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Trench-Strafer:: Building Blue Max's 1/48 Halberstadt Cl.II

By Tom Cleaver

THE AIRPLANE:

The Halberstadt Cl.II was designed to a specification issued by Idflieg in August 1916 for a new type of two-seater: this "C-class light" would be an escort fighter to protect heavier standard C class machines such as the Albatros C.XII. The specification called for a weight reduction of 250-260kg from standard C-class airplanes with an attendant increase in performance.

The Cl.II carried over several airframe features of the failed D.V fighter. Ordered in November 1916, the prototype was rolled out in April 1917 and tested successfully in May. The airplane was lightly built but strong, fast and agile. On the basis of these tests, Idflieg ordered 100 machines. Ultimately 900 were ordered from the parent firm and the new Bayerische Flugzeug Werke (yes...that BFW!)

Arriving at the front in late July 1917, the Cl.II was assigned to the new Shutzstaffeln (Schustas, or protection flights) and individually to the regular two-seater squadrons for protection duties; it was much smaller than the standard two-seater, and when first encountered over the Front it was mistaken more than once for a single-seater by unwary Allied pilots who paid for the mistake when they came within range of the observer with his machine gun. By that autumn, it was discovered that the airplane was the perfect ground attack and trench strafing machine, and more started going to the new Schlachstaffeln.

Fifteen were at the front in August 1917, and a year later there was still 175. Peak service in the German Air Service was reached in April 1918 with 342 at the front. Even though it was replaced in production in 1918 by the Cl.IV, the Cl.II served until the end of the war.

THE BLUE MAX KIT:

Blue Max provides markings for two different aircraft. I chose the more gaudy alternative, an aircraft of Schlasta 26b of the Bavarian Flying Corps in 1918. The nose and forward fuselage was painted red, with narrow outlines to flames, which had been chosen by Staffelfuehrer Hauptmann Ehrhardt as the unit marking. The style of fuselage markings differed between individual machines within the group; some had the flames without outlines. Individual aircraft-in-unit numbers were white within red fuselage circles aft of the fuselage crosses.

OPENING THE BOX:

Of all the limited-run injection-molded plastic model companies that sprang up during the 1990s, the one that seems most resistant to changing and upgrading its production technology is Blue Max, which is an English company associated with Pegasus Models, for those not "in the know." While Eduard has upgraded its mold-making to the point that the latest releases are fully competitive with Hasegawa and Tamiya, Blue Max remains frustratingly back at the same level technologically that Eduard was at shortly after their very first releases.

That said, it is a fact that Blue Max has created the best rendition of a fabric-covered wing of any World War I kit-maker, eschewing the hills and valleys one normally finds for the nice, tight, flat surface broken only by the rib tape that anyone who has ever been around a fabric-covered airplane knows is the correct look. This Halberstadt kit, the third in the line of "new" Blue Max releases that (for me) began with their Sopwith Camel, continues that tradition. Additionally, the quality control of the production process is the best I have seen from a Blue Max kit; before, molding flaws that could result in the modeler having to remove the beautiful surface detail in order to have a wing that looks like a wing could be incredibly frustrating, particularly with kits that cost as much as these do.

The Halberstadt comes with two sprues of parts, both of which have smaller mold gates than in previous releases, and therefore less stuff to clean off in preparing the parts for assembly. There is a bag of white metal parts for the engine, cockpit interior detail, gun ring and weapons, and the small bomblets and bomb rack carried on either side of the fuselage just aft of the cockpit. The decals are thin and well-printed, as is usual with Blue Max. There is no lozenge decal supplied, which I wish they had done as Eduard has with their kits as far back as the Hannover Cl.IIIa and the Siemens-Schuckert D.III in 1994. Having lozenge in a one-piece decal already fitted for the wing is a very welcome item for the modeler doing a German airplane of the later part of the war.

MAKING THE MODEL:

The first thing to work on is the wings and tail surfaces, since these take the longest time to prepare and finish. I cleaned off the flash and sanded the leading and trailing edges of the wings and tail surfaces, and cut off the moveable control surfaces. These are all going to be covered with lozenge decal, so the first thing to do is spray them with a coat of Future to give the decals something to grab onto. I also did this for the interior of the fuselage halves, the fore and aft bulkheads, and the cockpit floor.

APPLYING LOZENGE:

I used Aeromaster lozenge for this kit, which I consider the best and most accurate. There are those who recommend Americal/Gryphon or Pegasus decal lozenge, but I have not yet used any of that and cannot comment on it.

The first thing to do is to cut the lozenge into individual strips. The lozenge fabric on the Cl.II was applied diagonally at an angle of 45 degrees across the wing surface. You should note that this is done as a "chevron" when viewed from above, i.e., from leading edge to trailing edge it goes outward at a 45-degree angle on each wing. There is no information about this on the Blue Max instruction sheet, due, I suspect, to their belief that their modeling audience is the knowledgeable World War 1 modeler. No doubt that's true at these prices, but I consider myself a knowledgeable World War 1 modeler and did not know that; even doing it wrong, i.e., all the same angle across both wings, it came out looking OK.

Returning to the mechanics of the operation, measure off the section of lozenge and mark it on the back with a pencil, then cut the segments. I suggest you also draw a guideline in pencil on the wing surface. In my experience, the best way to put this down is to apply it to a surface thoroughly covered with water. This allows you to move it around with no fear of the decal sticking prematurely as a result of decal solvent taking hold. Once the entire surface is covered with lozenge, sponge up the water with a Kleenex, and apply decal solvent liberally. After it has set up for at least an hour, you can then take your razor knife and cut holes in the air bubbles that have formed under the decals. Reapply solvent and set the part aside to dry thoroughly. Do only one surface at a time, i.e., upper, then lower, etc. Once this time-consuming process has been completed, you are ready to apply the rib tape.

I suggest you overspray the lozenge with the clear varnish of your choice to insure you don't pull up that laboriously-applied decal as you handle the part. The rib tapes should be applied with the light blue on the upper surface and the pinkish-toned tape on the lower. Be very careful to cut this as closely to the proper length as possible; Aeromaster only supplies enough to do one airplane with nothing to spare. As with the original lozenge, apply this over a water-covered surface to allow you to move it into final position, then apply solvent.

With regard to the fuselage, I used "light wood" decal for the interior surfaces, and for the underside of the center section of the upper wing. Alternatively, the interior could be painted light brown for the plywood. I painted the white metal frame parts medium brown.

ASSEMBLY:

The fuselage goes together easily. I painted the Mercedes engine, then installed it. The instructions (one of the things that could really use some improvement in these kits) are not really clear on position and placement of the various parts, but anyone familiar with World War 1 airplanes will not have much difficulty. Once the fuselage was together and the seams sanded smooth, it was ready for painting. Before I could do the camouflage, however, I applied a panel of "light wood" decal to the underside of the fuselage, so that it came up the sides about 3/16". This would be overpainted when the camouflage pattern was applied.

PAINTING:

I first painted the forward half of the fuselage red, using Gunze-Sanyo "Red Madder," a more scarlet shade of red. Once this was dry, I began work on the "Scumble camouflage." This is a camouflage pattern that has been the subject of heated debate among World War 1 modelers, to say the least. On the real thing, it was apparently applied with either a brush, spray or a sponge over the plywood fuselage, and could have used any combination of the three application techniques. Following the box art, I did mine as a tight "World War 2-style" Luftwaffe blotching, though photos I later received from Blue Max show these to be larger in area than what I did. From photographs of Halbersdtadts in service, either way may be correct, and there could even be other alternatives not discussed here. Mr. Gannon recommends a mottled effect for the upper wing mid section and upper fuselage with the following colors: grey/purple; khaki/brown; green; Prussian blue; grey; brick red. "Each color applied at random, each having a solid area of about half a meter square."

 

DECALS FOR THE FUSELAGE:

After painting the camouflage and covering it with gloss varnish, I applied the flame decals to the fuselage. These were a slightly different shade of red than I had painted. When the decal was dry, I painted over the red portion with the Gunze "red madder," taking care to stay inside the white border. I then applied the iron cross national insignias to the fuselage, wings and rudder, and the plane-in-unit ID number.

With everything dried and covered with clear varnish, I was ready for...

FINAL ASSEMBLY:

First off, I glued the flying surfaces so they were coordinated with the positions I had put the control stick and rudder pedals in. One thing to note with ailerons is that by this time they had learned about "adverse aileron yaw," and the ailerons did not deflect equally. The lowered aileron moves at a 3:1 ratio to the raised one. I then attached the horizontal stabilizer and the rudder to the fuselage. Next I attached the lower wings.

I had taken the machine guns from an extra set I had received in my Flashback W.29 kit, which allowed me to use the open cooling jackets. The guns supplied in the kit are not as highly-detailed, and I would recommend to the modeler who isn't lucky enough to have World War 1 machine guns in the spares box that you get these from either Tom's Modelworks or Aeroclub, both of whom make excellent white metal cast weapons.

I made the interwing and cabane struts from the strut material supplied in the kit. I put the pilot's machine gun in position before I attached the struts in position with cyanoacrylate, after which I attached the upper wing. The landing gear was easily assembled and glued in position.

With the airplane assembled, the time had come for rigging. I use a high-E steel guitar string for rigging biplanes. These are (if you live in Los Angeles) easily available from your local guitar shop. I tape a weight to one end, and let it hang for a few days to straighten it out. The high-E works out to about .008" diameter, which is perfect for 1/48 biplanes. The Halberstadt has a much simpler rigging than many biplanes I have done, and the tedious job was over fairly quickly.

I then attached the observer's machine gun in the stowed position on its ring, and then attached the bomblets to their rack.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

This is definitely one of the best kits Blue Max has released, and for the committed World War 1 modeler, it is well worth its MSRP of US$41.50. I would not recommend this kit to an inexperienced biplane builder, mostly because of the difficulty involved in doing the lozenge finish.

Thanks to Squadron Mail Order for providing the kit. To obtain the various extras mentioned in this article, contact Aeroclub and Tom's Modelworks.

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