Roden 1/32 SPAD VIIC.1
KIT #: 604
PRICE: $65.00 SRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Pheon Decals “SPAD VII Lafayette Escadrille” used

             René Fonck, leading French ace of World War I with 75 victories, said that the introduction of the SPAD VII fighter  "...completely changed the face of aerial warfare".

             The SPAD S.VII C.1 was the first of a series of single-seat biplane fighters produced by Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivé(SPAD) during the First World War.  The airplane was influenced by the introduction of the Albatros fighters, which emphasized speed and maneuverability in the vertical plane over the lighter rotary-powered fighters that had preceded it.

             In February 1915, Swiss engine designer Marc Birkigt modified his Hispano-Suiza V-8 automobile engine for use in aircraft.  The result was a 330-lb engine which produced 140 hp at 1,400 rpm.  With further refinement, the engine provided  150 hp by July 1915.  French officials ordered production be established as soon as possible and asked aircraft designers to create a new high-performance fighter around the engine, called the Hispano-Suiza 8A.

             The result was the S.VII, which was developed from the SPAD V, which in turn was based on the two-seat SPAD A.2, with which it shared a unique single-bay biplane wing with additional light struts mounted mid-bay at the junction of the flying and landing wires, which simplified the inter-strut arrangement and reduced vibration of the flying wires, which in turn reduced drag.  The result was a sturdy, rugged aircraft with good climbing and diving abilities, as well as being a stable gun platform.  Pilots who were used to the more maneuverable rotary-powered Nieuport fighters found the SPAD  heavy on the controls.

             The prototype SPAD V made its first flight in April 1916. Flight testing revealed a maximum speed of 119 mph - appreciably in advance of other Allied fighters at the time -  and a climb rate of 4.5 minutes to 6,500 ft., which was also superior to other Allied types.  With the soundness of the airframe construction, the SPAD V had a remarkable diving performance superior to the Nieuport fighters, which suffered from overly light construction, giving them a tendency to shed the wings in a steep dive.  With such performance, the French authorities made an initial production contract on May 10, 1916, for 268 aircraft to be designated SPAD VII C.1 (C.1 indicated it was a single-seat fighter, or Chasseur).

             Unfortunately, the early production aircraft revealed several defects which took time to resolve. The major problem encountered was with the engine, which was prone to overheating in hot weather.  One cure was to add additional louvers on the engine cowling panels to increase airflow over  the engine.  Additionally, the cowling opening was first enlarged and eventually redesigned with vertical shutters to solve the problem. The engine mount was too weak and reinforcements were designed. The early aircraft were also equipped with two ammunition drums - one for loaded rounds and the other for empties, which was prone to jamming.  The problem was finally solved when Prideaux disintegrating links were introduced.

             The first SPAD VIII aircraft delivered to an operational was S.112, flown by Lt. Sauvage of Escadrille N.65.  S.113 was assigned to Lt. Georges Guynemer of Escadrille N.3, who was credited with 15 victories.  Armand Pinsard of Escadrille N.26  scored the first aerial victory on August 16, 1916, in S.122.

             Due to the engine problems, the initial introduction of the SPAD VII was did not change the balance of the air war but it allowed both pilots and mechanics to familiarize themselves with the new fighter. Many pilots thought the airplane lacked maneuverability and some reverted to their nimble Nieuports while waiting for the SPAD VII to become more reliable. New tactics based on speed and performance in the vertical plane were developed to take advantage of the SPAD's power, and to compensate for its relative lack of maneuverability. The ability to dive safely at up to 249 mph provided the ability to leave combat without fear of pursuit if the situation demanded it.

             The SPAD VII was gradually replaced in the latter part of 1917 by the improved SPAD XIII, was had a 220 h.p. Hispano Suiza and carried two machine guns rather than one, though the SPAD VII remained on operations with the Aviation Militaire and the Italians until the end of the war, though the French eventually used it as a trainer.  The SPAD VII was used as the standard pilot certificate test aircraft until 1928.

 Raoul Lufbery And The Lafayette Escadrille:

            Before the entry of United States in 1917, one of the most famous units in the Aviation Militaire was the Lafayette Escadrille, which was organized in April, 1916 by Dr. Edmund L. Gros, director of the American Ambulance Service, and Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying with the French, as the Escadrille Américaine.  The French stationed the unit Luxeuil and provided a commander - Captain Georges Thénault - equipping the unit with Nieuport 17s.  Thus, their official designation was Escadrille Nieuport 124 or simply N.124.  The use of Américaine in their name prompted German diplomatic complaints, which resulted in the unit being renamed the Escadrille Lafayette, which had an even more emotive response with the American public. 

             Kiffin Rockwell scored the first victory, a German L.V.G. two-seater, on May 18, 1916. Shortly after, the unit moved to Bar-le-Duc, an airfield near Verdun, where they took part in the heavy fighting over the fortress.  After several casualties, they returned to Luxeuil for further training, where they adopted their famous mascot, a lion cub named “Whiskey,” who was later joined by a second, named “Soda.”

             Publicized by the French for propaganda purposes, the fame of the 38 American pilots exceeded their impact in combat - over 20 months of combat, they downed 57 German planes, which was a solid, though unspectacular, achievement.

             Gervais Raoul Lufbery - who would become the leading ace of the Lafayette Escadrille - was born on March 14, 1885 in France.  His father moved to Connecticut and established a stamp dealership, while Raoul was raised by his grandmother until he sailed for America at age 19. Ironically, his father sailed for Europe the same day, and they never saw each other again. Raoul stayed in Wallingford, Connecticut, for two years, where he learned to speak a little English before traveling to Cuba and back.  A stint with the U.S. Army in the Philippines earned him American citizenship, after which he left for the Far East.

            In 1912, Lufbery met the renowned aviator Marc Pourpe, who was barnstorming Indochina in his Blériot.  Lufbery went to work for Pourpe as foreman and mechanic, and the two moved on to Europe and Africa, where Pourpe made the first round-trip Cairo-to-Khartoum flight in 1913, with Lufbery in charge of fuel, maintenance, and spare parts.  Later that year, the two saw combat when Pourpe flew for the Bulgarians in the Second Balkan War and became the first pilot to drop bombs from his aircraft.

           Following the outbreak of war in August, 1914, Lufbery joined the French Foreign Legion as an infantryman.  He was quickly transferred to Pourpe's squadron of the Aviation Militaire as a mechanic. Pourpe was killed a few months later  and Lufbery enrolled in pilot training at Chartres. After learning to fly on the Farman, he joined Escadrille VB (Voisin) 106.  He was recognized as a competent pilot and applied to fly fighters. After some opposition from his commander he went to Plessis-Belleville for training on Nieuport scouts. He was not a naturally gifted pilot, but he was persistent and became a decent pilot.

             Upon completion of fighter training, Lufbery as assigned to the Lafayette Escadrille. At first, he didn't fit in with the college boys, being several years older than most of them and seeming crude and unfriendly at first. His scored his first victory on July 30 over Verdun, with a second later the same day. By October 12, he scored three more and was an ace - the leading flier of the Lafayette Escadrille.  Lufbery downed his seventh in January, 1917, shortly after the unit re-equipped with the SPAD VII C.1 over the Christmas holiday.

             Following the entry into the war of the United States, Lufbery - who then had 16 victories and was the leading American ace of the war - was one of the first members of the Lafayette Escadrille to be selected for American service.  Given the rank of Major, he was assigned to the as-yet unformed 94th Aero Squadron. The rest of the Americans in the Lafayette Escadrille became the 103rd Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service in February, 1918.

            In early March, 1918, when the Germans staged their last great offensive, Lufbery and the other experienced American pilots had no role to play. "It's nearly a year since the United States declared war," Lufbery complained, "And what do you suppose the 94th is doing? Waiting for machine guns." Tired of waiting, Lufbery led Eddie Rickenbacker and Doug Campbell on the 94th's first patrol on March 19, despite the fact that all three were unarmed..

             As Lufbery began flying with the 94th, he became moody and irritable, worrying about his Nieuport 28 and obsessing over a fear of fire in the air.

             On May 19, 1918, Lieutenant Gude of the 94th engaged an Albatros two-seater over the unit’s airfield at Saint-Mihiel. This was Gude's first combat; it seemed at first that he had scored against the Albatros, but after spiraling down the German pilot pulled out and headed for home.

             Anxious to score over Allied lines to show Americans were in the war, Lufbery took off after the escaping Albatros. Those below expected him to score easily. He made one pass, then moved off, likely to clear a jam.  The Albatros’ rear seater then hit the Nieuport, which caught fire. Lufbery was seen to climb out of the cockpit and jump from about 200 feet over the village of Maron. He was impaled on a picket fence and his body recovered by a woman and her daughter.  General Billy Mitchell watched, and later regretted that America's leading flier had not been carrying a parachute, which was not yet regulation equipment.

            Two Lafayette Escadrille fliers, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff, wrote the world-famous novel, “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which has been made into a movie three times since it was first published in 1932.  Another Lafayette Flying Corps pilot (those Americans who did not serve directly in the Lafayette Escadrille but flew with other units), William Wellman, became a motion picture director after the war and won the first Academy Award for directing “Wings.”

             Raoul Lufbery did not invent the defensive aerial tactic known as the Lufbery circle.


            The better-known SPAD XIII was among the very first airplanes to be recreated as a plastic model when Hawk released a 1/48 kit in 1951, which is still available and can still be made into an acceptable model, though it has been long obsolete, beginning with the Aurora SPAD XIII released in 1957, while the Revell 1/28 SPAD XIII is still the king of big kits 52 years after its initial release.  The Hobbycraft 1/32 SPAD XIII can be made into an excellent model, though there is not a good decal sheet for this kit.

             The SPAD VII is a fairly-recent phenomenon in injection plastic, with kits in 1/72 and 1/48 released by Special Hobby over the past 7 years.  This SPAD VII by Roden is the first kit of this airplane to appear in 1/32.

            Produced in Roden’s standard light tan plastic, the kit provides good detail, with a full Hispano engine and a fully-detailed cockpit.  The cockpit lacks seat belts, but it is a simple matter to make them from Lead Foil or to get Eduard’s photoetch set.  Decals are provided to make three aircraft, including “Revanche IV” that was flown Armand Pinsard, the first pilot to score a victory in a SPAD VII, the SPAD VII of Escadrille N.23 flown by Maxime Lenoir, and the famous “Le Grand Charles,” flown by Georges Guynemer of Escadrille N.3.

Of these three, “Revanche IV” is most likely a later-production SPAD VII, which differs in detail around the radiator from what is done in the kit.  Out of the box, the kit most closely approximates an early-production SPAD VII, though there is some necessary modification work to be done to get this to more closely resemble the early version.

            The decals are off as regards color.  Fortunately, Pheon Decals, a new company in the UK specializing in First World War decals (they aim to ultimately replace the now-defunct Americal-Gryphon), has produced an excellent, well-researched set of decals to cover five SPAD VIIs flown by the Lafayette Escadrille and one airplane flown by the 103rd Pursuit Squadron in American service.


            Assembly of the kit is quite “fiddly.”  I found it best to assemble the fuselage separately without the cowling covers, then insert the completed cockpit assembly through the open forward fuselage.  I particularly liked the separate turtleback, which solved the problem of how to avoid having the centerline seam wreck the fabric effect on the upper rear fuselage.

            I then attached the lower wing and the gas tank.

            I then discovered that the engine is too big to be inserted in the fuselage and have the cowling cover it correctly.  Fortunately, one cannot see the engine once it is installed, so following my dictate “if you can’t see it, I didn’t do it” will allow assembly to proceed with a minimum of further difficulty.  The engine is nicely detailed, and is worth assembling and painting for separate display.

            You should use the side cowling panels that have the least number of louvers on them, which is correct for the early production SPAD VII, though the instructions are unclear here.

            The radiator and cowling nose are supposed to represent the early SPAD VII, but really represent the mid-production radiator, due to the enlarged opening.  If you want to do an early SPAD VII, I found that you can use one of the extra wheels (which are for the late production version); ream out the center and smooth it, then sand down the outer rim until it fits inside the cowling opening.  With a bit of cyanoacrylate to fill the gap there, you can have the correct early cowling.

            Surprisingly, the landing gear axle is too wide.  The SPAD series have a narrow gear with the gear legs only slightly splayed out from the vertical.  After comparing this with the correct-length axle on my Hobbycraft SPAD XIII, I ended up taking out 1/4 inch from the middle of the axle, gluing it back together and filling and sanding the joint.  With that done, the landing gear looks right.

            The ailerons are separate, but the joint is very fiddly and weak.  While I managed to pose the ailerons dynamically after several attempts, I would suggest this is a model that wants the ailerons posed in the neutral position.  I attached the horizontal stabilizer with the elevators drooped.  I did not attach the rudder to the vertical fin, since it would be easier to apply the rudder stripes with it separate 



            I applied a mixed color based on Tamiya “Buff” with a bit of Yellow added to get the color for the Fabric.  The forward fuselage was painted with a mixed color based on Tamiya “Desert Yellow” with a bit of Red Brown added in.  The struts were painted a mixed color of brown and yellow to represent “Yew.”  I then gave the model a coat of Future when this was all dry. 


            The Pheon Decals went on without problem.  These are excellent decals that are very thin, yet do not crumple together and don’t want to stick to the first surface they touch.  The colors are completely accurate.  The decals snug down under a light coat of Micro-Sol without further problem.


           I washed the model to get rid of decal solvent residue, then gave it a coat of Xtracrylix Gloss Varnish, which is less glossy than Future.  I attached the wheels and “muddied them up,” and applied some mud spray to the underside of the wings and the fuselage.  I used Tamiya “Smoke” for the oil and exhaust stains, then attached the exhausts, followed by the gun and then the windscreen.

            I attached the cabane struts and the outer wing struts.  Since the SPAD rigging is very “fiddly,” I decided to rig the model before attaching the upper wing. I had drilled out the attachment holes for the struts to make them easy to use, then rigged the model using .006 wire that was painted black for effect (I don’t know that they actually were black, but they are a “dark color” in period photos.  Once this was all set, I attached the upper wing, which was fairly easy since it is easy to get the right alignment of the struts and attaching the rigging beforehand keeps everything in the proper position.


            The SPADS are among my favorite World War I airplanes, and I am very glad to finally have a good SPAD VII in this scale.  The model looks great sitting next to the Hobbycraft SPAD XIII on the First World War shelf.  Roden is to be commended for making such a nice kit.  It is fiddly, and not recommended for the tyro World War I modeler, though modelers with some experience doing “fiddly” biplanes should have no trouble.

 Review kit courtesy of Roden and thanks to Pheon Decals for their decal sheet.

Tom Cleaver

June 2009

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