1/72 Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2a

KIT #: Based on Airfix 01079
PRICE: 5.00
DECALS: Kit offers one option
REVIEWER: S.W. Foster
NOTES: This is an advanced conversion which will require previous experience of modelling WWI aircraft.

HISTORY

   The Royal Aircraft Factory BE series of aircraft were to become infamous as "Fokker Fodder" in 1915 and 1916, and later as sitting ducks for German fighter aircraft in 1917. In fact it was not the aircraft design itself which was at fault, but the fact that too many were ordered early in the war, and then deployed by commanders who should have known better and who chose to ignore the horrendous losses that resulted from knowingly sending obsolete aircraft and their crews into harms way. The problem was compounded by the fact that there were no alternative machines to use in any event - another product of the incompetence of those running the war from home. In was also a repetition of the mistakes being made at the time on the ground, where repeatedly men were sent to attack fortified positions with little or no hope of success with the aim of "wearing the enemy down". It was not the aircraft that was at fault - it was the way in which they were deployed.

  The BE 2 originated in 1911 when the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough "rebuilt" a damaged Voisin to their own design. The factory was not supposed to design and build aircraft at this time, so to disguise this the new aeroplane was called a "Bleriot Experimental" machine, and the designation BE was used for all tractor designs thereafter. The aircraft was one of the best of its time being stable and easy to fly, and in the military aircraft trials of 1912 it proved itself to be superior to all of the other competitors, even though it was not officially entered. The Army placed orders for several machines and adopted it for reconnaissance purposes and it was issued to 2, 4, and 6 squadrons of the RFC where in the latter it soon became noted for long distance flights. By the time war broke out in 1914 the BE2a and the similar 2b formed the bulk of the aeroplanes of 2 and 4 Squadrons, and parts of the equipment of the others. Lt. J. Harvey-Kelly in no 347 was the first to land a British aeroplane in France after the outbreak of war in 1914: this was the subject of my model. Later the first British wartime aerial reconnaissance by the RFC was carried out by Lt. G. W. Mappleback in a BE 2a and Capt. P. Joubert de la Ferte in a Bleriot on 19 August 1914. Some machines made bombing attacks on enemy installations in occupied Belgium. The first VC to be won by a British airman was awarded to Lt. W. Rhodes-Moorhouse in April 1915 when he dropped a 100 lb bomb on Courtrai railway station: he died of his wounds after he had returned in his bullet riddled machine and reported his results. Be 2a's and b's remained in service until well into 1915, being used for artillery spotting, photographic reconnaissance and bombing. Attrition from accidents and losses to enemy action or engine failure over enemy territory meant that few BE 2a or b 's were left by August of that year, and those that remained were sent for use as trainers in the UK. A small number of machines saw active service in the Dardenelles campaign of 1915 where they were used for artillery spotting and general reconnaissance. Apart from a few small bombs none of the machines carried armament: observers did on occasion carry a rifle or pistol but because the engines were of such low power it was not possible to carry more, and besides an observer sitting in the front cockpit would not have been able to use a heavy gun effectively anyway because he was surrounded by struts and wires, as later crews of the BE 2c found to their cost. 

CONSTRUCTION

  Modellers of WW1 aircraft have not been as well served as those who build aircraft of later periods: this is especially true of the early period of the Great War. Although kits of the BE 2c are available, they are in the larger scales. For modellers who have limited space (and finances), many 1/72 scale WW1 model aircraft are lacking, which means that we have to resort to building them from scratch or converting from existing kits. When I built this model many years ago the position re-WW1 aircraft was even worse than today, so I did not think that it unusual to convert a BE 2 from another model. This was my first attempt to build a completely new aeroplane from another kit and it was not as difficult as I had anticipated as the basic shapes are relatively simple, and the most difficult parts - the wings - can be made from the Airfix DH 4. The same kit can also provide wheels, struts, propellor, etc and leave spares for other projects.

     Start with the fuselage by cutting out the sides and bottom from 20 thou plastic card. Make two or three formers to put inside the fuselage to keep the unit square and assemble the sides to the bottom. Add the cockpit details - two seats, seat belts (optional), a joy stick, rudder bar, etc, and paint the interior clear doped linen for the sides, brown for the floor. The upper fuselage is made by bending thin (5 or 10 thou) card over a piece of dowel. Cut out the cockpit apertures and fill any small gaps and rub down. On the front of the fuselage cement a plate behind the engine, and one across the fuselage to hold it, from 15 thou card. The cylinders (4 on each side), were made from sprue or very thick rod which had been scribed to represent the cooling fins. These should be cemented together into two blocks and then glued to the fuselage ensuring that they are at the correct angle. Now cut a piece of 10 thou plastic and curve it and put it on to the top between the cylinders to represent the air intake. Exhaust pipes are made from rod, with card and thick stretched sprue for the silencers. Shape the pipes carefully and make up the complete exhaust units but do not put on to the engine and  fuselage assembly until later.

   Cut the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces from 20 thou card and shape them to aerofoil section. Score the horizontal surface to represent the elevators and then glue the unit to the rear fuselage and fill any small gaps. Cut a rudder post from rod and cement to the rudder, and add two control horns. Set the rudder assembly on one side until later.

   The wings are cut from the DH 4 wings. Carefully measure the span and draw the correct shape of the tips of the BE wings on to the top wing of the DH 4. Cut away the excess plastic, shape the new tips to the correct plan and reshape the leading and trailing edges to the correct profile. You will also need to gently bend the upper wing until it is straight, as BE 2 wings did not have any anhedral. For the lower wings remove the centre-section of the DH 4 wing, measure the span carefully and then cut and shape each half of the lower wing. Fill all of the location holes, slots for struts and aileron grooves in the wings. BE 2a and b aircraft did not have ailerons as they used wing warping for control. Rub down the rib detail and gently score shallow grooves for the new ribs on the upper wing surfaces only. Cement thin pieces of plastic rod or stretched sprue into the grooves and when these are thoroughly dry gently rub them down with fine glass paper. Carefully measure the location for the BE 2 struts and drill small holes in the wings. You will need to drill small holes in the fuselage for both the wing struts and for the undercarriage struts. Remove the joining pieces on the top of the DH 4 wing struts and clean the struts up. Glue the lower wings to the fuselage and when these are dry fill any gaps and rub down. Remember that there is no anhedral for the wings - i.e. they should be at 90 degrees to the fuselage sides. Cement the outer wing struts into the lower wings and while these are still drying, carefully lower the top wing on to them. I put small blobs of glue into the holes in the upper wing prior to joining the wings as this stops glue being spread over the underside of the wing. Line up and support the wings, and allow them to dry out. When they are dry you can cement the inner wing struts one at a time and while they are drying cut and shape the fuselage struts, which can also be added. Allow the whole assembly to dry out thoroughly.

   The undercarriage struts should be measured, and cut and shaped from 20 thou card or pre-shaped strut material, as should the skids. Drill holes in the top surfaces of the skids for the struts. An axle is needed from plastic rod - allow enough to fit into the wheels. Lay the skids on a plan of the undercarriage and cement the axle to them and allow to dry. Now carefully cement the struts to the skids and set the approximate angles before lowering the fuselage and guiding the struts into the holes in the fuselage. Use liquid cement to secure the struts and support the undercarriage assembly while it dries out. Beware, this is a tricky operation and will require time and care but if you plan it before you start, it should go without too many problems. Cut a tail skid from card and four struts from rod and glue the struts and skid to the rear fuselage, together with the rudder post and rudder. I used the propeller from the DH 4 and reshaped it, but did not cement it until after the model had been painted and rigged.

COLORS & MARKINGS

   Early RFC machines were clear doped linen overall (I use a mixture of 3 parts Humbrol white and one matt cream (74) with a touch of light grey), with light brown struts. The front of the fuselage was bare metal (I used silver, but aluminium would be equally suitable), and the engine and exhausts were black. The propeller was natural wood (dark brown), and the tyres dark grey. The number on the rudder came from dry rub-down transfers.

   After painting, the exhausts, wing skids and wheels can be glued into place, and a step on the port side of the fuselage (black). Rigging was done using stretched sprue as drilling holes for thread was step too far for me! The rigging did take a few hours to complete but it was straightforward.

CONCLUSIONS

   Building your own models of aircraft or any other subject is great fun but may be more than some modellers want to do. If you do go down this road you must be patient as they take much longer than building OOB, but in my opinion they are much more satisfying and do not require many more skills than are required for super-detailing. If you do add extra detail to your models, it is not such a big step to start conversions and then go on to something as ambitious as this. This was my first advanced biplane conversion and was easier than I had anticipated. If you like early WW1 biplanes there is little option other than to build your own in this scale, but there is no doubt that they attract the attention of others.

REFERENCES

There is relatively little reference material on the early BE 2's. The best was the Profile publication no 133 BE 2, 2a and 2b, and there are some pictures on the internet.

S.W. Foster

February 2013

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