SMER 1/72 Fi-156C

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $9.00 when new
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Ryan Grosswiler
NOTES: Heller tooling, Owl Decals conversion

   Started by a noted Great War German fighter ace turned industrialist, the Gerhard Fieseler Werke set out to do creative things for aviation technology. While their design team would prove to be quite innovative, the firm's bread and butter during the next big war would be found in churning out Bf-109s as subcontracted out from Messerschmitt. However, Fieseler's two original designs that did see production were pretty ground-breaking. One was responsible for the world's first robot invasion: the Fi-103 "buzz bomb".
  And this one, the inimitable Fi-156 Storch. Here we have what I believe to be Germany's most influential aircraft design, ever. While what would eventually become known as STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) performance design goals were previously achieved--and only incidentally--with low-powered, light wing-loading aircraft of the Piper Cub sort, here for the first time clever design features were incorporated specifically to achieve very short takeoff and landing distances...less than a hundred feet in this case, with a little headwind. This was combined with a distinctively large and robust landing gear 'apparatus' with an abnormally wide strut compression range, which hung down awkwardly straight down in flight (and giving the Fi-156 its nickname). All this so the airplane could go where airplanes normally couldn't.
   Though only a few thousand would ultimately be built, this remarkable aircraft type was so useful for general courier, observation, and rescue tasks that it was present everywhere the German military was present, used by all German allies, and put into production both in France and (in modified form) the Soviet Union. Whenever captured, Storchs were enthusiastically pressed into service by the Allies. Postwar, it would remain in production both in France and the newly-reconstituted Czechoslovakia, expanding service into Asia with France's protracted and ugly attempt to hold on to its Indochina territories.
  Back on the Eastern Front, the German Nachtschlacht units were created in response to Soviet nighttime harassment attacks. This new and low-tech type of attack involved low-performance light airplanes dropping light bombloads primarily on billeting and supply areas during the enemy's sleeping hours...the goal being not so much to spread destruction as to cause mass panic, disruption, and loss of sleep, so the enemy will exhibit about the same work performance the following day as if he'd been up all night with his diabetic child's malfunctioning blood-sugar monitor. As there was really no effective way to defend against these attacks, the only option for the Germans was to respond in kind. While the Soviets pretty much stuck to the various and numerous Polikarpov biplanes for this role, the Luftwaffe in contrast pressed in all manner of obsolete utility and training types for such service.
  So we shouldn't be surprised that the Storch was adapted to this mission. I was not aware of it, however, before I ran across Owl's set and couldn't find any data about the adaptation, but it's not difficult to think it through. With a fabric-covered fuselage, bomb racks were probably not a viable option for a field conversion, so a tube was let through the lower skin from behind the rear occupant's seat for bundles of grenades to be dropped out by the guy in the back. Funny what wartime expediency necessitates.
  I have no idea how successful the Storch was in this role, but it's well-established that these raids did their job for both sides very effectively for their cost. Incidentally, there is still no easy defense against this form of attack, unless a fighter with look-down shoot-down capability happens to a) present overhead and is b) willing to waste an AMRAAM on such a cheap little airplane.

  Heller obviously had a burst of inspiration in the mid-70s, cutting molds for a wide variety of fairly obscure small aircraft. Who would've thought in the era of Saturday Night Fever we'd get injected kits of the SAAB J-21 and Safir, Bf-108 and early Bf-109, Cauldron Simoun, PZL P.11c and Karas, SBC Helldiver, and so on? This kit came in with that rush. It's since been eclipsed in 1/72 by the more refined Academy offering but is still a worthy build. Good overall shapes [with one exception, as described in (3) below] are provided and optional parts for the French Morane-built version with its angled trailing edges on the stabilizer.
  Mine's a Smer release. I bought it long enough ago that the import sticker on the box says "Made in Czechoslovakia". Rest in peace, Squadron Mail Order. You did us some nice favors in your day.
  As reviewed elsewhere, this is a good old kit (though not an easy one!) and I restricted my improvements to three particular areas:
   1) The cockpit. That's a big greenhouse canopy and I sprinkled in extra detail with the usual methods of sheet styrene and stretched sprue, using pictures from the Internet and the 1/32 Hasegawa kit as reference. The Nachtschlacht conversion involved a new, flat cockpit floor, a case for the grenades in the back, a flip door over the associated dooty chute, and the tube itself to be stuck in a drilled hole in the lower fuselage. However, I didn't believe the second seat as depicted facing forward: the rear 'dropper' wouldn't have been able to reach back there and do his work. So I made up a simple stool (like that in the Bf-110 or Stuka) which I felt was more likely. I also replaced the internal top framing (Part #12) with narrower rod. In the end, however, much of this is really unnecessary because that big greenhouse lets in so much light it totally overwhelms the sidewalls, instrument panel area, and rear bulkhead. If I were to do another Heller Storch, I would only refine the shape of the seats and add some belts, and replace that top framing.

   Scott's review of this kit provided a word of warning I will repeat here: Heller, in a slip of sanity, attempted to provide an optional-position cabin door--but did not follow through with instructions nor means to pose it open. We are left with that big, clear greenhouse thrust at us in no less than six parts when it could have been just three. Smer has you suicidally assembling the entire thing on its own and adding it whole later. DON'T! Here's how I did it: I 1) attached the door (part #45), let it sit for a few minutes, then added the panel behind it (Part #46), also letting it sit for a few minutes, and then worked my way around counterclockwise in this manner, poking and prodding each individual piece into alignment after the cement had set a little but before the joint cured. 
  The top piece (42) was then dry-fit last while everything below was all still pliable. I found that if I carefully trimmed a little material from its rear sides I could bring all the rear transparency pieces flusher with the adjacent fuselage. Finally leaving the lower transparencies to cure, I realized that I hated the appearance of the gunner's blister at the back; distorted, thick, and etched deeply with a hole for the gun. So, while the lower transparencies were curing, I carved this circle gently out and crash-molded a new blister from some clear styrene lying nearby on my bench. This sounds really heinous but it all only took about fifteen minutes' work. The gun itself was replaced with a nice MG-15 from ICM's Fw-189. A little more interior detailing was done before finally cementing #42 into position, closing up the cockpit. Mask all the glazing BEFORE general assembly!
   The amount of text above versus that below is mute testament to the fact that most of construction time was spent on the cockpit and windows...!
   2) Engine and cowl. Lazily, Heller provides a blanked-off cooling air entry. I cut this open, stuck a styrene bulkhead in the firewall section, and scratch-built a simple engine block from bits of sprue to stick in there, plus opened up the various vents around the cowl itself and scribed/refined the detail in the area. Before adding the cowl front, I refined the shape of the main cooling air opening "mouth" by putting filler into the too-sharp corners, rounding them with brass tube while the putty was still soft, and wet sanding it all flush when it was dry. All this really improved and brought that prominent region of the model to life. 
   3) Landing gear. The struts are depicted in a position somewhere between fully compressed and unloaded/in-flight, making the completed model sit much too tall and missing the Storch's distinctive 'sit' when idle on the ground. The fix is fairly simple: cut out a 1/8" segment from the inner telescoping portion of the strut fairings (Parts #22 and #23), reglue, and allow to cure thoroughly. Then fit them as the instructions indicate, using Parts #28 and #29 to secure them at the correct angle. When cured, use fine styrene rod to replace Parts #25.
   The flying surfaces are all molded with a fairly heavy fabric effect, but I liked it and left it alone apart from a quick wet-sand with 600 grit. Wing tank panels were masked off top and bottom with kabuki tape and treated to several applications of filler, sanding, and priming, to make them appear 'solid' against the surrounding fabric effect. Fuel caps were then scribed in. As mentioned, the external portion of the Nachtschlacht conversion is just a tube poking out the fabric on the fuselage bottom presumably so the emerging grenades don't go bouncing along the skin and detonating annoyingly in the tail group. 
  Pretty straightforward. I sprayed the undersides with a lightened black, then followed with the RLM 70/71 topsides, masking made easy with the German splinter scheme. This was all sealed in Future/whatever they call it now and then the outstanding Owl decals went on without issue, performing similarly to Superscale products. Details were painted, a slight weathering applied with a silver dry-brushing on prominent edges, and a semi-gloss clear sprayed on to lock it all in.
  Masking was pulled from the greenhouse and antennas added with EZ line. I doubt a Nachtschlacht-issued aircraft would have retained the full suite of radios typical of a liaison machine, but I didn't have evidence to model it otherwise and liked how all the antennas complemented the Storch's 'busy' look.  
  When done, I was surprised at how big the Storch is: the top wing comes just about level with the cockpit sill of the Airfix B-25 I was finishing at the same time.  Fixing the landing gear issue really brings the finished Heller model home in depicting this milestone aircraft type. I also love how sinister the dark scheme makes it look. Fix that gear. Beware the greenhouse. It finishes with these two things into a fascinating little model.
  Information on the Storch is plentiful thanks to its widespread use and the many surviving examples still present at air shows and museum collections all over the world. Beware of basing your model on restoration inauthenticity, particularly in the interior. The Björn Karlström drawings in the Aircraft Archive title below were referenced constantly during construction but I also think they might be the source of Heller's error with strut compression.
Green, William. Warplanes of the Third Reich. Galahad Books, NY, 1970. ISBN )-88365-666-3
Various draftsmen. Aircraft Archive: Classics of World War Two. Argus Books, UK, 1989. ISBN 0-85242-985-1.

Ryan Grosswiler

26 October 2021

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