by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Developed as a straightforward successor to the Sopwith Camel, the Snipe was the subject of such protracted development it only just reached RAF squadrons in time to serve at the end of WW1. On paper it offered only a modest increase in performance, the but pilot enjoyed a far superior view from the cockpit. While the Snipe bore a strong superficial resemblance to its predecessor, it handled very differently, resulting in sharply divided opinions as to its merits; when tested in March 1918, the prototype B9965 was described as "vastly superior to any scout at the front... quickly manoeuvrabe and easy and slow to land", while another pilot (while admitting that the Snipe was more powerful with a better all-round performance) decared "... it had none of the lightning manoeuvre of the Camel. To turn from a Camel to a Snipe was like turning from an eight horse-power sports car to an eight-ton lorry...".
The Snipe's baptism of fire was brief and bloody, with the new aircraft giving good account of itself - and, of course, it achieved lasting fame at the hands of Major William Barker in his epic dogfight in October 1918, when he downed four Fokker D.VIIs despite multiple wounds. The end of the war saw rapid production cutbacks and only around 1,550 Snipes (estimates vary) were delivered of the 4,685 ordered, with production ceasing in 1919. A 1921 RAF inventory showed 532 Snipes on charge, including 400 in storage.
With the advent of peace, the Snipe enjoyed a long career as the RAF's final rotary-engined fighter, only finally being declared obsolete in 1928. The type saw the peak of its career as a Home Defence fighter in 1924, when it served with nine squadrons, by that time resplendent in a new silver finish and the first of the flamboyant RAF squadron markings that came to epitomise the Golden Age between the world wars.
Wingnut Wings' new late-version Snipe arrives in a typically stylish and solid top-opening box adorned with a painting of a colourful post war 56 Sqn. aircraft in formation with a "Brisfit". The sprues and accessories are all bagged individually and the kit comprises:
111 x grey styrene parts ( 1 x unused)
3 x clear styrene parts
10 x etched brass parts
Decals for 5 x colour schemes
The moulding and finish throughout is quite superb. I would say "perfect", but the sample model shows a slight short-shot at the root of the starboard lower wing. Nothing that will take more than a few minutes to repair, and I haven't reflected it in my score because I'm confident that it's an unfortunate one-off. At least it proves WNW are human - and, of course, it had to be in a sample kit.
That was the only fault I could find in a thorough inspection. There's not even a whisper of flash, no sink marks, and a really welcome touch is the way the designers have kept the interior of the fuselage halves totally clear of any ejector pin marks in the cockpit area.
The surface finish is really excellent, with a beautifully taught fabric effect and delicate rib tapes on the flying surfaces, while the fuselage displays crisp panel details around the nose and a lovely drum-tight look to the fabric areas. Interior parts shine with pin-sharp detailing - maybe I'm wrong, but to my eye these look even crisper than I've grown accustomed to in earlier WNW kits.
Test FitThe fuselage halves have rather larger locating pins than in some of the previous kits in the series, and this pays off as they clip together really solidly, with plenty of support along the spine and ventral seams. The top decking slots in place snuggly, while the horizontal tail has a large locating tab to keep everything true. The fuselage sits firmly on the full-span lower wing, with the rear seam falling on a natural panel line.
A few detailsThe cockpit is constructed from 22 parts and the side frames are quite exceptional mouldings, each presenting as a single piece the type of complex detailing you'd traditionally expect to have to build up from a number of separate parts. As it is, there are really only the finely detailed hand-pump, throttle and petrol tap left to add. The instrument panel sports neatly detailed switches and gauges, with clearly legible custom-printed Cartograf decals for the faces.
The wicker seat impresses in having a crisply moulded "weave" all the way around the curved surfaces, and the filled-in lumber band can be trimmed away carefully for a realistic open effect, as shown on in the Hints & Tips on WNW's website.
Two styles of brass seatbelts are provided - simple early lap belts, or a Sutton harness with shoulder straps as fitted to many aircraft after the war.
The twin Vickers machine guns are well detailed with quite convincingly open spent cartridge chutes. The cooling jackets are moulded as two halves - so there's a seam to clean up on each, but this presumably avoids any chance of sink marks on what would otherwise be rather think parts. Etched faces are provided for the end of each barrel, along with a ring and bead sight, together with an Aldis sight. A piece of clever engineering that leaps out is the way the firewall interlocks with the top decking to form the gun-troughs. It's just beautiful - you'll see what I mean when you build the kit.
The Bentley BR.2 is made up from 16 parts. The cylinders are split fore and aft, and are particularly finely detailed. A useful tool for cleaning up the inevitable seams will be Radu Brinzan's Scribe-R File.
A nice touch is the way the spark plugs have been angled correctly - another sign of increasingly sophisticated moulding. The propeller features a well detailed integral hub and a separate rear mounting plate.
The undercarriage looks simple and suitably solid. The bungee cords are nicely presented, while the wheels feature delicately moulded text on the tyres, and a filler valve and spokes visible inside through the open holes in each cover.
Final touches are a pair of Holt landing flares mounted under the lower wings for one of the colour schemes, and an intricately moulded bomb carrier to fit under the fuselage, complete with a quartet of 20lb Cooper bombs.
The Snipe's two-bay wing construction offers an additional challenge for newcomers to building biplanes, but the cabane struts have encouragingly long locating tabs, promising a solid foundation, while the interplane struts have cleverly engineered locators that should take a lot of the angst out of attaching them accurately. Rigging points are marked at the base of each strut, and a large colour-coded diagram shows the position and type of each wire.
Instructions and decalsAs usual, WNW's construction guide takes the form of richly illustrated A-4 full-colour booklet. The 22 pages break the assembly down into very logical stages, with painting notes for every detail and a well chosen selection of reference photos of both original machines and the reproduction Snipe E8102 built by the Vintage Aviator Ltd. Colour matches are provided for Tamiya, Humbrol and Misterkit model paints.
An enormous decal sheet provides markings for the following aircraft, the selection really offering something for every taste, with both camouflaged and silver-doped post war RAF machines, and even an exotic captured example in Russian colours:
A. Sopwith Snipe E6351? GS Sapozhnikov, 1st Soviet Fighter Aviaotryad, 1920 (5 victories)
B. Sopwith Snipe E6544, 17 Sqn, Hawkinge, 1924
C. Sopwith Snipe E6964, 56 Sqn, Hawkinge, 1923
D. Sopwith Snipe E8198 "U", C Flight 4 Sqn AFC, Bickendorf, January-February 1919
E. Sopwith Snipe F2367 "1-2", B flight 70 Sqn, Bickendorf, March-April 1919
The decals are flawlessly printed, as we've come to expect from Cartograf. The items are thin and glossy, with minimal carrier film and excellent colour depth, while the registration is spot-on on the sample sheet.
ConclusionThis is another superb release from Wingnut Wings. The design and moulding, if anything, seem even more advanced in places than the already impressive benchmark levels they've set for kits of this type. It's no exaggeration to say that Wingnut Wings have attracted to largescale early era kit building a whole new raft of modellers who would normally have shied away from such subjects - the quality and the appeal of their kits is simply that irresistible. The Snipe looks set to continue the trend. Unreservedly recommended to anyone interested in WW1 and Golden Age aviation.
some useful referencesSopwith Snipe - Windsock Datafile 46 - by J. M. Bruce, Albatros Productions Ltd., 1994
The Sopwith F7.1 Snipe - Profile #50 - by J. M. Bruce, Profile Publications, 1965
On Silver Wings, by Eric Lumsden and Owen Thetford, Osprey Aerospace, 1993
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