Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stickies for Your Jug, and Some Special Invaders

A Waste of Money?

Or, Why in the World Do We Buy All That Aftermarket, a Conundrum in Various Parts. That's right, Aftermarket; all those photo-etch sheets, resin bits, vacuum-formed transparencies, and other doohickeys that we all just can't seem to live without. It's a thriving and often helpful market that caters to the more advanced (read Not an Absolute Novice) scale modeler. The whole concept feeds into a notion that our hobby likes to call AMS, which is short for Advanced Modeler Syndrome but which could just as easily be known as Additional Model Stuff, which could also morph into AHUMS, or Additional and Highly Unnecessary Model Stuff. I fully realize that I'm flying right in the face of conventional scale modeling wisdom here, but stay with me for a moment if you will and I'll explain why I'd advance such a heresy.

Ever since there's been plastic scale modeling there's been an ongoing quest for better, more accurate kits. It's been a constant struggle since, with each passing year, technology has allowed the cutting of finer and more accurate molds (presuming, of course, that the data used to cut said molds was correct in the first place), which in turn resulted in better, more accurate kits. Still, the kit manufacturers could only do so much in the way of what they offered because tooling costs had to be kept reasonable in order to allow the production of kits that you and I could actually afford to buy. There was, still is, and probably always will be room for improvement, and that's where the aftermarket guys come in.

There are three different ways aftermarket serves our hobby. One is that of the correction set which, in theory at least, fixes known problems with a specific kit so those of us who want the thing to actually look like what it's supposed to can get there without having to resort to scratchbuilding. Another is the conversion set which again, in theory if not always in fact, allows us to convert a given variant of whatever-it-is-we're-building into a different (and hopefully accurate) variation of same. The third kind of aftermarket, and the one we suspect most scale modelers use most often, is the simple detail set of either the resin or photo-etch variety. All have their place in our hobby but all have their pitfalls as well.

There are two essential problems that we confront when we use, or want to use, aftermarket. The first is simple accuracy---there are correction/conversion/detail sets out there that are no better than and, in many cases are actually worse than, the kit parts they're trying to correct. The second is modeler's greed caused by advertising---the siren call of those bagged chunks of detailed resin or color printed photo-etch that just sit on your local dealer's shelf calling out "Buy me, I'm cool!". That call is often hard to resist, even though the parts in question may not be all they should be.

Then there are another couple of issues that really sully the water. First, the modeler has to have skill sets that will allow proper use of said aftermarket but skill sets come with experience, and a lot of new modelers buy into the whole aftermarket thing a little earlier than they might really want to given their level of expertise. It's a learning experience and there's no better way to learn than to do, but doing that can sometimes be frustrating for the New Guy or Girl. The second thing is so obvious and basic that it's almost laughable, except that so many folks can't quite figure it out---it's quite often impossible to even see all that extra detail that went into the kit once the aftermarket has been added! You know it's there, and your friends will all shake their heads knowingly saying things like "that's really cool" while they're actually thinking "I can't see a darned thing in there!". It's a "what's the point" kind of deal.

I know people who actually buy every bit of aftermarket they can find for any given kit they may be working on and incorporate it into their model whether they need it or not (and, more importantly, whether it's actually accurate or not). It's a norm and it's automatic. I used to do that too, until I discovered that Aftermarket wasn't always the salvation it was cracked up to be. My first epiphany came when I was building a 1/48th Tamiya Bf109E-4, using an Eduard Zoom set to spruce up my cockpit, and discovered that they'd printed all the colored cockpit panels in what amounted to a shade of Baby Blue instead of the presumed RLM66 dark grey. The second epiphany came when I was working with another Eduard product, their 1/48th scale Bf109E-4 plastic kit, which came with an instrument panel decal that looked every bit as good as the optional photo-etch they'd provided for the same part. The final blow came from the folks over at QuickBoost, who's replacement cowling for Eduard's Fw190 family of kits theoretically simplified construction but didn't address the incorrect (read nonexistent) slope on the top of said cowling. Since the kit component is easy to construct in the first place and the new cowling didn't actually fix the problem, it was a piece of aftermarket that served little purpose.

So what's the Bottom Line? Is there a point to all of this? The simple answer is Yes, there is, but it's with a caveat. It's my firm belief that Aftermarket still has an important place in our hobby and I continue to buy it, but I try to take a long hard look at what I'm buying first. If it's not an actual improvement on a kit component, or doesn't improve the appearance of the finished model or isn't accurate, then it really isn't worth having. AMS isn't, in my world at least, a justification for throwing away money.

Just Sayin'.

What Happened to the Blog a Couple of Weeks Ago?

If you're a regular here, and if you were on line at the right time a couple of weeks ago, you may have seen a blog installment briefly appear on your confuser, only to disappear again a few moments later. Here's what happened. I had written an opening editorial, but only that, and was in the process of saving it when I apparently (I don't think I did it but then again I must have) hit the "publish" button instead of the one that says "save". Once I realized what I'd done I went back into the blog to undo the mischief, which resulted in a false indication that something had been published---in truth something had been, but I deleted it almost immediately. My gratitude is extended to the several readers who contacted me to let me know there was a problem; it seems we're beginning to turn into a family of sorts and I appreciate that sort of feedback. Thanks, ya'll!

Some Decals You Might Want

If you've been in the hobby for very long you know Nor Graser, even if you don't think you do. Back in what we might call The Day he was the guy who created the artwork and instructions for our friends over at MicroScale, making it a better than even shot that you've got some of his artwork residing on several models in your collection right now this very minute.

That was then. Nowadays Nor is manufacturing his own line of decals called Thundercals and dedicated to, what else; the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in WW2. They're done in 1/48th, they're printed by Cartograph, and they're exquisite. Let's take a look.

P-47D Razorback Thunderbolts PTO Pt 1 is the first sheet in the series and covers two aircraft,"Bouncin Betty", a P-47D-20-RA of the 19th FS/318th FG as flown by Lt Albert Schaffle out of Saipan in 1944, and "Passionate Patsy", a P-47D-15-RA of the 310th FS/58th FG at Saidor, New Guinea, as flown by Lt Ralph Barnes.

 Pt 2 ups the ante to three different aircraft: "The Witch", a P-47D-21A as flown by Lt Durwood Williams of the 318th FG during their 1944 period at Wheeler Field, "Fiery Ginger IV", Neel Kearby's P-47D-4-RA when he was assigned to V AF Fighter command (and flying with the 348th FG out of Saidor), and "8-Ball", a P-47D-20-RA, also from the 318th, as flown by Lt Ken Elender out of Saipan in 1944.

Pt 3 is unique in this grouping in that it's dedicated to one of the Fifth AF's lesser known units, the 58th FG. It covers three aircraft; Capt LeeRoy Chadwell's "My San Antonio Rose" from the 310th FS, Lt David Batey's "Slick Chick" from the 311th, and Capt Harry McMullen's "The Golden Gopher" from the 69th FS.

Accuracy is a high point of all of these decals. Nor is a P-47 scholar of sorts and holds extensive photo files on the type, which means that all of the aircraft covered are well documented in pictures; there are no conjectural schemes presented here. The schemes presented are all colorful and desirable from a modeler's point of view, and their production by Cartograph ensures that they're thin and well-printed. It helps to have your own references for the markings you choose to use, since some of the smaller decals don't have placement instructions (and placement instructions are important because you can actually read those decals---put a glass on them if you don't believe us!)

Thundercals in action! Here are a couple of examples of how they look on plastic. "Slick Chick" and "The Golden Gopher" sit here in all their glory. Both were built by Mike Hanlon, photography provided by Thundercals. These models make a written review of the decals almost superfluous.

Here's a final shot to prove the point, "My San Antonio Rose" as built by 58th FG historian and modeler Frank Emmett, who assisted Nor with many of the details of the 58th group aircraft on these sheets. Nor does good work, I think.

As a final note, I liked the decals enough to start a P-47 of my own, Kearby's "Fiery Ginger IV" (one of several "Fiery Ginger IV"s and the one he met his death in). It's presently far enough along to have its paint and decals applied and it's turning out quite nicely, thank you---I'm very happy with the results and am now a fan of Thundercals!  (One thing you ought to know about "Fiery Ginger IV" that's covered on the decal sheet but bears repeating anyway: The real airplane was a P-47D-4-RA, which means she had the original "square" cowl flaps all the way down both sides of the cowling. The Tamiya kit only provides the later style of cowl flaps so you'll have to do a little bit of scratch-building (not all that hard) or turn to aftermarket for the correct pieces. If you go the aftermarket route you have two choices; QuickBoost and Loon. Of the two, the QuickBoost component is marginally too short when installed on the model and is tricky to fit, while the Loon offering is a simple and accurate drop-fit with no issues. You pays your money...)

We don't know what's next from Thundercals, but we really hope it's more PTO "Jugs". Whatever it is, we anticipate the product to be well worth your while. These sheets certainly are.


A Few More Invaders

Last time around we ran a batch of A-26 shots from reader John Horne, who's Invader collection just may be unmatched in terms of content. Coincidental to that, Doug Barbier sent along a group of A-26 images he'd recently uncovered and that nicely complimented the shots John had provided. We're going to feature those A-26 images today. They were all taken by Robert Lubic, a gunner in the 13th BS's "Miss Chadwick", and provide us with an interesting look into a bygone era.

A profile, if you will. 44-34386 is from the 13th BS/3rd BW at K2. She's armed up (rockets and nape on the external stations, and she's undoubtedly got a belly-full of nastiness as well) and taking on gas prior to another sortie. She went MIA on a mission in November of 1951 and was never accounted for.  Lubic via Barbier

Gettin' ready for the boogie. Last time we ran a shot from John Horne's collection where we commented, incorrectly as it turned out, that one of the aircraft was evidently getting ready for an air show of some sort since she had a pile of ordnance neatly stacked in front of her. As it turns out, that was normal practice in PACAF (and probably elsewhere) and simply reflected the ordnance load for that aircraft prior to bombing up. With that as a premise, all of the diorama-building scale modelers out there ought to be jumping up and down over this shot---we're excited about it!  Lubic via Barbier

Second verse, same as the first, mostly. We're running this not because we're fans of redundancy, although there are those who would dispute that statement, but rather because it provides us with another way to load those pallets. (It's a Brand New Aftermarket Segment, by Golly; somebody can provide us with highly detailed better-than-what-isn't-even-in-the-kit resin pallets! What a concept! And what a neat idea for somebody---how about some 1/48th scale wooden pallets in resin, Aftermarket Guys?)  Lubic via Barbier

OK, here's your test for today: How can you tell if a bombed up A-26B has hot guns or not just by looking at the airplane? If your answer was "Look for the hot guns sign" you win the prize. This ratty-looking Invader is carrying 500lb GP bombs on her inboard stations, and we're willing to bet there's a load of 2.75" HVARs on her outboards, but there aren't many obvious ways to tell if a gun is charged. One of the safest ways is to put a sign someplace on the airplane so people can see it, as has been done here. It's one of those neat concepts that's hard to believe just because it's so simple, but it obviously worked for the 3rd.  Lubic via Barbier

Here's yet another way you can load those pallets that some enterprising aftermarket guy will produce for us some day. We should've run it up there with the other ordnance shots but we forgot to, and our experience in moving things around within the blog has been somewhat problematical in the past, so we're just sort of sticking it in here. Laugh at us if you want, but you need to see this photo. You really do!  Lubic via Barbier

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. This airplane is carrying a whole lot of Bad News for the folks on the receiving end of things, and that's not even counting the load that's hidden in the bomb bay. Although all of these Invaders have the WW2 6-gun nose, plus another 6 .50s in the wings, a number of A-26s were converted over to the glass-nosed C-configuration by the end of the war. The muzzle flash off those Brownings was significant in daylight and blinding, as well as highly disorienting, at night; too much of a Good Thing, as it were...   Lubic via Barbier

If it goes up it will inevitably come back down. 44-35280 suffered this belly landing in late 1951 but was apparently repaired to fly and fight another day---she doesn't show up on any loss records at any rate. She's a Charlie-model and still carries guns in her dorsal turret, not always the norm where Korean War A-26s are concerned. Note that port-side prop appears to be natural metal too; it shouldn't be, but it sure looks like it is! Just when you think you've got things figured out...   Lubic via Barbier

And here's another view of 35280 which clearly shows the starboard prop in "normal" coloring. A number of  glass-nosed A-26s used by the ANG during the early 50s had a couple of .50s mounted on the sides of the nose, and this aircraft appears to be an early example of that configuration. This aircraft was built as an A-26C-30-DT so the glass nose is original to the airframe. We're not so certain about that gun port, though.   Lubic via Barbier

This otherwise-unidentified A-26C wasn't so lucky. The damage to the airframe is significant enough to result in her being scrapped out, although we don't know if that's what happened. She appears to have been a C-model, and we sure hope nobody was riding in the nose when this happened. It could have been Korea, or the SouthWest Pacific, or Western Europe; it really didn't matter. There were no easy days.   Lubic via Barbier

It all seems so serene and peaceful, at least until you notice what's under the wings. A comprehensive history of A-26 ops in the Korean Peninsula is well beyond the scope of this simple blog, but it's a history that's well worth reading. Think about it; those guys went out day after day, night after night, and in the face of considerable opposition from the Bad Guys. That's not even taking into account the fact that most A-26 operations were flown at low level, and often in less than ideal weather. We owe those guys.   Lubic via Barbier

We've got more A-26s yet to come, so stay with us if you're interested in the type. (And somebody make sure to tell Maddog John Kerr that we're featuring his favorite airplane for the next couple of issues. We promise he'll thank you!)

Under the Radar

Or in this case not really, but we're going to look at a couple of long out-of-print titles you really ought to have in your collection if you happen to be a student of the SWPAC, or if your interests run to the JNAF or IJAAF. The younger members of our audience will be excused for the inevitable comments they'll have regarding these titles but both were seminal in their day and raised the bar considerably in terms of Japanese aircraft camouflage and markings of the Second World War.

Japanese Army Air Force Camouflage and Markings World War II, Donald W. Thorpe, Aero Publishers 1968, 202pp, Illustrated.

Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings World War II, Donald W. Thorpe, Aero Publishers, 1977, 192pp, Illustrated

First, let's talk about what these books aren't. They were both considered definitive studies when they were first released, with the JAAF title achieving almost mystical status from the moment of its release, but both are lacking by today's standards. There are a lot of omissions and a fair amount of accurate information that's incomplete because of the amount of information that's available to the contemporary researcher. For a brief time both were considered to be the standard references for their particular topics, but a single visit to the J-Aircraft website will show even the most casual of readers how dated the books have become. That's the bad news.

As for the good news, there's plenty of it. Don Thorpe was interested in Things Japanese long before most western aviation enthusiasts caught the bug, and he was methodical. We actually read where somebody on one of those I-know-everything-there-is-to-know-and-I'm-going-to-tell-you-about-it modeling boards commented that the books were worthless because they didn't include the latest iteration of whatever it was that individual was interested in. That person obviously didn't have a clue, because before The Thorpe Books there was virtually nothing on Japanese aircraft camouflage and markings in the English-speaking world. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Don Thorpe put it all together, the best he could, using the resources that were available to him at the time. Those paper-bound volumes literally contained all there was to know about Japanese colors and markings at the time of their publication, and they set the tone (and the bar) for all that was to follow.

So what's our point? It's a simple and basic one; by researching, writing, and publishing these two volumes, Don Thorpe surpassed all that had come before and set the standard for all that was yet to come regarding the topic. The world has changed significantly since 1977, when the second book in this set first saw publication, and it's true that neither title would be considered a go-to reference nowadays. Their influence cannot be underestimated, however; nor can the contribution to the scholarship of Things Japanese. The photographs published in both tomes have become old hat, but they were mostly exciting and new way back then. The color profiles included in both volumes are crude by today's airbrushed standards, but they set the standard when the books were published.

There are some books you need to have in your collection just because you need to have them. These books fall into that category. They don't show up all that often any more, but if you can find a set you might want to consider getting them. Once you've done that, get yourself a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy what was once the Best of the Best. Somewhere in there you might consider tipping your hat to Don Thorpe too. He set the pace for a lot of what we now take for granted, and he set a pretty high standard in the process.

Thanks, Don!

Happy Snaps

Last time around we ran a photo of a really spiffy F/A-18F courtesy of Kolin Campbell.That Super Hornet was one of several shots Kolin shared with us. Here's another:

Is this pretty or what? The aircraft is an F-15C Kolin shot during an ACM det to Eglin back in 2008. We're guessing the serenity of this shot was misleading since Kolin was, after all, on an ACM hop when the photo was taken, but this image belongs on a high-end calendar or wall print. Well done, Kolin, and thanks for sending the photo to us.  Kolin Campbell

The Relief Tube

Of which we aren't doing one this time around. I know, I know...

Thanks for dropping in, and we'll see you again soon. In the meantime, be good to your neighbor. It's the right thing to do.


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