by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
One of the most aesthetically pleasing of all Germany’s 2-seaters, the Walfisch (as it was popularly known) has long been a modellers favourite, in no small part thanks to the Airfix 1:72 of the early 1970s that promised nice easy construction with minimal struts and rigging, encouraging many youngsters to try the “dark art” of biplane modelling for the first time. Now the Roland C.II is the subject of the latest 1:32 masterpiece from Wingnut Wings.
BackgroundWhen it first appeared at the Front in March 1916, the Roland C.II was undoubtedly one of the most exciting-looking aircraft in service. With its sleek appearance and radical streamlining it promised, and indeed delivered, a performance that matched or exceeded the best Allied fighters of the time, and was some 19 mph faster than contemporary German 2-seaters. However, the advanced design hid a number of serious flaws that really should have been discovered and rectified at the design and (particularly) prototype testing stages.
Firstly, the close spacing of the upper and lower wing disturbed the airflow over the tail, making the Walfisch hard to handle. While pilot's praised its high rate of climb, it could not be held in a climbing turn, and was prone to stalling, also being described as nose-heavy.
The low-set top wing gave the pilot and observer an unparalleled view of the upper hemisphere, making attack from above a very risky proposition, but the closely spaced wings and deep fuselage contributed to a lethal blind spot below the aircraft, and made landing so tricky that it was soon almost assumed in front-line squadrons that every pilot would crash at the end of his first flight in the new Roland! Quite how this wasn't highlighted in flight-testing the prototype is extraordinary, but seemingly it only became apparent once the C.II was in service.
Although the Walfisch performed a valuable combat role as a bomber and reconnaissance aircraft and escorting slower 2-seaters, its performance advantage over Allied fighters was shortlived and it did not enjoy a long front-line career. In June 1916, the final 40 C.IIa's introduced a larger tail to improve flight characteristics, but an Idflieg report in October declared that the Roland was already outdated and would be dropped from production. So, while it soldiered on until June 1917 with rapidly diminishing effectiveness, it was largely relegated to second-line and training duties.
Only around 267 Roland C.IIs of all types were ordered, so the Walfisch was never as common in service as its reputation might suggest, peaking at 64 machines at the Front in December 1916, with just 2 remaining by the end of August the following year.
The kitWingnut Wings have kindly sent the late version C.IIa for review. The kit arrives in a stylish and compact box, which is satisfyingly heavy. Lifting the lid it’s easy to see why - it is absolutely filled to the brim with individually bagged sprues.
The kit comprises:
318 x grey styrene parts (78 unused)
10 x clear styrene parts (2 not needed)
9 x etched brass parts
Decals for 5 x colour schemes
The moulding essentially faultless in the sample kit, with no signs of flash or sink marks. Ejector pins have been kept entirely free of the fuselage interior, which features delicately depicted diagonal strips to represent the construction of the original aircraft. Outside, the fuselage was covered in doped fabric, so the kit is smooth with a few lightly raised bands. I presume these represent the joins between the bolts of fabric that covered the veneer strips. They are hard to see in reference photos (and where I can spot them in the Windsock Datafile, the position seems to vary) so maybe they are a little too prominent in the kit? Metal panels are crisply portrayed, while the flying and control surfaces have a lovely taught fabric effect.
78 unused parts seems a lot, and it’s not just accounted for by the difference between Early and Late versions. It is more a reflection of the clever way in which Wingnut Wings have designed many of their kits to use a core of shared sprues, thus streamlining the production process. So, in this case, the kit includes the generic “German Accessories 3”, “Merc D.III” and “Parabellum” sets, meaning plenty of parts for the spares box or to use as props in dioramas and vignettes.
The overall constructionThe fuselage halves are quite rigid and clip together very neatly. To cater for both the original and enlarged vertical tails, the rear section of the fuselage above the stabiliser is separate. This means a seam to hide, but allows the parts to capture the smooth blend from the fuselage to the fin correctly - something that simply providing separate fins could not have done without resorting to filler.
Upper and lower wings are moulded as left and right solid panels with excellent thin trailing edges. Leading edges are dead straight, while the lower wings feature a touch of washout. As is to be expected, the wings are pretty heavy, so large locating tabs are provided to support them.
A separate belly panel has a mount to trap and support the tabs for the lower wings. With the solid interplane struts and sturdy tabs for the top wings, the construction looks both straightforward and rock-solid. This should be an ideal kit for anyone wanting to cut their teeth on building a biplane.
A few detailsThe cavernous fuselage provides the perfect opportunity for a highly detailed cockpit in the “belly of the whale”. 34 parts form the basic “office”, with etched seat harnesses then added, along with a sprinkling of pin-sharp decals for the few instruments and placards.
The 160 h.p. Mercedes is an example of Wingnut Wings' clever use of generic sprue sets across their range, the 21-part engine forming the basis of a finely detailed sub-assembly along with new header and oil tanks and a choice of three styles of exhaust. Similarly, two types of propeller are appropriate, depending on which of the painting options you choose - Axial or Wolff.
Separate upper cowl panels are provided, which the instructions recommend leaving off if you want to display the engine to its fullest.
The Roland sported a number of configurations of cooling louvres on the nose, and to get round this WNW have moulded some integrally with the fuselage, and supplied the rest as separate panels. So, depending which painting option you go for, be prepared for more or less surgery, with every option in this “Late” kit needing at least some.
The undercarriage is simple and looks suitably sturdy to support those heavy wings. The tyres are un-weighted, so I’ll file slight flats. (Interestingly, Stephen Lawson and I assumed the inclusion of weighted tyres in the recent Salmson 2-A2 kits signalled a new trend in the range, but Wingnut Wings' Richard Alexander pointed out to me that they have appeared earlier, and that they are featured when deemed appropriate.)
Transparencies are crystal clear (perhaps clearer than the originals?), with the pilot receiving a diminutive windscreen to shelter behind. A nice touch is that the fuselage windows can be installed from the outside, removing the danger of getting dust trapped on the inner faces in the course of assembly.
Armament comprises a fixed synchronised lMG 08 “Spandau” for the pilot and a Parabellum LMG 14 on a ring mount for the observer. Both guns are supplied in two styles - solid-moulded or with etched cooling jackets and sights. Of course, you could also opt for a “halfway house”, adding the etched sights to the solid jackets. A delicate bomb rack fits under the fuselage for a quartet of 12.5 Kg PuW bombs.
Wingnut Wings' generic accessories sprue provides a lot of useful items to place with the Roland, such as flare pistols, cameras, a step ladder and the delightful teddy bear mascot.
Rounding off construction is a full page rigging guide and, encouragingly for beginners, it’s not overly complicated, making the Roland an ideal kit to cut your teeth on if you’re new to largescale biplanes.
Instructions and decalsAs usual Wingnut Wings' instruction guide is beautifully produced, printed as an A4 booklet in “vintage” style on heavyweight stock with colour-shaded diagrams illustrating each stage. There are numerous reference photos, and parts are named - so you actually get a feel for the technology behind the aircraft as you build the kit.
Decals are provided for 5 x colour schemes:
A. Roland C.IIa “White 7”, Kasta 2, Kagohl 1, late 1916 - early 1917.
B. Roland C.IIa (Li) “Black III”, Vfw Hesse, Schusta 13, early 1917.
C. Roland C.IIa (Li) 3645/16, Hans Joachim von Hippel, Beobachter Schule Coln, mid-1917.
D. Roland C.IIa “White 21”, Otto Burgermeister, Kasta 21, Kagohl IV, November-December 1916.
E. Roland C.IIa “circles”, Kagohl II?, late 1916 - early 1917.
The chosen machines are all camouflaged (go for the “Early” boxing if you want an overall blue-grey scheme) and offer an attractive variety of markings – Scheme A's sharkmouth should be a sure-fire hit with modellers. The decals are custom-printed by Cartograf to their usual impeccable standard, with pin-sharp registration and great colour density. Excess carrier film is kept to a minimum, and the clarity of the detail on the dataplates etc. has to be seen to be believed.
ConclusionWingnut Wings' new Roland C.IIa is a quite superb kit. It fully underlines why the company holds an unrivalled position as the leading mainstream producer of largescale WW1 aircraft kits. The Walfisch's exciting looks and attractive colour schemes, combined with its modeller-friendly layout with minimal rigging make it a great choice for newcomers to the genre who might come unstuck with more complex types. Unreservedly recommended.
Reference UsedWindsock Datafile 49 - LFG Roland C.II, by P. M. Grosz, Albatros Productions, 1995
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