Flashback 1/48 Messerschmitt Me-163A
Model, Text and Photos by Larry Cherniak
The first thing you will notice is that the Me163A has little or nothing in common with the well known Me163B "Komet" besides general layout, being much more closely related to the DFS194 "rocket glider" which preceded it. In proving the concept of a rocket powered interceptor, Lippisch's design pushed the envelope of aircraft design to the edge of the speed of sound. Yet it was said ( by Hanna Reitsch) to have superb handling characteristics and control coordination. This was the first machine to experience compressibility effects as it zoomed upwards of 1000 Km/Hr for the first time in manned flight, breaking the then-current speed record by one-third again. This was in 1941, when many biplanes were still in frontline service.
The Flashback Me163A kit is an Eduard-family limited-run multimedia production, with all the strengths and weaknesses thereof. It contains two sprues of injected molded parts with faint scribing, large sprue gates and some surface blemishes which need sanding out, two nice resin parts (cockpit tub and seat), a PE brass fret with rudder pedals, seatbelts, instrument panel, mass balances and so on, a film instrument sheet, and (surprisingly?) a very thin and clear injected molded canopy. A welcome additional inclusion is a steel pitot tube. The instructions are well drawn and clear and decals are excellently printed (but subject to tearing when applied). An alternate take-off trolley and R4M rockets are included for the V6 version. Altogether a quality production, flawed plastic parts notwithstanding.
The bulk of the kit consists of only four parts: wing/fuselage top and bottom and two tail sides. Construction was therefore quite straightforward but there are a few things to watch out for. First, you may wish to deepen the surface scribing as I did- especially the control surface divisions- and this is most easily done before construction with parts lying flat. Next, while the resin cockpit tub fit well (for once the master maker seems to have had a copy of the kit to work from!) you may still need to remove a bit of resin from the sides and bottom corners to get the nose to close up.
The resin cockpit looks good (although I cannot vouch for its accuracy even after buying the Classic book on the Me163 Vol.1) and the seatbelts are superb. At least on the Me163AV4 I did, the headrest pad should be a light color such as tan or khaki and not the black called for in the instructions, and the seatbelts would most likely be light grey and not brown (although the lap anti-chafing pads were generally brown leather). While on the subject, the wheels should also be semigloss black not '02, and the tailskid strut should be black but the skid itself the body color. By the way, if you choose to open the canopy note that it swung straight back and not to the side as per the later Me163B.
The nosefits none too well- it took quite a bit of filling, filing and sanding to round it out. Rescribing the highly curved panel lines here was quite a challenge (for me at least!). The tail mated pretty well to the fuselage after filing each mating surface flat, but there was a bit of a step which needed sanding out. I used some Gunze Mr. Surfacer 500 as a filler along this join, later lightly scribed. If you drill out the rocket nozzle as I did you can insert a 1/8" brass rod to provide a handle for painting, and a brass tube afterwards to replicate the nozzle. The canopy was masked with Parafilm M and fit very well.
A drill was needed in quite a few places: first, the pitot tube location. Next, a rather large hole is needed on the lower nose for the tow cable attachment. This should be centered and not offset as per some drawings. The tailskid should have an angled mounting hole drilled. Finally, there were four small holes and square cutouts in the rudder you may wish to add.
As for the overall color, the usual suspects are RLM 02, 65, or 76. I studied the photographs and video (of a rollout and test flights taped from Discovery Wings), went out on a limb and concluded that the preponderance of evidence points to the lighter RLM 05 as the most likely culprit, even though it was a "prewar color". (I later found a picture which showed the rear bulkhead of the cockpit to be the same shade as the exterior, so now I don't know what to think). The Classic book shows it as 76 light blue, so this is quite likely as well. I primed first with Gunze Mr. Surfacer 1000 cut with lacquer thinner then preshaded with light brown. I mixed gloss white Krylon Short Cuts enamel with gloss yellow and a few drops of brown to match the paint chip in Hitchcock's "Messerschmitt '09 Gallery"and sprayed away. Unfortunately, I had to spray the body color on so heavily to cover the grey primer that the preshading was nearly obliterated. If I use this color again I will prime in white. At this point I generally pop the kit into my food dehydrator overnight to cure, but earlier disasters with (lower melting point) short run plastic warping made me avoid this option and I was forced to let time take its course.
After a few days the decals were applied. These are commendably thin yet tended to tear in the clear areas, so I would recommend applying a coat of Microscale liquid decal film. The swastikas were replaced with ones from an Aeromaster Bf109 sheet, as these were in one piece and included the proper hairline black surround. The "V1" was left off the tail as it didn't appear in my reference photos for the time period of the first flight. Decals were given a day to cure.
The small PE mass balances, etc., were added now (and since broken off- pet peave. Why don't they design them long and have you drill a hole and CA glue them in, instead of trying to butt-join a thin piece of brass at 90 degrees to the wing??) and handpainted and Modelmaster semigloss lacquer varnish was applied from a spraycan. I used an oil wash (raw sienna and burnt umber) judiciously here and there to emphasize certain details and very little pencil lead paint chipping. The mask was removed from the canopy and two thin strips of black vinyl- similar to pinstriping tape- were stuck on for the thin braces. The wheels had broad sunken area on the hubs, but I merely made sure that the bad side was toward the ground, so that any light reflections would catch the good side and not reveal the flaw. They look a lot like late Bf109 wheels so you might find something in the spares box to suit.
That was about it. All in all a fun build, and quick too (start to finish in a week, and most of that in drying time). I've started a collection of 1/48 German jet/rocket plane first prototypes as they looked around the time of their first flights, and this one takes an important place as the beginning of the Komet line. Recommended if you know your way around a sanding stick, and it would make an excellent first multimedia kit. If you like the subject matter, you should pick one up while you can.