The Siren Song of the ‘What if’ has haunted me since the first time I ever saw an ad for the comic book series called Tigers of Terra. On the cover there was a brace of He-162s slashing their way through a formation of Eighth Air Force B-35 bombers. If that sounds weird, then imagine what it must look like. Since that time, about twenty years ago, I have had a growing love of alternate histories. The best part is that I can now create my own pieces of alternate history and live out my Luft ’46 fantasies in 1/72 scale!
Luckily, I’m not the only one who feels this way, and in the past few years some really neat Luf ’46 kits have come out. Many of these come from RS and AZ models, who kind of specialize in this niche-brand of weirdness. Thank goodness for them, because before that, there weren’t many kits to choose from. There were a few Revell Germany ones like the Flitzer, the E.555 and the P.1099, as well as some Dragon stuff like the Ar-234P and some Hortens (all of which I have), but at the time, those were expensive and I couldn’t justify them.
So, like any good modeller, I decided that if I wanted to “Whif” something, I’d just have to make it up! The question I had, and this was over 15 years ago now, was: “What’s next?!” Since I didn’t own that many of the Luft ’46 kits at the time, and I wanted to get some more practice in conversions, I decided I wanted to do a jet conversion of a Bf-109. I’ve always liked the transitional appearance of jets like the Yak-15, and the 109 seemed like a good candidate…
Thankfully, I came across a victim in the form of the Heller Bf-109 that I purchased for about $5 at a local shop. Of course, I’ve used the term “victim” loosely; I think I was more victimized by it than it was by me! Let’s just say that if you want to build a nice 109, Academy is happy to help you. If you want a poorly fitting, junker-POS of a kit as basis for kitbashing, and you’ve got lots of Milliput and patience, Heller/Airfix will fill the gap (pun intended) quite nicely.
From Screw to Blow:
The first step in converting the 109 to jet form, which henceforth will be called the 709, was to get rid of the inline in the nose and figure out a way to fit in one of my very precious (and now in dwindling supply) Jumo 004 engines. The engine I used came from the FROG Ar-234 B2/C2/C3 Blitz. The key was to determine the angle at which the engine needed to be mounted so that it could exhaust under the cockpit yet still be somewhat ‘level’ at the front compressor face. After hacking out the lower three quarters of the nose, and bending the rest of the cowling to fit, I found that there was no way it would work simply.
I had to cut out part of the floor as well (Oh no, my lack of cockpit detail!), and completely cut the cowling off, so I could reposition it as well. This left very little for the wings to bolt into, but I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the way the Jumo fit; it was the perfect width for the body! I still had room on either side for the wing fittings to stay attached to the fuselage! Once the Jumo was provisionally in place, I figured out the best way to slope the cowling down onto it. Since much of the front end was going to end up being Milliput for structure, I filled the entire rear end with putty as well, to ensure I wouldn’t go ‘nose over’ on the finished project. I could have used lead shot, but I didn’t want it breaking loose and rattling around inside the kit, and to be honest, I don’t know if the spindly gear would take the weight.
With the fuselage assembled, it was time for the major surgery. The first thing to be done was to glue the 004 in place so that I could Milliput in the fuselage sides. The original nose cowl was faired into place and the gun ports in it were puttied over. I decided to make the armament on the kit as minimal as possible, to reflect the traditional German tendency to under-arm their aircraft compared to those of the Allies. Following the putty-orgy, all of the panel lines on the rest of the aircraft were etched and the copious rivets were all sanded away.
Shaping the nose of the 709 turned out to be much more complicated than I would have though. Milliput is a wondrous material, but it is difficult to sand, and blending it in with plastic is tough. Thus, there were clear separations on my new nose between parts that were plastic and parts that were putty. After many iterations of smoothing the transition between the two with Zap-A-Gap CA I finally got the nose to the point where I could etch some new panel lines. This of course didn’t go perfectly, resulting in another round of filling and sanding. There was one final problem. Because of the angling of the jet engine, the front cowling jutted out like a fat lip at the bottom. To make the nose more appealing, and to hide the fact that all I did was put an engine in on an angle, I resculpted the intake lip. Now there is a slight protrusion at the top, and the rest of the intake lip is more or less ‘flat’ when the plane is in flight attitude.
Compared to the nose, the rest of the plane went together fairly well, given the kit that I was working with. Since there was no longer a liquid cooled inline engine, the underwing radiators were deleted and filled with Milliput as well. This required more sanding and CA, but worked quite well. The wing fairing was quite simple, requiring even more CA, and the tailplanes fit on with no problem. The cockpit had no bars etched into it, so I put a simple frame around the outside and across the front. I don’t like the heavily framed canopy on the older model 109s, so I just went with what appeared to be a mostly ‘blown’ hood. (Well, the canopy blows, so that’s legit, right?)
Lipstick on the Pig:
Painting was done by first primering with Mr. Surfacer 1000. I decided on a green/purple cammo, for which the wings got a hard-edged splinter, while I opted for soft-edged blobs on the fuselage. The green used was Tamiya XF-26 Deep Green. This is a very nice colour, but was deadly to shoot. It is very, very thick, and seemed, like oil red, to get everywhere. Despite being thinned to 70/30 thinner/paint, it still clogged the airbrush and tiny little spills soon got everywhere. The blue underside was done using a homemade hodgepodge of colours and it has been altered so many times that I can’t even remember what is in there any more. There’s some white, blue, grey and possibly even purple from Tamiya, Badger, Testors and Gunze. Despite this, the blue shoots very nicely. The purple is my own Braun-Violet made in a similarly haphazard way. There’s some brown, grey, purple, blue and I think a tiny touch of beige in there.
The cheat line on the fuselage was done with Funtack, and the cockpit and wings were masked with Tamiya Tape. The wheel wells and cannons are done in Testors oil Aluminum, and the landing gear and their bays are black washed to try and make the legs stand out from the doors. (Don’t forget – they were moulded as a single piece!). The ‘holes’ in the cannon barrels were drawn on using a Gundammarker.
The cockpit was painted Gunship Grey and given a black wash and the seat was treated the same – although I added some masking tape seatbelts for ‘realism’. As mentioned previously, there’s no other detail in the cockpit, and I didn’t see fit to add any. I lost the radio mast somewhere along the line, and I had to carve a new one from a toothpick. It fit far better than the original, unsurprisingly.
The decals came from various sources in the spares box. The upper wing crosses were from the Heller kit itself, and were remarkably good. I also used the yellow ‘87’ triangle from the Heller, and the kill markings on the tail came from the kit as well. The Swastikas are from an old Allmark decal sheet, and the fuselage crosses came from an aftermarket Escii set. The ‘F1’ and ‘RS’ labelling came from the excellent Revell Germany P.1099 B.
Once the decals were on and gloss coated into place, the panel lines were highlighted using a filed down mechanical pencil. Note that this is a bit of an older build, and I hadn’t mastered the art of drawing pane lines through decals at this point. Once the pencil was on, the entire airplane was coated in Microscale Microflat, which is something I no longer use.
The compressor face and the jet nozzle were given a black wash to make them stand out, and the tail wheel was given the same treatment. Finally, the seat was glued in (it fit perfectly on top of the Jumo 004) and the canopy glued on. The canopy didn’t fit all that badly at the back, but the surgery on the nose meant the front fit was a bit off.
Overall, I am very happy with the result. Being a tail dragger, the 709 has a very awkward appearance – just practical enough to be real, but dangerous enough to be threatening (to both pilot and target, I may add). While the Heller/Airfix kit is a complete hunk of trash, it was a good base for this little project. Also the final result looks very much like something that could, and perhaps should, have been considered. It would at least have been practical, if not necessarily safe.
I realize that since this is an older build, it’s not quite up to my current standards. However, I have always been a fan of this “conversion”, and I think it came off rather well given my relative lack of experience when I built in the early 2000s. Could I build it better now? Sure, maybe. Would I? That I can’t answer. I have so many better kits now, I can’t say it’d be practical to spend time on something like this. However, you guys all know that this kind of terrible kit and no-holds-barred modification ARE something I get a kick out of, so who knows, maybe I would do it again!
Operational history of the Me-709
Please note that the following is FICTIONAL. To my knowledge, there never was an aircraft called the Me-709 and I don’t believe one was ever put forward. I am a sci-fi fan, and thus I enjoy fictional histories. This kit gives me a chance to both build a fictional yet plausible model, while also allowing me to indulge in creating a bit of alternate history.
Understand that this is NOT intended to be a revision of any true, WWII history. It is not intended to re-write any of the facts or refute any of the known events that transpired in the dark days from 1939-1945. If you believe this write up instead of the many excellent texts on the Luftwaffe or WW II, you do so at your peril. The standard disclaimer having been given, here we go:
By late 1944, it was apparent that the Allied air offensive against Germany was going very badly indeed for the Luftwaffe. Despite the entrance of the Me-262 into squadron service, there was a pressing need for simple, high speed interceptors that could be ready in as little a time as possible. This lead to several programs under the “Jaegernotprogram” banner, including the Volksjaeger program, which eventually spawned the He-162. However, several companies were already thinking along these line, and Messerschmitt had several advanced studies underway.
However, due to the urgency of the situation, the Luftwaffe ordered Messerschmitt (and other companies) to take a more practical approach. Thankfully, an alternative presented itself at an informal meeting of Messerschmitt and RLM staffers. A young engineer named Hermann Reinholter suggested that the quickest way to create a jet fighter would be to simply stuff a Jumo 004 in the nose of a Bf-109, in place of its DB 605.
The idea was, at first, discounted. However, after a bit of ‘napkin back’ drafting, it was theorized that it could possibly be made to work. The idea was given the go ahead, and a small staff, under Reinholter, was instructed to produce plans as quickly as possible. That meeting was in November, 1944. By Christmas, the drawings were done, and a Bf-109 G-10 was pulled from a maintenance depot for use in the conversion.
By this time, the revolutionary He-162 had already been flown (albeit with disastrous results), and the Luftwaffe High Command (and Goering, in particular) didn’t see the value in having two simple jets wasting valuable resources. However, the RLM did like the fact that the new jet, christened the Me-709, would use parts from existing tooling and could probably be flown by those used to the 109 with minimal need for extra training.
Thus, it was decided on January 23, 1945, to put the Me-709 into production – sort of. By RLM decree, the 709 would be built by converting existing airframes. Several companies, including Blohm und Voss, Bucker and Siebel, were tasked with implementing the conversion process. In many cases, Bf-109s were taken right from their underground production lines and transported to one of the subcontractors for conversion. The conversion was, for the most part, a simple procedure, although it did require that the wings and fuselage be strengthened at key points, and that the entire nose of the plane be re-built. This was done using as little metal as possible, and many of the 709s produced had extremely thin sheet metal surrounding the engine installation.
The first conversion was flown in Berlin, for Hitler and Goering, in February 1945. While both were impressed with the potential performance of the plane, the test pilots involved in the program complained bitterly about the lack of visibility on take off and landing, as well as the heat/fume buildup in the cockpit and the snaky handling of the aircraft at high speed. Since it was designed as an interceptor, it was expected that the 709 would spend much of its life executing high-speed slashing passes on the bomber formations. However, at high speeds the weaknesses of the original 109’s design came through. These were only exacerbated by the addition of the heavy (and draggy) jet engine in the nose.
Production pressed ahead, and the first few operational squadrons stood up in April 1945. These squadrons were known as ‘Zerschmettergeshwader’, or ‘slashing squadrons’. The first, ZsG 321, was actually operational by the first week in April 1945, and had even flown a handful of combat missions in the last week of March. Pilots were drawn from Defence of the Reich fighter squadrons, and were thus familiar with the characteristics of the 109. Unfortunately, the 709 proved to be quite a handful on both takeoff and landing, and of the 14 delivered to ZsG 321 by April 7, 1945, 6 were written off in accidents, four of them being fatal.
Standard armament for the Me-709 A1 was spartan at best. Two underwing MG 151/20 20mm cannons were the plane’s only hitting power, there being insufficient room in the nose for guns (that’s where most of the fuel went). To save weight, the wing guns were also deleted from any 109s converted, although many still retained the bulges in their wings from previous weapons fits. Flight equipment on most 709s was basic, and the only concession to improvements for the pilots was the inclusion of a new ejection seat, the same one developed for the He-162.
Despite all the shortcomings of the aircraft, the Me-709 was a passable fighter. It was fast, with a top speed of 512 mph, and had better low speed maneuverability than the He-162. To improve visibility over the 109, the 709 was fitted with a new, two piece blown hood. This meant, however, that there was no armoured glass for the pilot, which was something of a concern when attacking bomber formations head-on. There were many instances of pilots choosing to ‘salvage’ the Galland Hoods from damaged G-10 and K model 109s to put on their 709s.
The 709 program was one of haste and expedience, rather than careful engineering and testing. As a result, it was found that the airframes fatigued quickly – no more than 60 hours could be expected before serious problems set in. However, Bf-109 production numbers were high enough that this wasn’t considered problematic. In addition, because of the placement of the 004 engine, the cockpit could become very hot very quickly, especially on taxiing. Rushing the taxi was a bad idea in itself, though, as the tendency of the 109 to ground loop was even more pronounced in the 709. In addition, it was found that the 709’s high landing speed and sink rate were more than the fighter’s dainty undercarriage could often handle. There were improved versions on the drawing board in July 1945, but these came to nothing.
It was not all doom and gloom, and there were some notable successes with the 709. ZsG 321, 323 and 455 as well as several mixed squadrons (some 109s, some 709s) were all operational by the end of August 1945, and accounted for over 300 bombers by the time the war ended in August 1946. Several pilots became jet aces on the type, and Allied escort fighter pilots were particularly perplexed by the type. It was very difficult to tell from a long way off whether or not the approaching Luftwaffe machines were 109s or 709s, and mixed formations made the most of this confusion to wreak havoc in the bomber stream. The British Meteor, which had been sent to the front, found the 709 to be a tougher opponent than most other Luftwaffe types, and USAAF P-80 pilots found themselves having to work hard to keep the funny looking fighters, nicknamed ‘puffer fish’ (due to the ‘inflated’ look when viewed head-on), in check.
Some 709s were also used for strafing attacks against Allied and Soviet armour, although the jet performed better at altitude where the air was a bit thinner. Over 500 airframes were converted by January 1946, when the program was terminated to give resources to other, less stopgap, programs. Some fighters were captured by the Soviets intact, tested, and may have been the inspiration for the Yak 15 jet conversion of the Yak 9 jet fighter. USAAF and RAF test flights in 1946 and 1947 found the 709 to be just as cantankerous a beast as the 109, but with even more potential for accidents. One USAAF pilot was quoted as saying that “…the 709 is a nightmare. You can’t see anything when you’re landing or taking off, and once you’re at speed, you’re both boiling and shaking! I have no idea how they managed to get anyone to fly any of these, let alone fight in them!”