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An exercise in the achievable
“Paddy Bird” in 1/24 scale

by David Glen




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There’s one thing I’ve learned about scratch building: It’s not magic, and more often than not the contemplation of the challenge can be far worse than its execution. Most kit builders who can handle vac-form and super-detail their creations are already most of the way there. That said, a cardinal rule in my book is never attempt to build a model of anything – not even the broom in the corner of the hangar – without adequate references. ‘Proper Preparation Prevents **** Poor Performance’, my old flying instructor used to say.

For a model maker the best possible ‘preparation’ is the real thing, and that’s why at the turn of the Millenium I chose to attempt an RAF RE8 in 1/24th scale, simply because there was one undergoing restoration at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, just 15 minutes from where I live in South Cambridgeshire, England. Also, I couldn’t resist the sheer bulkiness and seriously eccentric lines of this wonderful and venerable machine.

Duxford's ace restorer, David Upton, with "Paddy Bird"

The Duxford restoration of F3566, one of only two surviving RE8s in existence, was a heaven-sent opportunity. Over several years this almost unique machine lay in pieces under the Museum’s ace restorer David Upton, and there’s no better way to photograph an aircraft for model making than when you can see the inside along with the outside.

The other ‘Godsend’ was Ray Rimel’s indispensable Windsock Datafile on the RE8, which contains workshop manual sketches and GA drawings on which you can all but stake your life! You can copy Ray’s drawings to your intended scale for use in the workshop, but don’t use them for anything else – he gets cross!

I was weaned on injection-moulded kits, and I’m old enough to remember Airfix’s two-bob (shillings in proper English) offerings in those little plastic bags (I used to get more tube glue outside of the joints than in!). So I got fixed at an early age on the notion that the only way to build an aeroplane model is by sticking a pair of more or less identical fuselage halves together.

Much later during my kit-bashing career I graduated to super-detailing cockpit interiors and then on to vac-form; but at the end, it still boils down to sticking two fuselage halves together… So now, wherever I can, that’s how I scratch build.





It’s not hard when aeroplanes are kind enough to be ‘square’, and you don’t need a vac form machine: Imaging knocking together a three-sided box made of styrene sheet and adding some nice rectangular styrene bulkheads (it’s amazing how, with time, the plastic relaxes around these formers, just like canvass over a wooden frame ¬– very realistic). Finally, you add the forth side to the box and cut a hole in it where the pilot sits. Bisect the whole thing lengthwise with a razor saw (and clean away unwanted material) and you’re left with two fuselage halves. Back on familiar territory already! The interior detail can then be installed ‘kit fashion’ and when complete, the fuselage halves reunited. I built my Bristol Fighter and Fokker EIII that way (but that’s another story).

For the “Harry Tate” I had to modify the procedure slightly, simply because of the complication posed by the arching turtle deck. So I built a three-sided box (the fuselage), then constructed the entire cockpit interior including the fuselage frame and bracing wires inside another slightly smaller and open-ended box and dropped the one into the other Russian doll fashion. In this case the ‘box lid’ comprised a hollowed out resin moulding (the turtle deck) together with a carved balsa rear section over which I glued lengths of piano wire to simulate the stringers. With many repeated filler coats of automotive cellulose primer you get a very effective scalloped fabric effect.


That is a very brief and slightly blasé description of a long and painstaking process, but the basic methodology I used was that simple, and that’s what I’m trying to stress: scratch building is not rocket science, but it does need patience and a bit of forethought.

A couple of other tricks I used were: nylon monofilament to replicate the fabric lacing (works fine but there’s a heck of a lot of holes to drill); pewter sheet over carved balsa for the tightly compound curved engine cowlings and a combination of thin walled brass tube, brass sheet and styrene to mock-up the prominent exhausts. The cowling fasteners were just brass wire with the ends squashed flat in the vice. The engine’s cylinders were resin cast from a single master turned on the lathe. The airscrew was hand carved in two pieces lapped together at right angles. I used a beautiful (but unknown) species of wood salvaged from an old trinket box belonging to my grandfather. He had used it for his lathe tools, but black grime and the odd woodworm notwithstanding, it carved like a dream, so long as you could avoid the worm-holes!!

The wheels are lathe turned, and also detailed with fine wire encased under repeated cellulose spray coats (to represent spokes under canvass). Rubber O-rings worked a treat for the tyres, but I’ve now discovered they tend to crack long-term, so I’m back to the drawing board on that one!

The fin/rudder assembly of WWI aircraft tend to be quite flat and are easy to create from styrene sheet; the tail-plane needs more work but is not challenging; the main-planes are another matter…


It is likely I would have embarked on scratch WWI aircraft sooner had it not been for the wings. The prospect appalled me. But the method I hit upon seems to work tolerably well, and again it’s not difficult. For a full description of the technique, you can see the model described in Scale Aircraft Modelling June and July 2006. Very briefly, I start with two styrene sheet blanks, each about 1/8th inch thick, which I shape in hot (almost boiling) water over a carved wood former whose convex surfaces represents the concave under-camber of the wing. Once that contour is fixed and the two halves glued together with a pair of tubular brass ‘spars’ snugly sandwiched in between, it’s then an easy matter to sand the top profile of the wing to shape. The wing ribs are catered for using the well-proven scored skin method and rib tapes by nice thin Tamia masking tape. You only need to skin the top surface of the wing because the under-camber of most if not all WWI aircraft shows no discernable scalloping (If you don’t believe me, go look!) The spars keep the entire wing rigid and their telescoping inners provide the means to join the wing centre section and main planes together with the correct dihedral incorporated. There are a few bells and whistles to my ‘way with wings’, but that is basically all there is to it.

All the inter-plane woodwork was carved in boxwood with lead foil to represent the ironwork at both ends. Rigging is rewarding and great fun, but it teaches a hard lesson. If you don’t plan ahead and drill little holes or create anchor points for flying wires in advance, you’ll never do it once the assembly goes together. I know that from experience!



Painting and Markings


The RE8 like many British Great War aircraft was painted with a green-brown dope designated PC10. The colour exists in some model makers’ paint ranges, but I chose to mix my own from Humbrol shades. Even a brief glance at the real thing at Duxford (which only ever flew for about 30 minutes) shows that it is now a subtle patchwork of colour with a distinctly faded look. Something else that’s very apparent is that the rib tapes show up as a distinctly lighter shade, which involved a lot of simple but repetitive masking operations top and bottom. The national insignia (again faded) were made of sprayed Clearfilm and all other markings from custom dry transfers produced from artwork knocked upon my Apple Mac.



The machine is finished to represent the curiously-named Duxford Original, ‘A Paddy Bird from Ceylon’.

On a final note, I’m very suspect of weathering techniques: Weathering in some form or another is usually required but in my humble opinion far too often overdone. What I’ve got to say now might make some ‘purists’ cry, but I’ve found that I can get a very convincing weathered fabric patina (the same goes for metal) by very lightly ‘stressing’ my paint surface with the very finest grades of steel wool. Similarly a mat paint coast ‘polished’ with natural skin grease can give a far better effect than satin or satin varnish. Like all things the trick is to know when to stop!

A note about ‘Paddy Bird’:

Built by Daimler, F3556 is reported to have been flown only once in October 1918 by one Lt. Halstead, who put 30-minutes on the airframe during the test flight. Then it was crated and delivered to France, conveniently on Armistice Day. The aircraft remained in its crate until its transfer to the Imperial War Museum, and it went on display at Crystal Palace during 1920. In 1974, F3556 was moved the 40 or so miles from the museum’s London headquarters to Duxford for its first thoroughgoing restoration, which occupied most of the latter half of the 70s, prior to permanent display at the Cambridgeshire airfield. Following the second restoration completed in 2006, the aircraft is now on display at Duxford’s recently opened Airspace feature.


Apart from a modified Belgian example preserved in Brussels, ‘Paddy Bird’ is believed to be the only complete RE8 in existence.

David Glen
Whaddon, Cambridge



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Model, Images and Text Copyright © 2007 by David Glen
Page Created 12 February, 2007
Last Updated 24 December, 2007

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