1/72 Riffard RM-1
KIT #:  
DECALS: Spares box
REVIEWER: Chris Peachment
NOTES: Scratch-built


I came across this weird beast while surfing the internet on a French website. My French is a little rusty, but from what I managed to glean, it was a proposal in 1917 for an interceptor to counter the Zeppelin menace. It would have been powered by 48 'fusees a poudre', which I take to mean powder rockets, or what perhaps were  fireworks. The man behind it, Marcel Riffard became famous 15 years later as the pilot for Caudron racers. The designer was Gabriel Mollard, a 19 year old with Breguet. It was named 'Torpilleur' and was armed with a one shot 150mm gun in the nose, which fired a torpedo, also rocket powered. It strangely prefigures later point defence fighters such as the Me 163, and the French SNCSO Trident.

The website listed below has some scale plans plus a scratch built version in 1/48. I decided to go for 1/72, partly because that is the scale of most of my aircraft, partly it would not need so much detailing in that scale, and, the clincher, I happened to have a fuel tank left over from an old Monogram B-52, which bit the dust about 5 years ago thanks to my cat taking a studied interest in it, and batting it about to see if was a large mouse. The fuel tank just happened to fit the nose on the 1/72 scale plan and so I felt the Gods were nudging me in the right direction.


After cutting the nose off the fuel tank with a razor saw, I then cast around for something in the spares box which would replicate the rear fuselage. Alas there was nothing, and so I was faced with the choice of laminating plastic card, then carving and sanding, or of moulding something from modelling clay. I chose the latter, some DAS from my local artists' store, because I had never tried it before. Once I had rolled out a sausage of the stuff, and put it on a piece of greaseproof paper, and rolled it some more to a cone shape, it set hard overnight. The larger end was measured to plug into the rear of the fuel tank, leaving a step for the rockets.

Alas, I have no vacuum moulding machine, and the best advice I can give anyone trying this is to use one of those, or else go for laminated plastic sheet. The clay is all very well, but even after repeated coats of Klear, it never reached a point where it would accept paint easily, without it flaking off during handling. Nor can you easily attach the plastic card tailplane. Stay with plastic. That is why our hobby is called plastic modelling. Not plastic with a bit of clay thrown in modelling.  

The wings came from the spares box, which is now so full that I am afraid I have no idea of which kit they came from. They were about the right size and length and only needed some careful trimming and sanding down here and there. It saves having to scratch build them, and you get the bonus of some ribs. 

The cockpit looks like something from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I can only assume that the diver's helmet look to it was designed with some form of early pressurisation in mind, though I can't imagine how it might have worked. I made the lower half from an old under-fuselage slipper fuel tank from a Polish PWS-26, which I will tell you about some other time. It was about the right shape, although once I had finished with the many layers of filler and sanding, I might just as well have scratch built it with card.

It sits on what looks like some sort of rubber sealing tube, rather like the padding around WWI open cockpits. which I replicated from plastic rod.

The upper wing is attached to the flattened roof of the cockpit fairing, and then another narrower fairing placed on top, made from half a small bomb from somewhere.

I tried to punch the portholes from plastic card, but didn't have a punch of small enough diameter, so settled for hand carving with a sharp scalpel. The deep cut to my left forefinger is still healing and makes me wince as I type this.  

Once the upper wing has dried, the lower wings can be offered up, glued in place and a couple of the faired struts made from card and slid into place. You now have quite a sturdy set-up for the front half. And I am amazed that more designers didn't follow this kind of layout for other WWI fighters. It seems stronger and more streamlined than most, though I would guess would have quite weight penalty.

I have no idea about rocket technology in those days. The artist's impression on the website has a nice piece of artwork depicting it going upstairs like a bat out of hell, with three rockets on each side lit up. My guess is that this would not be nearly enough to get it skywards, and anyway, you wouldn't want to risk one of them not firing up, and the consequent Catherine Wheel effect. Consequently I decided on a battery of rocket tubes, which would at least have lessened the effects of any one rocket failure.

After I had plugged in my clay rear fuselage, with a band carefully painted in flat silver as a blast area, I cut about 20 short lengths of hollow plastic tube, and attached them around the step in the fuselage join. Each was painted gunmetal. It doesn't agree with the website's artwork, but I can find no other reference to suggest that I have got it hopelessly wrong. The scale plans offer no clue.

I found one spare wheel and cut it in half, as the undercarriage was buried inside the fuselage, and then faired the two wheel halves in with spats, which I made from several laminations of plastic card, glued around the wheel, and carved to shape. They can be attached at the lower wing root, and faired in with a little filler.


 I made the tailplanes separately and kept them apart while I painted the beast. The website has a model in dark earth and dark green, which is certainly accurate for that period, but one which I can never take to, because it reminds me too much of RAF machine of WWII. It never looks quite happy to my eye on a WWI machine.

So I settled on a five colour scheme I had used for a later 1/48 Morane-Saulnier A-1 from Special Hobby. The colours were Italian Mimetic Green 2 and Italian Dark Olive 2, both from the Lifecolor range, Chocolate Brown from Vallejo, Sand from any range at all, and finally a couple of areas in black. Black is a colour I never use in camouflage because I is too stark, and leaves you with no place to go. I prefer to use a very dark grey, in this case German Black Grey from Vallejo. NATO black from Tamiya or Extra Dark Sea Grey can work just as well.


Once all that was done, the tailplanes were stuck in place using superglue and it only took an evening of cursing my choice of clay to get it done. The tail struts were made from plastic aerofoil rod. And the skid from a length of wide diameter electric copper cable bent to shape with needle nosed pliers.

A quick coat of clear, and I applied the decals from the spares box, including a nifty little stork in a blue diamond for the fuselage. The French always did have the most beautiful artwork on the sides of their aircraft. That Morane-Saulnier I mentioned has a yellow square with a pair of blue swallows on it, and they were  the main reason I built it as they look just gorgeous.

A coat of flat varnish before the two final steps. The portholes were glazed using some clear adhesive tape (Sellotape), careful cut around with a new blade and which then pulled some of the paint off. Nothing that couldn't be touched up however. And finally the two rigging wires each side, made from elastic mending thread, coloured silver with a gel pen and attached with small drops of superglue applied with a toothpick.


 Voila, one fearsome rocket plane from WWI which no sane pilot would ever go near.  We have become used to seeing models of all kinds of prototypes and paper projects, but they usually don't date from before Luftwaffe '46. Try this one if you have some scratch building technique under your belt and a good spares box before you.

Aside from that 1/48 machine on the French website, I would like to bet there aren't many others out there.


 http://modelscale.free.fr/analyses/MS2003_4P/SCRH_RM1/ will provide you with all you need, including some scale plans.

And my thanks to JC Carbonel, whose excellent website it is , and which provided me with the inspiration.

http://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/aircraft/57365-riffard-rm-1-rdp-rocket-biplane.html is just about the only other reference I can find to it.

Chris Peachment

November 2013

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