Amodel 1/72 SPAD A-2
KIT #: 7260
PRICE: £10.60
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Stephen Foster
NOTES: Some small parts break easily


    The advent of powered flight offered the opportunity for observers to fly over enemy territory and report back on the activities going on behind the opponents front lines. It was with this idea in mind that the earliest military machines were designed. Thus the Vickers FB 5, Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b, DFW B1 ďMarsĒ and Albatros B1 etc were designed primarily as reconnaissance machines: that they could be armed was a secondary consideration. The importance of giving the observer a clear field of view meant that the Vickers and RAF machines placed the observer in front of the pilot in a pusher layout: a similar idea seems to have been in mind when plans were sketched for what later became the SPAD A2, but in this case the pilot sat behind a tractor engine and the observer was placed in a basket which was attached to the airframe in front of the propellor. Later the R.A.F. experimented with a similar layout when the y designed the BE 9, which was a BE 2c with the observerís cockpit deleted, the engine put back and a basket placed for the observer in front of the propellor. In the case of the Vickers FB 5 and FE 2b it was decided at an early stage that these machines could be armed with a machine gun or rifle for defence: they were not intended to be fighters as the concept only evolved slowly in 1915.
   The SPAD A1 was first flown in May 1915 and the idea of mounting a machine gun in the observerís basket seems to have been a bit of an afterthought. It was powered by an 80 hp Le Rhone 9C rotary engine and the observerís basket was attached to the undercarriage legs via pivoted lugs and a pair of struts which were braced to the leading edge of the top wing and a gallows form vertical strut behind the observer. There was a wire guard behind the observer to protect him from the propellor in flight. The SPAD A2 had a more powerfiul 110 hp Le Rhone engine, although because this tended to spill more oil than the 80hp engines, some A2ís may have had the latter engine fitted. The SPAD A4 was a slightly modified variant which was sold in small numbers to the Imperial Russian Air Force.
   SPAD A2ís were sent to French units on the Western Front where they were not popular with aircrews. They were reportedly fairly easy to fly but could be nose heavy on landing, or could nose over if a heavy landing was made or the ground was particularly uneven. The consequences were frequently fatal for the observer in such cases. There was also a tendency for these machines to break up in the air because of the poor quality control in the manufacturing process. Although they were offered to the RFC they were turned down on grounds of safety. American personnel serving with French squadrons also refused to fly in these machines, something their less fortunate French colleagues could not do. 

  The kit is moulded in a softish white plastic. The struts and smaller parts associated with the gun mounting and undercarriage are very thin and delicate and are easily damaged or broken. Even though I took great care to remove these parts from the sprue I managed to break several pieces. In fact I found it easier to replace some of these parts with Evergreen strip. The transfers are for one option and were printed well and although the tail markings were too large, I still used them as I did not have suitable replacements. The instructions are on a double sided A4 sheet with a brief history in English and Russian.
   Assembly starts with the basket or pulpit at the front, followed by the fuselage halves. The cockpit interior is very basic and only has a pilotís seat and some internal structure moulded to the fuselage sides. In view of the fact that very little of the interior can be seen on the completed model this probably does not matter too much.
The engine is well moulded in two parts: the cylinders fit to the fuselage nose via a pin. The one-piece push rod assembly fits on to the front of the cylinders and is held in place by a bracket and the propellor. I added the triangular bracing at the bottom of the engine bracket and the distinctive side vents in front of the nacelle after the undercarriage legs and panels had been glued to the fuselage sides. The tail unit was fixed simply and the lower wings slot into the sides of the fuselage well.  A small amount of filler was needed on the fuselage and wing joints.
   I paint my biplanes before I attach the top wing because it makes access to all parts much easier. I used a mixture of Humbrol clear doped linen with a small amount of light brown for the body of the model, light grey for the tyres, axle and engine bracket, aluminium for the gun ring and mount, and Revell SM 382 tan for the struts and undercarriage legs. The markings were also put on at this stage.

    The cabane and wing struts were glued to the lower wing and while the glue was still soft the upper wing was lowered and cemented in place. The assembly was allowed to dry out thoroughly before I fixed the propellor and pulpit to the nose. Finally the wheels and gun mount were put in place, the latter with some difficulty as the parts were very delicate. The wire guard behind the observerís cockpit was made from rolled copper wire. The model was rigged with rolled copper wire held with CA.

   This builds into a good replica of an unusual type, but it is not a kit for the heavy handed or inexperienced modeller as some of the parts are very delicate and break easily. On the other hand the fit of parts is generally good and the level of detail, especially the engine, is very good. With a few minor additions this can be built into a very acceptable model of an interesting type which represents a cut de sac in early aviation.

Windsock Mini Datafile No 4: SPAD S.A-2/S.A-4, J. M. Bruce 1996. Albatros Productions Ltd.  

Stephen Foster

3 August 2021

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