by: Michael Satin [ ]
Introduction/HistoryFokker’s DR.I was developed as an answer to Sopwith’s triplane design that was introduced in late 1916. Not particularly fast or well-armed, the ability of the new Sopwith to out-climb and out-maneuver anything the Germans had to throw against it was a shock to the Luftstreitkrafte, and they quickly put out requests to their aircraft industry to get something into the air to deal with it. While several companies responded, Fokker’s V.5 design, an amendment to their earlier V.4, clearly showed the most promise and on 14 July, 1917 20 pre-production examples were ordered.
The first two pre-production examples, designated the F.1 under an earlier system, went to Jastas 10 and 11 and were flown by two of Germany’s pre-eminent flying aces, Manfred von Richthofen and Werner Voss. These first aircraft had slightly different shapes to the inner curves of the ailerons than production versions and a faint curvature of the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer where later ones were straight. Early front-line use demonstrated that some strengthening of the airframe was necessary and better quality control was required, particularly around the fastening of the fabric to the wings and eliminating moisture damage to the framework, but the airplane quickly became a favorite of high-scoring aces. Like the Sopwith product, the Fokker triplane was not particularly fast, but it was well armed with two machine guns firing through the propeller and it’s climb and maneuverability were excellent. Though only 320 were produced before it was relegated to second line duties by the superior Fokker D.VII, the Dr.I maintains a hold on the imagination of the public interested in the First World War in the air due to its use by many of Germany’s greatest air heroes. Von Richthofen shot down his last 19 or 20 victories in the type before being killed himself while flying one, and Werner Voss took on 8 British aces of the elite 56 Sqn. while flying the second pre-production aircraft, before finally succumbing to his wounds.
The Fokker Dr.I in 1/32 scale1/32 scale has increasingly become the scale of choice for World War I modelers. While Eduard has done some excellent 1/48 kits, including a great DR.I, Wingnut Wings and Roden have shown how detailed and buildable the aircraft of the Great War are in the larger scale. And, as these airplanes aren’t large compared to later warplanes, the models don’t take up too much room on the shelf. Finally, of course, the bigger the better where rigging is concerned.
As one of the most popular fighters of the war, the Dr.I has fared well in this scale, with Roden and Hobbycraft both releasing kits in the mid-2000s. Roden’s was the better kit, but it was becoming hard to find, though it seems to be back now (Hobbycraft disappeared shortly after their kits were released), and modelers were putting increasing pressure on Wingnut Wings, the premier producer of 1/32 WWI aircraft, to market their own Fokker tripe. While WnW’s initial position was that they would not produce kits where adequate ones already existed, the continuing dearth of Roden kits, as well as the need for WnW to market big sellers, finally resulted in an announcement in late 2019 that two Dr.I kits were on the way, early and late. Their site had gone so far as to exhibit box art and CAD drawings when COVID-19 hit, and the floor gave way. While no “official” word has still come down, it looks very much like Wingnut Wings has breathed its last. Sigh.
Enter Meng, a Chinese company that has made waves over the past few years with some excellent armor kits, and a few aircraft as well. I’ve seen on the rumor mill that they may have been involved in producing at least some of WnW’s molds, and earlier this year they announced that they would be putting out a 1/32 Fokker Dr.I. Many people’s breaths were held, until the sprue shots finally came out in June. Close inspection of the photos pretty convincingly showed that they were, indeed, the Wingnut Wings kits reboxed under the Meng label. Hooray!
Now the kit is on the shelves (along with a special edition including a resin bust of von Richthofen), and I picked up the standard offering. How does it look in the plastic? Well, let’s see…
Meng’s 1/32 Fokker Dr.II’m sorry to say that the first look isn’t quite as exciting as a WnW branded product. One thing the New Zealanders certainly knew how to do was put out great box art, with Steve Anderson original paintings on the front and Ronny Bar profiles on the side. It was a quality package. Not so much the Meng boxing (which is a bit confusing given how excellent the art on their 1/32 Me 163 was). Not a deal breaker, especially if you know what’s inside, but disappointing nevertheless. One thing is that there’s an odd bracket or something sticking up from the landing gear in both profile views on the sides of the box. No idea what those are supposed to be, but they aren’t in the instructions or plastic.
Upon opening the box, you are treated to six individually bagged sprues, a shall sheet of photoetch, and the decals. The instructions are bagged with a set of large note cards, printed in several languages and with line drawings, giving a short, potted history of flight up until and including the Dr.I and (surprise!) a very short profile of Manfred von Richthofen.
This kit includes a number of optional parts. Meng does something that Wingnut Wings never did, and this one I’m happy about. Rather than having separate boxings for different versions, Meng throws all the parts into one box here. So you get the different cowl, ailerons, and horizonal stabilizers for the F.1 and production versions all in this box. You also get the smaller cord landing gear “wing” that I believe was used on later Dr.I’s, even though not for any of the markings options in this kit. A nice touch for the inevitable after-market decal releases. And finally, there are three different props, although only two are called out in the instructions. I like that they do this. If you want to build multiple Dr.Is in different color and marking schemes, you’ll need more than one kit anyway, so they don’t lose sales by adding all the optional parts. But they do give the modeler a choice, and that’s a good thing. So well done Meng for this one.
Despite the somewhat squashed appearance of the airplane in the box art, a quick comparison of the wings and fuselage with 1/32 drawings in Osprey’s Fokker Dr.I Aces of World War 1 and Shiffer’s Fokker V5/Dr.1 measure out very nicely. I’m no expert on the Dr.I, but the plastic looks good to me.
The sprues have been re-labeled with Meng’s trademark and kit number, but otherwise look very familiar. Sprue A is the large detail sprue, with parts for the interior, interplane struts, production wheels, ailerons, landing gear “wing”, etc. The guns, molded both with and without cooling jackets depending on your comfort with p-e, are also on this sprue as is a strip of stitching that will go on the bottom of the fuselage and, if the fit is good, nicely hide the seam there. Detail is fully up to late Wingnut Wings standards, with the creases on the seat cushion and the stitching on the bulkhead behind the seat especially well done as is the control column. Like many of the more recent WnW releases, a fair amount of detail is molded on to the fuselage interior side framing, but doesn’t suffer from that and is well done (I’ve included a couple of close ups of those areas.) The gates are not large, but care will be needed to remove some of the finer parts, such as the compass and its stand which are one piece but very nicely done (you can see that part in the lower left-hand corner of the right fuselage side close up.)
There are rigging and control wire holes in the plastic, but they are not drilled through. I plan to open those up, especially for the control wires in the stabilizer. Interestingly, the production stabilizer on this sprue has a very small “DR1” molded on the underside where it will be hidden inside the fuselage.
Sprue B holds the bigger parts, the fuselage halves, the wings (each of which are one part), two optional propellers, the cabane struts, and the tail skid. Detail and surface texture are good, as we’ve come to expect. The stitching on the wing ribs (part of the fix to the wing issues on the real aircraft) is very fine, as are the cast in details on the middle wing. Speaking of that, I’ve seen some issues on the web about the right part of the cockpit surround molded on to the middle wing breaking off while still on the sprue. Mine is fine, but it is a small attachment point, so care must be taken when removing the part from the sprue. If yours has broken off, there should be plenty of gluing surface along the top of the fuselage when the time comes to fix it. Also, the triangular framing inside the forward fuselage is molded in place and looks quite good. There are a few mold ejection marks inside the fuselage also, but these should not be seen once assembled.
Once again, the control and bracing wire holes are recessed on the parts, but not drilled through. I plan to do that, especially with the control wires on the top wing and fuselage. Inside the fuselage are small F1 and DrI labels molded into the plastic next to the various holes to make sure which to drill out for the controls for which version. Nevertheless, a rigging diagram would really help here.
As is standard in WnW kits, sprue C is the clear parts (C for clear, get it?). Again, it is pretty small since there aren’t very many clear bits on a World War I aircraft. This one includes a couple of styles of windscreen and, interestingly, what seems to be an early reflector gun sight. Unfortunately, while the instructions show how to fit this, they do not indicate if it belongs on any of the marking options in the kit. Still, nice touch to include it.
This one is small and has some optional parts, including a third propeller, a different control column, and the smaller cord landing gear “wing”. There’s also an engine cowl that, for the life of me, looks just the same as one on sprue F. I have a feeling this was a sprue that would have been left out of some boxings of the WnW kit.
This is another “standard” WnW sprue as it has the engine (again, E for engine). A nice rendition of the Oberursel, with two separate fronts, one that goes on Voss’ F.1 and one for the other options. I know that some pilots later in the war would use captured Clerget engines on their Dr.I’s, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.
Sprue F is another “optional” sprue, with parts such as different ailerons, wheels, rudder, cowls, and horizontal stabilizer specific to the F.1. All very nice, and once again I have to say that I appreciate Meng putting this in the box rather than holding it off for separate releases. Give the modeler more choice, rather than less, in my opinion.
Photo-etchLike all WnW kits, this one has a small photo etch sheet with parts for the seat harness and gun cooling jackets as well as a couple of options for access doors on the forward fuselage. One interesting innovation here is that the parts are not attached to the fret, they are held in place by an adhesive backing, so no attachment points to clean up. This can be nice, as long as the adhesive isn’t so strong that you bend the parts pulling them off. Also, it will be a little trickier annealing the gun jackets and seat belts with no fret to hold on to, but I think that’s worth not having to clean them up. Annealing will definitely be necessary to make the belts lie more naturally and get the gun jackets to roll up.
InstructionsThe instructions, while certainly serviceable, are again a bit of a let down from what we’ve come to expect in a Wingnut’s product. Of course, this isn’t Wingnut anymore. Gone is the nice color list and we now only get suggestions from AK paints. These may be fine paints, but they aren’t available where I live except through mail order and a more extensive list of options would have been nice. We also don’t have the color diagrams of finished assemblies, photos of actual airframes, and interior rigging diagrams WnW gave us. Indeed, there’s no rigging diagram, internal or external, at all. Now, the Dr.I had minimal rigging, but something showing where the control wires and bracing wires between the top wing and fuselage and fuselage and landing gear would be very helpful. At least the starter holes are there in the plastic.
The profiles of the four options are in color, though missing the detail and photos of WnW instruction books. The options are:
A. (hope you’re sitting down) Manfred von Richthofen’s all red 425/17, JG1 in March, 1918
B. Werner Voss’ streaked F.I 103/17, Jasta 10 in September, 1917
C. Herman Goring’s streaked with white trim 206/17, Jasta 27 from May, 1918
D. Walter Gottsch’s streaked with yellow trim 202/17, Jasta19 from February, 1918
Each scheme has a full color four view spread over two pages. I just scanned the first page of each. No guidance is given on how to reproduce the streaked effect except to have paint call-outs for “yellow ochre” and “olive drab”. The instructions do, at least, call out different optional parts for the different marking versions.
DecalsThe decals appear to be nicely printed and include nice dials for the various instruments. They do have a matte finish, which could be a problem down the road. We’ll just have to see.
ConclusionWell, I’ve been a bit negative in this review, but it’s hard not to look at this kit and think of what might have been. Oh well, change is inevitable, so time to move on. The plastic and photo etch in this kit is first rate and is definitely WnW quality. The decals and instructions, not so much; but the disappointment regarding them is in comparison to a very high bar. Holding them up to more mainstream kits, they’re really just fine. Is it better than the Roden kit? Yes it is. But the Roden kit is a good deal cheaper now (it wasn’t for a wile). Should you throw out the Roden kits you already have in the stash? No, but this kit is definitely superior, the parts are finer and more detailed, and you won’t need to buy extra photo-etch for the guns or seat harness. If you have the cash and want a new, state-of-the art Dr.I, the Meng kit is the one to go for.
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