This article originally appeared in the November 2000 issue of Internet Modeler.
The Pfalz D.III, which preceded the Pfalz D.IIIa, arrived at the front in August 1917. It was lauded for its maneuverability and speed; however, Richthofen himself wanted the guns mounted closer together and in the centre. The Pfalz D.III had its guns buried inside the fuselage and following this criticism the aeroplane was modified and the guns were placed atop the fuselage directly in front of the cockpit. The first Pfalz D.IIIa arrived in November 1917. By April 1918, 433 Pfalz D.IIIas were in service at the front, about a quarter of the total number of aeroplanes at the front.
The Kit's Contents
A full review of the kit appeared in an earlier edition of Internet Modeler. The kit comes on a single large sprue, accompanied by a small rectangle of photoetch material and a set of decals allowing two choices of markings. The first set of markings is Max Holtzem of Jasta 16's 'Comet'. This appears on the front of Windsock Datafile 21 and is quite well known. The second is Lt. Von der Marwitz of Jasta 30, serial 4203/17. I selected the former simply because I like the design so much. I had not seen it prior to looking at the Datafile and even when I discovered its ubiquity among modelers, I decided I wanted to build it regardless.
There is virtually no flash on the parts and the only clean up required is to eliminate the mold seam lines that are easily removed with a few swipes of sandpaper. The photoetch is not so much disappointing but rather, it is not particularly useful. I used only the foot rudder and the radiator blind rod. Photoetch is flat and in my view, does not generally provide a good representation of rods and other rounded parts. The kit has a decent plastic control stick and engine radiator pipes, which I used in preference to the flat photoetch material. I also eschewed the flat engine suction pipe and the control horns. I regard much of the photoetch material in this kit as adding to the cost without adding much benefit.
I began with the cockpit interior. The kit provides a cockpit floor with a mounting piece for the seat, a hole for the control stick and some footrests. Unfortunately, the control stick is too far in front of the seat and the foot rudder location is further in front of that - the pilot's legs would have to be about six feet long to reach the foot rudder.
Naturally, I glued all this on before recognizing this problem, and was then forced to relocate everything. I cut out another cockpit floor from plastic card, painted it wood brown, and streaked it with darker shades of brown to provide a wood effect. Virtually none of that can be seen once the cockpit components are in place and the fuselage is closed.
I painted the interior of the fuselage sides Leather Brown and streaked them with a lighter brown. An instrument panel is a component well suited to photoetch brass and would have been preferable to some of the photoetch parts that were in the kit. Unfortunately, no instrument panel is provided, so I made one from plastic card, and cut small thin disks from plastic rod to make the instrument dials. I painted these 'dials' Scale Black and added a few white dots for effect. I also added seat belts (another component that would have been nice to have in photoetch brass) made from the foil stripped off a champagne bottle.
Fuselage and wings
The engine is supposed to be glued to an extension of the cockpit floor; however, since I had replaced the cockpit floor this arrangement was not used. When I tried to close the fuselage halves, the engine was too wide (or the fuselage sides needed thinning). Out came the Mini-mite Dremel tool and I proceded to grind down the lower engine parts and the inside of the engine housing until the fuselage halves met satisfactorily.
At this point I did not want to seal in the plate on which the guns are mounted because there was still some gap between the fuselage halves. I waited to glue the plate until the fuselage and lower wing were attached. I held the fuselage halves together and slowly worked my way around with Pro Weld, until the two pieces adhered. I then added the lower wing.
The lower wing-to-fuselage fit is quite poor and is one of the primary problems with this kit. There were huge gaps and these required not only copious amounts of Squadron White putty, but also when I sanded, I had to sculpt the shape of the wing root fairing backwards. Unfortunately, unless the lower wing is set precisely, its angle and position will be incorrect. As a consequence, when I went to put on the top wing, it was slightly too far forward and the cabane struts did not fit. I then added the horizontal tail parts, which also needed some puttying.
I wanted to offset the control surfaces. Rather than cut them off, I scored the join with an X-acto knife and a scoring tool. Next, I cut through the parts except the side-to-side axis and then I slowly and carefully bent the control surface down or up depending upon how I wanted it. I found this easier than breaking the part off and then gluing it back since I always make a 'Glue mess' on a highly prominent surface when I reattach these parts.
After a lot of sanding and puttying, I attached the gun mount square. I had to shave it down to fit it into the square hole. I glued it to a cocktail stick using Elmer's white glue and lowered it down into the hole. Then I pulled it up holding onto the cocktail stick and super-glued the inside edges of the square hole. Once the super-glue had set, I used water to detach the cocktail stick 'handle'.
Once the lower wing and horizontal tail parts were glued, puttied and then sanded smooth, I began the painting. Almost the entire aeroplane is silbergrau and I was advised to use straight aluminum; however, I was concerned that in 1/72nd scale this would look too shiny and toy-like. I used three parts Model Master's aluminum to one part Aero Master's U.S. Neutral Grey (FS 36270). I masked off the engine with Parafilm and stuffed the cockpit with wet Kleenex paper.
Once the silbergrau was on, I began the somewhat arduous process of creating the striped rear fuselage. There are two photographs of the Holtzem aeroplane in the Datafile, showing ten black stripes. First, I glued on the vertical tail part, masked off the entire aeroplane and sprayed the entire tail and rear fuselage black. I sprayed a piece of decal paper black, cut thin black strips of decal paper and then starting from the rear, I proceeded to lay down the black stripes onto the fuselage.
After about seven black stripes, it was clear I was not going to fit another three before I reached the cockpit; the black stripes I made were too wide. I removed the black paper decal strips with Solvaset. I tried a second time and encountered a similar problem. The third time, I needed eleven stripes to make it to the cockpit. No problem! I just masked off everything except the rear fuselage and tail, sprayed the rearmost silbergrau stripe black, and viola, ten stripes! I then realized that the best way to do this would have been to begin at the cockpit and work backwards; lay down the ten stripes, then mask off and spray the rear black.
The interplane and cabane struts, landing gear struts and the spinner were all painted silbergrau. Unfortunately, the propeller and spinner are a single piece, which is not a disaster but somewhat of a 'short cut'. I helped this a bit by using a wash that sunk into the propeller-spinner line.
According to Bob Pearson, the engine of Holtzem's aeroplane does not have the 'horn' exhaust but has six separate exhausts on the starboard side. I cut six small pieces of .022 soldering wire and glued them using super glue. I purchased a roll of this wire from Radio Shack (a large electronic goods chain) and now have sufficient to make all the engine exhausts for several squadrons of aeroplanes. I recommend this material for various piping parts. It curves easily and when kinked or bent, it can be straightened easily by rolling it under a steel ruler.
The interplane struts come in a single piece for each side and, therefore, the top wing went on with no problem. There is a peg joint between the interplane struts and the lower wing, so I left the peg on the interplane struts showing a little. As mentioned above, the poor fuselage-wing fit lead to me positioning the lower wing incorrectly. Thus, the kit's cabane struts, which are well molded, did not fit and I had to scratchbuild new ones.
The landing gear fit well and went on with little difficulty; the wheels were painted a slightly darker grey than used for the silbergrau. Rather than use the control horns provided in the photoetch fret, I drilled narrow holes through the tail parts, threaded pieces of .001 x .002 plastic strips through, trimmed them off and then painted them black. This ensures that the control horns are identically positioned on either side of each surface.
The kit's decals contain a significant amount of excess clear component that needs to be trimmed, especially around the crosses. Otherwise the decals are satisfactory and go down well using Micro Set and Solvaset.
The decals contain some nice stuff, including the datum line on the front part of the fuselage and the weights and measures on the port side. I used the comet and tail on the sides but cut off the comet's tail for the top wing's surface. There is some discrepancy in the portrayal of the top wing's comet. According to some, the comet is totally black, however, I used the kit's decal, which has the same black and white comet as that on the fuselage sides. Once the decals were on, I sprayed the kit with Future cut with a little isopropyl alcohol and used a gouache wash on the panel lines.
The rigging on this kit aeroplane is fairly straightforward. The only tricky parts are the vertical pieces between the wings that attach to the control surfaces. All the rigging was made from straight .005" steel wire purchased from Small Parts Inc.; you can go to Small Parts Inc. and order a free catalogue. The wire is glued with Elmer's white glue; it is stronger than you think and cleans up with water. I then sprayed the entire kit with a fifty-fifty mixture of semi-gloss and flat clear acrylic.
A few details were missing from the kit, so I added a windscreen, a flare rack on the starboard side next to the cockpit opening and a rear view mirror. The flare rack was made from six pieces of .020" rod glued to a backing of clear sheet plastic, and glued onto the fuselage. The mirror was made from plastic rod and a few dots of silver chrome enamel paint. I also replaced the aileron control hinges with 28 gauge brass wire.
This is a decent kit that is well molded. There is hardly any flash to clean off and the kit builds into a good representation of the Pfalz D.IIIa. There are some problems. First, the lower wing-to-fuselage join is poor, requires a lot of work and can set the rest of the wing structure out of alignment. Second, the photoetch component is not worth including in the kit and should be dispensed with; it adds unnecessarily to the cost of the kit. Third, a minor point, combining the propeller and spinner in a single piece makes the kit simpler but less realistic. Fourth, the cockpit components need to be reworked. Finally, at $14.96 the cost of this kit is relatively high, and as I mentioned, possibly unnecessarily so due to the superfluous photoetch.
I understand that Roden is expected to release both a Pfalz D.III and Pfalz D.IIIa. In my opinion the molding of the MAC kit is better than that found in Roden's Fokker Dr.1, F.1, D.VIII and D.VI kits. Make no mistake, however, the Roden kits are fine, just not quite as good moldings. On the other hand, the Roden kits are approximately half the price. My advice, therefore, is that modellers consider waiting for the release of the Roden Pfalz so that they can compare and make a choice. If, however, you are the impatient type like myself, go ahead and buy the MAC kit provided you do not mind a fair amount of puttying and sanding and making some adjustments to the cockpit.
I would like to thank Bob Pearson for his helpful advice and for providing information on colour schemes. Matt Bittner was helpful with encouragement and tips; the control horn idea was his. Also, I received help from participants of the World War One Modeling e-list, run by Allan Wright.
I have no connection with Small Parts Inc. except that I am a satisfied customer.