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Building the little-known Pfalz D.VIII

Tom's Modelworks Presents a World War I Rare Avis Indeed

By Tom Cleaver

The Airplane:

One of the least-known German fighters of the First World War, the Pfalz D.VIII was developed concurently with the D.VII during late 1917. The fuselage also formed the basis of the Pfalz Dr.I triplane competitor to the Fokker Dr.I. The result was a fast-climbing fighter powered by the counter-rotating Siemens-Halske Sh.III rotary, which also powered the better-known Siemens-Schuckert D.III and D.IV. The aircraft were designed under the direction of Pfalz chief engineer Rudolph Gehringer and used the traditional Pfalz wrapped veneer fuselage construction. The main difference between the D.VII and D.VIII was that the D.VII had single-bay wings while the D.VIII had double-bay wings.

One of the most important watersheds of German fighter development during the First World War was the First Fighter Competition held by Idflieg at Schwerin airfield in January, 1918. The goal was to obtain fighter designs that were state-of-the art improvements over the Albatros D.V and D.Va and the Pfalz D.IIIa which at that time equipped the majority of the Jastas at the front, and were becoming more and more hopelessly outclassed by such outstanding Allied designs as the Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a, the Sopwith Camel F.1 and the SPAD S.XIII. The big winners of the First Fighter Competition were the Fokker V.II, later to turn into the famous Fokker D.VII, and the Pfalz D.VII/VIII.

With outstanding performance that included a time to climb to 1000m of 1min 5sec, and to 5000m in 11min 1 sec, the Pfalz fighters were veritable rockets for the time. Idflieg decreed that either the Pfalz D.VII or D.VIII would go on to production, depending on static load tests. Since the planes were identical except for the wing strutting and bracing, whichever proved stronger would be given the production go-ahead. Both could outclimb the Siemens-Schuckert machines, using the same engine. After the load tests, the D.VIII was chosen, 120 being ordered. The first six arrived at the front in April 1918, in the midst of the great German spring offensive. The aircraft were not released for combat service until June, 1918.

By June 30, 14 were listed at the front, and by August 1, the number had risen to only 19. Teething troubles with the cranky Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine were the main reason for such low numbers, the same reason the numbers were relatively low for the better known Siemens-Schuckert fighters.

Although a fast climber, the Pfalz D.VIII wasn't as manueverable as other airplanes like the Fokker D.VII, and wasn't a big favorite of pilots. The fighter was dispersed in ones and twos to various units including Jastas Boelcke, 29, 56, and later to Jasta 90 (ex-Kesta 1a) for home defense around Mannheim. In this role, it operated as "high cover" for the rest of the Jasta on operations.

The only well-known ace known to have flown the Pfalz D.VIII and scored in it is Oberleutnant Harald Auffarth, who held the Knight's Cross with Swords of the Hohenzollern House Order, as well as the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class and the Silver Wound Badge; his final score was 29 victories, all of which were scored in 1918. Auffarth had served with Feldflieger Abteilung 27 and Flieger Abteilung Artillerie 266 before transferring to single seaters in late 1917. He first flew with Jasta 18, where he was introduced to air combat by the legendary "iron man" of the German Air Service, 44-victory ace Hauptmann Rudolf Berthold before transferring to Jasta 29, where he had become Staffelfuhrer by the summer of 1918. He used his Pfalz D.VIII in conjunction with his better-known Fokker D.VII, putting the high-altitude performance of the Pfalz to good use during the air battles of the Meuse-Argonne offensive at the end of the war in September and October, 1918. Among his known victories while flying the Pfalz D.VIII was a then-obscure American pilot who had just scored his fifth victory named Clayton Knight, who would go on after the war to become very well-known as an aviation artist; during the Second World War he would head up the Clayton Knight Committee which was responsible for recruiting young Americans to fly with the RAF and RCAF prior to the entry of the United States into the war.

The Kit:

Tom Harrison of Tom's Modelworks was originally well-known to modelers in the 1980s for a series of very good 1/48 vacuform kits of World War I aircraft that are so good they still hold up well in comparison with early Eduard injection-molded kits. In 1994, the line of kits were sold to another manufacturer who intended to turn them into cast-resin kits. Unfortunately, the quality level of the resin-casting was not up to the reputation the kits had held as vacuforms, and Tom Harrison's reputation as a kitmaker suffered. Having signed a "no competition" clause in the sale, he went on to success with his excellent line of 1/350 cast resin ships. However, World War I aviation remained near and dear to his heart, and as the end of the time limit approached, he decided to re-enter the field, putting his acqired skills with resin manufacture to good use.

The first result of this decision is the Pfalz D.VIII, which can also easily be built as the one-off D.VII should a modeler decide to reduce the number of interplane struts by four. The kit comes in a sturdy cardboard box, and includes a single-piece upper wing, left and right lower wings, left and right horizontal stabilizer, rudder, and fuselage in two hollow halves, all cast in a smooth light tan resin that has few if any pinholes. As was the case with the vacuforms, the rest of the parts are in well-cast white metal and photo-etch brass, including the engine, cowling, landing gear, prop and two well-cast Spandau machine guns in white metal, and the cockpit interior in thin photo-etch brass. SInce receiving my copy of the kit a new decal sheet with the three marking options shown in Bob Pearson's profiles on the Galleria page have been added, these profiles are also included in the kit and are of Ltn Harald Auffarth's comet marked Jasta 29 D.VIII, another Js.29 fleur-de-lys marked aircraft and Paul Baumer's red/white/black chevron-marked Jasta Boelcke D.VIII. There is no lozenge decal for the wings.

Assembly:

The first thing I noticed was that there was a slight twist in the upper wing, a non-uncommon phenomenon resulting from pulling the part from the mold a second too soon. This is easily dealt with by placing the wing in a pan of water which has been brought just to the boiling point, for just long enough to allow the resin to soften and assume the original shape. Pull it from the hot water and run it under cold water to "freeze" it in position, and the wing is ready to go.

The centerline of the fuselage halves is a bit ragged, but this is taken care of sanding it smooth. I used some light wood decal (as detailed in the Halberstadt article) for the interior, with the photo-etch brass painted light grey. This is particularly thin photo-etch, and not easy to use, but the result looks good inside the cockpit.

The fuselage halves went together easily with cyanoacrylate glue, and with a bit of puttying along the centerline join and some sanding, the smooth Pfalz fuselage structure was created.

Painting and Marking:

I did lozenge decal for the upper and lower wings as detailed in the Halberstadt article, with the difference that I did not use the colored rib tape. Some aircraft used lozenge fabric for the rib tape, and I decided this aircraft had been one of them, inasmuch as I did not have any of the colored strips for decals. This four-color lozenge was from SuperScale, and was used because it was available, though I have my doubts about the accuracy of the colors.

I painted the fuselage and horizontal stabilizers a medium-dark green, using Gunze Sanyo H-302. The cowling was painted with Tamiya flat yellow, while the landing gear, interplane and cabane struts were painted Tamiya sky grey.

Once everything had been "futured" and was thoroughly dry, I applid the national markings from the kit. I used the "shooting star" personal insignia for Oberleutnant Auffarth from the SuperScale Fokker D.VII sheet; it might be a bit large for the Pfalz D.VIII but looked fine when done.

The kit provides a white metal four-bladed prop that is cast from the Eduard Siemens-Shuckert prop, which had a very prominent half-hemisperical spinner. The Pfalz did not have a spinner, so I replaced this with the four-bladed prop I didn't use from the Blue Max Bristol Fighter kit. I applied "dark wood" decal, and when dry, hand painted the lighter-wood laminations.

Final Assembly:

I attached wings, tail, struts, landing gear, engine, cowl and upper wing with cyanoacrylate. The result is a much more fragile model than the usual injection-molded kit, but since any World War I model is fragile, this is really speaking only relatively. I rigged it with some of my high-E guitar string wire.

Conclusions:

This airplane is highly unlikely to make it into model form in any other medium than this. I would consider it an advanced World War I model as far as modeling skills are concerned. If you haven't made a full cast-resin kit before, this one would be good to "get your feet wet" with. The result is a very singular-looking little fighter that will definitely enhance your collection of World War I airplanes.

Contact Tom's Modelworks to order this kit.

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Air Intelligence
1999 Modelers'
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