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The Classic Nieuport Sesquiplanes

Eduard's Standard and Profipack Nieuport 17, and the Nieuport 24
Conversion from Tom's Modelworks

By Tom Cleaver

History

Eduard de Nieuport was one of the great pioneers of early aviation. He began design of a monoplane in 1905 and became a noted proponent of that configuration. After setting up a factory at Suresnes in 1909, he produced several remarkably advanced monoplanes, before ending his brief career in September 16, 1911, while making a demonstration flight at Charny in another monoplane of his own design. Brother Charles de Nieuport took over, but was also tragically killed in a flying accident on January 24, 1913. Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe, with the active and skillful work of Leon Bazaine, was able to keep the company alive, and Nieuport monoplanes were supplied to several air forces.

On January 1, 1914, former French naval Lieutenant Gustave Delage joined the company as an engineer. He became involved in the design of a racing biplane for the Schneider Cup Trophy, but the war cut that short.

The first Nieuport to gain wide fame was the Nieuport 10, a logical development of several of the ideas seen in the racer that appeared in 1914. It was used by both the French Aviation Militaire, the RNAS, the Aviation Militaire Belge, the Italian Aeronautica del Regio Esercito, and by units of the Imperial Russian Air Service. This airplane established the classic Nieuport design: a lightly-loaded sesquiplane with V-interplane struts and a single-spar lower wing, powered by an 80-hp Gnome-LeRhone rotary engine.

Refinement led to the smaller Nieuport 11, known as the "Bebe," which with the Airco DH2 would end the "Fokker scourge" in 1915-16. The Nieuport 16 maintained the same airframe as the 11, with a more powerful engine. Pilots described it as "a handful."

The Classic Nieuport 17

The Nieuport 17C.1, appearing in mid-1916, remedied the problems associated with the type 16 by providing more wing area to lift the 110-hp engine, as well as a number of structural refinements. Armament, at least in the French version, standardized quickly on a synchronized Vickers gun. Considerable numbers of the fighter were also armed with a Lewis gun on an overwing mounting that had none of the convenience of the later Foster mounting as fitted to British Nieuports; changing drums in combat meant standing up in the cockpit to accomplish the work!

The Type 17 equipped every French fighter squadron at some time in 1916, and was flown by all the great aces of the period. The performance was so good the Royal Flying Corps also acquired it, where such famous pilots as Ball and Bishop first made their names flying the Nieuport.

By late July 1917, the day of the Nieuport had already passed, but lack of a suitable replacement forced the airplane to continue in service until it could be replaced by the SPAD VII in French service and the SE5a in RFC operations. Gustave Delage had centered his design thinking around refining and modifying the basic Nieuport 17 airframe without seeking to increase engine power or armament significantly.

Last of the V-Strut Nieuports

Graceful tail surfaces were the identifying characteristic of the Nieuport 24 and 27, which appeared in the late Spring of 1917. The airfoil section was changed from that of the Nieuport 17 and the ailerons were reduced in area, ostensibly to aid roll response. The result was unsatisfactory, to say the least. The days of the delightful Nieuport 17 were gone, but the situation at the front was such that despite their heavy-handed control and poor aileron response, which led to lack of control in turns and when landing, both the Nieuport 24 and 24bis - which reverted to the original tailplane - entered service with the French Aviation Militaire and the Royal Flying Corps.

It appears that the Nieuport 24bis was produced due to difficulty with the all-wood tail of the Nieuport 24. This was soon solved and the Nieuport 24 was the main production version. Also, it was discovered that the aileron heaviness came from a canvas strip used to fair over the gap between aileron and upper wing surface; what happened was that over time the strip raised and remained in position, forming a wind screen and making the aileron ineffective. Removal of the strip restored the effectiveness of the aileron associated with the Nieuport design.

The last of the V-strut Nieuports was the Nieuport 27, which was powered by the 130-hp Clerget rotary. Though the airplanes were thoroughly outclassed by their German opponents by this time, teething troubles with the SPAD VII and the later SPAD XIII meant that the Nieuport had to soldier on into 1918, finally leaving the Western Front by that April.

Three Nieuport Aces

Georges Guynemer was the epitome of the French fighting spirit of the First World War. In August 1917 he scored his 50th victory, which he had foretold would be his last. On September 11, 1917, Guynemer failed to return from patrol. Sometime later that morning, British artillery laid down a heavy barrage on the area where he was thought to have fallen. A German patrol which combed the shell-cratered ground found no trace of Guynemer or his aircraft. At the time of his death, just past his 26th birthday, he had logged 666 flying hours, shot down 53 enemy aircraft and earned 26 citations. If any pilot of the First World War can be said to have been the living embodiment of the mythological fighter ace, Guynemer is the one. French schoolchildren said "He flew so high, on and on in the sky, that he could never come to earth again."

Gervais Raoul Lufbery was born March 14, 1885, in Chamalieres, France. He emigrated to the United States with his family at age 6. When the war began in 1914, he was back in France. He enlisted in the French Air Service, serving first as a mechanic and then as a reconnaissance pilot; he moved on to single-seat fighters in 1916, where he flew with the Lafayette Escadrille. When the United States entered the war, he joined the United States Air Service as an instructor. Idolized by his subordinates and revered by his peers, he was killed in action on May 19, 1918, as he attempted to down a German Rumpler north of Nancy. Hit by enemy fire, his Nieuport 28 suddenly flipped over and Lufbery was seen to fall from the aircraft. The following day, in a funeral witnessed by hundreds and recorded on film, he was buried in the cemetery at the Sebastopol Hospital. A bronze tablet in the village of Maron, near the Moselle River, marks the place where he fell. Lufbery's remains were later moved to Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches in Paris.

William Wellman is my favorite fighter ace of the Great War. Better known as an Oscar-winning film director from the Golden Age of Hollywood than as a member of the Lafayette Flying Corps, he would not have become the former had he not been the latter. Wellman, who was known as "Wild Bill," a nickname that described his colorful, hair-trigger temper, went to France at age 20 in 1916, where he managed to transfer from the Foreign Legion to the air service in 1917 as a member of Escadrille N.87 - 'les Chats Noir/the Black Cats' (not all American pilots served with the Lafayette Escadrille, those who served elsewhere were called the Lafayette Flying Corps). He scored 10 victories and came home a hero. An admiring Douglas Fairbanks reconnected with him and gave him an acting job. What Wellman really wanted to do was direct (don't they all?!), and he worked as a 1st AD on many silents during the 20s. It was Wellman's personal war experiences that gave him the edge for the director's chair and the biggest picture of 1927, "Wings," starring Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Clara Bow. Under Wellman's direction, "Wings" was a blockbuster and was the first recipient of the then-brand new "Oscar" (known then only as "the Academy Award"). Wellman is one of only two World War I fighter pilots to win an Oscar, the other being Cecil Lewis (my second-favorite World War I ace), who won his in 1938 for adapting "Pygmalion" with his friend, George Bernard Shaw.

The Models

As I recall, the very first biplane model I ever made was the then-Hawk Nieuport 17. That kit is still available today, more years than I care to admit to later. Until 1998, it was the only Nieuport 17 kit available to the World War I modeler. Fortunately, Eduard solved the problem with the release of their magnificent Nieuport 17, which was followed closely by the "Profipack" Nieuport 17, and followed shortly thereafter by a very good cast resin conversion kit from Tom's Modelworks that allowed creation of the Nieuport 17bis, 24, 24bis and 27.

The "regular" Eduard release now eschews the etched brass fret for detail. With the Nieuport 17, which has a very basic cockpit to say the least, this is not that noticeable. The only place where the lack of photo-etch really shows is around the Vickers machine gun, which lacks all the levers and cranks associated with the weapon. Decals are provided for two Nieuport 17s - one with camouflaged wings, one without - flown by Georges Guynemer over Verdun in 1916.

The "Profipack" Nieuport provides a photoetch brass cockpit, which includes the seat and controls, as well as the footrests for the floorboard, and the fiddly bits associated with the machine gun. The kit also has two upper wings - one with the open center section (actually covered with cellon, a transparent plastic), and one with the solid center section. There is a photoetch brass mount for the overwing Lewis gun, which is done in plastic with brass details. Decals are included for Nieuport 17s flown by Francesco Baracca, the Italian Ace of Aces, Charles Nungesser, Raoul Lufbery, and an airplane of the Imperial Russian Air Service. These are Aeromaster decals, printed in Italy, and have excellent register, including stenciling markings.

The conversion kit from Tom's Modelworks is designed to be used with either of the above kits. The conversion includes a fuselage done in two hollow halves, with the additional structure which rounds the fuselage sides, and the Nieuport 24/27 tail, all in clean, light tan resin with no pinholes. The fuselage seems a bit thick, but not noticeably so when glued together, and has the internal framing scribed inside. ALPS decals (designed by our own Bob Pearson - yay!) include personal markings for a French Nieuport 24bis, a Nieuport 24 flown by William Wellman, and an RFC Nieuport 27 flown by William MacLanachan (aka McScotch)- author of 'Fighter Pilot'.

Construction

Once the modeler has sanded the joint of the Tom's Modelworks conversion, all of these go together essentially the same, so I will only note exceptions where they apply to one or the other. As is now standard with Eduard kits, all parts are clean and flash-free, and the wings and tail surfaces are acceptably thin. The instructions are clear and easy to follow.

The cowling provides two different parts that allow it to be constructed either with two small ventilation holes in the "8 o'clock" position, or without. The Guynemer Nieuport had the ventilating holes, while the other two did not. I each case, I carefully assembled the alternative parts, puttied, sanded the joins smooth, and then polished the cowling. This was because each would be finished with SnJ buffing powder and finished as polished metal, a good way to expose any bad joins as though they had a spotlight on them.

Both the Lufbery Nieuport and the Wellman machine were done from the Profipack Nieuport, which provided photo-etch brass parts to detail the rotary engine. Since Wellman's was a Nieuport 24, this meant it had the same engine as the 17, so there were no further correction problems to deal with. These were individually painted with various shades of Modeler Master Metallizer, then sealed.

All cockpit interiors started with a coat of Testor's Glosscote, followed by decal "light wood" paneling for the sides, which were varnished light plywood on the real thing. When this was dry, I used strips of "dark wood" decal for the stringers and longerons of the interior structure, as well as over the floorboard. I then put in the throttle controls, the three instruments, and stick and rudder pedal, and the seat, painted black in each case, with photo-etch brass seatbelts. The fuselage was glue together and allowed to dry.

I cut all the flying controls free, and positioned the ailerons, elevators and rudder in accordance with the way I had "thrown" the controls in the cockpit. The lower wing was attached, and the join line was puttied, as well as the join lines of the fuselage. When these were dry, I sanded them smooth to remove all seams, and attached the horizontal stabilizer and elevators, which were all positioned in the "full dropped" position.

Painting

The Guynemer Nieuport had the upper surfaces of the wings painted dark and medium green, with silver borders. I airbrushed the camouflage for this, then masked it off. The rest of the airplane, and all of the other two, were painted with Gunze-Sanyo "Mr. Metal" aluminum, which looks very much like silver dope when dry, and handles well without being sealed.

Decals

Once everything was Futured and dry, I applied the decals per the kit marking instructions, and set them aside to dry. I did the silver border on the Guynemer airplane by using aluminum stripe decals lapped over the leading and trailing edges.

One thing to note regarding the ALPS decals in the conversion set is that, a few weeks after I was finished, I noted that the black cat decal had worn through along the fuselage ribs, merely from the minimal handling of the model. This may be endemic to ALPS decals, and I suggest that before they are applied to a model that they should be sprayed with MicroScale decal spray, which will give them a thicker coat of varnish while still allowing them to settle onto the surface. I would then suggest a bit more Future over these when sealing them, and then minimal touching of that surface. As it was, I was able to save the cat with a .000 brush and semi-gloss black paint; had it been a more detailed or multi-color marking, that might not have been possible.

Rigging

The Nieuport has a relatively simple rigging pattern, which I did with my high-E guitar string wire. The kit instructions show where all the rigging of brace wire and control wires needs to go.

Final Finish

I muddied up the tires, and did a bit of "mud spray" on the lower surfaces of the lower wings, and a thinned spray of semi-gloss black over the lower fuselage and inner wings, to simulate the castor oil spray associated with a rotary engine.

One thing to note if you are doing the Profipack kit and mounting the upper wing Lewis Gun is that the photoetch mount is very thin and easily bent out of shape - a shape that is not all that easy to retrieve. In the end, I was glad to have two Profipack kits to work from to get one Lewis Gun mount.

Conclusions

I really like the sesquiplane Nieuport in all its variations. I look forward to the announcement that Eduard will do the "Bebe" in the foreseeable future. This is a nice kit of an important First World War fighter, and it is simple enough that if you are thinking of doing a World War I biplane for the first time, this could be the one to choose.




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