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AeroClub 1/48 FE2B

By Candice Uhlir

 

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Historical Background

The FE (Farman Experimental - a "pusher" propelled aircraft) series of aircraft was designed in the old days before the advent of synchronization gear to allow a machine gun to fire through the propeller arc. One solution was to mount the propeller behind the aircraft to give an unobstructed forward field of fire to an observer sitting in the forward cockpit. The idea worked as a solution for armament, but it yielded an aircraft that had a tremendous amount of drag with all that rigging wire and open boom assembly required to provide clearance for the propeller. By the time the "Fee" was delivered to France in mid to late 1915 it was already obsolete as a fighter. The R.F.C. attempted to improve the aircraftıs performance by installing larger engines but all the drag in the design made any performance increase marginal at best. With all these problems it is surprising to learn that this aircraft was produced right up to the end of the war in 1918. The FE2 series was used as a training aircraft for new fighter pilots. It was used in a home defense role against Zeppelins and was even fitted with a front mounted searchlight to pinpoint targets at night. One FE2B squadron was used almost throughout the war in a night bomber role. To my surprise I discovered that one FE2B was even registered as a British civilian aircraft in 1919 to be used in a passenger service/mail delivery role! For a design that was widely considered to be behind the state of the art by 1916 this airframe was workhorse - almost like the Huey Helicopter of today - it kept on flying.

Kit Overview

The major components of the kit are injection molded plastic. The quality is very good and the fit is excellent. One aspect that is a little strange is that the plastic used is very dense. This makes the parts fairly hard and therefore makes it a little more difficult than normal to remove the control surfaces. However that hardness comes in handy seeing that this is a fairly large wingspan model at approximately eleven and a half inches. When one considers that this model consists of lots of rigging and a rather flimsy looking boom structure the extra rigidity provided by the dense plastic comes in handy.

Each wing consists of three pieces that connect together with a tongue and groove fitting. The three-piece structure makes it easy to install the proper dihedral simply by attaching the outer wing components to the center section at the proper angle. The nacelle is short and very well molded. Interior detail is sparse with the exception of a very well molded instrument panel that looks pretty much like the real thing.

White metal makes up most of the remaining kit and these are up to the usual excellent Aeroclub standards. Wing struts, two of the three boom struts, landing gear, 120hp Beardmore engine, weapons and mountings, radiator intakes and landing gear assembly (representing early FE2B's) are all white metal. The boom struts are provided as brass tubing. A vacuform jig is provided to aid in boom construction. This is a godsend since a warped boom will throw the entire model structure off.

Decals are provided for aircraft # 5548 or 6341, known as the "Zanzibar No.1; the Scotch Express".

Drawings Used

I had heard from some of my fellow modelers that the FE2B was the "big bugaboo" of World War 1 models. Let's face it, it looks daunting. This aircraft had more rigging that I had ever attempted before. Aeroclub provides good drawings of the aircraft but little in the way of explicit instruction steps. It quickly became apparent that this project would take some study before I jumped into building it. My biggest fear was putting a subassembly together at one point that would make further assembly very difficult. However, these fears were alleviated when I purchased the Windsock Data file on the FE2B. The scale drawings provided were only slightly better than those provided by Aeroclub, but the biggest aid was the plethora of photographs. I spent about 8 hours over 3 days just studying the photos, comparing them to the drawings and laying out a plan of action. I decided that the biggest hurdle in construction was the rigging of the model and that this would dictate the sequence of construction.

About the only complaint I have with this model is that it is very difficult to identify which white metal parts are which. Aeroclub doesnıt provide an indexed part list and the only way to tell which part is which is to look at the drawings intently. The main sources of confusion were identifying what a bunch of small white metal parts were. There were these "claw" fittings are that drove me crazy !!!!. Turns out they are almost invisible and mount at the tail end of the boom. Also there are two small fittings that install at the end of the boom and serve to represent attachment points for the horizontal stabilizer. These are all but invisible on the drawings since they install under the stabilizer. The gun mounts are also hard to identify. The telescoping gun mount is a prime example. I had no idea what it was until it was the last piece for me to identify. Then it became obvious it was a gun mount - once I straightened it out to its correct shape.

The Datafile also helped me to decide to build a very early version of the FE2B. I like my models a little different from the stock available out of the box. My aircraft was going to represent # 5203, the third production aircraft delivered under contract to Bolton and Paul, Ltd. in late 1915. This model represents an aircraft built before the advent of those pesky gun mounts that were so hard for me to identify.

Construction

In my opinion the boom to wing/nacelle assembly alignment was the key to successful construction. With this in mind I would partition the rigging three sets, the control lines, the wing rigging, and the boom rigging and each would be constructed in that order. Instead of doing the rigging as a last step of the construction as I normally would, I decided to rig the model as I assembled the various subassemblies. I reasoned that this way I would minimize any potential for getting myself into a situation where access to tight spots would become significantly difficult.

Nacelle

The nacelle was really easy. The plastic components fit well. There wasn't much extra do since the FE2B is a pretty simple airplane as far as nacelle details go. The only modifications I made in the nacelle were to cut two openings at the rear that serve as air intakes to the rear-mounted engine. The kit provides two white metal "elephant ear" intakes that can be glued over the plastic. I could have painted the interior of the intakes flat black, but it looks more realistic with real openings under the intake scoops. Rifler files made this pretty easy to do. I used light wood grain decal to cover the cockpit flooring.

Once assembled I used gap-filling CA to take care of the seams. Those of us that hate this part will like this kit - the nacelle is small so there isnıt much to fill, especially given the fine fit of the parts provided. My model was to represent an aircraft delivered for service before the advent of colored dopes such as PC10, so I painted the nacelle canvas areas in "doped linen" using Model Master "Sand" lightened with one part of flat white to three of sand. Since then I've found that Gunze Sanyo "Sail" is almost identical to my homemade "doped linen". The rest of the nacelle represents plywood and sheet metal that I painted in Model Master Medium gray. The only parts left for the nacelle were the external elevator control horns and the gun mount and I'd save these for later, although I drilled any mounting holes required at this time. I didnıt want to be in the position of having to insert a pin vise drill through rigging later on. Time to move on.

Wings

It's critical to get the spacing of the main wings correct since the boom fits directly to the upper and lower center sections of the wings. To ensure a good fit between wings and tail boom I used my calipers to compare the length of all the white metal wing struts and cabanes to the Windsock drawing along with the distance between the upper and lower boom spars as determined by the boom assembly jig. I found some of the wing struts just a bit too long and adjusted them accordingly. I also covered the struts and cabanes with light wood decal scraps that I had left over from another project. The decal gives the struts a nice grain that looks much better than wood paint ever will. Both the upper and lower wings have the same dihedral and we need both wings to be identical or weıre going to have alignment problems with the boom.

After cutting out the ailerons for later attachment, I assembled the wings using Tenax and set the dihedral using some blocks of balsa I had configured to the proper height. I marked certain alignment points on the drawing as I laid the wing down for assembly. This would allow me to position the other wing assembly along with the balsa dihedral blocks in the same position and yield an identical dihedral for both wings. When dry I used CA to fill the seams in the wings, then primed and painted the wings "doped linen". This was a departure from my usual procedure of connecting the lower wings and nacelle together before I prime so I can fill any gap that appears in the assembly. However in this case, my dry fit of the nacelle and the lower wing center section showed just about a perfect fit. I didn't have any seam between lower wing and nacelle to worry about at all!

Nacelle/Wing Assembly

Installing the wings on a biplane with the correct alignment is challenging at any time but the FE2B doesn't present any unusual challenges besides there being six pairs of struts and two pairs of cabanes. What I usually do in this situation is to install the struts to the upper wing first and set the various angles using my calipers and the detail drawings. This usually gets me pretty close to the alignment needed and white metal struts installed with only a small amount of CA yields enough play to move stuff around a little. Then I install the upper wing to the lower wing/nacelle assembly with masking tape and adjust accordingly. When it looks good I use CA to glue the wing alignment permanently.

Aeroclub provides for the tail boom to fit into the upper and lower wings using "holes" provided as indentations in the trailing edge of the center section of each wing that are covered with white metal tabs. What I needed as I fit the wings and nacelle together was to ensure that both the vertical and horizontal spacing of the "holes" was maintained during assembly. I decided to use a "Jig" approach to keep alignment. I took four small paper clips and cut them to the lengths required to maintain spacing for the boom. A little bend was made at the ends of each wire that I could insert into the hole. The result was a nice rigid square box of wire to maintain alignment. It was also easy to eyeball the alignment - it had to look square from all perspectives as I manipulated the struts and cabanes. After a little work I finished up the wing assembly.

Now my first bout with rigging comes into play. The control lines from the elevator, rudder, and tail skid are designed to run up the boom onto the upper and lower wing center section. The control lines then run through pulleys (not provided in the kit) so that they can be redirected to the nacelle and connected to the pilot controls. If I waited until later to install these pulleys then I may have a rather tough time getting through the clutter of the wing rigging. I made my pulleys from narrow disks cut from .040 plastic rod with a small hole drilled through it. A piece of thread through the hole kept it free of paint while I painted them "doped linen". As I hoped the pulleys are just about invisible.

Boom Assembly

The booms went together without any problems. The Aeroclub provided jig is superb. There are four pairs of struts required for the boom. Three pairs are vertical components of the boom and one is a horizontal component forming a box when aligned with the middle vertical boom strut. Aeroclub provides two pairs of boom struts in white metal. The other two pairs have to be made from plastic stock they provide. I thought the plastic stock was a bit too flimsy for my tastes considering the boom looked mechanically weak. I made my own struts from bamboo skewers. Bamboo yields a very strong part from easily manipulated material. The horizontal booms are easy to miss because they don't show up on the drawings well. In fact, I missed them completely at first until a friend of mine mentioned them.

Once the two boom sides are completed with the jig they fit into the wing alignment holes in place of my "wire jig" with perfection. Now just lay the model over the Datafile drawings and CA the tail ends of the boom together to form a perfect isosceles triangle. My boom length required a little trimming to form a perfect triangle - only a millimeter or two at most. For a final touch I covered the boom struts with wood grain decal to match the wing struts. I also covered the booms with dark wood grain decal. I was told these booms are actually steel but the Datafile color plates look like wood. Anyway I think the dark wood grain finish looks really cool. Final Assembly.

What's left is easy. The vertical and horizontal stabilizers just attach to the end of the boom, as does the rudder. The landing gear is white metal and fits perfectly - I just used my calipers to ensure the mounting holes were correct per the drawings. I had pre-painted all the parts prior to assembly so all that was really left was the rigging. I applied the decals at this point and covered the model with a nice coat of Future when dry.

One note about the decals - they went down just great. It didn't take much setting solution to get a nice snug fit with excellent detail showing through.

Rigging (The BIG Kahuuna - NOT!!)

I used .006" diameter stiff wire for all my rigging. My usual technique is to drill a small hole in the model where the rigging is to be installed then snap the proper length wire into the holes. In this case I didn't want drill 10 zillion holes and the boom assembly didnıt really allow for any drilling anyway. So I changed my technique and am very happy with it.

First I use my calipers to measure the proper length of the wire needed. Then I dip each end of the wire into white glue and just stick it on. The glue dries invisibly and if you get the length right so that the wire fits right up to where you need it you really can't tell if it was installed with holes or not. Using this technique I finished the rigging in about five hours over three nights.

As mentioned previously I approached the rigging in three steps. First I installed the control cables that run up the boom to the pilot controls because these lines run inside of the boom and wing brace rigging.

Next I installed the bracing rigging on the wings, then the bracing rigging on the boom itself. Using white glue to install the rigging yielded a fairly sturdy model. The last step was to install the aileron control lines. I saved these for last because they are on the periphery of the wings outside of the wing brace rigging.

Aeroclub does not provide any control horns with the kit. I make mine out of toothpicks and it only took about 10 minutes to make five pairs.

Finishing it up.

I made my Mk 2 gun mount from .040" plastic rod and my trusty calipers. The Datafile has a great picture of this mounting. I just measured the length of the mount components in the picture and also the height of the nacelle at a point that is easily identifiable both on the photo and on the model. It is important to perform these measurements in the same general area of the photo due to angular distortions due to the photo's perspective. This technique yielded a pretty good ratio for 1/48 scale when compared to the same nacelle height measurement on my model.

Aeroclub does not provide any wing protectors that appear underneath the lower wing which served to preclude tip damage on the real aircraft, nor do they provide a pipe to run fuel from the upper wing mounted gas tank to the Beardmore engine. I made both of these from .040" rod.

I then put another coat of Future on the model then weathered it. A little Testors "Exhaust" was dry brushed around the engine and rear portions of the nacelle. Then I used PollyScale "Dirt" to put down a light coat on the underside surfaces of the aircraft and on the nacelle. I then used PollyScale "Dust" to dust the upper surfaces and nacelle with another light coat. These two coats serve to weather my decals and make them blend in to the aircraft surfaces. My final step is to drybrush a little PollyScale "Mud" onto the wheels and landing gear assembly, nacelle underside, rear boom, rudder, and tail skid. Those muddy WW1 aerodromes sure make it tough for a girl to keep her airplane clean!

Final Thoughts.

The kit looks daunting but it isn't. It just takes a little study and patience. The resulting model looks WW1 - flimsy metal, canvas, and wire - It's sometimes difficult to believe this was a fighting machine! It's the kind of model that has people looking at it just because it doesn't look like what a majority of the population thinks an airplane looks like. I really enjoyed this project and now have another unique model in my small but growing collection. Now that I did this one - I have this Blue Max DH2 just waiting to build!!





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