Introduced to the front line of the First World War in July 1917, the Sopwith Camel F.1 is probably the most well-known biplane fighter in history. Over 5,700 Camels were produced, the majority in service with the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner of the Royal Air Force, and were responsible for 1,294 victories – more than any other fighter in World War I. It was powered by a 130 horsepower Clerget Rotary engine, and fitted with two Vickers machine guns; these were coupled to a synchronisation gear to allow firing through the propeller arc. This machinery, fitted to the upper surface between engine and cockpit, gives rise to the distinctive ‘hump’ that inspired the biplane’s name.
Review: 3451 Sopwith Camel
It is unusual to see a warplane rendered in Lego. Lego’s version of the Camel was the first of a series of three aircraft ‘sculptures’ released at the start of the decade. Its natural enemy – the 10024 Red Baron – followed a year later; in 2003, released to celebrate the centenary of powered flight, came the 10124 Wright Flyer. As a sculpture set aimed primarily at adults, we can expect detail and accuracy; read on to see how well the set compares to the real thing.
Official picture courtesy of Bricklink.
In this official picture, you get a nice idea of the overall set. Note the slackness in the strings between the wings on this model - we'll look at the strings in more detail during the review.
Name: Sopwith Camel
Year: 2001 - 2003
Price: Originally GB £39.99 | US $50. You can buy a boxed secondhand set for around £60.
Links Brickset ... Bricklink ... Peeron
The relatively sparse box features the set against a blue sky with a few clouds. Whoever put this set together did a better job than on the Brickset picture: the strings are taut. Unusually for the time, the piece count is featured; this set is recommended for ages 12 and up. Measuring W380 x H285 x D70 mm, it is identical in size (and design) to that of the Red Baron. I'm not so keen on the choice of font - it looks a little too futuristic for a historic set.
Just imagine ...
... they'd spent more time on the box art. Just three views of the set here, against badly photoshopped 'clouds'. They might have added some close-ups of the little details.
Surprisingly, the instructions artwork is totally different to the box, and in my view much nicer. Each page features the drawn model against a faint photograph of the real thing, and some schematics of the plane with dimensions and features. I also prefer the 'stencil' font to that used on the box, and the colour scheme is more military. I bought this in 2003; I wonder if the set was originally released with a box to match the instructions, which was then changed to match the Baron; however, I haven't been able to find any evidence of this.
This page demonstrates one of the problems with the instructions: yes, colour differentiation causes problems again, this time between old grey and dark grey, shown here on the engine block. However, there aren't many places where parts can get confused.
Note the schematics visible behind the drawing:
This is a lovely touch. The same is present on all right-hand pages. The dimensions are: Height 8ft 6 ins; Length 18ft 9 ins; Span 28ft. That's the real plane, not the model!
The left hand pages feature a plan view schematic, and the Camel's vital statistics:
The statistics are:
Empty weight: 929 lbs
Max. weight: 1.453 lbs
Engine power: 130 hp
Maximum speed: 115 mph at 6.500 ft.
Service ceiling: 19.000 ft.
Endurance: 2 hours 30 minutes
The Sticker Sheet
At face value, this is a delightfully colourful decal sheet. Mine has withstood the passage of time rather well. The large RAF roundels have been split in two to allow easier placement over the large flat wing tiles. The tail sticker features the set number cunningly disguised as the aircraft designation; the large '1' and smaller 'c' will be explained later, along with one of the major gripes with this set.
Click the picture above for a high-resolution version; or head to PICSL for a scan of the decal sheet.
Looking first at the larger parts, we see a very colourful selection, with old brown, old dark grey, tan and red forming the main colour scheme. The set is a hive of rare and unique parts (mainly the brown ones):
30357 3x3 plate with corner round
30503 4x4 plate without corner
3705 Technic axle 4L
3707 Technic axle 8L (one other set)
32293 Technic steering link 9L (one other set)
x136 Technic wishbone suspension arm (one other set)
6205 6x16 Tile with studs on three sides
6180 4x6 Tile with studs on three sides
6179 4x4 tile with studs on edge
3933 & 3934 Wing pieces
Among the smaller parts are a number of technic pins, which is only to be expected for such an intricate set. Note again the variety of colours, particularly among the 2x1 plates (bottom left). Note also the strings with studs at either end: these may be familiar to many as the Luke-danglers from the recent Star Wars AT-AT sets; here you get to see them fulfilling their intended purpose.
'Old brown' was replaced in 2004; presumably to allow for the two shades of 'Brown' and 'Dark Brown'. Here is the original colour (left) compared to its successor (this piece from the Sandcrawler).
The newer colour isn't much lighter than the old, but it is significantly redder.
For a set aimed at AFOLs, you might expect the build to be interesting and technically challenging, perhaps requiring a degree of patience. On the whole, however, this set is fun to build: the process is smooth with minimal repetition, though some areas are tricky and the instructions aren't always easy to follow.
We start with the engine block. At its core is a 4x6 technic frame; under this sit some half-pins and ball joints. The position of the ball joints is important, as we shall see. At the front are two stud pins in 1x1 axle-hole bricks that will help hold the engine cowling; nowadays of course they would have used these.
The second picture shows the core of the rotary engine - a nice use of megaphones! The core is a little fiddly to build - you have to ensure the axle holes line up.
The engine core is mounted via a technic axle onto the block, and the Camel's 'hump' is built up. The shot from the back (left) demonstrates the 1x4 bricks with groove that form the mechanism for attaching the rear of the plane.
The second shot, from the front, shows the finished 'hump' with the machine guns mounted, and the two forward struts that attach the top wing.
Next up, we attach the undercarriage, and here things get a little tricky. Two wishbone pieces fix the axle to the aforementioned half-pins, and a steering arm forms a brace between the grey ball joints on the axle mounts and the black ones on the engine block. Pushing the steering arms onto the pins takes care and patience.
The process is repeated at the front. There isn't much room between the wishbone struts and the steering arms; mounting the second steering arm is a headache! The finished undercarriage is remarkably sturdy.
The wheels themselves are formed neatly from a steering wheel and a radar dish, giving an authentic look of a solid wheel. There is a little gap between the wheel rim and the dish; you can remove one of the two 1x1 round plates that separate them, but then the studs don't marry properly - probably an 'illegal' technique.
Finally, lots of little radar dishes form the cylinders, and the cowling and propeller are added.
True to real rotary engines, the whole engine spins on the crackshaft; though if you haven't taken care in the construction the cylinders have a tendency to snag on the cowling.
Now we move onto the tail. Firstly, the base is built upwards. This is mainly brick on brick:
At the front, you can see the two black 1x8 plates with rail that will slide into the grooves on the engine block, and the bricks with pins that will attach it securely. The unsightly red cylinders will be well hidden in the final model; they are there to support the top of the fuselage. The base of the cockpit is also taking shape: the seat is made from two brown window pieces attached via jumper plates; the joystick is one of these:
The tan technic beams - attached at the moment only via string - get in the way a little. It's best to stick them temporarily onto the nascent wings.
The tail itself consists of two walls of dark grey that taper with hinges in a manner reminiscent if the UCS (and later System) X-Wing's nose. We start with the rear:
There's a little anomaly here: the white and dark grey 2x2 bricks with pins each attach to a blue 1x2 technic brick. I can see no structural advantage to this over using three simple 2x2 bricks in white, blue, and dark grey.
Here we see the tapering walls. Note the strings that simulate the control cables for the elevators, and the jumper plates that will attach the tail fin.
On the underside, plates are used to 'step' the walls upwards toward the rear. A 2x2 plate with towball is all that the rear of this taildragger plane will rest on when on the ground - we're before the days of tail wheels.
The tail is attached to the base, and finally the plane starts to take shape:
The 'roof' of the fuselage is built from a few roof tiles and supported by long bricks; these will sit atop the red cylinders visible in the picture above.
The two dark grey roof tiles are attached at there bases by only one stud, but are held in place from above by plates. You don't notice this potential weakness on the finished set.
We're getting there. The lower wings are completed, and the outboard wing struts are added, so finally the cables are stretched:
You can see a 'ring' of brown around the cockpit that is meant to represent the padded cockpit rim. It might have been better done in black.
Now we build the tail fin, and parts of the centre wing struts. The tail is nicely shaped; look at the rear: this is one of the few sets I've seen where a 2x1x1 curved brick is placed inside a 3x2x1 curved brick - showing how well these pieces are designed. The fin would look nicer with the stickers applied; more on that story later.
The grey jumper plates on the wing struts are necessary for attaching the top wing - they sit at a slight offset.
When first put into position, the cables from these struts are slack:
This is solved by placing the black studded end of the sting one stud further back on the technic beam. In this shot you can also see the minor greebling at the front of the cockpit - binoculars and grille tiles.
The top wing is a bilayer of plates, with centre cut-out authentic to the real thing.
You'll get to see the top later. Lastly, the engine block is slid onto the plates with rails, and the forward struts marry up to the centre supports. What is not clear from the instructions is exactly where to attach these centre supports on the top wing; it can take a bit of fiddling around to get it right, so long as the outboard supports are attached first.
The Complete Set
And there we have it, the greatest fighter biplane rendered in Lego. Looks good, doesn't she? I like the use of mostly-tile plates to give the wings a smooth finish (and allow the placement of decals).
From the front, we can see the genius of design that produces the accurate-looking wing cables, and how, unlike in the hastily built Bricklink picture we saw at the start, I have made them taut (mostly because I've built it correctly. If you have time on your hands, compare my version to the Bricklink version to spot the error.)
There is however a deficiency in the design. Notice how the lower wings are parallel to the upper. Now compare to this picture of the real plane:
The real Camel's lower wing has a pronounced dihedral - upward angle between the wings. This might have been quite easy to recreate, and is certainly moddable.
Notice also that the aluminium engine cowling is enclosed, unlike Lego's fence-piece version, and there are no cross-braces to the undercarriage (though in Lego these are necessary for rigidity). Apart from these points, Lego's version is a pretty accurate representation, if perhaps a little longer:
Here you can see the Camel dragging its tail, and you get a nice view of the tailplane. Sadly, despite the cables, and unlike her 'rival' the Red Baron, she doesn't have working rudder or elevators (or ailerons, for that matter). The tailfin is nicely shaped, and looks great with decals applied.
From the side, the forward-slanting wing struts are apparent. You might notice the grey footplate in the side of the fuselage, another accurate detail.
The large and smaller white panels on the side look a little incongruous without the decals, but they are accurate, as we shall see.
A closer look at the cockpit, shows it to be a little cramped, at least in comparison to the Red Baron's.
It's nice to see an instrument panel, but this one would be more at home in a sports car!
There's not much to say about the underside - it's a little flat:
The bottom of the fuselage looks 'open', but the effect is hardly noticeable, even if you plan to 'display' one of these by hanging from the ceiling. You might notice that the rear cables of mine aren't quite taut; it is possible to correct this by moving the rear end in and back by half a stud.
A close-up of the undercarriage:
The brown struts look so like wood, and the design so realistic, that it's almost a pity there aren't the crossed bracing struts on the real plane. This is a masterpiece; exactly the same technique is used on the Baron.
Here's the Baron herself for comparison:
Actually, this isn't the best shot for comparison - the taller Baron overshadows the longer, sleeker Camel and it doesn't really do her justice.
There's a good reason why I haven't applied the decals to my Camel. Look again at Bricklink's badly built example:
This is one of the major drawbacks to this set. Take a look at the tail fin, the '1', the 'c' and the roundel on the side of the fuselage. These are all STickers Across Multiple Pieces - apply them, and you can never break the set without destroying the stickers. If you check out the Eurobricks Glossary, you'll see that this very set is the epitome, the archvillain, the very definition of STAMPs! Ok, I'm exaggerating (and it's worth noting that the wing roundels are not STAMPs, being separated over the two plates), but it's such a shame that having to cover many pieces will deter many from applying them, as I'm sure you'll agree they look fantastic. I hope that one day Lego will produce waterslide transfer decals - like you find in Airfix and Revell model kits - which are thin enough to allow brick separation after the decals have been applied.
The following picture, of Canadian fighter ace Major William George Barker's Camel, shows how the decal designer got it right:
This may well be the reference model the designer used. The markings match those of No. 28 Squadron; the '1' is the plane's designation (later replaced with a letter), and the 'C' means that this plane was the flight commander. While we're at it, you can again compare the general shape of the model: the tail, while not perfect, is pretty good; the colour scheme is as good as can be done - the brownish tint of 'old' dark grey is pretty close to the camouflage green of the real plane (I'll ignore the red engine block; some Camels were painted red and white chequers); even the footplate is authentic. Great job Lego!
This is an unusual set in many ways. Firstly, it is clearly aimed at adults; in 2001 we were right at the beginning of the AFOL era with very few sets before this having been targeted solely at the adult market (the SW UCS X-Wing and Tie Interceptor spring to mind). Secondly, whilst Lego have produced an uncountable number of aircraft based on their own designs, this - and the two that followed - are to my knowledge the only 'scupltures' of aircraft that have been produced. (Ok, so there's the Boeing Dreamliner, but that's a Licensed set).
Perhaps the most intriguing point is that the Sopwith Camel is, and always has been, a military aircraft. Traditionally, Lego have shied away from all things military, at least where real vehicles are involved; fighting is ok in mediaeval, Star Wars or Indiana Jones sets (and for the last, Russians are ok but not Nazis ), but heaven forbid they produce anything that might remind people of a real war. Perhaps the First World War is far enough ago to be safe? After all, this is no different in principle to a Lego rendition of a Spitfire or Messerschmitt (and how I'd love to see that!).
Whatever you feel about the philosophy, I do hope you'll agree that this is a fine set. Sure, there are design inaccuracies, and the STAMPs problem is a major flaw, but the overall impression is instantly recognisable as the finest fighter biplane.
Design: 9 Superbly rendered in Lego, the fighter is as true to the original design as possible, even without the impressive decals. I've docked a point for the lack of dihedral on the lower wing, which could have been fixed; short of producing waterslide transfer decals, I don't see how the STAMPs problem could be overcome. The undercarriage design is superb .
Build: 10 It's interesting, with minimal repetition; though fiddly in parts, I'd consider this merely challenging as befits an adult-orientated set. The final result is very rewarding.
Parts: 9 There's a good selection of parts, in many colours; if you're after rare parts in Old Brown then this is the set for you.
Playability: 8 This is a set meant for display. Nevertheless, it is very swooshable, and the landing gear enable you to re-enact a few dodgy rookie-pilot take-offs and landings! If you have the Baron, a bedroom dogfight awaits!
Price: 10 Even at today's secondhand prices, the Camel represents good value. The 577 pieces are mostly quite large, and often rare; I'm sure in a price-to-weight analysis it won't be found wanting. If it were still available for £40, it would be a no-brainer.
Overall: 92%. I give it 10/10. This is a superb, and underrated, AFOL set that should appeal to any fans of aircraft. If you come across a copy in reasonable condition, buy it - you won't be disappointed.
I hope you enjoyed the review. As ever, comments and criticisms are most welcome
Aviation-History.com for statistics and general information
History in Illustration at cbrnp.com for WG Barker and 28 Sqn
Sopwith Camel on Wikipedia
My Brickshelf Folder, with high-resolution images
Now you've read this, head over to the read the Red Baron review - including a chance to vote for your favourite of the two sets:
The Red Baron
Edited by WhiteFang, 30 September 2010 - 05:07 AM.