Kit No. 8046
Decals: Two versions
Comments: Engraved panel lines; detailed cockpit; complete Mercedes engine
The Pfalz D.IIIa, a sleek, rugged, but underpowered fighter appearing in the last year of the Great War, improved upon the original Pfalz D.III with a new wing, a larger tail, a more powerful Mercedes 180 hp engine, and the relocation of the main armament of two 7.92mm Maxim machine guns from the cockpit interior to a position just forward of the cockpit on top of the fuselage. This last modification was a direct result of the most frequent complaint of pilots, that the location of the guns in the D.III completely denied them adequate access to clear them in the event of a jam while in flight. As for the new engine, while it was an improvement over the 160 hp output of the D.III powerplant, the D.IIIa still had a slower rate of climb and larger turning circle than its contemporaries, the Albatros D.V and the Fokker Dr.I.
Deliveries of the Pfalz D.III to operational units began in August 1917. While markedly better than the earlier L.F.G. Roland designs which Pfalz Flugzeugwerke had previously manufactured, the D.III was generally considered inferior to the Albatros D.III and D.V. German pilots criticized the Pfalz’s heavy controls and low speed. The new fighter had an unfortunate tendency to slip in turns, leading to crashes when unwary pilots turned at very low altitudes. Moreover, the Pfalz stalled sharply, spun readily, and was difficult to recover from the resulting flat spin, but some pilots took advantage of these traits to dive at high speeds, evade enemy aircraft, or both. In response to combat reports from pilots, the D.IIIa was rapidly developed and appeared at the front in November 1917.
The Pfalz’s primary advantage was its strength and sturdiness owing to its rugged monocoque construction, composed of spruce longerons (main longitudinal braces) and oval plywood formers. The fuselage was then wrapped with two layers of plywood strip in a spiral fashion in opposing directions, and then covered in fabric which was then painted with dope. The vertical tail fin was part of the main fuselage and made of fabric covered wood. The rounded rudder, however, was made of steel tube
construction and covered in fabric. All of this made for an extremely rugged airframe; while they were slow, the Pfalz fighters could withstand punishment, including the stress of high speed dives. In contrast, the Albatros scouts were plagued in dives by the failure of their single-spar lower wings; but the Pfalz could safely dive at high speeds due to its twin-spar lower wing. For this reason, the Pfalz was well-suited to hit-and-run attacks on enemy aircraft from an altitude advantage, and diving attacks on observation balloons, which were usually heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns trained to the balloon’s altitude.
Although never as popular with pilots as the Fokker and Albatros, the Pfalz D.III and D.IIIa helped round out the operational strength of the Luftstreitkräfte at a time late in the war when the demand for production of more capable fighters always outstripped the supply. With the appearance of the Fokker D.VII in the Spring of 1918, all three of the aforementioned fighters began to be withdrawn from front-line service, with the Pfalz D.IIIa going to training units.
Pfalz built approximately 260 D.III and 750 D.IIIa aircraft. Most were delivered to Bavarian Jastas. Once Pfalz completed the final batch in May 1918, production shifted to the D.IIIa’s successor, the D.XII. Some aircraft from the final D.IIIa batch were delivered to Turkey.
As of 30 April 1918, 433 D.IIIa scouts were still in front-line use. By 31 August, that number had declined to 166. Although many serviceable aircraft were sent to advanced training schools, 100 aircraft remained in front-line use at the time of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
Designed By: Rudolph Gehringer
Manufacturer: Pfalz Flugzeugwerke GmbH
First Flight: April 1917
In Service: 1917-1918
Primary Operator: Luftstreitkräfte
Number Built: approximately 1010
Powerplant: 1× Mercedes D.IIIaü, inline watercooled engine, 180 hp (119 kW)
Wingspan: 30 ft 10 in (9.40 m)
Wing Area: 238.6 ft² (22.17 m²)
Length: 22 ft 9 in (6.95 m)
Height: 8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)
Empty Weight: 1,521 lb (690kg)
Max Takeoff Weight: 2,061 lb (935 kg)
Maximum Speed: 115 mph (185 km/h) at sea level; 102.5 mph at 9,842 ft; 91.5 mph at 15,000 ft
Service Ceiling: 17,060 ft (5,200 m)
Rate of Climb: 33 minutes to 15,000 ft (4,600 m)
Armament: 2× 0.312 in 7.92 mm LMG 08/15 “Spandau” machine guns
The first step involves cementing in a series of sidewall providing cockpit detail, including what appear to be a pair of wooden braces. There is also raised detail already molded into the fuselage interior halves, that, once painted and shaded with a dark wash, help give the cockpit a realistic appearance. Since the Pflaz fuselage was made of layered plywood, the cockpit interior is painted in Humbrol Natural Wood. The molded-on interior framing, which was also wood, is done in Humbrol Sand to provide a bit of contrast. Once the sidewall details are complete, the basic components of the seat, control stick, and instrument panel are next. The Pfalz had a single airspeed dial mounted in the center of a wooden half-moon dash, and Eduard provides a decal for the dial. There is a two-piece control stick, rudder pedals, and a firewall.
The cockpit is dressed up with Eduard’s D.IIIa detail set (sold separately, as this was not a Profi-Pak kit), including a metal frame for the pilot’s seat, seat straps, detailed rudder pedals, a trigger mechanism for the control stick, bulkheads for the floor and rear wall, and additional sidewall detail. Additional photo-etch parts are provided for the exterior details, including the radiator grill atop the wing, a gunsight, and braces for the landing gear. To these I added a seat cushion made of facial tissue dampened with Elmer’s glue and painted when dry.
There is a complete Mercedes engine consisting of six parts, including an exhaust manifold to drive gases away from the cockpit and along the right side of the fuselage. There is a separate mount for the engine. The machine guns are fair in their detail as far as the perforated jackets, but could stand a dressing up with more detailed molding of the rear portion of the guns or PE parts (and unfortunately Eduard’s PE set for the Pfalz provides no machine gun parts).
Attaching the Upper Wing
Construction is utterly trouble-free until it is time to mount the upper wing. There are four sets of struts on which to do this, each with two contact points each. The dry fitting exercises were not encouraging, as the struts simply would not line up, but in the event it looked more difficult than it was. Despite the fact that the instructions call for cementing the exhaust manifold to the engine before attaching the upper wing, I deliberately left the manifold off so as to have
an uncluttered fuselage to work with in the event of any difficulties. I laid the upper wing upside down on a soft cloth on the workbench, so as not to damage the lozenge camouflage paint job (although it was already sealed with Future). I then made a final dry fit – an important note here is that the eight attachment points are unlikely to all line up perfectly no matter what you do. Not to worry. I reasoned that all I needed to do was to cement the struts in methodically, two at a time, with cyanoacrylate glue, letting the attachment points dry before moving on to the next set of struts. The outboard struts on the starboard wing were cemented in first with quick-drying c.a. glue, and given 10 minutes to dry. Then the starboard inboard struts, then the port inboard
struts, and finally the port outboard struts, each with a pause for drying times in between. This worked beautifully, and the wing was attached by eight sturdy connections.
The landing gear are tricky, but like the wing can be conquered with patience. This step reveals the only notable defect in the kit instructions, as the illustration of this assembly sheds no light on how the parts all fit together – it seemingly happens by magic.
The landing gear consists of five parts: the two wheels, a single part that is a central axle coupled with an aerodynamic fairing which covers most of its length in the middle, and two V-shaped struts (which are cemented to points beneath the wing and forward fuselage). Repeated dry fitting showed that the wheels attached to the axle just fine, and the struts attached to the fuselage OK, but there did not appear to be any way – short of using excessive amounts of glue – to attach the axle to the struts.
The lesson here was, when in doubt, study the parts and look for any distinguishing physical features. The instructions give no hint of this, but one side of each of the V-shaped struts has two small holes in it, one on each side of the bend in the strut. Each side of the axle fairing has three salient points: the axle, in the middle; and on either side of it, the fairing comes to two sharp points. These two points are to be cemented into the holes in the inboard side of each of the V-struts. Realizing this, I completed the assembly in less than five minutes. Once finished, it is still a bit spindly, but using c.a. glue will provide a sufficiently strong bond for the landing gear to hold.
The Pfalz’ base color of dark blue is a mix of three Tamiya acrylics: Royal Blue, Purple and Black – the end result is similar to Royal Blue, but is actually much darker, closer to Navy. The lozenge pattern on the upper wing was painted by hand using Tamiya and Model Master enamels, combined with Model Master and Vallejo acrylics – 10 colors in all.
The kit decals are of excellent quality and for the most part settled down immediately and did not require Decal Set or solvent of any kind. The caveat with decals of such high quality is that they will not move around much once in contact with the model, so position them carefully before sliding them into place from their paper backing. The markings depicted are for the mount of Carl von Degelow of Jasta 40 in the Summer of 1918. However, the authentic paint scheme for this aircraft was a black fuselage with aluminum wings, as depicted on the box art. The model depicts a dark blue fuselage and lower wing, with a lozenge pattern for the upper wing.
Eduard’s kit is an excellent rendition of the D.IIIa, nicely detailed, with excellent fit throughout, and very accurate lines. Even without the addition of the detail set, this kit builds into an eerily realistic replica of this WWI fighter. Highly recommended.
- Classic WWI Aircraft Profiles: Volume 2, by Edward Shacklady & Terry C. Treadwell; Cerebrus Publishing Limited, 2002; Bristol, England.
- Windsock Datafile 21: Pfalz D.IIIa by P.M. Grosz; 1995; Albatros Productions Limited.