spad-sa-2-bannerSpad S.A. 2 by Amodel

1/72 scale
Kit No. 7260
Cost:$12.00
Decals: One version
Comments: Short run kit; interesting historical subject; poor fit; multiple small and fragile parts; scratchbuilding skill required

History

The Spad S.A. 2 was an unusual scout/fighter of World War I that flew for the first time on May 21, 1915.  It featured a rather unconventional design with a 110 hp Le Rhone radial engine, propeller and all, mounted behind a forward gondola which formed the nose of the airplane.  The gondola featured a machine gun mounted on thin rails allowing it to elevate and traverse.  This arrangement, placing the gun out in the very front of the aircraft, avoided the need for arrester gear allowing machine guns to fire safely through the arc of a spinning propeller.

spad-sa2-1The gondola was attached to the top wing by wire, and to the main landing gear by struts.  It could be swung downward to allow ground crew to service the engine, which tended to throw castor oil, staining not only the engine bay but the exterior of the fuselage directly aft of the gondola.

Theoretically, this design could have led to more successful combat operations in that there would be no wing to obstruct the gunner’s view, and no arrester gear to retard the rate of machine gun fire.  But the design had significant engineering defects, from insufficient structural strength to de-stabilizing the plane’s center of gravity.   It proved quite dangerous for the forward gunner.

spad-sa2-2The Spad S.A. 2 was not widely used on the Western Front.  To the degree it saw service, it appears to have been deployed on a piecemeal basis, with a total of 42 aircraft being scattered among several escadrille (squadrons).  It was never popular and the earliest versions featured gondolas made at least partially of wicker.  Due to a critical lack of structural strength, this could be deadly for the poor soul who rode in the gondola as the observer/gunner.  In one early documented incident, an S.A. 2 turned over on takeoff, crushing the forward observer to death.  In another tragic episode, the gondola separated from the aircraft as the pilot tried to pull the plane out of a shallow glide  — both pilot and observer were killed.  Improvements were made subsequently, but they did not significantly increase the S.A. 2’s performance.

spad-sa2-c1The British had a low opinion of the type.  It could not be safely flown without an observer or his equivalent weight as ballast in the gondola, and even then a gunner could easily be killed without ever engaging the enemy.    In an undated report, an officer of the Royal Flying Corps described the plane as “unnecessarily dangerous” and confirmed there was no official interest in it on the part of the R.F.C.

Despite these shortcomings, 57 S.A. 2’s were exported to Russia and operated by the Imperial Russian Aviation Service, but as elsewhere, there is little record of their operations in the East.  While the Spad S.A. 2 appears to have had an unspectacular operational record, its basic airframe strongly influenced the development of the more conventional, single-seat prototype of the Spad VII, one of the most successful fighters of the Great War.

spad-sa2-3Construction

Amodel’s Spad S.A. 2 is molded in white and consists of 50 injection molded parts.  Roughly 44 of these parts are actually used in construction, since there is an option for three different machine guns and mounts in the forward observer’s gondola, with each machine gun assembly consisting of a gun, a separate magazine, and a part representing a leather or canvas pouch that attached to the machine gun’s ejection port to catch the spent shell casings.

This is a short run kit and the quality is frankly crude.  Multiple parts forming struts or support wires — at least seven of them — were too fragile to be safely removed from the sprue and prepared for assembly.  They had to be replaced, either by stretched sprue or more often, actual wire.  There were no injector pins on the parts to assist assembly, and some parts had a minor amount of flash.  The larger parts have a fairly good finish for an Amodel kit, no pimples or blatant imperfections, which may be seen with some offerings from manufacturers in the former Eastern Bloc countries.  Some parts also feature delicate raised details.  That’s it for the kit’s virtues.

spad-sa2-c4Construction begins with the forward observer’s gondola, consisting primarily of three parts whose fit is rough at best.  There is a significant gap between the rear bulkhead and the two halves of the gondola, which are all cemented together.  It is necessary to employ some minor scratchbuilding skills to close these very visible gaps; I resorted to small, thinly cut strips of plastic card and sufficient amounts of liquid cement to fuse them in place.   The three gondola parts are not entirely symmetrical, but the major defect in this department is visible only from behind and below the assembled gondola — a vantage point not easily attained once the kit is finished.  The halves of the gondola include struts that protrude beneath it.  Once the halves are cemented, cross bars must be cemented to the struts to join them together.  The parts provided are too delicate to provide any structural strength, so I fashioned new ones from stretched sprue, sanded and cut to the appropriate dimensions.

The crudeness of the mold is again revealed in the aperture in the floor of the gondola, which on the actual aircraft was a window providing the gunner a view below.   It will take significant effort with a hobby knife and a file to clean up this window before it is presentable in any shape approaching symmetry.  No clear plastic for the window is provided, so this will have to be scrounged from your spares box.

There is a protrusion beneath the forward observer’s seat that comes to a point, and presumably it is meant to fit into a depression in the floor of the gondola which is alas, non-existent — the only way to get the seat for the gondola glued into place is to use quick-drying cyanoacrylate — after sanding the point down a bit.

spad-sa2-5Next you move on to the main fuselage which features raised detail for the cockpit sidewalls, as well as a control stick, seat and rudder pedals with a simple instrument panel — more parts and more detail than I expected, given that this is a short run kit.

All struts are quite delicate and must be removed from the sprues with extreme care using a small razor saw at a very leisurely pace.  In the case of the struts for the elevators, after breaking one I resorted to thin metal wire instead.  I broke one of the “H” interplane struts while removing it from the sprue, but managed to repair it using a combination of Testor’s Liquid Cement and, once that dried, dipping the part in Future to let the coat of lacquer add some structural strength.

spad-sa2-6Some parts, like the main axle for the landing gear and the forward support strut for the gondola, required clean-up once removed from the sprue but were so delicate that I dared not risk it, with the result that these parts look rather crude and unfinished.  The part facilitating the elevation of the machine gun in the forward gondola also broke upon its separation from the sprue, so I replaced it with thin metal wire, bent into position and cemented with cyanoacrylate.

spad-sa2-7Given the delicacy of the kit I decided to attach the gondola dead last, after decals were applied and wires glued on.  I then discovered the kit’s critical flaw and the depth to which it is poorly engineered: the the struts beneath the gondola are supposed to rest securely in two grooves at the front of each of the main landing gear struts that protrude beneath the forward end of the fuselage.  This requires that the width of the gondola struts be roughly identical to that of the main landing gear struts.  But the gondola struts are significantly narrower, and it took quite a bit of jury rigging and liberal amounts of cyanocrylate glue to attach the gondola to the rest of the airframe.  The result was imperfect.

spad-sa2-8Painting

The Spad S.A. 2 is painted in acrylics; airbrushed in Model Master Navy Buff overall (No. 4232).  The raised detail where the fabric stretches over the wooden ribbing I highlighted by brush-painting a wash of a Vallejo acrylic, Goldbrown, No. 70877 over those gently protruding surfaces.

Markings

The “Ma Jeanne” and tail markings were supplied with the kit, and were of surprisingly good quality given that this is a short run kit.  The national markings are aftermarket, made by Colorado Decals, and these took the place of the kit markings, which did not appear to have authentic color.

Conclusion

spad-sa2-9The one word best describing this kit is crude.  Building it was enough for me to avoid any of Amodel’s biplane kits in the future, at least those in 1/72 scale.  In contrast to Amodel’s P-59 Airacomet and Yak-18 kits, which were not top of the line but could be built to a presentable standard without too much angst, this is a short run kit of below par quality requiring scratchbuilding skill to finish it, and biplanes are tough enough when the kits are well-engineered.  Serious fans of the Spad S.A. 2 are better off buying the Omega Models kit, which comes in the same scale and being mostly resin is available at a price slightly more than twice that of the Amodel version.

spad-sa-2-boxReference

  • Spad S. A-2 / S.A-4: Windsock Mini Datafile 4 by J.M. Bruce
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