Wingnut Wings 1/32 SE.5a (Hisso)

KIT #: 32003
PRICE: $59.00 includes shipping 
DECALS: Five options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


            The first successful fighter designed by the great British aircraft designer H.P. Folland, the first prototype of the Royal Aircraft Factory Scout (Experimental) 5 flew on November 22, 1916.  With a top speed of 138 m.p.h., it matched the SPAD XIII as the fastest fighter of the war.

            Together with the Sopwith Camel, the S.E.5a was responsible for restoring British air superiority over the Western Front following the disaster of “Bloody April” 1917, and for maintaining that superiority for the rest of the war.

            The main shortcoming of the airplane was its engine.  The original 150 h.p. Hispano-Suiza 8A V-8 provided insufficient power for Western Front combat by May 1917 when the aircraft was introduced by 56 Squadron.  Only 77 S.E.5s powered by this engine were produced before the geared-drive 200 h.p. H.S.8B engine was installed, with the airplane becoming known thereafter as the S.E.5a.  5,265 were built by six manufacturers: Austin Motors (1,650), Air Navigation and Engineering Company (560), Curtiss (1), Martinsyde (258), the Royal Aircraft Factory (200), Vickers (2,164) and Wolseley Motor Company (431).  There were plans for Curtiss to build 1,000 S.E.5s in the United States but only one was completed before the end of the war.

            The dependence on the Hispano-Suiza engine and its derivative, the Wolseley Viper, almost led to the abandonment of the airplane, due to the engine having been rushed into production before being fully developed and tested.  A whole host of problems afflicted the engine, the worst of which was inadequately hardened gears in the reduction box, which frequently led to sudden seizure and loss of the propeller; the effect of such an unreliable engine on pilot morale can be imagined.  There were additional problems with the cooling system, fuel and oil pipes, carburetor, oil pump, and crankshaft.  These were only remedied in 1918, with the adoption of the direct-drive Wolseley Viper as the preferred engine. Additionally, the original steel tube undercarriage was weak and prone to collapse, leading to replacement by a reinforced wooden landing gear. 

            Once the engine problems were ironed out, the S.e.5a was a dependable and highly effective fighter that was far less dangerous to fly than the Camel.  Using tactics that relied on speed, high altitude performance, and its stability as a gun platform, the aircraft became the mount of many famous Aces and was popular with novice and experienced pilots alike.  

James T.B. McCudden 

            James T.B. McCudden was the most highly decorated British flyer of the Great War, with six British and one French medal for his achievements, including the Victoria Cross, the highest British award for valor.  With 57 victories at the time of his death in 1918, he was the seventh-ranked ace of the Great War.

            Having joined the Royal Flying Corps as an Air Mechanic in 1913 after getting a ride in an early Farman, the working class McCudden rose through the ranks on sheer ability to achieve the rank of Major, a feat largely unheard-of in the class-conscious British military.

            Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, McCudden went to France as a mechanic with No. 3 Squadron, where he was allowed to fly as an observer over the next few months.  Having volunteered for flight training, he returned to England in January 1916 and learned to fly at Gosport, where he obtained his pilot's license in April.  Assigned to No. 20 Squadron as an NCO in June 1916, he flew the F.E.2b.  A month after this assignment, he was transferred to 29 Squadron flying D.H.2s. He shot down his first enemy aircraft on September 6, 1916, which was confirmed three days later by an Allied agent behind the German lines.

            On December 27, 1916, Sgt McCudden and several other 29 Squadron pilot encountered Jasta 2 and Leutnant Manfred von Richthofen in a prolonged dogfight in which von Richthofen  claimed a “pusher,” which appears to have been McCudden’s airplane.  None of the 300 bullets fired by the Red Baron hit McCudden's machine and he returned safely to base 

            In February, 1917, McCudden returned to England, having claimed 5 victories and being awarded the Military Medal,  been granted a commission and awarded the Military Cross.

            Assigned to Home Defense flying the Sopwith Pup with 66 Squadron, McCudden was the only pilot of an intercepting force of 95 sent up against a Gotha daylight raid on July 17, 1917, to engage the enemy though he was unsuccessful in shooting down any.

            In August 1917, McCudden was assigned to 56 Squadron as a flight commander.  The new S.E.5a was presenting many mechanical problems.  A true “Working Class Hero,” McCudden’s mechanical expertise was instrumental in helping to solve the engine problem through improved maintenance. 

            He was a master of tactics, and a good teacher of what he learned to the members of his flight, having scored 9 victories in his first month with 56.  McCudden’s abilities as a tactician and aerial leader were never more on display than on September 23, 1917, when he and his flight engaged in an epic dogfight with German ace Werner Voss in a new Fokker Triplane.  McCudden described this battle in his memoir “Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps”:

“The Hun triplane was practically underneath our formation now, and so down we dived at a colossal speed. I went to the right, Rhys‑Davids to the left, and we got behind the triplane together. The German pilot saw us and turned in a most disconcertingly quick manner, not a climbing nor Immelmann turn, but a sort of flat half spin. By now the German triplane was in the middle of our formation, and its handling was wonderful to behold. The pilot seemed to be firing at all of us simultaneously, and although I got behind him a second time, I could hardly stay there for a second. His movements were so quick and uncertain that none of us could hold him in sight at all for any decisive time...

“As long as I live I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single‑handed fought seven of us for ten minutes, and also put some bullets through all of our machines. His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent, and in my opinion he is the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight.”

            Following the battle with Voss, McCudden received a new S.E.5a, B4891, on which he used his extensive mechanical knowledge to improve the engine, giving it special high-compression pistons and supervising a meticulous rebuild which gave the airplane an additional 4,000 feet of combat ceiling.  With this advantage he began going after high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.  Between September 1917 and his return to England in March 1918, McCudden shot down 21 of these difficult targets, an achievement no other Allied fighter pilot came close to, of the 32 victories scored in this machine.  B4891 was the most successful single S.E.5a of the war.

            British policy after the death of Albert Ball had been not to publicize the achievements of individual pilots.  This changed in December 1917, when Lord Northcliffe was placed in charge of the Ministry of Information.  With flyers’ exploits now publicized, McCudden was awarded the Victoria Cross in March 1918.  He was so publicity-shy that he neglected to tell his own family he had received the award from King George V.

            Promoted to Major upon receiving the VC, with a score of 57 victories, McCudden was given assignments in England to speak in public, which he detested.  He campaigned to return to the front, and was set to be given command of 85 Squadron when he was turned down for lack of a public school education (the English class system strikes again!).

            Finally accepted for command of 60 Squadron in July 1918, McCudden collected a factory-new S.E.5a on July 8 and flew to Kent to spend the night with his family. Following breakfast with his sister, he crossed the Channel on July 9 and landed at Auxi‑le‑Château, France, to ask directions.  His engine failed on takeoff, possibly due to a wrongly installed carburetor, and McCudden crashed.  He was found at the crash site with severe multiple injuries, including a fractured jaw. Taken to a nearby hospital, he died two hours later without regaining consciousness. 

            Unlike many of his fellow Empire aces (most notably “top scorer” Billy Bishop), all of McCudden’s claims have been verified from Allied and German sources.  He actually may be the top scoring RFC/RNAS/RAF pilot of the Great War, and thus the top British flying ace of all time, with Raymond Collishaw his nearest competitor in fully-verified claims.       


            Wingnut Wings S.E.5a (Hisso) was one of the first four kits released by the company in 2009.  The kit comprises 132 injection-molded parts in grey plastic on four sprues, a sprue of clear parts and a 7-part photoetch fret including the seat belts.  Cartograf decals are provided for five aircraft.

            Pheon Decals also provides an excellent decal sheet, 32004, “S.E.5a (Hispano) Aces in France” that has better color for the national insignia, and includes markings for both of McCudden’s S.e.5as, B4863, the airplane he flew against Voss, and B4891, the airplane in which he achieved 32 of his 57 victories.

            True Details provides a resin set that allows a modeler to build the highly-modified B4891 with its reinforced cockpit, as well as a very nice resin figure of McCudden.  Sadly, True Details gets it wrong as to which airplane used this modification, stating it should be used on B4863 and providing decals for that specific airplane.  Pheon did better research, and has the markings for B4891, which differ from the earlier B4863.  If a modeler wants to do the “Voss airplane,” these individual markings can be used or the markings provided on the Pheon sheet.


             As is the case with all WNW kits, if one follows the instructions, one will be rewarded with an excellent model in the end.

            There are however, two “quirks” to this kit that are not specifically dealt with in the instructions.

            The first quirk involves the engine.  If you build the model per the instructions, you will have an open engine display.  If you want to build the model as a “curbside” without displaying the engine, as I chose to do, you must modify the engine assembly sequence.

            First, assemble the upper engine cowling, with the fairings fore and aft of the cylinder heads.  Then cut off the attachment pegs on the bottom of each cylinder head.  Then insert the cylinder heads into the upper cowling, so they fit inside the fairings. 

            The rest of the engine should be assembled and put into position in the forward fuselage.  Attach the assembled radiator to the front of the fuselage.  Then attach the upper engine cowling, which will require some pushing and shoving to get it fully into position.

            The other quirk involves attachment of the upper wing.  The locating holes for the cabane struts are nice and deep.  I found that if you attach the cabane struts to the upper wing first, rather than to the fuselage first as the instructions would have you do, you get a much better and easier fit.  The attachment holes in the wings for the interplane struts are also nice and deep on the lower wing.  Attach the interplane struts to the lower wing.  Then put the upper wing in position and glue the cabane struts to the fuselage.  Follow this up by slipping the interplane struts into the holes in the upper wing, and you will have a nice strong fit. 

            If you choose to do the McCudden airplane with the True Details resin cockpit cowling, cut it and test fit carefully. You need to thin down the area at the rear of the cowling so it is as thin as the original plastic part, which allows it to fit to the fuselage without any need of gap filler other than running some cyanoacrylate glue in the joints.  I also used the Pheon resin replacement vertical fin and rudder, which provide rib detail missing from the kit parts.               

            Other than that, follow the instructions.  I used the full Sutton harness from the Eduard S.E.5a detail set that was used on some S.E.5as during the war, on the belief McCudden would have equipped himself with the best gear for this special airplane.  I did not use the Eduard instruments, because with the built-up cockpit sides you cannot see the instrument panel all that well.  I will save them for another S.E.5a with the standard cockpit.

            Once the fuselage, lower wing and tail assembly were finished and set up, it was time for painting.


            I first “pre-shaded” the model with flat black in the areas between the ribs, and around the folds and crimps in the fuselage fabric.  I used thinned Tamiya “Buff” for the lower CDL color.  It appears that airplanes built at the Royal Aircraft Factory, as this was, used a “correct” P.C.10 color, which would have been very close to RAF Dark Green.  I used Tamiya’s new “RAF Dark Green” for this, though it shows up as a more khaki-brown color in the accompanying photographs.  I finished off with a coat of Xtracrylix “Satin” clear coat.

             I used the Pheon decals which went on without the slightest difficulty with a coat of Micro-Sol.


             While attempting to put on the upper wing, I stumbled on the idea that the cabane struts would work more easily attached to the wing first, so I unfastened them from the fuselage, and attached them to the wings.  With the interplane struts attached to the lower wing, assembly of the upper wing was much less fiddly than it would have been, with a stronger set-up in the end.

             The complex rigging was done with .010 brass wire, painted Semi-Gloss Black.

             The special LVG prop spinner McCudden used on his airplane was scratchbuilt using a 1/32 500-lb bomb from the spares box.


             I’ve built a fair number of S.E.5as over the years (as I recall, the first Aurora WW1 kit I built was the S.E.5a, over 50 years ago).  This kit is superior to the Roden 1/32 kit in terms of overall detail quality, though I like the more understated fabric effect on the wings and tail of the Roden kit.  I think it’s the best S.E.5a kit in any scale and can be recommended to those modelers with several WWI models completed, due to the complex rigging.  The model looks great sitting next to my Sopwith Pup, Tripehound and Camel.

Tom Cleaver

October 2011

 Thanks to Wingnut Wings for the review sample.  Order yours at

 Pheon decals courtesy of Pheon Decals.  Order yours at

 True Details cockpit set courtesy of Squadron Products via your Editor.

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