by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Airframe Album #10 was published this autumn and focuses on arguably the most radical fighter to enter service during WW2 - the rocket powered Messerschmitt Me 163 and its derivatives.
Richard Franks follows the series’ now well-established and successful formula to produce a very accessible reference guide to the Komet that will appeal to aviation enthusiasts and modellers alike - in fact, I’d class it as pretty much essential reading for any modeller planning a detailed build.
The latest volume is produced as 114 pages softbound A4 on high quality stock, richly illustrated with a combination of vintage photos and diagrams, modern colour shots, and artwork by Richard Caruana and Wojciech Sankowski. Add to this model builds by Libor Jekl and Steve Evans and you have really comprehensive book that touches all the proverbial bases for modellers.
The book breaks down into the following basic sections:
IntroductionThings kick off with a very useful and concise overview of the Me 163, going right back to its origins among the gliders at the Wasserkuppe in the late 1920s, where designer Alexander Lippisch introduced a series of radical tailless sailplanes. In June 1928 it was one of these that became the first rocket-powered aircraft to fly, sowing the seeds for the DFS 194 (as the Me 163 was initially designated) some 10 years later.
Coverage then progresses through the development and service of the Me 163A and ‘B series, before examining the various developments that sought to improve on the basic design, particularly in terms of duration and the inclusion of a conventional landing gear. Of these, the Ju 248 came closest to entering production, flying (albeit only as a glider) in February 1945.
Attention then turns to the captured Komets in Allied hands, and the history of many of the airframes is traced. This really serves to underline what a treasure trove of war prizes was scrapped before their value to modern day historians and restorers was realised.
Lastly, the author tells the story of the J8M1 - Mitsubishi’s remarkable recreation of the Me 163B based on partial documentation following the loss of both blueprints and sub-assemblies and components as the submarines transporting them to Japan were sunk en route.
Technical DescriptionFor many modellers this will be the main reason for purchasing the book, as it comprises a highly detailed walkaround of surviving Komets, with well-captioned modern photos backed up by illustrations from original technical manuals.
Spread over 34 pages, the coverage breaks down into the following broad areas, each given the type of close-up scrutiny that super-detailers demand:
Group 1 - Fuselage
1. Cockpit Interior
2. Canopy & Forward Fuselage
3. Main & Aft Fuselage
4. Electrical & Radio Systems
Group 2 - Undercarriage
Group 3 - Tail
Group 4 - Wings & Controls
2. Ailerons, Flaps & Control Linkages
Group 5 - Engine
Group 6 - Equipment
2. Sighting & Release
Group 7 - Miscellaneous
EvolutionThis section expands on the Introduction, covering each version of the Komet and its various offshoots one by one, backed up in many cases by handy isometric views. While it does cover some of the same ground as the earlier section, it’s a real boon for modellers with its check-list of points to note on the many prototypes and development airframes. The content is comprehensive - there are 64 prototypes for the Me 163B listed alone.
Camouflage & MarkingsAs usual Richard Franks begins with the all-too-easily overlooked warning of the perils of making any hard and fast assumptions on the basis of period B&W photos. With that caveat in mind, what follows is still the most comprehensive examination of Me 163 colours that I’ve read. Some of the conclusions fly in the face of earlier things I’ve read - and this is exactly what makes subjects like this such fascinating reading.
This section is illustrated with colour profiles by Richard Caruana that will be great source of inspiration for modelling projects. But what I particularly appreciate are the notes where the author highlights alternative interpretations for given schemes. All too often, I read books where the text and artwork simply don’t correlate and you’re left wondering what to go by, so full marks to Richard Franks and Valliant Wings for actually highlighting such instances.
ModelsA core element of Valiant Wings’ series is the inclusion of high quality builds of some of the available kits of the subject of each book. Volume 10 doesn’t disappoint, with Libor Jekl and Steve Evans teaming up again to present an interesting quartet in a range of scales:
1:72 DFS 194 by PM Models
Libor does a superb job detailing the PM kit which, along with the rest of the range, is now out of production following the sad death of the company’s founder. The 4-page build underlines just what an effective model can be built - if you have the skill to add a lot of extra detail to the admittedly rather basic kit. Looking at the end result, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a 1:48 model, such is the quality of Libor’s workmanship.
1:72 Me 163A from Special Hobby
Libor has a much easier ride with Special Hobby’s Me 163A, seen here in its recent reboxing with a resin Scheuch-Schlepper. The resulting vignette once again looks larger than 1:72.
1:48 Trimaster Me 163B
Now it’s Steve’s turn as he tackles the original Trimaster boxing of the Me 163B which has since appeared in a slightly modified form under the Dragon banner. Back in the ‘90s, this was one of the original “mixed media” kits with the then radical inclusion of photo-etched and white metal details and, of course, by going back to the original for this build, Steve has the styrene parts in pristine condition before any mould wear. The result? - stunning! - and a timely reminder of some of the gems I’ve got stashed away begging to be built…
1:32 Me 163B from Meng
Finally, there’s Meng’s largescale Me 163B - and what a beauty it looks as Steve builds it with the fuselage split and the access panels open to display the excellent interior detail. Perhaps we’re simply spoilt for choice these days, but it’s a kit we don’t see all that often despite its obvious merit, and Steve’s build has definitely tweaked a nerve for me - always a bad sign for my poor wallet!
Last but certainly not least, the Appendices give a really useful overview of the various Komet kits and accessories that have been released over the years. There’s stuff in here that I’d never come across and, while not all of the items listed are still in production, this arms you with a great hit-list for hunting down rare releases and gathering items you need for a given project.
ConclusionRichard Franks’ study of the Komet is another excellent addition to the Airframe Album series and I wholeheartedly recommend it to aviation enthusiasts and modellers alike.
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