Messerschmitt Bf 109B-1 (early)

Kit:Heller 1/72 ($6.29 on eBay in 2007) + TrueDetails cockpit set for Bf 109E ($4.98 in 2007); finished on 2008-12-05, the day of the IPMS/Patriot Christmas party & "theme build")
Aircraft:an early version Bf 109B-1, "6-15", of 2/JG 88, Legion Condor, operating in Spain in 1937.
Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Construction Notes

The kit is reasonably accurate when it comes to measurements and shape. The top of the nose had to be "built up" a bit to make the model look more like a Bf 109B. I used a small piece of 5 thou sheet, putty, sanded everything to shape, finished with some Mr. Surfacer 500, and finally sanded with (all the way up to 12000 grit) wet sanding paper. Note that the gun ports had to be redone as well. The kit comes with C- and early D-model exhausts. These had to be completely cut off for a B-model (it only had holes in the cowling). I made a decal to represent the 6 holes.

For the cockpit interior, I used the True Details resin parts for the Bf 109E. They seemed to work reasonably well. Kit fuselage walls had to be sanded a bit thinner, and the resin sidewalls had to be cut a bit to fit with the resin "bottom". A new radiator had to be built under the wing (I cut the old one off). Wheel wells needed to be furnished; I built the sides from 5 thou strips. Main landing gear brake lines I made from thin steel wire.

My understanding is that most Legion Condor aircraft were painted RLM 77 (Lichtgrau) on the top side, with undersides RLM 65 (Hellblau). Some "color" photographs exist of this particular aircraft, but they look like they were colorized, hence some guesswork is called for. I used ModelMaster paints: RLM 63 Lichtgrau on the top side (very close to RLM 77) and RLM 65 on the underside. The panels around the exhausts look dark but not black, as a guess I used RLM 66 Schwartzgrau. Exhaust openings themselves I did using my own decals of "black dots". As a good guess, wheel wells and landing gear struts I painted in the gray primer RLM 02. In photographs, the propeller (fixed-pitch two-bladed metal prop) looks darker than the plane itself, but does not look "metallic", hence it got a coat of RLM 02 as well. Wheels I painted in RLM 66, tires are black.

I made my own decals for the Legion Condor aircraft "6-15". Heller decals were completely useless (very thick and didn't stick particularly well). Oil and gasoline hatch triangle markings came from an InScale sheet for Bf 109G. For weathering, I tried to give the plane a slightly "grimy" look (as per photographs of the original plane). This involved shaving off a pencil, mixing ever so slight amounts of the dust with Future floorwax, and brushing it onto select places on the plane. For exhaust stains, I started by dry-brushing ModelMaster "rust" color onto the fuselage, I then used the same pencil dust and spread it directly with a Q-Tip.

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Initial fuselage build-up

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Note the nose contour modification

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Wheel well sides

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Note the new oil cooler

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Initial paint job

Messerschmitt Bf 109B in 1/72

Landing gear attached, awaiting decals

Bf 109B decal sheet

Making your own decals

One of the things that always hindered me in the past in choosing a particular aircraft to model was the lack of appropriate decals. Sure, there are a lot of after-market decal sheets available, but since I always want to have some photographs of the actual (individual) aircraft that I am modeling, finding both photographs and decals for the same aircraft is often very difficult. Mostly, this is an issue of serial numbers, tail numbers, and other such details that identify the individual aircraft; national emblems, squadron markings, etc. you can typically find from those after-market decal sheets.

A few years ago I started experimenting with making my own decals, using decal paper, a graphics program on my computer, and a good printer. The process is simple:

  1. Design the artwork, and scale it appropriately.
  2. Print on decal paper.
  3. Apply protective coating.
  4. Cut out the decals, and apply normally.

The first phase is probably the most difficult, and usually the most time-consuming. I tend to use "Adobe Illustrator" on my Mac to do the graphics, but any reasonably capable graphics program will do. This article is not intended as a tutorial on how to use a graphics program; my experience is that the most capable programs (such as Illustrator) require some practice before you become proficient and can produce the result you desire.

If it is just a question of tail numbers, and you have the appropriate font available, you could even use a text editor (for example, there is a font available called "AmarilloUSAF", it gives you the USAF lettering). For my own favorite topic, the Finnish Air Force, [1] has a picture with all the different letters and digits for standard wartime tail numbers. I scanned the picture, and "extracted" each individual letter/digit into a separate image file. I can use these images to assemble any Finnish Air Force tail number very quickly, and then scale it to whichever size I need (I use Illustrator for the assembly). Similar reference sources exist for other air forces as well, e.g. [2] has information about Luftwaffe lettering. If you scan images, make sure the resulting files have sufficiently high resolution to print properly.

Next, how to print the decals. Several options exist, first you have a choice between a laser printer and an inkjet printer, and then whether to print on white or clear decal paper. Notice that most printers (certainly all laser and inkjet printers) cannot print white ink, since white is usually just a "hole" in the graphic. When you print on clear decal film, there is no white, since whatever color your model is (where the decal gets applied) will show through. I have been able to achieve a good result by either applying a separate white decal underneath my own decal, or painting the area white first before applying my decal. A company called ALPS used to make dye-sublimation printers which were capable of also printing white, but I don't think these are available anymore.

If you only need black lettering/graphics, you can print on photo paper using an inkjet, and then photocopy on decal paper intended for laser printers, since copiers effectively use the same technology as laser printers. Inkjet printout may sometimes bleed when the decal is applied and gets wet. In any case, the printed decals have to be coated before application. When I used the Microscale "Liquid Decal Film" I had some minor bleeding of colors, but after I switched to the Krylon Acrylic "Crystal Clear" coating (in a spray can), I have not had any issues. Krylon now allows me to print directly on the decal paper using my inkjet printer. I have only used "Experts-Choice" decal paper from Bare-Metal Foil Co., but other choices exist as well.

I try to format my decals in such a way that I can print on the top edge of the decal paper sheet. I then slice off the decal using a paper cutter, and the remaining sheet can be printed on again (decal paper tends to be pricey). Also note that printing on white decal paper means that your decal will eventually have to be trimmed very carefully; with clear decal paper you don't necessarily have to be quite as precise. Regardless, what you end up after printing and coating is one big decal with all the graphics attached, so some trimming and cutting is called for.

The resulting decals can be applied normally. I have had good results using MicroSol as the setting solution to get my decals to properly conform to the contours of the model.


  1. Warpaint - Finnish Air Force camouflage and markings 1939-45 (Keskinen & Stenman); History of the Finnish Air Force vol.23
  2. Luftfahrt International Nr. 1 (Jan/Febr 1974)

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