Roden 1/72 SE.5A




$9.98 MSRP ($8.96 at Squadron)


Four options: RFC Aces Beauchamp-Proctor, Claxton, Mannock, and Bishop


Clarence Wentzel




History: April of 1917 was called Bloody April.  During that month, the RFC attempted to fly head to head with the German Jastas despite inferior equipment and poor pilot training.  The results were that the RFC lost a third of its fighter force and the flying life expectancy of an English pilot was 17½ hours. "Bloody April" forced the British to revise their approach to aerial combat, as the Germans had done the year before. It had now been proven that well-trained pilots flying the best planes were more important than numerical superiority. Britain rushed to organize pilot training schools with experienced veterans as instructors. The students were taught using James McCudden’s “Notes on Aeroplane Fighting in Single-Seated Scouts” and “Fighting in the Air”.  Newer and better aircraft were also in the pipeline including the Sopwith Camel and the Royal Aircraft Factory designed S.E.5. 

The S.E.5a proved to be one of the most successful aircraft used by the RFC.  It was designed for functional instead of aesthetic purposes.  It was angular looking but was fast, strong, easy to fly and a study gun platform.  The initial model S.E.5 was powered by the 150 hp Hispano Suiza engine that was unreliable and made the aircraft under powered.  With the installation of the 200 hp Wolseley Viper, an upgraded license built version of the Hispano, the S.E.5a came into it’s full potential.  The S.E.5a eventually served with twenty-five RFC/RAF Squadrons; Fifteen on the Western Front, three in Macedonia, two in Palestine, one in Mesopotamia and four Home Defense Squadrons.  It’s greatest achievements were in France where it was the mount for many of the well-known aces.


Revell, Renwal and ESCI among others have offered the S.E.5a in 1/72 scale in the past.  The Revell kit was generally accurate but many of the important features such as the exhaust pipes were molded in place.  It is time for a new, modern kit of this important aircraft.  Following their successes with a number of significant WW I aircraft such as the Albatros and D.VII series, Roden have added a modern kit of the S.E.5a.  The kit consists of two main sprues, a third smaller sprue with the nose/engine parts unique to the Wolseley Viper, a clear sheet with different windshields and the decal sheet.  An eight-page instruction sheet is included.  The kit really does a great job of depicting the canvas-covered surfaces of the S.E.5a.  The key word here is subtle.  No troughs between the wing ribs, no heavy pseudo-fabric patterns on the surfaces, just a smooth, subtle portrayal of the underlying structures.


 As with their other lines, Roden have engineered the S.E.5a kit so that a number of different versions can eventually be provided.  For example, three different fuselage top covers are provided, two different landing struts and two different horizontal stabilizers.  Also, the headrest is provided as a separate part.  Starting assembly with the fuselage, care must be taken because the fuselage sides are very thin and not too rigid until the nose parts are assembled.  Be careful to get them aligned properly.  The cockpit interior is well done except that the seat looked pretty basic.  I substituted a PE seat and some lead foil belts to improve the appearance. As I got to the nose of the fuselage, I had some trouble with part 1D, the nose underside and with part 5D, the radiator.  The underside part is difficult to position because it mounts to the sides with beveled surfaces.  Use care with these parts.  The nose part required the removal of the four mounting bumps from the backside to make the part fit in place.  I also drilled out the intake hole in the Nose Radiator.  The other modification that I made to the fuselage relates to part 6A. You need to remove the breech cover from the top of this part.  It is only used on American planes (see photo on page 41 of the Squadron Signal book).  It appears that the shape of the radiator is slightly wrong.  The slats on the radiators appear to be too narrow and set too deep.  I didn’t bother trying to fix this item.

Wings:  The upper and lower wings are one-piece.  Unfortunately, the top wing of my kit featured a different amount of dihedral on each side.  I lightly bent the offending panel to get the angles right.  I had the hardest time figuring out how to mount the top wing.  Many biplanes have some sort of a triangular structure to locate the top wing relative to the fuselage and lower wing or else the manufacturer provides some built-in assistance.  With the S.E.5, both the interplane and cabane struts are parallelograms.  I tried two or three methods to mount the top wing that didn’t work.  Finally, I made small templates that could be used to set the interplane struts at the proper angle relative to the bottom of the fuselage.  Once the four struts were dry, the top wing could be mounted in the proper location.  When this was complete, the interplane struts were added.


 I used Testors Model Master 2709, light Ivory for the undersurfaces and 1787 Green Drab for the upper surfaces.  This seemed similar to the dark PC-10E color that would have been used on the SE-5 at this time.  The Roden kit provides the markings of four of the leading RFC aces.  I chose to model the airplane of Billie Bishop, the RFC leading ace, while he was with the 85 squadron.  A good photo of the aircraft is shown on page 33 of the Squadron Signal “S.E.5a in Action”.  It is one of the few photos showing upper wing markings.  The Roundels on the upper surface of the top wing and on the fuselage side featured a thin white surround.  The Roden decal sheet includes these markings but the outer surround was too narrow and was out of register. I substituted the kit decals in these areas with decals from Americal/Gryphon sheet number 143 – “No. 56 Squadron RFC/RAF, 1917-18”.  This sheet featured the correct white outer surround and was in register.  I used the kit decals for the rest of the markings.  I painted the tires with a mixture of gray and brown in order to reproduce the slightly brownish tinge of rubber from that era.  I painted the prop with a base coat of 1735 Wood, cut strips of tape to mask the different laminas and then sprayed 1736 leather.  I then finished the prop with a coat of Future.


 With most biplanes, the modeler has to make some decisions regarding the sequence of the assembly process.  I assembled the fuselage-lower wing-stabilizer and then completely painted the model and applied the decals before the assembly of the top wing.  I also added some wash to the control surfaces that I had set at slight angles.  In retrospect, I should also have mounted the exhaust pipes, fuselage gun and telescope at this time.  Once the tip wing was mounted, I added the landing gear and then started the rigging.  I use .006 dia. stainless steel wire for rigging.  I cut each piece to the proper length, apply a small drop of CA glue to the mounting locations and then carefully position the wire in place while holding my breath.  The S.E.5 featured very prominent control horns on each of the flying controls.  These are not included with the kit so PE parts were added and the control actuation wires installed.  Once all of the rigging was complete, a final coat of transparent flat acrylic paint was sprayed over the model.  This makes the model look more realistic and covers any shiny spots from the CA glue.  Finally, the windshield and the window over the instrument panel are added.


I am pleased with the final results.  I believe that the model accurately reflects the angular looks of the S.E.5.  The kit would be better if the various mounting locations were better defined and more mounting pins were included but it can be built by most slightly experienced modelers. A big thanks to Scott for letting me build this interesting new kit and I apologize for procrastinating so long (it was the top wing).

Clarence Wentzel

November 2003


S.E.5a in Action by John F. Connors – Squadron Signal Publications Number 69.

 S.E.5a by J. M. Bruce – Profile Publications Number 1

High in the Empty Blue – History of 56 Squadron by Alex Revell – Flying Machines Press – lots of good photos..

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