The Biff:
Building the Roden Bristol F2B Fighter in 1/72 Scale

By Will Hendricks

History

Originally intended as a replacement for the BE2 series of reconnaissance aircraft, the Bristol Fighter evolved into the premier two-seater of the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War. The "Biff"(and later, "Brisfit"), as it became popularly known, was introduced over the Western Front in December 1916, where initially it performed disastrously using conventional two-seater tactics. Flown as a fighter using single seat scout tactics, however, the type was very successful. The type was quite maneuverable for its size, powered by a 220 HP Rolls Royce Falcon II engine (or Sunbeam Arab). A single .303 Vickers machine gun fired forward through the propeller arc while the tail was protected by a gunner/observer armed with a single or double .303 Lewis gun on a Scarff ring mount. The mid-gap mount design, in which the fuselage is suspended midway between the upper and lower wings, offered the pilot excellent visibility.

The Bristol Fighter served in all major theatres during the First World War, and soldiered on long afterward with several foreign air forces. The type was finally retired from RAF service in 1932.

Canadian Captain Andrew "Hawkeye" McKeever of 11 Squadron RFC would score thirty-one victories with the F2B, making him the leading Empire ace of the two-seaters. McKeever was usually paired up with Sergeant L.A. Powell who himself accounted for eight victories making him an ace in his own right: Powell was later decorated and commissioned for his exploits. In January 1918 McKeever returned to England to form and command No. 1 Squadron, Canadian Air Force. McKeever survived all the rigors of the Great War only to die in an automobile accident in 1919.

It is McKeever's/Powell's F2B, A-7288, which is the subject of the model in this article.

The Build

For a complete description of the kit contents please see Michael Kendix's First Look Preview in the May 2003 issue of Internet Modeler. In addition to the kit I also received the PART photoetch set, S72-205.

I was impressed by the fine detail of the kit parts overall. The surface detail of all the parts is good, many of the smaller parts are very finely detailed, the Lewis guns and the engine parts in particular being very good. The rib and fabric detail is nicely subdued.

The first step was to clean all the sprues with Windex ammonia cleaner to remove any mold release agents. Next was to remove all the major parts from their sprues and clean them up prior to assembly. There was some flash to deal with on the wing trailing edges and on the fuselage halves. The whitish plastic is soft and easily carved and sanded. A few minutes with sanding sticks and X-Acto blades was all that was needed. Careful cleanup is required in some areas. There are several bumps and fairings that could suffer under a heavy hand. At one point I mistook a radiator cap for a sprue gate and sanded it off! My Reheat punch and die set rescued me on this one, as I later made one out of .010" plastic card. After the flash was cleaned off of the wings the trailing edges were still commendably thin.

While waiting for the PART photoetch set to arrive in the mail I dove into construction of the engine. As with most new Roden releases the engines are small models in themselves, and this one is no exception. Comprised of no less than 28 parts, the Rolls Royce Falcon II engine can be displayed in all its glory if the modeler chooses to. One must decide early whether to build the model with the engine visible or all cowled up, as this will determine which parts are to be used. I decided to build the model with the engine all cowled up, but even so it turns out that some portions of the engine are still visible through the many openings on the cowl of the Brisfit. The many small parts assembled fairly easily, using superglues or Humbrol Precision Poly plastic cement where appropriate. One must pay particular attention to the instructions, and study the drawings carefully, as some of the parts have to be modified for the engine to fit inside the cowling. The metallic surfaces were painted with Citadel acrylics for the steel and aluminum, and Testors PLA Copper and Gold enamels (in the small, square bottles). A light wash of thinned Testors Raw Umber enamel was applied to pick out the detail. The finished engine was set aside until the fuselage was ready to go together. While the instructions are clear and well organized, one aspect that I found lacking was the shortage of painting instructions during assembly. Colors for some of the parts are indicated, while for others it is for the modeler to guess or find out through research.

At about the time the engine was completed, the PART set arrived in the mail. This was the first time I had dealt with PART photoetch, being more familiar with the Eduard sets. What struck me immediately is how thin the PART brass fret is. In addition, many of the bits are etched in relief, making some of the parts VERY thin and delicate. The set includes such items as wire wheels, prop boss, seats, seatbelts, radiator grill, windscreen, Scarff ring mount, instrument panel and so on. Many other very small parts are included, such as turnbuckles. I must admit that many of these smaller parts I found totally unusable, as their very small size made them impossible for me to handle, even with the finest tweezers.

PART uses an interesting approach to detailing the interior: All of the interior structure is represented in brass. The entire inside structure is one large piece, which must be folded origami style to produce an interior framework of stringers, ribs and braces. The various interior bits are cemented into this lattice-like framework and then the entirety is mounted into the fuselage - Reminiscent of the early Eduard kits. The existing detail in the kit fuselage halves (which is quite good, incidentally) must be removed and the fuselage sides thinned down considerably for the PART interior assembly to fit. Seems straightforward, right? Read on!

After carefully examining the PART instructions and the bits on the fret it became obvious that quite a bit of surgery would be required for the PART interior to fit inside the kit fuselage. It was also obvious that the PE interior latticework would not be able to withstand much handling without being damaged. To aid in preparing the kit fuselage for the interior, I scanned the PART set and used the scanned image to cut out paper templates that I then used to measure how much plastic to hollow out of the fuselage halves. A lot of time was spent on this part of the build, as I had to work slowly and carefully using a variety of X-Acto blades and riffle files so as not to carve through to the outside of the fuselage walls.

I prepared the PE interior by pre-painting as many of the parts on the fret as possible prior to assembly. I painted the latticework of the interior with Polyscale RLM 79 Sandgelb, which I then streaked with Testors ModelMaster II Burnt Sienna enamel to create a wood grain effect. This was then sprayed with Gunze clear orange (I used the same process for all subsequent "wood" parts). When this was dry I folded the assembly into a box, secured it with superglue and started adding the interior pieces such as the fuel tank, seats, instrument panel, rudder pedals, etc. The pilot seat is a highlight of the PART set, nicely recreating the woven wicker effect of the original. The instrument panel is a brass piece with acetate instruments glued from behind, painted white on the back. The finished interior assembly looked very impressive. Now it was time to fit it to the fuselage! There was still some final trimming necessary to fit the fuselage interior, and this is where things got really tense. I had no choice but to dry-fit the finished fuselage interior assembly to the fuselage halves to determine the amount of trimming required. Several times during this process the interior latticework bent out of shape and/or sprung apart, so that at one point I nearly binned the whole idea!

Despite this near calamity the interior eventually came together, although the sides of the fuselage halves were alarmingly thin by the time everything fitted. The fuselage halves were painted inside with Gunze H313 IAF Yellow for the fabric portions and Polly Scale Medium Sea Grey for the metal areas. The fuselage halves were very carefully cemented together with the engine and the PART interior in place, being very careful not to crush this delicate assembly. A fair amount of filler was needed on the fuselage joint. The vertical stabilizer and rudder were added, and the kit radiator installed on the front. All these parts fit very well.

While waiting for the interior parts to dry I set to work on the wings and stabilizers. I scribed the elevators and bent them down, and cut and scribed the ailerons and bent them to give them some deflection. At this stage I also prepared the interplane struts and painted them using the "wood" method described above. I found that the kit supplied cabane struts looked too thick compared to photos so I replaced these later with stretched sprue. Various other small parts were removed from the sprues, cleaned up and painted as appropriate. I used a brand new no.11 blade to remove the smaller parts, as they can be easily broken and the sprue gates are somewhat heavy in places. The Lewis guns supplied in the kit (two each of two styles) are very well done, but the Scarff ring is very chunky, so the PART Scarff ring was used. I replaced the elevating bar of the Scarff ring with brass wire bent to shape, as the PART piece is flat. The resulting assembly is very convincing.

All the major sub-assemblies were ready to be painted. I used Gunze H313 IAF Yellow for all the CDL areas. I picked out the rib detail under the wings and horizontal stabilizers with a Derwent watercolour pencil, #58 Raw Sienna. This was lightly blended in to the surrounding color with a damp brush, and was then sealed with several thinned coats of Future. Testors ModelMaster Acryl Green Drab 34086 was used for the PC10 surfaces. Pollyscale Medium Sea Grey was used for the metal cowl surfaces. A light wash of thinned Testors Raw Umber enamel was used to lightly weather the cowls and to highlight the flight control hinge lines and other recessed detail. When dry all painted areas were coated with Future in preparation for decals. The decals supplied have good color density, are in register, but are very brittle, a common problem with Roden decals. One of the side roundels broke up during application. Luckily I had another kit that I could rob decals from to replace it. Roden decals do not respond well to most setting solutions and silver easily. Through bitter experience, and from reading other modeler's tips on the Internet, I have developed a favored method for applying Roden decals: First I put down a drop of Future for each decal, and then apply the decal. When dry I then apply a brush coat of Future on top of them, in effect sandwiching the decals in layers of Future. Despite this there was still a very small amount of silvering, especially around the upper wing roundels. A pin and some Walther's Solvaset dealt with this for the most part. The brass band around the front of the cowl was made by spraying some Citadel Burnished Gold acrylic paint onto a strip of clear decal film, which was then applied in the usual manner.

Once decaling was complete and the Future had cured for a few days the wings, fuselage and tail surfaces were coated with thinned ModelMaster Acryl clear semi-gloss varnish. Now final assembly could begin.

As was mentioned in the history, the Bristol Fighter had a unique Mid-Gap fuselage-to-wing mounting arrangement, which results in the fuselage being suspended midway between the bottom and top wings. A bewildering array of struts (to me, anyway!) is the result. Roden has dealt with this in a very clever manner by incorporating the main gear struts with some of these lower struts. I must say I was rather intimidated at first by the complex arrangement, but if one works slowly and dry fits everything carefully it all comes together well without the need for complex jigs or fixtures. I attached the lower wing to the fuselage as follows: First I assembled the landing gear struts and axle with white glue. The white glue dries clear and has a strong joint, while still allowing some flexibility. I then mounted the gear assembly to the lower wing with Tamiya Extra Thin Plastic Cement. This results in a very strong bond, but the relatively slow drying time allows for fine adjustments to ensure alignment. There are two more pairs of very short struts that attach to the top of the lower wing. I attached the rearmost pair, parts 5C, with Tamiya cement, but left out the center pair for now. I used a pair of dividers to measure the gap between the strut mounting points as I went along. Once the glue had dried sufficiently I mounted the fuselage to the struts ensuring it fit beforehand by dry-fitting. I then inserted the remaining struts, parts 4C, made from stretched sprue. Alignment was checked by placing the model over a sheet of graph paper to ensure everything was square. Other various bits and pieces were added including the horizontal tail, long exhaust stacks, bomb racks, and the wing skids, for which I used stretched sprue bent to fit.

No matter how many biplane kits I have built I always find the next step the most daunting: mounting the top wing. This is where things can go very bad very quickly! Perhaps it is this challenge that keeps bringing me back to building them. Usually I make some kind of jig to line everything up, but this time I decided to try something different based on the use of the slow-drying Tamiya Extra Thin Cement. First I attached the interplane struts to the lower wings with the Tamiya cement. Once this was dry enough but still flexible, I flipped the model over and attached the top wing to the struts. I applied Tamiya cement in the holes in the upper wing so glue would not smear all over. When all was attached and dry enough I turned the model right-side-up again and set the model on a sheet of graph paper. I then adjusted the alignment of the upper wing and held everything in place with paint jars. This was allowed to dry overnight. In the morning the alignment was checked again then the struts were fixed with drops of thin superglue. The cabane struts were made with stretched sprue. At this stage I assembled a very nice windscreen that is supplied in the PART set, but then found it was much too large to fit between the top wing and the fuselage! So, into the parts bin it went.

One shortcoming of the Roden kit is the absence of a rigging diagram. The Bristol Fighter has some rather unique rigging features so if the modeler chooses to rig the model a good diagram and/or photos are a must. I rigged the model with heat stretched sprue painted with Citadel Bolt Gun Metal, which is a dark steel color. I painted the sprue with a dollop of paint on my thumb and forefinger, pulling the sprue along between them. Gives new meaning to "finger painting". Dividers were used to measure each piece and then each length was secured with white glue. The resulting bond is quite strong, tough, and forgiving of errors. The white glue also does not damage the finish. Any slack lines were tightened up with a glowing matchstick. PE control horns were used from the PART set, but use the kit supplied horns for the rudder or make your own, as the PART ones are not big enough and are the wrong shape. Turnbuckles were simulated where appropriate with Testors PLA Gold enamel, which closely resembles weathered brass. The paint was applied so that little blobs resulted, giving the turnbuckles some dimension.

Finally the wheels, propeller and the Scarff ring were added. The wheel hubs were painted PC10 with the tires painted Polyscale Ocean Grey. The kit propellers, of which you can choose either two or four bladed are very well done and compare well to the drawings I have. McKeever's airplane used a two bladed prop so I painted this wood as described above, with Gunze Medium Sea Grey tips. The PE boss is from the PART set. The Scharff ring was mounted with a few drops of white glue, with the Lewis gun pointing menacingly skyward. The model was finished.

The finished model looks very convincing and compares well with the drawings and photos in the references below. I was surprised at the size of the model. Even in 1/72 scale it is apparent that this was a fairly large aircraft.

Despite its very minor shortcomings, mostly regarding the instructions and decals, overall the Roden kit is excellent and assembles fairly readily with reasonable planning and care. Even without the PART set the model would make a convincing replica. The PART set was a mixed bag. Some of the pieces in the PART set are superb (the seats, instrument panel, Scarff ring) while others are disappointing (giant windscreen, microscopic turnbuckles). This is typical of most PE sets though, I find (I have yet to use an entire PE set on any project). The interior is quite well detailed but a similar effect may be possible with strip and rod with much less effort.

Roden appears to be a rising star with its latest WWI aircraft models and this kit proves it!

Thanks to Matt Bittner for the opportunity to review this kit and to all the great folks on the WWI Modeler's discussion forum for their encouragement and support!

Thanks to Roden, PART, Squadron and Roll Models for the review samples.

References

Bristol Fighter, Windsock Datafile No. 4, J.M. Bruce, Albatros Productions Ltd., 1987.

Bristol Fighter in Action, Peter Cooksley, Squadron Signal Publications, 1993.

Knights of the Air, David L. Bashow, McArthur & Company, 2000.

British and Empire Aces of World War I, Christopher Shores, Osprey Publishing, 2001.

Brisfit, by Richard Caruana, Scale Aviation Modeller International, January 1999.

WWI British Aeroplane Colours and Markings, Bruce Robertson, Albatros Productions Ltd., 1996.

There is also an invaluable collection of Bristol Fighter photos by Knut Erik Hagen on the WWI Modelers website.

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