1/48 Tamiya Dewoitine D.520

Gallery Article by Brian D. O'Neill on June 19 2009

 

I've built model aircraft on and off since the late 1950s (yes, I am that old) but this is my first WWII French aircraft.  I had Tamiya's D.520 in my stash for ages and knew nothing about the aircraft on the box art until I did some research.  When I learned about the pilot, Pierre Le Gloan (second from left in big picture further below) I was hooked on building this kit.  

Le Gloan was the fourth highest scoring French ace of WWII (18 victories) and his story is fascinating.  He won fame during the Battle of France by downing five aircraft in one sortie--four Italian CR.42 biplane fighters and a Breda BR.20 bomber on June 15, 1940--but his later history is problematic.  He also shot down six RAF Hurricanes and one Gloster Gladiator over Syria during heavy air combat in May-July 1941 between the Vichy French and the Allies.   He switched sides again when his unit, GCIII/6 joined the Free French Air Force and became GC 3/6 Roussillon in May 1943, at which time they converted to Bell P-39 Airacobras, His life ended spectacularly on September 11, 1943 when Le Gloan attempted to belly land a P-39 with a dead engine on the North African Coast near Algiers.  Forgetting that his Airacobra had a belly tank, he touched down with it still attached.  The fuel in the tank exploded and the entire aircraft blew up, killing him instantly.  Le Gloan was 30 years old when he died.

The D.520 on the Tamiya box art is "No. 277," the aircraft most closely associated with Le Gloan.  It was his personal mount for most of his career, and carried a "6" as his lucky number.   (The MS.406 in which he scored his first victory did as well).  The kit decals give you the option of showing No. 277 in Battle of France livery without the long white arrow and the white border to the French roundel on the fuselage, and sans the French tricolor "ace" markings on the after fuselage that bisect the number 6.  However, I opted for these early Vichy markings because they are more colorful and bring to mind Le Gloan's later combat history.  The model as completed shows No. 277 in June 1940, after the Armistice with Nazi Germany, and before Vichy aircraft carried still more colorful markings on nose and tail. 

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I started with the cockpit, of course.  The first question was the cockpit color.  The Tamiya instructions specify a dark grey, but online research suggested something called French night black.  There's an Aeromaster paint of this color available, but I settled on Tamiya's non-specular USN dark sea blue after reading a source that said this color was close.  Plus, the D.520 on display at Le Bourget in Le Gloan's No. 277 markings showed a dark black cockpit (see the picture above on the left) and that was good enough for me.  Note, however, that photos of the real aircraft show a light color aft of the pilot's seat armor plate, where the rear windows are,  These I painted a medium grey. 

The kit was not built OOB.  I added the plain brass Eduard D.520 Zoom set for the cockpit, or at least most of it.  It's a definite enhancement but it's hard to see all the detail, especially on the sidewalls.  There are other aftermarket products for this kit, but they are hard to find.   There's an OOP "Hi-Tech" resin cockpit set from France that features a deeper, wider belly radiator, which is supposedly more accurate.  I couldn't find one anywhere.  By happenstance I ran across a Pend-Orielle resin set of D.520 flight control surfaces, but frankly they were more trouble than they were worth, at least at my skill level.  After fiddling with them for a while I opted for the kit parts.

The basic kit construction was straightforward, but Tamiya's extended flap parts are annoying if you want them raised like I did.  You have to cut the hinges off and position them carefully, then firmly hold them in place till the crazy glue sets.  Even then they aren't a snug fit where the edges join the fuselage.  On one of them I had to add some sheet styrene on the edge to eliminate a noticable gap.  Other than that, nuts-and-bolts construction presented no major problems, and was completed with some coats of Gunge "Mr. Surfacer 1000" sprayed from a can.  That is a product I'm coming to like very much.

Painting the final exterior colors was a challenge, both in terms of research and application.  This is an area where even 60+ years after WWII the sources on French camouflage colors disagree about hues, and where most everybody agrees that camouflage patterns on upper surfaces followed no set pattern.  So, one is left with educated guesswork from indistinct photos about the camouflage scheme for a particular subject, and a number of paint choices.  As for the colors. I still have usable Humbrol enamel tins that have a dark French chocolate brown and a dark, somewhat jarring green, but ultimately I settled on Testor's "PolyScale" brand water-based paints.  The lower surface French light blue-grey is well represented by the Polyscale paint IMO, as is the French dark blue-grey for the upper surfaces.  Their French "Khaki" (medium green, not tan) looked attractive to me, as did their earth color, so these were the colors I used.

I've had trouble spraying PolyScale before, but these paints went on well after thinning with a few drops of distilled water.  Unfortunately, they also came OFF in a few places when I masked the upper fuselage using drafter's tape, even though it was old and not very tacky.  This resulted in a lot of light sanding, polishing (and cursing) as I corrected discontinunities in the surface finish.  Maybe for my next French WWII kit I'll try the old Humbrol paints for the greens and browns.

The actual camouflage pattern for Le Gloan's No. 277 is elusive.  Different photos show different patterns of the topside colors at different times, so I imagine the aircraft was periodically touched up to repair damage and wear.  For ease of painting I  went ahead and masked the airframe using the pattern shown on the 1/48th drawings that Tamiya helpfully provides in the kit.  These DO NOT replicate the pattern shown on the box art (taken from a good in-flight photo of the airplane) but using the drawings makes masking the complex camo scheme much easier.  What I did was make photocopies of the drawings.  Then I placed the top and side drawings over glass and put drafter's tape over the camo demarcation edges.  I carefully used a No. 11 blade to cut the tape strips to match the edges on the drawings visible through the tape.  I then pulled the cut strips of tape off of the drawings and placed them over the corresponding areas on the kit.  This method yields great templates for the camouflage edges.  The cut tape strips work perfectly on the wings and tail, and let you get close on the fuselage, where additional trimming and fitting is necessary for the curved surfaces.

After the basic paint job was done I used Tamiya clear gloss in a spray can to get a high gloss sheen for the decal application.  I used the kit decals for everything except the national markings, because the red in the kit roundels and rudder stripes is far too dark.  Berna has a new D.520 sheet (BN4823) available from Flightdecs in Canada http://flightdecs.ca/A_berna_48.htm and I used these for the roundels.  One caution, however: if you plan to use the Vichy scheme DO NOT try to use the Berna fuselage roundels with Tamiya white border decals.  The Berna fuselage roundels are smaller than the kit ones, and you'll get a gap between the outer red roundel edge and the inner white border.  Fortunately, there are two solid white circles on the Berna sheet that you can use instead, after trimming the edges of a solid white bar that goes through them.

The nastiest surprise in building this kit was the tricolor rudder stripes.  Even though the Berna decals are the right colors, they don't come close to fitting.  They are too short in the vertical plane and aren't flexible enough for the curved surfaces of the rudder, even if they were the right size.  So, with the model all painted and with most of the decals applied I had to try painting the rudder stripes.  What was I thinking?!  I carefully masked the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, and first applied the white middle stripe using Tamiya white acrylic.  I then masked that off for painting of the blue and red stripes.  There is no Tamiya paint for the French national insignia blue, so I searched through various paint bottles and found a near perfect match in the PolyScale paint that replicates the sun bleached blue-grey topsides on early WWII USN aircraft. The red was standard Tamiya red acrylic, and that went on well.  For once, there was no disaster at the end of my build and the rest of the decaling went smoothly.

Only after all this was done did I add Moskit D.520 engine exhausts.  I had to sand the edges that press into the fuselage slots in order for them to fit.  The set I got had bright brass showing in spots, so I gave them a light coat of Testor's "Burnt Iron" metalizer.  The paint instructions say spray only, but I've used all these metalizer paints with a small brush to pick out details and had no problems at all. 

The last part on the kit that's not OOB is the pitot tube.  The kit part is hopelessly delicate, and broke at the first inadvertent touch after it was glued on and painted, I cut the plastic "bare metal" end of the plastic part from the broken shaft, and glued it to a hard wire I cut to size and crazy-glued in.  It's inelegant but sturdy.

I decided to give the kit a super light coat of Promodeler brown wash, but did not thin the clay solution down with a drop of soap to break the surface tension as the manufacturer recommends for glossy surfaces.  So, some of the wash dried in little brown circles, but it looks close enough to spots of mud for me not to go all AMS over the effect.  I finished the model by spraying Polyscale's flat finish overall.  It's another product I always use. 

All in all, I like the way the kit came out, and would definitely recommend it.  It's an unusual subject and looks quite exotic on the model shelf with my collection.  I'm inspired enough by the "French connection" that I've now started a Hobbycraft Curtiss Hawk H-75 in the markings of another famous French ace who didn't survive the war.

Brian D. O'Neill

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Photos and text by Brian D. O'Neill