Friday, February 12, 2010

Shades of Gray, Or One More Stab at the Warhawk

Or, to put it another way, isn't he sick of P-40s yet? Truthfully, the answer to that question is a resounding NO! I think I mentioned before that I love the airplane, that statement being a major clue to my mindset most of the time up to and including right now. We can put a caveat on this thing, though; we're almost done with the Warhawk for the time being, but there's one more item we need to address before we leave the subject.

When last we met, which wasn't all that long ago, we covered the painting and markings of Andy Reynold's "Stardust" in modest detail. During the course of that discussion we talked about the undersurface color of said aircraft and decided (I decided, anyway) that there was a very strong chance it could have been painted Neutral Gray. That opinion is based on photographic evidence. The fly in that particular glass of buttermilk is that it shouldn't be that color and there's more than enough proof to substantiate the theory.

Curtiss was painting their non-OD/NG P-40s to an RAF specification at the time "Stardust" was built, and they were substituting a DuPont light gray color for the undersurface shade specified by the British. That's documented. There are also a whole bunch of photographs, some in color, showing a light gray color on the bottom of the tan and green P-40Es. The evidence is undeniable, except for those pesky photographs that show a dark-bellied "Stardust" in concert with a similarly-painted aircraft that has a light colored belly.

There are a couple of possibilities to consider here, at least one of which could prove an embarrassment to those of us who've done Reynold's bird with a dark gray undersurface. To wit:

The undersurfaces actually were light gray (or light blue gray) but don't show that way in photographs. Some of the 49th's early P-40s were still in existence in Australian salvage yards as late as the mid-1960s and were documented at that time, although our particular specimen wasn't one of them. There were, however, several hulks in the RAF scheme, and they were recorded as having light gray undersurfaces.

The airplane was filthy dirty. That particular circumstance shows up well in every photograph I've ever seen of "Stardust". There's no doubt in my mind that she was well maintained, but she wasn't clean by a long shot, which seems to have been the norm for early-war 49th FG P-40s regardless of camouflage scheme. Those photos could just be showing an airplane that's a little dirtier than those around it, thus making the undersurfaces appear to be something they were not.

The published photographs are of poor quality. There's no contradicting that one either; a lot of the photos of this particular airframe are stills from a movie which hides some detail. We can only hope that somebody's previously unknown and unpublished photos of the 49th, and maybe even this particular airframe, will come to light in the years ahead, but it ain't happened yet so we really can't count on it. (Anybody out there got any unpublished 49th FG P-40 pictures? Maybe some Kodachromes? Maybe a Kodachrome of "Stardust"?)

Or maybe, just maybe, this one particular airframe did indeed have a Neutral Gray belly. We all know it shouldn't have, but maybe it did. Maybe it was a repaint, either partial or complete, possibly in conjunction with some sort of major (it would've had to have been catastrophic, though) repair? Maybe it was painted incorrectly at the factory? At this remove it's almost impossible to know.

One thing is for sure, maybe; "Stardust" didn't have U.S. ARMY painted under the wings. That particular distinction was reserved for the aircraft built specifically for the AAF, and our subject was off an RAF contract. Then again maybe it did have it. After all, it shouldn't have had that color down there either, and it seems that it did. I'm betting it didn't say "U.S. ARMY", though.

At this point you may well be wondering why I don't have any photos of the real airplane attached to this piece. It's the logical thing to do, except that I'd have to offer scans of photographs that have appeared in the published works of others, and I'm not about to do that; I respect the notion of "copyright". What I have done is appended a couple of photos of another Warhawk model, this time one that's in the "proper" scheme, so you can get some idea of the tonal differences. This new offering is Ben Irvin's #75 "The Rebel", which was in the squadron at the same time as "Stardust" and was definitely painted in the correct light gray undersurface color. The paint used here is ModelMaster 36440, and the model isn't nearly as weathered as "Stardust". (As an aside, I use slightly tinted 36118 for my Neutral Gray because of my first father-in-law, who gave me a solid model of a Martin B-26 that he build while he was in the AAF during the war---he painted it with "the real" colors, taken from paint cans on the flight line, and the Neutral Gray is almost a dead-ringer for that color (36118) as offered in the Model Master enamel line. That's a good enough reference for me.) The model of "The Rebel" doesn't have the U.S. Army verbage under the wings in Insignia Blue, and it possibly should have since no RAF serial is visable in any known photo of the airframe---if that's true then the model probably shouldn't have the IFF antennae fitted either. That's another unknown that I don't have the answer to and, just to add fuel to the fire, take a comparative look at the two photos of the undersurfaces. They were taken on the same day and within 3 minutes of each other, but I moved my lighting and the position of the model slightly for the second shot, thus changing the perceived color slightly. There's a lesson there for us all, I think.

Now, are you ready for me to change the water a bit? Are you Warhawked out for the time being? Let me see what we can do about that. In the meantime, be good to your neighbor. We'll talk again soon.