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Heller/Smer 1/72 conversions
Morane D-3800/D-3801

by Thomas Muggli


Morane D-3801

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As WWII loomed in the 1930s, Maj. General Hans Bandi, the commanding officer of the Swiss Air Force, was faced with a difficult predicament. Like many of his European counterparts, he needed new, modern aircraft for his forces, and he needed them soon.

Bandi was well aware that across from Switzerland’s northern border, Hitler’s war machine was turning out warplanes which were far superior in number and quality to the few, outdated aircraft that were available to Bandi’s troops.

In 1939, even though Switzerland had neutral status, Swiss diplomats were able to pull strings in Berlin and procure 80 modern Messerschmitt Bf-109E fighters for the Swiss Air Force. While this was a success, these fighters would not be sufficient to defend Swiss airspace if the country should wind up in the crosshairs of those nations at war. This is why, at the same time, Swiss officials were also busy negotiating in Paris. And just a few months after the Messerschmitt deal with the Germans, they managed to get permission from the French government to build the Morane MS406 under license in Switzerland. The Morane was one of France’s most successful fighters. As a result of this deal, a Swiss consortium, consisting of different companies, built 290 Moranes from 1940 to 1945. Bandi could finally breathe easier. The Swiss Air Force’s fighter squadrons were now able to provide a credible defense of their homeland at the beginning of WWII.


The Moranes built in Switzerland carried the designation D-3800 and D-3801. The D-3800 was the Swiss version of the MS406; while the D-3801 was an upgraded D-3800, equipped with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza HS-51 12Y engine, and a fixed radiator instead of the D-3800’s retractable unit. It soon became apparent, however, that the Moranes were badly outclassed by their Messerschmitt stablemates. So that, as early as 1942, the Swiss Air Force declared the Moranes “unsuitable for war”. Nevertheless, the type remained in production and in service, mainly for training purposes, during and after the war. The last Moranes were eventually retired from the Swiss Air Force’s training units in 1956.





Getting started

There aren’t many kits choices if you’re looking to build Morane models.

I decided to try my hand at building both the D-3800 and the D-3801 models, at the same time, in 1/72 scale. However, as far as I know, only the ancient releases from Hasegawa and Heller (now Smer) are available in this scale.. I chose the Heller/Smer kits for my Morane project, because I like the surface detail of the old Heller kits. However, the fit of these kits leaves a lot to be desired, and cockpit details are non-existent. This posed a problem for me because I didn’t have much reference material, which would help me to build accurate cockpits, and also detail the wheel wells and landing gears.

Enter some helpful acquaintances from Switzerland who provided me with the reference photos I needed. Thanks guys! My Swiss sources also pointed out a resin conversion set for the D-3801 model, produced by a model club in Switzerland. The set includes the forward fuselage, radiator, spinner and wheels.

Basic Construction

With all the necessary items in place, I went to work on both my models. The wheel wells, which are not represented in the Heller/Smer kit, presented the first challenge. The Morane’s wheel wells have a complex rounded shape, which conforms to the retracted landing gear. I decided to reproduce the wheel wells by stretch forming 0.5 mm sheet styrene over molds fashioned from laminated styrene pieces. The resulting stretch-formed shapes were trimmed to fit the wheel well openings and installed with liberal amounts of superglue.

The cockpits were next. They were mostly built from scratch. I did have Eduard photoetched detail sets on hand, but they turned out to be of limited use. The instrument panels did not correspond to my references (apparently they were for an early French version), and the side walls did not represent the Morane’s fuselage tube frame structure well, so I didn’t use either one. Only the seatbelt buckles, the cockpit floors, and a few levers were used on my models. I built the side wall details from stretched sprue and bits of styrene, while the rear walls and the seats were made from sheet styrene. Before gluing any of the details to the fuselage halves, I thinned the cockpit walls using a scraper and coarse sandpaper. At this point, I also separated the forward fuselage on the D-3801model to make room for the resin conversion part.


The instrument panels required special attention. They consist of three panels that confirm to the edge of the cockpit openings. I used 0.5 mm sheet styrene to fashion the panels. Much dry fitting was needed until I was convinced that the panels would fit properly. For a more realistic look, I cut very thin 0.05 mm sheet styrene to the shape of the instrument panel and drilled holes to simulate the instrument faces. I glued the thin sheet to the instrument panels, painted the panels black, and let them dry. To simulate the instrument needles and lettering, I scratched away some of the paint from the instrument faces with a fine needle, revealing the white styrene underneath. A droplet of Micro Crystal Clear represents the instrument’s glass covers.

Control columns, made from wire, detailed with pieces of stretched sprue, rudder pedals and gun sights made from small styrene pieces, completed the cockpit assemblies. After dry fitting the various components, I airbrushed the cockpits light gray, used a wash, painted details with a fine brush, and dry brushed with a lighter shade of gray.

With the cockpits complete, I proceeded to join the fuselage halves. After cleaning up the seams, I installed the resin forward fuselage to the D-3801 model. Even though some small adjustments were necessary, the fit of the resin part was fairly good. Next, I installed the wings on both models, which required more filling and sanding. While checking the fuselage shapes against my references, I realized that the kit’s lower fuselage wasn’t correct for the Swiss Moranes. To remedy the situation, I flattened the bottom of both fuselages with a coarse file, then glued laminated pieces of sheet styrene to the area. Using a coarse sanding stick, I shaped the styrene pieces to create the correct contour. Once I was satisfied with the shape, I filled any gaps with superglue, sanded the area smooth and scribed panel lines according to my references. Installing the replacment radiator on the D-3801 model, and adding the horizontal stablizers on both models completed the basic construction.


Like many of the Heller/Smer kit’s parts, the characteristic landing gear actuators are oversimplified. I scratchbuilt replacements from styrene bits and copper wire using the kit parts as a guide. Thanks to the detail photos I had on hand, I was able to go all out, and maybe even a bit overboard, to reproduce most of the details on these complex items. As a result, each of my actuators consists of no less than 20 parts! The landing gear legs on the other hand are fairly simple, so I was able to use the kit items after I cleaned them up and ensured that they would fit the new landing gear wells. The wheels for the D-3801 model came from the resin set, while some details made from sheet styrene, were added to the kit supplied wheels used on the D-3800 model.

The canopies were the next challenge. The kit-supplied canopies are far too thick. Therefore, I stretch-formed replacements from clear acetate using the kit’s canopies as a mold.


The spinners provided in the kit are incorrect for Swiss Moranes. I reshaped one of the kit’s spinners, adding cuffs for the propeller blades made from brass tubing for the D-3800. The resin replacement spinner was used for the D-3801 model. The kit’s propeller blades were cut from their hubs, cleaned up, and slightly reshaped so they would fit their respective spinners.

I detailed the retractable radiator for the D-3800 model with stretched sprue. The unit was installed during final assembly after the model was painted. D-3801’s used for training after WWII were equipped to carry 8cm rockets. I fashioned six launching rails from sheet styrene and added them to the D-3801, to represent a period-accurate model.


Painting and Markings


The models were painted with acrylic paints. On the D-3801 model, I started by airbrushing white for the shark mouth, the spinner and the wing stripes.

After masking the white areas, I followed up with red. Then I masked off the shark mouth and the outer wings.

Next, I airbrushed Model Master “Hellblau” to the undersides of both models.

The D-3800 model received a camouflage scheme of Tamiya Dark Green and Model Master “Schwarzgrun”.

The upper surfaces of the D-3801 received an overall coat of Tamiya Dark Green.


A Tally-Ho decal sheet supplied the decals for the registration numbers for both models, and the national insignias for the D-3800 model. I also applied a light sludge wash to both models.

The D-3801 model represents an aircraft still in service in 1956 during the last training course, before the Morane’s final retirement. Therefore, I gave this model a somewhat beat up look by airbrushing exhaust stains and giving certain panels a lighter shade of dark green. Then, a coat of clear flat sealed the paint and decals on both models. And finally, I glued canopies, landing gears, antennas and rocket rails in place. At last! My Swiss Moranes were now ready for display.

Model, Images and Text Copyright © 2007 by Thomas Muggli
Page Created 31 October, 2007
Last Updated 24 December, 2007

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