Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thoughts On Subject Matter, Early TraCom, Some Lightnings, More F-94s, The Unknown Spartan, A Scary Airfield, and Some Special Shakeys

Why, Tell Me Why, Can't We Have a Decent Kit of the FJ-3?

                                           Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

OK, we know it's a rhetorical question, and we already know the answer: The mainstream kit manufacturers, sometimes known as The Big Guys, won't make a whole lot of money off the FJ-3, or the F-94, or any of the myriad of other 1950s American aircraft destined to languish in obscurity as far as plastic modeling is concerned. It's a fact of life. On the other hand, those very same Big Guys will make a pile of bucks off yet another Messerschmitt or Zero-Sen, or another F4U, or F-18, or name-your-own-particular-overkitted-real airplane---that's a Fact of Life. Don't believe us? That's your call, but if that's how you think then please explain why Tamiya never followed up their superb F-84G and F4D-1 with anything else in the same vein. (We know the old wive's tale about Mr. Tamiya kitting the stuff he likes, and that may have been true at one time, but we're guessing that those kits would have been followed by others had their sales numbers indicated a strong market for the product.)

That premise gives us a starting point, then; we're probably never going to see a 1/48th or 1/32nd scale kit of a 1950s-anything from the Japanese unless it's another Sabre variant or the like. The sales to support the investment in tooling just aren't there. That takes us to what's rapidly becoming The Second Tier of makers of plastic model airplanes; the British and the Chinese. Airfix has really come back with a bang and has been filling some long-vacant gaps in the process, while Hobby Boss has released a couple of 50s-early 60s subjects of interest to American modelers. Trumpeter's been in there plugging away too, but not with much in the way of early jets so far. Still, they're all in there trying, and although their offerings have had their share of flaws, none have been unbuildable to those possessed with a modicum of modeling skills. That just may constitute Light at the End of the Tunnel.

Then there are the Czechs. Those guys pretty much own the limited-run portion of the modeling world, and they've already done a few things that would be of interest to us. We've seen (and we know we're leaving out some kits here) an F3D, several F-80s, and some T-33s for starters, and even an F-86H in 1/72nd scale. Those guys are seemingly fearless in terms of the kits they choose to release, and their stuff is buildable and usually attains a high level of quality, albeit with the caveat that the modeler's skill level needs to be of a somewhat higher order than that of the individual who sticks with some iteration of Mainstream.

What does that tell us, then? In the world of RIS it would seem to indicate that the kits are coming, although it may be a while before we see them. Still, there's hope so, based on that notion, here are some suggestions to those manufacturers large and small who may be considering the production of kits for The Silver Air Force or The GSB/early Gull Grey Over White Navy:

Give us a major production variant right off the bat. Don't start out with The Obscure Version in order to sell more kits before you finally get around to issuing the one everybody really wants. That's not ethical, ya'll. It may make good business sense to you but it's definitely The Wrong Thing to Do.

If the real airplane carried ordnance or gas bags that pretty much defined the airplane, then please give them to us in the kit. Don't force us to scratch-build or have to go the aftermarket route for something that's normally seen on the real airplane.

Don't put rivets on anything unless you can do it the way Tamiya did on their 32nd scale Spitfires and Mustang. If you want to have a little fun with your customer base, then let those who want to do such a thing tear up a watch in order to make their own riveting tool. On the other hand, if you're going to insist on putting those accursed divots on your offerings, then include a tub of Mr. Surfacer with the kit so we can more easily make them go away so the completed model will look like an airplane rather than the victim of some rare skin condition.

Don't feel like you have to open up panels or provide separate control surfaces in order to sell kits. We're all capable of dealing with that sort of thing ourselves, so save your company the tooling costs and give us a more affordable product to start off with. If we want an open gun bay we'll open it up ourselves. That's why God makes aftermarket.

Provide decent decals with the kits. Talk to the Czechs if you can't figure out how to do that for yourselves.

And that takes us to a Final Thought with which to end this particular Mindless Ramble: Even though we're still sadly lacking in available kits of the classic jets of the 1950s, we're well and truly living in a Golden Age of scale modeling, internet prognosticators notwithstanding. We're pretty well convinced that we will eventually see the kits we want and suspect we'll see more than a few of them sooner rather than later, but there's a catch. If you want a kit of the F-86H in 1/48th scale and somebody actually gets around to releasing one, you really ought to go buy it. Sales are what will ensure that we get our models of those classic jets. Wishful thinking won't do it, but sales numbers will.

That's our story and we're sticking with it!

You Gotta Love Those Navy Trainers From the 60s

We do, anyway. We ran several of Richard Adam's photos three or four issues ago and promised at that time that we'd run the rest of them some day. It looks like today must surely be That Day, so let's take a look.

Let's start off with a T-28B from VT-30 (formerly ATU-301) out of NAS Corpus Christi during 1964. 153 is a typical example of her type, and probably trained thousands of young naval aviators before being retired. We're not entirely certain of it, but strongly suspect that the Trojan is everybody's favorite trainer.  Richard Adams

Of course, not everybody trained for single-engine duty after graduation. The multi guys got into the act too, and a great many of them started off their careers in the TC-45J. That little Beech design served both long and well, spanning several wars and training a great many students in the process. This example is from VT-7 at Meridian. The photo, like most of these, was taken in 1964.  Richard Adams

Here's a paint job you don't see on the C-45 all that often. Once again we're looking at a TC-45J, this one assigned to NAS Kingsville in 1964. There's not much orange on that airframe, but white suits it just fine. Richard Adams

Here's a little bit of Mystery Meat for the day. The airplane is a C-47-Something-or-Other (it's post-1962, remember) and the photo was taken at NAS Pensacola in 1965. She was assigned to NAS Kingsville---that station is confirmed by the legend "Kingsville" painted under her starboard wing--- but beyond that we're at a loss. The address is ...  Richard Adams

How about a shot of the "Gooney Bird's" bigger brother?  This C-117D was photographed at P'Cola in July of 1965, but we don't know much about her after that. You know the drill...  Richard Adams

And here's what a C-117 looks like when it's taxiing. 124 is the same bird we just looked at and is somewhat prettier in this view. Anybody got a unit?  Richard Adams

By now at least a few of you are asking "Where are the Cougars?" Ask no more! These TAF-9Js are all lined up for the camera (or maybe just all lined up) and are from VT-21 out of Kingsville in February of 1963. You have to admit; the Navy knows how to paint a trainer!  Richard Adams

Same day, same ramp. Do we like the Cougar around here? You bet we do!  Richard Adams

That does it for our look at TraCom today, although you never know when those orange and white birds might reappear. Meanwhile, thanks again to Richard Adams for sharing his collection with us.

Some Early Pacific Lightnings

The 80th FS/8th FG was among the first units to take the Lightning into combat in the Southwest Pacific, starting out in New Guinea in The Bad Old Days and ending up on Ie Shima in '45, a distinction that makes them worth looking at today.

The 80th's P-38s began combat operations with the P-38F out of 3-Mile Strip at Port Moresby in 1942. "Porky II" is one of the more famous of their aircraft and we're guessing you may have seen this shot before (how could you have missed it?!), but it's certainly worth a second look. Ed Cragg was the CO of the 80th and this was his airplane, which goes a long way towards explaining that immaculate finish.  B. Rocker Collection

And here's Col. Craig himself in front of "Porky"---the airplane is still clean but now getting to be a little worn. Those of our readers who are modelers might want to check out the Colonel's flight gear with an eye towards duplicating them in a diorama some day. The regs regarding uniforms were somewhat loosely interpreted in New Guinea.  B. Rocker Collection

Corky Smith is dressed for another combat mission in this shot Taken at 3-Mile. That P-38F has been to the mountain, and is about to go again, but it doesn't seem to worry Corky very much. Compare his flight gear to that of Col. Craig in the photo above.   B. Rocker Collection

Here's another one you may have seen before, but it's well worth looking at again. Lt. Hanover is young---they all were young---but one look at his face tells the story. Once again the place is 3-Mile Strip at Port Moresby. Things were getting better in the Pacific when this photo was taken, but the Japanese were still an enemy to be reckoned with. It was never easy.  B. Rocker Collection

Jess Gidley stands beside his P-38H at 3-Mile while serving with the 80th FS. This photo provides excellent detail of the P-38's main and nose landing gear. Such a neat airplane, and so tough to model effectively. We really wish Tamiya would kit the P-38 in 1/48th scale, ya'll! B. Rocker Collection
Ken Ladds was another of the 80th's successful P-38 jocks; check out the kill markings on the nose of his airplane. "Ruthie" was photographed at Dobodura during 1943 and was showing signs of hard use when this picture was taken. She'd be quite a challenge to weather properly, but what a beautiful airplane! (And check out her "parking apron"---can you say "primitive conditions?"  B. Rocker Collection

Last time around we showed you some photos of P-39s at Milne Bay and Port Moresby and commented on how the ground support equipment available to the squadron was better than most folks would expect. Well, here's an example of what most folks expect; this 80th FS P-38G is undergoing maintenance out in the slop, and the ground support equipment isn't the best. Still, it got the job done, and you can't ask for much more than that.  B. Rocker Collection

The airfield at Cape Gloucester was pretty luxurious compared to some. Here we find a section of 80th FS P-38Gs taxiing out for a mission; note the PSP. It certainly kept the airplanes out of most of the mud but was no fun to taxi on or operate from---at any speed past a slow walk it would severely shake both man and machine (T-28Ds operating in SEA in a different war suffered irreparable structural damage because of that shaking and its effect on wings laden with heavily-loaded pylons) . Still, its use allowed the AAF to utilize marginal airfields and do it even during the rainy season. Sometimes you just do what you have to do...  B. Rocker Collection

Keep an eye on this space as we continue to feature some of the classic aircraft of the war in the Pacific during the months ahead. Bobby Rocker's got some exceptional photography to share with us and you won't want to miss it.

Starfires Redux

Every once and a while we'll run a photo essay that strikes a nerve with one of our readers. In this case the reader is long-time friend Maddog John Kerr, who saw Marty Isham's F-94 shots in our last issue and decided it was time to add a few from his own collection.

Sharkmouths turn up just about everywhere, don't they? This fine example of that particular form of artistic expression is found on 50-0789, an F-94B-1-LO from the 61st FIS at Selfridge. The airplane is pretty darned boring except for that leering grin, but in this case the sharkmouth is enough.  B. Thomas via Kerr

50-0888 was another 61st F-94B. She's carryng a little bit of white trim, but her only marking of any consequence is, once again, that sharkmouth. The pilot is Major Bill Thomas; by standing in front of his aircraft he provides us with an excellent indication of the size of the bird. The F-94 was tiny by today's standards, but then all of those first-generation fighters and interceptors were pretty darned compact. Increased size in American fighters came with the increased complication of certain members of the Century Series.  B. Thomas via Kerr

55-5500 was what you might call a Special Airplane. Built as an F-94B-5-LO, she was one of two F-94s modified to YF-94D status and was later used for M-61 testing after the conclusion of the single-seat F-94 program. She's shown here while serving with Massachusett's 101st FIS and looks distinctly odd when compared to the standard F-94B on the ramp behind her. It reminds us of those RF-84Ks that ended up with the 45th TRS at Misawa---what's that thing doing here?!  Paul Paulsen via Kerr Collection

50-0913 was yet another F-94B-1-LO, here shown on the ramp when assigned to the 179th FIS, Minnesota ANG. The orange trim works surprisingly well with the areas of conspicuity red on the aircraft, and those lightning flashes are really something! We doubt any mainstream manufacturer will ever touch the F-94A or B, but it would make a nifty project for some of the Czech limited-run guys. That could be construed as a hint...  Wayne Gatlin via Kerr Collection

A Biplane Trainer That's Not a Stearman

It must have been obvious to even the most oblivious of politicians and military planners that war was fast approaching the United States as the 1930s drew to a close. The threat called for a massive ramp-up of military aircraft, which in turn caused the creation of several military aircraft who's fame was, shall we say, somewhat limited and in certain instances even lacking. This airplane was one of them.

If you intend to add large numbers of warplanes to your inventory you're going to have to build trainers too, so you'll have aircrew available when they're needed. The Spartan NP-1 was one of those unsung gap-filling trainers. An order was placed with Spartan by the Navy for 201 of them in July of 1940 with deliveries beginning not long afterwards. The NP-1 was a simple and sturdy design, but subsequent orders weren't forthcoming and the type pretty much died on the vine.  Larkins via Nankivil Collection

This view provides us with a good look at the NP-1's R-860-8 radial. It's not that the NP-1 was a bad airplane; it just wasn't a particularly good one when compared to the competition, and Boeing had the production capacity to produce the Boeing/Stearman PT-13 family in large quantities while Spartan did not. It was a race who's finish was easily predicted.  Larkins via Nankivil Collection

Thule, You're Talked a Lot; Let's Have a Look At Ya

OK, so it isn't New York, it isn't 1969, and we aren't the Rolling Stones. Still and all, that's not a bad way to introduce our next photo:

Most of you are probably familiar with Thule AB, but for those who aren't, a brief explanation is in order. Thule is in Greenland, and it's been a US base for a number of years. During the 1950s and 60s thousands of American military aircraft bounced into it while transiting the Atlantic and it probably saved a great many lives by the simple act of being located where it was. It was then, and to some extent still is, a key base. It is not by any stretch of the imagination, however, a garden spot. This photo was taken on a Good Day; imagine everything you see here except for the airplanes (and sometimes even them) covered in snow and ice, and imagine it's dark. Imagine you have to land there, and think back to all the horror stories you've heard about the place. Think about Doug Barbier's description of what it's like to fly out of Keflavik. You wanna talk airmanship? Talk to the guys who flew in and out of Thule back in The Day.  McLaren via Isham Collection

The Secret Life of Old Shakey

In last issue's F-94 article we ran a photograph of an F-94B taxiing out in front of a pair of C-124As. You couldn't help but notice the unique markings on those Globemasters, but it was an F-94 piece, not a C-124 article, so we didn't say anything about them. Dave Menard had some comments regarding the Starfire in question and mentioned the parentage of those C-124s, which in turn led to our asking if he had any photography of what had suddenly become a very special pair of "Shakeys" from the 3rd Strategic Support Squadron. Here's his response and some photographs:

Phil Here are four shots of the 3rd SSS in action, taken at great risk by the shooter as SAC was hyper paranoid about cameras in the late forties/fifties(I have been told one could not have a camera on base period, but have yet to confirm, but can well believe it after I was told that could not shoot the Division Commander's VB-25J when I got to Pease in early 1958!). The shooter's name is Eugene Van Houten.

SAC had three SSS units and as mentioned, their main mission was to haul atomic bombs around. They got out of that mission and gave it to Air Material Command who then called them Logistic Support Sqdns, and again, three sqdns: 7th, 28th and I cannot recall the third one. The 7th had a chipmunk facing to the right of the viewer with a log on its shoulder, forming a figure 7, and small decals of it showed up on mirrors, stall doors, etc all over the AF. The official rules for unit badges was that figures were to face left so the 7th got special permission to go the other way. A new commander came in and decided that he did not like said insignia so put out the word for a new design. Not a one was submitted! He lost that one big time.  Cheers, Dave

                                          Van Houten via Menard

                                          Van Houten via Menard

                                          Van Houten via Menard

                                          Van Houten via Menard

And yep; that whole No Cameras in SAC thing was true, at least for a period of time. Curt LeMay ran the shop on a war footing 24/7 when he was in charge back in the 50s and the command was extremely concerned about security as a result. Given the restrictions regarding cameras and the purpose of the subject matter, these photos are rare indeed. We're indebted to Dave for sharing them with us.

Happy Snaps

Today's Happy Snap is another one taken by Doug Barbier during his stint with the Michigan ANG. It's not an air-to-air but was taken from the cockpit of Doug's F-4 so we figure it qualifies:

Why do folks sometimes say that the F-4 was a smoker? Well, if you have to ask...  Those Phantoms equipped with the J-79-19 got a whole bunch cleaner, but you could still see the airplane a long way off. On the other hand, you might have trouble catching it, smoke and all. Have we ever mentioned that we like the F-4 a lot?

This is the part where we'd like to remind our readers that our Happy Snaps department is a place for them to show off the air-to-air photos they took while in the service. The qualifiers for inclusion are simple; the photo has to have been taken by the person who submitted it and has to be air-to-air (unless it's something like the photo we ran today). If you've got anything you'd like to share with us, the address is .

The Relief Tube

We didn't have any entries at all for our most popular department last time around, so it stands to reason we'd play catch-up today. Let's get started!

If you recall, we ran a photo essay on the Starfire in our last issue. We suspected we'd made some detail errors regarding those F-94 shots from Marty Isham, and we were right! Dave Menard has offered some corrections for us:

Phil, Still another issue to knock my socks off! Keep it up.

The 59th FIS was based at Goose Bay Labrador, not Thule. 871, 875 & 881 all from that unit and since 879 is in that serial block, would bet that she was also from this outfit. The B models that the 59th got came from the 61st FIS at Selfridge, I believe, as I have many shots of their birds in the same serial range and with sharkmouths, and may even have some of same birds. Will check it out this week and get back to you if I do, OK? (You bet it's ok, Dave---we look forward to seeing them!) I served at Ladd from August 1956-December 1957 so know those hangers. In the shot of 520, the main(and huge)hanger 1 is visible way in the background. This one was on the north side of the two parallel E-W runways and when I was there, the 449th used the west side of it and the 18th the east side (all had F-89Ds then). 520 is parked close to Hangers 2 & 3 which were in the SW corner of Ladd Field and pretty close together. When I was there, my sqdn (5001st FMS) had Hng 2 and the 74th ÅRS and 5001st Ops Sqdn shared Hng 3. 526 has Hng 6 in its background (burned down in 2005, damn it) and when I was there, the 433rd had it. After the phasedown in mid-1957 and F-89Js came in for the 449th to use, that sqdn moved into 6.

That shot of 859 ID-ed as a 318th bird at Thule may have been a 318th bird, but those hangers in background do not look like Thule's at all! I suspect it may have been taken further south when the unit was moving from the ZI to Thule. The Ç-124 to the left is a SAC A model, from the 3th SSS(Strategic Support Sqdn) whose main function was to haul the atomic bombs and their components around to where they were needed. They also handled normal loads like spare engines, vehicles, etc, but their main mission was the bomb hauling! Notice both Shakys have engines turning over... Cheers, Dave

And another comment on those F-94s, this time from Doug Barbier:  Phil, RE the shot of F-94B FA-879 on takeoff. That jet is from the 61st FIS at Ernest Harmon AFB, Newfoundland. 61st was at Selfridge during the first part of the Korean War & then was transferred to NEAC. The sharkmouth was standard on their jets & the serial number matches as well. Doug  Thanks, Doug!

Finally, we'd like to recommend a book to those of you who are interested in the 1950s USAF. Most of you know who Dave Menard is, and you may even know he's got a few books in print under his own name. We're guessing a lot of you don't know about this one, though, so we're going to tell you a little bit about it.

Dave published Before Centuries (Howell Press) way back in 1998. the book is an overview of the fighters of USAFE from 1948 through 1959, stopping short of the introduction of the Century Series to Europe. It contains 128 pages of photographs, most of which are in color and most of which have not been seen prior to publication of this work. Those photographs, simply put, are breathtaking. The easiest way to put it is to say this---if you like the photos of 1950s USAF fighters found in this blog you'll love the book. It's a must-have and we think it would make a fine addition to anyone's aviation library. That statement could conceivably be taken as an unabashed plug for the work of a friend, but the fact is that it belongs on the shelf of every aviation enthusiast, period. 'Nuff said!

And that's all we've got for today. Be good to your neighbor and, as always, we'll meet again real soon.

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