Lynn Ritger's eagle-eye, I also relocated my pitot tube from the bottom of the wing to the fuselage side!

 

 

Conclusion

 

Classic Airframes has delivered, without question, the best detailed and most accurate injection moulded Jumo-powered Bf 109 kit available in any scale.

Granted, this model needs a little more cleanup and preparation of parts than a long-run release from Tamiya or Hasegawa. Also, the lack of locating pins calls for extra care and dry-fitting. In other words, modelling skills are required. However, once the time has been spent cutting off casting blocks, installing the cockpit and thinning the wing in preparation for the wheel well, construction is very straightforward indeed.

Anyone who has already built a Classic Airframes kit should not have any trouble coming up with a great result straight from the box.

 

 

I had a lot of fun building this kit over a period of only five days, and I am very happy with the way the my early Bf 109 looks.

Well done Classic Airframes. Roll on with those late 109Bs, Cs and Ds!

 

 

Additional Images

 

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:


Model, Images & Text Copyright 2006 by Brett Green
Page Created 20 January, 2006
Last Updated 04 February, 2006

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