Kit No. L098
Decals: One version
Comments: Extremely good fit, superior to some modern-day 1/72 kits
Cost: $10.00 (aftermarket)
The Morane-Saulnier 230, also known also as the Morane 230 or MS 230, first flew in 1929. This 1930’s-era French military trainer differed from its contemporaries, the Boeing Stearman and the DeHavilland Tiger Moth, both biplanes, in that it was a monoplane design with a parasol wing. It was the primary trainer used by the Armee de l’Air from its introduction in 1930 until the German invasion 10 years later. It was such a reliable and stable aircraft that it was reputedly the favorite of French aviator Michel Detroyat, and so popular with sports aviation enthusiasts that it was seen at a number of airshows in the 1930’s.
While it did not look much different in outward appearance from the comparatively delicate wood frame aircraft of World War I, the secret of the Morane 230’s ruggedness was its metal tube frame. Like its WWI predecessors, all surfaces of the MS 230 were fabric-covered — except for the forward sections of the fuselage where the engine and aircrew were located. These sections had a metal skin, and consistent with the practice of the time, were generally left in their original bare metal state.
A total of 1100 Morane 230’s were built. Many of them survived World War II and went on to become civilian trainers and a staple of European flying clubs after the war. Ironically, the most famous Morane 230 may be the one featured as the “new German monoplane” in the 1966 film The Blue Max starring George Peppard. In that WWI drama, Peppard’s character Bruno Stachel is killed during an aerobatic flying demonstration in the new experimental aircraft – something that probably could not have happened to actual Morane 230 pilots, given the type’s reputation for durability and strength.
Length: 22 ft. 10 in.; Wingspan: 35 ft. 1 in.
Height: 9 ft. 2 in.; Weight: 1,828 lbs. empty, 2,535 lbs. loaded
Powerplant: Salmson 9-cylinder air-cooled radial engine of 230 hp
Performance: Maximum speed 127 mph; Service Ceiling 16,500 ft.; Range 360 miles
The most prominent feature of this Heller kit is its extraordinarily good fit, given that it is 40-plus years old – the box art is dated 1967. The excellent fit is nowhere more evident than in the fuselage, which is comprised of 5 pieces, two for the main body halves and three representing the forward metal sections. I have never seen such relatively complex fuselage construction go together so well, particularly in 1/72 scale. Of the many resulting seams involved, only one left a noticeable gap that needed to be filled and sanded. It seems that a very high level of engineering went into this simple but superb mold, and Heller is to be complimented for achieving a standard probably unmatched by competitors in this scale until Tamiya and Eduard came on the scene.
The cockpit is a typical Spartan affair consisting of two in-line seats, two control sticks, and a partial floor. I found only one minor construction defect at this stage — you have to be careful gluing in the seats, as they do not line up quite as they should in relation to the cockpit openings in the upper fuselage, but this is easily remedied with careful adjustment before the glue sets. The mold of the upper fuselage piece containing the cockpit openings includes a section for the control panels, but there are no detailed pieces for the panels themselves and no decals to represent them. I painted the panel areas flat black to match the seats and moved on. The kit calls for the cockpit to be painted “gris” so I painted it Humbrol Light Ghost Grey Satin.
Next I masked the rudder and still-exposed cockpit, then airbrushed the fuselage, wings, tail surfaces and wheel caps with a Model Master acrylic, Dunkelblau RLM 24. Although the instructions call for the MS230 to be painted green, I wanted something a bit more colorful than the usual drab military colors. Since this aircraft was used for sport at the same time that it served the Armee de l’ Air as a trainer, I used RLM 24, an attractive shade of blue that, although of German origin, seemed in keeping with French aesthetics. I gambled and airbrushed – before construction — what would be the natural metal components with an undercoat of Gloss Black Base before using Alcad II Polished Aluminum, allowing 24 hours for drying time in between. I had to be very careful later when gluing these components – cowling, underside and cockpit openings – onto the fuselage, but it worked. I then turned to the rudder to paint the French tri-color, since although a decal is provided for this I knew paint would look more realistic, and anyway the kit’s 1967 vintage decals had seen better days. With successive maskings, I airbrushed the rudder in Model Master Guards Red, Tamiya Flat White, and Model Master Dark Blue, all acrylics.
I realized I would need some kind of a stencil to paint the inboard side of the wheels, so I taped the wheels to a photography clamp and airbrushed the exposed circular area. There are two protrusions beneath the cowl that are rather delicate, so once the wheels were dry, I cemented the landing gear on, before moving on to the engine and propeller, to give the protrusions and propeller some protection from accidental breakage.
The beautiful fit of the fuselage was matched only by the superb fit of the engine, consisting also of 5 separate pieces, not including the propeller, which spun with remarkable smoothness upon completion. Again, this is truly a well-engineered model – with one exception.
Next came the parasol wing, with the various connecting struts. Patience and cyanoacrylate glue will get you through this stage, but a second note about fit is appropriate here. Although the fuselage and engine fell together as though they were from a Tamiya kit, the wing assembly aligned properly only with effort. Since the wing is connected to the fuselage only by the struts, I was lucky in having to fiddle with it only briefly. I did a round of touch-up painting on the Alclad and RLM 24 before painting the coaming around the pilot and student’s positions. Reference photos had shown the coaming to be either black or a chestnut brown; I opted for flat black.
Finally came the secondary supporting struts, clear windshields and the only aftermarket parts I used, bits of ceramic wire from Precision Enterprises Limited. Once they were securely glued down, I gave the windshields a gentle going over with a small paintbrush that I’d dipped in Future floor polish.
As noted earlier, the kit decals were too old to be of any use. For the roundels on the wings and fuselage, I used decals from Azur’s 1/72 French V-156 Vindicator kit. For the call letters on the underside of the wing, I used decals from a 1/72 Microscale set of blue letters and numbers for U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft. The Azur decals responded extremely well to the Microscale system of decal application, and have that “painted on look,” but ironically the Microscale set did not, crinkling a bit and reacting poorly to the flat coat in particular. Special note for Azur fans: the wing roundels were flawless, but the fuselage roundels were slightly out of register.
This is a great little kit of an important part of French aviation during the Golden Age. Except for the wing, the fit is amazing given the kit’s age. The ruggedness and popularity of the Morane 230 recall a bygone era when France, not the United States, Germany or Britain, was the world leader in aviation. Considering its vintage, Heller produced an outstanding kit of an historical subject from the 1930’s that is probably more widely known in Europe than the U.S., even today.