When Hollywood makes a movie that captures our modeling interests it usually is pretty exciting (or really frustrating). For those of us who focus on the air war of World War One, there have been some great movies, like The Dawn Patrol, some good movies, like Flyboys, and some not-so-good movies, like Von Richthofen and Brown. One movie that has become an icon of this genre is The Blue Max. This movie featured George Peppard as German pilot Bruno Stachel and Ursula Andress as the seductive Countess Kaeti von Klugermann. The other star in the movie was the Pfalz D.III. It is this important WWI fighter that has captured the imagination of modeling companies. Encore Models, produced by Squadron Products, first released their Blue Max Pfalz D.III in 1/72 scale in a bagged econo-kit, using the Roden molding and adding the unique lozenge decal characteristic of the plane in the movie. Roden also released a 1/32 scale Pfalz D.III a few years back, and now Encore has upgraded that kit and released it in an attractive boxing, once again based upon the movie, The Blue Max. The Encore upgrades are quite impressive: a photoetched fret, 28 beautifully detailed resin parts, and a decal sheet from Cartograf (clearly, one of the best decal companies out there, in my opinion). The instruction booklet is no less impressive; it features clear and colorful call outs, accurately numbered parts, and well thought-out steps instructing you on the build. Furthermore, and most amazing, is that this edition offers three versions of the D.III to build: the movie version, the literary version (don’t forget, the movie is based on the book by Jack D. Hunter), and the historical version, the Pfalz D.III flown by Leutnant Heinrich Arntzen, no. 4059/17 of Jasta 15 in January, 1918. Two final additions to Encore Models’ Blue Max Pfalz are finely molded figures of Bruno Stachel and the Countess herself. Here is a model that must be built while you watch the movie!
Offering some historical data about this iconic WWI fighter, Encore’s front-page information is helpful and provides a little humor as well (e.g. “Stachel’s Blue Max Pfalz in Pfact and Pfiction”). Regarding the actual plane, it is pointed out that “no fighter put into service during World War I was more carefully streamlined that the Pfalz D.III”. It seems, apparent, that German pilots had a love-hate relationship with this plane. They acknowledged the Pfalz’s primary advantage was its strength and sturdiness, and they grew to appreciate that the Pfalz D.III could dive at high speeds without serious problems, due to its twin-spar lower wing. However, many pilots criticized the Pfalz’s heavy controls, low speed, lack of power, or low rate of climb, especially when compared to the Albatros fighters. The Pfalz D.III was generally considered inferior to the Albatros D.III and D.V. One of the most obvious and reoccurring complaints about the Pfalz D.III was that the Spandau machine guns were placed inside the fuselage, just below the top deck and directly aft of the engine. This proved to be troublesome for the pilot, often hindering him from clearing gun jams while in combat, a design flaw that could prove fatal. When the modified Pfalz D.IIIa appeared, this design flaw was corrected and the guns were relocated to the upper fuselage decking. Eventually, both the Pfalz D.III and the D.IIIa would continue to see limited duty, especially as the Fokker D.VII became the plane of choice with front line units.
Encore Models offers the Roden 1:32 Pfalz D.III plastic moldings on six sprues, totaling 77 parts, in light gray styrene plastic and has packaged this with 33 resin parts plus a sheet of brass photoetch with 26 numbered part types, with some numbered part types duplicated multiple time. The plastic is crispy molded with very little flashing. However, I noted that the plastic on the wing tips and edges was so thin that they were slightly damaged just by being packaged. A little sanding helped even them out, and I had to take great care that they were not placed in any way that would dent and score the edges during the build. An initial dry fit of the fuselage halves revealed that the fit was not going to be very precise around the engine. One of the fuselage halves even seemed twisted slightly. It was flexible enough, however, that I determined it would not be a problem once I was ready to actually glue it together, and that once glued, it would hold its shape. There were some other issues I would encounter in the build:
- The resin parts, while beautifully detailed, were somewhat brittle. A few of the pieces broke off when trying to remove the resin bases. The exhaust manifold had a broken section that had to be repaired.
- The undercarriage struts were quite long, thin, and seemed to be a little wobbly. Once in place with some rigging, they proved to be sturdy enough to support the weight of this plane.
- The joystick hand control, glued to the joystick column, was misidentified as being part 24G, when it was actually 22G.
- There was some mis-numbering relating to the PE parts as well. The sliding radiator cover was actually PE part 13, but was marked as 12 in the instructions. The small square access panels on either side of the front of the fuselage are PE parts 18, but they were marked as 13 in the instructions.
- The cabane strut holes in the bottom of the top wing did not match the pins on the cabane struts. The distance between these two holes was about 1 mm off.
- The back radiator pipe was a little too short, especially so if you are going to leave your engine panels off.
- The kit’s front radiator pipe is assembled form two parts, and I decided to eliminate both of these plastic radiator pipes in favor of a single piece of .032 brass rod that I bent into shape. This eliminated the need to try and glue two plastic pieces end-to-end and achieve good-looking results.
I decided to take advantage of the beautifully cast resin Mercedes engine cylinder heads, rather than use the plastic kit engine (which was not that bad). Construction began by having to cut off the plastic cylinder heads from the engine crank case. The resin cylinder heads were then glued to the plastic engine block. A total of 12 resin parts were used to detail this Mercedes D.III engine. To this sub-assembly, I eventually added sparkplug wires and a scratch built oil pump (which was placed on the starboard side of the engine, and with the panels off, it can be seen and looks great). You can skip this addition if you are leaving the panels in place, as little of the engine below the exhaust manifold will be visible. The wood engine cradle was a simple build, so long as you pay attention to the instruction’s warning that you may need to cut off some of the engine mounts to get it to fit down into the cradle. The engine was painted in Vallejo Flat Black and then rubbed down with graphite from pencil lead. Next, it was treated to some dry-brushing with Vallejo Aluminum. Certain areas received some amber and/or red paint, such as the gaskets, sparkplug wires, sparkplug wire tube, and the actual sparkplug wires (which I added). The sparkplug wires come out of the back of the carrier pipe, at the back of the engine, on either side of the magneto. The carburetor was highlighted in Vallejo Brass. The wood cradle received a base coat of Vallejo Beige Red followed by Vallejo Woodgrain. After that dried, I applied Vallejo Transparent Orange. At this point, I also added tiny bolt heads on the engine mounts; these are a small detail that may not even be noticed. With the engine mounted in the cradle, the whole sub-assembly then received a black wash to accentuate the detail, darken the entire area, and make it look dirty and grimy.
Next up was the cockpit sub-assembly. Once again, the wood parts received a base coat of Vallejo Beige Red, followed by Vallejo Woodgrain, and then Transparent Orange. The control column, aileron actuation bar, and the rudder control bar were painted with Vallejo Aluminum. The auxiliary throttle lever and the fuel tank pressure hand pump were also painted in Aluminum, but with some flat black for detail on the handles.
The pilot’s seat was upgraded considerably with the addition of a resin cushion. To simulate a leather effect, I painted the cushion with Vallejo Black Red and dry-brushed it in Vallejo Red. I lightened this red some and streaked it with a little more dry-brushing until I got the desired effect. A very thin black wash highlighted the seat cushion just enough to add some realism.
Back to the cockpit assembly, it needed to be joined to the engine assembly. This is easily done as both assemblies were joined to the main fuel tank. The machine gun ammo storage box goes on top of the fuel tank, between the engine and cockpit assembly. At this point you will have to decide which version of the Pfalz D.III you plan to build. The historical version will use the kit ammo structure and brace, as the Spandau machine guns will be hidden in the fuselage. Both the movie and literary versions place the Spandaus on top of the fuselage, and special instructions are provided for the installation of the resin ammo box and chutes for either of these options. If you are installing the guns in the fuselage, the kit Spandaus are fine because you will not see much of the detail anyway (e.g., cooling jackets). If you are installing the machine guns on top of the fuselage, you will want to use the resin receivers, the PE cooling jackets, the PE gun sights, and the resin muzzles.
Here was the moment of decision for me in this build. I faced a dilemma. I had already built the Encore Models 1/72 scale Blue Max Pfalz D.III with the entire fuselage covered in the lozenge decal. Frankly, I just did not want to do that movie version all over again, even though the decals provided by Cartograf were a work of art. Nor did I want to do just the historical version, as it was rather unexciting, and it would also mean I could not use the beautiful Spandau machine guns constructed from resin and PE. The third option, the literary version, was the most appealing to me, but then, because it was all silbergrau (silver-gray), I would not be able to use the beautiful Cartograf lozenge decals. What to do? Either, or? Then I came to a decision: modeling is supposed to be fun and adventurous. I decided that I would create a hybrid Blue Max by including the best features of all three versions available in this wonderful kit. Basically, it would be the literary version, which would allow for the top deck Spandaus, and I would mark it with the fictional Pfalz D.III 4201/17 markings. To break up the monotony of the silver-gray, I would apply the beautiful lozenge decals, but only on the top surfaces of both wings and the top of the tail plane; I would not apply them to the entire fuselage, as called for in the movie version. Happy and relieved with this decision, I proceeded with my build.
Before installing the engine and cockpit assembly, I scribed planking lines diagonally on the inside of both sides of the fuselage interior. I also added wire, after installing the air control panel, on the right side of the fuselage interior and to the Bosch starting magneto on the left side. Additionally, I added control wires running from the rudder control bar that passed under the seat, and two more wires attached to the aileron actuation bar near the bottom of the fuselage. The engine and cockpit assembly was then installed into the right side of the fuselage, along with the Spandau ammo assembly, and the fuselage was closed up. Clamping was necessary, especially for the front of the fuselage, to ensure that the halves are lined up properly. Filler was applied to the seams, and once everything was dry, sanding the seam lines was the next step. The engine and cockpit were masked off and a gray primer was applied. This revealed that I needed to do some touch-up on a few of the seams, especially on the top part of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit, and on almost half of the length of the fuselage. The plastic here is very thin, and I was concerned that too much sanding would compromise the integrity of the joint. As it turned out, I had a few anxious nights reapplying filler, sanding, priming, and then having to do it again as I just could not get the seam line to disappear. Despite the work, seam issues would appear again after painting.
Before painting, I created the silbergrau color with Tamiya acrylic paints. I used a base of Tamiya Aluminum mixed with Flat White and Light Grey. With my airbrush loaded with the silbergrau color, I proceeded to paint the underside of the top wing, bottom wings, and tail plane, as well as the spinner, the interplane struts, the cabane struts, the undercarriage struts and axle, and the wheel covers. I painted the tires with a mixture of Tamiya Grey and Pink. At this point, I set everything aside and started work on the propeller. Lately, I have been committed to using actual wood-laminated props for my WWI planes, but for this build, I decided to use the kit prop and employ my tried and true method of drawing the lamination freehand. I do this with a brown Sharpie, being careful to keep the lines as precise as possible and the lamination spacing even. Of course, it is important to observe how the lamination follows the pitch and curvature of the prop. Lamination lines do not run perfectly straight down the face of the propeller from the hub to the tip. Once I finished with my Sharpie, I painted the prop with a thinned coat of Vallejo Natural Wood. Once dry, the prop received another coat of paint, this time Vallejo Woodgrain, but thinned down considerably. Future was then sprayed over the prop to prepare it for the application of the Axial logo decals.
I turned my attention next to the cockpit leather coaming. I first made sure that I had achieved a good fit for the tachometer, which I had moved further forward to the front of the cockpit. The instructions called for it to be mounted were it would be unseen by not only us, but probably by the pilot as well! I then hand painted the cockpit coaming to simulate leather. This was accomplished with an initial coat of Vallejo Black Red, followed by dry-brushing with Vallejo Red, and then finished with a thin black wash. I picked out rivet heads all along the coaming with the thin point of a metallic-brass colored Sharpie.
The Bottom wing was attached, sprayed with Future, and then had the lozenge decals applied. Similarly, I applied the lozenge decals to the top side of the top wing and the tail plane. An extra step, applying a base coat of white paint, was required before I applied the lozenge decals to the top wing. After a coat of Future was added over the white base, the top-wing lozenge decals went on in pieces, leaving a white field on which the black Eisernes Kreuz (Iron Cross) decals can be applied. Finally, the remaining decals for the fuselage, rudder, and the underside of the bottom wing were added with no problems. Cartograf decals are very hardy and easy to work with.
Despite all of the work I had previously done to finally get the seams looking right, a short section of the seam actually split again, after painting, decals, and weathering. This was due to how thin the plastic is in this area. To say the least, I was very frustrated and thought the model was going to be a total loss. I had to lightly sand down the area again, apply some CA for filler, sand that down, respray a light coat of gray primer, and then respray my silver-gray mix. This last attempt finally did the trick, and I was then able to weather the fuselage in this area to match what I had already done.
The Final Assembly
Most modelers dread mounting the top wing when building a biplane. Happily, I encountered no real problem with this, as the V-shaped interplane struts went into their matching holes on the top wing and it was fixed in place. I usually attach the wing to the interplane struts first, and then add the cabane struts, which stabilizes the whole union even more.
Prior to mounting the top wing, I drilled all my rigging pilot holes. Wire eyelets were glued in the holes in the underside of the top wing. Gas Patch turnbuckles were threaded with EZ Line, and then glued into the holes on the upper side of the bottom wing. Once the top wing was mounted, rigging was an easy process, I simply threaded the lose end of the EZ Line into the opposite eyelet, wound the line around itself, and applied a small swipe of CA. The CA dried in virtually an instantly. Since I was still holding the end of the EZ Line with my tweezers, I simply cut off the excess line, leaving a nice-looking rigging line, flying wire, or a landing wire. Be sure to look at the close-ups of this rigging process and the results in the attached photos.
The undercarriage and landing gear were installed next, again with little problem; the fit here is very good. Before attaching the wheels, I like to strengthen the landing gear struts with strong cross bracing using something like guitar string or, in this case, thin metal rod instead of EZ Line or Wonder Wire. This method really strengthens the whole landing gear and undercarriage assembly. Moving on, the PE control horns were installed in the tail plane and EZ Line was used to rig this area. I used 1/48 scale Gas Patch turnbuckles in these short lengths of rigging. Hopefully you will agree that the photo shows this to look convincing.
With the build nearly complete, I added the windscreen and used brass rod to replace the kit’s plastic radiator piping. Finally, to symbolically cap off the build in my usual manner, I added the propeller, the final component that completed the build.
The Base and Figure
Even though I produced a hybrid Blue Max Pfalz, I thought I would create a base that featured at least one of the figures from the movie. I chose the pilot figure and painted him according to the instructions. Once the plane and figure were placed on the base, the casual way the pilot is posed, leaning against the fuselage, added a nice touch to the presentation. The other addition to the base was a maintenance table with tools just in front of the plane. I displayed the two panels I had cut from the fuselage on the table. These removed panels allowed me to show off much more of my hard work that went into adding details to the engine.
I really enjoyed this build. I think that Encore Models has done an outstanding job in upgrading the Roden Pfalz D.III. It still might not be on a par with Wingnut Wings kits, but it is not too far behind.
I would like to thank Squadron for supplying the model kit and IPMS/USA for the chance to build and review it.
- Pfalz Scout Aces of World War I, Greg VanWyngarden, Osprey Aircraft Of The Aces #71. Osprey Publishing Limited, 2006.
- The Pfalz D.III, Profile Publications, Number 43. Profile Publications Ltd, Surrey, England.
- Pfalz.D.III, The Trojan Plow Horse at war. Review in Armorama by Stephen T. Lawson.