Sunday, May 25, 2014

More FJs, Dancing With Mister B, Son of Superfort, A Neat Conversion, Stuff You Didn't Know You Had, and Some RAM Birds


So the guys at Eduard begin, and maintain, a month-long advertising campaign on the internet to push their new hotter-than-sliced-bread 1/48th scale Me109G-6. They literally flood the electronic side of our hobby with photographs and descriptions of what must surely be the most accurate plastic model kit ever because, after all, they said it was; priming the pump, as it were, for the mid-May release of their kit. Several of the big internet sites buy into the whole deal and join in the festivities about how great the kit is.

There are warts, of course, and the more knowledgeable regarding Things Teutonic pick up on them almost right away. Eduard puts a bump on the wing root that shouldn't be there, and the Internet Experts start up a hue and cry not seen since the days of the release of the most recent Trumpeter kit. Other issues are discovered as well, but those issues are all pretty insignificant and, at the end of the day, are issues that nobody has actually seen since the kit hasn't even been released yet, Shakespearean drama at its very best (as in much ado about nothing, if you catch my drift).

Then it happens. The kit finally gets released, and some very respected folks jump on it as being the ultimate 109 in any scale, dangerous ground to walk on with any kit but almost justified in this case except that it turns out the kit is closest to the ever-popular 1/46th scale, which means it'll look great by itself, but not too great at all if it's sitting anywhere near another Me109 or any other WW2 fighter. It's just too darned big. 

Of course, nobody notices it at first, and some very respected people write reviews, kit in hand, and state that it is accurate in terms of scale dimensions, which in essence means that people who said they measured the kit couldn't possibly have done that. Yikes! A double whammy! An inaccurate kit and highly-respected reviewers who went out and got themselves fooled and then compounded the problem by spreading the Bad Word. The infamy! The shame! The horror!

Or is it? There's no doubt that somebody at Eduard made a mistake, and it was a big one, but it's not like they never made a mistake before: The wheels on their Albatros DIII, the undercarriage strut length on their Albatros DV, the fuselage length of their Tempest, the fuselage on their big 109E (as well as it's 1/48th scale little brother), the nose on their Fw190 family, and the list goes on and on. Admittedly, a kit that's entirely too big for its stated scale is in a different ballpark altogether---somebody pooched it big time over in the Czech Republic, and it'll take a while for Eduard to get past the financial hickey of amortizing that tooling, not to mention the embarrassment of the whole thing. It'll become a standard scale modeling joke and will likely remain one for some time to come. 

That's really unfortunate too, because there's no doubt the guys at Eduard put their heart and soul into the project, and it's a darned shame things turned out the way they did. Maybe it was a kit designer, or maybe a cad driver, or maybe it was who knows what that caused the problem. The bottom line is that the kit won't fit into a 1/48th scale collection because it's too darned big, which in theory makes it useless in a collection. It's still arguably among the best kits of Herr Messerschmitt's iconic fighter in any scale, it just isn't in any useful scale.

What can we do with our wonderful new Me109G-6 then? Well, we can build just one and put it up a pole. That's what I think I'm going to do with mine when the time comes---I'm going to buy the kit, get a decent resin pilot to stick in it, build a spiffy base, and make myself a darned nice desk model, one that an enthusiast of Things Luftwaffe would be proud to own and display. I'll only do it once, which will disappoint the Czechs, but at least I'll do it, and I expect I'll be happy with the results. I'll buy a Royal Edition kit too when that comes out (presuming it hasn't become a casualty of the whole scale boondoggle), but that's because I collect that series, and not because I want more out-of-scale 109s. One's going to be enough, thank you.

It's easy to laugh at Eduard's expense, and at the expense of all the people who wrote reviews saying they measured the kit when they probably didn't, but we might all want to remember that the kit was an honest effort that went badly awry. That's too bad, too, because I for one was really looking forward to it and I'm disappointed in the way things turned out. I'm still going to buy that one kit, though, and I'm still going to build it and put it up a pole, and I think you should consider doing it too. Eduard's going to take a major bath on that tooling if the kit doesn't sell, and I for one would like them to continue to turn out the really neat stuff they've been steadily releasing over the years. Yes, they just gave us an enormous disappointment with that Messerschmitt, but just prior to the kit's release they gave us the best Spitfire anybody has ever done, and almost all of us use their aftermarket stuff. When they're good they're great, but anybody can make a mistake. One thing's for certain; I'll bet their next new kit is spot-on dimensionally! 

Let's shake our heads, have a laugh if we're so inclined, and move on. 

So three guys go into a bar. One has a Zvezda Me109F-2, one has a Hasegawa 109G-14, and the third guy has an Eduard Me109G-6...

A Sabre by Any Other Name

We're referring, of course, to the North American FJ Fury series of naval fighters, a mainstay of American naval aviation during the 1950s that is now largely forgotten. Pioneers in many respects, the Furies paved the way for jet aircraft aboard American aircraft carriers and are significant for that reason if for nothing else. We like the FJ a lot and periodically run photo essays illustrating the aircraft of that family---it's been a while since we've done that, so it must surely be time to do it again!

Here's a classic study of the fighter that started it all. The airplane is an FJ Fury, BuNo 120357 from VF-5A, taken on 29 November 1948. She met an untimely end in 1951 while serving with a Reserve unit, VF-778, crashing to destruction while making touch and go landings. She was in her prime when photographed here; none of the FJs were around long enough in actual service to get into bad cosmetic shape.   Sullivan Collection

We don't know the Bureau Number on this one, but we do know that she was at Miramar sometime in 1950 and was serving with VF-5A when the photo was taken. Although the first generation Fury looked tubby and ungainly, its performance wasn't all that bad for a straight-winged jet fighter with an underpowered engine. North American already had better things in mind, however, and both production and service use of the first of the Furies was limited. Sullivan Collection

The follow-on aircraft to the FJ, the FJ-2, was supposed to be carrier-capable but was in fact a barely-navalised F-86 with nominal abilities around the boat, which relegated it to land-based service with the Marines. This badly-weathered example shows the salient differences to be found between the F-86 and the FJ-2; four 20mm cannon in the nose, a revised canopy, barricade fences on the leading edges of the slats, an arresting hook, and a tail bumper. The changes weren't enough to guarantee any sort of safe performance on a carrier, but the NAV had to start somewhere.   Sullivan Collection

The first-generation jet fighters could be a handful on land, too. FJ-2 131970 from VMF-235 endured an off-road adventure at El Toro in July of 1954; her colorful markings couldn't keep her from being damaged, although the damage was minor. Note that the barricade fences have been removed; the FJ-2 was almost never employed aboard ship due to its poor performance in that environment. The markings were pretty, though... Sullivan Collection

The FJ-3 was the Navy's first successful swept-wing carrier jet, although "successful" can be considered a somewhat loose term in this instance---the airplane's boat manners were still poor when compared to such piston-engined stalwarts as the still contemporary F4U Corsair. In spite of that, the FJ-3 and its sibling, the FJ-3M, gave the Navy the operational experience it needed with swept-winged fighters on-board ship. 135933 experienced a  land-based Kodak Moment at Miramar on 28 October, 1955, but the aircraft was barely damaged. Such accidents were common in the early days of jet operations in the Fleet, but the results were rarely this benign. The 50s were a time of horrendous accident rates among all three of the American services operating fast jets, and a great many of today's safety regulations stem from the mishaps of that era.   Sullivan Collection

You could scarcely consider any Sabre variant, up to and including the F-86D and L, to be all-weather aircraft in the literal sense of the word, but operational requirements sometimes decreed that the aircraft had to be flown at night or in poor weather. This VF-173 FJ-3M is being re-spotted (and not prepared for flight) on what can only be described as a miserable flight deck in February of 1957. The boat is the FDR, and we'll all but guarantee you that 202 isn't getting ready to go anywhere under her own power. It would take extreme circumstances to warrant a launch in the conditions illustrated, although it was sometimes done. It wasn't just a job...   Sullivan Collection

In 1962 all United States military aircraft were re-designated, allegedly due SecDef Robert McNamara's inability to understand the system that had served the Navy since its earliest ventures into heavier-than-air aviation, which caused the last of the Furies, the FJ-4 and -4M, to become AF-1s instead of FJ-Anythings. This example, an AF-1E from NAS Willow Grove, illustrates the aircraft in a joint service (Navy/Marine) Reserve color scheme. Considered by many who should know to have been the hottest of all the Sabres, Air Force, Navy, or Marine, the FJ-4 spent its entire career without firing a shot in anger (although we've heard the type dropped bombs in Laos on at least one occasion early in the Vietnam War; corroboration and details would be appreciated!).  Sullivan Collection

One more thing; Jim sent us a number of FJ photos recently, of which these are just a sampling. There are more to be seen in our upcoming issues, so watch these pages!

A Couple of FEAF Superforts

Boeing's remarkable B-29 Superfortress was an amazing aircraft when it was designed and produced, a technological trans-oceanic wonder designed to take the air war to an enemy ensconced on an unreachable (by 1942 standards) continent far away. The B-29 was never used against the enemy for which it was initially created, but provided stellar service flying bombing raids against the Japanese home islands during late 1944 and 1945. The Japanese both feared and respected the type and gave it the moniker "B-San", or Mr. B. It stayed in United States service until the early 1960s in an auxiliary role, long after its effectiveness as a bomber had been overcome by advancing technology, and it was even cloned to become the Soviet Union's first strategic bombardment aircraft. It was quite an airplane.

Thanks to the kindness of Gerry Kersey over at 3rd Attack.Org we've got a couple of fascinating images to share with you today of the B-29 in early post-War service. Let's take a look:

BF-073 was photographed at Yokota AB by Dwight Turner during the 1947-49 time period. Assigned to the 492nd BS of the 7th BG, she's still armed with her turreted .50-cals and is wearing a fresh coat of Jet (the Air Force's term for a highly gloss black paint) on her ventral surfaces. The MiG-15 wasn't too far away from being an operational reality when this photo was taken, and its existence rendered aircraft such as the B-29 obsolete almost overnight, but "B-San" was still regarded as an extremely viable bombardment platform when this photo was taken.   D Turner via 3rd Attack.Org

Talk about an evocative photograph! This shot of Yokota's ramp was taken during the same 1947-49 time frame as that of 073 above and shows a ramp full of B-29s thought to be from the 6th BG. Those "Superforts" were undoubtedly on a TDY deployment since the type was never actually based in Japan, but all those A-26s in the background are from the 3rd Attack Group and are tenant at the base. Japan was (and we presume still is) a fairly wet place, as proven by all that mud adjacent to the parking area, but at least the hardstands, taxiways, and runways were concrete. It's worth noting that all of this particular batch of B-29s are still in natural metal finish, and all are still carrying their full compliment of turrets---if you recall, General LeMay had all but the tail guns removed from the Superfortresses operating with the 20th Air Force when the mission changed from daylight bombardment to low-altitude night bombing. Stateside-based B-29s kept theirs; FEAF-owned B-29s would need all the guns they could carry in just a few short years.  D Turner via 3rd Attack.Org

Japan was pretty good duty if you were a blue suiter immediately after the end of the war, and there were a whole lot of neat airplanes based there between the end of The Big One and the beginning of the Korean War. Many thanks to Gerry Kersey for sharing the photographs of those B-29s with us.

The Son Was Bigger Than the Dad

Or so it seemed. The Boeing B-50 was an up-engined and highly improved development of the B-29 design, readily identifiable by its enormous vertical tail and its highly modified engine cowlings. Although it was destined never to see formal combat (although it was shot and and, occasionally, shot down during the early phases of the Cold War) it played a key role in the post-War air Force as a recon ship, a weather bird, and an airborne tanker. The last B-50 soldiered on with Systems Command as a test aircraft until the early 1970s, proving the usefulness of the basic Boeing design that had originated in the beginning of the 1940s. It was a worthy successor to the B-29, and we've got a few images of it to share with you today.

The Air Force had itself a plate full of surplus airplanes immediately after the conclusion of the War, and production of new machines came almost to a standstill. The B-50 was considered to be necessary to the nation's defense, however, and went into production as a stop-gap strategic bomber as demonstrated by this shot of B-50B-50-BO, 47-0139, taken at Turner AFB, Georgia, during the early 1950s. Her defensive armament has been removed, but in all fairness the guns weren't much use against the jet fighters employed by the bad guys she would have fought against. The future of bombardment aviation lay in speed, but that wouldn't become fully apparent until the first encounters between the MiG-15 and the B-50's sire, the B-29, in Korea. 0139 was ultimately converted to RB-50F standard and wound up at MASDC in 1966.   USAF via Mark Morgan

Here's another view of 0139 on the ground at Turner, apparently taken on the same day as the previous shot. Note how faded the black paint on the prop blades appears to be, although the airplane itself seems to be in pristine condition. This shot and the one immediately prior to it provide us with a fine view of those modified cowlings. The B-50 was quite an airplane, but she was obsolescent almost from her first day of service---the advent of the jet fighter saw to that.   USAF via Mark Morgan

47-0122 was another conversion to RB-50F standard, having begun life as a B-50-40-BO. An interim conversion saw her operating as an RB-50E on what has been described as "special photographic missions) prior to her final reconfiguration to an RB-50F. It's in that final guise that we see her year, replete with Arctic conspicuity markings. We suspect that the aft entrance hatch is opened due to an operational requirement but we can't prove that, nor can we explain it. Those highly streamlined gas bags and pylons look out of place on this aircraft, don't they?   USAF via Mark Morgan

And here's 47-041 in flight. Originally a B-50B-50-BO, she had been upgraded to RB-50F standard by the time this shot was taken. She's fully-loaded here and not terribly far off the water. She's also heavy and is apparently carrying a full load of fuel judging by her wings. The Arctic markings are gone, replaced by Day-Glo (those "white" bands evident in the photo) but that same hatch is open. We're guessing it was somehow tied to the mission and would love to be educated---that address is  .  USAF via Mark Morgan

A Nifty Neptune

By now you all know the name of Jim Sullivan. He's a scholar of things relating to naval aviation, an author, and a photographer. He's also a darned good modeler, as we're about to show you.

Lockheed's P2V Neptune family in all of its variants was a mainstay of the Navy's patrol bomber fleet until the mid-1960s. The final production variant (as opposed to the somewhat unique limited-service conversions that seemed to flourish during the Vietnam fracas) was the P2V-7, a dedicated ASW platform, and to date all of the plastic kits of the type have been of that version of the aircraft. The original Neptune design was closer in spirit to that of the Consolidated PB4Y Privateer in concept, and Jim wanted to replicate one of the earlier variants. The P2V-5 you see before you was the result of that desire.

Jim started out with a 1/72nd scale Hasegawa P2V-7 kit and a lot of enthusiasm---we suspect there was a conversion kit of some sort involved in the festivities but we don't know who's it was. (Jim?) The mounting structure for the searchlight mounted in the starboard wing tank appears to have been largely scratch-built and really looks good in there. The devil's in the details!

And here's a 3/4 rear view of the port side of the aircraft. The early P2Vs were still armed, carrying 20mm cannon in the nose and tail and a pair of Browning .50 calibers in the dorsal turret. The guns were in keeping with the aircraft's mission as a patrol bomber and directly reflected that mission as it was performed during the Second World War. The final variant, the P2V-7, was still armed, but only with the dorsal turret since the primary mission had morphed into one of anti-submarine patrol. Jim's model represents a Systems Test aircraft as flown by the NATC during the early 1950s and really shows off the lines of the type.

Thanks to Jim Sullivan for the photography, and for stepping way outside the box to build a model of a unique aircraft. Good job, Jim!

They're Just Extra Parts, Right?

One of our interests around here is the Luftwaffe during its time on the Eastern Front during World War 2. It's a topic and a time period we used to swear we'd never build, but nowadays we're hip-deep into it, primarily because of the heraldry and camouflage and markings variations found in that theater of operations. That's led us to build quite a few Fw190 and Bf/Me109E models from the time and place, and that's led us to a couple of really neat discoveries that we'd like to share with you today regarding the 1/48th scale kits available for a couple of variants of those two types. We aren't going to build anything before your very eyes, or even say that one kit is better than another, but we are going to share a couple of discoveries that may make your life a little easier. Interested? Good---then let's proceed!

The Short-Nosed Fw190s:

There are three viable choices here; Eduard, Hasegawa, and Tamiya. Of the three, the Hasegawa kit in any of its variations is the best of the bunch in terms of accuracy and is second only to the Tamiya kit in terms of "buildability". About the only thing we ever add to them is a set of Eduard belts and harnesses---you really don't need anything else unless you plan on opening everything up, in which case you should've bought the Eduard kit (and all the related photo-etch for same) in the first place.

As for the Eduard kit, there's not a lot to be said about it  that somebody else hasn't already done. It builds into a really good looking model as long as you aren't overly concerned with accuracy, and the decals that come with any of its variations are among the best available in any scale, but the kit's primary usefulness is derived from the fact that it has a lot of extra parts included in the box.

The Tamiya kits are the Odd Man Out in any gathering of Focke Wulfs, which takes us to the point we're trying to make today. Easy to build and acceptably accurate out of the box, they suffer from undersized main landing gear wheels and tires and short landing gear. The simplest way to deal with the issues is to build the Hasegawa kit of your choice and forget about Tamiya and Eduard, but the Hasegawa offerings have become hellishly expensive of late which makes the Tamiya kits suddenly viable again, particularly since the simple replacement of the tires and wheels will restore most of the proper "look" to your model. There's a thriving aftermarket for such things, but you'd may as well take advantage of Eduard's generosity if you're building the Tamiya kit but have an Eduard Fw190A or F sitting in your kit stash since The Big E includes multiple sets of tires/wheels in each and every one of their Focke Wulf kits (early and late wheels, ribbed tires and smooth tires), which gives you a correction set for any Tamiya kit right out of a box you've presumably already got. The simple act of putting the proper-sized tires on your Tamiya kit will improve the sit tremendously, and thereby improve your model as well. It's a quick fix and there's a fair chance you've already got the parts in your stash!

The Bf109-E:

Once again we have a choice of kits, although this time there are four to choose from.

Hasegawa was the first in the current crop of 109Es, and it's not our favorite. We have a couple of the kits and periodically steal parts from them for other projects, but at the end of the day it isn't one we'd build so we aren't going to discuss it today.

Next up are the Tamiya offerings, an E-3 and an E-4/7. Both are adequate kits that build easily and don't need a whole lot of help except in the cockpit, where they're a little lacking. The propellers are anemic and you might want to replace the wheels but that's about it. One thing, though---Hasegawa and Tamiya both had to re-tool their fuselages for the sake of accuracy, and if you're buying a Tamiya kit you're looking for the one that says "Made in Philippines" on the end of the box. The really early iterations of the kit have a gomed-up nose.

Eduard's offering of the "Emil" really impressed us when it first came out, and it still does. It has some scale problems, primarily in the fuselage and in particular in the area of the nose, and it's wing slats are too wide, but otherwise it's a gem of a kit, although you'll need your wits about you if you choose to build one since it's design is a little bit complicated.

Then there's the Airfix kit. It's a simple model to build and quite a value for the money since it includes all of the parts to build an E-1, E-3, or E-4/E-7 directly from the kit, requiring no aftermarket whatsoever. It also includes all the various Jabo-related fairings and such for the underside of the fuselage, and it's got a tropical filter. It's been criticized, and unfairly, we think, for having overdone panel lines, but they look ok under a coat of paint. The real problems with the kit lie in its lack of a rudder trim tab, which is easily resolved with five minutes and a knife blade, overly-long landing gear, poor wheels and tires, and thick and clunky transparencies. The kit can be made into a real winner with some simple modifications though, and you may not even need to spend money to fix them since it's possible you've already got the kits necessary to do that.

Working on the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words (and I can always find a thousand words to say, so from your point of view a picture is a Very Good Thing!), here's a shot of an in-process Airfix Bf109E for your consideration. It's almost bone stock, but the wheels (including the tailwheel) are Eduard "Brassin'" components, while the windscreen and aft canopy section are from the "Carganico Option" provided (without identification, at least in the kit I had) in the Zvezda Bf109F-2. The landing gear legs haven't been shortened yet---they don't look odd until you set the model beside one from another company. From a dimensional standpoint, as well as that of value for money, the Airfix kit is The Good One in a 109E shootout, or at least that's my opinion this week! There are a few things to be cleaned up before we stick a fork in it and call it done but I like the way it looks, and I didn't have to buy anything to correct the minor issues the kit has; the parts were already in my spares cab. Beauty!

We've talked about how to fix the rudder trim tab already so we'll skip that now. If you're building an E-1 or an early E-3 you'll need to add a little vane inside the oil cooler fairing, but that's easy to do with a piece of scrap styrene. You'll want to shorten the landing gear legs but we disagree with conventional wisdom here and don't think the length issue resides in the oleo portion of the strut but rather in the basic part that's proportionally too long overall. It's easiest to shorten it in the area of the oleo, but it's probably more correct to take it out of the top of the strut---a sixteenth of an inch or so ought to do it.

Once you've fixed those things, you'll want to replace the tires and wheels because they're simply awful. I just used a set of Eduard's "Brassin" wheels on one I'm building, but you can get a replacement set from any of the other kits or from the aftermarket. That basically leaves the canopy stack to be dealt with, and that one is surprisingly easy to cope with as well. The Eduard canopy stack will fit the Airfix fuselage with virtually no modification, and the E-3 stack that Zvezda thoughtfully provides in their Bf109F-2 kit (included there so you can build one of Horst Carganico's modified 109Fs, although the instructions don't tell you that) fits like it was designed for the Airfix kit in the first place!

So what's the reason for this ramble, you might reasonably ask? Superficially, at least, it's to tell you how to perform a little simple parts swapping in order to improve a model from parts sources you might already have. More than that, however, it's to inspire you to think beyond the retail aftermarket and re-focus some of your energies into your own closet. We did it that way and were very pleasantly surprised at the results. Our efforts were spent improving recent kits wearing black crosses, but the opportunity exists across the board. Look on it as a little Modeling 101, as it were!

Bentwing Bugsuckers at the RAM

Any of our readership who have flown into Austin, Texas, during the past several years will have noticed a bright, clean, modern airport facility dedicated to getting grandma and the kids, as well as every itinerant musician in the United States, in and out of the State capitol in a safe, comfortable, and efficient manner. Any of those folks who might have chosen to look out the window while on final approach could have noticed something else as well; long, wide runways capable of handling the largest of jets incorporated into a very military-appearing plat. There's a reason for it all; until fairly recently Austin Bergstrom was known simply as Bergstrom Air Force Base. During its life span it saw everything from plank-winged F-84s through B-52s, with its final resident unit being the 67th TRW's 45th TRS. That final resident is important to our next photo essay, since Bergstrom was once host to the Reconnaissance Air Meet, known colloquially as RAM, and hosted every other year as an international photo recon exercise and competition.

The meet simulated operational wartime conditions with low-level recce missions being flown throughout Texas during the course of events, complete with airborne adversaries (generally F-15s and F-16s) and other defense measures thrown in for good measure. We attended the events in 1988 and 1990, and were able to spend part of the 1988 event at Last Chance, a spot on any American military airfield where final checks are conducted on the aircraft prior to launch. The photos you are about to view were taken there, at what had to have been the noisiest place in Texas that day, but the aircraft we're going to show you today were not photo-recon ships but rather the tactical fighters of the Texas Reserve's 704th TFS flying out of the reserve facility at Carswell. Here's what it was like that day, the 21st of August, 1988:

66-709 taxis into Last Chance, canopies opened and the aircrew reasonably relaxed. She's carrying all of her extra gas on the centerline and has a pod in her forward port-side Sparrow bay but is otherwise clean. Note the Texas flag motifs on the forward nose gear door and at the tip of the vertical tail. Pride runs deep in Texas, ya'll!   Friddell

709 pulls into the inspection area as the ground echelon comes out for a quick final inspection of the aircraft. Everyone out there, including the photographers that day, were wearing hearing protection and were sans caps or hats of any kind. J-79s are not fond of baseball caps!   Friddell

The airplane is stopped and final inspection is underway. The ground crew are looking for leaks, loose panels, improperly mounted external stores, or anything else that might pose a flight hazard to the aircraft. If it were carrying live ordnance this is also the place where the arming safety pins would be removed, shown to the aircrew, and taken away. The whole operation takes around ten minutes in a peace-time environment. It's it's a critical ten minutes that could define the success of the mission as well as the survival of the crew, and it happens every time an American military aircraft is prepared for launch.   Friddell

The checks are performed, the canopies closed, and 709 taxis away to the active runway for launch as a TARPS-equipped F-14A awaits her turn. It's all well-orchestrated and immaculately performed. The only thing that beats it is an operational carrier deck, but that's an essay for a different day.   Friddell

709 was podded, but her playmates weren't. Here's 762 immediately after her inspection, buttoned up and taxiing out. She's carrying an inert AIM-9 and has been fragged to support a recce mission. All of the photography on this particular shoot was done with a conventional 50mm lens, which allowed us to redefine the expression "up close and personal". Did we mention it was loud out there?   Friddell

Here's a final shot of 762 showing the way the external stores were carried that day. The loadout would make for an interesting detail on a model, we think---very few people ever build replicas of aircraft engaged in peacetime training exercises, which makes doing it that more interesting to us. It's all in the details, isn't it?   Friddell

We've recently begun to snoop around in our F-4 files and have re-discovered some interesting photography. Watch these pages for more 80s "Bugsuckers". It's the right thing to do!

Happy Snaps

We've really been blessed around here in that we've been able our readership some truly unique and, in many cases, outright beautiful, photography. Today's Happy Snaps offering is no exception.

Doug Barbier's military career was both extensive and varied, and provided him with an opportunity to indulge in his passion for photography while performing his other life's passion as an aviator. This example of his work was taken while he was a T-38 IP at Williams AFB and we think it sums up the beauty of flight as few photographs can. Thanks, Doug!

One more thing while we're on the subject: We hated, and we mean hated, to have to watermark such as beautiful photograph because of the continued actions of the goobers who continue to pirate photography every chance they get. Maybe some day those guys will learn how to play a straight game but, until they do, we'll have to continue to deface the images we run here. It kills our soul to have to do that, at least for the present, but it's the way things have to be. Arghh, he said!!!

The Relief Tube

The last time we met, Jim Wogstad had supplied us with a photograph of the T-5 Turret Trainer, the vehicle that appeared in that B-25 shot a couple of issues back. We couldn't get the picture into a format that would allow publication, so Jim was kind enough to scan it again and re-send it:

And here it is in all its glory; the T-5 Turret Trainer Truck. It's on a 4x4 rather than 6x6 chassis but would make for a fascinating accessory to a model B-25, and we've already got photographic proof that they were used to some extent in the Philippines, if nowhere else! Thanks to Jim for getting us a scan we could show you---now we need a kit!   Wogstad Collection

We ran a fairly extensive FJ-4B piece a few issues back. In conjunction with that article I'd built a model of a Fury carrying a Mk 7 on one wing. Tommy Thomason was kind enough to send an exceptional photo showing an FJ-4B with the weapon in place, and I managed to lose it somewhere in Electron Land! I recently managed to find it:

And here it is. It's worth noting that this particular airframe still has the port-side 20mm in place, and does not have the generator door and its associated vents as a result. Many thanks to Tommy for this photo, and a profound apology for taking so long to run it!   Thomason Collection

Much in common with Tommy's FJ-4B shot immediately above, reader Jean Barbaud recently discovered a better photo of the bulldog emblem on that VMF-122 F4U-1 we ran several issues back. We've found it now (misfiled in that same folder with the Fury!) and would like to run it for you today:

Thanks to Jean for his patience with us, and for sharing this wonderful image.   Barbaud Collection

Last issue we ran one of Rick Morgan's photos illustrating an RA-5C that we were almost certain was being prepared for public display. Rick was kind enough to confirm that for us:

Phil: The RA-5C at Memphis was in fact there to be put on display; it stuffed and mounted at the base. Rick

Thanks, Morgo, and thanks to all of you for making this project what it is. Be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon.


Monday, April 28, 2014

An F-5, Far East Haulers, Some Vigis, and They Weren't All Warplanes

When Is It Obsolete?

The latest and the greatest. The best one out there. Light years ahead of anything that went before. The new industry standard. And the beat goes on. It's inevitable that new kits, using good research (unfortunately not always a given) and the latest in tool-making technology, will surpass existing kits of any flavor, especially old ones. Progress marches on, and even the short-run guys now have the ability to provide us with kits that eclipse the very best mainstream models of the 80s and, occasionally, the 90s as well. It seems like every new offering that hits the shelves is a thing of wonder, the best ever. We'll even agree with that, mostly.

What we don't agree with, mostly, is the notion that the new wunderkit that just came out has immediately made everything that came before obsolete and not worth having. Let's discuss a couple of cases in point.

Case in Point The First is the Eduard Fw190 family. Scale modelers were very nearly orgasmic when the kit first appeared. It had (and still has) a finesse of detail that has rarely been matched in the several years since its initial release, lots of optional parts, and loads of detail to boot, but it's also got a flawed blown canopy, an inaccurate cowling, inaccurate cowl vents, and a vertical stab that's too thick. It's still a fine kit and looks great on the shelf but it's a finicky build and needs a little TLC if you want it to look right. The somewhat older Hasegawa Fw190 offerings are easier to build and considerably more accurate in most regards, so in this case newer isn't better.

Case in Point The Second is the Tamiya P-47 in any of its iterations. It's highly accurate and is a shake and  bake proposition to build; if you can manage to gome up one of these you might want to consider a different hobby. That said, I've got several friends who've got a thing for the "Jug" and build a lot of them in consequence. One of the kits they use is the 1970s-vintage Monogram P-47D in either of its variants. Yes, it's got raised panel lines and yes; the interior is too shallow. Sandpaper and a scribing tool can take care of those panel lines, and the aftermarket is useful in this instance if you want to fix the cockpit (and you really should do that). The Monogram kit is old but gives a fine representation of a P-47 if you know what you're doing which is especially useful, from a financial standpoint if no other, if you happen to be building a lot of them so you can illustrate a variety of markings.

We could go stay on this topic forever, citing Hasegawa vs Tamiya A6Ms, Eduard Spitfires vs Anybody Else's Spitfires, and on and on it goes. Nowadays newer often is better, but we'd like to offer some food for thought in that regard.

There's a new family of 1/48th scale round-winged Messerschmitts on the the imminent horizon courtesy of our friends at Eduard, and the buzz on the street says they're the bomb diggedy. From what we've seen of test shot photos that doesn't seem to be too far from the truth, even if we all were fooled by their Wurger once upon a time, but that doesn't mean that our Zvesda or Hasegawa kits need to hit the clearance tables at the next contest---they're still viable kits and can build into gorgeous replicas if you've got a mind to do that. The Hasegawa A6M family is another case in point. The newer Tamiya offerings of the same aircraft are demonstrably better, but I've got both sitting side by side on the shelf (10+ of the Hasegawa and a couple of the Tamiya) and the Hase kits look just fine to me, thank you very much.

We could go on and on with this concept but we honestly don't need to. Some of the older kits are still pretty darned good and can be spectacular with just a little work. Some are still the Only Game in Town (the Monogram F-100D comes to mind here) in spite of newer kits and are worth the pain incurred when we build them. Some, as is to be expected in this hobby, are junk, always were and always will be; we've seen some masterfully-built junk kits too, although that's a topic for another day.

The point we're trying to make is that you don't have to build the brand spanking new, hi-tech whatever-it-is to be able to construct a well-built and accurate scale model. You can actually get there from here if you want to, which in our world means you can build something that's less than cutting edge and still end up with a fine scale model. At the end of the day the results of your efforts are in your hands; a whiz-bang wunderkit will help tremendously, especially if you're still developing your basic skills, but often times the older kits can be made to work just fine. (And sometimes they can't be, but you'll figure out which ones are worth the effort pretty quickly, we think.) We're modelers, right?

And the beat goes on...

Recce Bird

Photo recon has been a key component of air warfare since the beginnings of military aviation. Highly useful during The Great War, the operation was expanded in the 1920s and 1930s. The Second World War saw a tremendous expansion of the mission, which has only grown more important since the conclusion of that conflict. As a small tribute to that importance, we're going to start off today's adventure with a couple of lesser-known shots of one of the key photo ships of WW2; the Lockheed F-5.

Lockheed's F-4 and F-5 photo recon variants of the P-38 Lightning served with a number of units, and in all theaters in which the United States was engaged. This particular example is an F-5B from one of the lesser known 5th AF units, the 25th PRS. Constituted on 6 February 1943 and activated on the 9th of the same month, the unit saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines, and was awarded both the Distinguished Unit Citation and the Presidential Unit Citation for its service over the latter. The mission was un-sung but highly necessary, and the 25th performed it well.   National Archives via Rocker Collection

The 28th PRS also stood up in February of 1943, also saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines and, in common with the 25th PRS, receiving both the DUC and the PUC for action in the Philippines. 42-68225 was built as an F-5B-1-LO and carries the name "Stinky" and an emblem (which is not that of the 26th PRS) on her port cowling, but we don't know anything more about her. Comments are welcomed!  National Archives via Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker for sharing his collection with us.

Japan Was a Humming Place in the 50s

Post-War Japan was a busy place for the USAF. Even though it was somewhat of a backwater when compared to American involvement in Europe, several combat wings were kept in the islands in case of conflict with increasingly aggressive forces on the Asian mainland. The Korean War proved the concept to be a wise one, and the United States has maintained bases there ever since, albeit on a significantly reduced scale.

When most of us think of American activity in post-war Japan we tend to think of fighters, fighter bombers, and light attack aircraft, but transports were, and have remained, a significant part of the story. The photographs you are about to see were taken at Haneda Airport in Japan during the mid and late-1950s, and illustrate a not-particularly-glamorous side of air operations in the Far East. Keep in mind as you view these images that the combat operations of the Korean War, and any other operations both prior and subsequent, could not have taken place without a viable logistics component. They also served...

42-72378, built as a C-54B-1-DC and flying with Cal Eastern under contract as N227A, sits on the ground at Haneda during the mid-50s. Civilian contractors have long provided logistics assets to the Air Force, and the lettering on the fuel truck in the background and the USAF-marked C-54 in the hangar on the far left pretty much define the operation. She spent most of her life in the Far East and was finally written off in 1963.  USAF via Mark Morgan

 Perhaps more to be expected on an American ramp in Japan than 42-72378, 44-9044, a C-54E-1-DO assigned to the 99th ATS, is hard down for maintenance at Haneda. Her markings are pretty, and are highly typical of the transports belonging to MATS during the time period. 9044 was a survivor, lasting in USAF service until 1973.   USAF via Mark Morgan

We aren't at all certain what's going on here, although the lack of frantic activity would tend to point towards a drill or exercise of some sort. 44-9047, the C-54E-1-DO in the foreground, spent a fair amount of time in the far east, finally being retired and flown to the storage and disposition facility at Davis Monthan AFB in 1969. She lasted longer than most in active service, a tribute to her sound design and built quality.   USAF via Mark Morgan

If you flew from the States to Japan any time during the 1950s or 1960s, there's a fair chance you made at least part of the journey on a PanAm clipper. In this evocative shot "Clipper Derby", registered as N88958 but originally built as a C-54G-10-DO (45-0619) is sitting on the ramp at Haneda doing what she does best. She spent a long and productive life in the Far East before crashing to destruction in 1983.   USAF via Mark Morgan

Japan is a mountainous country, and most of the airfields lie close to the coastline. Haneda Airport was no exception, as well-illustrated by its elevation of 7 feet above sea level! The aircraft in the hangar is an R5D-4, BuNo 90408, of the Navy's Pacific Division MATS component. Built as 44-9138, a C-54E-10-DO, her ultimate fate is unknown. Modelers, take note of that control tower!  USAF via Mark Morgan

Haneda in its prime! This shot gives us an idea of the level of activity to be found at the installation during its heyday. Note how thoroughly filthy that ramp is; those oil stains are a trademark of the round engine. It's easy to overlook the contribution made by the guys who flew, and continue to fly, transport aircraft. We'd like to suggest that it's a mistake to do that.

Many thanks to Mark Morgan for these images of a time and place most of us never think about.

Why Can't We Get a Decent Kit

That particular whine/moan could apply to any number of American military aircraft we'd like to see decent kits of, but it applies in spades to North American Aviation's A3J/RA-5C family of attack and photo-recon aircraft. The Vigilante (referred to in the Fleet simply as the "Vigi") was one of those really neat, exceptionally interesting jets that fell through the cracks as far as the world's plastic kit manufacturers were concerned. The airplane first saw light in the Fleet as a straight-up attack bomber, the A3J, and was kitted twice in that guise, once by Monogram in 1959 (the kit we all remember because it had a spring-loaded weapon that could be ejected out the rear of the model in a rough simulation of the real aircraft's somewhat flawed weapons delivery methodology) and by Revell in 1961. Both kits were box scale and neither was particularly good in terms of replicating the real airplane, although the Monogram kit was a lot of fun to play with thanks to that projectile it squirted so energetically out of its posterior!

Time passed and Hasegawa released a simple but largely accurate 1/72nd scale kit of the "Vigi", an RA-5C,  in the late 60s, but it was a booger-bear to get together and not many ever saw the light of day as completed models. Airfix followed with their own model of the 5-Charlie variant in the early 70s and it was, to a small extent at least, an improvement on the Hasegawa offering, but very few of its parts fit together easily either and and it was still in 1/72nd scale when the actual airplane cried out for something a little bit larger. We weren't getting anywhere in any screamin' hurry.

Those of us whose hearts beat faster at the thought of accurate 1/48th scale models were finally blessed with a kit of the Vigilante a few years ago when Trumpeter released a model of the RA-5C. Long awaited and eagerly sought, it turned out to be somewhat less of a true replica than a basis for a good model if the builder was ready to put a lot of work into the project. That Trumpeter RA-5C brings us right up to date, unfortunately, because there hasn't been anything better in the world of the type since its release and, dang the luck; it just isn't very good. A a lot of people really wanted a decent "Vigi" kit, but they didn't get it. Why do they want that, you might reasonably ask yourself? Well, folks; if you aren't already an RA-5C aficionado, then take a look at the photos you see below. Do you want a decent kit now? We sure do!

The date is May of 1969, and 150832 from RVAH-13 is taxiing to the bow after recovery. She's big, she's clean (no gasbags, although she could certainly carry them), and she's FAST. The RA-5C was a world-beater when it first went into service, and was still a capable airframe when it was retired. Originally built as an A3J-3P, 832 was a survivor, being retired in 1971. Not all of the "Vigi" fleet was that lucky.  PH1 Bartel via Navy Photographic Center

This "Vigi" was from Enterprise's RVAH-6 and was photographed over the Pacific in June of 1969. Those puffy white clouds are pretty, but the "Vigi" would spend a great deal of the 1960s flying through clouds that weren't nearly so benign in the skies of North Vietnam.  Isham Collection

The RA-5C was a big honkin' airplane, which gave it substantial amounts of surface area for applying squadron markings. One of the more colorful schemes was that carried by RVAH-7 off the Forrestal during the 1970s. It's markings like these that make us wish for a decent kit of the airplane, although we're far more likely to see yet another Spitfire before that happens. The model companies tend to go where the money lives, and the money doesn't live anywhere near the "Vigi".  Pity...   B Trombecky via Buchanan

Most people think of Marty Isham as Mister Air Defense Command, and he certainly lives up to that title. There was a time, however, long ago and somewhat far away, when Marty would actually photograph airplanes from that other service too. 149277 from RVAH-1 was apparently experiencing what some folks might call "issues" when Marty shot this image back in the late 60s. She ended up at DM in 1972, a sad and possibly premature end for a beautiful airplane.   Marty Isham

By the early 1970s the RA-5C was well-established on the airshow circuit, as demonstrated by this example from RVAH-12 sitting on the ground at NAS Corpus Christi. She's a little bit scruffy in places, and probably not too far away from the boneyard, but she still looks like the thoroughbred that she was.   Frank Garcia

Here's another variation of the markings carried by RVAH-7. 146702 was an early example of the type, originally built as an A3J-1 as were many of the "Vigis" that later became RA-5Cs. Note the paint treatment on her gear doors and her generally scruffy appearance. She's not nearly as badly weathered as most modelers would represent her, but there's no doubt she's been well used.   Friddell Collection

This is what a RVAH-7 "Vigi" looks like when it's clean. 156608 survived active duty to be displayed at NAS Memphis after her retirement, but was still close to The Real Deal when this photograph was taken in May of 1980. Her gear doors have been removed, which gives us an excellent view of the way things work up in the gear wells. We don't know the circumstances of this shoot (Morgo?) but we suspect she's being readied for public display given her pristine paintwork.   Rick Morgan

Here's what the RA-5C looks like on the boat, with everything folded and the airplane ready to be taken down to the hangar deck. We suspect this photo was taken on a Tiger Cruise, although we're not entirely certain of that. What we do know is that she was assigned to RVAH-3 when David Balcer took her photo in September of 1978. She went to MASDC the following year, where she was presumably scrapped out. A sad end...   David Balcer

Here's a sister ship, 156632, taxiing on the boat. The photo displays her squadron markings to good advantage, and the presence of the V1 division provides a sense of scale in regard to what was a very large carrier aircraft. She ended up on a pole at NAS Sanford, a proud reminder of Things That Once Were.   David Balcer

We probably should've run this photo before we ran the one immediately above, since it illustrates 304 immediately after she's trapped and prior to taxiing out, but we didn't. At the end of the day it really doesn't matter---it's a beautiful image of a classic aircraft in it's element and a fine way to end this essay. "Nuff said!   David Balcer

Now if we could only get some savvy kit manufacturer to get interested in the type! (Did I ever tell you about the "Vigi" that flew inverted over Haiphong during the late Southeast Asia War Games?)

Does Anybody Remember The Navion

The Second World War had just reached its bloody conclusion and the United States was suddenly transformed from the arsenal of democracy to a country with way too many military airplanes. The end of the war left America's defense industry with enormous capacity and nothing to use it on, which in turn led several of the country's premier aircraft manufacturers to venture off into other directions. Some were as seemingly unrelated to aviation as Grumman's foray into the travel trailer business with their Gulfstream line (an attempt to keep skilled sheetmetal workers employed), while others ventured into the area that they knew best; building airplanes. In one case, that venture resulted in the design and manufacture of one of the classics of post-War aviation, the Navion.

Remember that old expression: "They just don't make them like that anymore"? It's true; they don't. The Navion led a brief life under its North American Aviation parent before the design was sold to Ryan in 1947, making the relatively few aircraft actually manufactured by North American somewhat rare. Ironically, the type managed to see limited military service as the L-17, but most enthusiasts are far more familiar with the civilian versions. It's enjoyed a rich life in the hands of America's private pilots and can still be readily seen at commercial airports, a lasting tribute to a solid design.   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Happy Snaps

We were stumbling around (sometimes we fumble around too, but today was a stumbling kind of day) looking for an appropriate candidate for our Happy Snaps department when we found not one but two images we thought appropriate for the project. Both are from Rick Morgan---let's take a look:

Passin' a little gas over the Pacific. The Prowler is from VAQ-139's Cougars, and both it and the KA-6D it's attached too were assigned to the "Connie's" Air Wing 14 when Rick took this photo in August of 1985 while his aircraft was waiting it's turn at the pump. Air-to-air refueling has been a hallmark of American military aviation since the end of the Second World War. This photo makes it look easy---sometimes it actually is.  Rick Morgan

But sometimes it isn't. This is a normal approach to the basket, taken from the ECMO 1 position in an EA-6B, and everything's as it should be. That's not always the case, though; imagine there's turbulence up there, or too much airspeed on the aircraft being tanked. Imaging that basket whipping into the windscreen. Imagine refueling at night, maybe in less than optimal weather. Most of us rarely think of such things but they're a daily part of the military aviator's life, most of which is filled with incipient danger no matter how glamorous it looks from the outside. It's not just a job...   Rick Morgan

The Relief Tube

A couple of issues ago we ran a B-25 piece in which we illustrated a truck that we thought might have been used for turret maintenance. It turns out we were close, but there was no cigar in sight! Let's let Jim Wogstad tell us about it:

I was just re-reading one of last years articles and happened to notice a tiny itsy bitsy error. The photo actually shows an E-5 Turret Trainer Truck. If you owned a copy of the "Bomb Book", you would have known that! The USAAF mounted all sorts of turrets on them. One mod even sported a Sperry ball turret on a special extended frame. Interesting, no?  Jim

Jim sent along a photo to illustrate the point, but it's in a format that's apparently unloved by the software that powers this blog so you don't get to see it today---phooey! There's a tiny private joke in Jim's correction---he's been working on what we're convinced will be the ultimate reference to American aviation ordnance and related items. Let's all encourage Jim to get that darned book into print soon so we can get a look at the turret trainer truck and all the other nifty stuff that resides in his collection too!

We don't often publish kudos here, since we presume that most of our readership likes what we're doing or they wouldn't be looking in on us, but every once in a while we get an especially kind comment on the publication. This is one of those:

Hi Phil, Everyone loves the Sabre, heh? You bet! Among my most treasured possessions is the Replica In Scale special F-86 issue with the orange cover and dozens of Sabre profiles all done by hand!! A watershed issue and your rightful claim for glory. Glad to know that you're still keeping on. Kind regards from Belgium, Quang 

Thanks for your kindness, Twangster! We're glad you enjoyed that Sabre issue and delighted that you're still with us as a reader!

And, as brief as it is, that's our Relief Tube for today. It coulda/probably shoulda been longer (Lord knows we've got the material to populate it with) but we're already far later than we should have been in getting this issue published, so we're going to go with this. Please continue to write to us ( ) if you're so inclined; we don't publish everything these days but we do read everything that's sent to us (unless it's spam) and reply to a great deal of it. What you think, and your corrections to what we think, is important, so keep those cards and letters coming!

That's it for this time, so we'll see you all another day.

Be good to your neighbor,

Monday, March 17, 2014

Snoopers and Rag Draggers, Joe on The 'Canal, The 38th, Thankin' Frank, and Some Spooks

Heading Off a Relief Tube Entry at the Pass

Sometimes we do really bone-headed things around here; the Best Laid Plans, etc, etc. That was the case in this instance, when we completely gomed up (or, with the rag-draggers, simply didn't insert) the unit identifications for those A-26 photos you'll see below. If you're looking at this issue for the first time it really won't matter, so you can just pretend you never read this. If you did read it before you might want to read it again, because we corrected the photo captions which, in our minds, precludes any necessity for putting an additional correction here. Many thanks (and sincere apologies!) to John Horne for pointing out our errors!

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

We've all seen it. With any luck we haven't actually done it ourselves (or, more importantly, to others!), but we've all seen it in action far too many times. It's unkind. It's rude. It's arrogant. And it's entirely unnecessary to life as we know it.

What am I talking about this time, you might logically ask. What's got me up on my soapbox again, ranting and raving for all to see? Why, it's The Arrogant Internet Know-It-All, of course! You've seen it before (but hopefully not on these pages) and, unfortunately, you'll probably see it again. Let's discuss the situation.

In the pre-Internet world most publications had a letters-to-the-editor section so readers could write in with their comments or opinions on things a given periodical might have put into print. Back in those days letters got reviewed by an editor, who checked them over not only for grammatical and spelling errors but also for content and also, somewhere in the process of editing, chose which ones would find their way to ink on paper in the next issue. The Internet isn't like that, by and large, because a whole lot, maybe even most, of the e-zines and blogs out there allow their readership to voice their opinions by means of a forum of one sort or another, generally moderated by someone connected in some official manner with the site in question. Said moderator gets to be the referee, for want of a better term, and gets to try to keep things informative and relatively civil. Unfortunately, since there are generally a whole bunch of people writing in and just one or two moderators, things can sometimes go off in a direction entirely unintended by the staff of said site.

On any given day I probably drop in on a half-dozen or so modeling-related boards to see what's going on in the polystyrene world. It's a good way to learn new techniques, gain a fresh insight into things I thought I had figured out a long time ago, and just have some enjoyable time reading the comments of people I don't actually know but have come to look on as electronic friends because I enjoy reading what they write. I think that's what the folks who put forums on their sites intended when they did it, and I applaud their efforts and good intentions.

Unfortunately, those good intentions are often run aground by the efforts of a class of folks we'll call The Dreaded Internet Experts, those people who know everything and want to make certain that you, along with everyone else, know that they know it. Their expression of thought ranges from comments as simple as "we discussed that 3 pages ago (Weren't you paying attention, Dummy?!)" to out-and-out accusations of whatever it is the accusations are about this time ("Hey, everybody---look at me! I'm really smart but that guy's a moron!").

Here's the deal, or at least the deal as I see it. People who don't know things write into those web forums to ask questions so they can learn. Sometimes the questions don't seem too well-founded, it's true, but it's fair to presume that somebody didn't know something and thought somebody on whatever-forum-they're-reading could help them with the answer. That seems fair enough to me, and I honestly can't see belittling such people or jumping down their throats when they commit the unforgivable transgression of asking a "dumb" question; all that sort of thing does is make the person making the comment look bad in the eyes of their peers. They might be right in what they're saying, and their comment might be well-founded, but it's also rude. It's probably better to not say anything than to jump down the throat of a total stranger because they didn't know the answer to something.

Why, you might say, does this matter? To me the answer is simple: Every year we get more and better kits, and decals, and references, and on and on it goes, but a lot of that is because those of us who grew up with plastic models have aged to the point where we can afford at least some of those increasingly expensive toys. Sooner or later we'll age to the point where we can't see well enough to model anymore, or no longer have the eye-to-hand coordination that's necessary for such things. One way or another we're all going to leave the hobby, and I'm not convinced there are all that many people coming up who care about plastic scale modeling the way a lot of us do. With that as a premise, why would we want to risk driving people away from the hobby because we can't control our egos on an electronic forum? Wouldn't we want to help those folks out so they'll become more involved, and maybe bring in a friend or two with them? Wouldn't increasing numbers give us a shot a more new kits, and references, and so on and so forth, while we're still able to enjoy them?

I think there's an obvious lesson to be learned from all this, both in scale modeling and in the other aspects of our lives. A question you don't like doesn't have to be a challenge, and an answer you don't agree with doesn't have to be an affront to your very being. It might be easier to just try to get along with the other guy.

I rest my case.

Some Different Invaders

Some things are seminal in our lives; people, places, things, or events that bend a twig and shape a future. For us, one of those seminal instances was a Thing, the Monogram B-26 Invader (Kit # P6 or PA6 depending on how old you are). "Lil Nell", as was boldly emblazoned on its nose, was The Big M's first plastic model airplane kit, originally appearing in 1955 and staying in production until 1970 or so. We built it for the first time in 1957 and were, as were so many kids of the 50s, immediately stricken by the airplane's appearance. That model triggered a personal love affair with the A-26 that's lasted to this very day. We're guessing that a lot of our readers share the same passion, and maybe even for the same reason. There's a caveat, though. There always is.

In this case the caveat is the mission the airplane was used for; the A-26 (later B-26, after Martin's medium bomber of the same designation had left the inventory shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War) being primarily thought of as an attack aircraft and bomber. That was, after all, its designed role, and it's how the vast majority of them served in three wars. That's why those of us with a specific seniority on life fell in love with that Monogram kit, right? Right!

OK then, consider this point, if you will. The Invader served from the waning days of WW2 right up through the greater part of the Vietnam War as a light bomber, an attack bomber, and an interdiction platform, but the basic airframe was a versatile one that lent itself to tasks other than those we most often associate with the type. In later years, while in service with the ANG, it sprayed mosquitos over American cities and served as a fast VIP transport. From the end of the Second World War until the final days of its career it served as a target tug and, for a brief period of time during the Korean War, as an electronic warfare platform. Thanks once again to John Horne, we're going to spend a few minutes exploring those particular missions as they were flown by the Douglas A-26. Let us proceed:

Here's a fine example of a rag dragger. The aircraft is an A-26C-50-DT and is shown here during its target towing days with the USAF, while flying with Det 1 of the 4th TTS out of Larson AFB in Washington ca. 1953/54. Those black nacelles are fairly common on the A-26 family, serving to both reduce glare and hide all the gunk thrown off by the engines. She ended up a survivor on the American civil registry, a fate shared by a great many Invaders---you can thank those years as a target tug and hack for their survival.   Campbell via J Horne Collection

Target tugs tended to be extremely colorful in The Silver Air Force, as typified by this ramp shot of the 5th TTS' Det 1 at Sculthorp in 1955/56. It's interesting to note that there are three B-26s in this photo and they're all painted differently! Two are B-models and one is a Charlie; as a rag dragger it didn't matter whether the airplane had a gun nose or not.   Campbell via J Horne Collection

And here's a detail shot of the badge that's on the first bird in that ramp shot. It's American nose art at its best and we presume, but are not certain, that it's the squadron emblem for the 5th---our archives don't include target towing units! Reader comments are invited at .  Campbell via J Horne Collection

The next few shots will help explain why we're so impressed with John Horne's collection. These RB-26Cs (44-35825 and 44-35909) were assigned to the 11th TRS, 67th TRW, and were photographed on the ramp at Kimpo late in 1953, and were tasked with monitoring WarPac, Chinese, and North Korean gun laying radars. The paintwork is a little unusual on the closest of these aircraft; the propeller warning stripes and buzz numbers are outlined in white. Check out the lumps and bumps on those airplanes!   Bowlus via J Horne Collection

Here's a paint scheme you don't see every day!  The aircraft is 44-35555, also on the ramp in Kimpo late in 1953. She's wearing a white-trimmed prop warning stripe, a pair of gas bags trimmed in red, and silver trim on her aft nacelles! She's not festooned with the shapes found on some of the 11th's other aircraft, but that paintwork more than makes up for it!   Bowlus via J Horne Collection

How about a better view of that chin pod to end our essay with? "Snooper" pretty much sums up the mission of the 12th and does it with considerable humor. She's yet another RB-26C, and she posed for this portrait in late 1953, shortly before the cessation of hostilities. The natural metal prop hubs and blades are of interest, as are the details of the chin and ventral antennae covers---we'll publish a rundown of what they are in a later issue.     Marios via J Horne Collection

Before He Was a Governor

Joe Foss led a long and distinguished life, Governor of North Dakota, first president of the American Football League, president of the NRA, a general in the Air National Guard, and a broadcast announcer on television. Those accomplishments, taken all by themselves, would qualify him for lasting fame, but there's more to the story than that. Joe Foss was a Marine aviator during the Bad Old Days of 1942 and flew with VMF-121 out of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The 26 kills he achieved while there won him the Medal of Honor, while his stay in the Solomons gave him a case of malaria and a trip back to the States. He was back in the saddle again by 1944, commanding VMF-115 out of Emirau, where he relapsed into a second case of malaria. He was the Real Deal, an all-American boy doing his duty in a crummy war and thriving on the experience, and his exploits, both on and off the battlefield, are the stuff of legends.

Publicity photos don't get much more contrived than this one is; a stoic Joe Foss stands over an empty ammo can while a pair of Navy (not Marine) ordies show him what a belt of .50-cal looks like. The premise is a silly one at best, but it showed the folks back home what their boys were doing, even if the view was somewhat whimsical. America needed heroes in 1942, and Joe Foss was the genuine article, a skilled and capable aviator with exceptional gunnery skills and more than a small amount of intestinal fortitude to back it all up. We strongly suspect this photo was taken after his return to the ZI from the Solomons but it really doesn't matter; no amount of staged photography could diminish Joe's accomplishments.  Rocker Collection

Many thanks to Bobby Rocker once again, and a special thanks to the guys who stood up when the going was toughest. We owe them.


That's not how North American Aviation's B-25 Mitchell started out, but by early 1943 the aircraft had morphed into a strafer of the highest order. The concept began with the operators in General George's air force, who required more punch than existing bombardment types could provide given the 5th Bomber Command's evolving mission as a low-level strike force. Those early field mods eventually led to the production of dedicated strafers straight off the production lines. The photos you're about to view chronicle a brief capsule of that evolution, with aircraft provided courtesy of the 405th BS, 38th BG.

A classic strafer! 41-12905 was a B-25C attached to the 405th BS of the 38th BG during 1943 and 1944. She was eventually written off in an accident but was in her prime when this photo was taken---North American fabricated a number of gunship conversions and shipped them to the SWPAC, and this aircraft has had one installed. The C and D models weren't quite as impressive as the 8-gun purpose-built J-models that were to follow, but they were capable enough and could certainly get the job done, as the scoreboard on 905's nose attests.
J Watson Collection

Here's another view of a North American-kitted Mitchell from the 405th. The four-gun nose was perfectly adequate for the job, particularly when combined with the package guns mounted to the sides of the fuselage. In this form the B-25 was a superb destroyer of airfields and a ship killer without equal. Note the dragon's head and sharkmouth presentation on this aircraft and compare it to that of 12905 above. They were all hand-painted and no two were exactly alike.   J Watson Collection

Somewhere along the way somebody decided that if machine guns in the nose were good, a cannon would be that much better. The idea led to the installation of a 75mm M4 howitzer in the nose, loaded by the navigator. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the reality of combat operations it was a dismal failure. Slow to load and difficult to aim, the gun was removed early on and replaced by a pair of .50 caliber machine guns firing through a modified cannon port, weapons that were far more useful in the B-25's strafer role. This aircraft is a B-25H and is shown on the ramp on a typical SWPAC airfield. The post visible above the nose of the aircraft is part of the aiming system for the guns---we hesitate to call it a gun sight. In this configuration the G and H-models were every bit as effective as their more "normal" brethren in combat.  J Watson Collection

Coming home! 12905 settles in after an early 1944 mission in the Philippines, with no apparent combat damage. In theory things were easier by 1944, but the 5th's strafers fought a hard war and took losses right up until the end. This photo makes it all look easy. It wasn't.   J Watson Collection

Such a Simple Idea

As you've all been reminded far more times than you would like, I've been building plastic model airplanes most of my life. My progression of skill sets has probably been the one most of you have followed as well; glue-smeared rough assemblages of parts replaced by tidier assemblages of parts, which in turn were replaced by tidy assemblages of puttied and sanded parts. Those puttied and sanded assemblages, which more or less resembled an airplane to one extent or another prior to painting were, at one point in our modeling careers, the arrival point, the goal, the end game. Everybody knew, and most people still know, that you build up a model, than paint it, decal it, weather it, and put it on the shelf. That's the way you do it (although you don't get money or chicks for free). That's the way I used to do it too, but not any more. I've had an epiphany, if you will, and I'd like to share it with you.

It all started during a visit to Frank Emmett's place a couple of years ago. The spouses were safely ensconced in Frank's living room doing whatever it is spouses do when they're ensconced someplace, while he and I were back in his airplane room talking about, what else---airplanes---when I noticed Frank's project of the moment sitting there on his workbench. At this remove I honestly can't remember what he was building, although that really doesn't matter. What does matter is the way he was building it.

Remember that part way up there in the first paragraph where I said that we all learned to build up a mostly homogeneous airframe before we began to paint and decal. Well folks, Frank wasn't doing it that way. Nope; he had a fuselage all built up, painted and decalled and sitting next to a wing assembly in the same approximate condition. I noticed what he was doing and the light bulb went on!

Back in those prehistoric times us old guys sometimes refer to as "The Day" it was necessary to build up a kit into something that more-or-less represented the finished model before we could begin any sort of finishing processes such as painting. It was a defense mechanism, since most of those older kits didn't fit worth a damn and a fair amount of sanding and puttying, followed by even more sanding and puttying, was pretty much the order of the day. That all began to change back in the 90s, and today's modern kits, the mainstream ones anyway, generally go together pretty darned well. Think about that for a minute. How many kit reviews have you read where the writer said he or she didn't use any putty and did very little sanding? The answer, increasingly, is A Lot, and that answer takes us to my epiphany. Think about it for a minute---it's often easier to paint and decal a fuselage by itself, without other big pieces stuck to it to get in the way, and since most of the big pieces on a great many kits now go together with little need for bodywork, the next step is obvious: Build the thing in modules!

Here's a prime example of what we're talking about. Yes, you've seen some variation of this photo once before, but you get to see it again because it proves the point. The kit is the Hasegawa 1/32nd scale Ki-44, a fairly recent kit that fits together like the proverbial glove. That fuselage was done as an assembly and then painted with a Tamiya rattle can and decalled, after which the horizontal stabs were added. The wings were done the same way, although the Hinomarus and Home Defense bands were masked and painted on both the fuselage and the wings---no stickies there! Painting those insignia, plus the red tail and the anti-glare panels, would have been a royal pain in the patootie if the airplane was all put together in one big honkin' piece, but doing it this way turned what could have become a major hassle into a cakewalk. Doing the model in subassemblies made the project an easy one. Think about it for a minute---if you don't need putty on a particular kit before you paint it, why would you need to be concerned about addressing seams afterwards? Can you spell Brilliant? (We're describing Frank, not me...)

And here's the same approach taken on an Eduard Bf109E. Some reviewers have given this kit a bad rap for fit, but it just ain't so! If you read the instructions and exercise a little basic care the kit will simply fall together. You need to keep in mind that the technique only works if the kit's pieces fit together on natural panel lines copied from the real aircraft, but if you've got a kit that does that you're Golden! This is such a simple idea. Why didn't we hit on it before now? Shazbot!

The point is this: You will have to be extremely careful doing your final assembly and be prepared (and brave enough) to do a little touch-up if necessary once everything's together, but you'd probably have to do that anyway. It's a given in our hobby. Not every kit is well enough engineered to allow you to use this technique, but most of the newer ones are. A great many of Hasegawa's kits, as well as Tamiya's and Eduard's, tend to fall together without much hassle if you're careful when you do your initial assembly, which makes the technique viable in the extreme. You probably won't want to try it with very many of the current crop of Chinese kits (although they're getting better with every new release) and you definitely can't do it with the short-run stuff, but there are a whole lot of kits out there where the technique works just fine. You really ought to give it a try some day. You just might be amazed at how things turn out.

Oh yeah; we'll tell Frank you said thank you!

Scary Airplanes

Or not, but any way you cut it it's a fact that the Late Lamented McDonnell Aircraft Company/McDonnell Douglas used to name their fighters after ghostly apparitions and other scary things. We're big fans of Things Naval around here, and therefore fans of those McAir fighters by default. That makes it an easy jump into today's last photo essay. There's no rational here except that Mark Nankivil recently sent in a couple of really neat photos and we wanted an excuse to share them with you!

It was big (really big) and it was loud, and the guys who flew it were lucky indeed that they never had to go to war in it, but McDonnell's F3H Demon was also one seriously good looking airplane, as illustrated by this ramp full of VF-131 F3H-2s. We think that's a section from VF-31 parked in the background but aren't 100% certain and will patiently wait for the e-mails confirming or correcting same! That address is .   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Unlike a great many of its late 50s/early 60s contemporaries, the Demon spent quite a bit of time on the boat, and we're sure you've all heard the term "bolter" as applied to carrier operations. This photo shows what one looks like from the V-1 Division's perspective. A bolter was an event to be remembered in the early jets thanks to a distinct lack of available thrust---even though the F3H had an afterburner this sort of shenanigan was guaranteed to get the driver's attention, as well as that of the guys in the catwalk. Note that on this airplane, at least, the interior of the gear doors is solid Insignia Red in its glossy iteration. It's not just a job...   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

The F3H came on line during the primordial days of the fully-operational air-to-air missile. This photo shows an early F3H-2M undergoing trials with AIM-7 Sparrows on the rails. Those early AIM-7s weren't particularly effective, but neither was the Demon. During those formative years of the missile-armed interceptor their value lay in the experience they provided to the NAV in terms of all-weather (sort-of) operations. They honestly weren't much, but they paved the way for Better Things.   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Here's one of those Better Things we mentioned up above. McDonnell got close with the F3H, but were severely handicapped by lack of an appropriate powerplant. The Demon's successor had no such issues, and it's safe to say that the company knocked one out of the park with the follow-on aircraft, the F4H-1 Phantom II. It was, to put it mildly, one of The Great Ones; an iconic aircraft that was designed for Fleet defense and ended up performing just about every mission that can be flown by a fighter. It was everything the Demon couldn't be, and more. It was the stuff of legend, but it owes a lot of its fame to its also-ran older brother. Fly Navy!   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Happy Snaps

Since we're already doing a Navy thing today, let's crank in a product from the Grumman Iron Works for our parting shot:

Rick Morgan took this evocative study of 161242 from VAQ-133 near Republic, Washington, in March of 1992. EA-6B replacement is underway as this is written, with final operations scheduled for 2015, but the EA-18G Growler has got some big shoes to fill. Those guys over in Bethpage knew how to build an airplane! Rick Morgan

The Relief Tube

It's been at least two issues since we last ran this part of the blog, so it's probably time to get back into the game. We're only going to run a couple of things this time since we're essentially playing catch-up, so without further ado:

A couple of issues ago we ran a photo of an A/F-18F submitted by Kolin Campbell and identified the place as being a cold, wintery one, probably because that's how the weather was around here. In fact we were about as wrong as wrong could be, as explained by Kolin:

Although the F/A-18F photo makes it appear cold out there, it sure wasn't! Photo was taken during the early summer, which at China Lake means hot. The white areas on the ground are desert minerals or salts. The 'lake' visible is Searles Lake, located near the town of Trona, CA. China Lake airfield is to the west, not visible in the photo. It can get cold in the winter, though. Kolin

Thanks, Kolin!

And finally (we told you this would be a short Relief Tube!), here's a photo to end the day with. It's from The Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum courtesy of Mark Nankivil, and we're running it in an unadulterated form (that means no watermark) as a special treat for our readers.

For the love of flying. 'Nuff said!    Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

And that's it for this issue. Be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again real soon!