Classic Airframes 1/48 He-51

KIT #: 96-407
PRICE: $29.95 MSRP, I paid $5 for mine.
DECALS: Two Options
NOTES: Rigging can be fun! Short run multi-media kit



The Heinkel He 51 was the fledgling Luftwaffe’s first mass-produced dedicated fighter aircraft.  It served with distinction with the Legion Condor in the early part of the Spanish Civil War but was later outclassed but the I-15 and I-16 fighters it faced.   It then served in the light ground attack role and had assumed an advanced trainer role by the beginning of the Second World War.  A sturdy and capable aircraft, it has long been a favorite of both Luftwaffe and biplane aficionados.


This kit has been issues twice by Classic Airframes.  This is the first release (circa 1996).  The 2nd release (circa 2008) is a completely new kit so this review may not be suited for addressing the newer release.  I received this kit from a friend who had started it but then lost interest.  The wheel spats and cockpit had been started, the horizontal stabs added to the fuselage halves and the lower wings glued together.  The parts are molded in a light gray color and have a slightly grainy texture (mainly on the struts and smaller parts).  There are a few small resin pieces mainly used in the cockpit.  A small PE fret is included and is mostly used for the cockpit and minor surface details.  The instructions are four pages, printed clearly and do have a rigging diagram.  The decals have a color profile sheet that offers two options and are printed very cleanly and look useable. 

 Recently I had wanted to change direction a bit and build a biplane to expand what little I knew about rigging.  My prior experience had been with a single wire here and there but nothing substantial.  I figured the price was right and if I messed it up badly I could always find another use for the kit.  So, off to Rigging 101 I go!


The cockpit had already been completed and added to one side of the fuselage.  I cleaned up a few things and added Crystal Clear for the gauge faces.  The fuselage halves were then joined together using Plastruct liquid cement and the engine intake scoop and PE screen were then glued into place.  The fit of the fuselage halves and scoop was good with minimal filler required.  I then glued the completed lower wings to the fuselage.  Fit here is so-so with a good amount of Squadron White Putty required to smooth the joined areas out.  I also cleaned up the seams from where the lower wings were glued together.  I then drilled out the rigging holes for the horizontal stabs, landing gear, lower wings and fuselage.  The wing struts were also cleaned up and drilled at this time.  I glued the spinner backing plate on and added the two ventilation holes and four fasteners to the front of the cowling. 

 The supplied radiator scoop was cast out of dark green resin (as was the drop tank) and I can only assume that these parts came from an older vacuform kit (perhaps Karo-As or Wings 48?).  I cleaned up and assembled the radiator scoop per the instructions.  I was missing the radiator screen piece so I made one from a piece of wire mesh.  This assembly was then set aside.  The landing gear attachment points looked very flimsy so I decided to use wire to reinforce them with .051mm brass rod.  I drilled holes in the wheel spats and at the top of the gear leg.  I then inserted a piece of brass rod in each hole and assembled the main gear.  The tail skid also had a hole drilled out along with a corresponding hole in the fuselage and brass rod was added to this part to give it a positive location and added strength.  The radiator assembly was them glued between the two landing gear struts as shown per the instructions.

 I started the rigging by using .013 inch monofilament for the horizontal stabs.  I used Loc-Tite super glue to anchor the line to the hole in the vertical tail plane.  One piece was used and strung it through all of the holes.  I used tweezers to pull it snug and then anchored it with another bead of super glue.  This was repeated for the 2nd wire.  I then turned to the landing gear.  Having already drilled the holes for the rigging in the landing gear I figured I could slide a piece of brass rod thru the holes to keep the gear steady and lined up while I applied glue to the attachment wires and positioned them into place.  This worked out very well with the super glue acting as both adhesive and filler where the landing gear attached to the fuselage.  Once this assembly was complete I simply removed the wire from the holes.  I let the model sit overnight to ensure a solid bond and returned to it the following day.  Another piece of monofilament was cut to length and attached to the lower port wing with super glue.  This was then threaded through the landing gear struts, pulled tightly and anchored to the lower starboard wing with (what else?) super glue.

At this point I glued the interplane struts and cabane struts in place. For those that may not be familiar with biplane terminology the interplane struts are the outer wing struts while the cabane struts are located on the fuselage in front of the cockpit.  The attachment points on both the wings and the struts are, in a word, lousy.  The interplane strut holes in the wing are practically non-existent and they all have very thick flash at the end of each strut were the nub should go into the hole on the wing.  Plus, the forward angle of the interplane struts are not molded into the strut meaning that the struts are glued into place 100% vertical instead of at the proper angle.  Not paying closer attention to this detail would have dire consequences for me later on.  The instructions do illustrate the main struts at an angle as do the pitcures in William Green’s Warplanes of the Third Reich.  As a novice biplane builder I should have simply paid better attention to this area and I did not.  But it does not excuse the lack of the proper mounting angle and to achieve this will take some measuring, patience and teeth-gnashing on the part of the builder.  Limited-run or not this is just poor product planning IMHO.  Anyhow, I drilled out the attachment holes on the wings and cleaned up the flash on the struts the best I could.


Knowing that I was going to have to mask this off I went ahead and painted the nose, spinner, inner prop blades, radiator and the upper landing gear struts RLM 23.  Please see my detailed notes on this in the section below. 

 All during my build I had been looking over the recommendations and different styles of rigging aircraft.  Since I had tried using the “one-piece” monofilament method I figured the “measure and cut” wire method was next up.  And, surprisingly, this went very, very well and even quicker than I thought.  I used .051mm brass rod for all but two sections.  The remaining two sections were done with monofilament and then the entire model sat for most of the day to allow for a strong bond. 

 I came back to the workbench and started to attach the upper wing.  It was at this moment that realized that the interplane struts were positioned straight-up and not at an angle.  So, in my infinite wisdom I figured I would bend the struts forward with the upper wing in place and tack it in place with super glue.  This was going pretty well actually until I flipped it over and realized that I had somehow moved the upper wing.  The placement was WAY off…by a scale two feet or so in my estimation.  So, now faced with a real mess of struts, wires and wings I simply set the model down, stared at it for maybe 15-20 minutes and came to the conclusion that the upper wing, struts and rigging would need to be removed and new main struts fashioned from sheet styrene.  Oh, did I tell you all that I just love modeling?  I really do…I’ll fill you in on how deep my passion really is after I jump into a pit of X-Acto blades!  Argh!

 So, after a wee bout of depression, the following day I came up with a different direction.  I used Pic-Apart to loosen the super glue on the interplane struts at the wing attachment points.  Then I was able to shift the entire upper wing and properly reposition it into place!  Two of the interplane struts snapped at the bottom but I glued them together and sanded everything down the best I could.  And, if you look close you can see a bit of a bend in the port side interplane struts.  Granted, a few of the struts have some super glue build-up at the attachment point but I can live with it.  Thankfully my wires wound up being reusable and only required a bit of clean-up and trimming after the reposition of the upper wing.  At this point I decided to try using heat to tighten up the monofilament.  This does work like a charm but be VERY careful here.  I had two spots that nearly split apart but thankfully stayed together.  To wrap up things before painting I added the pair of PE control horns for the flaps and the PE rearview mirror to the upper wing.  The boarding step was missing from the starboard side so I bent a piece of brass rod, drilled out the two mounting holes and placed it in the appropriate place with super glue. 


The decals have two options, one a Legion Condor aircraft and the other of 1./JG 132 based in Germany in 1936.  I chose the latter option with its striking red nose and tail colors.  These markings are also included in the 2008 release but call for the aircraft to be painted in RLM 02 and not RLM 63…hmmm.  Doing a bit of research I found out that RLM 63 replaced RLM 02 from early 1936 into 1938.  There’s always something isn’t there?   The RLM 23 printed on the decal sheet appears to have a bit more orange in it than what I have seen RLM 23 presented as.  So, after some mixing I came up with a close match of approximately 75% MM RLM 23, 15% Testors Gloss Orange and 10% MM RLM 21 Semi-Gloss White.  Once mixed this was laid down on the nose, spinner, inner prop blades, radiator and upper landing gear struts and allowed to dry overnight.  One thing to note here is that the box top and the decal profile show two different mask lines for the cowling.  I had already painted the cowling and installed the upper wing when I caught this.  And I had a hard time finding a picture of this plane to verify which was correct.  The rest of the aircraft was painted RLM 63 per the instructions.  Having no RLM 63 in stock (and my LHS being too far away) I decided to take a peek at my RLM color chart and see about mixing this.  I noticed that RLM 63 has FS 36375 assigned to it.  So, I took a gander through my stock on hand and what do you know I had it!  Apparently FS 36375 is Light Ghost Gray in the Model Master line of paints.  So, after masking off the cowling and radiator scoop I thinned this out and laid it on with nary an issue.  Once this was done I let the model dry overnight, removed my masking and then applied Testors Glosscote in preparation for the decals.

The decals are printed by Propagteam and are very thin and have good opacity.  Upon very close inspection the Balkenkreuz are just printed slightly out of register.  I simply trimmed each edge with my scissors and that was that.  I then applied them using warm water and Solvaset.  They went on very well and are terrific…some of the best I have ever used actually.  The carrier film was nonexistent once dried and they are so thin that they look painted on at first glance.  Everything here went smoothly until I got to the tail/rudder.  I had already done the rigging for this section and overlooked that the rigging would interfere with how they were positioned.  Argh!  So, I decided to place them on underneath the rigging, make two cuts to the decal and then slide it into place.  On the starboard side the tri-color decal went on without too much fuss and only minor touch up on the black section was needed.  The port side however wound up being a real mess as the decal broke (due to my ham-fisted prodding) and then started to splinter apart after repeated maneuvering.  So, this required a lot of touch up with MM Flat White, MM Flat Black and my custom RLM 23 mix.  It actually turned out pretty good and only under close scrutiny can you see some of the touch up work.  The decals were allowed to set up over night and then Testors Dullcote was applied to the entire model.  It was at this stage that I dropped the Heinkel, busting the starboard side interplane struts, jarring some of the rigging loose and breaking off one of the wheel spats.  Plus the Dullcote had not set up yet.  So, after a few minutes of sheer disgust I cleaned everything up, touched up a few spots with RLM 63 and, with super glue, reattached the rigging and repaired the damaged struts.  

 Moving right along I painted the main wheels MM Flat Black and rims Floquil RLM 02.  The tail skid was chipped with Testors Silver and the front of the prop blades were covered with Bare Metal Foil and the back sides painted Floquil RLM 70 per the instructions.  The rigging wires were painted MM Metalizer Titanium and the radiator and engine intake screens dry brushed with Floquil RLM 02.  I painted the exhaust stubs MM Flat Black and then dry brushed MM Rust and MM Metalizer Burnt Iron on them.  Attaching the exhaust stubs looked to be a real chore.  However I came up with an idea that had me lay down a piece of wire where the stubs would hang down and tack it into place with Blu-Tac.  This would allow for me to glue them onto the cowling without the worry of them drooping out of place and then remove the wire.  Looking at my references I noticed a small tube that attached between the 4th and 5th exhaust stubs.  I replicated this with a small piece of wire.  The acetate windscreen is a one-piece affair that you have to cut out from the acetate sheet and carefully bend to fit.  This takes a few times to bend it to achieve the correct shape.  I did just that and it looks good.  The windscreen was attached with 5-minute epoxy.  Please note that the framing is printed on the acetate and requires no painting.  The drop tank was cleaned up and the mounting bar repaired as this was damaged at some point. I used brass rod and PE framing scrap to do this.  It was then painted MM Metalizer Aluminum Plate, buffed and attached to the underside. 

 Weathering was kept to a minimum with pastels used for the gun ports, exhaust and main wheels.  The navigation lights were painted Tamiya Clear Red and X-5 Green.


Good grief!  After building this kit I can see why so few have appeared on contest and club meeting tables.  The strut issues are a bit of a struggle even for the common modeler.  Throw in the needed reinforcement work for the landing gear, lower wings, horizontal stabs and the so-so fit of the lower wings to the fuselage and it’s a recipe for frustration.  And I’m not sold on the red in the decals being entirely correct for RLM 23.  However, if you can get past all of this the fine surface detail, well detailed cockpit and nice quality decals make for a nifty looking biplane.  Plus a bit of a sense of accomplishment never hurt anyone and you will certainly have that once you complete this kit! 

 As for the rigging I thought that this was a terrific platform to learn how to properly rig an aircraft.  You can use both styles of rigging (monofilament or metal wire) with terrific results.  Again, this was my first shot at a full rig job and I wanted to try a few different methods on one plane to see which I prefer best.  Taking this approach from a novice’s point of view allowed me to not get frustrated or feel obligated to use a single method and it broadened my modeling knowledge.  For those of you who have not done rigging before I highly suggest taking this path.

 So, if you are looking for challenging kit or to try your rigging skills on a rarely modeled aircraft this 1996 release by Classic Airframes may be to your liking.  I recommend this kit for the moderate to experienced modeler.  No prior rigging experience is needed as this is a fairly easy aircraft to rig (it certainly is no Eindecker!).


 Green, William, Doubleday, 1970.  Catalog card number 88-29673, pp 267-273.

 Cohausz, Peter W., Schiffer Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 0-7643-1873-X, pp 94-96.

The Legion Condor: A History of the Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Ries, Karl and Ring, Hans, Schiffer Publishing, 1992.  ISBN: 0-88740-339-5, pp 16, 64, 94, 96, 138.

Special thanks to the members at MM for their advice and suggestions on rigging!

Lee Fogel

March 2010

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