In the old days, those bygone times of conquerors like Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, if you wanted to control the world you had to walk. You could ride horses or elephants, too, but the point is you had to keep your feet planted firmly on the dirt. World conquest took, in modern terms, “boots on the ground”. You had to go out and slog mile after miserable mile through all weathers, over mountains and across trackless deserts and wastes. Anyone could dream of conquering the world, but doing so… that was an undertaking almost superhuman in its scope and execution.
This tradition lasted firmly until the First World War. Up until the invention of the airplane, there was no way to simply skip over troublesome terrain, or to claim the high ground where there was none to be found. Yet, by the end of 1918, despite appearances that were, in some cases less-than-reassuring, the aircraft, and in particular the heavy bombardment aircraft, had come into its own. Now, an army could bring destruction to an enemy’s heartland without ever setting foot in it. Now, an army could see over the horizon and deliver death from the high ground at will. Now war was fought not only in three dimensions, but also, for the first time, it could be fought on a truly global scale.
After WWI, the value of strategic bombers and airpower was the topic of many heated debates. Billy Mitchell’s advocacy of airpower as the dominant, deciding factor in any future war is well known. However, what became known as “strategic” bombing had many proponents the world over. While aircraft technology had a ways to go to catch up to the concepts and ideals of these modern prophets, it was clear through the ‘20s and ‘30s that long-range, heavy aircraft would definitely have a role to play in any future conflict. Not only that, but they also had great potential for long range operations in areas like remote colonies. Add to this the propaganda value of building huge, long-ranged aircraft (the Soviets in particular loved this), and it’s not hard to see why so much effort was focused on the development of the bomber.
Amazingly, though, against this backdrop, there were also those that eschewed the idea of long range bombing. Many figured that military aircraft should focus on the tactical situation, and that the cost of producing and crewing “strategic” aircraft was a waste. This was particularly prevalent in Europe, where short distances and centuries of war among the relatively densely-packed countries of the continent made aircraft with “global reach” seem like a costly, and indeed wasteful, preoccupation.
Chief among the nations that eschewed strategic airpower were Italy and Germany. It was odd for Italy, since they had colonies in Africa, but they did have some larger planes for use there, and they figured that they were good enough. In the case of Germany, though, centrally located and surrounded by former enemies, such short-term thinking seems counterintuitive. Indeed, it wasn’t always that way.
Early on, there were plans in the renascent Luftwaffe for establishing a long-range bomber force. However, when Generalleutnant Walther Wever died in an airplane crash in June of 1936, Germany lost its strategic bombing advocate. It was at this point that others, like Ernst Udet, who believed more in cheaper, tactical aircraft, turned the focus of the Luftwaffe towards the Blitzkrieg. While the Blitzkrieg’s brilliant use of tactical airpower reshaped warfare, history has shown that a lack of heavy, long-range aircraft was one of the key reasons for Nazi Germany’s failed bid to conquer Europe.
By the time this was realized, it was too late. With the US entry into the war, and with it the arrival of aircraft like the B-17 and B-24, Germany began to realize the value of strategic air warfare. Thus, the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) instituted several programs to help redress the balance. The RLM wanted aircraft that would be able to fly to America and drop bombs on US soil. It was felt that, even if the bombing didn’t do much real damage, it would help the European situation by forcing the US to divert some of its nearly unbelievable weapons output to the defence of America, easing the weight of the US onslaught against Germany.
To this end, several types of long range aircraft were developed and built, and there were plenty more on the drawing board. The Ju-390 and Me-264 made it to the real world, but these were either prototypes or were only available in such tiny numbers as to be inconsequential. The truth is that Germany really had no concept of how much work, material and cost a true intercontinental bomber took to realize. In fact, it was only after the war, with the gargantuan B-36, and the giant B-52s and Tupolev Bears that the world finally understood the size, scope, cost and sheer political-military will it took to field at truly intercontinental bomber.
However, if it was one thing that the German aircraft industry proved throughout the war, it was that it had some of the best imaginations willing to consider some of the most unorthodox approaches in the world when it came to aircraft design. (This is ironic, since many of the aircraft that started the war also ended it… imagination and production are very different beasts…) Whether it was (forward and backward) swept wings, the use of turboprops, mixed jet/rocket powerplants or some of the craziest VTO ideas ever (Triebflugel, I’m looking right at you!), the German aeronautical industry was ready to dream up anything that might work.
When it came to strategic bombing, the Arado concern was very active indeed. One of their major projects was the E.555 family. The first design in this string of developments was truly out of this world. It was a flying wing bomber with a gull-winged, “bent” profile, that ran on six jet engines and had a cockpit similar in layout to a B-29 (or the Millennium Falcon, if you think about it). This bat-like beast was designed to fly fast and far, and reach America and return. Or so it was hoped. Over time, this design developed into a more conventional shape, but it is this first iteration that captures most people’s imaginations.
While there are a number of specialty and short-run manufacturers that specialize in “Luft ‘46” paper-project and “What-If”-type subjects, it was traditionally an area that “respectable” companies shied away from. That was until Dragon started out with its long line of Luft ’45+ kits, including developments of the Pfeil, Blitz and various forms of Horten Flying Wing and jet-powered Mistels. Clearly, there was a market for this stuff, and Revell Germany decided to get in on it. The produced a number of very nice Luft ‘46 kits, including the Me P.1099 in two flavours, as well as the FW Flitzer.
What surprised many, though was when they went all in and produced a full-on injection moulded, mainline kit of the E.555 Design 1. I was only newly into hardcore modelling when I first encountered this thing, but I knew I had to have it. I was in a Luft ’46 phase; in fact, the Tigers of Terra manga and a few of the other Revell Luft ’46 kits had brought me back into modelling when I almost left it due to boredom back in the late ‘90s. The E.555, though… that was something else. It was like manna from heaven for a starving man… it was sight for the blind and it was way, waaaay too complicated for me to ever hope to not ruin. At least, it was when I bought it.
So, let’s take a look at this awesome kit now, shall we? It’s been 20 years since I got my hands on a copy, and only now do I feel confident enough in my skills that I want to try building it. Let’s see how well Revell’s Luft ’46 Crown Jewel has withstood the test of time. I know they’ve re-released this at least once in the intervening decades, but this is a first issue, so we can see exactly where things stood back then.
Like all Revell Germany kits, this one comes in a barely-strong-enough box. It’s of the end-opening variety, making it nearly useless as a parts holder once construction begins. It’s typical of a Revell Germany box in that it is dressed in the familiar trademark blue pinstripes, and has the art taking up the bulk, but not all, of the sizeable box front. The box makes no bones that this is the Arado Ar. E.555, and let’s you know it’s in 1/72. While the box is big, it’s surprising at first that it isn’t bigger. Surely, a flying wing intercontinental bomber must have been huge, like the B-2, right? Well… maybe not!
The main part of the box is, as always, the art. This is one kit where I’m glad the art was as big as it was, since at the time, I’d not really heard of the E.555, but this box art let me know exactly what it was all about. On the box, the main illustration shows an E.555 flying sedately along. You can see the two crewmen in the glass nose, and everything looks almost serene. The aircraft wears a Luftwaffe-typical “blotch” cammo job, and there’s a jaunty, but not too exciting, Viking Ship motif as nose art behind the cockpit glazing. Behind and below it is one of its squad mates, while a third ship is peeling off above and to the right. The aircraft aren’t under fire, and their bomb bays are not yet open.
While the art is nice, it’s not overly dynamic… until you look at the background! That’s not Europe down there; it’s Manhattan! This little bit of alternate history is going for the throat, having the Luftwaffe’s super-advanced flying wing jet bombers (something the US would have to wait another 40+ years for) fly with impunity against one of America’s biggest cities. There’s a whole book you can write about on that! I don’t mind it, since I like a good What-If (Whif), and a good Whif needs context. However, given how outright stringent the Germans are about glorifying any part of WWII, I find this illustration astounding.
Because it’s from Germany, there are no Hakenkreuze (usually, but incorrectly referred to as “Swastikas”) on the aircraft anywhere. However, the giant Balkenkreuze on the wings leave nothing to the imagination. This oddly nationalistic box art really does work, though, to convey the truly “alternate” world these bombers are flying in. I guess, since no bombs are falling, no guns are blazing and nothing is yet on fire on the ground, you could say this art is pretty innocent. Still, it’s the calm before the storm, and the fact that the bombers have made it this far without the Americans reacting certainly implies a level of technical superiority. Interestingly, the later (2012) release of this kit shows more of Manhattan below, and the three bombers are being chased by P-80s.
On the side of the box are a few small closeups of the kit. You get to see the landing gear, six-engine propulsion pod, the bomb bay and the unique nose contours of the kit. From these small (and they are small) pictures, you get the feel that the kit is pretty well detailed. Flipping the box over to the back, sadly, reveals only cross-sells for other Revell products and kits. This is a waste, and is always something I hate about Revell boxes. The other side is just writeup. So, overall, it’s a neat box, but it doesn’t make good enough use of its space on two sides.
While the aircraft is ridiculously small for an intercontinental bomber, it’s still a big plane in 1/72, and there’s a lot of surface area to cover. Being a flying wing, there are vast expanses of aircraft visible from all angles (except directly from the side. Thankfully, the folks at Revell Germany really must have loved this one, because the detail on it is excellent!
There are only three grey-beige (greige) sprues in the box, and two of them are mostly halves for the giant fuselage/wing. The third rack has all the rest of the stuff on it, except the rudders. There are a lot of engine bits and landing gear, and there is also a good helping of doors. There is one small clear sprue for the glazing, and a good-sized decal sheet.
At first look, the kit looks nice. Really nice. There are awesome panel lines that are not huge, but not so fine that they’ll disappear under a light coat of paint. No raised detail is found anywhere, and even the rivets, where they’re printed on, are tasteful and look like they belong. For someone used to Pioneer 2 Flagons and Matchbox Hunters, the gear bays on this thing are an absolute gem!! They are deep enough to hold the wheels (or close to it) and have excellent, crisp detail on every surface. There are support/stiffening bars, wiring, junction boxes and beautifully embossed details on the insides of the doors. The bomb bay and rear gear bays are moulded into the lower half of the body, so there’s no way you can pop them out for painting separately. To me, though, this is just as well, as it will add strength to the bays when all is said and done.
The bomb bay is just as nice, although it is a bit disappointing that there isn’t a more varied load. You get some rather generic bombs and that’s it. I think a Fritz-X or even a pair of torpedoes would have made for a cool addition. Of course, you can always add those yourself. I know there are Fritz X’s with other Revell Germany kits (I think one version of the He-177 has them). A great fit for this kit, though, would be the Condor C72009 “German Missiles Set II”, which has a Fritz-X, an Hs-293 and a BV L.10 “Friedensengle” glide torpedo.
The interior of the bomber’s crew cabin looks good too. There’s a clear bombsight that goes right through the floor and is seen as the ‘lump’ on the aircraft’s chin. The seats and controls are nicely rendered, as is the “floor” between the front two seats and the rear-facing third seat. Now this is where I get a bit “rivet count-y”. Normally, close enough is good enough for me, but if you’re going to put in details like a cockpit, then it should make sense. The E.555’s doesn’t. What gets me is that the engine controls (six throttles, in two sets of three) flank the REAR-FACING third crewman’s station. WTF?
I can accept a German flying wing jet bomber. I can almost accept they might have gotten as far as Manhattan. (Although it seems unlikely on early jet engines; the engines would have been over their useful service life just on the trip there, let alone the trip back!) I can’t get past the fact that the pilot is relying on a guy behind him, facing backwards, to adjust the engines during critical phases like take-off, landing and any emergency maneuvers. Thankfully, you can’t SEE this weirdness well once it’s all put together (if the instructions are to be believed) but it’s just so nonsensical. It’s like they let the intern decide where to put the controls!
The clear parts look good, with suitably-sized frames that look easy to mask, but that shouldn’t require much re-etching. I hope. The wheels are moulded into the tires, which aren’t weighted. With any plane that has multi-bogey rear gear, getting this thing to sit right may end up being an issue; often I find the nosewheel wants to sit off the ground as the plane balances on the large “pads” of the rear gear. Just something to watch for on this beast.
The guns aren’t drilled and are uninspiring, but hey, this thing isn’t about the guns! One nice thing is that the rudders and elevators (I assume, maybe ailerons?) on the E.555 seem to have been designed as fabric-covered, and the surface detailing on this model captures that very, very well.
Instructions and Decals:
Like all Revell Germany instructions, the E.555’s are in the form of a folded, but not stapled, manual of 16 pages. The “cover” has a writeup in German and English about the aircraft, and there’s a black and white photo of the finished kit at the top. This was made long before colour aircraft instructions became a “thing”, so don’t expect much. These are just good old black and white line drawings; no CAD here either. The instructions are printed on a weird paper that looks something like newsprint, and even feels a bit like it, but doesn’t have the same disposability factor. It’s nicely non-reflective, making it easy to use even under bright bench lights.
Unfortunately, the fact that there are lots of pages, unstapled, means things can get a bit loose and you can easily end up with instructions everywhere. I often staple my Revell Germany instructions into book form, so I can fold pages open and not have everything explode into a paper-geyser. Of course, it’s not a Revell Germany kit without pages, and pages of safety information and other text. In this case there are four pages of this stuff before we see, on Page 6, the parts breakdown for the kit. I do like this, and it seems like the Japanese practice of doing this had started to catch on, even back in the late 90s.
There are 26 assembly steps, and thereafter is a “general” stencil plan for those markings common to both options, with separate paint plans for the two marking variants. Again, these are suitably “low tech” and are in black and white. The great thing, of course, with a Luft ‘46er is that you can do WHATEVER you want for paint, and no amount of rivet counting can say you’re wrong!
The decal sheet has a lot of stencils, which even I will make use of on such a large aircraft. There are warnings, and yellow fuel triangles, and of course, the dotted red lines to make walkways. Oh, Revell Germany and their “red walkways” … The decals are all in register and the colour and saturation look excellent. Sadly, as mentioned earlier, Hakenkreuze are not included, so an aftermarket sheet will be required.
While the decals look fine, I know from experience that they’ll be a bit trying. Revell Germany, for some reason, gives its decals a matte finish. I’m not sure why, but this does seem to make them very prone to silvering. I tend to actually attach the decal first, with water, but then refloat it with Future and then Future over them to get them to settle. This makes the decals less matte and easier to integrate, and it helps to ‘melt’ them. Future seems to soften decals, so when used about 60/40 with water, the Future I use softens decals so they can be pushed into panel lines or around curves. With matte decals this is essential, because they tend to be a bit inflexible on their own, I’ve found. Making matters worse is that there is usually a LOT of carrier film around even the smallest decals. Trimming and overcoating are key on Revell Germany decals!
While it used to be that only short run and niche model companies would produce Luft ’46-type stuff, the broader appeal of this kind of kit seems to have caught on. Now there are a number of companies that regularly release kits of unreal subjects that have all the care, attention to detail and finesse of models of real subjects! For anyone who’s into this stuff (like me), this is an amazing occurrence and definitely one to get excited about.
What’s even more amazing is that this kit comes from the relatively early days of mainstream makers taking “napkin” aircraft seriously, yet it’s such a good kit. Revell Germany was cranking out a lot of cool kits back in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, and the fact that they turned their attention to some of these fantastical subjects only helped to both raise the bar on kits of this type, as well as raise the profile of the subject as a whole.
Despite its age, this is a great looking kit. It’s not fiddly or overly engineered in any obvious way, and while there will be a few things that need workarounds, I don’t think this is anything beyond the abilities of someone with a few airplane kits under their belts. There’s a surprising amount of “gluing halves” together, which is nice compared to some newer, more origami-like offerings that market a tricky build as part of some kind of imagined “Premium Experience”. (Yeah, Zvezda… I’m looking at you!)
This kit may be simple in number of parts and general “glue it, sand it” build, but that doesn’t mean it gives up anything on the detail front to newer or more expensive kits.
If you don’t get all gushy over such a cool, futuristic design, then don’t buy this kit. It’s that simple. If you love alternate history, cool retro-future stuff, or just want to build a jet-powered flying Dorito that will have your local rivet counters pulling their hair out, then this is definitely one for you. The best feature is it’s a realistic plane upon which you can use your imagination. If that doesn’t sound like fun, then I don’t know what does. If you see this thing, grab it, you won’t be sorry. I’ve had it for years, and I love it as much now as when I first got it… maybe even more!