It’s always the flashy ones that get all the attention. If you go and see a movie, you may “ooh and ah” over the special effects, costumes and the actors themselves but do you bother to think of the hours of hard work on the part of the legions of “behind the scenes” people? Do you ever think of all the makeup artists, CG effects people, prop designers and set designers that make it what it is? When you go to see a rock concert, do you think about the roadies? My guess, from experience, is: “probably not”. To take it one step further, do you think of any of these people’s teachers or parents; those who raised them, and taught them the basics of their crafts? I’ll put money on a “Not at all!”, and I’m not a betting man.
Just like with people, the same is true of machines. When you think of WWII aircraft, you probably think “Mustang”, “Spitfire”, “Bf-109”. These are the famous ones, the flashy ones, the ones that made the headlines. Some people might think one layer down to a few famous trainers, such as the Harvard/Texan or Buecker Jungmann, but those people are few and far between. Most people, seeing war footage or walking through aviation museums likely never think of how the intrepid pilots of the vicious looking fighters and attack aircraft got their first taste of flying. However, no matter what plane they ended up flying, every pilot had to start somewhere, and for a lot, it was with gliding.
This was particularly true in Nazi Germany, where gliding (or soaring) was a major sport, heavily supported and sanctioned by the government. In a country stripped of its air force, encouraging the youth to take to the skies and learn the basics of flight and airmanship through sport gliding was a perfect way to breed a new generation of enthusiastic and skilled pilots. Perhaps the most important aircraft in this undertaking was the Grunau Baby glider. An impressive and simple machine, the Baby was a favourite club airplane, and its excellent flying qualities ensured it a prime place as a trainer for both military and paramilitary organizations. However, the plane was so good that it wasn’t just in Germany that it found a ready audience; the Grunau Baby saw massive export and production in countries all over Europe, and many of them still fly today.
So, with it being so important, why aren’t there more kits of the Baby? I mean, we’re drowned, almost biannually, with new kits of the “same old” great ones, like Mustangs and Bf-109s; would it hurt to have a kit of such an important and unsung hero of the development of air warfare? For most companies, it seems the answer is “Yes”. Thankfully, AZ models decided the answer was “No, that’s a great idea!” and released their 1/72 Grunau Baby IIb glider kit in many guises.
The Grunau Baby IIb kit is really two kits in one box. That makes it a really good deal, despite its small size. Just like the real plane, the kit looks simple but effective. Well moulded and without unnecessary pretention and complication, the AZ kit embodies the shape AND spirit of the Baby. For a full rundown of the kit, check out my Out of Box review!
Building a Baby:
To make this Baby you don’t need to know about the birds and the bees! You do need to have a few tools, but since there are only a few parts, you don’t even really need your full arsenal of specialist equipment.
The first step is to build the interior. This is made from two floorboards, a seat back/headrest and a control stick. In addition, there are two very tiny rudder pedals. All of this is styrene; there’s no photoetch in this kit. Not that it matters, since you won’t see any of this really (save maybe the control stick) when you’re done. There’s also an instrument panel with a couple of round details on it. Sadly the instructions for the cockpit are not overly clear. They appear to show the control stick’s “t” mounted under the floorboards, with the floor separated around it, but I found that it actually seems to fit better when the two floor pieces are mounted flushly. Also, it’s not clear if the floor attaches to the bottom or front of the seat back.
This would end up being a problem with this model; the instructions, while simple, are actually not helpful when they need to be. It’s a shame, because with a kit this low in part count, you’d think it would be pretty easy to show things properly. Also, even though the instructions show you detailed instruments, there’s no detail moulded in, and there aren’t any decals for the gauges either. Thus, while the instructions themselves look fine, they really are more hamburger than T-Bone.
I found even fitting the cockpit in was an issue. This was likely since I had it glued together wrong, but eventually, with a bit of sanding, it fit. Before gluing it in place, I painted it and the cockpit sidewalls with Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Dark Tan, and then gave it a brown wash with Devlan Mud from Citadel. I also did a light coat of Baddab Black on the inside of the fuselage sides to bring out the “frame” detail. Again, you can’t easily see this on the completed kit, but at least I know it’s in there!
Apart from the fit issue given by the cockpit, there were, surprisingly, more fit issues to come. The tailplane fits on passably, and the rudder is a good fit. However, there is next to nothing for solid location. Yes, there’s a rectangular tab on the stabilizer, but the fit isn’t great, and it doesn’t guarantee you a good fit or proper alignment. The wings are even worse; the rectangular block on the top of the fuselage doesn’t even fit into the hole in the wings at all. It’s too wide and too tall. Even when you get it to fit widthways, the wing is too far off the fuselage. What I thought would be a 10-minute assembly job ended up taking way longer than it should have. Once everything’s together, though, it does look nice.
To make attaching the windscreen easier, I used my scriber to cut a mounting groove for it on the front fuselage. There’s a slight indentation showing where the window goes, so I just thought I’d help out. This was one of the best ideas I’ve had of late, and it saved me tonnes of trouble later! I aligned the wings and tailplane by eye; you could use the bracing struts, but they’re better added afterwards, at least in my case. I knew that I would have underwing decals and I didn’t want to decal around a support strut!
Sanding on this little kit was easy, since there was really only one seam, but I did find that the plastic used by AZ was largely resistant to both Ambroid ProWeld and Alpha’s Plast-I-Weld glues. The nose cracked several times during painting.
Painting the Baby:
For reasons that will be revealed shortly, I wanted to do the glider as an NSFK (Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps – national socialist flying corps) craft. The NSFK was part of the plan to interest Germans in flight, and begin the “re-aeronautization” (my word) of Germany and her people. For more on both the NSFK and its planes, lots of awesome photos and other stuff, check out this link: http://www.danielsww2.com/NSFK1.html. Doing some research led me to the conclusion that the Baby would thus be in a creamy-yellow colour. More research led me to find out this is an RLM Colour: RLM 05.
My MMA RLM 05 didn’t look right at all, so I took a light yellow mixed paint I’d had for a while, and made it paler. I did this until it matched the colour chip I’d found online. I then primed the airplane in Colourplace (Walmart) grey primer, and used my Badger 155 Anthem to put on a few coats of the paint. It took about three coats to cover, and I was worried that the fine detail on the wings and tail would be obscured. They weren’t too badly affected, though, and I could see them fine when the painting and light sanding was done. I applied a light coat of Future to seal the paint for decaling. Once the decals were on, more Future was applied to seal them, and then the whole model was covered with a coat of Delta Ceramcoat Matte Indoor/Outdoor Urethane Varnish. This was adjusted with some Future to give it a dull semi-gloss finish. I think the real plane would have been shinier, but I liked the finish, and some restored examples are quite matte.
As mentioned earlier, the model does a good job of giving a hint of the ribs under the fabric covering on the Baby’s wings, tailplanes and rudder. After some Futuring and Matte Coating, these were very faint. To highlight them, I ground up some chalk pastels to be just a bit darker than the RLM 05 of the paint, and I applied them with a Tamiya Extra Small Craft Swab. Applying pastel powders is much easier over matte paint, and a single application was all that was required. One overcoat of the Future-laced matte varnish sealed these onto the plane and gave me the semi-gloss look I was after. The result is fairly subtle in some lights, but more pronounced in others. I only used a pencil to outline the control surfaces; wing flaps, rudder, elevator and in-wing spoilers. The rest of the lines were just pastelled.
I glued the underwing supports on after the decals were on, but before the final varnishing. This was easier, since the struts go right in the middle of the underwing call letters. I also put the windscreen on when all was done. The kit comes with four of them, but I only needed one. However, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Cutting out and shaping the windscreen is NOT easy. I taped the little flat acetate sheet that had the windows on it to some masking tape, so I could at least see the outline of the shape I was cutting. I then peeled the tape off, and had to roll the window to its curved shape. In so doing, I lost it not once, not twice, but FIVE times, as it’s tiny, springy self catapulted to any and all corners of my modelling room. Each escape attempt ended in failure, though, and I finally got the windscreen glued into my groove with Elmer’s White Glue. The groove worked as expected, and made my life much, much easier. I then coated the little ‘glass’ piece with Future, to give it more shine.
My Baby and Me:
This kit of the Baby doesn’t come with German decals. There is a version that does, but this isn’t it. So, I had to make my own. I had a very specific machine in mind, so custom decals were a necessity. The question you’re asking is likely “Well, what’s so special you needed custom decals?” The answer is this:
Like many out there, my family has been involved in both World Wars. My mother’s family is of British descent, and my father’s family is from Germany, where he was born just before the end of WWII. As such, I have a rich heritage of military history from which to draw for inspiration. My mom’s dad, “Pa” as we called him, was in the second wave of Army troops to land in England from Canada. He served in England during the dark days of the early ‘40s, including the Battle of Britain, where he was attached to Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons deployed in the woods. My dad’s dad, “Opa” as we knew him, served in the Kriegsmarine aboard several ships, and was also a demolition frogman. My dad’s uncle Fritz was in the Luftwaffe, as a mechanic, I believe. He was also a life-long glider enthusiast.
However, it was going through my dad’s mom’s (“Oma” to us) photo album one day that we saw a picture of some gliders on a mountain slope. It was then I learned that my Oma had been born in Grunau, and she had worked at the factory that produced the Baby! She had personally worked on the planes, and Fritz, her brother, had been part of the NSFK before he became a mechanic. We learned this years ago, but sadly, the photos were lost after Oma passed away. It was sad to lose both Oma and the photos in rapid succession, but the photos were the least of my concern.
Flash forward to the HeritageCon model show at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in 2014. One of the prizes on the raffle table there was this box of AZ Grunau Babys. I HAD to have it. I wanted to build a replica of the planes my Oma had built. Luck, though, wasn’t with me; I won some football (soccer, to us North Americans) playing WWII figures. They were nice, but not Baby-nice. Eventually, I found that the Baby’s winner wasn’t really into planes. I found him, and asked if he’d trade me. He said sure, and the good folks running the raffle table traded me the footballers for my Babys. Thus, I owe them both a great big “Thank you!” for the chance to build this kit.
Sadly, I had no photos of “Fritz’s” plane, though. My dad emailed his cousin (Fritz’s son Gunter) in Germany, and they went through their family photo albums. Unfortunately, Fritz has passed on, but his wife, Marianne, is still alive. In the album were only two photos of the Baby in action, but he scanned them and sent them to me. One shows a Baby with the D-6 code (for Grunau area craft) taking off. It’s a bit rough, but it’s cool to see it flying. Is it Fritz at the controls? I have no clue. Maybe. If not, he definitely took the picture, and was there. The second was very clear and showed a landed Baby in a field. Oddly, this had a D-7 code, for a Grossrueckerswalde aircraft. Why would Fritz have seen this plane? Did he fly it? Since the picture was clearer, I decided to model this plane.
Decals: Whose Baby is it Anyway?
I noticed that, on the nose of the plane, there was a name. It’s a bit foggy, but it looked like Otto Brauligam. I didn’t know who that was; maybe it was the person who donated the plane? That wasn’t unheard of. Maybe he was a visitor to Grunau’s glider area? Regardless, this is an original photo in our family’s album, so I know Fritz or Oma were there to take the picture. They likely touched the plane, even if they didn’t fly it. It wasn’t until I was done that I learned the truth behind this nose-mounted script.
I made my decals using MS Word. I scanned in the Baby’s wings and half the fuselage, so I had a 1/1 template to work on, and then drew up the call codes and German national markings for the tail. This is not easy, but it does work, and there’s no one else out there who has these decals! I printed them using the Testors Inkjet decal paper; the tail bands on white and the letters on clear. I put them on the glossed Baby and then sealed them with Future.
The numbers and “Otto Brauligam” decals were fine. The tail bands, though… man, that was a pain! The white Testors Decal Paper isn’t as good at holding ink as the clear, and I had to go through about 14 decals until I could get the results I wanted. Many bled red ink into my bowl of water, despite being sealed with the Testors Decal Bonder spray. I found that a single light coat of future brushed over already-sprayed decals was the most effective. There were several times I had to strip off the decals and re-do them. I ended up using two overlays of the decal on each side of the fin; this gave the right opacity to the red and whiteness to the white. It was critical to align the decals perfectly, so there was no misalignment “shadow” on the Swastika.
Once the plane was done, I decided I should look up “Otto Brauligam” and see if there was anything. I found that the plane actually said “Otto Brautigam”. Oops. Well, it’s hard to see in the photo, so I was close. My first lead led me to some guy who was a diplomat and was somehow involved in the Holocaust. Nothing about gliders, though. Then I tried “Otto Brautigam Segelflug”. Now, it all makes sense…
Otto Brautigam was a very famous German glider pilot in the 1930’s. In a country obsessed with gliding and record breaking, he was something of a celebrity. In the mid ‘30s (1934, I think) he flew 502 km in a glider: a world record. He apparently toured all over Germany and was known for his aerobatic skills in gliders (much like Oscar Boesch in the post-war era) as well as for his long-distance exploits. His celebrity and renown were such that he was even part of the International Olympic Commission, and helped to select gliders for the 1940 Olympics. He was married to Gerda Berndt, and they had a daughter. Sadly, he was killed on May 28, 1941, at Regensburg, during some kind of test flight, before his daughter was born.
So, this photo, then, after which I patterned my model, is actually a shot of the plane flown by this then most-famous, yet now little-known, pilot. Is it a plane my Great Uncle Fritz would have flown? Well, now I have my doubts; I can’t imagine Otto letting a green NSFK kid fly his plane. But I know Fritz saw it, since we have the photo to prove it.
As far as models go, the Grunau Baby is a nice, if not spectacular kit. I’ve never built any other AZ models, but they seem to be competent mould makers and the detail on the Baby shows a definite care in their craftsmen. While the fit of the cockpit was iffy, the only real complaint I have is that the instructions just aren’t clear enough. Also, the Baby is very small, so even the larger “small bits” are on the small side. Because of these two issues, I can’t say the Baby is good for a person without at least moderate experience in modelling. If you know your way around a plastic plane, though, and you’re comfortable with doing a bit of rework here and there, it won’t be a problem.
With two kits in the box, the AZ Baby is a good value by and large. There are many versions of the kit, but you can easily make your own markings if you can’t find one you like. I don’t know what the kit decals are like, but they look nice, at least. For anyone interested in the history of aviation, or WWII Luftwaffe, or gliders, then this is a great kit to have in your collection. Despite being largely unknown by many, the Baby is actually very important. Kudos to AZ for giving us this kit, and in so many variants.
I started this build wanting to pay tribute to my Oma who built these planes and my Great Uncle who actually flew them. What I found out was that the plane in our family photo was even more important than that. Now I have a model of something our family saw and experienced, and that was something of a celebrity in its day. Now this model is a tribute to both my Oma and Fritz, as well as Herr Otto Brautigam. While all have passed on, I hope that this little yellow model, and this article, will help perpetuate a tiny fraction of history in which they all shared.