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The Heller Dewoitine D.510

Heller D.510


The D.510 was the ultimate expression of the D.500 series of French fighter aircraft from the early 1930's.  The D.510 first flew on August 14th 1934 and was considered quite maneuverable and well armed for its time.  The 510 differed from the earlier aircraft in the series by having a much more powerful engine, 860hp vs. 660 for the D.500, and in using an all metal three bladed propeller vs. the wooden two blade type on the earlier aircraft.  The D.510 was also radio equipped, something still fairly rare for an early 1930's fighter plane and had an oxygen breathing system for its pilot.  When first introduced, the design was cutting edge and first rate for its day.  Its main battery, the 20mm canon mounted above the engine and firing through the propeller hub was considered very heavy indeed.

Perversely, the Armee De l'Air (the French Air Force) actually suffered for having achieved such an early lead in its fighter aircraft by fielding the D.510.  It was such a big step forward in capability that it was far better than its contemporaries in the early 30's.  The problem was that France's enemies already had much more capable aircraft almost ready to take flight.  Thus by the time the French committed to mass production of the D.510, new prototypes were taking flight in other countries and these aircraft were leaving the D.510 far behind.

A good example of the rate of change in fighter technology of the 1930's can be seen when comparing the Dewoitine D.510 to the next fighter design the AdA (Armee de l'Air) accepted from the Dewoitine company; the D.520.  Whereas the D.510 was an open cockpit, fixed undercarriage machine with a top speed of but 250mph (400 km/ph) and armed with just two machine guns and a 20mm canon, the D.520 sported a fully enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear, a 930hp engine, a top speed of 329mph (529 km/ph), and was armed with four machine guns in addition to its 20mm cannon.  All this on an aircraft which took flight just four years after the 510.

Still though, the D.510 was top of the line for its day and saw some success both within France and also on the export market.  The type was flown by the Chinese and Spanish air forces as well as the earlier versions which were in service with Venezuala, Lithuania and as land-based fighter planes of the French Navy (Aeronavale.)

The Kit

Heller Dewoitine D.510

I'd previously heard of the D.500 series but wasn't overly familiar with them.  A recent article about the D.510 on the Aircraft Resource Center website changed all that.  Written and built by Gabriel Stern, the kit looked both handsome and simple enough to do.  I liked the stance the wide-track landing gear lent to the plane's appearance.  The spatted fixed undercarriage and open cockpit just screamed "Classic Aviation" whilst the metal three bladed prop and radio aerials pointed to something newer than the wood and fabric origins of manned flight.  What truly tipped things over was the simple finish option available - all silver.  Nothing complex about that!  And as this was an early 30's machine I thought it would be simpler still - silver dope.  No need for any metal foil finishing headaches or trying any of the metal finish painting techniques.  Just simple silver dope paint - or more accurately, the nearest equivalent silver model paint available.  To top it all off, the kit could easily be had for cheap even though it was long out of production.  The kit was produced for many a year by Heller and then the moulds made their was over to the Smer company who's kept on pumping them out.  Thus they tend to crop up pretty regularly and inexpensively over on eBay and that's where I found mine within but a couple of weeks after first reading Mr. Stern's write-up of his build.

D.510 The Start

Here's how it all looked all laid out at the start. Those little blue dots on the decal sheet are the blue centers to the roundels.  Bit of a pain cutting those things out!  The decal sheet was specifically vague.  Done in the "international style" it didn't even attempt at labeling any of the parts.  In most cases this wasn't a problem but in some cases it was.  I did tack the instruction sheet up on the wall above my model bench for use as a reference and that did help.  Before starting on the model I did my usual routine of washing the kit parts to remove any mould parting grease.

Heller D.510 Sprue One
Heller D.510 Sprue Two
Heller D.510 Sprue Three

As befits the subject, the company issuing it, and the era in which it was moulded, the kit comes in but a few pieces.  The moulding was reasonably sharp and well executed, for the most part.  As the difference between the D.510 and its predecessors in the Dewoitine series was the engine, the Heller moulds reflect this in the breakdown of the fuselage pieces has a separate piece for the engine cowling top and front.  While that no doubt saved some production costs for Heller, it did result in a weaker and more finicky to properly set up fuselage for the modeller.

The cockpit is rudimentary, to say the least, but at least it is there.  This, replete with seat, stick and instrument panel - little of which bears any resemblance to the actual flying machine's equipment but it is representative.  Before I started with the assembly I made use of the new micro drill bit set I had and drilled out the openings to the rather prominent exhaust stacks on each side of the engine.  I even drilled out the opennings to the venturi tube as well.  I'd thought to attempt the same to the two wing mounted machine guns but they were too thin and I figured I'd louse them up if I tried.  Same same with the hub mounted cannon.

The night's work

As I've done previously, I decided to "liven it up" by repositioning the control surfaces in something other than their moulded positions.  The D.510 seems unique in that it sports full length airlerons.  At least that's what I figure them to be!  After gluing the wing together, I patiently carved the airlerons apart from the it and did the same with the plane's rudder.  As the horizontal stabilizer and elevators were a one piece mould, I left them be.

Next I assembled and painted up the cockpit.  The color here was a bit odd but I found a Humbrol cross reference site that yielded the closest equivalent (Tamiya XF-21 "Sky") to the interior paint color called out in the kit's instructions.  The position of the cockpit assembly is a bit iffy.  There's no locating tabs or any means of achieving a secure placement other than dry fitting - made more complex by the fuselage halves not wanting to stay in position due to their forward half being a separate piece.  I think I guessed well enough as it looked right once I'd got the glue on and the whole thing attached.  The seams that resulted from the fuselage assembly were rather minor and quickly carved/ sanded down.  In the process I decided it was best if I removed the moulded in dorsal radio aerial as I kept banging and bending it.  Why Heller chose to mould that aerial in whilst featuring the ventral one as a separate piece is beyond me.

With the cockpit and fuselage glued together I then attached the upper cowling piece followed by the cowling front piece.  Had I been thinking things through I would've glued the prop retainer piece in place behind the engine front part.  This would've provided more contact surface for the prop to be inserted into.  For propeller planes I generally do not glue to prop to the plane as I like to remove them for storage.  Less broken bits that way.

Next I attached the wings to the fuselage.  The seam that resulted took some careful application of superglue to fill followed by some careful sanding so as to minimize the elimination of surface detail.  Nothing fancy here, we've been through this step before.

With those bits on, I then attached the radiator assembly.  This was one of the problem areas of this kit for me.  The positioning of the radiator housing is anything but emphatic.  The whole thing can slide back and forth or side to side.  There's no locating pins or other securing method.  My guess is that the shape of the housing differed between the D.501 and D.510 so that Heller opted for the modular approach here too.  Unfortunately this meant that the resulting seam was a real bear to fills and sand down - and then rescribe with the proper panel line as it curved around the lower half of the engine compartment.

Another thing to bear in mind about the radiator housing is the lumpy thing in the back of it as called out for in the kit directions.  I thought this was perhaps a exit flap for the radiator ducting.  Its position was not terribly precise and nor was its function at all described in the kits directions.  I found this out the hard way when I looked around for more images of the D.510.

Using Google, I hunted around for other reviews of the kit and of the D.500/501 version of it as well.  It was through this that I struck paydirt, or sorts.  It turns out that a German model builder, Christian Horn, had done a superb job of super-detailing his little Heller D.501 and posted the results on a website page hosted by his university in Germany.  Among other things, it turns out that the "lumpy thing" in the back of the radiator housing was some sort of gas tank.  There should be two metal straps going round it, a drainage cap and two fuel lines running from it to the fuel tanks in the underside of the wing.  None of the details were even hinted at in the Heller kit.  I also learned a rather distressing thing about the D.510 in terms of what finish to apply to it.  I'd thought it was typical of the era in that it was a fabric covered aircraft painted silver dope.  Not so.  Aside from the speed, maneuverability, heavy aramament, and being radio equipped which made the D.500 series so advanced there was also the fact that this was France's first all metal fighter plane.  What I'd thought was a silver doped aircraft now turned out to be a bare metal machine in natural metal finish!  Oh well, that's what you get for not having all your references in place before you start building a kit!

I didn't do much in the way of super detailing this bird as did Mr. Horn.  I did try and contact him but the email address linked on that page is no longer a valid one and his name is only mentioned within the HTML source coding.  One helpful thing he did point to however, was the use of the French model magazine, Replic #98, as a reference source.  With some scrounging around on the 'Net I found a copy to make use of.  It features a really nice set of articles about one of France's premiere fighter planes and focuses on the 1/48th scale Fonderie Miniatures kit of the D.501.  It seems the good Mr.Horn elected to duplicate the fidelity of detail of the 1/48th scale kit in his 1/72nd version.  Given the rather basic nature of the Heller rendering, his results are very impressive.

For my aims however, I elected not to get into that much depth.  I'd declared this kit build to be a "Model In A Month" job and had a deadline to meet with it.  So, I pressed on.

D.510 Primered

With everything assembled and smoothed to my satisfaction I then sprayed on a coat of primer.  This followed by the usual sanding and smoothing of probelms that revealed.

D.510 Silvered

Eventually I got to the point of spraying on the first coat of silver.  This was some Testors enamel mixed with lacquer thinner.  I sprayed this mix on as I thought it would more clearly show any blemished remaining and was thin enough that repeated coats of it would be less likely to obscure the kit's details.  Unfortunately, the stuff wouldn't dry for me.  Even after a full day or so of sitting undisturbed the paint still felt slight tacky to the touch.  As I had that deadline to keep, I decided to simply remove the enamel paint and go the acrylic route.  So, out came the enamel thinner and off came the Testors silver - as well as the underlying primer coat.  As my Aztec POS (Piece Of... Stuff) airbrush gave out on me - again - at this point, I decided to handpaint the Tamiya Chrome Silver on the bird.  This came out surprisingly smooth.  In short order I had the model ready for its next phase - Future! 

Here I used my old Badger airbrush to coat the thing in that miracle of modern model making.  That worked fine.  After drying nicely, I then got down to the task of decaling my creation.  This was a pain.  The Heller decals were pretty stout things.  They also elected to ensure the depth of color by separating the red portion of the roundels from the rest of the discs.  That meant I had to cut out the red center pieces and center them on the roundels - one at a time for all positions covered.  As the white underlayer was present under the red center portions, I had to cut these out very tightly.  In the future I'm going to acquire a full set of punches for just this eventuality because trying to cut out discs that small and that accurately was a pain for me!  So too was eyeballing the centering of these little things.  Stilll though, I got that done.  As I was working from the fuselage outward, the first decals I put on were the "walking skeleton" squadron symbols on either side of the fuselage.  These are quite distinctive and were pretty large pieces of artwork as they occupied the full side of the plane's fuselage.  I decided to cut them out one at a time to see how things went.  Good thing I did that as the first one I cut out I did so very closely to the outline of the image so as to minimize the amount of carrier film around it.  Bad choice there.  As soon as the decal separated from its paper backing the thing rolled up into a confusing and twisted up little mass.  Getting that mess out of the water and onto the side of the fuselage was no small task.  Nor was making it accurately positioned and flat!  That took quite a bit of fussing and some swearing too.  Eventually though, I got it on there.  The skeleton decal for the other side went on with all its carrier film intact and was a piece of cake in comparison!

Finally, I got all the decals on where they needed to be.  I was a bit dissappointed with the rudder decals though.  I'd hoped to be able to paint the rudder in its appropriate stripes but then I realized that there was lettering applied across the stripes and there was no way I could duplicate that so I had to use the decals.  The problem was that they were too large for the rudder itself and needed to be trimmed.  In the process of doing that I tore one of the decals up.  Luckily the tearing occured below where the lettering was and I was able to use the rudder decals from the second option in the kit by cutting them out to the appropriate size and splicing them on.  With all the decals on the kit, I once again coated it with Future to seal everything in.  Then I turned to the fiddly bits.

First I finished the cockpit.  I'd hoped this would be a straightforward affair of just gluing the windscreen on.  Unfortunately, my particular kit was short shot in the moulding of the windscreen as only half of it came through.  That was simple enough to fix though for I traced the outline of the "good half" of the windscreen on a small piece of paper.  Then I folded it over and traced that outline again, thus having a full windscreen outline as a result.  I cut that out and taped it to a piece of clear plastic packaging and then carefully cut the matching shape out of that.  Some careful bending followed by some sanding /fitting / sanding / fitting later I had myself a perfectly acceptable windscreen which I quickly painted and glued to the kit.  Next came the two wing mounted machine guns.  Owing to their positioning, prepainting the gun barrels of these things is a must.  There simply isn't enough clearance between them and the underside of the wings to easily get at them once they're glued in place.  The mould seams on these parts did take some thining.  With those on the wings it was at last time to attach the plane's signature elements - its landing gear.

These were the biggest headache for me.  The positioning of these kit parts was anything but positive or clear.  There are no right angles on any of these parts and what positioning tabs as do exist on the parts are essentially useless for the task.  From trying to figure all this out and get them on properly I've gained a new appreciation for when kit reviewers say "have good references handy during assembly!"  The kit instructions call for assembling the undercarriage pieces early on in the process yet this would make more problems for the build.  The angles of the various pieces are very much dependant upon their final positions and that's something which wouldn't be clear if they were assembled separately.  What I first did was glue the spats together and then set to work on their seams.  With those properly smoothed I could then proceed to assembling the rest in their turn.  The various struts had to be cleaned up of the flash and excess on them.  As these parts are quite thin you should take care in doing this in order not to break them into further little fiddly bits.  Once I'd gotten everything cleaned up as possible I set to putting the gear on the bird.  Here I was quite thankful for the miracle of superglue.  I put dobbs of it at the appropriate ends of the gear and then put everything in its appropriate hole as appropriately as I could.  After some fiddling and repositioning I had things as lined up and as "true" as I could get them I then spritzed on some cyano accelerator to "lock" them into place.  The first side went on easier than the second as one of the main "V" struts on the second simply would not stay put in its proper position.  Still though, I eventually got everything where it should be, the spats properly lined up and facing straight on and the gear level as well.

Lastly came the prop.  The propeller hub comes in two pieces and fits surprisingly well, given how fiddly all the other small bits of the pit were.  A bit of superglue followed by some smoothing and I had a pretty acceptable piece.  I then put a couple of drops of superglue in the opening for the propeller.  Not enough to close the opening, but enough to as to decrease its diameter enough to make a tight enough fit so that the propeller assembly fit true to the rest of the fuselage whilst still being able to remove it for storage.

I then applied what touch up painting needed to be touched up and, finally, called my Dewoitine D.510 done.  And all this in month!

The Finished Result:

D.510 Outside

D.510 Left Side

D.510 Right Side

D.510 Top

D.510 Bottom

D.510 Front

D.510 Done At Last!

D.510 On The Green

This little plane will make an excellent companion piece to the Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" kit I have and will also look good set against the other Armee de l'Air kits I have as well.

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In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!


This page was last updated on: 16 May 2006  

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and images on this page are copyright protected property of Madoc Pope.  If you would like to use any of my images you must contact me first before you do so.



In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!