Having previously built the Hobbycraft/Academy Bf 109 B and having found that the cowl/nose area was less than acceptably accurate for my tastes, I was pleased to find this new Classic Airframes offering of the Bf 109 A on the shelf of my local store. Once in my car, I immediately opened the box and went straight for the cowl to see if they had it right. Indeed, the cowls (there are two options provided) are beautifully cast in resin and are the centerpiece of the kit. The rest of the kit is not quite so nice, but looks to be a straightforward build without too many complications, but with a complicated nose assembly.
There are 34 injection molded, 21 resin, and 3 clear parts, as well as a sheet of photo etched parts, and a printed acetate instrument panel backing.
The injection molded parts are reminiscent of modified Hobbycraft/Academy Bf 109 series. The main fuselage and wings are reasonable nice, but do have some flash and thick mold seems. All control surfaces are separate and have good fabric detail, though I tend to think it is a little over done on the flaps and ailerons. Wooden and metal propellers options are included in plastic (plus a wooden prop in resin). The smaller parts provided in plastic are a bit rough. The main landing gear struts have soft detail. I plan to use replacements from the spares box. The tail wheel is acceptable however. The counter weights, antenna mast, and pitot tube are probably all worthless.
The resin parts are of higher quality. As previously mentioned, the engine cowlings (there are two!) are gorgeous. Seeing as how this was the major deficiency of previous 1/48 scale early 109s, this almost entirely makes up for any disappointment from seeing the injection molded parts. The cowlings provided are identical except that one has the extra ventilation slots as seen on the Bf-109 B/C/D series. The machine gun barrels are molded onto the cowlings, and some minor cleanup of excess resin will be required around the edges of the barrels. There are also two sets of cockpit sidewalls provided, with the difference again being early and later versions. Given these extra parts, I don't see any reason why the B/C/D series could not be constructed from this kit if one used props and decals from a different source. But, since Classic Airframes has announced their intention to release these marks in subsequent kits, there is little need for this. Another part included twice is the control column. One is the classic Bf 109 type, and the other looks as if it belongs in a Hurricane or Spitfire. I do not know if the earliest 109s had this latter type or not (comments?). Two seats are also provided, one having more detail than the other. Otherwise, most of the cockpit is provided in resin as well, in addition to the radiator and oil cooler intakes, and a wooden style propeller (this is the only part that suffers from air bubbles), and the leading edge slats. In my example, I was provided with two right wing leading edge slats and none for the left wing, but the prompt Classic Airframes customer service has promised me via email that a replacement for the missing part will be shipped to me soon. The slats that I do have are thin and straight and should be easy to use.
The three piece canopy is respectably thin and clear. I have not test fitted it to the fuselage yet, so cannot comment on this aspect of it, but it looks very good at first glance.
The single tree of photo etch parts looks very nice. It includes two types of main landing gear doors, seat belts, radiator facing, instrument panel, other smaller details, and the bulkhead at the fore of the aircraft that resides just behind the propeller. I feel this latter part is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it accurately reproduces the series of small holes that can be seen in old photos of the A & B series aircraft with wooden props (the nose cones for which are smaller in diameter than the ones for the later metal props). On the other hand, it is going to be an additional challenge when assembling the nose of the aircraft (more on this below). Also, this part has 9 holes on one side and 8 on the other. I do not know if the asymmetry is accurate or not, and if anyone out there knows for sure, I would appreciate hearing any input on this.
The instructions are basic, but adequate. I do question the painting guide in calling out a silver color overall for the non-camouflaged aircraft that markings are provided for. I suspect one of the RLM grays are more appropriate in all of these cases, especially the ones that served in Spain. It is also unfortunate that the instructions do not indicate which parts options go with which markings options. Consult your references!
The decals look excellent, are printed by Microscale, and provide markings for two prototype machines, two Spanish civil war machines, and two Luftwaffe service aircraft. A good selection of stencils are included as well. The only blemish was that the red and yellow are out of register with the white on my example, but this only matters on three small stencils that are easily replaced from other decal sources.
Test Fitting and Nose Assembly Problems
Other than some of the minor things mentioned earlier (soft detail in some parts, air bubbles in the resin wooden prop), the kit seems fairly sound for the most part. Trouble will come in fitting the resin cowlings to the fuselage though, as dry fitting these parts has shown this will require some skill to get right. But, given the nature of this kit, this is to be expected and cannot be considered a true flaw. Regardless, it will take some skill and finesse to create an acceptable join. This is complicated by the fact that the nose, in its entirety, consists of 5 parts out of plastic, resin, and metal.
Out of curiosity and for the sake of this review, I decided to go ahead and assemble the nose. This required joining the main fuselage halves. Inserting the cockpit later will be no problem given the way the wings are installed. At this point it became apparent that these are a bit tricky to assemble. It was necessary to glue the fuselage in stages, removing some twist and warp while doing so. Once that was done, I addressed the cowling itself (I choose the earlier type cowling with no extra ventilation holes). The front of this piece is oval, rather than circular, in cross section. Inserting the circular front plastic piece (part 20) to which the propeller is eventually secured is thus a daunting task. The sides of the resin cowling must be spread in order to allow its insertion, and the tension from this likes to spring out part 20, sending it flying across the room. Add to this the necessity of trying to dry fit the lower nose piece simultaneously to insure the whole system works together, and you find yourself needing 4 hands, a lot of finesse, a bit of brute force, and infinite patience.
I found I had to carve away part of the cowling's front upper lip to ensure a circular profile would be maintained once all the pieces were assembled. After a few hours of dry fitting, careful sanding of mating surfaces, gluing, removing, and re-gluing, I finally managed to get a reasonably well assembled nose without resorting to unusual methods. This did require a fair amount of my 15 years of modeling skills to achieve though, and some limited amount of sanding and filling is still required. But the result is an accurate early Bf 109 nose profile, so I am happy with it overall. The photo-etch piece that attaches to the front, which I have not yet fitted, is a bit oversized and will have to be reduced in diameter to avoid producing an unrealistic flange just behind the prop.
Otherwise, the general fit of the kit seems quite good once the heavy mold seems are removed. Dry fitting the other resin parts and the testing the wing to fuselage fit produced promising results and no apparent wing root issues.
Overall, I am pleased with this new Bf 109 kit from Classic Airframes. This kit, and its upcoming stablemates, finally brings a reasonably accurate and very welcome 1/48 scale addition to the early series of 109s for fans of the type. The resin cowlings, despite some small shortcoming with regard to fit, are lovely and look much more accurate than previous kits of early 109s. The fact that 2 are included with the kit makes me want to dig up an unbuilt Hobbycraft Bf 109 C I have laying around somewhere, break out the jewelers saw, and see how the spare cowling mates up to it. Once you get over the difficult nose assembly, the rest of the aircraft should be a straightforward build. Despite the negative points I have made in the above review, I strongly recommend this kit to all Messerschmitt buffs who have good modeling skills. Now if CA will just produce the V1 prototype in 1/48 (shouldn't be that hard given this kit), I will be a happy man!
After filling and sanding the nose of the aircraft, the final result is rather pleasing. The radiator intake area is perhaps not quite the right shape - the bottom of it, as essentially dictated by the forward most bit of the plastic fuselage, is too flat and probably too shallow as well. There should be more curvature as you approach the lip. I will try to correct this with the application of plastic card and filler. Its profile, as seen from beneath, seems better. But seen from the front, there is a certain 'bulgy-ness' to the whole radiator scoop that the kit does not represent.
Historical notes on the Bf 109 'A' and parts options within the kit
Originally, the first ten machines ordered by the RLM for trials were to be referred to as 'A' series, but this was changed in the nomenclature to B-0, and this perhaps includes all of the Jumo powered aircraft produced after the Kestrel powered V-1 prototype, including aircraft referred to as V-2, V-3 etc., up until the the B-1 series was officially started. However, other sources state that there were 3 'A' series machines: V-1 (D-IABI), V-2 (D-IILU) and V-3 (D-IOQY). Still other sources state that the B-0 series did not start till after V-7, and that V-4 through V-6 are more correctly seen as prototypes for the B series.
One thing that is clear is that V-1 through V-3 had different cowls than are represented in the kit being reviewed. Also, V-1 - V-3 had unbraced canopies. The canopy provided with the kit is the normal braced type canopy seen on all 109s after V-3. Thus the kit cannot be said to represent the 'A' series at all, but rather the B-0 series and its prototypes.
V-4 clearly has a prop of the type that is supplied in the kit in resin. It also had an engine-mounted MG, so it is necessary to drill a hole in the tip of it to represent this.
Supposedly only V-4 (D-IALY), V-5 (D-IEKS), and V-6 (D-IHHB) were lacking the extra cooling vents in the cowl that is represented by one of the cowls in the kit (markings for both provided in the kit). However, one can find many pictures of 109s in Spanish and German service that lack the three vents at in the top fore portion of the cowl and the ones on the side. So, if only these 3 machines lacked the additional vents, they must have seen a lot of service while dressed in many different markings.
V-7 (D-IJHA) does not appear to have any weaponry, though it does sport the cropped cowl and variable pitch prop seen on B-2 series and later machines. It also has an extra chin scoop nested inside the radiator intake. It is covered with a monotone gloss paint (RLM 63?) and it sports a “4” on a white square, evidently for entry in an air race.
As far as I can tell, the kit allows the modeler to reproduce and machine from V-4 through B-2 machines. References claim that only 3 machines are valid to use the cowl that does not have the additional vents, though I am somewhat dubious of this. Studying the photos I can find, it is difficult to tell if the machines called out in the instructions as being overall silver or aluminum are actually these colors or rather painted gray. Photographic evidence proves the Spanish civil war machines that markings are given for in the kit (6-3 and 6-10) did not have the additional cowl vents. In fact, the lowest numbered aircraft I can find proof of clearly having these vents is 6-15. Clearly 6-4 and 6-7 are without, and perhaps 6-16 as well (note these numbers were recycled on later machines as well once the originally deployed 109s were destroyed or withdrawn - and aircraft were also refitted with parts from the later series as well). All of these aircraft have the style of spinner given in resin in the kit, and seem to not have any hole for an engine mounted MG in the tip of it despite records claiming that all these aircraft should have this gun mounted. There is evidence in some photos that the hole might have been there but was plugged
Basically, this kit is one you will need to check your references on thoroughly before you start building.
Web ReferencesThe Bf 109 in Spain
Messerchmitt Bf 109
Messerchmitt Bf 109 with German civil registrations