Kit No. Ro 414
Decals: Three versions – Two for United States Air Service; One for United States Marines
Comments: Detailed cockpits with interior fuselage structure; detailed engine cylinder bank, twin forward-firing Marlin guns, Scarff ring-mounted rear Lewis gun, three types of underwing bombs with racks, acetate film windscreens and rigging diagram; extra bombs and machine guns for your parts box
The DH-4 was operated by the U.S. Army Air Service both during and after World War I. When the United States entered WWI in April 1917, the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps only had 132 aircraft, all obsolete. Modeled from a combat-tested British De Havilland design, the DH-4 was the only U.S. built aircraft to see combat during WWI. With inadequate funding to buy new aircraft, the newly created U.S. Army Air Service continued to use the DH-4 in a number of roles during the lean years following the war. By the time it was finally retired from service in 1932, the DH-4 had been developed into over 60 variants.
The Great War
During WWI, the Air Service used the DH-4 primarily for daylight bombing, observation and artillery spotting. The first American-built DH-4 arrived in France in May 1918, and the 135th Aero Squadron flew the first DH-4 combat mission in early August. By war’s end, 1,213 DH-4s had been delivered to France. Unfortunately, the early DH-4s had flaws, including the fuel system. The pressurized gas tank had a tendency to explode and a rubber fuel line under the exhaust manifold caused some fires. This led to the title “The Flaming Coffin,” even though only eight of the 33 DH-4s lost in combat by the United States burned as they fell.
Furthermore, the location of the gas tank between the pilot and observer limited communication and could crush the pilot in an accident. For these reasons, American pilots sometimes preferred to fly the French Breguet 14 or Salmson 2A2 bombers, if they could get hold of them. Perhaps the most notable mission flown in the DH-4 was the brave attempt by 1st Lt. Harold Goettler and 2nd Lt. Erwin Bleckley of the 50th Aero Squadron to find and assist the famed “Lost Battalion” on Oct. 6, 1918. During a resupply mission to this surrounded unit, their DH-4 was shot down. Both men were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Of the three U.S. companies that built the DH-4 during WWI, the largest producer was the Dayton-Wright Company of Dayton, Ohio. The Air Service ordered over 12,000 DH-4s, but several problems kept initial production figures low and construction quality poor. The many changes involved in converting the design to American production standards, along with the use of the American Liberty 12-cylinder engine rather than the Rolls Royce Eagle engine powering the original British version, contributed to early production delays. The Liberty was of comparable size but more reliable than its Rolls Royce counterpart, and led to a slightly redesigned nose section. As the months of 1918 passed, however, quantity and quality improved considerably. By the end of the war, Dayton-Wright delivered 3,106 DH-4s, while the Fisher Body Division of General Motors built 1,600 and the Standard Aircraft Corporation added another 140, bringing the total to 4,846. The remaining 7,500 DH-4s still on order were cancelled.
With few funds to buy new aircraft in the years following WWI, the Air Service used the DH-4 in a variety of roles, such as transport, air ambulance, aerial photography, trainer, target tug, forest fire patroller, and even as an air racer. In addition, the U.S. Post Office operated the DH-4 as a mail carrier. The DH-4 also served as a flying test bed at McCook Field in the 1920s, testing turbosuperchargers, propellers, landing lights, engines, radiators and armament. There were a number of notable DH-4 flights such as the astounding New York to Nome, Alaska, flight in 1920, the record-breaking transcontinental flight in 1922 by Jimmy Doolittle — and the first successful air-to-air refueling in 1923. 1,538 DH-4s were modified during 1919-1923 to DH-4Bs by moving the pilot’s seat back and the now unpressurized gas tank forward, correcting the most serious problems in the DH-4 design. A further improved version was the DH-4M whereby over 300 DH-4s received new steel tube fuselages.
Mexican Border Patrol
Continued raids by Mexican bandits on American homesteads led to the creation of the United States Army Border Air Patrol in June 1919. Comprised of eight squadrons and a photographic unit at its peak, the Border Air Patrol operated out of a string of rough airfields along the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite the loss of aircraft and aircrews to the harsh conditions in the Southwest, the Border Air Patrol put an end to bandit attacks by the summer of 1921.
Crew: Two (pilot and observer/gunner)
Armament: Two .30-cal. Marlin machine guns in the nose and two .30-cal. Lewis machine guns in the rear; 322 lbs. of bombs
Engine: 400-hp Liberty 12-cylinder in-line engine
Maximum speed: 128 mph
Cruising speed: 90 mph
Range: 400 miles
Ceiling: 19,600 ft.
Span: 43 ft. 6 in.
Length: 30 ft. 6 in.
Height: 10 ft. 4 in.
Weight: 3,557 lbs. loaded
Roden’s DH 4 is injection molded in grey and consists of 230 detailed parts, reflecting new tooling painstakingly designed to accurately reflect the fabric-over frame effect not only on the wings, but also the fuselage. The kit parts are in one clear, sealed plastic bag, the instructions and decals in another. The cockpits are highly detailed, with dual control columns, molded detail on the instrument panel, a separate cushion for the pilot’s seat, and an accurately positioned fuel tank between the pilot and observer/gunner’s positions.
The fuselage is not the usual two halves, but fortunately it is also not the multi-part, “Erector set” type assembly featured in some Amodel or even Roden kits. It is a three-part affair with two halves and a top, and the top portion is well-detailed with ribbing representing cooling vents for the Liberty engine, and nicely done coaming around the opening for the pilot’s position. The instructions provide a rigging diagram.
There are a multitude of bombs of four different sizes, all highly detailed, with extras to spare. The most aerodynamic of the lot do not appear in the kit illustrations, and look like the type sometimes mounted on the side of the fuselage, and dropped from a vertical position from racks designed specifically for that purpose. Unfortunately, parts are not provided for these “vertical drop” racks. However, there is plenty of variety in the weaponry, particularly for the machine guns: the kit instructions call for three (or at most four, if you opt to mount dual Lewis guns on the Scarff ring mount for the rear observer/gunner) machine guns to be used, however, the kit provides no fewer than 10 machine guns. Six appear to be Lewis guns, two Marlin machine guns, and two water-cooled American Colt Browning .30 caliber guns.
There are decals for three versions: “Red 19,” No. 32457, of the 20th Aero Squadron (Bombing), U.S. Air Service, France, 1918. Red 19 is painted in a scheme of olive green top surfaces over cream; “White D-11,” No. 32274, of the U.S. Marine Corps Northern Bombing Group, flown by 2nd Lieutenant J.F. Gibbs with 2nd Lieutenant F. Nelms as his observer, based at Fresne air field, Netherlands, as it appeared after a raid on Lokeren in Belgium on October 28, 1918. This aircraft too is painted in a scheme of olive green top surfaces over cream; and finally “White 17,” No. 32808, of the 11th Aero Squadron (Bombing), U.S. Air Service, flown by Lt. John L. Garlough with Lt. Robert C. Payton as his observer, Maulan, France, 1919, in a scheme of overall olive green.
- The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=324
- Roden DH 4 instruction sheet