1/48 Scratch built DH-4B mail

Gallery Article by Gary Adams on Dec 20 2010


The DH-4 was originally designed and built as a World War 1 era two seat bomber. It was the only American built aircraft to see action during the war. After the war ended, the Army Air Service gave 100 of the surplus planes along with spare parts and engines to the Postal Service for use as mail carriers.

Modifications needed to be made to make the planes more reliable and structurally sound enough to withstand the rigors of take-offs and landings with heavy loads of mail. The fabric covered fuselage was covered in thin plywood with the pilot’s cockpit moved aft and the front cockpit covered as the main mail bay. The landing gear was rebuilt with steel tubing and moved forward. Large, oversized tires were added to simplify landing on the rough runways found across the early mail routes.  

The Postal Service had several depots set up where the planes were dismantled and rebuilt per engineer’s specifications.  The DH-4B was the main aircraft used by the Air Mail Service throughout most of the 1920’s. Each pilot was assigned his own plane and was at liberty to make any modifications to suit his personal preferences. It was eventually replaced in service by the late ‘20’s.

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The model started life as a Roden DH-4.  I made use of the wings and tail surfaces and a heavily cut up fuselage (used as a core).  I scratch built the wooden interior frame first, adding details from sheet and sprue.  Instruments came from the Eduard RAF WWI PE set.  The fuselage was constructed using plastic card.  Cockpit coaming was made with Miliput putty.

The Liberty engine was a 3 in 1 project by itself.  The crank case is from “Engines and Things” Liberty V-12. The cylinders are from 2 Vector Mercedes DVII engines.  The remainder is from sprue, card, wire, and solder.

The radiator was vacuformed over a plastic card mold, with strip shutters and brass mesh screen. The upper wing was modified to include a new gravity fuel tank built from card. Landing gear struts are Contrail air foiled strip plastic and plastic rod. The wheels came from the spares box (I think they are Revell FW200), hollowed and split with Eduard WWI wire spokes. All detail work is sheet and sprue. I am slowly rigging the model using EZ Line

The fuselage and struts were painted with MM sand, "grained" with oils and sealed with Tamiya Clear Yellow on the fuselage (varnished plywood) and Clear Red on the wing struts. The only markings on the plane is the "U.S. MAIL 328" decal made for me by Massimo LaCivita in Italy. Wings and tail are painted with Alclad II.

Ever have one of those models that you finish just because you've put too much time in on to let sit? This is it for me. The last 20% of this build fought me like Frazier and Ali.

Rigged with EZ line....hate it! Back to mono or sprue on the next biplane. Heavily weathered with oils....these planes operated on rough grass fields and little cleaning other than the rain they flew through.

Now, just my luck, after spending the time scratch building this plane, Roden has come out with a kit of an American DH-4 Liberty Plane with a Liberty Engine…….oh, the time this would have saved!  Anyway, it was fun and well worth the time spent….pure old fashioned modeling.

Gary Adams

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Photos and text © by Gary Adams