Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shelf of Doom?, Early A-7s, One December Day, And Some Zipper Odds and Ends

It Must've Been a Bad Day

You know how it goes. You build a model, put it on the shelf and admire your newly-finished project, and go do something else. You come back later to admire it again and discover something you either forgot to do or did poorly, which causes you to perform a little bit of rework. That's how it is today.

We published yesterday, admired what we did, and walked away. When we went back to look at the fruit of our labors this morning we discovered that our proofreading skills had been, shall we say "limited" and there were typos and grammatical errors every place we looked! Since we try our best to put out a quality product around here all those mistakes took us straight into the realm of the unacceptable, so we're going to take a minute and fix a few things. If this is the first time you're reading this particular installment then you'll never know the difference so just keep on keeping on. If, on the other hand, you did happen to visit us yesterday some of what you read will be different; not radically so, but different nonetheless. It's not you, it's us. This time...

Jus' Ole Junk

That's what we call it, anyway. The internet scale modeling fraternity (to which we happen to belong, ironic as that may seem to those who know us well) has birthed a number of really goofy words and phrases over the years, a few of which are real side-splitters. Our personal favorite, albeit one having nothing whatsoever to do with this particular diatribe, is the use of the noun "pony" to describe any member of the North American P-51 Mustang family, a name by which said aircraft was never called while it was in active service even though at least one American decal manufacturer christened an entire series of sheets using that particular appellation. To each his own, we suppose...

Anyway, this isn't about that. Today's Totally Incoherent Rambling has to do with another Buzz Word Concoction; The Shelf of Doom. Everybody's got one in one form or another, although a great many of us have never bothered to call it anything nearly that dramatic, and certainly never bothered to name it anything so negative. Your editor even has one and yes; it's a literal shelf, but there ain't no doom about it.

Nope---in our world that shelf is not one of doom, it's more a shelf of delayed opportunity, a home for projects gone frustratingly awry for whatever reason. We don't consider any of them terminal projects; in our world that sort of thing gets its useful components removed and is then pitched---end of story. (San Antonio modeler Bob Angel coined the phrase Reduced to Produce for that operation, and we wholeheartedly agree with his terminology!) To prove the point, each and every Classic Airframes kit we've built has enjoyed residence on that particular shelf during some phase (or many phases!) of its construction, such being the nature of a great many of the kits belonging to that particular range of Occasional Plastic Purgatory.

The highly-desirable but frustratingly difficult products of that one manufacturer notwithstanding, we have to go right back to the whole notion that started this particular bit of silliness, which is the concept of a literal shelf of doom. Here's how we figure this ought to work: If the model is so bad it has to be banished to an honest-to-goodness shelf of doom then you need to pitch it. Throw it away. Dispose of it. Reduce to Produce! Allow us to give you The Southern Perspective if we may: It ain't a shelf of doom, it's a place we put stuff until we're ready to get back to it. It's a Land of Opportunity.

Shelf of Doom our patootie!

The First of the Fruitflies

A few years back the United States armed forces retired their last LTV A-7 Corsair IIs, replacing them with the far more capable (although it took quite a while to get there) F-18 family of fighter/attack aircraft. The venerable A-7 Corsair II (rarely called that in US service, but rather known as the "Fruitfly" to the guys with the boats and the "SLUF" to the blue-suiters; "SLUF" being an acronym that we'll let you figure out for yourselves, although the adjectives "Slow", "Little", and "Ugly" are in that name somewhere) was the premier American light attack aircraft of the late 60s through mid-90s.

The A-7 was a revelation when it first entered service with the Navy because it had it all as far as an attack aircraft was concerned; a sophisticated (for its day) fire control and weapons delivery system, long legs, and the hauling capability of a dump truck. On top of that it had been designed for ease of maintenance from the very beginning and offered an extremely good ratio of maintenance hours per hour flown. It was the Bombdiggedy of its day, and became a world-beater when it's Echo-version received a state of the art low-bypass turbofan for its power plant. The Air Force ended up buying their own version of it; the A-7D, thus proving that a Very Good Idea is just that, regardless of who's name is on the wrapper, and subsequent combat in SEA, Grenada, the Balkans, and a handful of other places more than proved its worth in an operational environment.

Today we're going to take a brief look at The Founder of the Feast, the A-7A, so let's see what we've got:

The NAV's test pilot school ends up with all sorts of dogs and cats due to its mission, and they received the "Fruitfly" early on. We don't know the BuNo, don't know the boat, and don't even know the year in which the photo was taken, but it provides a great view into the world of the NTPS. Modelers, take a look at that intake; a great many of the plastic kits of this aircraft have gomed-up that particular portion of the fuselage. That nose is, to a great degree, a feature that defines the character of the aircraft. Be careful when you select which kit you're going to build!  USN via M. Morgan Collection

The NWES was a big part of the A-7's career, evaluating most of the weapons that ended up being deployed on the airframe. This heavily-used Alpha is sitting on the ramp (presumably at Lemoore but we expect to be corrected on that one; the address is ) during preparation for flight. Note how the old "Easter Egg" paintwork stands up to the elements in contrast to today's more effective (and far less colorful) TPS. There's something to be said for shiny paint.  T. Ring

Here's another view of one of the NWES birds, this time at a public airshow in September of 1971. She's up on tippy-toe, implying that she's carrying relatively little fuel. The A-7 has frequently been described as an F-8 that ran into a wall; this shot shows us why. Standard Navy practice during the Easter Egg phase of camouflage was to paint all control surfaces Glossy Insignia White, and this photo illustrates that directive nicely. Of particular interest are the horizontal stabilators, which are white on both upper and lower surfaces. Gotta love that pre-TPS Navy!  T. Ring

AirPac's VA-37 was an early operator of the type. This particular shot was taken in the ZI and depicts 153212 just after the gear has retracted but while she's still low and slow; note the deployed flaps and leading-edge slats. She's carrying MERs and some colorful paintwork which would later morph into a presentation bordering the spectacular when the squadron transitioned to the E-model. Built as an A-7A-4b-CV, she spent a brief stay in the desert before transforming into a P-model and transferring to Portugal. The "Fruitfly" got around.  R. Piccianni Collection

VA-122 (along with VA-125) was the A-7 RAG when the type was still on the active duty roster. 154360, an A-7A-4c-CV, went down the same road as 153212 and ended up in Portugal, but was attending an air show at Bergstrom when Lee Bracken caught her on the ground in May of 1976. Those RAG birds were ridden hard but never put away wet; this aircraft is extremely well-maintained.  L. Bracken

The NavRes has long been an essential, and highly active, part of the Navy's aviation component. 153190 was yet another -4b that ended up in Portugal. She was in her twilight years when this photo was taken, and the stress wrinkles on her skin convey a lengthy and active service life, but she was still a viable, if increasingly limited, strike platform. The name USS Ranger painted on her aft fuselage connotes a recent det on the boat and she wears the title proudly on the transient ramp at Bergstrom in June of 1977.  L. Bracken

We're going to end our day with this study of 153216 from VA-304. Another Reserve bird, she carries the name "Zeus" on her port MLG cover. Some of the later variants of the Corsair II would be far more colorful, but 216 carries enough decoration to make her well worth modeling.  USN via M. Morgan

OK, we'll admit it---we're a little thin where A-7As are concerned and yes; we're actively soliciting additional images. (You know the e-mail address, right?) While we're waiting, we'll see about collecting some Bravo "Fruitflies" for next time. Stay tuned!

Just Chasing Airplanes

There was a time, way back in the 1980s, when an inordinately large number of well-known aviation photographers all lived in south Texas. We were privileged to know (and, hopefully, to learn from) several of them. That fact provides a lead-in to our next piece.

It was just a few days short of Christmas in 1979 when we got the phone call from Maddog John Kerr, the gist of which being that he, his son Paul, Dan Hagedorn, John Dienst, Lee Bracken, and Frank Garcia were going to drive to San Angelo to see some ex-Honduran AF F4U Corsairs that had been ferried up there for overhaul and a repaint and that I was going with them. It wasn't an invitation but rather a command (Maddog's like that sometimes), but it seemed to be The Right Thing to Do so I pulled some Kodachrome out of the refrigerator and beat feet over to John's place, where the four of us piled into his purple Gremlin for the ride north. It was, as they say, a trip to remember.

There are many ways to get to San Angelo from San Antonio, and we took the one that involved driving along a stretch of Interstate 10. We'd been whizzing along for a bit in some extremely foul South Texas Winter Weather when Paul Kerr, who was sitting in the back seat of that Gremlin with me, pointed out the side of the car and said "There's an airplane on that hill!" We looked and sure enough there it was; the remains of a Cessna 182 piled into the side of a limestone outcropping. Maddog allowed as how it had gone in the night before and the crash had made the previous evening's news. It was a sobering image, not helped any by the fact that it had just started to snow, making a dreary winter's day even gloomier.

Anyway, we turned off IH 10 and onto State Highway 87 towards Fredericksburg, plowing through what had turned into a regular South Texas version of a blizzard. We passed through Fredericksburg and headed north on the final sprint towards San Angelo, still in driving snow, when Maddog said "I've had enough of this defecation" (that's not really what he said, but this is a family-oriented site)and commenced to rocking back and forth in his seat, chanting "No Snow, No Snow". "Jeez, Maddog, what are you doing?" was the Burning Question of the Day, to which question the response was "I'm doing the snow chant so this will stop!" Yeah, right; like he's going to make it stop!But stop it did; we topped the next hill, the very next stinking hill, and drove out into bright sunshine with nary a cloud in sight. Maddog had stopped the blizzard! Holy Cow!

OK, maybe it wasn't really him, but the bottom line is that we got to the airport in San Angelo with no further adventures and were able to shoot those beautiful U-Birds to our heart's content, with nobody else on the ramp, and in decent weather. Dan was in heaven and the rest of us weren't too far behind. What follows is a tiny sampling of that afternoon's endeavors:

That BT-13 is a warbird, but the two Corsairs are about as real as it gets, recently retired from the Honduran Air Force and ferried to San Angelo for paint. Those "Hogs" had N-numbers stencilled on their aft fuselages but were otherwise in Honduran military trim sans guns. The snow-bound drive had just become well worth while!  Friddell

N4901 had been built as an F4U-5N but wasn't fitted with a radome or radar; we didn't get to look in her cockpit to see if there was a scope in there.She still had her flame dampers though, and the blast tubes for her 20mm were still in place. If only airplanes could talk!  Friddell

Here's her other side. Christmas came on December 23rd that year, and no doubt about it. Those airplanes were well-used but had obviously been equally well-cared for. They wouldn't have been out of place on any American Naval or Marine air station of the late 40s or early 50s---they were a time machine of the highest magnitude.  Friddell

N4901was another F4U-5N. The Hondurans put their wing insignia out on the tips and the treatment made for a really pretty bunch of airplanes. And no, Virginia, they didn't have their tailhooks!  Friddell

Honduras used F4U-4s too. N4908 was an example of the breed, as well-used as the -5Ns but not beat up. The Hondurans took good care of those airplanes!  Friddell

Our final shot is a 3/4 frontal of N4908. That prop tip treatment wasn't all that unusual in that it could be found on certain block numbers of P-47Ds found in Europe during the last days of The Big One, but they were somewhat of an anomaly on the F4U.  Friddell

You can still see those Honduran U-Birds today on the American airshow circuit. As gorgeous as they are in their retro-American military livery, we prefer them the way they were when they arrived in Texas; pristine throwbacks to an earlier time. Yep; Christmas came a little early that year!

Star, Star (With Apologies to Keith and Mick)

Any of you who've been with us from the beginning know we have a thing for the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, affectionately known as the "Zipper". It was an airplane born well ahead of its time, one that was so specialized (as an air-to-air fighter and point defense "interceptor") that it was nearly useless until foreign sales forced it into the fighter-bomber role. Those later airplanes were really something, although still somewhat limited but the earlier ones, well, they were the earlier ones. You have to start someplace.

We were doing some rare cleaning of the files a few days ago and stumbled across a small package of F-104 photography we didn't use in that Squadron monograph we'd authored way back in the 90s. Those photos are definitely a hodge-podge of images and honestly not much to write home about, but they do provide some insight into the airplane.

Most of the companies who made plastic airplane kits back in the 50s had a Starfighter in their lineup but Hawk were first with a G-model, even though it was that in name only since they'd missed a great many salient features of the real thing. No matter; that silver-plated "Zipper" with its Maltese crosses had pride of place in our collection until fickle fate (in the form of a back-yard dogfight) did it in. This Lockheed publicity shot gives you an idea of Hawk's intent---the kit didn't have Japanese markings in it but catered to the Canadians and Germans with its decals. It was a very long time ago.  LAC via Isham Collection

It's possible, just barely possible, that a few of our readers can remember a late 80s prog-rock album entitled Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters. We still have our copy of that recording and think of the admittedly eclectic music contained within every time we see a silver Federal Luftwaffe F-104G. This is, if memory serves, the first example of that breed. G? G for Germany! Rock on!  LAC via Isham

If you were a kid in the 50s this is how you imagined the F-104. 53-7786 was the first of two XF-104As and had a relatively long life as early "Zips" go, finally crashing to destruction in 1957. Test pilot Bill Park had to abandon her and survived the ejection, always a sporty proposition with the A-model's downward firing ejection seat.  Note the short fuselage and early intake treatment. It took a while to get it right with the '104.  LAC

It's a little-known fact but at high Mach and altitude the F-104 could out-turn and out-run most Soviet fighters. The problem was that the lessons of the Korean War that helped birth the "Zipper" were false ones, since most subsequent air-to-air combat took place at lower altitudes and airspeeds, an arena where the F-104 performed poorly. The the result was predictable; the A-model was a poor clear air mass fighter, which led to a brief stint with ADC where it proved itself to be next-to-worthless as an interceptor, quick reaction and stellar time-to-climb notwithstanding. TAC was the next (and final) American military operator of the type; it's Charlie models were somewhat more capable than the Alphas but still weren't what the Air Force needed. This evocative Lockheed factory shot shows a ramp full of F-104Cs and looks impressive, but the damage was done. The loss rate remained high---56-0911 ended up in the Gulf of Tonkin after a mid-air in 1965, while 56-0922 went down near Mojave in 1968, killing her pilot. Starfighter drivers earned their pay!  LAC LA-1524-12

Early Lockheed press releases called her "The Missile With a Man in It". This view shows why as this early A-model (note the faired-over M61 port) poses for her picture. Few airplanes were as exciting, but few were as flawed in their early variants. The "Zip" had more coffin corners than most airplanes had corners. LAC

This shot of a production F-104A provides us with a graphic example of everything that was wrong with the early Starfighter. Even though the F-104 had longer unrefueled legs than the F-4 Phantom it was still a short-ranged aircraft; there was little room for internal fuel. It had a single gun that was frequently removed because of problems, and it had virtually no wing area which made it fast and stable but little else. Its tee-tail created substantial drama in tight turns and high angles of attack because it was easily masked by the wings, and its downward-firing ejection seat proved deadly to a large number of pilots (including highly-skilled test pilot Ivan Kinchloe) at low altitude. She got centerline and underwing pylons early in the game and could sport AIM-9 Sidewinders on her wingtips, but it wasn't until the advent of the "European" "Zip" that the F-104 became a truly viable weapons system. She had a long and distinguished career overseas, but was never quite what she was supposed to be in the US Air Force.   LAC

Our adventures in our archives this weekend turned up some pretty neat F-104 photography which we'll share with you in later issues. Watch this space!

Happy Snaps

Today's Happy Snap isn't the one we'd planned on running today; up until five minutes ago or a different photo had held that place, but just moments ago we received a photo from Rick Morgan we just couldn't resist running. It's a Happy Snap of a different flavor:

Phil, here's a shot from my day chasing U-2s at Beale. Our escort was a Capt pilot who took us out in their Camaro. He told us that the Calif Highway Patrol gives them high-speed driving training once a year. They apparently were surprised that the USAF uses largely stock cars with simple lap belts and no roll cage, all while maxing at 100+ with one hand on holding the radio mike.
The aircraft in the picture is U-2RT 80-1091.
The car circles the aircraft prior to take-off as a ‘last-chance’observer and then follows to confirm the pogos come off. He then chases during landing to call distance-to-the-deck since the pilot’s field of view is so bad. The ground crew comes out, installs the training wheels and it taxis into the hangar. Rick
We can honestly say that Rick never ceased to amaze---thanks, Morgo!
The Relief Tube
Before we get started with today's installment I'd like to make a special request of our readers. Several months ago we ran photos of a model of a P-40E that was flown out of Darwin during 1942 by Benjamin "Bitchin' Ben" Irvin. You can imagine how surprised we were a few weeks ago when we received a letter from his grandson telling us that he'd discovered the blog and the photos of that model. The bottom line is that we'd like to build a model for him but don't consider the one already completed to be presentation quality. We've got the kit, but need the stickies; they're on an old 1/48th scale SuperScale sheet of assorted P-40s. If you've got said sheet and wouldn't mind parting with Irvin's markings we'd like to hear from you. The address is .
Last week we ran a shot of a semi-derelict F-105D T-Stick 2 and stated we didn't know which aircraft it actually was. The contributor of the photo was old friend Maddog John Kerr, who provided the following insight and yet another photo:

Hi Guy,
I sure am glad to see you back in business. I missed my RIS. The F-105D, marked 78-002 is really 61-0044. Photo was taken at Brooks AFB, TX, on June 20, 1984. If I remember correctly they have a total of 6 F-105's there, including a couple of B models from the New Jersey ANG (I have slides I am sure) and yes they were being used for Battle Damage Repair airframes.. Found the slides and will scan and send: As for the # 78 starting on the bogus serial numbers I believe was the from the 78th CLS Squadron that did the BDR repairs. Some, maybe all, of these were later trucked up to Camp Bullis to the security training ramp. They may still be there. Photos to follow tomorrow. Cheers, old MD Kerr.
57-5797 B NJ ANG 78-005
57-5835 B 466TFS 78-001
57-5789 B NJ ANG
63-8363 G GA ANG
61-0110 D 457TFS
61-0044 D 457TFS 78-002
And here are the other T-Stick 2 photos:
                                                                               John Kerr
                                                                               John Kerr
We've said it before and we'll say it again; this is a sad end for a noble pair of airplanes!
And that's what we know for now. Be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment