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Morane-Saulnier Type BB Biplane, Scratch-Build In 1/72

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Here is a picture of the machine itself:


The image is from a German post-card (by the Sanke company), as the machine was brought down by Lt. Immelmann as his ninth victory on February 23, 1916. Both its crew died; the observer, Lt. Birdwood, on the scene, and the pilot, Lt. Palmer, a few weeks later in hospital. The machine had arrived at No. 3 Squadron only three weeks previous, on February 1.

Here is the obligatory 'kit shot'....


References are pretty thin on this type, and it is the first I have done without any really reliable drawings. I am very grateful for the help of several members of the Aerodrome Forum, Mr. Gilles, Mr. Wyngarten, and Mr. Lowrey, who have shared numerous photographs and other materials with my, both on line and through the mail. I am reasonably confident i can make a decent job of this in consequence.


Here is a look inside the forward portion of the fuselage.


Here are both fuselage elements in profile at present.


Here is the underside of the nose.

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Here are the wings.



The one with the narrow cut-out is the upper wing.

The wings are made from 1.5mm sheet, which is scored, then bent, the scores being filled in with CA gel, and the whole then filed down to curves. Morane-Saulnier used half-round cane battens tacked down over the ribs instead of tapes, these are represented by .25mm rod, which will be filed down a good deal. Only the upper surface of the upper wing ahs these attached as yet.

Here is what can go wrong with the camber technique:


The seams get a bit thin, and I was incautious while trimming away the trailing edge cut-outs, holding on only one side of the seam while apply force with a tool down-wards on its other side....

The lower wing shown above is a replacement for this piece.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Progress in this case, Gentlemen, has consisted in scrapping most of my previously illustrated work. A better understanding of the fuselage contours of this machine has required constructing entirely new fuselage pieces. I will explain....

My major source going into this spoke of R.F.C. Type BBs being modified with "a fairing" on the starboard side to accommodate a camera and wireless. This wording suggested to me a discrete, separate bulge, and I could detect no sign of such on the photograph of 5137. My conclusion was that this was a modification added to later machines of the type, and this was part of my reason for taking 5137 as my subject, since something of that nature in one side of an open cockpit would be damnably tricky. I have since had a look at comments by the late Mr. J. M. Bruce on the type, which state that "the fairing" on the starboard side was enlarged to this purpose, and that the result was an asymmetrical fuselage. Mr. Bruce establishes further that this modification was communicated to Morane-Saulnier by December, 1915, and so must have been incorporated into a machine delivered by the end of January, 1916. The structural elements of the Type BB's fuselage were rectangular in shape, and the arrangement of stringers around this which gave it its circular appearance was generally referred to as fairing the fuselage to that better stream-lined shape. Once I had this understanding, it was easy to see evidence of it in several photographs of 5137. Here is a picture of the new fuselage in its present state, alongside the old one at the point where I dropped work on that.


Methods of construction on the new fuselage were a bit different than previous. I commenced at the rear rather than the front, making first a 'box' of this sheet to the dimensions of the internal structure of the longerons in the rear portion of the fuselage, adding sheet over this to build up the proper thicknesses for rounding (2mm sheet on port, 2mm and 1mm sheet on starboard, 1.5mm on the bottom). I put a 'spine' of 2mm sheet, shaped to proper profile, down the center of the upper face of this rectangle, filling it in on the port side with solid sheet. When everything else was shaped, I cut a piece of 1mm sheet. I was not able to make the 'V' shape work on the starboard side of the cockpit, and wound up employing a laminate of two 2mm layers and one 1.5mm layer, with the interior routed out with a Dremel using an emery cylinder. I went ahead and did the port side from a thinner laminate. The bottom portions are also solid. I have decided to extend the floor all the way to the front: I have no certain knowledge either way, and it will make my life a good deal easier, and the forward portion probably will be invisible in any case, owing to the depth of the fuel tank in front of the pilot's position. I have put a camera in the 'bulge' alongside the pilot: though on its final flight 5137 was not equipped with a camera, I want to illustrate the purpose of the odd fuselage shape.



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  • 3 weeks later...

Third time would seem to be the charm, Gentlemen. I managed to break my second fuselage, the one pictured immediately above, cracking the front portion off the rear while gluing the cockpit floor in place. Examining the pieces disclosed that at two points near the seam, the plastic had been filed thin enough that I was sure to break through while putting in the stringer detail. So there was nothing for it but to start over once more.

In this third attempt I adopted a brute force 'dug-out canoe' approach. I built up both sides solid in laminate cut to match the profile, the port side consisting of two 2mm and two 1.5mm sheets, the starboard of three 2mm, one 1.5mm, and one 1mm sheets. These were tacked together with a drop of CA gel at front and rear, and the outer shape filed and scrapped in. They were then popped apart by slipping a knife-point into the seam, and the forward area routed out with my little Dremel using an emery cylinder. It ain't a pretty technique, and sure the Hell is not an elegant one, but it has worked well enough. The pieces were full round at the front to start, and the triangular piece below the clip added to either side once internal shaping was complete. Side-wall detail was then added, along with the floor, forward fuel tank, and head-board and cloth drape at the rear. I was able to salvage the camera from the previous fuselage. Once the fuselage was closed, the forward decking element and base of the pilot's windscreen was added, as well as a little adjustment to the rear cockpit contour, and then the cockpit detail (mostly conjectural) was added. A little work remains to be done on the forward cockpit decking. A cap was added to the front, and the cowling added. This began as the Nieuport 17 cowling from an Eduard kit I had been employing as a gauge, which I thought to save a little time by employing; it has had its chord reduced a bit, been thinned greatly inside, and had its bottom clipped off. Stringer effect had been scraped and sanded in.




The pictures below show the lower wings, upper and lower surfaces, and placed roughly in their proper position relative to the fuselage to give some idea of over-all appearance at the next step. The wings are new (I botched the rib count on the first ones). The paint on the upper surfaces is no part of the finish, merely a spot-coat to be sure there were no cracks in the seams where it was folded to camber. The lower wings will but up to the fuselage a hair above the line of the bottom of the clipped cowling, and will have to be filed to a pretty complex contour to fit properly.



Should the modeling goddesses condescend to smile, things ought to start moving a little quicker now....

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Well, Gentlemen, it is finally at the 'looking like an aeroplane' stage....

The lower wings have been attached, and the first run of painting done. There will be some touch-up on portions of the fabric, but not till I mix my next batch of the color. This machine only lasted four weeks in service, and most of that under canvas as it was pretty solid 'flyer's weather' in February of 1916. There is a bit of surface detail on the nose, but it has not been high-lit yet, and does not show up much in the black field. The trademarks on the cowling are pretty much 'tromp d'oile', picked out in brass paint with a tooth-pick.




Next step is doing a new upper wing....

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  • 3 months later...

Life interfered with modeling in several ways, Gentlemen, none worth going into here, but have been able to return to this and make good progress recently: the undercarriage is on, the upper wing attached and rigging completed, and work begun on the tail surfaces.

To attach the upper wing, I glued the interplane struts to the upper wing, then attached these to the lower wing, and assembled the cabane structures in situ. The motor comes from the same Eduard N.17 kit that provided the cowling (and will provide the wheels). As the contours of the fuselage near the tail are a little tricky, it has seemed easier to make the upper and lower fins and the rudder all as separate pieces, rather than as a single piece with a notch. The elevators are made but not attached; the propellor and spinner are also made but not yet attached. The finish line is definitely in sight....






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  • 3 weeks later...

For purposes of our Group Build, Gentlemen, this model is complete: I will consider it at this stage to be 'modeled as it appeared in German hands after being brought down by Lt. Immelman', after which its armament was stripped. Shortly after these pictures were taken, I managed to knock over a squeeze-bottle of white glue on the poor thing: all tail surfaces but the under-fin snapped off, as did the wheels, and most of the strut joints to the upper wing popped loose. I have repaired most of the latter element of the damage, but am putting the project aside for a little while....






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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

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