Condor 1/48 Heinkel He 178

Model, Text and Photos by: Larry Cherniak


When FlugKapitan Erich Warsitz lifted the dimunitive Heinkel He178V1 into the air, at the brink of WWII on August 27 1939, he issued in a new era in aviation- the jet age. This amazing feat was accomplished nearly a full two years before the May 15, 1941 debut of the British Gloster E.28/39 Whittle or Pioneer, its next nearest Allied competitor. It was a small, privately funded, experimental craft- a "proof of concept" vehicle- made possible by Ernst Heinkels forward-looking vision and his hiring of turbine designer Hans Von Ohain. Power came from the Heinkel HeS 3b of 1100 lbs thrust and a maximum speed of 435 mph was eventually obtained.

The He178V1 was demonstrated before Nazi high brass and helped pave the way for future turbojet development and for Heinkels real pet jet project, the twin engine He280 fighter. The He280 also flew before the Whittle, on March 30, 1941, and more than a year before the famous Me262 (July 18, 1942), but never went anywhere due mainly to politics and a performance inferior to the Me262.

As fascinating as all of these early efforts are, the reality is that the German jet engines- although pressed into service to some effect- were never really ready for combat use throughout WWII, and that the problems were more metallurgical, supply and production roadblocks, and technical rather than conceptual. Still, I think any model collection of important aircraft should include this first jet. Unfortunately, the only kits readily available- in both 1/72nd and 1/48th- are relatively crude limited run efforts by Condor of the Czech Republic, an MPM company.

Accuracy is impossible to judge as plans and the model itself seem all to be reverse engineered from the few photographs and one film of the He178V1 which still exist. The original craft was destroyed in an RAF bombing of the Berlin museum housing it (along with the Me209V1 speed record holder, whose fuselage has miraculously survived after being shuffled off to Poland). By the way, don't be confused as I was by the similar He178V2 which was photographed more clearly but which never flew. It had retractable gear and a new wing.

The problems with this kit are numerous but not insurmountable.First, the instructions show several differences from the kit parts, including the rear cockpit bulkhead. Mounting of the cockpit floor is ambiguous- I mounted it above the molded line but it came out pretty shallow and it would have been better below the line. This would require trimming and testfitting, as does the front bulkhead. I ended up not using the front bulkhead, instead notching the cockpit floor ahead of the rudder pedals (which can't be seen in the final product, so I saved the very nice PE parts for another project.) and bending it up, leaving an air passage below. I used a roll of Milliput epoxy putty to fill the gaps.

If you use the PE parts for the landing gear as I did, note that the holes do not line up with the plastic part. I chose to replace the plastic kit legs with aluminum tube and brass rod. The instructions would have you gluing the landing gear legs directly to the fuselage but this would be incorrect, as they should originate from inside the closed doors. To replicate this look I carved great notches out of the fuselage (don't worry, the plastic is thick enough) with a cylindrical burr bit in the Dremel motor tool, touching up the corners with a knife, until I could slip the gear leg into the fuselage flush.

The clear part is injection molded but that is the only good thing about it. It is thick, wavy on the inside, incorrectly shaped (should be more triangular than round in cross-section), too wide, and is missing the frame line running up the middle. All that said, I dipped it twice in Future and used it anyway. Falcon makes a vac replacement which you should look into.

It is not clear from the instructions that you must cut a notch into the rudder to slip in the PE mass balance part. Luckily, it is about the thickness of a razor saw kerf. I also chose to drill out the jet exhaust cone and replace it with sprue.

Everyone seems to follow the kit instructions verbatim and paint certain sections of the fuselage RLM 02 grey, but my analysis is that the fuselage was a few different shades of natural aluminum and the (wooden) wings and tail were probably '02. References I would cite here are the Schiffer Military History Vol.51 book on the He280, p.5, and a short filmclip taped from Discovery Wings Channel. I replicated this look with an experiment, airbrushing the fuselage in flat white, primer grey, blue and black panels, brushing a couple of coats of Future, then misting on Alclad II chrome lacquer. I liked the effect but it proved very difficult to modulate- first it looked like what it was, a transparent silver paint glaze, then when it built up some body it went too far and eliminated most of the underpainting I had struggled so hard to build up. Oh, well- back to different shades of Alclad and Metallizer next time I need strong contrasts.

I used some mylar foil for the semicircular gear doors. There are no decals and none are needed. In conclusion, I was pleased with the finished product but it was not an easy trip to get there. Even so, the small size and simple paint scheme meant that it went together in a couple of weeks of spare time- pretty quick for me. Watch the fit problems, be prepared to sand and sweat a little and all will eventually go together into a nice conversation piece: the worlds first jet!