View Full Version : gloss or flat finish?

07-11-2009, 06:25 AM
Did WWI planes have a glossy finish? I know the RC planes look nice with glossy monocote but, is that what they looked liked? No offense to the beautiful glossy WWI models I've seen here.

07-13-2009, 02:30 AM
These aircraft were built with an intended operating life of weeks, sometimes days. Paints were applied rapidly by brush, and would usually have been semi-gloss - there wasn't a lot of choice in WW1. Brush streaks aplenty - these things were going to war, often in somewhat unskilled hands.

The best example, if you go dig a little, is the Focker Dr1 triplane - usually portrayed in smooth red gloss. They came out the factory and were blue underneath, streaky dark green on topsides, and the dark green ran over an inch or so onto the undersides of all surfaces. The red thing - the German fighter pilots were encouraged to be individualistic, red paint was the hardest to find and the most expensive, so only the privately richest pilots could afford much red paint!

Von Richtofen didn't fly all red anything - never mind that many triplanes of all sizes come out in all red!

To make matters worse, and especially on rotary powered aircraft, they got filthy. Engine oil came out all over the front end, especially on those rotaries, and though ground-crew probably tried to scrape some off, this wasn't a beauty contest. They flew off muddy grass airfields, and the residue of that probably didn't all get washed off.

The reason why modern day replicas or restorations fly in pristine condition - easier to maintain, I suppose. I've seen aircraft of this era fly at Old Warden Museum airfield north of London and these well maintained aircraft would land covered in oil from cowling back.

A glossy Monokote finish - properly built of ready-made - is nothing but a parody of a great era in the development of aircraft. At least get some matte varnish spray, cut down the gloss and maybe drip a little clear varnish around the cowl to replicate oil streaking. Most popular WW1 types are surprisingly well documented - go for originals, not replica or restoration aircraft though, to show how filthy they could get.

Or just model a gleaming, pristine and clean museum replica.



07-13-2009, 03:17 AM
I thought my dull finished foamies looked more realistic than the glossy skinned models. I guess my imagination wasn't to far off. I usually spray the monocote/coverite with a light spray of duill coat. Maybe a light spray of shiny black/brown to look like oil spray in the front?

07-13-2009, 04:15 AM
When I paint my pilots for my WW1 planes I put a finish coat of black acrylic paint thin 50% with water and a few drops of liquid soap. This gives them a dirty look. It also means I don't have to be perfect painting them cause it hides little errors in the paint.

07-13-2009, 04:18 PM
I've noticed in quite a few photos of WWI planes that from certain angles, the fabric can have a reflective quality to it. Particularly noticeable on the underside of the upper wings of biplanes. Often you can see a reflection of whatever is beyond the plane. But I wouldn't consider them shiny by any means. Even a window screen will be reflective at the right angle.

I personally like a more satin sheen to my planes. Not Matte, and not shiny. Seems more accurate according to most I've seen. (I sprayed the SE5a in my avatar <----- with a matte spray. It seemed almost too dull at first. But with time, and handling, it took on a slightly more satin sheen, as I think skin and oils have polished the "tooth" of the matte spray. I like it much better now.)

If you're doing a "stick and tissue" plane, this is easy with a dope finish, since it is pretty much the exact same thing the real ones used. But the foamy and monocote planes take a bit more thought to get them the way YOU like them, which really is all that matters.;-)

07-13-2009, 06:19 PM
From what I have read it seems that durning WW1 it was discovered that no mater what color a plane was painted at a distance it was just a dark dot in the sky. What they did not want was anything that would reflect the sun and cause a bright flash that would attract attention.

07-14-2009, 02:17 AM
But I too have many reference books "Thanks Marty!!" on WWI aircraft that do indeed show reflections in the fabric. Also lets face facts. If you paint your plane red, purple, yellow or whatever, you're going to be seen!! That was the whole point of painting them bright colors. They wanted other pilots and ground troops to be able to identify who scored the kill because you had to have confirmation. They didn't have any type of communication between planes other than hand signals. I think they might have started out glossy and became a flat shade due to use. Maybe not show car shiny but not flat either. I also have pics in my books of some very wrinkly covering on some of the full size planes. Steve

07-14-2009, 10:08 PM
The people who really knew if the planes were bright and shiney or flat and dirty , have mostly passed on now .
But the era and time line of WW1 was still a time when machines were something new and expensive and well maintained . Railroads still had engine wipers , yes people who's job was washing and wipeing down locomotives , and the passenger cars were called varnish , yep you know why shiney .
Aircraft were still really very new in WW1 and were maintained as well as possible , the covering was sealed with dope , not a dull finish , and since the pilot needed all the speed he could have for combat , I think the plane was a s clean and slick as possible , for speed .
In that era of everyone usually dressed up , spit shined shoes and equiptment , especially machinery , old nasty airplanes does not fit , of course bad weather made a difference , and this did not apply to the poor souls in the trenches .
Old photos of power plants where I was around , were so clean that you could eat off the floor , again machinery was well maintained , in those years .
People had pride in their professions and the machines they operated .

But , this is just another opinion from a history nut .

PS , and no they did not look like they were covered in the heat shrink plastic film !

07-14-2009, 10:15 PM
One of the foundries I worked at had two beautifully painted, maintained and still in use automatic core making machines. They were made in 1914!!!!

07-16-2009, 08:55 PM
Way back before I moved to the US in 1993, I lived about an hour from Old Warden museum airfield, home of the Shuttleworth Collection. They had a large collection between an airworthy 1912 Blackburn monoplane and, IIRC, their youngest, a Mk IX clipped tip Spitfire.

What struck me was that, despite their showroom state pre-flight, the older rotary biplanes would fly for maybe ten minutes and land with much of their fuselages covered in oil. Of course, the museum's teams had a month to clean them up for the next show - not the sort of thing WW1 operated under!

The other was that Spitfire - it looked like it had come straight off the European post-invasion front, in contrast to most WW2 restorations that positively gleam. All for show, of course, the aircraft was immaculate and the battle-worthy finish was just paint and imagination. But all the Spitfires I've seen fly would come in heavily oil streaked after even short flights.

An idle thought - that 'PC10' colour that RFC fighters were painted with topsides. Reading magazine scale columns over the years, it seems that no definition nor reliable examples of what colour it really was has existed for many years now! Even Old Warden's WW1 British types - Pup, SE5, Bristol M1 and others - tend to be different colours.

Of course, their German counterparts were much more inclined to show off with differing colours. If you lead a flight in the RFC, you got to hang streamers off your interplane struts, not paint your aircraft a different colour.

But Monokote-shiny they weren't!


07-17-2009, 03:57 AM
Thanks Dereck for your first hand info and post.

What struck me was that, despite their showroom state pre-flight, the older rotary biplanes would fly for maybe ten minutes and land with much of their fuselages covered in oil. Of course, the museum's teams had a month to clean them up for the next show - not the sort of thing WW1 operated under!

Which we know that the military in those days had LOTS of hands to do work with , and that oil would have to be cleaned off quickly and well done , or it would have made them even more of a fire hazard , and if oil soaked for long , they would have become heavier and heavier and slowed their air speed even more , and speed was so important in combat .
Who knows , like many other things in history , knowledge of how they did things ................have been lost somewhat , if it was not written down .

But a lot of busy hands would have made quick work of oil and dirt , and
the reloading the machine guns before the next flight .

Anyone know HOW many enlisted men were assigned to a fighter group in WW 1 ?????