by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
I doubt that many people would describe the Sopwith Dolphin as a beauty, with its backwards staggered wings and rather "dumpy" fuselage. But, where the Dolphin lost out in aesthetics, it proved highly effective and popular with its pilots, once troubles with its unreliable engine were overcome.
The Dolphin's distinctive appearance sprang from the importance of providing the pilot with the best possible field of view in combat. So, designer Herbert Smith adopted a radical configuration, with the pilot's head above the top wings, allowing an unrestricted view in the upper hemisphere. Consequently, the view below was very restricted, but the advantage in combat more than compensated and, with its high speed and good manoeuvrability, the Dolphin was very effective- rated by some as the RAF's best operational fighter of the period.
Early machines carried four machine guns, with synchronised Vickers supplemented by a pair of Lewis guns mounted in the cockpit to fire upwards at angle. The latter proved too awkward to aim and, despite efforts with different styles of mounts, were often removed in service.
Notwithstanding its success, the Dolphin did not long survive the rapid scaling down of the RAF at the end of WWI as squadrons disbanded, and while some were still flying in 1919, the type was declared obsolete in 1921. A few Dolphins remained in active service overseas after the Armistice, fighting in the Polish-Soviet war, but these too were scrapped in 1921 due to lack of spares.
The KitCopper State Model's first injection-moulded arrives very well packaged to withstand any knocks and bumps in transit. The eye-catching boxtop acts as a sleeve for for a sturdy flip-top corrugated carton beneath - and inside that, the sprues and accessories are bagged separately, with the "Premium Edition" items further protected in a little box-within-the-box.
The kit comprises:
63 x grey styrene parts
98 x etched metal parts
5 x resin parts
2 x metal exhausts
1 x printed film
Decals for 4 x colour schemes
First impressions are overwhelmingly positive. The styrene parts are very crisply moulded, with no flash or blemishes. The only sink marks to take care of on the sample kit are a couple of faint depressions on the rear fuselage sides under the stabiliser that will be quick and easy to deal with. There are some ejector-pin marks inside the fuselage, but you won't have to worry about most of them unless you are really determined, because they'll be out of sight. There are a couple right under the cockpit sill that will almost certainly show, but that looks to be it on the basis of an initial check.
The surface finish comprises crisply engraved and appliqué details on the fuselage, along with a very nicely depicted fabric effect. It gives a good impression of the taught fabric of a well-maintained machine, with a hint of "pillowing" under the flying surfaces. Copper State haven't tried to show rib tapes (probably wisely, because they are so often overdone), but you could always add them from decal or a thin coat of paint if you wish. The wings and ailerons have excellent sharp trailing edges but, oddly, the rudder and elevators are thicker.
The resin parts are beautifully cast and show some very fine detail that will really pop out with careful painting. The casting plinths aren't too heavy, but the smaller parts are quite delicate, so you'll need to remove them carefully and clean up a little flash.
Metal exhausts are provided as alternatives to the standard styrene ones, and are quite exquisite, with delicately opened-out ends. They are fuller-looking than their plastic counterparts and match photos in Windsock Datafile 54 well.
A sheet of clear film is provided to cut the windscreen from, which then fits into an etched frame.
Measuring UpI've compared the kit parts with the plans by Colin Owers and Ian Stair in Datafile 54 and those published back in 1947 by William Wylam. These are the only scale drawings I have of the Dolphin, so it's hard to form firm conclusions - especially as they differ in several aspects.
However, the fuselage seems basically spot on for length in both cases, although the Windsock plans are a tad deeper behind the wings. The wing chord and span match very closely, but Windsock show the tips a little more rounded. The wheels match both sets of drawings precisely.
The real difference is in the tail. The fin and rudder are smaller than the Windsock drawings, but match Wylam's for size, with the rudder more rounded than either reference. The stabilisers are a good deal shorter in span than Windsock show, with the tips raked differently, but are good match for Wylam. Comparing against photos, the drawings look closer for the rudder, but the horizontal tail is harder to judge without any clear plan-view shots. Held in perspective against the photos, the kit parts look pretty close.
Hopefully some of our members can post a definitive answer as to which set of plans are correct.
A Few DetailsThe first thing to make clear is that Copper State's Dolphin is really only suitable for fairly experienced modellers in both its Standard and Premium editions. The Standard option isn't really an "easy" version, because you will need to use the extensive etched parts for either build. For instance, there's no styrene seat, and some of the fuselage panels are only provided in metal and will need careful folding to shape.
Construction begins with the fuselage interior, which features ribs and longerons running from nose to tail. Most of this will admittedly be hidden, but in the cockpit and engine areas Copper State provide tiny etched brackets ready for the internal bracing. The seat, as noted above, is photoetched and has a neat woven effect, and should look very good by the time the harness is added. The throttle is also metal. The main and auxiliary fuel tanks are neatly moulded and slot in behind the seat, while the instrument panel and ammunition supply fit under the separate top decking.
The etched fret again comes into play for the ammunition feeds and gunsight, along with levers for the nicely moulded Vickers.
The prominent radiators are photoetched and fit around styrene cores, with metal channels to fold to shape ahead of them.
For the Standard edition, there are a pair of simple but effective cylinder banks and rocker covers protruding from the cowling, plus a basic blanking plate and spindle for the propeller. These are ditched in the Premium version in favour of the excellent full engine cast in resin, plus the far superior metal exhausts. The cowling front piece has individual openings, but these were often modified in the field to provide easier access for servicing.
The lower wings attach with quite short locating pins, while the full-span upper wing sits on the Dolphin's stocky cabane struts. The front struts are moulded in situ, which makes life easier, but the rear pair are short extension pieces. Presumably moulding limitations precluded them being tackled the same way.
Each interplane strut is provided with an etched rigging attachment, and the belly of the Dolphin is covered by etched panels to hide the inevitable seam between the fuselage halves.
The undercarriage looks straightforward and quite sturdy, with moulded-on bungee cords, while the wheels have a very delicate faceted look to hint at the spokes within.
Finally, there's a choice of propellers, both with blunt tips. There are other types visible in period photos so, as ever, try to find references if you can.
Instructions & DecalsThe construction guide is very classy - beautifully produced in full colour with a "retro" look familiar to anyone who's built a WNW kit. It's clearly illustrated, and pretty logical in its sequence (just watch out for rigging the cabane struts - they'll be a devil to get at with the wings attached). Colours are keyed to most details, with no particular manufacturer's paint range favoured.
Decals are provided for 4 aircraft in the Premium Edition:
A. Dolphin s/n C4157 of Lt. C.E. Worthington, 87 Sqn., Autumn 1918
B. Dolphin s/n C4131 of Maj. N.W. Coel and Capts. F.I. Lord and J.D. Canning, 79 Sqn., Summer 1918
C. Dolphin s/n C4168 of Maj. J. C. Callaghan, 87 Sqn., CO of Spring 1918
D. Dolphin s/n C3824 of Capt. J. W. Pearson, 23 Sqn., June 1918
The decals look very good quality, printed perfectly in register. I found the protective paper very firmly attached on the sample sheet, so be careful removing it. I do wonder if the white ink is going to be a bit translucent - it looks it on the sheet, but we'll see when it comes to using the items.
ConclusionCopper State Models are keen to point out that this is their first effort at injection moulding and that they have ambitious plans for developments in future kits. Even so, I have to say it's one of the most impressive début kits I've ever seen - so, we are in for a real treat with what's to come.
As I've noted above, the kit is best suited for modellers used to working with mixed media parts, because you will still need to use many photoetched items even if you try to go for a simplified build. Experienced WWI modellers should relish the opportunity to build what promises a real gem of a kit, and Copper State's Dolphin deserves to be very popular. Highly recommended.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
References UsedWindsock Datafile 54, by J.M. Bruce, Albatros Productions, 1995
Scale Aircraft Drawings Vol. 1 - World War 1, by Dan Santich, Air Age Publishing , 1986