Letov S-16.1 Prague-Tokyo-Prague 1927
The Letov S-16 design work began in 1924 as an all metal replacement for earlier all-wood aircraft, and was intended as a two seat long range bomber and reconnaissance type. Powered by a 450 hp. Lorraine-Dietrich water-cooled engine, the prototype first flew in 1926, and the Czech Air Force ordered three test aircraft. In all, 89 S-16’s were built for the Czechs, and in addition, Latvia bought 21 and Turkey obtained 12. In addition, Yugoslavia bought one to test as a floatplane. The type served with distinction during the late twenties and early thirties, and a few were still operational in 1938 when the Germans occupied the country.
In 1927, one of the first prototypes was prepared for a long distance record flight, and two airmen, S.C. Skala and Mateu Taufer flew their S-16.1 from Prague to Tokyo, but the aircraft was a write-off due to engine failure on the flight back, and the plane finished its journey courtesy of the Trans Siberian railroad. The aircraft’s rudder survived to fly on another S-16, and it currently is on display in a Czech museum.
Most of the reference material I found was in online reviews and the kit instruction sheet. The kit’s description of the Tokyo flight is rather long and detailed, depicting the problems associated with flying an airplane across primitive country with no aviation resources. It sort of reminds me of a recent ferry trip I made with a 1946 Aeronca 7AC Champ, making the trip from Phoenix to Florida in December with no radio or electrical system and only a compass and sectional charts. These guys probably only has a compass, and the most elementary maps, so their trip is truly impressive. The trip was probably made IFRR (I follow railroads).
The instructions consist of four 8 ½ x 11 sheets folded into 8 pages. The first 4 pages give an account of the Tokyo flight in English and Czech. Next comes a useful sprue diagram, indicating which parts are not to be used, color side profiles of the two aircraft for which decals are provided, and 20 small exploded assembly drawings, some of which include painting details. The box art shows four views of each of the two aircraft to be modeled, and the box art shows the aircraft flying over what is assumed to be Mt. Fuji, as I don’t believe the Czechs had any mountains like that. The only problem is that the plane in the painting is the second aircraft with the small white square marking on the fuselage side.
The kit is molded in light brown styrene, with 47 parts (5 not to be used), one resin prop for the Tokyo aircraft, a small but excellently done PE sheet, and a small film sheet with windshields printed on it. The PE sheet has a number of useful details, and the sprue contains a lot of parts that could be used on another model, as neither of the aircraft to be modeled had armament or bombs.
As with most modern kits, the interior is the place to start. Detail is good, although the locations of the instrument panels are only shown clearly in later drawings. The seat belts are especially well done. The PE rear cockpit bracing is supposed to mount the rear seat, and it is to be glued into the rear section of the rear cockpit. The horizontal members are too long, and the whole thing curves in order to fit into the fuselage halves. Next time I’ll trim them down, but it’s too late if you assemble the fuselage halves without trimming them down. Once the fuselage halves are joined, fill in the gaps and seams in the fuselage, and add the wings and horizontal tail surfaces. These are easy to align. With the wings, be sure to enlarge the mounting holes for the struts, as they are much too small. The lower part of the cowling has to be removed and replaced with a cowling section that has louvers on the bottom, but this is clearly explained in the instructions. This requires some pretty precise trimming, but any competent modeler should be able to handle this easily.
At the basic assembly stage, I masked off the cockpit openings with that spongy stuff women use for makeup removal (It’s great to stick inside a cockpit, as it won’t break off any details inside) and painted the underside of the airframe and wings silver. I then masked off the silver areas and painted the upper surfaces French Khaki, which looks like an appropriate color, and later when the upper wing was to be joined, I removed the mask from that part only. Before that, I added the small struts to the wing roots.
The “N” struts near the wingtips fit perfectly, as did the small bottom wing-to-fuselage bracing struts. One problem with them is that the sprue joins are located on the front and rear of the struts, not at the ends, and this requires some careful trimming on some rather delicate parts. Since the wing has no appreciable dihedral, the cabane struts which brace the wing above the fuselage were too short, exactly 1/16th of an inch, which means that I had to make two strut assemblies from plastic rod. I also replaced the small inner cabane struts with very thin strip at the same time. This wasn’t a serious problem, but it was time consuming. The result was successful. One good thing about this biplane was that with all of the “N” struts in the structure, there is very little rigging wire required, except for the flying and landing wires, which are to be expected. Since this is a single bay biplane, the problem is simplified, so that even with parallel wires, only sixteen wires of approximately the same length are required to completely rig the airplane. I used the electronic wire and white glue method for my rigging.
Painting and Finishing
I used Model Master aluminum for the undersides, and Model Master French Khaki for the upper surfaces. The wheels need to be hand painted, and this must be done carefully, as the lines between the tires and the hubcaps are not always clearly defined. Probably cutting circles of masking tape, attaching them to the wheels, and spraypainting the tire color would have been better. A coat of Testor’s Glosscote prepared the surfaces for the decals. These are excellent, on register, and require no trimming, except that I cut the edges off of the rudder markings. These, incidentally, are done on a separate sheet for whatever reason. Some of the decals are not required, according to the instructions, so decal application took all of about fifteen minutes. After the Glosscote and Dullcote, the edges of the decals were invisible.
A few PE parts need to be added, including the aileron balances, which require a small decal on the top to match the wing insignia colors. I’d put the decal on and trim it before adding the parts to the ailerons. A couple of other PE parts can be added, including some steps on the fuselage side, and a pitot tube which could also be made from very thin rod.
Previous to the issue of this kit, the only one I know about is the old KP kit, which has been around for at least 30 years, my example being completed in 1985. (It is marked “Made in Czechoslovakia” and priced at $5.95.) This wasn’t really a bad kit, but depicted the bomber version. On the Brengun kit, the molding is much better, and the interior with the PE parts is much better. With the parts layout, it is obvious that Brengun intends to market several variants of the kit, which is a good thing, as this era is not well represented in the 1/72 scale range. This kit is a gem, and except for the problems mentioned, is really an excellent kit. Don’t miss out on this one.
Thanks to Brengun and the IPMS crowd (Dave Morrissette and Dick Montgomery) for the chance to build this excellent kit. It was fun.