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Ho 229 Kit

Zoukei-Mura Inc. 1/32 Ho 229 Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review October 2014 Manufacturer Zoukei-Mura Inc.
Subject Ho 229 Scale 1/32
Kit Number 32008 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Beautiful molding, excellent detail, clear exterior surfaces Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $152.00

First Look

Ho 229 Kit
Ho 229 Kit
Ho 229 Kit
Ho 229 Kit
Ho 229 Kit
Ho 229 Kit
Ho 229 Kit

The Ho 229 (Go 229) was the game-changing aircraft design of the famous Horten brothers. Unlike the other aircraft designers developing Luftwaffe designs, the Horten brothers were pilots who tinkered with aircraft design concepts and not formal aeronautical engineers. The three brothers were all Luftwaffe pilots first: Wolfram was a bomber pilot killed during Dunkirk, Walter flew as Adolf Galland's wingman during the Battle of Britain, while Weimar was on the staff for Operation Sea Lion (the invasion of Britain). When the Battle of Britain ended in failure, the Walter and Weimar Horten advanced their aircraft design concepts in response to a 3x1000 requirement issued by the RLM. Hermann Goering had issued this requirement for a light bomber design that could carry a 1000 kilogram bomb load to 1000 kilometers at 1000 kilometers per hour (3x1000). Goering personally approved the Horten concept and so began an unusual development effort.

The heart of the Horten concept was a flying wing based upon experience from their previous competition glider designs. The aircraft was scaled up to house the fuel and two jet engines which could meet the speed and payload requirements. Their first prototype was the Ho 229V1 which was an unpowered glider with fixed landing gear that flew well but suffered a landing accident when an instrumentation mast was not retracted before landing. With the relative success of this design, development and construction of the aircraft was given to Gothaer Waggonfabrik (Gotha) while the Horten brothers turned their attention to the RLM's Amerika Bomber design effort.

Gotha made some fundamental changes to the Horten design including the addition of an ejection seat as they produced the Ho 229V2 (second prototype). Despite the advanced nature of the Ho 229 design, the cockpit was located inside a tubular framework that made up the skeleton of the airframe and it was open on either side of the cockpit. The two jet engines sat on either side of the pilot. With no enclosure, no sound-proofing, no environmental controls (heat), and no pressurization, the pilot had to wear heavy clothing during higher altitude testing. Ho229V2 was far along in construction when designers learned that the BMW 003 engines that they'd been promised were going to be substituted for Jumo 004 engines. This required cutting and rewelding the structure to accommodate the different engines. The Jumo engines also caused the center of gravity to shift significantly aft requiring lead ballast shaped as armor plate to be installed in the nose and under the cockpit.

Test flights of the first powered Ho 229 (V2) were very promising until the third test flight - one of the engines failed and caught fire. The test pilot dove the aircraft and extinguished the fire, but was believed to be overcome by fumes when the aircraft settled into a gentle downward spiral and crashed. Despite this setback, the program was classified as one of the Luftwaffe's new group of inexpensive 'wonder weapons' and an initial batch of 20 aircraft were ordered. Gotha started construction of a scaled-up version (Ho 229V3) which was to be powered by a pair of the Jumo 004C and armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannons. The war ended before V3 was completed and it was seized as part of Operation Paperclip and brought back to the US where it now finally resides in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum restoration area.

A few other interesting points:

  • The Horten brothers were not seized in Operation Paperclip. Unlike numerous other scientists, the Hortens were not technically engineers and were passed over. Walter remained in post-war Germany and would resume flying with the rebuilt Luftwaffe. Reimar emigrated to Argentina and also continued flying where he also tried to develop some new aircraft designs in the process. Both brothers passed away in the 1990s.
  • The Ho 229 was a metal tubular airframe covered by a composite skin (non-strategic materials). One of the unique features was the carbon that was embedded in the laminate glue which had radar absorption characteristics, giving the Ho 229 the first radar absorbing 'stealth' capabilities.
  • Northrop Grumman built a replica of this aircraft in 2008 to study its stealth characteristics.
  • The huge nose gear used the large tire and wheel hub from an He 177 main gear to provide take-off and landing roll control on grassy runways.
  • Since the aircraft had limited pitch control at low airspeeds, the nosegear held the nose of the aircraft much higher off the ground than the main gear allowing the aircraft to fly off the ground at sufficient airspeed and touching down on all three wheels at landing.
  • The Ho 229 was one of the first aircraft to use a braking parachute on landing.

By the time you read this, Zoukei-Mura has officially released their long awaited 1/32 Ho 229 kit. They had a limited number of 'pre-release' copies at the IPMS/USA National Convention a few months ago and those were sold out quickly. If you've followed the development of this kit on the Zoukei-Mura website, you'll know that the designers put much love and detail into this kit, but then they ran into the inevitable problem - how will you see all of that detail after assembly? Trimaster was the first with an Ho 229 kit which was also nicely detailed in 1/48th scale (periodically reissued by DML) but they limited their details to those areas that could be seen and one such option was to display the airframe with the wings removed. The Revell 1/72 scale kit is simpler still.

The solution to Zoukei-Mura's dilemma was right in front of them. During the kit development process, they'd used clear plastic in the molds for the aircraft skin so they could see inside the test shots. The problem with clear parts as you know, the plastic is very brittle and crazes easily as well. After discussions with many customers, they decided to produce the kit with the clear external surfaces to allow us to choose whether to display the kit as the 'Phantom Horten' or paint the aircraft as desired. In any case, you'll need to use a razor saw to remove the clear parts from the sprue trees to avoid cracks and/or chunks being removed from your clear parts by accident.

This kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on 11 parts trees plus eight trees of clear parts. This kit does have some amazing detail yet is laid out for relatively simple construction. When you see the kit in person, you'll be really tempted to build it with clear skin so you can show off that beautiful detailing inside. This kit also provides the option of displaying the aircraft with the wings removed and you can even build it where the wings are removable (pull four pins out of each wing root).

Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Very detailed Jumo 004 engines
  • Optional engine display stand to show off that detail
  • Very detailed tubular airframe details
  • Drogue chute bay with optional stowed parachute
  • Detailed Mk.103 cannons with magazines
  • Detailed flight control linkages
  • Beautifully detailed cockpit
  • Choice of clear or opaque instrument panels
  • Positionable canopy
  • Detailed landing gear
  • Wing fuel cells
  • Optionally removable outer wing panels
  • Positionable drag rudders
  • Positionable elevons
  • Positionable flaps
  • Positionable speed brakes
  • Canopy masks

The instruction book is printed to resemble an RLM Ho 229 technical document produced by Zoukai-mura AG. The instructions really make this project easy as they provide clear assembly steps as well as recommended paint colors for each step as well.

Color profiles and markings are included for two notional aircraft:

  • Ho 229A-0 wearing Reich's Defense bands for JG 301
  • Ho 229A-0, White 14, unidentified Reich's defense band

Aside from the Reich's Defense (Reichsverteidigung) bands, this decal sheet provides a nice array of white, yellow and red tactical numbers to render your own subject. The decal sheet also provides a nice set of maintenance stencils and walkway markings.

This kit is technically a very detailed recreation of Ho 229V3. The Ho 229V6 was being mocked up when the war ended and it would have been the design basis of the initial Ho 229A-0 production run. The V6 would have incorporated any lessons learned from V3 flight test had it reached that stage of development. Given the urgency to get these wonder weapons into combat, the differences between V3 and V6 would have been relatively minor with the most notable planned change being a different set of cannons.

In the world of Luft '46 however, the operations of the Ho 229A-0 would have been limited to lower altitudes given the lack of pressurization or any other environmental concerns in the open cockpit. The Luftwaffe was paying attention to high altitude operations with the inclusion of pressurization in aircraft like the Ta 152H, so I would expect that a subsequent variant (say Ho 229A-1) would have enclosed and pressurized the cockpit to support sustained high altitude operations. Gotha was looking ahead with the V4 as a two-seat trainer (Ho 229B) as well as V5 as a two seat radar-equipped nachtjäger (which Trimaster did produce in 1/48 scale).

This is another amazing work of kit engineering from Zoukei-Mura and you'll be seeing this built in progressive steps straight out of the box very soon. I've got a second kit on order which will explore some of the design considerations mentioned above into an Ho 229A-2/3 concept had the pace of the war followed the Luft '46 timeline. Stay tuned...

My sincere thanks to  Zoukei-Mura Inc. for this review sample!