Blue Max 1/48 Sopwith Dolphin






See Review


Tom Cleaver


Short run Injected Plastic


The Sopwith 5.F1 Dolphin was the only Sopwith fighter to appear in combat during the Great War that was not powered by a rotary engine. It is easily the ugliest Sopwith airplane, with its slab-sided fuselage and the reverse (i.e., "wrong") stagger to its wings. The Dolphin may have violated the aeronautical rule "if it looks right it is," but it also demonstrated that ugly is as ugly does, being one of the most successful RAF fighters of the last period of the war.

The Dolphin was one of Sopwith's attempts to improve the capability of a fighter at the higher altitudes that were being attained in 1917 (the other being the Snipe), which was why they went with the 200 h.p. Hispano-Suiza, which had excellent high altitude capability. The long wingspan gave the Dolphin good maneuverability at altitudes where the Camel struggled. Unfortunately, the engine was connected to the propeller by a reduction gear system, which proved to be the Achilles' heel of the airplane due to the improperly hardened pinions.

The reverse stagger of the wings allowed the center section to be cut out directly over the cockpit, giving the pilot an unrivalled field of vision. The reason for the reverse stagger was to avoid center of gravity and airflow interference problems, which required that the lower wing be position ahead of the upper wing.

The Dolphin was one of the most heavily-armed fighters of the war, with two Vickers .303 belt-fed weapons firing through the prop, and two free-moving Lewis guns of similar caliber mounted on the forward spar in the open center section of the upper wing. In operations, most pilots removed at least one of the Lewis guns to save weight.

Following the aircraft's operational success when it entered combat with 19 Squadron in January 1918, plans were made to manufacture the Dolphin II in France and power it with a 300 h.p. Hispano for French and American squadrons; the Armistice came before this plan could be put into action. The Dolphin III attempted to solve the engine problem by using an engine converted to accept a direct drive right-handed propeller.

The Dolphin remained in service after the war with 79 Squadron until July 1919. It last saw combat with the Polish Air Force during the summer of 1920.

Frederick Gillet - the top Dolphin Ace:

Frederick Warrington Gillet was a student at the University of Virginia when he joined the U.S. Air Service on April 1, 1917._ Like many, he did not adjust to flying easily and was flunked out of flight school. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and trained in Canada and England. On March 29, 1918, he was posted to 79 Squadron in France, which flew the Sopwith Dolphin. He did not score any kills until the final battles, with his first D.VII going down on August 3, 1918. Between then and the end of the war, he was scoring nearly as fast as Eddie Rickenbacker. Gillet scored 20 victories by the end of the war - most in multiples during dogfights - with his last two coming in a single combat the day before the Armistice was declared. In addition to three kite balloons, he was credited with destroying fourteen Fokker D.VIIs, a measure of his skill since the Dolphin was not considered as fast or as maneuveralble as the Fokker.

Gillet's skills are seen in the commendations for his DFC and Bar. "When attacking a kite balloon, a two-seater guarding it advanced to engage him; Lt. Gillet shot the machine down and turning to the balloon, which was being rapidly hauled down, he dropped two bombs at the winch and fired a drum (of ammunition) into the balloon, which deflated but did not catch fire. In addition to this two-seater, this officer has accounted for two other machines and a kite balloon." (DFC citation, London Gazette, 2 November 1918)

"A pilot of great dash and skill who, since 3 August has destroyed twelve hostile aircraft. On 29 September, when on low line patrol, he attacked three Fokkers, driving down one, which fell in flames." (DFC Bar citation, London Gazette, 8 November 1919)


Blue Max has certainly been busy producing a line of the better-known British fighter aircraft to see service during the Great War, with the Dolphin following their recent Snipe to take its place alongside the S.E.5a, Bristol Fighter, Camel and D.H.2. As a Blue Max kit, the Dolphin has an excellent design which is once again marred by sloppy production quality control. While my example did not have the infamous "wing ripple," three other modelers on the WW1 list reported their as having it in one, two and alll four wings, respectively. Mine did have "wing ripple" in the horizontal stabilizer, which was easily cured without ruining the very petite (and accurate) rib tape detail, since it was in the leading edge rather than the usual position a quarter inch in from the trailing edge.

The plastic, as usual, is the Blue Max soft grey variety used in low-pressure injection molding, with large sprue gates that have to be cut away with a razor saw and then filed down and smoothed over on the part. The interior is made with white metal details, which provide the internal structure, gas tank, wicker seat, controls, instrument panel and weapons. Decals are provided for two aircraft, "E" from 19 Squadron in the Summer of 1918, and the only Sopwith Dolphin flown by the RNAS in February 1918.


With a Blue Max kit, construction begins with sawing the parts off the sprues and cleaning them up. Once this was done, I separated the control surfaces, cleaned them up, and then glued them back in dynamic pose, as though the pilot had thrown the controls while getting out of the airplane.

I then cleaned up the white metal parts and painted them as ash. I glued the fuselage halves together at this point, since the cockpit and engine area would be open until I put the turtle deck on and this would allow the interior structure to be test fitted until it would slip right in.

Getting the controls and seat in proved difficult only because they seemed to not position properly. The cockpit is deep, and the position of the controls made it seem as if the pilot were nearly standing in his seat. While doing this, I ran across Roichard King's "The Skies Over Rhinebeck," in which he writes about flying the Old Rhinebeck Dolphin and states that it did indeed seem as if he were standing up in the cockpit. (As an aside, I understand the Old Rhinebeck Dolphin has finished its rebuild from the crash and will perform in next year's shows.)

Once this was complete, I put the engine in position and closed up the fuselage. All the joints needed a bit of putty, which I followed up with Mr. Surfacer 500 to get rid of the seams.

At this point, with the fuselage built and the wings and tail ready, I proceeded to paint and decal the model before final assembly.


I had decided to do the 19 Squadron airplane and followed the kit instructions. After pre-shading with Tamiya semi-gloss black, the engine cowling and cockpit turtleback were painted with Tamiya Sky Grey, a close approximation to British WW1 "Battleship Grey." The underside of the fuselage, wings and tail were painted with Gunze-Sanyo "Sail Color," a good approximation of Clear Doped Linen, and then my own mix of P.C.10 - this version in the green range just to differentiate the model from others - was applied to the upper surfaces. Once it was dry I gave it several light coats of Future.

The kit decals went on easily, as Blue Max decals usually do. Unfortunately, the stripe decal for the rudder was too short to completely cover it, but I was able to paint the last bit of blue and white stripes on the lower end once the decal was dry.

Final Assembly:

I first attached the horizontal stabilizer and ruddder, and aligned them. I had drilled out the lower wing and fuselage to accept a piece of plastic rod to give added strength to the joint, and attached the wings; I then set the model in a jig so that the wings could set up with the proper dihedral.

While all this was setting up, I cut the interplane struts and painted them. When the model was set up, I attached the struts with cyanoacrylate and suddenly realized I had managed to cut them 1/16" too short! It was very noticeable; fortunately, I had sufficient strut material in the spares box to make another set the correct length. Once they were painted and attached, the upper wings went on with no trouble since I had drilled out their inner end to accept the pins of the white metal cabane struts.


As usual, I rigged the model with High E guitar string, which becomes .008 stainless steel wire when straightened out.


The Dolphin is one of those airplanes that makes a good argument for "ugly Brit airplanes," but it has a look all its own and looks good on the Sopwith Shelf next to the Baby, Pup, Tripehound, Camel, Sea Camel and Snipe. This is a more difficult WW1 model, and will be an attractive project to the WW1 modeler who has successfully built a couple other Blue Max kits first.

Thanks to Squadron Mail Order ( for the review copy.

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