Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Military Aircraft In Detail: Heinkel He 100 Record Breaker

Erwin Hood, Midland Publishing, Hinckley, England, 2007, ISBN 978-1-85780-260-3. Illustrated, softcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Midland Publishing, 2007.

I first became intrigued by the Heinkel He 100 as a young teenager when, in December of 1975, Manfred Leihse published his excellent article Weltrekordflug Heinkel He 100 V8 in the German magazine Modell Fan. The article, still relevant today, also contained outstandingly detailed scale drawings of the He 100. But more than three decades later, published information regarding this elusive aircraft still remains scarce, not least due to the fact that little original source material has survived the war.

Having to make do with such limited resources, it is to Erwin Hood's credit that he still managed to create such a detailed, meticulously researched monograph about one of Ernst Heinkel's most fascinating aircraft. Barring a possible future discovery of currently unknown information regarding the He 100, Hood's book will likely remain the one-stop, landmark study on this topic.

In spite of the aforementioned dearth of material and the limited page count of the books in Midland Publishing's Military Aircraft in Detail series, Heinkel He 100 Record Breaker is an extremely comprehensive and complete reference publication, and, as such, long-overdue. Starting off with a brief look at the Heinkel factory and the pursuit of speed in 1930s German aircraft design, the book then delves into the history of the gestation and the technical anatomy of the aircraft. The various prototypes receive due attention, along with Heinkel's efforts to utilize the He 100 to achieve the absolute world speed record. Equally meticulously illuminated are the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to convince the German air ministry (RLM) to acquire the He 100 as an operational Luftwaffe fighter. A further chapter details the efforts to export the design and technical know-how to Russia and Japan. The narrative concludes with a look at the He 100's eventual use as a propaganda tool and in Heinkel's factory defense force - a rather ignominious end for such a cutting edge aircraft.

Heinkel He 100 Record Breaker is an immensely absorbing publication, not least due to the wealth of photographs, color profiles (created by Tom Tullis), and period documents reproduced therein. Erwin Hood's own detailed line drawings of the various prototypes and A-series aircraft conclude the book. The book has been printed on high-quality, glossy paper, which provides for a good photo reproduction. The impression is slightly marred, however, due to the intermittent application of superfluous sepia tones, as is periodically in vogue for history books. While a modern book design is very welcome, this particular publication is directed at a highly specialized audience interested in written and visual facts and not at teenagers dazzled by fashionable photo coloration. It is simply annoying, although such criticism is of course highly subjective.

Needless to say, the compiling of a perfect reference is impossible, even under the best of circumstances, and in spite of decades of expert research into the field of German aircraft 1933 to 1945, there remain significant gaps in knowledge und uncounted questions. Hood's truly excellent book reflects that reality. There are still no known cockpit shots of the He 100, for example. Or there is the photo of the He 100 V8 prototype, on page 59, the caption of which states that it was displayed at the Deutsches Museum [German Museum] in Munich (under the spurious designation of He 112 U). Other sources have identified the location of this display as the near-mythical Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung [German Aviation Collection], in Berlin, however. And indeed, a photo in my collection seems to show the very same aircraft, mounted in front of a wall and underneath a roof which can clearly be identified as part of the Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung building in Berlin (see above). Perhaps the V8 was displayed in both locations, at different times.

Such observations constitute nitpicking, of course, and are perhaps even unfair. Fact is, Erwin Hood has created a truly outstanding new standard reference on the He 100.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Focke Wulf Jagdflugzeug Fw 190 A, Fw 190 "Dora", Ta 152 H

Peter Rodeike, Struve-Druck, Eutin, Germany, 1998, ISBN 3-923457-44-8. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Although this is a truly substantial book at 444 pages, a format of 22 x 30 cm/8.5 x 12", and hundreds of photos and drawings, very little actually needs to be said about it. There simply exists no better single reference work on the Fw 190/Ta 152, and it will be many years before one will be published - if ever.

The photos are accompanied by very thorough and well-researched captions which address technical details, differences between the individual Fw 190 subtypes and developments, and variations of camouflage and markings. In addition to illustrating the various versions of the Fw 190 to perfection, the photo content of the book contains some real treasures. Interspersed are drawings specifying the particular features of every (fighter and trainer) version of the Fw 190. Most of these excellent detail drawings have been taken from the aircraft handbook, while the line drawings have been created specifically for this book.

Also included are technical data and (German language) text describing the development of the aircraft, along with lists of the Werknummern and corresponding manufacturer. Rodeike's magnum opus closes with 29 color profiles and further information in the appendix.

If pressed to find a shortcoming in this book, it would probably have to be the relative brevity of the chapter dealing with the Ta 152. Comparing the sheer numbers of Fw 190s built with the small numbers of Ta 152s actually manufactured, even this "flaw" might be explained.

Worth every penny of its purchase price.

(Amended version of a review I originally posted on the discussion forum of Hyperscale.com on December 6, 2002.)

Friday, 13 June 2008

Luftwaffe Colours 1935 - 1945

Michael Ullmann, Hikoki Publications Ltd., Ottringham, England, 2002, ISBN 1-902109-34-1. Illustrated, hardcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Hikoki Publications Ltd., 2002.

It's not quite that simple to draft at a conclusive and fair appraisal of this book. Michael Ullmann has risen to become one of the most renowned experts on the topic of Luftwaffe colors and camouflage. Prior to this lavish, 256-page, large-format Hikoki edition, Ullmann's book (in its original German edition) has gone through a number of incarnations, each time becoming more definitive and professional. The first edition, in the mid 1990s, was a self-published underground release, essentially a photocopied stack of paper, held together by spiral binding. Yet even then, Ullmann's expert knowledge and, not least, his enthusiasm for the topic, were readily apparent from the content of the publication.

One of the subsequent editions of the book - the one immediately preceding this Hikoki edition - was published through Germany's eminent Bernard & Graefe publishing house. Ullmann's work had by now become a substantial hardback book, and the abundant text was supplemented by means of well-reproduced black & white and color photos, color profiles and period drawings. Hikoki's English-language version of the book is based on this last German edition. It contains yet even more photos and profiles, and the format of the book was almost doubled.

Michael Ullmann's research and publishing work are invaluable for anybody seriously interested in the Luftwaffe. And yet, therein lies also this book's limitation, so to speak: it is slightly less "consumer-friendly" than other comparable publications on the same topic by, for example, Classic Publications or Eagle Editions. The text is not primarily designed for readability or narrative quality, but rather for completeness and technical accuracy. It sometimes comes close to resembling a doctoral thesis, and this is not helped by the inclusion of an abundance of specifications and exhaustive instructions translated from German period documents. It is almost too much, even for a reader truly focused on the questions of Luftwaffe colors, unless he or she is in the process of restoring the genuine article.

Moreover, there are no fancy color profiles as customarily used by other Luftwaffe publishers, such as the aforementioned ones. Instead, the Hikoki edition of Ullmann's book provides some basic profiles in the typical Hikoki-style (i.e., they are not rendered to look photo-realistic and three dimensional but rather simply to showcase camouflage patterns).

While thus less commercially appealing and more demanding to the reader, all of this also serves to make Ullmann's Luftwaffe Colours 1935 - 1945 an absolutely essential, excellent, and very thorough study of Luftwaffe aircraft painting and camouflage. Moreover, a section of the book looks at markings and codes. Luftwaffe Colours 1935 - 1945 provides a long overdue and very detailed look at official decrees and period customs. No serious Luftwaffe library can do without this book.

Most of the photos in Luftwaffe Colours 1935 - 1945 are reproduced to a crisp, professional standard. As is almost inevitable due to the nature of the topic at hand, the interpretation of the camouflage in the photo captions is, in a few instances, debatable. In addition to the photos, the book contains period drawings and documents. Also included are 44 color chips, and 10 more were subsequently provided by the publisher as a free supplement.

At the time of the book's release, some enthusiasts expressed a certain unhappiness about the size of the chips (30 by 17 mm) and the fact that they are glossy. To me personally, the size is completely irrelevant. I don't require square-foot sized chips, but rather accurate ones. Besides, there have been many other expert publications with roughly similarly sized chips. Also, there exist countless photos of Luftwaffe aircraft with glossy camouflage surfaces, so the glossiness did not deter me, and I agree with the publisher in that I tend to think that flat chips age less nicely. Whether or not Ullmann's chips will hold up over time remains to be seen.

There are some minute shade differences between the paint chips published by other respectable sources, such as e.g. Eagle Editions' Color Chart or Aura Design Studio's Luftwaffe Tarnfarben (by Tomas Chory). The same goes for the chips in Ullmann's book. A lot of research undoubtedly went into all of these reference works, and it should be remembered that the original Luftwaffe color batches inevitably differed from each other ever so slightly as well, especially towards the end of the war.

(Amended version of a review originally posted on the discussion forum of Hyperscale.com in August 2002.)

Saturday, 23 February 2008

German Air Projects 1935-45, Volume 3: Bombers

Marek Rys, Mushroom Model Publications, Redbourn, England/STRATUS s.c., Sandomierz, Poland, 2007, ISBN 978-83-89450-30-2, Red Series No. 5110. Illustrated, softcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Mushroom Model Publications, 2007.

As has become the standard for Mushroom Model Publications' output, this book, too, is professionally produced, well-researched, and clearly laid-out. Most aircraft are allocated at least one full page of text and drawings, although some of the nearly 50 entries (such as the Focke-Wulf Ta 400, for example) are covered in greater detail. Far from only including mere paper projects, Rys also details aircraft designs which either flew (e.g., the Junkers Ju 390 or the Heinkel He 277), were proposed subtypes of existing aircraft (e.g. the Arado Ar 234 or the Messerschmitt Me 264), or were in the process of actually being built as a prototype (e.g. the Horten XVIII or the Heinkel He 343).

The manufacturers included in this book include Arado, Blohm & Voss, BMW, Daimler Benz, Focke Wulf, Heinkel, Henschel, Horten, Junkers, Lippisch, and Messerschmitt. The projects described include both propeller and jet aircraft. Inexplicably, however, some of Arado's, BMW's, and Messerschmitt's projects are spelled with a nonsensical and entirely fictitious Umlaut.

Much like in the case of another Mushroom book reviewed elsewhere in this blog, however, one can occasionally find rather puzzling statements. As stated in the aforementioned review, the limited size of these books renders impossible the inclusion of a detailed list of original references consulted. It is thus impossible, for example, to determine why Rys labels Messerschmitt's P.1107 project "Me 462". This number can't be found in the RLM GL/C list.

The final eight pages of German Air Projects 1935-45, Volume 3: Bombers comprise beautiful and convincing computer renderings of what these aircraft might have looked like if actually built. This is a very pleasing and professional addition, and a huge step forward from older books on this topic (such as, for example, David Masters' legendary German Jet Genesis, Jane Publishing, 1982) whose illustrations at times looked as if drawn by a child and thus provided plenty of ammunition to those who perceive the speculative nature of the content of such books as laughable.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

First Classic Publications Flyer

Classic Publications' very first flyer, itself a collector's item by now, announcing the formation of the new publishing house and the publication of Robert Forsyth's massive JV44 - The Galland Circus, in early 1996. (Fischer collection)