The FE.2b "FEE" (Royal Aircraft Factory / Farman Experimental 2b) was produced as a two-seat fighter/reconnaissance aircraft. The FE.2b arrived on the Western Front late 1915/early 1916, when 20 Squadron took possession of the FE.2b. The "FEE" was liked by its pilots and contributed in the RFC's battle to counter the Fokker scourge. The FE.2b continued to fly daylight operations until early 1917 before being relegated to night bombing and home defense roles. When I first received confirmation that I would have the opportunity to review the FE.2b kit by Wingnut Wings, I dropped a note to a couple of my RC Soaring buddies who are both fanatical about aviation related to "The Great War." Even now, two months later, I still chuckle at Ken's one sentence reply: “The FE.2b was the ugly stepsister to the DH-2.” Admittedly, the "FEE" isn't as graceful looking as the De Havilland pusher, but it still, however, has a great appeal to me and I'm sure many other builders.
Like the SE.5a "Hisso" Wingnut Wings kit I have in my stash, this kit also impressed me from the moment the box was opened. Each of the nine sprue trees, the Cartograf decals, the instruction manual, and photo etch frets are wrapped individually in sealed plastic bags. The instruction manual is something to behold. It is thirty-six pages in full color and is printed on a heavy, glossy paper stock. The first full page is dedicated to the history of the FE.2b Late, along with the aircraft specifications. Page two contains the obligatory warnings, along with a paint chart referencing Tamiya, Humbrol and Misterkit paints. I personally prefer Testors Model Master but, since each of the colors is listed by name, it didn't seem to be a big problem. For you rivet counters (you know who you are), your biggest quandary may be to decide what exactly the color "PC10" is. Many references are made to exactly what shade of green PC10 is, but in my mind Testors MM Olive Drab was close enough. The next two pages cover the sprue, photo etch, and decal layout diagrams. Another plus in favor of this assembly guide is that, throughout the manual, Wingnut Wings includes numerous detailed photos of actual aircraft to help the builder better understand the assembly he or she is working on. Wingnut Wings offers the builder five options in which to finish the FE.2b Late. These five options are covered in the last 8 pages of the manual. Since many of the assemblies in the model will differ based on which aircraft you decide to build, it will be necessary to make your decision on which model you plan to build prior to beginning construction. I personally was less than enthused about the all-black night bomber versions, so that narrowed my choices down to the first three options. Option C didn't carry any of the ordnance the other two examples did, so I could shave some time off of this build. This particular model was constructed by G & J Weir and utilized in Australia during 1918.
Cockpit & Nacelle
It may be no big surprise but, like most kits, construction begins in the pilot’s office. Unlike more contemporary aircraft, you simply cannot assemble the majority of the cockpit and blanket spray an interior green or RLM 02. I wish it were that simple. There is a general mix of wooden parts, raw metal parts, and painted metal parts. Since wood finishes were new to me, I made a visit to my good friend Google. A wealth of information on building WWI models was found at https://www.ww1aircraftmodels.com, as well as several other websites. Wood finish in a nutshell was obtained by spraying the parts destined for a wood finish with Tamiya's Buff color. Then, depending on the type of wood being represented, I brushed on a mixture of Windsor Newton artists oils and Japan dryer. The colors I used were Burnt Sienna & Umber and Raw Sienna/Umber. I would highly suggest playing around on some scrap plastic from your spare parts box before applying the technique to your model.
From the first snip of the sprue cutters, it is apparent how stunning the quality of the molding of this kit is. The first of several construction hints I will pass on begins with the assembly of the cockpit floor. When assembling the front to rear cockpit floor pieces, add the main bulkhead to the floor and use the side pieces as an alignment guide. If you don't and simply glue them together, thinking they should be parallel with each other, you may find like I did the side pieces (B21, B4) do not fit perfectly. It was not a big deal to correct the floor, but it does take time. The instrument panel decals were unlike any other I've used before. Each of the individual instruments and labels is perfect in every way. What blew my mind was the fact there was NO excess carrier film around the instruments. I've just never seen that before. It was simply refreshing. Even the tiniest labels were legible when viewed with my high powered reading specs. With the interior portion of the cockpit complete, I painted and added the photo etch seat belts to the pilot’s seat, completing this portion of the build. This would be time to add rigging to the side panels. I decided the rigging would not be very visible in the finished model, so I opted not to add it.
It is now time to join the cockpit interior with the outer nacelle pieces. The fit is very good, although, like the model pictured on Wingnut Wings’ website, there is a small gap around the top rear of the pilot’s compartment. Photos of the real aircraft don't show this small gap but, there you go. It didn't bother me enough to worry about it. The thickness of the outer nacelle pieces is very thin compared to the fuselage halves found in the typical model kit. Alignment and fit was perfect and I was very happy with the finished result. The two cockpit openings, as well as the engine area, were masked and the nacelle was sprayed olive drab. The cockpit & nacelle assembly was a very enjoyable build and could be considered a kit in its own right.
The instructions call for adding the landing gear and wheels at this point. I opted to skip this step simply because it didn't make any sense to have the gear hanging off the nacelle when later it would be necessary to add the motor, wings and tail booms. My logic proved to be sound in the long run. Next on the hit parade is assembling the Beardmore engine. Like the cockpit, It is wonderfully engineered and molded. You will be absolutely astonished at how well the parts fit together. Construction is straightforward and you will encounter no problems here. Outside of the spark plug wires, I don't see much room for additional detailing. With the engine complete, all that is necessary is to drop it into the finished nacelle assembly. I found the copper pipe connecting the radiator and engine was a smidge (similar to tad but a bit longer) too long. I snipped off about two millimeters to make the piece fit properly. The cabane struts are added to the assembly and, for the most part, the nacelle is now complete.
The next step in the assembly is to attach the lower wings to the fuselage. Before attaching the wings, I used them as an alignment guide when joining the upper wing sections together. What is absolutely amazing to me is that the lower wings and the outer sections of the upper wings are each molded as one piece. In my opinion, the fabric detail is very well done without being over-emphasized. Both the upper center wing section and the horizontal stabilizer are molded in the traditional fashion of an upper and lower half. I found that neither the upper center wing nor the stabilizer fit as well as the rest of the kit had to this point. The builder is left with a seam at the leading edges of these components. I was easily able to deal with the small gap using a little medium super glue. Before attaching the wings to the nacelle, it will be necessary to paint them. Fabric covered wings of this era generally exhibit a bit of translucency and, as modelers, we can replicate that effect with a few little pre-shading tricks. I revisited www.ww1aircraftmodels.com to read through the pre-shading help section. Pre-shading the lower wing surfaces requires very narrow masking tape. Rather than tediously cut out my own, I opted to try the Jammydog micro masking tape (http://www.scalefinishes.com/welcome.html in the US and http://www.jammydog.com in the UK). The procedure is easy to do. However, it is a bit time consuming but leaves the wonderful subtle hint of light passing through the fabric wings.
The lower wing panels are attached to the fuselage nacelle. Be very careful that you keep the center portion of the wings level. Doing that would have been an absolute nightmare had I attached the landing gear earlier in the construction process. Testors model glue was used to cement the wings in place. This gave me ample time to make sure they were aligned properly. If you read the Hints and Tips section of the Wingnut Wings website, you will note they recommend attaching the wing rigging to the upper wing at this point. (I didn't read that prior to assembling the wings and would suffer for it later in the build.) The plans call for you to add the struts to the lower wings and then to attach the upper wing after the struts are glued in place. Attaching the upper wing would seem easy but, with a total of 16 struts on this kit, a little extra patience is needed. Attaching the upper wing turned out to be a game and, initially, I was losing badly. It would be easy to get more than half of the struts in place just to have a few pop out of place simply by inadvertently bumping the model. This process continued for an hour or more before I nearly tested the aerodynamic properties of my half finished model. However, I persevered and won the battle of the struts. Wingnut Wings’ Hints and Tips webpage suggests using your box top as a wing alignment guide. I was concerned some of the struts might pop back out of place so opted for a slight variation in the wing alignment guide that seemed to work well.
Rigging! Plan on nearly half of your build time rigging this beast. Fear not, since the instruction manual has several pages of drawings to help you with the rigging. Move slowly and carefully and you should have no big problems. As stated above, the WNW website recommends attaching the rigging to the upper wing prior to attaching it to the lower wing. My experience shows it is far easier to see the rigging holes on the clear doped linen colored upper wing than the olive drab lower wing. In hindsight, I would think it would be easier to work inverted and attach the rigging to the upper wing surface. Wingnut Wings recommends EZ-Line for the rigging (not included in the kit). I've used this product for antenna wires on my other models and it works very well.
After many evenings of working on the rigging, the wings and nacelle were ready for some decals. The roundels went down like a dream. As per my normal procedure, I used Micro-Set and Micro-Sol over the glossy surface and was very pleased with the results. The Cartograf decals were just thin enough to get the job done and didn't break up during the application process. Why can't all decals behave like this?
Tail & Boom
We are heading down the home stretch now. It is time to tackle the boom and tail assembly. The boom is wood and it underwent the same wood grain simulation as did the cockpit components and struts did earlier in the build. The boom assembly is a straightforward build. Rigging will rear its head again with the boom. I ruled out rigging the boom before attaching it to the wings simply because they would bend and flex too easily without being glued in place. The boom-to-wing fit was spot-on and it was now time to rig the boom. Hint! – In hindsight, the rigging process may have been a bit easier if I had attached one end of each rigging line to the boom prior to attaching the boom to the wing. The horizontal stabilizer, fin, and elevators were painted and shaded in the same manner as the wings. The stab and fin were attached to the boom and rigged in place. The rudder will be receiving a decal representing the red, white and blue fin flash. I painted the rudder a gloss white and applied the fin flash decals. You will not be disappointed with how these decals behave.
Before adding the ailerons, elevators, and rudder to the model, the control horns were glued in place, as were any remaining control cable pulleys. Hint! – unless there is a secret to attaching the ailerons that I am not aware of, I think, in hindsight, I would pin them in some fashion to the wing. To support the model while attaching the landing gear, I made a small jig out of some scrap foam. The jig would also support the model while attaching the control cables to the model. You may have noticed in the photos of the finished model that not all the control cables have been attached. I personally felt it was necessary to submit the review on time rather than continue to work on the cables. The fact they are not present did not impact this review in the slightest.
The Wingnut Wings FE.2b Late kit can be summed up in one word: Outstanding! I cannot overstate how good the engineering and fit of the kit is. Yes, I mentioned a couple of problems with fit during the build, but they were very minor in the grand scheme of things. Molding quality was again outstanding. The only molding flaws I found on the kit were two small sink marks on the axle piece. The decals were the best I've used. A big round of applause to Cartograf and Wingnut Wings. The instructions are wonderful but not without a couple of small issues. Nothing serious, but it looks like WNW used the FE.2b Early instructions and simply cut and pasted to create the FE.2b Late instructions. I found a couple of small omissions and one or two part number errors, but nothing that couldn't be overcome.
Without a doubt, Wingnut Wings has made a believer out of me. I look forward with great anticipation to building several more of their fine WWI aircraft kits. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Wingnut Wings and to IPMS/USA for the opportunity to build and review this fine kit.