I often found myself in awe at the occasionally outrageous colour schemes adopted by the more flamboyant pilots of the German Air Force during W.W.I. Such aircraft (Pfalz, Fokker and Albatros, to name but a few) were seen in many different colours, individually painted to their pilots’ requirements, and can be found documented in the many publications that adorn the shelves of aviation bookshops and, of course, in abundance on the internet. Probably the most well-known of these aircraft is the bright red Fokker DR1 triplane flown by fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron.
Whilst the Allied Forces stayed with much more sedate green and brown schemes, the Germans were using (amongst others) Silbergrau (silver-grey) paint on the fuselage with a wing fabric pre-printed in one of many lozenge patterns, which have intrigued and mind-boggled both modellers and aircraft historians alike, ever since.
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These lozenge patterns come in many forms, the most common being four- and five-colour patterns seen on the wings. The fabric came off a roll about 4’ 9” (1450mm) wide, the basic pattern (containing 21 different polygon shapes) being repeated throughout. Most wings were covered chordwise, but some manufacturers applied the fabric diagonally, which makes the pattern even more interesting. The same fabric was often used on the fuselage, too, but frequently the pilot would change this to his squadron colours or individual markings, leaving just the wings in lozenge.
Vallejo Model Color is an acrylic that dilutes easily with water and mixes very well.
With four or five different colours on top of the wings, plus a lighter shade underneath, to recreate such a pattern we modellers have ten different colours to deal with! Luckily, some companies are now producing model-size fabrics at most scales, although some are quite heavy (too heavy!), and expensive. In fact, given that the five-colour lozenge pattern on the wings of my up-and-coming 1/5-scale Pfalz D.XII could end up costing £140, I thought I’d have a go myself. Now, there are lots of theories on lozenge camouflage, so please understand that what you’re about to read isn’t a definitive guide, it’s just my interpretation (after much research, I hasten to add!).
Once you start spraying the pattern the process is strangely addictive and very rewarding.
As to the burning question about the colours involved: to cut a long story short, the colours I tried to match came from an article by the late Ron Moulton and his studies of the fabric used to re-cover the Fokker D.VII at the BOB Museum, the detail of which featured in R/C Scale Aircraft magazine, Vol.13 No.2.
Ron had kindly sent me a letter about the Pfalz and included some cut-offs of the fabric, which I used as the basis for mixing and matching the colours and shades. The make of paint was to be the next hurdle, my choice here being Vallejo Model Color, an acrylic that dilutes easily with water and mixes well. Supplied in handy plastic bottles of 17ml, fitted with an eyedropper type end, it’s easy to gauge the amount of paint being mixed by noting the number of drops used. Airbrushing is a doddle, too; it sprays really well and everything simply washes out in water.
Sitting down with a selection of closely matching base colour bottles, after much testing I came up with what I think is a reasonable match for the ten colours and, just for you, I’ve included my findings in the accompanying panel.
After experimenting with Frisk Film for stencils, which didn’t seem to hold very well to the silk on tissue covering used on the model’s upper wings, I happened across some sheets of clear, 0.1mm thick Mylar, as used for OHP work in presentations. These I cut to shape as per Ron’s feature in the aforementioned issue of R/C Scale Aircraft. The idea here is to cut out the same colour lozenges (using a sharp scalpel blade) in every 21-lozenge pattern (Fig.1), then hold the Mylar (with masking tape) against the wing and apply the paint. Once the first set of lozenges have been sprayed, you simply move the stencil along to datum points that have been previously marked on the wing surface. Now, fortunately, the whole process of moving along the wing with the stencil is quite rapid, as Vallejo paint is very quick drying.
By the way, the lozenge fabric affixed to the full-size (the Pfalz left the factory with a Silbergrau fuselage and lozenge-covered – chordwise – wings) would have been stretched one way and another, which would deform the pattern. To match this perfectly on a model, then, would mean finding scale pictures and / or drawings, and would certainly give you plenty of extra work to do!
Anyway, if you get the chance to scrutinise some full-size fabric you’ll notice an overlap on most of the polygons, and when cutting out your shapes it’s important to cut them a fraction bigger than the pattern. This will also help when small errors creep in, such as when fixing the stencils into position. Note that the Mylar is best cut from the rear side; if you’ve removed masks in the past and found that the paint has bled under the edge, leaving a blot that has to be touched-up afterwards, rest assured that if the stencil is cut from the rear this raises the edge of the Mylar slightly and stops the bleed. That is, provided you don’t flood the work area with paint, of course! (See Fig.2).
To make the correct-size pattern shape I scanned the basic pattern from the magazine picture into my PC, which I then mirrored using Photoshop before printing out several copies (to cover mistakes etc.). I then secured one of the copies over the Mylar using masking tape and, with a scalpel and steel rule, cut out all the lozenges of the same colour through both the print and the Mylar, resulting in five stencils that can be used on both the upper and lower wing surfaces.
Some of you may be wondering why I bothered with Mylar and didn’t simply use the paper (or card) photocopies instead. The answer to this is two-fold: First, the Mylar is transparent and to see any marking out on the wings, transparency is a must! Second, as the paint is water-based, the stencils are easy to wash in water at the end of a spraying session, so can be used over and over again.
I covered the upper wings with silk-on-tissue, the lower ones with Solartex, adding rib tapes and simulated rib stitching after the wings were painted. To ensure the lozenges are all in the correct place it’s important to get any marking out absolutely spot-on; failure to observe the golden rule of ‘measure twice, mark once’ at this stage could see a ruined wing covering. It’s not easy to over-paint and keep weight down, so dwelling on this area and planning well will ensure a smooth journey.
At 1/5-scale, the pattern of lozenges measured 290mm wide, and the 21 shape pattern is, in effect, 91mm high. To ensure I had everything in line I took an HB pencil and marked a datum line on the ribs at 90° to the root rib, a few millimetres from the t.e. These were lightweight marks which disappear under paint. I then measured along from the root rib in 290mm steps, and again along the root rib in 91mm steps, to make a grid for alignment. Measuring up 91mm from this will align the next 21 shape pattern. Fig.3 should help to explain matters here.
Moving away from the job for a minute, here’s an interesting point concerning the covering on the full-size Pfalz. I noticed on some original photos that the fabric is placed on the airframe in different directions (in what could be called ‘wallpaper’ fashion) either with or without aligning to the next length. I didn’t align the model’s pattern, which results in the fabric stepping on a small amount after each chord length, so staggering the pattern. Truth is, I experimented with aligning and misaligning, and the job is no more difficult either way.
Right, to business, but in the form of a test piece first, this being a sheet of Solartex that’s taped onto a piece of wood and marked out in similar fashion to the wings. This, then, is painted in the underside colours and used to produce rib tapes.
Here, the stencil was positioned on the first datum marks with small pieces of masking tape (sorry if I’m repeating myself, but I can’t stress enough that if the stencils aren’t positioned accurately then errors will accumulate and spoil the final results), and the airbrush loaded with the lighter colour of ochre. Trial and error will show you the correct mix of paint and water for the correct consistency, but 50/50 is about right. Distilled water is good if you really want to ensure no mixing problems, but whether it affects the mix significantly is debatable.
Holding the stencil against the surface with one hand, spray the paint in light coats until a sufficient ‘washy’ coat can be seen. It’s not necessary to put on a high volume of paint; W.W.I aircraft coverings weren’t that brilliant, being quite translucent, and, as mentioned earlier, you’ll end up with bleeding under the stencil and spoil your work if you pile the paint on!
The results become quite satisfying as you progress towards the final stages and you’ll probably find that once you’ve started you won’t want to put the airbrush down! Seriously, it’s an addictive process.
Once the Solartex sheet was filled and the paint completely dry I carried out the same process for the upper wing colours, and with both sheets finished I ripped the tapes from the sheet. Using pinking shears or scissors wouldn’t produce very good results at 1/5 scale, the ‘ripping’ method being reasonably close. The tapes were then ironed on, ensuring that the iron wasn’t too hot, of course.
With the practice session behind me I felt confident enough to tackle the wings, but still being a little chicken I chose the underside of one of the upper wings first. The only problem I came across here, was where the stencils meet up with the interplane mounting positions, as I’d foolishly stuck on the joint covers. In hindsight I should have left these off. Oh well, we live and learn!
Nevertheless, after a few spare evenings, I’m chuffed to say that the procedure which daunted me for months wasn’t as tear-jerking as I first imagined. The results are quite reasonable (I hope you agree?) and although the colours might be a little off the full-size, I’ve seen much worse. If you’ve any comments or questions, feel free to email me: [email protected].
Base Colour Position Mix
959 Purple A 2:1 Black
899 Dark Prussian Blue B 4:1 Black
824 German Cam’ Orange Ochre C 1:1 x 872 Chocolate Brown
890 Reflective Green D 890 Reflective Green
980 Black Green E 2:1 Black
Base Colour Position Mix
959 Purple A 4:1 x 899
899 Dark Prussian Blue B 4:1 Black/1 White
824 German Cam’ Orange Ochre C 824 German Cam’ Orange Ochre
959 Purple D 1:1 Red
980 Black Green E 1:1 White
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