The quality of Wingnut Wings kits is now something of a legend, and anyone lucky enough to own one can look forward to hours of problem-free pleasure. Five finish options are available in the kit, and I settled on Lt. Ronald Bannerman’s 79 Squadron machine, which, after suffering flack damage, had its upper port wing replaced and a body repaint, making this a visually interesting machine with its varying shades of PC10.

The beautifully detailed instruction booklet logically sequences construction, beginning with the very well-appointed cockpit, but as ever with these builds, I begin with the engine, which is a lovely Hispano Suiza replica. With so many elements of the model needing to be assembled and painted separately, it’s often a very long time before anything comes together, and at least a finished engine provides me with a sense of achievement! The only addition here was the attachment of thin copper wire, suitably painted, linking the moulded spark plugs to the magnetos. Careful reference was given to photographs gleaned from the internet and the extremely useful Cross and Cockade International monograph on the Dolphin, which covers the subject in tremendous detail.

The main paints used here were Alclad Aluminium and Tamiya acrylics, with details picked out with AK 3rd Generation paints and MiG metallic colours. A mixture of thinned Dark Umber, Raw Sienna and Black oil colour washes were used to weather the parts.

Painting any WW1 model can stretch the modeller with so many types of surface needing to be replicated, including a range of wooden finishes, fabrics, leather and metals. Highlighting each aspect of the build would be extremely complex, but there is a general rule that I abide by with wooden finishes. It starts with the application of raw oil colour from the tube brushed onto a sprayed matt Tamiya paint base. Variations in the tone of wood can be achieved by altering the base colour, typically sand and flesh colours, and oil colours, which are usually Dark Umber and Raw Sienna or mixes of the two. Wiping away amounts of the paint with the brush not only achieves a suitable finish, but a flat brush allows for the simulation of grain. Once left to dry for several days, it can be sealed with acrylic varnish and further dark colour washes of thinned oil colour applied to accentuate detail.

The cockpit offers plenty of opportunity to practice these techniques and other material finishes with a lot of the detail work achieved with the paints outlined during engine construction. The etched metal fret contains very useful seat straps, but being quite thick, they benefit from being annealed over a candle flame to increase their flexibility. The complex, cramped nature of the cockpit area is dealt with beautifully, and the whole unit fits easily into the assembled cockpit halves and lower wing.

The rest of the construction is very straightforward, and again, much of the challenge faced is when replicating a suitable exterior finish. I’m a great fan of MRP paints, which are very thin, airbrush beautifully, and can be built up in layers when airbrushed. Their dedicated WW1 Bleached Linen, PC8, and PC10 colours come in a variety of shades and allow for subtle mixes. After a lot of masking of rib tapes with 1mm masking tape, subtle rib effects can be achieved, with gentle over-sprays blending in the colours once the tape is removed. Generally speaking, a darker shade is applied over a base colour on upper surfaces and the reverse for lower so that the ribs can be seen against the pale fabric. Random patches of thinned light and dark colours can be spread over the surfaces to create a subtle, worn look, together with more oil washes. Once the cockade decals were applied, the ribs were again carefully masked with tape before being over sprayed with a couple of passes of Tamiya X-19 Smoke. In spite of the lack of a rotary engine, it’s surprising how dirty some of the undersides of the aircraft got, judging by the evidence shown in contemporary photographs. This was achieved through successive layers of oil paint. The model was sealed with Microscale Matt Varnish before the final washes and details were picked out. With much of the model, complete rigging was achieved using Infini Models 1/32 Aero Rigging elastic, attached with a tiny amount of medium-density superglue.

Wingnut Wings kits are so well engineered that the challenge of building complex WW1 aircraft has never been made easier, and it’s certainly the case here with the Dolphin. The large scale also allows the modeller to take their skills to another level should they desire through the application of extra detail and painting techniques. Thankfully, there are other manufacturers who have picked up the baton since the company’s sad demise, and there are some great kits out there, but if you can afford the luxury of building one of these kits, you will be greatly rewarded.

By Haris Ali

Originally published in Contact! Magazine, Spring 2024

References used

The Sopwith Dolphin in RFC, RNAS, RAF and Polish Service, Cross & Cockade International 2012

Dolphin and Snipe Aces of World War 1 by Norman Franks, Osprey, 2002

Windsock Datafile 54, Sopwith Dolphin by JM Bruce, Albatros Productions 1995

Sopwith, Company Profile 1912-1920, Key Publishing 2017

Resource photographs from the Wingnut Wings website