During World War I, the oneupsmanship in the skies over the trenches was intense. During this nascent period of military aviation – when some of the early war aircraft still used wing-warping to maneuver – even small innovations could yield a substantial combat advantage, at least until they were duly copied by the other side. As such, dominant fighters rose and fell rapidly.
Such is the case with the Sopwith Pup. Fielded in May 1916, the Pup was originally rather successful against its German opponents, and performed very well at the Battle of the Somme in October of that year. By the spring of 1917, however, it was outclassed, and being replaced by newer and more advanced Sopwith Triplanes and Camels.
While not as famous as the aforementioned Camel, or the SPAD XIII or any of a number of German fighters, the Pup’s classic shape and relatively straightforward rigging make it, in my opinion, a good “starter” kit for someone trying their hand at biplanes for the first time.
Get Ready for a Lot of Pupdates
Since the Pup is my first biplane, and since biplanes are such different animals from later aircraft, I’m planning to do more build reports than normal, with a few focusing on some areas more specific to biplanes and other early aircraft.
First up – wood grain.
Recreating Wood Grain
Biplanes such as the Pup were basically constructed out of two materials – wood and doped linen. The linen was stretched over a wood frame and viola, biplane! Sure, there were a few metal bits. Engines, cowls, machine guns, various buckles, pulleys, and connectors, and metal cable rigging. But the overwhelming materials were wood and linen. The idea was to keep the aircraft light enough for the glorified lawnmower engines of the period to keep them aloft.
How glorified? Well, the Pup was powered by a Le Rhone rotary engine producing a staggering 80 horsepower. To put that in perspective, the 1.6L engine in the Chevy Aveo puts out 108 horses.
A lot of the wood that went into a biplane was obscured by the linen fabric, but the struts, propeller, cockpit, and often the decklid around the cockpit were left in bare, albeit heavily varnished, wood.
Recreating this in plastic is no simple task. Wood has grain, it has character. Fortunately, I came across a very helpful tutorial for recreating wood grain on plastic.
Since I’m a rookie at this, I figured I’d take a slightly simpler, four step approach.
Step 1: Paint the parts. The first step is laying down the base color. For the Pup, that’s actually two colors, a light wood, represented by Tamiya XF-59 Desert Yellow, and XF-58 NATO Brown.
Step 2: Bust out the oils. Take some artist oil paint and paint the parts. I used raw umber. At this point, they’ll look like hell.
Step 3: Scrape the grain. This is where it gets interesting. Wood grain has a somewhat irregular, random look that’s tough to recreate. They way to achieve this look involves “scraping” the oil paint away with some sort of irregular object. The various tutorials I’ve read suggest using sponges, but I had much better luck with one of those black foam packing blocks that you’ll find in various detail sets. I found this foam was a bit firmer, and better at scraping off the oil while leaving a nice grain.
At this point, it’s looking quite a bit more like wood.
Step 4: Clear Orange/Yellow. To seal the oil paint, and give the wood that heavily varnished look, I airbrushed a 50/50 mix of Tamiya Clear Orange and Clear Yellow cut with Tamiya Clear Gloss and Gunze Mr. Leveling Thinner.
And…that’s all there is to it. Daunting? You betcha. Difficult? In execution, not really. I’d still be daunted doing vast swaths of simulated wood, but for the relatively limited exposed wood on the Pup, this simplified technique works very well.
Next up, I’ll be assembling the cockpit (complete with bracing wires and control rigging!), detailing the Le Rhone radial engine, and painting up the metal cowl pieces.