The Thing About Irony is That So Few People Get It
Ray Wiley Hubbard said that and it is, in my opinion anyway, one of the essential truths of our time. Irony is one of those ever-present things that haunts all aspects of our lives, each and every day. There's no escaping it even when it rears its, dare I say it; ironic little head, often in the most incongruous of places. (How's that for a profundity, ya'll?)
Here's the deal: A couple of issues ago I was rattling on endlessly (which is, after all, the only way I ever rattle on) about having a small collection of model airplanes that were sitting on a shelf, mostly-finished but nowhere near to getting themselves actually completed. I went to great pains to describe each and every project in sufficient detail to allow our readership to picture that project in their mind, and I think I might have even talked about what it was each of those models was lacking; the specific culprit that was keeping them from an honored place in the light of day on a display shelf.
Since that time several projects have actually seen completion around here. Yep, that's right! I went back, plucked a couple of those models out of storage, and finished them, or at least made substantial progress on them. The HMS Bounty has had her masts stepped, her bowsprit attached, and her boat (the great big one, whatever it is that sailors call it) has been started in a fashion far more detailed than Revell had ever intended way back when they cut the molds for the kit in 1956. The winter-camouflaged Fw190A-4 is complete, and so is the SG-77 (not SG-11 as originally and erroneously reported by me) Fw190F-8.
So where's the irony, you might ask. Well, if you've ever built an Eduard Focke Wulf, or an Eduard Anything for that matter, you're well aware that they inevitably give things like gun barrels as little round blobs that do an extremely poor job of replicating whatever it is they're supposed to be representing on the model in question. They're best replaced, and that's what I did---the guns on both of those 190s gave way to a really nice set of turned brass barrels, and they look 100% better than the kit offerings. Or maybe I should say they did look better, because the aftermarket I used provides the inboard guns in two pieces, which makes them a snap to install after the wing has been built and sanded. It's a great idea and it works like a champ as long as you make certain to get a good bond on the barrel sections when you attach them to each other and to the airframe. I apparently got a really good bond on one of them, and a not-nearly-so-good bond on the other. You can probably guess where this is going so I'm not going to describe what happened, or that it happened over a deep-pile carpet. Sadly, and contrary to Ray Wiley's quote that I cited at the beginning of this piece, everyone will probably see the irony in what happened within mere minutes of the model being placed on the display shelf. There just ain't no justice in this world!
Big sigh. Move on.
Why Can't We Get a Decent Fury?
If you've been with this blog from the beginning, or if you've ever bothered to go back and read all of the various issues we've published, you've probably noticed that I've got an affinity for the North American FJ Fury family of naval fighters. I like 'em all, from the tubby FJ-1 that started it all through the definitive FJ-4B that rang down the curtain on one of the most elegant of jet carrier fighters. With that as a basic premise, it should be easy for you to appreciate the fact that decent FJ-Anything kits don't exactly grow on trees around here. Yes; there are a few kits out there but none of them are particularly good. Let's elucidate.
In no particular order save that of variant, we've seen at least one limited production 1/72nd scale FJ from somebody, although I can't remember who did it, a good vac form from RarePlanes, as well as a nice but fiddly 1/48th scale kit from Czech Model. The FJ-2 was sortof-but-not-really kitted by Lindberg back in the 50s, and by ESCI's thoroughly confused FJ-2/-3 kit of the 80s. (It has to be one or the other; you can't do both from one kit, a fact which seems to have totally escaped ESCI at the time since they incorporated elements of both variants in a single airframe, creating a beast that was neither fish nor fowl in the process.) The FJ-4 was better served, sortof, in that Emhar did an injection molded kit in 1/72nd, RarePlanes did one in the same scale, and Matchbox, Grand Phoenix, and Hobby Boss all issued kits in 1/48th. In today's adventure we're going to explore the FJ-4 and FJ-4B in 1/48th scale.
To start things off, let's pull the Matchbox kit off the shelf, look at it briefly, and quickly put it away again. It was ok, but barely that, when it was The Only Game in Town, but that was a very long time ago. By today's standards it's not a very good kit and better offerings are out there.
Better could, and in fact does, define the pair of kits (an FJ-4 and an FJ-4B) issued by Grand Phoenix, but without going into an agonizingly long and somewhat pointless review we'll just say that it's a tough date and not one of their better efforts. It does, however, make a good source of detail parts for the Hobby Boss kits and comes with great decals---if you bought one during any of the various Squadron Shop sales your money wasn't wasted, because you can use a lot of the parts in that box as ad hoc aftermarket for the Hobby Boss kit. You can also build it if it's the only kit of the FJ-4 in your closet, but be advised that modeling skills are definitely required.
Hobby Boss is the kit of choice these days if your tastes run towards the last of the Furies, but you're going to work for your model if you choose to build it. Both variants, the FJ-4 and FJ-4B, are offered, but you can build either variant from either kit (exclusive of ordnance) so it really doesn't matter which one you start with.
And Speaking of models, let's talk a little bit about what I think is the best of the available 1/48th scale kits of the FJ-4 and FJ-4B, the Hobby Boss offering. Yes; you can get there with either the Grand Phoenix or Matchbox kits and you're welcome to do it if you want to go that route, but remember that the Matchbox kit is almost an antique at this stage in its life and will be a lot of work of you want to use it as a basis for a decent model. The Grand Phoenix kit is far better but is, as I'm wont to say on these pages, a Tough Date. You can get a really nice model from it but it's going to require substantial modeling skills, which is relatively pointless since that Hobby Boss kit is moderately easy to get together and is reasonably accurate to boot. That gives us what I'm going to call Perspective, so the HB kit is the route we're taking today. One more thing---a lot of internet modeling sites will give you a blow-by-blow description of how to build something, and tell you how many parts are in the box and what color they are. That's not my style, so I'm not going to do it that way. Instead, let's look at the areas that could stand a little improvement and go from there.
First, let's get the kit's dimensions out of the way in a really fast and loose manner, which is to say it looks like an FJ-4 and I'm making a leap of faith and saying that HB got the dimensions from someplace and they look ok to me. There was a time when I wouldn't have taken that stance but at this stage in the game close enough is close enough, besides which I won't lay awake at night worrying about something being 1/64th of an inch off if I'm not aware of it. Seems fair to me! The things that do bother me are few in number and all are fixable. Let's take a look at them.
First, the landing gear isn't all that hot and the nose gear strut is molded in the fully-compressed position, which you'd never find on a real airplane if the oleo was properly charged. You'll need to extend it or, if you're lazy, buy yourself a set of SAC landing gear made specifically for the kit (SAC 48018 at the Sprue Brothers site) (or use the one from the Grand Phoenix kit if you've got one of those). It's molded with the strut in a far more believable degree of extension and is worth the money. The wheels are another matter entirely, and you'll have to either make a compromise there or be a far better modeler than I presently am. It was mentioned earlier in this piece, but I've never been shy about repeating myself so I'm going to say it again: None of the 1/48th scale FJ-4 kits come with accurate wheels for the mains. You can use the spoked wheels from the Grand Phoenix kit if that's what your model requires, or get the "solid" ones out of the HB kit, but neither one is particularly accurate and I don't think the aftermarket offers replacements for them. I'm going to live with the kit offerings but you may choose another route---if you do that and it looks good please write me and let me know how you did it! ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Next are the gear doors. They're too thick (most kit gear doors are) and their interiors aren't as good as they could be detail-wise. They're good enough, though, so you can probably use them as-is if you're lazy. One thing of interest about those doors is that they're often painted Insignia Red on their inner surfaces, although conventional wisdom says they should be Insignia White with Insignia Red edges. Photographs of the aircraft you're building are your friend! (And in that vein the landing gear and struts should be Insignia White too but are often painted silver. Pay attention to those photos!) It's also worth your while to remember that the FJ-4 family were products of North American Aviation, which means that most of the landing gear doors will be up most of the time and your model should reflect that, although it's not uncommon to see them down as well---you pays your money...
The basic airframe is ok, thank Goodness, but could stand a little refinement here and there. Three things you'll need to watch for require mention in that regard. First, the scoops on the aft fuselage are too deep and incorrectly shaped. They're also separate pieces so that's easy enough to fix. Second, there should be a transparency in the bottom of the intake lip---it's a cover for the three small lights used in the aircraft's approach attitude indicator suite and is also easy to make using a piece of scrap clear sprue and a jeweler's file. Finally, the wings may or may not have tiny "fences" on them for engagement with the barrier in an emergency landing on the boat. I looked at a bunch of FJ-4B photos and they're there sometimes and not there others. Once again, you'll need a decent photograph of the airplane you want to model in order to accurately replicate a specific BuNo.
Another thing you'll want to do, but only if you're building a straight FJ-4 fighter, is to fill in those additional speedboards that live on the lower aft fuselage. They were added to the fighter-bomber member of the family, the FJ-4B, but didn't show up on the -4. A word to the wise...
Finally, the kit's cockpit is sortof ok, but there there are two aftermarket interiors available for the model (AMS 48021, which includes all the stuff under the canopy, and Aires 484448 which doesn't; both part numbers are once again from the Sprue Brothers web site). That assortment of gear under the canopy is an essential part of the Fury "look", so you'll need to do something under there whether you buy it or build it yourself.
Paying attention to those things will result in a reasonable model of the FJ-4 or -4B, and you can certainly proceed from there if you're so inclined. (And if you're one of the many who purchased the Grand Phoenix kit in either of its iterations, don't despair! The plastic contained within those boxes is a challenge to be sure, but the kit comes with photo etch that includes those windscreen mirrors, an excellent resin cockpit and a nice set of wheel wells, and a white metal nose landing gear strut of the proper length! The kit can be had for next to nothing at model shows and it's a whole lot cheaper to get the necessary aftermarket that way than it is to buy landing gear and a cockpit set separately. If you go that route, the only thing you'll be missing is the stuff under the aft canopy and you should be able to scratch that up yourself. Just sayin'...)
In theory you'll see photos of the completed project next issue, but that's what I said about that T-6G nearly a year ago. I'd like to hope that you're interested in seeing how this thing comes out, but if I were you I wouldn't hold my breath over it---my completions track record hasn't been very good of late!
The Magic of Hollywood
We get a fair amount of correspondence around here, and some neat things show up as a result. A couple of days ago one of our many friends from the old days (in this case the old days of the 1970s and 80s) dropped us a tantalizing photograph with no information attached except that it was a shot from a forthcoming movie.
Tropical Storm in the East
When the American Volunteer Group, colloquially know as The Flying Tigers, first arrived in the Far East, they based out of what was then known as Burma, sharing airfields with the RAF. We don't know much about the photograph shown below and the photographer, Jack Jones (a former AVG armorer) couldn't remember (and quite probably never knew) the unit, although 28 Sqdn RAF is a prime candidate for the honor. At any rate, thanks to the fact that Jack took a camera with him and used it until he mustered out with fever in mid-1942, we get to look at a photograph you won't see every day.
The Lead Sled Finds a Home
While it's true that the Late Great Republic Aviation built one of the best radial-engined fighters of the Second World War, and that it also built one of the most legendary jet-propelled fighter-bombers of all time, what came in between sometimes left a little bit to be desired. We're specifically talking about the F-84 family of aircraft, of both straight and swept-wing variety. It wasn't that the Thunderjet or Thunderstreak were bad airplanes, mind you, but they were relatively heavy when compared to the North American F-86 family and suffered greatly as a result of that weight when combined with the often poor-performing first generation American turbojet engines. Although both sub-types eventually saw sterling service with the United States Air Force, the Air National Guard, and the air forces of a number of foreign operators, there was a shred of truth in the classic slur regarding those first and second-generation jets: If anybody ever builds a runway around the world, Republic will build an airplane that can't take off from it. Hot and high is not your friend in a heavy, underpowered airplane!
In all fairness most of the problem did indeed lie with those not particularly stellar engines, and there was even a time when the ramp in Farmingdale was rapidly filling up with F-84Fs that had no powerplants available for them. Most of the kinks were eventually worked out, and both the straight and swept-winged F-84s ultimately enjoyed long and mostly successful careers in their respective roles. A great many of them ended up in the Air National Guard, and we're going to look at several examples of those today thanks to the kindness of Mark Nankivil and The Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum.
The F-84F was more of a fighter-bomber than she ever was a fighter, even though she managed to get herself painted grey to portray a "MiG" in the classic Korean War aviation movie The Hunters. She had a brief air-to-mud combat career with the French AF during the Suez conflict, but most of her days were spent preserving the shaky piece that was The Cold War. She, and the regulars and Guardsmen who flew her, were ready to go at a moment's notice, although it was probably a very good thing for all concerned that she never had to go up against the Warsaw Pact in an air-to-air combat situation. Still, she helps define The Silver Air Force of the 1950s; that shape is an iconic memory of a time that once was. (And if you'd like to know what it was like to live with her on a day-to-day basis we strongly recommend you find yourself a copy of Richard Bach's Stranger to the Ground and read it. You can thank us later.)
Many thanks to Mark Nankivil for sharing these photos with us.
Under The Radar
Jay Miller's Aerograph project lasted but a few brief years, but the quality of work done by both Jay and the various authors who worked with him during the course of the project have guaranteed that the titles he produced became standard references on their specific subjects. The Air Guard has been around since the late 80s (we think) and contains, in a concise and easy to use format, a history of the Guard and all of the units that operated under its auspices. The text is authoritatively done by Rene Francillon, and the book is well illustrated. It has been a go-to reference from the moment of its publication and has not, to the best of our knowledge, ever been equaled, much less surpassed in terms of coverage of the subject matter. It's one of those books that belongs on every aviation enthusiast's shelves, yet a great many of the folks that have become interested in American military aviation since its publication are entirely unaware of its existence. Long out of print and now only available on the used book market, it's well worth seeking out and acquiring if you have an interest in either the ANG or the USAF. We recommend it highly.
As a matter of perspective, we've done a couple of ground-bound Happy Snaps of late, even though that's an anomaly of sorts when you recall that the entire purpose of this particular part of the blog is to present air-to-air photography submitted by our readers. Yes; we've got quite a bit more of said air-to-air to share with you. No; today's not going to be the day we do that.
The Relief Tube
Sometimes we get a lot of comments and corrections for this section and sometimes we don't. Today is one of those Don't days, but we've got one thing we most assuredly do need to correct. Here are comments from a pair of folks regarding our mis-identifying Len Morgan and calling him "Les" in our last Under the Radar segment, even though we should have (and in fact did) know better. First, from writer and former editor (and, in this case, man of few words) Mike McMurtrey:
Len (short for Leonard) Morgan. WW II RCAF pilot, Braniff captain, and writer for Flying magazine. See here:
And here: http://www.flyingmag.com/news/richard-collins-bids-len-morgan-farewell His biography would make an excellent book in itself. Mike
And from author and Historian of Things SWPAC Steve Birdsall:
Hi Phil -
As one of the authors in the “Famous Aircraft” series – I did the B-17 and B-24 – I feel I should correct a minor slip in your review of the Childerhose F-86 book. It was Len Morgan, not Lou.
Len was a Braniff pilot and a pretty good writer in his own right . . . as I recall he did the P-51, P-47 and DC-3 books in the series. He also had a regular column in Flying for many years.
All the best -
Thanks, guys---we should've known better!
And that's about it for this issue's Relief Tube, and for today's installment in general. We've got some interesting things coming up in the very near future (including some nice Berlin Airlift) photography, so stay tuned. It's our intention to publish again before Christmas but that's only three weeks or so away and this is a busy time of year, family-wise, so it may not happen as quickly as we'd like for it to. However things go down, you'll see another issue fairly quickly. Until then, be good to your neighbor!