Bottom line up front: I have never built a bi-plane before and wasn’t sure what I was in for. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest kits I have ever built. Granted, building it with rigging adds a level of complexity not contemplated in this review, but the kit (like the ICM Invader we reviewed previously) is a stellar kit that is worth the price and deserves a chance on the bench of every aircraft modeler.
THE BUILD: My intent of the unvarnished feature is not to provide the reader with a comprehensive build guide but to give a quick reference of the overall quality and build-ability of the kit, using nothing but basic tools and construction methods.
The instructions are 20 pages, 65 steps, with a full-color paint guide for 4 early war Gladiators. The kit is presented on 5 light grey sprue with one clear. To my untrained eye, the surface detail is stunning and crisp. The kit begs to be built.
From the word go, the builder is in for 19 steps covered over 8 pages before the fuselage halves are even buttoned up. Don’t fret. While that might take the average builder 2-3 sittings, the process is very enjoyable. Like the Invader before it, a common theme is that the locating pins are often too big for their corresponding receptacles, so test fit often with a drill bit handy.
Part location is less than positive for some parts in the cockpit, especially with the turtle deck and similar assemblies. My suggestion is to use the fuselage halves as a jig to assure alignment while the parts are drying.
The first of the few drawbacks of this kit comes in step 13 and 14. The tail wheel is an incredibly flimsy assembly with a baffling connection point. Be prepared to repair this multiple times through the build if you are not very careful and aware of the dangling wheel. When gluing the fuselage halves together, I would recommend not gluing the back of the tail as it will make installing part D56, the connection for the rudder in step 24, much easier.
Steps 22-32 are the assembly and installation of control surfaces. Here again the builder is required to either drill out the holes for the locating pins or, as I did, simply cut off the pins and give the mating surfaces a light sand. Other than that, here were no hang ups here and the end result is beautiful.
Further, I was amazed at the fit of the canopy and windscreen in step 32. As a side note, I highly recommend installing the windscreen on any model before paint. The benefits here are manifold including protecting the fragile cockpit and allowing the builder to deal with any seam issues of the windscreen to fuselage joints before paint, unifying the build. There is nothing more distracting from an otherwise great build as when the modeler obviously installed the windscreen after the aircraft was built and painted. But, I digress.
Steps 33-38 are about wing and aileron installation. Again, the fit was largely excellent (after you deal with any latent locating pin issues), with one exception. Part B10 is a quadrant of the lower fuselage obviously meant to allow versions of Sea Gladiators with tail hooks to be built. This part will need some filler and careful sanding to not destroy the beautiful fuselage runner detail. This issue is the same at the rear wing joint.
Having never built a bi-plane, I attached the struts on the nose to the fuselage, and the wing struts to the top wing. Here, as the fit has some play, patience will be key. It took me probably an hour to get the top wing on, all struts aligned, and glued. One of the other complaints I have about this kit is that there will need to be some clean up around the strut attachment points into the wing with some sort of filler and I am not sure the best way one would go about that. I suppose some Perfect Plastic Putty, or similar, would suffice. It should be noted that the majority of these steps require contemplating rigging but I cannot speak on the best methods with which to attach said rigging. Here is where the experienced string-bag builder will do his/her thing, or where the inexperienced builder will seek the bountiful internet guidance of those who put rigging on aircraft.
The wing root joint of the bottom wing is, without exception, the best I have ever seen. This was so good it deserved its own two sentence paragraph.
Steps 39-43 deal with building up the landing gear. I had my doubts about the engineering here, but was surprised with a very nice looking set of gear and wheels. The problem comes in step 46 when attaching the struts to the fuselage. This is probably the worst aspect of the kit in that locating the kit’s legs is essentially a ball-joint knuckle connection. I would suggest using some 5 minute epoxy at this joint, or strengthening with some rod or similar. I used only Tamiya Extra Thin, and after some time spent aligning the struts and gear in all axis, the end result is surprisingly strong but I don’t trust it. The alignment and engineering issues here will undoubtedly frustrate some, so take your time with a glue that allows some play before it sets.
Steps 47 through 57 are engine construction. This is a beautiful engine that will clean up nicely under paint and with nothing but out of the box plastic. Note that on page 16 the instructions are bifurcated depending on the variant being built. Whichever option you choose, pay close attention to the assembly steps because they aren’t as intuitive as I would have hoped and building it up requires precise alignment.
Steps 58-59 are building up the prop. I initially thought that the prop and spinner construction was far too complicated to work out well, but it built up beautifully with no real trouble.
The last 5 steps are all rigging instructions. I did not rig this build. The builder needs to obviously have done some pre-planning for rigging back before step 38 and I will leave a discussion of that to more experienced riggers.
In sum this was a surprisingly great build that anyone besides a rote beginner should be able to put together without complaint. I am going to revisit this kit for a full build as time avails as it seems like it would be a good launching off point to learning rigging before I break out my stash of now rare Wingnut Wings kits.