by: Michael Satin [ ]
The Sopwith Camel The Sopwith Camel is perhaps the most recognizable of World War I aircraft, thanks both to its enviable combat record and a certain cartoon beagle.
Produced by Sopwith Aviation Company the Camel was their fourth targeted fighter design, following the 1 ˝ Strutter, Pup, and Triplane.
While excellent flyers and fighters, particularly the Pup and Triplane, these aircraft were armed (except for a very small number) with only one machine gun. When Germany began fielding the Albatros twin gun fighters, the Sopwiths were outmatched and it became clear that a new design was needed. T.O.M. Sopwith considered this a challenge and in December, 1916 a new Sopwith fighter took to the skies for the first time, the first British aeroplane designed with twin forward firing guns.
Concern over cold temperatures at altitude led to a fairing covering the gun breaches which looked like a hump and led to the name Camel.
To ease production, Sopwith designed the top wing as flat and doubled the dihedral of the bottom wing, making it instantly distinguishable from its stable mates.
A desire for the new fighter to be highly maneuverable caused the designers to concentrate the engine, guns, pilot, fuel tanks, etc. as far forward in the airframe as possible, leading to instability in the air but also to a very tight turning radius, to which the torque of the rotary engine contributed greatly.
Ailerons were on both sets of wings, increasing the maneuverability. Unlike the generally tame flying qualities of the Pup and Triplane, the Camel was difficult to handle and required constant attention. But the results in combat were hard to argue with. Around 5500 Camels were produced by at least 9 manufacturers and they accounted for 1294 enemy aircraft between them, the highest total of any aircraft of WWI.
At a time when new fighters came and went at a rapid pace, the Camel remained a front line aircraft from its introduction in mid-1917 through the end of the war.
Wingnut Wings Steps In The Camel has always been a favorite of model makers and there have been many kits to choose from. Revell had the market nearly cornered for a number of years with kits in 1/72 and 1/28, though Aurora had a 1/48 kit that went through many iterations and, of course, Airfix had one in 1/72.
In 2003 Eduard released a new 1/48 kit that was very well received and in 2008 Hobbycraft released two 1/32 kits based on highly reworked Academy molds. These were nice kits, if somewhat light on detail, but they quickly became unavailable.
Then, in 2009, a new company emerged from way down under in New Zealand. Wingnut Wings, owned by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (an unabashed WWI aviation nut and model builder), created a major splash with not one but four brand new 1/32 kits, a Junkers J.1, LVG CVI, SE.5a, and Bristol F.2b. And these weren’t ordinary kits but true stunners, with first class molding and engineering and great decal options.
The ease of construction was a revelation for those who had been building biplanes for years and routinely built jigs out of Lego bricks or other materials to try to keep wings aligned.
Truly a golden age of Great War modeling was upon us! While Wingnut didn’t rest on their laurels and continued putting out new products in the coming years, each often better than the last, they early on made a commitment to concentrate on aircraft that didn’t have adequate representation in the 1/32 market.
Thus, due largely to the Hobbycraft kits, the Camels stayed off the table for a long time.
However, given the quality of WNW kits and the scarcity of the Hobbycraft products, there was a growing call for the boys in N.Z. to change their tune and get on with it. And in 2016, they finally cracked.
Announced early in the year with a release date of late ’16, the forthcoming WNW Camel created a huge stir in the World War One modeling community and great anticipation.
But Wingnut were not to be rushed. When their Camel came out, it was going to be right! And when, finally, late in the year, the formal announcement was made, it took the wind right out of the sails of those complaining about how long it was taking. Not one Camel, but five were advertised; plus a special “Duellist” boxing paired with the long out of production LVG!
The available versions are: BR.1 (Bentley Rotary), Clerget, and Le Rhone, United States Air Service, and Ship’s Camel (2F.1), in addition to the Duellist. The difference in the first three lies in the engine the kit is equipped with, while the USAS has Clerget and Gnome engines and different markings, and the Ship’s Camel has different parts for the fuselage and wings, etc., to make the ship borne Sopwith fighter. This was incredible!
But then came the brick wall. Previously Wingnut Wings did all its own shipping; if you wanted one of their kits you ordered it from them. This was not a problem for the customer as prices were very fair (given the quality of the product) and shipping was included, but it cut seriously into WNW’s bottom line.
With the Camels they announced that they would take a more traditional approach to distribution, working through a company in N.Z. and shipping to outlets in various countries. Unfortunately, they didn’t reckon on the demand for these kits.
It soon became clear that their distributor wasn’t ready for direct sales and the outlets they shipped to didn’t seem to have ordered nearly enough. When one major mail order outfit in the states received their first shipment by air, they sold out of all six of the boxings within 4 hours. When, a couple of weeks later, they got considerably more by sea, it took less than 24 hours for them all to be gone. That was three weeks ago as I write this and they still haven’t been able to restock.
There has been a lot of grumbling on the web about this as people want their Camels!
Add to this the concern that, per Wingnut’s past practice, once they’re gone they’re gone (limited production runs) and there’s more than a little fear that the modeler might go Cameless! I think the panic is overblown, but certainly if you’re interested and you find some, you shouldn’t wait around.
I snagged mine from a Section 8 Hobbies in upstate New York and ordered 3 for my birthday, the BR.1, Clerget, and Le Rhone kits. I quickly found, as expected, that the plastic in all three is identical except for a separate engine tree for each and, of course, the markings.
The WNW website states that each kit has between 164 and 166 parts depending on the engine and all have excellent box art by Steve Anderson with Ronny Bar’s profiles of each marking scheme on the side panels.
The Kit Upon opening the tray and lid box you are presented with 5 trees of plastic parts, a large decal sheet, a small photo etch sheet, and the usual superb WNW instruction manual.
While each tree is separately bagged my kits came with them all wrapped together with slips of paper indicating which kit it is, no doubt as they were shipped that way.
Once unwrapped you are presented with exquisite plastic, fully up to WNW standards.
While the parts count may seem somewhat small, keep in mind that WWI aircraft were not particularly complicated machines.
Surface detail is clean and sharp, with beautiful stitching on the fuselage and best-in-the-business wing rib tapes and fabric reproduction. Detail parts for the cockpit, engines, guns, etc. are petite and very well rendered, with excellent definition.
I am finding that a number of assemblies are molded as large pieces instead of requiring many small parts, but they lose nothing in the process while keeping that parts count down.
The wicker seat is the best plastic example you’ll find, and cockpit side frames have a lot of wiring and piping detail cast in while leaving room for more detailing such as bracing wire. But a caveat here: WNW kits have a well-earned reputation for very fine tolerances.
When I built their Sopwith Pup I found that the bracing wires I’d glued to the outside of the cockpit frames actually threw things off to the point that the fuselage halves didn’t fit together.
I’ve seen reviews that suggest not painting where parts meet as even a layer of paint is too much. Take care!
I’ve included pictures of the trees but have to admit that my photography skills are lacking.
The good news is that Wingnut Wings have a very nice set of pictures of all the parts on their web site at http://www.wingnutwings.com/ww/.
Just click on the individual kit and then click on the “model images” link.
Tree A includes most of the detail parts for the interior, landing gear, guns, bombs, and cowlings. Different arrangements for the gun covers are catered to and carefully explained the instructions. One issue in many Camel kits over the years was the need to cut holes in the cowling for different cooling options, a tricky prospect at best. WNW has done away with this by providing four different cowlings with cooling holes already molded in them, a very nice touch! Details throughout are very finely rendered and delicate, including a single piece bomb rack that takes the pain out of what in previous kits was a very fiddly multi part affair. Slide molding? I do believe so. The odd Sopwith split axle landing gear is found here in early and late versions. This is what caused Sopwith aircraft to have upward canted wheels on the ground and will make it difficult to model your aircraft in flight (as if you really wanted to).
Tree B carries the fuselage halves (two starboard halves depending on the stitching pattern), the bottom wing in one piece to ensure correct dihedral, two top wing center sections (no need to cut out the large center opening which some pilots did in the field), as well as the cockpit coaming, instrument panel, and gun bracket. Again, WNW does the best wing fabric work in the business as far as I’m concerned, with rib tapes clearly cast but not too proud and just the right amount of sagging between the ribs. The trailing edges are very sharp. The wings also have inspection panels molded in with pulleys and cables clearly visible and relatively easy to paint. The instrument panel is very nicely cast with instruments correctly standing proud of the panel and bezels around them. The instrument faces are by way of very sharp decals. One task you, the modeler, are expected to do is drill out different holes in the fuselage for control wires since this changed over time on the real aircraft. The instructions make clear which holes to open for which version and whether to eliminate some molded on fairings. All this should be easy enough for anyone with some rigging experience under their belts.
Tree C is the small clear sheet and has different windscreens and covers for the inspection panels in the wings. Not a lot of clear parts on Great War aircraft, but what is here is very clear and nicely cast.
Tree D has the top wing outer panels (molded solid, not in top and bottom halves, but with a nice deep slot to attach to the center section), ailerons, tail surfaces and skid, two different props and the control stick and rudder bar, as well as a few other odds and ends. The control stick has the gun triggers molded in and is very cleanly done, as is the rest. While the rudder/fin and elevator/stabilizer assemblies are molded as one piece each, they are held together only by the hinges (you can see air between the control surfaces and flying surfaces). They will be easy to pose dynamically by bending them should you wish, just take care not to break them off.
Tree E is the engine, different for each kit. The cylinder banks are split into front and back halves and the cooling fins and push rods are very finely rendered as are the piston ends with springs. The instructions show how to add spark plug wires if you want to. Certainly more detail can be found with aftermarket products, but the kit offerings should easily satisfy most of us.
A small photo etch fret is included in each kit which includes lap belts and gun front/sights as well as a couple of other details. Not too much but enough to add that extra level.
The instruction manual is the usual excellent Wingnut Wings affair with color illustrations not only of construction but also for painting and rigging as you go along.
The control cable and bracing rigging of the interior is especially complicated, but WNW shows the various wires in different colors making it somewhat easier to follow.
Various photos of original and reproduction aircraft are included in the appropriate places to help show what they’re talking about.
At the back are the excellent Ronny Bar profiles of each decal option which clearly show how each aircraft is marked.
Colors are called out in Tamiya, Humbrol, and Federal Standard numbers and are matched as well as possible, but Wingnut makes it clear that much of WWI color schemes is conjectural and they give you options for finishes, especially for British PC10 and PC12, either (or both!) of which could have been used on any given aircraft.
A parts map and rigging diagrams are included. Different parts and construction are called out during assembly for the various markings options, so figure out which aeroplane you’re going to do before you start.
The instruction manuals are also available for viewing and download on the Wingnut site.
Markings WNW decals have shown consistent high quality in the past, and I would expect no difference here.
Where necessary the decals have holes for surface details and are split where they go across gaps in the kit.
The decal sheet for each kit is large and varied, with five colorful examples in each kit (six in the Clerget boxing):
B6390, “C” “Black Maria” flown by Raymond Collishaw, with 60 victories the highest scoring RNAS pilot of the war, Seaplane Defense Squadron, late 1917.
B7190, “C” “Donner Wetter” flown by W.G.R. Hincliffe, C flight, 10(N) Sqn. RNAS, March 1918 (a very colorful aircraft with blue and white stripes!)
B7272, flown by Capt. A.R. Brown, 209 Sqn RAF, April 1918. The aircraft that “got” the Red Baron?
B7275, “P” flown by several pilots, including R.A. Little, of No. 3(N) Sqn. RNAS, later 203 Sqn. RAF in March – April 1918.
F5234, flown by K.M. Murray, 7th Air Escadrille (Kosciuszko Squadron), Poland, October 1920.
B5417, “11” flown by G.A.C. Manley, 54 Sqn. RFC, February, 1918
B5423, “6” flown by F.M. Ohrt, 54 Sqn. RFC, January, 1918.
C1555, “Suds”, flown by F.L. Luxmoore and S.P. Gamon, 78 Home Defense Squadron RFC, Jan. – Feb. 1918. Overall blue.
F2137, “U”, flown by D.R. MacLaren, with 54 victories the top scoring Camel pilot, 46 Sqn. RAF, Sept.- Oct., 1918
F2141, “L”, flown by H. Burdick, 17th Aero Squadron, USAS, Aug. – Oct. 1918.
B3834, “Wonga Bonga”, flown by R.H. Daly and A.F. Brandon, Manston War Flight, July-August, 1917.
B3889, “B-1, flown by C.F. Collett, 70 Sqn. RFC, August 1917.
B3893, flown by A.R. Brown, 9(N) Sqn. RNAS, Sept. – Oct. 1917.
B6289, “A”, flown by H.L. Nelson and W.M. Alexander, 10(N) Sqn., RNAS, January, 1918.
B6313, flown by W.G. Barker, 139 Sqn. RAF, late July, 1918, the highest scoring Camel.
B7406, “W”, flown by A.G. Watson, 4 Sqn. Australian Flying Corps, March, 1918.
Accuracy Really? Keep in mind that Wingnut Wings is, as stated above, owned by Peter Jackson who has indulged his obsession for WWI aviation by also owning The Vintage Aviator, Ltd., which builds actual flying 1:1 reproductions of Great War aircraft using factory plans. Nevertheless, I blew up the plans from Windsock Datafile #26 on the Camel, enlarging them 150% from 1/48 to 1/32.
I’ve included pictures of the fuselage and upper wing left and center sections. These conform very nicely to the plans, as does the rudder and fin. The horizontal stabilizer, however, shows a discrepancy as it is wider than the plans at the leading edge. The elevator trailing edge is the same size as the plans so the taper from front to back is less on the kit than in the plans. Here I cut out the stabilizer/elevator part of the plans and laid it on top of the part to show the difference.
Who’s correct is, of course, very difficult to say, as clear plan view photos of original Camels are hard to come by.
If the disagreement bothers you, it’s a very easy fix to carefully sand of the edges of the part until it matches the plans.
Conclusion The Sopwith Camel is an icon of World War I in the air.
Wingnut Wings is a modern day icon in the modeling world. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when the two meet the result is a new benchmark in Great War modeling.
The Camel kits from WNW are indeed excellent, and should as much of a pleasure to build as all their products have been.
These kits are closely engineered and any WWI aircraft kit is, by its nature, trickier to build than later airplanes due to the struts and rigging involved. But Wingnut have made it as clear and easy as possible, in this modeler’s opinion.
Certainly I have gotten much more involved in the genre than I was before thanks to their excellent kits, and the Camels have only reinforced this reputation.
Buy with confidence, but do so as soon as you can to ensure having this kit in your stash!
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE
Click here for additional images for this review.