by: Stephen T. Lawson [ ]
History of the original fabricsWWI initial efforts to conceal aircraft from the enemy involved painting camouflage patterns by hand on the airframes. But this was time consuming, and the dope paints used added additional weight.
To help streamline aircraft production, the Idflieg (the bureau of the German War Office that oversaw Military Aviation) developed Flugstoff — aircraft linen with a dye printed camouflage pattern. This reduced the man-hours and materials otherwise used painting the camouflage patterns. And, because the dyes used to print the fabric weighed less than paint, Flugstoff had the added benefit of reducing weight — thereby contributing to improved aircraft performance.
While no official Idflieg report has surfaced detailing the origin of the colors selected, it seems likely that these camouflage patterns were based on the color theories of the “Impressionist Art Movement”. The concept was that when two different spots of color are placed next to one another, and viewed at a distance, the eye visually mixes them to produce a third color. This optical “blending” could be influenced by environmental lighting and thereby change the resulting third color. So practically speaking, the camouflage looked different under different lighting and blended with the surroundings. It was simple yet effective. It also made the aircraft difficult to view. A pilot had to decide whether an enemy aircraft was coming at him or going away. This indecision made it possible for the German pilot to see his enemy and plot his tactics.
There were several different varieties of Flugzeugstoff patterns printed for use with day and night operations. The most common were the five-color (Fünffarbiger Flugzeugstoff) and the four-color (Vierfarbiger Flugzeugstoff) patterns. Both of these were printed in different color schemes for both the upper and lower surfaces. Additionally, there were different patterns and colors developed for use with Naval operations.
The four color fabric was 1320mm plus or minus 10mm wide and the five color fabric was 1350mm plus or minus 10mm wide. This is without trimming or folding for the butt joint seams factory edge to factory edge.
a word on the decal typeThese decals simulate the camouflage fabric applied to German aircraft during the First World War. While usually referred to as "lozenge" by modelers today, this term is in fact a misnomer. The repeated shapes in these patterns are not lozenges (having four to five sides), but rather polygons (having six sides). The German term for the material was "Flugzeugstoff" or literally aircraft covering stock. However, for marketing purposes many manufacturers have decided to use the more familiar term "lozenge" simply for ease of recognition by the general public.
HGW German Lozenge decalsTheir first 1:48 releases depict 4 colour (set #548023) & 5 colour (set #548022 intermediate dark) lozenge. Each package comes with one sheet containing strips / bolts of both upper and lower surface layouts. HGW has said that the decal strips represent bolts of printed polygon fabric as it would appear with the edges un-modified as if it came straight off the factory floor. Now for the five color pattern factory edge to factory edge width, I find these appear to be closer to 4' 8" than the generally accepted 4' 6". But this is a small issue over all as it is a difference of about 1/16” in 1:48. We know that 4 colour was narrower than 5 colour. But the HGW versions are the same width. This makes the HGW 4 colour strips about 5 scale inches too wide. Also there are several older studies on this subject that have different over all conclusions. The recent restorations and studies fostered by them lead us to the standard of 4’6” bolt width. These decal sets in 1:48 represent faded / transparent type of 4 (set #548023) & 5 (set #548022) colour lozenge. Because of the clear carrier film as a base they are good for interior use or for giving your bird a well-worn or "over" varnished look to outer surfaces.
WARNING! You must clear coat these to use. You can damage these with more than casual handling. Make sure your thumbnail edges never run across the un-coated decal surface.
Application to the wings & flying surfacesThese are typical for ink based water slide decals. Several methods were used to apply the original printed fabric to the airframe. All methods involved the assembly of various pieces of fabric to form an envelope covering large enough to fit the intended area. The pieces were always butt joined and sewn along the selvage edges. These joints were overlap stitched like typical blue denim. This is called a “French stitch”. These envelope type / sleeve coverings were then attached to the airframe by stitching, nailing and doping them to the ribs wrapped in fabric batting and edges.
The most common application method by far was Chordwise, with the fabric running parallel to the wing ribs or “chord” of the wing.
An alternate application method was Spanwise. Here the fabric was applied perpendicular to the ribs, parallel to the leading edge. This was the simplest method since a single run of fabric could cover most of the wing with only a single seam needed to add any additional material. It was seen mostly on narrow winged aircraft Like the Siemens Schuckert types. It was also used in some repair work.
Another method was Diagonal, with the fabric being applied on the wings at a 45 degree angle to the line of flight. Again this meant multiple panels to cover the wing. Due to the increased area of the fabric joints this was the strongest method.
Ailerons and elevators were usually covered Spanwise. This simplified application by minimizing the number of seams needed.
Application to the fuselageFor the fuselage; the application of lozenge panels was done differently between the three license builders of the Fokker D.VII. That is the factory edges were not applied to the same longerons. Because of their factory assembly lines layout patterns of lozenge were not the same between Fokker Schwerin, Albatros Johannistahl and East Albatros Works Schneidemuhl. Note Longerons are the long corner edges of the fuselage two upper, two lower.
Consult references for the correct pattern and method for your subject. It was not uncommon for airframes to have mixed patterns (i.e. four color covered fuselage with five color wings, etc.). But these were usually due to "in - the- field" repair situations.
rib tapesThese were strips of fabric generally applied over each full rib and around the edges of the wings to reinforce stitching. They were approximately one inch wide. The tapes could be created from camouflage fabric, or strips of solid blue or salmon pink fabric. Tapes were not applied to elevators or ailerons in the case of fighter aircraft. The HGW sets do not come with any rib tapes.
There are different opinions as to whether rib tapes were applied as a single/continuous piece wrapped around the entire rib profile (both the upper and lower wing surfaces), or as individual strips for each surface. If they were single/continuous pieces, then in instances where camouflage tape was used, the continuous tape would contrast against one of the wing surface coverings (i.e. Upper scheme tapes would contrast against lower surface coverings and vice versa.). If they were separate camouflage strips for upper and lower surfaces, then they could be matched to the background pattern.
Machines built by Albatros received salmon pink or camouflage rib tapes. OAW machines received light blue or camouflage rib tapes. Fokker-built machines only used camouflage tapes.
texture decalThe available texture decal sheet is a separate sheet from another manufacturer that overlays the finished lozenge decal. Large areas of solid color, or repeating patterns on models can look a little too pristine or uniform. This can make a scale replica look toy-like. There are many ways to alter the appearance of these areas including pre-shading, glazing, dry brushing and powders. Here is another choice to add to your arsenal. Fabric texture decals. The idea is to make a fabric area look like fabric! The imitation of printed lozenge fabric on WWI models has always been an effect that has tested modeler's skills. The challenge is depicting the colors accurately without making them look too garish on such a small scale. These decals have been developed to add a subtle irregular cloth texture and tone down the lozenge patterns by about 5% without causing a significant shift in colors.
How to use1. These decals represent printed bolts of camouflage fabric with edges trimmed and sewn for application to airframes.
2. Study the reference material on your chosen subject. If possible, determine the patterns used for both fuselage and wings (they may differ) and the application method (see Fabric Orientation).
3. A copy of a scale drawing of the aircraft will be helpful to plan the decal layout.
4. It is essential that these decals be applied to a gloss finish. This provides the best surface for the decals to adhere. I recommend light almond or sail colours as a base.
5. Take your time applying the decals. Allow each piece to set before working on the next. Do one surface at a time. You must cut all “clear” border edges and get only the lozenge decal. The borders are translucent green and become readily seen as stripes to each panel you lay down.
6. Shoot at least two coats of a hobby clear gloss on the decals you intend to use. It is best you let them dry to the touch between coats and cut the individual strip out as close to the edge of the decal as possible. Try to use within a 20 hour period after applying the gloss & allow to completely dry. Begin with the lower surfaces. Carefully measure the intended area (dividers are useful for transferring measurements), being sure to add a little extra at the ends—this will be trimmed later. Cut the piece of decal you need from the sheet.
7. Using tweezers dip it in the hot - very warm water for no more than five seconds. Submersing the decal for a longer period of time can dilute the adhesive and interfere with the adhesive qualities. Place it on a nonporous surface and wait for it to loosen from the paper backing.
8. Apply a good amount of Microset solution to the surface where the decal is to go. When loosened, gently slide the decal from the backing into place. You can use a moist finger or a Q-tip.
9. Exact position can be achieved by moving the decal with a Q-tip. Carefully blot up the excess moisture with a soft cloth. Then, gently press the decal to the surface, starting at one corner and working over the entire surface of the decal. Try not to shift its position. Apply a thin film of Microset over the decal and blot up any excess. Difficult areas (compound curves, extremely detailed areas) may require the sparing use of MicroSol.
10. When set repeat the process for the next panel. When the lower surfaces are done and thoroughly dry, clean up the edges with a Xacto knife, trimming excess material. Repeat this process for the upper surfaces.
11. When all the decal panels have been added to both upper and lower surfaces, the rib tapes can be applied. These cover all full rib (not riblet) locations of the wings. They were not applied to elevators or ailerons. Camouflage tapes can be created by cutting strips (length wise) from the decal material.
12. To apply the texture decal the piece should be over sized and minimal sliding will be a requirement. These are little more than some micro-strands of colour on a clear carrier film. The decal edges will disappear very quickly.
Fokker D.VII Covering Practices by Dan-San Abbott, WWI Aero #102, Pp.22-33. 1984.
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