1/72 Fi-203 Adlerkralle

The Fi-203 was my very first What-If. I don't know what's worse, the fact that I thought of it, or that it seems somewhat logical given the state of things at the end of the war!

The Fi-203 was my very first What-If. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that I thought of it, or that it seems somewhat logical given the state of things at the end of the war!

As you have likely seen from my Float Stuka and EP-6D Seamaster, I love the weird. Because of that, I have a thing for all manner of Luft ’46 aircraft, both “legitimate” ones and those that spring, somewhat fully formed, from my head! As an example of the latter, I had the idea of combining the Fi-103 from Heller with the V1 from FROG/Revell Germany (the one that came with the Blitz Huckepack).

(Note that technically all versions of the V1 are also Fi-103’s. However, for this article, I use V1 to mean the unmanned version, and Fi-103 to mean the Reichenberg IV.)

Initial Horrors:

The first thing I did was to chop off the starboard wings of both the V1 and the Fi-103. Once the wings were gone, I was able to get a better feel for what kind of separation I wanted between the two fuselages. I cut a hole in the Fi-103 to accommodate the V1’s wing and found out a few startling things on inspection. The first was that the two kits have wings of drastically different aspect ratios. The V1’s wing is far thicker (2x at least) than the wing on the -103. While this seems a problem at first, it really isn’t all that bad. The center wing would house fuel or beefy structure anyway, so it being thicker was actually a bit of a blessing in disguise!

Not a blessing was the discovery that the two buzz bombs have fuselages of different diameters! The V1 is fatter than the -103!! To make this worse, I found out that the engine on the V1 is also fatter, and shorter, than that on the -103. It also turns out the fin is a different shape and there is no marked rudder on the V1. As you can see, even though the two kits are supposed to be of the same airframe, they are quite different. As a final kick to the head, I found out that the hole left in the V1 where I cut the wing out was far too big to hold the wing from the Fi-103. Obviously, there was a lot of surgery in this thing’s future.

Uh.... yeah... This is what happens when you have two of the same airframes in the same scale; NOTHING MATCHES!! Are you bloody kidding me? Look at the engine heights and diameters, never mind the difference in wing thickness between the outer and middle wing, nor the body diameters. Weak...

Uh…. yeah… This is what happens when you have two of the same airframes in the same scale; NOTHING MATCHES!! Are you bloody kidding me? Look at the engine heights and diameters, never mind the difference in wing thickness between the outer and middle wing, nor the body diameters. Weak… The Frog kit is the green half (yes, I see the irony) and the Heller is grey, if you’re keeping score at home.

Working with what I had:

With these shortcomings discovered, I set about making the two separate, and apparently somewhat disparate, kits fit together the best I could.

The first thing I wanted to do was mount the spare machine gun cowl from the 1/72 Academy Bf-109G-14 in the nose of the V1. To this end I cut out a panel from the V1, and tried to insert the cowl piece. It fit, but not well. I had misjudged the curvature of the cowling, and the guns were pointing into the fuselage! Not good. Thus, I had to cut a bigger hole until I could get the cowl piece to sit with the guns level. This only took a few tries, but it left behind a considerable hole in the top of the V1’s body. At some point, I knew that this was going to have to be filled with Milliput.

However, I also know that the V1 is hollow, so there’s a really good chance that the Milliput would just fall into the thing! To prevent this, I cut up some sprue and CA’ed it under the hole. Thus, in effect, I made a shallow hole out of a deep one. Filling this smaller depression, I reasoned, would be much easier and cheaper than backfilling the entire V1. It turned out this was one of the better predictions I made.

Here's where I tried to fit the gun deck from the immeasurably better Academy 109 into the Frog V1. The two 'tubes' below the deck are just sprue that I used to support the deck and minimize the amount of Milliput I needed to use. Sadly, that was one of the best engineered pars of the two kits.

Here’s where I tried to fit the gun deck from the immeasurably better Academy 109 into the Frog V1. The two ‘tubes’ below the deck are just sprue that I used to support the deck and minimize the amount of Milliput I needed to use. Sadly, that was one of the best engineered pars of the two kits.

The next major step was figuring out how to get the Fi-103’s wing to fit into the large hole in the V1’s body. I determined that I needed to fill the bottom half of the hole, and found some balsa stringers lying around. It turns out that a 1/16″ stringer was the perfect height, so I cut a piece off and CA’ed (CA’ed) it in place. I then CA’ed a piece of sprue in behind it, to give it strength and to give the Fi-103 wing some plastic to ‘bite’ onto when I inserted it.

Engine Trouble:

The next step was to modify the engine on the V1. The Heller kit actually came with a nice little ribbed piece to simulate the shutters on the pulse jet engine. Now granted they’re not very accurate, but it gives a better effect than the blank face in the Revell model! Making things worse was the fact that the V1’s flat engine faceplate was very close to the front of the engine duct, while the -103’s ribbed piece was further back. Thus, I had to chop out the V1’s faceplate, and make a new one. I had some bigger balsa stock around, so I made a circle out of it, and carved ridges in it using some needle files. This was then CA’ed into position, even with the face in the Fi-103. I shortened the Fi-03’s exhaust pipe as well, so that at least both engine ducts are the same length now.

It's getting closer, now! Here you can see the Milliput behind the gun deck, the wings on and the tailplanes yet to come!

It’s getting closer, now! Here you can see the Milliput behind the gun deck, the wings on and the tailplanes yet to come! the green gunk is some Squadron putty (EVIL!) that I used to fill the spaces.

When I test fitted the model together, I found there was yet ANOTHER problem with proportions. The engine on the Fi-103 was much lower than that on the V1. Part of the problem was due to the fact that the V1’s engine has a bigger diameter than that of the Fi-103 (of course, why wouldn’t it…). To compensate, I had to shorten the support pylons and the tail. I also moved the entire engine assembly forward approximately ¼”, which, when you consider the scale, corresponds to 1.5 feet! WTF??

The final insult to the tail was the rudder. There is no separate rudder on the V1. (The molding of the Fi-103 is superior to the V1 in every way, especially in terms of surface detail and control surfaces).Thus, I had to make one. This made use of the same balsa stock I used to make the engine vent face. The fixed part of the rudder was also too long, although I left that the way. The way I see it, the extra fin area would be needed for stability’s sake, as it would help to account for the extra side area on the -103 due to the rear of the cockpit fairing. As a bonus, it gives the Fi-203 a bit more of a last minute lash-up kind of look, perfect for a late-war German desperation weapon.

 Assembly:

Once the small details were done, it was time to start sticking my Frankenstein project together. Gluing the -103 to the V1 was quite simple, and thanks to my trusty CA, it was done in a flash. The CA also served to fill in the gaps, and there was little sanding needed. The -103’s wing also went into the balsa-shimmed hole in the V1 very easily.

The entire airframe was assembled, and the Milliput was added to the V1 behind the guns. There was nothing to do while I dried except try and figure out how the thing was going to land. Since there’s no room for wheels, I decided on the very Germanic sprung steel skid method. Hey, if it’s good enough for the Komet and early Ar-234’s, it’s good enough for this thing!

To make the skids, I needed some wide, flat metal pieces. I found them in an old set of Walkman headphones. The spring steel that holds on the ‘phones was perfect – all I had to do was Dremel out a few short pieces, and bend an attachment point, and I was done. I’m glad I had the Dremel: I ruined a pair of cutters trying (in vain) to cut the metal. I’d have been skidless without it. As an interesting note, I had to mount the skids (done after painting) at different amounts of deflection. The difference in the body diameters between the -203’s two halves was quite pronounced, and affected the sit of the craft considerably. Thus, to keep the wings level on the ground, the skids were bent different amounts, and then labeled as to which went in what side.

This front view shows the completed Fi-203 sitting on its skids. It sits "wings level", but look at the deflection of the skids - totally different due to the different body diameters. Getting that right was fun, believe me!

This front view shows the completed Fi-203 sitting on its skids. It sits “wings level”, but look at the deflection of the skids – totally different due to the different body diameters. Getting that right was fun, believe me!

I then added the tailplane. If you look at the sketch I did early on, I had intended to keep the outer tailplanes and have a middle one too. However, I didn’t like the look of it when I tested it, so I decided just to make a central one. This was made from the two -103 tailplanes, glued to the inner body sides, and cut down to fit together.  The final pieces (other than the cockpit) to be added were the bomb shackles. I took them off of Dragon’s 1/48 Jabo Me-262, and shaped them to fit one of the small bombs from the old Airfix He-177 (bad, bad kit…). The only problem was that during painting and sanding, the little arms got broken off. It didn’t matter, though, because the central part of the cradles still were able to hold the bomb.

 Painting:

Painting is always my favourite part of a kit. I love it because it allows me to transform what is essentially a ruined mess into something that looks (hopefully) significantly better than what I started with.

I painted the -203 by hand, starting with the undersides done in Testors Model Master Acrylic Light Ghost Grey; it covered in four coats only. MMA greys rock. I then did the top by hand using the old (first generation) Testors Acrylics; the lighter colour is a lightened FS34102 Medium Green and a slightly darkened FS34079 Dark Green.

Front and back views of the finished product. It's come a long way from the Milliput and whatever-else mess it was a few pictures ago, eh?

Front and back views of the finished product. It’s come a long way from the Milliput and whatever-else mess it was a few pictures ago, eh?

If you’ve ever used the old Testors paints, then you know they go on a bit thick and a bit wavy. However, they are TOUGH, and I was able to sand the paint very nice and smooth. I masked the cammo with masking tape after doing the basics freehand, and NO paint came off.

When I was done sanding the paint smooth, I outlined the few details with a filed-down 0.5 pencil and applied several coats of Future. This was done to prevent silvering of the decals, which themselves proved to be a bit of a challenge.

 Decals:

The decals on this kit are a real mixed bag. The numbers on the side and the chevrons are from Academy’s excellent Bf-109 G14, the same kit that contributed the gun deck on the V1. The iron crosses on the tops of the wings and the fuselage sides are from Academy’s Me-163 B/S Komet, and the crosses on the underside of the wings are from the old Heller Komet. The Swastikas and nose shield are from the ancient FROG He-162.

Three different views of the Fi-203 to give you a feel for how much the appearance changes form different angles.

Three different views of the Fi-203 to give you a feel for how much the appearance changes from different angles.

 Final Steps:

The final step was to flat coat the model. I used Mircroscale Microflat, which doesn’t dry quite flat, but a bit satiny. While generally good, this stuff is expensive and doesn’t go that far. That’s why I generally use the Delta Ceramcoat varnish. I also think the Ceramcoat is harder and more durable, so it stands up to handling better. With the flat coat applied, I glued on the bomb and skids with CA and the cockpit with White Glue.

And that’s it. The final product is, I think, rather nice. It looks odd enough to just be something the Luftwaffe would have tried, and it is logical, given the situation at the end of the war.

Two more views. The underside serves to highlight the gross differences in the length and diameters of the two V-1 kits. I would have been WAAAAY better off with two Heller Fi-103s, but I only had one at the time, and a project like this just can't wait!

Two more views. The underside serves to highlight the gross differences in the length and diameters of the two V-1 kits. I would have been WAAAAY better off with two Heller Fi-103s, but I only had one at the time, and a project like this just can’t wait!

Fictional History of the Fi-203:

Please note that the following is FICTIONAL. There never was an aircraft called the Fi-203, and to my knowledge no such design 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 coolly 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, you do so at your peril.

That having been said, I can’t resist writing this little alternate history for the -203. My work wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t. Here we go:

In the late stages of the war, the Luftwaffe was in desperate need of aircraft to destroy the bomber formations that ravaged Germany day in and day out. The Me-262 and Me-163 were only partial solutions. Expensive to build and dangerous to use in turn, these two planes were “too little, too late” to turn the tide in the air. Because of this, the call went out for even more revolutionary weapons that could be made quickly, cheaply and flown by Hitler Youth pilots with next to no training.

One solution was the He-162 Salamander. Another was the Fi-103 Reichenberg IV piloted V1 – a weapon designed to be flown either into ships or bombers as a suicide weapon. Well, okay, the pilot was SUPPOSED to bail out, but the chances were slim. Along with these designs, others were put forth. The Miniaturjager requirement called for a swarm of miniature fighters, smaller than the He-162 Volksjager (People’s fighter) which would literally blacken the sky, and roll the bombers and their escorts back by force of numbers alone.

Several proposals were made, including a pulsejet powered He-162 and several other planes that looked similar to the Fi-103 Reichenberg IV. Thus, the RLM issued a request for a proposal from Fiesler to create a Miniaturjager based on a non-throwaway Reichenberg. Originally, the design was simply to put two guns in place of the -103’s warhead. However, this left little room for fuel, and the project was considered too limited. In addition, while the -103 was fairly fast, it didn’t have the climb performance needed for interception. However, it was stable, making it a good platform to attack the waves of tanks and troops closing on Germany from both East and West.

Thus, the design was modified to a twin fuselage, two-engined configuration. It was reasoned that this approach would give not only greater warload and endurance, but also provide some measure of safety due to the twin engines. The Me-328 concept had used twin pulse jets in one of its configurations, although it had been problematic. Rather than spend time and money on the -328’s new design, it was decided to simply fasten two existing airframes together. Parts commonality and simplicity ensured quick production time, and reduced the lead time of the project overall.

The center span was strengthened to carry a single 250 kg (550 lb) bomb. The pilot was situated to port, while the starboard fuselage carried fuel and two MG 131 13mm cannons. While too light to attack tanks, the cannons were reasoned to be good enough for use against troops and light vehicles, as well as spotter planes and any seaplanes encountered on coastal operations.

Pre-production began in January 1945, and test flights were generally trouble free. Takeoff was with assistance of a rocket propelled trolley, similar to that used on the early Ar-234 series reconnaissance planes, albeit smaller and cheaper. The Fi-103z was not able to air-launch, however; its bulk and mass proved too much for the He-111 to handle. Landing was on a sprung steel skid fastened by three bolts under each fuselage.

There was no throttling the Argus pulse-jet engines, but production models did have a method to adjust the amount of fuel injected on every pulse, thus allowing for some rudimentary throttle control. Landing could be made on one engine, if necessary, and gliding landings with no engines running were common.

When the aircraft was approved for production in February 1945, the designation was changed to Fi-203. Manufacture was by unskilled labour, and most components were light metal, with some wood in the wings. Despite its rushed nature, the -203 proved surprisingly robust, and in action was able to sustain a good load of damage before being destroyed.

It was a small target for AA gunners, although it was not stealthy in the least. The droning of the pulse jets could not be damped, and conditions in the cramped cockpit were poor. It was said that only the deaf could fly the -203 without going mad, and the constant droning of the jets lead to the unofficial nickname “Die noerglerische Frau” – the “nagging wife”. This was considerably less glamourous than its official nickname of “Adlerskralle” – Eagle’s Claw, although both namesakes are to be feared.

Only the barest essential instruments were provided, and the barest minimum electrical equipment was fitted. There was no ejection seat, and escape was considered nearly impossible. The aircraft were issued primarily to newly formed units, although the commandos who had been originally tasked with employing the suicide -103s were also given a compliment.

While its climbing performance was poor, the Fi-203 could dive quickly, reaching a speed of 488 mph. This proved to be of great value for making diving attacks on ground convoys or shipping. Employed by very nervy pilots at treetop height, the -203 was difficult to hit and spot from the air, and hard to see from the ground, despite hearing it for some distance. It proved to be remarkably effective in providing close air support to beleaguered troops on Germany’s ever-shrinking periphery, although many were lost when they were forced to land and couldn’t be recovered.

Some attempts were made to transform the -203 into a bomber killer. Various armament schemes were proposed, including the addition of R4M rockets on the center wing, 20mm cannon packs (one on each nose) and the fitting of a battery of Foehn rockets, Natter-like, in each nose. There was even a proposal to fit 50 and 75mm cannons in the unpiloted half, and a two-seat night attacker was proposed, but these proved to be little more than pipe dreams.

Overall, the Fi-203 made a slight contribution to the war, although it did prove that Germany was capable of making the best of a bad situation. The model presented here represents an aircraft of II/JG 553, stationed on the ‘western front’ in April 1945. This unit was tasked with protecting Me-262 bases from ground attacks by American troops. The -203s would launch as the 262s returned and would orbit, attacking targets of opportunity. This proved to be a good use for the -203, as it could usually make it back to base, get refueled and be up again in the span of 25 minutes.

Only 105 were made, and of these, only 38 saw service. However, they managed to destroy some 110 light vehicles and 12 tanks using their bombs and cannons.

2 comments

  1. Herman P. Moore · · Reply

    WOW Great idea – just the kinda W.I.F. that will get my modeling juices flowing

    1. Thanks, man!

      I appreciate it. That little guy was my first attempt at What Iffing, ever! It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work, but it all worked out in the end. It makes me glad to be able to inspire others the way I was inspired! Your comments made my day!

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