Monday, September 3, 2012

How Could a Little Tape Be So Hard?, We REALLY Need a Kit, A Couple of Lightnings, And a Modeler's Lesson

If It Ain't One Thing It's Another

Or, How 'Bout That Lozenge? It's a simple truth, one to be encountered by a large percentage of modelers sooner or later. Great War German lozenge camouflage is a royal Pain in the Patootie to duplicate on a model and, since it's a camouflage found on most late-War aircraft from the Kaiser's air service, and since it's on some of the most colorful aircraft of that era, you need to learn how to do it if you want to build certain models. In point of fact that whole lozenge thing is quite an interesting topic and can be a challenge but, quite frankly, it's not what we're going to talk about today, at least not specifically.

Nope! Today's topic is rib tape, that nasty stuff that went over the lozenge at all the ribs on the wings and empennage. Pretty much every German airplane that flew in the last year or so of the First World War, or at least the ones that were built in that time period, had a better than average chance of leaving the factory with pre-printed lozenge fabric applied to some, if not all, of the airframe. Said fabric was stretched and doped into place, but just skinning a wing or fuselage wouldn't make for a particularly airworthy flying machine. Nope, that fabric had to be secured into place, a task accomplished by running thin fabric strips along the tops and bottoms of the wing's ribs. The resulting rib tape can be found on pretty much every fabric-covered wing of the period, but it was generally finished at the same time the wings received their color coat of dope, which means they weren't very noticeable except under close scrutiny since they blended in with everything else around them.

That uniformity of color didn't work with the pre-printed lozenged fabric, though; not unless the pilot of said aircraft had the wings, or portions thereof, overpainted with some sort of marking, in which case the rib tape once again became the same color as the fabric it was applied on. That's not what we're looking at today, though. Nope, today's topic is rib tape over lozenge, and we're going to give you an easy and relatively foolproof way to simulate it.

Historically speaking, there are a couple of ways we can reproduce that lozenge fabric that we're not going to be talking about today; you can draw the pattern on your airplane and paint it on, either by hand or by airbrush, or you can get some of those really spiffy paint masks that Montex makes and mask and paint your pattern, or you can do what most modelers opt for and use decals, either kit or aftermarket. Whichever path you choose still doesn't matter, because you're going to have to deal with rib tape no matter how you do that fabric. Therein lies The Rub.

Most kits that offer lozenge also offer decals for the rib tape. It's not a bad idea on the face of things, but it does have a few drawbacks---you have to be really careful when you apply the "tape" so everything's straight and parallel, and you have to be equally careful that those "tapes" end up where you want them to be. The problem with using decals for rib tape isn't one of application, though, but rather one of appearance. The darned things are just too wide to be scale, no matter how carefully you put them on!

You could paint them on, of course, by carefully masking the tapes and airbrushing them to the correct width, but that's extremely time-consuming and won't work over decal, because almost anything you mask those tapes with will pull up some, if not all, of the lozenge decal underneath when you remove it. We need to think outside the box on this one!

Through thinking yet? Me too, and here's what I came up with:

The kit is the Eduard Albatros DV, and the lozenge is done with kit decal (which, by the grace of a merciful diety, almost exactly matches the lozenge fabric found on the National Air and Space Museum's example of the type). There's rib tape there, almost to scale, which was done with a flexible straight edge and an Eagle Prismacolor colored pencil! There's some touch-up needed on the decal along the trailing edge of the wings, easily done with a fine brush and a little bit of paint, but the rib tape is ok. All we did to get to what you see was to apply the lozenge, let the decals dry overnight, and spray the wings with Dull-Cote, after which we took a straight piece of .020 styrene to use for a mask and drew on the rib tapes with our afore-mentioned colored pencil, after which we applied the upper and lower wing crosses. The entire operation of taping those wings, upper and lower/top and bottom, took maybe a half-hour once the process was begun.

There's more touch-up required, including the completion of some of the tape, but it'll be a simple thing to accomplish since you're just drawing things on with a pencil. Here are the rules of the road for you just in case you want to try the technique for yourself:

You can vary the width of your tape by controlling the width of your pencil point; sharper means a finer line, while less sharp means wider. You get the point, right? (A poor pun, but the best we've got for today!).

It's best to drag the point of the pencil across the surface of the wing using a fairly light touch. If you don't do this you run considerable risk of tearing your lozenge decals, thereby uttering those words that will cause your Significant Other to dislike your apparent complete and utter lack of civilized expression. Don't push that pencil point! This technique is really effective but the surface you're using it on is fragile! A delicate touch is your friend on this one!

You'll probably have to use Dull-Cote or similar to put some "tooth" to the lozenge decals so the pencil will stick. We only used one type of pencil, the aforementioned Eagle Prismacolor, so we're not in a position to make a blanket one-size-fits-all statement, but we're pretty sure you can't just go and do this over a gloss finish with any pencil, no matter what brand. It has to be matte and it has to be something besides the decal itself.

Once the pencil lines are on the Dull-Cote they are well and truly On The Dull-Cote, so you should do your best to get it right the first time. If you look carefully at our Albatros you'll see a couple of mistakes; this isn't a contest model so we aren't especially excited about that, but you'll get your best results if you're really careful with this process. (We don't do Paying Attention very well at all, in case you were wondering about that...)

Finally, you can apply any sort of finish you might want to use over the pencilled-on rib tapes, and them apply the national insignia decals, etc., just the way you normally would. It's almost too simple, isn't it?

One more thing while we're at it: We stumbled on this technique while trying to reduce the frustration of putting rib tapes on one of our own models but you can use it for other things too, like maybe nose art. The brand of pencil we used is pretty opaque and would work well to do a name with, and wouldn't build up the way paint can. We haven't tried that yet but we're going to---we think it just may end up being the solution to a number of problems! Time will tell, of course, but in the meantime you've just acquired another trick to use on those pesky Imperial Air Service Fokkers and Albatri. Up and at 'em!

We Sure Do Like the Fury

The North American FJ series of Furies, that is; the Sabres from Columbus. They are, somewhat arguably, among the prettiest of American fighters from the 50s (and we say that with apologies to Dave and Marty!), and we honestly can't get enough of them. What follows is a collection of FJ Dogs and Cats, thanks to Doug Siegfried over at the Tailhook Association. Those of you who insist on stealing our stuff and publishing it without any sort of credit line might want to remember that...

A Regulus I cruise missile flies in close formation with a pair of director aircraft, one of which is---what else; an FJ-3! The Fury proved to be of considerable use to the NAV as its days as a first-line fighter drew to a close, and the VC and VU outfits made substantial use of the type for a number of years.  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

Fighting Thirty-Three flew pretty good form back in the day, as illustrated by this immaculate three-ship. Modelers take note of the finish on these airplanes, which actually show the sort of panel staining that most modelers so grossly overstate. Of more interest, at least to us, is the appearance of the fuselage insignia on all three of the aircraft; all are very heavily compromised and look to be in need of at least a good cleaning if not replacement, while the area around the 20mm cannon is heavily stained with gun blast residue. Rode hard and put away wet is a description that applies here.  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried.

Most folks know VF-84 from their days with the F-4 and F-14, but they flew the FJ as well. This FJ-3M four-ship shows the other side of the coin maintenance-wise; these aircraft are as immaculate as carrier birds can be. They're ready to rumble, with each aircraft carrying a pair of AIM-9B Sidewinders, although no FJ-3 or -3M ever flew combat. (There are persistent rumors that a handful of FJ-4s made toothpicks over Laos in the early days of our involvement in SEA---corraboration one way or another would be greatly appreciated! The address is .)  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

The FJ family, as illustrated by this FJ-3, spanned the Glossy Sea Blue to Light Gull Grey over White era of Navy camouflage. That changeover coincided with the ever-increasing requirement to put maintenance stencilling on the airframes for the benefit of the ground echelon. This shot, although somewhat fuzzy, provides a classic example of that stencilling on a clean airframe. We don't know much about 135777's history except that she sure looks ugly with all that stencilling.  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

OK, so it's not a particularly pretty airplane, but the markings are somewhat unique anyway. 141441 was an FJ-3M assigned to VF-111, and was marked with 111 as her Modex. That sort of thing really isn't very rare, but it's not all that common either, making her an aircraft well worth modeling if we were to ever be blessed with a kit of the type! This view also shows off her undersides, and in particular the staining generally found down there, to what the classic aviation writers used to call "good advantage".  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

And here's 111 in a four-ship. The IFR probes and AIM-9 rails really busy-up the airframe and add a great deal of visual interest to it. If only we had a kit...  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

There were drone directors and then there were drone directors. These pristine birds were FJ-3D2s and were photographed with VU-3 Way Back When. Engine Grey and Insignia Yellow makes for a really pretty airplane!  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

The Reserves used the FJ for quite a while, as illustrated by this Plain-Jane -3M. We aren't running the photo because of the markings, though, but rather because the aircraft has its RAT deployed, something you seldom see in photographs of the Fury. Everything's hanging on this bird, and the sharp-eyed will note that both her tail code and Modex have been repeated on the gas bags. The shot also illustrates the way the canopy rails are cut away to fit the fuselage---this is an essential part of the FJ-3's personality and something to watch for if we ever see a kit...  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

Up until now we've been showing you some fairly bland airplanes, so here's one with some color. 136133 is another bird from Fighting Eighty-Four, but with a difference; she's nominally assigned to the CAG. The CAG colors are on the rudder and the fuselage stripe motif is repeated on the upper (but only the upper!) wingtips. She's a beauty!  Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

And that's it for the Fury today but we've still got a few images you haven't seen yet, so be sure to watch this space!

It's Been a While

Yep, it's been a while since we've run anything from the Rocker Collection! Here are a couple of images to put things right in that regard; today's subject being the 36th FS/8th FG:

"Hell From Heaven" was the personal mount of "Pappy" Turner, shown here between missions. The two kills on the nose don't seem to signify a whole lot, but the bomb markings adjacent to them tell a story---moving mud was a dangerous business in the SWPAC and more than a few 5th AF pilots paid the price engaged in ground attack. It's tough to make out all the details of the artwork, but "Hell From Heaven" would make for a really interesting model all the same.  Rocker Collection

Harold Graham was the 36th's CO at Mindoro, and is seen here posing with one of the squadron's aircraft on the ramp---note the presentation of the pilot's and crew chief's names inside the lightning flashes on the nose. That's a well-used P-38, ya'll!  Rocker Collection

And here's the "regular" pilot of the aircraft shown above, Harold Graham, seen posing on the wing of his ship. Careful enlargement of the photo shows what appears to be battle damage to the wing; at any rate something is drawing the interest of Graham, the ground echelon, and those doggies. This photo was taken late in the conflict but flying fighters with the 36th was far from being a safe occupation even at this late date.  Rocker Collection

Sometimes you come across one of those photos that poses more questions than it answers. This is one of those shots. The place is Finschaffen, which dates it substantially earlier than the previous photos. The aircraft are most likely P-38Js but they're all in OD over Neutral Grey, and nose art is tantalizingly evident on several machines. Those guys are on their way to ruin someone's day, no doubt about it. If any of you have documentation on either the mission or the aircraft we'd sure like to see it---once again that address is .  Rocker Collection

Gotta Be Real Careful When I Paint That Model!

Or maybe not. Check out this pre-War image to see what we mean:

The year is 1939, and it's War Game Time. The aircraft is a Douglas A-17A from the 95th Attack Squadron and she's getting herself all spiffed up in a special paint job for the occasion. The paint's water-based, which is probably a Very Good Thing for all concerned, and that airplane is a mess! It was, as they say, a somewhat simpler time.  R. Morgan Collection

Under the Radar

Today's entry in the unofficial Replica in Scale You Really Need to Have This category is a book we're betting most of you missed when it was new.

Buzz Numbers, The Explanations and Regulations Behind America's Military Aircraft Identification System, Peter M. Bowers and David W. Menard, Specialty Press, 2006, is one of those monographs you really can't afford to be without if your interests run towards The Silver Air Force. Co-authored by two of the nation's most respected aerospace photo historians, the book's 96 pages graphically illustrate both the theory and the practice of the USAF's "buzz number" system throughout its brief history. Well written and easy to understand, the photographs alone are well worth the price of admission. You may still be able to find one at your local aviation hobby shop; if not, the folks over at Amazon or E-Bay should be able to help you out. This is a book worth searching out.

Happy Snaps

A few years back, or maybe slightly more than a few, a young Mark Morgan was heavily engaged in learning how to become a B/N with the NAV. We're please to report that he often had his camera with him back then, resulting in this gorgeous image.

What better way to end our day than with a shot of a section from VA-195's Dambusters. Many thanks to former Naval Aviator and friend Mark Morgan for supplying this gorgeous air-to-air. Fly Navy!  Mark Morgan

The Relief Tube

All of our mail lately, and we mean all of it, has concerned the guys with the Yahoo group who keep stealing our photography and running it on their site without provenance. You'll get to truly appreciate them as we go along since they've forced us to begin visibly watermarking our photography (you will, unfortunately, begin to see that next issue). Their actions, and those of a couple of others, are going to cause us to somewhat diminish the quality of images we bring to you in upcoming editions, and for that we extend the most profound of apologies to our readership. On the other hand, to those who just can't seem to credit the photography they "borrow" we offer an up-lifted middle digit, raised with considerable enthusiasm. Salud!

In the meantime, let's play a game! Go back to our past couple of issues and look at the photography. See if you can find the "xxx via RIS" that's imprinted in very tiny letters somewhere on the image, maybe somewhere near the airplane or maybe, just maybe, hidden somewhere in the shadows of the airplane itself. Then go find that same image on somebody else's site, maybe in a user group or in one of those photo storage sites that are so popular these days. Then look for provenance for that photo. If you can't find any, well, that pretty much tells the story, doesn't it?

On the other hand, if you want to collect our images for your own personal use, please go right on ahead. Right-click and save your heart out! You can even publish them as long as you give credit to the folks who took them, or at least to RIS. It's ok with us as long as you're honest about it. And if you know any of those folks who're so shamelessly using and abusing our photos, please tell them we said to cut it out!

Be good to your neighbor until we meet again,

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