The origins of this twin-engine flying boat go back to 1934 when Deutsche Lufthansa asked Dornier Metallbauten G.m.b.H. to develop a more modern successor to the Wal. It was expressly designed for Trans-oceanic mail service and is notable for being the first commercial flying boat fitted with diesel engines. Fitted with two 500-560 hp Junkers "Jumo 205D" compression-ignition engines, the Do-18 type was used for experimental work on the North Atlantic crossing to the United States. Six Dornier 18s were entrusted to the German airline between 1935 and 1937 and because of its exceptional range (2,765 miles) the aircraft aroused the interest of the Luftwaffe as well, who ordered a military version.
D models were armed with light machine guns but the most important series proved to be the heavier armed DO-18G-1 reconnaissance version. This version exchanged the light machine guns for a heavier one and a 20 mm cannon. By 1938 it had already been introduced into the coastal flying units of the Luftwaffe being used for air sea rescue and reconnaissance. Before too much longer the open aft gun position was replaced with an enclosed turret and heavier armament. In the North Sea the large British flying boats often clashed with enemy aircraft that was about the same business. The Do-18, which was smaller, less powerful, less well armed and generally considered harmless by Allied flyers was nonetheless useful to the Germans.
On Tuesday, the 26th of September,1939 the Do-18 played an interesting role in history. A Dornier Do-18D flying boat of 2/Küstenfliegergruppe 506 trying to shadow the carrier Ark Royal was engaged by Lieutenant B.S. McEwen and his air-gunner Petty Officer Airman B.M. Seymour in their Blackburn Skua of No 803 Squadron just north of the Great Fisher Bank. The Do-18 was forced down and the destroyer HMS Somali rescued the four-man crew. The aircraft, which was still afloat, was sunk by gunfire. The Do-18 played another ‘first’ role just a few days later when on October 8, 1939 another Do-18D tangled with a Hudson Mk I of No. 224 Squadron. The Dornier was shot down off Jutland marking the first combat kill of a Hudson. By 1942 the Dornier Do-18s were replaced in service by the Bv-138 flying clog.
This Matchbox kit is a survivor from the 1970s and is to say the least, colorful. Inside the end opening box are three sprues of high-pressure injection molded plastic all of differing colors. One is a light sky blue, another is an olive green and the third is a dark drab green. Also in here is a small sprue of clear parts. Generally speaking, the parts appear to be well cast with minimal flash. There are slight mold separation lines and no evidence of heavy injector pins or sinkholes. The fuselage is completely smooth and devoid of any surface detail such as rivets or panel lines. There are a few panel lines on the engine nacelle and wing surfaces but these are more akin to trenches than lines. If you were to look at them in a scale reference they would each be large enough to stick you hand into. The cockpit has minimal detail, the dash has blank raised instrument faces, the throttle quadrant is completely blank and the crew seats lack any seatbelt detail. The kit does include four crew figures and they are of at least passable quality.
The single sprue of clear parts includes options for a dorsal turret or open gun position. The small side ports have some serious dimples on the inner surfaces but since the ports themselves are so small, this probably will not be noticeable when the kit is complete. The parts have very heavy sprue gates here and great care must be taken when removing them from the tree. I used a razor saw followed by a sanding stick to remove the main canopy. They do clean up nicely and look pretty good after a dip in Future floor polish. On a test fit, I was able to determine that the cockpit details will indeed be visible when completed but the canopy sits about 1mm proud of the fuselage. The primary parts like fuselage and wing panels fit reasonable well and do not require massive sanding and filling to look good. The propeller-to-propeller bushing fit is quite awful and some fine shim work is required to make these parts stay in position properly. The order of assembly and basic design of the engine nacelle makes painting and detailing a challenge – I’ll talk more on that later.
A complete inventory of the kit shows that we have 25 sky blue pieces, 18 bright olive green pieces, 24 dark drab green pieces plus 9 clear pieces for a total of 72 parts in the box. Not all of these get used as you have the option to build this in a military configuration or a civilian configuration with the gun emplacements covered.
You may click on the images above to view larger pictures.
Decals and Instructions
The instructions consist of a large two-page fold-out. It opens with a good but brief historical background on the aircraft in five languages and a fairly comprehensive color chart. I don’t think the colors listed are completely accurate so if you are building this some outside reference might be a good idea. There are seventeen exploded view assembly steps here, specific glue or don’t glue instructions are prominent through these steps but no color call-outs appear. The final half dozen or so construction steps show color codes for the interior areas but do not cover all aspects, again, an outside reference might be handy here. There are three small decal placement illustrations on the instructions that should be used in conjunction with the back panel box art.
The kit provides decals for two aircraft; one military, a G-1 and one civilian, a D-2. The small image to the left is linked so you may click on it for a full size view. For the most part the decals show good print registry other than the propeller logos, which are horribly off the mark. Color density is marginal and I can find at least three imperfections in the black print with just a cursory examination. There is no cracking or splitting evident and they appear to be properly thin. Even though these decals come to us from the 1970s there are no swastikas proving that political correctness is not something new.
As far as building the Do-18 or Dornier G-1, whichever you prefer to call it, this is it. There are no other choices not to mention there is not a single item on the aftermarket for the model – nothing. This seems somewhat strange to me, I know it’s a Matchbox kit and doesn’t come across too well but it’s not that bad. With a little work and some tender loving care, this can be built into a decent representation of a fairly unique aircraft. This aircraft played an important role in the pre-war years developing mail routes and providing rescue/recon services. Later it continued to play a part by providing a target to early Allied flyers and, to loosely quote a Douglas Adams book, “Was mostly harmless”.
Sitting on my work table are two Matchbox Do-18s, one with destroyed decals and one with usable decals but considering the general quality of the decals (even in the best of circumstances) I don’t think I’ll be using these but making new ones. I will be building both of these models together and both will be done with schemes from “The Gathering Storm” years. One will be done as “Monsun” and the other shall be “Zephir”, both South Atlantic Mail Service aircraft from the late 1930s and both with a yellow upper wing.
I’ll start with two areas on each model, the interior flight cabin and the engine nacelle. The interior cabin bulkhead/floor pieces are assembled area get a base coat of RLM 02 along with the fuselage interior. The dash was done with RLM 66 then the instrument faces are filled with white. Earlier I had test fit the canopy to the fuselage and determined that the dash and seat would be clearly visible through the top glazing so want to add as much detail here as possible. Instrument faces were cut from a Reheat decal sheet with a Waldron punch then applied over the white faces. The throttle area was painted black then pieces were cut from a scrap photo etch sheet to make throttles and flap levers. Once the decals had dried, they were capped with drops of Future floor polish. The seats are very plain and since I will not be adding crewmembers to this some seatbelt detail is needed. First, they are mounted on toothpicks and airbrushed with Polly Scale Canvas. This stuff needs a few hours to dry now.
Taking a look at the engine nacelle we have a serious challenge here. The overall design is just going to make things difficult in the painting department. The color scheme I have chosen requires that most of the engine nacelle be black but the lower back quadrant must be light gray and the propellers, which have to be installed before painting, are aluminum in color with tri-color warning tips. Aside from this, there is an actual parts fit problem, the propeller shafts are too narrow for the provided bushings and the bushings are too large to fit inside the nacelle halves. Did I forget to mention that we also have some clear parts embedded in the pylon to the nacelle that have to be worked around? There is more … the “Monsun” does not use the standard paddle blade propeller but needs a replacement; narrow chord propeller mounted both front and back. Yes, this is most challenging!
Let’s get busy. First the Xuron sprue cutters come out the large interior flange on the propeller bushing is cut off, the area is trimmed with my razor knife and test fit. This seems to be working and is repeated for the back side of the nacelle then a drop of glue is applied one side of the nacelle to hold the bushing in place while the two halves are held together and the final position of the bushing is set. The propellers are loose inside this bushing so if you were to build it as-is they would droop noticeably. To remedy this problem I cut very thin shims and glued them to the propeller shaft. Once the glue had completely set, I sanded them down until a good fit was achieved. This is done for all four propellers. The two narrow chord props came from my spares box. In the picture labeled #1 at left, arrow “A” shows the two modified bushings in place.
This next picture marked #2 shows the modifications to the propeller shafts. Arrow “A” indicates the new shims already sanded to fit. Arrow “B” shows an additional modification to the replacement narrow chord propeller for the aft position propeller. The hub was too short allowing the blades to impact on the rear wing fairing so I built a small spacer, glued it in place and sanded the seam smooth. Worked like a charm. There are still a few areas on the replacement propeller blades that need some sanding before they can be painted but they are coming along nicely. In addressing the clear windows that go in here, I have taken each part, placed a piece of masking tape over the exterior portion of the window and carefully trimmed it with a razor. The masked piece is glued in place with some Testors Clear Parts Cement. The main nacelle pieces were then painted flat black and set aside to dry.
While this was drying I glued the main wing panels together along with the lower half wing. I don’t think this part really qualifies as a wing but more of a floatation stabilization device and fuel storage. The seams were sanded smooth, the panel lines were rescribed across the glue joints and then the floatation stabilizers were glued to the fuselage. There was a pretty good seam here that took some putty to clean up. This all gets set aside and I can return to the dash panels and flight decks.
The control columns were glued in place and the yokes painted flat black with silver hubs. The dash panels were glued in place and all that is needed now are some seatbelts.
This stuff gets set aside and I’m going back to the main fuselage. During test fitting it was found that the main canopy sits about 1mm proud of the fuselage surface. The inner edges of the cabin walls have a 90-degree bevel to them that I shall remove. Working with a square diamond file the bevel is sanded until it is level. The front edge of the cabin is sanded to create a bevel where none existed before. The canopy is test fit several times during this process until the top surface makes a smooth transition to the fuselage.
The main canopies are dipped in Future floor polish and set aside under cover to cure. I did not bother dipping the small portholes because nothing will be visible through them anyway. Now that the basic interior work has been completed on the engine nacelles, the propellers can be mounted on toothpicks for painting. This is an Alclad process that will start with some Krylon gloss black paint decanted into my airbrush. The nacelles cannot be glued together until the propellers are finished because there is a pesky little retaining ring that has to be glued on first. Just another part of the nacelle challenge.
The floatation stabilizers are glued to the second fuselage and wait for the glue to set up before the seam can be filled. Going back to the main wings the seams are sanded and touched up with some Mr. Surfacer 500. The ailerons are installed and they go back into the waiting area. The wings will be partially painted before they are installed just to make life easier – more on that later.
You may have noticed on the earlier cockpit pictures that we are missing the seats. There is a good reason for this, no seatbelts. I have a reasonably good stock of odds and ends in 1/48 and can make some seatbelts from foil and spare buckles in that scale but have very little in 1/72 kicking around. I could have made some belts from foil for this as well but wanted to see how the Eduard 1/72 pre-colored seatbelts performed. I am so glad that I waited. The seatbelts arrived the other day from Great Models. It took about an hour to assemble and install a complete set per cockpit.
The seatbelts build up in layers and provide some really nice depth to the assembly, especially after a wash has been added to everything. When looking at the assembled cockpit you may thing the rear bulkhead is leaning forward but that is an optical illusion. When I first put it together without the seats, it was indeed leaning forward and I had to break it free and fix that in order to have the seats fit properly. Now that the seats are completed and installed, the cockpit can be glued to the fuselage. The porthole windows need to be masked and installed with clear parts cement and the fuselage can be closed up. There is a slight misalignment in the fuselage pieces with both models right in front of the cockpit. Each one had to have pressure applied to the left upper deck area until the glue set, all other areas of the fuselage fit together without a hitch.
The fuselage assemblies get set aside for the glue joint to fully harden and the wings get some more attention. The seams have been sanded, inspected, filled with Mr. Surfacer 500 and resanded until I can see no imperfections. It’s off to the paint room! Using Mr. Surfacer 1200 cut about 30% with lacquer thinner, the wings (all four of them) are primed. So far, they still look good. Next, the Testors Flat Yellow comes out, is thinned about 50% with lacquer thinner (it’s a very thick paint) and the wing upper surfaces along with about a half an inch of the front lower surface is airbrushed twice. It did not show up until the color went on but there is still a visible seam along the leading edge of three wings – all three get another treatment of Mr. Surfacer 500, sanded down and reshot with yellow. This time it all looks great and they get set aside for a few days to allow the paint to fully cure before masking.
Time to come back to the engine nacelles or more specifically, the propellers. Each propeller is mounted on a toothpick with super glue then stuck into a lump of modeling clay. I decant some Krylon Gloss Black from a rattle can, transfer this to my airbrush, adjust the pressure down to about 10psi and prime all four propellers. After drying for a few hours, they are given two coats of Alclad Aluminum. This is allowed to cure overnight. I cut a 3mm wide strip from a piece of masking tape and use this as a measuring stick on each prop tip. The 3mm piece is stuck on the tip then the rest of the blade is totally masked off and the 3mm piece is then removed. Each tip area is airbrushed flat yellow and allowed to dry. I cut several 1mm wide strips of masking tape and mask the center section of each tip then airbrush the lower section light blue. This dries and the lower area is masked. There are several layers of tape going on here. Finally, the tips are airbrushed flat red and all the masks are removed. These blades will be getting masked one more time before this project is complete but that will come later.
The propellers are installed into the nacelles and the locking ring is glued onto the back side of each shaft. The two sides can now be glued together and let harden. Seems like a lot of work for three measly strips on a propeller tip. Time to return to the fuselage.
Both models are being built as non-military mail service aircraft so all gun positions need to be eliminated. The kit provides covers for the nose and dorsal positions but the fit is less than perfect on each of these. In addition, the directional antenna mount at the rear of the fuselage needs to be removed. All pictures I have of these two aircraft show the directional antenna being mounted flush over the flight cabin. The rudder and tail planes along with supporting struts are also mounted. The picture below should give you a pretty good idea of where the work is involved at this stage of the game.
A.) Front gun emplacement cover is too small and sets too low – filled with Squadron White Putty.
B.) Several sinkholes around the nose are filled with Mr. Surfacer 500.
C.) Fuselage portholes are masked and installed with Testors Clear Parts Cement.
D.) Aft gun emplacement cover is too large and sets proud of the fuselage. Sanded down and dressed with Squadron White Putty followed by sanding and Mr. Surfacer 500 to finish it off.
E.) Directional antenna mount is ground off; the hole is filled with superglue, sanded smooth and finished with Mr. Surfacer 500. The joint of the tail plane to the fin still has to be filled and smoothed out.
Things are moving right along with these two builds. The engine nacelles have been glued in place and the seam has been filled with combinations of Squadron White Putty and Mr. Surfacer 500. The rear nacelle support A-Frame has been installed and a small amount of Mr. Surfacer 500 was used to fill the connection point (arrow B). I checked for prop clearance then drilled a new mounting hole for the directional antenna (arrow A). The front section of the engine nacelle pylon was masked off with strips of masking tape.
The wings have had the upper surfaces painted yellow a while ago and now I mask the upper surface off. The yellow wraps under the leading edge and the upper flap/aileron area is also yellow. Since this flap is below the upper surface of the wing, I do not want light gray over-spray hitting it so it is masked also. The supporting rods are installed and the connection points are filled with Mr. Surfacer 500. Once everything has dried I come back to clean up the connection points and install the supporting rigging.
The wing does not fit well to the engine nacelle and some filler is needed. The real problem is that access to the lower side of the wing is severely restricted and a fair amount of sanding needs to be done there. When I applied the putty I was certain to use some acetone based fingernail polish remover to smooth things out as much as possible but still, sanding was going to happen. Since my fingers are too fat to reach in here I build this nifty little sanding stick from some Evergreen stock and superglued a patch of 80 grit Testors sand paper to it – got the job done. Notice how the paper is wrapped around one end of the sanding pad, this gives me the ability to roll it over and use this surface to get into very confined corners.
The last major item to be dealt with is the canopy. The kit piece does not fit well as I may have mentioned before. I searched far and wide in an effort to locate a vacuform replacement with no luck. I did not feel like making a new master and vacuforming my own canopies so resulted to an extensive session with a set of diamond needle files and manager to get a reasonable fit. The canopies had been dipped in Future already and now were masked with strips of masking tape. The canopies were installed using Testors Clear Parts Cement and allowed to dry overnight. One other detail that was handled was the installation of the rudders. There are two little rudders that mount aft of the hull step and Matchbox has marked the location for you – too bad they did not mark them correctly. If you follow the kit directions the rudders will be skewed. I just sanded off the raised markings and eyeballed new ones that were parallel, drilled them out and glued the rudders in place. All that is left to do is install the Pitot tube and the directional antenna; the upper antenna masts will not be placed until all painting is completed.
The last two items were glued in place and the models headed to the paint room for a few primer touch-ups and some light gray paint. While the paint cures I will start working on some decals. I use a bubble jet printer so must first get decal paper designed for the hardware. Pay attention when buying decal paper, some is for laser printers while others are for bubble jet printers and you do not want to mix them up. Working with Adobe Photoshop I scanned the kit decals and used them for size reference and font reference. The red tail markings were retooled and had the swastikas added, something the kit sheet was lacking. These were duplicated to make four sets and placed on a separate sheet that will be printed on white decal paper. All the rest of the markings will be printed on clear decal paper. The paper I am using Experts-Decal Film. Take a minute and compare these sheets to the original kit sheet at the beginning of this article – just a wee bit of a difference, wouldn’t you say? The images you see here are reproduced at 75dpi, when they go to print; they are being done at 200 dpi. For 1/72-scale decals on a bubble jet printer, I’ve found 200dpi gives me the best result. If you take the resolution up higher, the printer lays down so much ink that it blurs things out. For 1/48-scale 300 dpi seems to work best.
Here is a little tip – make sure you wipe down your model completely with an oil absorbing cloth like Micro-Sheen or a lint free rag dampened with Windex or other type of oil busting compound. If you do not when you spray your Future on the model every fingerprint will make the Future run away just like the three I left in the middle of the upper wing surface. So if you skip this so important step like I did then you’ll find yourself scrubbing that surface with a Windex soaked rag removing the Future and breaking down that fingerprint just like I did. What makes it even worse is that I am “The Future Guru”, I should know better. Lesson learned, or relearned, and I move on. The Future coat is reapplied and allowed to cure. This time the finish is perfect.
These next two shots show my little beach babes all ready to receive decals. All rigging was done with invisible thread installed before the final primer coat. All parts except the dual leading edge sensors (have to make those yet) are installed. The little stands that the models rest in are something I whipped together from scrap plastic and those will be painted black when all is said and done.
This project had been moving along with a good deal of momentum when suddenly it slammed into a brick wall, metaphorically speaking that is. I’m no stranger to printing my own decals but when I tried to print the large black lettering for these birds I started to run into difficulties. I’m using Experts-Decal Film in both white and clear and running this through a Lexmark 43 printer.
I starting with the “Zephir” and have applied all the markings and set them with a light coat of Micro-Sol setting solution. On the upper surface of the wing there are two odd little studs near the leading edge of the wing – these are the exhaust ports for the diesel engines. On some later models of the Do-18 there were large elongated black triangles painted on the wing surface to help disguise the heavy black soot marks. I’ve drilled out both of the exhaust ports and painted them Burnt Iron. Later in the weathering process I will add some soot staining to this area.
“Zephir” is ready to be set aside so the decals can dry down completely in preparation for another coat of Future and “Monsun” is heading onto the work table next. These two amphibians are getting very close to completion and the anticipation is building.
The stretch to the finish line is very short now. The decals were sealed with another coat of Future and a basic sludge wash was used to accent the panel lines. I drilled out small holes in the wing leading edge to accept stretched sprue pitot tubes. A piece of invisible thread was drawn across a black magic marker and then super glued into position for the aerial. Once everything had dried a final coat of Polly Scale Clear Flat was applied and the masks were removed from the model.
These old Matchbox kits may not look too appealing when you open the box but with a little tender loving care you can build them into nice models. I think this is a good thing to do because so many of us began the modeling adventure building these when we were little kids and it is an interesting trip down memory lane to reconstruct the model with the skills acquired over the years.
You may click on the small images to view larger pictures.
Special thanks to Matt Swan at Swanny's Models.Com for this article. Please visit Matt's site and read his very informative articles about plastic mdeling.
Images and text Copyright © 2004 by Matt Swan
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