Model and Text by: Fernando Rolandelli
Photos by: Marcelo
A little recognized fact of the Battle of France, May-June 1940, is that the Armée de l'Air fighter force came out enjoying consistently positive kill-loss ratios against the Luftwaffe. Better than this, every one of the several types of fighter the French put up in sizable numbers got positive ratios, even the completely outclassed Morane. Though the real worker of the campaign, and the one which obtained the highest kill ratio as well, was the Curtiss H-75A, the sleek and elegant Dewoitine D 520 is unanimously considered the jewel of the French fighter force. Though some 20 miles per hour slower than the dreaded 109s (on a slightly less powerful engine), it was capable of turning inside the German fighter, it was not devoid of armor and had a relatively heavy armament, enough to deal with any German plane of the period. As a design, it never grew out of infancy, its development frozen by French defeat, nor could it place itself as the main Armée de l'Air fighter, due to the shortages of production: conversion of units to this up-to-date machine was well behind schedule in 1940 and it was still on its way as late as 1942. French units trying to oppose the Torch landings in North Africa were still largely equipped with Curtiss fighters, the same machines -literally!- they were flying since 1939.
Undoubtedly the best D 520 kit in quarter-scale, Tamiya's Dewoitine shares most of the characteristics of the Japanese stable: a small number of pieces; superb, flash-free moulding; fine but non-too-delicate panel lines; a suitably furnished cockpit and good fit overall, especially in the critical area of transparencies. It has few options, like the real aircraft, those being limited to the spinner style and the "flaps down" option. Decals are better than average for a Tamiya kit: printed by Microscale, they are aftermarket quality. Unluckily, the prominent red color is far too dark, to the point of rendering them useless if you are that picky.
There are a few aftermarket sets suitable for this kit. Though the interior is almost satisfying, it is not that complete. There is a True Details set that replaces the entire sidewalls, but they are still missing certain prominent items. I preferred a set from Hi-Tech, a French resin accessory maker, which provides extra parts to be added to the kits's sidewalls, and offered as a plus the control surfaces. It also provides a new radiator bath, the kit's being a bit small. The True Details seat, however, was used, as it is pretty good.
Of course, it all began with the cockpit. I added all the resin bits and made the cable stuff from copper wire. The instrument panel was thinned down to paper width by furious sanding; the dials were drilled out and then the instrument decal was glued to its back, complete and still in its paperback! The result was stunning: a homemade "photoetched"-like part, with realistic raised detail and precision-looking dial faces.
The gunsight was a similar artisan work. It is the peculiar Baille-Lemaire OPX-39 "lantern" reflector sight. The Hi-Tech set provided the body; I cut four wire rods to size and glued them to the locations in the resin. Then, I placed the lens -angled forward!- and last the "roof". It was secured to the instrument's panel later in the assembly, by means of two support rods. In the photos seen in my sources, I did not find traces of an auxiliary ring-and-bead sight, so I did not add one.
I made some information checking regarding the head armor. Some sources present it as having rounded rearview cutouts, like a Hawk or P-40C; and so the Eduard PE set offers both the rounded armor plate and the rear see-through walls. Very few photos show this area clearly, actually, but I could not prove that the square pattern armor provided by Tamiya was wrong, so I let it be.
The cockpit was painted Bleu de Nuit, a very dark blue similar to FS35045, but much more greyer, using Aeromaster Acrylic paints, and weathering it by means of dark washes, Light Grey dry-brushing and some Silver chipping. The big radio/electric panel on the right sidewall can be seen in a lighter shade in black&white photos, so I painted it Light Grey. Any inside of the plane not belonging to the cockpit should be painted in Chamois, a Sand colored primer, so do not be fooled if you open any hatch (I didn't, but the primer can still be seen in parts of the flaps and other movable surfaces).
ASSEMBLY: Fuselage and Wings
Closing the fuselage posed no problem at all: it had the kit's interior and instrument's panel inside! Take care to close the sides of the rear bulkhead to avoid the see-through effect; having forgotten this small detail, I accomplished this by means of dampened tissue painted Black tucked in place. Do not forget to fit the oil cooler's radiator, either.
Wings were a breeze, once I cut off the ailerons and worked on the radiator bath. I had decided to replace it for the resin piece, so the planks at its sides had to be cut off and transferred to the wing surface first. The radiator faces did not fit on their own, specially as I kept confusing the aft for the forward; much thinning on the inside of the resin bath was necessary. Then, the piece was faired in to the central wing's undersurface, using gel superglue and putty. Though I searched through a quantity of photos, I could not detect an operating arm in the radiator's flap, so I didn't add anything like that.
I placed small Contrail tubes inside the gun throughs; they were big, but they were also big in the real plane, indicating the presence of blast tubes. Then I glued the wings and stabilators to the fuselage. I had some trouble with the dihedral angle, so be warned.
Contrary to what is often advertised, some putty was necessary to fair the wing to the rear ventral fuselage, and to the upper wing roots, and to smooth out the leading edges as well, but the reason may lay on my own style of kit building.
Wheel bays were especially devoid of details, both in the kit and in the real plane; I added some small fittings which I suppose are the wheel catches. The legs were detailed with a specially worked brake line and some metal bands made from Tamiya tape.
After toying with the idea of modeling a Vichy machine, I opted for a Battle of France Dewoitine, and settled down for this, a rather anonymous D 520 from 2e Escadrille, GC I/3, whose peculiarity resides in depicting a rather denuded heraldic emblem (proudly inherited from the WW1 SPA 69) and missing its tactical number due to the lack of time. French camouflage is very interesting, due both to the three appealing colors which are used, as well as because of the random nature of the scheme, which depended almost entirely in the individual painter's artistic vein and his prowess with the spray gun (just like us modelers). The multiple colours compromise weathering, however; on the other side, this particular machine was relatively new and not much used up, though photos show paint chipping off French fighters still on the manufacturer's ramp.
First of all, I primed the whole model in Light Grey. Then, I preshaded it in a Black/Burnt Umber mixture, painting on most panel lines and some hatches. I painted the Gris Bleu Clair first, using Aeromaster Enamel Light Blue Gray, in very light coats to control the covering of the preshaded areas, concentrating on the center of panels. Then, I masked some panels and applied the same color lightened in White. Center of panels were treated the same way. Fabric surfaces were consistently painted in this tone; then the "ribs" were masked and the surfaces sprayed lightly in the full color, then in a dark juice.
Next came the upper surfaces. The same treatment was given to all three colors, being careful to obtain a homogeneus though "busy" effect. Right angles formed by some panels were masked and lightly airbrushed with the corresponding lightened mixture. All this was very tiresome, made worse by my renouncing to working out a logical sequence of painting; but, in the end, the results were worth the trouble.
Canopy was masked with tape and maskol and painted first Bleu de Nuit, then in the camouflage colours. Take care of not reversing the front-aft ends, like me; they seem the same, but they are not. All clear parts were fitted after completely decaling, matting and weathering the model, without any difficulty, a slight "bed" of white glue and putty was enough to fair in the windscreen, and a little pressure to make the canopy "seat" properly on the spine, before fixing it with a drop of white glue.
DECALS AND WEATHERING
Having rejected the kit's decals, and not having any of the old Aeromaster sets, I turned to a Decal Carpena set on French fighters. Carpena decals are perfect in colour and density; but they are both thick and soft, like made of cloth. When put on a perfectly glossed surface, they did not silver, but they did not imbed in complex panel lines either. I pushed them in with a toothpick, and when this did not work any more, I passed a lead pencil on some panels crossing the White areas, to good effect.
The rudder drapeau, the flag, was a hair-rising affair, involving much trimming and cursing. I painted the trim surface, as the decal would not settle in and I opted for cutting the corresponding area. I painted the very edges of the rudder, trying to match the decal's colors the best I could. If looked point-blank the result is rather untidy, but from a short distance it looks good.
Weathering was very light, in view of the painting work already done: some smoke fumes around the exhaust and the gun throughs and shell ejectors. Panel lines were flooded with a dark acrylic wash, specially around the engine, mimicking oil leaks.
Like a friend of mine said once, you must read a lot about French aircraft to really like them. If you do, this one is perhaps the best quality kit you can get of one of them. A convincing, fine-looking replica can be made out of the box, and there is scope for that extra detailing (though certainly not to the extent you can find in a Fw 190 kit!)
"Dewoitine D 520", DTU,
"Aéro Journal nº 2", Aéro Editions, 1998
"Wing Masters nº 24", Histoire et Collections, September-October, 2001.-
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