The combination of Hangar 9 (a company with a strong reputation for quality) and the Sopwith Camel (an aircraft whose geometry doesn't instil confidence into the traditional modeller) should make for an interesting combination.
My model flying wife Janet, now with some years of experience, looked knowingly at this Camel's short nose and made tut-tut noises. Little did she know what I had in store for her at the test flying stage! The Camel was a legendary aircraft. A total of 5490 were built, and having been issued to No.4 and No.70 squadrons in 1917 the aircraft appeared on the Western front in July of that year. Despite some decidedly curious and indeed dangerous flying characteristics, she was a superb fighting machine in the hands of a skilled pilot and by November 1918 had claimed the destruction of at least 3,000 enemy aircraft, more than any other type.
First World War aircraft are a very satisfying way of approaching the world of scale modelling. They fly slower than the W.W.II fighters and don't suffer the complication of retracting undercarriage installations, or indeed flaps. I also find that biplanes, whether sitting on the runway or flying lazy patrols across the sky, always seem to attract the attention of other modellers.
These W.W.I fighter types are no slouches either. Just watch some film footage of the period and although not up to latter-day 3D Shockie standards, the aircraft were certainly very manoeuvrable. Notwithstanding, I approached this particular Sopwith Camel with a hint of caution. Traditionally, a short nose requires that considerable weight will need to be added up front in order to obtain the correct centre of gravity and as this model is pre-built there would, clearly, be no possibility of saving weight by building a light tail section. I reckoned that this, combined with a long narrow undercarriage and a small rudder could lead to some very interesting test flights. Only time would tell...
Typically for a Hangar 9 model, the kits presentation and packaging is superb and creates a feeling of great confidence. Inside the box there are heaps of lovely aircraft shaped bits and plastic bags full of things to keep the modelling mind occupied for many hours. My first thought was that the Camel would make a wonderful Christmas or birthday present and with the model laid out on the lounge floor to check the contents against the parts list, a non-flying friend, on observing the four wing panels, said: Oh that's nice. They've included a spare pair of wings. I can only hope that he receives a pair of socks for his Christmas present.
The first decision to be made is to settle on an appropriate engine for the thing. The Camel will take a .61 two-stroke, .82 four-stroke or a brushless electric motor. I have seen one successful installation with a 22cc petrol engine but whatever your choice you can rest assured that there's plenty of room in the cowl and excessive motor weight wont be an issue. Incidentally, I went for a faithful O.S. 91 Surpass four-stoke, reasoning that the sound would be in keeping, it would swing a large prop to enhance the scale appearance and, of course, it would add some useful weight to the front end.
NUTS & BOLTS
Constructing the Camel isnt building in the traditional sense, more flat-pack modelling, so I don't intend to write a condensed version of Hangar 9s assembly manual. There's a tendency these days to push any instructions to one side for use only when totally confused. Don't be tempted to do this, the manual is a good piece of work with heaps of advice and clear descriptions. So, first find a comfortable chair and a good supply of tea and biscuits to create the ambience suitable for a good and thorough read. I always highlight anything that confuses me and call in modelling friends to help with any issues that need addressing. Theres rarely any difficulty finding someone who can help out and if you play your cards right, they may bring more biscuits!
So was there anything that I didn't like about the assembly? Well, yes. Nothing is perfect and apart from adding an extra coat of fuel proofer to the main bulkhead area, my biggest area of aggravation was that all the bolts and fittings came in Imperial measurements. Lose a nut and your metric equivalent just wont fit, so you have to replace the bolt as well. This, I understand, seems to be a familiar aggravation with Hangar 9 models. The need for a set of Imperial Allen keys is another area of annoyance. The metric ones are just not the way forward so you really do have to purchase an imperial set and in my case replace the old redundant ones I gave away years ago.
FIT AND FINISH
Initially I was a little concerned about the cabane struts as they're made of very soft alloy. However, since no problems have been encountered whilst flying of the model, we must assume all is well. As is becoming more common with ARTF models these days, the fuel tank came pre-assembled but with only two pipes fitted - one for filling and the other as a feed to the carburettor. Whilst my O.S. is pumped and doesnt require a pressure feed from the silencer, I still chose to add a third fuel pipe to act as an overflow vent for refuelling.
Turning my attention to the wing, I was surprised to find that one of the servo hatches had a sticky label attached to the very same surface that's intended to receive the servo mounts. Call me cautious, but I don't reckon its good to glue important things to sticky labels as those labels may, in time, become unstuck, at which point important things can then fall off!
The two aileron control horns were attached with screws that self tap into plastic keepers. Since these horns drive four large ailerons and since the screws were only just long enough, I replaced them with small nuts and bolts. By the way, while we talking about the wing, dry fit everything before gluing, especially the top wing joiners, as one of mine was too long. The rigging was much easier than the instructions indicated as most of the wires had been pre-assembled. Its not a structural part of the airframe, mind, but it does significantly improve the visual appearance so you're advised to take the time it deserves.
Oddly enough, many of us seem to ignore standard caution notices, possibly in the hope that what we dont know cant hurt us! Of course, one should never apply this theory to a models C of G, particularly with regard to the Camel. This one requires a heap of lead up front and it'll need to be properly secured, too. Oh and do try not to just balance the model with your fingers somewhere near the recommended spot in an attempt to cheat! Ignore balancing the Camel correctly and it will almost certainly result in the aircraft re-kitting itself. You'll also receive a series of boring lectures from other modellers stating the obvious.
A friend, (lets call him Bill in order to guarantee embarrassment) built a biplane. Over enthusiastic building meant his model required considerable nose weight to obtain the correct centre of gravity. Having added his lead up front he then read the instructions up to the point that gave the models suggested weight. Bill was now getting the hang of this weight thing and since he'd just discovered that his model was now overweight by exactly the amount of lead hed just added to the nose, he removed it again! As the aircraft sat ticking over on the runway, I asked Bill if hed balanced it properly. Yes, it took a heap of lead, came the reply. What about the overall weight? Spot on, said Bill as he confidently opened the throttle. Short and spectacular can only describe what followed.
With all the normal ground checks made, the Camel was ready to fly. Not, I hasten to add, before a few static photographs had been taken and wed had an opportunity to see our esteemed editor as you've never seen him before, laying face down on the grass surrounded by sheep droppings. Cries of, Maybe they're camel droppings? and Do you think hes fallen asleep? were heard, but he defiantly maintains that good pictures take time.
I have to admit the Camel looks a treat just sitting there on the runway. The only unfavourable comment was that the finish was too shiny. At that point another modeller put forward the theory that the original Camel would have had a gloss finish having been covered in banana oil or dope. As if to add weight to the argument, there was also the suggestion that matt paint hadn't been invented in 1917. Anyway, for me she looked the part.
Facing straight into wind and with the pilots scarf fluttering in the prop-wash, it was time to push the stick forward and head down the runway. Take-off was very simple and not as Id anticipated. The tail lifted fairly quickly and the rudder had authority. I found the model easy to control with no signs of any ground looping. Into the circuit, then!
After a few minor trim changes that were easily achieved without any outside assistance, she flew straight and level adopting the right attitude and sit in the sky. Flying for the camera is always a good indication of how well a model behaves and in this case the Camel will go exactly where you put her. Low passes were the order and here she looked formidable and had all the atmosphere of a classic W.W.I mount. With the photos done it was time to land and refuel. On reducing the throttle the large nose, two wings and rigging wires slowed the aeroplane quite quickly, so if youre not used to draggy biplanes, try this with some height first.
I anticipated a difficult landing but provided you take into account the drag factor there really isn't a problem. Don't let her bounce too much and try to have both wheels touch at the same time otherwise, with that long undercarriage, shell start to oscillate from one wheel to the other until the wing tips strike.
Refuelled and back in the air (the take-off was again really easy) it was time to explore the Camels aerobatic qualities. Loops, rolls and Immelmanns presented no problem, they appeared scale-like and were easy to perform. With this I gained some height to try the stall. Throttling right back and slowly feeding in elevator, I waited whereupon the Camel exhibited a flat trainer-like stall with no sign of dropping a wing. Since plenty of height was still available, I put the model into a spin, during which she looked very convincing with heaps of atmosphere. Exiting the manoeuvre was easy, too!
Having refuelled again it was up into the blue stuff to try something more extreme and out of context with the Camels normal remit. I don't like to fly scale models outside the equivalent full-size parameters but it does help to establish some limits. With that in mind I explored a few simple aerobatic manoeuvres and once again she performed them with flying colours. Mind you, one should be careful not to over stress this type of model; there's a large lump of lead in the nose that'll put a considerable stress on the airframe during extreme aerobatics.
What about with an engine out? Well, in truth not a lot really happens, although its important not to flare out too quickly because, as I said, shes draggy so keeping the nose down and the speed up is the order of the day.
There was just one last test. How would the Camel fare if an 'A' certified flyer with limited experience had a go? Enter my good lady wife Janet, who normally flies a Wot 4. Janet has very little biplane experience and has never had the opportunity to land one. She found no difficulties orientating the model in the air and was able to perform loops and rolls with ease. What's more, following a vain attempt to hand the transmitter back to me, she confidently guided the Camel around the landing circuit and onto finals. Bouncing from one wheel to the other on touchdown, she was able to control things and bring the model to a safe standstill, only nosing over in the last metre or so, and without sustaining any damage. Well done that girl.
In conclusion, this Sopwith has none of the adverse characteristics that Id anticipate from a model of the famous fighter. Hangar 9 has clearly ironed out the operational difficulties that the design will undoubtedly have presented and its turned the aeroplane into a practical flyer that will appeal to many.
Name: Sopwith Camel
Model type: ARTF scale
Manufactured by: Hangar 9
RRP: check for latest price (was £249.99 Oct 2007)
Wing area: 1288 sq. in.
All-up weight: 7.5 - 8.5 lbs
Wing loading: 13 - 15 oz / sq. ft.
Engine range: 61 two-stroke or 91 four-stroke
Functions (servos): Ailerons (2), elevator (1), rudder (1), throttle (1).