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In-Box Review
D.H.4 (Dayton-Wright-built)
Taming the Flaming Coffin
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by: Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]


On April 6th 1917 the United States of America declared war on Germany and soon the American Expeditionary Forces were organized for combat in Europe. The U.S. government's propaganda urged people to join the army and this appeal found a ready answer across the breadth of American society. But in fact the U.S. could then only support the armies of the Entente with infantry or cavalry formations this huge manufacturing powerhouse with such considerable industrial potential still did not have neither its own armored forces nor regular air units. The purchase of British and French vehicles to resolve this problem was immediately set in motion, and military authorities were instructed to consider the purchase of licenses to build various types of armament, including planes, in the U.S.A. itself.

The two-seat general purpose de Havilland DH.4 aircraft, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland in the middle of 1916, was ahead of its time in many respects, and it had an advanced construction with much potential for upgrading in the future. One major drawback was its engine installation different British firms installed a variety of engines in the airframe, each time leading to the appearance of numerous modifications; additionally, most of the British engines were beset with technical flaws. Together with various other British types, the de Havilland DH.4 was purchased by a special military commission which arrived in Europe from the United States in the summer of 1917.

After their arrival in the U.S. and study of their technical documentation, it was the de Havilland which was selected as optimal for the initiation of its mass production in U.S. factories; but the Americans straightaway rejected the Rolls Royce Eagle engine, preferring their own 400hp Liberty V-1650engine, similar in size and performance but much more reliable in use. Visually the plane was little changed except for the redesigned nose section around the engine installation. The nose featured a typical radiator shape, shutters for better ventilation of the engine, and a new upper fuselage panel. Otherwise, the British Vickers machine guns were exchanged for American Marlins. The Dayton-Wright, Standard Aircraft, and Fisher Body factories were all involved in production of the DH 4. These three companies managed to produce more than five thousand Liberty DH 4 types in a short period of time.

While the Liberty DH 4 was being mass produced by the Americans, and being sent to the war in Europe, the British had improved on the design of the DH.4 and were soon delivering its successor the DH.9 to the front-line military. Geoffrey de Havilland had eliminated the major drawbacks of the "Four" the distance between the crew was reduced, by relocating the vulnerable fuel tank, which was between the pilot and gunner; and he had also improved the system of fuel delivery to the engine. At that time the U.S. machines, which had already entered the war and unlike the British DH.4 did not have substantial problems with the engine, incurred horrific losses due to burning fuel tanks, damaged during air combat and also due to persistent problems with the engine's fuel system. The plane quickly acquired the nickname of "Flaming Coffin" and the pilots of the Liberty DH-4 greatly envied their countrymen flying the Breguet 14 or the Salmson 2A2. The spirits of the American pilots were demoralized; they simply began to fear a dangerous aircraft.

After extensive use of the Liberty DH 4 in the main air battles of the second half of 1917 the U.S. armed forces began a gradual upgrading in favor of French two-seaters. In the middle of 1918 the Liberty DH 4 was used less and less and machines were transferred to reconnaissance units as well as to newly formed aviation units of the U.S. Navy. While there was growing aversion among the American pilots in Europe towards the "Flaming Coffins", designers in the U.S. tried to solve the problems with the fuel system. Out of this came the DH-4B this version having a changed fuel tank location and an improved engine fuel system. However, it was not sent to the war in Europe. With the end of WWI, in America as well as in Europe, a spirit of pacifism began to prevail, and Congress did not allocate any funds for new developments. A large number of Liberty DH 4 types which were returned from Europe to the U.S. were rebuilt as DH-4B's, and the aircraft continued to be used by the U.S. Army into the 1920's. Many DH 4 airframes fell into private ownership. Apart from barnstorming in the various traveling "air circus", they were destined to play one more very important role: the DH 4 began to be used as a mailplane and a light transport. In the vast geographical area of the country it was a highly important innovation, instrumental in the development of commercial aviation in the future. Edited from the Roden Website

The Kit Contents

8 sprues holding 248 parts total.
2 clear films for wind screens.
3 AEF decal variations.
8 page instruction booklet.

Build Notes

The fact is that the upper engine cowling is moulded to the upper decking and the cylinder banks are the same generic items from previous issues. The cowling louvres are the main key indicator for the engine installation. Otherwise the build is a straight forward affair.

Opening the box the parts are quite well moulded, There is a minor bit of flash, Plus some interior structure related sink-marks on the front fuselage sides where there's detail moulded on the inside. On the plus side, ejector-pin marks are few and far between and kept pretty much out of sight.

The detail is typical and consists of some engraved lines, raised items like louvres and subtle lacing on the fuselage and lightly depicted fabric effect on the flying surfaces. Wing ribs are slightly raised on upper surfaces and recessed on the undersides (as though the fabric has sagged under gravity a little. There are no rib tapes depicted, and some may wish to add these on both upper and underside surfaces.

The kit features a detailed plastic interior. The selection of armaments include Vickers machine guns with single, or twin forward-firing guns and a three types of bombs.

While not a suitable kit for beginners I think modelers with moderate experience will have a fine build. The two-bay wings will require careful alignment. The struts are all separate and using a simple Lego block jig is probably a good idea to keep everything lined up straight and true. Dry fitting is always a key component to a good build.


1. D.H.4 (Dayton-Wright-built) N32457, 19, of 20th Aero Squadron (Bombing), USAS, France, 1918.
2. D.H.4 (Dayton-Wright-built) N32274 (A-3261), D-11, Of the US Marines'C Squadron of the US Marine Corps Northern Bombing Group, flow by 2/Lt. J.F.Gibbs with 2/Lt. F.Nelms as his observer. Fresne air field, Netherlands after a raid on Lokeren in Belgium, on 28 October 1918.
3. D.H.4 (Dayton-Wright-built) N32808, 17, of 11th Aero Squadron (Bombing), USAS, Flown by Lt.John L.Garlough with Lt. Robert C.Payton as his observer Maulan, France, 1918.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Highs: Typical of Roden kits it has great details and an exciting kit. The mould is very fine and almost flashfree. Roden is coming out with sucessively better and more exciting kits.
Lows: One some examples there are some tiny sinkmarks on the outside of the fuselage noting the rib locations on the inside. The plastic was too soft when pulled from the mold, so the plastic slightly sunk in where the ribs are on the inside.
Verdict: While not a suitable kit for beginners I think modelers with moderate experience will have a fine build. With consistant dry fitting and a simple Lego block jig it will build up just fine.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:48
  Mfg. ID: #414
  Suggested Retail: S25.99
  Related Link: Website
  PUBLISHED: Nov 26, 2010
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Roden!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Stephen T. Lawson (JackFlash)

I was building Off topic jet age kits at the age of 7. I remember building my first WWI kit way back in 1964-5 at the age of 8-9. Hundreds of 1/72 scale Revell and Airfix kits later my eyes started to change and I wanted to do more detail. With the advent of DML / Dragon and Eduard I sold off my ...

Copyright 2021 text by Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Thanks for the review Stephen , nicely done . Currently reading Over the Front Vol 25 # 2 which covers the Men who flew this aircraft type . This kit would make a nice project .
DEC 08, 2010 - 04:02 AM
Hi Stephen: Nice review. I have read mixed reviews about this kit, after reading your review, I think I may tackle this.
DEC 08, 2010 - 04:46 AM
Thanks Terri & Mark. I had to go back and do some digging but it seems that Aeroclub did a 1:48 white metal version of the Liberty 12 cylinder engine. I will contact them and see if its available. Maybe rareplane Detective could help? (One of our fine sponsors).
DEC 12, 2010 - 10:28 AM
AEF DH 4 airframes in France at the end of the war,
SEP 26, 2011 - 12:47 AM
What a sad picture that is! Can't imagine the amount of history that went up in smoke on this occasion........ Cheers, Lance
SEP 26, 2011 - 04:22 AM
Sad picture indeed. However the true story is these were airframes designed for war and these were the write-offs (High time, damage beyond economical repair, battledamaged, Etc), If you noticethere are no engines or props, though I do see wheels. In the USA at this time there were over 3000 of the 5000 American DH4s building or in crates; these would last the Air Force until 1930, and the postal service longer(there were still afew flying in 1956 to appear in "Spirit of St. Louis" as mail planes and barnstormers). These wrecks are wood frames nothing else, no use sending scrap wood back to the USA. Captn Tommy
SEP 27, 2011 - 04:45 AM

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