Heller Fieseler Fi-156 'Tracked' Storch in 1/72
             Start: January / 2008
Current state: Finishing touches


From times to times, I face the same question: what to do with old kits? As a rule, I don't dispose them, although over the years I have given a number of old kits to friends and kids. This project started after reading about a few Storchs equiped with tracked landing gear. I was hooked. I had to build one. So I dug the old Heller kit from the bottom of my stash and started working. The kit is not bad, and comparing with the newer Academy offering, it holds itself very well.

The particular conversion I'm interested in is related to very few Fi-156D and E modified to four-wheel or tracked landing gears. These modifications were designed to allow landing on very soft ground, including melting snow and tall grass. I found some drawings that hels to ellucidate these strange configurations.

As far as I was able to investigate, the tracks were installed on Storchs with both types of roofs: with or without gun ring. Since the Heller clear parts of the gun ring are very thick, I decided to use the flat roof, although I haven't found a photo of the real aircraft so far. Here's a photo of the DJ+PX in flight, a tracked D-0 (note the wheeled tail skid, another difference from standard Storchs):

Back to the kit, it is reasonably well molded, except for the exaggerated locating holes and the overdone fabric effect on the whole airframe. I started by sanding the larger parts in order to reduce the effect a bit. On the upper wings, next to the wing root, I removed the effect completely since there was the wing fuel tanks there. These will be scribed later:

The cockpit provided by the kit is very simple, to say the least. I added structural details, seats, pedals, handles and a throttle from plastic bits and photoetched lelftovers. I used photos and drawings as reference, but didn't tried to be exact  (for instance, the type of back seat I used is wrong). The important point is to reproduce the structural truss faithfully. The idea is to build the characteristic structural 'cage' and insert the whole thing in the fuselage. Here's the cockpit before painting:

I had to do a lot of measuring and dry-fitting in order to assure that the cage would be aligned to the clear parts. The clear parts breakdown didn't help neither, and I can see a lot of trouble ahead.

After painting the cockpit I added some missing details to it, and made fake harness using brown hardware tape. The pilot's control panel is the kit part (#7) with the bezels sanded flush. I painted it dark grey and new instruments were added from spare decals according to the prototype.

The fuselages were then closed with the pilot's control panel in place. However, I noticed that the kit's clear parts are too wide for the rear fuselage. My solution was to insert a plastic shim in the upper fuselage joint aft the cockpit roof. Before glueing the nose, I carved the inside of the fuselage to allow room to install a simplified engine. The Argus engine was quite visible through the chin under the cowling, and I wanted to reproduce this. The fake engine was made from pieces of plastic tubing and rods. I painted it with dark-grey and dry-brushed with a lighter color. The pushrods shine in wartime photos, so I painted them in Aluminum. In order to see the engine, the colwing chin must be opened too, what I did using a Dremel carving bit. The engine fits tightly to its bay and it was permanently fixed there using CA glue. Another item visible from the outside of the Storch is a small curved section of the exhausts. I reproduced them using small lengths of solder wire bent to shape and weathered accordingly. They must be glued in place before attaching the front cowling (I still don't figure how to mask it later...)

The fuselage received a number of surface details, like access hatches, holes and slots. I used heavy duty Aluminum tape for the raised details, and a hot mini-screw driver for the slots and recesses.

With the engine in place, the cowling front cap was attached. That leaves a seam all over the nose perimeter. Checking my references, I decided that there was no joint on the upper cowling, so I puttied that area and left the seam intentionally visible on the remaining length of the joing. I then added the missing details and put my riveter to rock 'n roll:

On the underside, I drilled the holes to accept an oil cooler later. An important detail missing in most Storch kits is the steel plate under the cockpit, aft the engine. That plate served to protect the canvas from engine exhaust gases and from ground debris. It followed the contour of the canvas covered belly, but it was in fact placed over the canvas, so that the steps are clearly visible. I took a silicon mold of the belly which was used to prepare a resin copy of the area. The copy was then used as a mold to vacuum form a new plate that was glued atop the kit's belly. Another prominent item is the canvas stitching along the lower fuselage. The kit
originally had a fair representation of the stitches through raised details, but they were all lost during sanding. I applied a thin strip of Aluminum tape to simulate the folded canvas reinforcement, and over it I pressed a dull knife to simulate the stitches. I will make my mind about this technique only after priming the model... Let's see.

Another difference of the tracked version from the standard Storchs is the tail wheel. It is similar to the Morane-Saunier MS-500/502, although visibly longer and wearing a protective triangular plate fixed to the strut arms. I can only guess that this plate would avoid dragging tall grass or prevent the wheel from sinking in the mud during take-offs and landings.

After the tedious job of masking the canopy, using a combination of Tamiya tape and Parafilm-M, I sprayed a coat of Model Master Acryl RLM 02 (#4770) over the area. A number of respectable seams appeared, and I spent some time eliminating them. Tragedy almost struck during an attempt to remove Mr.Surfacer from the front windscreen using Mr.Thinner. The nasty stuff migrated under the masks destroying the layer of Future. Something in my mind told me to check it before proceeding, and after lifting the affected masks I discovered the problem. I can't describe my dismay in facing the task ahead. Sand, polish, apply Future (by brush) and masking again (I just reused the old ones). Well, at least it was better than discovering the problem in the final steps. I resprayed RLM02 on the canopy, and also in some suspicious areas, as a pre-primer.

Except for the tail surfaces, the fuselage was done. So I finished the horizontal stabilizers. Due to the lack of a tight fit of these parts, I elected to remove the kit locating pins and installed a small length of metal rod to go all the way through the tail. If properly done, this measure guarantees a perfect alignment of the stabilizers, as far as the pin and the holes are straight:

Once glued in place, I alleviated the seams with Mr. Surfacer wiped with a cotton swab dampened in isopropyl alcohol:

Now, to the wings and rudder. The details added to the wings were basically: a new wing fuel tank indicator support, replacement of the various inspection hatches (poorly molded in the kit), improvement of the stats' actuating arms, deepening the control surfaces lines.

I'll detail how each of these enhancements were added. I wondered these tips may be useful to you...

A) Wing tank indicator supports: The fuel indicator was essentially a graduated pipette protuding under the wing, so that the pilot could check visually the fuel level. After checking the photos of preserved Storchs, I decided to build the support and add the fragile scale later, after painting. The part looks like a spherical plate with a nut over which the scale is attached. I used a round drill bit to carve a spherical bed in the correct location (I used the original hole as a guide). A piece of stretched sprue was turned close to a candle flame to form a valve-shaped piece of the correct size. This produces a naturally spherical end - just what I needed. Three or four of them were made and I picked the best two. They were then trimmed and glued in the spherical bed. The last touch was the addition of a small piece of plastic rod to simulate the bolt.

B) Inspection hatches: As for the inspection hatches, they are semi-circular, hinging along the straight side. I used heavy duty self-adhesive aluminum foil an old trick with the Waldron Punch and Die set. Everybody knows how it works. But instead of punching round disks of foil, I inserted the foil only partially in the Punch and Die jig. This produced the semi-circular pieces I was after. They were simply applied to their positions under the wing, using the original spots as a guide (after checking some drawings, I suspect the position of some hatches are wrong - too late now):

C) Slats' arms: The actuating arms of the slats are very poorly represented in the Heller kit - just a rounded pin - making the precise installation of the slats very difficult. In addition, they possibly are too weak to support the handling of the model during subsequent phases. Not to mention that the kit representation has nothing to do with the prototype. Since they are visible, better to make a small surgery. I removed the pins from the wings and sanded the leading edge flush. I reworked the slats, removing irregular edges and adding recessed lines (there's one about the mid-length of each slat). I made the slots for the supporting arms scoring a jewler's saw very gently along each spot on the leading edge.

The support arms were made of plastic strips of about the same thickness of the saw used to carve the slots - this will assure a tight fit. I glued the arms in each recess using MEK, what gives me plenty of time to align them. I simply laid a small steel plate under the arms. By tilting the plate it is possible to adjust the alignment and angle of all arms at once:

After drying overnight, the oversized arms were trimmed slightly longer than the final length. Using a nail clipper it is easy to achieve a curved edge, which will conform better to the slats inner surface. Final trueing was accomplished by a flat file, scored lengthwise the tip of the arms. Once satisfied, the slats were finally glued in place:

D) Control surfaces lines: Here I simply applied a recipe I've been using in most of my latest aircraft models. I do usually deepen the recessed lines of control surfaces. However, flaps and ailerons generally have curved edges on the hinged side. Therefore, an ordinary panel line can not depict that. The tip is to score the line with your scriber at an ablique angle, in the direction of the curved surface (not the opposite!). This simple expedient allows one to obtain a slightly undercut panel line that will appear more realistic after the wash. I guess a picture here is better than my funny English:

And the wings are done, except for the wing tanks, which will be added later. I also faired over the wingtip lights.

The last large part which I reworked on was the rudder (removed earlier from the fuselage halves). A thinner trim tab was added and a hole to install the tail light later was drilled. I also added the horns to accept the cables after the painting.

The next move was to cut a decent pair of rectangular 0.2 mm plastic sheet to represent the raised surface of the wing tanks. The dimensions were taken from scale drawings. The corners were rounded using those marvelous sponge backed sandpapers. I punched a hole out of each outer front corner, and punched two disks of slightly smaller diameter to act as fuel caps:

The tanks were glued to the upper surface of the wings, and sanded to reduce their thickness. The caps will be added later (no sanding) in order to leave it slightly thicker than the tanks.

I also applied Mr.Surfacer to the wing tank edges to further reduce the step to the wing's surface. The fuel tank caps were then attached. At this point, I decided that it would be very difficult to scrachbuild the tracked landing gear and wing supports without having the wings secured in place. So I glued then to the canopy's roof, using a balsa wood ruler to keep the wings straight:

In addition, I decided to remove my poor representation of the stitching along the lower fuselage. I definitely wasn't happy with the effect...

At this point of the project, I realized it would be a real core to attach the landing gear structs with the correct alignment. I then added a bit of "flexibility" to those parts, by adding working hinges in the most important joints. They will be fixed in place at the end, but being movable, I can glue all joints at once after adjusting the correct configuration. Heller provided no positive alignment points, so I added a main bracket at the bottom of the fuselage (just aft the engine) to work as a prime anchor of the whole assembly. The bracket was carved from a solid piece of plastic. All other hinges were obtained by simply squeezing the ends of the struts with flat pliers, drilling a hole and sanding to the correct shape. Stretched sprue will provide the bolts afterwards. And since everything is styrene, liquid glue will weld everything together in the end.

After studying a very limited number of scale drawings and photos, the time to tackle the infamous tracked landing gear came. The first step was to copy the kit's wheels in resin. In the real thing, they were mounted in a tandem configuration so that the front wheels didn't touch the ground while the aircraft is resting on the tailwheel. See the photo of a D-0 without the tracks:

Next, I had to calculate the spacing between the wheels using scale drawings. I then cut a pair of plastic tubing sections with the same diameter of the wheels. They were glued with lengths of sprues, keeping them apart by the same spacing desired for the wheels. This assembly would be used as a jig to form the tracks using heat. But before proceeding, it's a good idea to reinforce the inside of the tubings with CA glue to avoid distortion when exposed to the heat. Next, a strip of soft styrene was wrapped around the jig, secured in place with clamps, and immersed in boiling water for about a minute. Once the parts are cooled, I removed the tracks, trimmed the ends and glued to dissimulate the joint (some sanding was necessary). Now I have my tracks:

The wheels were drilled on their centers, and a spacer rod was made of brass wire bent to a C-shape. The spacer will be inserted in the drilled wheel hubs, connecting them. The main landing gear arm if from the kit, but it received some refinements according to the photos. The first was a rubber boot (not present in regular production Storchs) which - I think - sealed the suspension seams. I decided it would be impossible to apply my usual method of putty-sculpting to simulate these boots. So I used small lengths of Teflon tape (the type you use to seal the kitchen sink plumbing) wrapped around the arms. The result is quite convincing, altough the photos I took don't show the nice wrinkles around the boots. I sealed the boots with Future to keep them in place and accept paint better. I also added the mounting brackets which will receive the upper end of the auxiliary arms. The auxiliary arms were made from plastic, with a small rod glued in their ends to accept the front wheels later. Some bending was necessary on the lower end to assure the correct alignment of both wheels. I still have to make the truss arms connecting the arms with the aircraft belly, but this can't be done before cementing the landing gear in its final position.

Everything was dry fitted to check the alignment. Here's the result:

The secret to obtain the proper tandem incidence is to keep the spacer rod approximately perpendicular to the main arm, when viewed from the side of the aircraft:

And, please, don't ask me what kept the tracks in place during take-offs and landings. My guess is that some type of camber/steer configuration kept it from slipping out of the wheels...

After a long halt, I returned to the project to face the complicated landing gear for the last time. Before, however, I glued the rudder in a deflected position and added its actuating rods from stretched sprue:

In order to tackle the landing gear, just Valium and Jack Daniel's wouldn't be enough. I had to build a jig to hold everything in place while I worked. Here is it with the landing gear already finished:

I'm sorry for not taking step by step photos during the installation of the truss. I'll try to describe the assembly sequence, supposing somebody will be interested in doing the same one day... Parts were kept articulated as long as possible during the process, in order to allow proper alignment. In the pictures below, the letters indicate the parts assembled, while numbers refer to attachment points (where glue was applied):

I started cementing the anchor point in place (1), and then I assembled the main and secondary landing gear arms (A and B). Next, the main arm was cemented to the wing (2). Once the glue was dry, I installed the support plate (Y), anchored the main arm to it using Maskol and cemented point 3. The auxiliary landing gear arm (C) was installed next. After checking for alignment again, point 4 received a touch of glue, since that point is not articulated. I then proceeded to the support rods of the auxiliary arm (D), and glue was applied again on point 1, as well as point 5.

At this stage, I checked for alignment once more, and waited the assembly to dry for half an hour. The secondary truss (E) were glued in place by cementing points 6 (the kit part was discarded). The small connectors F were glued in place (points 7) and the climbing steps (G) were attached to point 8 (the original steps were removed). Once dry, the whole truss was already very sturdy, and the only remaining parts here were the anti-buckling truss installed under the wing struts. These were made from stretched sprue (H), since the originals are too thick for the scale. After positioning them properly, glue was applied at all four points (9).

Comparing the structure with the very few drawings and photos I had, the result is good, but there are a couple of welding points not exactly placed. Anyway, I considered this step done, and rounded up things by trimming the stretched sprues inserted in the hinges using a nail clipper. I also added a couple of bolt heads here and there, again made from sliced stretched sprue. Technically, I should add the brake lines. I would decide it later.

After a couple of weeks out of comission, I returned avid to start painting this bird. After checking my paint rack for possible candidates of RLM65, I decided to mix my own. I mixed Aerotech automotive lacquers, using RLM65 and RLM76, roughly in a 70%/30% ratio, respectively, and added some white and blue to account for scale effect and washes. I really liked the pre-shading effect on this one, although the photo doesn't show it clearly:

You can image the nightmare that will be masking all the landing gear struts... Meanwhile, let me share a photo of a Fi-156 E-0 (sans rubber band) that I found. GG+XT is an ambulance rack in action in 1941. Note how the tandem landing gear works:

Next I had to face the boring making job to protect the RLM 65 while the upper camouflage was applied. The delicate landing gear was a real challenge, and I tackled it using copious amounts of Teflon tape to wrap all the struts and braces. Once finished with the landing gear, I proceeded with making on the other areas using Post-It notes and Tamiya tape. I had a good amount of the later hanging on around my workbench, and I decided it was time to use them for good. That saved me a few bucks, but I insisted in using a new pre-cut 1.5 mm kabuki tape under the fuselage to obtain the characteristic sharp demarcation between the upper camouflage and the blue.

As for the colors, it just hapenned that I had one bottle of each, the RLM 70 and 71, from the Gunze Aqueous range (H-64 and H-65, respectively). I think they are a bit too dark for the scale if used straight from the bottle, but I can live with that... I think. And like most of my acrylics, I shot the RLM 70 thinned with lacquer thinner. Here is the result (do not touch, still wet):

The masks for the RLM 71 are much easier. I took the reference drawings from
two books: Wydawnictwo Militaria 68 and AJ-Press Camouflage & Markings - Luftwaffe 1935-1945, Pt.1. Once scaled to 1/72, I simply cut pieces of Tamiya tape according to the drawings, using Eyeball Mk.I as my main tool.

Next, I reloaded the airbush with a very thinned mix of Gunze RLM 70 and Cream Yellow, and faded both camouflage colors. The effect was concentrated on the wings' ribs of the wings and stabilizers, as well as the engine cowling. The photos do not show it very well since these are gloss colors, but I could have done the effect slightly heavier. On a second thought, however, these are new aircraft, and still under testing, therefore I will probably leave it this way. once the washes are applied I would take the final decision...

All the undersurface masks were then removed, and I found no problem with paint lifting at all - something rare to me. Although Gunze paints are semi-gloss, and technically are acrylics, I decided to avoid any risks of damaging the camouflage and applied a generous coat of Tamiya gloss clear (X-22) which was fossilizing in my paint stash.

I painted the little Storch in steps: fuselage and tail first, waited 24 hours and then attacked the wings. I found the drying time was not enough, as I left a visible fingerprint on the fuselage while handling the model to paint the wings:

After retouching a couple of spots I re-sprayed the affected areas and let it dry for 48 hours. I then proceeded with the decals. The insignias came from my spare decal box. As for the codes, well... there is none. I failed to find the codes for any aircraft other than the pre-production DJ+PX (a D-0) and the ambulance rack GG+XT (a E-0), both illustrated above. I decided to rely on the information from the literature that the other eight tracked Storchs were conversions from C-0s... or at least they should be. Unfortunately, even after an extensive research no codes for these aircraft were accurately retrieved. But I found a few photos showing overhauled Storchs with incomplete or no codes, clearly showing white numbers applied in white on the fin (these were probably factory numbers, possibly formed by the last two or three digits of the werk nummer). I bought the idea and decided to use that recipe, like if it was a recently converted aircraft, still without the codes.

Smaller decals came from spare decal sheets and from an old Propagteam stencil decals for the Storch (sheet #01672).

The white #255 on the fin is a bogus number from a spare decal. The swastikas came from a FCM elite sheet, which allowed me to remove the clear film before applying them. Tricky, but no silvering at all.

I doubt the Luftwaffe would put an aircraft in action without the codes by 1941-42. Anyway, I thought this solution would be less risky than guessing the codes for such a rare bird.

At this point I thought the camouflage was too perfect, even for a new aircraft. I opted to add some tonal variations using the oil filtering technique so popular among AFV modelers. I chose a few oil colors and scattered small dots of paint along each major area of the aircraft:

Using a medium flat brush, the oil paint was spread along the air flow direction, cleaning the brush at each few passes. When most of the paint was removed, the brush was barely moistened in white spirit and I repeated the operation, until almost no trace of the paint was visible. The technique was used on all areas of the uppersurfaces, working on one area at a time. The result was a randomly faded camouflage, but the effect is very subtle (and difficult to capture in my photos, I must admit):

The next step was the application of the washes. Being a mostly fabric covered aircraft, there were no panel lines along the airframe to wash, so I concentrated the effect around the cowling and movable surfaces. Nothing fancy here, just well thinned, dark brown oil paint applied as usual for washes.

I then proceeded to what I call smudging. It is just a name for the well known method of applying a tiny amount of oil paint and gently scrubbing it in a given direction in order to leave a streak of paint. I call it smudging because it resambles the artists method of creating shadows with charcoal and pastels (they use their thumbs, though). This is an excellent method to create rain marks, oil/fuel streaks, etc because you can control the intensity of the streaks by using more or less brush passes. I used this trick behind flaps hinges, slats arms and fuel tank caps. Here it is more important to brush the paint in the direction of the airflow than in the filtering method. I also used the method along the cowling panels.

Once everything was dry, I retouched the washes around the hinges and movable parts of the landing gear to make it more dirty. Some additional smudging was also used to simulate dirt and grime accumulated on a few spots:

Smudging was used again so simulate fuel stains aft the fuel and oild tank caps:

Once the oils had dryed completely, I applied the air wash, the super-thin mix of black and brown, airbrushed over panel lines and random spots. I really like this method because it is able to produce dirt and false shadows impossible to be achieved using oils. It is very difficult to capture the effect on the upper surfaces at this point because of the gloss varnish and the dark tones. But on the underside, it shows clearly in contrast with the RLM 65:

The air-wash also produces a subtle rendition of dirt accumulated on movable parts like control surfaces, as well as areas closer to the ground during take-offs and landings, like landing gear and horizontal stabilizers. When applied in with washes and oil smudging, it really removes the "toy-like" aspect of the kit:

A necessary touch up were the exhaust stains on the landing gear struts. These marks are evidend in wartime photos, and are obvious if you consider the proximity of the strutrs with the end of the exhaust stacks:

The wheels were assembled and painted, as well as the engine oil cooler, which was made from brass tubing. The wheels will receive a proper weathering later:

At this point the painting was virtually done, and I started to remove the canopy masks. Tragedy struck again when I lifted some of the masks just to discover that the problem faced earlier in the project persisted. The Gunze Mr.Color thinner had migrated under some masks and attacked the Future coated clear parts. While I could live with the problem in some tiny spots, it ruined the left windscreen and two lateral windows to the point that they need a complete sanding/polishing.

Contrary to my initial thoughts, it was not very difficult to correct the problem. Of course I had to think twice while handling the model at this stage, but all it took was a rotatory tool and small disks of sanding pad (the foam backed type) to recover the shine on the affected windows. Of course I had to repaint the frames and the surrounding area, but the whole processes took only a couple of hours. Obviously there are some visible marred areas, where the sanding disks could not reach, but considering how close to the garbage bin this model was, I will live with that.

Meanwhile, I finished the smaller parts. A new pitot tube was made out of telescoping syringe needles and I added a map case to the cockpit's door (still missing weathering). Since the door woul be posed open, I had to mask both sides and paint the interior with RLM 02 and the outside using RLM 70... tedious work. The fresh air intake was drilled as per actual part, and I also dirtied the tracked wheels and the tailwheel. The radio mast was finished simulating wood.

The landing light, which comes as a clear part in the kit, was carved using a spherical drill. The interior was painted silver and detailed with a bulb. Finally, the lens was added using a small thermoformed clear dish (an article about this topic is in preparation).

Time to add the smaller details. The oil cooler was glued under the nose, using the holes previously drilled. I made the exhaust stacks by pressing pieces of brass tubing with a plier. They should be have a more rectangular cross section, but my initial efforts to made them that way failed and I gave up. Better to finish this beast before another accident strikes in.

If you don't know, the Storch had foldable wings, and the handles to release the wing locking mechanism are quite visible on the leading edge of the wing root. I made these handles using stretched sprue and inserted them throught small holes drilled earlier:

And if you are asking how it is after the scaring episode of the marred windows, here are two shots before I install the last items:

It would not win any contest, but I'm glad to save it after so much work. So came the final parts. I assembled the wheels and the propeller, then the antenae mast and the fresh air intake on the canopy roof:

Next, the landing light and the pitot tube were glued in place under the port wing:

The cockpit door was lightly weathered, and some maps added to the map case. I also added the opening handles. At this point, I discovered a major error of this kit: the door couldn't hinge completely open. It hit the wing struts. Damn. I tried to solve the problem by sanding a tad of the lower edge, but it didn't solve the problem. Had I sanded more, the door would be unrealistically short. So I left it semi-open, the problem is not so evident, afterall:

The final touches was the addition of paint chipping and scratches under the belly, wing struts, landing gear struts, and around the tailwheel. It's done:

As a rule, I like to display my models on a suitable base, but this one will be used in a future diorama. So I opted for a simple thing. A Fieseler advertisement was printed, laminated with plastic and glued to one of my standard bases. Surely the simplest base I eved did:


And here is the strange bird in all its glory:

In order to round off this article, I have to mention a few faults I made during the process:

- I'm not sure the aerial cable should be installed.
- I used bogus serial numbers. Still looking for a decent research on these rare aircraft.
- I forgot the wingtip lights. Maybe one day I'll add them.

And of course, remember this is not a good kit, although better than the Academy offering, in my opinion. Now wait a few months and Tamiya will downscale their 1/48 marvel. Wait and see... that's my luck.

Technical file
- Heller #80227
- A few photoeteched parts from left-over frets
Basic colors: 
- Primer: Fast drying automotive acrylic primer
- RLM 02:
Model Master Acryl #4770
- RLM 65: Aerotech automotive lacquer
- RLM 70: Gunze Aqueous H-64 Dark Green
- RLM 71: Gunze Aqueous H-65 Black Green
- Semi-gloss varnish: 50/50% mix of Model Master Acryl Gloss and Flat
- The cockpit and the landing gear were scratchbuilt.

Rato Marczak © 2009