KIT: Roden 1/48 SE.5a (Hispano Suiza)
KIT #: 419
PRICE: $19.98 (17.96 at Squadron)
DECALS: Six options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken

In the Spring of 1917 the RFC received a new fighter, the RAF S.E.5. This fighter had potentially very good fighting capability, which was successfully realized by one of the Empire's best aces, Albert Ball, in numerous air duels with the adversary's planes. The only significant disadvantage of this plane was its Hispano Suiza V8 engine whose 150 h.p. was insufficient. This engine was being produced in France and required further improvement. The situation changed shortly after the appearance of Hispano Suiza's 200 h.p. engine, a powerplant which could offer the plane significant improvement.

By the end of May in the same year, the third prototype of the S.E.5 with the new engine conducted its first flight. This plane was very similar to its predecessor, however, a few differences still existed: a four-bladed propeller appeared, the keel fuel tank was now installed in the middle of the center section, adjustable radiator shutters were added, the shape of the exhaust manifolds changed, and the huge windscreen was replaced by a regular one.

The first test flights proved preliminary expectations to be justified: speed increased by 29 km/h, and climbing time to 5000 m was cut in half. The Royal Aircraft Factory started the mass production of the S.E.5a at its plant in Farnborough even before the test flights were over. Besides that, seven subcontractor firms received major orders to build the type.

56 Squadron of the RFC was the first to receive the S.E.5a in 1917. The unit that had successfully flown the 'regular' S.E.5, welcomed the new modification of this plane. During its service some insignificant drawbacks were discovered. For instance, the landing gears turned out to be not strong enough. Initially they were made of thin steel tubes, as on the previous aircraft. However, due to the fact that the plane's weight had increased, their structure was soon over-stressed. Later build planes had strong thick wooden landing gears.

The engine still continued to be the major problem for the S.E.5a; French plants were building it in insufficient quantities. Moreover, the quality of production was still unsatisfactory. As a result, the engine frequently failed during the flight. Sometimes, such failures led to fatal accidents.

The British Military Command tried to solve this problem by purchasing a license for the production of the Hispano Suiza: the engine now went by the name of Wolseley Adder. However, this engine also did not meet expectations because it inherited all the negative features of its predecessor. A very small number of S.E.5a's had this engine. The situation changed only after the appearance of the new Wolseley Viper engine whose design was based on the Hispano Suiza, but with all the Hispano Suiza's drawbacks eliminated. Quite a few planes with Hispano Suiza engines that arrived at maintenance units had the Hispano Suiza engine substituted with a new one. However, a significant number of S.E.5a's fitted with the Hispano Suiza remained in service until the end of the Great War.

Thanks to for the historical background.


By now most of us have realized that Roden is here to stay. They have found a place in the modeling community and a method of producing and choosing subjects that have not only enthusiast interest, but a lot of staying power. This latest SE.5a kit is a great example of that. When Roden designs a kit, they generally do but a single set of sprues. Then they either include the bits for all variants in the box or (as they did in the past) provide those additional parts needed to a base set of sprues.

With the SE.5 series, they've chosen to put everything on two sprues. This means a plethora of options and some parts that are not used. The molding on these parts is as good as you'll find almost anywhere. The fabric representations are especially good as they look as prototypical as any I've ever seen. No 'hills and valleys', but nice, taught fabric on these. The parts themselves are well detailed and relatively free from flash, major sink areas and embarrassing ejector pin marks. I did find a tiny bit of flash on a prop or two and there are a couple of sink areas found on the lower front fuselage, but by and large, it is a pretty clean mold. A small acetate sheet with four different windscreen shapes is included

You'll find three different cockpit sections, four different props, two different engine covers, two different radiators, as well as optional bits such as a head rest and bombs. Many of these bits are completely dependent on which aircraft is being modeled as WWI aircraft were not as uniformly produced as one would find nowadays. A dozen different makers of a design would often find differences in details and even in engines used.

This is all detailed in the instructions. They are very well done with clear construction sequences that differentiate between the optional bits when time comes to attach them. The instructions also provide color references in Humbrol and generic names. A well-drawn rigging diagram is provided, a necessary addition as the SE.5a had quite a bit of it. Markings are provided for six aircraft, five of them in Matte WWI Green over linen. These planes are from 56 Sq (two options), 143 Sq, 60 Sq, and 111 Sq. These planes have geometric patterns on the rear fuselage and the 143 Sq had night insignia. The real interesting camo (as was seen on the Sopwith Salamander) is the 40 Sq option. This is a disruptive scheme of Matte Light Earth and Matte Chocolate over the standard Green shade. The decal sheet is large and very well printed. Judging from the sheet I used with the 1/32 Dr.I, this sheet should work just great, but the white may be a bit transparent so some backing is suggested for the disruptive camo scheme.


This is another really fine Roden WWI kit. Roden is fast becoming a major player in the production of WWI models for the enthusiast. One can only hope that not only will this continue, but that we'll be seeing some of these enlarged to 1/32 scale.

July 2005

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