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In-Box Review
Sopwith Triplane
K&B Collector's Series Sopwith Triplane
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

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Collector's Series Sopwith Triplane (K&B)
Sopwith Triplane World War I Black Maria (Aurora)
Item: 1100 (K&B), 100 (Aurora)
Series: Famous Fighters

Aurora Sopwith Triplane kit history
Aurora’s Sopwith Triplane was the eighteenth model in Aurora's 20 "Famous Fighters" 1/48 World War One aircraft series. It was released in 1963 with a Fokker E-III (kit 134.) Curiously, the Sopwith Triplane was released originally numbered as 100.

About 1972 Aurora redesigned their packaging into their large "square box" with art portraying the aircraft and not it in a dogfight; the square box held the beloved vacuformed diorama base! In 1973 Aurora reworked some of the molds by adding fabric texture and removing some raised insignia and data markings for subsidiary K&B as K&B 'Collectors Series.' Usually when model companies add "Collector" to a model it equals a junky kit at triple the price. Not K&B! These were packed in the same large square boxes with the K&B logo and included the vacuformed diorama base! It cost $1.70. A few years later Aurora reworked more molds and issued some of the models renumbered in the 700-series. I cannot find evidence the Sopwith Triplane was one of those. However, it was one of the kits reissued by K&B as Sopwith Triplane, kit no. 1100. A further kit history courtesy of Mr. Alan Bussie, Old Model Kits:

    Aurora’s Sopwith Triplane was the eighteenth model in Aurora’s twenty “Famous Fighters” of World War One aircraft series, with all kits in 1/48 scale. It was released in 1963 with the Fokker E-III, which is kit #134. Curiously, the Sopwith Triplane was released as kit number 100. The first kit in the series was 101-69, the French Nieuport II.

    The first issue was numbered 100-79 and had brilliant box art by the great Joe Kotula. The plastic is gloss black.

    The second release had a part number of 100-100 but the box art was identical. By the mid 1960s, pressure from retailers to remove the price suffix was peaking. Some dealers could or had to get higher prices for the kits, while large retailers often sold them for less. But old habits die hard, and Aurora (and others) simply increased the suffix prices. Since the box art was retained, the copyright date was still 1963. The actual release date was probably closer to ’65.

    For the third release, Aurora dropped the price extension all together, so this issue was simply part number 100. Again, no changes were made to the box artwork. The actual release date is probably the mid to late 1960s. This was the last issue with the Jo Kotula box artwork. Sometimes the plastic is gloss black like the first and second issues; sometimes you may find a more semi-gloss or matt black.

    In the late 1960s, Aurora realized that something had to be done to improve kit sales. More and more model builders were demanding accuracy. New kits, such as the Cheyenne helicopter and Boeing PGH-2 Tucumcari Hydrofoil, were greatly improved over older offerings. Slower kit sales in the early 1970s made tooling investment even more critical, so Aurora chose to do upgrade existing tooling to some of the most popular kits - including the World War I fighters. In general, the rework added fabric texture, removed some raised insignia and data markings and included better instructions with rigging diagrams. Somehow, the Sopwith Triplane escaped this upgrade with the exception of the instructions - possibly because it was already a much better kit than the original WWI models from the 1950s.

    1972 saw this kit made by Aurora but marketed by subsidiary K&B as the “Collector’s Series.” This model also included the vacuformed ‘Battle Terrain Base’ as well as the pilot and mechanic figures. The injection molded ground based was dropped for this release. Ironically, the price suffix returned to the part number with this release. Plastic color is usually tan and black, with a dark brown terrain base. Please aware that the terrain base has shown up in other colors as well.

    The final issue was the same kit with the same box art but with the ‘new’ Aurora logo, new price suffix and other minor box changes.

    A few years later, around 1975/76, Aurora released many of the WWI kits one final time, and all of them with upgraded molds. This time the terrain base was dropped and the box showed a color photo of completed model to emphasize accuracy. These kits were the 700 series part numbers. At this time I cannot find evidence that the Sopwith Triplane was ever released in this group.

    Some Aurora collectors believe that when Aurora sold the molds to Monogram in 1977, the Tripe was one of the kits damaged beyond salvage in the infamous train wreck. It must be noted, however, that truly reliable information about what molds were damaged has been hard to come by.

Now there are modern injection molded 1/48 Sopwith Triplanes. Regardless, a quick spin around the net shows that this model can be built into a good looking model.

Opening the hanger
This review is of a 1972 K&B 'square box’ issue with colorful box art.

Inside are instructions, decals, and 28 parts injection molded in two colors, tan and maroon. One piece is an identification button imprinted with “SOPWITH TRIPLANE GREAT BRITAIN.” Molding is good with minimal flash, dismissible mold seam lines, no sink holes but typical of the era, several visible ejector marks. Too many are on the top of the bottom wings and wing struts.

Strangely, Aurora tooled the fuselage with the cowling attached! Struts and piping and trailing edges are too thick. Figure detail is better than previous figures yet still soft. The climbing pilot has a small sink hole in his belt while both have ejector circles. Aurora probably included a base with molded chocks in the original kit to pose the model and figures upon. The K&B box has the vacuform base.

Test fitting reveals fair fit. Filler will be necessary along the fuselage. Where the cabanes and interstruts mate into the airframe will also require care.

As was the fashion of the era, sadly all insignia and data are molded onto the airframe. Removing it is a horrible exercise at best even on flat surfaces!

Accuracy? Aurora was one of – if not the - first to make models to a standard size. This quarter-scale model scales closely.

The 130 hp Clerget rotary engine detail is improved over previous Famous Fighters models.

The .303 Vickers machine gun is inaccurate yet has more detail than previous Aurora guns.

The cockpit is token: floor, seat with faux cushion texture, stick, instrument panel. No seated pilot is in the kit to block seeing into the maw of the fuselage.

Surface detail includes fine raised lines representing access hatches, stitching, control horns, control wire ports and - Ugh! - aileron/elevator/rudder gaps!

Aurora included a pair of pilots. They are reasonably well detailed although the detail is soft.

Instructions, decals, paint guide
The instructions trumpet
    K&8 MANUFACTURING Division of Aurora Products Corp. 12152 S. WOODRUFF AVE, DOWNEY, CALF, 9024*

K&B did a great job with the instructions, which unfold into a long narrow paper. A detailed multi-step assembly sequence for the 28 parts. Line art illustrates everything with all parts are identified. Painting guidance for 10 colors is shown on the line art of a 4-view.

Decals include four roundels with separate red dots, rudder stripes, and serial number 5492 for Black Maria, Squadron Commander Collishaw's mount. I defer to the Great War pros as to whether the blue and white of the roundels are correct.

Finally, Aurora included a basic diagram for rigging the beast!

Another great circuit around memory-pattern! Even today this kit is sought for building and collecting. Some collectors enjoy building the kit as they did in the 1960s - straight from the box. Those who wish to build it to current standards will find it ripe for detailing. No doubt you can make a respectable model with it, as evidenced by the many examples online. However, I would only buy and build one for nostalgia.

Our thanks to Old Model Kits! This item was provided by OMK for the purpose of having it reviewed on Aeroscale.

Facts About The Sopwith Triplane (Aurora / K&B Spelling and punctuation)

    Manufactured by the Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., King-ston-on-Thames, Surrey, the Sopwith Triplane was a single-seat scout with a novel layout and contrary to popular belief that the Germans first developed the triplane. Great Britain used it many months before the Fokker Triplane Dr. 1 appeared. Unique and peculiar to World War I, the Triplane type has not been revived on a production basis since. The Triplane was based on the theory that if a plane had an increased wing area and decreased span, perhaps manoeuvrability and climb would improve. Great Britain's Sopwith Triplane performed so very successfully that Germany induced Anthony Fokker to build the type and with the Tripiane principle in mind, he built his famous Fokker Triplane.

    Many experimental versions of the Sopwith Triplane were built, such as one with a 150 hp Hispano-Suiza eight-cylinder Vee engine and another known as the Sopwith Snark with radial motor, however, the production models were powered by one 130 hp Clerget rotary motor. Although Sopwith Tripiane was produced in 1916 for the R.F.C., this service preferred the new Spad S.7 used by the R.N.A.S. and strangely enough the R.N.A.S. offered to exchange their Spads for the R.F.C. Triplanes and the odd transaction took place. The Triplanes performed beautifully in the hands of the naval pilots during the Battle of Messines and all through the summer of 1917 in Squadrons No. 1 (Naval), 8 (Naval), 9 (Naval), and 10 (Naval)(Western Front) .1 Wing R.N.A.S. 'Naval Ten' contained the famous "B" (Black) Flight under Squadron Commander R. Collishaw which dispatched 87 enemy aircraft in a little over four months. The five Triplanes in the "B" Flight were painted completely black except for the rud¬der stripes and cockades. Inscribed on each was its name. Cmdr. Collishaw's was the '-Black Maria", the others "Black Sheep", "Black Prince" and "Black Roger", and "Black Death".

    The Sopwith Triplanes had replaced Pips, Strutters and Nieuports, in the R.N.A.S. and pilots liked them so well they were reluctant to replace them with the new Bentley Camels when the time came.
    Wings, fuselage and tail unit were wooden construction, fabric covered and wire-braced. The undercarriage was of steel tubular 'vees' with rubber cord shock-absorbers. Dimensions were listed as span 26' 7", length 18' 10", height 9' 9", chord 3' 3", gap 3' 0", stagger 1' 6", dihedral 254<>f incidence 2°, and track 5'6", wing area 257 sq. ft.
    Empty weight 993 Ib. loaded 1,415 lb., militaryload 238 lb., fuel and oil 184 lb. Armament consisted of a single, synchronised fixed Vickers machine-gun mounted on the cowling in front of the pilot. Maximum speed was 116 mph at 6,500 ft., 114 mph at 10,000 ft., and 106 mph at 15,000 ft. Time-to-climb was 6.3 minutes to 6,500 ft., 10.5 minutes to 10,000 ft., and 19 minutes to 15,000 ft. Endurance was 2 hours 15 minutes and the service ceiling was 20,500 ft.


Bill Shatzer. World War I Modeling Page. Aurora Kits Aurora kits (ETYWTKBWATA!). [Web.] n.d.
Highs: Molding is good with minimal flash, dismissible mold seam lines and no sink holes. Rigging instructions.
Lows: Visible ejector marks and molded insignias. Aurora tooled the fuselage halves with the cowling attached!
Verdict: I would only buy and build one for nostalgia.
  Scale: 1:48
  Mfg. ID: 1100
  Suggested Retail: $1.70 in 1972
  Related Link: OMK Aurora Site
  PUBLISHED: Sep 17, 2013
  NATIONALITY: United Kingdom

Our Thanks to Old Model Kits!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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