Hobbycraft 1/48 Messerschmitt Bf-109B-1-
Model, Text and Photos by: Larry Cherniak
This model represents the end of the first batch of 15 Messerschmitt Bf109B-1's sent to Spain in the Spring of 1937 to serve in Jagdgruppe 88, Legion Condor. The '109A series was skipped, therefore the first production versions were these carbureted 600hp Jumo 210D powered Bf109B-1's with fixed Schwarz two-bladed wooden propellers. At first, armament consisted of only two 7.9mm MG17's in the cowl and no radio equipment was fitted. Later, VDM metal props were fitted, another MG17 was installed to fire through the hub, and a R/T mast was added behind the canopy- first with three aerials, then one. Around 40 'B-1's were produced in total.
The model was built from the 1/48 size Hobbycraft kit. This series of mid-1990's kits has been criticized by some but for the money I think they represent a fine first attempt at nailing down the whole '109 family. Overall accuracy of outline and quality of detail are quite good. They do suffer a few inaccuracies- some resulting from the "multi-model-mold" syndrome. I decided to correct the basic inaccuracies on this project while leaving the cockpit detailing pretty much alone.
Beyond the addition of small details, the only change to the cockpit was to remove the map case from the right side of the pilot and replace it to the left, referring to a diagram in "German Aircraft Interiors Vol. 1" specific to the 'B-1. The cockpit was painted RLM02. The canopy was a homemade vac-u-form - for what reason, I don't know except for the challenge, as superior aftermarket parts are available. One thing I was able to do was put the framework properly on the inside of the rear section with RLM02 painted decal strips. I also used decals for the outside canopy framework. A handgrip bar across the windscreen broke off after installation of the flimsy canopy and had to be fished out (I may drill a tiny hole later and insert it again through the side).
The fuel filler cap on the port spine behind the cockpit was filled and a new circular one scribed below the canopy. The starboard fuselage also had some hatches which needed filling. Various engine/ machine gun vents and holes were filled and rescribed as needed in reference to several good pictures of 6X15 in various sources. These seem to have been added to the design in waves, so you will need to check references for the particular '109B you might be building. I noticed later in a photograph that the machine gun vents (the large slots behind the engine) should have been staggered as well.
The engine cowling needed .015 sheet styrene added to its height at the bottom to fit properly. A circle of holes was drilled around the front of this part, the edges of which are barely visible behind the spinner. The exhausts were drilled out, with the holes angled backwards, and blocked off from the inside.
The carburetor air scoop, molded as a solid piece, was used as a pattern for a Vac-u-formed replacement. Based on a photo of the inside of this panel, the entire area under the scoop was carved out and painted black. Various places on the nose area needed rescribing. One line I didn't rescribe because of the awkward curve was, unfortunately, the one which defines the shape of the black patch under the exhausts-which ended up, therefore, too narrow at the bottom.
The radiator is a very noticeable omission from the kit but is included on aftermarket PE brass if you go that route. I used some unpainted stainless steel mesh and wire to fill in the area. The top of the lip was given two small triangles of .010 sheet stock to more properly blend it in to the nose shape. While I was at it, I thinned the radiator air exit flap and scribed through the plastic to open it up. The thickness of the plastic was perfect for replicating the curved sides of the flap.
The wings are molded to represent later machines, as at this stage there was no thought given to wing guns (two MG17's were thought to be enough armament!). This meant patching over the MG and ammo feed access panel lines with putty and filing off the panel extension "tab" at the flap line. The flaps needed .030" sheet added to their widths to properly fill the opening- and note that they are shown installed upside down in the instructions. The ailerons were scribed out with a #11 blade and repositioned.
You might be wondering why both ailerons are drooped- if you can even tell from my photos. Isn't that wrong? My research, including info from aircraft handbooks, captured aircraft evaluations, and Messerschmitt documents, indicates that the ailerons on (at least) early '109's were rigged to droop about 1 degree for every 4 degrees of flap rotation (max: 11 degrees/ 42 degrees). In addition to the gravity-activated slats this increased the wing camber and, therefore, lift at landing speeds. Clever designers, those Bavarians.
Regarding the slats, one reference indicates that they could be locked closed on '109B's, as here- but the real reason they are closed is, of course, because the kit came that way and I was too lazy to cut them out.
Turning to the tail, first the hole near the front of the rudder needed to be moved backwards about .030" by carving out the back and filling the front with sheet stock. Rudder control cables and tailwheel struts (used only on this version) were added from music wire. The locating holes on the bottom of the horizontal stabilizers were filled and they were glued in place horizontally, with struts added when set. Otherwise you will end up with a V-tail. Although there was no radio equipment or aerials fitted to this machine, apparently Messerschmitt was already gearing up for it, as a rudder post was included.
When it came time to paint I had two potential problems- how to make a one-color scheme interesting and what the heck the "right" color was supposed to be. The first was solved by weathering. After priming with Mr. Surfacer 1000 cut with lacquer thinner, Floquil Reefer White was sprayed on the wingtips and rudder. After masking these off, khaki was sprayed along the panel lines for preshading. A 25-year old tin of Humbrol HU6 was used for the light gray.
There is a great deal of discussion about what RLM63 might have looked like, but after some online chat I concluded that the first deliveries of '109B's may have been in a neutral "civilian" gray overall anyway. There is even thought that some were natural metal. This scheme is based on several photos including two color (!) ones of this very subject in Wings Dec. '99 (my thanks to Dave Schemel and Bob Katrosits for putting me on to this one). Although these MAY be colorized, they are still as good as we are going to get.
The markings were all sprayed on (with the exception of the wing walkways, black tail stripes, and a few stencils which were decals) using custom computer plotter-cut stencils. Most of the 'B-1's did not have the gray cross within the fuselage roundels and many had the "Tophat" emblem on the port side. The wing crosses were purposely off-square- it looks like the Schwartzies weren't yet used to rotating a cross 45 degrees when painting on the new markings! Weathering started with a light sanding followed by airbrushed exhaust stains, some raw umber oil washes, and light gray pastels. The tires got some mud paint and brown pastel.
A pitot tube was soldered together from music wire and inserted into a hole drilled into the lower wing. Wingtip lights were made from clear stretched sprue which was held near a flame to "mushroom" out. This was snipped off, painted clear red/green, and inserted into a predrilled hole. Unfortunately, my pictures came out too soft this time to show off these nifty details.
All in all, this was an enjoyable project and the corrections were not really as tedious as they might seem. The results made it worthwhile, as it is very nice to have the "first of the breed" operational Messerschmitt represented on the shelf next to subsequent models. For someone who usually builds mid-to-late war fighters, this proved an excellent opportunity to study the design of this famous fighter at the beginning of its career, when it was still a lean and clean worldbeater- in an era when open cockpit biplanes were still in frontline service.
Editor: This kit is currently not available, but can be found at swap meets and contests.