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Kit preview: Wingnut Wings 1/32 scale Bristol F.2b Fighter

wingnut_wings-bristol_fighterSteve Budd received his recently ordered Bristol Fighter from Wingnut Wings …. you may have heard of them recently? 😉 He shares this in-depth kit preview.

Genesis of a Fighter
Of all the British aircraft designs that took to the air during the Great War, only the Bristol aircraft company’s F.2b was universally both loved and respected by its crews – other British types varied in their reception; ranging from outright hate to love; certainly the latter in the case of Sopwith’s brilliant Camel, which was nonetheless qualified affection by carrying with it an aura of fear prompted by its propensity to fatally bite those who failed to operate it as the design demanded.

By mid-war, the Royal Flying Corp (RFC) realised that its reconnaissance capability was sorely in need of a much more capable and self reliant aircraft than the BE 2c then in service. So it was that Frank Barnwell, Chief Engineer at British Aeroplane Limited in Bristol, tabled his new design, the R 2A (‘R’ for reconnaissance I presume) as a direct competitor to the Royal Aircraft Factory’s BE 2c replacement – the RE 8, which essential swapped the pilot’s and observer’s positions so that the pilot sat in front (can you imagine being a gunner, sat partially under the top wing, trying to find any worthwhile field of fire and shooting in the broad direction of the pilot…).

Barnwell’s R 2A concept was first test flown on 9 September 1916 and re-designated the F 2A (‘Fighter’ 2A) under serial number A3303; it’s ‘ear’ radiators (fixed to either side of the cowling) having given way to the familiar circular radiator in the nose. The fuselage featured the rather novel feature of being mounted above the lower wing on short struts, giving better field of view for the pilot over the upper wing.

While a Hispano-Suiza engine was trialled in the airframe, it was the 190 horse power Falcon I V-12 motor that became the initial preferred choice for the ‘Biff’. The RFC were certainly suitably impressed with Bristol’s offering and placed an initial order for 50 aircraft.

Interestingly, our understanding of what a ‘fighter’ aircraft is today is predominantly that of a single seat machine. In 1916 however, the term was applied by the RFC to two seat designs – single seaters being commonly referred to as ‘scouts’ (a practice the RFC maintained throughout 1914 – 1918). In essence, a fighter was regarded as a two seater, fitted with machine guns, that could return fire.

No 48 squadron took delivery of the initial F 2As in December 1916 and conducted its operational conversion training at Rendcombe in Gloucestershire before transit to Bellevue in France in March 1917.

The following month was to pass into RFC history as the infamous ‘Bloody April’, in which the British sustained heavy aerial losses. Into this cauldron came the debuts of both the Se5 and the F 2A.

The account of the first combat mission of the F 2A on 5 April 1917, is a story unto itself and involved no less an opponent than Von Richthofen himself, together with his crack unit, Jasta 11. 48 Squadron was assigned Captain Robinson, a holder of the Victoria Cross, to lead them that day but while his personal courage was clearly not in doubt, the quality of his decision making was to quickly lead to a squadron massacre.

Kit: Wingnut Wings / 1:32 scale / Bristol F.2b Fighter
Kit Number: 32004
Price: $79.00 US
Decals: Printed by Cartograf. Five options available from the box
Notes: UK purchasers particularly, take heed. Wingnut kits are only available direct from Wingnut in New Zealand and certainly attract charges from UK Customs and Excise and the UK carrier (more on this under ‘Conclusions’).

The ‘Brisfits’ climbed away from the airstrip at Bellevue and were over Arras by late morning. News of their approach was soon passed to Jasta 11 at Brayelle. Five Albatros DIIIs were scrambled to intercept the raiders. Von Richthofen, at the head of the formation, in his blood red DIII, had already amassed 34 kills when he sighted the approaching F 2As. The 48 squadron crews knew that the silhouetted shapes bearing down on them could only be enemy scouts and responded by following Robinson’s order that they close up for mutual fire support. This tactic may have been the only practicable option in the BE 2c but the Bristol was considerably faster and more manoeuvrable; attributes which Robinson did not seek to exploit.

Engines firewalled, the DIIIs tore into the RFC aircraft, the muzzles of their twin Spandaus spitting what seemed virtually continuous yellow flames. The packed formation of ‘Biffs’, obligingly flying in a straight line, became one amorphous target in which, for the highly trained Jasta pilots, it seemed impossible to miss. A3340 was blasted out of position, falling away, pursued all the while by the Red Baron and made an emergency landing near Lewaarde. Its wounded pilot, 2Lt Arthur Lechler set fire to his ‘Biff’ with his Very pistol a little in advance of being taken prisoner. His observer, 2Lt Herbert George, was also wounded and lay nearby. He died in Douai hospital a short while after they were both captured.

The ‘Brisfits’ had been engaged at low altitude, Robinson having ignored recommendations not to fly below 4,000 feet. So it was that the remaining crews continued to fly on, the majority of the returned fire coming from the Lewis armed observers. Von Richthofen climbed away from the now burning A3340 to re-join the combat and could not then have known of the final decisive error Robinson had made in the preparations before the raid.

It seems Robinson had become aware of lubricating oil freezing in machine guns at high altitude and had ordered that oiling be discontinued, thus ‘solving’ the problem. The net effect was to ensure that one by one, the guns of the observers jammed, leaving the entire formation cripplingly vulnerable. If the Germans were perplexed by the reduction of fire they didn’t show it and the appalling carnage continued. Only two F 2As…rendered flying sieves by strikes from numerous machine gun rounds, returned from the flight. Claims for two enemy aircraft shot down were put in but the truth of the outcome was perhaps best expressed by Von Richthofen after the combat, when he reported:

“After the attack, which was similar to a cavalry charge, the enemy squadron lay demolished on the ground. Not a single one of us was even wounded”. Jasta 11 suffered no losses that day.

This hugely inauspicious start was followed by further losses until tactics in the F 2As were changed and the F.2b, with its 220 horse power Falcon II engine was introduced in combat on 2 May 1917. Once the lesson was learnt that the Biff was actually a highly capable dog fighter and should be flown aggressively – in essence, like a single seat scout – the German Jastas found it a very difficult opponent; a thoroughbred combatant that covered its own six o’clock position with either a Lewis gun or two. Numerous pilots and observers alike reached or exceeded ‘ace’ status and my copy of Osprey Aircraft Of The Aces No 79 – “Bristol F 2 Fighter Aces of World War I” illustrates 28 aircraft in which this was achieved. In point of fact, over 240 pilots and observers scored five or more kills in the type, a statistic that endorses the deadly capabilities of the ‘Brisfit’ when flown to its limits.

Serving in the front line, on home defence duties and soldiering on until 1936 in the RNZAF, the ‘Biff’ deservedly became an aviation milestone and a type acclaimed by those who fought and served in it. Hats off to the ‘Biff’.

A personal ambition
I’ve long felt that the ideal scale for WWI aircraft is actually 1:32. Big enough to detail comfortably but still small enough to fit in a display cabinet. I can recall writing to various model manufacturers, on numerous occasions, asking them to provide kits in this scale. I dreamt of modern Eduard standards of production poured into this bigger scale. Plea after plea went out…responses were uniformly nil. It seemed Roden would be ‘it’. Enter Wingnut Wings stage right…

Wingnut Wings
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Wingnut Wings first four kit releases generally is to describe their quality as being very much the equivalent of ‘Accurate Miniatures’ in their later, evolved incarnation. Think of their Avenger, Dauntless and Mitchell and you’re there.

Let’s break the whole ‘Brisfit’ presentation down into its component parts, to properly appreciate just how much care has been poured into these fabulous kits by the new kid on the block.

The box
It might seem somewhat pedestrian to talk about a cardboard box but the sheer impression of quality begins here. The artwork is highly evocative and quite superb, as two Bristol Fighters and a Sopwith Camel, ‘mix it’ with a DR1 triplane and what looks like a silbergrau and gelb Pfalz DIIIa flown by none other than Bob of Bob’s Buckles fame…

The silver box edging and accented logo and title bar graphics give a touch of class and the five aircraft profiles on the side of the box hint strongly at the delights inside. If a box’s job is simply to protect the contents then it succeeds here as the dimensions exactly match those of sprues inside. Kit boxes from other manufacturers are often oversized, sometimes absurdly so, allowing the contents to collide with the interior, thus damaging some of the parts (my Roden Pflaz DIII and Se5a both have a crushed, torn wing tip each). Wingnut Wings simple precaution allowed my kit to reach me in perfect condition. Job done. Other manufacturers please take note…

The parts
I counted the plastic out at 188 parts, although some parts are included as options (one or two Lewis guns, radiator shutters open or closed, different undercarriage legs, bomb and Holt flares, two or four bladed propeller, choice of spinners) and the official ‘all in’ parts count by Wingnut is 174.

There are three clear parts and an etched fret yields 14 parts, including seat belts and observer’s rear cockpit cloth screen. Everything is just beautiful and the more you look, the more detail there is to see. The 3.5 mag Optivisor reveals the true extent of the tool maker’s exquisitely delicate touch. The fuselage stitching for instance, is uniformly rendered with what looks like impossible fineness and consistence. Fastener detail within the stitching is equally beautiful.

The impression of ribs beneath the stretched wing fabric is perfect, as is the tape detail and the fittings below it. The item which really blows me away though, is the wicker pilot’s seat. The 180 degree seat back is moulded as single piece with fabulous weave detail front and back. Careful painting and suitable washes and highlights will give the next best thing to weaving a seat from scratch by annealed brass wire. Top drawer.

I’ve spent considerable time studying the F.2b at Hendon with the starboard side fuselage fabric removed. The observer’s floor is hessian carpeted. I was stunned to see that Wingnut have even included that in the kit detail! The whole cockpit assembles as a single unit and inserts up into the closed fuselage halves, becoming the lower fuselage exterior at the same time. Clever.

Perhaps the biggest bug-bear of biplanes is those pesky struts and wing alignment. On this kit, the rear cabine struts (A47 and A48) attached to the fuselage are moulded with long alignment arms that glue securely into channels on the inside of the fuselage, setting the rake and height instantly. All the other struts have very positive locators too – there’s none of the dimple or shallow hole issue here, all of which should make the wings pretty much self-aligning. The outer wing sections have huge, ultra positive location tabs that will really help to set the right dihedral where it’s needed.

There are four etched bracing wire posts (P5) for the tail fin. Conventional etch would have these butt joined to the fuselage in a flimsy, easily broken manner. Wingnut solve it by including a solid tab that CAs out of sight on the interior of the fuselage, the posts passing through a slot in the surface and gives the strongest possible solution to an awkward problem. Brilliant.

Wingnut’s stated intention is that their kits be a pleasure to build and so far the evidence in the F.2b box is there that the builds will indeed, be something to enjoy. I’d add to that a recommendation – don’t rush it. Treat each component, never mind sub assembly, as a model in its own right. Get the best out of all of it. Not manically so, just enjoy it, don’t sweat over it and the reward will be your best model yet…if it’s not and there’s anything you don’t like about the build, Wingnut say you can blame the Project Co-ordinator, Richard Alexander…

The Instructions
Calling them ‘instructions’ is too small a word; ‘mini-Datafile’ is more apposite for this lavish and superbly illustrated A4 guide. High quality paper displays the assembly artwork, rigging guide (exterior and interior!), reference photographs of a restored ‘Biff’, period photos and decal profiles. Rather than witter on further, take a look at the PDF download of it at the Wingnut site. (Click here, then click the “Instructions” link.)

At a stroke, all other build guides are so much less in comparison, even Eduard’s, which I previously regarded as the industry standard.

The one thing the instructions don’t cover are the bungee cords on the Lewis mounting. My reference photos in the Photobucket album mentioned below will sort you out on that one though. The only other oversight I’ve found is in the Lewis gun arrangement for decal option ‘B’. The assembly section on page 18 advises twin guns, whereas the decal placement guide only shows one. Page 31 of the Windsock guide clearly shows the same machine with a single Lewis fitted so either go with the reference or model the one they obviously didn’t photograph…lol.

The markings
A decal sheet the size of the box, immaculately printed by Cartograf, gives options for five machines –

1.B1112 – “F” 22 or 16 Squadron 1917 – 1918
2.B1313 – “The Maharajah of Bahabur” 39 Squadron 1918
3.C4619 – “R” 62 Squadron Lt W Staton and Lt J Gordon April – May 1918
4.C814 – 48 Squadron Capt K Park and Lt R Little April 1918
5.D8084 – “T” 139 Squadron Capt S Dalrymple mid 1918

Please note – Wingnut recommend caution in the use of decal softeners. I’m aware of one builder who used one part Micro Sol with one part distilled water with no harmful effect on the LVG lozenge decals. Just some thing to be mindful of and there’ll be decals on the sheet you can use to test other solutions off the model anyway…in the time honoured fashion.

I recommend “Bristol Fighter – A Windsock Datafile Special – Volume 1” by JM Bruce and “Bristol F 2 Fighter Aces of World War 1” by Jon Guttman as ideal side orders to your main dish.

In addition, I’ve assembled 42 photos of the Hendon Air Museum ‘Biffs’ to help you with your own builds. Copyright is mine and you are free to use the photographs as personal reference material in the construction of your models – please don’t use or reproduce them for any other purpose without seeking my prior agreement.

Wingnut have produced an absolute winner. Straight from the box it promises to be a joy from start to finish and will result in the definitive model of the ‘Brisfit’ in any scale. Detail nuts can add bits to the cockpit and engine and maybe re-work parts here and there to their heart’s content. There’s plenty to satisfy everyone, whatever their wishes and wants and that’s a fair achievement for any kit.

The fly in the ointment is shipping. Wingnut kindly send them free, anywhere in the world but once they arrive in the UK it’s a different story. Customs slapped over £9.00 Value Added Tax on it and the UK carrier (who shall be nameless here) walloped over £13.00 on top for ‘handling costs’! Over £23.00 on top of the purchase price is a punitive sting. I collected my LVG at the same time and paid the carrier over £46.00 for just taking the kits away. The SE5a is yet to be delivered. The VAT’s one thing but the carrier fee is atrocious. Still, there we are; it seems quality in the UK really does come at a cost.

Leaving aside the Customs and carrier issues the fourth of Wingnut’s wonderful releases is unreservedly recommended to all – you can have yours after I’ve first taken delivery of another four of course…lol.

Steve’s bio:
“I’m Steve Budd, based in London, England. My birth certificate says I’m 49 years old but that can’t be right as my head stopped at 19…

I am officially the luckiest guy on the planet – married to a (fortunately) very understanding wife and three great kids, topped off with a self-contained modelling shed that sometimes gets down to -4c or lower in winter; perfect conditions for modelling those November 1943 T-34s!

I took Shep Paine’s and Verlinden’s advice to heart many years ago in keeping the builds broad spectrum – aircraft (WWI, WWII, anything post WWII), armour, figures, dinosaurs, sci-fi and occasional things that float. Each discipline has techniques and approaches that can be transferred or migrated into the others. I can’t count the times one form of modelling has helped out in another, plus a mix of subjects keeps the interest and fun factors high (I’ve often thought kits should be rated in reviews like sun cream – ‘…this ones a fun(sun)-factor 25…’

The infamous modelling stash currently tops 300 but I’m trimming lots of dead wood periodically on E-Bay and only picking up new stuff pretty infrequently.”