Academy's 1:72 Me163B/S Komet
The Me163 was the most radical fighter of World War II, borne of Alexander Lippisch's twin interests in tailless gliders and rocket motors. Although hampered initially by the same political issues that handicapped other advanced German weapons, the Me163 eventually made it into combat much to the detriment of its pilots. The volatile fuels used by the engine, combined with a troublesome landing gear system that was never quite perfected, resulted all too often in violent, spontaneous explosions that destroyed the aircraft and their pilots. Since Me163 pilots were specially selected from the most talented pilots in the Luftwaffe, the program was responsible for killing off what might have formed a new generation of late-war aces.
The plane was built around the HWK 509A rocket motor, which combined hydrogen peroxide and a mixture of hydrazine hydrate, methyl alcohol, water and cupracyanide. These chemicals reacted explosively to generate 3,748 pounds of thrust, enough power to give the Me163 a climb rate of 16,080 feet per minute. Upon launch, the plane dropped its two-wheel dolly and shot skyward. The small fighter could only carry enough fuel for seven and a half minutes of powered flight; the pilots would slash through allied formations, turn off the engine when all was safe, and glide to conserve fuel. The engine could be restarted safely after two minutes; otherwise, spontaneous explosion was again a problem. When the fuel ran out, the Me163 glided back to base.
A protracted development resulted in the first Me163Bs being delivered for flight testing at Lechfeld in February, 1944. The Erprobungskommando 16 unit testing the plane metamorphosed into I/JG 400, and these unit finally reached combat in July 1944, although Erprobungskommando pilots had found several opportunities to attack allied planes, they had been foiled by mechanical difficulties. When they were able to make attacks, the pilots discovered that the closing speed was so rapid that aiming was nearly impossible. On August 16, 1944, the unit lost one Me163 to an escorting Mustang and had a second shot up by a B-17 tail gunner. On the 24th, the Felbwebel Siegfried Schubert destroyed two B-17s, and other pilots shot down two more B-17s. This was a success never to be repeated; a few days later, Schubert was killed when his plane tangled with its take-off dolly. More deadly was the realization by allied fighter pilots that the Me163s were easy targets during their unpowered phase of flight. In all, the Komet scored at most nine kills; 14 were shot down, and many more were lost in accidents. Rather than being the ultimate point interceptor, the radical Me163 was merely a drain on the German war effort.
Academy's recent trend has been to take the engineering of other company's models Hasegawa's Corsairs and Thunderbolts, Heller's Texan and Airacobra and update them with recessed panel lines, corrected details and added features. The Me163 kit varies from this in taking the engineering of a 1:48 kit this time, Trimaster's Komet and shrinking it down to 1:72. The result is a kit that's more complex than the Heller Me163, but is far more detailed and complete in its representation.
The model has upper fuselage halves and full cockpits for both the Me163B-1a fighter and the Me163S two-place training glider. The cockpits feature accurate pilot's seats, two styles of control columns, and cockpit tubs with very detailed control panels. With the addition of just a little detail (like seat belts and a gunsight) this interior is ready to rock out of the box.
The cockpit and a blanking plate are dropped into the lower fuselage and trapped by the upper fuselage. The wings and tail are provided as separate halves, and assemble in a straightforward manner. The kit provides a separate outer slot for each wing, allowing the modeler to capture this prominent feature accurately with a minimum of sanding and filling.
Both the 163B and 163S tail wheels are provided, and these can be positioned in retracted or extended positions. The landing skid can also be positioned up or down. To this goes the four-piece takeoff dolly, which is very neatly detailed, especially the wheels. The clear parts are also well done, providing the rear wedge-shaped windows as part of a bigger piece that can be blended to the fuselage, polished and masked much more easily than the separate windows of past kits. The Me163S canopies come in three parts, and in both versions the canopies can be finished in the open position.
The Academy kit borrows from the old Heller kit by providing the Scheuschlepper, the small tractor used to move the Me163s around following landing. Like the Heller kit, the Scheuschlepper here is quite simplified, with solid 'walls' in place of rails and simplified tracks on the lifting portion of the trailer. Still, its inclusion makes a nice model even better.
The final touch is the decals. The markings provided allow you to do two Me163B-1a aircraft, including one aircraft each from 1/JG 400 and 2/JG 400 (with the familiar 'Only a Flea - but O-ho!' logo). The Me163 S is finished with the same colors as the B-1a's RLM 81/82/76, although each aircraft has its own unique camouflage scheme, which is clearly illustrated in the instruction sheet. The decals are spectacular, with the unit crests standing up to the magnifying glass test Safety markings 'T' and 'C' for the fuel fillers, and even a cheat line for the noses of the fighter versions.
After battling my Heller kit to a near-draw, I vowed to never build another of these troublesome fighters again, but this kit has me wanting to do an Me163 as my next project! Academy may have borrowed the engineering from another kit, but the result is the best Me163 in this scale.
Thanks to MRC for our review sample.