Sunday, January 4, 2015
The Dog That Won't Lie Down, A White Cat, Stormy Weather, A Tropical Herc, One November Day, and Look at That Jug!
Waited All These Years
It's a cause and effect sort of thing, don't you know; one of those things that we do in life that we don't like or aren't particularly proud of that's there, right out in front for the whole world to see. One of those things that won't go away. One of those things that's embarrassing for everybody concerned.
On a personal level I've had quite a few of those moments. Some were highly public and full of drama, like the time I had that runaway horse in San Antonio's Fiesta night parade while representing Fort Martin Scott's reconstituted Second US Dragoons (an adventure not helped in any worthwhile fashion, and in point of fact instigated, by the University of Texas' marching band's drum line), while some were not. Today's reconstruction of another of the mis-steps of a sordid past isn't going to be one of those high profile adventures like that parade, but it's an embarrassing moment nonetheless, one not helped in any significant way by the passage of time.
Those of you with long memories, and perhaps a seniority on life similar to my own, may recall that Jim Wogstad and I did a couple of print monographs back when we were working together during the final days of Aerophile. That experience made me want to do a monograph of my own, outside the Aerophile name, and I got the chance after we finally decided to shut that project down for good. I'd been gathering photographs and information one one of my favorite airplanes, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, for a number of years, and it seemed that the time had come to do something with all that material. I wasn't quite ready to do a full-fledged book, but a small monograph was well within my capabilities so off I went in search of a publisher.
Nowadays it seems as though there's a Publisher of Things Aeronautical on every corner, but back in the waning years of what I'm going to deem The Culture of Print there were only a few, at least in the United States. I approached one of the big ones, an outfit who'd made their reputation doing monographs, and told them that their current title concerning my favorite airplane was getting distinctly long in the tooth and needed replacing. They agreed with me and we came to terms. The die was cast.
To skip ahead a bit, the completed book sold well enough to be reprinted a couple of times, but I was never really happy with it. My original text was considerably abbreviated, which caused portions of the text to make little or no sense, and my photo captions were significantly edited. The book that was published wasn't the book I had written. I wasn't happy with it at all, and was embarrassed to have my name on it because I knew that my aviation-minded friends would all buy a copy of it and wonder what happened.
Over the course of years I'd told a few friends the story of that particular adventure, but I'd never gone out of my way to say anything about it publicly because there was an enormous extenuating circumstance surrounding the creation of that book; the project's editor, a friend of mine and someone I respected a great deal (and still do) was fighting a terminal disease and was attempting to get my book published before the final curtain came down on his life. He won that particular battle, as witnessed by the publication of my "Zipper" book, but he lost the war shortly after publication.
So why am I telling you this now? To make things brief, my Better Half brought me a recent internet review of that old title a couple of days ago, a commentary in which the writer had wondered out loud why the book could have been so bad when the original RIS, as well as this modest project, had been done to a somewhat better standard. Said Better Half was considerably annoyed that someone had the temerity to criticize "my" book, but the criticism made (and makes) perfect sense to me, because I agree with every word that was written in that review. As far as I know, that one review is the first time anybody's ever given my F-104 piece an accurate critique, and I'm delighted that the writer stood up and did it.
I'd decided long ago that I wasn't going to ever explain that project in public unless somebody slammed it in a truthful review, at which point I'd say something. Today's the day; the review is there, the comment has been made, and here's my take on the whole deal:
That book, as originally written, was far better than it turned out to be when it finally saw print, and I was disappointed in it when I first saw it (and for that matter still am). More significantly, though, a friend of mine, one who most assuredly had more important things to contend with than getting my monograph to press, devoted his efforts and ever-decreasing and precious time to make sure the thing got published. He was successful and, if I'm not mistaken, my book was the last one he edited and produced. I'm proud of that, thankful and flattered beyond words that he made the time to get me in print. My embarrassment's a small thing indeed when compared to what he did to help me.
Maybe someday I'll go back and do the F-104 book I'd meant to do way back then. Until that day comes, if it ever does, I'll live with what I did because I know how it came to be what it is. No; I'm not proud of that book, but I'm damn proud of the dedication that went into producing it. Now you know, and there's really only one more thing to be said---thanks, Nick!
You Can Get There From Here
"Here" being defined as the semi-old 1/48th scale Eduard P-39 of any iteration, and "there" being a completed model. That P-39 kit was a revelation when Eduard first released it; delicate, petite, and looking every inch an Airacobra when finished, at least mostly. The kit was, and no doubt about it, a significant improvement on the 1969-vintage Monogram kit that constituted The Only Game in Town up to that time, but the Eduard offering had flaws of its own that placed it squarely into the category of being a tough date.
To be specific, there were two major areas that posed a considerable problem to the dedicated scale modeler. First off was the thickness of the wing which, although it didn't really look too bad on a finished model, was in fact far thicker than anything Larry Bell had ever designed for one of his airplanes. The other issue was the fit of the canopy and windscreen to the fuselage because "fit" was a term that seemed not to apply to the model---placement of the canopy on a completed fus guaranteed a significant step between said fuselage and the canopy, which in turn ensured that you couldn't build the airplane with the separate cockpit doors in the closed position and have the result end up looking like a closed door on a P-39. A great many of the completed Eduard P-39s we've seen have featured those two problems to a greater or lesser extent, so it's an endemic sort of thing, albeit one related to the amount of attention paid by the modeler during construction. There are some other issues too, such as the shape of the vertical stab and rudder, but we're not going to address them today---get yourself a decent set of plans and a piece of sandpaper if that bothers you!
You can do something about the fit of that wing simply by sanding away some of it's thickness from the inside of the mating surfaces prior to assembly, but you've got to be careful if you do that because it has the potential to mess up the relationship between the wing center section and the nose gear well; a trade-off, if you will. That's why we tend to leave the wing thickness alone and not look at the completed model from head-on. Yes; it's a problem and it's a noticeable one too, but it's one that an old stager like us can live with.
That step in the canopy fit is another matter entirely. It makes the completed model, no matter how exquisitely finished, look like it was done by a rank newbie. We've got a Soviet P-39Q sitting on the shelf as this is written that exhibits the issue and we've seen many others as well, some of which have appeared in well-known scale modeling periodicals. It's common knowledge in our hobby that Eduard's canopy and doors don't fit on their P-39 kit in any of its iterations. Or do they?
We've often puzzled over why Eduard allowed that particular clanger to get itself into kit form. We could (and still can) understand the wing-thickness thing; the model was released very early into Eduard's rebirth as a manufacturer of world-class plastic kits and we suspect there may have been tooling limitations involved (read "money" here) that impacted the process. the canopy was another story since it simply didn't fit properly to the rest of the airplane.
Then it hit us---a literal scale-modeling epiphany! Lots of other Eduard kits have well-publicized fit issues too (their Fw190 and Bf109E families come to mind) but almost all of those could be addressed by actually following the instructions and doing a little bit of trial fitting prior to assembly. Could the same thing apply to that P-39 canopy? There was only one way to find out!
Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye
Many years ago a movie was released called The Longest Day. Contained within that movie was a small scene where an exhausted RAF Battle of Britain survivor played by Richard Burton uttered the classic line, "The trouble with being one of the few is that we keep getting fewer". That statement could be applied to any number of situations in life but it's truly only suited for one thing. It's a commentary on the loss of a friend. Today, in a somewhat belated report, it's our sad duty to comment on the loss of another of our number. It happened some six months ago and some, perhaps many, of you have already received the sad news. We found out last night in an e-mail from Rick Morgan and thought we should share.
A big smile and a warm handshake started it off for me, along with an invitation to go shoot the ramp at Randolph during an upcoming Armed Forces Day celebration. The shoot was a good one and a great way to kick off a budding career in aviation photography but it was far from uneventful, primarily because our new-found friend, a retired blue-suiter, had the temerity to tell a security policeman to go peddle his papers when said official asked to see our credentials (we were wandering the ramp unescorted at the time). That was the first time we saw him in action, but it was far from the last. He wasn't shy and he didn't suffer fools lightly; old non-coms are like that, you know.
We went over to his place after the shoot and met his family. It wasn't long before we felt like we were part of that family, and a pleasant evening looking at airplane slides put the icing on the cake, partially because our own collection consisted of about 50 slides at the time. When it was time to leave that first evening, we were handed a box full of duplicates and told to take what we wanted since we were just starting out in the profession. That was it, no questions asked; just take what you want.
That evening led to a great many trips together chasing airplanes, and the opportunity to shoot with someone who knew how to do it greatly improved our own photography. There was skill to be learned from him, as well as graciousness and humor. He was a fine companion, a man with the unbridled enthusiasm for life of someone half his age.
He suffered too, although few people got to see that side of him. He'd been one of the first Air Commandos to go to the Southeast Asia War Games and the experience had left its mark. That side would come out occasionally, usually prompted by substantial consumption of a good Scotch, but it never lasted for long. He was far too exuberant to let anything keep him down for long.
The time came when he moved away, and the distance meant we spoke less and saw each other even less than that, but he was still a friend and was as generous as he had ever been. Somewhere along the way he started a web site, publishing a picture a day of some sort of military airplane or warbird from his collection, sharing what he had with others for free. It says something about him that several of his friends chose to keep the site going after his passing.
It's never easy to lose a friend, and it's particularly tough when that friend was also a mentor. Finding out about his passing several months after the event did nothing to lessen the blow. Fair skies, Maddog, and may your new road be an easy one. Thanks, John Kerr, for all you did for us and for so many others. Let's raise a glass...
That Others May Live
I received a text message from Frank Emmett yesterday, a missive in which he explained a temporary absence from Things Friddellian as being an unfortunate side effect of building a Monogram PBY. On a personal level, that's one kit I've never been inclined to argue with (most of my projects end up being arguments, if anybody out there cares about such things), but Frank did it, which got me thinking about PBYs, OA-10s, and similar. I've run photos of plenty of PBYs in the past, with more to come at some point in life, but OA-10s have been somewhat scarce around these parts. That said, Frank's e-mail gave me reason to take a look in a file I'd recently received from Gerry Kersey. Here's what I found:
Riders On the Storm
The date was 21 May, 1983, and I was on the ramp at NAS Corpus Christi, photographing airplanes prior to the facility being opened to the public at 1000 hrs. The weather was beyond awful, with intermittent rain showers and solid clag; CAVU wasn't a term that applied that day. Still, the weather at Corpus wasn't as bad as it could have been; North Texas was under a severe thunderstorm alert and the prognosis for San Antonio, the city I'd recently departed on this particular adventure, wasn't much better. It was, in short, a lousy weather day.
In spite of all that the show ramp filled up to the brim with spectators the second the gates were opened to the multitudes, many of whom were dragging along lawn chairs, coolers, and small children, all in anticipation of a promised display by the Blue Angels later in the day. A great many of those spectators had just settled in when the sound came, that howling thunder that was once the hallmark of the McDonnell Douglas F-4. It wasn't the sound of one Phantom either, but of several, a cacophony that was soon augmented by the sight of four SEA-camo'd F-4Ds overflying the field, looking for a place to light.
That flight of F-4s wasted no time getting down; a quick inquiry of my escort (who was carrying a brick and was therefore in communication with both the tower and the folks at transient alert) identified the newcomers as a flight of F-4Ds from Carswell's 704th TFS/924th TFG caught out in the miserable weather and diverted to Corpus while severe storms passed through the DFW area. That wasn't the amazing part, though. No; the Amazing Part was reserved for what happened after their arrival, when they were directed to taxi through the perimeter of the crowd and parked in a largish slot in the display line, thus providing Grandma, Grandpa, and the previously-mentioned small children with a whole new element of airshow entertainment and personal participation! It was, for a brief period of time, a sight to behold, but at the end of it all no children or lawn chairs were ingested into the maws of hungry turbojet powerplants and all was well. The birds had landed and parked safely.
That whole sideshow started while I was in a hangar and ended before I could get into camera range, so no photographs of their arrival mayhem were taken by me, but I was able to do some shooting as they cranked and departed a couple of hours later. Here are a few shots from that afternoon for your enjoyment and/or amazement:
Yep, it was quite a day, the 21st of May, 1983. What must have started out as a wasted sortie for the 704th turned into quite a public relations event, with the taxpayers present on the ramp that morning getting a fine look at what they were paying for. It all happened 32 years ago this Spring and I'm still pumped by what I got to see during the course of that day! There are worse ways to make a living!
You Just Never Know
Once upon a time, about a million years ago, your editor had limited ramp privileges at Kelly Air Force Base. The aircraft you're about to view was a bird that was shot there during the late 1970s, an L100-30 (the stretched civilian version of the Hercules) of 31 Squadron, Indonesian Air Force.
Many thanks to the guys at Ventura Manufacturing and the transient crew at Kelly for letting me photograph this gorgeous airplane so many years ago!
It Looks So Peaceful
It's a new year now, 2015 to be exact, which means that last month those of us who are both aviation and historically-minded took a few moments to reflect on the Japanese attack on the American naval and army installations at and around Pearl Harbor. It was a simpler time, although that would soon change, but the United States was still at peace in November of 1941.
A Famous T-Bolt
A while back we ran a shot of John Wayne sitting in Neel Kearby's P-47D-4, "Fiery Ginger IV", while The Boss, Col. Kearby himself, looked on. That photograph, plus the recent (for us, anyway!) release of one of Nor Graser's excellent Thundercal decal sheets that included the aircraft as a subject, ensured that we wanted to build one. We had a Tamiya "razorback" kit laying around, along with a set of Loon Models early P-47 cowl flaps, and an Eduard Zoom set for the interior, all sitting on the shelf just waiting to be built into an airplane. Those Thundercals provided the catalyst and the die was cast!
Before we go, let's discuss a couple of notes on the way the model was finished. Most OD over Neutral Grey AAF aircraft serving in the SWPAC were beat to snot from the sun and elements, and their finish showed it. We didn't paint "Fiery Ginger" that way because Kearby was both the 348th's group commander and a recent Medal of Honor winner and we're guessing that she was fairly clean when the photo was taken of her showing all 22 of his kills. Also, check out the "white" on the model's vertical tail; it illustrates the way all of the white looks on the finished product, including those shiny leading edges. That brilliant white on the wings is neither white nor brilliant on the model itself, but the lighting makes it look that way. There's a lesson there, I think.
One final thing before we go: Check out the star design on the aircraft's wheel covers. At least a couple of Kearby's Thunderbolts carried it, and a great many of the 348th's "Jugs" had some sort of personal decoration down there. It's something to watch for if you decide to build an airplane from that particular group, and Nor thoughtfully included the marking on his decal sheet---Thundercals is a Class Act, ya'll!
Many thanks to Nor Graser for the Thundercal samples and, more importantly, for producing his exceptionally high-quality line of 1/48th scale Pacific theater P-47 decals. Now then; would anybody care to make some 77th Sentai markings for the FineMolds Ki-43-II?
Under the Radar
Nowadays we're it seems as though we're choked with reference publications, but it wasn't always so. Way back in the dark ages of plastic scale modeling, serious reference works were few and far between, and often difficult to obtain when they did exist. All of that changed forever back in the mid-60s, with the advent of a modest series of references that ended up filling the gap for an entire generation of scale modelers and enthusiasts.
In point of fact, the Profile series helped to define an entire generation of scale modelers, and the importance of those modest publications to our hobby cannot be overstated. No, they're not impressive to look at now, but they quite literally set the stage for everything that followed. They were truly a landmark in the world of scale modeling, and we're continually amazed at everything they did for the hobby back when the series was in its prime. They're still worth picking up, and are usually not very expensive when they can be found for sale. You probably won't be able to get away with paying fifty cents for one anymore, but you ought to have at least one of their titles in your collection. They're that important to our hobby.
It's been a while, so here's a really tasty air-to-air for you courtesy of Rick Morgan, shot back during his days with Air Wing 14.
The Relief Tube
It's been so long since we've run a Relief Tube that some of our newer readers may not be aware that we do it. We've got some entries that are long-overdue for publication, however, so it's time to crank it up again!
First up are a couple of comments regarding that VAQ-33 EF-4J who's portrait we published a few issues back. We'd mentioned the airplane was pretty much an ordinary F-4J, but we were wrong! Let the games begin, first from noted aviation photographer and Phormer Phantom (and Tomcat) driver Jan Jacobs:
Phil, the VAQ-33 EF-4J wasn't really a "run-of-the-mill F-4J" It was in the first batch of F-4Js made, and served as Blue Angel #6 for a while. Along with the others in its block, it had J79-GE-8 engines installed with the short burner cans, instead of the usual -10 engines with the longer cans. It never had a radar set installed, hence its use by VAQ-33 as a missile simulator. Jan Jacobs (Retired managing editor, The Hook magazine, former editor of Smoke Trails, and former Phantom and Tomcat puke) Thanks, Jan!
And then from Rick Morgan, who took the photo in question and was assigned to VAQ-33 at the time:
Phil: Concerning GD11, the EF-4J you posted, as usual, there’s more to the story. VAQ-33 had at least five Phantoms at various times although never more than three were on-board at any one time. The first three were F-4Bs, one of which (GD9, 153070) was formally re-designated EF-4B. The two J-models weren't exactly standard as they were from early lots before the J got the ‘big’ motor; note the F-4B style afterburner can on her. GD10 (153076) and 11 (153084) were both redesignated EF-4J and are the only two I know of to get that title officially. GD11 was also a former Blue Angel as well; They carried a threat simulator in the nose in lieu of the normal AI radar and were used for very high speed anti-ship missile presentations. Both were retired in 1980 due to high flight hour costs and, according to more than one source, because the CO really didn’t like fighters (I’m not making this up!). Among the F-4 pilots we had was the legendary LCDR Joe “Hoser” Satrapa who was but one character in a squadron full of them. Rick
And while we're discussing the F-4, here's former USAF and ANG Phantom Driver Doug Barbier's comments regarding that out-of-shape missed approach 149th bird who's photo we ran an issue or so back:
Phil, betcha that 149th F-4 sideways on the go-around was the result of the back seater trying to land the airplane. Several of our high time WSOs could do formation takeoffs and landings very proficiently. Landing from the back seat of an F-4 was challenging, to say the least, esp if the airplane had the RHAW gear installed - that blocked up one of the two small "holes" you could look through to see out the front. You hoped for a crosswind so that you could look out the side instead of seeing nothing but the back side of the front ejection seat. If there wasn't a crosswind, you were sorely tempted to fly sideways down final anyway, just so that you could see something---like concrete... If you had to go straight at it, you could not see the runway until you were about 10 feet in the air. You had a couple of seconds to use your peripheral vision to check that you had runway on both sides of you. If not, you had a very short period of time to get both throttles fire-walled and get it headed skywards again! Doug
Thanks to all those military aviators out there who write in to keep us honest. It's an education each time/every time and we really appreciate it!
We've been pretty remiss in publishing anything of late, and as a result several of our newer readers have contacted us regarding certain of our older issues. This comment is in regard to the FJ-4B as fitted to carry the Mk 7 Special Weapon and comes from reader Dennis Brown:
My research shows that the lack of guns and the odd ports on the port side were done when carrying nuclear bombs. The gun bay was used to carry a standby generator that was used for the low altitude bombing system (LABS). The LABS replaced the normal gun sight. I've included your photo and an excerpt from an article about the FJ-4B I've come across, as well as the web address of the article for your confirmation (not run in this issue, Ed). Sincerely Dennis Brown
P.S.- I sincerely hope this helps someone that may choose to recreate this in a scale model.
Thanks, Dennis. As it happens, we did run a correction in a later edition, but your comments are very much appreciated---keep 'em coming!
Most of the time we hear from Pat Donahue regarding the superb models he builds, but the photo of that Grumman Goose we ran a few issues back prompted him to show us a whole new side of things:
Phil, I always enjoy your blog; here are a couple of Goose mods that have occurred over the long history of the machine. The first is a 4 engine job that was built by McKinnon the second is a G-21G that had the 2 P and W R-985 450 HP engines replaced by 2 P and W PT-6-27 715 HP, McKinnon also did this conversion. As you can see the lines of the old girl were dramatically changed! I flew this Goose for a number of years and it had quite good performance, and preformed quite well on one engine, McKinnon also upped the take off weight to 12,500 #. Pat Donahue
Finally, it's been a while since this blog has been published. It's all my fault for letting Life get in the way of a highly erratic publishing schedule, but that sort of thing happens when you're a one-man show! This letter from one of our readers in Greece sums the whole thing up, and illustrates why I continue this project---I firmly believe I've got the best readers in the world. Thanks to each and every one of you!
Dear Phillip, It has been almost 3 months that I've been reading your blog with great interest. Very good information (a Pandora's box!) and lots of fun (I love the way you're writing) I've been reading your posts from 2010 and getting towards 2014-I'm at 2011 now- checking occasionally for the newest posts. I noticed that your latest post was on October 17th 2014. Is everything OK? I hope you and your family are all right. I wish to all of you good health, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Looking forward for a new post from you. Keep up the good work and May The Force Be With You. Best wishes, Elias Trapezanlides
And thanks to you, Elias, for both your concern and for your loyalty to the project! I'll try to do better in 2015!
That's about it for today, folks. I've got a few more entries for the relief tube including a set of photos from Norm that I'd like to share with you, but that's for another day. Until that time, be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon!