I must begin this review by declaring a minor interest in Dragon's Bf 109E project, as I joined Luftwaffe experts Jerry Crandall and Mark Proulx in supplying references and offering suggestions in its final stages, while Neil Page gave valuable assistance with the colour schemes. But I have to say the kit was already looking very promising when an initial test-shot arrived out of the blue last summer.
The kit arrives in quite a compact top-opening box adorned by a picture of Galland and a fellow JG26 pilot escorting He 111s. The main sprues are all bagged separately and smaller accessories and decals are attached to a cardboard liner. The kit comprises:
228 x grey styrene parts
8 x clear styrene parts
2 x beige "DS" soft plastic parts
45 x etched brass parts
Decals for 5 x colour schemes
The instant impression is the crisp quality of the moulding. There's not a trace of flash and I haven't found any problems with sink marks. Ejector pin marks are pretty much out of sight and I'm glad to see the engineers have kept them clear of the cockpit sides. The exterior finish comprises neatly engraved panel lines with a few embossed fasteners and raised details on the metal areas, and quite a nicely restrained fabric effect on the control surfaces. Some modellers may be surprised by the lack of overall riveting, but I'd far rather have the surfaces smooth and add them myself than be faced with the massively over-scale potholes that sometimes appear. There are a few nitpicks, such as the lack of a radio antenna outlet, but the overall impression is very good indeed.
Having part-built several test shots of the kit, I can vouch for the overall good design and straightforward assembly. The styrene parts are a very precise fit and I've encountered no problems, with the model shaping up to look like an Emil very nicely.
The only point I don't like are the etched hinges for the rudder and elevators, which tested my patience quite severely. In the end, I found it simpler to cut the etched mounts in half, otherwise I just couldn't keep everything in place. A further small problem is that the holes for the rudder hinges are misaligned, but Dragon say that will be modified in future releases.
A few details
Construction begins with the cockpit, which is built up from 45 parts. The overall level of detail is excellent and should more than satisfy the average modeller. The instrument panels have finely depicted bezels and the sidewalls are built up with a number of items - switch-panels, throttle, map-holder etc. The floor incorporates two substantial spars that ensure the wing is well supported. A nice touch is the inclusion of decals for several placards and data-plates.
There are a couple of small glitches: somehow the bomb release controls have been flipped horizontally, and the etched seat harness (which is arguably a bit simplified for this scale) has a hole through one of the lap belts (Dragon have stated that they plan to address these points).
The edge of the floor / base of the sidewalls is a bit of a compromise. Rather than add separate sidewalls, which would make the fuselage sides too thick, Dragon have applied details straight to the inside of each fuselage half. This results in a gap where the fuselage curves out to form the wing root. The overcome this, Dragon have included a pair of small "filler inserts". They are a bit of a fudge, but just about work - the biggest difficulty being fitting them, because the instructions aren't very clear as to their precise position.
The engine compartment is very nicely detailed. The DB 601 itself is taken direct from Dragon's big Bf 110, and new parts are provided for the Emil's engine bearers, radiator etc. The overall result is beautifully detailed, top and bottom, straight from the box, and rivals many aftermarket products. The exhausts are hollowed out through slide-moulding and a really nice touch is the inclusion of decals for the engine serial - a first, as far as I know, in a mainstream kit. Detachable cowls allow the entire engine compartment to be displayed.
The cowl guns are equally good, sitting atop their ammo bins in front of the instrument shroud. The whole cockpit / engine section builds into a very impressive sub-assembly.
Turning to the wings, the ailerons, flaps and slats are all separate. A pair of nicely detailed MG FF cannon are provided, but for me the most inspired piece of design is the wheel wells. The canvas liners of the real aircraft have always been a bugbear in kits, because the shape defies injection moulding. The usually means moulding in pieces, with awkward seams to fill, or etched liners that are hard to fit neatly. Dragon have solved the problem at a stroke by moulding the parts in their flexible DS plastic. It's such a simple idea, it's hard to believe no-one's come up with it before, and the beauty is - they fit. Simple as that.
The undercarriage itself is nicely detailed, with separate brake-lines and oleo scissors. The hub detail on the mainwheels is excellent - really deep and crisp, and it should look as good as many aftermarket alternatives. Sadly, the tyres aren't weighted. Getting the "flats" angled correctly looks like a perfect job for CB Model Products' Scale Aircraft Wheel Sander
There's a choice of a drop tank or SC 500 bomb. Both attach to well detailed racks. The drop tank features an etched retaining strap, while Dragon have done a fine job moulding the bomb's fins as thin as possible.
Lastly, there's a set of crystal clear transparencies. The cockpit canopy is nice and thin, with well defined frames, and there's an alternative windscreen for the almost obligatory "Galland" telescopic sight option. Also included are a clear reflector for the gunsight and bulbs for the wingtip navigation lamps.
Instructions and decals
The instructions are printed as one long strip that folds to form a pamphlet, which makes them a bit unwieldy on the workbench. The assembly is broken down into 21 stages. The drawings are excellent, but a few of the stages are quite cluttered with sub-assemblies. Colour matches for Gunze Sangyo and ModelMaster paints are keyed to most details, but some have been missed, and a few odd matches have crept in (e.g. Black sidewalls...), so a good set of references for the interior colours won't go amiss.
The Painting & Markings section includes a clear placement for the healthy selection of stencil decals provided, followed by 3-view illustrations for 5 colour schemes - all based in France in 1940:
1. Oberst Adolf Galland, JG 26
2. Hauptmann Rolf Pingel, I./JG 26
3. HauptmannGünter Lützow, I./JG 3
4. Oberleutnant Gerhard Schöpfel, 9./JG 26
5. Major Helmut Wick, JG2
The decals are printed in perfect register by Cartograf, one of the decal world's market leaders. The red and yellow used could be a tad duller in my opinion, but the overall quality is excellent, as you'd expect from this decal producer. The carrier film is a satin finish, and trimmed so tight to the actual designs that there should be little chance for silvering. The only real minus point is that, as usual, Dragon haven't included Swastikas. Admittedly, aftermarket items are easily obtainable, but I wish Dragon would change their policy and include the, even if in a split form.
The reaction in some quarters when Dragon announced their Bf 109E was somewhat mixed, largely on account of the "do we need another one?" factor. Well, I think the kit looks set to be a cracker, scoring over its rivals in a number of areas, so it more than justifies itself in my book. I'm sure the '109 Experten will pick a few holes, but the kit should really satisfy average modellers straight from the box, and form a great basis for superdetailers. From having been in contact with Dragon during the last few months, I can vouch for the effort they've put into making their Emil as good as they can. Highly recommended.
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