Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Big Banshee, A Demon or Two, The Neglected Orion, An Interesting E-3, and a Plastic Butcher Bird

That Big Banjo

When last we met, we were discussing that almost-famous workhorse of 1950s American naval aviation, the McDonnell F2H Banshee. The type was a mainstay of the early 50s Navy and saw action in Korea, but its most capable variants were destined to serve only in peacetime, holding the fort until the advent of more capable platforms. It's a really spiffy airplane, and well worth another look.

Much like the F2H-1 and -2, there are no decent kits of the larger -3 and -4 variants. That's a shame, too, because the type had all the color you'd expect of the Navy during that era, even if its performance was somewhat lacking. What follows are several prime examples of why we really ought to have a kit of one of these seminal McDonnell fighters.

Beauty. This ATG-1 F2H shows the Banshee in its final livery of Light Gull Grey over White. The "Banjo's" flight refuelling probe was often decorated with a barber pole treatment as seen here, in this instance adding the only color other than the arrows on the wing tanks. The photo was taken in August of 1956; the changeover to the new scheme was mandated in February of 1955, with all carrier birds delivered after July 1st of 1956 to be in compliance. Existing glossy sea blue airframes were to be re-painted within one year of the original spec change. The Glossy Sea Blue Navy was going away, never to return.  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

This is more like it! 127686 is an F2H-4 from VF-11's Red Rippers, June, 1954, while assigned to Air Group 10. The Navy flirted briefly with natural metal finish for its carrier fighters. That proved to be a Bad Idea all around, but sometimes you have to learn the hard way. This "Big Banjo" shows the transitional silver scheme to good effect.  Fahey via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

The Reserves made extensive use of the "Big Banjo". This four-ship of -3s is in the grey/white scheme and has little to offer in the way of color other than the orange Reserves fuselage band. Nobody would ever descibe the F2H series as being long-ranged and the lack of tip tanks guarantees these guys won't be going very far. Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

It pretty much goes without saying that the Marines had their own F2Hs. BuNo 127614 is from VMF-214, once again in the grey and white scheme and, once again, without a whole lot of color. There's a band of small stars around the nose of the wing tank (which appears to be painted gold but could easily have been painted silver as well) but that's about it for flamboyant markings on this bird.  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Canada once had an air component to her Navy and operated F2H-3s for a brief period of time. I think the "Big Banjo" looks pretty goofy without wing tanks, but maybe that's just me. When all is said and done, all I want is a decent 1/48th scale kit of any F2H variant. But I''m not going to hold my breath...  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

That Airplane in the Middle

There was another McDonnell fighter that came between the F2H and the F4H Phantom. The F3H Demon was another one of those successful failures that were so common during the halcyon days of the 1950s. Military aviation was progressing by leaps and bounds, lept sometimes it leapt and bounded just a bit too far. The Demon wound up being an ok fighter, but never a great one, its primary contribution being the design elements it leant to it's younger brother, the F4H Phantom. Today isn't the day for an extensive look at the type, but it's a nice opportunity to run a couple of photos.

The F3H first flew in Glossy Sea Blue, but all of the production aircraft were delivered in the later Light Gull Grey over White scheme. This pair of Demons are sitting on the ramp in St Louis and show how a little paint can make an airplane look completely different. This shot was taken in October of 1955. Those test booms went away when the airplane reached production. Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

This is a little more like it. This VF-14 F2H-2 preps for launch in September, 1956. "Fighting Fourteen" was the first squadron to equip with the Demon, and got to learn first-hand that the type wasn't quite ready for prime time. Greater Saint Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

The shape of things to come. An F2H-3 towed to the cat while a well-worn F4H-1 is prepared for launch. The intakes and horizontal stabs on the F4H belie the Demon's parentage---the F3H wasn't much of an airplane but it gave birth to one of the world's classic fighters. McDonnell's gone now, and so is its offspring McDonnell-Douglas, but the aircraft The Little Company That Could sired became legend. Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Something You Don't See Every Day

Time was when military aviators were concerned about enemy aircraft and highly sophisticated ground defenses. The times began to change during the latter days of the Vietnam War when shoulder-launched SAMs first came into common use. The earlier weapons of that sort almost invariably used infra-red sensors for target acquisition, thus leading to the developement of flare dispensers so that potential targets could have at least a modicum of protection. Here's an example of the sort of countermeasures that were developed.

Maddog John Kerr sent this photo to me about twenty years ago and I never could figure out what to do with it. Today I did. 152758 was a P-3B used briefly for testing defensive systems by the NATC; here she's seen dumping a load of flares for the camera. It's a neat photo and the markings are pretty spiffy too; just the thing for backdating that Hasegawa P-3C that's been sitting in your closet all this time. 758 was eventually transferred to Australia.  John Kerr Collection

The Navy's patrol community were no strangers to offensive warfare, having chased the Japanese navy with bomb and torpedo-armed PBYs during the Second World War. The P-3 has long had the ability to sink surface ships as well as submarines, although that fact is not well appreciated, it seems. This shot was taken on 18 November, 1969, and shows an Orion of VP-10 armed with an AGM-12 Bullpup. Bullpup's guidance parameters were limited and would have made ship-killing with the P-3 a dicey proposition at best, but it was better than nothing. US Navy 1147444

Here's an AGM-12 on the wing of a P-3C from VP 36 out of Sigonella, date unknown. This view provides a really good look at the tracking flares in the aft end of the missile; Bullpup was command guided, and the pilot of the aircraft aimed it by watching the flares and guiding the missile via a tiny joy stick mounted in the cockpit. Guidance parameters were limited and the launch aircraft pretty much had to fly in a straight line and follow the missile until it impacted its target. Operational use of the weapon in Vietnam proved it wasn't particularly useful, but it stayed in the inventory for a number of years.  US Navy K-116380

Evolution of Some Classy Nose Art

For those of you who might not know, friend and frequent contributor Rick Morgan was with VAQ-141 during Desert Storm and killed a couple of SAM sites with well-directed AGM-88 HARM shots. He also took a photograph or too, including these immediate post-war photos of VAW-124's E-2C 161552. They're of particular interest because of the evolution depicted in the nose art, from "Classic" to "Miss B. Havin". The word "classic" is appropriate indeed. Thanks to Rick for these photos.

Here's the way it started. The name is "Classic", and the nose art isn't too shabby, but there's change in the wind...   Rick Morgan

"Classic" morphs into "Miss B. Havin". Note the addition of the squadron commander's name under the cockpit window. The nose art was on the left side only.  Rick Morgan

Special Note from the Replica Staff---this photograph has been deleted. Ed.

And a closeup of the nose art. This artwork is as good as any we've seen on an airplane, of any era. That painter was good!  Rick Morgan

It's Not As Bad As They Say It Is

It, of course, being the 1/48th scale Tamiya Fw190A-3. The kit was, if the truth be known, an absolute revelation when it first came out, being pretty darned accurate and, wonder of wonders (at least in the  World of Quarter-Scale Wulfs), easy to build. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, the Focke Wulf Gold Standard for a number of years.

Time has passed, more than just a little of it, and times have changed. It's not that the kit has all that many competitors, because it doesn't; the museum-quality Eduard kits don't include any of the short-nosed "Butcher Birds" as of this writing, and the Hasegawa kit isn't enough of an improvement to make it a quantum leap of any sort. The Tamiya Fw190 has aged gracefully, it seems.

Still, the internet is full of complaints about how bad the kit is. Those complaints seem to fall into two camps; the interior is too simple (true, sort-of), and the landing gear is gooned up. That's true too, but the condemnation falls into the "sort-of" category too. Let's take just a minute and talk about it.

That oft-criticised interior consists of a well-detailed bucket, a pretty nice instrument panel, and a seat, along with a couple of detail components. It can look pretty good if it's carefully painted, but it's definitely not up to contemporary standard, which leaves room for (dare we say it): Aftermarket. There are probably other detail sets out there but I'm a big fan of Eduard, and they offer two sets that will work for the Tamiya A-3; a complete set that replaces the interior and adds additional detail to other areas of the airframe, and a Zoom set, which is mostly for the interior. I've gotten to be really cheap of late and prefer to use the Zoom offering, although I've worked with both and would recommend either. That takes care of the interior.

As for those horrible landing gear, they really aren't too bad. The wheels are definitely too small in diameter; everybody says so and for once everybody's right, and it's really easy to get the angle of the main mounts skewed if you don't pay a lot of attention to what you're doing when you install the gear. Replacement wheels are available through the aftermarket and a little bit of Modeling 101 will fix the landing gear problem unless you plan on entering your model in a national-level contest, in which case you probably aren't reading this missive anyway. That pretty much addresses the Major Issues, such as they are.

But we digress. (I do that a lot, in case you haven't noticed.) Let's take a look at the model.

Here's your basic Fw190A-3, this one marked for an aircraft from the 9th Staffel of JG-1 when based at Hasum, Denmark, in March of 1943. The decals came from Third Group sheet 48-026 and seem to be pretty accurate, although I may not be the best judge of that. The interior of this model has been enhanced with photoetch from the appropriate Eduard Zoom set, and brake lines are made from extremely fine brass wire. An antenna was also added, made from stretched sprue. Otherwise the kit is bone stock, right down to those "horrible" wheels.

A different view of the same side. Paint is Testor ModelMaster, which is pretty much reviled by some folks. I wasn't there when this airplane was flying for real, and the folks who don't like the Testor colors weren't around either, so I'm guessing the colors are about as close to right as anything else. Then again, I could be wrong. Point is, the paint looks pretty good and the tonal values are where they should be if you convert a color shot of your model to black and white. Of course, that whole color thing can get the best of friends rolling around on the floor, kicking and screaming---I would suggest you do your best to figure out the paint thing (there are a lot of really good references on the topic available these days) and don't beat yourself up too badly if somebody you don't even know decides to criticize what you did. This is a hobby, remember?

Here's what the other side looks like. I'm a big fan of the Tamiya Fw series for one simple reason; they're all quick and easy to build, with no surprises and, for the most part, no significant accuracy issues. This model looks ok, I think, but it does suffer from skewed landing gear, which I noticed after everything had set up hard as a rock. (I use Tenax, so when it's set it's set!) I didn't fix it, either. Such is life...

One final note. The Tamiya kit does have a couple of minor issues with panel lines. The Third Group instruction sheet for these decals addresses that and provides line drawings of what needs to be changed. That constitutes a Class Act in my world and I thought you should know about it.

The Relief Tube

Of which we don't have very much this time around. Tommy Thomason wrote to ask that I remind you all that the McDonnell F2H-1 Banshee was actually longer than the prototype F2H-2. That in turn reminds me to remind you all to check out Tommy's excellent blog site at  or his companion site at Tommy does excellent work and his site is a must-read if you're interested in American naval aviation. Trust me on this one. (And read this week's Relief Tube, please!)

Additions to This Installment's Relief Tube

One of the things I really enjoy about this project is the feedback I get from our audience. Only a few hours had passed between the time I posted this installment of the blog and I'd already heard from both Rick Morgan and Tommy Thomason offering comments and corrections. I figured you'd be interested so here, a whole week early, are those comments. First, from Rick:

Phil: F2Hs are such a fascinating subject- the ATG-1 shot is from VF-52 on Lexington about 1956. They had a typical Group (if you can ever call and ATG ‘Typical’, because they were not) for that period, a day fighter unit (VF-111 F9F-8), night fighters (VF-52), jet attack (VA-151 F7U-3), and prop attack (VA-196 AD-6) as well as the cats and dog dets: VAW-11 AD-5W, VFP-61 F2H-2P, VAAW-35 AD-5N and VAH-6 AJ-2s. I suspect the F7Us and AJs spent a lot of time on the beach during cruise though.

Aviators I’ve talked to from that period thought the F2H was a great airplane to fly; steady, long-ranged (longer than the F9F at least) and a good boat plane. RADM (and F6F ace) “Whitey” Feightner, who was CO of VF-11 with F2H-4s was a big proponent of the type although it was still a whole generation behind its shore-based contemporaries, like the MiG-17 night fighter.

As for the Demon, it probably ended up as the best of a bad lot of aircraft, certainly better than the F4D or F2H-3/4 as a carrier-based night fighter but still a generation behind land-based aircraft. As you state it DID lead to the world-beating F4H; I’ve always maintained that the F-4 is the result of a mating between the F3H and F-101.

The VAW-124 nose art story was a good one. They tried the first version, “Classic” and pretty quickly decided it wasn’t that good, so they painted it out and found a squadron member that knew how to handle an airbrush, which is how “Miss B Havin” came about. They ended up winning the CVW-8 nose art contest after the war with it and somehow managed to hide it through fly-off to Norfolk after every other squadron followed CAG instructions to remove the art prior to the first port call (Haifa) in late May. (OBTW: I was with VAQ-141, not 140 during DS) (Now corrected. pf)


Rick also sent along a couple of photos that we'll look at next time.

Tommy had a comment as well, which corrects a major clanger I dropped in the second Banshee piece:

"Tommy Thomason wrote to ask that I remind you all that the McDonnell F2H-1 Banshee was actually longer than the subsequent F2H-2."

 NOOOO - See original email below. The F2H-1 was longer than the XF2H, not longer than the F2H-2. The -1 and -2 were the same length. (Now corrected. pf) Attached is the old Tailhook Topics article on converting the -2 to the -3/4. This is now OBE in 1/72. In 1/48, you need to add a bit more stretch to the Hawk Banshee, which is an XF2H in length (see above). F2H-2to-4.jpg (132KB)

Best regards,

Thanks for keeping me honest, guys!

And now back to our regularly-scheduled program:

Whoever sent me that spiffy T-Bird from a couple of issues ago still hasn't come forward to claim credit for the photography and I really wish he'd do that. If he, or you (I'm not any too sure how to phrase that) is out there, please get in touch with me so I can credit the photos properly. Please?

In the same vein, I'm always looking for original photography for this site. By now you've probably figured out where the emphasis lies around here, so feel free to get in touch with me at if you have anything you'd like to contribute. It's the right thing to do.

And that's what I know, so be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon.

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