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RAF S.E.5.a - 1:24 Merit International

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RAF S.E.5.a
1:24 Merit International


One of the most famous of all British fighters of the Great War, the S.E.5a entered service in 1917, and stayed on the front line until the end of the war in November 1918. It was a much easier aircraft to fly than the tricky Sopwith Camel, and given that many pilots were arriving with as little as 20 hours flying training, a much more suitable mount for the inexperienced.

Designed by H P Folland, it's characteristics can be readily seen in the post war Gloster Grebe and Gamecock which Folland also designed. Other of his notable works were the Gloster Gauntlet and Gladiator, and he went on to found the Folland aircraft company.
The earlier aircraft were powered by the 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8b geared engine, and later on the 200 hp Wolsely Viper direct drive engine was introduced. In simple terms, the drive shaft of the Hispano Suiza drove a gear wheel, which then drove another gearwheel above, attached to the back of the prop, which rotated clockwise when viewed from the font. Visually this raised the prop higher in the nose, and often these machines had 4 bladed propellers.

The Wolsely Viper was a licence built version of the Hispano-Suiza, and dispensed with the gear mechanism. The prop was bolted directly to the drive shaft, so that visually it sat in the mid position of the nose, and rotated anti-clockwise. This is a quick way to spot the difference between a geared Hispano Suiza, and a direct drive engine, probably a Wolsely Viper, although to complicate things, Hispano Suiza started to produce direct drive engines as well.

The kit.
Merit international have now released a 1:24 scale S.E.5a to accompany their recent Fokker DR.1. Packed in a sturdy cardboard box with a lovely painting of a lone S.E.5a on top, the kit consists of 5 large sprue frames, a small clear one, a nickel plated sheet of etched brass, and an A5 sized decal sheet, every one of which is sealed in its own plastic bag.

The instructions are in the form of a 16 page A5 booklet with line drawings showing construction over 24 stages.
Assembly starts with the interior, and like the DR.1 kit has full length fuselage frames. Cockpit floor, rudder pedals, control column, seat, and instrument panel (with decals) are all provided. It would have been nice to have a pair of pilots lap belts on the etched sheet, as these are prominent items in this scale, but there are none. The modeller will have to fabricate their own or look to the aftermarket for a set.

Sprue A holds most of the interior items, plus that big clockwise rotating 4 bladed prop. All is sharply moulded with nicely defined detail, no flash or sink marks being apparent.



Sprue B has the fuselage halves, forward coaming, wheels, fin and rudder. Again the moulding is neatly done. The coaming unit has fairly prominent rivet detail that will benefit from a little rubbing down. Also there is a small window just in front of the cockpit opening that has been moulded solid. Some may wish to drill & open it out, and glaze with clear plasticard or similar. The cowling panels are all moulded shut, as no engine is included.


Sprues C and D have the wings, which are in upper and lower halves. Rib detail is prominent, and depending upon personal preference, some may prefer to reduce it with a little sanding.



Also present are the triangular inspection panels on the top of the lower wing and underside of the upper. In reality these were clear celluloid triangles that gave a view of an aileron control cable as it made a 90 degree turn around a guide pulley. On my 1/48 Roden S.E.5's I represented these by painting them on, and laying a few coats of Tamiya X19 'Smoke' over the triangular panel. The effect was quite good and should work well here.


Sprue E supplies tailplanes, elevators, struts, exhaust pipes, and undercarriage. The undercarriage legs are the early steel tube type, which were replaced on later machines by an altogether more substantial pair of made of wood.


The rigging is all provided as individual etched brass wires, of which the cross brace 'X' s between the struts are fitted before the top wing goes on. Once the wing is on the rest of the rigging can be popped into its little locating slots. It should make this task a lot easier for those who don't like using fishing line or elastic line for this task. Even the control wires for the rudder, elevators, and ailerons are supplied as etched items.


The final elements to go on are the propeller and the overwing Lewis gun on its Foster mount. Curiously the Lewis is provided with a twin side by side ammo drum fitting, which I have not seen or heard of before, and am wary of it's accuracy.


A typical fitment would have been a single 47 round drum. Double versions containing 94 rounds were available but were made as 'stacked' units rather than side by side.

These are on a single A5 sized sheet, with good sharp edged printing and colours and minimal carrier film. The national markings are all provided, with alternate rudder stripes and individual markings for your chosen option. The instrument decals are very fine, and can be read with a magnifying glass.


Two options are provided, but no information is given about what they are. A quick bit of googling reveals that we have ;

A. F-943 92 Squadron, probably post war.
B. A2-13 (Formerly D8476 in RAF). One of 35 supplied post war to the Royal Australian Air Force.


This is a nice sized model that should be fairly simple to build, and may well make a good first biplane project, especially with the pre-made etched brass rigging. Much of the detail is basic but adequate. The novice should not have too much trouble building it, while the purist will want to add to, and enhance the detail provided. Whichever, it will make an excellent partner to Merit's recent Fokker DR.1 to the same scale.

The model best represents an early war S.E.5a, with a geared Hispano-Suiza driving a four bladed propeller, and steel tube undercarriage. Photos of the original A2-13 and F-934 can be found on the internet, and both certainly appear to have a 2 bladed propeller in the lower position, with the heavier wooden undercarriage appropriate for a later S.E.5a. This will not be a problem for the previously mentioned novice, but again others may want to seek out alternative unit markings

Review sample courtesy of

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Hello, John -

Excellent review (and very timely from my point of view) of this new Merit kit.

When I ordered this online (from emodels and received today) I thought I was getting the Wolsely Viper engine version as shown on the box art. I was therefore surprised that the kit actually represents the earlier Hisso version. I noted on closer inspection of the box top that it states 'Actual model may vary from image on the box'. Makes me wonder if the artwork was commissioned before the release of the model and was perhaps too costly to change box art work .................. I personally would have preferred the Viper engine version as it goes.

It will build into a lovely sized model as is a positive step towards large scale WW1 model aircraft - I hope more will follow in the range or from other manufacturers. I also thought the Lewis gun horizontal twin drum magazine extremely odd and have never ever seen this before. I will alter this particular aspect of the model once I start work on it. Looking at the overall presentation and arrangement of parts, it will be interesting to see how well this kit goes together.



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Looks buildable easily enough, but I'm a bit bothered by the markings, the lack of engine, the seat (SE5as had a bench) , and more importantly the solid pulley inspection covers. WNW managed very nice versions complete with pulleys in 1/32nd, and a 2 dimensional representation is not that trivial, though also not hard. What I've done in smaller scales is chain drill and cut out the triangular apertures, then floor them with thin plastic card. Pulleys made with a punch and die set, mounting brackets with leftover PE, copper wire for the cables, paint, and close with a triangle of clear plastic, then a thin edging of painted decal strip. Easier to do than describe, but you shouldn't need to in this scale IMO. Still, the alternative is the old Contrail/Black Night kit, and this will be less effort, so I'll probably get one.

Thanks for the review.


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