Subject:  
SPAD XIII
Kit Used: Revell 1/28

Model & Review by:
Paul Romans
Pictures:   R. Forys

November 2005
Model of the Month




[]




Specifications:
 Engine:   200hp Hispano-Suiza, water-cooled.
 Max Speed:    135 mph
 Range:  250 statute miles
 Service Ceiling:   20,000 ft.



SPAD is an acronym for Societe Pour l'Aviation et ses Derives, the French company founded to counter the threat of twin-gun German fighters that dominated the skies in 1916.   The single-gun SPAD VII was replaced by the improved twin-gun SPAD XIII in 1917, and the French pilots were very enthusiastic about their new fighter.   Although it had poor visibility and rate of climb, it was rugged, well armed and fast.   American pilots liked them too, flying them for the last 9 months of the war.   Eddie Rickenbacker and Frank Luke, the two top scoring American pilots, flew SPADS.




[]

For those interested in Frank Luke's unbelievable combat record, he was the second highest scoring American ace of the war, with 4 planes and 14 balloons shot down, (only Rickenbacker had more).   He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Luke AFB is named after him.   I once thought that observation balloons were an easy kill, but they were actually the most heavily defended of all targets, with concentrated anti-aircraft fire from the ground, machine guns aboard the balloon itself, and usually plenty of fighters in the area protecting them.   Bringing one down and living to tell about it was quite an accomplishment, as you had to fly through a lot of concentrated fire to do it.   Luke shot down 14 of them. More...




The Kit:    This kit was first released by Revell in 1957 as an "S" kit (no idea what that means), and it's a real throwback to the early days of our hobby.   Balsa was the medium for modeling back then, and "model airplanes" were expected to actually fly.   The idea of "Scale Modeling" for accuracy rather than flight was still new, and Revell was fighting an uphill battle.
[]


For its day, it was actually a pretty nice kit.   It's large, well detailed, and has a removable engine, so it seems Revell was really trying to show what plastic could do.   The odd 1/28th scale is from the "box-scale" days, when kits were made to fit a standard box, rather than a common scale.   It has been re-released several times over the last 40+ years, so it's not too hard to find.   I screwed one of these up when I was a kid, so I always wanted to try another one.   (Note: Dutch-Boy and Rustoleum make lousy model paints.)   I found a beat-up example for $6 at a local show, so I grabbed it.




[]



Construction:  Old Revell kits fit together poorly, and this one was typical.   There are six main pieces to the kit, as both wings are molded as one piece each.   Add two fuselage halves, a tail plane and the rudder, and the rest are detail parts.   There are antiquated touches, such as eyelets in all the interplane struts to allow sewing thread to be used for rigging.   The upper wing had dihedral molded in when it should be straight.   (At least there weren't any raised decal indicators molded in.)   I built this Out Of the Box, as I wanted something that looked like it was built by one of Revell's people back in 1957.

I started with the engine.   This kit came in a battered 40-year old box with some pieces were missing, one of which was half of a cylinder block.   A new one was made from layered sheet, sanded to shape.   Details were added from stretched sprue.   The engine was painted gunmetal with brass details.




[] []



The fuselage was built per instructions.   I found that the instrument panel was also missing, so I scratch-built this too.   The real ones were nothing more that a shelf in the cockpit, with six or seven "instruments" mounted to them.   Checking references, I built a new shelf from cardstock, and cut round sprue runners into short cylinders.   These were glued and painted to look like period instruments.   The seat didn't look anything like the real one, but this was OOB, so it went in.   The rest of the interior was assembled, and the body halves glued.   The fit here was good, needing only a little filler.




[]



The lower wing was glued on, and then the landing struts.   It took a lot of fooling around to get the engine and its covers to fit correctly, but they finally did.   The prop shaft on the engine was mis-shaped and would never have worked, so it was replaced with aluminum tubing.   The prop was drilled out for the next-larger size of tubing, and a short piece was attached with super-glue.   The prop spins nicely, and the hollow tubing replicates the real shaft, which was also hollow at the tip.   Again, the engine needed lots of trimming and test fits before it would sit correctly into its cradle.   Test-fitting the struts and upper wing showed more problems, as nothing lined up.   To remove the unwanted dihedral, I lay the wing in a pan of almost-boiling water and bent it into the shape I needed.   It took a few tries, and it still has a slight bend to it.   With everything lined up (more or less), it was time to paint.





[]



Painting:  What colors?   Well, color photography had not been invented in 1917, and there was little actual standardization of paint colors at the factory.   Only vague descriptions were listed for the "correct" paints to be applied, either at the factory or in the field.   Surviving examples of the SPAD are now over 80 years old, and the paint is faded, no matter how well it was protected.   These aircraft didn't have long lives either, and a "correct" scheme might only apply to a plane that lasted or three days in service.   (Frank Luke's career was short, but he reportedly used up at least 6 different planes.)   Revell's instructions are almost worthless.   Osprey has published "American Aces of World War I" by Norman Franks, so I used this as my primary reference.

Hobbycraft recently released a SPAD in 1/32, so I used their color references also.   They state that there are no exact FS matches available for some of these colors, but have some good replacement suggestions.   I spent an hour in front of the hobby shop paint racks, and after I was completely frustrated, I bought what looked closest.   I started with the lightest colors and worked towards the darkest.   The undersides are all a light gray/green/tan color that's impossible to duplicate, so I used Floquil "Old Concrete", which was one of Hobbycraft's recommendations.   The upper surfaced start out with a light tan.   Once dry, I masked off the areas to remain tan and shot a darker green.   I progressed through 6 colors before it was all painted.   Photos show sharp demarcation lines on the real ones, so they were either brushed or masked when they were painted.   I also noticed pattern variations, and there was no real standardization to these either.   Oh well.   At least no one can prove I'm wrong…..




[]



With the camo painted, I checked the decals, which were ok, but incomplete.   The Osprey book shows a diagonal checkered band and a large number "26" painted on the top wing, neither of which is supplied by Revell.   I coated the decals with liquid decal film as a precaution against them shattering (which was wise), then applied them.   I masked off the band and the big "26"on the upper wing, and shot gloss white enamel as a base for both the stripe and number.




[]



Now for the tricky part.   A 1/16th inch border was masked off around all the edges of the white numbers (this took more than one try), and the blue center color was sprayed over the remaining white.   This was allowed to dry for about two hours, and then the masking was removed.   Only a little touch-up was needed.   For the checkers, I scribed 1/16th-inch squares in the white band, then using slightly thinned flat black paint and a fine brush, I filled in every-other square, letting the paint run out to the scribed lines and fill it up.   I almost screwed it up as I got near the end because my eyes were getting buggy, but I made it.

A note on the finish:   The info I had indicated a glossy varnish was applied to these planes to protect them, but this would make the model look too toy-like.   A semi-gloss was applied over everything, and I think this gives a better scale appearance.




[]



Rigging:  Now the upper wing could be permanently attached.   This was lots o' fun, because nothing fit right.   Once the interplane struts were glued to the lower wing, I glued the upper wing on, and then used tape to hold everything together and in the right location until the glue dried.   Next were the cabane struts atop the front fuselage, Lots of trimming here.   When all the glue was dry, I removed the tape.   It held for about 5 minutes before it started to come apart again.   I re-taped everything and applied thin superglue to the critical joints to give the assembly more strength.   How were you supposed to do this in 1957?

I found out that the rigging was an important part of the model, and was needed for strength.   Eschewing the fuzzy black button thread I used as a kid, I went with steel wire from the local hobby shop's R/C supply section.   .010 and .015 wire was about right, so I picked up several pieces and went to work.   I measured the length with map dividers, cut the wire to length and secured it with super glue.   This goes fairly quick, and once done, I could feel a considerable improvement in the model's rigidity.   Super-glue is good, but it's still brittle, and any twisting will snap things loose.   I had to be careful.




[] []



Hokay, what next?   Detail parts.   Not much here, but I found that I was missing one of the kit's machine guns.   Rats.   Using the one I had, I scratch built another out of sprue and layered sheet plastic.   I only made enough of the gun to fill in the trough on top of the engine, and left it at that.   It looks good next to the other one.   I cleaned up the kit's gunsight and installed that too.




[]



Weathering:  As noted, these planes didn't last long in service, so I didn't weather this one too much.   Some acrylic mud was dry-brushed on the wheels and underside of the wing, pastels were used to simulate exhaust stains, and a light wash of flat black was applied around the engine area for oil and grime.   Once it was done, I was still unhappy with the model's appearance.   It still lacked the elusive "look" I was trying to get, and seemed lifeless.   I wound up dry-brushing some flat white on the raised wing spars and all leading edges so try and give the kit some dimension.   I also used light gray pastel powder for the same effect.   It was an improvement, but I'm still not entirely happy with the results.




[]



Conclusion:  Entering this project with an open mind will help you enjoy it a lot more.   This is the way we did things way back when, and I guessing that this kit was a revelation to modelers of the day.   No sanding blocks of balsa, no endless shaping, the amazing detail compared to anything else available, accuracy, etc.   So the fit isn't perfect, so what?   I've got 2005 stuff that's no better.   It's still the biggest SPAD you can get in plastic, and there are even after-market detail sets available now for it.   I enjoyed re-visiting an old childhood memory, and getting it right this time.   Modeling's supposed to be fun, and this was.

Update: I recently saw on the web that Revell will be re-issuing the old 1/28 SPAD kit soon, under the Revell-Germany name.   I can't help but wonder if they're going to upgrade this antique.   Even if they supply new decals, it'll be an improvement.