Classic Plastic Model Airplanes Kits Building – Airfix 1:72 Henschel Hs 126

guest post by Billie Wnorowski

Aircraft History

There isn’t much that can be said about the Hs 126 outside what can be found in the usual references, so I’ll keep this section mercifully brief. The Hs 126 was a development of the earlier Hs 122, which first flew as a prototype in 1935. The Hs 122 had been designed to meet a 1933 Luftwaffe requirement for a battlefield observation aircraft to replace the Heinkel 46 which was only entering service at the time. The Siemens radial engine originally intended for the Hs 122 was deemed to lack sufficient power, so Henschel were asked to change the design to use the Bramo Fafnir radial engine. This was designated the Hs 126, with Henschel using the opportunity to make significant changes to the basic aircraft design. Early Hs 126 production aircraft were fitted with the BMW 132 engine, as the Fafnir engine was not yet available. These early aircraft were designated A-1’s, and Fafnir-engined aircraft were B-1’s.

Some Hs 126 A-1’s were sent to Spain in 1938 for evaluation, being operated by the Legion Condor during the Spanish Civil War. By the outbreak of WW II, the Hs 126 was the main co-operation and battlefield reconnaissance aircraft of the Luftwaffe. During the Polish campaign, it was also used to strafe and bomb Polish forces once general air superiority had been achieved. However, in the campaign against France, it became clear that the Hs 126 was very vulnerable to enemy fighters. Accordingly, production ceased in January 1941, with just over 600 aircraft having been built. Almost all surviving Hs 126’s were sent to the Eastern Front, and as they were replaced in frontline service by the Focke-Wulf Fw 189, they were adapted for such roles as glider tug for the DFS 230 and night harassment aircraft. Some aircraft based in the Balkans operated in the latter role until almost the end of the war.

The Kit

Some aircraft get lucky when it comes to being chosen by kit manufacturers. On the face of it, the Hs 126 would hardly seem to be an attractive kit subject. Yet, we have three injected-molded kits of the type all dating from the mid-1970s. Even if we discount the crude Matchbox kit (and I should know as I built it twice), that still leaves kits from Airfix and Italeri. After reading Steve Papworth’s review of the Italeri kit a couple of months ago, I decided to do two things. The first was to dig out one of the two Airfix kits I bought in the mid-1990s and put it in the ‘to build’ queue. The second was to order the Italeri kit so I could get an even better understanding of the comparative strengths of the two toolings. I had not bothered to buy the Italeri kit before because I had always been very impressed by the quality of the Airfix mold. Now it was time to see how it really measured up.

This kit was released in 1977. It is a series 3 kit, so at STG £6 (about 10 Euro) it would be about the same cost as the Italeri kit. I say ‘would’ because it’s not in the Airfix catalog right now, but it is still available from Hannant’s at the moment. It consists of 57 pieces, most molded in light grey with five transparent pieces. Airfix still hadn’t discovered fully enclosed sprues when they designed this kit, and when I bought it they still hadn’t come around to the idea of protective packaging for the transparencies or anything else. At least the box was two-piece.

Surface detailing is mainly of the raised line variety, but it is more restrained than on the Italeri kit. If you compare any Airfix and Italeri kits from this period, you would probably find the same thing. Personally, I prefer the Airfix way. There is also a small amount of rivet detail applied very selectively, and some fabric detail on parts of the wings and control surfaces. The kit includes the same standard options as in the Italeri kit: namely, to remove the spats, and to include the unusual asymmetric bomb installation.

There are two subjects represented in the kit: a dark green (RLM 70) Hs 126 A-1 of 2.(H)/10 “Tanneberg” in Norway in 1940, and a white Hs 126 B-1 of 2.(H)/41 based on the Eastern Front in 1942. I chose to build the first aircraft. Naturally, the instructions only mention Humbrol codes and nothing else, but this isn’t really a problem if you know anything at all about WW II Luftwaffe aircraft. By the same token, the instructions are not comprehensive in dealing with all the really small painting details, but that’s not a problem either.

Building the Kit

Construction started with the cockpit, although I really should have spent a bit of time to ensure that all the fuselage holes were opened up properly, not just the ones that need to be opened up because I wanted to fit the bomb. This was a minor problem caused (I assume) by a lack of sufficient pressure during production, although I saw no other ill effects.

Now to the cockpit: I can confidently say that this kit has the best cockpit detail of any genuine Airfix kit in 1/72 scale, and I have seen almost all of them. It is truly exceptional, especially for a kit of more than 25 years old. Naturally, it leaves the Italeri cockpit trailing in the dust. Equally obvious is that because the subject has an open cockpit, this detail can be seen to great effect. The sidewall detailing is particularly impressive, with full relief detailing of all the various boxes, panels, and tubing. This detail can also be seen on the partition separating the pilot and observer, and both it and the main instrument panel have clearly defined and realistic looking arrays of instrument dials. The observers’ stool has a curious triangular shape and a slightly concave ‘bowl’ design. The pilot’s seat is reasonably simple (no seat belts), but looks otherwise to be realistic. The main control stick certainly looks unusual, but one must again assume that Airfix knew what they were at. It would seem that they were able to get access to an actual aircraft or detailed plans to be able to produce this level of detail. The pilot foot pedals are comparatively simple items molded into the forward floor, but on the completed kit these cannot be seen easily anyway. To a lesser extent, the same is true of the raised panels beside the pilot on either side of the cockpit floor.

Assembly of the cockpit was very easy – the parts fit was almost perfect, although the partition seemed to fit in a slightly misaligned position. Note that the Italeri kit doesn’t even have the partition, although it does have the observer’s section at a lower level than the pilot’s section – naturally, the Airfix kit is also correct in this detail. One thing missing from the Airfix kit is the camera installation at the back of the observers section – I assume that this is the piece of equipment in the Italeri kit that Steve Papworth was puzzled by. However, this was not a fixed installation on the Hs 126. As I understand it, either this was used, or a handheld camera attached to the port side of the cockpit. Accordingly, the Airfix kit has the observer modelled in a standing position leaning over the side with a camera unit – the arms and camera are molded as a separate part, as the figure couldn’t have been molded in one piece. I didn’t use the crew figures, although they are of good quality.

Almost the entire cockpit was painted Humbrol 31, not Hu 78 as given in the instructions. Hu 78 is RAF interior grey-green, whereas Hu 31 is the correct match for RLM 02 grey-green. This is a common error in Airfix kits, although newer and revamped instructions are more likely to be correct. The various instrument dials were painted black against a grey-green background. Individual preference will determine just how much dry-brushing and other fine detailing work should be done here. With everything painted, I joined the fuselage halves together, with the assembled cockpit already attached to the starboard half. I then added the cockpit transparencies. Like the Italeri kit, this kit has separate parts for the small rear panels on either side, and I cemented them in the open position as suggested in the instructions. I then did the cockpit framing painting – undercoats of Hu 31 followed by Hu 91 (i.e., RLM 70 dark green). The parasol configuration means that this detailing really had to be done before the wings were attached.

The last part of the cockpit construction was the observer’s machine gun. Both the Airfix and Italeri kits have very nice reproductions of the machine gun mount, which was designed so that it could be shifted to the starboard side to allow the observer to perform his photographic work. Both kits have the ‘notch’ on the upper starboard fuselage just beneath and behind the gun. I feel that the Airfix unit is better for a number of reasons: not only is the gun more crisply detailed, but it also has what looks to be the correct twin ammunition drum configuration for an MG 15 – I am obviously open to correction on this point. The Airfix gun also has a flexible hose for spent shell cases. Apart from recent Revell kits such as the He 177 and B+V 222, I can’t think of other 1/72 scale kits with that particular detail.

The engine assembly consists of six parts, including parts for the propeller and spinner. Although the instructions don’t explicitly say it, the design allows the propeller unit to be attached after the rest of the engine has been completed. This meant I could attach the completed engine block to the fuselage, and leave the propeller unit as the last part of the kit to be attached. This is what I did. The engine cowling was molded as a single part and sported a big seam running all the way around. This was the only major instance of mold seam or flash in the kit, and it was easy to deal with. The cowling interior was painted with Hu 31, not black as called for in the instructions.

Now the real work started. Ignoring the order of instructions, I decided to attach the tailplane/elevator units first, followed by the main wings and then the undercarriage. I did this specifically because it was the sequence that was least prone to introducing and compounding errors in aligning the various components, something extremely important in a parasol monoplane. Attaching the tailplanes first allowed me to see that the rear section of the fuselage was slightly out of shape, no doubt a case of warping caused by years of storage in less than ideal conditions. I removed the tailplanes and supporting struts and gradually forced the fin/rudder area back into shape before reattaching everything. I am still not satisfied with the final results, as the tailplane leading edges show a slight amount of ‘sweep’ which I don’t think should be there. Also, I had to butcher some of the support struts to get them to fit my satisfaction.

The wings consist of single upper and lower parts – nothing more complicated than that is needed. Transparency under the port wing presumably represents a landing light. The Italeri kit has this on both wings, and I have no idea which of the kits is correct. There are the minimum 6 parts for the struts – main ‘v’ fuselage/wing struts, wing support strut units, and parasol strut units. I attached all of them to the wings, although the instructions say that the parasol struts should first be attached to the fuselage. Having left this to set, I then attached the assembly to the fuselage. The unit did sit naturally in the correct position, and it took some time to adjust it into the correction position on all three planes, and to ensure everything would stay in place. Normally when wings are attached, you only have to worry about the horizontal plane, but it’s different from a parasol configuration, especially a monoplane design.

I had prepainted the central underside section of the wing before attaching it to the fuselage, as it seemed a sensible thing to do. However, I then had misgivings about the quality and texture of the paint I had used – it would not have been the first time I had ruined a tin of paint by overthinking it. In order to properly clean things up in preparation for a new tin of Hu 65 light blue paint, I had to first remove the entire main wing unit from the fuselage. This sounds drastic, but I knew that it would be easier to stick everything back together than it had been the first time, as the struts had now been forced into the correct shape where this was required.

As with the Italeri kit, the default undercarriage option is to have the spats removed, and if you decide to include them (as I did), then you have to cut away the lower part of the exposed struts. The Airfix kit has a notch on each strut indicating the cut line, which was helpful. I painted the tires black, and the wheels and spat interiors RLM 02. The paint/decal guide indicates that the Eastern Front version should have the spats removed, but there seems to be no hard and fast rule on this. Most pictures that I have seen show the Hs 126 without spats, so I suppose I’ll do that the next time.

The bomb assembly consists of a bomb in two halves, a bomb rack with struts for attaching to the port side of the fuselage, and a long vertical strut that attaches to the underside of the wing close to the port side parasol struts. The Airfix unit appears to be accurate in just about every respect, based on the picture of an actual unit shown below. The Italeri bomb rack has incorrect detailing, the vertical strut is completely missing, the bomb looks to be too small and narrow, and lacks the nose fuse. Of course, there could have been two different asymmetric bomb fits, but that seems rather unlikely. Standard references on the Hs 126 tend to refer to various types of light bomb loads carried either under the wings or sometimes in the cockpit. The largest bomb size referred to is 50 kg (kilograms) (i.e., a standard SC 50 bomb). However, the bomb shown in the picture below is probably in the 500 Kg class, which is certainly plausible for an aircraft such as this. I suspect the aircraft would have to stick to a docile flight regime until the bomb was dropped.

Before attaching this unit, the fuselage had to be painted and the ‘dive-line’ decals applied – at least on the port side. The construction guide says that these decals should be applied before the main wings are attached, but you don’t need to do that. The entire sub-assembly must also be painted before being attached. I followed the instructions which say the bomb and rack should both be painted Hu 93, which is a sand-grey color. There was no color given specifically for the long vertical strut, so I painted this light blue.

The last parts were the usual small items such as the aerial mast on top of the wing, the generator unit on the lower starboard side of the fuselage, and the crew entry steps on the other side. There is also a small mast-like unit on the lower starboard side, even though it’s not shown on the box artwork. It is shown on the Italeri artwork, although that kit doesn’t have the part …

Painting

You wouldn’t have thought that there would be any problems with an overall dark green color scheme? Well, think again. The areas of contention were the struts. I blithely assumed that they were all painted light blue (i.e. RLM 65/Hu 65), the same color as the underside of the wings and fuselage. It appears that this was not the case. First the parasol struts: plates of the Hs 126 appeared to indicate that the lower half of these was painted some shade of green. The photograph shown below seems to confirm this. The photograph also appears to show that the secondary wing struts are painted in the same way. When I looked again at the instructions, it said that these units should be painted completely sand yellow, the same as the bomb assembly. As if that wasn’t enough, I also had second thoughts about the main fuselage/wing struts. Based on the plates, I wondered if they were painted some shade of green. However, this may have been caused by the color reproduction on the plates. My final decision was to leave the main struts light blue but to paint the other struts half-and-half as shown below, using Hu 91 (RLM 70) as the green color. The propeller blades were painted dark green, which would have been standard for metal propeller blades.

Decals

The decals are not the strong point of the kit. They are more ‘Heller style’ than ‘modern Airfix’. This means that although they are very thin, they are not quite in perfect register, with white edges along half the sides of many items. The national crosses were easy to fix (or replace if you want to), but some of the unit letterings was harder to fix – you basically have to touch them up after application.

Note: after finishing the review, I went back and checked the decals from the second Airfix Hs 126 that I’d bought. They were in near-perfect register. This is strange, as the two kits were bought only a couple of months apart, and appeared to be from the same production batch.

I used the Humbrol 2-part DecalCote solution and sealed everything in with a coat of Humbrol MattCote. One source of confusion is the dive-line decals. On the port side, the instructions give the wrong decal numbers (back to front), but once you notice this error, the correct numbers will be obvious. The instructions say not to apply the dive line decals to the winter (B-1) version, but they were apparently used on white-painted aircraft. The Swastikas came from a sheet by Fantasy Printshop and were applied as a black swastika over a slightly larger white one to reproduce the required design (based on prints of the Hs 126) of a black swastika with a solid white outline. Naturally, an aircraft in winter camouflage would have a plain black swastika.

Accuracy

There may be a problem with different versions being offered. Since the A-1 and B-1 had different engines, how can the one engine block represent both? From looking (again!) at a few standard plates, I think that the kit actually represents the A-1 version, which is what I fortuitously chose to build. The visible differences appear to be in the different configuration of the cowling exhaust slats. All three kits – not just the Airfix kit – have what appears to be the A-1 exhaust configuration. The plates below show the difference between the two variants, as well as a whole lot of other interesting details.

The basic dimensions appear to be perfect, or as near as makes no difference. The wings may or may not be a little too thick, but the rear wing section definitely is. This is a persistent issue with Airfix kits, as the company seems to have always had a problem in producing wings and control surfaces with thin trailing edges. However, the kit seems to have captured the varying wing chord very well. The main wing is at is it’s thinnest in the center, and then it gradually thickens until about two meters from the wingtip before tapering again. A close comparison of the Airfix and Italeri kits reveals many small differences in just how certain details may be represented, as you would expect with kits from different manufacturers. Which is ‘better’ may well depend on personal preferences, but in my case, the Airfix kit scores better all round.

Final Comments

I can confidently say that this is the best kit of the Henschel 126 available. The Airfix research and design teams must have pulled out all the stops for this kit. There is little more to be said. It is an absolute must for any 1/72 scale Luftwaffe modeller.

References

The Hs 126 is hardly the most famous aircraft around, so I doubt there many detailed references available. Therefore, I didn’t feel too bad just using my two standard Luftwaffe reference works:

Warplanes of the Luftwaffe (produced by the World Air Power Journal), edited by David Donald.

The Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II, by David Mondey.

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