Peter Ansoff's Reviews

Click on the link below to see the indicated review
Alcan 2040-240 locomotive
Hubble Space Telescope
Mowe I16 Rata
Solar Airship Lotte
Civil War Monitor Passiac
Mowe Fokker DrI Fokker Triplane

The ALCAN 2040-240 locomotive

Review to follow soon.

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Space Craft International Science Kit
Review by Peter Ansoff

Note: This is a slightly revised version of a review that originally appeared in "Cardformation Newsletter" Vol. 3 No. 4, and is used here by permission.

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched aboard the shuttle ATLANTIS in April 1990, and has revolutionized our knowledge of the universe. The HST has logged nearly a billion miles in space and made well over 100,000 spectacular images. Its capabilities were improved in 1993, when a crew from the ENDEAVOUR corrected a defect in the HST's lens and made other equipment upgrades and repairs. A recent visit from the DISCOVERY in February of this year made further adjustments. The HST is a very successful spacecraft and is expected to be operational well into the 21st century. SCI's HST kit is in approximately 1/65 scale, and makes a model about 8 inches long. It was previously reviewed in CardFormation Newsletter Vol 1 No. 2, and was rated at 4 1/2 snippers out of a possible 5. Although the kit has many good points, it also has its share of problems; I'm not sure that it deserves so high a rating.

The parts are printed on two laser-die-cut sheets and most of them are nicely colored and detailed. Some components, such as the high-gain antenna booms, the bases of the magnetic torquers, the low-gain antennas, the forward face of the Optical Telescope Assembly (OTA) Equipment Section and the inside of the aperture door hinge, are plain white which detracts somewhat from the appearance of the finished model. The kit also includes a separate instruction booklet (apparently they took Jon Murray's advice from his CF review), an information folder about the HST and a kit presentation guide for use by schools. The latter includes extra parts (printed on plain white paper) to allow students to demonstrate the upgrade of the Wide Field/Planetary Camera. The instructions are illustrated, but a clearer diagram of the overall configuration of the model would have been useful.

Assembly starts with the aft shroud and the telescope tube, which together form the "hull" of the HST. The shroud and tube are thin pieces of foil sheet which are rolled into cylinders, plus two circular pieces of card that form the bulkheads of the shroud. It was extremely difficult to attach the cylinders to the bulkheads without distorting their roundness and getting them off center; the whole assembly was very flimsy and lacked any sort of locating tabs or marks. I finally made three circular locating plugs from foamboard. Two went on the inside faces of the bulkheads and were the same diameter as the shroud, while the third, which was the diameter of the tube, went on the forward bulkhead on top of the primary mirror. The cylinders were then glued over the plugs, which kept them aligned and provided a good glue contact surface. Since the mirror is visible by looking down the tube, I made a new mirror from a piece of foil Origami paper and glued it on top of the plug before attaching the tube. If you follow this procedure, measure the circumferences *before* you assemble the cylinders -- it's a lot easier to do that way! The plugs add greatly to the sturdiness of the finished model.

The next task was to install the secondary mirror, which is positioned halfway down inside the tube in a "spider" frame. It was difficult to install the spider because of the extreme flimsiness of both the spider and the tube. After a couple of aborted tries, I made a retaining ring from a strip of card the width of the spider's arms; its diameter matched that of the tube and I colored it black on its inside face and forward edge. To get the spider properly aligned in the ring without distorting it, I pinned the ring over a circular pattern and then laid the assembled spider inside it, pinned the spider arms in position and glued them to the inside surface of the ring. I then slid the completed ring into the tube and glued it in place. It is still not perfect, but it looks OK.

The remaining details went on more easily, although the lack of alignment marks and tabs was irritating. I was well into step 8 before I noticed a major glitch in the instructions. Pictures of the HST (including the photo of the model that accompanies the kit) show that the keel fitting and the aperture door hinge are both on the "top" of the hull, while the OTA Equipment Section is on the "bottom". (Top and bottom are relative on a spacecraft, of course.) However, the assembly sequence in step 2 puts the keel fitting on the opposite side from the tube seam, step 4 puts the OTA-ES on the same side as the keel fitting and step 6 puts the door hinge on the same side as the seam. Result -- the keel fitting ends up on the "bottom" instead of the "top." Did I miss something here?

The instructions are vague on the installation of the forward scuff plates -- the arms should be bent at about a 135-degree angle out from the plates, and the forward arms should be aligned with top of the "NASA" logo. Step 8 says that the forward scuff plates should have their curved edges toward the logo and the aft plates go with the curved sides facing the keel fitting. The logo is on the opposite side from the tube seam, so both of my plates are thus "upside down" with respect to the aperture door. (Presumably the logo is supposed to be on "top", although this conflicts again with step 2). The four magnetic torquers have to be spaced by eye at equal positions around the tube; this is tricky because of the way their ends are offset and the lack of locating marks. The handrail around the front of the tube was also difficult to position correctly -- I wrapped a wide strip of paper around the end of the tube as a guide. As assembly proceeds, the model becomes harder to handle because of all the little protrusions. Once the aft low gain antenna is attached to the aft bulkhead, there is no way to rest the HST on a flat surface -- save the LGA for very last and have your suspension thread ready!

It took me a bit over 8 hours to build my HST, including some repair work after a hotel maid accidentally lowered a suitcase lid on top of the telescope tube (it was not a pretty sight!). In the course of re-engineering the hull, I also managed to get the aft shroud cylinder backwards. I plan to correct this by removing the handrails, wrapping the cylinder from another kit around the existing assembly, and reinstalling the rails -- my own version of a repair mission!

The finished model looks good as it probes the heavens above my desk; the delicate blue-and-gold solar arrays are attractive although they and the HGA booms droop a bit under earthly gravity. The model also fulfilled its purpose as a teaching aid; now I can look at a news photo of the HST and say "hey, there's a magnetic torquer!" However, I would have to rate the engineering of the kit as fair to poor. The flimsiness of the hull assembly, the lack of locating markings and the imprecise fit in some areas would be especially frustrating for the school-age modeler at whom the kit is aimed. Despite its faults, I found the HST to be an interesting subject and a good change of pace.

SCI kits are available from PMI or (postpaid) directly from the publisher. SCI maintains a web site (; you can order kits online and they promise prompt delivery. As their copy says "One customer even remarked that if the order had arrived any sooner, it would have burst into flames from atmospheric friction!"

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Polikarpov I-16 "Rata" (Wilhelmshaven/M`we Kit 1620) by Peter Ansoff

Note: This review originally appeared in "American M`we" vol. 5 no. 2, and is used here by permission.

It's too bad that the I-16 is best known as the "Rata," the ugly nickname given to it by its enemies in Spain. Russian pilots called it Ishak ("Little Donkey") in tribute to its ruggedness and reliability. To the Spanish Republicans it was Mosca ("Fly"), and the Japanese who faced it in China called it Abu ("Gadfly"). Interestingly, the Spanish Nationalists also referred to the I-16 as the "Boeing", because they thought it was a Russian-built version of the P-26 Peashooter. This was a real insult, as the I-16 was a much more modern and capable aircraft than the P-26.

First introduced in 1934, the I-16 was one of the first monoplane fighters with fully cantilever wings and retractable landing gear. Early I-16s had enclosed cockpits, another innovation, but the Russian pilots disliked them and later versions had the open cockpits. I-16s served with distinction in the Spanish Civil War, the Russo-Finnish war, the Sino-Japanese War and the opening stages of World War II. Captured I-16s served in the Spanish Nationalist and Finnish Air Forces, and at least one ended up in the Luftwaffe as a training aircraft. A number were produced under license by the Spanish Republicans in Alicante. At the end of the Civil War in 1939, the surviving Moscas/Ratas were incorporated into the Spanish (Nationalist) Air Force as trainers; the last one was not retired until 1953.

The M`we kit depicts an I-16 type 10, the standard fighter configuration with four 7.62mm machine guns. It includes two I-16s, which are identical except for the color scheme and markings: a post-Civil War Spanish "Rata" and an "Ishak" of the pre-WWII Soviet Air Force. The model was apparently designed from one of the Spanish-built I-16s, and a few of its features are inaccurate for the Russian version.

The kit is very well designed and was a pleasure to assemble. The English-language instruction folder is well done. A nice feature is that the kit can be assembled at two levels of difficulty: the detailed cockpit interior, exhaust ports and windscreen are optional and an attractive model can be made without them if desired. The optional features are referred to as "O" in the instructions, and cut-out areas for optional items are printed in red on the model.

I used "Prismacolor" pencils to color all exposed cut edges. This has to be done delicately, because too much pressure will damage the part, but it really improves the appearance of the finished model. It's not important to get an exact color match; the key is to eliminate "white" edges.

Fuselage and Cockpit: The fuselage is made up of ring-and-bulkhead cylinder sections in the standard M`we fashion. I was uncertain about whether or not to cut out the holes for the wing spar in Section 1 before assembly; the instructions say not to but it might have been easier than cutting them "in the air" later. Bulkhead 1b seemed slightly undersized; I glued a strip of card around its edge to give a tighter fit. I did not double bulkhead 3f because the instructions didn't say to -- it fit very tightly and was slightly bowed. The headrest cushion (3g) was tricky; it was hard to score and fold the tiny flaps neatly. I recommend cutting out the little slots for the tailplane spar in part 6, and the slot for the rudder spar in splice 6b, before assembly. The cockpit interior went together without any problems; it's too bad that most of its detail is invisible when the model is finished. I had to trim the inside hole in bulkhead 2c to get a good fit for the cockpit assembly. The final fuselage assembly was impressively good and tight (subject only to my lack of accuracy in cutting!) The joint between sections 2 and 3 took a lot of careful test fitting.

Stabilizers: The tailplane spar (part 7) is very delicate, and the tips tended to peel apart -- I had to repair both of them with glue. Make sure that the little black rectangles on the spar face aft -- they fill a gap between the fuselage and trailing edge of the stabilizers. The stabilizer formers (7a and 7b) are too long -- they were apparently drawn without allowing for the thickness of the spar. Trim the aft ends of the formers so that they match the outlines printed on the fuselage when the aft ends are butted against the spar. When forming the stabilizers, do not crease the leading edge sharply -- it should have a smooth round shape. The stabilizers fit very well over the formers -- they would have stayed in place without glue. The fillets (7e/f and i/k) are delicate, but fit well if you're careful. I think it's best to shape and glue on the lower fillets first, carefully matching the color separation lines at the leading edges, then add the upper fillets. Ideally, the forward edges of the upper and lower fillets butt exactly, but if you can't get them perfect (I didn't!) the overlap will face down and be less visible.

Rudder and Fuselage Fairings: The trim tab on the aft edge of the rudder was a Spanish modification -- you should cut it off if you are building a Russian I-16. Be very careful to line up the center marks on the rudder and fairing piece 8e -- if they are not aligned well the forward fairing sections will not fit correctly onto the fuselage. The forward fairing section (8i) did not overlap the doubled headrest (part 3e), but it looked OK after the edge of 3e was colored with pencils. (On the real airplane, this headrest was reinforced by 8mm armor plate to protect the pilot).

Engine Exhaust Pipes: These were a distinctive feature of the I-16, and are well represented in the kit. The pipe stubs 9d need to be blackened on the back -- I cut all 8 of them out in a strip and colored the back with a magic marker. Note that the outside edges of parts 9b are not straight -- they match the curve of the fuselage. Also, be sure to match up the individual back parts 9c to the correct holes in the fuselage -- they are colored to match the fuselage colors. This is particularly true if you are building the Spanish version with its mottled camouflage scheme.

Forward Fuselage and Cowling: The splice for the forward fuselage section (9a) had to be trimmed where it fitted around the lower exhaust pipe "blisters" -- make sure you trim enough to allow a tight fit along the lower seam. Be sure to cut out the center hole in bulkhead 9e before assembling it -- you'll need it to insert the pivot pin for the propeller. Also, make sure that the top and bottom marks on 9 and 9e are aligned -- this is important because the diameter of section 9 is greater than section 1, and the colored edge of 9e needs to be aligned with the top edge of section 1. I recommend attaching inner ring 9i before the outer ring 9g -- the instructions say the opposite but it's easier to position 9i if 9g is not in the way. The inner cowl front 9q is incorrectly called 9g in the instructions. Aligning the cooling vent holes in 9f and 9q was tricky -- it might have been easier to make each cover flap a separate part. Gluing the cowl ring assembly (9n/o) to the front of the cowling (9p/9q) was also tricky because the ring was flimsy and seemed slightly oversize. I placed the front face down on the work surface, put the ring on top and worked it carefully around the outside, then ran glue into the seam with a toothpick. Ring 9l/9m went on similarly. The finished cowling looked surprisingly good and fit neatly onto the forward fuselage.

Propeller: The hub former 10f was too large to fit into the hub -- I left it off. The sections of the hub did not mate together too well; I fitted them as well as possible and touched up the assembled hub with a little paint to hide the flaws. Instead of a bead as a spacer between the cowl and the prop, I made a little cylinder from scrap, colored it black and slipped it over the pivot pin. Before inserting the pin into the rear of the cowling, enlarge the holes in the cowling so that the prop will rotate freely. Cut off the end of the pin before installing 10h -- this will cover up the shiny end of the pin. Give each prop blade a twist to give the proper pitch.

Wings: The wing spars and wings went together well; the only hard part was getting neat butt joints in the wingtip slots. Rib 11c is incorrectly called "11e" in the instructions. The leading edges should be rounded like the stabilizers, not sharply creased. When gluing the wings to the fuselage and the wing formers, make sure the wing root is tight against the rib -- it make everything line up properly. The fillets 12a and 13a were hard to align correctly without a 3rd hand! The aft edges of 12b and 13b line up with the aft edge of fuselage section 9 and the locating line on the fuselage. Their color separation lines should match up with the ones on the wings.

The pitot tube (13f) is correct for the Russian I-16, but the Spanish replaced theirs with a two-piece version (see references for pictures). Photos of Russian aircraft show a light-colored tip on the pitot tube. I wrapped 13f around a piece of .25" plastic rod and left the white end protruding per the instructions.

The flaps printed on the kit wings are correct for the Spanish version, but Soviet I-16 type 10s had shorter flaps that did not extend as far inboard -- the inboard ends should extend aft from the double fore-and-aft lines on the wing. Also, the trim tabs on the flaps were at the inboard end on the Soviet version.

Landing Gear: The landing gear is the most significant inaccuracy in the kit. The I-16 had a sturdy tripod landing gear. The outer two struts pivoted inward when the gear was retracted, while the inner strut slid outboard in a slot in the wing. Each strut had a cover section attached to it; when the gear was retracted the cover sections matched up like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to full cover the struts. The model provides only the forward struts (parts 16 and 17) and the covers for the other two, resulting in a rather flimsy undercarriage. Also, the underside of the wing is printed to show the undercarriage retracted -- it should be colored black or detailed to show the interior of the wheel wells.

I reinforced the existing struts with plastic rod, and glued the inner doors 16c and 17c vertically under the wing, narrow edge up, angled forward and in fore-and-aft alignment with the existing struts (these doors were actually attached to the sliding strut). A better approach would have been to fabricate the other two struts -- it would have been both stronger and more authentic. The lower right photo on page 33 of Polikarpov Fighters (see "References" below) gives a clear view of the I-16's landing gear arrangement.

When attaching the landing gear assemblies to the aircraft, the wheels should be parallel to the axis of the fuselage and the struts should be vertical when viewed from the front -- the kit assembly diagrams incorrectly show them as angled in at the bottom.

Tail Skid: I cut out a piece of plastic sheet in the shape of the skid halves, providing a tab at the top to attach it firmly into the fuselage and trimming the upper "horns" to allow the ends to taper. This gave the necessary strength, but came out too flat -- the cross-section at the top did not match the locating lines on the fuselage. There must be a better approach!

Gun Sight: Spanish-built Ratas had a different gun sight from the Russian version. The gunsight was removed from post-Civil War I-16s; it can be left off if you are building the Spanish version.

Windscreen: The flat-panel windscreen provided in the kit was a field modification made by the Spanish after the Civil War. Production I-16s had a completely different single-piece rounded windscreen. The assembly procedure worked well, although the frames were delicate and tended to delaminate. I used "Uhu" to glue the frames to the acetate and the finished windscreen to the model -- my normal white glue did not stick to the acetate. It took some pressure to get it to stick to the model -- I was surprised at the sturdiness of the windscreen!

Color Schemes: The Soviet aircraft is in standard pre-war colors. The red stars on the upper wing surfaces were painted out soon after the German invasion of the USSR, and a star was added to the rudder. (Interestingly, the Soviets imported large quantities of paint from Germany before the war -- the green and blue colors were similar to those used on German aircraft).

Illustrations of post-Civil-war Spanish aircraft seem to show a sand base color with dark green patches, while the model shows the reverse. M`we's version of the color scheme certainly makes for a very attractive model, but it probably should be researched a bit if the kit is ever reissued. The origin of the model's numbering scheme is not known. All post-war Spanish I-16s had numbers that started with "IW", which was changed to "C.8" in 1948. The last flyable I-16 was number C.8-25; this number appeared in black on the rudder.

References: My main reference for this model was Polikarpov Fighters in Action, Part 2 by Hans-Heiri Stapfer (Squadron/Signal Aircraft publication number 162). The Polikarpov I-16 (Profile Publication Number 122) by Witold Liss has some good information and pictures, although it contains a few apparent errors. Both of these publications have good photos of the Spanish Air Force I-16 C.8-25. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft (Barnes & Noble) has a handy table of the different versions of the I-16.

It took me about 35 hours of work to build the I-16. It is a very good kit and is highly recommended.

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Solar Airship "LOTTE" by Peter Ansoff

Note: This is a slightly revised version of a review that originally appeared in "Cardformation Newsletter" Vol. 3 No. 1, and is used here by permission.

The LOTTE is a remote-controlled solar-powered dirigible built by the Institute for Statics and Dynamics of Air and Space Travel Construction at the University of Stuttgart. She is an experimental craft, designed to operationally test the concept of a solar-powered airship, and also used for advertising. Her length overall is 52 feet and she is inflated with 3849 cubic feet of helium. The power from her 16 solar cells gives her a maximum speed of 28 mph.

Ulrich Rhger, a member of the team that operates LOTTE, has published a cardstock model of the solarluftschiff in 1/60 scale. The kit is printed on high-quality white glossy stock and packaged in an attractive folder with a photo of a completed model on the front, assembly instructions on the inside, and historical information on the back. Most of the text is in German, but the instructions have multilingual captions and are easy to follow.

LOTTE's hull consists of 10 tapered circular shell sections, which attach to each other with underlapping tabs. This makes them simpler to assemble than some airship models, which use splices and butt joints between the sections to give a flush seam. However, the overlap makes the seams very visible on the finished model, particularly because of the shadows they cast against LOTTE's white hull. I attempted to modify my LOTTE with splices and butt joints, but I discovered that the design is very precise -- I couldn't make the sections butt smoothly without wrinkles. After struggling with the first 5 sections, I gave up and assembled the aft section with overlaps. I did use splices to assemble the individual sections along the bottom seam. Is there a mathematician out there who could work out the geometrical constructions needed to modify tapered shell sections so that the circumferences will match?

The hull has no internal bulkheads, which is not a major problem in such a small model. However, the finished hull is a bit fragile and easy to squash. Next time I'd probably insert a bulkhead between sections 5 and 6.

The cruciform tail fins on the real LOTTE are covered with transparent fabric stretched over the frames. On the model, this structure is represented by white card with light gray framing. A really ambitions modeler could recreate the framing cover them with some sort of clear material. The fins should be attached to section 9 *before* the section is assembled to the hull. I did it the other way and had a lot of trouble positioning the fins over the printed attachment lines because of the flexibility of the hull section. Ulrich recommends using a long needle through the open aft end of the fin to position the fin edges.

The propeller consists of two flat pieces glued together. I gave each blade a twist after assembly to give them the proper pitch (see the cover illustration).

LOTTE is a simple model and took me about 5 3/4 hours to build. The quality of the printing and design is excellent, and the finished airship looks good on patrol over my desk. Her small size was actually an asset for me because I do much of my card modeling while travelling -- the hull sections fitted easily into my tupperware parts box.

The LOTTE kit is available from PMI, and also directly from Ulrich Rhger in Stuttgart. The easiest way to contact him is by EMail via his web site: The web site has a picture of the finished model, as well as ordering information. For those without electronic access, his mailing address is: Ulrich Rhger, Im Steinengarten 11, 70563 Stuttgart, Germany. He can accept VISA and MC.

In addition to LOTTE, Ulrich has also produced card models of the new Zeppelin NT07 airship, and the Zeppelin LZ-126 (aka USS LOS ANGELES, ZR-3). It's good to see more airship kits on the market.

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Civil War Monitor USS PASSAIC by Peter Ansoff

Note: This is a slightly revised version of a review that originally appeared in "Cardformation Newsletter" Vol. 5 No. 3, and is used here by permission.

The 10 warships of the PASSAIC class were improved versions of the original USS MONITOR. Design changes included permanently-mounted smokepipes, a pilothouse mounted on top of the turret instead of on the bow (where it interfered with the guns' field of fire), and a better mounting for the turret itself. The PASSAICs were similar in appearance to the MONITOR, but slightly larger -- 200 feet long vs. 179 feet. Their armament consisted of two guns, either one 15" and one 11" or two 15", mounted in the revolving turret. The PASSAICs served with distinction in the Civil War, in which two (USS PATAPSCO and USS WEEHAWKEN) were sunk. The remaining ships all had long service lives; USS LEHIGH, USS MONTAUK and USS NAHANT served in the US Navy until 1904.

The PASSAIC is one of a series of Civil War ironclad kits by Bill Mahmood, and is available from him via his Web site (see below). It comes printed on three 8.5 x 11 sheets, two of medium-weight cardstock and one of heavy cardboard. The kit includes an illustrated instruction sheet and a good historical summary. Scale is not stated, but works out to 1/185.

Construction begins with the base plate, which is made up of three pieces of heavy cardboard, attached together by splice pieces (parts 4) of the same material. Cut out the base plate sections with a carpet knife or other heavy cutting tool, and try to get the edges as vertical as possible, especially along the joints. When assembling them with the splices, I laid a ruler along the side of the base plate sections to make sure that they were aligned. The instructions are a bit vague on the assembly of the hull support pieces. Parts 5a, 5b and 5c are the forward bulkheads, and are glued along the dashed lines on the forward base piece (part 1); 6a-6c are similar on the aft base piece (part 2). Be sure to get the bulkheads in the right order -- the deck slopes down from the bow to the stern, so the bulkheads decrease in height as you go aft. Ideally, the tops of the bulkheads should be beveled slightly to conform to the slope of the deck -- my cutting skill was not that good.

The pilot house sits on top of a spindle that runs through the turret; this allows the pilot house to remain stationary while the turret revolves around it. I reinforced the spindle tube with a cut-off toothpick. The instructions say to glue the spindle to the base plate before installing the deck; I waited until the deck and turret were in place to make sure that everything was aligned.

The deck and hull side sections go together as an assembly before fitting over the base plate. Again, note that the top edge of the hull side pieces is not parallel to the bottom. I did some trimming and fitting of splice pieces to make the joints between the side pieces. The turret mounting hole in the center deck section should be cut out to the inside of the black line. I assembled the hatches and the smokepipe to the deck before putting the deck onto the hull, and pre-punched holes in the deck for the smokepipe braces. I made the braces from waxed black thread, and glued them into pre-punched holes in the smokepipe. After letting them dry, I led them through the deck holes and glued the ends underneath. The deck fitted onto the hull plate pretty well, although it did not lie smoothly on the bulkheads -- the finished deck is a little "squishy."

The turret assembly was unusual but straightforward. The turret top should be trimmed to the black outline. The large semicircular tabs that underlie the turret roof didn't match up exactly -- the inner curved edges overlapped into the center hole in the roof. This was not a problem because there is considerable clearance between the pilot house and the turret, but it leaves the white edges of the tabs visible from above. After installing the turret ring into the deck, the turret fits neatly into the ring, and can be left unglued so that it can rotate. I put the turret in place and then glued the pilothouse spindle through the turret hole into the hull.

Wartime photos of monitors show a lot of topside clutter -- railings, awnings with stanchions, boats in davits, even field guns lashed on deck. The finished PASSAIC model looked rather bare, so I added flagstaffs at the bow, stern and on the pilothouse, made from plastic rod. The pictures I used were unclear as to how the pilothouse flagpole was mounted; I glued it to the aft face on top of the seam. Most illustrations show the US ensign at the stern and a small commissioning pennant at the bow, but I put a USN Jack on the bow instead -- it was more colorful. Bob Santos kindly printed off the flags for me (with the correct 34 stars), as a result of a discussion on the Paper Model List. I painted the staffs light gray, then glued the flags to them with SuperGlue.

I'd like to spend a second on the soapbox talking about flags. I've seen many beautiful, realistic, detailed ship models that were visually ruined by flags sticking out like flat slabs of wood. Flags are made of cloth, and they either hang in folds or flutter in the wind. It's easy to ripple a paper flag to make it look realistic, and it makes all the difference to the appearance of the model.

The finished model is simple but attractive. It would be interesting to try some modifications, such as cutting out the printed gun ports and adding gun tubes, cutting out the grating over the turret, and detailing the topsides. One minor historical note: The model depicts the ends of both guns as being flush with the gunports. This was correct for the 15" guns, but not for the 11"; the latter projected outside the turret. Therefore, the model is apparently armed with 2 15-inchers, rather than one of each. Only one ship, the COMANCHE, was so armed during the Civil War, although several others were rearmed in the 1870s. (The Photographic History of the Civil War, Vol III, has a fine on-deck photo of the CATSKILL that clearly shows the difference between the guns.)

The PASSAIC took me about 9 hours to build. I enjoyed the project, and I'm looking forward to my next Bill Mahmood ironclad -- the mighty CSS ALBEMARLE. Bill's Web site at has descriptions, pictures and ordering information about his entire line. His snail-mail address is 462 Cedar Lane, Cheshire CT 06410, tel. 203-271-3738. Currently, his line includes the USN monitors MONITOR and TECUMSEH and the CSN rams TENNESSEE, ALBEMARLE, VIRGINIA, NEUSE and JACKSON. Just out is his latest release, the also-mighty CSS ARKANSAS. Prices vary from $10 to $15. They're recommended as simple, unique and satisfying projects.

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Fokker DrI (Wilhelmshaven Kit 1806)
by Peter Ansoff

Note: This review originally appeared in "American M`we" vol.2 no. 4, and is used here by permission.

The Fokker Dr1 triplane played a relatively minor role in aviation history. Only 320 were produced, and the type was only in service for about a year. However, because of its unusual configuration and its association with Rittmeister von Richthofen (not to mention Snoopy!) the Fokker triplane is probably the best-known aircraft of the First World War.

The real historical significance of the Dr1 is all but forgotten today. It pioneered the use of the cantilever "thick wing," which supported aerodynamic loads with its own structural strength rather than an external system of struts and bracing wires. This was an important advance in modern aircraft design.

The kit includes two Dr1 models printed on a single large sheet. The models are identical except that one is colored red and one sliver-gray. I decided to build the silver triplane which, according to the instructions, represents the aircraft of Lieutenant Werner Voss. As such, it is inaccurate in several respects, as discussed below.

The Dr1 was a small aircraft, and many of the kit details are rather delicate in 1/50 scale. However, the kit exhibits the excellent engineering that is characteristic of Wilhelmshaven. The assembly instructions are in German, but the diagrams are easy to follow (with a couple of exceptions as noted below). In general, the part numbers are a good guide to the assembly sequence, but again there were a couple of exceptions.

Engine: I started assembly with the 9-cylinder rotary engine, which is a beautiful little model on its own and has a total of 57 tiny parts. Unfortunately, it does not look like the 110hp Le Rhone that was the standard engine on the Dr1. (The Le Rhone was made in France, and many triplanes were fitted with examples that were captured during the war. It's odd to think that the Red Baron's aircraft was powered by a French engine). The twin, forward-facing valve rods on the kit's engine resemble the 130hp Clerget, another captured engine that was fitted to a few Dr1s. (I believe that the replica Dr1 in the Deutsches Museum in Munich has a Clerget).

Cockpit: The assembly of the rudder bar is not clear in the instructions. The bar (part 1f) is rolled into a long thin cylinder, and its center rests in the semicircular cutout in part 1e, which sits vertically on the mounting location at the forward end of the cockpit floor. The rudder pedals (1g) are then glued to the ends of the rudder bar as shown in Abbildung 2. The cockpit details are not entirely accurate -- for example, the Dr1 had no instrument panel as such -- but this isn't surprising because good information on the Dr1's interior arrangements has not been available until recently. The Windsock Data File on the Dr1 (see "References" below) has excellent drawings that could be used to modify and superdetail the cockpit.

Fuselage: The assembly procedure for the fuselage is tricky because it is made all in one piece. Before beginning, make sure that all the little mounting holes for the wing and undercarriage struts, step, lift handles and tail skid are cut out, as well as the holes for the control wires (including an extra set for the rudder wires, see "Rigging" below). I recommend the following assembly procedure:
a. Attach the bottom to the port side.
b. Insert the bulkheads and the cockpit assembly. The alignment of the bulkheads is tricky; 2a and 2b should be perpendicular to the axis of the aft fuselage, while 1a and 1h are perpendicular to the bottom of the forward section. Part 1a seemed to be too small, and I made a replacement from scrap.
c. Attach the starboard side to the bulkheads and tabs along bottom.
d. Attach the top to the starboard side.
e. Attach forward bottom corners to the tabs, making a tight seam around bulkhead 2c.

Cowling and Propeller: The cowling is one of the oddest inaccuracies in the kit. Almost all Dr1s had characteristic circular cooling holes in the cowling that, along with the propeller, gave the appearance of a face. Photos of Lt. Voss' machine show that he enhanced this illusion by painting eyebrows above the cooling holes and a mustache around the propeller opening. For some reason, the kit's cowling has non-standard curved slots instead of holes, dramatically altering the look of the aircraft. I traced and cut out small round holes over the slots on part 5d, using the references as guides. This meant that I had to color the cowling to disguise the slot cutout areas. I painted it silver to represent one of the early production triplanes (see "color scheme" below).

The engine/cowling/propeller assembly is very well designed, but a bit tricky to assemble. The prop shaft (part 8e) is inserted through the center hole in the cowling, and glued to the engine crankcase. A straight pin goes through the prop, shaft and engine, through a small bead, and then through a hole punched in the firewall (parts 5/5a/2c). The trick is to keep all this intact while neatly gluing the cowling to the firewall. When completed, the prop and the engine rotate together, just like a real rotary, and the cylinders are visible through the holes in the cowling. I can actually blow gently into the prop and watch the prop and engine revolve. I did have some trouble getting the prop blades accurately aligned on the hub.

Wings: The kit accurately depicts the Fokker "thick wings" with their large single spars. After cutting out the wings, note the pairs of little circles on the upper surfaces of each wing. These are alignment marks for the wing spars. The instructions say to poke holes ("durchnadel") through them. Instead, I pressed on the colored side of each mark with the end of a toothpick, making little dimples on the other side that were used to align the spars. If Mwe ever redesigns this kit, I'd recommend moving the circles to the bottoms of the wings where they would be less visible.

Before assembling the wings, be sure to cut out the holes for the struts and wing skids, and poke holes for the rigging (see "Rigging" below). DO NOT cut out the strut holes in the lower wing -- they are inaccurately placed.

When assembling the wings, do not make sharp creases along the leading edge -- the skin should curve around the ribs to accurately depict the "thick wing." (I accidentally creased the leading edge of my upper wing, and had to make corrections with a toothpick glued into the leading edge. It worked, but in the process I somehow ended up with an irritating twist in the port wingtip.)

The middle wing root filets, parts 10d and 10k, are reversed -- 10k goes on the starboard side and 10d goes to port. Also, the inboard ends of the middle wing spars had to be shortened to make them fit snugly into the fuselage.

The aileron horn balances (part 20e) should be assembled and rigged before the upper wing is attached.

Guns: Contrary to the instructions, the machine guns should be assembled and installed before the top wing is attached. (I followed the instruction sequence, and regretted it). The kit depicts the port and starboard guns as mirror images. Actually, they were identical, and the ammunition feeds were on the starboard side of both guns. This is a bit difficult to correct because the ammo feed trays (parts 21f) are sized to fit against the outboard sides of the gun butts, which are deeper than the inboard sides because of the curvature of the fuselage. You'll need to nibble the port gun feed tray down to size so that it will fit against the inboard side of the gun, conform to the top of the fuselage decking and clear the starboard gun. The references have good illustrations of the Dr1's gun installation.

Photos of Dr1s show the distinctive appearance of the open cooling jackets around the gun barrels. I thought about punching out the tiny cooling slots, but decided that I wasn't enough of a modeler to try that! I also didn't use the tiny gun sights -- maybe someday I'll try making some out of fine wire.

Upper wing and strut assembly: Before beginning, poke holes in the fuselage for the rigging (see " Rigging"). I assembled the upper wing and fuselage struts first, making sure that the wing was more-or-less aligned in all three dimensions. The assembly is relatively flimsy at this stage, so there is room for adjustments. A more enterprising modeler could probably work out a jig to keep the wing aligned. I then assembled the struts between the upper and middle wings, making sure that they were parallel when viewed from the side and vertical when viewed from the front.

Before adding the middle/bottom wing struts, cut off the mounting tabs at the lower ends of the struts -- the holes in the bottom wing are misaligned and should not be used. Glue the upper ends of the struts into the middle wing, then visually align them with the upper/middle struts and edge glue the bottom ends to the lower wing. Be sure to trim the strut bottoms enough so that they do not push the lower wingtips down -- I ended up with a noticeable droop in the lower wing. The upper and lower segments should be in a straight line when viewed from both the front and side. (The wing struts look very thin, but this is realistic as shown in photos. These struts contributed little to the structural strength of the aircraft, and were added primarily to prevent twisting of the wingtips in flight.) The completed top wing assembly looks frail, but is surprisingly sturdy.

Undercarriage: Once again, be sure to punch rigging holes in the subwing before assembly, just inboard of the strut holes. I was not able to work out a satisfactory assembly sequence for the undercarriage. The lower ends of the struts must be inserted through the holes in the subwing before the wheel shafts (straight pins) go through the holes in the struts. This means that the wheels have to be installed before the subwing, with its delicate ribs, can be assembled. Fortunately, the wheels hide the sloppiness of the ribs. The finished undercarriage is not as good-looking as other parts of the model -- the wheels are flimsy and tend to wobble. They do revolve nicely around their axles, however.

Details: The boarding step (part 20d) should be on the port side only, not on both sides. The tail skid looked too fragile to support the model, and its shape is inaccurate anyway -- I replaced mine with a piece of bent wire. For some reason, the kit does not include the rudder control horns or the tailplane support struts -- both should be added from scrap pieces. The rudder horns are located on the leading edge of the rudder about halfway between the tailplane and the bottom of the fuselage. The struts lead from the underside of the tailplane, just inboard of the elevator hinges, to the bottom corner of the fuselage just aft of the tail skid.

Rigging: Abbildung 1 depicts the rigging for the fuselage/upper wing struts and the undercarriage. In both cases, the "Xs" are in the same plane as the forward struts. I cut short lengths of black waxed thread and glued them into holes punched in the upper wing, fuselage and subwing just inboard of the corresponding struts. The wing and fuselage holes were relatively large, while the subwing attachment points were on the lower ends of the struts themselves.

I also added the aileron control lines, which are double lines leading from the upper wing to the fuselage, just inboard of and parallel to the aft struts. Again, the holes in the wing and fuselage were rather large. A really ambitions modeler could extend the control lines down into the cockpit and connect them to the control stick as shown in the Windsock Data File.

The rudder and elevator control lines run from the tips of the control horns through holes in the aft fuselage. The holes on the model are not correctly placed, and the error is very noticeable when compared to the real aircraft; the upper and lower elevator lines, for example, should be almost parallel. You'll need to punch an extra set of holes for the rudder lines. Check the references if you want to correct the locations; I got lazy and left mine as they were, with the rudder line hole below and aft of the others.

Color Scheme: As mentioned above, the kit does not accurately represent Werner Voss' triplane. Voss' aircraft, serial number Fok F1.103/17, was one of the first two triplanes sent to the front for evaluation. It lacked the wing skids of production machines, and its cowling and tailplane shapes were different. Many popular accounts state that Voss' triplane was silver or silver-blue, but this is only a legend. Photos and other sources confirm that Voss' machine was painted in the standard Fokker factory scheme of streaky dark green above and light blue below, with the face markings on the cowling mentioned above.

Both of the triplanes in the Mwe kit carry serial number Fok DR1.107/17. The aircraft with this number was an early production machine delivered to Jasta 11 (Richthofen's unit) in October 1917. Some of the aircraft in this batch were delivered with silver or unpainted aluminum cowlings, and I painted my cowling silver for this reason. 107/17 had a relatively long service life; it was still flying with Jasta 11 in March 1918, when it was the personal aircraft of Lt. Von Conta. Other than the cowling, it was almost certainly painted in the standard Fokker scheme.

The kit's national markings are correct for the early period of the triplane's service, except that the 'iron cross' on the fuselage should be surrounded by a white square like the ones on the wings. The outline of the square is there, but it wasn't printed white for some reason.

If Mwe ever decides to revise this kit, the color schemes and serial numbers should be corrected. It would be nice to see at least one in the standard Fokker color scheme. Another interesting possibility would be Dr1 450/17, the black aircraft of Lt. Josef Carl Jacobs, the top-scoring triplane ace. His personal marking was a dramatic devil's head painted on the sides of the fuselage.

References: There is a lot of material in print about the Fokker triplane, but much of it is misleading or inaccurate. I found the two best sources to be the Windsock Data File on the Fokker Dr1, published by Albatross Productions Ltd, and "The Fokker Triplane" by Alex Imrie. The Data File has color plates and diagrams of construction details, while the Imrie book has good written descriptions of the aircraft and its history. Both books have many excellent photos. "Fokker, The Creative Years" by A.R.Weyl also contained useful information.

I enjoyed building my Dr1, and it looks good on my shelf. However, I hope that Mwe will decide to rework this kit in the near future and correct some of the errors mentioned above.

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This page was created by:
Saul H. Jacobs M.Ed.
Docent: Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ.
Avionics Specialist: United States Air Force (Retired)
Microcomputer Technology: Pima Community College (Retired)
Tucson Arizona