Thursday, August 2, 2012

Creativity in Action, The One Nobody Talked About, Gas for the Zipper, Some Books You Need, A Plug for a Friend, and More Fruitflies

The Things We Used to Do

We (that's me, of course, being all journalistic again) used to work in a hobby shop a very long time ago, which is where we met future RIS partner Jim Wogstad. A friendship was formed, which led to considerable discussion about the complete and utter lack of any sort of decent American scale modeling magazine, which in turn led to the project that birthed the original print version of Replica In Scale way back in the early 1970s. Somewhere between the two was School, or what passed for a collegiate career at any rate, which in turn led to the necessity of Gainful Employment once we left said educational endeavors. That requirement for the acquisition of Filthy Lucre in turn led to a job at an area museum as an exhibit preparator, working (a term to be taken very loosely) for that future RIS partner we mentioned way up there in the first sentence.

We had a lot of ideas, Jim and I, but most were unworkable. One that wasn't, and the one we're going to discuss today, was PFWOG Plastic. The premise was a simple one; the Mattel toy company had manufactured a very sophisticated bit of educational "toy" called a vacuum-form. Said toy wasn't on the market very long because they operated with electricity and generated a fair amount of heat, which we presume led to the occasional juvenile burned fingers and other general unpleasantness of the sort that creates Potential Litigation. The bottom line was that the thing was discontinued. That honestly wasn't much of a problem in the early 1970s because you could still pick up a new one in the toy store of your choice for next to nothing, but once you ran yourself out of the plastic it came with you were essentially out of business---the colored stuff wasn't a problem, since you could cut .005 or .010 sheet styrene to the proper size, mash it down onto those little pins in the unit's platen, and go to town. Nope, the colored plastic was easy.

The problem was that most of us bought our vacuum-forms so we could do canopies, and there were often failures when trying to do that. Sometimes you could salvage the screw-ups but more often you couldn't, so you ran out of the packages of clear in your set pretty quickly, which created both Demand and Opportunity. That's where PFWOG came in.

Remember that part where we mentioned the museum and the preparation of exhibits? That was the catalyst, because we had a moderately large (18x18 inches, if an increasingly fading memory serves us correctly) vac-form at work, and we had sheet butyrate to use with it. We were sitting there one day, making lily pads for a museum display out of, what else but sheet butyrate, when Inspiration struck. We had a source of clear plastic that was proven to work in a vacuum-form!

Striking while the iron was hot (that's a metaphor, not the literal truth), we transported ourselves to one of San Antonio's plastics supply houses and bought a couple of rolls of .003 and .005 sheet butyrate. (There might have been some .010 in there too, but we honestly don't remember that one.) We zipped over to Jim's place and started in on those rolls with a paper cutter, making proper-sized squares to fit in the platen of that little toy vacuum-form. The stuff worked like a champ!

We spent a couple of hours cutting it out and packaging it, 25 (or maybe 50, we forget) sheets to a pack, put in a tiny sheet of photocopied instructions, and hiked ourselves down to the then-legendary Dibble's Arts and Hobbies where we managed to persuade a somewhat bemused Ray Johnson to carry the stuff.

Ray actually sold some of it too, but not very much, and Jim and I avoided getting rich on that particular Great Idea, or any other Great Idea we ever had for that matter. We had a lot of fun with it though, and we've both still got a package or two of it hanging around, packages that have assumed the role of Cherished Memories of Days Long Gone. (Sounds impressive, huh?)

The bottom line, of course, is that you can vacuum-form sheet butyrate and attach it to a model with white glue. It comes in really minute thicknesses (think about just how thin .003 really is)  and comes in transparent tints too. It's useful stuff and, as far as we know, nobody but us ever tried it. You can pick up a roll of it for way cheap at almost any industrial plastic supply house, and that roll will probably last you forever.

You can thank us later.

Rhapsody in B Major

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the United States was engaged in an extremely active "peaceful" conflict with the former Soviet Union known as The Cold War. That particular event lasted from the end of the Second World War until shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and wasn't really all that cold since shots, albeit clandestine ones ((usually) were often fired and people occasionally died. That Cold War led in turn to the development and employment of a number of weapons systems and the conversion of some existing ones into aircraft suited for the requirements of the conflict. Today's feature concerns one of the latter.

The Boeing B-50 was a logical outgrowth of that company's wartime B-29 Superfortress and proved itself a considerable improvement on that classic bomber, it's increased speed and altitude capability proving to be of considerable utility when it was decided to modify the type into a reconnaissance platform. It stayed in service until 1954, and overflights included both the periphery and certain lightly-defended areas of the interior of the Soviet Union. Several RB-50s were shot down in the process, and the type was sensitive enough that at least two noted aviation photographers of our acquaintance, when asked if they had any images of active service aircraft, promptly informed us that they wouldn't have been allowed to photograph the aircraft even had they wanted to.

With that perspective in mind, it's time to look at some pictures, most of which come from the remarkable collection of Ron Picciani. Let's take a look at the spookiest of the Superforts.

It was a bomber before it was a spook, and is illustrated in that form by this fading yet enticing image. 46-0037 was a B-50A-020-BO and was assigned to the 49th BS of the 2nd BG when this photo was taken in May of 1948. Those arctic conspicuity markings were common on USAF aircraft of the late 1940s and 50s, but it's easy to imagine her in combat trim without them. It was probably a good thing she never had to fight given the quality of her presumed opposition, but she was ready to go if called. Fortunately for all concerned the call never came.  J. Funk via Picciani

A lot of obsolescent bombers have enjoyed a second career as aerial tankers, and the KB-50 served in that role into the 1960s. In this classic photo a trio of TAC's latest and greatest, an F-100D, RF-101C, and RB-66 take a drink for the benefit of the PAO boys. The deployed flaps on the Voodoo and the slightly nose-down attitude of the KB-50 (originally a B-50D-95-BO but converted to KB-50J specification) tell the story and help to explain why everybody in the USAF was happy to see the KC-135 come on line!  Picciani Collection

If you're going to fly them you're going to need to train in them somehow, which generally leads to a dedicated training variant. 46-0017 was originally a B-50A-10-BO but ended her days as a trainer. This particular shot was taken in 1956 at Logan IAP and illustrates some unusual lumps and bumps on the airplane. We're increasingly convinced that there wasn't ever any sort of "normal" B-50, at least not for very long.  Blake via Picciani

The final non-recon member of the B-50 clan was the WB-50, a dedicated weather aircraft that was generally assigned to MATS and performed legitimate weather tracking and research throughout the world. 49-0285 was built as a B-50D-110-BO but ended her days as a WB-50D as illustrated in this 1957-vintage shot taken on the ramp at Clark. It wasn't a particularly glamorous job, but the weather guys definitely earned their flight pay!  MacSorley via Picciani

The WB-50 was an extremely useful platform and survived as a weather ship into the 1960s. 49-0305 (a WB-50D) has everything hanging out on final as she arrives at MacDill in 1959. Most of the WB-50s were fairly new aircraft; 0305 was originally built as a B-50D-115-BO. The sensor package installed above the former waist gunner's blister is of particular interest.  F. Frederick via Picciani

Kansas was as good a place as any to base an RB-50 outfit, and the 338th SRS/55th SRW operated out of there during 1953. 47-0138 was originally built as a B-50B-50-BO and later converted to an RB-50F. Most of the RB-50s retained at least some of their defensive armament---there were times when they needed it! Those tail markings on 0138 are particularly nice.  Al Meyer via Picciani

47-0041 was another Forbes-based aircraft, in B-50F configuration when this photo was taken in 1953. She's wearing a pair of gas bags which bear a black lightning flash down their length. The 5th AF badge on the tail and the guns could probably tell a story, but the USAF wasn't talking! She survived to be scrapped out in 1967.  Al Meyer via Picciani

The Cold War made the RB-50 a globetrotter, at least in the early days. "Mac's Effort" (47-0144) was an RB-50E-50-BO and was photographed returning to Forbes from a TDY in the United Kingdom in April of 1953. We sure wish somebody had taken the time to photograph her playmate a little more closely!  AL Meyer via Picciani

Here's a slightly better shot of "Mac's Effort". She's in silver paint, not natural aluminum, and those stains on her nacelles and upper wings provide ample evidence of the overall nasty presence of a quartet of round engines. OK, scale modelers; let's see someone stand up and replicate that staining! (And please let us know what the Weathering Experts have to say about it when you do!)  AL Meyer via Picciani

49-0310 was a survivor! This shot was taken at Wright Patterson in 1971 just before her participation in a special project that saw her nose transparency rotated 180 degrees to accommodate the need for an upward-facing optically flat panel. She was a B-50D-115-BO that had been converted to WB configuration, then bailed to SysCom. She was a dinosaur of the highest order and a fitting aircraft with which to end this piece. Jus Rose via Friddell

We didn't really mention it up there but all of the RB-50s shown were assigned to the 338th SRS when photographed and all were flying out of Forbes one way or another. If any of our readers have images of other aircraft of this persuasion we'd love to see them. That e-mail address is .

An Extra Leg

Every time we write about the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter we mention its distinct lack of range, which was one of the many reasons the type was never very useful to the US Air Force. External tanks were quick in coming to the type and, thanks to that Sargent-Fletcher catalog we discussed a couple of issues back, we've got a dimensioned drawing of one of the principal ones used on the "Zip". With any luck it'll be of use to the modelers in our audience. (For that matter it might prove useful without the intervention of luck at all---you just never know!)

Here you go---longer legs for your "Zipper"! This tank is the one you'll find pylon-mounted under the wings of the F-104C, among other variants. If you were ever in need of the dimensions for this tank the Mystery is now officially revealed!  Friddell Collection

Under the Radar

There's a fellow in Australia you need to know about if his works aren't already familiar to you. His name's Ian K. Baker and he publishes a series of what he calls "colouring books", mostly pertaining to the aircraft of all sides during the Pacific War. They're camouflage and markings books pure and simple, but are sketchbooks---you need to know that up front---and are extremely well done. The text accompanying each drawing is well-researched and accurate, at least as near as we can tell, and we consider them to be essential reading if your tastes run to the subjects covered.

Not all of his works are currently in print, and we honestly don't know how many there are at this point since our personal collection stops at Number 51, but they're well worth the trouble should you want to buy some of them. The folks at Red Roo are the sole distributors for the series as far as we know, so you're going to be doing a little mail-order with The Land Down Under in order to obtain your copies, but that just adds an element of adventure to the deal.

Green Splotches White Splotches-Another Look at USAAF Camouflage 1942-43, Paxton Press, Ocean Grove, Australia, 2001. A modest book at 20 pages plus cover, this issue helps to explain and define the Medium Green 42 over Olive Drab 41 splotching found on a great many AAF aircraft produced during the time period and the somewhat more exotic sea search schemes as well. Both explanations and drawings are clear and concise, and both go a long way towards educating the reader about this sometimes vexing subject.

Number 51 in the series is our personal favorite; P-40 Camouflage Special, Ian K. Baker's Aviation History Colouring Book, 2003. If your interest runs towards any of the early members of the P-40 family, both Tomahawk, Kittyhawk, or Warhawk, then this is the booklet for you. Its 26 pages (and that count includes the covers) would appear to be modest at first glance but the monograph goes a long way towards defining the way Curtiss painted those early fighters. An added bonus is an in-depth look at Andy Reynold's famous "Stardust" from the 9th FS, 49th FG when stationed near Darwin during 1942. The scholarship is immaculate and the book offers exceptional coverage of the subject.

One more thing; these monographs are privately published and are apparently gone once stocks are exhausted, which means you'll need to jump while the iron's hot if you see a title you'd like to have for your own library. It's a classic chance to use that old Snooze and Lose metaphor. 'Nuff said!

You Gotta Like Gerry Kersey

OK, let's get it out of the way right at the start: Gerry Kersey's a class act. He's a likable guy, and he's also a guy who has respect and admiration for the former members of the 3rd Attack Group during World War II and Korea, and he's the owner of a website called 3rd Attack Group.Org, the link to which can be found up there towards the top of this publication where it says "Links to Friends and Other Interesting Places".

So what kind of site is it? It's history, for starters, and includes some exceptional photography contributed by former members of the group, and to the other medium bombardment and attack outfits involved in the Pacifi War. It's also an homage to those remarkable young men of so long ago, and it keeps track of their current goings on, their memorials and, unfortunately, their passing. It's a site of amazing images and unbridled respect, and it's well worth a visit.

Here are a couple of photos from Gerry's site, used with permission (we state that for those of you who still persist in taking and publishing other people's photos without provenance).

"Mitch the Witch" in living color. We could give you the details but we're not going to; you'll have to visit Gerry's 3rd Attack site for that. Fair enough, right?  3rd Attack Group.Org

And another tantalizing shot---you'll probably want to check out the other photos that accompany this one, which we're going to consider to be a teaser.  Hill Collection via 3rd Attack Group.Org

One more thing---when you get to the aforementioned site you'll see a couple of photos you probably saw here at Replica first. Gerry contacted us a while back for permission to use the images. You get the drift of where this is going, right? RIGHT!

Where Do They Go When They're Done in the Fleet?

It's not like there's an Old Folks Home for elderly naval aircraft or anything, but the useful ones tend to end up in the Naval Reserve, where they sail on (we couldn't rightfully say "soldier" given the subject matter, could we?) until the day finally arrives and they move on to the bone yard or to some park to end their days up a pole. Last time around we promised you some A-7Bs and today we're going to fulfill that promise but with a twist; all of the birds you're about to view were with the NavRes when photographed. The Reserves currently are and, since the close of the Second World War, always have been, an essential part of the NAV's force structure. Let's take a look at Those Other Guys for a minute:

Let's start off with a shot that takes us to the place we all think about when we think "Fruitfly". The deck belongs to the Enterprise and the occasion is The Late Southeast Asia War Games as played in October of 1972. The war's winding down but the A-7B is still a key player and is heavily engaged.  RH Morgan

VA-203 was a member of the AirLant Reserve component working out of Cecil Field in 1981. These are Early Birds; A-7B-1-CVs. They were old when this photo was taken, having been built in the 60s, but were still an extremely viable light attack platform right up until they made their final flight to Tucson. The markings are simple but extremely attractive.  R. Morgan

Here's a shot of 154452 undergoing ramp maintenance. Part of the design criteria for the A-7 was the ease of maintenance at the squadron level, and the "Fruitfly" proved to be an exceptional aircraft in that regard. This photo was shot at NAS Key West in August of 1981; two years later she was at DM awaiting her fate. We like to remember her, and all her sisters, in her better days.  R. Morgan

August of 1981 was a good day to be on the transient ramp at Key West. VA-204's 154397 was there and posed for her portrait just prior to manning and launch. Most NavRes drivers were high-timers and were (and still are!) good sticks. There's a whole bunch of pride in the Reserves.  R. Morgan

The clock was ticking when Rick Morgan shot this "River Rattler" in December of 1982; she'd be at the bone yard in September of the following year. She was still a part of VA-204 when this shot was taken, though. We love that paint job---Fly Navy!  R. Morgan

Beauty! Here's VA-205's 154469 sitting on the ramp with MERs mounted to her outboard pylons. By this time in her life she was probably dropping Mk76 practice bombs, but it's likely she was dispensing the Real Deal when she was new. That 500 modex and the colors on the rudder tell a story to those who know about such things. Originally built as an A-7B-2-CV, she was later converted to TA-7C configuration. The "Fruitfly" was a versatile little bird.  R. Morgan

Can you spell "light attack"? This shot of 205's 154481 pretty much sums it up. The A-7 was a useful aircraft and none of it's variants were duds, although the early ones did lack the performance of the Navy's ultimate E-model. This shot is another one that should be of particular interest to the scale modeler; it simply abounds with detail.  R. Morgan

VA-303 flew the Corsair II as well and, even though we aren't covering their reserve wing today we figured an example would be in order. The A-7 was the perfect pallet for colorful artwork, and 154523 is a prime example of that sort of thing. 154523 survived the wrecker's ball to end up on a pole in Arkansas. We're told she isn't doing very well in that environment---those old girls require a little TLC if you're going to put them on display, ya'll!  D. Balcer

And here's another example from that air wing we aren't going to cover today. 154479 was assigned to VA-304 when we shot her at an air show at NAS Corpus in the early 80s. She's a good looking bird and a tough one too; the gas stains around her starboard gun port attest to some recent work at the range. At one time she was slated for preservation, but we don't know where she ultimately wound up. We can only hope she's being properly cared for, wherever she is now.  Friddell

Here's our final shot for today's A-7 installment. There was a time, not all that long ago...  R. Morgan

Happy Snaps

We run a lot of Rick Morgan's photography around here because he's a really good photographer and has had the opportunity to shoot some fascinating airframes. Most folks don't know that Rick's older brother Mark has been in the photography game for a while too. Here's the proof:

VA-52 on the prowl! Mark was an aspiring BN stashed with VA-52 when he took this particular shot during a training hop in July of 1976. So far today you've seen this shot by Mark, a series of A-7s by Brother Rick, and a photo by their dad, RH Morgan. Talent would seem to run in the family!  M. Morgan

The Relief Tube

It's that time again, folks; time to once again prove right all those folks who insist we don't know much of anything about much of anything. Yessir, it's time for the Relief Tube so, without further ado:

First, a couple of additions to the A-7A captions from last time around from Rick Morgan, who told us Phil, what would Sunday night be without a comment on the blog? VA-37 were Cecil-based; they were attached to AirPac's CVW-11 for their first deployment, to Vietnam, in December of 1968. The RAG A-7A is from VA-125; AirPac had two A-7 training units at that time. VA-122 had the A-7Es, former A-4 RAG VA-125 picked up the A-7A/B roll in September of 1969 and kept it until they disestablished in 1977.  Rick

Thanks as always, Morgo!

Next up is a kudo from reader Robert Little, who used one of our articles as inspiration for a model; since that's one of our goals around here we're understandably tickled by the compliment:  I was so inspired by that homely-looking FG-1D up there in the section "Can You Hear Your Bluebird Sing" that I decided to build it as a fun project (most of my projects these days are), a nostalgia build of sorts, hope you don't mind. I linked that image as well as your blog.  Robert

Robert, we definitely don't mind and are, in point of fact, quite flattered. For those of our readership who'd like to take a look a what Robert's up to these days, you'll want to check out It's a pretty neat site and well worth a visit.

Finally, a reader known only as Slacker sent a link to an old 526th FBS video that somehow ended up on YouTube. It's pretty much in the same vein as the classic The Geiger Tigers and is worth a looksee if you've got eight minutes you can spare. The link, which we sincerely hope will work for you, is . Enjoy!

That's it for this time, folks; there ain't no more! We'll see you again in a week or so, give or take. Until then, be good to your neighbor!