To some, like myself, the lure of building something out of our imaginations, rather than right out of the box, is too much to resist. My personal weakness is Luft ’46. Normally, this refers to WWII German concept aircraft; paper projects that never were, although were often under consideration. Of course, that’s the “normal” definition of Luft ’46. I always have to go one step further.If you’ve seen some of my other creations, like the Fi-203, He-219 G-5/RT or my Float Stuka, then you know that I prefer to take existing airframes and make original concept aircraft out of them. From where this urge originates, I cannot tell you, but I can guarantee you that it is nearly ever-present. It’s almost impossible for me to see a WWII Luftwaffe plane and NOT think of how to Luft ’46 it!
Twinning is a particularly German concept, although the F-82 Twin Mustang does prove that other countries considered it an option as well. The Germans had a particular affinity for twinning everything from fighters to bombers to transports, and thus twins, more correctly “zwillings” in this context, are a natural subject for making Luft ’46 craft. I’m not new to zwillings: my Fi 203 was my first Luft ’46 project, but since then, I’ve wanted to do another.
One of the concepts put forward during the war was to have a zwilling of the Bf-109 fighter. This actually made good sense and would have resulted in a plane probably just as good for most things as the Bf 110. I’ve always wondered, though, why there were no such plans to twin the superior Fw-190 family of fighters… As soon as this thought came into my head, I knew I would have to build one.
The tricky part was getting two of the EXACT SAME Fw-190s. For one thing, I wanted to twin the long-nosed D family. (I find them much prettier than the radial-engined types.) Of course, a Ta-152C (or even H) would have worked fine too. However, while there are a lot of kits of these planes around, it is unusual to find two of the same kit sitting on a store’s shelves. Factoring in the price of even a moderately decent kit, I figured it would be a while before this concept ever saw the light of day.
Then, in March, 2006, and the WellCOME X model show in Guelph: I was making my umpteenth circuit of the dealer’s room (No, really??), actually looking for a pair of identical Fw-190 Ds when I came upon the table occupied by WS Hobby, Toys and Collectibles. I had been by several times already, and not seeing any Luft ’46 books or Revell Germany boxes, had passed him by each time. This time, though, I noticed he had TWO of the Heller/Airfix Fw-190 D kits! My heart skipped a beat as I realized what this could mean for my twin concept. My excitement was tempered, though, by my experience with the Bf-109 of the same brand and box style. It, being an Airfix originally, was a horrific piece of trash; barely acceptable as project material and far inferior to any FROG I’ve ever built. Still, I couldn’t resist, and after some bargaining, I was able to procure both kits at the amazing price of $7.00!
Upon opening the box of the first kit, I was pleasantly surprised. The kit, while basic, seemed to have good proportioning, some nice detail and was overall quite nice. It looked like something Revell or Monogram would have made, and this is a vast improvement over what I expected. There were raised panel lines (big deal, I’m used to re-etching detail anyway), but none of the seemingly unending seas of rivets that so often festoon an Airfix kit. The Fw-190D comes moulded in grey plastic, and has options for wheels up or wheels down. The landing gear is quite detailed, as are the bays. There is a centerline drop tank included. There is a sheet of simple decals, although no Swastikas are included, and there are no warning labels or other stencils.
Cockpit detail is nearly non-existent, there being no instrument panel, no control stick and nothing moulded into the seat. The instructions are clear but simple, and give no real information about the kit being constructed or the markings applied to the finished product. Test fitting showed there would be some issues, but no more than on other kits I’ve built. I compared the kit to the Hasegawa Fw 190 D9 I have, and the differences in detail and overall fineness were quite apparent. Still, even though the Heller/Airfix only had one canopy option (the bubble-type hood), one decal option and no real fiddly bits, I think it is a good kit. It was certainly perfect for what I needed…
Building the Fw-380:
Before I could get too far into the twinning process, a thought hit me. I decided to do the plane as a night fighter. However, I wanted something that would be exceptionally hard hitting. I then came up with the idea of making it a single seat night fighter. The pilot would sit in a conventional Fw 190 fuselage on one side, and the other side would mount some kind of heavy cannon array. With this in mind, I chopped off the top of one of the airplanes and glued in a ‘load floor’ made out of spare bits of runner. I did this so that my eventual Milliput fairing would have something to be built upon. I decided to sit the pilot on the port side, with guns to starboard, as in my Fi 203.
Thus, I chopped off the starboard wing of the piloted half and the port wing of the gun half, and measured out how long a center wing I’d need to ensure the props didn’t run into one another. (I did briefly consider intermeshing props, but abandoned it as unfeasible and dangerous given late WWII technology and workmanship standards.) I had to be careful, because the wing roots are at an angle, and the wing would have to take this into account.
To make the center wing itself, I used four layers of sheet styrene glued together. I found that this was approximately the thickness of the real wings at the root. However, a major problem now loomed: how was I going to get the wings to hold to the body? The original wings were part of a pan that fit into the bottom of the fuselage, but the center wing would have no such support.The answer was to use stiff wire pins to attach the wing to the body. As luck would have it, the spring steel I had on hand was almost exactly the thickness of a layer of styrene! For strength’s sake, I put the two pins at different levels, so that they would each cut into a different layer of the center wing.
I aligned the pins at the right level of the plane’s fuselages, and then drilled holes as needed. I then glued two pins into each fuselage, and used Zap-A-Gap CA to hold them in place. Once the pins were in there good and hard, the real work of attaching the center wing could begin. First, the second layer from the bottom was measured and a strip corresponding to the lowest pin was marked in and cut out. This was repeated for the third layer and second pin.
At this point, I glued all of the layers together, matching up the pieces as well as possible, given that they weren’t exceptionally precisely cut in the first place. I used Ambroid Proweld on nearly all gluing tasks for this kit, and let me tell you it worked like a charm on the sheet styrene! By the next day, I had a new center wing core, and was ready to proceed. I slid the wing onto one set of pins, and found that the holes were a little off. I had to shorten the pins a bit to make the wing fit, but I am certain I still have more than enough wire in there to hold the final plane together. I then dumped on the Proweld and left it to melt and harden together overnight. The next day, I repeated the process on the other (port) side, and had to wait another day to let things dry.
Once everything was all dry, I realized I needed something to lend some shape to the wing fillets. I used a couple of strips of styrene to create “steps” in the wing, near the root. These would eventually be covered up by filler or Milliput, but it seemed a good way to give some structure to the complex curved surface I’d need to make.
Building it all Up:
With the wing in place, only the beginning steps were done. Now I had to fair the wing into the fuselages, as well as giving it some shape on the leading and trailing edges. I thus broke out the Milliput, and made new wing fillets out of them. At the same time, I also put on the fairing on the ‘gun’ side of the plane, as well as covering over the two inner landing gear bays. At this point, I decided that a plank-like tailplane (a la F-82) was too natural, and opted to fill in the inner tailplane slots. This left only the outer tailplanes for the aircraft. This does seem weird, I grant you, but there were legitimate Focke Wulf projects that utilized such an arrangement.
Needless to say, what followed was a veritable orgy of sanding. For days on end, I sanded, etched, resanded and re-etched, all to get the contours to become smooth and evenly faired. I used everything from 320 grit to 2000 grit paper, both dry and wet-dry, to achieve my ends. Lots of CA and Tamiya putty also found there way onto the plane in the process. Thankfully, I had used some large wire to poke holes in the gun pack (to act as gun troughs) when the Milliput was wet, so I didn’t have to drill through dry Milliput to make that detail.
After all the sanding and etching with both scriber and straight pin, the bulk of the assembly work was done. I sanded off the cowling guns, too, since I wanted to concentrate the armament in the starboard fuselage. I painted the insides of the engine cowls Testors Model Master Acrylic Aircraft Interior Black, and glued them on. I masked the cockpit hole with Funtack, and used Wal-Mart Colourplace grey primer to find areas still needing corrections.
Once everything was tidied up, the tailplanes were added and the cockpit canopy was masked with Tamiya tape and glued to the body. The gap between the body and the canopy was quite large in spots, so white glue was used to fill the holes. Normally, I like to put the canopy on at the end, but in this case it was more feasible just to put it on first, so the filler would get painted and blend in.
I decided to put the underbelly tanks out on the wings, since a plane this big would need all the gas it could get, and to put a radar pod on the centerline. I still had the pylons and shackles from my Ju 88 kit, so I used it. The radar pod is some kind of old rocket pod, I think. I got it from a club swap meet some time ago, I tacked on some kind of bulge, to make it look cool, and voila!
Painting and Decalling:
I originally wanted a paint similar to conventional night fighting schemes, like one finds on Bf-110s and Ju-88Gs. I intended to use MM Acrylic Light grey all over, with light beige blobs and an overpaint of grey-purple squiggle. I thought this would give a very ‘dusk’ or ‘sunrise’ look to the paint. I got the idea from a Coulson print hanging in my upper hall at home. It shows a Lancaster outbound over a pinky-brownish sky, and I thought that would be a good effect to aim for.
Well, it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would. First, I primed the plane in Mr. Surfacer 1000. The Testors MM light grey was, being a second generation MM acrylic, a joy to airbrush. It was thinned with water and covered exceptionally well and toughly. The bonus of MMs is that they can be touched up by hand if need be: they don’t change colours like Tamiyas do!
I should have known it wouldn’t be so easy, though, and the camouflaged didn’t go anywhere nearly as well as the base colour. Firstly, we didn’t have anything light enough, in the beige spectrum, for what I wanted. However, we did have Tamiya XF-57 Buff. It seemed like it might work, so I tried it. Turns out, it was a little dark after all! Secondly, I wasn’t able to achieve the fine blobs I wanted to. Instead of fine splotches, I got something oddly reminiscent of a dairy cow. In trying to touch it up, I of course only made it worse, so I gave up on that. I decided I’d just continue and see if the purple-grey scribble would make the whole thing look a little better. Not surprisingly, the colour I had in mind had dried out, and I only had my homemade Braunviolet to use. I figured “Why not” and sprayed it on. I used the quick, jerky technique I used on my Ta -152H, and it did work nicely.
Now I had a purple striped dairy cow. Hmmm… It reminded me of a bowl of half-melted Neapolitan ice cream, what with the whitish, brownish and pinkish colours all blending together. It also gave the impression of being badly bruised. The paint was far too vibrant, and I was faced with the fact that I was going to have to try something else. Then I remembered a trick the guys at the club told me once: to overspray the finished cammo job with the base colour to bring everything down a shade!
Thus, I lightly dusted my creation with another coat of MM Light Grey. The results were amazing! Not only did it reduce the starkness of the camouflage, it made the whole thing look much more unified. I liked it! This is an effect and method I will certainly try again!
The next step was to outline all the panel lines. I used my traditional filed-down mechanical pencil to do this. While there is some debate as to whether panel lines should be marked off this way, I like it, so I do it. I think it helps to add another dimension to the finished kit. The kit was then gloss airbrushed with Tamiya gloss coat and then a few coats of Future were hand brushed on. This was to get the plane good and shiny for decals.
I didn’t find much of use in the kit decals, but I found some wonderful decals in my spares box. I believe they are from a newer issue of the Revell Germany (nee FROG) Blitz kit. These are among the very best decals I have ever used. They didn’t silver at all, went on beautifully without any decal setting solution, and were extremely tough.
I added some warning signs to the drop tanks and radar pod, for realism’s sake. (Ironic, I know…) I also used the red griffon decals form an old Allmark Bf 109 sheet I got from Eric Green’s estate. The pilot’s side griffon was no big deal; I just had to cut it in half. On the starboard side, though, the griffon had to be moved back due to the supercharger intake, and this ended up covering a bunch of panel lines! I had to cut the decal into five pieces, and it did its best to live up to the Swastika on the opposite tail, I can tell you!
Once the decals were on, they were tacked down with another coat of Tamiya gloss coat.
The props were painted the same green as I used on my Rei Ayanami’s school uniform. This is actually quite close to the colour of the wooden VDM-11 prop on an Fw 190 D13 I saw in a Luftwaffe Fighters magazine I bought a while back. The spinners were hand painted using the MM light grey. I wanted something that would really look realistic for guns. I had calculated that 0.038” wire would be about right for 20 mm cannons in 1/72 scale, and bought some at a hobby shop in Port Huron when I was there last. I cut small lengths and glued them into the gun troughs using white glue. I liked the effect so much that I replaced the kits wing cannons with the same wire! I then used my ersatz Dremel to square off the ends of the wire, improving the look of things significantly.
The plane was finished using Microscale Microflat to which some Tamiya X-21 Flat Base had been added. Usually, this comes out satiny, but because it was the dregs of a jar, it was thicker, and the Flat Base also helped out. This time, my flat coat was really FLAT. Now I’ve discovered how to use Delta Ceramcoat Matte Vanrnish to achieve this, but when I built this guy, I’d never even heard of the stuff. It’s amazing how much easier it is to control the flatness of the Delta stuff than it was to use the Microflat. Delta dominates the flatting/semi-glossing scene.
With everything flat coated, the landing gear, radar pod and props were attached and the canopy masking was removed. Unfortunately, there was a defect I couldn’t sand out of the canopy, and it didn’t get covered by a frame. Oh well, it is a Heller/Airfix after all!
This weird project forced me to do a number of things to push the limits of my skills. I had never scratch built components, never worked with sheet styrene (on a large scale) and never used wire for guns before. I also had never over-dusted a paintjob before. Given all these “first times”, I am very happy with how the kit came out. The source material I used was pedestrian at best, but I got to let my imagination run wild without a lot of capital investment, and that’s always a good thing. Would I do it again? Most certainly! Would I recommend it to someone else? Sure, so long as they had some experience!
Overall, this was a fun, interesting and throughly original project and I had a good time building it. The end result looks good, feels practical, and makes a nice addition to my display. It’s also completely unique, and that’s something priceless!
Operational history of the Fw-380
Please note that the following is FICTIONAL. To my knowledge, there never was an aircraft called the Fw 380 and I don’t know if 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:
A cornerstone of the Luftwaffe’s early success was, to hear Reichsmarschall Herman Goering tell it, the Zerstoerer (destroyer) class of twin-engined heavy fighter. While it’s true that the Bf-110 did have a long service career, and the fighter derivatives of the Ju 88 were successful, the Luftwaffe high command had been let down on several key Zerstoerer projects. Most notable of these was the Me-210/410 debacle, although the failure of the Ta-154 didn’t help things. The Luftwaffe’s apparent apathy towards the excellent He-219 multi-role aircraft only exacerbated the problem. With the arrival of the excellent P-38 and P-61 heavy fighters of the USAAF, and the continuing plague of RAF Mosquitoes, the Luftwaffe was put in a very unenviable position. There were, of course, many Zerstoerer projects on drawing boards in mid-1944 (some jets, some props), but these would require time to develop and put into service. Even the powerful Dornier Pfeil was not the answer to the Luftwaffe’s problems: it was undergoing trials, but there were still bugs to work out.
What was needed was a Zerstoerer based on a proven airframe/engine combination. This was precisely what a small group of engineers at Focke Wulf had been working on independently. The group submitted a proposal to the RLM in August 1944 that outlined a new heavy fighter based on twinning the Fw-190 D-9 then in service with the Luftwaffe. The proposed aircraft was billed as a multirole machine that could be configured for several roles, including day and night fighter, reconnaissance and ground attack/anti-shipping.
The Fw-190Z, as it was then unofficially known, was approved in concept at a Luftwaffe High Command meeting at the end of September 1944. The first prototype was made by combining two factory fresh D-9 airframes, and the aircraft was ready for flight at the end of November, 1944. There were some minor problems encountered, but overall the test flight program was successful, and the type was judged production-ready in late December 1944. At this point, a decision had to be made regarding what variants would be put into service first. The various Luftwaffe Generals each wanted a plane that would suit their particular needs, but it was eventually decided that a day fighter, night fighter and torpedo bomber would be put into service first. These three aircraft types were judged to be the most urgently required, since other jobs were already being taken over by new types, such as the Me 262 and Ar 234.
The first night fighter Fw-190Z was flown in February 1945. However, it was found to be too lightly armed and too slow to have much affect on the Mosquitoes prowling the Reich’s night skies. This was when a new version of the night fighter, the Fw 380 B-1a was proposed. This was a single-seat night fighter, with the pilot sitting in the port fuselage. The starboard fuselage was converted into a giant cannon pod. It was originally envisioned that the starboard fuselage would hold up to 6 Mk 103 30mm cannons in three Schraege Muzik slanted installations. However, the weight of this weapons fit, combined with the cannons’ slow rate of fire, did little to arouse enthusiasm. However, the B2-a model generated much more interest.
The Fw-380 B-2a was similar to the B1-a, except it used an array of six (later reduced to five in the production B2-c model) 20 mm MG 151 cannons in place of the Mk 103s. These guns had adequate hitting power, as well as a higher rate of fire and their ammunition was lighter. Thus, more rounds could be carried and the weight penalty was less. The fighter was approved for prototype construction in March 1945.
(NOTE: sometime in late February/early March of 1945 the designation was changed from Fw-190Z to Fw-380. It is suspected this was done simply because “380” is twice “190”, and it made it simpler for RLM bean counters to track procurements and funding decisions. No official reason for the change has ever been documented…)
The first Fw-380 B2-c night fighters began operation with Erprobungskommando 380 (EK 380) in April 1945. Very quickly, the pilots took a liking to the big, powerful fighter. With its external drop tanks and extra tankage in the center wing, the 380 could stay aloft much longer than the Fw-190. The armament was also well-liked; in the first month of sorties, EK 380 bagged over 25 Lancasters and Halifaxes and 6 Mosquitoes in clashes over northern Germany.
One problem with the fighter, however, was that it was operating in the Wilde Sau mode, and required ground control to find bombers effectively. This was changed with the arrival of the compact FuG 240C “Diamanten” (Diamond) radar homing set. This was an improvement of the existing Naxos equipment used on Ju 88 night fighters, and allowed the pilots of the 380s to home in on British radar and radio emissions.With the Diamanten installed, the record of EK 380 improved dramatically. Also, by May 1945 there were a total of four squadrons operating the night fighter. By July 1945, the type had completely supplanted the Bf 110 and Ju 88G series night fighters in all remaining Luftwaffe Nachtjaeger Gruppen.
In night combat, the 380 often encountered various marks of night fighter Mosquito, as well as the USAAF’s Black Widows. Up against such opposition, early 380 B-2a models were at a disadvantage: they had no forward firing guns, and the Schraege Muzik installations were not well suited for maneuvering combat. This was the primary reason that the B-2c model retained the wing mounted 20 mm cannons of the D-9. The cowl mounted guns were left off, however, for flash blindness reasons.
While it was a powerful, fast (top speed: 424 mph) and quite maneuverable aircraft, it did have its flaws. The major flaw was the landing gear. There had been little improvement made to the landing gear of the original D-9s from which the 380 was constructed. Thus, the gear legs and tires were being asked to handle twice the weight at almost twice the track! This was, given the state of metallurgy and rubber manufacturing at the time, too much to expect. Many 380s were destroyed in landing accidents.
Another fault was due to the recoil of the cannons in the starboard fuselage. When all five were fired, the recoil was sufficient to throw the plane into a spin. This could by corrected by applying a ‘bootful of rudder’ to counteract the recoil, but timing was critical. Since the guns on the B-2a could only be selected either “all on” or “all off”, many pilots chose to fly with only two or three of the cannons armed. While this reduced the effectiveness of the attack, it also allowed the plane to stay under control. This problem was rectified with the B-2c series: each of the five cannons could be selected independently, and an automatic rudder deflection system was incorporated. A similar concept would be used in the USAF F-15 over three decades later…
Unfortunately the career of the Fw-380 was not long. The B-2c nightfighters were in service until the final capitulation of the Reich in September 1945. In this time, only 290 of all versions had been made, and it was estimated that only half of these reached squadron service, the rest being destroyed in bombing raids or cannibalized for parts.
After the war, several B-2c machines were carted off by the Allies. Three were taken to the Soviet Union, and quickly determined to be of little interest. The British took a further three home, and the USA took four. The British were quite impressed by the airplane, despite losing a test pilot in a crash in early 1946. (This was caused by the failure of the auto-rudder during a five-gun firing test, resulting in an irrecoverable spin.) The USAAF flew the Fw-380 in mock dogfights with a number of its fighters, judging it to be quite capable for its role. One survives in the Smithsonian’s collection, and is currently awaiting restoration. This aircraft, however, lacks the Diamanten pod, of which none are believed to have survived.