Text and Photos by: Larry Marshall
With the introduction of the British DH2 and the French Nieuport 11, the German dominance in the air because of their Eindeckers was coming to an end. The Germans, searching for a solution, concluded that they needed a light biplane design of their own. The Albatros D-series proved to be that solution and these aircraft became the principle fighter aircraft used by the German Air Force for most of the war, diminishing only when the Fokker DVII came along in 1918.
Built by the Albatros-Flugzeugwerke GmbH, and designed by Robert Thelen, the Albatros D.I proved to be an easy-to-fly, effective fighter. Its 160hp Mercedes engine and twin Spandau machine guns proved an effective combination. There were criticisms of the D.I, however. The wing was set high and this limited visibility, as did the pylon cabane structure. Thus, the D.II was born, correcting these faults as well as moving the radiators to the top wing.
Albatros and LVG built most
Albatros D.IIs but 16 machines were built in Austria by Osterreichische Flugzeugfabrik
AG (Oeffag). The most significant change made during this construction was the
replacement of exposed Spandau machines guns with Schwarzlose guns that were
fully enclosed in the fuselage, firing through tubes that ran along each side
of the engine. The Roden Albatros D.II (Oeffag) represents these aircraft.
KIT COLOR & MARKINGS
Roden kits continue to improve and their Albatros series is certainly near the top of the heap. The moldings are crisp, done in a light gray plastic. This kit consists of 42 plastic parts contained on 3 large sprues that are common to their entire Albatros series and a smaller sprue, which is unique to this one. The decal sheet is generous, providing markings for 6 different aircraft. I chose to model 53.02, which was flown by Fw. Julius Kowalczik during the summer of 1917. To be honest, I know little of this aircraft or its pilot but found it pleasing which is what modeling is all about.
Considerable parts cleanup is required with this kit. This is pretty easy and doesn't intrude on the fine detail molded into the kit. Clean up does provide the opportunity to check all edges for seam lines and, in the end, probably forces the modeler to do a better job of parts preparation. Be careful when removing parts from the sprues. Good sprue nippers are helpful here. The plastic that Roden uses is a bit on the brittle side and small parts, especially those gated at both ends, can break as they are removed from the sprue.
One of the highlights of the Roden kits is the engine. All of the kits in the Albatros series come with two engines, the 160hp and 185hp Mercedes. These are built up from half a dozen parts and are beautiful models in their own right. The 160hp engine is used to build a D.II. I built mine and then dirtied it up a bit. In hindsight I may have overdone that but I always see things better after the fact.
Assembling the fuselage and
If there's a downside to the Albatros series it is that Roden is working overtime to get use from their molds. Rather than the typical one-piece wing, you are faced with a 3-piece wing, to allow the substitution of various radiator options as the centerpiece. Likewise, rather than a 2 piece fuselage, you have to piece together a 3-piece (four if you include the nose ring) fuselage so that optional top/front pieces can be substituted for the various D.I, D.II and D.IIIs in the series.
In both cases, this requires some work but nothing the average modeler can't handle. The important thing when gluing the wing together is to get the leading edge straight. I did this by taping the center section to a straight edge. Then, while holding one of the wing panels in place, I applied glue to the joint. This worked very well and with a bit of putty and sanding a good wing can be formed. The fuselage requires a bit more finesse. The reason is that you not only have to form good seams between the 3 major parts, you have to make sure that the front end matches the nose ring that will be applied later. My approach was to glue the two major parts together, while holding the top piece in place using tape. This worked surprisingly well and resulted in very little putty being required on the top piece seams. It has another virtue as you can then remove the top piece and do the interior after the two main pieces are glued together. This would be a good time to scribe panel lines if you're inclined to do so.
The interior detailing is minimal but includes a seat, joystick and rudder pedals. I simply painted the interior a wood color, installed the parts and considered it finished. Others might want to include an instrument panel at minimum. In hindsight, I wish I had.
Fitting the lower wing panels
The real Albatros D.II lower wings were mounted to the fuselage with metal brackets. Roden provides small dimples in the fuselage and small bumps on the wings for this purpose. While this works to locate the wing, I didn't feel it was strong enough to deal with the bumps and bruises that a many-thumbed guy like myself dishes out so I decided to install a set of pins. I simply removed the bumps from the wing panels and drilled a hole (.021") to accept Evergreen .020" rod, cutting it off to form a small pin. I then drilled out the fuselage dimples to accept them. The result was a connection that is able to hold the wings in place without glue, though I did glue them in place.
The guys in the WWI list conference (www.wwi-models.org) provided several great methods for painting wood but I lacked at least one item to pull any of them off properly. I had just purchased some Vallejo "natural wood" and "wood grain" paints, however and I thought I'd give them a try. I sprayed the entire fuselage with a couple coats of 'natural wood'. Then I thinned down some "wood grain" and did what I'd characterize as a mix of using washes and using dry brushing, to darken some panels more than others as well as to add some appearance of wood grain. After letting this dry for a couple days I applied several light coats of Future floor finish with some "natural wood" mixed into it. This provided a depth to the finish.
I sprayed the wings and tail surfaces with MisterKit German CDL, mixed with Future. The struts and metal on the nose were painted with Humbrol paints.
I guess the part of biplane building that generates the most frustration is the mounting of the top wing. There are numerous ways to do this but all can be lumped into the "attach it by the cabanes" or "attach it by the struts" approach. For this model I decided that setting up the spindly struts first might be the better way to go. I'm not sure this was a good choice but it's the way I did it. Without going into a lot of detail, I used the side view that comes in the kit to cut two jigs from meat tray foam. These position the top wing relative to the bottom. I taped the rear of the fuselage to the table, stuck the jigs on the lower wing and dropped the top wing onto the jigs. I then laid a piece of tape over the top wing with just enough tension to hold everything down. This allowed me to add struts, one at a time, rechecking alignment as I went along. This simple approach worked surprisingly well, though it looks pretty funky in the photo. I do wish the struts were stiffer, though once assembled they seem fine. The tail surfaces are attached using the same dimple and bump method that Roden uses for the lower wings. This works fine but I needed to drill out the holes to attach the rudder.
Assembly of the undercarriage is simple, being only 3 pieces plus the wheels. I simply stuck small pieces of tape on the ends of the UC that connect to the fuselage and stuck them, roughly, into their proper location on the fuselage. Then, with the model supported by its lower wings, I adjusted the orientation of the sub wing with the struts until things looked good and glued the sub wing and struts together. This gave me a single piece that was aligned properly for attachment to the fuselage, which I did using CA. In hindsight, I might consider using plastic locator pins on the end of these struts.
Some people don't like rigging. You could count me among them until I discovered stainless steel suture wire. This stuff is sold in the medical world under the name Ethicon (Johnson & Johnson product) or through Small Parts Inc (www.smallparts.com). It's .005" in diameter and comes in straight sections that are 30" long. To rig an airplane you simply measure a distance from one rig point to the other, cut a section of wire, dip each end into some white glue and stick the wire in place. I use Aileene's Tacky Glue or Pica Glu-It for this as both are stickier than normal white glue and thus help you hold the wire in place while the glue sets up. Since the glue dries clear, there's nothing more to do.
To me the best part of this is that I don't have to pre-plan and drill a bunch of holes. I do, sometimes, drill a pocket to hold the end of a rigging wire, however. I did this on the nose of the D.II to support the wire that runs from there to the top rear strut.
While I've grumbled a bit over the 3-piece wing and 3-piece fuselage, the Roden Albatros series is an outstanding kit series, provided at an incredibly low price. The molding quality is excellent and they provide lots of decal choices and with very little skill you can generate a nice model. I highly recommend all of them.
Albatros Fighters - Windsock Datafile Special
Albatros Fighters in Action - Squadron/Signal Publications #46
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