by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundThe latest Airframe Album from Valiant Wings examines the famous "People's Fighter" - Nazi Germany's last-gasp attempt to counter Allied air superiority with a simple and easy to manufacture jet fighter. As a volunteer at the RAF Museum I was lucky enough to examine their preserved airframe closely and I found it totally fascinating - advanced in some aspects and crude in others - but, above all, tremendously exciting! It was so diminutive in comparison with other fighters of the era, I couldn't help but conjure up the image of a jet-propelled go kart! Amazingly - and terrifyingly - the aircraft was intended to be flown into combat by pilots who had received only the most basic training, such was the crisis that Nazi Germany was facing.
As if to underline how misguided that concept was, Capt. Eric Brown, who flew a captured example, declared it "...no aeroplane to let embryo pilots loose on, and it would have demanded more than simply a good pilot to operate it out of a small airfield." Nevertheless, he recalled the sheer exhilaration of flying the He 162 with affection.
In PrintRichard Franks' new book follows the very successful formula of the Airframe & Album series, with the softbound A-4 90-page volume combining historical details and references with a model build and, perhaps most important of all for many modellers, a highly detailed "walkaround".
The book is divided into the following sections:
Camouflage & Markings
The Introduction provides a concise 23-page overview of the reasoning behind the decision to develop the He 162 and it's rapid progress from the drawing board to the brink of full operation deployment. Something I hadn't realised previously was the appallingly high accident rate that accompanied the aircraft's entry into limited operational testing - and this was in the hands of pilots far more experienced than those envisaged to fly the aircraft eventually. Perhaps uniquely among the fighters found by the Western Allies at the end of the European fighting, around 100 He 162s were surrendered intact, rather than being rendered unusable by Luftwaffe personnel. This, plus the fact that the aircraft was cutting edge in terms of design, ensured that a high percentage of the remaining airframes survived to be be tested by their captors. The author covers many of these individually, outlining their history and eventual fate.
Backing up the text in this section is a useful selection of period photos - including a shot I've not seen before of an He 162 in flight (albeit in British hands).
The Technical Description will undoubtedly be reason enough in itself for many modellers to buy the book, because it's a very comprehensive 21-page"walkaround" that combines modern day photos of a number of preserved airframes with original technical illustrations from the He 162's servicing manuals. The inclusion of the latter is a real plus point for me in how Valiant Wings approach things, because so many museum exhibits are missing components or were modified and repainted in a way that would be unacceptable with present day concerns for strict historical accuracy.
The modern shots are clear and well chosen, and backed up by a number of vintage photos where appropriate - for instance, the Argus pulse jets that were considered as powerplants.
Coverage is broken down into 6 main groups, with further sub-groups for some areas:
Group 1 - Fuselage
1 - Cockpit Interior
2 - Canopy & Forward Fuselage
3 - Main & Aft Fuselage
Group 2 - Undercarriage
Group 3 - Tail
Group 4 - Wings & Controls
1 - Wings
2 - Ailerons, Flaps & Control Linkage
Group 5 - Engine
Group 1 - Equipment
1 - Armament
2 - Sighting
The He 162's short career did nothing to prevent a large number of planned developments and improvements, ranging from different engines to entirely new wing designs. In the Evolution chapter, Wojciech Sankowski provides clear isometric 3D drawings illustrating the changes from the earliest prototypes through to the still-born paper projects. Each drawing is accompanied by concise notes highlighting the differences, plus a sprinkling of further vintage photos, making this a very useful go-to reference for modellers seeking a checklist of the fit-out for any given version.
With the He 162 only just entering operational service as the war in Europe ended, the Camouflage & Markings section breaks the coverage down into prototypes and small production batches. As usual, the author cautions regarding the perils in interpreting vintage B&W photos when there are so many unknown factors that might have considerable impacts on the appearance, but what's remarkable is the amount of variation in the finishes he describes.
Richard Caruana provides 23 excellent colour profiles to bring everything to life, accompanied by a number of plan views. A neat set of 1:48 scale drawings doubles up as a stencil placement guide, but will also be very handy for anyone building the vintage Trimaster/Dragon kits, or Tamiya's more recent model.
Sadly, the Model section is a bit thinner than in many volumes in the series, with just a single build - but it is a cracker, as Steve Evans turns his talents on Tamiya's popular 1:48 kit. Steve devotes time and skill to detailing the engine, and the effort is well worth it because the kit allows you to display the engine totally exposed. Surprisingly, Steve admits to not being a particular fan of the He 162, but you wouldn't think it from his excellent build.
With it's equally unique story and design, the He 162 has long proved a popular modelling subject - the earliest kit remember seeing was Lindberg's 1:72 version in the mid- 1960s - and the Appendices offer a useful guide to what what has been available over the years in terms of kits, accessories and references. Some items are long out of production, but still turn up regularly on the second-hand market, so this is particularly handy if you want to build a model of one of the more obscure planned He 162 developments which are never likely to see the day as mainstream kits.
ConclusionI thoroughly enjoyed reading Richard Franks' study of the He 162. As with all the titles in this series from Valiant Wings, it is something of a must-buy for anyone seeking to superdetail a model of the subject aircaft, and it will also appeal to aviation enthusiasts for it's historical coverage. Recommended.
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