Named For a Venomous Snake, the Bachem BA-349 “Natter” Proved Deadly Only to its Pilot

By the End of WWII the Luftwaffe entertained nearly any idea to stave off he inevitable

The rocket-powered Bachem Ba-349 Natter was a desperate attempt by the Germans to stem the tide of Allied bombers attacking enemy targets coming in larger and larger numbers during the waning days of World War II. Constructed from plywood and other “non-strategic” materials, it was a curious design that in retrospect probably looked like a better idea on paper.

On March 1, 1945, the only manned launch of the Ba-239 resulted in the death of Bachem-Werke test pilot Lothar Sieber. Most accounts say that the craft left the tower and, climbed to over 1,500 feet when engineers on the ground saw the cockpit canopy fly loose and from the craft. Whether Sieber was injured, knocked unconscious, or struggled to continue the mission, the Natter soared to about 5,000 feet when it rolled over and flew into the ground, killing Sieber.

The Kit

DML/Dragon models from Hong Kong released their 1/48th-scale Ba-349 in the late 1980s. Crisp molding, nice detail, an etched-metal detail set and a complete Walter 109-509A rocket motor make this simple kit a gem. The fuselage is split so that it can be displayed showing off the power plant. This version of the kit comes with a simple maintenance stand, two mechanics and a display base.

Start with the front end of the aircraft. The cockpit is simple and straightforward, much like the real thing, paint it a medium grey with aluminum details and a small black control panel. Add the seat belts that are part of the metal detail set included in the kit. Beware, as some of the parts are very small and delicate. Care should be taken when removing them from the trees, and then be even more careful that they don’t disappear during assembly. The rocket motor is a combination of metal from the etched fret and a number of other delicate pieces. Patience is essential here, but pays off in a nice detailed part of the finished model. 

A manned shotgun shell

The rocket’s only armament was a “shotgun” load of as many as 55 explosive rockets that would be fired into the packed formations of Allied bombers. Once the single pass was complete, the craft would come apart “ejecting” the pilot to parachute back to earth, ready for the next sortie. Essentially the “Natter” was a manned artillery shell. The rocket nose of the model is represented by a single flat piece. Paint it the same gray as the rest of the forward section, and use a black wash, to pick out the details.

Displaying the model with the rear section detached, gives a nice view of the unique rocket motor.

Replicating “non-strategic” materials

The Natter was made primarily of plywood, and the wooden finish makes for an interesting challenge. HGW Models from the Czech Republic sells a number of decal sets in a variety of wood tones. The decals are translucent and require a base coat—white or a pale tan works well. The film is very, very thin. Careful attention and that all-important tool, patience, is required. Measure twice, cut once when trimming the decal for its spot on the aircraft. A good approach is to make a series of templates for the plywood panels, then cut the shape and apply. The result makes for a very interesting, realistic finish. 

The airplane has four booster rockets to give the main Walter 109-509A rocket motor, the boost it needed to get to the bombers.

Mask and spray the canopy. It’s a thick piece that benefits from masking both the inside and out. Attach it to the forward section of the fuselage. Just tack the main section of the canopy in place to protect the cockpit from the grey primer that comes next. The primer color of the forward section and the natural plywood of the tail help give the appearance of a Natter being assembled before delivery and an operational sortie. Spray the fuselage with a coat of semigloss to protect the finish. Attach the rocket motor, and the forward section of the Natter is complete. The rear will be entirely plywood, finally completed and sprayed with a lacquer coat. Carefully pick out the metal details with a small brush. This version of DML’s kit has a wooden support stand to display the finished model (another version includes the entire launch tower). The stand is very simple, sprayed and given a wood grain finish. The shapes are also simple enough to pull out some thin balsa and basswood to build your own support stand. After a light varnish, the Natter has a place to rest. Assemble and paint the four booster rockets a dark steel metallic color, and attach them to the rear section.

A German engineer from the Bachem-Werke, takes a look at a Ba-349 before showing it to a group of American military personnel that found a number of the rockets at an assembly area in May 1945.

Captured and studied

The kit comes with a round display stand that was painted flat black and a coat of clear varnish. “Grass” was created using materials from a diorama kit found at a local craft store. Displayed unassembled, it’s sure to be studied on the display shelf the same way allied engineers did as the war came to an end.

Your Ba-349 Natter is now ready to take its place alongside those other last-ditch Luftwaffe oddities that continue to fuel the question “what if…”

Take a T-28D “Trojan” from a Training airplane to Secret CIA Attack Fighter

Designed as a replacement for the venerable T-6 Texan trainer, the North American T-28 Trojan proved to be more than just a versatile primary trainer.

With a more powerful engine and reinforced wings, the North American T-28 Trojan could also double as a potent ground-support fighter. The Trojan’s capabilities were not lost on a number of smaller countries looking for an economical addition to their air forces. Armed versions of the T-28 saw action in many hot spots during the Cold War.

The Kit

Roden, a small model company based in the Ukraine, has become popular with modelers for its detailed kits, excellent decals and interesting subjects, offered in a variety of scales. Its T-28 is no exception. The 1/48th-scale Trojan has been released as a primary trainer, an upgraded T-28C and the ground-attack T-28D, complete with a nice variety of weapons.

Start with the cockpit. Paint the interior a light aircraft gray. Take care with the control columns, as they are delicate and require a steady hand while removing them from the parts tree. The addition of a couple of resin seats from Quickboost, and etched metal seat belts add the right amount of detail to the cockpit.

Next, move on to the engine. Paint the engine cylinders an aluminum color and the center engine casing a primer gray. A dark wash helps the detail pop. Attach the completed engine to the firewall.

While the cockpit and engine dry, assemble the two-piece flaps, ailerons and rudder. Along the part that makes up the lower wing, open up the small holes where the weapons pylons will be attached later. Put together the wings and set these pieces aside.

The kit already has plenty of detail but a pair of aftermarket resin seats and seat belts give it a little bit extra.

The kit’s landing gear, especially the nose-gear strut, is delicate. Invest in an aftermarket metal landing-gear set and resin tires. Paint the gear aluminum with a glossy chrome color for the oleo section of the strut itself. Tires are a deep rubber color with aluminum-colored hubs and brakes. Once complete, set the gear aside.

Sand and dry-fit the piece that forms the underside of the fuselage (part 22B). Bring the fuselage halves together, gluing the completed cockpit in place, then add 22B to complete the basic fuselage.

In order to make the Trojan sit correctly on its tricycle landing gear you need to add extra weight up front. The space between the cockpit and the engine’s firewall is perfect for enough lead fishing weights to do the job. A good rule of thumb is that if you think there’s enough, add more. Glue the engine and firewall in place and add the cowling, completing the fuselage.

Attach the wings and reach for the putty—some seams along the wing root and under the nose of the model will require filling and sanding. Aside from this area, the fit throughout the rest of the kit is good.

Heading For the Paint Barn

Camouflage for this airplane is the same standard paint scheme used on most U.S. Navy aircraft of the 1960s. The undersides and weapons pylons should be painted insignia white (FS 17875). Upper surfaces are light gull gray (FS 36440). Mask off the cockpit and paint the undersides of the airplane first.

While the paint job is a standard Light Gull Gray over white, the markings for this “secret” fighter carry the unit’s bull insignia taken from the local “Makasi” brewery.

Typical of Trojans painted in lighter colors is a black area painted along the side of the fuselage. The shape curves back from the engine exhaust to the trailing edge of the wing. It helps disguise the side of the fuselage that collects dirt and staining from constant use. Draw out the shape using the reference illustration in the instructions to create a mask and paint the area flat black. Mask off an anti-glare panel from the cockpit windscreen across the top of the engine cowling and paint that black as well.

Secret Set of Markings

Once the painting is complete, attach the rudder and horizontal stabilizer, flaps and ailerons. The flaps are designed to be fitted in a “dropped” position to give the model a more natural look. Spray a clear gloss coat over the model and it’s ready for a set of decals. The Roden kit contains markings for three different aircraft: a U.S. Air Force trainer based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; a camouflaged Trojan that served with the 606th Special Operations Squadron, based in Thailand during the Vietnam War; and an aircraft that was part of the CIA-backed Air Force flown by Cuban exiles during the civil war in the Congo in 1964. After the decals have been applied and a clear coat has sealed the markings, attach the landing gear, gear doors and speed brake. The main landing gear doors are a two-piece affair that benefits from carefully studying the instructions and a reference photo or two. Next, attach the pylons and weapons. There’s a good selection to choose from—rocket pods, two different types of machine gun pods, 250-pound bombs and a pair of SUU-14A bomb dispensers.

On a remote airstrip ground crew prepare a Makasi T-28 Trojan for a mission. (T-28 Trojan Foundation)

With the model nearly complete, it’s time for some moderate weathering, typical of to weather in Central Africa, before adding the last few pieces to this secret T-28. Photos of T-28s that provided ground support in the Congo show that a typical loadout consisted of machine gun pods and rockets. Once the weapons are attached, add the three-piece canopy using white glue or a cement designed for clear parts. Make sure to attach the pieces in an open position to show off all that cockpit detail.

Once the final pieces are attached, this CIA veteran T-28 is ready to shine on a clandestine section of your display shelf.

Building a Falklands Sea Harrier

The Hawker Sea Harrier became a well deserved legend during the Falklands War. With a little extra work the 1/48 scale Airfix kit deserves a place in your collection.

In the late afternoon of May 1, 1982 Royal Naval Air Service Hawker FRS-1 Sea Harriers went up against enemy fighters for the first time during “Operation Corporate” the war to take back the Falkland Islands. The revolutionary fighter had never seen combat before. It was a unique aircraft, able to take off vertically and transition to level flight. It would prove more than a match for Argentine Mirage, Dagger and A-4 Skyhawks in the freezing skies of the South Atlantic. By the end of May, the Sea Harriers had dispatched 20 Argentine aircraft for no loss, in air-to-air combat.

The Airfix Sea Harrier is an over 40 year old kit, but it still deserves a spot on your display shelf

The Kit

The 1/48th-scale Airfix Sea Harrier FRS.1 has been around for quite a while. Although there have been some stellar new releases—I would love to see an retooled Airfix kit! —for now I’ve concentrated on adding a little after-market detail to improve this build. Some scratch-building skills will come in handy for this project.

The detailed resin seat, intakes and detailing the Auxiliary Power Unit helped the overall look of the build.

I replaced the stock seat with a resin version, and the rest of the cockpit was enhanced with an etched-metal detail set. The other bumps, tubing, wiring, etc. came from my parts box. Note that the gun pods need some additional detail: I added a new gun muzzle and drilled out the four vents just aft of the muzzle. I also opened up the auxiliary power unit exhaust vent, on top of the fuselage, and added a set of aftermarket intakes to accurately depict what a powered-down engine would look like. An AIM-9L Sidewinder came from the parts box.

Taking a break from all that fine detail work in the cockpit, I spent some time finishing off some of the smaller bits, so they would ready for final assembly. These included the landing gear, the extra fuel tanks, the pylons and the AIM-9 missiles.

Once the cockpit is complete, the wings and fuselage come together. Then it’s time for filling and sanding—plenty of it. But that’s what you expect with a kit that’s some 30 years old.

With major sub assemblies complete, it’s time to get it all together.

Air War South Atlantic

The Hawker Harrier’s introduction was an aviation milestone, combat during the Falklands War in May 1982 that gave the fighter its “street cred.” At the heart of the Harrier’s unique capabilities is its Pegasus engine. Four nozzles rotate to direct the exhaust, putting the “vertical” in VTOL. Cooler air leaves the forward two nozzles, while hotter exhaust comes from the rear two. The rear pair should be painted a smoked metallic color, and the forward nozzles should be a color similar to the jet’s camouflage tone. During the Falklands War, the first group of Sea Harriers to head from Britain to the South Atlantic lost their more visible dark sea gray and white along with their colorful squadron markings in favor of overall dark gray. The new paint scheme was applied during their voyage south.

Lieutenant Clive Morrell steps out of the cockpit of “Black 14” onboard HMS Hermes. Morrell was returning from a sortie where he had just downed an Argentinean A-4Q Skyhawk on May 21, 1982. (MoD Crown Copyright)

With wings attached to the model, the cockpit masked off and filling and sanding complete, it’s time for paint. I chose an overall dark gray that fits my reference material. Once I applied a coat of a gloss varnish, it was time to start on the kit’s excellent decals. Though they’re thin, they respond well to a little decal softener, snuggling into all those nooks and crannies.

Markings for a Combat Vet

The kit comes with a choice of markings: an aircraft from the Indian Naval Air Force or XZ457 (“Black 14”), a Royal Naval Air Service Sea Harrier that flew from the carrier HMS Hermes during the Falklands conflict and was credited with two Argentine IAI Daggers and an A-4 Skyhawk. Interestingly, both Black 14 and the Indian jet spent time aboard Hermes, as the carrier was sold to India in 1987.

I took care of the trickier decals under the wings and some other hard-to-reach places before adding underwing stores and the landing gear. Much of the stenciling on this jet was painted over as Hermes headed into combat. Note that special care is required when positioning the landing gear to get the jet to stand evenly on all four points. Take your time with this process.

A little weathering and we’re ready for the deck of HMS Hermes.

Finally, superglue the remaining antennas in place, then add a little weathering, and your Harrier is complete. With patience and a little finesse, this classic Airfix kit will make a nice addition to your collection.

Building Stalin’s “Flying Tank”

Designed to support Soviet ground forces, the Ilyushin Il-2 was produced in greater numbers than any other airplane in history, bad news for German armor rumbling across the battlefield.

The Flying Tank

Designed by the legendary Sergey Ilyushin, the Il-2 was designed to support Soviet ground forces and was nicknamed Shturmovik (штурмовик), a generic term for a ground-attack aircraft that became synonymous with the airplane. Referred to as “Stalin’s Tank” and “Hunchback” because of the shape of the cockpit, the heavily armored airplane packed a solid punch. A big, broad wing gave the airplane the lift it needed to carry enough rockets and bombs to hunt German panzers across the broad plains around Kursk in July and August 1943. Solid construction helped it survive both flak and encounters with the Luftwaffe’s best.

The airplane was introduced to frontline service in May 1941 just weeks before the Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany on June 22, 1941. While only 249 aircraft were available at the time, by the end of the war over 43,000 had been built, one of the most produced aircraft in aviation history. The “Flying Tank” was built in a number of types including a two seat version with the addition of a rear gunner. 

The Kit

The Academy 1/72nd-scale Sturmovik was released as both a single-seat Il-2 and as a two-seat Il-2M. it includes a variety of armament including air-to-ground rockets, a pair of 220 lb bombs, and small bomb bays that would contain over 100 anti-armor bombs. The kit has very nice detail and good fit, needing a minimal amount of filling and sanding.

First Things First

This kit is the single seat Il-2 but the start of the build is the same, the cockpit. Fit the seat, rudder pedals and the large gas tank situated behind the pilot’s seat to the cockpit floor. A couple of strips of painted masking tape can work as a set of seat belts and a shoulder harness. The cockpit assembly sits on the center section of the lower wing. The wing/cockpit assembly fits into the two fuselage halves when they’re glued together. Don’t forget to install the control panel before cementing the cockpit and lower wing into place.

The completed cockpit assembly sits on top of the center section of the lower main wing. The rockets and bombs are tiny pieces, be careful not to lose one!

At this point the instructions call for the engine exhaust (parts F9) to be glued from the inside of the fuselage halves. A better choice is to wait until the fuselage is painted, trim the parts and install them after painting. The direction sheet also shows where wing-mounted machine guns (parts F96) fit into the wing. Again, wait until later to add these tiny parts.

Make Sure Things Fit

Take some time to dry-fit the rest of the wing. Keep an eye on the fit at the wing root. With the wing attached to the fuselage, add the landing gear bays to their positions on the underside of the wing. Fill and sand the fuselage and wings; smooth out the seams around the landing gear, wing root and fuselage; and then set the assembly aside.

Hungarian pilot A.V. Chuvikov of the 606th ShAP (Shturmovik regiment), 214 ShAD (Shturmovik Division) gets some last minute instructions. His Il-2 is emblaisoned with “Za Otradnova” (For Otradnov) a fellow pilot who had been killed in action.

Put together the tires, painting them flat black with aluminum-colored hubs. Assemble the two 500-pound bombs, painting them black as well. This Il-2 is also armed with eight unguided rockets on launch rails beneath the wing. Paint the rockets dark gray with silver tips and the individual rails steel. After assembling the propeller, paint the blades black and the spinner dark green.


Now it’s time to mask off the cockpit and paint. The Academy kit has a choice of 11 different aircraft markings in a variety of camouflage schemes. This one will be painted with a medium olive drab and a very dark, greyish-green pattern on the upper surfaces with light blue on the undersides.

Once all the masking has been peeled away to show the completed camouflage, a number of “tiny bits” need to be added. The trim tab actuators are separate pieces that require special care when gluing each (very tiny) piece onto the wings and tail surfaces. Touch up the camouflage and spray the model with a coat of clear gloss to prepare it for the decals. This Sturmovik had the words “За Отраднова” (For Otrandova) painted down the side of the fuselage in honor of a fellow pilot named Otrandov, probably killed in battle. Note that the iconic red star insignia does not appear on the top of the wing, only on the undersurfaces and tail.

Underneath should see a little weathering too. streaks of oil and soot from many a fired anti-tank rocket can be created with artists oil paint thinned to a light wash.

A modest amount of weathering lends some authenticity to this Il-2. These aircraft spent a lot of time in the field and would have seen plenty of use. Chipped paint along the left wing root shows where crew and maintainers spent time getting in and out of the airplane. Exhaust stains and soot under the wing mark where rockets had been launched at previous targets. All these things will give the model plenty of interest.

It’s time to install the landing gear. Be careful clipping these pieces from the “parts tree,” as they are delicate and can easily break. Carefully cement the two braces that make up the landing gear struts into the “pods” underneath the wing. The fit is tight­—dry-fit a couple of times before final assembly. Once they set thoroughly, add the tires, which fit neatly on the forward struts. The tires come slightly flattened to show the weight of the aircraft once it’s completed. Make sure the airplane sits correctly before adding a small bit of cement to the tires, completing the landing gear.

At this stage you can insert the two exhaust stacks into place. Carefully slip those tiny machine gun barrels and longer cannon barrels onto their positions at the wing’s leading edge. Paint them a light gunmetal color. Add the propeller and set the nearly completed model aside.

With a very sharp knife mask the three-part clear canopy. Modeler’s masking tape is a good choice for those with a steady hand.  Pre-cut masks are another option and can be obtained from a number of retailers. With the clear parts painted, use white glue, or a cement formulated for clear parts, and add the canopy.

Beat up the paint job a little. Chipped paint to show wear and tear on an airplane that saw plenty of use can be created with a fine brush and colored pencil.
Beat up the paint job a little. Chipped paint to show wear and tear on an airplane that saw plenty of use can be created with a fine brush and colored pencil.

Time to load this tank killer up. Attach the eight unguided rockets and launch rails to their positions under the wings. Bomb braces have positions between the landing gear and fuselage. Add the braces and then attach the bombs.

Finally, mount the radio antenna just behind the cockpit and this Il-2 is ready to hunt for German panzers across the Russian steppes.

Building Mitsuo Fuchida’s Pearl Harbor Command Post 

The Nakajima B5N2 Kate was the best torpedo bomber in the Pacific. The airplane also was the aerial command post for Japan’s “Day of Infamy.”

A talented young officer in the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service, Mitsuo Fuchida was chosen by Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo to coordinate and lead the attack on Pearl Harbor. From his place in the center seat of a Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” he would be able to see the state of the harbor’s defenses and command his waves of attacking aircraft. 

Released in 2001, Hasegawa’s “Kate” has been offered in a number of guises, as a torpedo plane, a version with folding wings and one with a single armored piercing bomb. That kit, their first offering, includes markings that are not for the more popular torpedo plane, but for Fuchida’s command aircraft. The “tip of the spear” of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The detail is typical for Hasegawa, accurate to a fault. Begin with the cockpit, paying close attention to the plenty of small parts that make up the aircrew’s “office.” It was common for different manufacturers to have their own particular interior paint color. Nakajima’s greenish gray, (often called Nakajima Interior Green), is different from the greenish blue that was typical for Mitsubishi’s aircraft. Paint the cockpit parts and get started.

The control panels have nicely raised detail, but decals are provided for some of us without the talent for painting tiny dials and switches. The only extras that are needed are seat belts for the three crew positions. 

The three man cockpit is made is made up of thirty-one separate pieces. Decals for the control panel and aftermarket seatbelts give it some added interest.

Once completed, the cockpit assembly forms a tub that fits between the fuselage halves. The fit is very good, but it pays to dry-fit pieces first. Once everything is together, set aside the completed fuselage.

Next assemble the bomber’s engine painting it black. Cement the engine to the firewall and drybrush an aluminum color over the engine’s cylinders to make the detail pop. Paint the main crankcase a medium gray. Paint the cowling and the forward firewall flat black. On many Japanese aircraft a flat black color extends from the cowling to the pilot’s windscreen. The color acts as an anti-glare panel. Paint the cowling and glue it in place setting the completed assembly aside. 

It’s time to attach the large broad wing to the fuselage. Again, the fit is very good and requires minimal filler and sanding. 

Moveable surfaces, rudder, ailerons and the horizontal stabilizer were fabric covered and should be painted in the same color as the bomber’s interior. The rest of the airplane was left natural metal. Upper surfaces should be a dark green color. Photos from the time show many carrier-based aircraft with a fair amount of chipping and wear of the dark green. Images of what is purported to be Fuchida’s “Kate” show the camouflage, hastily applied without primer, flaking off from exposure to the harsh weather at sea.  

This is purported to be a photo, taken from newsreel footage, of Fuchida’s Kate returning to the carrier Akagi after the Pearl Harbor attack. Notice the paint chipping. (National Archives)

There are a couple of ways to replicate the chipped effect. One is to spray common hairspray to the natural metal color, letting it dry before painting the dark green color. There are also a number of “chipping fluids” on the market that can be brushed on or sprayed in much the same way. Once the chipping solution and dark green camouflage have been applied, a cocktail stick and an old toothbrush can be used to chip away at the camouflage color. Wet the toothbrush and start scrubbing the various seams and panels removing the green paint in much the same way as the harsh weather did on the real thing. 

Take your time and experiment first before going all in on the model, it is a bit of an art form. Once you’re satisfied with the look, set aside the aircraft to dry thoroughly. 

Next, spray a light gloss varnish to prepare the model for the decals. Markings are very simple affair, a large Hinomaru (the classic large red disc) appears in six positions: top and bottom of the wings and either side of the fuselage. The tail is painted red with three broad yellow stripes on the rudder along with the code “AI-103” signifying that it is the commander’s airplane from the wing aboard the aircraft carrier Akagi. A coat of a dull varnish seals the decals.

The finished Kate doesn’t look as good as new, but that’s the idea behind the weathering.

Next, assemble the landing gear, painting the tires a black rubber color. The gear struts and landing gear doors should be a natural metal aluminum color. Add some mild weathering, oil and fuel stains. Keep the weathering to a minimum, crew members would have taken excellent care of their aircraft on the long voyage across the Pacific. 

The kit gives the modeler a choice of a one-piece canopy or positioning it open to show off that detailed interior. The clear pieces are thin, be careful not to crack the plastic. Invest in a set of precut adhesive masks for the canopy. A number of brands are available designed specifically to be used with the Hasegawa kit. Mask off the different canopy pieces and paint then the same dark green as the rest of the aircraft. Let the pieces dry thoroughly before removing the masks. Pay close attention to the four canopy pieces and how they fit together when slid open. 

The One that Got Away

Royal Flying Corp Lieutenant Wilfred May was very nearly the Red Baron’s 81st victory.

On April 21, 1918 Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richtofen saw one of his squadron mates … his cousin Wolfram, in trouble. He was being chased by 22 year old Royal Flying Corp Lieutenant Wilfred “Wop” May flying one of the war’s classic fighters, a Sopwith Camel. Rolling in to help, “The Red Baron” was looking for his 81st aerial victory. As the fight descended to treetop level, bullets zipped past May’s Camel, allowing the Baron’s cousin to escape . 

One of May’s squadron mates, Captain Roy Brown, dove into the action. During the ensuing battle, the Baron’s red Fokker triplane suddenly stalled and crashed. The Baron was dead from a single round to the chest. The most famous fighter pilot of World War I had been killed. “Wop” May, the one that got away, survived.

The Kit

The Czech model company Eduard is known for its very particular attention to detail. Like its etched metal detail sets, the company’s models are known for their crisp molding and superb accuracy. Eduard’s 1/48th-scale Sopwith Camel is no exception.

Released in a number of guises, this kit includes the markings for Canadian Captain Roy Brown, credited by some as the pilot who shot down Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary “Red Baron.” Richthofen’s quarry in the April 21, 1918, encounter was Brown’s squadron mate, young Lieutenant Wilfred May, known by his childhood nickname, “Wop.”

The kit includes a small etched metal set, but Eduard also has a more elaborate version available (FE432) that adds extra interest. With an abundance of small, delicate parts, this kit requires the rapt attention of an experienced modeler.

Eduard’s etched detail set, FE432 can give the model a little extra boost.

Start with the cockpit, painting the floor and the inside walls of the fuselage a light brown wood color. The wicker pilot’s seat can be replicated with decals included in the kit or, as in this case, the etched metal detail set, along with seatbelts and shoulder harness. The main fuel tank just behind the seat is an aluminum color. The instrument panel is wood with black instruments. The decals included in the kit have individual faces that look great with the help of some decal setting solution.

Next, assemble the rotary engine. Paint the cylinders aluminum and add the wiring harness from the detail set. Paint the wires black and attach the finished engine assembly to the firewall, also painted aluminum. Finally bring everything together to complete the fuselage.

Cement the floor of the cockpit to the lower wing and attach it to the fuselage. Ailerons are supplied as separate pieces. Cement these parts to the wing with a bit of a droop for a more natural look.

Captain Wilfred “Wop” May leans on his Curtiss JN-4 during a 1919 exhibition in Calgary, Canada. After the war May would make a name for himself as a bush pilot throughout northern Canada. (National Archives, Canada)

At this point you can begin adding color to this classic World War I fighter. Brown and May flew in No. 209 Squadron of Britain’s Royal Flying Corps (merged with the Royal Naval Air Service and renamed the Royal Air Force on April 1, 1918). The squadron’s Sopwith Camels sported a red cowling and a dark wood color over the cockpit area. The rest of the fuselage and the wings should be painted a light tan on the undersides and a dark olive green on the upper surfaces of both wings. Give the entire model a coat of clear gloss to get it ready for decals.

For this aircraft, the traditional red, white and blue roundels appear in all six positions: the top of the upper wing, bottom of the lower wing and either side of the fuselage. Additional squadron markings are made up of three white stripes, one forward of the fuselage roundel and two behind it. Wop May had his nickname, written in white, on the left side of the cockpit and “Lucy” written on the right. To reproduce the names, white dry-transfer lettering is a perfect choice. Each letter is burnished in place. Once complete, a coat of clear flat will seal the decals and markings in place.

Now it’s time to attach the upper wing, an important part of the build that requires a lot of patience. Four individual struts hold up the wing and another four support the center section attached to the fuselage. Super glue permits a shorter setting time, but these parts can still be tricky to work with. Take…your…time. One approach is to carefully measure and cut two cubes of Styrofoam to act as spacers between the wings. This can also help keep the wing’s struts in the right position. Once the upper wing is attached, set the airplane aside to dry thoroughly.

Before adding the upper wing is the time to use a bit of white dry transfer lettering for Lt. May’s nickname that appears just below and forward of the cockpit.

Paint the horizontal stabilizer the same color as the wings and attach the parts to the tail. Paint the forward part of the vertical stabilizer red and use the decal for the striped markings on the rudder. Next carefully attach the landing gear assembly. The struts are painted the standard dark olive green with the wheel covers in red. The tires should be a dark gray “rubber” color. Give the model another overall clear flat coat and the Camel is ready for the next step, rigging.

The maze of cables and wires crisscrossed between the two wings of these early aircraft can look daunting. There are a number of different ways that modelers tackle this stage of the build. EZ Line by Berkshire Junction, based in Massachusetts, is a popular solution—the polymer thread is easy to use and will stretch and return to shape when it’s bumped. Old-school modelers will remember the fine art of stretching plastic sprue to create a thin thread, cut to length and glued in place. Reference material is key. Take the time to study and make a plan. Start with the struts in the center near the cockpit and work out. One of the most important things to remember is when to walk away and let things dry. Patience is the key to success.

While taking a break from stretching hot sprue, examine the prop. The simplest route is to paint the propeller a wood tan with an aluminum hub. Take a little extra time and try using a couple different shades of brown along the length of the propeller blades. To create a more realistic, laminated look, work in layers. Painting, spraying a gloss coat and adding another layer of paint until the propeller has just the right look.

With the last control cable in place, attach the prop and Wop May’s Camel, the one that got away, can take its place on your display shelf next to the Baron’s red Fokker Dr.I triplane.

P.S.: Feel free to toss that .45 on the turntable and turn up the 1966 hit by the Royal Guardsmen.

Royce Williams’ Secret MiG Killer

Outnumbered and outgunned, Lieutenant Royce Williams went up against powerful MiG-15s flown by Soviet pilots and had to keep quiet about it for 40 years.

Monogram released their 1/48th scale Grumman F9F-5 Panther in 1990. While newcomer Trumpeter has released two other versions of the jet, both are earlier editions of the fighter. To build the later F9F-5, the classic Monogram kit is still the way to go.

Start with the cockpit, painting the one piece “tub” an interior Chromate Green (FS 34151). Do the same with the interior cockpit walls inside of the fuselage halves. The ejection seat is a nicely detailed four-piece affair. Paint the seat a medium sea gray and drybrush the details with an aluminum color to show some typical wear. Add a harness and seatbelts for some extra interest. Use a dark wash to highlight the raised detail on the control panels and pick out dials and switches with white paint on the tip of a toothpick.

Complete with its markings and a coat of clear varnish it’s time to load the fighter and give the panther some sharp claws.

Next, assemble the nose gear and its wheel well. At this point, leave the tire and oleo linkage for later. Cement the tailpipe and the arresting hook to the left fuselage half. Don’t forget to Add weight to the nose that will make sure the jet isn’t a “tail sitter.” Small lead fishing sinkers embedded in a piece of putty will work just fine. Attach the finished cockpit and nose gear assembly and bring the two halves of the fuselage together then set aside. 

The instructions call for adding the four machine guns in the nose before completing the fuselage. Save those parts for later, it will make painting the fuselage easier without having to mask the tiny pieces. 

After the fuselage is dry, attach the bottom half of the wing. Open up the holes that will indicate where weapons pylons will be attached. The Panther can carry a variety of bombs and rockets that are included in the kit. Follow the instructions and check your research to decide how you want to display the finished model. Add the top half of each wing and use a little putty on those seams. 

Aftermarket extras like a period carrier deck are a simple way to add interest to the display of the jet.

Attach the horizontal stabilizers and sand the overall jet, smoothing out the seams and getting the ready for some paint. By the end of World War II the Navy had adopted an overall Glossy Sea Blue (FS 15042) for their aircraft, a color scheme that would last well into the 1950s. Mask off the nose gear, and the cockpit, then lay down the dark blue color. After the model has dried thoroughly paint the wheel wells interior chromate green (FS 34151). Paint the area that will be covered by the jet’s speed brakes Insignia Red (FS 31136). Give the finished assembly a coat of clear gloss and set the model aside.

Next, paint and assemble the landing gear, the struts should be chromate green and the olio a chrome silver. Paint the tires a black/brown “rubber” color with aluminum hubs. Assemble the bombs and rockets. The 500lb bombs should be an olive drab color with a yellow band indicating that the weapon is “live”. Aftermarket decals of typical bomb stencils are a nice touch. The rockets should have aluminum-colored fins, a light gray body and an olive drab warhead. A dab of silver on the tip of the rocket looks like the weapon’s fuse. Give the landing gear and the weapons a quick coat of flat varnish. 

Happy to be in one piece aboard Oriskany, Navy Lieutenant Royce Williams points to 37mm shell damage in his Panther, one of 263 holes his crew counted in the airplane.

In 2022 the International Plastic Modelers Society (IPMS) released an excellent decal sheet with markings for six different Mig killers from the Korean War. One of the aircraft included is the subject of our model, the F9F-5 Panther that Lieutenant Royce Williams flew on November 18, 1952, when he downed four Soviet MiG-15s (see The Secret Dogfight from the Winter 2023 issue of Aviation History). 

Carefully and methodically add the markings to the jet. These decals look great and need only a little bit of a setting solution help them snuggle into the surface detail. Don’t rush the process. It’s tempting, as the model approaches the finish line, but be sure to walk away from time to time and let those decals set.

With the markings on and another coat of clear varnish, it’s time to attach the landing gear and the two speed brakes underneath the airplane. Cement the sway braces to the two inboard weapons pylons and attach the 500 lb. bombs, add the rockets to their pylons as well. Don’t forget the tiny bits, the pitot tube under the left wing and the four .50 caliber machine guns slipped into their place in the nose, and of course, the gunsight.

Monogram’s F9F-5 Panther was first released in 1990 but the model can still hold its own.

A little moderate weathering gives the jet the look it might have had aboard the USS Oriskany in November 1952. Accent a few panel lines, particularly the joint where the wings fold. A bit of soot and a dark wash, and some light paint chipping helps bring the model to life. 

Carefully mask the clear canopy pieces and paint them the same dark blue as the rest of the airplane. Cement the forward part of the canopy using glue especially made for clear plastic or white school glue. Add the rear canopy, positioning it slid back to show off the hard work in the cockpit and your Grumman F9F-5 Panther is ready to head to the catapult for its next sortie. The Panther makes a great addition to a collection of early Navy jet aircraft. 

Atlantis Models: Bringing Nostalgia Back

The Atlantis Curtiss JN-4D Jenny is currently the only 1/48th scale kit on the market.

Those of us who still build the occasional model airplane on a rainy weekend have noticed that the small hobby shops that filled their shelves with colorful boxes of airplanes, tanks and the occasional 1967 Chevy Camaro have been disappearing from the American landscape. The classic model companies of our youth—Comet, Hawk and Lindberg—have also gone away. Even 1970s and ’80s stalwarts like Revell and Monogram combined forces at one point but have since been bought by a German business group. 

Over time tastes also changed and the older, less-detailed kits became a bit passé. Modelers wanted more accurate scale models that they could build into “museum quality” reproductions. We wanted to build the P-51D, not the B version, and have a better choice of bombs or rockets and at least three different choices of markings. The heavy steel molds that produced those earlier kits wound up on warehouse shelves, waiting to be melted down. 

Or maybe not. 

In 2009 Atlantis Hobbies, based on Long Island just outside of New York City, began looking for some of those older out-of-production molds. Their mission was to produce nostalgia by bringing back the classic kits that got us all started. They quickly amassed a veritable museum of plastic model history, nostalgic items that can fill important spots in any collection. They range from rare aircraft like the P6M Seamaster and Convair 990 airliner to the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the “Rat Fink” hot rods of the 1960s. For me, Atlantis brought back memories of building kits while trying desperately to keep glue from getting on the kitchen table. I’m looking forward to the next addition to their collection and a few more memories on some rainy weekend.

The collection of molds on Atlantis’ shelves contain countless memories as well as some very rare model kits.

One of Atlantis’s classic kits is the 1/48th-scale Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny,” originally produced by Lindberg in 1955. Lindberg was an early plastic scale-model company in the United States, producing a wide range of imitation boats and automobiles in the 1940s. Their line of airplane kits ranged from early Cold War fighters to the classic biplanes of World War I. Light on detail, which is typical of the time, the Lindberg Jenny is simple to put together and reasonably accurate. Perhaps skills learned over the years will help you make a more detailed version this time around. The model is molded in a deep green color. After cleaning up the parts in a solution of water and dish soap, adding a coat of a light-colored primer is good idea. Now it’s time to get down to business.

Like the real thing, the cockpit is a simple affair—two seats, control sticks, rudder bars and a pair of shapes that double as control panels. Paint the cockpit floor and the control panels a light tan, then lightly streak with a darker color to imitate wood grain. Paint the inside of the cockpit area a slightly darker tan. A pair of after-market resin seats with a period wicker look will take the place of the kit parts. Add a pair of simple seat belts to give cockpit some extra interest. The kit provides a couple of decals that represent the few cockpit instruments.  

The simple cockpit gets a boost from a pair of wicker look seats. The straight control sticks were made from streatched sprue.

It’s time to finish the fuselage. The two halves fit well, but here’s here where the kit shows a little of its age. Minor flash and sink marks from the original molds are unavoidable and need a little care. Filling and sanding these flaws will require a bit of putty and a fair amount of patience. They are most noticeable across the lower wing. Once everything is smooth, you’re ready to get painting. For this military version of the airplane, the fabric part of the fuselage (to the rear of the cockpit) should be a pale tan color. The forward section was made of metal and should be masked off and painted olive green. The edge of each cockpit was lined with leather, so paint that area a reddish-brown color and set aside the finished fuselage to dry.

Next, paint the wings, rudder and horizontal stabilizer the same light tan color as the fuselage. The struts should be a darker wood brown. Landing gear struts and the tail skid should also have that wooden look.

Cement the lower wings, horizontal stabilizer and rudder to the fuselage. Give the assembly a coat of clear gloss and you can begin to add the airplane’s markings. Decals are a simple affair, and the kit has a nice set replicating the original version that came with the old Lindberg kit. Markings for a post-war Barnstormer and a color guide that shows a more historically accurate U.S. Army Air Service color scheme are provided with the instructions.

The Curtiss Jenny trained thousands to fly, its forgiving nature helped make them pilots. (National Archives)

It’s time to attach the upper wing, always a part of the build I found tricky when I was younger. Take your time as you place the struts into their positions. Carefully add the landing gear and tail skid and the Jenny starts to look like the classic trainer it is. Give the airplane another coat of clear varnish to seal the decals. 

The JN-4D is a mass of rigging, wires and cables that control ailerons and stabilizers and supporting struts that hold the whole thing together. It has a spindly, fragile look that belies the stable airplane that it was. Pay close attention to your research in order to accurately rig the airplane. Open up that big box of patience; you’ll need it and probably spend more time here than you did actually building the airplane. The results will be well worth the effort.

Start rigging from the center and work out toward the wingtips. A number of companies produce a thin thread that is easy to use with a bit of superglue. “Old School” modelers might opt for thinly stretched sprue, a time-consuming technique to master. Tackle the back half of the airplane with the cables connecting the horizontal stabilizer and rudder. Remember to step back from time to time in order to let the cement cure and not get too far ahead of yourself. Patience.

Fully rigged and ready for a test flight, this Jenny is a great addition to any collection of early aircraft.

With the complex rigging complete, it’s time to add the engine, radiator and propeller. Paint the engine aluminum with a dark wash to pick out details. Paint the radiator a metallic color and the area around the outside copper. The propeller should be painted a brown “oak” and you can drybrush a darker color to simulate streaks of wood grain. The hub is steel. Many props were fitted with metal tips and a leading edge. A touch of brass colored paint does the trick.

The kit comes with two tiny clear windscreen parts. While you might want to use them, cutting two pieces from a sheet of clear plastic looks a bit more to scale. 

With the windscreens attached and the Jenny fully rigged, it’s time to find it a prime spot among your collection of early biplanes.

Atlantis gave me a couple of nostalgic weekends, and I appreciate the reminiscing and the chance to add a classic airplane to my display shelf. I look forward to getting another taste of nostalgia soon.

Boulton-Paul’s Flying Turret

The early success of the Defiant’s unique armament became it’s liability.

The Boulton Paul Defiant was a curious sort of fighter. The British airplane was designed around a single motorized turret with a mean-looking set of four .303-inch Browning machine guns.

The idea—four machine guns mounted in a powered turret, spitting out 1,200 rounds per minute each—probably looked good on paper. It packed enough punch to bring down any Luftwaffe bomber. For a moment, during the desperate summer of 1940, it did just that. However, the lack of any forward-firing guns was quickly discovered to be the Achilles’ heel of the heavy fighter. While a number of turret gunners became aces during the early days of the war, the airplane ultimately was relegated to service as a trainer. A number of Defiants were put into service as night fighters, a role in which it had some success bringing down enemy bombers.

The Kit

The 1/48th-scale Airfix release is not simply an upscaled version of their retooled 1/72nd-scale kit; it’s a nicely detailed and well-engineered model of this interesting fighter.

Start with the cockpit. There is plenty of detail straight out of the box and it needs only an aftermarket set of seat belts and harness to give it that little extra oomph. Paint the interior an RAF standard interior green. The pilot’s seat should be a reddish brown to simulate the color of the Bakelite material many of the early seats were made from.

The interior has plenty of detail. The only aftermarket parts used were a set of cast resin tires from Barracuda and an Eduard set of RAF seatbelts.

It’s All About the Turret

The turret assembly is a tiny gem all by itself. Most of the turrets were painted entirely black, with the exception of a gunmetal color for the machine guns. There is nice interior detail and an option to show the turret opened up. If you decide to show off the turret interior, do not attach the two sliding access doors (clear parts E12 and 13) until the end of the build. Once the turret is complete, set it aside.

The inspiration for our model; this partictular Defiant was one of the most successful. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Nicholas Cook and gunner Corporal Albert Lippett, the pair claimed a dozen victories in this aircraft over the beaches of Dunkirk in May 1940. (IWM CH880)

With the cockpit complete, carefully bring together the fuselage halves. Take care to dry-fit pieces and pay close attention to the fit between the cockpit and fuselage. Use clamps and modelers tape to help seal the seams, and set aside to dry.

The wing has five major sections broken down along panel lines that will need little filler. Horizontal stabilizers, rudder and ailerons are molded as separate pieces, enabling the modeler to attach the parts in a more natural pose. Paint the interior of the landing gear bays a natural metal color. Assemble the wings and it’s time to move on to the next step.

After bringing the completed wing together with the fuselage, start masking for the camouflage scheme.

Early Wartime Camouflage 

In the late 1930s RAF Fighter Command had units paint the undersides of their aircraft with a split black and white scheme in order to aid in identifying friendly aircraft from the ground. The port side (left) would be painted black and the starboard wing white. Many units interpreted the rule to mean that the black and white scheme split down the centerline of the fuselage. Others left some areas in a natural metal and only painted the wings in black and white. Markings for this fighter reflect the latter approach, with the wings painted black and white and the forward and rear fuselage remaining natural metal. The upper surfaces were painted in a standard RAF pattern of dark earth and dark green.

Developed to aid in aircraft identification, the black and white color scheme soon gave way to a solid “Sky” color by April 1941.

Once the careful ritual of masking and painting is complete, give the model a coat of clear gloss and let it dry overnight. Mask and paint the cockpit canopy, assemble the main landing gear and paint the landing gear doors. Be careful to paint the correct door the correct color!

Now is a good time to start adding decals. This Defiant is marked as an aircraft from No. 264 Squadron based at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, during the early summer of 1940. Add a coat of clear flat to protect your work.

Attach the landing gear, propeller and engine exhausts. A light wash will bring out panel lines, simulate oil stains and add a little weathering. A sharp silver colored pencil can be used to add subtle paint chipping.

Final Assembly

Carefully, very carefully, install the turret. The fit is tight. Keep an eye on the four machine gun barrels. Even the best of us have had one snap, bringing the project to a dead stop. If you have elected to show off the turret interior, now is the time to add the two clear pieces (E12 and 13) that make up the entrance hatch to the guns. Attach the windscreen and the rest of the canopy. The landing lights in the wings are a two-piece affair. Paint the rear of the light bulb (E2) a chrome silver. The color will shine through the rest of the clear piece. The clear cover (E4) goes on next. Add the pitot tube and the two antennas along the underside of the fuselage.

Your Boulton Paul Defiant is finally ready to take its place next to the other Battle of Britain stalwarts in your collection.

Building Gabby’s final Jug

Colonel Francis Gabreski had shot down 28 enemy aircraft but one last strafing run put his P-47 Thunderbolt into a field and “Gabby” into a POW camp.

Building the classics

The Monogram 1/48th-scale Republic P-47D Thunderbolt first hit hobby shops in 1967. Over the years the kit has become a favorite with modelers. Good detail and relatively easy construction have helped the model hold its own against competitors costing three times as much. With a little extra effort, you can produce a very nice addition for your display shelf using this kit. 

Start with the cockpit, painting it interior chromate green. The instrument consoles are black, so you can pick out dials and switches in white. A light dry brush of aluminum for the seat and a set of seatbelts from the spares box add interest to the tight cockpit. Be careful with the gunsight molded into the fuselage halves; it’s easy to snap the piece off. Removing the gunsight and reattaching it later is a good option. Complete the fuselage with the cockpit tub securely in place and set aside to dry.

Next, assemble the wings. It’s a simple two-piece affair, but take special care with the four .50-caliber machine gun barrels molded into the wing, as they can easily break off. It’s a good idea to have a spare set on hand. This kit also has a pair of hardpoints molded into the lower piece of each wing. To get a cleaner profile, a little surgery is required. With the pylons removed, fill and sand the area. Once the wings are assembled, cement them to the fuselage. 

Monogram’s classic P-47D has remained unchanged since it was first introduced in 1967. With a little work, it can still take a place of pride on the display shelf.

With the basic shape of the P-47 complete, it’s time for paint. The 56th Fighter Group began painting its fighters in camouflage colors in May 1944. Using existing Royal Air Force supplies, the unit began preparing for operations over France. Camouflage patterns were left up to the individual units, and a variety of styles resulted. The 61st Fighter Squadron Commander, Colonel Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, had many of his squadron’s fighters painted in what he called a “Luftwaffe” style. The more random and mottled paint scheme was similar to what they had seen on their German adversaries’ airplanes. Upper surfaces were medium sea gray and dark green, while the underside of the big fighter remained a natural metal. 

Gabreski’s Final Mount

Our model sports the markings of the P-47D flown by Colonel Gabreski on a July 20, 1944, ground-attack mission. During a strafing run at a Luftwaffe airfield, Gabreski made “one last pass” that was just low enough to clip the ground, damaging the fighter enough that he had to crash-land in a farmer’s field. Captured, he spent the rest of the war as a POW. 

Gabreski”s P-47 Thunderbolt after its last landing with Luftwaffe officers on the wing, July 20, 1944. Gabreski was strafing targets over an enemy airfield when his low flying aircraft’s propeller struck the ground causing damage to the engine and resulting in the forced landing. (National Archives)

This version of Monogram’s classic came with a set of Gabby’s markings, but the decals were showing their age (the kit is 46 years old!). The better choice is an aftermarket set. Techmod, a specialty decal company from Poland, produces a number of well-researched markings sets for a number of famous Polish aces. Set 48006 has markings for Gabreski’s last mount. 

With the decals on the model, spray a coat of flat clear varnish and set it aside. Complete the landing gear and the specially designed 200-gallon external fuel tank. This larger oval-shaped tank gave the P-47 longer “legs” and still had adequate ground clearance.

Attach the landing gear, propeller and clear two-piece bubble canopy and Gabby’s P-47D “Jug” is ready for the display shelf.