Wingnut Wings 1/32 Sopwith Triplane
KIT #: 32008
PRICE: $69.00 includes shipping
DECALS: Five options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


            The Sopwith Triplane ‑ known to its Royal Naval Air Service pilots as the “Tripehound” ‑ was developed from the biplane Pup in late 1916.  The purpose of the triplane configuration was to maximize pilot view with narrow‑chord wings and maximize maneuverability by increasing wing area without increasing wingspan.  The result was a supremely maneuverable single‑seat scout that had such a profound effect on its opponents that they paid it the ultimate compliment of copying it ‑ directing all German aircraft manufacturers to submit designs for triplane fighters within weeks of the appearance of the Tripehound over the Western Front in the Spring of 1917.  The Triplane was generally about 15 m.p.h. faster than the Albatros D.III and could easily outclimb its opponent; if the German chose to attack, the Triplane could out‑turn the Albatros quickly, then outclimb it, thus allowing the RNAS pilot to choose his moment of attack. 

      Flown by such famous RNAS pilots as the Canadian Raymond Collishaw,  American O.C. “Boots” LeBoutillier, Englishman Reggie Soar, and Australian Bob Little, the Sopwith Triplane went far to re‑establish British air superiority in the northern region of the Western Front following the disaster of “Bloody April.”  Powered by the 110 h.p. Clerget engine, the fighter suffered from a standard armament of only one Vickers machine gun, though both Collishaw and Bob Little flew a limited‑production series of Triplanes armed with two machine guns despite the deleterious effect on performance from the extra weight of the additional weapon even when powered by the 130 hp Clerget.

      Such was the pace of technical development that the Triplane, which first appeared at the Front in February and only achieved widespread service in all four RNAS fighter squadrons ‑ Naval 1, Naval 8, Naval 9 and Naval 10 ‑ by May, was considered obsolescent by late July and left front‑line service by the end of August, 1917.  Replaced by the tricky Sopwith Camel, the Tripehound was remembered by its pilots as a wonderful flying machine.  It was far superior to the better‑known Fokker Triplane, which suffered from only having ailerons on the upper wing, unlike the Tripehound which had ailerons on each wing and could fly rings around Fokker's product.

Robert Alexander Little ‑ The Australian Ace of Aces:

      I am frequently struck when I read about the various aces of the First World War by how much they are the personification of certain national stereotypes. Raymond Collishaw could never have been other than a Canadian, von Richtofen a Prussian, Guynemer or Fonck French, Rickenbacker or Luke an American.  Reading about R.A. “Bob” Little, he comes across to me as the quintessential Australian.

      Born in Melbourne, Victoria, on July 19, 1895, to parents who had emigrated from Scotland to Canada before coming on to Australia, Little was 19 and a year out of school when the First World War broke out. When he discovered there were already 500 applicants at Point Cook Military Flying School, he sailed for England at his own expense, where he spent 100 Pounds to learn to fly at Hendon, receiving his pilot certificate on October 27, 1915. He immediately enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service and was commissioned a probationary Flight Sub‑Lieutenant at Eastchurch in January 1916.

     He was sent to the Naval Air Station at Dunkirk that June, where he flew Sopwith Strutters on reconnaissance along the Belgian front and in attacks on German positions in occupied Belgium.

      As the new German Jastas with their Albatros fighters appeared on the Western Front in the fall of 1916 and the British lost air superiority over the lines, the RNAS was drawn into the land battle to support the RFC, forming fighter squadrons at Dunkirk to fight under RFC command.  “Naval Eight” ‑ No. 8 (Naval) Squadron ‑ was formed on October 25, 1916, with Little among its first pilots, assigned to "B" Flight under the command of another Australian, Stan Goble. Commanded by Squadron Commander G. R. Bromet, Naval Eight operated three flights of Nieuport 17s, Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters and Sopwith Pups. That December, Naval Eight became the first all‑Pup squadron in action.

      Little scored his first victory, an Aviatik C.1, while flying Pup N5182, scoring a second two‑seater just north of La Bassee on November 23. By mid‑December he claimed two Halberstadt D.IIs, to become one of the leading scorers in the unit. On February 1, 1917 Naval Eight transferred their Pups to No. 3 (Naval) Squadron, while Naval Eight re‑equipped at Dunkirk with the new Sopwith Triplane. They re‑entered operations in late  March on the Third Army Front near Arras. Their main opponents were von Richthofen's Jasta II, equipped with the Albatros D.III.

      Due to delays in introducing the new 1917 designs, RFC squadrons were being run through the meatgrinder in the Spring of 1917 as D.H.2s and F.E.2b's and F.e.8s went up against the new Albatros D.III fighters, with the worst being “Bloody April,” the month Naval Eight entered combat.  The Germans soon learned that the strange‑looking Triplanes could easily out‑fly the Albatros. Naval Eight made their first combat flights on April 5, just before the outbreak of the Battle of Arras. Little scored his first Triplane victory when he shot down a Jasta II Albatros over Lens on April 7, 1917. The British anti‑aircraft unit that reported the fight stated “...a Sopwith Triplane, working alone, attacked 11 hostile machines... he completely outclassed the whole patrol of hostile machines, diving through them and climbing above them.  One Albatros, painted red, dived on to him after he had shot down another and passed him.  The Sopwith dived on him and forced the red machine to dive away, after which he climbed again above the whole patrol and attacked again.  The officers who witnessed the combat report that the maneuvering of the Triplane completely outclassed the Albatros scouts.” In this combat, Little had undoubtedly met Manfred von Richtofen for the first time.

      On April 24, he attacked a DFW C.V, putting a bullet through its oil tank, then followed it as it landed on a field behind Allied lines. The DFW made a perfect landing, but when Little attempted to land and take them prisoner, his Triplane turned over on landing.  As the  German pilot, Leutnant Friedrich Neumuller ‑ who had been a Rhodes scholar at Oxford before the war ‑ helped Little out of the overturned Triplane, he remarked, “It rather looks as if I have brought you down, not you me, doesn't it?”

      By May, Little had hit his stride.  He had modified Triplane N5493 ‑ one of a limited production run of triplanes distinguished by a twin‑Vickers armament‑ by moving the seat forward 10 inches.  This made the airplane nose‑heavy and increased its diving speed, which was crucial for Little who initiated his battles with a fast dive into the middle of an enemy formation.  Named “Blymp” for his son who had been born the year before, N5493 was unflyable to other pilots due to its seating configuration which put it out of rig. By May 26, his tally stood at 20. He was relentless in battle, closing to within 15‑20 feet of an opponent before opening fire.  A crack shot, he would only break off a fight when he had exhausted his ammunition. 

     On June 26, Little attacked another Aviatik C.V, flown by pilot Gefreiter Ernst Bittorf and observer Leutnant Karl Schweizer of Flieger Abteilung 269.  Little wrote in his report, “I stalled up and fired a burst of 20 rounds at a range of 50 yards.  The Hun Aircraft stalled and dived west... it dived past the vertical and came back east on its back.  Something then fell out ‑ I think it was a man... I caught up with it and saw a man crawling along the fuselage, trying to get to the bottom (the machine was still on its back and was now on fire). I closed and fired about 20rounds and the man fell off. The machine carried on down to about 180 feet where it broke up and crashed.”

     Fellow Naval Eight ace Reggie Soar wrote of Little: “On the Somme Front, he was immediately successful in fights in the air as he was with tricks on the ground.  For example, the pilots would often take a tender into Amiens for dinner at the Godbert.  Very often we would get stuck behind a car full of French officers en route, who would not give way... Little would pull out his revolver and shoot a nice round hole in the rear tyre of their tourer.  He never missed! He was an outstanding shot with both revolver and rifle, and a collector of wild flowers.  He had few equals in air fighting, and though not a polished pilot, he was one of the most aggressive.”

      R.J.O. Compston, Little's commanding officer, wrote of him, “Once Little came within range of an enemy he did not give up until, first, the enemy was shot down, secondly his own engine failed, or thirdly, he ran out of ammunition.  He had in human guise the fighting qualities of a bulldog.  He never let go.”

     Little scored his last Triplane victory on July 10, for a total of 27 since April 7.  Blymp” was the second most‑successful Triplane after Collishaw's “Black Prince,” N5492.

      Little was pulled out of combat in August, but got himself posted to “Naval Three” ‑ later 203 Squadron RAF, commanded by Raymond Collishaw. On April 21, 1918, the  day von Richthofen was killed, Little picked off “tail‑end Charlie” of a formation of twelve from Jasta Boelcke. Six Fokkers turned on Little's Camel and shot away his controls.  The Camel dove to less than 100 feet of the ground before flattening out with a jerk. Little, who had unstrapped his seat belt, was thrown clear as the Camel ploughed into the ground north of the Forest of Nieppe. When two enemy aircraft dove to strafe the wreck, Little blazed away with his pistol until he was joined by British infantry with Lewis guns.

      On the morning of May 28, 1918, Major Booker ‑ Little's comrade from Naval Eight and now Officer Commanding 201 Squadron - was summoned to where a Camel had crashed in the French lines. The pilot, still at the controls with a bullet through his heart, was Little. He had taken off the previous evening to intercept German Gothas, and was apparently killed by one of the gunners.

     Bob Little had a score of 47 at the time of his death ‑ 4 in Pups, 27 in his Triplane, and 16 in Camels ‑ making him the Australian Ace of Aces in all wars. He was buried in Wavans cemetery.


             This is the second 1/32 Sopwith Triplane to be produced, the first being that from Roden, which appeared in late 2010.  When Wingnut Wings kits appeared, they announced they would not repeat kits made by other manufacturers in 1/32 scale where that kit was “acceptable,” thus they would not be doing a Sopwith Camel or SPAD XIII (both released by Hobbycraft), but that they would release the Triplane because they had already had it planned when Roden announced theirs.

             Other than being both the same type in the same scale, the two kits are very different with the Wingnuts kit being far more detailed, though the two can sit next to each other and look fine.

             The WNW kit has 129 parts with optional forward side panels to distinguish between the various manufacturers, different propellers, the early and late horizontal stabilizers, and the single gun and twin gun mountsand option 110 hp or 130 hp Clerget rotary engines.  Decals are provided for five different aircraft, including one operated by the French Aeronavale and one captured and flown by the Germans.  None of these are for aircraft flown by the more well-known pilots like Collishaw or Little or any of the other leading aces.  Fortunately, Pheon Decals released a sheet for the Roden kit that does include markings for more well-known airplanes and pilots, and these decals fit very well on the new kit.


             As with all Wingnuts kits, if you take the radical step of reading and following the instructions in the Erection Manual, you are pretty much guaranteed a good-looking result.

             As with all other Wingnuts kits, I started by doing as much detail painting as possible with the parts still on the sprues. 

             Once all that was completed, I started with the cockpit.  The kit is designed so that the inner interplane struts are one-piece and provide the major source of strength for the overall assembly.  The one thing I found fiddly was to assemble to cockpit decking to the fuselage once the cockpit was installed and the fuselage closed up.  There was a bit of industrial-strength pushing and shoving to get that decking into position, and I strongly recommend you do that before proceeding with any exterior painting.  If you are careful in assembling the fuselage and attaching the lower wing, you will only need to worry about the lower rear centerline seam and the rear seam of the wing section as regards filling.

             I then assembled the engine as the 130 hp Clerget version and set it aside.


             I painted the engine firewall, the side panels and the lower forward fuselage panel, and the cowling with Tamiya Flat Aluminum.  When that was dry, I brush painted them with Auto-Air “Aluminum Base” which dries without brush strokes and has a sheen like one finds on an actual aluminum part in service.

             I then painted the upper fuselage decking with my “Ash Brown” color, which I then painted with thinned Tamiya “Gloss Brown” to get the look of lacquered wood.  I also did this for all the wing struts.  I then masked off that area and “pre-shaded” the fuselage and wings with flat black between the underlying ribs and fuselage formers.

             I then painted the lower surfaces of wings, ailerons, horizontal stabilizer and fuselage with thinned Tamiya “Buff” which I applied so that the dark areas under that paint would show through to reveal the underlying airfram structure.

             Sopwith aircraft were painted in “P.C.12", which is a more brownish color than the better-known “P.C.10" color.  I made this using Tamiya “Gloss Brown” with 10 percent Tamiya “Hull Red.”  This was thinned 50-50 and applied in thin coats I built up over the “pre-shaded” areas to give an indication of the underlying structure. 

             When all was dry, I unmasked the fuselage decking and gave the various parts a coat of Future.

            I used the kit decals for the national insignia since they were already separated for the ailerons.  I used the Pheon Decals to do the individual markings for “BLYMP,” the Triplane flown by Bob Little.  When all had set up, I gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix ”Satin,” followed by a thin coat of Xtracrylix “Flat.”


            I attached the forward cowling panels, using the ones with the correct inspection door per a photograph of the actual airplane.  I then used thinned Tamiya “Smoke” applied with a 1/4 inch flat tip brush to the fuselage sides and lower surface and the inner surfaces of the lower and middle wings, to simulate the staining from the oil thrown by the engine.  I also applied this to the completed engine and to the firewall and cowling parts.  I also “muddied” the wheels and applied “mud spray” to the lower wing lower surface.

            The wing assembly was considerably easier than any other Sopwith Triplane model I have built, because the outer struts are in two parts.  One attaches the lower strut section to the lower wing, then attaches the middle wing, then attaches the upper strut section to the top of the middle wing, and then the upper wing.  With the strong structure created by the cockpit assembly, and the positive attachment of the wing struts to their positions, it is impossible to get the assembly out of alignment.  I then attached the ailerons in a “dynamic” position.

             After drooping the elevators, I attached the horizontal stabilizer, and then the vertical fin, and finally the rudder. I then finished off by attaching the landing gear, then the engine and cowling and finally the propeller.

             The model was rigged with .010 wire, which is quite easily done. 


            Another Wingnut winner.  The kit is easy to assemble and results in a good-looking model.  Given that I recently saw a Roden kit for sale at the LHS for UD$75.00, the Wingnut price of US$69.00 for this kit ends any question of which is the better value.  Comparing the Wingnut Wings Triplane to the Roden model reveals the difference between a diamond and a zircon.  Any modeler who has done any of these kits will have no problem with this Triplane kit, and the resulting model looks wonderful sitting next to all the others.  Highly recommended for World War I modeling fans.

Tom Cleaver

January 2013

Review kit courtesy of Wingnut Wings.  Order yours at the link.

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