Gavia 1/48 Fokker D.II
The Fokker D.II was one of those "also rans" of aviation history . Appearing after the glory days of the Fokker monoplanes, it was an attempt to keep a Fokker finger in the fighter business. Unfortunately, it didn't have the "stuff" to be anything other than a stop gap, marking time until the debut of the powerful and better armed Albatros fighters.
Approved for combat service in June 1916, the first machines were delivered from the factory in July. Along with its pre-triplane Fokker brethren- D.I, D.III, D.IV and D.V, it helped keep the Fokker name alive (if barely) during the reign of the Albatros D.I-D.V. Generally palmed off to units in less active sectors and home defense squadrons, its front line numbers peaked at 68 by December 1916, and thereafter dwindled. By August 1917, it was gone from combat, being relegated to training. About 210 were built.
The Fokker D.II was a typical early Fokker product with a welded steel tube fuselage and warping wooden wings. Compared to the Albatros D.I and D.II, it was lightly armed, low powered, and generally rather primitive. Its 100 hp Oberursel rotary wasn't in the same league as the Albatros' 160 hp Mercedes inline, and its armament of only one gun vs. two for the Albatros made it a distinct choice for second line service.
At first glance, this kit looks fine. Well molded parts, nice decal sheet, good instructions- very inviting. BUT, the more I submerged myself into this model, the more I found that needed for correcting and/or refining. Rather than a blow-by-blow acount of the building, I'm going to touch on the major points:
The tail surfaces are thick slabs. The outlines of the rudder and elevators are good, and surface detail is very fine and subtle, BUT, it's a shame because all this nice detail will be removed by the exhausting filing and sanding needed to bring about correct sections. It would have been easier to scratchbuild these items, but I stuck with the kit parts as a challenge!
The interplane struts are too thick....nothing singular about this kit in particular, but these are quite clumsy. Due to the soft plastic used, they don't take too kindly to thinning, and should be replaced with your favorite alternate material. I used bamboo, whittled from kabob skewers.
The landing gear struts suffer likewise, except I did manage to salvage them with much sanding and filling, plus reinforcing with basswood fairings on the rear legs.
The cowl is nicely shaped and only needs a bit of thinning around the edges to bring it around.
The propeller could be used as is, and most people probably wouldn't notice or care, but it is a little anorexic, so I built up the leading edges with plastic strip and CA.
The wings are most in need of correction, lacking the three riblets between each main rib, and even worse, the wing tip area is completely off. Starting with the tip, the kit as molded has the outer ribs being within the confines of the swept back part of the leading edge. The actual airplane's main ribs were all of the same length, and positioned within the straight portion of the leading edge. The correction involved building up the leading edge and tip with sheet plastic and Zap-A-Gap CA so the extra rib length need could be extracted from this extra area. After overall shaping, the rib indications were applied by masking each rib location and then airbrushing several coats of enamel. The tape was removed and the thick paint ridges refined.
The riblets were put on with multiple coats of thick enamel, applied with a fine brush. It was tedious, but worth it. Some may think it's an overboard step, but these riblets are visible in the photographs of the real machine, and add greatly to the texture and feel of the model.
The kit fuselage has nice outlines, but the contouring of the sides is nothing like the real item. Under its skin, the D.II was another typical slab-sided steel tube Fokker structure. But the D.II had a single wooden stringer running along each side under the fabric, and the kit misses the point. Out of the box, the kit shows this feature as nothing but the stringer - it's a thin, raised line, proud above slab sides. I decided on major surgery. I gouged out the sides from just behind the firewall back to behind the cockpit.
Since few of the kit cockpit details are accurate, or complete, I put in an almost completely scratchbuilt interior using the usual stuff - sprue, wire, etc. After gluing up and smoothing out the fuselage joints, I put on my stringer (made from the ubiquitous bamboo again!). Over this I applied new sides fom .005" plastic, first embossed from the rear and then folded to obtain the stretched fabric look. Going to this much trouble accomplished several things: side shape correction, almost scale thickness cockpit walls allowing extra room for interior detailing, and translucence. This last feature shows up in many Fokker photos, the light beaming down through the cockpit opening and illuminating the the guts from the inside.
Conclusions on Assembly
The rest of the building was pretty standard. No strange techniques or materials were needed. I rigged with invisible thread through holes drilled with a home made bit.(shown fuzzily in the foreground at right) which is nothing more than a piece of guitar string jammed up into a length of bamboo, and then chucked into a Dremel Mini-Mite. The basic factory paint job was sprayed on, Future applied overall, and the kit decals slithered on, being as nice and smooth to use as they were pretty.
I hope Gavia succeeds. The main faults of their kit are the result of faulty research, not molding finesse. As a plastic injection kit, it's a fine piece of work....as a Fokker D.II....well....better research next time!
A Few Notes on Colors
The scheme I chose was the multi-colored one worn by Ltn. Otto Kissenberth's machine when was flying with Feld-Flieger Abteilung 9b in the Fall of 1916. Said to be number 540/16, it is one of the most extensively photgraphed airplanes of WWI, as it was the subject of a series of air-to-air shots taken from all angles. Yet, with all this pictorial information, it's colors are still difficult to nail down. A general Fokker factory scheme seems to be some type of green and reddish-brown on the upper surfaces on the wings and elevators. A photo of 540/16 on page 18 in the Albatros Productions Fokker Fighter book (see bibliography) shows just this, most likely at an early stage in its life. However the inflight shots show what could be a third color, or maybe just a brushed out, field-applied shade of one of the factory paints. Sprayed, brushed or smeared- the method of application is not clear. Whatever it was, it most closely matched the general look of what is probably the factory green. The color demarcations of the earlier two-color photo look as if they would match up underneath the application of a third, overlayed shade.
Proceeding on the ASSUMPTION that Kissenberth's machine was 540/16, all I had to do now was figure the third color. A few experiments showed me that there wasn't much difference between a lightened version of the basic green, and a thin, brushed out shade of the same. OK- some type of green it would be! The factory paint work looks to be sprayed, so this I airbrushed. The third color, a lightened green, was hand brushed, after decals application, and rather crudely at that. The outlining around the crosses was particularly badly done on the real airplane. I tried to match as exactly as possible the actual patterns of this particular airplane. Same for the paint deterioration in the areas that bore the brunt of the constant assault by castor oil vapors.
One by-product of this project was the realization of the degree of variation in published photographs. The inflight pictures have appeared in many sources. My first exposure to them was in the mid-60s in a little booklet that accompanied a board game called "Dogfight". Books, magazines - these photos have turned up all over. A couple of the pictures showed up in as many as four publications, and all versions looked different. Some printings were so contrasy that they barely gave evidence of even two colors. I guess this puzzle was part of what initially attracted me to this scheme! Undecipherable colors applied in a sloppy fashion.....perfect for modeling!
Fokker Fighters D.I-D.IV: Classics of WW I Aviation;
P.M. Grosz 1999 Albatros Productions
German Fighter Units 1914-May 1917: Osprey/Airwar 13;
Alex Imrie 1978 Osprey Publishing
World War One in the Air: Vintage Warbirds No 9;
Ray Rimell 1998 Arms and Armour Press
Windsock International vol 7 N0 1 Jan/Feb 1991
plus an assortment of World War I Aero issues!