by William H. Geoghegan1
Model photographs by the author
Though it is not widely appreciated, Poland achieved a prominent position in the field of aircraft design within only fifteen years of its independence at the end of World War I. Half a dozen aircraft companies had sprung up in Poland in the years immediately following the war, producing a number of innovative designs for both military and civilian planes. Preeminent among them was Państwowe Zakłady Lotnicze (PZL, the State Aircraft Institute), which benefited from the novel designs of Zygmunt Puławski, its principal aircraft builder. It was Puławski who was responsible for the high gull wing of the early PZL fighter designs, a configuration that eventually came to be known as the "Polish wing." The intent was to reduce drag by attaching the wing to the upper fuselage directly, without struts or other additional support. It also gave the pilot good visibility while retaining the aerodynamic qualities of the high wing.
The original prototype for the series, the P.1, was first flown in 1929. It used an inline Vee engine rather than the radial designs upon which the Polish Department of Aeronautics eventually standardized. In early fighter competitions, the P.1 took top honors in a number of categories. Additional radial-engined prototypes (P.6 and P.7) were introduced in 1930 and 1931, and they created considerable interest internationally, in Europe, Asia Minor and the United States. The P.11 prototypes soon appeared, scoring highly in several international competitions (including the Cleveland Air Races). Romania placed an order for 50 of the fighters fitted with Gnôme-Rhone engines, designated P.11b, and the Lotnictwo Wojskowe ordered another 50 of the P.11a variant (which used Mercury ISV2 radials).
The P.11c represented a major modification. The engine was lowered; the cockpit was changed to provide better visibility, the tail section was redesigned, and provision was made for mounting two additional guns in the wings. Some 175 examples of the type were produced for the Lotnictwo Wojskowe from 1934 through 1936; another 70 were license-built by IAR in Romania.
Although the P.11 was state of the art when it was first introduced, it had become nearly obsolete by the outbreak of war in 1939. When Germany invaded Poland during "Black September" of that year (in an operation ironically named "Weiss"), the Polish air force was ill-equipped to counter the massive Luftwaffe onslaught. However innovative the Polish aircraft industry had been in the early thirties, German advances in military aircraft design and production left the Polish forces severely outclassed in terms of aircraft performance, and in sheer numbers of planes. Germany was able to send almost 2,000 combat aircraft against Poland in the first days of the war, which Poland could answer with only 400 planes, of which 100 had little or no combat value.
Despite this, the Polish air force acquitted itself with heroism and unanticipated success. Pilots flying the PZL P.11c were able to down about 120 German aircraft of various types during the early days of the war, including some 10 Bf-109's and 13 Bf-110's, while losing only 26 aircraft of their own in aerial combat. Put this down to the fact that the P.11c was a sturdy and extremely maneuverable airplane, and that its pilots had been rigorously trained in dog-fighting and gunnery - far more, it would appear, than the relatively inexperienced German pilots they faced. Ground losses were severe, however, and much of the Polish air force saw action only as targets for German bombers.
As September wore on, and the hopelessness of the situation became increasingly obvious, large numbers of Polish pilots and aircrews made their way to Romania, where they were briefly interned. Polish gold that the government had taken out of the country was used to buy their freedom, and many of the pilots and crews, now bloodied by battle and intent on revenge and liberation, made their way to England. There they regrouped as a Polish air force in exile, using British aircraft and facilities, admirably acquitting themselves in the Battle of Britain and throughout the remainder of the war.
It is ironic, perhaps, that with the end of the war and the certain realization that Poland was facing not liberation but a new form of foreign domination, the British presented the Polish government in exile with a bill for $80 million to cover the "rental" of equipment and facilities used to fight the war.
Of all the PZL P.11c aircraft produced during the years before the war, only one survives. It belonged to 121 Eskadra based at Rakowice near Kraków. It had been captured by the Germans and was brought back to Poland following the end of the war. The plane has been restored to flying condition and is now housed at the Polish Aviation Museum in Kraków, at the very site where it was originally stationed.
|Wingspan:||10.72m (35' 2")|
|Length:||7.55m (24' 9")|
|Height:||2.85m (9' 4")|
|Weight:||1147.5 kg (2530 lbs) empty
1650-1800 kg (3637-3968 lbs) full
|Speed:||Max 375 km/h (233 mph)
Min 110 km/h (68 mph)
|Range:||503-550 km (312-342 miles)|
|Powerplant:||Skoda Mercury VS2 438kW (595hp)
(license built Bristol Mercury)
|Armament:||4 x PWU wz.33 cal 7.9mm MG |
2 in fuselage and 2 in wing (version as shown)
1 x 50 kg or 4 x 12.5 kg bombs (110 lb total)
Many aircraft lacked the wing guns because of supply
problems and the effect of extra weight on performance.
The subject of the model reviewed here is a PZL P.11c of 142 Eskadry Mysliwska, 4 Dywizjon Mysliwski (142 Fighter Squadron of the 4th Air Wing), based in Toruniu during September, 1939. It was flown by Lt. Stanislaw Skalski who, with 4.5 victories to his credit, became the highest scoring Polish fighter pilot of the September 1939 air war. After escaping through Romania to Great Britain, he joined the Polish Air Force in exile, and went on to become the highest scoring Polish ace of the war, with between 18 and 21 confirmed victories (accounts vary on the exact number). Lt. Skalski also led "Skalski's Circus," the Polish Fighting Team that shipped out to Tunisia in 1943 to harass German and Italian operations in North Africa and the Mediterranean.
This kit comes from Poland's Marek Pacyński, a prolific designer of 1:50 scale cardmodel aircraft whose kits are distributed in printed form in Europe under the KEL label, and in CD-ROM format in the U.S. under the Models by Marek name. Each CD-ROM in the latter series typically contains four to six different models which, given a price tag of US $10.00 (plus $1.00 for shipping and handling), represents a real bargain. The CD-ROM from which this model was built, contained in addition to the P.11c, for example, a Horten-Gotha H-229A, three Bf-109F variants in different livery, and a Pfalz D.XII (an unadvertised "freebie").
Marek Pacyński's designs are distinguished by excellent engineering and very precise fit. There are few hidden traps to snare the unwary builder, and the models normally go together extremely well. The level of detail is moderate, but highly consistent throughout the design. Canopies are normally opaque or, in the case of open cockpit aircraft such as the P.11c, a simple seat and instrument panel may be included. The rotary engine in this design was simulated by a printed disk, although some more recent designs have included built-up engines with considerably more detail. Surface detail and markings are well done and appropriate to the overall level of detail. All in all, it is the consistency of detail and the accuracy of Marek's designs that allows for the very pleasing results that seem to come with every completed kit. These are not kits that I would attempt to super-detail. They don't need it. In the case of the P.11c, I added a radio antenna and the wing pylons to support it, along with the undercarriage supports that are fairly evident in the original aircraft. The flat disc that simulates the engine could easily be replaced with rolled cylinders printed from scratch or copied from other kits (e.g., Marek's Lublin R-XIIID, which includes a built-up engine of similar design).
The CD-ROM version of the kits is intended for use by someone with a computer and a color printer capable of handling standard card stock. The advantage, of course, lies in the fact that backup copies of the parts sheets can be printed for use when and if a part is lost or damaged during construction. Given the technology included in today's desktop color printers, even the very inexpensive ones, the quality of printed copies rivals that of most commercially printed card models. The one potential drawback of builder printed kits is the fact that the inks used in most inkjet printers will fade with time, especially in bright light.
The parts sheets for the P.11c are in the form of a two page PDF file (Adobe's "Portable Document Format") sized for printing on European A4 stock. In the U.S., legal size card stock can be substituted for A4 stock, or sheets of artists' bristol, available in 9" by 12" pads, can be cut down to 8½" width. Adobe's free Acrobat Reader is needed to print the file. It comes standard on most home computers these days, but can also be downloaded at no charge from the Adobe Corporation Web site. DeWayne Barnett, who produces and distributes the CD-ROMs in the "Models by Marek" line, also includes a copy of each design in CDR (Corel Draw) format. Those who have access to Corel Draw (and know how to use it), can modify the design if they like or, more commonly, change the color scheme, insignia, or other markings to create a new version.
It's worth noting that Mr. Pacyński has recently expanded his offerings to include much more highly detailed designs in 1:33 scale format. These are also available in CD-ROM format from Models by Marek.
Marek's P.11c is a fairly straightforward model to build, so long as you think ahead and plan your building sequence so as to avoid one or two problems that might otherwise sneak up on you. The sequence that seems to work best in this case is to complete the fuselage first, followed by the tail assembly and landing gear. Then build and install the wing; add the engine and cowling; and then finish assembly with the wheels, windscreen and prop. Final detailing can include the landing gear struts, and radio antenna.
I began by following my usual practice of printing out two copies of the parts sheets on card stock and one set on regular inkjet paper, all at the highest resolution my printer would support. (This is done more to insure uniformity of color than it is to achieve additional detail.) I used my standard card stock, Wausau Exact Index (90 lb, or 165 g/sm), though more recently I have switched to much smoother and whiter (and more expensive) artist's bristol of about the same thickness. At this point, you might also want to pull out colored pencils (I like watercolor pencils) or paints in colors to match the model. Medium brown, olive drab, light blue, and black will be needed to touch up cut edges, paint tires, and so on.
All of the red-numbered parts should be backed or reinforced by gluing them to cardboard of .5mm to .8mm thickness. Shirt cardboard will do, though I prefer something a little denser and less flexible. Artist's illustration board does a good job, and it can be found in many surfaces and thicknesses. Use sufficient glue to insure complete adhesion, and be sure to allow enough time for the glue to dry thoroughly. You do not want the parts to de-laminate when you cut them out.
Marek's models use what is commonly referred to as the "butt-joint" method of fuselage construction. The fuselage is built up from a series of cylindrical or conical sections, each of which has a bulkhead former glued flush with each end. The fuselage is assembled by gluing the sections together. A couple of simple steps can be taken to insure that the sections mate properly and don't leave you with highly visible seams.
There are several unusual aspects of the P.11c's fuselage that need to be taken into account during assembly.
Before gluing the fuselage segments together, color the cut edges of the skin sections to match the skin. Once the segments have been assembled and glued, carefully attach the pilot's headrest, round the fairing that runs from the headrest to the tail, and attach it where indicated.
The rudder is attached by first gluing in place a vertical former (part I). The rudder skin is then folded along its leading edge (though with a not-too-sharp crease) and shaped around the former and the rear of the fuselage. The bottom of the rudder should be rounded to blend into the rear of the aft fuselage section (see illustration). Fillets are added to the base of the rudder's leading edge to fair it into the top of the fuselage. I used the cardstock fillets, but parts cut from the thinner sheet might be a better choice.
Once the rudder is installed, insert the elevator spar through the slots earlier cut into the aft fuselage section. Bend the elevators, avoiding a too-sharp leading edge, glue them shut along the trailing and outer edges, slide them over the spar and glue them flush to the fuselage. No fairings are needed. In gluing shut the trailing edges of the rudder and elevator, use glue sparingly, and limit it as much as possible to the point of contact at the edge. This helps to maintain the correct airfoil. As always, dryfit and adjust before gluing. You can attach the elevator supports at this point, along with the tail skid. Touch up all exposed cut edges with watercolors or colored pencils.
This is also a good time to install the landing gear struts, which are formed over the wire that should have been installed when the fuselage sections were assembled. This is much more difficult to do if you wait until after the wing is attached. If you neglected to install the strut support wire while assembling the fuselage segments (as I did), it can still be done at this time. Cut a slot in the front of section 2, and maneuver the bent wire through holes punched or drilled behind the bulkhead at the bottom of the section (see illustration). It is best not to bend the ends of the struts to form axles for the wheels until after the support is installed. The wire can be tacked to the bulkhead with cyanoacrylate (CYA) glue, and secured with tacky glue. The wing will cover and hide the slot in the top of the fuselage. The instructions call for 0.5mm wire for this support. If you use piano wire, available in most hobby shops, a slightly thinner wire may be easier to work with.
Building and installing the wing is by far the most difficult and trouble-prone step in assembling this model. The unusual gull-like form of the "Polish wing" is the principal reason, since the shape makes it difficult to keep the leading and trailing edges straight and free of warps. The following suggestions might help avoid the more serious problems:
Once the wing has been completed, it is attached to the fuselage with parts 2B and 17 (see photo). The wing guns can be installed at this point (it is best to drill holes to receive the guns after the wing has been assembled), and the struts can be installed. It is not called for in the instructions, but I used .020" piano wire to stiffen and reinforce the struts before gluing them in place.
The "engine" in this kit is extremely simple: just a reinforced disc with printed cylinders that is fitted and glued over the conical nose section. It would be relatively easy to build up a simple 3-dimensional representation of the 9-cylinder radial by rolling a series of printed cylinders from card stock and adding wire or stretched sprue to simulate the exhaust manifold. The cowling is also quite simple, consisting of a cylinder and a conical ring. The latter should be very carefully glued to the main cowling in order to simulate a smooth rounded flow from front to rear. The cowling is slid over the engine disk and glued in place, and the resulting assembly is then glued to the nose section. The propeller and spinner can be constructed at this point and glued in place. It should be possible to install a rotating propeller, if that is preferred.
Glue the bottom air intake in place and then install the windscreen. I used the printed windscreen, which is opaque. If you prefer, you could remove the printed "glazing" and glue transparent material behind the frame. Be sure to color the inside of the frame before doing so. The tail skid can also be assembled and installed at this point.
The wheels are built up from an inner and outer printed disc (reinforced with cardboard) and a reinforced inner disc. The resulting assembly is about 1.5-2.0mm thick. I prefer to shape the resulting sandwich, when dry, to a realistic cross-section by using fine wet-and-dry sandpaper. Once I have the proper cross-section, I paint the exposed surfaces with Floquil "weathered black" model paint. This paint may be hard to come by (my supply is about 20 years old -- though still perfectly usable), but any dark gray should work. The painted surface can be buffed to a mild sheen with a cloth or paper towel.
This completes the model "out of the box." I elected to add a few more items to bring the realism level up a notch. Those P.11c's equipped with radios had a 3-wire antenna that ran from the tail to both wing-tips and from a vee near the tail to the fuselage. Using photos of the original aircraft, I made two small pylons from scrap material and glued them on the wingtips (location determined from numerous drawings and photos). For the antenna I used #8/0 fly-tying thread stiffened with CYA.
I also added shock absorber struts between the landing gear axles and the fuselage. The P.11c had internal shock absorbers, but the connecting rods were very obvious in photos and drawings. I made these from .012" brass wire painted gunmetal gray.
Like all of Marek's designs that I have worked with to date, this model was just plain fun to build. It had its challenges, as you might expect, but no points of deep frustration, and no problems that were resistant to a solution. The parts count is about half that of the typical 1:33 scale model from Poland, and the level of detail is only moderate. Nevertheless, the result comes together very well, both from an engineering perspective and from an artistic standpoint. Maybe I'm partial to those unique but quite graceful Polish designs from the 1930's; maybe it's a fascination with the unusual. But Marek's designs work for me, and they add a tremendous amount of enjoyment to what can at times be a difficult and demanding hobby.
|Model:||Stanislaw Skalski's PZK P.11c (1939)|
|Kit:||Models by Marek WWII Volume 1 (CD-ROM)|
|Price:||CD-ROM with 6 models: US$10.00 plus shipping and handling|
|Difficulty:||2-3 on a scale of 5|
|Number of Parts:||80|
|Time Required:||10-25 hours, depending on one's speed and attention to detail|
|Diagrams:||Minimal, but adequate|
|Coloring and Artwork:||Good, but depends upon one's printer|
1 An earlier version of this article appeared as part of a "Paper or Plastic" double feature in the October 2002 issue of the now-defunct Airandseamodels.com. It also appeared in the January 2003 issue of Cardmodelers Online.
Copyright © 2003 by William H. Geoghegan