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WWI Biplane
Aligning and Rigging

Rodenís 1/72 Scale S.E.5a

by Glen Porter


Rodenís 1/72 Scale S.E.5a

images by Brett Green

Roden's 1/72 scale S.E.5a is available online from Squadron.com




The purpose of this article is not to provide a construction report on an entire kit, but to detail one of the possible ways to align and fit the top wing, and to rig a WWI biplane.

The subject model is Rodenís 1/72 scale S.E.5a.


Aligning the Top Wing of a British WWI Biplane

After building two of Rodenís kits and encountering problems with the alignment of the top wing, I was determined not to start another biplane until I had worked out a better method of assembly.

One factor contributing to the problem was that both earlier projects had twin-bay wings. This meant that I had to deal with 8 inter-wing struts and 4 cabanes. In my haste, I tried to install them all at once. I would have needed a few more hands to do this!

Although the final results were acceptable, especially for first efforts, there was no way I was going to try and rig them.

Top Wing Alignment Jig

After discussing the issue with a few excellent WWI modellers and getting a different opinion from each, I decided that I needed a jig. The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea how to build such a jig, and was therefore no closer to finishing my stack of unbuilt biplanes.

The penny dropped when I bought the Roden 1/72 scale S.E.5a biplane. I noticed that the artwork on the back cover was drawn to a constant 1/72 scale. I figured that if I taped the two interplane struts to the artwork and temporarily glued a piece of styrene across the struts, then the correct angle and stagger would be set. The only remaining challenge would be to ensure that the struts were vertical when secured to the wings.


Of course, this solution assumed that the artwork was 100% correct, and that any one of 100 other possible mishaps would not interfere.


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

As it turns out, the plan worked well.

Fairly well anyway. I did not quite get the stagger correct, and this resulted in the top wing being positioned too far forward and slightly low. It is not too noticeable though, because the slight discrepancy is the same for the entire length of the upper wing. I consider the experiment is a success.

Tips and Pitfalls of Top Wing Alignment

Here is a short list of additional tips and possible pitfalls that are helpful to keep in mind:

  • First, make sure that all of the interplane struts are the same length. Do not assume that they are. If they are not, it will throw the angle of the stagger out.

  • Also, be very careful when taping the struts to the artwork as this will again effect the alignment on the finished model.

  • Measure the distance between the mounting holes on the wing to make sure that it conforms with the box art and the position of the locating pins on the ends of the struts.

  • Drill the holes for rigging before the model is assembled.



This procedure only applies to British biplanes or those with individual struts. Some German biplanes such as the Fokker D.VII and Pfalz D.XIII have ďNĒ shaped interplane struts which are simpler to install. The Albatros D.V, on the other hand, has vee struts and you will have to work out another method to accurately align these.

Finally, not all of Rodenís kits have 1/72 scale artwork on the back of the box. Under these circumstances you will need to source accurate scale drawings from elsewhere.





For a number of years now I have looked upon the task of rigging biplanes with horror. It was enough trouble actually building the kits without subjecting myself to further potential for trouble at the very end of the project.

However, I was feeling ambitious after successfully implementing my top-wing solution, so I decided to have a go at rigging my 1/72 scale Roden S.E.5a too.

What a big difference a little bit of rigging makes!

There are many different ways to rig a biplane, and many rigging materials available. If you have arthritic hands (as I do) you may not even want to try it but, believe me, the results are worthwhile. Without rigging, my S.E.5a looked like a toy. With rigging it looked, well, a bit less like a toy! You can make up your own mind by looking at Brettís photos of my model.

The Rigging Process

I started by drilling holes to thread the rigging before painting or gluing the top wing, and before painting the top surface of the lower wing. I also did not add the undercarriage until I had finished the main rigging.

This is because I drill the holes all the way through the wing. I have found that it is easier to rig the model, then clean up, fill the holes and paint the wings after rigging.


My thread of choice is monofilament (nylon invisible mending thread) as it is very strong and looks reasonably to scale. With care, it can be tightened by applying heat similar to the method used with stretched sprue.

Before starting the rigging, take care that the glue on the top wing and struts is completely set. Also, do not use too much weight when stretching the rigging or it might pull the wings out of alignment or, worse, break the bond of the struts.

I cut a piece of thread about double the length I need and thread it through both holes. I then touch some slow-setting super glue on a toothpick to the outside surface of the top wing where the thread is exposed. When this has dried, I take the other end exposed at the bottom of the lower wing, add a small weight for tension, and repeat the gluing process.


It is preferable to start rigging from inboard-out, and to work on both sides of the model progressively. For example, when you have finished the farthest inboard wire on the port side, start working on the equivalent starboard side wire next.

Once the initial rigging is completed, the excess thread exposed from the top and bottom of the wings may be sliced off with a sharp scalpel.

For rigging that enters the fuselage, I usually start with the fuselage end of the thread, adding a drop of super glue and poking it into the hole.


When the rigging is complete, the remainder of the wings can be painted, followed by the adding of the undercarriage. Remember that most biplanes had some sort of rigging on the undercarriage. This area can have the same treatment as the wings, but donít forget to let the plastic glue harden for around 24 hours before rigging here too.





I am not suggesting that this is the best or easiest method for rigging a biplane but, with care and time, a good result can be achieved.


If you talk to other biplane modellers they may have alternate methods that you prefer. Either way, have a crack at rigging your next biplane. It does make a big difference to the final appearance of your WWI biplane!


Model and Text Copyright © 2003 by Glen Porter
Images Copyright © 2003 by Brett Green  
Page Created 02 June, 2003
Last Updated 02 June, 2003

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