Monday, March 17, 2014

Snoopers and Rag Draggers, Joe on The 'Canal, The 38th, Thankin' Frank, and Some Spooks

Heading Off a Relief Tube Entry at the Pass

Sometimes we do really bone-headed things around here; the Best Laid Plans, etc, etc. That was the case in this instance, when we completely gomed up (or, with the rag-draggers, simply didn't insert) the unit identifications for those A-26 photos you'll see below. If you're looking at this issue for the first time it really won't matter, so you can just pretend you never read this. If you did read it before you might want to read it again, because we corrected the photo captions which, in our minds, precludes any necessity for putting an additional correction here. Many thanks (and sincere apologies!) to John Horne for pointing out our errors!

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

We've all seen it. With any luck we haven't actually done it ourselves (or, more importantly, to others!), but we've all seen it in action far too many times. It's unkind. It's rude. It's arrogant. And it's entirely unnecessary to life as we know it.

What am I talking about this time, you might logically ask. What's got me up on my soapbox again, ranting and raving for all to see? Why, it's The Arrogant Internet Know-It-All, of course! You've seen it before (but hopefully not on these pages) and, unfortunately, you'll probably see it again. Let's discuss the situation.

In the pre-Internet world most publications had a letters-to-the-editor section so readers could write in with their comments or opinions on things a given periodical might have put into print. Back in those days letters got reviewed by an editor, who checked them over not only for grammatical and spelling errors but also for content and also, somewhere in the process of editing, chose which ones would find their way to ink on paper in the next issue. The Internet isn't like that, by and large, because a whole lot, maybe even most, of the e-zines and blogs out there allow their readership to voice their opinions by means of a forum of one sort or another, generally moderated by someone connected in some official manner with the site in question. Said moderator gets to be the referee, for want of a better term, and gets to try to keep things informative and relatively civil. Unfortunately, since there are generally a whole bunch of people writing in and just one or two moderators, things can sometimes go off in a direction entirely unintended by the staff of said site.

On any given day I probably drop in on a half-dozen or so modeling-related boards to see what's going on in the polystyrene world. It's a good way to learn new techniques, gain a fresh insight into things I thought I had figured out a long time ago, and just have some enjoyable time reading the comments of people I don't actually know but have come to look on as electronic friends because I enjoy reading what they write. I think that's what the folks who put forums on their sites intended when they did it, and I applaud their efforts and good intentions.

Unfortunately, those good intentions are often run aground by the efforts of a class of folks we'll call The Dreaded Internet Experts, those people who know everything and want to make certain that you, along with everyone else, know that they know it. Their expression of thought ranges from comments as simple as "we discussed that 3 pages ago (Weren't you paying attention, Dummy?!)" to out-and-out accusations of whatever it is the accusations are about this time ("Hey, everybody---look at me! I'm really smart but that guy's a moron!").

Here's the deal, or at least the deal as I see it. People who don't know things write into those web forums to ask questions so they can learn. Sometimes the questions don't seem too well-founded, it's true, but it's fair to presume that somebody didn't know something and thought somebody on whatever-forum-they're-reading could help them with the answer. That seems fair enough to me, and I honestly can't see belittling such people or jumping down their throats when they commit the unforgivable transgression of asking a "dumb" question; all that sort of thing does is make the person making the comment look bad in the eyes of their peers. They might be right in what they're saying, and their comment might be well-founded, but it's also rude. It's probably better to not say anything than to jump down the throat of a total stranger because they didn't know the answer to something.

Why, you might say, does this matter? To me the answer is simple: Every year we get more and better kits, and decals, and references, and on and on it goes, but a lot of that is because those of us who grew up with plastic models have aged to the point where we can afford at least some of those increasingly expensive toys. Sooner or later we'll age to the point where we can't see well enough to model anymore, or no longer have the eye-to-hand coordination that's necessary for such things. One way or another we're all going to leave the hobby, and I'm not convinced there are all that many people coming up who care about plastic scale modeling the way a lot of us do. With that as a premise, why would we want to risk driving people away from the hobby because we can't control our egos on an electronic forum? Wouldn't we want to help those folks out so they'll become more involved, and maybe bring in a friend or two with them? Wouldn't increasing numbers give us a shot a more new kits, and references, and so on and so forth, while we're still able to enjoy them?

I think there's an obvious lesson to be learned from all this, both in scale modeling and in the other aspects of our lives. A question you don't like doesn't have to be a challenge, and an answer you don't agree with doesn't have to be an affront to your very being. It might be easier to just try to get along with the other guy.

I rest my case.

Some Different Invaders

Some things are seminal in our lives; people, places, things, or events that bend a twig and shape a future. For us, one of those seminal instances was a Thing, the Monogram B-26 Invader (Kit # P6 or PA6 depending on how old you are). "Lil Nell", as was boldly emblazoned on its nose, was The Big M's first plastic model airplane kit, originally appearing in 1955 and staying in production until 1970 or so. We built it for the first time in 1957 and were, as were so many kids of the 50s, immediately stricken by the airplane's appearance. That model triggered a personal love affair with the A-26 that's lasted to this very day. We're guessing that a lot of our readers share the same passion, and maybe even for the same reason. There's a caveat, though. There always is.

In this case the caveat is the mission the airplane was used for; the A-26 (later B-26, after Martin's medium bomber of the same designation had left the inventory shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War) being primarily thought of as an attack aircraft and bomber. That was, after all, its designed role, and it's how the vast majority of them served in three wars. That's why those of us with a specific seniority on life fell in love with that Monogram kit, right? Right!

OK then, consider this point, if you will. The Invader served from the waning days of WW2 right up through the greater part of the Vietnam War as a light bomber, an attack bomber, and an interdiction platform, but the basic airframe was a versatile one that lent itself to tasks other than those we most often associate with the type. In later years, while in service with the ANG, it sprayed mosquitos over American cities and served as a fast VIP transport. From the end of the Second World War until the final days of its career it served as a target tug and, for a brief period of time during the Korean War, as an electronic warfare platform. Thanks once again to John Horne, we're going to spend a few minutes exploring those particular missions as they were flown by the Douglas A-26. Let us proceed:

Here's a fine example of a rag dragger. The aircraft is an A-26C-50-DT and is shown here during its target towing days with the USAF, while flying with Det 1 of the 4th TTS out of Larson AFB in Washington ca. 1953/54. Those black nacelles are fairly common on the A-26 family, serving to both reduce glare and hide all the gunk thrown off by the engines. She ended up a survivor on the American civil registry, a fate shared by a great many Invaders---you can thank those years as a target tug and hack for their survival.   Campbell via J Horne Collection

Target tugs tended to be extremely colorful in The Silver Air Force, as typified by this ramp shot of the 5th TTS' Det 1 at Sculthorp in 1955/56. It's interesting to note that there are three B-26s in this photo and they're all painted differently! Two are B-models and one is a Charlie; as a rag dragger it didn't matter whether the airplane had a gun nose or not.   Campbell via J Horne Collection

And here's a detail shot of the badge that's on the first bird in that ramp shot. It's American nose art at its best and we presume, but are not certain, that it's the squadron emblem for the 5th---our archives don't include target towing units! Reader comments are invited at .  Campbell via J Horne Collection

The next few shots will help explain why we're so impressed with John Horne's collection. These RB-26Cs (44-35825 and 44-35909) were assigned to the 11th TRS, 67th TRW, and were photographed on the ramp at Kimpo late in 1953, and were tasked with monitoring WarPac, Chinese, and North Korean gun laying radars. The paintwork is a little unusual on the closest of these aircraft; the propeller warning stripes and buzz numbers are outlined in white. Check out the lumps and bumps on those airplanes!   Bowlus via J Horne Collection

Here's a paint scheme you don't see every day!  The aircraft is 44-35555, also on the ramp in Kimpo late in 1953. She's wearing a white-trimmed prop warning stripe, a pair of gas bags trimmed in red, and silver trim on her aft nacelles! She's not festooned with the shapes found on some of the 11th's other aircraft, but that paintwork more than makes up for it!   Bowlus via J Horne Collection

How about a better view of that chin pod to end our essay with? "Snooper" pretty much sums up the mission of the 12th and does it with considerable humor. She's yet another RB-26C, and she posed for this portrait in late 1953, shortly before the cessation of hostilities. The natural metal prop hubs and blades are of interest, as are the details of the chin and ventral antennae covers---we'll publish a rundown of what they are in a later issue.     Marios via J Horne Collection

Before He Was a Governor

Joe Foss led a long and distinguished life, Governor of North Dakota, first president of the American Football League, president of the NRA, a general in the Air National Guard, and a broadcast announcer on television. Those accomplishments, taken all by themselves, would qualify him for lasting fame, but there's more to the story than that. Joe Foss was a Marine aviator during the Bad Old Days of 1942 and flew with VMF-121 out of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The 26 kills he achieved while there won him the Medal of Honor, while his stay in the Solomons gave him a case of malaria and a trip back to the States. He was back in the saddle again by 1944, commanding VMF-115 out of Emirau, where he relapsed into a second case of malaria. He was the Real Deal, an all-American boy doing his duty in a crummy war and thriving on the experience, and his exploits, both on and off the battlefield, are the stuff of legends.

Publicity photos don't get much more contrived than this one is; a stoic Joe Foss stands over an empty ammo can while a pair of Navy (not Marine) ordies show him what a belt of .50-cal looks like. The premise is a silly one at best, but it showed the folks back home what their boys were doing, even if the view was somewhat whimsical. America needed heroes in 1942, and Joe Foss was the genuine article, a skilled and capable aviator with exceptional gunnery skills and more than a small amount of intestinal fortitude to back it all up. We strongly suspect this photo was taken after his return to the ZI from the Solomons but it really doesn't matter; no amount of staged photography could diminish Joe's accomplishments.  Rocker Collection

Many thanks to Bobby Rocker once again, and a special thanks to the guys who stood up when the going was toughest. We owe them.


That's not how North American Aviation's B-25 Mitchell started out, but by early 1943 the aircraft had morphed into a strafer of the highest order. The concept began with the operators in General George's air force, who required more punch than existing bombardment types could provide given the 5th Bomber Command's evolving mission as a low-level strike force. Those early field mods eventually led to the production of dedicated strafers straight off the production lines. The photos you're about to view chronicle a brief capsule of that evolution, with aircraft provided courtesy of the 405th BS, 38th BG.

A classic strafer! 41-12905 was a B-25C attached to the 405th BS of the 38th BG during 1943 and 1944. She was eventually written off in an accident but was in her prime when this photo was taken---North American fabricated a number of gunship conversions and shipped them to the SWPAC, and this aircraft has had one installed. The C and D models weren't quite as impressive as the 8-gun purpose-built J-models that were to follow, but they were capable enough and could certainly get the job done, as the scoreboard on 905's nose attests.
J Watson Collection

Here's another view of a North American-kitted Mitchell from the 405th. The four-gun nose was perfectly adequate for the job, particularly when combined with the package guns mounted to the sides of the fuselage. In this form the B-25 was a superb destroyer of airfields and a ship killer without equal. Note the dragon's head and sharkmouth presentation on this aircraft and compare it to that of 12905 above. They were all hand-painted and no two were exactly alike.   J Watson Collection

Somewhere along the way somebody decided that if machine guns in the nose were good, a cannon would be that much better. The idea led to the installation of a 75mm M4 howitzer in the nose, loaded by the navigator. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the reality of combat operations it was a dismal failure. Slow to load and difficult to aim, the gun was removed early on and replaced by a pair of .50 caliber machine guns firing through a modified cannon port, weapons that were far more useful in the B-25's strafer role. This aircraft is a B-25H and is shown on the ramp on a typical SWPAC airfield. The post visible above the nose of the aircraft is part of the aiming system for the guns---we hesitate to call it a gun sight. In this configuration the G and H-models were every bit as effective as their more "normal" brethren in combat.  J Watson Collection

Coming home! 12905 settles in after an early 1944 mission in the Philippines, with no apparent combat damage. In theory things were easier by 1944, but the 5th's strafers fought a hard war and took losses right up until the end. This photo makes it all look easy. It wasn't.   J Watson Collection

Such a Simple Idea

As you've all been reminded far more times than you would like, I've been building plastic model airplanes most of my life. My progression of skill sets has probably been the one most of you have followed as well; glue-smeared rough assemblages of parts replaced by tidier assemblages of parts, which in turn were replaced by tidy assemblages of puttied and sanded parts. Those puttied and sanded assemblages, which more or less resembled an airplane to one extent or another prior to painting were, at one point in our modeling careers, the arrival point, the goal, the end game. Everybody knew, and most people still know, that you build up a model, than paint it, decal it, weather it, and put it on the shelf. That's the way you do it (although you don't get money or chicks for free). That's the way I used to do it too, but not any more. I've had an epiphany, if you will, and I'd like to share it with you.

It all started during a visit to Frank Emmett's place a couple of years ago. The spouses were safely ensconced in Frank's living room doing whatever it is spouses do when they're ensconced someplace, while he and I were back in his airplane room talking about, what else---airplanes---when I noticed Frank's project of the moment sitting there on his workbench. At this remove I honestly can't remember what he was building, although that really doesn't matter. What does matter is the way he was building it.

Remember that part way up there in the first paragraph where I said that we all learned to build up a mostly homogeneous airframe before we began to paint and decal. Well folks, Frank wasn't doing it that way. Nope; he had a fuselage all built up, painted and decalled and sitting next to a wing assembly in the same approximate condition. I noticed what he was doing and the light bulb went on!

Back in those prehistoric times us old guys sometimes refer to as "The Day" it was necessary to build up a kit into something that more-or-less represented the finished model before we could begin any sort of finishing processes such as painting. It was a defense mechanism, since most of those older kits didn't fit worth a damn and a fair amount of sanding and puttying, followed by even more sanding and puttying, was pretty much the order of the day. That all began to change back in the 90s, and today's modern kits, the mainstream ones anyway, generally go together pretty darned well. Think about that for a minute. How many kit reviews have you read where the writer said he or she didn't use any putty and did very little sanding? The answer, increasingly, is A Lot, and that answer takes us to my epiphany. Think about it for a minute---it's often easier to paint and decal a fuselage by itself, without other big pieces stuck to it to get in the way, and since most of the big pieces on a great many kits now go together with little need for bodywork, the next step is obvious: Build the thing in modules!

Here's a prime example of what we're talking about. Yes, you've seen some variation of this photo once before, but you get to see it again because it proves the point. The kit is the Hasegawa 1/32nd scale Ki-44, a fairly recent kit that fits together like the proverbial glove. That fuselage was done as an assembly and then painted with a Tamiya rattle can and decalled, after which the horizontal stabs were added. The wings were done the same way, although the Hinomarus and Home Defense bands were masked and painted on both the fuselage and the wings---no stickies there! Painting those insignia, plus the red tail and the anti-glare panels, would have been a royal pain in the patootie if the airplane was all put together in one big honkin' piece, but doing it this way turned what could have become a major hassle into a cakewalk. Doing the model in subassemblies made the project an easy one. Think about it for a minute---if you don't need putty on a particular kit before you paint it, why would you need to be concerned about addressing seams afterwards? Can you spell Brilliant? (We're describing Frank, not me...)

And here's the same approach taken on an Eduard Bf109E. Some reviewers have given this kit a bad rap for fit, but it just ain't so! If you read the instructions and exercise a little basic care the kit will simply fall together. You need to keep in mind that the technique only works if the kit's pieces fit together on natural panel lines copied from the real aircraft, but if you've got a kit that does that you're Golden! This is such a simple idea. Why didn't we hit on it before now? Shazbot!

The point is this: You will have to be extremely careful doing your final assembly and be prepared (and brave enough) to do a little touch-up if necessary once everything's together, but you'd probably have to do that anyway. It's a given in our hobby. Not every kit is well enough engineered to allow you to use this technique, but most of the newer ones are. A great many of Hasegawa's kits, as well as Tamiya's and Eduard's, tend to fall together without much hassle if you're careful when you do your initial assembly, which makes the technique viable in the extreme. You probably won't want to try it with very many of the current crop of Chinese kits (although they're getting better with every new release) and you definitely can't do it with the short-run stuff, but there are a whole lot of kits out there where the technique works just fine. You really ought to give it a try some day. You just might be amazed at how things turn out.

Oh yeah; we'll tell Frank you said thank you!

Scary Airplanes

Or not, but any way you cut it it's a fact that the Late Lamented McDonnell Aircraft Company/McDonnell Douglas used to name their fighters after ghostly apparitions and other scary things. We're big fans of Things Naval around here, and therefore fans of those McAir fighters by default. That makes it an easy jump into today's last photo essay. There's no rational here except that Mark Nankivil recently sent in a couple of really neat photos and we wanted an excuse to share them with you!

It was big (really big) and it was loud, and the guys who flew it were lucky indeed that they never had to go to war in it, but McDonnell's F3H Demon was also one seriously good looking airplane, as illustrated by this ramp full of VF-131 F3H-2s. We think that's a section from VF-31 parked in the background but aren't 100% certain and will patiently wait for the e-mails confirming or correcting same! That address is .   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Unlike a great many of its late 50s/early 60s contemporaries, the Demon spent quite a bit of time on the boat, and we're sure you've all heard the term "bolter" as applied to carrier operations. This photo shows what one looks like from the V-1 Division's perspective. A bolter was an event to be remembered in the early jets thanks to a distinct lack of available thrust---even though the F3H had an afterburner this sort of shenanigan was guaranteed to get the driver's attention, as well as that of the guys in the catwalk. Note that on this airplane, at least, the interior of the gear doors is solid Insignia Red in its glossy iteration. It's not just a job...   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

The F3H came on line during the primordial days of the fully-operational air-to-air missile. This photo shows an early F3H-2M undergoing trials with AIM-7 Sparrows on the rails. Those early AIM-7s weren't particularly effective, but neither was the Demon. During those formative years of the missile-armed interceptor their value lay in the experience they provided to the NAV in terms of all-weather (sort-of) operations. They honestly weren't much, but they paved the way for Better Things.   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Here's one of those Better Things we mentioned up above. McDonnell got close with the F3H, but were severely handicapped by lack of an appropriate powerplant. The Demon's successor had no such issues, and it's safe to say that the company knocked one out of the park with the follow-on aircraft, the F4H-1 Phantom II. It was, to put it mildly, one of The Great Ones; an iconic aircraft that was designed for Fleet defense and ended up performing just about every mission that can be flown by a fighter. It was everything the Demon couldn't be, and more. It was the stuff of legend, but it owes a lot of its fame to its also-ran older brother. Fly Navy!   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Happy Snaps

Since we're already doing a Navy thing today, let's crank in a product from the Grumman Iron Works for our parting shot:

Rick Morgan took this evocative study of 161242 from VAQ-133 near Republic, Washington, in March of 1992. EA-6B replacement is underway as this is written, with final operations scheduled for 2015, but the EA-18G Growler has got some big shoes to fill. Those guys over in Bethpage knew how to build an airplane! Rick Morgan

The Relief Tube

It's been at least two issues since we last ran this part of the blog, so it's probably time to get back into the game. We're only going to run a couple of things this time since we're essentially playing catch-up, so without further ado:

A couple of issues ago we ran a photo of an A/F-18F submitted by Kolin Campbell and identified the place as being a cold, wintery one, probably because that's how the weather was around here. In fact we were about as wrong as wrong could be, as explained by Kolin:

Although the F/A-18F photo makes it appear cold out there, it sure wasn't! Photo was taken during the early summer, which at China Lake means hot. The white areas on the ground are desert minerals or salts. The 'lake' visible is Searles Lake, located near the town of Trona, CA. China Lake airfield is to the west, not visible in the photo. It can get cold in the winter, though. Kolin

Thanks, Kolin!

And finally (we told you this would be a short Relief Tube!), here's a photo to end the day with. It's from The Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum courtesy of Mark Nankivil, and we're running it in an unadulterated form (that means no watermark) as a special treat for our readers.

For the love of flying. 'Nuff said!    Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

And that's it for this issue. Be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again real soon!

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