Kit No. 01076
Cost: $8.00 (original price: 79 cents)
Decals: One version (original issue) – a subsequent re-issue under the Airfix “Vintage Aircraft” label, and alternatively in the more recent Airfix “red box” contains markings for the aircraft of Lts. Armstorng and Mart of 9 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, June 1918; also for a Belgian Air Force machine dating to 1917.
Comments: Old, bagged kit; 1960’s mold; pilot figures without seats or internal cockpit detail
During World War I, the lumbering Reconnaissance Experimental 8 was the most widely used British two-seater bi-plane on the Western Front. A descendant of the R.E.7, it was initially developed for reconnaissance work but also saw service as a bomber and ground attack aircraft. Nicknamed the “Harry Tate” by aircrews after a well-known music hall performer of the day, it provided a stable platform for photographic missions but suffered from poor maneuverability, leaving it vulnerable to attack by enemy fighters. Despite heavy losses, the R.E.8 remained in service throughout the war.
Designed as a replacement for the obsolete B.E.2, the R.E. 8’s armament consisted of one synchronized forward firing .303 Vickers machine gun mounted on the left side of the fuselage, and a rear-facing Lewis gun on a flexible half ring in the rear bay position aft of the pilot. This was a departure from the B.E.2 design, which positioned the gunner in front of the pilot, causing some awkward and dangerous firing positions, especially to the rear.
The R.E.8 was equipped with V-shaped 12-cylinder air-cooled engine, the Royal Aircraft Factory 4a. It was designed to carry a radio and photographic equipment for reconnaissance and artillery spotting duty, but could also carry a small bombload on underwing racks, and could therefore be pressed into service as a “trench-fighter” if the need arose. The first versions of the R.E. 8 began to arrive at the front in late 1916, but it did not arouse much enthusiasm among its pilots. It was difficult to fly and was not very forgiving; pilot error could result in a deadly tailspin. The first front-line squadrons to receive the R.E.8 reverted back to the old, but combat-proven B.E.2. Eventually the R.E.8 did see combat, but its debut was not very encouraging. One infamous encounter on April 13, 1917, saw six R.E.8’s, which were on a photo reconnaissance mission over the front, attacked by six Albatros fighters led by none other than Baron Manfred von Richthofen. In a fleeting, lopsided battle, all six R.E.8’s were shot down with no losses to the Germans.
Nevertheless, there was an urgent need for photo reconnaissance aircraft and after modifications to the tail assembly and elimination of many small defects, the R.E.8 entered into mass production at several plants and became the most prevalent two-seat aircraft fielded by the British during the First World War. No fewer than 4,077 planes were built after introduction and it was one of the most common aircraft in the skies over the Western Front. The R.E.8, when under the direction of experienced flight crews, performed well in combat and remained in service until the end of the war. Sixteen squadrons of the Royal Air Force flew the R.E.8 on the Western Front . Several other squadrons in other theaters of combat operations also used the R.E.8.
Manufacturer: Royal Aircraft Factory
Entered Service: Autumn 1916
Number Built: 4,077
Powerplant: Royal Aircraft Factory 4a, 12 cylinder, air-cooled, inline V, 150 hp
Wing Span: 42 ft 7 in (12.98 m)
Length: 27 ft 10.5 in (8.5 m)
Height: 11 ft 4.5 in (3.47 m)
Gross Weight: 2,678 lb (1,215 kg)
Maximum Speed: 103 mph (166 km/h) at 5,000 ft (1,524 m)
Ceiling: 13,500 ft (4,115 m)
Endurance: 4 hr 15 min
Armament: One fixed forward firing, synchronized Vickers .303 machine gun, one .303 Lewis gun operated by rear gunner/observer; 260 lb (112.8 kg) of bombs
The R.E. 8 is injection molded in silver-grey plastic and consists of 32 parts. An old mold from the 1960’s (the original price tag was still on this bagged kit and reads 79 cents), it is not especially detailed. There is a pilot and rear gunner, and both have reasonably good molded detail for their age but have obvious machined depressions in their bellies. There is no cockpit interior of any kind, and the figures are cemented on machined benches molded into either side of the fuselage interior. The only detail at this stage is a crude Lewis gun and a ring mount. The ring mount is to be fitted into holes in the interior of the rear bay with the aid of locator pins, and must be cemented in as there is not enough tension in it for it to remain in place otherwise.
Assembly is straightforward; with the fuselage halves cemented together and the bottom wing a single part, the kit begins to take shape quickly. The vertical tail, elevators and exterior Vickers gun are all cemented on in Step 1. This step also calls for the cementing on of the propeller, but it is quite delicate and it may be best to put the prop on in the final stages after the painting is complete. The most challenging aspect of the R.E. 8, as with all bi-planes, is mounting the upper wing. There are six main load-bearing struts and these, after some trail and error and adjustment, can be made to fit both wings fairly easily. I cemented all six simultaneously, but it may be best to cement one wing’s struts on first, let them dry, and move on to the other one. The smaller, inner struts connecting the fuselage to the upper wing are trickier, because their positioning will change depending on the angle of the upper wing in relation to the fuselage once the glue on the six outer struts has dried. This is important because the under surface of the upper
wing, and the fuselage, both have holes for the locator pins on either end of the four inner struts. It is best to attempt mounting these only after the the six outer struts are cemented connecting the wings together and the glue has dried. Patience and fine tweezers will be required.
An important note at this stage is that all the kit’s inner struts are simply too short to reach from the fuselage to the upper wing. The R.E. 8 upper wing already has a bit of a dihedral to it, and the kit wing looked relatively accurate from a head-on angle; in addition, trying to warp it did not seem a good option given that it was already cemented to the lower wing. I discarded the forward struts and replaced them with 0.10″ Evergreen strips cut to size. I had already painted the kit and this stage and could not remove the rear inner struts without risking damage to the paint job, so I filled the gap between the upper wing and the upper end of the rear inner struts with two “mounting blocks” cut from sheet styrene and squeezed into place with the help of liquid cement.
With the exception of the engine component of the fuselage which had to be painted a metallic color and was airbrushed, the R.E. 8 was brush-painted in a Floquil enamel, Depot Buff. The few color plates I’ve seen of the R.E. 8 have it in a dark brown color overall; Allied fighters bearing earth tone camouflage schemes on the Western Front in World War I ranged in color from Khaki Buff to Roof Brown (a dark brown), and this paint scheme is at the lighter end of that range. The engine was airbrushed in Alclad Dark Aluminum. The tri-color on the rudder was painted in enamels, Humbrol World War I blue; Polly Scale gloss white, and Humbrol Red Madder. Weathering was done with MIG Dark Wash, Gunze Sango Oil, and a small paint brush.
Given the age of the kit, the decals were yellowed and their color badly faded. The R.E. 8 bears aftermarket decals by Cartograf of Italy, which were excellent. They have realistic color with sharp lines and no bleeding, adhere well to a smooth, painted surface, and are thick enough to respond well to decal solvent.
As an Airfix kit of 1960’s vintage, the R.E. 8 is only roughly accurate, but not terribly detailed, nothing like the much later kit of the B.E.2, which it replaced on the Western Front. But it is a fun little kit and other than rare, hard-to-find resin examples, it is the only one readily available. Recommended for those who want to round out their Great War collection of kits.