Pfalz D.IIIa – “Müller’s Raben”

by Brad Cancian


The history of the Pfalz D.III and D.IIIa fighters have been well documented.  Developed in early 1917, the aircraft was of modern construction for its time, utilising the wrapped ply/fabric veneer fuselage construction method learned by Pfalz when manufacturing Roland build fighters in 1916.  The performance of the Pfalz rivaled that of the Albatros DV, however it was not as maneuverable nor as quick to climb.  It did have an advantage over the Albatros that a number of pilots favoured – where the Albatros’s single spar lower wing was prone to failure in dives or high stress maneuvers, the Pfalz’s dual spar lower wing made the aircraft much more sturdy and able to sustain more battle damage.  By early 1918, the Pfalz was being outclassed by the newer generation of allied fighters – the SE5a, SPAD X.III and Sopwith Camel – and as the last year of the war progressed, the Pfalz was considered to be a relatively easy target by allied pilots.  That said, the Pfalz could still hold its own when flown by experienced pilots, and a number of seasoned aviators continued to score multiple kills on the type right up to the end of the war.  The Pfalz only solely equipped a small number of Jastas (Squadrons), but it made up a partial compliment of many Jastas from August 1917 through to the end of the war, although it was gradually removed from front line service with the introduction of the Fokker D.VII in May 1918. 

The Kit

Eduard has released this basic kit in a number of boxings in the last few years, namely the “regular” release which was all plastic, the “Profipack” release which was the “regular” release but with photo-etch and paint masks, and the “Limited Edition” boxing which again was the same as the “regular” release but with revised photo-etch and paint masks.  The “Limited Edition” release had a great deal more photo-etch than the “Profipack” release, mainly comprising of a more detailed cockpit.  The kit I built is the “Profipack” version, kit number 8045.  For about two thirds of the price of the “Limited Edition” version, you still get a kit with great cockpit detail. In my opinion the extra detail in the “Limited Edition” is mostly hidden below and behind the seat, which dominates the cockpit as it is.  On the sprues the kit looks good – it is cleanly and crisply moulded, and the details are still executed with the same finesse as Eduard’s most recent releases.  Basic dry fitting reveals little in the way of fit problems, although due to the geometry of the fuselage and the engineering of the lower wing to fuselage joint, the lower wing joint looked like it could potentially cause problems.

From the outset I aimed to complete this project with minimal modifications, mainly due to my tackling the kit as a break amongst some other long term projects.  I also wanted to try out a new rigging technique before I employed it on some other more labour-intensive projects.


One of the facts inherent with biplane models is that you need to paint the model before the top wing is put on – with the wing on there is no room for proper access to paint.  As such, I tend to build biplanes in three parts:

  • Part 1 – interior, fuselage, tail and lower wing;
  • Part 2 – painting and decaling; and
  • Part 3 – attachment of upper wing and undercarriage, rigging and final details.

Construction Part 1 – Interior, Fuselage, Tail and Lower Wing

The engine was completed without modification, although if the modeler chose to the engine could be detailed with rocker arm springs on the tops of each cylinder and ignition wires if desired.  Having done this on other kits I know this is time consuming, so keeping with my “OOB where tolerant” philosophy, I left it alone.  All that can really be seen is the top of the engine anyways.  The cylinders were painted black, the crankcase was painted aluminum, and the whole lot was given a wash with some thinned black oil paints to give a “grimy” appearance and left to dry, See Figure 1 below.

Fig 1:  The Kit’s “Stock” Engine After Painting

Next I painted the basic interior components.  Of note, Pfalz used a wrapped ply / fabric laminate to form their fuselages.  The fabric was impregnated with a silver-grey weather-resistant dope, and as such there is an argument that the interior walls should be silver grey and not wood.  I didn’t want to get into this argument so I went with the instructions.   Firstly I painted the interior “wood” panels – in 1/48 individual grains will not show, but what will be apparent is the tonal changes which give the impression of wood from a distance.  I replicated wood by mixing some white, yellow ochre and burnt sienna oils, thinning them a little and “streaking” them over the buff plastic, keeping the strokes in the same direction.  I kept the paint mixture inconsistent to help replicate the tonal differences.  This was given a week to dry, and then given a few coats of thinned Tamyia “Clear Yellow” to seal in the oils.  The yellow also helps impart a nice honey yellow look to the wood, common to the clear varnished wood structures of these aircraft.  Once this was all dry, I gave the interior a wash of thinned black oils to “pop out” the interior former and stringer details which are moulded onto the sidewalls, see Figure 2 below.

Fig 2:  “Wood” Interior

The rest of the cockpit was also constructed with very minimal modification.  Incidentally, I think Eduard has gotten their placement of the separately moulded vertical formers one former space too far forward.  Following the instructions would have you place the instruments attached to these formers well forward in the cockpit, and in reality out of the reach of the pilot.  I moved this former one former space forward, and everything seemed much more appropriately laid out.  Eduard supply many fine details in photo-etch for this area, including some tiny switches, triggers and cranks.  Also included is some acetate backing for the gauges (2 acetate gauges in total with a third “painted” gauge on the floor).  The clear gauge covers were replicated with drops of white glue, which dries clear and shiny (See Figure 3 below).  

Fig 3:  Gauges, Switches and “Wood” Interior

I made sure I offset the rudder and elevator controls as I was going to have these control surfaces offset on the exterior to give some visual interest to the finished model.   The only other additions I made to the cockpit was the addition of control cables for the rudder from elastic and gun firing cables from the triggers on the control column to the ammo box from fine wire, see Figure 4.

Fig 4:  Cockpit Details After Painting

The remainder of the interior was then fixed to the fuselage halves, see Figure 5.

Fig 5:  Completed Interior

Next I moved onto major construction.  No fit problems were found when joining the fuselage halves, and when attaching the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces.  Using a sharp blade, I scored along the rudder and elevator hinge lines, and using light pressure, offset the control surfaces with no problems.  The wing to fuselage joint did need a little filler due to the way the kit is engineered.  The lower wing is moulded as one piece with a large portion of the bottom of the fuselage attached as well as a portion of the fuselage above the lower wing moulded on also.  I guess Eduard found this the easiest way to replicate the compound curves of the Pfalz fuselage, but it does make the joint tricky to glue.  I found that I could minimize the mount of filler needed by pushing the lower wing piece as far forward as possible, leaving on the rear portion of the fuselage requiring a little filler and the portion above the wing relatively gap free.  Once the joint was dry, I filled the gaps with super glue and a little bit of Mr Surfacer (this stuff is great for filling gaps).  This was all smoothed with relatively little effort – it’s a big bonus in this step that there are very little panel lines on the Pfalz fuselage!  At this point I pre-drilled the holes for the rigging using a 78 drill bit, making sure to drill the holes roughly in the direction the rigging lines would run (more to follow on this one later!).  Now the model was ready for painting.

Construction Part 2 – Painting and Decaling

It is at this point that the colour scheme had to be selected.  With the Pfalz, unlike contemporary Albatros and Fokker fighters, colour schemes tended to be very drab on operational Pfalz DIII’s and DIIIa’s.  Most Pfalz D.IIIa’s came from the factory in overall “Silbergrau” silver doped fuselages and wings, although some late batch DIIIa’s had lozenge printed camouflage flying surfaces.  Of course there were still a number of colourful Pfalz DIIIa’s, most notably the overall red and blue aircraft of Jasta 15.  I wanted to steer away from the standard (boring) silver finish as well as the blue / red Jasta 15 finish (this scheme is fairly commonly modeled, probably because it is one of the few colourful Pfalz schemes around).   Whilst building this model I purchased a copy of Osprey’s “Pfalz Scout Aces of World War One” written by Greg VanWyndgarden.  This book is fantastic – it has many rare photos and some first rate colour profiles – the book is a must for anyone interested in the many different Pfalz fighters that saw combat in WW1.  In the colour profiles, I noticed a particularly colourful machine flown by Ltn Müller of Jasta 18, known as the “Raben Staffel” (Raven Squadron) due to its distinctive black raven insignia carried on the Squadron’s fuselages.  Like the unit’s Albatros, Fokker Dr.1 and Fokker D.VII fighters, this particular Pfalz sported an overall red colour scheme on wings and forward fuselage, white rear fuselage and tail surfaces, plus the black raven insignia.  This is the only photographed Pfalz D.IIIa of this unit known sporting the unit’s famous colours.   This colour scheme is a popular one for modelers of Fokker Dr1’s, D.VII’s and Albatros DVa’s, but I thought this particular scheme would look very striking on the sleek “raven-like” lines of the Pfalz.  As such, I chose it for my Pfalz.

I use a combination of pre and post shading to paint my models, purely because different effects can be achieved using both methods.  The first step was to pre-shade.  Figure 6 below shows the basic airframe pre-shading.

Fig 6 – Airframe Pre-Shaded

The Pfalz wings have a lot of prominent ribs, and to make these stand out a little more, I masked each rib on the flying surfaces before shading begins.  Under a few light coats of the top coat colour this effect will look quite nice – in this step I was not too concerned with being too neat as the top coat application provides much control over the degree the pre-shading that shows through.

The actual painting of the colour coats was very straight forward.  I paint purely with acrylics because I find them easier to work with.  I mixed the “Silbergrau” paint for the underside of the wings using some Gunze Ocean Grey with a few drops of Gunze Silver mixed in.  Next came the white, sprayed on in light coats until the pre-shading barely showed through.  The white was masked and the red was painted using Gunze Flat Red, again done in light coats until the pre-shading barely showed through (remembering to include the struts and undercarriage).  I then mixed a couple of drops of white in with the red and painted the highlights of the red areas – between ribs on the flying surfaces and between panels on the fuselage.  Again the key here is to try and keep it subtle.  Once all of this was done, the whole model was sealed with a coat of Gunze clear gloss to protect the finish.  At this point, the decals (10 in all!) were applied.  The markings (including the Raven insignia) were taken from one of the Eagle Strike “Flying Circus” sheets.  These decals settled very nicely with a coat of Microsol.  Once the decals were dry, minor details were painted, and the model was given another clear coat.  The panel lines were given a wash using thinned oils, with excess being removed using a cotton-bud slightly moistened with turps.  The major panels, control surface hinge lines and flying surface ribs were then given a couple of light goings-over with some thinned Tamyia “smoke” – this helps to “pop” these details out, the key here again is subtlety - don’t over do it.  Thus ended part 2 of construction.

Construction Part 3 – attachment of upper wing and undercarriage, rigging and final details.

Next the Spandau machine guns were installed.  Eduard provides some lovely etched jackets that you will need to roll to replace the moulded items.  Do this using a suitably sized piece of plastic of circular cross-section (The tool I use comes from the DML Fokker Dr.1 – a very handy tool!!).  The barrels were drilled with a number 80 drill bit.  Next the exhaust pipe – the end of the pipe was also carefully hollowed out with a drill bit and a hobby knife.   I also added bungee cords to the undercarriage legs using Ez-Line elastic wrapped around the axle (see Figure 7).  In reality, this elastic chord was the shock absorber for the undercarriage and was what actually held the crossbar for the wheels onto the struts!

Fig 7 – Bungee Chords added to the Undercarriage

At this point, step one of the rigging began.  Remember the holes drilled for the rigging?  Into these holes I glued turnbuckles made by “Bob’s Buckles”.  These buckles are nothing more than very fine wire twisted around itself leaving a little loop at the end.  The basic premise is that you glue one end of the rigging to a turn buckle, then stretch the rigging to the other turn buckle and glue.  They come in 1/48 and 1/72, and are soft so they can be bent to the angle of the rigging lines after the rigging is glued.  These were trimmed to a consistent length and inserted into the rigging holes.  Figure 8 shows the model at this point.

Fig 8 – Airframe Painted and Decaled, Turn Buckles Installed

Next came the most daunting part of any biplane model – attachment of the top wing.  The Pfalz’s interplane struts are actually skewed out at an angle when viewed from the front, making this step even more daunting.  Firstly, I attached the interplane struts to the top wing, skewed approximately at the correct angle.  Whilst the glue was semi-dry but still pliant, I fixed the interplane struts and top wing to the lower wing and fuselage assembly and let it dry.  Luckily very little was needed to assure alignment as it all lined up with minimal effort, and in fact was self supporting even at this stage.  Once this was dry, I fixed the cabane struts, firstly to the top wing and then to the fuselage.  I did a few dry runs here as some minor trimming is required.  Alas she now looked like a biplane!  It is testament to the engineering of the kit that the top wing went on with so little effort.

Whilst access was still reasonable, I added two tubes from the radiator on the top wing to both ends of the engine as shown in photos of the real thing.  These tubes were made with solder.  I also added the thin tubes from the over-wing tank into the fuselage as shown on the box-art.  At this point I also fixed the undercarriage with superglue – again no fit or alignment problems were experienced.

Now the rigging itself was ready to go ahead.  I use the elastic core of a product known as “knitting in elastic” to rig my models – all you have to do is remove the cotton tread around the elastic.  The elastic is stretchy so it doesn’t break when fat fingers hit it, and it takes paint well.  In fact, I “paint” this stuff using a black permanent pen prior to installation.  With the turn buckles on, rigging was extraordinarily simple.  Cut a length of elastic a few centimeters shorter than the required length of the taught line.  Superglue one end to one turn buckle, place a blob of superglue onto the other turn buckle, wet the free end of the elastic with superglue accelerator, and stretch the free end of the elastic to the intended buckle.  The accelerator glues the superglue almost instantly, and because you cut the rigging line a little short, the elastic stays stretched and leaves you with a taught and flexible rigging line.  It’s that simple!  So simple in fact that I had the whole aircraft rigged in less than 45 minutes.

As an aside, the drawback with this method is that it adds absolutely no structural strength to the model.  Luckily with a model like this it is strong enough already.  That said, the same technique can be employed using nylon fishing line or invisible thread, threaded through the loops in the turnbuckles and glued.  The nylon will not stretch, but by threading it you can get it taught, and when glued it will add strength.  Unless necessary I avoid this method, firstly due to the fat finger factor, as well as the fact that nylon rigging needs to be done symmetrically with equal pressure applied on both sides of the aircraft to avoid putting too much pressure on the model and pulling the wing out of alignment (and frustratingly sometimes leading to sagging of lines you have already glued).   Nylon can also sag due to differences in temperature, which can (embarrassingly) turn nice taught rigging at home into a loose line on the contest table.  In short, I find elastic is much easier to use and has less drawbacks.

Once the rigging was done, the wheels, prop and spinner went on.  The prop was painted firstly with a light tan, and then the laminations painted in a dark brown.  When this was dry, I used slightly thinned Burnt Sienna oils brushed lengthways along the prop to replicate the “grain” – because it is thinned the underlying laminations show though.  Once this is dry, a coat of Tamyia clear yellow is applied and the prop is done.  All that was then required was a final flat coat, and the model was done!


Whilst it has been around for a few years now, overall I found it a very easy and satisfying build.  The kit has good detail, there are no fit problems, the top wing attachment is a snap, and the model has a relatively simple rigging scheme, making it a god one for someone wanting to tackle rigging for the first time.  Overall, this kit is highly recommended and makes a nice diversion from the plethora of Tri-plane, Albatri and Fokker D.VII’s seen on the net and on the contest tables.

Further images




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