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Blue Max's 1/48 RAF SE5a

 

By Tom Cleaver

 

History

If the Sopwith Camel was the "Spitfire" of the First World War, the Royal Aircraft Factory's SE5a was the "Hurricane" of that conflict. Two more different responses to the same need could not be imagined, other than that of the Spitfire and Hurricane. While the delicate Camel was tricky and temperamental, and oftentimes dangerous to the less-experienced of its pilots, the rugged SE5a was stable and predictable.

H.P. Folland, the Chief Designer of the Royal Aircraft Factory, had been working through several "Scout, Experimental" designs, all of which were far more influenced by the German Albatros than they were by the French Nieuport - the two fighters of the first part of the war that set the two different standards of fighter type aircraft, one solid and speedy, the other light and highly maneuverable. Folland went on after the war, as Chief Designer of the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company (shortened soon to Gloster) to design all the fighters used by the RAF that were not designed by Sidney Camm at Hawkers, and ended his career in the 1950s with the Folland Gnat, his answer to the size-and- weight spiral of the jet fighter, and a serious attempt to return to the kind of fighter he had designed at the outset of his career.

The SE5, which began to appear in the squadrons on the Western Front in the Spring of 1917, was at first unsuccessful. Powered by the 180 h.p. Hispano-Suiza, it basically didn't have enough get-up-and-go to meet the Albatros on an equal if not superior footing. Re-engined with the 200 h.p. geared Hispano and redesignated SE5a, the airplane found greater acceptance that summer in the hands of such aces as James McCudden, Billy Bishop, and Mick Mannock, to name but a few. That September, pilots of 'B' Flight, No.56 Squadron, under the leadership of McCudden, fought an epic battle with a single Fokker triplane flown by Werner Voss; though the Fokker could literally fly rings around the S.E.5a, not even Voss could outfly eight other aces at once, and it proved to be his final battle.

During the war, the SE5a was powered by the 200 h.p. geared Hispano-Suiza, and the direct-drive 200 h.p. Wolseley Viper, with the Viper being used on the majority of the aircraft produced in 1918. Without the torque-inducing rotary of the Camel, and with a high degree of dihedral in the design, the SE5a was never the dogfighter the Camel was, but it was a more stable gun platform; by 1918, most successful aces had realized that an ambush of the unwary was preferable to the unpredictability of a dogfight, so a fighter that could dive under good control and allow for a well-aimed burst provided many British pilots with an increase in their scores. The same was true of the French SPAD, which shared many similar characteristics with the SE5a as regards ruggedness.

The SE5a also served in Mesopotamia, Palestine and Macedonia during the war, with the air forces of Great Britain, Australia and the United States, where it was used by both the United States Army and Navy.

The Kit

I first heard from Chris Gannon that he was producing the SE5a this past March, and was immediately interested. Prior to the arrival of this kit, the 1/48 modeler who wanted an accurate SE5a in his or her collection had to find the now out-of- production Monogram development of the old Aurora kit, and the sometimes in-production Lindberg kit (really an SE5), and do some mix-and-match of parts, as well as combine parts to get proper shapes. An SE5a done to Chris' standards of accuracy was something to look forward to.

Opening the bag, one finds parts that are as nice as those in the Camel kit, which to my mind is the best thing Blue Max has produced so far. The flying surfaces are acceptably thin, with nicely- detailed rib tapes, and none of the "hills and valleys" with which most manufacturers represent a fabric-covered surface, a touch that is totally inaccurate. The kit provides separate cowlings for the Hispano and Wolseley-powered versions, a nice touch.

Once again, the famous Blue Max "wing ripple" is present, but this time only on the lower surface of the lower wing, and is minimal enough that a modeler can probably escape with leaving it alone and hiding it under a coat of paint. The parts are relatively flash-free, and the trailing edges of all the flying surfaces are acceptably thin.

The decals provide markings for two different airplanes: the Hispano-powered SE5a flown by McCudden in 56 Squadron in September 1917, the time of his famous battle with Werner Voss, and the Viper-powered 85 Squadron airplane flown by American Elliot White Springs in the summer of 1918. A nice touch is that the headrest, which applies to the McCudden airplane, is molded solid on each fuselage half, making it easy to remove for the Springs machine.

Conclusion

Looking at the kit and test-fitting some pieces, I think I can confidently say that this SE5a is as good as its stablemate, the Camel, as produced by the same company. Eduard has announced that their kit of this airplane will be released a year from now; I doubt it will provide the alternatives this kit does, or be appreciably better on any point other than price. This is a nicely done kit and a worthy addition to anyone's World War I collection. I may just find a way to do both for my own collection.

"Internet Modeler" thanks Squadron Mail Order for providing this review copy. The kit is also available from Hannant's




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Air Intelligence
1999 Modelers'
Reference Guides

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1/48 Scale Guide $25.00
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HH-43 Huskie Color
Reference Guide $15.00

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