Bachem 349 Natter 22/23
During the latter years of World War II, the Luftwaffe was scrambling to finds ways to combat the ever increasing aerial onslaught of the Allied bombing campaign. Many solutions were proposed, some very successful, such as the Me 262, while others never left the drawing board. Some very odd proposals actually made it off the drawing board. The Bachem 349 Natter was one of these odd ideas that were actually in the test phase when the war ended.
The Natter was designed to be a semi-reusable weapon system, constructed using non-strategic materials in order to minimize its impact on more developed programs. The Natter was to be constructed of wood, using primarily unskilled labor, and ground-controlled so that only minimal flying skills would be required. It was to be powered by a rocket motor using the same T-Stoff and C-Stoff fuel used by the Me 163 Komet. Launching would be from an almost vertical position using 4 jettisonable booster rockets attached to the side of the Natter to help it get airborne. Once airborne, the Natter was radio-controlled to the vicinity of the bomber stream, at which point the “pilot” would use the rudimentary flight controls to point the Natter at the bombers, release the detachable nosecone and then fire the installed battery of rockets at the bombers. After firing the rockets, the pilot would then jettison the fuselage from the cockpit forward, activating the parachute for the rear of the aircraft and also tossing him clear of the aircraft so he could parachute to safety.
A number of unmanned tests were conducted with varying degrees of success, so it was decided to conduct a manned launch. Unfortunately, this first manned launch ended in the crash of Natter #23 and the death of the test pilot.
This kit is a slight reworking of Brengun’s earlier Natter kit, and includes new fuselage halves and a new lower vertical stabilizer to allow the construction of the Natter 22 and 23 manned prototypes. While the kit is in many respects a typical limited run kit, the parts are actually very well detailed and include a pretty comprehensive cockpit for such a small aircraft. Assembly and painting of the cockpit went very quickly once I realized that part #8 on the sprue actually needs to be cut into two parts, as it is both the control stick and the rudder bar, which are shown to be 2 separate parts in the instructions. The kit also includes a tiny photo-etch fret of lap and shoulder belts, as well as a rudimentary sight that is not used on either 22 or 23. I left the belts off at this stage of the build as the canopy is very tiny and they would not be visible through it.
Once the cockpit was painted and installed, I closed up and addressed the seams on the fuselage, which needed just a little putty and sanding. The wings are next and slot into recesses on each side of the fuselage. At this stage I also installed the vertical and horizontal tails. I had some small gaps where these met, but they quickly disappeared with Mr. Surfacer. I left off the ventral antenna until later in the build, as I knew it would not survive if I installed it before painting. My canopy appeared rather cloudy when I first looked at it, so I used my polishing sanding pads followed by a brisk polishing and a dip in Pledge/Future to see if I could improve the clarity. I was pleasantly surprised as once the Future dried, I had a nice clear canopy. When I went to attach the canopy for painting, I was not able to get it to sit properly as it appeared that the headrest at the back of the cockpit was too high which keept the canopy from closing. I decided to cut the canopy and display it open to avoid this issue and discovered that once the canopy had been cut, it now fit great, so I think the actual problem was that I had the canopy a little too far back.
At this point I assembled the two sets of detachable rocket boosters and addressed the seams on both. The boosters were also the source of my one complaint about the kit as the nozzles for the rockets come in halves, very tiny halves, which I had a hard time keeping track of. Once all four nozzles were assembled and lightly sanded, I used a tiny drill bit to ream out the exhausts so that they appeared round. I had to cut off the end of the boosters and drill out the ends in order to get the nozzles inserted, but once installed they really look the part.
The bottom of the kit box has the painting and decaling instructions for both #22 and #23. Both airframes were painted RLM 76 over a flat black bottom with a dense squiggle mottle of RLM 75 over the RLM 76 on the top surfaces. After a couple of futile attempts to paint the squiggles with my airbrush, I resorted to hand-painting the squiggles with a 10/0 brush and ended up rather pleased with the results. After a couple of coats of Future, I applied the decals, all ten of them, using Micro Sol, and they behaved perfectly. A final coat of Testor’s flat, and the airframe was complete.
Brengun includes parts representing the wooden stand that the Natter sat on when not on the launch rail, and when painted up with a light black wash to highlight the grain and the details, it looks really cool.
This kit is a nice little kit of one of the oddest aircraft of World War II, and builds up very quickly into a neat little replica. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Brengun for the review sample and to IPMS-USA for letting me build it.