When war broke out in 1914 it had been hardly more than a decade since man’s first powered flight, yet all the belligerents had already seen the military potential of aircraft, even if that was only thought to be for reconnaissance and observation. In Great Britain this had led to the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (‘RFC’) in 1912, which had originally been intended to cover both Army and Navy functions, although these quickly diverged and by August 1914 the separate Royal Naval Air Service (‘RNAS’) was in charge of naval aviation, leaving the RFC as the Army’s air arm. By 1917, the date attached to this set, aerial combat in all its forms was well established, and the RFC had grown enormously to meet the demands placed upon it. Aircraft and tactics had developed very rapidly, yet the planes remained relatively flimsy and difficult to manage, and throughout the war more British air crew were lost to accidents than to enemy action. Despite this precarious existence aircraft had shown how important they had become to modern warfare, and the brave men that flew them gained something of a romantic and dashing image in the public imagination.
This set is different from most on this site as it contains just six hard-plastic kit figures, in the style of many Preiser sets, rather than complete soft plastic figures. See the image of the sprue for a breakdown of the parts, but essentially the figures are made up of separate bodies, legs, arms and heads. The product comes with instructions on how to make up the figures, which we followed for our pictured examples, although naturally there is some scope for mixing and adjusting parts as well as more complex conversions. Everything needs to be glued, although the hard plastic takes ordinary glue well, and we found the parts fitted quite well, with only occasional slight gaps that can easily be filled. In many cases the figures are kits for no particular reason – some of the poses could very successfully have been moulded as just one piece – but some are more three-dimensional as can be seen, with men leaning forward and holding arms out in front of them. This makes for some very natural-looking poses, and we thought they were all well done. Several are intended to be leaning on or otherwise holding an aircraft, and the last pictured figure is supposed to be both holding a wing in his left hand and pulling at a (supplied) chock with his right, although no cord for this is included. Most of the figures could easily be interacting with an aircraft, but our favourite pose was the pilot holding his goggles.
The first figure shown is wearing the standard Army officer’s jacket and stiffened peaked cap, Sam Browne belt, breeches and boots or perhaps leggings (both are reasonable). This could be his RFC uniform or the uniform of his original unit, since the latter was commonly worn even after transfer. He stands with his hands behind his back and an air of one in charge, and could just as easily serve as any British Army officer of the day.
The next three figures all wear a classic RFC garment, the jacket commonly but unofficially known as the ‘maternity’. This jacket was double-breasted, with a lapel that reached right over to the right shoulder (the norm by 1917), and was very practical as well as distinctive. One man wears a Sam Browne belt over his, but the others do not, but we would have liked to have seen at least some with an RFC badge on the left breast. Equally if these are officers then we would have expected shoulder straps, simply to indicate rank, although many tailored examples were made that departed from the approved pattern. None have the tab often seen on the cuffs, and indeed none have any sort of cuff, which is possible but was not particularly common, so as with the jacket of the first figure there is some detail lacking here. These three all wear breeches with considerable flaring at the hips, further suggesting these are officers (although Other Ranks wore a similar ‘maternity’ jacket that might be badge-free), and all have puttees over short boots, which is fine. One man is bareheaded, but the other two wear the standard field service cap, correctly positioned over the right eye.
Figure five - our favourite – is a pilot as he wears a shortish leather coat with a slanted map pocket on the chest, a flying helmet and goggles, and what look like ‘overshoes, gaitered’. By the end of 1917 full flying suits were being introduced, but prior to that all manner of items – many privately purchased – were worn by the air crew when in flight. Most of it was leather, often based on clothing for motor vehicle drivers, so the variety was enormous, as is the scope for many different figures. However everything on this figure is authentic. Again, the wide breeches suggest an officer pilot rather than a sergeant pilot.
Lastly we come to the sole ground crew figure who is definitely not an officer. He is in shirt-sleeves, and wears normal puttees and short boots. The RFC used a number of overalls, but almost all were one-piece, and clearly that is not what is modelled here. Instead this man has somewhat stretched trousers held up by braces that get a bit confused round the back. This looks like ordinary battledress trousers, although there was a two-piece fatigue suit dating back to 1898 which might resemble this, although by 1917 this should not have been still in use. Whatever the intention, we would have liked to have seen this figure in the standard one-piece overalls, so here is where this set lost an accuracy point. Other than that, this figure in his shirt-sleeves looks good.
In a couple of places the plastic has sunk slightly, but nothing too bad, and there is no flash to speak of, so these are well made and nicely designed. Some details like badges and cuffs are missing, but in general these are well sculpted and quite sharp. This is an unusual subject that easily justifies more than the handful of figures we find here, but these are not bad and it is a pity that this company did not go on to manufacturer similar sets for other air forces of the Great War.