Bottom line up front: I am not a fan of WW1 aircraft, particularly, but once I opened this box I could barely tear myself away from the bench. The parts appear richly cast with appropriate texturing yielding great detail out of the box (note: I am not an expert on WW1 aircraft so this thing could be a mess of inaccuracies, but it looks the part to me). Assembly is both sturdy and relatively trouble free. The flaws, while few and relatively minor, are some issues with the instructions, and minor issues with the moldings. The great aspects of this kit far outweigh the few negatives with the latter keeping this kit only a hair breadth away from being top-tier in the rarefied company of the Tamiya 1/32 Corsair, and similar. I recognize that some of the legions of the miserable who populate the model community complain that this kit is not up to Wingnut Wings standards, but neither is Wingnut Wings, because they no longer exist. Don’t let those detractors keep you from what is a surprisingly clean and simple -and most importantly fun– build of an important aircraft.
THE BUILD: My intent of the unvarnished feature is not to provide the reader with a comprehensive build guide but to give a quick reference of the overall quality and build-ability of the kit. To do this requires limiting myself to using only basic tools and skills. No paint, no filler, nothing hidden or corrected.
The instruction booklet is similar to what you would expect from a Wingnut Wings kit; 20 pages, staple bound, full color illustrations, 4 different marking options, and color call outs to AK or Acrysion paint. The kit has surprisingly few parts spread over two large parts trees, 3 small trees, a clear tree and a fret of photo-etch parts (as a rule, unless otherwise stated, I do not use photoetch on Unvarnished builds, especially as here the kit plastic provides alternatives).
In only three rather simple and straight forward steps, the builder should have the cockpit ready to install in the fuselage. As early as step 2 you are confronted with which version of the 4 available aircraft you are building, and need to begin installing slightly different details to reflect this choice. The small detail parts are the biggest weakness in the kit, if a weakness must be pointed out. The design and texture of these parts is impressive, but each part, even the most delicate and fragile, has a mold seam line that should be addressed for the highest possible quality build. This will undoubtedly destroy some of the detail, even with the most careful builder. I should note that while my build does not reflect this, the kit includes some nicely etched seatbelts on the PE fret.
Step 4 asks the builder to drill holes in the fuselage halves, reflecting the version they are building. Unless I missed something, the holes in the nose of the kit are unnecessary if one is using the PE details for those panels (if you chose to use the plastic panels provided in the kit, a hole will need to be drilled). One of the first errors with the instructions are call outs, dotted in red in the instructions, for two holes on each side of the fuselage for handles to be installed later. My kit only reflected half of the guide holes, but you could use the instructions to guide drilling of the remaining holes if that effects the variant that you will be building.
Steps 5 and 6 are closing up the fuselage and installing some rather delicate details along the bottom. There are some protruding injector pin marks on the inside of the fuselage that might interfere with the cockpit installation, but they were easy enough to deal with using a micro chisel. The next thing that I would recommend is to cut off the aligning pins along the spine of the fuselage halves and mating these together carefully. The pins forced a seam misalignment on my kit marking the only place I could see where sanding or filling would be required. As you’re doing this, be careful to leave the seam along the bottom unglued until you install part A5. Part A5 is a long thin strip that covers the bottom seam and is a nice fabric binding detail. By waiting until you glue until you install this piece you can force the fuselage to fit to the strip instead of forcing the strip to fit in the fuselage as I did. Further, I would leave off the very delicate steps and handles (parts A14 and 2 of F7) until later in the build as handling will not be kind to them. Beyond that, everything goes together smoothly and as it should.
Step 7 installs the fuselage side plates discussed above. The instructions show either photoetch panels (definitely more scale appropriate), or plastic parts. These go into the corresponding hole drilled in the nose during step 4, but there is no clarification given as to which of the four versions require which cover. Check your references.
Step 8 involves installing the horizontal stabilizer and rudder. These are exquisitely molded with scale appropriate ribbing textures. I would strongly suggest leaving the rudder off until much later in the build as its connection makes it very fragile and handling will not be kind to that joint.
Step 9 has you build up the middle wing, including upper and lower struts. The wing, like the other two, is one piece and beautifully molded with crisp ribbing detail. The wing sprue attachment points are substantial and will need to be cut off then sanded down. This questionable molding decision risks destroying some of the ribbing detail that curves around the leading edge of the wing during clean up, but it can be avoided with care. I elected not to install the struts for the upper wing until I needed them for fear of breaking them off. This was not a problem as the struts connect into the wing in a very positive way making a good solid joint. This impressed me. Make sure you look at the diagram in the lower left corner, and drill out the appropriate holes before you glue the wing onto the fuselage.
Steps 10 and 11 are the installation of the middle and bottom wing with some other details. The fit here was excellent. In fact, I was giddy with how well the parts mated and aligned and that sort of exuberance is rare during a build.
Steps 12-14 are installation of the guns and various cockpit details. I found the detail to be excellent but the instructions to be a bit unclear, specifically as to which options go with which aircraft. Spend a great deal of time studying both your references and the instructions here as there are multiple variations of this equipment. There is nothing surprising or particularly difficult during these steps but I do like that Meng provided both molded guns with the cooling jacket included, or guns without the cooling jacket to be made from rolled PE.
Step 15 is installation of the top wing and ailerons. Fit: exceptional. Detail: Beautiful. At this point you know which variant you are building and only have to install the appropriate aileron parts for said version.
Step 16 builds the landing gear. I am running out of superlatives to describe the kit. The way that Meng engineered the wheels to roll with a plastic clip that holds the interior wheel in place, covered by a wheel cover, is worth pointing out as a unique solution that actually works. Just be careful with any glue and the wheels should be locked on the hub, and spin.
Steps 17 builds the very simple beautifully detailed engine. With some painting and weathering, what can be seen under the cowl will look the part. Steps 18 and 19 are final assembly attaching the engine, wheels, a few miscellaneous struts, the cowl and prop.
At this point I was actually sad. One of the best and most trouble free builds I have attempted in many months was over. The end result is a kit with only a very few issues that imposes the fearsome qualities of the Dr. 1 in scale. If you have very little experience with the so-called “string bags” that filled the sky in WW1, like me, this is likely one of the best places to dip your toe into that experience. The kit is excellent, the aircraft had comparatively little rigging to worry about (another place the instructions fail is that they show no rigging or control cables, at all), and the Dr.1 might be one of the most famous aircraft ever to take the skies.
This kit is highly recommended.