I’ve always thought Gloster’s Gladiator was a neat airplane. Having the distinction of being one of the last biplane fighters, it soldiered on early in WWII until more modern replacements retired it. And building a model of this airplane seemed very appealing to me- except my fear of rigging.
I have watched demos of rigging, read articles on rigging, heard descriptions of rigging, and seen the results of rigging. But in the one very poor effort I made- being a Lindberg PT-17, I realized I found no joy in the tedious task. So I avoided biplanes.
And I’ll admit right up front, this experience has done little to change that perception.
The kit is the Ex-Roden kit, packaged by Eduard in a Limited Edition boxing. The package is impressive- Roden’s plastic, Eduard’s photoetch and canopy masks, and eight really, really nice, multinational marking options printed by Cartograph. You can build aircraft of the RAF, FAA, Finland, Latvia, and Belgium.
The base kit- my first Roden kit- was typical of most Eastern European offerings that are “mainstream”. Some evidence of the “short run” heritage, but definitely good looking on the sprues. I’d rate this as significantly better than Special Hobby’s typical kits, but not quite up to the detail of Zvezda or the finesse, precision and fit of Eduard.
The base interior is a bit sparse. A decent, clear plastic IP is provided, along with a fairly thick and generic seat. Some overly thick framing is molded into the fuselage sidewalls, and a stick, rudder pedals and floor are provided. Eduard supplies some additional details for the sidewalls, in the way of various (maddening) folded up boxes and protrusions that adorn a few spots. After getting them in place and painted, I think it would have been less frustrating- and yet equally convincing- to simply construct the parts of sheet plastic.
Also supplied is a pre-painted photoetch instrument panel face that is gorgeous. But don’t let those looks deceive you- it simply doesn’t fit. In fact, I’ve never, ever been able to get any Eduard instrument face to fit in a model properly. There’s always some trimming involved to get it in. And that brought me to my first issue with the kit.
The cockpit is supposed to be sandwiched between the two fuselage halves. The instructions show the three major components- a radio “shelf” aft of the seat, the floor.seat,stick/rudder assembly, and the IP. The instructions just sort of vaguely show arrows pointing to the right fuselage half for each component, and then you glue on the left half.
Trouble is- where exactly do you glue it? It took a bit of test fitting to sort it all out. I realized at this point the IP was way, way too wide to fit. I did notice though that if I glued the other components in and closed the fuselage, I could slip the IP in through the front (hopefully) and get it to stay.
I started by gluing the fuselage halves together at the rudder, leaving the forward fuselage able to spread open. This way I could position the radio and cockpit floor and let the fuselage close around it to trap it in place. A drop of glue here and there then help it in place, and the rest of the fuselage was sealed shut.
Fit was…. OK. The halves lined up, and they were generally together. But it left a lot of seam work to be done. And owing to all the fabric rib detail, and various bumps and protrusions, it was a bit maddening to get it sanded down. (I never did really succeed, actually, as I can see ghost seams here and there on the finished product.)
Which left the IP.
The kit instructions have you sand down the plastic IP, and mount the p/e parts to it. If I had to build this kit again (which I don’t anticipate doing), I’d leave the kit IP aside as a “just in case”, and simply mount the p/e parts to sheet plastic.
Wait- check that- I wouldn’t use the p/e at all, and I’d just go with the kit plastic part.
But try to use the p/e I did. After ruining the kit IP to fit the colored p/e to it, and failing to get it to fit at all, I decided I would have to take another approach. I yanked the p/e off of the kit IP (or what was left of it), mounted it to a piece of sheet plastic, trimming the edges of the plastic away, and vainly tried to feed it in from the front. It was simply too wide.
Finally, I chopped off the p/e edges a bit, glued a piece of sprue to the back of the sheet plastic, and simply glued that to the inner portion of the upper fuselage. I used tweezers to adjust it, so that it sat in the approximate position it would have.
Checking my work, I realized that when it was all finished, you really couldn’t have seen it anyway…
My advice if you build it- use the kit part. Just go ahead and throw the p/e away. Venting that anger will help you get ready for the struts and cabanes.
With the fuselage closed up, I turned to the engine and cowl. Roden cast the cowl as a three piece part, with nothing to guide placement save flat, butt edged joins. I wondered why did they do such an evil act of engineering.
Then I got to the engine. There is simply no logical way to fit the 800 tiny exhaust pipes (OK…. 18) to the front of the engine and then slide the engine in to the cowl. The engine barely fits without them as it is.
I finally gave up, slapped the cowl together as close to “round” as I could, and built the engines minus the 18,000 exhaust parts (OK….. 18), and set them aside to add after painting.
The engine doesn’t actually look too bad. I did laugh at the photoetch wiring harness as I tossed it back in the box, never to see the light of day again.
Next up was the lower wings. I placed each of these in their slots, made sure they were even, and let the glue dry.
Hey, maybe this won’t be so bad?
Oh, a joker, eh?
Next up were the landing gear struts, tail planes, and forward windscreen and rear canopy glazing.
I’d decided, based on some build reports of various biplanes, to do all the painting and decaling prior to mounting the upper wing. I did mount the outer wing struts to the lower wings, however.
Paints were Tamiya, and I applied minimal weathering. The decals were fabulous, as you’d expect from Eduard/Cartograph.
Now it was time to add the upper wing, cabanes and rig it.
It was at this point I realized the name of the aircraft had changed.
Most people call it the “Gloster Gladiator”, or just “Gladiator”. At some point during the build, I realized I had begun to refer to it as “Stupid Gladiator”. Some examples:
- “Hey, I’m going to have to go now. I need to work on the Stupid Gladiator.”
- “Too bad this Stupid Gladiator is a commission build. Otherwise, I’d throw it against the wall.”
- “No sweetheart, I’m not angry at you. I’m just sick of this Stupid Gladiator.”
You get the picture.
And the process of getting that the upper wing on has firmly cemented its new name in my mind.
I tried the straight forward approach. Glue the upper wings onto the four outer wing struts. That didn’t work, however, because apparently the four outer wing structs were made by four different engineers, on four separate continents, to four different sets of plans.
To save you the long story, I tried multiple methods, and finally just decided to glue the best fitting on strut first, and then do the rest one at a time, and see how it turned out.
In the end, the upper wing was mounted, mostly straight and square. Two of the opposite struts mostly matched. One has a slight bow to it. One snapped under the tension (literally) and after some sanding and fitting, it mostly fit, though with a bit of a crook in it.
Then came the cabanes.
When I went to fit those, I realized the wing struts allowed the wing to be far too low- basically cutting right across the font of the canopy. I had to bow the wing up a bit to get the thin, overly soft, and ill-fitting cabanes into place. With enough glue they eventually held, and actually seemed to straighten out the overall wing appearance a bit. (A small bit.)
I set it aside to let the glue dry. Even after drying, the cabanes flexed horribly, and any pressure on the upper wing made everything bow and shift.
On to the rigging.
I used some flexible stuff called EZ Line for the rigging. I’d pre-drilled holes in all the locations that needed rigging. My (naive) idea was that I’d drop a tiny bit of glue in the hole, insert one end of the rigging, hit it with accelerator, and do the same on the opposite end.
Oh, how funny that seems now….
In some cases, the glue dried instantly on first contact with the rigging, before I had it properly placed. In other cases, even with accelerator, it did not want to dry, and the line went popping away. (Before you ask…. Gorilla Glue. And yes, I get that you’ve never had problems with it. It’s me.) One time I had no problems at all getting either end set in place- until I realized I’d wrapped the rigging around another strut somehow, and had to slice it off and start over.
After more than a few hours of struggling, I finally got to the point on the last few lines that it went fairly well.
( So I did learn something about how to rig…. although the biggest lesson was “don’t build airplanes that need rigging.”)
At some point I added a line and realized I was finished.
I’d love to say I felt a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at completing the task. I’d be lying to say that though. Even with it finished, I simply wanted to throw it away and get it off my workbench. But being a commission build, I had to press on.
The rest was simple. Shove the engine into the cowl, stick it on the front, add the wheels, exhausts and sliding canopy portion, and give it a dull coat.
In the end, it looks like a Gladiator, albeit a Stupid one. From three feet away it’s not too bad. Close examination shows the multitude of wing mounting and rigging failures, ill-fitting struts, giant glue drops hastily painted over in an attempt to hide them, and just generally evidence of a modeler in over his head.
I’m sure some folks will say “I built it and had no issues.” Great. Wonderful. Others will say “just apply some modeling skill.” Well, I did. I guess my skills simply weren’t up to the task.
But it does illustrate why I avoid biplane models. The rigging is what it is- doing that properly just takes patience and practice.
But the model makers don’t do anyone a favor with their “here’s a few flimsy sticks and some dimples- good luck lining that up” approach. I don’t necessarily expect a model to be simple, but I’d appreciate it if it weren’t frustrating by design. Or, more accurately, lack of design.
There has to be a better way. Period.
I’ll likely build some more biplanes in the future. As someone who makes part of their living from commission builds, I have to take on things outside my comfort zone.
But if I build this one again- or any biplane for that matter, it will be at a premium price, no negotiations.
So there you have it.
The Stupid Gladiator. All I can say is I’m glad it’s finished.