The world of aviation has a rich history of protoytpes, trials aircraft and paper-projects. All aircraft-producing nations and companies on earth have, at one time or another, produced one-off aircraft to test concepts and validate theories. Given the fertile minds of the WWII German aircraft industry’s engineers, as well as the worsening war situation, it’s no surprise that Nazi Germany’s designers came up with a deluge of advanced ideas.
While some of these ideas seem to be little more than fanciful pipe dreams, there are many that were ahead of their time, and the Allies were quick to latch onto these and use them in their own postwar designs. Swept wings, air-to-air missiles and ejection seats were all wartime novelties that made the jump to the “everyday” business of military aviation after the war. Most highly prized by the Allies, though, were real-life examples of advanced design and engineering; after all, a model or a mathematical study is one thing, but a real plane… that’s all together better!
One such aircraft is the Messerschmitt P.1101. This was a private venture to create a “research aircraft” that would test the optimum wing sweep for Messerscmitt’s future offerings to the Luftwaffe. Professor Messerschmitt ordered the construction of the P.1101 in October 1944. To save time, it used components from other aircraft, such as the landing gear from a Bf-109K and the outer wings of an Me-262. The desired engine was the as-yet-unproduced HeS-011 turbojet, so the engineers at Messerschmitt designed the plane to use the Jumo 004.
The main raison d’etre of the P.1101 was to determine the ideal angle of wing sweep back. To this end, the plane was designed such that the wing could be varied between 35, 40 and 45 degrees of sweep, albeit only on the ground. It is often thought that the P.1101 was a ‘swing wing’-type of variable geometry fighter prototype, which it was not. Sweep could not be adjusted in flight; the goal was to find the perfect angle and build a production version to that spec.
To save time, Prof. Messerschmitt decided to play it risky and to build the airframe WHILE theoretical calculations were still being done and design work of other components was progressing. If this sounds familiar, it should; it’s the same way the very expensive and very often delayed F-35 has been developed. Thankfully, the headaches of the modern age didn’t plague the folks at Oberammergau; the secret Messerschmitt plant that the Americans only found when they stumbled upon it at the end of the war.
The P.1101 was never flown in Germany; the engine never arrived. However, it was taken back to the USA for analysis at Bell. Unfortunately, carelessness and rough handling ensured it would never fly. However, it did provide some articles for static testing, as well as aerodynamic inspiration, for the Bell X-5, not coincidentally the world’s first truly swing-wing aircraft.
In the 1990’s the Dragon (DML) model company out of Hong Kong began to break onto the modelling scene in force. Among its offerings was a surprising amount of German jet and rocket planes of late WWII, as well as a number of kits of aircraft that only existed as proposals or one-offs. Previously such “Luftwaffe 1946” (commonly referred to as “Luft ’46 by enthusiasts) concepts were only available as short run or resin kits of dubious quality and availability. Dragon changed all that, bringing Luft ’46 to the masses, so to speak.
There were actually two flavours of Messerschmitt P.1101 offered by Dragon; there was a day fighter and a night fighter version. They differed primarily in that the night fighter had a high “T” tail, vs. the low set tail of the day fighter. Also, the night figter had radar aerials and different underwing stores. The night fighter carried two missiles and two fuel tanks; the day fighter four missiles. I like a plane with lots of missiles, so given the choice, I went with the day fighter version.
The first thing that hits you about the kit is the box. The great thing about Luft ’46 is it allows all kinds of interesting scenarios to be drawn out. In this case, the art shows a “half-painted” P.1101 fighting against B-32 Dominators at either dawn or dusk. Either way, anyone with a bent for alternate histories can’t help but pick the kit up on the strength of that illustration alone. Of course, there’s more to a kit than the box, right?
The P.1101 is typical of Dragon kits of this age. It is cast in a very brittle beige-grey plastic, with a tiny amount of photoetch in stainless steel, a clear canopy and a small decal sheet. There is a lot of surface detail on the kit, and it is FINE. It’s even smaller than many 1/144 kits I’ve built, so thin and shallow are the lines. There’s some nice cockpit detail, and a full, if not simple, engine is provided. There’s a lot of internal detail, especially in the landing gear bays.
There are four Ruhrstahl X-4 AAMs included in the kit, and they are no less finely detailed than the rest of the kit. Unlike some models where the weapons seem to be an afterthought, Dragon went to great lengths to ensure that the missiles complemented the kit. The instructions are clear, and immediately point to some disturbing issues. For one, the rear landing gear leg retraction struts have to be assembled before installation, as does the engine/airduct combination, which, incidentally, sandwiches it in place. Given the innately breakable nature of the struts, this is not something I was looking forward to.
Building the P.1101
Like the good folks under Prof. Willi’s direction, I decided to make some modifications to the airframe while I was building it. First and foremost, I had to find a way to install the struts, their bulkhead and floor AFTER the painting on the body was done. This also meant that I had to find a way to put the engine in after the rest of the work, too. Since the engine was moulded with the intake pipe and the nose gear bay, this seemed somewhat unworkable.
Test fitting things, though, showed that the landing gear deck and struts could all be inserted after painting so long as the engine wasn’t in the way. Thus, I decided to just cut the engine out. Using a Tamiya razor saw, I cut the engine just aft of the front of the body, where the intake trunk stops. The problem then became how to hold the engine in place. There weren’t any mounting points or the like for it; the kit was designed such that it just hovered in space, cantilevered off the intake.
A simple fix was a drinking straw. I had one that was just the right size to fit into the engine and intake trunk. I cut a small piece and made an internal adapter collar out of it. Since the engine weighed nothing, it worked great! An advantage of this approach was that I could now glue the gear bay into place without worrying about the rest of the engine bay. This also meant I could pack lead shot into the back of the intake trunk. There was a compressor face for the engine, but it was more important to balance the rearward-leaning plane than to see that, so I glued in the shot and painted the entire intake trunk black. No one has ever noticed a thing!
The model is designed to display the engine bay opened up; the original P.1101 was found incomplete, without covers for the (as yet installed) engine. However, I prefer planes to be “complete” when I display them, so I opted to attach the engine covers. The problem here is that the two halves have to be installed at the end, once the engine and gear are in. To provide more strength, I used a few thin pieces of some clear plastic from vending machine sandwich container to make locating tabs.
Note: many kinds of brittle packaging is good for use in modelling, be it from food or printer cartridges. Never throw out what you can use later!
Other than the re-engineering of the engine bay, the assembly for the model was straightforward and enjoyable. I have a lot of these Dragon Luft ’46 kits, so that is reassuring, let me tell you! Granted, fit wasn’t perfect and some sanding on the seams was required, but I’ve seen far worse. I also put flat spots on the tyres, so that the plane would look more natural when done.
Painting and Finishing:
On the box, the scheme shown is a “half done” one. The plane has painted wings and tails (since they come painted from their respective, likely underground factories) and a puttied bare-metal body. Normally, I don’t like to do “half-baked” paint schemes, but it just looked too fun not to try in this case.
The cockpit was painted and washed before assembling the body, so it was masked during painting. It was painted interior green, and then given a black wash. This was then drybrushed with Testors silver oil paint, to give it a bit of a ‘broken in’ look. I used Masking Tape for seatbelts.
I primered the entire plane in a light coat of Colourplace Grey Primer. Despite coming from Walmart in a rattlecan, it is just as effective as more expensive primer, and I’ve never seen a light coat obliterate surface detail. It’s easier to use than an airbrush primer, and it’s not as slow to dry and outgas as lacquer-based primers, either. Once the primer was dry, I painted the insides of the engine bay, nosewheel bay and engine covers with a mixed green that is very close to RAF Interior Green. Sure, this is a Luftwaffe plane, but who can tell? These areas also received a black wash which really highlighted the detail Dragon put into the kit.
The wings, tails and fins were all painted with a slightly altered Tamiya XF-11 JN Green. I masked off a splinter pattern of a purplish colour that I mixed to represent the “Braunviolet” colour the Luftwaffe was so fond of. The undersides of the wings were made using Tamiya XF-2 Flat White tinted wth blue. These “prepainted” assemblies were then masked, and I hand painted on some brown, Gunship Grey and black patches onto the fuselage. The idea was that these would tint the silver body, but it didn’t work as well as I would have liked.
I sprayed the body using Testors oil aluminum. To simulate the “putty” on the seams, I literally simulated putty! I made up a dark green chalk pastel mix, and added a tiny bit of water, to create a mud. I then daubed this onto the seams with a shortened brush. When it was dry, I applied a coat of Future to the whole thing to lock the putty down. It was surprisingly easy, and fun to boot!
I unmasked the other surfaces and used a filed-down 0.5mm mechanical pencil to draw in the panel lines. I also used ground up pastels, applied with a very fine #0 brush, to the lines to simulate pre-shading. I hate preshading, so by mixing the pastels just slightly darker than the paint colour over which they go, I can cheat! Sure, it’s a bit more time consuming, but it’s easy to control and works like a charm. You can make the effect concentrated or widespread depending on the brush you use. I used the fine brush because the detail is so fine on this model.
The Ruhrstahl X4s were painted grey with black heads. The few X4s that were produced actually had varnished wooden wings, but I figured that they’d likely paint them once they were deployed in the field, both for visibility reasons and to protect the wood if the missiles weren’t used right away. They missiles were outlined with pencil, but not washed or pastelled. They’re pretty small, and I don’t think it would help much.
The canopy frame was painted black to complete the patchwork look of the plane, and the ring around the intake was painted using Model Master Acrylic Guards Red. Once the decals were on, the entire plane was coated using Microscale Microflat. I added a touch of Future to it so that it dried satiny rather than dull. I didn’t want the metal to look too corroded and oxidized. Installation of the landing gear and its decking was simple after everything else was done. Thanks to the drinking straw, the engine installation was also easy.
The Dragon kits from the early to mid ‘90s are very nice little kits. Sure, they’ve got some issues, but overall they are nicely detailed and go together well. They have the advantage of being fairly plentiful, too, so if you catch the Luft ’46 bug, they and Revell Germany (who, incidentally, reissued the night fighter version of this kit under their own name) likely have the cure for you.
This kit is a bit fiddly and quite delicate, so it’s not a good one for beginners. It’s a great kit for those who are a bit adventurous or those who want something to stretch their skills, however. It will challenge you in spots, but it is by no means unbuildable. When you’re all done, you have a nice looking model of a plane that never was; that’s got to be worth something!
Purists might balk at the whole notion of Luft ’46, but it’s a very strongly supported niche in the world of aviation modelling. Sure, it might be a bit hard to judge at a contest, since there’s nothing to say it’s right or wrong, but isn’t using your imagination and being creative just as important as getting the exact shade of RLM colour right? It is to me, and I applaud Dragon for putting out so many kits that encourage this aspect of modelling. Go out and give one a try if you see one, what have you got to lose?