Roden 1/32 Sopwith Triplane

KIT #: 609
PRICE: $74.95 MSRP
DECALS: Five options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


     The Sopwith Triplane ‑ known to its Royal Naval Air Service pilots as the “Tripehound” ‑ was developed from the biplane Pup in late 1916.  The purpose of the triplane configuration was to maximize pilot view with narrow‑chord wings and maximize maneuverability by increasing wing area without increasing wingspan.  The result was a supremely maneuverable single‑seat scout that had such a profound effect on its opponents that they paid it the ultimate compliment of copying it ‑ directing all German aircraft manufacturers to submit designs for triplane fighters within weeks of the appearance of the Tripehound over the Western Front in the Spring of 1917.  The Triplane was generally about 15 m.p.h. faster than the Albatros D.III and could easily outclimb its opponent; if the German chose to attack, the Triplane could out‑turn the Albatros quickly, then outclimb it, thus allowing the RNAS pilot to choose his moment of attack.

      Flown by such famous RNAS pilots as the Canadian Raymond Collishaw,  American O.C. “Boots” LeBoutillier, and Englishman Reggie Soar, the Sopwith Triplane went far to re‑establish British air superiority in the northern region of the Western Front following the disaster of “Bloody April.”  Powered by the 110 h.p. Clerget engine, the fighter suffered from a standard armament of only one Vickers machine gun, though both Collishaw and Bob Little flew a limited‑production series of Triplanes armed with two machine guns despite the deleterious effect on performance from the extra weight of the additional weapon.

      Such was the pace of technical development that the Triplane, which first appeared at the Front in February and only achieved widespread service in all four RNAS fighter squadrons ‑ Naval 1, naval 8, Naval 9 and Naval 10 ‑ by May, was considered obsolescent by late July and left front‑line service by the end of August, 1917.  Replaced by the tricky Sopwith Camel, the Tripehound was remembered by its pilots as a wonderful flying machine.   

            The Germans paid the Sopwith Triplane the honor of copying it, with the better‑known Fokker Triplane being developed from a requirement issued in direct response to the success of the Triplanes.  Unlike the Tripehound, which had ailerons on each wing, the Dr.I only had ailerons on the upper wing, meaning the other two wings had to be dragged through maneuvers.  The Sopwith could fly rings around Fokker's legendary fighter.  Of course, by the time the Dr.I appeared, the air war had changed and the airplane was essentially obsolete for air combat from its first day on the front, though it would soldier on with the Fliegertruppen until May 1918, with a few still flown by individual aces until the end of the war.

Raymond Collishaw:

      Raymond Collishaw is recognized today as Canada's top ace of the First World War, now that the claims of Billy Bishop have been shown to be largely false.  Born and raised in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Collishaw joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1915 when the Royal Navy was too slow in processing his application, traveling to England at his own expense to do so.  After undergoing flight training in England in the winter and spring of 1916, in May 1916 he received his wings and was posted to 3 Naval Wing, which flew Sopwith 1½ Strutters as one‑seater bombers and two‑seater fighters.

            Having established his fighting credentials with several victories scored in the Strutter, Collishaw was posted to No. 3 Naval Squadron in February, 1917. During the two months he was there, Collishaw flew as escort to the RFC bombers stationed at Cambrai, adding an additional victory while so doing. In April, 1917, he was transferred to No. 10 Naval Squadron, which had just re-equipped with the new Sopwith Triplane.  Before the year was out, Raymond Collishaw would be one of the leading Commonwealth aces as the leader of the famous Black Flight of "Naval 10" squadron where he immortalized the “Tripehound.”

            No. 10 was posted back to Cambrai at the end of May, where the Royal Flying Corps was in desperate need of reinforcements, much due to the losses of Bloody April. Collishaw's "B" Flight was composed entirely of Canadians.  The flight painted the noses of their aircraft and the wheel covers black, gave each airplane a distinctive name, and went on to immortality as “The Black Flight.” Ellis Reid, of Toronto, flew “Black Roger”; J. E. Sharman, of Winnipeg, flew “Black Death”; Gerry Nash, of Hamilton, flew “Black Sheep”; Marcus Alexander, of Toronto, flew “Black Prince”.  Flight Commander, Collishaw, flew “Black Maria."

            During combat in June and July, 1917, the Black Flight  claimed a record 87 German aircraft destroyed or driven down; strangely enough, this feat brought the unit no publicity. Collishaw later stated this was because the regular Royal Flying Corps didn't want to advertise their desperate situation by giving credit to naval pilots.  On July 6, 1917, Collishaw became the first Commonwealth pilot to claim six victories in one day.  Most of their combat was against Manfred von Richtofen's Jagdstaffel 11.

            Collishaw has generally been credited with shooting down  German ace Karl Allmenröder, who with 30 victories was second to Richtofen in Jasta 11.  On June 26, 1917, Gerry Nash got into a fight with two German Albatros D.III fighters, one flown by Allmenröder, the other by Richtofen himself. Nash fought a tremendous battle, but at last Allmenröder got in a telling burst.  Nash's controls were damaged and he fell out of the fight.  He managed to land safely behind the enemy lines, where he destroyed his plane before he was captured.

    The four survivors of the Black Flight thought Nash was dead, and swore to revenge themselves on Richtofen's Jasta. The next day, June 27, they came across Jasta 11 over the front.  Collishaw got into a dogfight with the bright‑green Albatros of Allmenröder. It was one of the classic dogfights of the war, like Hawker against Richthofen.  The fight was a long one, two skilled and experienced fighters who knew every trick in a battle to the death.  At last Collishaw found an opening, and sent a burst into Allmenröder, who went down out of control, crashing to his death near Lille.  That afternoon, Nash, lying in a cell, heard a church bell toll and was told by his guard that it was the funeral of Allmenröder, who had shot him down. Allmenröder, the guard said, had been shot down by the leader of the Black Triplanes.

            Collishaw returned to Canada that August for two months' leave.  Though he was the British Empire's second‑highest‑ scoring living ace - awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Order - he was virtually unknown.  This was in stark contrast to the grand receptions accorded Billy Bishop, who returned at about the same time.  Modern historical research now credits Bishop with perhaps 10 airplanes shot down, not 65.  The Germans had no records after the war of any attack on any German airfield anywhere on the Western Front on July 3, 1916, the solo action for which Bishop was awarded the Victoria Cross.  As one of the last “lone wolves” almost all of Bishop's claims were unverified by any other witnesses. 

            Collishaw returning in late November, 1917, and was given command of No. 13 Naval Squadron, which was operating at the time from Dunkirk, doing escort duty with the Channel Patrol.

By his own count, he shot down 81 aircraft by the end of the war, which would make him the Ace of Aces of the First World War.  The stringent RNAS scoring rules gave him a total of 60. He was well-known for “giving” a victory to a new pilot who had flown with him, to bolster the young man's confidence.  Recent research indicates that Collishaw's personal tally can largely be supported by the evidence, which would indeed make him the “Ace of Aces” of the Great War.

            Collishaw remained in the Royal Air Force after the war, and took 47 Squadron to Russia to fight in the Russian Civil War in 1919.  In 1921, in recognition of his Great War exploits, he was awarded the O.B.E. During the Second World War, Collishaw was promoted to Air Vice Marshal following distinguished service in commanding of 204 Group in North Africa, and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. After a posting as AOC No. 14 Group RAF in the north of Scotland, he was retired involuntarily from the RAF in July 1943.  His memoirs, “Air Command, A Fighting Pilot's Story,”  were published in 1973.  Raymond Collishaw died September 28, 1976, in West Vancouver, British Columbia, at the age of 82.

On October 2, 1999, the terminal at Nanaimo Airport was named the Nanaimo‑Collishaw Air Terminal in his memory.


            This kit by Roden is the first 1/32 injection molded kit of the Sopwith Triplane, and may well be the only one, since Wingnut Wings has announced a policy of not releasing a kit where there already is an accurate model of the particular airplane in the scale.

            The kit is produced in grey plastic, and provides a basic cockpit, a detailed Clerget engine, and a choice of single-gun or twin-gun armament.  The fabric detail is restrained and realistic in appearance.  Two different propellers are provided for the two differing production versions of the airplane.  Only the late production horizontal stabilizer is provided; Pheon is planning to do a resin early-production stabilizer.

            Decals are provided for five Triplanes, including N5493 of Naval 8, flown by Robert Little, the Australian Ace of Aces; Collishaw's “Black Maria” of Naval 10; “The Ooslumburd,” flown on home defense from Manston in July 1917; the Triplane flown in French naval service by Charles Delesalle; and the Triplane flown by General Marontov's cavalry during the Russian Civil War.

            Pheon Decals has also released sheets 32018, which provides markings for every Sopwith Triplane flown by every RNAS ace of all four squadrons, and 32019 which provides national markings for two Triplanes, one with the white surround to the insignia and one without.  These are excellent, well-researched decals, and well worth getting hold of if you are going to do a Tripehound. 

            The Roden seat is a mere approximation of the wicker seat used by RAF aircraft.  Fortunately, both Pheon and Lone Star Models have released very good resin wicker seats, with the Lone Star seat having greater detail with an “open” back.  The LSM seat retails for US$8, with a similar price for the Pheon seat, which could be ordered when one gets the decal sheet.

            I'd also like to put in a word of explanation here about the price increase of Roden kits.  Two years ago, this kit would have sold for around US$50, rather than the $74.95 it lists at.  This is due to the fact that in the last 18 months, the Russian Government ended its agreement with Ukraine to provide oil and petroleum products at previously-reduced prices following Ukraine's decision to adopt a pro-Western, independent policy and become part of NATO, rather than remain essentially part of Russia.  The result has been a 150% increase in the price of all oil and petroleum-based products (like plastic) for domestic Ukrainian companies.  This is not a case of Roden trying to gouge modelers.  HobbyLink Japan carries the kit with their 20% off regular price, giving a US price of $65, which is a considerable savings. Smart shoppers can always find kits at less than retail.


            Due to the relatively simple production design of the kit, this model presents no problems for a modeler entering the World War I genre.  Following the instructions, I had the basic assembly done in two days in time outside of my “day job.”  I left the model in “sub-assemblies - the fuselage with lower wing, engine and cowling, and tail surfaces - and the middle and upper wings.  I posed the control surfaces in dynamic positions and made certain to set the controls inside the cockpit correctly.

            I particularly liked the fuselage molding, since I was able to glue the upper rear fuselage with such good fit that I didn't have to sand down the seams in such a way that the turtleback detail would be lost.


            The Pheon markings profiles show Collishaw's airplane in “classic” P.C.10 green-base camouflage.  However, P.C.10 came in shades ranging from medium green to chocolate brown, depending on manufacturer.  Eduard's “Black Flight” release of 1994 showed a brown-base color on the airplane, and I decided since so many of my British airplanes have the green-base color that I would paint this model in a brown-base color, just for a difference.  When one produces a color photo of Collishaw's airplane, we will know for sure what color it was, but for now any dark color is as good as any other, leaving it to the choice of the modeler.

             I first painted the cowling and forward fuselage with Tamiya “Semi-Gloss Black.” Then I painted the lower surfaces with Gunze-Sangyo “Sail Color” after pre-shading the ribs and underlying structure with flat black.  The upper surface was painted first with Gunze-Sangyo “Mahogany,” followed by Tamiya “Flat Brown,” followed by Tamiya “Flat Red Brown”.  The interplane struts were painted “Ash,” a color I mixed up with Tamiya “Orange” and “Red Brown.”  I then gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Gloss clear coat. 

             The Pheon decals went on without problem.  Once they were set, I gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix Satin Varnish.


             I assembled the upper and middle wings and struts as a sub-assembly, then attached them to the fuselage/lower wing sub-assembly.  After letting that set up, I attached the landing gear.

             Rigging was accomplished with RB Productions 2BA photoetch wire.  The Triplane came out just before the introduction of raf wires, which is why I didn't use the 4BA wires.  This stuff is great.


             The Sopwith Triplane is one of my favorite Great War fighters, and this kit by Roden is probably not going to be beaten in the foreseeable future in this scale.  Yes, it's pricey (not because anyone wants to rip you off) but it is worth the cost if you like the airplane.          

 Review kit courtesy HobbyLink Japan.  

Decals courtesy Pheon Decals. 

Tom Cleaver

January 2011

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and quickly, please contact me or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

Back to the Main Page

Back to the Review Index Page