21/01/2018 Arado Ar 96 B Luftwaffe, Squadron Models

The basic pilot training procedures have not changed that much compared to WWII; back then novice pilots started their training in simple, light aircraft (usually biplanes at the time), and in the case of fighter training pilots, changed to a more advanced training aircraft later. These Advanced Trainers were powerful, faster and resembled more of a fighter aircraft in terms of performance and operations. Advanced Trainers were often purpose-build aircraft or older fighter models retired from front-line service.

This trainer, the Arado Ar 96 B, was the standard Advanced training aircraft of the Luftwaffe from 1937-1945. Over 1500 units were build, with license builds in France and Czechoslovakia. Arado had a long history supplying training aircraft to the Luftwaffe, and the Ar 96, introduced in 1937, was a modern, 2-seat all-metal aircraft that was also used, to a lesser extent, as a general utility and courier aircraft in WWII. There was also a light fighter version with a rear-facing gunner platform produced for the Bulgarian Air Force. But most aircraft build by Arado during WWII were license builds from Messerschmitt, Focke-Wulf and Junkers. Arado produced a quite large number of Bf 109 versions. Other important in-house developments of Arado were the Ar 196, a Navy scout plane, and the Ar 234 jet bomber already shown here.

This Ar 96 B-1 No. 254 was from the Jagdfliegerschule 2 (Figher Training School 2) in Magdeburg-Ost, around 1940. This kit is from Encore Models and is an old Heller tooling from the 1970s. Encore Models was a subdivison of Squadron/Signal Publications in Texas, famous for their aviation history books. They sold re-boxed Heller Kits in the 1990s under the Encore brand. It´s a very basic kit but not that bad, and assembly can be done in one evening, as there aren´t really that much parts. The only alternative for this aircraft in 1/72 are Czech short run kits, and their toolings and details are more up to date (and way more challenging to build). Decals are aftermarket from KoPro.

31/12/2017 Vought OSU Kingfisher US Navy, Airfix

One class of military aircraft that is virtually gone these days is the Scout/Observer aircraft used by Navies around the world. With technological advances and the use of Radar, Drones, Satellites & Helicopters, this type of plane vanished shortly after WWII. But back in the day floatplanes like the Vought OSU Kingfisher had multiple roles in the Navy. Usually based on big Warships or Destroyers, these aircraft were launched by catapult and later retrieved by crane. Their tasks were scouting, observation, gunnery spotting, anti-submarine warfare and sea rescue.

Developed by Vought in the late 1930s, the Kingfisher was the first monoplane scout plane introduced by the US Navy. Although designed primarly as a floatplane, a land-based version with fixed gear was also avaiable, and later versions of the Kingfisher could be converted from land to sea configuration and vice versa. It remained in service (primarly in the Pacific) until the end of the war because of delays with the successor aircraft. It was also used as an advanced trainer aircraft. With its small 450hp engine, the Kingfisher only had modest performance and light arnament, although at least one aerial victory against a Zero is recorded in the history books !

This Kingfisher, an early OS2U-1 variant shown with attached beaching gear, was one of the three scout planes based on the warship USS Arizona and is shown here as it looked in December 1941. It received a new paintscheme in intermediate blue gray over neutral grey only a few months earlier, when the Navy adopted a new camouflage scheme for all aircraft. The USS Arizona is well-known as the only heavy warship declared a full loss when it sank in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. A bomb detonated in the powder magazine and the Arizona sank shortly after. 1177 sailors perished, and the wreck is now a war grave, and the USS Arizona memorial was build above it and opened in 1962. It is unclear if the Kingfishers were destroyed in the attack; some sources indicate the aircraft were not onboard the ship on the day of the raid.

This is another ancient Airfix kit, first issued in 1967. This is the latest re-issue from 2010 and also the last one, as Airfix has now finally retired the kit. The Kingfisher is surely not an “exotic” airplane but as far as I know this is the only mainstream kit of this aircraft in 1/72 scale, which I find quite surprising. As the tooling is obviously old it needs a lot of clean-up, details are sparse and the mold quality has gone bad in some places, but the final model is quite OK, I think. It also contains parts to build the land-based Kingfisher version, a Royal Navy aircraft – they were the second-largest user with 100 aircraft received.

23/12/2017 Ilyushin IL-2 Single Seater Red Army Air Force, Smer Models

his has been documented: when one of the Ilyushin IL-2 production factories fell behind production schedule, Stalin sent them an angry telegraph: “The Red Army needs the IL-2 as they need bread and air…I demand you to produce more IL-2s ! This is my final warning !” Indeed the Il-2 “Sturmovik” was the most important and iconic Russian aircraft produced in WWII, and with over 36.000 units build, it remains the most produced military aircraft in history.

Nicknamed the “Flying tank” or the “Concrete bomber” (by the Germans), the IL-2 was conceived in the late 1930s when the Red Army Air Force was merely seen as a support for the ground troops by Soviet Military Doctrine of the time. Basically one of the first purpose-build ground attack aircraft, great attention was paid for adequate armour protection. Therefore, and quite unusually, no add-on armour was used in the fuselage design; the entire forward fuselage tub section including the cockpit, tank and engine was build as an armored integral, load-bearing piece. While this design offered adequate protection, especially from rifle-caliber ground fire, it made the IL-2 a quite heavy aircraft, greatly reducing the payload capacity. Compared to other ground attack aircraft used in WWII, like the Thunderbolt or the Hawker Typhoon, arnament of the IL-2 was relatively light and not very effective, especially the bomb and rocket payloads. Therefore one of the Soviet tactics was to employ the IL-2 in very large numbers. Nevertheless, attrition was heavy – Ilyushin calculated that the average lifetime of an IL-2 airframe was only around 20 flying hours.

While the low-flying IL-2 was relatively safe against ground fire and slow-moving AA guns, the large and cumbersome aircraft was very vulnerable against enemy fighter aircraft, especially when attacked from directly behind. Losses were getting extremely high and designers modified the fuselage to include a rear-facing air gunner (as it was proposed in the orginal design). The new version was introduced in late 1942. Unfortunately the rear gunner was not protected by the armored tub and rear gunner losses were almost four times as high compared to pilots, only the very late versions of the Il-2 were modified with efficent armor protection for the gunner. Despite all the shortcomings, the Il-2 was feared by the German ground troops, earning the nickname “Concrete bomber” as it was so hard to shoot it down. Although produced in very large numbers, only a handful fully restaurated IL-2 are still in existence; two aircraft have been restored to flying condition, ironically with American-made replacement engines. Only one early Il-2 single seater version, as shown here, is known to exist these days.

This Il-2 Single Seater, “Black Six”, was equipped with retractable skis and deployed in the Winter of 1942. It was painted with a washable white winter camouflage. This kit is from the Czech manufacturer Smer, who usually produces older re-boxed Heller kits. This kit is their own original tooling, and although it is technically not an Czech Short-Run kit, it is not an easy build, either. Detailing is quite good, with extra photo-etched parts, but the fit is problematic in some places. Decals and ski gear parts for the “Black six” are included, but the decals are wrong and oversized, quite strange as there is an picture of the original aircraft avaiable for research. Picky as I am sometimes, I bought aftermarket decals from AML. The biggest problem is the landing gear design for the ski version – it uses the same gear geometry as the wheeled version and if build as in the instructions, the skis are not level with the ground which looks rather silly ! I modified the struts a little and now it looks much better.

08/11/2017 Messerschmitt Bf 109E Luftwaffe, Airfix

It´s time for another Bf 109, in this case the Bf 109 E (or „Emil“) variant. The E-version was a significant step for the Bf 109 evolution as it was the first variant powered by the DB 601 engine, a 12 cylinder inline engine. The new engine required a completely new designed cowling and nose area, with re-designed air intakes, oil coolers and propeller hubs. Other modifications were changes to the wing profile and a re-designed canopy. The new engine was much more powerful and by the beginning of WWII, the “Emil” was probably the most capabale fighter aircraft around. It was used by the Luftwaffe in all early battles, the Invasion of Poland, France and the Low Countries and in the early phases of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR . The Bf 109 E proved to be a superior design, but found its match in the Battle of Britain in form of the Spitfire. While the “Emil” was slightly faster and better armed, the Spitfire was much more agile and really for the first time the Luftwaffe was at an disadvantage. But the main problem was limited range; as drop tanks were not avaiable for the Bf 109 E, it only had a few minutes worth of time over enemy territory, the British mainland. This left German bomber groups largely unproteteced and, eventually, led to the defeat in the Battle of Britain.

This Bf 109 E-4 of Stab III/JG1 was flown by Major Reinhard Heydrich in France, June 1941. Flying fighter aircraft was more of a “passion” for Heydrich, who was one of the most powerful Nazi Officials in Germany. Unknown for many, he had a short career as a fighter pilot and was probably the highest-ranking Nazi official ever participating in “real” front combat during WWII. Considered one of the darkest figures in Nazi Germany, Heydrich was the Director of the Reich Main Security Office, an SS-Gruppenführer and Director of the Gestapo, and was responsible for many Nazi atrocities, and one of the architects of the Holocaust. Originally trained in the Navy, he joined the Luftwaffe for combat operations in the late 1930s, probably searching for “heroics” at the front line , as Historians believe. First he was trained as a gunner for multi-engine aircraft and later, at a relatively late age of 36, converted to single-engine fighters. His Bf 109 were decorated with the Germanic rune shaped “S” (for “Sieg”, victory). He never participated in longer campaigns, as this was not really welcomed by SS Commander Heinrich Himmler, his direct superior, and appeared sporadically in high command positions at different squadrons, mostly on the Western front. His high politicial ranking and inexperience as a pilot did put a lof of pressure to his wingmen, who where urged to protect him at any cost – a capture of Heydrich would have been a disastrous situation. Eventually Himmler ordered a stop to his flying career as on one occasion, Heydrich barely made it back to home territory after a crash landing.

Heydrich later was assigned the role as the Protector of Bohema and Moravia, located in Prague, where he ruled with an iron hand (and was nick-named “the Butcher of Prague”). On May 27 ,1942 Czech Resistance fighters made an assassination attempt on Heydrich, and he died from his injuries a few days later. The assassination attempt, called Operation Anthropoid, was an operation planned by the British Special Operations Executive and the Czech exile government, based in London.

This kit is one of the new Airfix toolings and a very fine kit with quite a few options (open cockpit, separate flaps and rudder, etc.) Decals are from Techmod.

22/10/2017 North American P-51B Mustang US Army Air Force, Hasegawa

Time for another P-51 Mustang, in this case the earlier P-51B/C variant. While the first version of the Mustang, the Allison V1710 powered P-51A, was a decent but not superior fighter aircraft, the combination of the licensed-build British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and the American P-51 airframe made an excellent symbiosis and one of the best fighter aircraft designs in WWII. Fast, very maneuverable and with an excellent long range, it was the best escort aircraft for bombers squads avaiable at the time, and assured air superiority for the Allied over enemy territory. The P51B and C had no external difference (the C version had a slightly more powerful engine), typical for both versions was the raised rear fuselage (or “razorback”) that was replaced by a bubble canopy on the later P-51D version.

The P51B was also flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous African-American fighter pilot group in WWII. The rudders and tails of their aircraft were painted red, therefore the nickname “Red Tails”. At a time when the American military was still racially segregated, the Tuskegee Airmen where the first African-American military pilots in American history. Before that, black soldiers where prohibited to operate complex military equipment like airplanes. But the political situation was about to change and the first training unit for black pilots was established at the Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama. Still facing prejudice within parts of the army and population, the Tuskegee Airmen where ready for combat in 1943, when their 99th Fighter squadron, 332 Fighter Group was transferred to Italy.

There, the 332 Fighter Group was tasked with escorting bombers to targets in Germany, Austria. Hungary and other countries. The Tuskegee Airmen performed very well, but the long-standing myth that the Red Tails never lost a bomber has no factual basis. Historical analysis shows that there were losses, but lower compared to other squads. In fact, bomber crews usually requested the Red Tails for escorts, and they quickly earned the respect of their fellow bomber crews. Racism in the army was still present, but the success of the Tuskegee Airmen was the first step to equal rights.

No Tuskegee Airmen achieved the official “ace” (5+ kills) status, but two pilots came very close, Lt. Lee Archer with 4,5 victories and Capt. Edward L. Toppins with 4 kills, his P-51B “Topper III” shown here as it looked like in August 1944 in Italy. Toppins survived the war and later joined the Tuskegee Airmen bomber regiment as a pilot, but was killed when his B-17 crashed near Lockbourne Airbase in California on December 10th, 1946.

There are many P-51 kits avaiable on the market, and a lot of P-51B/C versions, too. This one is from Hasegawa. It was hassle-free as expected. Decals are from the kit. A nice little project.

21/09/2017 Fiat G.50 "Freccia" Regia Aeronautica, Airfix

Introduced in 1938, the Fiat G.50 “Freccia” (Arrow) was the first modern monoplane of the Italian Air Force, the Regia Aeronautica. The Fiat A.74 radial engine in the Freccia was also used for the Macchi MC200, a very similar looking fighter aircraft (see page 1) that entered service shortly after the G.50. The Macchi was slightly faster, while the Fiat was more manoeuvrable. Both designs had one thing in common: they were already outdated when WWII began.

It was quite a challenge for the Italian pilots to get used to these new monoplanes, as they were used to their CR.32 and CR.42 biplanes. The enclosed cockpit orginally designed had to be removed with the second production batch as the pilots hated it… Although the G.50 was a big step forward in terms of performance, weaponry and armor protection were not; they were basically unchanged compared to the biplanes. Although the G.50 performed well in the Spanish Civil War, only outclassed by the Messerschmitt Bf109, the situation changed at the beginning of WWII, when the Freccia had to face more serious opponents.

The baptism of fire for the G.50 was the Battle of Britain. Mussolini decided to send an expeditionary force, the Corpo Aero Italiano (Italian Air Corps), to assist the Germans in the fight over British skies. Arriving in the fall of 1940, the aircraft of the 20 Gruppo/fighter group (like the one modelled here) were stationed at different airfields in Belgium. However, the Italian Air Corps was of little help for the Germans. The G.50 proved to be to underpowered and slow, and seriously lacking in firepower. Pilots suffered in their open cockpits, exposed to the bad Northern Europe weather in the fall. Limited range was also a problem, so they posed no real threat for the Royal Air Force. Italian Air Corps operations ended in the spring of 1941, and most remaining aircraft were sent to the North African campaign, where they fared a little better, depending on the skill of the pilot. Most G.50 were later converted to fighter-bomber or ground attack aircraft, and only a few were still in service when Italy surrendered in 1943. Only one G.50 is known to have survived to this date, currently under restauration at the Museum of Aviation in Belgrad, Serbia.

However, the G.50 proved to be an efficent fighter aircraft with the Finnish Air Force, especially in the early stages – a kill/loss ratio of 33/1 was really impressive, although the aircraft of the opponent Soviets were even older and their pilots badly trained at the time.

This Fiat G.50 belongs to the 20 Gruppo, 352 squadriglia (squadron), based at Maldegem airbase in Belgium, in the Fall of 1940. It had an rather unusual green/dark green mottle camouflage for operations in Northern Europe. The heavy paint chipping around the cockpit area was caused by a fabric cover that was used to protect the open cockpits.

This little ancient kit is from Airfix, and it is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2017 ! Long since retired from the Airfix product range, this kit is still easy to find. It is a basic as it can get, no cockpit details and not much else, but that was quite common in the 1960s. Still a fun kit and not that bad for a quick build. Decals are from Printscale.

15/09/2017 Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien", Japanese Army Air Force, Finemolds

When the Allied first encountered the Kawasaki Ki-61 „Hien“ it was the cause of great confusion, as it was believed to be a design of German or Italian origin. Indeed the Ki-61 (Allied codename “Tony”) was unique among the Japanese fighter aircraft as it was the only mass-produced fighter with an inline engine.

The Japanese aircraft industry at the time had no experience with high-powered inline engines, so a German Engine, the DB 601 (used in the Messerschmitt Bf109 and Bf110) was license-build as the Kawasaki Ha40. Some modifications were made by the Kawasaki engineers, for example reducing the weight of the engine by 30kg, which made construction of the engine much more delicate, a cause of ongoing problems. The airframe of the Ki-61 had some superficial similarities to the Bf 109, but was a completely new design. Compared to a radial engine design, the inline engine allowed for a much more aerodynamical and smaller nose section, and therefore higher top speed. When the Ki-61 was introduced in 1942, it was the fastest of all contemporay Japanese fighter aircraft (both Imperial Japanese Navy and Army Air Force). In many ways, the Ki-61 had more similarities with Western aircraft design: it had self-sealing fuel tanks and build-in armor proctection. It lacked the maneuverabilty of the Zero or the Ki-43, something the pilots complained as they were used to fly very agile aircraft.

Initially, the usual teething problems aside, the Ki-61 was a surprising threat to the Allied forces. It outclassed the P-40, and it´s sturdiness made it much more difficult to destroy than the nimble and fragile Zeros or Oscars. The engine however remained a big problem and reliability issued could never be completely solved. It also meant that power upgrades to the engine were almost impossible, and the Ki-61 was slowly becoming underpowered as the war continued. In the last months of the war many Ki-61 units were assigned to homeland defense, especially engaging the high-flying B-29 bombers. The aging Ki-61 lacked high altitude performance and could barely catch up with the bombers, so it was not unusual that Ki-61 pilots tried ramming attacks against the bombers. These were not considered “typical” Kamikaze attacks, but one of the Units assigned to Homeland defense, the 244th Air Regiment, had a dedicated united specialized in ramming attacks. Pilots in this squadron were expected to fly ramming missions until they were wounded or killed.

The final development of the Ki-61 was the Ki-100, a modified airframe with a radial engine instead of the inline engine. Only few units were produced and although it was considered one of the best Japanese fighters in the final stages of the war, it came to late to change anything.

This Ki-61 was flown by Cpt. Fumisuke Shono of the 244th Air Regiment, based at Chofu AFB near Tokyo, in January/February 1945. It had the typical markings of units assigned to Homeland defense. There are a few photos of this aircraft avaiable, making it an interesting subject to model. The Decals are from the kit, a newer one from Finemolds of Japan. It is comparable to kits from Hasegawa or Tamiya, although slightly less detailed. I like these Japanese kits in general, they are easy to assemble and well engineered. That the instructions are mostly in Japanese is no problem – a picture says more than 1000 words.

17/08/2017 Polikarpov Po-2/U2 Red Army Air Force, ICM Models

With estimated 30.000 planes build between 1928 and 1952 , the Polikarpov Po-2 is one of the most produced aircraft of all time, and the most produced biplane aircraft ever. An amazing history for a simple aircraft that was basically designed as a trainer and crop duster aircraft in the late 1920s. Nobody in their right mind would have thought this aircraft (NATO reporting name “Mule”) could be used in any military role except for liasion or courier duties in World War II. By this time, the Po-2 was hopelessly outdated. However, the Soviets soon came up with a new role for this aircraft, where it was well suited for: as a light night bomber for nocturnal harrassment missions against German troops, some sort of early psychological warfare.

The standard mission profile for Po-2 squads was to approach German troop concentrations in the middle of the night, usually flying at treetop level, and to make an unpowered gliding attack to drop the four attached 110lb bombs. Although the actual damage caused by this attacks were usually minimal, the psychological effects could not be underestimated. It prevented the German troops from sleeping, keeping them alerted and raised the already high stress level of the soldiers. The Germans nicknamed the Po-2 “Sewing machine” for its unnerving engine sound. From the air, the Po-2 was rather difficult to attack, as it flew very low and slow; in fact the top speed of the low-powered Po-2 was slightly slower than the stall speed of a Bf 109 or Fw190; making it very hard to target. The greatest danger for the Night bomber crews was AA fire. The all-wood design of the Po-2 could catch fire easily and quite a lot Po-2 crews suffered gruesome ends; especially as they did not carry parachutes to save weight.

This particular Po-2, “White 19” belonged to the 46th Tamansky GvNBAP (Guards) in Spring 1945. The 46th Guards regiment was formed from the 588th Night Bomber regiment, the famous “Night Witches”. It was the only all-female squadron during WWII (including pilots, navigators, mechanics etc.). The Night Witches flew over 24.000 combat missions, sometimes 5-6 missions in a night (due to the low payload of the Po-2). The Night Witches were highly decorated with several “Hero of the Soviet Union” awards, including famous pilots like Rufina Gasheva, Natalya Meklin and Irina Sebrova (who took part in 1008 missions). The inscription on this Po-2 “White 19” is a dedication to fallen crew members: “To avenge our comrades Tanja Makarova and Vera Belik !”

This kit is a new mould from Ukranian maker ICM, and as I expected, it was quite detailled, delicate and challenging. ICM makes very fine details and their moulding quality is good, I wish fitting and especially the instructions would be better. With some patience great models can be made. I did not do any rigging, as the basic construction was nervewracking enough for me. Decals are from the kit.

"White 19" dropping leaflets

28/05/2017 Douglas TBD Devastator US Navy, Airfix

First flown in 1935 and entering service in 1937, the Douglas TBD Devastator Torpedo Bomber was the most advanced US Navy aircraft of it´s time, and probably the most modern plane of any Navy in the world. The first monoplane aircraft design of the US Navy, it featured all-metal construction and hydraulically folding wings, the first of it´s kind.

However, as the United States entered WWII, the TBD was already outdated, and the successor design, the Grumman TBF Avenger, was already in a test programme. Initially, the TBD could still hold up well, but it was the climatic Battle of Midway that saw the demise of the TBD. Torpedo bombing was already a very dangerous task, as it required a long, slow & straight attack run against ships, making it an easy target for AA guns or enemy fighters. At the end of the Pacific war, the Japanese had a loss rate of almost 100% for their torpedo bombers. The Americans fared better, but nevertheless the Battle of Midway was an desaster for the TBD, and ended the career of this type. On June 4th, 1942, a total of 41 Devastators were launched from three aircraft carriers against the Japanese fleet. Only six made it back, with no torpedo hits recorded. All other aircraft were lost. The USS Hornet was hit the worst, as no bomber of their Torpedo Squad VT-8, consisting of 15 aircraft, returned. Only one crew member of VT-8, pilot Ensign George Gay, could be rescued at sea a day later.

What was the reason for this disaster ? There were quite a few. Due to a lack of coordination, most of the TBD´s lost contact with their fighter escort, and attacked the Japanese carriers without protection. The TBD was slow, hardly maneuverable and an easy target for the Zero fighters and AA gunners. The American crews were relatively inexperienced, as most had never launched a torpedo except for training, and the torpedo itself, the Mark 13 aerial torpedo, was still unreliable at the time and prone for running cold or sinking to early. Immediately after Midway, the remaining Devastators were retired and relegated to training units. No aircraft (130 were build in total) survives on land today, but there are at least four crashed but well preserved aircraft under water that could be salvaged and restored one day.

This TBD Devastator, T-16 of VT-8 from USS Hornet, was flown by squadron leader Lt.Cmdr. John C. Waldron and gunner/radioman Horace F. Dobbs, at the Battle of Midway on June 4th, 1942. Waldron, known for his navigationing skills, was able to detect the Japanese carrier group, and although he had no fighter cover, decided to attack the carriers. All 15 Devastators of VT-8 were shot down and Waldron & Hobbs perished, however their sacrifice had not been in vain. While the Zeros were pounding on the TDBs, Douglas SBD dive bombers arrived at the scene and where able to attack their targets almost unscathed, sinking three of the four Japanese carriers, and helped changing the course of the Pacific War.

When it comes to Devastator kits in 1/72, one has the choice between newer Czech short run kits or the very old Airfix moulding from the early 1970s. I decided to build the Airfix kit, which is still good despite its age. A few areas, like cockpit interior and engine are a bit weak on the details, but overall the impression is quite good and the build was relatively hassle-free. Decals are from Techmod, and while they are still a bit temperamental, at least I did not require a second decal sheet this time !

Waldron (right) and Hobbs

06/05/2017 Heinkel He 176 Experimental Aircraft Luftwaffe, JACH Models

Ernst Heinkel (1888-1958), German aircraft designer & manufacturer, had a lifelong obsession with high speed aircraft – going faster with every new design was one of Heinkel´s main goals. Beginning in the mid 1930s, he also was one of the first to become aware of the limitations of piston-powered propeller aircraft; it was clear for him that this technology would soon reach its limits; therefore new, faster forms of propulsion had to be researched. While still in their infancy, jet and rocket power promised to be a potential new step ahead, also for new aircraft designs needed by the emerging Luftwaffe after 1933.

Rocket technology was very new, and of course, almost completely untested at the time. Heinkel co-operated with Hellmuth Walter, designer of the rocket engines, and the first rocket engines were tested static or attached under the wings of Heinkel aircraft. As expected, there were a lot challenges and setbacks, but in 1939, the technology was mature enough that an experimental aircraft powered solely by a rocket engine, the Heinkel He 176, was constructed and prepared for testing.

A very simple and really small aircraft, the experimental He 176 was basically designed around the pilot, Erich Warsitz, a test pilot of the German Air Ministry assigned to Heinkel (Warsitz was also the first jet pilot in the He 178 – see the first page). The fuel demand of the rocket engine was enormous, therefore the range of the aircraft was very limited, with a flying time of 60 seconds at maximum. To enhance safety, the front part of the cockpit could be ejected with the pilot in flight in case of an emergency. There were a lot of unknown factors, especially as the aircraft could potentially reach speeds up to 600mph, a speed range that had never been explored before in aviation, with new challenges in aerodynamic designs. Needless to say, testing this aircraft was a risky task, and as Erich Warsitz told in his biography, he prepared his last will, just in case, before the first test flight on June 20, 1939. Everything went fine, though, but after performing another test flight for German Luftwaffe Officials the next day, the Air Ministry did not allow Heinkel to continue testing – it felt the aircraft and rocket power in general was too dangerous, and risking the life on an Air Ministry test pilot was unacceptable.

However, the testing ban was lifted again after a few weeks, and until the end of the programme in November 1939 approx. 40-45 flights were undertaken, without accident. The aircraft was even presented to Hitler himself and the top brass of the Luftwaffe, however, it had to be noted that Hitler was more impressed by the bravery of test pilot Erich Warsitz, and demanded a raise for him ! This could not save the programme, though, and in the fall of 1939 the Air Ministry ordered Heinkel to stop development of rocket aircraft and concentrate on new turbojet designs. The single He 176 was stored and destroyed a few years later in a bombing raid – and with it almost all technical drawings, photos and documentations. Little is known about the aircraft today, and nobody knew for sure how it looked like until the 1990s (!) when the first and only known photo of the He 176 emerged – see below. Although the He 176 was not a success, the basic idea for a little, point defense interceptor was picked up later by Messerschmitt and realized in the Me 163 “Komet”, the first and to this date, only rocket aircraft ever used in operational service.

An exotic experimental aircraft, so this had to be a Czech short run kit again, in this case from JACH Models. It is so tiny, it must be one of the smallest aircraft in 1/72 scale ! The kit is new, and quality was quite good, with only a few plastic parts and a lot of small photo-etched parts. Usually I´m not a big fan of PE parts but the fit was quit good and the tiny parts add a lot of detail to the model. The kit was designed after the only avaiable photo of the He 176 and as you can see, it had a fixed front gear. This was used for rolling and high-speed take off-runs, as the aircraft was quite unstable runnig on the ground. If this front gear was installed during the first test flight is unknown. The aircraft also had an removable upper cockpit glazing, but as in the original photo, the kit comes without one.

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