This article originally appeared in the September 2000 issue of Internet Modeler.


by Bob Laskodi


Edward V. Rickenbacker, the top American ace, was arguably the most famous American warrior to emerge from the "Great War". Rickenbacker was born in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio the son of a German immigrant. His father passed away at an early age, and he quit school at 13 to work in a variety of factory jobs to help support his family. By age 16, he was showing promise as a race car mechanic which eventually gave him the opportunity to become a driver. He quickly showed an aptitude for speed, setting a land speed record of 134 mph, and won many races earning a very significant income (at that time!) of $35,000 a year. When war broke out, he tried to convince the U.S. Army to form a crack fighter squadron of former racecar drivers, but he was soundly rejected as a pilot due to his age and lack of education. At the start of the war he served as a driver for Colonel Billy Mitchell who helped him get into the fledgling American air service. Posted to flight school in Tours, France he earned his wings in an astounding 17 days due to his mechanical and racing background.

He was assigned to the soon to be famous 94th Aero Squadron, however he was quite unpopular with his squadron mates due to his aggressive, profane style and lack of education (most American aviators were college educated). His first combat mission was an interesting misfortune, while on patrol with Reed Chambers he became lost in the fog. Barely finding his way back to his aerodrome, he was unknowingly followed by two German aircraft, which in turn unknowingly followed him back to his aerodrome! Seeing the hostile aircraft overhead, Doug Campbell and Alan Winslow scrambled to intercept the intruders and eventually shot both down scoring the first American victories of the war. Thus the most famous American aviator was off to "the races" eventually bagging a total of 26 victories and America's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

The aircraft modeled is a SPAD XIII flown by Rickenbacker while with the 94th Aero Squadron.


This was a straight out-of-the-box build (OOB) of the kit since it is highly accurate and no additional parts are really necessary to produce a quality model. I started with my usual warm, dishsoap water wash of the plastic and photo-etch components, followed with a cold water rinse. Pat dry with a paper towel and let dry overnight. I then pre-painted all the parts as indicated in the instructions

Assembly of the fuselage components was accomplished using super-thin superglue. Assembly proceeded as described in the instructions, with no major problems. Be careful with assembly, as some parts do fit into other parts (like the gas tube B20 that has to go through an opening in the cockpit). A tip is to anneal (heat in a flame until red-hot) the photo-etch parts that require bending prior to painting. I then closed up the fuselage with liquid cement and glued on the upper cowl (A8) to the fuselage. Next, I glued with liquid cement the tail fin, the horizontal stabilizer, lower cowling (A9 & MA30), and lower wing to the fuselage. Check your photo references to see what kind of engine cooling covers are used on your particular aircraft and install them. I installed both the louvered cover and the screen cover; some aircraft used one or the other. Also included in the kit is a part to replace the engine louver cover (B8/9) which is a nice touch if you are modeling that aircraft. All joins were then sanded smooth. Fit was very good and no putty was needed. Next stop was the paint shop after stuffing the cockpit opening with tissue paper to prevent overspray.

The model was painted, decaled, and weathered as described in the following sub-sections and then final assembly took place.

I then installed the photo-etch parts to the interplane and cabane struts. Be careful when mounting these as they are supposed to fit up into their respective openings in the upper wing. A tip is to file them so they have a slight angle point to fit cleanly into the openings. Dry fit to insure that they do fit or you will regret it later when you try to mount the upper wing. In addition, make sure you install them in the correct directions. I "mirror-imaged" one of the pieces and it is noticeable in the rigging. Of course I did not notice this until after the model was completed and I shot the pictures! Also, you do not get to see my mistake as the wonders of digital editing allowed me to crop the photo so you can't see it!

I then glued all the struts in place on the fuselage and lower wing into place using relatively large amounts of super-thin superglue. This is done to insure a relatively fragile model does not explode in later life! The cabane struts were glued to the fuselage body in correct spacing for the upper wing using a caliper to exactly set the distance and the interplane struts were glued to the lower wing. Basically, by applying small drops of super-thin superglue carefully around the strut to form a small bead around the strut base you can make the model much stronger. Do not use an excessive amount, just enough for a thin bead. If carefully applied, you can form a perfect bead around the strut base.

Now it was time to work on the machine guns. Assemble the guns as shown in the instructions. I drilled out the gun tubes for a better appearance. I painted the machine guns in Testors Metalizer Gun Metal and dry brushed with Floquil Gun Metal. Do not install the gun sight (B14), as Rickenbackers plane did not carry it. Check photo references for your particular model; most SPADs did not use it. Install the exhausts and their respective photo-etch parts along with the horizontal stabilizer bracing

Now it's decision time! SPAD aircraft did have a shell ejector chute on the fuselage sides. Unfortunately, the supplied photo-etch part (MA29) protrudes from the aircraft about the same distance that it did on the real scale aircraft. Therefore it is about 48 times too large! My decision got made for me when I launched the part into orbit when I cut the part off the fret. I like easy decisions!

I then installed the landing gear and wheels as indicated and the front cowl and propeller. Install all the remaining fiddly bits and the rigging. I used the kit supplied stainless steel wire for the landing gear and rudder control rigging. I used invisible thread painted black for the strut rigging. Now get ready for the fun part, putting on the top wing!

With 12 holes that need to be aligned with their respective struts, this was a job that took a lot of patience. I placed the upper wing on the workbench and turned the fuselage upside down to mount it. First set the interplane struts into place in their correct holes, then flex the cabane struts into their respective holes and bingo, the wing is in place. However it wasn't quite that easy and took a lot of fiddling to get the correct alignments. I used small rubber bands to help hold both wings in place and then checked alignment of the top to bottom wing. When all was to my liking, superglue the struts to wing using the bead technique described above. A word of caution, let the glue cure fully before moving the model and you will be rewarded with a relatively strong top wing join. I do not use an accelerant for the superglue as it discolors and sometimes pits the surface.


The paint scheme is the standard French five-color camouflage of dark brown, light green, dark green, beige, and black over a clear-doped linen undersides. I painted the underside metal and the landing gear flat white and the cowl Gunze Sangyo Red Madder (H86). I used Testor Model Master French Chestnut and Flat Black, Aeromaster enamel RLM 83 Lichtgrun (9031) and Midstone (9115), and Polly Scale acrylic French/Fokker Dark Green and Clear Doped Linen. I used masks cut from 3M Painters Tape, which is a low tack tape available in 2" widths. I didn't have reliable information on the lower wing scheme or right hand profile scheme so I estimated it based on B&W photographs I have of Rickenbackers plane. After the paint scheme cured for a day, I shot a light coat of Future to prepare the surface for decaling.

I used the Aeromaster decals listed above. After a short drying period of about an hour, I applied MicroSol setting solution to get the decals to melt into the surface. I repeated with a second coat of setting solution to get all the decals fully down. They responded very well to the setting solution with no permanent wrinkling. However, the decals were fairly translucent, allowing some color bleed through. After drying overnight, I wiped the decals off with a moist cloth with a bit of soap to remove any residue and after drying I shot a very light coat of Future thinned with rubbing alcohol (50:50 mix) over the decals to seal them. For weathering, I chose to accentuate the engraved panel lines and surface detail with a light burnt umber oil wash.

I then used a pastel pencil to lightly highlight the rib detail on the wings/tail surfaces. I use Derwent pastel pencils and they are quite easy to use, just lightly draw on the surface to be highlighted and blend with artists blending stump. A very nice, subtle effect can be achieved with these pencils that is much easier for me than dry brushing. I then randomly applied some ground up burnt umber pastels with a soft brush to simulate dirt staining on the lower surfaces. Lastly, I applied a heavy burnt umber oil wash to the wheels and control surface joins.

I then finished final assembly of the models as described above. Lastly, I lightly touched up by hand painting with the appropriate colored paints all flaws and the areas that were covered in superglue including strut/rigging attachment points. Finally, several coats of straight Future was shot to achieve the final glossy finish common to most WWI aircraft.


I have built many models of Shanghai Dragon WW II aircraft and have been generally disappointed in their accuracy and quality of fit. However, the WW I Knights of the Sky Series are in my opinion, the best detailed WW I model kits available today without the fit problems experienced in their WW 2 series. They represent a very good value for approximately $20 and build up into an impressive model with their highly detailed engraving and photo-etch parts. A minor drawback is that they are currently difficult to find; a situation that will hopefully become better with an announcement by Shanghai Dragon to commit to production of this series during 2000.

This is an excellent model of an important WW I aircraft. The accuracy and level of detail engraved in the kit is outstanding and no after-market sets are really needed for a beautiful build. I highly recommend this kit for all levels of builders including beginners and I enjoyed the building of this model. The kit is easy to build and the only difficult tasks are the strut assembly and mounting the top wing due to the large number of struts involved.


  • Squadron/Signal Publications, SPAD Fighters In Action, SS1093

  • Flying Machines Press, French Aircraft of the First World War

  • Knights of the Air, Time-Life Books

  • Fighting the Flying Circus