Kit No. 8049
Decals: Two versions for pre-production Luftwaffe aircraft, dated 1941 and 1943
Comments: Engraved panel lines; resin wheels and pilot’s seat; photo etch details for cockpit (seat straps, instrument panels, rudder pedals, control levers, sidewall detail) and landing gear; includes canopy and wheel masks; optional position canopy; option for original HeS 8a turbojets or later Junkers Jumo 004s.
History records that the Messerschmitt Me 262 was Germany’s first jet fighter, but this is not strictly true. The first jet fighter developed by Germany was the Heinkel He 280, which flew for the first time on March 30, 1941 — well over a year before the first Me 262 took flight. Building on the success of the He 178 project, which proved the technical feasbility of jet propulsion, Ernst Heinkel rapidly moved on to develop the twin-engine He 280 jet fighter, whose maiden flight occurred just over 18 months after the He 178 first went aloft.
Unfortunately for Heinkel and for Germany, Hitler, the Luftwaffe High Command, and the RLM (German Air Ministry) were slow to appreciate the military applications of jet aircraft; technological marvel though it was, Heinkel’s He 280 initially met with a lukewarm reception from RLM officialdom. Even after the intervention of Ernst Udet, the RLM’s Chief of Aircraft Procurement and Supply, and a successful April 1941 head-to-head demonstration flight of the He 280 against an early version of the Focke Wulf Fw190, the machinery that could have placed the He 280 into the hands of Luftwaffe fighter pilots moved with infuriating sluggishness.
Heinkel’s jet, although ordered into pre-production, was unable to run the gauntlet of red tape and conservative thinking within the RLM bureaucracy that had to be overcome in order to enter service with the Luftwaffe. Cronyism within both the RLM and the Luftwaffe leadership under Hermann Goering, combined with Heinkel’s limited ability to ingratiate himself with the Nazi leadership (compared with that of his competitor Willy Messerschmitt) also played a role.
It was only two years later in the summer of 1943, with the development of Messerschmitt’s Me 262, that the RLM were ready to embrace the concept of a jet fighter. Aside from the politics, one of the key differences was speed: the He 280’s maximum speed, depending on the altitude, was in the range of 430 to 480 mph. For the Me 262, it was 565 mph, a quantum leap in performance that would remain beyond the capability of piston-engined Allied fighters for the duration of the war. Many point to this as the reason for the Me 262’s success and the He 280’s relative obscurity. But this overlooks advances in jet propulsion technology in the period 1941-44. The He 280 used the best technology available as of 1941, as did the Me 262 with its Junkers Jumo 004 powerplants three years later. There were plans to install Jumo 004’s to an He 280 airframe, but the RLM cancelled the He 280 project before this could be done.
While the Me 262 was a superior aircraft, it came on the scene two years after the He 280’s 1941 debut, and partly due to Adolf Hitler’s meddling, did not enter service until a full year after that — in the interim, precious time during a war of attrition was forever lost. Heinkel’s He 280 arguably represents a missed opportunity of strategic proportions; it could have given the Germans a short-term advantage in the air war at a point in time (late 1942 perhaps) that such an advantage was most desperately needed — but internal politics frittered this opportunity away, and led to the Messerchmitt Me 262’s association with the phrase, “too little, too late.”
For a more detailed history of Heinkel’s He 280, please see the kit prevue here.
As this is an Eduard kit, the overall fit was above average but there were some minor issues. The accuracy of the kit is superb, based on the abundance of reference photos to be found in the Schiffer book on the He 280.
The Profi-Pack version features resin parts for a cockpit seat (which I did not use) and realistically flattened wheels, as well as photo etched parts and painting masks.
Cockpit – The cockpit is remarkably well detailed, with PE parts for the instrument panels, individual levers, and rudder pedals. Noticeably absent is a gunsight, since the He 280 never progressed far enough in its development to have armament installed. The first decision you must make is whether to use the standard kit seat or the resin seat provided. I prepped and painted both, and in the end chose the kit seat, since it looked as though it would be easier to work with when it came time to cement on the PE seat straps. Working with photo etched parts really only requires there things: very good lighting, fine tweezers, and above all, patience.
The resin seat required a fair amount of clean-up with a hobby knife and was very nearly broken twice during that process. Once I got it painted I decided I’d had enough. Despite meticulous and repeated dry fitting, the cockpit floor was not 100% horizontal when I closed the fuselage up. It was off by a degree or two, and this was enough to put the pilot’s seat slightly but visibly off the horizontal plane when looking at it from dead ahead — a noticeable but not a glaring error.
Fuselage: Very sleek, aerodynamic and aesthetically appealing with its engraved panel lines. Only one thing of note here – absolutely do not forget to insert the metal weight provided into the nose before the fuselage is cemented together. Otherwise the finished kit is certain to be a tail sitter. This is obvious when looking at the angle at which the completed kit sits on its landing gear.
Tail assembly: This is noticeable for its passing similarity to the tail of the Heinkel He 219 (I can’t say it’s identical as I haven’t researched it), and is remarkable for the crisp and painstaking detail of its engraved panel lines. While there are locator pins for fitting the He 280’s twin tail to fuselage, they are not foolproof and do not provide a sufficiently solid join to ensure the tail is properly aligned either horizontally or laterally in relation to the fuselage. Halfway through the build I noticed this and broke the tail off, did some sanding of the fuselage half of the join surface to eliminate the remains of the locator pins, then used Testors liquid cement to ensure the plastic melded completely (I had used Revell Contacta initially), and left the whole thing to dry overnight, restrained from any movement in a makeshift but more geometrically accurate jig than what I had used initially. The result was satisfactory.
Wings: The wings had a visible gap on the top and bottom join seams once cemented to the fuselage. I used Milliput on the bottom seams and Tamiya putty on the top. This required a fair amount of sanding and smoothing afterward to eliminate the resulting scratches on the airframe, but came out alright. Squadron sanding sticks and Micro Mesh were of immeasurable assistance.
Engine nacelles: The fit of the nacelle assemblies themselves is fairly good, but still required puttying and sanding of the join seams which ran along the bottom of the nacelles. This represented a real speed bump in construction when it came to the inner lip of the intakes, where the seam, being in a bottom-dead-center position, was not only visible but was glaring. It was not easily remedied, since there is a separate minor assembly just beyond the lip for the face of the compressor and the intake chamber, which had to be assembled and painted before being cemented into the nacelle, and was sealed inside when the nacelle halves were joined.
The seam at the inner lip of the intake had to be eliminated without damaging the work that had been done just beyond it. Sandpaper wrapped around a round metal file and glued in place with Elmer’s glue, with Tamiya Putty and finally a small application of Zap-a-Gap, solved the problem. Luckily only minor touch-up painting afterward was required. Finally, one nacelle fit onto its wing with absolute precision; the other had a visibly stepped appearance and made for a bit of a sanding project with repeated putty applications.
Landing gear – I assembled the landing gear without difficulty and opted to use the flattened resin wheels provided. Small holes will need to be drilled using a pin vise so that the wheels can fit properly onto the kit’s landing gear. Go slow, as resin can be brittle and break easily. A lesson I learned the hard way — the wheels should be cemented to the gear using something other than quick drying cyanoacrylate glue, as they may need to be re-positioned slightly to ensure their flat edges are flush with the ground. I found Revell Contacta cement to work well. It took quite awhile — upwards of five hours — for the glue to fully set, but in this case it was a good thing. The most difficult wheel in terms of positioning was the nose wheel, so I left it for last.
One note on the painting masks provided in the kit. I used them with mixed results. The masks for the wheels worked flawlessly. The masks for the canopy and windshield had the wrong dimensions, being too small, and I used my usual reliable method, Tamiya tape, to complete the masking job. While the masks are flexible and will stretch a bit, their glue is not strong enough to hold them in position once they’re stretched. The masks for the canopy (as opposed to the windshield) are thin strips just wide enough to protect the outer edges of the canopy nearest the canopy frame — the remainder of the clear portion of the canopy must be covered either with tape or a liquid masking agent such as Maskol. I used these masks, but had to cut them in half, and use Tamiya tape and Maskol, to ensure coverage of the entire canopy.
The He 280 is airbrushed entirely in acrylics, with the exception of Floquil Weathered Black, a railroad color and petroleum-based paint, for the landing gear tires. The Floquil paint is an able replacement for Polly Scale’s acrylic Scale Black, which is excellent for depicting weather-beaten tires but has grown harder to find and may now be out of production.
Since the He 280 never advanced beyond the pre-production stage, during its brief life it was painted in RLM 02 overall. I used Mr. Hobby’s acrylic RLM 02, with Model Master Gunmetal No. 4681 for the engine exhaust nozzles. Occasionally as modelers we come across truly exceptional paint, memorable for its beauty, its texture, the ease with which we can work with it, or some combination of these. In the case of the RLM 02 Grey produced by Mr. Hobby (H70) — the modern-day morphing of the Gunze Sangyo line — it excels in every category. The He 280 is painted in Mr. Hobby’s acrylic RLM 02 inside and out, including the cockpit and wheel wells, as called for in the instructions. This is beautiful paint that airbrushes with remarkable ease, levels effortlessly, and does not build up in the airbrush nozzle. It is very attractive once it dries to a semi-gloss finish, and exceeds in quality any other brand of this color I have come across.
I limited the weathering to treating the panel lines using MiG Productions Dark Wash. This was a long process using a very fine paint brush, Q-tips, and a soft, clean rag to wipe and buff away the excess.
The machine depicted by the markings is an He 280 V3 flown by Fritz Shafer from Heinkel’s Rostock-Marienehe facility in the Summer of 1941.
Eduard’s decals are excellent but at the outset I made a rookie mistake: I cut into the surrounding film of the national markings for the upper wing surfaces, and this damaged the outer edges of those markings once they made contact with the water, to the point they were a write-off. Luckily I had spare German national markings in the form of a set of Eagle Strike decals for the Focke Wulf Fw 190, Set No. 48089, Butcher Birds of JG 1. I copped two markings from this set and kept going.
I used swastikas from an Aeromaster set, AN 48545, which feature a clear outline around the markings instead of the white outline provided by the kit swastikas, for a slightly different look. For the remainder of the decals I used the kit markings and found them to be of very high quality, each responding well to decal solvent and, after a fashion, laying down into the kit’s panel lines.
This is an outstanding kit of Germany’s first jet fighter, which, but for Nazi politics, might have posed a serious threat to Allied airpower from 1942 on.
Very highly recommended.