Planes of the Royal Aircraft Factory
by Paul Fisher


RAF BE.2b

Kit: scratch (1:72)

History
Incorporating improvements to the BE.2a fuselage, flying controls and fuel system, the BE.2b entered service during the first half of 1914. Though rarely mentioned today, the type achieved minor historical significance when, on 26 April 1914, Lt. W. B. Rhodes Moorhouse (piloting BE.2b 687) became the first airman to earn the Victoria Cross.

The un-serialed subject of this model was originally shipped to India for use in the Central Flying School at Sitapur, where it most likely received its mottled camouflage and was apparently rigged without dihedral. In December 1914, it was sent to join No.30 Squadron in Ismailia, Egypt, where it was operated against the Turks in defense of the Suez Canal. It participated in the bombing of El Murra on 16 April 1915, and is believed to have been wrecked in a forced landing later that year.

Build
This model began as my first attempt at scratch-building. After a series of setbacks, namely regarding the wing construction, I lost interested moved to other projects. I recently returned to it, choosing to leave my earlier work intact even though my skills have since improved. Most details are scratch; the wheels, engine and propeller are from Aeroclub. As with my BE.8 and RE.5, the camouflage was achieved by applying multiple layers of colored pastels over a clear-doped-linen base. Once I can figure out how to make the curved windscreens I will add them.

References

  • J. M. Bruce, The B.E.2, 2a & 2b, Profile Publications Ltd., No. 133, 1966
  • Peter Cooksley, BE2 in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications, No. 123, 1992


    RAF BE.2c

    The kit

    This is the 1:72 VeeDay BE.2c- an old and horribly cast injection-mold kit that I bought for a now-understandable $4. My second kit, the model was a greater challenge than the RE.8, in that the plastic was so brittle and unworkable. By having to rebuild the fuselage and craft most details from scratch I have improved my technique now better understand how these planes were constructed. It's nearly done, save for a few things like the cockpit coaming, adjusting the exhaust pipes and conjuring up some windscreens.

    With this kit I developed new systems for constructing the fuselage interior accurately and attractively and for painting and weathering effects. I also managed to fit a spoke inside the wheel-cover apertures. As with the RE.8, I had to thin, cut and correct the dihedral of the wings. This time around, I also managed to cut and set the ailerons to give a more natural appearance. I managed to break two in the process and am developing a 'scoring and bending' technique that hopefully will make work easier on future builds. Due to the brittle plastic and my own clumsiness, the upper wing is now a composite of about 15 parts with metal pins at each major joint.

    For the seats I used Rosepart resin casts, then cut out the mid-section and semi-wove the wicker seats using hair from a synthetic wig I got from a friend who was finished with a Haloween costume...

    One of the more successful innovations are the three glazed panels situated on the turtle deck. I managed to thin the fuselage with a dremel tool to good effect, then attached bits of a clear cellophane wrapper; sized to fit just larger than each aperture. Strips of metal-colored decals were then placed around the perimeter. Light can actually be seen shining through the port window in one of the images.

    Rigging

    The rigging is done with more hair from the wig. It's certainly better than wire or stretched sprue (I've not tried monofilament). It's quite strong, easily trimmed, and does not need coloring. I imagine that most rigging wires would have originally been the metallic but would have quickly oxidized to black. The potential for this interpretation is great in that wigs come in all shades of grey. My method is still evolving, but I first start by connecting the wings and struts with pins. Each strut is shaped and left just shy of the true distance between the wings, leaving a fraction of the pin exposed. This seems to be how most Factory planes actually appeared. The hair is then strung taut through the struts and set with thin CA glue. Once dried, it can be touched up with paint. I'm still improving the process.

    In conclusion

    Building this kit allowed me to confirm three assumptions:

    • First- I can't paint. No matter what type of paint or what consistency, brushed paint always looks clumsy to me. As such, I now airbrush virtually everthing- even the tiniest of parts such as the guns. For highlighting larger surfaces, I've begun airbrushing coats of paint not simply thinned down, but mixed in with clear lacquer- this forms a type of glaze that gives the surfaces a more luminous appearance. For weathering and some shading, I decided to try colored pencils, markers and ground pastels- all firsts for me. My favorite discovery was using ground pencil lead for the exhaust stains and engine grime. The metallic composition of the graphite provides an excellent irridescent effect. This must immediately be lacquered over.
    • Second- a 1/72 model can me made to look good by simply 'suggesting' detail rather than actually attempting to replicate it. Consider an oil painting by an artist such as Cezanne. When he paints the apples in a still life blue, he obviously realizes that this could never happen in reality, but the effect it has on the viewer's interpretation is significant. In other words, surfaces of PC10 or CDL can be embellished with associated yellows, browns, reds and greens instead of just lighter and darker shades of the same color. Just mixing in white or black when highlighting tends to give them a washed and synthetic look. I don't know if anyone else would buy this, but it seemed to work on the BE.2, and I'm looking forward to further experimenting on my future builds.
    • Third- observation is fundamentally important. After realizing too late the flaws I left intact on the RE.8, I now find myself constantly re-examining the photographs of a subject plane. The more familiar I become, the better sense I have of the plane and how I want to replicate it. The WWI Modeling Page is quite a helpful reference.


    RAF BE.2e

    Kit: Czechmaster (1:72)

    This BE.2e is my third model and my first attempt at building a resin kit. The wings are already starting to warp. Unfortunately, during my photo session, I inadvertently snagged some of the 'wires' on the port wing and will have to re-rig it later.

    For the finish I used Pollyscale water-based paints- Grimy Black (for the camouflaged portion) and a custom-mixed clear-doped linen (Pollyscale's is too green in tint). First a neutral primary coat was sprayed to reveal any surface irregularities on the various sub-assemblies. After addressing this, the base coat of each color was painted. Since the black already possed a hint of blue I chose to crisply highlight the raised details with a warmer (less blue) grey-colored pencil (Sanford Prismacolor). I also traced the impressions of the vertical structural elements of the fuselage onto its sides. Though seldom physically molded into kits of this scale, their existence can often be detected in old photographs. Simply 'suggesting' them with the pencil can enhance the realism of the model.

    Next, areas that were sunken or typically shadowed were brushed with a darker black pastel. I then applied a thin second coat of the original base color to leaven the color gradations. Photograph #1 demonstrates this overall effect- here the fuselage has only its base coat, the lower wings have have the highlight and shade, and the upper wing has the second coat. The same technique was used regarding the linen surfaces, save that both the highlights and shadows were sketched with pencil. If needed, the process can be subtly repeated to achieve the proper nuance.

    Then each surface was sealed with a gloss lacquer in preparation for the decals. The decals were subsequently sealed with flat lacquer so that the weathering could be applied. This was achieved primarily with pastels (Schmineke Kunstler Farben), with the engine areas and exhaust stains lightly done with powdered graphite. Though they were expensive, I am particularly happy with the quality and color of the Schmineke pastels.

    I also treated the decals so that they wouldn't stand out- many modelers who apply hilight and shade often overlook this. The assembled plane then received a final coat of flat lacquer to seal the wathering and also provide further depth to the overall surface colors.

    This particular aircraft is modeled on an actual plane with No. 50 Home Defence Squadron, which was formed to protect south-east England and the approaches to London. Primary reference: Cole and Cheesman, The Air Defence of Britain 1914-1918, Putnam, 1984.


    Royal Aircraft Factory BE.8

    Kit: scratch (1:72)

    The B.E.8 was the fourth and final rotary-powered Bleriot Experimental tractor plane to be developed by the Royal Aircraft Factory. The prototype first flew in August 1913, and limited production began soon thereafter.

    Built by Vickers and originally intended for the Central Flying School at Sitapur, India, BE.8 625 was impressed to the Royal Flying Corps upon the outbreak of war. It received a hastily painted camouflage on 8 August 1914, and was among the first British planes sent to France, arriving with 3 Squadron at Amiens on 14 August. 625 was also among the first British planes to be 'struck off charge', when on 16 August it stalled at 150 feet, crashed and caught fire- killing Lieutenant Evelyn Walter Copland Perry and Air Mechanic H.E. Parfitt. Perry, an experienced test-pilot and aircraft designer who personally trained Air Marshall Hugh Montague Trenchard how to fly, earned the unfortunate distinction of being the first British officer killed on active service in France. The last B.E.8 was withdrawn from front-line service by end of June 1915, though the type lingered on a few months more in various training units.

    This scratch-built model incorporates wings, wheels and seats from Roseparts, with the engine and propeller by Aeroclub. Primary reference: J.M. Bruce, The B.E.8 and B.E.8a, Air Pictorial, Vol. 24 #11, Rolls House Publishing Co. Ltd., 1962.


    Royal Aircraft Factory RE.5

    Kit: Roseplane (1:72)

    The War Office ordered two dozen examples of the RE.5 from the Royal Aircraft Factory in early 1914. Unusual among contemporary British aircraft, the type featured a fuselage constructed predominantly of steel tubing. In typical Factory practice the RE.5 was employed in multiple experiments, including: bomb-dropping, wireless, airbrake, plough brake, camouflage, stability, and engine tests. A modified RE.5 established an altitude record of 18,900 ft. in May 1914. Upon the outbreak of war, several RE.5s went to France with the British Expeditionary Force.

    It was on 25 July 1915, when Captain John Aidan Liddell VC MC earned the Victoria Cross whilst flying RE.5 2457. It was only his second sortie over the German lines. Though the RE.5 was not normally equipped for combat, on that day Liddell's observer, Second Lieutenant Richard Peck, loaded 2457 with a Lewis machine gun and spare service rifle. The violent combat and ensuing heroism of that day have been well documented. Ironically, though Liddell died of his wounds shortly afterwards, RE.5 2457 survived and remained in service as a trainer with Royal Flying Corps into 1916.

    Primary reference: J.M. Bruce, RAF RE5/7, Windsock Datafile #62, Albatros Publications Ltd., 1997.


    Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8

    Kit: Airfix (1:72)

    This Airfix RE8 is my first attempt at building a model since I was a kid. I learned quite a bit about the history of the plane by studying the Windsock Datafile, and about building the model through this website. I consider this build somewhat of an 'overworked canvas' as I was quite clumsy in how I went about learning the ropes. I think the challenger/vickers is one of the more successful parts of the model. Alas, the old Airfix mold has many fatal flaws and I did not correct them all...
    Still, as my first serious attempt at building (it took 2 years, many coats of paint, and a complete rebuild after I dropped it), I've gained a lot of experience.

    This particular model is based on RE.8 B2254, which served with No.34 Squadron RFC, in 1917.


    RAF SE.5a

    Kit: Roden (1:72)

    Several two-seat versions of the SE5a were produced for training purposes. This particular conversion is fitted with dual controls and an auxiliary, wing-mounted petrol tank.

    The model is based on Roden's 1/72 injection-molded kit, which I used as a testbed for the wing-surface finishing technique that I later applied to the BE2e, though I finished that model first. Two of the more effective innovations on this build include using Elmer's carpentry glue to create the cockpit coaming; I also used a colored pencil for the PC-10 underwing borders (rather than laboriously masking and spraying).

    Primary reference: John F. Connors, S.E.5a in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications, #69, 1985.


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