Sopwith F-1 Camel Fighter

The Sopwith Camel is probably one of the most famous airplanes of all time - and this diminutive World War I biplane owes much ofBoxtop scan of the Revell-Germany Sopwith Camel kit. that fame to the Peanuts cartoon character Snoopy the Beagle and his never-successful efforts to shoot down the Red Baron. I got this kit because, ummmm, the decals looked really cool.

I was hoping Revell-Germany  kit (no. 04111) would be the Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel, errr, dog house, get ready to take another crack at the Red Baron.same quality as their 1/72 scale Fokker D VII I had already built. Alas, it was not. The 22 parts were marred by excessive flash, some soft or incompletely-molded details and an overall lack of crispness.  But the decals looked cool, so what the heck!

Taking the easy way out - I know, unusual for me - I used the kit decals and painted the machine as the Camel flown by Flight Lieutenant Lloyd S. Breadner of No. 3 Naval Air Service Squadron in 1917, when on Sept. 3 he shot down two German Albatros D V fighters in 5 minutes in a furious dogfight. Breadner, a Canadian whose score topped out at 10 by the end of WW I, including the first Gotha bomber brought down by a British fighter, went on to become Air Chief Marshal of the Royal Canadian Air Force by the end of World War II. He died at a US hospital in 1952 at the age of 58.

As with the Fokker kit, I decided to skip the aftermarket photoetch. Even though the cost was modest, about $6, I have not had  good luck with bending PE into tiny tubular shapes like gun sleeves, and none of the other interior cockpit details would really be visible. It's amazing what you can accomplish with bits of plastic strip and stock, some stretched sprue and a careful paint job.

Unusually for a Revell-Germany kit, there were some minor accuracy issues - cutouts in the lower part of the cowl, Lewis guns that are more like lumps, some missing vents in the engine housing and a few other small things I had to correct with my pin vice, files, sanding sticks and bits of plastic. The kit also includes four 25-pound Cooper bombs that the ground-attack version of the Camel (not this one) carried on a rack under the fuselage. The shape is all wrong and they were badly-molded to boot, so I tossed them into the spares box.

Rigging It

Always the most dreaded part of building a biplane, even more so the smaller the model is. In larger scales, modelers use things like metallic elastic thread, jewelry wire, and guitar string, but all of those are too heavy-looking for 1/72 scale. So I reverted to my old standby, stretched sprue, because it is cheap, abundant - and the Revell sprue stretches out into agreeably thin diameters.

But unlike the Fokker, there was so much of the Camel that needed wires! And my limited research led me to decide I needed two colors - black for wires that braced structural parts and silver for the control cables (of course I managed to reverse that with one set of bracing cables on the outer struts). There was a lot of debate on the various modeling forums about "how things really were" during WW I, but that was the general consensus.

The black sprue was colored with a Sharpie permanent black marker. The silver sprue was colored with a Rust-Oleum Metallic Leafing Pen I picked up for free (free is good!) at a home improvements store. Using a paint pen was much easier and gave a much thinner finish than trying to brush paint; as a bonus, paint doesn't run like marker may when exposed to super glue. Then it was just a matter of measuring each piece of sprue with dividers, cutting once to get it about right, and then trimming however many times it took to get each piece to fit and using a miniscule blob a cyanoacrylate glue (aka super glue) at each end to attach; 48 individual pieces later ...

The biggest challenge was the X-shaped bracing wires between the cabane struts over the Lewis guns. The real ones have a wooden tensioning device since the X is off-center. It took multiple tries with stretched sprue to get something that would work (I kept kinking or breaking strands), and using a small circle of styrene from my Waldron sub-miniature punch set to replicate the dowel-shaped tensioner instead of a bit of plastic rod. But it looks OK. To me. And it's my model. So there!

The next biggest challenge was doubled bracing wires that go from the outside of the upper wing down to the lower fuselage. How to get them parallel? I ended up taping down a small strip of waxed paper (CA glue won't stick to it) to a piece of cardboard, then putting a smallish blob of CA glue on it. Then it was a matter of carefully lining up two pre-measured lengths of sprue so that one end was in the puddle of CA and they were parallel and looked to be a millimeter or so apart. Once that end was thoroughly dry, I carefully measured for the exact length again with my trusty dividers, then put down another (smaller) blob of CA and let it dry. When both were hard, the excess glue and extra sprue could be carefully trimmed off with a hobby knife or razor blade and the resultant double bracing wires lifted free of the wax paper for installation.

Little Details

You have to remember that aviation was still a pretty new thing in WW I, and the Clerget rotary engine that powered many Camels actually rotated with the propeller - the propeller shaft was stationary. Weird, but it worked. To give the front end a more three-dimensional appearance I carved out the space between each engine cylinder with my pin vice, needle files and sandpaper, then painted the firewall a gunmetal color, Testors No. 1795, to give the space behind the engine a little depth. Picking out some details with Testors Steel, No. 1180, and a little judicious drybrushing with some powdered pencil graphite gave the engine a more realistic three-dimensional look.

The two Lewis machine guns also got a coat of gunmetal paint to give them a metallic sheen, as well as bits of .025-inch round styrene on the front of each to represent the machine gun barrel ends. How to make a large ring-type gunsight had me stumped until I hit on a solution - a ship's wheel! Rooting around in my 1/700 photoetch, I found an old-fashioned ship's wheel that, with a little judicious trimming and filing, looked just fine when painted flat black and mounted between the machine guns (Gold Medal Models No. 700-2).

The instrument panel was detailed with various-sized styrene discs punched out with my Waldron set and painted gloss black, their sizes and arrangement coming from research done on the internet.

Revell used their standard color call outs (none of which are sold at either my hobby shop or the mail order/internet stores I use), so it was decision time. Top surfaces were supposed to be 'NATO olive matt,' which appeared to be a standard dark olive green, and the undersides a 66/34 mix of 'Africa brown' and white. Sheesh. Poking around on various websites while doing research, I found that, as usual, there was no one 'right' color.

Not wanting to expand the stash, I lined up all my army greens and decided to go with Green Drab, Model Master No. 1787 for the top, because it was a little darker and would make the decals stand out, and Radome Tan, Model Master No. 1709 for the undersides, relying on the final flat coat to tie everything together.   

The metal engine housing got covered with real metal instead of paint. I used a scrap of aluminum Bare Metal Foil and then gave it a light wash with black acrylic paint to bring out the details. The foil is thin enough, and the molding was sufficiently crisp, to make it work. The metal area under the wings was painted with aluminum, Testors No. 1181, for contrast.

In the end, it turned out OK. Not as good as the ones from guys who build nothing but biplanes (I have no idea how they keep their sanity), but I'm satisfied:

Overall non-flash shot of the finished Camel gives a hint of its speed and maneuverability. It was much smaller than some of its adversaries.   A flash shot of the Camel shows how stark the white decals are against the dark olive drab paint.
Overall non-flash shot of the finished Camel gives a hint of its speed and maneuverability. It was much smaller than some of its adversaries.   A flash shot of the Camel shows how stark the white decals are against the dark olive drab paint.
Right rear three-quarters view of the Camel.   Overhead front view of the Camel. The black squares in the top wing are viewing ports for ground personnel to check control wires inside the wings. They are represented by decals here.

Right rear three-quarters view of the Camel.

  Overhead front view of the Camel. The black squares in the top wing are viewing ports for ground personnel to check control wires inside the wings. They are represented by decals here.
This view from the rear shows the offset control surfaces, which had to be cut off and then repositioned individually. Be sure to make the set on each wing line up if you decide to do this.   In this front view it almost looks like the Camel is ready for takeoff. Clear!
This view from the rear shows the offset control surfaces, which had to be cut off and then repositioned individually. Be sure to make the set on each wing line up if you decide to do this.   In this front view it almost looks like the Camel is ready for takeoff. Clear!
Right side view of the Camel. The wood panels were painted Model Master Wood and then drybrushed with random streaks of Model Master Dark Tan and Testors Flat Brown.   Left side view of the Camel. The wood portions were painted semi-gloss clear, while the rest of the surfaces were given a final flat clear overcoat.
Right side view of the Camel. The wood panels were painted Model Master Wood and then drybrushed with random streaks of Model Master Dark Tan and Testors Flat Brown.   Left side view of the Camel. The wood portions were painted semi-gloss clear, while the rest of the surfaces were given a final flat clear overcoat.
Here you can kind of see into the cockpit, with the gauge faces made with my Waldron punch and die set, and the scratchbuilt auxiliary fuel pump on the righthand cabane strut. The prop for it is from a 1/700 scale photoetch aircraft set. The 'bumper pad' around the cockpit rim is a piece of 0.031-inch diameter solder picked up at an electronic specialty supply store and painted Model Master Leather.   This head on shot shows the rotary Clerget engine after I carved away the plastic from between the cylinder heads. The propeller was painted Model Master Wood and then drybrushed with Model Master Leather to give it the look of woodgrain, and finished with semi-gloss clear.

Here you can kind of see into the cockpit, with the gauge faces made with my Waldron punch and die set, and the scratchbuilt auxiliary fuel pump on the righthand cabane strut. The prop for it is from a 1/700 scale photoetch aircraft set. The 'bumper pad' around the cockpit rim is a piece of 0.031-inch diameter solder picked up at an electronic specialty supply store and painted Model Master Leather.

  This head on shot shows the rotary Clerget engine after I carved away the plastic from between the cylinder heads. The propeller was painted Model Master Wood and then drybrushed with Model Master Leather to give it the look of woodgrain, and finished with semi-gloss clear.
One of the little details - rubber bungee cords were wrapped around the wheel struts to help with shock-absorption. I used waxed tan thread to simulate that.   This shot shows what the pilot could see through the overhead view panel, and also the business end of the Lewis machine guns after they were painted and detailed. I also deepened the grooves in the barrels with a needle file.
One of the little details - rubber bungee cords were wrapped around the wheel struts to help with shock-absorption. I used waxed tan thread to simulate that.   This shot shows what the pilot could see through the overhead view panel, and also the business end of the Lewis machine guns after they were painted and detailed. I also deepened the grooves in the barrels with a needle file.
Wires, wires, everywhere. The control horns were small pieces of flattened 24-gauge wire, painted Model Master wood and superglued into small holes.   Right front three-quarters view. Note the tie down ring under the outer strut, another 1/700 photoetch bit. Also note the two sets of doubled bracing wires going from the top of the outside struts to the bottom of the fuselage.
Wires, wires, everywhere. The control horns were small pieces of flattened 24-gauge wire, painted Model Master wood and superglued into small holes.   Right front three-quarters view. Note the tie down ring under the outer strut, another 1/700 photoetch bit. Also note the two sets of doubled bracing wires going from the top of the outside struts to the bottom of the fuselage.

Details added:

Addition: This model received a First Place medal in the Propeller Aircraft category and the Best Aircraft plaque at the 2013 KVSM contest.


ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS COPYRIGHT 2009-2010 BY THE AUTHOR AND RESPECTIVE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCTION, RETRIEVAL OR STORAGE BY ANY METHOD FOR ANY COMMERCIAL PURPOSE IS PROHIBITED IF YOU ARE THAT SCUMBAG LAWYER IN CHARLESTON. SEND COMMENTS HERE.

Return to the Modeling Index Page

This page was last updated March 23, 2013.