Sunday, October 17, 2010

Some Banshees, Adventures With Bambi, and More From Elmendorf

Playin' That Banjo

A number of American aircraft companies have fallen by the wayside during the past half-century, mostly due to things such as poor business management, mergers, acquistions, and all that other Big Business stuff that's so much a part of our lives these days. One of the better-known victims of that Big Biz silliness was The Little Company That Could; McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. During the relatively short time they existed as an independent company (prior to their merger with Douglas) they produced a series of naval fighters that were at worst competent, and at best world beaters.

That last statement (the one about the world beaters)  refers, of course, to the immortal F4H Phantom in all its many variants, but we're not going to talk about Phantoms today. Nope! Today belongs to The Most Famous Little-Known McDonnell Product of All Time, the F2H Banshee. More specifically, it belongs to the F2H-2 variant, since that was the one most of us would want to model if there were any decent kits to work with beyond the excellent but aged 1/72nd scale Airix offering. There have been other kits, of course, the most significant of which was issued by the late, lamented Hawk company back in the 1950s, but none of those others were very good, Hawk included, and it doesn't look like we're going to get a new "Banjo" anytime soon. Phooey! I said Phooey and I meant Phooey. Phooey!

Now that that's out of the way, let's look at a couple of pictures.

A nice way to start any day! Here's an in-flight of a VMF-122 F2H-2 (BuNo 123266) that demonstrates the clean lines of the airplane. This particular example is sans gas bags and hard points and shows the basic airframe to excellent advantage. The tie-down point on the aft fuselage is of particular interest to modelers because it shows how big that particular component really is; Airfix got it right even though it looks grossly over-sized when you look at the kit. Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Taxiing on the boat. This evocative shot of 123333 depicts a -2 from VF-34 on the Antietam ca. 1953. Of particular interest, at least to me, is the extended barrier probe in front of the windscreen. The airplane is pristine, the tip tanks somewhat less so. The application of Corrogard on the leading edges of the wings and empennage is worth noting. Check out the way that pilot's gold helmet is glinting in the sunlight!  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Coming aboard. This VF-44 F2H-2 is off the Intrepid, ca. 1954. The barrier probe is extended and the hook striping is nicely shown. Of particular interest is the HVAR on the starboard pylon; we can hope it's inert and the pilot isn't bringing a live round back to the boat! An odd thing here is the closed canopy; it was standard procedure to have it open when launching or recovering if the aircraft's design allowed that particular component to be slid back. The Corrogard on the nose of the wing-tanks is shown to advantage. This bird is trimmed in yellow.  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

I don't know about you folks, but I absolutely love photographs like this one! This lineup of Fighting Twelve -2s was photographed at Cecil Field in June of 1954 and shows a number of intriguing  details. Of special interest to the modeler is the wheel well interior and the wing hardpoints. It doesn't get a whole lot prettier than this! Fahey via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

This VF-62 F2H-2 is off the Coral Sea but was photographed at NAS Jacksonville in June, 1954. Like most other Navy aircraft of the 1950s she's spotless! Squadron markings are in white, making for a striking aircraft.  Fahey via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

The Reserves flew the "Banjo" too, as attested to by this photograph of 125024 from the Oakland Reserve unit. She's getting a little long in the tooth and the Glossy Sea Blue is beginning to fade, but she's still every inch a fighter! Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

That old Airfix kit gives the option of converting the kit to an F2H-2P. Here's something you could do with that were you so inclined. A photo Banshee of VMJ-1 (MAW-3) sits on the PSP in Korea, date unknown. Check out the mission markers on that airplane---talk about a high-time airframe! Would somebody please give us a 1/48th scale kit of this bird?!!  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

A four-ship from VMJ-1 formates somewhere over Korea. Pretty airplanes and great form too. Note that only Modex 8 is carrying the squadron's red and white trim; the other three aircraft are overall GSB. That tie down point sure sticks out, doesn't it?  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Another shot taken at JAX in 1954, this shot illustrates an F2H-2P from VC-62. As with most Navy and Marine aircraft of the period she's a Clean Machine, but there's some serious staining evident on the fuselage national insignia. Those aux tanks got scabbed up pretty easily since they were constantly having fuel hoses drug across their surface; a nice detail to remember if you're modeling a photo Banshee. Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Shape of things to come... This F4H-4 "Big Banjo" from VF-11 shows the ultimate evolution of the type; bigger, heavier, more capable, but maybe not quite as pretty. On the other hand, this bird's really tricked out with trim paint and unit badges. Maybe we'll look at some of these supersized Banshee's in a future installment. Anybody interested, or on a more general note, do you have some photographs of your own you'd like to share? You can get in touch with us at if you're so inclined. Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Whitetail Deer Are Good For Supper But Not Much Else

Which means, of course, that you've got to endure yet another There I Was Story. It's a tough life but bear with me; we'll have some more pictures in a minute or two.

So anyway, there we were; Jim and I on our way back from a day-before-the-airshow shoot at Laughlin AFB. The show was apparently a bust, although we didn't go back The Day Of to find out. The pre-show pickings were slim, maybe eight or nine airplanes and all of them something we'd seen and photographed before. It was a great chance to get away with an old and valued friend, but the three-hours-each-way drive from San Antonio to Del Rio just wasn't worth the pain, and we were glad to be going home in Jim's Brand Spanking New Chevrolet Beauville Van. New. Brand new. Shiny. Unsullied by anything more substantial than South Texas insect carcasses, although that was about to change. Read on.

It was twilight and I saw them first; a small heard of Whitetails off to our left as we headed north on Highway 90, and warned Jim to watch out for them. There's no doubt he would've watched out for them too, had they not jumped across that highway at near-supersonic speed, pretty much right in front of us and some 15 feet or so ahead of the aforementioned Brand Spanking New Chevrolet Beauville Van before either of us had time to do anything more than render a maximum-volume rendition of that time-honored portender of Bad Things; OH SMIT! before it all went south.  And Bad Things were indeed about to happen.

As luck would have it we only smacked one deer, but that one was enough to do us in. Bambi's Brother took out the front bumper, grille, hood, air conditioner compressor, and radiator of that van. When the radiator was compromised so was the remainder of our day, since the coolant didn't work very well when it was on the outside of the engine and all of our coolant was rapidly exiting the vehicle, heading for the asphalt beneath us. Nobody was hurt (Good News, that) except for the accursed deer, but we were well and truly stranded with night coming on.

We stood there beside the newly-immobilised van for 15 or 20 minutes when a car finally came by. The driver saw us, stopped, and turned around to see if we were ok. Turns out he was a sergeant assigned to Laughlin returning to the base from a day trip to San Antonio and he'd smacked a deer or two himself in his time. (Everybody does that sooner or later if they live in South Texas long enough.) He couldn't fix the van, of course, but he promised to go find a phone (this all happened during Those Pre-Cellular Dark Ages) and summon help, which he proceeded to do. Another twenty minutes or so passed, and Salvation appeared in the form of a Texas State Trooper. He took a look at us and the remains of the van, ran the ubiquitous plates and license scan, and offered to take us into Uvalde where we could find help. We accepted the offer and jumped into the back of the black and white, ready for further adventures. They weren't long in coming.

The trooper took us to the one towing company in Uvalde where he knew someone would be available to help us. We thanked him, and he went back to his patrolling while we initiated negotiations with The Driver of the Tow Truck. The games were about to begin.

I think we both knew something was wrong when we met our Brand New Best Friend. The trooper had taken us to the house trailer where said BNBF lived, which meant we got to see our BNBF's choice of television viewing material, which in this case turned out to be one of those lady wrestling shows that were so popular back in the 80s. The empty beer bottles and apparent lack of any sort of Mrs. BNBF in the trailer attested to a life style but who were we to judge, and besides; the guy was nice enough and offered to take us, and the somewhat compromised Brand New Chevrolet Beauville Van, the hundred or so miles to San Antonio. We said yes to his offer. We had no choice. Our BNBF hooked up to the van, and we were on our way.

The wrecker itself was pretty normal for its breed; a 4 or 5 year-old Chevy pickup with towing mast and dual rear wheels. It was a little loud, which might've been because of the complete lack of any sort of muffling system, and it was fast because that unmuffled engine was the very biggest one Chevrolet put in a truck at the time---454 whopping American Cubic Inches.

It honestly wasn't so bad that the tow truck was fast, although I've got to admit that I personally had never before ridden in a tow truck that was hooked up to a full-sized van, and neither Jim nor I had ever been in a tow truck of any sort that was rocketing down the road at an indicated 85 mph with a great big honkin' van attached to it.

That could've been, and should've been, the worst of it, but our BNBF was an eye contact sort of a fellow so we spent the next hour and a half blasting down highway 90 while being regaled with stories of all the assorted vehicles he'd pulled out of the bar ditch, and all the rollovers he'd seen, and on and on. He never looked at the road once; not one single time. He was an Eye Contact guy, remember? Prayers were said.

Anyway, we pulled into Jim's driveway sometime around midnight. The tow truck woke up the neighborhood and every single dog, large and small, within it. There was no doubt we were home; Mr 454 made sure of that. But we were home!

So, you might rightfully ask, what's the moral of this story? I can honestly say there isn't one. The shoot was a bust, the van was quite literally a bust, but we were safe. Everybody involved in the incident survived without a scratch except, of course, for that accursed Whitetail Deer (and that was, in the mind of pretty much anybody who lives in South Texas and has smacked a deer with their vehicle, no great loss). Life went on, and we had a pretty good There I Was story to tell.

Those things happen when you're serious about chasing airplanes. It could've been worse.

A Couple More Photos From The Frozen North

New contributor Richard Bitler sent along another image or two from his stay in Alaska, and they're a good way to end the day. Without further ado:

I don't know about you folks, but I've always had a soft spot for the DeHavilland U-6 Beaver. Richard shot this one back in '61; let's hear about it:  Here's U6A, 52-6124 on Skies, after all it's Alaska, April, 1961. Unit unknown. There were a number of U-6s on base and they were all highly polished natural metal with red arctic markings. Note the black under surfaces. The U-6s that the 23rd Infantry Division at Fort Richardson (next to Elmendorf) had were painted white with red arctic markings. During the summer, some of the USAF and US Army U-6s were mounted on floats and taken to a lake on the military reservation and operated off of the lake. I remember seeing a U-6, mounted on floats, minus the wings, on a Air Force flat bed truck being hauled out to that lake. How I wish I had a slide of that.  Richard Bitler

Here's one you don't see every day...  VC-137C, Air Force One, SAM 26000, June 1960. President Eisenhower was on board the aircraft when he stopped at Elmendorf on his way to Japan. The 707 to the right carried the press corps. Note the orange Presidential scheme. All of the photos I've seen of VC-137s attached to the Presidential flight are in the blue and white scheme for Presidential air craft. Also, this may not be a C model. It could be an earlier VC-137A due to the date the slide was taken.

We haven't done a whole lot with rotary wings to this point, but this one's really special. Let's hear what Richard had to say about it: An H-21B Shawnee (Flying Banana). I did not take this slide. It's a copy of a slide taken by one of the guys in my outfit, so, I don't have the S/N and I don't know the unit. I believe there were two H-21s on base. And I'm not sure, but this may not be a B model, it could be an A. The date on my slide is Jan. 1961.

Thanks again for sharing these, Richard. What neat airplanes!

The Relief Tube

First, a quick comment from Richard Bitler regarding the images he sent us last time around:

Here's something for the Relief Tube about the photos of the T-33 and RB-57 I sent you. The leading edge of the wings on both the T-33 and RB-57  in the photos is unpainted natural metal. The leading edge of the rudder, on both a/c, is light gray.

And finally, here's the usual plea to keep those cards, letters, and airplane pictures coming to . Meanwhile, be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon.

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