Eastern Express 1/72 Sikorsky S-16

KIT #: 72218
PRICE: 5 here in the UK
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Chris Peachment
NOTES: Injection molded kit

HISTORY

The Sikorsky S-16 (designed by Igor Sikorsky) was also known as the RBVZ  S-16 (its manufacturer). It was a Russian single-bay biplane designed in 1914-15, and conceived in response to demand for an escort fighter of Sikorsky's giant Ilya Muromets bombers. It was one of the first aircraft to have synchronisation gear for the single machine gun. It was completed on 6 February 1915 with an 80hp engine instead of the intended 100hp, because of supply problems. On 17 December 1915, the Russian government placed an order for 18, and they were delivered in early 1916.

Although highly manoeuverable, which is something you would guess from it appearance, the S-XVI was dogged by poor performance due to the low horsepower engine. A further batch were completed in 1917, and the aircraft was used during the Revolution, staying in service until 1923.

THE KIT

 made this kit after completing Sikorsky's Le Grand Vityaz, a forerunner of his Ilya Muromets bombers, for two reason. Firstly it would make a nice companion, its dainty shape and size complementing the Russian giant nicely. And secondly to restore my sanity after spending four months scratch building the bomber. We have become used to kits from Russia, with their crude struts of two by four timber and the poor fit of the parts. But this kit is very well moulded, and reproduces the delicacy of the original. It also falls together with few problems.

CONSTRUCTION

Construction began as usual with the interior, and this is all nicely moulded with a floor that fits well for once, a seat, a control column with a wheel, whose spokes need opening up a little, and an instrument panel, with no dials or decals for it. But photos on websites listed below show that it only had one dial. I imagine this was the airspeed indicator, since most pilots would opt to save this out of all the instruments. No matter, it was painted with a large blob of black paint, and a smaller white one inside it, and that will do since it can hardly be sen. The rest of the cockpit is a medium brown.

Once the fuselage is closed, I did what I usually do with biplanes and apply paint to the wings and fuselage separately. The cowl and forward part of the fuselage need a quick blast of silver, Humbrol 11 in a rattle can in this case, masked off once dry and all of the rest is clear doped linen. I usually use  Vallejo buff or beige. The rib detailing is good enough to stand out on its own. 

The only fit problem now occurs which is the lower wing, which is one piece, joined by a large square, which fits below the fuselage. Why they didn't have the wings separate I do not know, because the fit is not good. After much cutting and filing, the gaps were still evident, and I was faced with a task which I hate, which is sanding wing root joints. Instead I put a fairly thick layer of filler all around the inside butt edges of the fuselage, then squashed the lower wing into place. What then happens is that you get a sausage of filler oozing out from the joints. Leave this dry for while, though not to set. It can then be sliced off cleanly with a scalpel blade, leaving a filled and level joint. A few swipes with a rat tailed file, and then some fine sanding finished the job.

The struts are a good shape and size, and I painted them medium brown, and didn't this time use Tamiya clear orange on them, as pictures suggest they were weren't  varnished. They do have pale grey bandages around them, and these are best painted by hand.  I tried masking them, but it proved impossible, with paint bleed occurring all of the place. And so I did them free hand with a very fine brush, of only a few hairs, which I had cut down from an already small brush. Notice that the pictures show struts to have varying numbers of the bandages, some two, some three. The choice is yours.

The struts were duly glued to the lower wing, then offered up to the upper wings, and there were no problems with length. Once all dried, rigging can commence, with my usual method of elastic thread, coloured silver with a gel felt tip pen, then anchored with small drops of superglue gel applied with a fine toothpick. Not that there is not rigging in between the cabane struts, which makes life that little bit easier. After rigging the Sikorsky Le Grand, this one was a day at the beach.

Aside from the lower wing joint, the other feature which lets this kit down are the four wheels, which are moulded in clear plastic, with the struts showing on the clear disc in the centre.

I never know what to do about this abomination. Clear discs just won't do. And any etched wheels I have encountered have two problems. One, like all etch they are two dimensional, and so the spokes are flat rather than tubular. And two, it is impossible to dish them properly, without getting a wavy rim. If any reader has a solution I would dearly love to hear it.

There was a get-out-of-jail card here though, in the shape of some skis.

I always like aircraft on skis, for the same reason as I like floats. They ring the changes a little and have a good aesthetic appeal.  The undercarriage struts are very delicate and need careful handling, especially when it comes to removing the sprue attachments. But they all fit nicely and once dried presented no problems for further rigging. I painted them first with gunmetal, since the pictures suggest they were left unpainted. Note too, that there are a couple of wires running from the front of the skis upwards to an attachment point on the struts. These would be to secure the skis in flight and stop them undulating. When on the ground, they seem to be loose rather than taut.

The engine was painted matt black with gunmetal dry brushing, then slid into place under the cowl. Tail struts, all of them admirably thin with hardly any seams, and tail skid were then glued in place.

Just to add a little finesse, I cut four control horns from scrap plastic, glued them to the elevators, painted them dark brown and attached wires from points on the fuselage. It is fiddly and I needed two pairs of reading glasses and a steady hand.

The single machine gun was painted black with gunmetal dry brushing again. It was poked and prodded into place next to the port cabane, and glued. Then the spent cartridge collection tube was added after being painted gunmetal.

Decals are the usual Russian effort, and need careful trimming to get rid of carrier film first. They went on without trouble however, which was a surprise. Finally the propeller, which out of habit, I always leave till last. Like the skis I painted it a darker shade of brown, with a few grains done in even darker brown, and a final coat of Tamiya Clear Orange. The boss was gunmetal and once glued in place...


CONCLUSIONS

  you have a very neat little Russian fighter of compact size with nice lines, which looks small but pugnacious. I will always bet on the good little'un in a fight. It is cheap, good value for money, a perfect biplane for those who fear rigging, because there is so little of it, and a nice addition to any fighter collection.

As to rigging fear, there is no need for it. Like diving off the high board, you only have to do a lot of it, before it becomes easy. Any fear can be overcome by confronting it. Except for crocodiles and snakes, and there are good reasons to be afraid of those. So get cracking, practice on something cheap and easy, and in less than six months you will wonder why it ever bothered you. You can then beat your chest and embark on that Pemberton-Billing Nighthawk you have always wanted to scratch build. Visit this link if you have never heard of it. 

I liked this little beast so much, I went back to the shop and bought two Red Star kits of the Anatra Anasal, another Russian WWI fighter. And I now have a narrow-eyed plan to combine them into one aircraft no one has ever heard of. And that is a story for another time.

REFERENCES

There are no surviving aircraft but there is a very nice non-flying replica listed below, at the New England Air Museum, whose skin seems to be a creamier colour, less yellow than mine.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sikorsky_S-16_(2835372050).jpg

http://www.wwi-models.org/1/Photos/Ira/S16/index.html

The detail on the above is excellent, especially the cockpit. http://www.aviastar.org/air/russia/sik_s-16.php

Chris Peachment

March 2014

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