Model, Text and Photos by: David Calhoun
The Oeffag-built Albatros D.III was the most successful fighter flown by Austro-Hungarian fighter pilots during World War One. It was manufactured under license from the German Albatros company. Oeffag set about refining and strengthening the existing airframe to accept a more powerful engine in the form of the 185/200 hp Austro Daimler. They also strengthened the wing structure, and using the finest craftsmanship built an aircraft much better than the German version. The Albatros D.III (Oef) was built in 3 different series, numbered 53, 153 & 253. Each series had ongoing changes, including gun placement, engine horsepower, a revised nose, and a revised horizontal tailplane. Good references are needed when modeling these aircraft, since the changes were often made in the middle of a series run, and often carried over into the next production series. The 53 series was introduced in May 1917. Production continued until the end of the war, with last deliveries of the 253 series taking place in October 1918.
This fighter was successfully used by most of Austro-Hungary's ace pilots, including Brumowski, Kiss, Arigi, Linke-Crawford, Kaszala and many others. There were many different types of camouflage schemes used on this aircraft, and the possibilities to build a unique model are limited only to your reference sources.
The Blue Max kit is a limited production
kit, one of 1500 made by Chris Gannon, the creator of the Blue Max and Pegasus
line of kits. The kit is molded in white plastic, and typical of a short run
kit it has large sprues holding all of the parts, and a lot of flash. There
are also parts cast in pewter, including struts, guns, engine details &
interior parts. Also included are decals for three different aircraft, one for
each of the three production series. They are 53.24 flown by Zgsf. Wilhelm Haring,
153.95 flown by Oberleutnant Friedrich Losert of Flik 2D and 253.06 flown by
Oberleutnant Friedrich Navratil of Flik 3J. The instructions consist of a sheet
with the kit number stamped on the front, an exploded diagram showing all parts,
a page of painting & decal instructions, and photos of the three finished
models. Optional parts are included to build all three series, including different
propellers, flat nose with or without spinner, rounded nose, two different horizontal
tailplanes, two different exhaust systems and a full winter cowling. Also a
great feature of the kit is separate parts for ailerons and rudder, allowing
posing the control surfaces without cutting the kit parts.
To start the kit, you must decide
which series you intend to do. I decided on the early 53 series, 53.24 flown
by Zgsf. Wilhelm Haring, Kampfstaffel Harja, Transylvania - winter 1917. Markings
for this aircraft are included on the decal sheet, and it is finished in a natural
finsh - clear varnished wood fuselage, clear doped linen wings & control
surfaces and bright metal cowling & metalwork.
Construction began by removing all of the parts from the large sprues. It is important to remove these carefully, especially on the wings, or the ribs & surface detail will be ruined. I sawed the sprues off with a razor saw and finished cleaning up with emery boards. I also filed clean the pewter parts with a jeweler's file. The vertical tail section must be sanded thinner to get a good fit, and much of the fuselage as well.I did this with wet and dry sandpaper attached to a plate of glass. I thinned it down similar to a vacuform kit until I got a good fit. Be careful to test the nose fit at this time, if you sand the fuselage too much you will have to fill the fuselage seam to build it out to the correct width.
I began the interior by brush painting both inner fuselage halves Polly Scale flesh. Brush streaks are ok at this time, you want to simulate natural plywood. I use the acrylic as a base for my wood finish. After the base dried thoroughly, I applied a thin coat of artist oil paint - burnt sienna mixed with turpentine. I use a wide brush and spread out the oil paint, being sure to leave brush streaks. As it dries, it leaves the appearance of wood grain. Next step was to paint the wooden parts - floor, seat support, front & rear bulkhead, & instrument panel supports. I made a seat cushion from Milliput putty, and made the buttons on the cushion from hollow tubing pressed into the seat cushion. This was then painted a dark leather brown. The instrument panels on the left side and front bulkhead appear black in photos, so I painted them black, and the gauge areas silver. Decals are included for the two side panel instruments, but none are provided for the two large panels beside the gun support. The Eduard photoetched German WW1 instruments would be great for this, as they are clearly visible in the open cockpit. I made seatbelts from four strips of masking tape, none are included in the kit. This would be a good spot to use the Eduard German WW1 seatbelts. The front instrument panel must be cut at the bottom in order to fit inside. There is a piece at the bottom that must be glued under the floor, and the panel goes on top of the floor. I also had to score a groove in one side of the fuselage for the rear bulkhead and front instrument panel in order to close up the fuselage. The forward bulkhead/gun support fit in perfectly, and will give the proper fuselage width when cemented in place. I glued all of the interior parts into one side of the fuselage, added the guns, and a few small silver wires to the control column for detail. Then I was ready to close up the fuselage.
I assembled the fuselage halves together with liquid cement to allow time to line up everything. I also glued the nose on at this time, as this determines the proper width of the fuselage. After the glue dried, I added filler to the gap between the fuselage halves. I filled this with strips of styrene where needed, and sanded everything smooth with wet & dry sandpaper. Then I once again brush painted all of the wooden areas of the fuselage with a wide brush using Polly Scale flesh as a base color. After drying I drybrushed the fuselage with Model Master wood, to get a bit of wood grain and texture. I tried to stop at the edges of each panel, and even changed grain directions on a couple of panels, going up and down instead front to back. After this had dried overnight, I began to use the glaze of artist oil burnt sienna mixed with turpentine. I did one side at a time, using a wide brush to get good grain representation. I also stopped at panel lines, and the finished result looks much like plywood. If you get too much oil paint on, or don't like the finished pattern, it can be easily wiped off with turpentine. Once finished I sprayed the fuselage with a coat of Future acrylic floor polish. This will seal & protect the oil paint, and gives a good gloss varnish look, and prepares the surface for decals. After this dried, I installed the upper forward fuselage and engine cover. The kit provides a beautiful Austro Damlier engine, but this version has the winter cowling that covers the engine, so there is no need to install it. I brush painted all of the metal panels and hatches with Model Master aluminum. Be sure not to forget the two small round inspection panels on the upper rear. fuselage. Then I used Model Master air mobility command gray and a fine brush to paint small squiggles over the aluminum to represent machine polished metal. This should be done in a random pattern, checking reference photos is a must. I then applied the decals to the fuselage. These are the black iron cross and serial number 53.24 on each fuselage side. Some research shows a photo of this aircraft at a later date and the crosses have been scraped off of the fuselage, exposing the fresh wood underneath. I decided to do this by overpainting the cross decals with the Polly Scale flesh, and drybrushing with Model Master wood. This will leave a lighter color to represent the fresh wood. One note about the decals - the instructions say not to use setting solution, and I would follow this advice. I used Micro Sol on them, and it left wrinkles. It took a couple of coats of Future to cover up the wrinkles.
WINGS AND CONTROL SURFACES
The wings on the actual aircraft
were natural linen covered with a clear dope. Photos of the actual aircraft
show the shadows of the wooden ribs visible through the fabric. To represent
this on the model I used a fine point Sharpie permanent marker. I used a ruler
and drew a black line on the wing where each rib was located. I did both sides
of the upper and lower wings, rudder and horizontal stabilizer. I used a razor
saw to cut the horizontal stabilizer and reposition it. I then airbrushed the
parts with several light coats of Polly Scale French Beige. This represents
a slightly yellow doped linen. Keep spraying on light coats until the black
lines are just barely visible. Then spray the surfaces with Future to allow
the decals to lay down properly. You must not use a lacquer or enamel based
clear coat, or the black ink on the ribs will bleed through the beige paint.
(I also learned this the hard way and had to restrip the paint off the tailplane
and redo it.) I then glued on the ailerons. Make sure that your control column
is tilted properly if you are doing angled ailerons - if the stick is moved
t the right, the right aileron will move up and the left one will move down.
I then painted the rear of the wing tips black. This is visible in the photo
of 53.24 in the JaPo book, and is the markings used for fighters based in Roumania
(Transylvania). The decals were applied without solvent, and they went down
fine. A coat of clear flat sealed the decals to the wings.
I made a jig from a piece of ¼" foamcore artboard to align the lower wings properly. I then attached the wings with super glue. It is important to get the dihedral of the lower wings correct or else the struts will not fit properly. I glued the V struts to the upper wing, and drilled holes half way through the wings & all the way through the fuselage where the rigging wires went. I then attached the cabane struts and secured them with drops of super glue. The tail and rudder were added at this time.
DETAILS AND RIGGING
The landing gear was attached next, painted with black struts, natural wood spreader bar, and beige wheels with dark gray tires. The tailskid was painted with wood, and given a gloss coat. The prop was painted with a base coat of flesh, then the laminations were painted in with wood giving it a dark/light laminated look. The Austro-Hungarian props appear to be made out of a lighter wood than most of the German ones. I gave the finished prop a coat of Future to resemble the highly glossy finish on most wooden props. Next I painted the spinner with the aluminum & gray swirls just like the cowling. I glued a brass rod in the center of the spinner, and drilled a hole in the nose to hold the prop shaft. Copper wire was used for the radiator pipes coming from the wing radiator to the winter cowling. Small strips of brass were used for control horns on the tail. All rigging was done with stretched sprue. I use silver sprue, this way I avoid painting it. Although silver sprue is tough to find today, I had a Monogram B-29 that has enough silver sprue to rig a small airforce! I cut the lengths of sprue slightly over size, and attach it with white glue. When dry. I tighten up any slack with an old soldering pencil. A small piece of Squadron clear thermoform was used for the windscreen in front of the cockpit. This finished up the construction.
I was satisfied with the finish - it looked like a wooden, metal & fabric aircraft. Although not an easy build, the finished kit looks like the Oeffag Albatros, and anyone who has done a couple of Eduard or Dragon World War 1 kits should be able to build it without too much problems. Since there are so many good aftermarket decal sets available for this aircraft, I'm sure that I will be doing another one in the near future.
The following book was invaluable to completing
Albatros D.II & D.III Oeffag, Mgr. Petr A. Tesar, JaPo, 1998
Other good references are:
Albatros Fighters in action, John F. Connors, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1981
Albatros D.III(OEF) Windsock Datafile 19, P M Grosz, Albatros Productions, 1990
Air Aces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1914-1918, Dr. Martin O'Connor, Flying Machines press, 1986
(click to order)