23 Apr 2017

Cute Little Tiger Moth

Here's another little dainty plane to follow the Triplane into the glass cabinet, a de Havilland Tiger Moth. In 1/72 scale it really is tiny, despite being a two seater. I don't include decals or rigging for these models, I prefer to have a kind of abstract feel in this display.

It's the new(ish) Airfix kit, and it went together very well. The undercarriage was rather fiddly, but they made a creditable effort to ease the assembly of the top wing and struts. The scheme is not the one from the kit (despite the appeal of a plane with the registration of G-ACDC!), but a simplified version of one I spotted elsewhere and which made me want to get out the masking tape.

The original plane dates from 1931. It's generally regarded as the type which finally gave inexpensive flying to the masses, so to speak. It was perfect for flying training then, both for the RAF and in the mushrooming flying clubs; and many still fly today. Over 8800 were built. And I have a fond fantasy that if I ever manage to take a flight in a biplane myself, it'll be in one of these.

23 Jan 2017

The Other Triplane

It's funny, if you asked most people, can they name any plane from WWI, they'd come up with the Fokker Triplane, and quite likely the Sopwith Camel, and that's down to Snoopy and the Peanuts comic strip. Well, that's okay. Just because I find the aviation of the Great War fascinating doesn't mean everyone else should. But maybe it's a little bit of a shame that it's left an abiding impression, that triplanes figured more prominently than they actually did.

In fact, they were unusual, and only had two brief spells of fame. Their second, epitomised by the Fokker machine, was more a matter of notoriety, in that the highest scoring ace of the war, Manfred von Richthofen, was killed in one, and that he happened to favour all-red painted aircraft. But he had flown many different types, most successfully a series of Albatros fighters, and in only two more weeks if he'd lived, he would have acquired Germany's best fighter of the war, the Fokker D.VII, and would have left the Dr.I, the Triplane, behind. The thing is, that the Dr.I was extremely manoeuverable, but also slow, and the technological race of the war had already settled on the superiority of fast powerful machines over the more agile machines which dominated the skies of the first part of the war. Once the D.VII appeared, only one of Germany's top fliers still occasionally gave an outing to his Triplane, Josef Jacobs (who happened to fly a cool looking all black machine). It's not too surprising; Jacobs was an excellent pilot, while Richthofen was more of a ruthless hunter.

The Fokker Dreidekker was the only German triplane to be produced in any number, and not that many compared to standard biplane fighters, despite there having been a veritable craze of designing and building such machines in 1917. So what had brought that about? What was the triplane's first burst of fame?

This was what started it. It's the Sopwith Triplane, which came out of a desire to increase wing area without lengthening the wings, and so produce a much more manoeuverable aircraft. The result was wildly successful. It appeared at a time when Germany's Albatroses had wrested back control of the air from the British, only to find this thing running rings around them. It wasn't available in great numbers, partly because it was only operated by the Royal Naval Air Service (and a French naval unit). But it flew like a dream, and also happened to be flown with rare buccaneering spirit by some of the very best Allied pilots, in particular a group of Canadians who formed a famous 'Black Flight' and included Raymond Collishaw, one of the highest scoring aces of the War.

And yet... Only a few months later, the Sopwith Triplane had been entirely replaced, by the Sopwith Camel, as it happens. The Camel didn't 'fly like a dream', it was very difficult to learn to fly in fact, but it was just as agile as the Triplane (both of them), it was faster, and most importantly, it carried two guns. An attempt had been made to upgun the Triplane, but it lost much of its agility as a result. Its death knell came about because it was unusually hard to repair in the field, and too many machines were having to be sent back to England for renovation or reconstruction. It's an odd twist, that the Fokker Dr.I never actually flew in combat against the Sopwith Triplane, which had so impressed the Germans and inspired it.

This model is a tiny one - in 1:72 scale it's only 8cm long and just over 11cm in wingspan. I was given it at Christmas and although I might have put it at the back of the pile, I've built it already, because of a strong pull of nostalgia I suppose. It's an old kit, dating from the Sixties I think, by Revell, which still makes models kits today. I can remember as a schoolboy wanting this kit, I preferred the look of it to the German machine; but I could never find it. We didn't have the internet you see. If it wasn't in any model shop you frequented, well, that was it. I have a much larger scale kit in my stash, 1:32 scale, which I'll build sometime. But, simple as it is, it's rather nice to have come across this particular golden oldie.

20 Jan 2017

A Row of Blue Bushes

Construction work on my brother's layout continues... This is a typical piece of work, which I managed to do while I was down for a visit in the New Year. He's normally very busy with work, and so can only make piecemeal improvements very occasionally himself. The result is that the layout has been built at sub-glacial pace and one notices dust and deterioration affecting earlier work, while other sections of the layout still wait for attention. See that building down in the square, with the missing window? I probably built that ten years ago. The window will have fallen down inside and it's going to irk until I return and repair it :)

This particular building is at the front of the layout as you look at it from where the controller is usually placed, so it was nagging at me to do something. It was last left as a bare frame with a roof on top, so the main achievement is that it's now solid, and has basic building-like features. But it does look very shoddy around the roof line. I think when I return, this is one of the buildings I'd like to put some guttering and pipework on. The roof could also do with some detailing. Despite the messy look of the ground and brickwork to the left - it becomes the parapet over the main tunnel entrance - I'm content to have stopped at that point. The frontage is good enough to be going on with. I was pleased with the effect of the row of hydrangeas and the front door, or rather, back door. Remember, all of this effort came out of dealing with having this awkward space behind those building fronts. You can see where I've added extra depth on the left hand side, enough to make it almost realistic, but limiting it so that you still have a sense of space on the hill top.

If you're wondering about the building next along, with that door in the air, there's going to be a simple portico with a couple of columns and some steps down. Then an ash or gravel path running along behind these buildings. It needs saying that you can't easily view these buildings from this angle, or directly from behind, because the layout is up against a wall on this side. Obviously, I took the pictures by holding the camera out and using a close focus. This is why I didn't notice until later that the hydrangeas and the fence are on a substantial slope, which thankfully isn't apparent from the front.

29 Dec 2016

Crash Landing, Pt. 2


So, like a phoenix from the ashes, etc. - My S.E.5a doesn't look too bad, does it? A few pieces had flown off, and were easily reattached. Amazingly, neither the undercarriage nor the tail assembly with all its finickety cabling were damaged; I guess those sections simply hadn't hit any stone step on the plane's descent into the cellar. But the struts with IIRC one exception had snapped at one end, and most of the rigging had broken too. I decided not to remove any intact lengths of rigging, even though as you may see if you look closely, they sag a little now. They were so beautifully taut before, which is why I like to use that material, as much as for the structural strength it confers.

I've used the afore-mentioned ceramic wire for all the repaired sections. It's called Wonder Wire and I love it but it's really hard to get hold of; and now I've made unwanted inroads into my limited supply. Almost any length of wire you can see in the pics which is straight is Wonder Wire. But the whole thing is now a lot more fragile.

Here's the thing with most creative projects, not just model kits: even without the damage and repairs, I still wouldn't be 100% happy with it. Because I built it, and I know what's wrong with it. I know where all the little bodges are, I know where I cut a corner or two, I know what I could have done if I'd spent a little more time on it; and so on and so on. Also, because I frequent a WWI modelling forum, I know the high standards of the top modellers, and what could be done with a little raising of skills. Hint for any fairy godmother who might be reading - a major step up would result from the acquisition of an airbrush and compressor :)

But please don't think I'm all negative at this point. I delivered it to a friend today, and she was very pleased with it. She wanted something Australian, and what better than an example with a kangaroo on the side? The display case turns a piece like this into something you might like to have on view, and more importantly protects it from dust and interference. And the vignette work makes it very pretty in my view. There are some really well sculpted 1:32 pilot and crew figures you can get these days, and I always like to stick in an animal somewhere, usually a dog. But knowing what we do, you could look at this scene and reckon, that the dog is staring at the pilot and wondering why he's so reluctant to get back into this particular aircraft!

23 Dec 2016

Crash Landing

Where are all the models, then? More particularly, why the empty space in this scene? This is definitely a pilot in want of a plane to fly.


I'm afraid this is a tale of woe. Most modellers, of all and any skills and competencies, can tell you a similar story. Crossed fingers, it's not over yet, and I may come out of this with flags flying, but I have to assess the damage first...

I have been building a plane as a present for a friend. She has family in Australia, and on seeing another plane I built for friends, wanted an Aussie aircraft. I'm not so blinkered that I imagine that anyone must be delighted to receive a model plane, but these biplanes held together with complicated rigging are a little different, and can be attractive placed in a simple scene. A cover is crucial, because biplanes are dust magnets, and I have one drilled and ready to screw on to the slice of meadow above. So: I have Roden's kit of the Hispano-Suiza powered S.E.5a, the principal British fighter of WWI, and one of the marking schemes offered is not only from an Australian squadron, but anyone can see it is, because it's emblazoned with a kangaroo. And it became my modelling project for the lead up to this Christmas.

The S.E. is quite a challenge to build. It's a dynamic looking plane, a favourite of aces, and very strongly constructed. And one of the ways it was made so tough was an astonishing profusion of rigging wires. The British already had a penchant for double rigging, and emulating this is quite a test even in 1:32 scale. But the S.E went a step further by rigging another complete set of flying wires to a point on the upper wing half way between the struts.

A second area of difficulty involves the inspection windows. Again very characteristic of British types, these are found embedded into wing surfaces directly over the pulleys which lead the control wires to ailerons etc. Other model producers have moulded a simple recess and supplied a clear window to stick over it. Roden, notwithstanding the decent quality of the rest of the kit, decided it would be okay to offer a highly simplistic black and white decal which draws the eye to its unsatisfactoriness.
Okay, if I didn't like it, what was I going to do about it? The answer was to carve out recesses - six of them - and fashion bits inside which looked like what was supposed to be going on, and then to stick a thin piece of cellophane on top. In close up it can seem very crude, but when you take in the whole construction I think the effect is an improvement. Yes, a lot of time was spent just on this.

Right: This is the port side of the horizontal stabiliser, which required two control wires to be embedded, one leading out through the window on top, the other to be threaded through a hole to the underneath.

By yesterday, I had one thing left to do, which was to spray varnish over it to give a measure of protection in particular to the slightly fragile decals. I couldn't do this in the garage because it's now too cold in there to spray. I didn't want to spray inside my living space, which left a small warm space inside the passage down to the cellar. Almost done. Then with one slight clumsy action, turning the model around, it tumbled all the way down the hard stone steps to the bottom.

If you'd seen me at this point, you'd have thought I was being incredibly cool about what had just happened. But I was beyond reaction, if that makes sense. I went down the steps, looking around for any small pieces which had flown away as the model disassembled itself on its descent. But I only found three (in fact, there must be a few near invisible sections of wire and other minuscule items). The model itself looked remarkably intact. However, the struts are detached in places, and worse, the rigging is now a mess. I can't repeat the original procedure, because that had to be done from scratch. Now, I will have to use ceramic wire, which looks great, but is incredibly fiddly to cut to length, and won't offer structural strength ie. it will be merely cosmetic.

I was expected to deliver the plane next week, so I have a few days to see if I can salvage it. I'm optimistic that something can be done - I've thought several times that this is partly thanks to the actual strength of the design of the real machine. But if I never add to this post, if you hear no more about the S.E.; please don't ask!