Monday, April 12, 2010

Of Tools, It Probably Wasn't Ever That Color, and Some Shooting Stars

Jus' Foolin' Wit' the Toolin'

Sometimes I get to thinking. This is rarely, if ever, a Good Thing; it's something that frequently leads to silliness of the sort that exceeds even my normal quotient thereof, which means that Some Folks Get Annoyed. Or confused. Or sometimes both. "Why did he say/do that? What could he have been thinking?" Today is one of those Thinking days, and you need to know up front that it didn't start out that way. It pretty much just happened.

This is the part where you get to ask yourselves what it is I've been thinking, although I doubt there's any way you could possibly know what it was, it being my thought and all. That's logic of a sort, right?

Anyway, what we're talking about is tooling for plastic model airplanes, mostly because discussion of same is a minor pet peeve of mine. You've seen it. We've all seen it: "Here's the Something Something Something and it's a New Tool." Or how about that apparently perenial Burning Question: "Is it a New Tool?" Either one of those statements has the potential to take us to a rather interesting place, because what if it is a New Tool, or maybe what if it isn't and it doesn't really matter? Think about that for a minute. It's a veritable philosophical quandry, isn't it?

In our hobby the word "tool" is used to define the machined (sometimes mechanically, sometimes via EDM) molds into which molten plastic is injected at some level of pressure in order to create those little parts we drop and lose on the floor. Somebody designs those molds, which includes concerning themselves with things you most likely have never heard of such as draft angles, etc., then somebody creates them, either out of a moderately hard metal alloy ("permanent tooling") or out of something softer ("short-run tooling") that won't withstand as much use as the other kind. It's moderately expensive to make an injection mold, since neither design nor tool and die work are particularly cheap, so whoever's making the mold wants to obtain what some might call The Most Bang for the Buck. That's how molds get rented out to other companies, and why they get sold off from time to time; that's also why you sometimes pop good money for a "new" kit in a fancy new box and end up with something that first saw the light of day when Richard Nixon was occupying the White House. You might, in simplest terms, call it Basic Economics.

So why should I care about whether or not a "tool" is new? The truth is that I shouldn't, and mostly don't, but sometimes it tickles me a little. By now you know what I'm talking about, because you've seen it yourself. A major manufacturer (as opposed to those guys in Eastern Europe who, quite honestly, are producing most of the really interesting stuff these days) issues a Brand New Kit of the Whatever It Might Be Mk VII and there, in the press release and maybe even on the box, is the statement "New Tool". Now there's never been a kit of the Whatever It Might Be Mk VII before, not in the entire history of Mankind, so how could it be anything but a "new tool"? There's something fairly obvious there, don't you think?

Then there's the Other Half of the Story; the Old Kit That's Been Reboxed. It's pretty obviously not a "new tool" but that may not matter very much, if at all, because some of those old kits were really good Way Back Then and, guess what; still are! Revell, or Monogram, or whatever that descendent of classic American model companies is calling itself this week, periodically re-issue their 1/48th T-6 kit, or their F-89, or any one of a couple of dozen simply outstanding older models, and then the hue and cry goes up: "Is it a New Tool?", or maybe "It's just the Old Tool so it's the Old Kit so it isn't any good because it's not a New Tool."

Jeez, Louise!

So here we are, all rambled-out and ready for The Moral of the Story, and this time it's a simple one; it's the model that can be produced from the kit that matters, not how old The Tool might be or whether or not it's "new". Think about that next time you're tempted to ask about That Tool Thing and go build something instead. It's a far more rational and productive thing to do.

Petting Another Peeve

If you have an interest in the SBD/A-24 series of aircraft you've probably seen references that state that the first 78 A-24s off the Douglas line were actually SBD-3As and that they were delivered in the then-standard Navy scheme of NonSpecular Blue-Gray over NonSpecular Light Gray. I've personally never bought into that theory for two reasons; first, there's a series of photographs of the Douglas/El Segundo ramp taken in June of 1941 that show Neutrality Gray SBD-3s interspersed with OD over Neutral Gray A-24s. That's the Proof of the Pudding to me and I honestly don't think we need to go any further trying to prove otherwise, but there's also a document in my files that pretty much defines things. That document is Air Corps Specification 24114, dated 24 October, 1940, supplemented with a letter from Commander J. E. Ostrander of the Bureau of Aeronautics dated 02 December 1940 and in response to a communication from the Chief of the Army Air Corps to the BuAer dated 22 November, 1940.  The subject of the letter is "Camouflaging of Douglas SBD-3A and Consolidated PBY-5A Airplanes", and it refers Douglas to Air Corps Specification 24114. We'll skip the stuff about cleaning and testing (although we'll retain the parts regarding priming) and jump straight to the camouflage and markings---here's a copy of the relevant portion of 24114 and its accompanying letter for your consideration: 

And finally, here's a poor photocopy of a photograph that sheds considerable light on the subject:

The photocopy of the picture in question. I no longer have the original, just this singularly poor copy, but it shows what we're talking about. The ramp is Douglas' El Segundo facility, and the shot depicts an A-24  sitting next to an SBD-3 in June, 1941. The chronology of the A-24's gestation makes this photograph a fairly conclusive bit of evidence:  78 aircraft were authorized to be ordered on July 10, 1940, with the caveat that they be identical to the Navy's SBD until such time as the AAF could decide what changes it might desire to make to the aircraft. The Army submitted a list of changes to the Navy in mid-July and the contract was officially placed on 27 September, 1940. Delivery ran slightly behind schedule and the first A-24 wasn't delivered until mid-June 1941. There was some discussion at that time of loaning the AAF a quantity of SBD-3s until the Army contract could be filled, but the inconvenience of modifying the loaned aircraft to A-24 standard (the changes to the aircraft were exceptionally minor, but the resulting impact to schedule was not) and subsequently changing them back to SBD-3A configuration upon return to the Navy, coupled with an assurance from Ed Heinemann that at least 40 A-24 aircraft would be delivered to the AAF by 31 July, 1941, caused that proposal to be shelved. I suspect, although I have no way of proving it, that this proposed loan of Navy aircraft may have contributed to the idea that there were blue-gray over gray A-24s. If we consider that the BuAer was specifiying all carrier-based aircraft be painted overall Non-Specular Light Gray (30 December 1940), and that the order to paint the upper surfaces of those same aircraft in Non-Specular Blue Gray wasn't issued until 13 October 1941, and then consider that A-24 deliveries began in June of 1941, the whole Navy-painted A-24 legend seems to go away.

Noisemakers on the SBD

Here are a couple of photos of weapons and ordnance on the SBD that might might help you detail your next model of same:

An SBD radio operator looks heroic in this publicity shot. Note the deployed wind deflector on the aft end of the sliding canopy; it cammed open when the radio operator's portion of the canopy was slid into the open position, and the lack of armor plating for the guns.   National Archives, Neg No. Unknown

A similar shot taken aboard Ranger in June of 1943. A minimal gun shield has been fitted; there were many variations on the theme, making reference photographs essential to any SBD or A-24 model.  National Archives  80-79091

A fine shot that depicts a more complete style of turret armor. Note that an upper section has been added to the gun mount.   National Archives, Neg No. Unknown

The Big Bang. Here's a 500-lb GP bomb being guided into the bomb well on an SBD. As a general rule, the 500-pounders were used by themselves for the scouting mission, or in concert with a pair of wing-mounted 250-pounders for certain bombing missions. A 1,000-lb bomb was the preferred weapon for ship-killing. It was a different era, and the notion of political correctness had yet to infect American culture.  National Archives, Neg No. Unknown

A yellow-painted 250-lb GP bomb is secured to the starboard wing station aboard a Ranger-based SBD. Note how the actual bomb rack fits into the wing station, and the hoisting lugs on the bomb casing; a good representation of this bomb can be found in the Accurate Miniatures F2F and F3F kits. Stencilling is evident, and the bomb has been fused.  Look at all those rivets---why can't any of the contemporary model companies get it right?!  National Archives, Neg No. Unknown

Rocket rails could be fitted to the SBD-5 and SBD-6, although the installation was far from practical because of the Dauntless' diving flaps. Here's a fuzzy shot of a set of rails (4 per wing) on the starboard wing of an SBD; note the dipoles for the Yagi radar antenna outboard of the rails. Does anybody have a shot of this installation that shows a complete airplane with the rails in place?  National Archives, Neg No. Unknown

Something That Isn't an SBD to End a Day With

Do I like Texas airplanes? Well, maybe a little bit...  Here's a 4-ship from the 182nd TFS/149th TFG in flight over South Texas during the mid-50s. What a pretty airplane.  149th TFG

Wanna build an RF-80 and open up the camera bay? Here's a detail shot of the left side of the nose of RF-80A-15-LO 44-85168 (originally built as a P-80A-1-LO) that's, dare we say it; showing off for the camera! Look at that installation; it was a simpler time...   Friddell Collection

The film magazine is fitted into place. This side's a little busier, but it's still an extremely simple installation. Friddell Collection

An FP-80A-5-LO (AF 45-8440) that was reported as missing in action on 26 January, 1952 over North Korea. Records indicate that it was lost while with the 8th FBS/49th FBG; here it's photographed while serving with the 15th TRS/67th TRW in Korea during 1950.  Friddell Collection

This is what happens when you whack on a little too much throttle while you're starting the airplane. The mostly non-technical term for this is a "hot start". There are other terms for it as well but, once again, we aren't going to print them. This is another bird from the 15th TRS/67th TRW,  FP-80A-5-LO, AF 45-8443, showing us what a hot start looks like on the Shooting Star. Nobody seems to be particularly concerned about it but the squadron maintenance officer was probably less than impressed with the goings-on.  Friddell Collection

It's That Time Already

Yep, it's time to go! With any luck ("luck" in this case being being defined as the lack of unpaid employment as an ad hoc tour guide for the next day or two) we'll talk again tomorrow. Until then, be good to your neighbor!

No comments:

Post a Comment