2. Airco DH.4 - 1916
No. 202 Sqn - Roden
Widely regarded as the most successful single-engine bomber of World War 1, the British Airco DH.4 was designed by the famous Geoffrey de Havilland. A sturdy biplane with a crew of two, the DH.4 was heavily armed and fast enough to outrun enemy fighters in a pinch.
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Kit: 1/48 Roden Airco (de Havilland) DH4
Decals: I used the kit’s decals - unfortunately
Date: Aug 2011
History: Having just built a model of one of the most advanced bombers in the world, the B-1B Lancer, I thought it would be fun to build a model of a World War 1-era bomber. Perhaps the most famous bomber of that era was the German Gotha, but since a modern 1/48 kit (that I can afford) of that bird doesn’t exist, I had to search for other alternatives. Roden’s line of 1/48 Airco DH.4 kits fit the bill nicely.
The DH.4 had a successful career during the war as a single-engine day bomber. Designed by Geoffrey de Havilland, it was sturdy, easy to fly, and had such high speed that it could perform its bombing missions without fighter escort. First appearing during the spring of 1917, it was supposed to be replaced by the DH.9 during 1918, but problems with that aircraft kept the DH.4 in front-line service for the remainder of the war.
The DH.4 was very widely produced with some 1,400 being built in Britain and another 1,800 being built in America before the war’s end. After the war the bomber served in many different air forces around the world in a variety of roles.
The Kit: Roden’s kit comes molded in light gray plastic with a small transparent sheet to provide the small windscreens and the transparent sections in the upper wing. In my boxing the parts were very well molded, with the fuselage and wings exhibiting very subtle but natural-looking surfaces. One criticism is that there are no locating pins on the parts that we modelers are accustomed to having them on, like the fuselage halves. A plus is that different sized bombs are provided, allowing you to load out your DH.4 in different ways. Decals are provided for three different bombers, and since there are some substantial differences between the three, you have to decide which one you’re going to build fairly early in the process. I choose to build N9557 of the Royal Navy’s No.202 Squadron, if for no other reason than its cool “I’m thumbing my nose at you” artwork on the tail.
Construction: Construction starts off with the cockpit per usual, and like most World War 1 aircraft, things are pretty simple in the “office”. Manned by a crew of two, there were actually two offices, both consisting of wooden floorboards, seats, control sticks, and rather sparse instrument panels. Roden captured that detail nicely, and I first painted all of the wood parts Testors Acrylic US Army/Marines Gulf Armor Sand. To create a wood grain effect I then used an old stiff brush to lightly drag some Vallejo Model Color Saddle Brown paint across the surface in one direction. This is then followed by a 50:50 mix of Tamiya Clear Orange and Tamiya Clear Yellow. Since that dries with a gloss finish, a flat coat was applied next.
The instructions call for the fuselage side walls to be painted in a linen color, but references point out that the forward part of the DH.4 was constructed of thin plywood, so I painted the sidewalls with my wood paint procedure as well. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not as the plywood could have been painted any color, but without extensive references, I blindly proceeded. The details on the instrument panels were picked out by hand, and then I started assembling the various parts together.
I attached some photo etch seatbelts from my spares box to both the pilot’s seat and the rear gunner’s stool, and then those parts were attached to their respective floorboards, along with the control sticks and rudder bars. Next I glued the fuselage halves together; a step during which you have to pay careful attention. There are no locating pins, and the box-shape of the fuselage is very open on top, meaning the only real seam to apply glue to is on the bottom. The assembly is fairly weak until you start gluing on the top portions of the fuselage.
While the instructions specify that you glue the various cockpit parts to one of the fuselage halves before you close them up, you don’t have to do it that way. Since the whole thing is open on top, you can easily fit everything in from above. Without locating pins the placement of the top parts is rather ambiguous, so I first glued the horizontal stabilizer onto the rear (it actually had locating pins). With that in place the upper part that covers the rear fuselage was butted up against it and glued in place, and in that fashion I worked my way forward from back to front. In a couple of nights the fuselage was complete and fully loaded with wood-painted WW1 stuff.
The fit of the parts isn’t perfectly precise, especially around the engine, so you have to do a lot of test-fitting and use your modeling skills. Still, in short order the fuselage was finished and I moved on to the wings. I attached the pilot’s cockpit to the lower wing per the instructions, and then glued the lower wing to the fuselage. The joint only needed a quick swipe of Mr. Surfacer 500 to fill any gaps. Up next I attached the landing gear (without the wheels), and then started planning how to attach the upper wing.
I wanted to assemble the wing struts and rig them without having to glue the upper wing in place (for painting reasons), and luckily the four struts around the cockpit attach firmly into pockets in the fuselage. When those were set up I set the upper wing temporarily in place on those using Tamiya masking tape, and that allowed me to snap the rest of the wing struts into place – a credit to the kit’s engineering. I glued the lower ends of each strut in place (but not the upper ends) and then set the model aside to dry overnight. The next night I removed the upper wing and then used stretched sprue to rig the wing struts. The DH.4 has a lot of rigging, so this process – not my favorite part of model building by the way - took a few nights!
At any rate with the lower wing covered in fragile struts and rigging, the model was now ready for paint. It was going to be a challenge to keep from knocking some of those struts off during the painting process.
Painting & Markings: I first wiped the model down with Polly S’s Plastic Prep, and then airbrushed a primer coat using Mr. Surfacer 1000. I then pre-shaded the few panel lines that there were with Tamiya XF-1 Black. The first color to go on was the light gray on the engine panels (per the version I was modeling), for which I used Testors Camouflage Gray. I masked that off and then lightly airbrushed Testors Sand onto the undersurfaces to simulate the Clear Doped Linen color so ubiquitous on British WW1 aircraft. Letting that dry for a night I masked that off and then applied the equally ubiquitous Dark Green PC10 shade to the upper surfaces using Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab. That was lightened slightly and then misted on randomly to provide a faded effect. The wing struts were brush-painted to look like wood using my wood painting process as detailed above, and then a coat of Future was airbrushed over the whole model to prepare it for the decals.
The kit’s decals proved to be a challenge. They were thick and didn’t settle down over surface details like decals usually do, even with a strong solvent like Walthers Solvaset. They also cracked and tore easily – very frustrating! I knew I was going to have to touch up a lot of the decals with paint later, something I don’t like to do because it’s hard to match the color of the paint precisely with the color of the decal.
With the decal step completed I sealed them with another coat of Future, and then applied a wash of Mig Productions “Dark Wash” to the few panel lines that the model has. A coat of Testors Model Master Flat Finish was airbrushed on next, and then it was time to touch up the areas around the tears in the decals. As I knew would happen, the paint color doesn’t perfectly match the decal color, resulting in splotchy looking decals. Grrr. The next weathering step was to airbrush a very thin mix of 50/50 Tamiya XF1 Black and Tamiya XF64 Red Brown lightly around the engine panels and control surfaces.
With the painting step largely done it was time to finish the model’s construction. I glued the upper wing into place and also attached the forward machine gun, bomb racks, and wheels. I “zinged” the rigging between the wings with matches, and then it was time to attach the rest of the rigging, of which there was plenty. The tail section is covered in rigging, and then there is a maze of lines leading from the cockpit to the tail as well. I used more stretched sprue as well as some EZ Line to finish the job. With that done I glued on the final parts, consisting of the rear machine guns, wing skids, and the prop. I dusted some earth colored pigments onto the wheels and tail skid, and declared the model complete.
Conclusions: Roden’s DH.4 is well engineered and goes together quickly. The detail and “delicateness” of the biplane is excellent, and the ability to build three different versions is also admirable. The one big fly in the ointment is those decals. I felt they damaged the overall look of the finished model, and unnecessarily so. In this day and age I expect any kit from a major producer to have decals that perform properly, and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable demand. While I certainly would build another Roden kit in the future, I would make sure I had a set of applicable aftermarket decals on hand before I began.
- Doubleday & Company, Kenneth Munson, “Aircraft of World War I”
- Profile Publications #26, “The de Havilland D.H.4”
- Wikipedia, the Online Encyclopedia