Dicta Ira

Albatros D.II Build-Up
Pegasus 1/72

By: Diego Fernetti

The Fuselage | Making More Room | Something to Peek Into | Engine Compartment

The Fuselage

Here I am, facing the delicious prospect on building my own Albatros single seater online. I chose to build the Albatros DII kit by Pegasus in 1/72 scale (see review) and there's some premises I want to fulfill beforehand:

First, since this kit is a limited run model, the method of fabrication made some parts fairly thick, and my intention is to "Casiratize" (if you allow the neologism) the fuselage and cockpit, "Bittnerize" the landing gear and wings and "Ugulanize" the rigging". If I succeed, certainly it will a wonderful miniature. This will require an amount of work, but since the dimensions of the model match so nicely the available plans, I guess that the hours spent will be worth the effort.

Second, this chronicle must be seen as a subjective account of my modeling sessions, and by no means a technical report on how to build a model kit. I left that to professional magazine writers. I just want to have some fun.

1. The Fuselage

As stated, the fuselage is somehow thick, but the exterior detail is crisp and accurate. I don't want to modify the external features (well I don't know yet) but the first thing to do is to reduce those clumsy fuselage walls.

In the real thing, the fuselage was made of a plywood skin over a wood skeleton. Reproducing the actual plywood thickness in 1/72 would be impossible, since the plastic parts would result transparent and the model would collapse. However, sanding the adequate sections of the fuselage will give the looks of a very thin fuselage walls.

1.1 Low Tech

My modeling bench has many doodads and tools, however to this date I refused to install some technological marvels (at least for me) as a motor tool. So how I did to achieve a thin fuselage? First of all, I secured the fuselage half on a firm surface (I use an old, thick magazine for this) with double coated adhesive tape. Then, using a small carving tool -this is one of the most useful tools that I have around- I carefully started to hollow out the concave surface. Be very careful, try to get only small curls of plastic on each movement, since this way you'll be able to control the deepness of the cut. If you make long cuts, there's a better chance of sinking the blade too much and ruin the fuselage. I usually start at the cockpit opening (figure 1) making cuts near but never touching the cockpit rim. Why? cutting on the cockpit rim would make the tool to slip without control and in a very visible area of the model. Anyway, after this procedure you'll have to sand the fuselage inside all over, and the surface will be even after sanding. Don't worry id the surface finish with a lot of "waves" after working with the carving tool, You'll take care of that later. Next, cut those small curls of plastic over the entire surface of the cockpit, following the general direction of the longitudinal axis (figure 2) it'll make sanding easier for you. From time to time, check your progress putting the part in front of a strong source of light. The thinned places will appear brighter, take care of not overdoing it (been there, done that). Now you'll have the fuselage interior thinner than before, but with a wavy surface. Sand everything with medium to fine sandpaper until the surface look smooth (figs. 3 and 4). This is a critical stage of the building process since the part becomes very fragile and flimsy, but it will improve greatly the appearance of the finished model.

1.2 The cheap-O interior gauge. No batteries required.

To determine the dimensions of the innards of the parts is difficult to do without a contour gauge.

What's a contour gauge? It's a useful tool that comprises a bunch of needles mounted on a sliding plate that can be adjusted at will. When you place the gauge vertically over a body, the ends of the needles follows that shape and then the sliding plate can be adjusted so to preserve the shape of the object. Then, the exact shape of this object can be traced on a paper. As I said before, it's a neat tool, but the bad thing about it is that usually is of a size bigger than needed on a 1/72 aircraft fuselage and that is somehow expensive. The option would be making my own, but my natural laziness prevented me of making it of metal, as these gauges are usually made, and I never quite understood how the metal plate secured the needles tightly. However, it landed on my brain that a cheap contour gauge was possible to be made with household materials. To make your own, you'll need:

Cut two small "planks" of balsa, wider than the fuselage section or wing chord or whatever you want to measure. Tape one end to another, as seen on figure 5, like a hinge. Clasp enough 0.5 lead refills between the two wood pieces, and secure the opposite end of the "lead sandwich" snugly with another piece of tape. Carefully, force one end of the leads over a flat surface to conform a straight line of lead refills. Leave it aside for a while....

Now, go back to the fuselage halves that you lovingly thinned down and determine the place where the bulkhead should be placed. Then, aided with a small length of Dymo label tape, establish the position of a 0.10 plastic strip that will be the backing reinforcement of the bulkhead. Glue the strip with CA glue sparsely and tore off the Dymo tape. Clean any residue (see figure 6).

The styrene strip will align the Cheap-O contour gauge to the desired position of the bulkhead. Place the straight end of the gauge over the fuselage half, and slowly press the leads inside the cavity, making sure that the plastic strip remains aft of the line of lead refills. Remove the gauge. After a little practice you'll have the shape of the fuselage determined by the gauge at the line of the plastic strip (figure 7 ). Trace carefully the contour so defined on a card, refining the steps created by each individual piece of lead. Repeat the whole process for the opposite half of the fuselage. Then put the refills in their container for another model or to use in your pencil. Now you'll have a nice set of parenthesis drawn (figure 8), so it's time to cut these with scissors, following the inside of the lines, and mount them one in front of the other over the line defined by the fuselage joint. Use this shape as a pattern to cut a styrene bulkhead. Usually, you'll need to adjust it with a sanding stick, but that's an easy task. The finished bulkhead is on figure 9.

1.3 Making more room.

After getting to the point where I left the work in the above text, I proceeded to make the gizmos that fill the front office of the plane. However, I found that this wasn't as easy as saying it. A sketch of what I've found can be seen on Figure 10. When I dry fitted the lower wing with the two fuselage halves, I noticed a very noticeable gap in the belly of the airplane that can be seen thru the cockpit opening. How would I do to fill this hole without oozing filler inside the cockpit? Besides, the lower wing upper surface curvature continues into the fuselage, which makes a slope where the front bulkhead bottom should be. How would I achieve the curved floor surface? I didn't took this in account when I started the project and wrote the first part, so I'll have to add it before going to the cockpit detailing topic. 

1.4 Lower wing improving.

The two questions posed involved a severe reshaping of the center section of the lower wing. As an aside, I also have to thin down the trailing edges of the lower wing, which will erase completely the delicate undersurface ribs. Too much work for nothing, Chris Gannon! Anyway, I filed the center wing section to a concave surface, following approximately the exterior curve and thinning the undersurfaces of the wing (on which I'll restore details later). The improvements (?) on this part are best described by the figure 11. Next, I'll have to make a false floor to hide the gap from the inside and that will allow me to detail the cockpit apart from the fuselage halves making easier the work because I will assemble some cockpit parts aside from the confined spaces of the fuselage halves. 

1.5 New flooring.

In the cockpit pictures of Albatros fighters you can see that no floor nor heel boards are present, just the inner plywood fuselage surface and the formers on which the instruments and control devices are attached. The model has its fuselage molded in halves and those don't fit quite right the lower wing, so any seam or filling would have been noticeable. I disguised this making a false curved floor. First of all, I traced the front and aft curves of the lower fuselage cutout, since they are a bit different because of the change of curvature in this part of the aircraft (figure 12). Using this arcs so defined and the length of the lower fuselage cutout I carved a balsa wood block a bit narrower and a bit lengthier that the opening. Then I pinned a quite thin piece of styrene to the block and heated it carefully to make it follow precisely the curved wood piece (fig. 13) in a manner described by Alberto Casirati in his April 2000 article of Finescale Modeler Magazine (he molded a fuel tank curved top in this manner). Then, I trimmed it to size and later I'll glue this to the "flat" seat floor. In figure 14 you can see a dry fitting of the part, that hides the seam portions from the line of sight and providing a neat floor to cling the control column assembly, the rudder pedals and front bulkhead. It looked very complicated at first, but I managed to do it in about 1/2 hour, without counting the occasional cursing, which took me about 3 or 4 hours more.

1.6 Something to Peek Into.

Allow me a brief musing on modelling here. Some time ago, I commented with a fellow modeler that the Albatros aircraft were like a beautiful woman, and a good paint scheme was like a good tailored dress to accent its beauty. I would add now that a detailed cockpit in a model is the place where the most attentive glances are directed. Let me go further with the metaphor then, and say that the cockpit opening is the cleavage of a woman's dress. Anything inside will be scrutinized, more or less openly, so it's important to fill this place with something that pleases the sight...

The Albatrosen cockpits were busy, but quite roomy and rationally organized. To detail a cockpit is important to keep focused on the proportions of the instruments, levers and gizmos that populate such a confined space. Like the legionnaires say "J'ose": I dare.

1.6.1 This' Gonna Hurt!

What's included in the Pegasus kit to fill the cockpit? Check figure 15. I wonder if someone ever used these generic parts. And what lurked inside a real Albatros D.II cockpit? Let's see:

Port side:
a) Auxiliary throttle rod.
b) Magneto switch ket
c) Spark control handle
d) Bosch starting magneto

Starboard side:
e) Valve panel
f) Hand air pump
g) Fuel quantity gauge
h) Water pump greaser
i) Compass & mount

j) Machine guns (2)
k) MG support
l) Tachometer
m) Cartridge belt container
n) Ammo containers (2)
o) Fuel tank rear
p) Front bulkhead
q) Rudder bar assembly
r) Pulleys and its fixing points
s) Control column assembly

t) Seat
u) Belts
v) Seat rails
w) Floor
x) Aft bulkhead

Plus a myriad of control wires, small pipes, pulleys, bowden cables, etc. Auch.

1.6.2 Front Bulkhead

First, to define the boundaries of the cockpit, I made the front bulkhead in the same way as explained before for the aft. The main difference was that I glued a false lower section to denote the "cutouts" in the wood of the bulkhead, leaving the solid portion to represent the backside of the fuel tank located behind. I just made the lower part of the bulkhead, since the upper portion was obscured by the ammo bins and the used links of the machine guns. In fact, referring to the drawings of the D.I interior on page 12 of the "Albatros Fighters Special" those bins shouldn't be as deep as those of the DV shown in the NASM Albatros DVa book but I liked the latest for my D.II 'cause they looked better. Call it a modelling license. Over the ammo bins, the used link container isn't flat, so I used two layers of styrene to achieve the bevelled surface. This assembly can be seen on figure 16 from different points of view.

1.6.3 Machine Gun Assembly

Reaching this point, I made a test assembly (again!) of all the parts to check that everything fitted and to make adjustments needed (fig. 17). Everything went fairly OK, but the solid front cowl didn't fit very well and in fact didn't looked like the real thing. I'll be on this later. At this stage, the machine gun assembly fit must be taken on account, since it shall stand outside the fuselage contour and must be connected with the ammo bins inside the cockpit. The cast part included on the kit is well done and it's dimensions are basically accurate but it can be improved even further, mainly in the mid part where the feeding and outlets of the guns are to be placed. I carved and sanded the middle part to represent the twisted shapes of the chutes that must be connectd to the bins. I erased the used link chute cover (a large bump on the left of the part) since it didn't matched the plans nor the location of the container inside. Later, when the fuselage is completed I'll add this cover once the fuselage is painted. When I erased this bump -oh my godness!- the knife slipped the surly bonds of the white metal and chopped the elongated spring cover on the left side of the spandau! Thrown in the deep pool of superdetailing, I added Tom's Modelworks PE details for german machine guns, wich covered the somehow rough surface of the cast metal and gave a tidier appearance to the guns. I added just a strip of styrene to the starboard gun left side, to make it look as the other and glued the right PE piece to the other side. Later, I painted the assembly black and higlighted the angles with a sharp lead pencil.Before and after can be seen on fig.18 , remember that later I'll have to replace the "solid" cooling jackets, adding PE details too fragile to this assembly stage. To help me visualize how this area should look once finished, I made a sketch of what I wanted to do in this section of the model (fig. 19).

1.6.4 Machine Gun Support Bar

One of the things that were the most difficult to achieve in my previous Albatros models were to make a piece of plastic representing the machine gun supports and sturdy enough to resist the handling of multiple test fittings. On the usual way, I glued several pieces of stretched sprue and that way I'd made the support. However, the tiny assembly always finished a bit fragile and awry... So I tried a different approach this time. As some other items in the cockpit, I started with a piece of sheet styrene (40 thou) and drew the figure of the piece on it. Next, I carefully cut small slices and bits of styrene until the shape of the support was achieved. Next, I filed and sanded the small styrene part to make it appear rounded as in the real thing. It worked very well, but it was very difficult to achieve, since I made three or four unfortunate attempts until I got it right, see the unpainted item plus a plastic instrument case on fig.20. Next time, I'll stay with the usual method! After painting it, attaching the machine guns and adding the tachometer in between, I glued two small lengths of hair to the MGs (yes, my hair!) as bowden cables. So, if in the far future some archeologist want to make a clone of such a gifted modeller he has some of my DNA at hand.

1.6.5 Flooring

Here's the cockpit floor, with the rear bulkhead and the supports to attach the controls (fig 21) . Still unpainted, I added two small pieces of "wood" ahead of the rudder assembly and on each side to accomodate the pulleys there. Its shape can be seen on the Albatros D.I cockpit sketch on page 12 of the Albatros Fighters Special.

1.6.6 Sidewall Structure

I based my cockpit layout on several sources: books, pictures, drawings and sheer guess. Of great help was the photo etched cockpit set for the Albatros DVa from Rosemont Hobby Shop. It gave me the appropiate sense of proportion to re-do the parts in styrene, because I felt that flat brass isn't adequate to represent three dimensional objects. Besides, looking at pictures of Eduard's D.III and D.II cockpits from Steve Perry and Len Endy was a bonus in checking interior arrangement and coloring (just after this step was accomplished, Mark Miller's outstanding renderings were posted on this Cook-Up also!).

The formers and stringers were made in styrene strip, and the reinforcement cross strips amongst the main structure members were added with plastic labelling tape (in red, figure 22 left) In that figure are also the finished looks of the sidewalls, after painting and attaching more details. After I scanned these pictures I replaced the spark control rod for a finer piece of sprue, compare this with later pictures.

1.6.7 Instruments And Controls

The instrument dials were made according to the Casirati method, a very effective way to do small, perfect discs of plastic. Find out more of this on the April 2000 issue of FineScale Modeler Magazine, on the Nieuport 11 build article.Some of the parts looked like this (fig 23) before painting and adding more styrene and brass bits. Most of the complex instruments are a very simple affair and personally I don't feel that its completion would be considered difficult, but it is sometimes tedious. I once printed a large quantity of dial faces of different sizes on a thin acetate sheet, and from them I cut the faces as needed, glueing the "ink" side down the instrument case with white glue. I also add photoetched bezels if I have the right size for the instrument.

About the control column, I used the Tom's Modelworks german interior PE set, it has a very delicate (and tricky) Albatros grip. After the ritual cursing and loosing it for a while in the chaotic confines of my workbench, I finally attached it to a piece of sprue. A most delicate task was to attach the MG triggers to the "ring" of the grip, since Tom's Modelworks etched each trigger separately and they are very, very, very small. The wooden grips were built up with some applications of thinned white glue. I added some styrene and stretched sprue bits to build this early control column as drawn on the Albatros Fighters Special book already mentioned. A final touch, almost invisible on the pictures I took (dang!) was adding a small lenght of hair (this is a hairy model, isn't it?) as the throttle cable, using grey painted decal strips as clamps for it and slightly bending the throttle lever to avoid "flatness" in the part.

I would have desired to find a rudder bar in the PE set, but there's only Fokker and Pfalz and other manufactrers but the one I needed in the sheet. Fortunately it had a simple shape and I fashioned it and its supports with styrene bits. A piece of cake, after the control column. I did most of the others items inside the cockpit from styrene chips and stretched sprue, sometimes painted or sometimes made of the colour required to avoid painting such little pieces of plastic (as the magneto starter and the magneto switch). As an aside, I cut two small pinheads to portray the small pulleys at the cockpit floor sides and "rigged" them with silver stretched sprue. I did the same rigging on the bottom of the control column.

The oil/fuel quadrant was made with stryrene bits and I added the cock levers making them from aluminium sheet cut in angles with the tip of a sharp hobby knife. For ease of handling, I left one side too large until the other end was securely CAed to the styrene panel, then, I simply cut the "handle" to the desired lenght (again, see figure 22 , upper right). There you also can see a map pouch, modelled after seeing the cockpit items illustrations in various references. What the heck, if I did all those gadgets, one more piece else won't knock me! An approximate account of plastic, metal and organic pieces goes well over the 150 parts only in the cockpit section.

After all the sub-subassemblies were painted, I joined all the nucleus of the cockpit floor ensemble and some little adjustments were made until the fuselage halves closed snugly around the cockpit innards with a "click". What a satisfying little sound for the modeller!

Here are some more pictures of the front office furnitures, from various angles: figure 24, figure 25, figure 26 and figure 27. Take a good look to these pictures, since most of these details will be buried almost completely once the fuselage halves are joined. For the sake of completness, I glued the MG jackets for a while during the photo sessions.

1.7 Engine Compartment

In figure 28 you can see how looked like the white metal pieces provided by Pegasus to dress up this area. I already bent the reservoir tank a bit to the starboard of the engine as in the real assembly, since it was originally cast over the longitudinal centerline and connected with a "bridge" to the cylinders.

You may have noticed in previous plates that the engine was placed during test fits of the cockpit parts. This was important because the front cockpit bulkhead has attached the fuel tanks the are next to the engine. Since I was pretty tired of detailing and most of the engine would be hidden inside the tight fitting cowl, I just painted and weathered the provided parts with great care and left them as it is (see figure 22 one more time!). For mounting it, I added some styrene strips in "layers" so to provide substantial glueing surface to this relatively heavy piece. I don't want that this piece of metal getting loose after closing the fuselage! The casting was epoxied over the original plastic "floor", trimmed to fit the inner contours of the fuselage. During the infinite trial fits, I noticed that the front cowl piece didn't fit quite right to the fuselage front (go back to figure 17 ) and the "solid" cowl looks really bothered me. The real albatrosen had a noticeable gap between the spinner and the cowl for engine cooling purposes, so I decided to make a new cowl piece.

I crash moulded styrene sheet over a master done with the own kit piece, that was slightly undersized respect to the fuselage, allowing for the plastic sheet thickness. I mounted the piece ove a wooden match "handle" and with some CA glue I built up the small indentation of the cowl inner edge (it goes around cylinder #1) and glued a short bit of stretched sprue to the center of the future "opening", see figure 29. I mounted this stand in a small vise, cooked some styrene and voilá: a new cowl! I trimmed the piece to correct size using the original kit part still embedded in the plastic sheet. Besides, while testing the Mercedes engine in the correct place inside the fuselage I discovered that the exhaust sides of the last cylinders were hidden by the cowl contours. Then I lifted the engine, but the front cylinders were too high! I searched for an explanation in my references, and discovered that the starboard engine cowl was in fact a little lower than the port cowl, allowing for the exhaust tubes to exit the cylinders straight. A diagram of this on figure 30. The next test fit proved succesful as can be seen on figure 31 and figure 32 with the new cowl ring attached just for the picture with adhesive tape.

After all these tasks were completed, I closed the fuselage and puttied all gaps (that were few and little).

Next chapter: "Wing surfaces, tails and all things nice"

Diego Fernetti - Diego Fernetti's WWI Reference Page.