by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Brief HistoryThe Fokker D.VII was arguably the finest fighter produced in WW1. While other aircraft were more manoeuvrable or faster, it was the combination of attributes which made the D.VII so formidable and, alone among German fighters, it was singled out for surrender in the Allied armistice terms.
A great deal of the D.VII's success was undoubtedly due to its simple and strong airframe, with cantilever wings that didn't require drag-producing rigging. It is often said that the outer "N" struts were unnecessary; while this have been true from a structural point of view, a modified D.VII was test flown in October 1918 minus the struts and found to be slightly slower, and less responsive than the standard version.
D.VII's began to be delivered to front-line squadrons in the spring of 1918. Deliveries gained momentum rapidly and the inventory grew from just 19 at the end of April, to over 800 in August. The new fighter proved an immediate success and was a deadly opponent in the hands of competent pilots. While the Allied air forces finally overwhelmed the German Air Service through sheer weight of numbers, those Jastas equipped with the Fokker D.VII continued to inflict losses disproportionate to their numbers to the bitter end.
BackgroundEduard have changed their approach to kit production fundamentally. In a widely circulated letter to the modelling community, Vladimir Sulc has described how each release from now on will be a "limited run" kit, with a worldwide production run of around 3,000, followed by "special markings" runs of just 1,000 or so. Not surprisingly, Eduard's latest newsletter says that the D.VII is almost sold out already...
Another change is that Eduard are scrapping the distinction between their "basic" and "Profi Pack" ranges; from now on, all new kits will, in effect, be "Profi Pack" versions with a full complement of etched parts and masks included as standard.
The kitThe first thing that strikes you is Eduard's new box-style with eye-catching artwork. When you lift the lid, the first impression is that Eduard have really crammed a lot in; there are 4 sprues which interlock in pairs for safe transit, plus extra items mounted on a cardboard flap.
The kit consists of:
88 plastic parts (2 of which are unused)
117 photo etched parts - including pre-painted instruments and seat-harness
A sheet of painting masks
6 x Sheets of decals, with lozenge-fabric and rib-tapes, plus markings for 4 colour schemes
Full colour instructions in the form of a 24 page magazine.
The parts come moulded in the company's distinctive beige plastic and, as you would expect with a new Eduard kit, they are crisply moulded with hardly a trace of flash. Ejector pin marks are kept to a bare minimum and positioned out of harm's way. Although this is a "limited run" kit, it is produced to the highest standards of mainstream injection moulding on a par with "Tamigawa". The surface is flawless, with scribed panel details. Eduard have changed the style in which they represent fabric-covered flying surfaces; this time they have depicted raised ribs. Some may think them too heavy, but you can always sand them down - and I think most modellers will welcome this change.
Construction Breakdown - roughly in sequence
Assembly begins with the engine. Eduard have redesigned their German 6-cylinder in-line which has served them basically unchanged for so many years. The most noticeable change is the rocker heads, which are much improved. There's a choice of parts to depict either a BMW or Mercedes engine. A sign of the detail in this kit is that Eduard provide an etched manufacturer's plate for the crankcase. The engine sits on a simple engine-bearer and it's tempting to go to town adding even more detail but, beware, little can be seen once the fuselage halves are joined.
Rather than provide separate cowling panels for the different cooling louvre patterns on the original aircraft, Eduard have gone the whole hog and included 2 complete pairs of fuselage halves. This undoubtedly makes assembly easier, but you'll need to be handy with a razor saw and be prepared to do some scratch-building if you want to display the engine, Roden-style, with the cowling panels removed.
Construction then turns to the cockpit and this is where the etched parts really begin to kick in, augmenting and/or replacing moulded detail as the modeller sees fit. A neat control column and rudder pedals sit on a floor which features moulded heel-plates or etched alternatives. The compass has a moulded dial and decal replacement.
The seat, complete with a separate cushion and etched harness, sits in a delicate framework which, in turn, fits onto a rear "bulkhead". In reality, this was a fabric partition and Eduard provide sections of lozenge decal for both this and the cockpit walls. I was concerned how well the decals would sit over the moulded detail, particularly over the side framework, but I needn't have worried; they responded excellently to Micro Sol and Set, snuggling down tightly over the moulded details.
When it comes to the cockpit instruments, this kit is all about choice; the faces of the dials have excellent moulded detail which will look very effective dry brushed. But, if you don't fancy that approach, Eduard have also provided decals for each instrument and pre-painted etched alternatives - the choice is yours.
Moving to the exterior, the wings are split into upper and lower parts but, nevertheless, the trailing edges are impressively thin. The bottom wing is a very tight fit with the fuselage. I read complaints that this forces a pronounced anhedral, but I found just a minimum scrape with a scalpel let it fit snuggly with a hint of dihedral, which I hope will disappear once the outer struts are fitted. Both the wings and tail feature separate control surfaces.
How to represent the row of stitching along the bottom of the fuselage has always foiled manufacturers, but Eduard have adopted a novel approach with a strip of stitching which fits into a slot along the centre-line.
Moving back up front, along with the choice of fuselages comes a choice of radiators. Each is nicely detailed with a fine gauze on the front surface. The exhaust stack has a hollowed out pipe - not very deep, but full marks to Eduard for trying.
The machine guns are moulded with solid cooling jackets, but these can be cut off and replaced with the etched items supplied. In view of the number of options in this kit, it's almost surprising that Eduard didn't include a pair of "naked" gun barrels ready for the etched jackets (like Roden did in their 1/32 scale Fokker Dr.1). The guns are also augmented with etched cocking levers, sights and other details.
The struts and wheels are well done -with the struts featuring etched attachment points.
There's a choice of propellers along with etched bosses, but it isn't made clear which propeller is appropriate for which decal option.
AccuracyI won't presume to make any cast-iron judgements here, but Eduard recommend Windsock's Fokker D.VII Anthology as a reference, so I compared the major parts with the drawings in that book. The kit matches up pretty well; the fuselage is a little deeper than the drawings and the upper wingtips less rounded, but I don't know which is more correct - the drawings or the kit - so I'm quite content to leave well alone. The top wing doesn't look as thick as in the drawings (or photos) and the airfoil isn't as prominent as shown in the Windsock reference.
InstructionsThe assembly instructions are a real eye-opener and represent another new approach from Eduard. The 24-page booklet is illustrated in colour throughout, with exploded diagrams generated as shaded 3-D CAD images. These work well enough and the assembly is generally simple enough to follow. Backing things up are a number of beautifully detailed texture-mapped 3-D computer-generated illustrations by Mark Miller which serve as reference pics.
Rather disappointingly, Eduard only give colour references for Gunze Sangyo and Mr Color paints. As much as I like these paints, they aren't always easy to obtain, so I don't understand why Eduard don't give a list of suitable alternatives. Painting instructions are keyed to the drawings throughout assembly and, importantly, Eduard make it clear when the extensive lozenge decals must be applied before continuing with construction.
The 4 decal options are illustrated with excellent 4-view profiles with short accompanying biographies of the pilots (where possible). At this point, I'd like to thank Stephen Lawson for his authoritative help in pointing out a couple of discrepancies.
A. Hassel von Wedel, Jasta 23s (24s?) - lozenge fabric covered overall, plus a white fuselage band with red spoked wheels superimposed.
B. Franz Bϋchner, Jasta 13 - lozenge fabric wings, with a blue fuselage and green and white checkers and stripes, plus a lion's head on a green background. Apparently, this was a Mercedes-powered aircraft, not BMW, as Eduard show.
C. Rudolf Stark, Jasta 35b - lozenge fabric wings and fuselage, with lilac bands and cowling.
D. Jasta 58, pilot unknown - lozenge fabric overall with a red and white fuselage band carrying the crest of the city of Kassel. Eduard show the tail and rear fuselage painted black, but Stephen Lawson has brought to my attention evidence from Dan San Abbott which indicates that Jasta 58 machines carried orange unit markings.
The last page of the instructions is a guide to applying the lozenge and rib decals to the wings and tail. This is quite complex, with a numbered sequence - no less than 8 stages for the top surface lozenges alone - which it would probably be wise to follow closely.
The decalsThe kit contains no less than 6 sheets of items, which are thin and glossy and printed perfectly in register. One sheet contains the national and personal markings, instrument faces and stencil marks - all quite legible.
The other 5 sheets are packed with rib-tapes and 4-colour lozenge fabric patterns for the fuselage - inside and out - and the wings and tail. The colour of German lozenge fabrics has been a source of constant debate for many years and Eduard's seem to fall somewhere in the middle of the pack - with a rather faded look compared to the garish interpretations from some manufacturers. Eduard have taken a rather radical approach to the decals, by printing them " ready-weathered". This entails printing tiny specks and streaks across the lozenge patterns. I imagine modellers will either love or hate this; personally, I would rather have the patterns printed "clean" and weather them myself. Regardless of the colour and weathering, Stephen Lawrence has spotted a problem with the patterns, in that the upper surface Light Green and Mauve colours are reversed in their lozenge assignments . There's a similar problem on the underside pattern.
ConclusionThis is one of the best presented kits I've ever seen. Eduard have attempted to cover all the bases by including every conceivable option within the standard kit. This means it might appear rather daunting at first sight, but the model can be built without the etched parts, so it should delight modellers of all abilities.
Eduard have stated their ambition to produce "perfect kits". While this is arguably beyond the grasp of any manufacturer, Eduard must be applauded for aiming so high. The Fokker D.VII may not be perfect, but it deserves full credit for daring to be different with innovations in so many areas.
It's quite remarkable how Eduard have progressed from a minor short-run manufacturer to a leading player who have, in many ways, wrestled the initiative away from their more established rivals.