by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
The S.E.5a justifiably ranks alongside the Sopwith Camel as the most famous and successful British fighter of WW1. The prototype S.E.5 first flew in November 1916 and production contracts followed just one month later. Early reliability problems with the 150 h.p. Hispano Suiza engine led to its replacement with a 200 h.p. version, resulting in the S.E.5a. The new engine didn't mark the end of the problems, however, and a 200 h.p. Wolsely Viper was settled upon for all 1918 contracts.
In its definitive form, the S.E.5a stood out as a thoroughbred and was recognised as one of the best fighters on operations, being strong, fast, aerobatic and a steady gun-platform. As such, it was the mount of many leading aces, such as Mannock, McCudden and Ball. By the Armistice in November 1918, more than 2,900 aircraft had been delivered and the S.E.5a served with both the RFC (and fledgling RAF) and the American Expeditionary Force.
the kitDespite the importance of the S.E.5a, the only mass-produced models available 'till now date back about 40 years and a new mainstream kit has been high on modellers' wish lists. Now Roden has produced what is obviously the first of a series of models, with a Wolsely Viper equipped S.E.5a.
The kit consists of:
61 plastic parts (plus a number of spares)
A clear plastic film for windscreens
Decals for 3 aircraft.
Main PartsThe plastic parts are moulded in Roden's usual beige plastic. The moulding is, generally, very crisp, with hardly a trace of flash. The plastic used is excellent quality - slightly soft and easy to trim. Many parts have a slightly "textured" finish (surprisingly, not the wings), so they may benefit from a polish. The fuselage halves in my sample show a very faint sink mark caused by the internal cockpit structure.
Surface detail is excellent. The fuselage lacing and stringers are neatly represented and the ribs of the flying surfaces are very delicately depicted. The kit includes separate rudder and elevators. Both wings are moulded solid and full-span; they are perfectly straight with beautifully thin trailing edges.
Test FitObviously it's impossible to give a comprehensive test fit for a biplane... but a trial fit of the fuselage and lower wing is excellent; the wing root needed just a slight trim on one side, where the internal fuselage structure projected a little too far. The kit is engineered to allow for 3 styles of cockpit area and upper decking (only one is provided) - this piece drops in snugly and, although there are no locating pins, everything snaps together very precisely.
What's apparent from the most cursory examination of period photos is the different styles of cockpit openings - so a bit of reference-checking will be needed to determine whether the one included is correct for the decal options provided.
DetailWot! No engine?! Anyone hoping for a fully detailed engine, like in Roden's Fokker D.VII and "Brisfit", is in for a disappointment; with the S.E.5a, only rocker-covers are provided. However, the cockpit detail is nice enough, with a four part instrument panel, plus a basic seat, control column, rudder pedals etc., along with some nicely moulded-in internal structure on the fuselage walls.
The Lewis machine gun is pretty good (purists may want to refine it further) - while the Vickers is pretty basic, but it's really only the lack of seat belts and a clumsy gun-sight (not actually used in this version) which will make anyone regret the lack of an etched-metal fret.
2 styles of propeller are provided - "straight" and "paddle-bladed" (for want of a better description). By chance, I took some pics of an original S.E.5a "paddle-bladed" prop at the Museum Of Army Flying this Summer. I've included them here and they show the kit item is a little "under-nourished " compared with the original. (The pitch seems to be inverted, so maybe the museum exhibit is from a Hispano Suiza powered aircraft?)
Instructions & DecalsThe instruction sheet is very well done, with clear assembly drawings and colour references throughout. Sadly, the major ommission is any form of rigging diagram - no detail at all is given on how tackle the rigging.
Colour schemes for 3 aircraft are clearly illustrated and the decals, at first glance, look fine. Unfortunately (on my sample, at least) closer inspection reveals that the red and blue have been printed out of register with the white, resulting in the outlines to the roundels being badly offset. It's a shame because, otherwise, the decals look to be thin and good quality. Also included on the sheet are decals to represent the aileron pulleys beneath clear triangular windows in the wings. To be honest, these aren't at all convincing, so it'll be interesting to see how expert modellers represent this feature.
ConclusionThis is a really exciting kit; all the basics are here for a beautifully model. The decals are disappointing (I may have been unlucky...), but we can expect plenty of aftermarket sheets to be released for S.E.5a subjects.
Value for money is tough to assess... but £19.99 seeems a bit high (it's the same price as the Bristol Fighter, which is larger and includes a detailed engine...) - I'd say £15.99 would be a fairer price...
The kit is simple enough to make a great first WW1 subject for any modeller with a little experience, but also provides everything needed for a showstopper in the hands of an expert. Decals and price notwithstanding, this is an excellent model that deserves to do well.