Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rags to Riches, and A Very Special Home Movie

Who Came First?

The year was 1969, or at least I think it was, and I was standing behind the counter at Dibble's Arts and Hobbies in San Antonio one dismal, rainy afternoon, when I heard a rumbling from the parking spaces in front of the door. The sound was that of an American V-8 engine, and a healthy one at that, but the only car in our lot was an old Jaguar XK-150 drop-head coupe that had just pulled up. A tall, thin guy with glasses, probably about my age, got out and came into the store and introduced himself, which is how I came to meet Al Orvedahl, a college student who had only recently moved into San Antonio to go to school. (That V-8 rumble had well and truly come from his Jaguar; he'd decided shortly after purchasing the car that it lacked performance, so he shoe-horned a Pontiac 389 into its engine bay and began a career surprising Corvette Stingrays, or at least he was doing that when the car wasn't overheating due to the retention of that itty-bitty Jaguar radiator, but that's a story for another day.)

The next surprise came a couple of months later, when he brought in a completed 1/32nd scale Revell F4F-4 he'd been working on for the past several months. The kit was an absolute revelation and featured impeccable bodywork, a paint job that was well above average, and decals that looked as though they'd been painted on, but those things weren't the cause for our amazement; that came from the details he'd added to the model.

Take the cockpit, for example. Al had gone in and added all of the details Revell had missed when they tooled the kit, scratch-building them from sheet styrene and stretched sprue, and he'd manufactured a set of lap belts for the seat he'd made. We take those things for granted nowadays, except that nowadays most people use resin or photo-etch instead of hand-crafted styrene, but almost no one was doing it in 1969.

Then there were the seams where the wings and horizontal stabilizers joined the fuselage, which were immaculate, with no lost rivet detail. It turns out Al had used white glue to fill those seams, wiping away the excess to allow a perfectly filled joint. That's also a common trick these days, but it wasn't back then. He'd used that white glue to make the insulators on the antenna wires he'd stretched from sprue as well---other people were using stretched sprue back then, including me, but nobody was making insulators out of white glue at that time, at least not that I was aware of.

Al also discovered Hasbro Light-Brite pegs and their usefulness for making colored lenses and transparencies for models, and other things as well, and the list went on and on.

Some of you have been using those tricks for decades, I know. I've been using them too, as well as writing about them, or at least I was as soon as I picked them up from Al. Since that time, I've seen all of those tips, and many others from "The Day", periodically repeated as "new" techniques in various magazines and internet "publications" and forums. I even ran the Hasbro lens idea in an early edition of the original Replica in Scale. I learned several of those tricks from Al, and I'm reasonably certain he picked them up from somebody else, which takes us to today's Lesson in Humility.

There are plenty of new ideas and techniques out there in The Magic Land of Modeling in which we dwell, but in actuality most of them had their origins back in the 60s and 70s, way back when our hobby was really beginning to take off (no pun intended!). Those ideas and techniques have been passed down, perpetuated, and improved upon for decades, and precious few of them are truly new. The origins of most of them are lost in the polystyrene mists of time, which leads to their periodic rediscovery and transmission as new ideas and techniques.

There's nothing wrong with any of that, of course. The important thing is that we learn, and by learning become better at what we do within the hobby. Technology (laser printing, for example) is rapidly passing by certain of those old techniques and rendering them obsolescent,  but even that is creating its own mythos of who came first. At the end of the day we all learned from somebody, and there's considerable validity to that old notion that everything old is new again. I think somebody even wrote a song about it!

Let's go build a model, then, and maybe give a thought to those old guys who figured things out for us so we wouldn't have to. They're the reason we can do some of the things we do and, for the most part, we don't know who they really were with any degree of certainty. That's worth thinking about, at least in my world!

And the Beat goes on...

An Apology to Jules

Bringuier, that is. As you all surely remember, Jules Bringuier was the guy responsible for Classic Airframes and the wonderful and eclectic range of kits that fabled company brought to us only a few short years ago. Long on imagination and daring, the company was, at the end of the day, a purveyor of short-run kits of unusual subjects, which is another way of saying that precious few of their offerings were easy to build, particularly for those new to the hobby or possessed of limited skill sets. The gorgeous box art on each and every one of those kits, coupled with that aforementioned eclectic subject matter, seduced more than one modeler into attempting one of their kits, and those attempts often resulted in an indifferent result or even outright failure. Classic Airframes kits were a tough date, pure and simple.

With that as a largely unnecessary introduction, let's you and I go back to 2004 or so. That year was one in which my own personal world was being rocked by fractuousity of a familial nature, as it were, and I desperately needed something to take my mind off the tragedies of the moment. That particular Something came to me one dismal Saturday afternoon during a visit to the now long-defunct but fondly remembered Village Hobbies in Austin, where I spied a Classic Airframes P-6E sitting forlornly on the shelf. I've always had a thing for that prettiest of the Curtiss Hawk family and plastic is plastic, right?, so I grabbed it and almost ran to the counter to pay for the thing and get it back to the house so I could begin work. Things were looking up!

All of Classic's kits were of the mixed media variety, a game I'd never played before, and that P-6E was a gentle introduction to the genre for me. Some of the "normal" styrene parts were a little bit on the clunky side, but any plastic model ends up being the sum of its parts and the parts I was examining looked perfectly usable, so I dove in. There were some burps and hiccups along the way but nothing insurmountable, and in a few short days I had a completed airframe that required only the addition of the upper wing before it could be deemed Finished.

My own personal modeling karma has always included a big chunk of good luck where things with multiple wings were concerned, and I'd never had an issue getting a biplane of any sort together in a tidy and workmanlike manner. True, you have to be careful during assembly, and pre-planning doesn't hurt either, but at they end of the day they're generally an easy thing to build. Generally.

This one, however, was one of those rare biplane kits that fought back, and successful completion wasn't in the stars for that project. Try as I might, I just couldn't finagle that accursed upper wing into the correct position---it simply wouldn't go on there properly! At that point in the festivities I decided to consult the collective wisdom of the entity known collectively as The Internet, where I found a literal plethora of information from the two or three people who had resolved the strut issue by trimming said components so I gave that a shot too, which provided me with yet another opportunity to duplicate my previous failure at attaching that darned wing to the airplane, which I proceeded to do. Duplicate my previous failure, I mean.  Phooey!

There was a temptation to throw the kit into the trash at that point but I didn't do it; instead, I put everything back in the box and kept that P-6E in storage for the advent of a better day, the precursor of which came at a local model show a couple of years ago when I ran into an old friend of mine, Richard Ng, who was attending that very same show and offered to sell me a couple of new-in-the-box Classic Airframes P-6Es on the cheap. It was an opportunity of sorts, or maybe even an omen, and who was I to say no? What harm could it do, right?

Anyway, and to stop rambling and more-or-less get to the point, I decided to resurrect the project a couple of weeks ago and had the good sense to photograph the festivities along the way, almost a first for me! What follows is how things shook out:

Here's where the project was at the time of resurrection. The model had been decalled at one point and there were some paint blemishes to deal with as well, but the basic construction was sound and it looked like the significant parts of a P-6E! Who could say no?

There was a time when I annotated the instructions of the models in work on my bench. It's not a bad thing to do if you're inclined towards that sort of thing, and it can actually help you to pay attention and maybe even avoid a mistake or two as you go along your merry way, but that's not the point here. Look on these as some sort of whacked-out public service announcement, if you will---feel free to consult them if you think they'll be of help to you, or don't do that at all if you don't. Either way will work out just fine in the end!

It's true that we're all used to seeing this sort of parts breakdown on the instruction sheets that come with our kits, and it's equally true that a great many of us ignore them, but it's a good idea to at least give them a once-over if the model is of the mixed-media and limited-run variety. If you look carefully you'll find there's no way to actually attach the propeller to the finished airplane because no kit part is supplied to allow you to do it (an odd omission, that, although that's easy to fix), and there's no optical collimator (another word for "gun sight" back in the 1930s) provided with the kit either. Both omissions are easy to deal with and are of little or no consequence to the project. We're modelers, right?

The kit's first few steps allow us to assemble an interior and stick the exhausts into the fuselage halves. It's simple work but care is required, particularly when working with the rudder pedals. I've now got three different kits of the P-6E and they all, each and every one of them, came with pre-broken rudder pedals. They're easy enough to rebuild but you might want to plan for a rework when you purchase, or finally decide to build, the kit. The interior is a little short on detail as well, but the cockpit opening isn't very large so you can get by with what the kit provides; no harm, no foul. The exhausts are a no-brainer---paint them and stick them in place before you stick the fus together. I suspect I used some sort of cyanoacrylate on them back in '04, but it could just have easily been a 5-minute epoxy. The important thing is to make sure they'll stay in place once you've buttoned up the fuselage because there's no second chance if you fail on this one!

Steps five and six get you to a completed basic airframe. My recollection is that everything fit together fairly well, but you could benefit by drilling a couple of holes and pinning the wings and horizontal stabs to the fuselage with brass rod or cut-down insect pins---besides assuring those components stay where they're supposed to, the pins also help in setting dihedral on the lower wings, which is one of several critical operations on this model. You'll also want to note that the gun barrels provided by the model are too great in diameter and won't fit properly into their troughs in the fuselage halves. Look on that as an excuse to buy a set of Master .30 cal Browning barrels and move on or, conversely, omit the guns entirely if the airplane you're reproducing is one of the blue and yellow birds, since the type was painted in those colors fairly late in its service life and was often unarmed by that time. Omission of the guns will also save you from scratch-building the optical collimator later on, although that's simple enough to do if you want an aircraft with armament. The choice is yours, etc., etc.

And here it is folks; the step that will make or break your model. There are all sorts of comments out there in Internet Land talking about cutting struts, repositioning mounting points, and such, but none of that is really necessary, or at least it wasn't for me. What I did may or may not work for you, but here's how I dealt with this step on my own model. First, you'll want to do some assembly out of sequence and install the landing gear first instead of in steps 9 and 10. Be really careful of the main gear's alignment and then, when you're satisfied with same, allow the model to sit overnight so the undercarriage can set up permanently. Once that's done, go in with a drill and clean out each and every one of the strut mounting points. I used a number 66 drill for the task but there was no magic in its selection; it just happened to be what was in that particular pin vise when I picked it up. The thing is to drill the hole just a bit larger than the "pips" at the end of the struts---that's so you'll get a good, secure anchor when you glue them in place. When all that's done, carefully cement the struts into their respective places on the upper fuselage and lower wings, set them according to the diagram provided in the instructions (which also conveniently shows you how to set the dihedral on the lower wings), and leave them alone for a day or two. Finally, once you're absolutely certain those struts are firmly and permanently locked into place, drill out the mounting holes in the lower surfaces of the upper wing using a drill that's a little larger than those infamous strut "pips" and carefully mount the wing, starting at the cabane struts and working outwards.

Here's your starting place before attaching the upper wing. The undercarriage is in place and everything that can be pre-painted is pre-painted, thus theoretically stacking the odds in your favor. You'll probably notice there's a bit of overspray here and there, but that will be corrected prior to installation of the wing.

Next up are the cabane struts. I used Tenax throughout the model's assembly, both then and now, but almost anything will work as long as it dries with a strong bond. If your weapon of choice is cyanoacrylate you'll probably want to use one of the slower-drying ones so you can set the angle properly on those struts but, regardless of what you use, and to repeat myself once again, let everything dry overnight and make certain you have a good, strong bond before doing anything else.

Once the struts have cured and are solidly in place you should be able to do this without any sort of undue movement of the model whatsoever---if anything does move, your bond isn't good enough and there's a pretty good chance this whole project will collapse when you mount the upper wing, thus causing you to say many colorful words in a loud and forceful manner. I'm not saying you need to turn your own model upside down and do this, mind you. The point to be made here is that the cabane strut-to-fuselage mount is critical to the assembly of this airplane and a weak joint in any one of those strut locations may well doom the project for you. The extra time is well worth expending!

Step 11 has you add the aux tank and some smaller bits and pieces to the lower fuselage. This is a job for cyanoacrylate and, in my world at least, one that's easier to deal with before that upper wing goes on. It's your choice, of course, but I stuck those bits and pieces on prior to mounting the upper wing and was glad I'd done it. Your mileage, however, may vary...

A photo that proves the point! The wing is just sitting there, not permanently attached in any way, and the cabane struts are carrying its full weight. Everything is in proper alignment too, so we're just about ready to fix the cabane struts to the upper wing and then---ta Daa!---attach the interplane struts and mount that wing, but first...

Let's paint any trim and apply the decals. That may seen somewhat counter-intuitive to you at first, but the objective here is to avoid excessive handling of the model once that upper wing has been installed and it can thus constitute being A Very Good Thing in your own personal modeling world. This would also be a good time to scratch-build and install that collimator as well, if you plan on arming the model. While we're at it, the instructions would like for you to mount the windscreen before you mount the upper wing, but it sits far enough aft of the wing cutout that you can do that afterwards, which was my own preference. It works out ok either way so the choice is yours!

The interplane struts go on next and, once again, need to have their mounting angle carefully set and then be allowed to sit unmolested overnight. This is a key joint and it absolutely positively has to be done properly!

And here's where you should be except, of course, that you want both interplane struts mounted to the lower wings rather than just the one I've shown. I know. I know...

Here's another view to confirm what you're trying to do. If your model doesn't resemble this, you might want to double-check the kit's instructions regarding strut angles and take another shot at it! Once you're satisfied that everything is aligned properly and firmly glued into place (notice how I keep repeating that part?) you can drill the strut mounting holes in the lower side of the upper wing a little over-sized so the wing can "float" a bit in regard to the strut location once you begin the mounting process. That sounds somewhat drastic at first but it's really quite logical since there's a flare at the base of each end of the interplane struts that will cover the enlarged holes once the wing has been installed, and the larger mounting holes will provide you with the wiggle room necessary to mount that wing properly and without drama!

And here's the money shot! Everything has been aligned, cemented in place and allowed to dry thoroughly (overnight!), and the model is being held a foot or so above my modeling desk by grasping the upper wing alone. The model isn't fragile at all, and I routinely handle it this way---those wings are locked in and are rock solid! All you have to do to get to this point is build slowly, make certain that everything has been securely mounted, and follow the kit's instructions to the letter regarding strut angles and lower wing dihedral!

Note how incidence, gap, and stagger are all correctly set? That's entirely a function of the kit's design and its instructions and nothing else. The only thing not specified in the kit was my decision to drill the holes in the upper wing's lower surface a bit over-sized. Everything else you need to do the job correctly has been provided in this model, but you've got to follow those instructions to the letter and use a little bit of care and forethought as you build or some degree of disaster may well ensue!

One thing about the older Classic Airframes kits (and nowadays there's no other kind, so we're talking about the chronologically earlier releases here) are the pre-yellowed vacuum-formed transparencies, one of which can be seen in the corner of this photo just to the right of the model's rudder. It wasn't usable for the model but served quite well as a vacuum-form mold to enable the creation of a decent, and actually transparent, windscreen. You might also want to note the aileron actuation tubes between the wings---the kit provides them but they're thick and clunky and are best replaced with .020 Evergreen rod, which was what was done here. We're in the home stretch now, and this thing really looks like a P-6E!

There's a little more to do before we can call the project done, of course. There's rigging to be done, and three radio antenna masts plus antenna to be added, and then the prop and a tiny bit of paint touch-up here and there, but the model is far enough along to prove the point. A great many modelers of my own personal acquaintance, including some exceptionally talented ones, have long been of the opinion that the Classic Airframes biplane kits were poorly designed and virtually unbuildable. I thought that too, and had the notion drummed rather forcefully into my head back in 2004 when I first began the model you see before you. My problem then was simple---I thought I knew better than the kit designer did when it came time to mount that upper wing, and in consequence I tried to rush the assembly of that most critical of biplane components. The end result was a badly built, and presumably unbuildable, model airplane that sat in its box, partially assembled, for some 13 years before I finally decided to give it another try.

Yes; it's true that Classic Airframes kits were of the limited run genre and suffered all the failings of that sort of thing, but the manufacturer tried really hard to provide a first class product within the confines of a somewhat limiting medium. Take the painting guides provided with each kit, for example. This is a page from the P-6E (kit number 440) that I began all those years ago, and it's a first-class effort, easily on a par with anything anybody provides even now.

This is the other scheme provided with that kit. The decals were by MicroScale and were (and still are, for that matter) superb. Printing was excellent and the decals were as thin as anything you can buy today. A lot of thought went into those Classic Airframes kits, and they were probably as good as the existing short-run technology of their time would allow. Every one of them presents its own unique challenge to the modeler, but they're all buildable. All it takes is skill and patience!

The model isn't finished yet, although it soon will be, but the simple act of following directions and building slowly turned the trick and produced a pretty good looking model airplane for my collection. That brings us back to that whole apology thing, because Jules Bringuier had it figured out way back then and it turns out his kits weren't the problem, or at the very least this one wasn't. Nossir, in this instance the problem was me, pure and simple. A new day, and a new attitude, produced a result far better than the one originally achieved. That unbuildable kit was entirely buildable right from the box, just as its designer had intended. Yes; Classic Airframes kits can be a handful to work with and it still seems as though every one of them presents its own unique set of challenges to the modeler, but some fine model airplanes have been produced from those kits over the years. For that we owe Mr. Bringuier a hearty thank you, albeit a somewhat tardy one, for being willing to produce kits that no one else would have ever touched. Classic Airframes was obviously a labor of love, and I for one am grateful that he was willing to invest his time and treasure in that dream.

It ain't what you do; 
It's how you do it!

The J Geils Band said that a very long time ago and it could be the theme song for this, or any other, short-run kit, which takes us right up there into The Wonderful World of Patience and Forethought.

I shall serve no model airplane before its time...

A Movie You HAVE to Watch!

Norman Camou spends a lot of time searching out historical aviation pieces on YouTube and the like, and sent this to us yesterday---a home movie shot in New Guinea back in The Bad Old Days! It's a personal document of sorts so there are things in there other than airplanes, but there are airplanes to be seen! It's a little over half an hour in length so get comfortable and prepare to be amazed!

Many thanks to Norman for sending this treasure to us!

And in late-breaking news: Norman found and has sent along yet another version of the movie. It's the same film and the exact same length but is from YouTube and is of much better quality than the first one. We've left the original link up there too, as a just in case. Thanks again to Norman for sending along this remarkable film!

And Now For a Special Message

This issue is late. There's nothing new there, of course---it would be entirely appropriate to re-name the project Late r Us at times---but the project has had to take a back seat to some recent and significant  issues that have, gratefully, been resolved, and is very very late in consequence. Nothing terrible has occurred and there's certainly nothing to for any of our readership be concerned about, but issues of a time-stealing nature conspired to put any sort of schedule right down the old plumbing, a Defecation Happens sort of thing if you get our meaning.

This VF-11 F-4B hulk (152305) photographed by Bob Lawson at MCAS Cherry point in April of 1971 pretty much sums up the way things have been going around here of late but there are sunnier days ahead, we promise!   Lawson via Sullivan Collection

Anyway, our next issue should be a good one: There are Grumman Guardians in the wind, along with post-War Helldivers, and the photography shared with us on both aircraft is remarkable, but it's going to take a little time to finish up watermarking and captioning the photos (thanks again, Picture Pirates!) and we wanted to get something in print in the meantime so you'd know we were still alive and kicking!

This pair of Fighting 92 F-4Js on the prowl over the Gulf of Tonkin during 1973 hopefully portend where we're headed with with project given just the tiniest turn of luck. Watch this space and cross your fingers!   Lawson via Sullivan Collection

Please accept our sincere apologies and maybe we'll be able to get something else published in a couple of weeks.

Until then, be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon!