1/48 Flashback Aviatik Berg D.I

by Will Hendriks

Photos by Steve Bamford

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Austro-Hungarian Oddity; Flashback’s Aviatik Berg D.I in 1/48 Scale

 Relatively unknown in the west, and quite a departure from the likes of the Sopwith Camel and Fokker Triplane, the Aviatik Berg biplane fighters were nonetheless important participants in First World War aviation. The Aviatik D.I is significant in that it was the first fighter designed and built in Austria-Hungary specifically for Austro-Hungarian service - most other types having been heretofore supplied by German builders. 

Construction of the Aviatik D.I prototype began in August 1916, and the type was ready for production in April 1917. The Aviatik remained in production until the war’s end, and was also license built by several other manufacturers in the Dual Monarchy. The type began reaching front-line units by August 1917 on the Italian Front. The type possessed very good flying characteristics, including superb rate of climb, short take off field length, good maneuverability and speed; it could more than hold its own with the Italian Nieuports and SPAD’s, as well as  the British Camels: This was surprisingly negated, however, by the lack of a suitable gun synchronizing mechanism (even this late in the war). Attempts to mount machine-gun weapons on top of the wing to fire at an angle over the propeller disc were a dismal failure. It was not until June-July of 1918 that Aviatik D.I’s with cowl mounted, synchronized machine guns began to appear at the Front in significant numbers.

 The superior performance of the Aviatik D.I was partly due to the installation of a relatively powerful engine for that time, the Austro-Daimler 200HP inline, six-cylinder water cooled engine (compare this to the engines that powered the infamous Fokker D.VII: The Mercedes D.III of 180HP and the BMW D.III of 185 HP).  

The aircraft had a generally box-like look, which indicated a simplicity of construction that lended itself well to mass production. All components were designed to keep production as simple as possible. The upper wing was mounted very low to the fuselage so as to give the best overall visibility to the pilot. The fuselage was of wood frame and plywood, while the flying surfaces were of wooden framework, generally spruce and poplar, with linen fabric covering secured with nitrate dope. In front of the engine was mounted an upright coolant radiator, which, together with the airframe’s angular appearance made the airplane look something like a Ford Model “T” with wings.  

The aircraft was the mount of several significant Austro-Hungarian aces, such as Oberleutnant Frank Linke-Crawford (27 victories) and Hauptmann Godwin Brumowski (40 victories), although the latter only flew the type briefly.

 

The Model

 Flashback is a division of Artur Model Centrum, of the Czech Republic. Flashback has produced several kits now, all of the limited edition multi-media variety with plastic, photo-etch, and sometimes resin parts included.

The Aviatik Berg D.I (Lo) in 1/48 scale was released in 1999 and was available here in my local shop around August. I did not know much about the airplane then, but when I saw the kit I could not resist the “Art-Deco” look of the airplane resplendent in its outrageously colourful Lozenge “camouflage”. Bringing the kit home, I was not disappointed in its contents: A single styrene sprue carries twenty-nine parts with no flash. The fuselage panels are nicely engraved, and the fabric effect on the wings is quite good. The trailing edges of the wings are a little on the thick side, which some unhappy “rivet counters” may find a little offensive. A photo-etched fret includes the instrument panel, seat belts, rudder bar, interior bulkheads and bicycle style spoked wheels (?!). An acetate film is provided for the instrument dials. The nicely detailed engine is done in resin. A pair of rubber “O”-rings are included for the bicycle style tires.  The highlight of the kit is the rather large (approximately 6”x8”) decal sheet containing the outlandishly colourful lozenge “camouflage” decals. Decals are provided for each of the wings, the tail surfaces, and the fuselage in two halves: Each decal is quite large and I was not looking forward to dealing with these when the time came, because decals from this source usually stick to the nearest object like the proverbial bear sh-- as soon as they come off the backing paper. Also applying the large fuselage decals would be a challenge, to say the least! The colours of the lozenge were too hard to resist, though – no less than six colours comprise the lozenge effect: dark blue, green, orange, red, light grey, and light blue, all in equally sized hexagons. Yeah, like that is going to blend in with the surrounding countryside! Markings are also provided to do Franke Linke-Crawford’s airplane. This is the only choice of markings provided.

Construction began with; you guessed it, the cockpit. The interior bulkhead parts are supplied as photo etched pieces, so I was a little skeptical to say the least as to how they would fit in the fuselage halves. I decided early to keep construction “out of the box” as much as possible with this kit, as I knew I was going to have my hands full with decaling this thing, anyway. So I painted the interior to simulate wood by first spraying with Tamiya Dark Yellow acrylic, and then simulating a wood grain effect with Burnt Sienna artist’s oil colour, streaked on in a random fashion with a fairly stiff brush. While the artist’s oil paint was drying (which can take a couple of days), I prepared the wings and tailplanes for painting. Be sure to pre-drill all the holes for the struts, etc. While the top surfaces of the aircraft are in the lozenge pattern, the lower surfaces are in undoped linen. My favorite colour for this is Floquil Interior Panzer Buff (who says you can’t use tank colours to paint airplanes?), which was sprayed on with an airbrush. When dry, a coat of Floquil Crystal Cote (gloss enamel) was applied in preparation for decaling. 

 Now came the moment of truth; applying the lozenge decals. I started by applying the smallest decals first, which happened to be those for the fin and rudder. They went on OK, and did not stick immediately like I was afraid they would. For the larger decals, i.e. the wing panels and later the fuselage, I added a bit of liquid dish soap to the water so that the decals would slide around easier. One interesting property was that the decals would react to none but the strongest of setting solutions. I had to use generous amounts of Walther’s Solvaset (the “heavy artillery” of decal setting solutions) to get these to snuggle down. Soon after the decals came off of the backing paper, they began to get rather brittle, and in fact tiny hair-line cracks appeared in places, which had to be touched up with paint – more on that later. Given these minor problems, the decaling of the wings and tailplanes went much smoother than I expected. Whew! On to the fuselage.

 The machine gun on this Aviatik is mounted on the left side of the fuselage, next to the engine. There is a fairing for the gun barrel, which I shaved off and replaced with a piece of brass tubing. The instrument panel was prepared by painting in the same manner as noted above to represent wood. When dry the instrument bezels were picked out with silver and brass paint, then the film for the instrument dials was mounted behind this. The back of the film was painted white to show the instrument markings. The seat was painted black, with photoetched belts painted brown with silver buckles. The control column, which consists of a car-like steering wheel on a shaft, was painted grey. The various interior bits and the very nice resin engine (painted steel) were assembled and the bulkheads superglued to one fuselage half. When the fuselage halves were glued together, much to my surprise everything fit perfectly! A bit of Squadron white putty was needed to fill the seam along the underside, otherwise the seams just needed a bit of cleaning up with a sanding stick.

 When the fuselage assembly was dry, it was painted and prepared for decaling in the same manner as the wings. Again, the fuselage lozenge decals went on surprisingly well, considering the many curves and angles involved. There were a few problem areas that the decal either did not cover, or where there was overlap with the other side. Flashback obviously thought of this, because on the decal sheet they include individual hexagons, several of each colour for touch up purposes! I used a number of these to hide some imperfections, and also used various enamel paints, which match quite closely to the lozenge colours. Once the decals were dry (overnight), the crosses, lettering, and red fuselage band decals were applied. A coat of Testor’s Acryl Semi-Gloss clear acrylc was then applied to all surfaces.

 Now that all the major components were painted, decaled, and varnished, final assembly could begin. I determined that the best way to accomplish this was to build a jig of some kind, to line everything up. Earlier I had obtained a copy of Windsock Datafile no. 45, Aviatik D.I, by Peter Grosz. Inside are excellent 1/48 scale drawings by Steve Simkin. These publications are superb, and are a tremendous resource when building any WWI aircraft models.  From this I photocopied the top view of the drawing, and pasted this to a small piece of foam core illustration board. I then glued strips of balsa wood to this, using the drawing as a guide, so that the kit wings and fuselage could be lined up correctly and held fast prior to gluing. Once everything looked right, I glued the wings to the fuselage with five-minute epoxy. The tailplanes were also glued on at this time, with slow drying superglue. Everything was secured tightly to the foam core jig with balsa strips and sewing pins while this assembly dried overnight.

 The top wing could now be mounted on the model. This was accomplished by glueing the N-shaped cabane struts to the fuselage first. Then the top wing was installed to these. I have found that this approach allows the most flexibility to ensure all is square. Next the interplane struts were attached; all the while the model is still mounted in the jig. Alignment with the drawing is double checked before the struts are secured with slow drying superglue. Once all was dry, the model was removed from the jig – all seemed pretty much lined up and square. The landing gear struts were then attached, and bungee-cord shock absorbers were added with a few loops of light coloured sewing thread. 

A good rigging diagram is included in the instructions, and these were referred to for rigging. Rigging was accomplished using fine (0.2mm = .008”) nickel wire from Minimeca of Spain. This very fine though rigid wire comes in packets of ten lengths, each 10” long, costing about $6.00 cdn. I used four pieces to rig the whole airplane, including mis-cuts. Just measure the length with a pair of dividers, cut, and glue in place with white glue.

The final touches included the propeller, which was painted to simulate wood grain as previously mentioned, the tail skid, and the radiator and cap/relief valve. The wheels were a bit of a stickler: Included in the kit are an optional set of “wire” wheels, consisting of photoetched spokes and rubber tires. For the faint hearted, a pair of plastic wheels with traditional covered spokes are also included. The only problem with the spoked wheels is that the tires are too big for the spokes: I overcame this by scratchbuilding a pair of “rims” from thin Evergreen strip, made round in a draftsman’s circle template. The spokes were then mounted on these and the tires mounted on the rims. The completed wheels, while very fragile, made convincing replicas of the real thing.

Aside from the very few problems encountered, building this kit was a real pleasure, and a welcome break from the more traditional types we are all familiar with. Well done, Flashback – Keep ‘em coming!  

Will

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Photos and text © by Will Hendriks and Steve Bamford