by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
The kit arrives in a large, sturdy box which, despite its size, is still only just large enough to squeeze the main sections of the tower into diagonally. It's clear from the offset, that the new Natter/tower combo is going to be a big model! The kit comprises:
143 x grey styrene parts
3 x clear styrene parts
32 x etched brass parts
A length of thread
Decals for 3 x prototype Natters
The bulk of the kit is new, with just 34 parts representing the Natter itself surviving from the original release. Despite being 13 years old, the moulds for the Natter are obviously in excellent condition; the parts are crisply moulded without a trace of flash or any signs of mould-damage. Surface detail of the full-sized aircraft was minimal and this is reflected in the kit, with just a few engraved lines, plus some raised fasteners for the external boosters. Smaller details are very neatly moulded.
The new tower with its latticework of girders is very well done, with a faintly textured surface and raised bolts and strengthening plates. There are a lot of small tabs to clean off, which are presumably needed to help mould the complicated structure.
Test Fit and constructionThe Natter's basic airframe consists of just 9 parts - in fact made slightly more "complex" by the fact that the rear fuselage is removable. The fit of the fuselage parts is excellent, but the wings are a slightly loose fit, so take care to ensure they dry perpendicular to the fuselage.
When the kit was first released it always seemed odd that the tail was moulded separately. The forward fuselage seemed designed to accept a Walter rocket motor, but none was supplied - until now! Dragon's latest version can be built in two ways:
1. Launch Version - as per the original kit with the tail cemented in place.
2. Maintenance Version - with the tail removed to reveal an all-new Walter engine. For the purposes of this, Dragon have also included a wooden trestle to support the forward fuselage. The trestle features a rather heavy wood-grain effect, which is very out of scale, but easily filled and smoothed for a more realistic finish.
Assembly breaks down into 9 stages for the aircraft and a further 5 for the tower. The assembly diagrams are clearly drawn and numbered to cover the fact that the model can be built as one of 3 different prototype Natters, one with a solid cockpit cover.
Stage 1 - covers the cockpit, which is as spartan as the full-sized machine, but still includes some nice touches such as a well-detailed instrument panel and an etched harness for the slatted seat. Obviously, this stage can be bypassed if you choose to build the unmanned version.
Stages 2 & 3 - complete the airframe for "launch version", with a choice of nose caps and clear or solid cockpit covers. Dragon now include etched parts to represent the trim tabs that were missed in the original release.
Construction then branches off for the "maintenance version". The Walter engine is simple but should look effective enough, built from a combination of plastic and etched parts. Photos of the full-sized engine show there's a lot more pipework that can be added, but the basics are here and the completed motor should look suitably "busy" when slotted into the forward fuselage. Don't get caught out by the instructions showing the original tail-pipe fitted unless you want your Natter to seem to have suddenly sprouted a second motor!
2 new ground crewmen are provided - an engineer servicing the engine and an armourer with an R4M rocket for the nose battery. The figures are very nicely moulded indeed, with excellent facial details and the armourer is in his shirt-sleeves and braces, which makes a nice change from other figures available. Watch out for the R4M though - the nose is already moulded with a full set installed, so you'll need to drill out at least one tube carefully to give him something to load...
The towerThe part of the new kit which is really going to grab everyone's attention is the new launch tower. It's big and impressive! - and, despite it's apparent complexity, is actually built up from quite straightforward sub-assemblies. The biggest challenge looks likely to be the etched launch rails, which are quite thin, so you''' need to take care to avoid distorting them during assembly and to ensure they line up correctly.
The tower represents the steel construction at the Heuberg test site. The model seems to match photos of the original quite well and scales out pretty well too - sources quote the full-sized tower as being 20m high, which works out at 41.67cm. The kit looks as though it will stand just over 42cm high by the time the turntable wheels are fitted, which is close enough for me!
Accuracy and Colour schemesDragon provide decals for 3 prototype Natters. The decals are thin and printed in perfect register by Cartograph. None of the aircraft are identified in the painting instructions, but it's clear from references what they represent:
1. Ba 439 M17
2. Ba 439 M23
3. Ba 439 M52
The schemes, as depicted, are attractive and deceptively simple, but there are a few problems with each of them, so more awkward than others:
1. M17. Dragon depict the aircraft in overall RLM 05 Elfenbein and provide a blue decal for the distinctive sunburst pattern on the upper fuselage and wings. The colour of the original pattern has been the subject of some debate, with some people arguing that it was based on the pre-war practice of painting blue sunbursts on gliders' wings, while others claim it was black (as chosen for the reconstructed aircraft on display at the Deutsches Museum). To further complicate matters, Brett Gooden suggest RLM 04 as the basic colour in his excellent reference work (see below). Both blue or black seem plausible, so the decal is a good educated guess - but, unfortunately, it is symmetrical, whereas period photos of the full-sized M17 show that it bore an asymmetrical pattern to help observers determine the orientation of the aircraft in flight.
The kit includes the enlarged elevons fitted to later aircraft, but it will be a simple job to sand the tail back to the type fitted to M17.
2. M23. This aircraft was camouflaged with an irregular dark "squiggle" over a pale background. The instructions show pale blotches on a dark background, which is rather misleading. More of a problem are the decals for the wing numerals. On the full-sized aircraft the 23 was simply painted in red, with a pale "outline" formed where the camouflage was kept clear of the numbers. Dragon has misinterpreted this and the decals are red with a thin black outline followed by a thick white outline. Luckily, the original numbers were quite crudely painted by hand, so it should be simple to trim off the white outline and simply paint the whole decal red.
A further point to watch out for if building is M23 concerns the canopy - or, rather, the headrest. M23 was the first manned prototype and was fitted with a headrest attached to the canopy, rather than to the rear bulkhead as in the kit. The report following the fatal crash concluded that the canopy came loose after take-off and headrest broke the neck of the brave pilot, Lothar Sieber. For subsequent flights, the headrest was moved to the bulkhead.
3. M52. Unfortunately, this is the real rogue in the pack - and can't be built accurately from the kit. Again, this aircraft was painted to aid observation from the ground, this time in the form of different geometric shapes on the wings. Dragon include a choice of a chevron or a triangle for the underside of the port wing (the triangle is correct, although it shouldn't be clipped as shown on the decal), but the decals are white and it's clear from photos that the originals were darker - yellow is the colour most often depicted. Fortunately, although the colour of the decals is wrong, the simple patterns are ideal for masking and spraying your own markings.
However, the problems with M52 don't just concern the decals. Photos of the full-sized aircraft show that it was fitted with an extended horizontal tail, which isn't provided. Admittedly, this should be simple to scratchbuild, but the real problem is that M52 wasn't launched from the steel launch tower at all... rather, the latter "telegraph pole" type of tower, which was ironically provided in the original Dragon kit, but has been omitted for the current release. With the combined colour and physical problems, many modellers may prefer to avoid M52 as a subject.
ConclusionDespite sounding critical of the colour schemes depicted, I'm really pleased to see Dragon re-release their Natter. The new launch tower is very impressive and the option to pose the aircraft itself with the engine revealed opens up great diorama prospects for anyone with the space to display this large model. Recommended.
ReferencesThere are a number of good general references for the Natter and one outstanding book which is easily the most detailed available to date on the type:
"Projekt Natter - The Last of the Wonder Weapons" - Brett Gooden, Classic, 2006.
"Natter" - Joachim Dressel, Schiffer, 1994
"German Aircraft Cockpits 1911-1970" - Peter W. Cohausz, Schiffer, 2003
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