Sunday, December 8, 2013

FJ Redux, Bats Outa Hell, That Other F-15, and A Special Thanks

A Fond Look Back and A Brave New World

Here we are, Gang; yet another year very nearly gone. From a hobby perspective it was a great year, one of many and, oddly enough, maybe one of the very last of the great polystyrene plastic kit years. Yep, it's probably true. The advent of stereo lithography, aka 3D printing, has advanced to the point where people are making firearms and parts for real airplanes with the technology right now this minute, and there's a guy over on one of the AFV modeling sites who's already been making conversion sets and detail parts with it. His stuff looks pretty darned good too, easily as good as the plastic kits he's been making his parts for. We are, quite literally, quivering on the dawn of a new age of scale modeling, and the time probably isn't too far off when a "kit" will consist of a CD rather than a box full of plastic, a time when the truly exceptional modelers will be the ones who can successfully write programs, both for their own home-grown aftermarket parts and for short run kits (maybe extremely short---how about a run of one or two kits, just for yourself and nobody else?).

Think about it for a minute. Most of the cost of a plastic model currently goes into the tooling, with the actual molding and packaging of said model costing next-to-nothing in comparison. That's why we may never see a mainstream kit of the North American B-45, while at least one or two Zero or Spitfire kits are released each and every year (and we're not even going to mention the Luftwaffe subjects that manage to get kitted endlessly, in lieu of something else). It's all a matter of economics; even the companies who design and produce kits for what I'm going to call the specialist market ultimately have to make a profit in order to stay in business.

In comparison, nearly all the cost of that newly-emerging technology lies in the cost of the printer, and the available printers are getting both better and less expensive by the day. It's only a matter of time before hobby shops, of both the surviving local variety and the increasingly more common on-line ones, begin to catalog 3D printers as part of their normal offerings and begin to stock racks full of programs contained on CD rather than the currently normal plastic kits or aftermarket sets.

Sounds far-fetched? Maybe so, but it would pay to remember that Frog began marketing the first plastic model kits in the late 1930s as an alternative to the more traditional solid wood kits then being offered. Polystyrene kits came along after the second world war and have had a long and healthy run spanning nearly six decades (check out the copyright dates on the old Lindberg LST or Hawk Curtiss racer for an eye-opening example of just how long that run has lasted). Does anybody out there remember exactly why the hobby industry moved from wood to plastic? That's right---it was because plastic kits allowed even a novice builder a shot at something decent to put on the shelf, and at a nominal cost. As a result, scale modeling became Everyman's Hobby. That hobby for Everyman morphed into a hobby for the hardcore enthusiast with the passage of time, and that brings us to today.

There are still kids out there who build models but their numbers aren't nearly as great as once they were, while the kids who made the current hobby what it is today are becoming fewer with every passing year; plastic modeling is a classic Baby Boomer's hobby, pure and simple, and the time will eventually come when it's just too expensive for manufacturers to tool up for new kits, while existing tooling will inevitably wear out. Combine that with the serious scale modeler's natural desire for the best and most accurate model available and the time is ripe for change, probably first in the realm of conversion sets and then, ultimately, as complete kits. It's inevitable, and it probably won't be a Bad Thing. The advent of such "data kit"s certainly won't kill the hobby; a good modeler will still be a good modeler and a bad modeler will still be a bad one. All that's going to change is the way the parts are created, and where. Somebody still has to build the thing, and paint and decal it---even if you could dial in pre-printed markings for your kit you'd still have to use modeling skills to complete your replica. If you don't believe that, just compare today's kits and methods with those available to the modeler in 1933, or 43, or 53.

There's a bottom line here and it's one that's inevitable; plastic kits as we currently know them will probably be around for a long time, but at the end of the day it will be the digitally-produced kits that dominate the hobby, along with digital aftermarket. The now-"traditional" plastic kit will become something built by purists and dinosaurs, and that's alright with me. It's a big world out there and there's room for everybody in it. On a personal level I have no doubt I'll try one of the new-technology kits as soon as it becomes available, but I'm equally certain that I'll continue to build the "old" stuff too, simply because I like doing things that way. At the end of the day it's all a matter of choice and personal preference.

Don't expect to see the change come tomorrow, or next week, or even next year, but it's closer than you think to being a reality and, at the end of the day, it's probably going to end up being a Very Good Thing for our hobby.

Just sayin...

Farther Along With That Fury

In a veritable maelstrom (your word for today) of activity, I've been charging right along with that FJ-4B you first saw in our last issue. Here's where we are today:

Although it may not look much different than it did before, right down to the fact that it's sitting on a really cluttered workbench, there actually has been substantial progress. The sharp-eyed among you (and you have to sit this one out, McMurtrey---you've been embarrassing me entirely too much lately!) will notice side numbers on the flaps, as well one the upper surface of the starboard wing. Those were added thanks to the kindness of Tommy Thomason, who sent in a couple of photos that showed the way VA-144 did it on their airplanes. Sway braces have been added to the gas bag that lives under that starboard wing, and all the "junk in the trunk" beneath the canopy has been put into place. Still to be accomplished is the completion of the national insignia on the port wing---it goes over the fence---and the closing up of the red-orange lightning bolts on the fuselage spine. That's one of those things I wasn't entirely certain of before, but the photos provided by Tommy defined how it should look up there. In my world that's called Doing the Scary, but I'm getting ready to give it a shot. Let's see if Phillip can ruin the airplane in the home stretch! (Unfortunately, that one's a no-brainer. I've already managed to do that sort of thing far too many times to count!) I also need to make some vents for the new generator panel on the nose (as described below), along with a couple of other minor corrections thanks to those comments by Tommy Thomason.

Phil, Great discussion. Some answers and extra stuff:  Detail under canopy can be found at: , Horizontal tail span:  . Left-hand (only) guns removed and vents in gun access panel were the result of the addition of an emergency generator:  .

Note that all (?) rudders were gray initially for the change to the gray/white scheme. The FJ-4s weren't around long enough to get the change to white(?).  The rudder was not originally to be painted white but this requirement was formally introduced in December 1961. However, some rudders were white before that, particularly on aircraft that might be assigned to deliver a nuclear weapon, to minimize the thermal effect of a nuclear explosion on the thin-skinned control surface. Interesting point on barricade (not barrier) fences. My guess is that it was determined that they weren't required on airplanes operating from angled deck carriers. Did I miss a mention of the retrofit of the Martin-Baker seat? From  "The FJ-4s appear to have begun to be switched over in early 1961 at the first or second major overhaul after late 1960. The first reported ejection using the Martin-Baker seat was in September 1961. If you don't have a photo of the specific aircraft being modeled, the best bet is the original seat. The earliest example that I found of a MB seat in the FJ-4 is VA-144's 3rd deployment, November 1961 to May 1962. However, there is a picture of a reserve FJ-4B dated July 1963 with the original seat." (Your picture with the vent question answered above shows the Martin-Baker seat.) 


There are several lessons to be learned from Tommy's comments, the primary one of which is that I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble by going to his site for information before I began the model. 20/20 Hindsight, as it were! (I guess I've just modeled one of those rare FJ-4Bs that had all the guns removed! Yeah; right...)

Anyway, this project is well on the road to completion in spite of that gun faux pas  (presuming I don't ruin it when I do that touch-up on the fuselage spine!). Stay tuned and, in theory, our next issue will show you a completed model. In theory...

A VA-144 FJ-4B launching off the Ranger in 1959. This photo shows the way the side number is presented on the flaps and starboard wing upper surface to advantage. It also shows the presence of guns, but there's no way of telling whether or not there are guns on the port side too unless someone out there has access to the NARF records for this particular BuNo---we don't. You might also note the scabbed-up appearance of that gas bag. Speaking of gas bags, make note of what's under the port wing; that's a Douglas tank, not North American. We'll explain all that next issue but for now it's worth knowing that sort of thing went on (it was directly related to the ordnance load carried).  USN

Here's a detail of that emergency generator cover Tommy was describing. Note that the gun ports have been completely eliminated and a pair of vents have been add on the aft part of the access panel. Everything under the canopy aft of the seat travels with the structure when it opens, which gives a completely different appearance to that area in each configuration.   Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

War Dogs

The 345th BG, aka the Air Apaches, were one of the premier medium bomb groups of the Southwest Pacific. Their exploits became legendary throughout the course of a nasty, brutal war that took place in the harshest and most unforgiving of environments and they not only survived but thrived, this in spite of heavy losses in combat against a highly motivated, professional and, at least for the first couple of years, experienced enemy. Often short of parts, always short of sleep, and battling not only the Japanese but the heat, humidity, tropical weather systems, insects, mud, dust, and snakes of their operational area, they carried out their mission in a manner that arguably made them the best of the best; the premier medium bomb group in General George's Air Force. It was no accident that the 345th was given the honor of escorting the Japanese surrender delegation to Ie Shima during the closing days of the war. They were something special in an Air Force where everyone was exceptional.

We've shared images from Johnathan Watson's collection with you previously and are going to publish a few more today; let's go back to the 1943-44 time period in New Guinea and take a look at some Air Apaches from the 499th BS. A couple of the aircraft we've depicted may be familiar to you and a couple may not, but the photographs shown are all originals and we don't think any of them have ever been published before. We hope you enjoy them.

Things look placid enough in this photograph and that airfield looks dry, but no place in the SWPAC stayed in either condition for very long. In this shot "Lucky Bat" is in the foreground, with "Hell's Belles" sitting in the near distance. That 6x6 is carrying a crated dorsal turret---presumably the "Bat" is about to get a replacement for her existing unit. The "Bat's" strafer nose is modified from the factory-equipped glass one, and those guns are all wearing canvas covers, an absolute necessity when parked on those dusty New Guinea air strips. On a more personal note, the whole concept of uniforms was a flexible notion at best in that theater, as exemplified by the assortment of clothing worn by the ground echelon standing in this photo. Author Martin Caiden wrote a book called The Ragged Rugged Warriors back in the 60s. Not everyone cares for Caiden's presentation of history, but the title of that book could sum up the experience of the AAF while fighting in the Southwest Pacific.  Johnathan Watson Collection

Here's another view of "Lucky Bat", providing us with an excellent view of her port gun pack (in this case a North American factory mod) and her overall highly weathered condition. That's a fin assembly for a 500 lb GP bomb lying on the ground just aft of her nose gear. Carrying s/n 41-30058, the "Bat" led a relatively lengthy combat life, but finally paid the ultimate price. She's being readied for another mission in this shot; note the sophisticated ground support equipment  displayed in the photo, as well as the tapered muzzle extensions on those gunpack .50s. In the finest tradition of Polystyrene Whining, we sure wish HK had done a B-25D instead of the J and H models they've released. We're just never happy, are we?  Johnathan Watson Collection

Here's a slightly better view of "Lucky Bat", apparently taken at the same time as our previous shot. Note how her name has been plated over by what appears to be an aluminum scab patch, and the definition of her "bat" markings on the nose. Her paintwork is a mess (and a scale modeler's challenge!), with the weathering on her prop blades being of particular interest---this photo absolutely abounds in detail! Assigned to the 499th BS/345th BG, the "Bat" finally bought it strafing barges on 30 July, 1944, with all aboard killed. She made at least 66 missions before cashing in, and could've been the poster child for General George's mediums.   Johnathan Watson Collection

And here's the 499th's "Wilda Marie". Noteworthy in this shot are her mission markers and kill markings (including a couple of meatballs just aft of the canopy) and the presentation of her name. In common with all the 345th's aircraft her paintwork is all beat to snot, and she's well-worn to say the least. She's also mission capable and ready to go again. Interesting details in this shot include the canvas cover on her dorsal turret and the pre-War AAC corcarde painted on her nose wheel cover. Her s/n was 41-30016, a B-25D-5 like all the others in this series. The inclusion of the bicycle and that motorcycle makes this a prime candidate for a diorama, we think.  Johnathan Watson Collection

There are famous B-25s and there are famous B-25s. When you get past all the rest, there's "Dirty Dora". She managed to survive 175 combat missions, including operations in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, only to be scrapped out at the end of her life. She's covered with personal names (look on the cowling and under the bomb scoreboard under the canopy) and her paintwork is unique. Accurate Miniatures included markings and paint masks for her in one of the several offerings of their somewhat-flawed (but salvageable) B-25D kit and she's well worth building, an homage to the boys from the 345th.   Johnathan Watson Collection

Every now and then you come across a photo that you just have to run and this shot is one of them. From her boarding ladder to her antenna mast, from her turret detail to her side guns, this photo defines a number of details not often generally seen. That name under her turret is special too; note how it's repeated, apparently in yellow, under the "main" presentation of same. Those turret covers were part of the North American field kit that accompanied every Mitchell into service---note how stiff this one is and how well it's keeping its shape after removal from the turret.  The Devil's in the details!   Johnathan Watson Collection

Loading up. In this view, a 500 lb GP bomb is being winched into the bomb bay of one of the 499th's Mitchells. In typical fashion, the bombs have been delivered to the aircraft sans fins and fuses, both of which are installed in the arming area. Of particular interest is the way the Bronze Green paint on the aft access door has been scabbed up by repeated use. Most folks wouldn't choose this approach to weather a model, but it's obviously the way the doors looked in service.  Johnathan Watson Collection

Here's another view of the same aircraft. We're running this shot because it gives an excellent view of that side gun as well as the way the turret cover was secured to the aircraft. The wear on the paintwork between the national insignia and that gun is worth a look as well; we strongly suspect the lighter color is Yellow Zinc Chromate. Modeler's who are fond of using aftermarket might want to note that those tires on the MLG are not excessively bulged or flattened.   Johnathan Watson Collection

"Hell's Belles" undergoing maintenance prior to a mission. Those unpainted aluminum bulges on the covers on her cheek guns are worth noting, as is that scoreboard. The artwork on her nose wheel cover is worth a second look too, as is her generally battered condition. Built as a B-25D-5 (41-30019), she paid the ultimate price during a raid on Jefman Island---she took a flak hit and went into the water inverted. There were no survivors of that crash, and no easy days in the SWPAC.  Johnathan Watson Collection

And here's "Hell's Belle's" in happier times, running up prior to her loss on the 16 June 1944 mission. Of interest is the staggered installation of the cheek .50s; this was normal in this sort of installation. The shot manages to be both evocative and melancholy, a reminder of a time of sacrifice long ago.  Johnathan Watson Collection

The 499th's "Doodle Jr", another B-25D-5 (41-30164), gets an ordnance check. The gun-pack covers have been removed and the flash hiders are fitted to the muzzles of the guns---they aren't present in any of the other shots in this essay. There appears to be slight discoloration from powder and lubricant staining in front of at least one of those guns, and that AAF insignia on her nose wheel cover is particularly tasty. "Doodle Jr" was engaged in a raid on Sidate airfield in Celebes when she lost an engine near Halmahera. Her crew survived the ditching and was picked up some three hours after entering the water---they were among the lucky ones. It wasn't always the enemy that got you in the SWPAC.   Johnathan Watson Collection

"Doodle Jr" in happier times, ready to rumble and on her way to the party. Note that her Plexiglas tail cone is missing---the B-25s in the 5th AF often had it removed and replaced by a .30 cal stinger gun, which wasn't particularly effective in actual use but added greatly to crew morale. The Insignia Blue of her national insignia has faded into the OD of her upper surface paint work due to the type of film used but is still there. Modeler's beware!  Johnathan Watson Collection

That's our look at the 499th BS/345th BG today, and we hope you've enjoyed it. Many thanks to Johnathan Watson for his willingness to share his collection with us.

A Little-Known Northrop

Everybody is familiar with Northrop's P-61 Black Widow; the aircraft has been relatively well-represented in the world of scale modeling in 1/72nd (Frog and Airfix) as well as in 1/48th (Aurora, Monogram, and Great Wall), and there's aftermarket and even a few decal sheets available in both scales. The P-61's first cousin, the F-15 Reporter, is far less known. Originating with the P-61 airframe, the F-15 was modified with a purpose-designed fuselage optimized for the photo-recon mission, and highly-modified engine nacelles, which mods gave the airplane an entirely different appearance in profile. Thanks to Bobby Rocker we have an opportunity to view one of those unique aircraft today.

Looking more like a racer than a purpose-built photo recon ship, 45-59316 (an F-15A-1-NO) was assigned to the 8th PRS/35th FG, based in Japan, when this photo was taken. Although the Reporter's service history included no combat whatsoever (operational missions concluded in 1948), peacetime aerial mapping of the Korean peninsula by the 8th proved of great worth when hostilities began there in 1950. A beautiful aircraft, the type was a maintenance pig from the beginning---introduced into service in Japan in 1947, it enjoyed barely one year of operational flying before being removed from active service. The last of the 8th's F-15As were scrapped out in March of 1949, and the only other user, Air Material Command, didn't keep theirs much longer. We're aware of only one kit of the type, a resin conversion from Lone Star Models, although there may be others we don't know about. Who knows what the Reporter might have done had it been more reliable (although we suspect it would have been savaged by the MiGs had it made it to the Korean War), but at the end of the day it was just another sidebar to aviation history.   Rocker Collection

Bobby Rocker's collection is both large and unique, and we're extremely grateful to be able to share images from it. Thanks, Bobby!

Thanks, GI!

In this, our last installment of 2013, it's worth taking a moment to remember those who stood up and fought The Good Fight during the Second World War. They came from all age groups and backgrounds; some were professionals but most were not, and their sacrifice and sense of duty was exceptional. They went in young and yet, at the end of it all, had become so very, very old. Their accomplishments, and the traditions they established, live on in the men and women of our armed forces today. We owe them all, past and present. Let's raise a glass...   L. Pepper via 3rd Attack.Org

Under the Radar

In this edition of Under the Radar, we look not at a specific title but at a family of publications that you may not be aware of.

The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia (series), Office of Air Force History, Government Printing Office, various titles and dates of publication.

Sometimes there exists a resource that's known to relatively few of the people who would be interested in it, and this series of publications is numbered among such resources. Commissioned by the Department of the Air Force, written by professional historians and published primarily as hard-bound reference books, the volumes in this series are most assuredly not for everyone---they are, without exception, serious, footnoted written histories. They generally have few illustrations and offer none of the color profiles so beloved of scale modelers, but their scope of coverage and detail is beyond reproach and offers an insight into the Vietnam War that few other books can convey. The reading is often dry and is invariably concise, but each monograph ("monograph" being somewhat of a misnomer since each volume typically runs from 300 to 600 pages) provides a unique reference for its particular subject.

You won't find these books at the trendy local coffee shop/nee bookstore, nor will you find them in hobby shops. They're often available directly from the Government Printing Office, but we've also found them in used book stores and once, but only once, in an aviation salvage yard (where we paid fifty cents each for a half-dozen titles in the series!). We recommend them without reservation but there is a caveat to that recommendation: If you're an historian, either amateur or professional, and you're interested in Air Force involvement in Southeast Asia, you can't be without these books. They're an essential reference. If you're primarily a scale modeler and are more interested in photographs, color profiles, or graphic "there I was" stories, these volumes are probably not for you. That said, those of you with particular interest in the air war over Vietnam will want the series for your library.

Happy Snaps

It's been a while since we've had an honest-to-Goodness air-to-air Happy Snap in these pages, so it's time to set things right!

We rely a lot on photography from Doug Barbier around here, and for good reason. During the course of his military career, both active duty and ANG,  Doug had camera access to a number of unique subjects. Add to that the fact that he's what most folks might call an extraordinary photographer and it all becomes clear---if Doug took it it's generally an outstanding photograph, and this "T-Bird" shot is no exception to that rule. The story behind the photo is a simple one; Doug was flying with the 57th FIS at the time (F-4s and T-33s) and wanted an air-to-air of "his" aircraft. He arranged a form hop with another pilot flying the bird that wore his name on the canopy rails, and this photo is the result. Maybe someday, if we're really lucky and some model manufacturer can figure out how to properly capture the lines of the T-33, we'll be able to build a model of this bird. Maybe someday...   Doug Barbier

The Relief Tube

We've already covered one of today's entries by publishing Tommy Thomason's FJ-4B comments and corrections up there in our lead article, so let's jump straight to a clarification of that Michigan ANG hearse we illustrated last issue:

Phil, (that photo) brings back a ton of memories... Remembering 1982 WT, 31 years ago, the six pack learned from it's first 1980 WT appearance that a team vehicle was a very cool thing! So when we learned that we would in the 1982 WT F-4 category, we started to find a team car. Can't say who thought of the hearse, but it was decided and a plan was made to paint it in the ADC gray colors with the six pack markings along with the 82 WT logos. Many modifications had to be made to the standard 1971 Cadillac hearse, making cup holders and a few secret compartments. SMSgt Bill Brennan, 191 FIS/ODC, drove the hearse down to Tyndall. We also drove a tractor and a (ex Army) 40 ft semi trailer that I signed for out of DRMO at Selfridge in late 1980 and converted in a mobile maintenance control and repair shop(s). LTC John Doty said that we would need such a set up after the November 1979 NORAD computer SNAFU of a false missile attack warning tape triggering a flush of all aircraft. Can't remember who drove the trailer down, but it had extra parts and equipment in it if we needed it. The trailer was much of a non-player during WT, however the hearse put in a max effort. It was the main player in daily party events. When it was not full of people, it always seemed to be parked in front of Tyndall Officers Club. More than a few zaps were placed on it by other units. To say that Colonel Dave Arendts was proud of his hearse would be an understatement!! At the moment I can't remember what happened to the hearse after 82 WT. Don't know if it went with to WT 84. Somehow a history of the 191 FIG at William Tell needs to be complied before we lose it all.

Many thanks to Bill Livesay for sharing his memories with us and for explaining that photo. Now then; do any of you have photos of it after it was zapped? If you do, we'd love to see them! That address is  .

Finally, from Ned Barnett:

Phil, you may remember me as the author of your in-depth article on the F-100 way back in the day (I think I was editor of the IPMS/USA article at that time, give or take a year or two). Anyway, thanks to the email list I’m on regarding 1/72nd scale modeling of US military aircraft, I just learned about your blog, and about how to reach you. Someone on that list suggested that you might be considering putting all your RIS issues on a CD – to me, that would be a godsend, as mine were wiped out in a basement flood back in ’86, and from then to now, I've never seen a better modeling magazine.

Thanks, Ned! The print edition of RIS was very much a labor of love for us and your comments make us feel pretty darned good! As for a CD-edition of those old magazines, it's something we'd like to do but is unfortunately very much on the back burner at the moment. If it ever happens we'll make certain you get a copy but it's likely to be a while. (Do any of our readers have extra copies of the magazine that they'd like to donate to a good cause?)

And that's it for this, our final edition of 2013. If you celebrate the season may you have the very best of holidays. If you don't, may your skies be filled with sunshine and your road be an easy one. Be good to your neighbor, and we'll meet again real soon.


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