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He 51

Classic Airframes 1/48 He 51 Luftwaffe Service Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2008 Manufacturer Classic Airframes
Subject He 51 Luftwaffe Service Scale 1/48
Kit Number 4143 Primary Media Styrene, Resin
Pros Nice detailing, relatively simple build Cons
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) Out of Production

First Look

He 51
He 51
He 51

The Heinkel He 51 was a biplane fighter development of the He 49 trainer. While also designated as a trainer under the Treaty of Versailles, the He 51 was the first fighter of the new Luftwaffe. First flown in 1933, production airframes followed a year later.

This aircraft represented the first of the last biplane fighters what would enter production as the 1930s was a time of transformation in aviation as aircraft went from WW1 legacy biplane wings, fixed-pitch propellers and landing gear, fabric skin over wood and/or tubular metal frames, and open cockpits. Many aircraft designers, including Willy Messerschmitt, were embracing the monoplane design using monocoque or semi-monocoque designs where the metal skin provides structural strength to the airframe. Higher power engines require variable pitch or constant speed propellers to optimize power across a wider range of flight conditions, and the higher available power equated to higher speeds and the need to enclose the cockpit to reduce drag and protect the pilot. Retractable landing gear further reduced in-flight drag increasing performane as well. The Bf 109 embodied most of these design innovations, though the variable pitch propeller wouldn't come available until the Bf 109B.

Combat experience with the He 51 in Spain was favorable in the opening days, but as newer types from Italy and the Soviet Union came available, the He 51 was quickly outclassed and relegated to air-to-ground missions. Back in Germany, the He 51 soon fell into secondary roles as the new Bf 109 fighters started into service and by the start of World War II, the aircraft was indeed fulfilling its role under the Versailles Treaty as a trainer.

Classic Airframes has developed a new-tool Heinkel He 51 in 1/48 scale and released it in two boxings. This one represents the early He 51s that served in the Luftwaffe Service in Spain. The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on two parts trees, one clear windshield, and three resin parts (main wheels and pilot's seat). This is the closest Classic Airframes has come to an all-styrene kit that I can recall.

Assembly of this kit is very straightforward. With no resin needed in the construction of the airframe, the lower wing attaches directly to the underside of the fuselage. As with any kit, the modeler must take care to ensure a proper alignment of the wings and tail surfaces.

With the lower wings on the fuselage, you need only add the cabane struts, wing struts and upper wing to complete the main assemblies. Experienced biplane modelers have different tools and methods to keep everything aligned during the assembly process. I've like the airframe jig I used in the Classic Airframes 1/48 Ro 37 build as this can be adjusted to accommodate different size and scaled projects. I don't know if this tool is back in production, but it certainly makes many of my projects go together much smoother.

The other nice thing about this subject is the landing gear. This is not a fragile assembly as with some other subjects so scaling this down to 1/48 still makes for a simple solution.

One last note about these instructions, some of the previous kits have had somewhat ambiguous directions on where parts go in the assembly process. Such is not the case here. Everything is clearly laid out and the instructions even provide clear rigging instructions should you wish to complete this model with all of the structural wires used to hold this aircraft together. Nice work!

The kit provides markings for three Luftwaffe Heinkels and one test/demonstration aircraft:

  • He 51, D-IDIE, Warnemunde, 1934
  • He 51, 2./JG 137, 4, Bernburg, 1938
  • He 51, Stab.II/JG 134, <-, Dedelsdorf, 1937
  • He 51, 3./JG 135, 7, Bad Abling, 1938

A note on these decals. One thing that has been a pet peeve of mine has been the trend to create decals that require the modeler to layer one atop another ro recreate the intended art. This is done to compensate for one famous US decal printer's problem with maintaining print registration across multiple layers of colors. Rather than deal with the hassles of sending out of register decals back for reprinting, it is easier for some to simply let you do the job of stacking decals yourself.

Classic Airframes had been using this same decal printer and multilayer technique for the many of their previous releases, but recently switched to Cartograf as they seem to have better quality printing. Look at the decals in this set for example. There are lots of colors on this sheet and most of the decals are multi-colored. Not one of them require you to stack decals one atop another. One marking - one decal, just as it should be. Kudos to Classic Airframes for this significant improvement in their decal quality.

This has to be one of Classic Airframes' easiest 'multimedia' kit to date as the vast majority of parts are styrene. If you want to build something colorful and different as one of these early Luftwaffe examples was, here is a great entry-level subject to step up to and try your hand at limited run kits. Don't get me wrong, this kit will still require good modeling experience and skills to get everything properly fitted, as with any limited run kit, but the layout of the aircraft's design, the implementation of that design in this kit, and the very limited use of resin parts will make this a good 'trainer' into the greater wealth of subjects only available from companies like Classic Airframes.

My most sincere thanks to Classic Airframes for the review sample!