by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
It would be something of an understatement to say that Wingnut Wings have transformed the WW1 kit market, because their impact has reached far wider. Not only do their kits appeal to specialist WW1 modellers, but they are almost irresistible to those who normally build other types of kits - and most amazing to me of all, I've even met several people who haven't build a model in 20-30 years who've now seen WNW models and say "Wow! I've just GOT to get those!"
So, anticipation was running high for that iconic "stick and string" machine - the FE.2b. The kit arrives in a very classy, compact but deep, top-opening box which is surprisingly heavy for its size. Looking inside, it's clear why; no space is wasted at all, and it's packed to the brim with 11 individually bagged sprues, plus accessories. The kit comprises:
357 x grey styrene parts (55 not used)
7 x clear styrene parts (2 spare)
12 x etched brass items
Decals for 5 x colour schemes
A comprehensive 40-page instruction booklet
The moulding is simply superb. There's no sign of flash or sink marks, and clean-up of the light mould lines should be painless. There are inevitably some ejector-pin marks, but these have been keep out of harm's way as far as possible - the sides of the cockpit are totally clear, and those on the floor are so light they should sand away easily if they're not hidden by the pilot's foot-boards etc. There are a few heavier ones elsewhere, but they'll be simple to deal with.
The surface finish is excellent, with crisp raised details and panels moulded in relief, with a beautifully subtle depiction of the ribs and stitching on the wings and tail surfaces, while the fabric sides of the nacelle have delicate wrinkles, inside and out. Some idea of just how lightly done the latter are can be judged by the fact that they didn't come out in the photos here, so they should look perfect with careful painting.
Test FitTest fit? Well, there's obviously not a great deal you can really dry-assemble in a kit of this configuration, but I couldn't resist checking the basics of the nacelle and lower wings because I was intrigued to see how the designers had managed to get the delicate nacelle to support the weight of the wings.
Let me explain; the wings are one of the main reasons the box seemed so heavy. With a span of 18" (about 46 cm), mostly moulded solid, that's a heck of a lot of styrene. They are beautifully straight, with nice sharp trailing edges, but it means a lot of load on the wing roots. Against this, the nacelle is kept as thin as possible to achieve as near to scale appearance (clever use of bevelled edges completes the illusion of eggshell-thin walls) and moulded in three main parts - the two sides and a separate floor panel.
Wingnut's solution is really rather clever; inside the fuselage fits a detailed interior framework, and this in turn holds the 24 gallon main fuel tank firmly in place. The tank sits above the lower wings' locating tabs, trapping them and ensuring the wings sit level. The crucial thing in all this is going to be solid glue joints, so a "hot" or tube-cement may be the order of the day. For a bit of extra "belt and braces" security, you might want to add a brass pin to join the wings' tabs absolutely securely, but WNW's design looks set to give a really solid foundation for the rest of the build.
A few detailsBreaking the beautifully illustrated instructions (more on which later) down into their basic sections, we have:
Stages 1 - 7 - The Nacelle. This is superbly detailed throughout, and offers a number of alternative configurations, with around 40 parts, depending on which you choose.
The options begin from the start, as the pilot sits over a locker or 18 gallon fuel tank (complete with the appropriate plumbing on the bulkhead), and there are two styles of ammunition stowage lids. The instrument panel is curved and the designers have done a good job moulding the bezels in relief on such a tricky surface,. There's a choice of Mk.II compass or map board, and each instrument is provided with a decal face along with placards for the panel itself.
The pilot's seat features a beautifully moulded padded cushion that will really come to life with careful highlighting. The curved separator/back-rest between the cockpit and engine compartment is a good fit, but will still be a little tricky to fair in without the seams showing. To be fair I can't see how else the designers could have tackled it, but I think I'll probably replace the moulded pipe that crosses the seam.
Etched brass lap harnesses are provided for the pilot and gunner. I'm sure aftermarket alternatives will be available, but if these nicely detailed brass versions are annealed they should drape convincingly and will repay careful painting.
The gunner's "pulpit" can be fitted with a Sterling wireless set, Morse key, aerial winder and battery, while there's a choice of Lewis gun mountings, including:
No.4 Mk. 1 Swivelling Mount
No.10 Mk.1 Anderson rear mount
25 Sqn. modified mounts
No.2 Mk.1 "balcony mount"
The undercarriage can be built as the original tricycle type, or the Trafford Jones modified style, with optional un-faired oleos. The wheels feature a subtle spoked effect and crisp Palmer Cord logos on the tyres (decals are also provided if you prefer).
Stage 8 - The Beardmore Engine. Over 25 parts form the basis of a beautifully detailed engine that can be completed as either the 120hp or 160hp version, complete with a choice of open or shielded magnetos, alternative style exhausts and mounts for the oil tank.
Stages 10 & 11 - The Wings. As noted earlier, the lower wing panels are moulded solid. The upper wing has solid outer panels with the centre section split into top and bottom halves. There are a few ejector pin stubs to clean off before you can assemble this, but the trailing edge is beautifully thin (be careful not to distort it with too much cement), and the generous locating tabs will give sturdy joints to maintain the dihedral of the outer panels. The pipe for the tear-drop gravity tank connects to a moulded-on extension running down one of the struts.
The struts themselves feature delicately moulded fixings, and asbestos wrapping on the one nearest the exhaust manifold. All the locating and rigging holes are neatly drilled, but this 3-bay wing will still be quite a challenge for anyone new to building biplanes.
Stage 12 - The Propeller. You have a choice of 2- or 4-bladed props, with a selection of Lang, Boulton & Paul, Integral and Beardmore logo decals. Both are beautifully moulded, with just the lightest of mould lines to clean off.
Stages 13 & 14 - The Tail Booms & Control Surfaces. The tail booms are designed to be as simple as possible to assemble, while maintaining a true-to-scale appearance. The vertical struts are angled into the airflow. and once again all the rigging holes are pre-marked, with miniature "eyelets" next to each strut. The booms are very well protected on the sprues, but I think they will be quite delicate once removed. It's tempting to paint as much as you can while they're still on the sprues, but you'll need to keep the joints clean to ensure as strong an assembly as possible - and this could be the perfect instance to use WNW's forthcoming RAF-section elastic rigging material to tension everything for extra rigidity.
The completed booms plug into substantial sockets on the wings, and the stabilizer has solid locating pins but the rudder is theoretically moveable (so long as you use elastic control cables) and looks like it could be very delicate, with minimal attachment points.
The ailerons and elevators are separate, but fixed, and the ailerons even feature tiny cable pulleys for one of the colour schemes.
Stages 15 & 16 - Armament Options. Completing the main assembly are a generous supply of stores:
20lb HALE bombs
112lb HERL bombs
Lewis Guns Mk.1 (also stripped) and Mk.II
47- and 97-round magazines
Mk.II collector bag
Thornton-Pickard Type C camera
The machine guns look excellent, while the bombs and their racks are neatly detailed, although the fins and stays are a little heavy and purists may want to replace them.
The elephant in the room...So, while it's clear from the above that the kit is beautifully designed, and I would hazard to say quite buildable by even modestly experienced modellers, there's no escaping the fact that the real "make or break" for many will be the rigging. The model will still look great straight built from the box and un-rigged, but fully rigged in the hands of an expert it will be transformed into an absolute show-stopper.
This is the first kit I've seen in which three full pages of the instructions are devoted entirely to rigging! The diagrams are clear, but however you approach it, this will be quite a daunting task for many modellers, and possibly the most time-consuming part of the build.
Instructions and decalsWNW's instructions are simply the best I've ever seen. The lavishly printed 40-page booklet is both stylish and very practical. It's printed in full colour throughout, and every component is named and has painting details. Not only this, but the instructions double as a reference guide, with excellent quality period photos and modern "walk-around" views. For instance, the cockpit is treated to 17 colour photos, with a further 6 devoted to the engine. The reference shots are keyed to the assembly, further clarifying the details at each stage.
The suggested assembly sequence appears very logical, but experienced builders may have their own preferred approach (in my case, I think I may well leave the undercarriage off until after I've successfully attached the wings...).
A comprehensive paint chart gives matches to the Tamiya, Humbrol and Misterkit ranges, so you should have no problem finding suitable modelling paints wherever you live.
WNW provide markings for 5 attractive colour schemes:
A. FE.2b 4852 "C6", G & J Weir built, B. Irwin and F.G. Thierry, 23 Sqn., September 1916
B. FE.2b 4909 "Baby Mine", G & J Weir built, J.R.B. Savage and Robinson, 25 Sqn., June 1916
C. FE.2b 6341 "Zanzibar No.1", RAF built, D. McMaster and Douglas Grinnell-Milne, 25 Sqn., May 1916
D. FE.2b 6352 "Baroda", RAF built, F.G. Pinder and E.A. Halford, 23 Sqn., March 1916
E. FE.2b A857 "B1", G & J Weir built, F.P. Don and H. Harris, 22 Sqn., June 1916
The decals look excellent quality, printed in perfect register on the samples. Two sheets are supplied, one enormous main sheet filling the bottom of the box, with a small supplementary sheet containing some extra stencil marks.
The roundels are printed as one, with the centres in place, and there's a choice of white or clear rings depending on the chosen scheme. Likewise for the rudder stripes, with separate serial numbers for all but one of the options. The blue of the roundels may appear a little pale to anyone expecting a rich ultramarine, but is correct for the earlier VB1 blue, which was replaced precisely because it was prone to fading in service.
A nice touch is the inclusion of lengths of decal for the bindings around the booms, and even a swatch of "clear doped linen" to cut bullet hole patches from.
ConclusionIt's hard to describe Wingnut Wings' FE.2b without it reading like a sales brochure! But, put simply, it's amongst the very finest kits I've ever seen. It's obviously not suitable for beginners, but while it's packed with enough detail and options to satisfy even the most demanding and experienced WW1 modeller, it's still been designed so well that anyone with a degree of modelling skill should be able to enjoy building it. Of the WNW kits I've got so far, I think this is the best yet. Unreservedly recommended.
References - Windsock Datafile #147 "RAF FE2b At War" by Paul R Hare, Albatros Productions, 2011
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.