Monday, February 15, 2010

A Day of Odds and Ends

The Tail of a Tail

OK, let's see a show of hands here: How many of you think the Martin B-26 is a good looking airplane? How about a great looking airplane? If you said yes to either or both of those questions, you and I share an opinion. The Marauder is drop-dead gorgeous; no doubt about it. It was a real ground-breaker when it was new, and raised the bar in a number of areas. It was also, in its early variants, what some pilots non-too-affectionately described as a "hot ship", thus leading to nicknames like "Widowmaker" and "Flying Prostitute" (since it had no visible means of support). That's a humorous way of saying the early B-26 had a nasty accident rate, in case you hadn't already figured that part out for yourself, but that same little wing also made for outstanding performance and a top speed that rivalled that of most contemporary fighters. Couple that performance with adequate defensive armament and a useful bomb load and you end up with what the AAF wanted all along; a high performance medium bomber that could get to a target, bomb it, and take care of itself when attacked by enemy fighters.

The 22nd Bomb Group got the Marauder first, and took the initial variant, the B-26MA (not an "A" or "B" model, just plain old B-26MA), into combat from the Port Moresby complex of airfields during 1942. The group often operated without figher escort and was largely successful in its operations. The Japanese, including the elite Tainan NAG stationed at Lae, were highly impressed with the aircraft's performance and considered it a tough nut to crack. Oddly enough, you just don't find that much in the way of negative comments being made by the guys who were flying the airplane in combat either. Kinda makes you think Martin got it right the first time out of the box, doesn't it?

So, we have an airplane. How about kits? There was a time, a very long time ago, when the choice in 1/72nd scale was between Revell and Frog, who both offered more-or-less G-model Marauder kits. Aurora (you can gasp or choke here; your call) had the sole 1/48th offering, and we tried our hand at all of them. Later on Monogram did a B-26B in 72nd in their Snap-Tite line, that kit still being an excellent representation of an early Marauder once you do something about the interior. They followed that kit with a 1/48th scale long-tail. Somewhere in there, Airfix released their excellent B-26G. More recently, our friends in the Czech Republic gave us another 1/72nd scale kit to work with, although it doesn't render the late-70s Monogram effort obsolete by any means. There are reviews of the Monogram and Valom (I think) offerings on other sites, so we aren't going to review them here.

The bottom line to this is a simple one: If you want to build a 22nd BG B-26MA you're going to have to do some work to get there, and some substantial work if your scale is 1/48th. The 72nd scale kits are relatively easy to deal with, because you just need to add spinners and modify the tail turret. (And yes, that's what both Martin and the AAF called it. It was a turret in their view, even though it doesn't in any way conform to what we generally think a turret to be.) It's a whole 'nother game in 1/48th, because in that scale you've also got to rework the wings, empennage, cowlings, and certain minor fuselage details. It's not an easy date if you Build Big.

Enter Mike West of Lone Star Models. Mike does quality resin bits, and even a couple of complete kits, and one of his more recent offerings is, you guessed it; the short-tail Marauder. It's still going to be work to get there but things are a lot easier now, and the conversion is well within the abilities of most moderately-skilled modelers. The conversion might not be appropriate for a neophyte, but if you've been doing this for a while it shouldn't be any big deal---my experience with previous offerings from Lone Star has proven them to be entirely doable by a modeler with modest skills. My skills are modest. Trust me on this one! That takes us to today's photos, which aren't photos at all, but rather drawings from TO 01-35EA-2 dated 30 August, 1941, showing some details of the early B-26 for you to add to your collection. With any luck they'll be of use if you decide to tackle the Lone Star conversion.

That said, those of us who model the WW2 5th Air Force doff our garrison caps to Mr. West and offer a profound Thank You! We're grateful, Sir! May we have another?

Friends Beside Me

Now it's time to pay a couple of dues. I'm new to this blog stuff (as if that wasn't fairly obvious) and one of the things I discovered when I started was that you get to have something called followers. My personal opinion is that anybody who'd deliberately follow me anywhere probably isn't playing with a full deck, but maybe I'm wrong. (But what if I'm right? The mind boggles!) Me, I don't call them followers. I call them friends, and I want to tell you about three of them.

Milton Bell is a relative Newby in terms of Friends 'o Phil, since I've only known him for a few years. We met at King's Hobby Shop in Austin, and pretty much hit it off right away, although I don't see him often and, truth be known, I don't know him as well as I'd like to. I think the term is "casual friends", but that's not really the point. About a year ago I did a 1/32nd Hasegawa P-40E and wanted some fairly unique 49th FG (what else?) markings for the model. I decided on George Preddy's Dragon Flight #85, "Tarheel", replete with the Java Dragon on the starboard nose. At that time nobody made those markings in that scale (but they did right after I finished the model; irony, that), and hand-painting is not in my personal bag of tricks. I mentioned this problem to Milton one Saturday afternoon, and he asked if I had any good references of what I wanted. I said yes. He said OK. A week later, give or take, I had my Java Dragon decal. That's Milton. That's how he is, and that's the sort of thing he does. He's a friend.

Jim Sullivan. You all probably know Jim. He's Mr. Corsair, and what he doesn't know about the Hog probably isn't worth knowing. He's an author, and I'll bet most of you have at least one of his books. He's a photographer. He's a modeler, and a good one, even if he doesn't build many P-40s. (He says their wings are too straight. I'm not sure I understand that, but it's what he says.) And he's never, never, in all the years I've known him, failed to be there when I needed help with a project. Never. Not even once. He's tried and true. He's a friend.

Then there's Frank Emmett. We have History, Frank and I. I met him when I arrived in Texas in 1965 after a 3-year stint in Japan. He was going to college at the time, and was working his way through his undergrad studies at a San Antonio hobby shop. He was (and is) a really good modeler, and I wasn't. We talked a couple of times, and he started giving me tips and techniques so I could get a little better at the hobby. Now, some 45 years later, he's still giving me tips and techniques. With all that time in-between he's become part of the family, but at the end of the day one sentence sums it up. He's a friend.

Why, you might reasonably ask yourself, am I prattling on about that "friend" stuff? Simple. We all start somewhere, and there's a whole lot more to this hobby than simply sticking little pieces of plastic together and squirting some paint on them. We all learn a little about something each and every day, and it's a whole lot easier to do when somebody's there to help you, which takes us to the part where I not-so-humbly suggest that you help the folks that need it, at least every once in a while. Don't be an "expert" (an "ex" is a has-been; a "spurt" is a drip under pressure; it will serve us all well to remember that), just be helpful. Share some of your knowledge with the folks who want to learn. Be a friend to somebody. It's worth the trouble, ya'll.

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