Messerchmitt Bf 109 G10

I have long been tempted to recreate the effect of polished Duralumin which many of the warbirds of the latter part of WWII sported as a factory fresh look. Initially camouflaged, a lot of the American aircraft later on saved time, money and weight by omitting the painting stage altogether. This allowed even a speed advantage when the surface was polished and accompanied by flush riveting.

The mirror-like surfaces reflect sky and ground and shine like a jewel under the sun which is a joy to behold. 
There are several methods and techniques available to re-create these surfaces on scale models. Since I prefer building in paper, the painting-over and surface-buffing technique wasn't ieal because of the fragile nature of the base material - paper.
That left me the option of building out of glossy, metallic coated sheets, (which wouldn't glue together very well), or cover a paper model with reflective PVC sticker sheets, (where the sheet thickness would be an issue)...
So I decided to try a home grown, cost-effective technique to start of with and see whether it had potential.
The idea was to build a paper-model and then cover it with kitchen grade Aluminium foil. Inexpensive, good reflective material and how complicated could it be?

I chose to make a BF 109 because I still am fascinated by this aircraft. The shape is purely form follows function but there are so many clever engineering details grafted into this machine that the more I learn about it, the more respect I have...not only for the design and the designer, but also for those who built it and flew it. 
I have no idea if BF109's were ever tried, tested and or flown in bare metal. I think not, because i haven't seen a single photo of one such so far.
Well then, here's a first.  


As I built each part, I covered it with Aluminium foil. The great adventure had become and it was the beginning of a long tug of war which I almost gave up on half way.
I tried to glue the foil on with tacky sprayed on glue. But the moment I put the foil on, the glue droplets would show through as bumps. I sprayed one side, both sides, thick and thin. But it was a mess.
Then I tried to spray on fixative and use that as a tacky surface to glue on the foil. Very messy too.
Finally I settled for brushing on evenly white PVA glue and then lightly placing the foil on it with pressing down too hard.
That seemed to work. It gave me some time to shift the foil before it set and the PVA acted as a surfacer too.
So, peice by peice, panel by panel, I advanced....

 Aluminium foil is so so fragile. I thumbnail will mark it. Dust will leave a bump in it. Paper fibres, hair...they all leave a mark. The slightest mark changes the quality of the surface and once marked it is very difficult to get rid of it by pressing or buffing because since the paper beneath is soft too and 'gives', the foil on the surface gets creases. Nightmare.
Plus, with more nd more handling, inadvertantly, the model gets knocked about and starts looking like it's already been through battle before it's left the factory!

I did some minimum detailing in the cockpit to give an impression of an interior. The Erla Haube canopy was not easy to make at this scale. I tried to do it with just bending but it would be better to use heat from a hairdryer to soften the material an get a nicer transition...

 An idea of the scale with my thumb alongside the cockpit. Any handling of the plane had to be done with 'feather-fingers' or the moment I put it down it would even have finger prints on it from holding the model too hard, in order to glue parts together.

I almost gave up halfway through, because I saw the surfaces getting damaged under my very own eyes and that was dispairing! But then I knew that if I don't go to the end of this exercise, I won't really have tried this way of working completely.

Once all the surfaces wre covered and the model completed. the excess glue had to be wiped off with an earbud that was slightly moist. That done, the model was complete...but didn't feel complete.
Something was missing....

Rivets! So with a pin, I began a journey of thousands of tiny pinpricks in as straight a line as possible on surfaces that were curved and often inaccessable. Impossible to use the surface as a guide to steady the hand..or it would ding.
I did my best and then the plane began coming to life...The scale felt right, the details added that 'join' to the panels and even in some cases made warped surfaces look like flight-stressed surfaces.

So, it sort of works, needs a lot of attention....but I wonder, if a glue that sets hard might be a solution to preserve the surface. And maybe slightly thicker aluminium foil might be more resistant.

I would do this again..larger scale. This exercise may have pushed me to the edges of my patience but it's also inviting me to find a way to crack it and enter a world of polished aluminium models that are easy and cost-effective to make but more importantly, look like the real thing!!


It's a legend that symbolises so much... 
The courageous pilots who flew them 75 odd years ago in defence of their nation and the defiance of the common man who stood below cheering them on, airplanes with the 'pointy wings'.
Design and technical innovation with flexibility and efficiency.
Childhood fantasies and inspiration for generations to come.
Grace, beauty and élegance...
And so much more.
All immortalised into one shape, so pleasing to the eye, built of metal, wood and fabric.

I made a silent promise to myself 27 years ago that I would build a 'big-one' some day. Smaller models, due to their size, give the impression that one is standing far away from the real thing. Bigger ones however give a sensation of proximity, fuelling an excitement of being closer to the real thing, with more possibility for detail and simply being able to run the eye up-close along it's straights and curves.

640 hours of work. 4 sheets of white cardboard ( 0.7mm, 1.5mm, 2mm, 3mm) and half a kilo of white glue.

I'll forever remember, decades ago, a good friend of mine telling me about the wreck of a Spitfire that lay abandoned in some corner of his hometown. Trembling with close and yet so far.

About ten years ago I found some Spitfire 3-views on the net with basic fuselage sections; nicely detailed drawings with access panels and part seperation lines included. These kinds of drawings are exciting to look at and drag me willingly into 'i-want-to-make-this-model-
mode' instantly. I had access to a large plotter and enlarged and printed the drawings as much as the paper width would allow. Printed, these were rolled up and buried in mountains of boxes in two subsequent house-movings.

Over the past year or so, the desire to build this plane started welling up in me again; more and more difficult to ignore. I caught myself sneaking late night peeks on the net at fotos of spitfires, I visited the two aircraft housed at the Brussels military museum, I downloaded books on them and I stumbled across others who were fascinated by this plane and were letting their passion flow, live and grow by building it. ( See David Glen's incredibly detailed work at )
Alarm bell in my head - time to stop wishing and start doing.

But why this plane in particular? The documented history is fascinating in itself but it's not so much the information about it that drives's emotion. The shape, a seemingly casual perfect play of curves and proportions that effortlessly breathe elegance, grace and beauty. A spitfire on the ground is beautiful to look at but look at it in the's silhouette from every angle belongs there...gracefully free. Yes, somehow this plane pulls the strings of freedom, beauty, grace and elegance together in me and when my eyes find it on the net, in a book, in an airshow or a museum I feel just one simple With all it's perfection and it's shortcomings, brand new or sadly scrunched up in an old sepia photo, even as millions admire, touch and drool over her, what I feel for her is unmatchedly unique. So besotted was/am I that I even wondered if there was a past-life thingy about it and toyed with the idea that 75 years ago I was pushing the throttle slowly forward as I prepared to leave the grassy fields. We'll leave it there for now.

At the end of July this year, just before an art festival in the Drôme, when I should have been in a flurry about getting all my work packed and ready to show, a sudden focussed calm came upon me. I found the drawings surprisingly quickly, cleared my table, spread them out and began soaking in the shape, taking in lines and profiles with the eye whilst the mind imagined how it would all come together in three dimensions. I had the feeling of entering a very sacred space, where the intention was clear, the drive present and me, quivering-ly alive.

I am so so lucky to have Shasha who encourages me limitlessly, making sure that I have the time and space and not distracted by the mundane so that I could allow myself to go deeper into this project...and I immersed myself completetly. Totally engrossed, I was unaware of the hours that passed, surfacing late in the evening when my tummy grumbled it's needs. A parrallel universe almost, of paper and cardboard and shapes and lines. Of matching edges and surfaces, of imaginary stringers linking formers. In this space I felt a new sensation of being 'one' with this plane. As I built each section I felt a resonance with the original, as if paper and I vibrated at matching frequencies with the original's metal, wood and fabric...leaving me deeply silenced inside. A meditative state of no contemplation, just paper and glue coming together in my hands, as if guided by the legendary immortal spitfire-spirit. ;-). During this period Spitfire objects found their way to me..a biscuit tin from Scotland, a manual, a dvd, books...
Why depict the aircraft as just a framework? Firstly, this isn't supposed to be a scale model replica: it's more an artistic representation, a sculpture. Several inspirations guided me simultaneously. One was the drawing itself, which I had to redraw because it was heavily pixellated by the time I enlarged and printed it; the drawing itself being a linear representation had a sparce, pure quality to it. I wanted to transform the 'technical drawing' into 3 dimensions, and have just the panel-lines delineate the overall shape. This wouldn't be possible at this scale because the paper and cardboard would sag under it's own weight. So it had to have a basic structure underneath that had to be light in actual and visual weight. I needed this to follow the original structure as much as possible so as to retain the spirit of the real thing. This led me to study a lot of images and articles on the net which in itself was an exercise leading me into the innards of this airplane.
Another inspiration was the 'ethereal'. An element in most of my artistic work, this is an inspiration which breathes lightnes, air, fragility and impermanence into my art-works. Add to it the material, paper, which has it's own sensitive character and can be fragile or robust, depending on how it is handled. I wanted to bring a 'ghost' like quality to this plane, insisting on the timeless, legendary and immortal aspects of it's spirit. And of course the delightful contrast of using light paper to represent something that weighs 2500 kilos.

I started with the wings. the main spar and ribs were cut from 3mm cardboard, very difficult on the hands with a heavy duty cutter and a scalpel. The leading and trailing edges were made in 2mm cardboard. The fuselage sections were done in 2mm cardboard too with it's top and bottom profiles in 3mm. I had to make the airplane knock-down-able so that it could be transported for exhibitions, for at about 1:6th scale it's almost 2m in wingspan and length. Detailing of the joinery had to be sturdy, discreet, follow the original design as much as possible and be made solely of paper. Initially I had planned to use thin bolts with nuts and washers in order to mount the wings and the tailplane, but the fit was pleasantly tight and the parts stay in place with the joints flush. Next came the fun part...surface detailing. using 2mm wide strips of 0.7mm cardboard to define all the panel lines and access panels. The fishtail exhaust stacks had to look the part without being a solid mass. And depicting the malcolm hood canopy took several different approaches; I didn't want to use plastic, that would kill the all paper theme and whatever I did had to suggest the shape of the canopy, without making it look like a solid mass. I finally settled for a thin strip that defines the silhouette; the bulge on the sides thus not depicted. As the details were glued on, the airplane appeared to come to life, it's 'surface' suggested by panels and joints that hung in thin air. 

Halfway through the construction heavy rains hit the region and they continue as I write. I had to move my workspace as water started seeping in. Once ready the airplane soared in my room, awaiting a suitable sunny day for it to be photographed. The first thing that my open eyes would behold would be the spitfire silhouette it's edges aflame with gold light coming in through my east facing window.

 The building process was a deep joy and I found myself lagging as I approached the finish line, unwilling to let go of this adventure. Now I'm in stand-back-and-admire-from-different-angles mode, with my brain already plotting the details of the next one to come...