Saturday, September 12, 2015

Another One That Deserves a Better Kit, A Cool Cat, On The Boat, and Ready to Rumble,

Tales of Misawa: The Scaredest I've Ever Been

As you all may remember (and Lord knows you should, since I've told you about it often enough!) I spent a considerable portion of my high-school days at Misawa AB in northern Japan. It was, all in all, a teenage boy's dream come true; no responsibilities other than school to worry about, a foreign country to explore, a motorcycle to explore it on, and, perhaps most importantly lots and lots of airplanes to look at.

Misawa during my time there (1962 until 1965) was home to the 39th Air Division and was charged with the protection of that end of Japan, among other duties (we aren't going to discuss the Other Duties the 39th performed that caused F-100Ds of the 531st TFS to rotate deployments out of South Korea on a regular basis), and until late 1964 the place was literally swarming with airplanes. The JASDF was there of course, with T-6Gs and C-46s from time to time, while the 39th was mother to the 4th FIS (F-102As), the 45th TRS (RF-101Cs), and, for the greater part of 1964, their very own pair of F-100D squadrons (the 416th and 531st TFSs). Add in a hefty dose of transients and you can well understand why a teenage kid who was hooked on military aviation and enjoyed building model airplanes was quite literally living the dream!

There was a serious side to it, though, since there was only one reason why we were there at all. The Cold War was ever-present, and a thermonuclear confrontation with those bad guys was quite literally just the push of a button away. My dad's assignment to Misawa began in October of 1962, and I'm going to presume I don't have to explain the significance of that particular month and year. We dependents led a relatively carefree life, but our fathers were quite literally on the front lines of The End of the World. Sometimes that reality came crashing home to us and gave even the most frivolous of us something to think about. At that point in my life (and in most others as well) I was frivolous, quite possibly to the extreme, but one night in 1964 came the closest to changing things away from frivolity that I've ever personally experienced.

Now that the stage is set, and before we get to The Good Part, I probably ought to explain that Drama is often in the eye of the beholder and/or participant, and one person's drama may well be another's amusement or, quite possibly, boredom. You get to pick whichever you prefer once you've finished reading, but I'm going to tell you right now, and without embarrassment, that I was scared that night; the most scared I've ever been in all my years on the planet. Here's what happened:

If you grew up on Air Force bases during the 1950s and 60s, you grew up with a phenomenon known as The Alert. That didn't mean all that much on training bases, but on a SAC, TAC, ADC, USAFE, or PACAF base it was an event often accompanied by high drama because of the ever-present possibility that the alert wasn't for practice but was in fact The Real Thing (I've personally seen people, women and children, nearly trampled when the alert horn went off in the BX on a SAC base), and there was no way to know which one it was, at least for a dependent, until after the whole thing was over and done with. It was a normal part of life.

That particular normalcy was an ongoing thing at Misawa in those days. Vladivostok was an easy flight away, as was North Korea, and alerts were an ongoing part of the adventure until that one night when the base siren went off in the wee hours. My dad, along with every other service member on base, responded to the sound by jumping out of bed, throwing on his uniform, and running out the door to get to his squadron area. All the racket woke me up, of course, and I lay there listening for The Good Part, because the 39th AD often launched the duty pair of "Deuces" when such festivities occurred and it was fun, if you liked airplanes, to listen to them get off the ground. That night wasn't a disappointment, but on that occasion there was a whole lot more to it than just a couple of F-102s getting into the air.

If you're around airplanes very much at all, you soon begin to recognize different types simply by their sound. The F-102s were unique in that respect, as were the RF-101s, and nobody who's ever heard a "Hun" launch can forget the sound it makes when it goes into burner, so it was relatively easy to figure out what was getting in the air that night, and when.

The 102s got off the ground first, as to be expected, and then there was a lull. It was just another alert, or at least that's what I thought until eight or ten minutes later, when a pair of "Huns" launched, followed by another pair, and then another, and then another. The air around the base was filled with jet engine noise as fighter after fighter was started, run up, taxied, and launched, mostly F-100s but with a 102 or two in the mix, along with at least one "Voodoo", and it quickly became abundantly clear that everything capable of getting airborne that night was being launched. It took a few minutes for the significance of it all to settle in, and I didn't go back to sleep until I heard the first aircraft recover an hour or so later.

My dad didn't come home the next morning the way he normally would have, but returned to our quarters around midday, for lunch. I was there too, and I asked what was going on the night before; his response was "you don't need to know". One of our neighbors was an armament and electronics type assigned to the 4th FIS, and he was the next adult I ran into as I left our house on my way back to school. My question to him got pretty much the same response I'd received from my dad, and he looked spooked when he told me not to ask about it. Similar questions to other GIs in my acquaintance got me pretty much the same answer and I still, to this day, don't know what happened that night. I do know that it brought home The Cold War, and my dad's part in the whole business, in a manner that nothing else short of nuclear conflict could have.

Why am I telling you this? Easy; because the incident drove home, to me at least, the reason those airplanes existed in the first place, and it brought clarity to the reason my dad, and all those other men and women, were standing on the wall every night ready to protect us all. That night clarified, as nothing before ever had, what those plastic models I loved to build actually represented. It was a wake-up call of sorts.

Let's raise a glass...

Kickin' It Old School Just One More Time

It's easy to get really spoiled with this hobby of ours, and it seems like not a week goes by without some new wonder kit hitting the shelves, or some new decal sheet, or some amazingly-detailed resin or photo-etched bits. It's all there, it's all for us and it's mostly all new. All we have to do is buy it, often for a pretty penny, but it's all worth it because it's new, right? Well, ok; maybe it's a re-issue and not exactly new, or maybe it's new but not exactly good---the current generation of UberKits come in all sorts of flavors, don't they? Today's flavor isn't a brand new kit, though. It's an old friend, at least to some of us: Monogram's 1/48th scale Lockheed F-80A. Originally released in 1977, it's a dinosaur to a great many of today's modelers, and a virtually unbuildable dinosaur at that; a kit characterized by poor fit and difficult assembly. It's a model totally unworthy of our attention, right? WRONG!

As things turn out, that ancient old F-80 from Morton Grove just happens to be, Right Now This Very Minute, the most accurate F-80 kit available in any scale and guess what? It's perfectly buildable too! Yep; all those pieces that allegedly don't fit each other go together just fine, thank you very much; all you need to get the kit together is patience and a little bit of basic modeling ability. Just watch and see!

The first thing you'll need to do is deal with the fuselage halves, which are broken into right and left sides and forward and rear sections. The kit's designed that way so you can pull the fuselage apart and display the back half of the engine, which was once considered to have state-of-the-art detailing. That was Then---this is Now, and that engine just won't get it done any more, so let's ignore it as a display item and use it as a piece of structure instead. Assemble those fuselage sections front to rear, and make sure they're properly aligned with straight, flat mating surfaces. Let them dry thoroughly, and then sand them smooth (but don't putty the seam since there's one in that exact place on the real airplane!). Once all that's done, cut the tailpipe at the place shown in the photo above, assemble what's left of the engine, and glue it into one of the fuselage halves. Which one doesn't really matter very much; just make sure it fits and make equally certain those halves will go together without a gap. You may have to knock off some of the combustion chamber detailing on the engine in order to do that but it's nothing to be concerned about, since we're only going to use the engine to locate the tailpipe within the fuselage anyway---you won't be seeing anything of that powerplant this time!

See what I mean? The tailpipe you see is a piece of K and N brass tubing cut to length, using the now-removed kit part as a template for length. Cut your brass tube a little longer than it needs to be, treat it with some sort of brass-blackening solution (I used a model railroad product called "Blacken It", but pretty much any product of that nature will work), then wipe 5-minute epoxy inside the kit engine, shove the tailpipe up in there, and secure it until it cures. Make sure you've got that brass tube properly aligned (top-to-bottom and side-to-side) while the epoxy is setting, make sure the right amount of it projects outside the fuselage, and you're golden. One thing to watch for with this step---those brass blackening chemicals are all way past Nasty and can cause considerable harm to living beings, so read the instructions that come with them and follow them to the letter. Be especially sure to keep them away from short people if you have any of those in your household, and away from pets too. (A workaround for that particular product would be to airbrush the brass tube inside and out with some sort of metalizer meant for hobby use, and we heartily recommend that course if you have even the least concern about using the other stuff.) Fore-warned is fore-armed!

Monogram's F-80 is reputed to be a confirmed tail-sitter, but it's honestly no worse than any other tricycle-geared model airplane, and nowhere near as bad as any P-39 is to deal with, so let's get that out of the way next. See that little clear rod laying just behind the kit's wing? That particular doohickey is a prop that the manufacturer included for the modeler to use if they couldn't figure out how to get weight in the nose. We aren't going to need it, so turn it upside down and glue it into the appropriate hole from the back side of the wing (that's the part as shown, for those of you who tend to get confused by such things). When it's dry, clip off most of it so it won't hit the bottom of what's left of the engine, and clean up the other side of the wing---there won't be much to do there if you're careful, so be careful! Next you'll want to drill out those pylon holes in the wings, at least if you're doing a Korean War bird, and carefully dress the mating surfaces at the front and back of the wing center section. That area is one that's allegedly hard to make fit correctly, but it just ain't so IF you're careful with your cleanup and basic assembly.

At some point you're going to want to ballast this thing so it'll sit on its nose gear, so let's take a look at one way to do that. The first thing you'll want to do is build up the interior, because you're going to need it for component alignment in a few minutes. Correct the angle at which Monogram has you seat the instrument panel into place since it's not slanted back like that on the real airplane, and cut away all of the structure on the inside of the left fuselage nose---it's there so you can display the kit's poorly detailed gunbay, and we're not going to do that. (At least I'm not. You can do it if you want to, but you're going to have to figure out how to ballast it yourself if you decide to do things that way.) Glue the forward part of the interior into place since it also serves as part of the cockpit floor, and install the resulting assembly into the model once you've got things detailed the way you like them. Next, take the ballast agent of your choice and put it into place using 5-minute epoxy, making certain that you don't foul the depressions that are intended for your gun barrels! I used a .495 diameter lead round ball, with a .375 diameter ball added just to be sure, and watched over the whole thing while the epoxy set, just to be certain nothing shifted while the stuff cured. Next you'll want to deal with the gun barrels. The kit provides a set, sortof, but they're done with 1970s technology and aren't all that good. I had an extra set of 1/48th scale Tamiya P-47 blast tubes laying around from a recent project (I used Master Barrels on that particular "Jug" so the kit barrels were spares) and they proved to be perfect for use on an F-80---they were the right diameter, could easily be cut to length and, most importantly, already had a hole in each end thanks to Tamiya's use of slide-mold technology on that Thunderbolt kit, so there were no holes to drill! With all of that done, the fuselage could be assembled. Progress, as it were!

It's time to start putting the big pieces together and getting this thing to look like an airplane! In my personal world opened panels on models generally aren't (shown opened, that is), because I prefer the completed projects to look somewhat like a real airplane would appear when sitting on a ramp, so that gun-bay panel that Monogram so thoughtfully opened up for us has been closed and sanded smooth. Four of the six .50 machine guns (those Tamiya barrels) have been installed; the last two, the ones at the very front, will go in after the sanding of the nose is completed and any unit markings are painted. The kit's somewhat lumpy and inaccurate gun sight is now gone, to be replaced later on in the project with a resin component, and the fuselage halves have been carefully fitted together and assembled with Tenax---doing it that way means minimal sanding and a little bit of polishing, which will simplify your life considerably. So far only a tiny bit of putty has been used, and the only reason for its use has been to repair things that I gomed up as I was going along. The only thing that really bears watching is making certain that everything that needs to be inside the model is actually there before you close up that fuselage. Oh, and the interior is slightly modified from the one supplied by the kit. I could've done more (an Eduard Zoom set intended for That Other F-80, for example), but it's not a big cockpit and I wanted to try an Old School build on the thing. So far, the only items used that weren't in the kit to begin with are the tailpipe, the guns, and the ballast weights.

Here's the other side of the assembled fuselage, mostly to show you what that side looks like. There's a tiny L-shaped pitot-thingy molded up under the nose and so far it's still there. We'll see how long that lasts, I suppose, but for now everything is pretty much where it should be. It's beginning to look a little bit like a Shooting Star, isn't it?

The horizontal stabs and elevators really show their age on this kit, but there's nothing there that's insurmountable. Each part has a pair of sink marks that require filling and sanding, and the port-side piece has a copyright mark and the letters MMI that need to be sanded off, but that's about it. Clean 'em up, polish 'em, and set 'em aside for a while!

Here we have an assembled wing, painted, sort-of, and in some respects ready for installation on the airframe, even though we aren't going to do that just yet. Instead, we're going to let the paint (Floquil Old Silver) dry for a few days to make sure it's good and hard, and then polish it out with a soft cloth. Once that's done it'll be time to go back with low-tack masking tape (or, more likely, Post-It notes), and mask the few areas of the airplane that are in contrasting shades of natural metal so we can address that part of the painting process. The holes for the kit's wing pylons have been pre-drilled but the pylons themselves won't go on the airplane until after the under-wing decals have been applied, since the pylons were installed over the markings on the real airplane. Doing things this way will simplify life as well as reduce the profanity level in your workshop. One more thing before we leave the bottom wing assembly; Korean War F-80s often had an additional set of pylons inboard of the "normal" ones to allow rockets to be fitted to the aircraft in addition to bombs or napalm. The kit doesn't provide them so you'll have to decide for yourself whether you want to scratch-build a set or not---they're not always there, but they're really obvious when they are. One final note: Those little doohickeys on the aft center-section of the wing are supposed to represent the hooks used to mount RATO bottles to the aircraft. It's entirely likely that this particular model will have those bottles attached (stolen from the F-84 kit of my choice) and that simple act will hide the fact that the kit's hooks really aren't, but if you're after a super-detailed F-80 and don't plan on mounting RATO, it might be worth-while to replace those little bumps with actual hooks. That's your choice, isn't it?

And this is what we've got after ten or fifteen hours of on-and-off work on the F-80. The wings still aren't attached since I haven't painted the anti-glare panel or nose markings yet and life will be far easier if I don't have to contend with a set of wings sticking out of the sides of the airplane when I do that. The paintwork looks pretty crummy in this shot but in theory it won't be that way for long since everything will be polished with the afore-mentioned soft cloth once the paint has completely cured, after which a handful of selected panels will be painted in a contrasting shade of metal (or maybe treated with Rub-N-Buff, who knows?) before the anti-glare panel, radar cover, and unit markings are applied. The horizontal stabs have been pre-fitted and will not require putty, so they've been painted too and will go on the airplane once all the other paint-work and decaling have been completed. It's beginning to look a little bit like an airplane, isn't it?

Let's take a break from the modeling side of things and take a look at a couple of real F-80s, just to keep your interest up! 49-1849 was built as an F-80C-10-LO and was in her prime in Korea when this photo was taken in 1952. The ID on the original photo says she's from the 49th, but the style of nose marking makes it far more likely she's actually from the 25th FBS of the 51st. She's got Misawa tanks under the wings and a command stripe on the aft fus, while her wing pylons are carrying 500lb GP bombs. We suspect the photo was taken fairly early in 1951, but reader comments are welcomed (as is additional photography!).   Kerr Collection

Here's another view of 1849, probably shot on the same day and showing her taxiing past a T-33A from the 16th FBS. The flaps are lowered in this view and she's probably just about ready to turn off onto the active, although we have no way of knowing for sure. It's a murky shot, but it gives a feel for the operational conditions encountered by the USAF during that Spring of 1951.   Kerr Collection

Speaking of murky shots, here's another one that's absolutely tantalizing from the collection of Bob Esposito. 49-0739 is another F-80C-10, this time from the 25th FBS/51st FBW. She was damaged by ground fire in March of 1951 (always a threat to F-80 operations) and could possibly be undergoing repairs here, although we doubt it. A couple of things of note in this photo include her empty gun bays and resulting "sit", her extensive mission markers, and her name, which appears to be "Night Take Off". If you've got clarification or additional photography to share, that address is, once again,   .  Spammers need not apply!    Esposito Collection via Kerr

Just How Cold IS It?

Plenty cold, at least if you take this image into account:

The squadron is VP-41 and the place is the Aleutian Islands, where we find this PBY-5A being bombed up prior to another mission. P-5's paintwork and markings place her solidly into the 1942 time period and she's heavily secured to what passes for the ramp in this shot, and there's no doubt that this is anything but desirable duty! One thing of interest, and yet another question for our eagle-eyed readers: If you look carefully along the leading edge of her port wing (that's the one on the right in this photo) you can make out what appear to be a series of red and white poles sticking upright out of the ground and extending up above the wings. We've never seen this particular thing before---maybe you have?   National Archives via Rocker Collection

At any rate, this photo could be THE photograph describing the hardships our guys faced during the Second World War, particularly since things are obviously so lousy and they aren't even in combat! It makes you think, doesn't it? Many thanks to Bobby Rocker for the image, and to those guys in the picture for being there when they were needed the most. Let's raise a glass!

One Man's Camera

Jim Sullivan is an old friend, one that's been around since the very beginning of the original print Replica in Scale project. Mostly you've seen photos from his collections of  historical Navy and Air Force images (they don't call him Mister Corsair for nothing!), but it's a known fact that he's also a superior photographer in his own right, as these images prove:

It's January of 1989 and Jim's aboard the USS America doing photography. The object of his affections (and considerable talents) is an F-14A of VF-33 coming aboard in a textbook trap. Like all military aircraft, the Tomcat eventually got old and became a little bit of a maintenance pig in the process, but she was in her salad days when Jim took this photo. Fly Navy!   Jim Sullivan

That same shoot offered Jim this gorgeous shot of VA-85's 161231 taking the wire aboard the America. 231 was a well-used Intruder, and her wear and tear make her an ideal subject for the scale modeler, but wear and tear has relatively little to do with capability. The A-6E underwent significant upgrades and improvements throughout its service life and was capable right up until the end.   Jim Sullivan

The Bad Thing on the Block

Every neighborhood's got a tough guy, the junkyard dog you just don't mess around with. When Scott Wilson sent this photo a few months ago there was no doubt that it portrayed that junkyard dog thing to a tee:

Some airplanes just cry out for a theme song, and in this particular case the song probably wouldn't be a nice one (Rose Tattoo's Butcher and Fast Eddie comes to mind in that regard, but who are we to say?) Scott caught F-4E 67-0250 from the 347th TFW taxiing out in March of 1982, armed for the air-to-air mission and apparently carrying at least one live AIM-9. It's probably just the mood we're in today, but everything about this photograph seems to say "come on if you think you can"! It's quite possible that the F-4 was never the best at anything, but it was always a great deal more than Good Enough for every mission it was given. Scott caught her minutes before she crashed to destruction on the 19th of March, 1982, over the Panamint Valley. The crew got out safely, but as for the airplane, well...  Scott Wilson

Sometimes even the tough kid can't pull it off. 0250 entered an unrecoverable spin to the left and went in hard, writing off the aircraft. The aircrew ejected safely, but there wasn't a whole lot left of the airplane. Nobody ever said it was safe...    Scott Wilson

And, to put the wrap on the story, here's Scott's account of the incident:

Right after I went on active duty in February 1982 and was assigned to George Airplane Patch in California, I found a road alongside the taxiway where I could park and get a few photos of jets taxiing out. I shot one of 67-0250 on a cold blustery day. I actually threw this slide in the garbage because I didn't think it was worth keeping, but heard that day that 250 had crashed so I fished the slide back out of the garbage. A week later the accident investigation was completed and I was "volunteered" to help clean up the wreckage. When we arrived at the site I immediately took some photos of the wreck. 

  A couple years ago someone sent me a scan of a photocopy of the accident report which confirmed a rumor I'd heard. The rumor was that a C-141 navigator from Norton AFB had been camping in the desert near the accident site. The site was on a hillside in the Panamint Valley between China Lake and Death Valley. It was many miles to the nearest town, way out in the desert wilderness. Anyway, I'd heard he got photos of the jet coming down and talked to several people who claimed to have seen them. I never saw them, but a composite of his photos was attached to the accident report. It's very difficult to pick out the airplane as it spun in and the parachutes at the top, hopefully you can find them. (We aren't running the accident report here, and Scott's right about the poor quality of the photos.)

Happy Snaps

It's been quite a while since we've run anything in this department, which means it's time to break the fast!

A-7B 154452, with VA-203, in flight over the Dry Tortugas on 12 August, 1981. The Bravo model of the "Fruit Fly" wasn't too far from obsolescent when Rick shot this photo, but it was still a viable platform for the basic attack mission even at that. Photos like this one tend to belie the true purpose of the airplanes depicted, but flight is flight and this is a beautiful image. Thanks as always to Rick Morgan for sharing it with us.

The Relief Tube

Letters; we get Letters:

First off, in the We Shoulda Known Better Department, comes a letter from Ken Holston regarding a photo we ran a few years back of an Air Force A-1E pilot who was unknown to us at the time. As it happens, the individual in the photograph was a remarkable aviator and warrior, and you need to know more about him.

This isn't the photo we originally ran, but it's the same guy; Earl Trimble. Let's let Ken, and a couple of other folks, explain it for us:

I'm a retired modern-era (1990-2012) USAF C-130H pilot whose passion is USAF Skyraider history.  I came across the photo of the unknown pilot in your June 2010 blog and got this answer from the Skyraider Assoc:

"The Skyraider pilot was identified as Earl Trimble.  One of the guys who recognized him was at Udorn with the 602nd in '67."
You might enjoy these links:
Ken Holston
Atlanta, G

Thanks, Ken, for helping provide us with insight on an amazing individual. A quick visit back to June of 2010 (use the little-known "search" function at the bottom of this page) will show you the original photo.           USAF Photo

We ran a really neat air-to-air shot of a late-1940s Navy Reserve Corsair an issue or two back and received this comment from David Collier, a man who was there:

You comment on the rocket rails shown on a VMF-323 Corsair. The Corsair was equipped with rocket launching capability during late WWII. The photo shows the an early rocket launcher mounted on the Corsair, officially known as the "Aircraft Launcher Mk 5 Mod 1". The rail is actually part of the "Adapter, Aircraft Launcher Mk 6", which is attached to two post rocket rack. The adapter allows the aircraft to carry and fire the 2.25" Sub-caliber Aircraft Rocket used in training. The bare metal showing on the bottom side of adapter was the the lower half of the rail that was made of stainless steel. The metal was kept coated with a light coat of grease since a rocket being jammed on the rail after firing could spoil your whole day.

Having worked on the F4U-4 for a couple of years i can tell you that it was a hard plane to keep clean, in fact I think this aircraft's Plane Captain was doing a great job.

Notice #6 A/C behind the moving plane has a some paint missing from the forward edge of its right wing just above the landing gear. That is because most of the ground crew would get up on the wing by standing on the tire and then boosting themselves onto the wing. The climb up to the cockpit involve using the cutouts on the right wing flap and fuselage but the climb up the oily wing incline was usually avoided by those fueling the aircraft or working on its wing guns. 

Thanks, David, both for your comments and for your insight into a remarkable era of American military aviation!

And that's it for this time. In theory we'll be a little further along with that F-80 project the next time we convene and there's lots of other neat stuff waiting in the wings as well, so stay tuned! Be good to your neighbor until we meet again!