While we have always been full of admiration for a firm that specializes strictly in WW1 aircraft decals (and mainatains a comprehensive list of markings for just about everything), we have seldom been as enthusiastic about the quality of the printing on the firm's sheets. We are happy to report that this is not the case with Americal's latest offerings, 1/72- and 1/48-scale representations of the inner side of German lozenge-camouflage fabric and markings for SE5 and SE5a aircraft of 56 Squadron, the Úlite formation that included J.T.B. McCudden in its ranks. While still not as sharp as the products of the big decal-printing concerns, particularly in the smaller markings and serials, the new sheets are the first we have seen in some time that really do justice to the impeccable scholarship and painstaking labor that so clearly go into this firm's products.
Sheets 141 (1/72-scale) and 142 (1/48-scale) are designed for use inside the cockpits of 5-color cloth-covered fuselages, such as those found on some non-Fokker-built D.VII fighters. On the full-scale aircraft, the exterior color pattern would show through on the inside as a reversed pattern of lighter color. While there is a fairly limited need for this type of decal, producing the effect without it would extremely tedious at best. Most dedicated modelers of WW-1 German aircraft will probably want to keep a sheet or two on hand.
Useful as the interior lozenge is, it is hardly exciting. The same cannot be said about our other review decal sets, sheets 143 (1/72-scale) and 144 (148-scale). They are simply stunning. J.T.B. McCudden's memoir, published as Flying Fury, rates as this reviewer's absolute favorite military aviation narrative. So a set of decals dedicated to McCudden and his squadron mates has long been something we've wanted to see. The still recent publication of Alex Revell's lavishly illustrated history of 56 Squadron, High in the Empty Blue, further whetted our appetite. Now the desired decals have appeared and surpassed our wildest imaginings. We find not just markings for McCudden and Rhys Davids and a few other notables, but a comprehensive set that will let you build any of 65 different airplanes, all amply documented and illustrated in handsomely printed, 28-page black-and-white booklet. The muted colors that Americal has used for their 56-Squadron sheets look absolutely right, especially compared to the technicolor reds and blues seen on other makers' few WW1 sheets. In an entirely sensible departure from past practice, Americal have placed most of the white markings on a separate, white-only sheet that can be printed more economically and with less concern for registration than is necessary on the multicolored sheets.
All in all, then, we are highly impressed by these latest offerings from Americal/Gryphon and hope that the higher quality they evidence can be maintained in the future.
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Text © 1998 by Robert Craig Johnson.