Sunday, September 8, 2013

That Bat-Winged Douglas, Hooked on Zeke, Tojo Completed, Courage, and Those TPS Fruitflies

What a Summer It Turned Out to Be

And why, you might logically ask, is that? The answer is an easy one---we've just seen the release of a 1/32nd scale Tempest V, with another one (from a different manufacturer) in the pipeline. We've got a new 1/32nd scale F4U-1 Corsair, the first "birdcage" Corsair ever released in this scale. One of the Chinese manufacturers has announced a T-6 in the scale, and there's actually a sku number to order against so the announcement is more of an "is" than a "might be someday". Academy has that PBM we've talked about over the past couple of issues, and there are other kits in the pipeline as well.

New books seem to just keep appearing, as do new decals. By now there must surely be a resin update set for every kit of any airplane ever issued by anybody, and the PE industry is right in there too. We've got turned brass pitot tubes and gun barrels in wide profusion in the three most popular scales, and engines, and landing gear, and the list goes on and on, not to mention the magic of stereo lithography, which is just beginning to raise its somewhat miraculous head in the hobby.

On the down side we've lost Testor's version of our old friend Floquil, and it's not certain that somebody else will pick up the brand although, in all honesty, Floquil  paint hasn't really been the same since that nasty old brain-cell-eating DioSol was removed from the formulation back in the 90s. One of the Chinese manufacturers, who surely should have known better, royally pooched a much awaited 1/48th scale kit of the Lockheed F-80, and we still don't have a kit of the FJ-3/-3M in any scale.

When you think about it, though, the down side isn't all that down, and as modelers we've gained a lot more than we've lost. We could be trite and say that we're living in a New Golden Age of plastic modeling and we'd be right, but we've said that before a couple of times so there's no point in repeating it. What we will say is that we've never had it better as modelers; never in the history of the hobby. The only time we've even come close was back in the halcyon days of the mid-and-late 60s, when Revell GB, Airfix, and Frog were releasing new kits almost monthly, Hasegawa and Tamiya were first beginning to make themselves felt in the hobby, and a new decal company named MicroScale was issuing decals to compete with the handful of sticker manufacturers already in place. Nowadays it seems as though all we have to do is mention that we want a new kit of something and we'll see it (except of course for that FJ-3!) sooner rather than later. Such is the power of the internet.

So why is this worth writing about? It's a simple thing, and one that we've touched on a time or two in the past. All you folks who wanted Tamiya to kit a 1/32nd scale F4U-1, or Pacific Coast to do a Tempest, or whatever else that "I've got to have one because I really want one and somebody ought to kit one" model may have been in your particular world, need to go buy one. We personally didn't purchase the F4U, although we probably will sooner or later. We did get a Tempest, and we would've bought an F-80 if that kit was worth having. The point is this: It costs money for all those model companies to research a kit even if they're relying on hobbyists and amateur historians to do the research for them, and it costs money to make the tools from which said kits will be produced. It costs money to research and print a kit's decal sheet and instructions, and it costs money to put the thing in a box and get it on the shelves so the modeler can actually buy that kit of their dreams. Every one of those new kits requires a great deal of money to bring it from somebody's dream to a real, honest-to-goodness hold-it-in-your-hand-and-build-it model. The companies that go out on a limb to create those objects of our affection need to sell kits in order to make some money to recover their costs and, hopefully, make enough of a profit to stay in business and give us yet another kit that we claim we just can't live without. It's a cycle, and we (that would be you and me, in case you hadn't figured it out yet), need to do our part and actually buy a kit or two instead of whining about how expensive everything has become and leaving that brand-new just-released Whatever-It-Is Mk III to sit and rot unsold on the shelves. If you asked for it and, in particular, if you whined about wanting one on one of those internet modeling boards and thereby influenced someone's decision to manufacture it, you need to spend the money to actually buy one. If you put your money where your mouth is you'll probably see that dream kit you really want one of these days. If you don't, and those manufacturers lose money making the dream kits you're not buying, you probably won't.

Just sayin'...

It Must Have Seemed Like a Great Idea at the Time

An Addendum at the Beginning

Usually we put corrections in place in the Relief Tube section an issue or two after we receive additional information from our readers (or, in certain extremely rare circumstances, actually manage to stumble onto the problem ourselves!), but sometimes we get them quickly enough to make it worth doing immediately after we publish an issue. Today is one of those times. It's the same old deal; if you haven't read this issue yet then you didn't miss anything, so you can ignore this entire correction. If you have already read it then you'll want to read the corrections, but we'll make it easy on you. To wit:

The caption on the final photo in this piece (139130) made mention of an airplane called the F6D Skylancer. It should have read F5D Skylancer, but we didn't catch the typo before hitting the "publish" button. Long-time friend Mike McMurtrey did catch it and promptly informed us of the fact (I'll bet he was grinning when he did it, too!). Thanks as always, Trey!

That takes care of the correction on the last photo in this piece. There's also one on the lead photo, so let's get down to it. In the caption we refer to a mystery structure hanging off the airplane and admit we don't have a clue as to what it might be. A reader named Rex came to our rescue with this explanation:

Hi Phil. In regards to " That's quite an apparatus she's got strapped to her aft section but, as usual, we're clueless as to its purpose." That device is not attached to the aft section, you can see that it is mounted to the outer pylon. It is the reel gear for a towed target system, in this case the Del Mar target. Your pic is a neat companion to a color shot that Mr Olson must have taken at the same time, from a slightly different angle and then had published in the Ginter book. (we see less of the BuNo in the Ginter photo) One thing I don't see in either photo is any sort of Motor Unit, but, I don't know at what point the RMU would be installed on an aircraft---maybe they were installed the same time as a target? I hope this is of help. Rex

Thanks, Rex; it's helpful indeed!

And now back to the original photo essay!

The Douglas F4D-1 Skyray was a looker and no two ways about it. If you happen to be my age (a condition I wouldn't deliberately impose on anyone) you might remember building either the Hawk, Comet, Aurora, or Lindberg kits of the airplane back in the 50s, or maybe even a little bit later than that. We got a kit from Airfix in the 70s, and what will probably be the definitive kit of the type from Tamiya in the 90s. We got references too, and decals. As modelers we can actually create a really good replica of what was arguably one of the prettiest jet fighters ever to grace the deck of an aircraft carrier. It was quite an airplane; a marvel of engineering. It was also, not to put too fine a point on things, pretty close to being a total failure as a military aircraft.

Yep; that gorgeous-beyond-words "Ford" was fast, and could climb like the legendary violated simian, but it couldn't do much else. It was a handful around the boat. It was woefully under-armed. It was a dense airframe with little room for growth as far as radars and avionics were concerned, and it was right up there with the early MiG-21 variants in terms of combat radius and useful range. It was really pretty, though.

Mark Nankivil shared a few "Ford" images with us a couple of weeks ago and, now that we've suitably defaced them to better deter The Picture Pirates we're ready to share them with you. We're sorry, folks; we truly are. The photos are really neat anyway, and we hope you enjoy them in spite of the watermarks.

The "Ford" was armed with 20mm cannon, but the guns weren't very useful thanks to an extremely limited ammunition load. The primary weapons were primordial early versions of the AIM-9 family and pods of unguided 2.75-in FFRs. The fact that the aircraft could be armed with guided missiles guaranteed that the type would show up at the Naval Missile Center at Point Mugu, which is where this photo was taken in April of 1961. That's a towed target rig she's got hanging off her structure (thanks, Rex!), although the motor is missing. There appears to be a scab patch on her vertical stab as well, but we have to admit that we don't know if it's a repair or has some other purpose.   Doug Olsen via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil
The Marines have frequently received the Navy's hand-me-downs, and that was sort-of the case with the F4D-1. The type didn't work out particularly well in the NAV and didn't do much better with the Corps, but it did provide experience with what was, for a very brief period of time, a state-of-the-art interceptor. 139151 from VMF-542 was photographed on her home ramp in September of 1961, looking to be ready to rumble with her pylon-mounted AIM-9s. She was a relative Plain Jane as far as her paint job went, but she still looked like she was going a million miles an hour just sitting there.   Doug Olsen via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Remember that part where we said the "Ford" was a beautiful airplane? Well, folks, they just never got any prettier than the NAV's VF(AW)-3's scheme for the bird---if there was a prize for good looks there's little doubt that Gene Valencia's "Fords" would win it, each time, every time. This scheme has probably inspired more people to build a model of the F4D than all the other units put together. Both of the Tamiya kits offer these markings right out of the box (as did MicroScale's old Allyn reissue back in the 70s), and most after-market sheets devoted to the type will get around to covering the unit sooner or later, presuming they haven't already done it. It's what we might call a popular squadron, even though its service life with the type was brief.  Doug Olsen via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

139162 was another Skyray from VF(AW)-3 that posed for her portrait that day. There's not much about her to set her apart from her sister shown just above, but it provides a variation if you'd like to model a "Ford" ramp some day. The F4D-1 climbed out at a pretty impressive angle of attack; an interception launch must have been a sight to behold!  Doug Olsen via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Let's go to an air show! Paul Stevens caught 139130 on the ground at an Armed Forces Day back in 1961. She was looking a little bit rough around the edges the day this photo was taken, but was still as capable an interceptor as the type ever was. The "Ford" wasn't particularly large, which was a big part of the problem since there just wasn't any room for growth. The Douglas F5D Skylancer would have been the answer, but the appearance of Vought's F8U and McDonnell's F4H-1 pretty much sounded the death-knell for the bat-winged Douglas interceptors. A couple of the naval aviators who frequent these pages have opined that it was a very good thing that the Navy never had to go to war with the F4D-1, but then that could have also been said about any of the type's contemporaries as well. She was a place holder at best, but she sure looked like a star!  Paul Stevens via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil.

Hook 'Em

If I had to guess, or even if I didn't, I'd be of the opinion that most of our readership has built a model of Mitsubishi's immortal A6M Zero-Sen at one time or another in their modeling careers. It's one of those airplanes that's both iconic and, for the scale modeler at least, a rite of passage. I've built more than a few of them myself, and out of that grouping (there are 10 or 11 of them, I forget which, sitting on the shelf as I type this) at least a couple are from the Tainan Ku and its successor 251st Ku. There are, in point of fact, no carrier-based Zero-Sen whatsoever in my personal collection. Every one of them is shore-based, but therein lies the rub, which brings us to the point of this missive.

 It's been conventional wisdom for a number of years that the Tainan and 251st Kus removed the radios from their fighters and cut off the antenna masts as well (mostly true) and removed the tailhooks from their aircraft, those actions being taken in order to lighten the airplanes by removing unnecessary equipment and therefore weight. Taking out the radios made sense, sort-of, since they weren't all that good in the first place. Removing those hooks was another matter entirely, and was one of those deals that made sense except for when it didn't make any sense at all sense most of the airplanes in question were delivered to their land bases off an aircraft carrier. It's confused me over the years and might've confused you as well but, lo and behold, Bobby Rocker has come through once again, this time with a photo that offers indisputable proof regarding at least one A6M variant and that pesky tailhook.

The place is Buna, and the GI is from the 32nd Infantry Division. The aircraft is (or was until recently) an A6M3 Type 32 Zero-Sen From the Tainan Ku and, in keeping with the whole point of this piece, its tail-hook is deployed, proving beyond doubt that at least one of the Tainan's "Zeros" had its tailhook in place after delivery to a land base. It's my guess that most, if not all, of the others did, and I'm guessing their Type 21s and 22s probably still had them too. The hook seems to be painted black, which is entirely in keeping with all of those Hasegawa and Tamiya instruction sheets, and it's definitely deployable. Many thanks to Bobby for the photograph and the confirmation of a long-held theory.   Rocker Collection

Another Big 'Un on the Shelf

That Hasegawa Ki-44 I've been piddling with for the past couple of issues is done, and we're going to take a look at it today. It proved to be an easy date, taking approximately 12 hours from start to finish---that's the sort of thing that happens when you get yourself a kit where everything fits flawlessly! In point of fact, this particular model pretty much out-Tamiyas Tamiya for ease of assembly and darned near manages to build itself. Let's take a look:

Hey everybody, look at the big silver airplane! Well, maybe it's not so big; the Ki-44 was a tiny aircraft even by Japanese standards, and looks absolutely diminutive when it's sitting on a shelf next to just about any other 1/32nd scale JAAF fighter, but it's big enough. This is one of those rare kits where everything fits almost perfectly---we sanded the seams on the fuse, the wing halves (or more properly wing thirds), and the horizontal stabs, then polished them out without using a spot of putty anywhere. None. Nada. Zip. All the markings were masked and painted except for the unit insignia and the number 32 on the rudder (which is repeated on the lower mlg doors), which are kit decals. There's an Eduard interior in there, and the antenna's from stretched sprue, but everything else came directly from the kit.

Here's what the other side looks like. If you recall, the fuselage was done as a completed subassembly which was in turn attached to the wing, which was done that way too. Read that sentence again if you missed what I'm saying here---the fuselage was built, painted, and decaled, and then attached to a wing that had received the same treatment. The horizontal stabs and cowling were done the same way, and it really simplified the assembly of the model. You can't do that sort of thing with a model that doesn't possess superior fit, but this kit could be the poster child for one that's easy to stick together. Somewhere back there when this project was first started I mentioned my unerring ability to snatch defeat straight from the jaws of victory, mostly because I always mess up something and have to go back and do a few repairs. This kit was different in that there were no issues with any part of the assembly or finishing. That big Hasegawa "Tojo" is an amazing assemblage of plastic, ya'll!

And here's a not-particularly-good 3/4 frontal view to end this essay with. (One of these days I'll get a decent digital camera; I promise!) As a reminder, all of the silver was done with a Tamiya spray can, although I can't remember which one of their many shades of silver I used. That really doesn't matter, since the whole point is that I was able to easily paint the thing as subassemblies. Anything that isn't silver was done with masking and an airbrush, of course, but the point is that a quality aerosol paint can be a real time saver and a joy to use. I'm liking the way the model came out and am truly hoping my next project will be as easy as this one was (it probably won't be, though...)! That's my story and I'm sticking with it!

Some Really Special Guys

Some seventy-one years ago, give or take, The United States made the decision to strike the Japanese homeland by means of a carrier-based attack against assorted Japanese naval targets in the Tokyo area. An attack force of USAAF B-25Bs, to be led by Col. Jimmy Doolittle, was chosen to conduct the raid and the rest, as they say, is history.

You may remember a scene very similar to this image from the classic movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, where the filmatic Doolittle Raiders were shown practicing doing carrier launches from what was then Eglin Field. In this photo from the National Archives, 40-2281, a B-25B assigned to the 17th BG (but not used on the actual raid) runs up her engines prior to launch. If any modern air force were to do this nowadays the aircraft would be surrounded by all sorts of telemetry and data-recording devices, and there would be safety devices galore, as well as a fair number of people watching. There's probably a fire bottle around there somewhere, and almost assuredly a meat wagon and crash truck or two are parked out of camera view, but the setup was pretty basic. Can I hear anybody say "it was a simpler time"?  Rocker Collection

The launch! No, it's not off a boat, but it's every bit as hairy. This shot is a still from a movie so the quality's not all that good, but it gives a graphic sense of the drama associated with every aspect of the project. 40-3366 was another aircraft assigned to the 17th but not used on the actual raid itself. The modelers among us may want to note the distinct difference in color between the rudder fabric and the sheet metal of the vertical stab. Bet the adrenaline was pumping in that cockpit!  Rocker Collection

A Few More Fruitflies

If you've been paying any sort of attention at all to what we've been doing around here, you've noticed an ongoing almost-a-series group of articles on the LTV A-7 Corsair II. We're going to continue that trend today with a look at the "Fruitfly" in TPS.

It's May of 1982, and this uniquely-camouflaged Echo model (158823, from VA-195) is posing for its picture at an airshow. Of particular interest is the demarcation of the light grey beneath the wings and horizontal stabs---to say this scheme is atypical is an understatement of the greatest magnitude! She was an A-7E-12-CV and was absolutely pristine when Mark Morgan took this shot. She's also carrying all of her weapons stations, a practice that was generally discontinued not long after this photo was taken.  Mark Morgan

The various Navy test squadrons made extensive use of the A-7 family, as illustrated by this shot of VX-5's 160724, taken at Selfridge in November of 1983. The Tactical Paint Scheme (bet you always wondered what TPS stood for, didn't you?) had a way of looking all beat-up and worn-out even when relatively new; this airplane is in far better shape than her paintwork would indicate. She's a survivor, ending up on public display in Louisiana.  Ron Kowalczyk

May of 1983 saw this  A-7E (157501, an A-7E-7-CE) on public display at NAS Lemoore. She's a bit shopworn but her markings are extremely well-done and she'd make a fascinating subject for a model. This shot gives us an excellent view of the Corrogard applied to the leading edges of all of her flying surfaces, which was not typical for the type when in TPS. She's only carrying 4 of her original 6 underwing stores stations; the increasing use of smart weapons decreased the need for lots of room for ordnance.  Mark Morgan

October of 1983 saw this gorgeous bird from VA-146 on the ground at Lemoore. She was an interesting aircraft in that she was assigned to a boat (the KittyHawk) and still carrying all 6 of her weapons stations when this photo was taken. That's a FLIR pod hanging off her inboard pylon. There are no racks hanging off those stations, but in every other respect 155273 is ready to rumble.  Mick Roth

159647 is another survivor, ending up outside a Chevrolet dealership in Fallon, Nevada, of all places! She was still the Real Deal when Rick Morgan took this shot at NAS Whidbey Island in August of 1984, and is somewhat special in that she's wearing CAG markings. She's relatively clean as TPS-painted aircraft go, and is carrying TERs on her outboard stations. Contrast this shot with that of 157501 a couple of images back; all of 647's Corrogard surfaces have been painted over. It's the little things that make this hobby so interesting!  Rick Morgan

VA-97 was a prime user of the type and used their aircraft hard, as illustrated by this shot of 158021 taken at an air show at NAS Corpus Christi in April of 1986. She's entirely combat-capable but really looks awful in this portrait. Check out those stains on the upper surfaces of her flaps---do that on a model and your typical "knowledgeable" scale modeler will tell you you've pooched the paintwork, thus further widening the gap between all the Instant Experts out there and reality. Just goes to show...   Phillip Friddell

The various greys used within the TPS range of paints were (and still are) notorious for changing their appearance depending on ambient lighting, as illustrated by this photo of VA-27's 159281, taken at Whidbey Island by Rick Morgan in August of 1987. Her paintwork is patched and extremely well-worn and, once again, we have a graphic example of the streaking and staining often found on the upper surfaces of the A-7's flaps when the aircraft was painted in TPS. The A-7 family did yeoman service in the Fleet and reserves, a fact not always appreciated by enthusiasts.  Rick Morgan

VA-122 was the West Coast RAG for the Fruitfly and frequently sent dets to the boat for carrier qualification. 160542 is seen here on the Ranger in October of 1988, and she's in relatively good shape overall in this shot. Note the stainless steel APU exhaust peeking out above her starboard nose gear door---it's pointless to paint anything that gets that hot since the paintwork will just blister off the surface of the duct. It's a note worth remembering if you're planning on building a model of the A-7.  Rick Morgan

This "Fruitfly" from VA-37 (158842) was cleaner than most when Rick Morgan took her picture in May of 1989. She was transient at NAS Whidbey Island when the shot was taken, and was in the 4-station configuration so typical of late-80s A-7s. The intake warning treatment looks a little goofy to our eyes, but we're pretty highly opinionated about such things. 842 ended up in Chicago as a museum bird, adding to the roster of "Fruitflys" that finished their days on public display.  Rick Morgan

Our final A-7 for the day is a little bit of a ringer. She's recently off the boat and served in Operation Desert Storm while with VA-72. Her wrap-around tan and brown camouflage is in distinct contrast to any sort of TPS, but was probably useful at low altitude over the Middle East. The photo was taken at an Armed Forces Day display at Eglin in 1991. Note that she's carrying all six of her wing stations---we're guessing she probably dropped a whole bunch of iron bombs while on station and needed the rack space. She was eventually transferred to the Royal Hellenic Air Force, but was very much a Navy bird when this photo was taken.  Bill Thomas

And that wraps up our A-7 coverage for today. We'll probably run a few shots in the days ahead since we've got so many of them in the collection, but we're going to take a break for a while and look at some other airframes in the next few issues. It seems fair to us!

Under the Radar

Today's Under the Radar entry is an older book that was largely ignored by the aviation community when it was originally published. It's achieved a new relevance due to recent progress in the field of aviation, and is well-worth looking at.

With unmanned vehicles being The Hot Topic these days (it seems as though you can't go more than a day or so without something about "drones" appearing in the popular press), it's probably worth while to look back a bit into their history.

Lightning Bugs and Other Reconnaissance Drones; The Can-Do Story of Ryan's Unmanned Spy Planes, William Wagner, Armed Forces Journal International and Aero Books, 1981, 222pp, illustrated, is a highly readable, non-technical overview of the Ryan Firebee program for inception though its service in the Vietnam War. The volume begins with the requirement for an unmanned surveillance and target drone and details the development of the aircraft's development and its substantial (and largely unknown) combat career during the Southeast Asia War Games. It's well-written and explains the AQM-34 program in considerable detail. Most folks don't have it in their libraries (we doubt most folks are even aware of its existence!) but we consider it to be essential reading if your interests run towards American involvement in that unfortunate conflict. You'll probably have to search to find a copy but the result is well worth the effort. Recommended.

Happy Snaps

It's been a while (far too long, in point of fact!) since we've run anything in this section of the blog, so today must surely be the day to correct that! 

OK, so it's not actually in the air, but it's getting ready to fly so we're going to consider it a viable entry into our Happy Snaps department anyway. The time is September of 1987, and the place is the USS Constellation. Long-time friend and fellow aerospace traveler Rick Morgan is up in Vulture's Row, camera in hand, photographing the goings-on down on the flight deck. The aircraft is one of VA-122's A-7Es, recently arrived and taxiing to its parking slot. That deck looks peaceful and somewhat serene, but it isn't. Every day on the boat is a day that's just waiting for disaster---that's something worth remembering when you look at all those carrier ops shots we run around here.  Rick Morgan

The Relief Tube

Letters, we get letters; we get stacks and stacks of letters (with apologies to Perry Como). Well, maybe we don't get that many letters, but we do get a bunch of them. Here are a couple of comments we've recently received regarding various and sundry things that have appeared on this site:

Let's start off with a clarification from Tommy Thomason regarding that desert-bound PBM we ran last time. It's in the form of scans from a 1944 issue of Naval Aviation News that explain what was going on when that photo was taken---Tommy didn't comment beyond sending the images so we're not going to either, but they're worth a look.

Thanks as always, Tommy, for your help!

In the Keeping Us Honest department, here's a comment from Pablo Ziegler regarding that model of the Brewster Bermuda we ran a while back:

Just a note about the SB2A: as far as I know, the Special Hobby kit is 1/72nd scale. The firm released both the SB2A and the British Bermuda Mk.I to date. In 1/48th scale, as far as I can remember, the only game in town for the Buccaneer is the old VacWings48 kit.

Apologies to Frank Cuden for that particular clanger; Frank most assuredly knew the difference and supplied us with all the pertinent information when he sent the photos. Some days we just aren't very smart...

And we've got quite a few other comments as well, but they're mostly about that Picture Pirate thing and, frankly, we're as sick of all that as you are so we aren't going to run any of them. We definitely are interested in your comments, though, so please feel free to write us at if you've got something to say, or if you've got photos or information you'd like to share.

Finally, here's an unadulterated shot of a 17th PG Curtiss P-6E in flight for your enjoyment. Consider it a gift from the Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum courtesy of Mark Nankivil. It's a positive way to end our day---a beautiful photograph of a beautiful airplane.

Finally, there's a LOT of material waiting in the wings for us to show you, so stand by. We'll meet again real soon, but until then, thanks for your patience with our recent lack of a schedule, and be good to your neighbor.


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