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SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) Build Review

I begin the build with the cockpit area, and what’s provided in the kit is pretty sparse – a floor, two seats, an instrument panel and a stick. However, All I’m going add are some harness straps to the seats. You could add more, but I’m not sure how much would actually be visible on the finished model.

I then fit the cockpit floor in place, and that isn’t as easy as you might think. It takes a bit of fiddling to get it all straight. And this isn’t the only time I’ll be saying that during this build…

Then, I do the only other bit of additional detail I’m going to add here, the inverted cylinders for the Argus engine. On the original, the front bank of two cylinders are clearly visible through the cooling vent on the front of the cowling. On this kit, all you get is the opening. So I make up something that looks a little like the cylinders and pushrod tubes out of bits of sprue and stretched sprue. It all looks a bit rough here…

But with everything temporarily joined, I think it will look OK from the front when it’s all painted.

Then, I paint the engine, the engine compartment and the interior of the cockpit. I add some harness straps to the seats – these are just drafted out in a graphics program and printed on a laser printer. They wouldn’t stand close inspection, but I hope they’ll add some visual interest to what is otherwise a rather empty cockpit.

I also attempt to dry-brush some detail on to the instrument panel. Not easy because what little detail is there is barely raised at all.

Then I join the fuselage halves and add the cowling nose. Fit is, well, just about OK but less than perfect. A little sanding and some filler will be needed to fill the worst of the gaps. 

With the fuselage and nose joins sanded and filled I add the tailplanes and struts, and that isn’t simple either. Location consists of a single, small, short round peg on the tailplanes and a corresponding hole in the tail. This doesn’t give a clear or strong fit and you’re going to need to carefully position and prop the tailplanes while the glue sets. I guess that’s just how things were back in the 1970s when this kit was first released!

The wing halves are then joined and there aren’t any problems here, though location isn’t well defined and you do have to be careful to get congruence between the upper and lower halves.

Next, I add the leading-edge slats to the wings and again, that’s tricky due to vague location. Several plastic pegs are moulded into the leading edges of the wings, but there are no corresponding locating holes in the slats into which these fit. You have to glue the slats roughly into place, then prop them while the glue dries, keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll end up with something that looks plausible and matches on both sides.

In terms of overall construction, I’m going for the Luftwaffe version, and the camo scheme on the top of the fuselage, wings and tailplanes will need masking. All the struts that support the wings and undercarriage will get in the way, so I’m going to paint the wings and fuselage first and separately, then I’ll add the canopy and finally the wings and undercarriage. Next, I work on painting the canopy framing. I begin by taking the canopy parts off the sprue and doing some basic masking. And wow, there are a great many tiny sections of masking required! I’m not complaining – one of the reasons I chose the Storch as a subject was so that I could work on my (in)ability to mask and paint canopy frames. You have to take your time, use a series of fresh blades in your craft-knife/scalpel and aim for a state of tranquil focus. Or something like that… It took over an hour to get to the stage below, where I’m ready to start slopping some paint on the canopy.

And this is the result. It’s, well, not as bad as some of other attempts at framing. Though that isn’t a high bar to exceed! Of course, I still have to join the five pieces of the canopy together, and I have a feeling that’s going to be tricky.

But for the moment, I put the canopy aside and begin painting the fuselage and wings. I start by painting the lower surfaces light blue, then masking and painting the base, lighter green on top.

Then, guess what? It’s time for even more masking to delineate the splinter camo scheme on the upper surfaces.  And when I peel off the tape, just to add to my usual masking woes, the base green paint lifts off in places. This only happens on the fuselage and tail, but quite large sections of paint are removed (as you can see below). I don’t really understand why – I’m using my usual masking tape, I didn’t burnish it down particularly hard and the Vallejo acrylic paint I’m using is the same I always use. Oh, well, some careful touching up is required.

But at least I end up with pretty much what I was aiming for.

Next I add the decals. These are pretty good – dense, but not too thick and printed nicely in-register. I do notice that in a couple of places, most obviously on the fuselage identification letters (though it isn’t noticeable in photographs), there is some silvering, though I used both Decal Fix and Decal Softener.

Next I assemble the five parts of the canopy. It’s not easy to get everything aligned and the canopy has to be both accurately and robustly assembled because the wings attach directly to tabs on the top. And I’m not going to say that this is impossible, because clearly it isn’t, but it is very, very tricky. You’ll be juggling five separate and oddly shaped parts that just don’t fit particularly well while trying to get everything to line up. I’m happy and relieved to end up with something that looks even approximately correct.

Next, I touch up the areas of green that have become chipped, give everything a coat of clear varnish and then I attempt to attach the wings and struts. And again, that’s fiddly. The fit of the wings on to the stubs on the canopy top isn’t great – there is a fair amount of play. So, the underwing struts are needed to avoid droopy wings and keep everything in place, but these don’t fit especially well either. The small struts that fit into the wings inboard of the main struts also don’t quite seem to fit – they seem too short to connect with the main struts when they’re in place. In the end, I prop everything straight and level and hope that it will be close to right when the glue sets.

When the glue on the wings and main struts is dry, I move on to the final part of construction, the fragile undercarriage. For a change, this isn’t tricky, it’s fiendishly difficult – this is turning out to be a much more challenging build than I had anticipated! On each side, there is a single vertical leg that includes the shock-absorber and wheel and these are held in place by a pair of V shaped struts that glue into the fuselage underside (though no locating holes are provided) and side and to the undercarriage leg. Or at least, that’s the theory… On the pointed end of the end of the main, lower strut, there is a small pin, but there is nothing at all to fix this into on the undercarriage leg, and the instructions don’t really give any clues of how these are meant to join. In the end, I file off the pin (which seems to serve no purpose anyway) and attach the point of the strut with a butt joint to the top of a small box on the inside of the undercarriage legs. That isn’t really very satisfactory, but I just can’t see any other way of joining the undercarriage legs and supporting strut. With that done, trying to then get the undercarriage leg to attach to the underside of the wing while simultaneously getting the struts fixed to the fuselage underside is an exercise in swear-inducing frustration.

Then, when you have finally managed to get one leg sort of attached, you still have another to go! I think that trying to get both undercarriage legs attached and reasonably congruent on this Storch  is one of the most frustrating things I have attempted since I restarted modelling, mainly because there are no clear attachment points with which to join these parts. I recently wrote in another article how kit-building can induce Zen-like feelings of relaxation. Well, trust me on this, not if you’re building this Storch! I finally get both legs approximately attached, and leave everything to set.

The last thing to do is to fit the two smaller, upper V shaped struts that also support the undercarriage legs. And while there are sockets on the fuselage sides for these, if you place the open end of the strut in the sockets, the other end doesn’t line up with the undercarriage leg. I do the best that I can and I fudge the location of these struts so that they look just about right.

The biggest surprise comes when the glue is set and I turn the model right way up to discover that, despite all the problems with assembly, everything sits pretty much straight and level. That I didn’t expect! With the last construction completed, I add an oil wash to highlight recessed detail on the wings and tail and that’s this tiny Storch finally finished!

After Action Report

The first half of construction here was fine. Fit was OK, though perhaps location is a little vague. Then came adding the leading-edge slats, building the canopy, adding the wings and struts and finally the undercarriage and associated struts. And none of that was any fun at all. Fit is horrible or non-existent, parts just don’t seem to fit in locating holes (except where those aren’t provided at all) and getting the undercarriage attached and straight was just a series of frustrations. Perhaps none of those things are really a surprise given that this is really a 1970s kit, but these problems make it very difficult to recommend this one and it certainly isn’t suitable for a newcomer to this hobby.

Which is kind of a shame, because somehow, despite all the problems and the fact that things like the struts are clearly oversize, the finished model does nicely capture the flimsy and inelegant look of the Storch. As a finished kit, this kit is sort of OK but it surely was a struggle to get there!

I have read a few other build reviews of various iterations of this kit, and while some do mention construction challenges, none prepared me for just how awkward this would be to build. This is difficult. Really difficult. And not in a good way. It’s hard to see precisely where some parts fit, the instructions provide nothing more than broad hints and a few bits seem to be the wrong length or size. If you really want a 1/72 Storch, you may be prepared to put up with all this but honestly, I’d suggest you consider spending your cash elsewhere if you want to retain your sanity.

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SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) In-Box Review and History

Zen and the Art of Model Kit Building

SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) In-Box Review and History

I’m still trying to build up my rusty aviation kit building skills. And there’s one thing I really struggle with: painting canopy frames. Recently, I purchased a vauuform canopy to replace one I broke during a build. It cost pennies, but there was a fixed postage charge, so it seemed logical to order a kit at the same time. Then, I spotted this 1/72 SMER Storch for less than €8. Well, it would have been rude not to buy it at that price, and the Storch has an awful lot of canopy framing to paint, so it’s a great chance to practice.

SMĚR is a Cech company that market a range of aircraft, ship and car kits in various scales. However, this particular kit isn’t really by SMĚR: it’s a re-box with new decals of the Heller Fieseler Storch that was first produced back in 1976. This is a fairly old kit, but given that the 1/72 kit market isn’t exactly awash with models of the Storch, there isn’t a great deal of choice. So, it’s cheap and it’s old. But, is it any good? Let’s have a look…

History

In 1935, the Luftwaffe issued a specification calling for designs for a new army co-operation aircraft with short take-off and landing (STOL) capability. The winning design was submitted by Fieseler Flugzeugbau Kassel, the company started in 1930 by WW1 flying ace and aerobatic champion Gerhard Fieseler.

An early Storch lands on Unter den Linden in Berlin in 1939

There was nothing particularly radical about the design. The fuselage was constructed of metal tubing covered in fabric. The wings were made of wood and also covered in fabric. Fixed slats were attached to the leading edge of the wings with large slotted flaps and ailerons that drooped when the flaps extended beyond 20˚ at the trailing edge. Power was provided by an Argus As 10C air-cooled, inverted V8 engine producing less than 250hp.

A restored Storch shows its wing-folding ability

However, the combination of a large wing area and relatively light weight gave what was designated the Fi 156 truly astonishing STOL capability. Landing speed with flaps was just 50km/h (that’s just over 30mph folks!) and in a headwind, it could come to a stop in under 10 metres, little over its own length. In a headwind, it could take-off after a run of around 3 seconds/50m.

A Storch fitted with an auxiliary fuel tank

In addition, it’s large glazed cockpit projected over the side of the fuselage, giving great visibility even below. The wings could be folded for easy transport and storage and the long legs of the undercarriage contained oil-and-spring shock absorbers that allowed the aircraft to land and take-off safely on rough ground. These legs drooped when the aircraft was in flight, leading to the name by which it became universally known: Storch (stork).

A Storch on the Eastern Front in 1941.

This was a truly versatile aircraft that was used in a variety of roles including artillery spotting, observation, casualty evacuation, aerial photography, cable-laying and even bombing and anti-submarine missions (a few Fi 156 were adapted to carry a single depth charge). The Storch served on every theatre in which Germany was involved during World War Two and around 2,000 were produced by Fieseler in total, mainly the Fi 156-C version modelled in this kit.

An MS.500 with a radial engine

Amongst other locations, the Storch was manufactured during WW2 in Puteaux in occupied France and after the liberation of that country in 1944, the French Armee de l’Air requested that production continue, initially using parts provided from Germany and later, with new aircraft manufactured by Moraine-Saulnier (as the MS.500 Criquet) using a variety of engines including air-cooled radials. Almost 1,000 examples of various models of the MS.500 were produced and these were used in operations in Indo-China and Algeria.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the sturdy, end-opening box you’ll find three sprues moulded in light grey plastic and a single transparent sprue.

Alternate parts are provided so that you can build this as a Fi 156 or as a MS.500. You get two alternate canopy tops and different tailplanes. However, you don’t get alternate wings – the decals provided are for an aircraft used in French Indo-China (present-day Vietnam), and it was found that the humidity there rotted the wooden wings on the MS.500 which were quickly replaced with metal versions that would obviously have lacked the rib detail shown here.

The canopy parts seem cleanly moulded and the framing is well-defined, something that will help with painting. The cockpit access door on the right side is provided as a separate part, so you could show this open.

Surface detail is OK, with an attempt at replicating the fabric finish on the wings and fuselage. However, the few panel lines are raised rather than recessed and there is a fair amount of flash here.  

Detail is about what you’d expect for a 1970s kit, i.e., not wonderful. Here, for example you can see the control stick (top) and the the MG 15 machine gun for the rear cockpit mount (middle). It’s also notable that there is no engine, though in the original it can be clearly seen throught the cooling vent in the nose and the exhausts are too small and the wrong shape.

The decals cover two aircraft, a German Fi 156 used in Yugoslavia in 1943 and a French MS.500 used in Vietnam in 1952. I was surprised to see that the nasty swastikas for the tail are provided (though they aren’t shown on the box-art or colour scheme), but each is split in two, presumably so that you won’t be offended by the presence of this fascist symbol if you decide not to use them. Given that the Storch was also used by Italy, Spain, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, amongst others, there are lots of options if you want to source alternate decals.

Two colour schemes are provided.

The instructions look fairly simple, and include a brief history of the Fi 156.    

Would You Want One?

What is provided here looks OK, but it’s pretty sparse compared to more modern kits. The cockpit (which will be visible through the greenhouse canopy) is particularly spartan, no crew figure(s) are provided and the Argus engine, clearly visible through the large vent on the front of the nose on the original, is completely missing. Some of the fine detail looks a little overscale and the machine gun, for example, doesn’t really look much like the original at all. However, in terms of overall shape and proportions, this does look pretty close. In many ways, this is a typical kit of the 1970s, providing a decent starting point for a detailed finished model rather than including the exhaustive detail we’re used to in more modern kits.

If you don’t fancy this Storch there are, as far as I’m aware, just two alternatives in 1/72. Airfix released a 1/72 Storch all the way back in 1967. Given its age, It isn’t terrible apart from the undercarriage legs. Two versions are provided in compressed (landed) or extended (in flight) form. Unfortunately, both are too long and look rather odd. If you care, the Airfix kit also shows the cockpit access door on the left, for some reason, while it was actually on the right. Academy released a 1/72 Storch in 1998, and it really isn’t bad. It’s available in several forms with different markings and it can be built as either a Fi-156 or an MS 500 (though it provides only a single set of wooden wings), and it even includes a radial engine if you want to model the MS 500 fitted with the (uncowled) Salmson 9AB nine cylinder radial engine. Some versions of the Academy kit also include a Kubelwagen if you want to put your Storch in a diorama.

Neither the Airfix nor the Academy kits model the Argus engine at all and in both (as in this kit) the cockpit interiors are pretty rudimentary. You might think that there are other 1/72 kits of this aircraft, but those offered by AZ Model, MisterCraft, Aurora, Pantera and others are, like this kit, just re-boxed versions of the original Heller kit.     

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SMER (Heller) Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) Build Review