Sunday, June 12, 2016

That British Shooting Star, Mustangs at the End, An Odd One, Bound to the Ground, and Some Eagles

So You Actually Saw It, Right?

Which is, in a somewhat direct and quite possibly blunt way, a challenge to us all; a thought that I've been considering for quite some time now. The premise is one of those obvious things that we all should see but choose to ignore, to wit: The new Doomaflatchy Mk 39 kit has just been announced/released (pick the one that best fits your thought process) and Boy; is it ever a pile of junk! I looked at the pictures of the pre-release CAD screen shots and it's obvious that (fill in the blanks here). The kit's awful, a complete and total waste of plastic and my time!

That's one variation of the theme, but it's got a corollary all its very own: Why do you want to build that kit of the Whatever It Is? Everybody knows it's junk. It's a complete and total waste of your time! You really need to build the Whatever It Is That I Prefer instead.

Those statements aren't anything new in our polystyrene world, but consider this if you will: To some extent our hobby is as much an art form as it is an engineering exercise, and in point of fact a couple of my friends have been tagging modelers as either artists or engineers since the late 1960s, an identification that might lead us to believe that our hobby is somewhat subjective which, in point of fact, it very much is! Yes, the component pieces of those plastic kits we build are pre-defined since they come out of a specific set of hard tooling (unless you happen to be scratch-building, which could take us to a whole new level of subjectivity although that's not a discussion we're going to have today), but what happens to them after you open the box is up to you as much as it is to the kit.

There are, of course, a considerable number of informed people out there who know a lot about aviation and, in particular, aviation as it applies itself to those high-fidelity (in theory, at least) plastic models we build. Those folks are somewhat learned in the subject, albeit informally, and their perspectives and opinions are quite often valid. They are not, however, absolute. When we start discussing that side of the equation, we quickly find ourselves talking about two separate but equal (and often equally frustrating) situations. The first is the discussion, often damning, of the new kit that's going to come out but hasn't been announced yet, a discussion that's sole basis is the pre-release information provided by the kit's manufacturer, maybe in the form of an artist's rendering or maybe by the more contemporary CAD data (that stands for Computer Assisted Design, in case you were wondering) that's become commonplace in our hobby. Either one might be spot-on accurate and could well and truly define the kit we're going to get. Then again, it might not.

The other half of the discussion is the trashing of older kits based more on opinion than upon any sort of fact. It's certainly true that some of those kits we all define as dogs well and truly are, and you can hear them barking when you look at the box on the shelf of your hobby shop. It's equally factual, however, that there are more than a few of those polystyrene canines that aren't all that bad and can be made into excellent scale models with just a little bit of extra work. The term Old Kit does not in and of itself translate into Bad Kit no matter how much a vocal minority of the internet experts think it should.

I have a couple of thoughts on that whole thing, of course; don't I always? The first thought is this: I don't think you can truly judge anything that hasn't been released yet until---Ta-Daa---it's actually been released and is available for examination and critical review. Until that happens, all we've got is speculation and nothing more.

The other thought applies both to things that haven't been released and to things that have been around for decades, and it's a simple choice. If the kit is massively bad either fix it, live with the problems, or pass it by and wait for something better to come along. At the worst that new kit/old dog provides an opportunity for you to improve your modeling skills, and how else will you ever get better at the hobby if you don't step up and try things you haven't done before? (How many times have I said that over the past several years?) The guys and gals building those beautiful models we see in the surviving print magazines and on the internet didn't start out building replicas to that level; they learned how to do it through an ongoing evolution of their skills, and that evolution includes correcting inaccuracies in any given kit every bit as much as it does pre-shading, having the latest and greatest aftermarket, or anything else you may think you have to have in order to build a "good" model, whatever that is.

At the end of the day any kit we buy is a starting place and nothing more. It's a KIT. It might be an easy one or it might be damnably hard but at the end of the day it's still a kit, and it's an opportunity for you to improve your skills unless, of course, it's a really really bad kit, in which case it's an opportunity for you to exercise a little will power and buy something else instead. For example, and using as our star attraction a forthcoming model of an airplane that a great many of us truly want to have---it would be nice to have a Tamiya-quality P-40B available out of the box in 1/48th scale, and I think we'll probably come close when Airfix finally releases their new kit of same later this year, but the world won't come to an end if the kit turns out to have some minor issues and we have to use a little elbow grease in order to get to that exalted place.

We're all humans and it's in our nature to complain about things. It's my view that we should save those complaints for things that are actually worthy of same, and not go jumping on any old bandwagon that comes rolling by. Get the plastic in your hands, research the kit, check the dimensions, and evaluate the detailing, then make a pronouncement as to its accuracy. After all, Bad is a relative thing, even when you factor in the notion that it's as easy to design a good kit as it is to design an inaccurate one. At the end of the day it's a kit. It's a canvas for the artists among us, or a set of components for the engineers. On a personal level, I wish that new Merit kit of the Grumman Duck was better than it is, but I can fix the problems and I'm willing to do it. I'm not interested in fixing the Hobby Boss F-80 although I really do wish we had a state of the art kit of the airplane; the old Monogram kit provides a fine starting place for that airframe and in my view the HB kit offers no advantages to outweigh its proven inaccuracies. That's what we call a personal choice, I think. One kit is worth the extra effort to me but another isn't, and it all works out at the end of the day.

Maybe, just maybe, we should wait a while and see what those new, yet-to-be-released kits actually look like before we start bashing them and maybe, just maybe, we should evaluate the older stuff with a more objective eye? Maybe...

One We've Been Waiting For

Once upon a time, several years ago, there was a manufacturer of plastic model airplane kits called Classic Airframes. They were a small company with big aspirations and their claim to fame rested primarily on their propensity for releasing 1/48th scale kits of aircraft that nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole, although they did occasionally venture forth into the realm of kits that the mainstream manufacturers should have done but hadn't. Their kits were obviously a labor of love but were distinctly of the limited-run variety, containing lots of resin bits and component pieces that were of the some-modeling-skills-required variety. You could easily build a show-stopper from those kits and a great many people have done just that, but the talent required to successfully complete one meant that not all that many got built. They were for the most part, and still are, what we can accurately describe as a tough date.

One of the kits they released from the category of Things The Mainstream Guys Should've Already Produced But Didn't was the Gloster/Armstrong-Whitworth Meteor. In point of fact they didn't produce just one kit but several later variants beginning with the F.4 and their "Meatbox" family, in theory at least, filled in a major gap in our collections of post-War jet fighters. Those kits could be built and looked good when completed, but it's fairly safe to say that it took some skill and extra effort to do it. The world was ready for a good 1/48th scale Meteor that most any moderately accomplished modeler could build, and none of the Classic Airframes kits filled that bill. We needed something better.

Then, late last year, the guys at the revitalized Airfix made a whole bunch of us jump for joy, and I mean quite literally in my case, when they announced that they would be doing a 1/48th scale Meteor F.8. The real airplane was one of those gorgeous fighters from the 50s that was blessed both with a myriad of attractive schemes and a combat record. It was, and is, an excellent choice for Airfix as well as a boon to anyone who builds jet aircraft from that era.

There are a number of reviews of this kit on the internet already so I'm not going to bore you with yet another one. My intention here is simply to pass on a few observations which I feel qualified to make since I've got said kit far enough along in the building process to discover some things you might want to know.

Keeping uppermost in our minds that this is not a review, here's where I was with the kit several days ago. It took a week or so of building for maybe an hour a day to produce what you see here, and that week was a pleasurable one. A whole bunch of people have been saying extremely nice things about the re-born Airfix and I have to agree with them---I've begun awaiting the arrival of each new Airfix kit with the same sort of excitement I had for their products way back in the 60s. Good on ya, Airfix! Keep it up!

One of the first things you'll notice about this kit is the instruction sheet, and those of you who are easily intimidated may well cringe from the fact that it numbers 98, count 'em; 98, separate and distinct assembly steps. There's nothing to be alarmed about, however---those entirely pictorial steps are all linear, well-illustrated, and leave virtually nothing to guesswork or chance. The sheer number of steps comes from the fact that they treat a great many subassemblies as separate items when they could just as easily have combined them, there being a separate step for each horizontal stab, each aileron, each elevator, each engine, and so on and so forth. Very few of those steps contain more than one thing for you to do which makes them both simple to follow and somewhat voluminous in total quantity---the point I'm trying to make here is that you shouldn't be concerned by a kit from this manufacturer that has 98 assembly steps, at least in this case, because Airfix presents them in such a way as to make your life considerably easier, not more difficult.

Those instructions contain a couple of options for you to consider such as wheels up or wheels down, external fuel tanks or not, and extended air brakes or not. The kit also provides the option of early or late engine intakes, both early or late canopies, the "Australian" ADF fairing, and a set of camera windows, none of which are defined in the instructions. Said instructions are quite specific as to what parts go where but you're going to have to figure out what you want to build from the kit before you start and, for the most part, stick with it. You can, and this is the reason I'm so excited about the kit, build an Australian F.8 out of the current boxing even though there's nothing anywhere on the instructions or box art that says so. Everything you'll need is already there except for rocket rails and a modified instrument panel, and there are flashed-over holes in the wings for the rockets. (I honestly doubt that anybody except possibly Red Roo will cater to that instrument panel change but who knows; maybe somebody will. My guess is that not one modeler in a thousand will ever notice the difference regardless of which panel is in there, but maybe I'm wrong about that.)

Several people have already come out with custom stickies for the kit and Red Roo has offered Korean War 77 Sqdn RAAF markings since the CA kit became available, while the kit's own decals are more than usable if you like the airplanes offered. You can also steal the excellent decals from either of Classic Airframes' Meteor F.8 offerings. I mention this primarily because a lot of American modelers may not be aware that some decals are already out there although everybody knows more are coming---I suspect most of our modeling friends resident in the Former Empire are aware and are ready to rock and roll.

The kit is molded in that soft, light-blue Airfix plastic of yore (that means the plastic they used a long time ago) which I like a lot, being a modeler who's also of yore. It cuts easily, sands easily, and is therefore both easy to work with and equally easy to mess up if your talents run towards clumsiness, definitely something to watch out for. Surface detailing is more than adequate and component detailing sits in the same boat. My kit suffered from a short-shot on one of the horizontal stabs, a malady I can't recall being mentioned in any of the reviews I've read so far. It's no big deal but it's there, which means it might be on your kit too and is therefore worth knowing about.

The infamous short-shot! If you discount the time it took the putty to dry it took far longer to write about this problem than it did to fix it. It's no big deal and is barely worth mentioning; I do so primarily to benefit the newer modeler who may be put off by this sort of thing. It's well and truly no big deal.

Speaking of that plastic, one thing that most assuredly is worth mentioning (and constitutes my one major gripe regarding this kit) is the surface texture of the plastic, which requires sanding or polishing prior to the application of any sort of finish. Airfix apparently used the EDM process (Electrical Discharge Machining) to create their tooling and there's plenty of reason to do it that way, since the process can be faster, less expensive, and produce molds that are easily as detailed as old-fashioned milling. Unfortunately, EDM generally leaves a surface texture that requires polishing out, which equates to More Money in the grand scheme of things. It would seem that Airfix didn't perform the final polishing which, in turn, requires that the modeler do it themselves. That's honestly not much of a deal but it's still surprising that they would do things that way when the rest of the kit is so exceptionally good.

One of the things I've read regarding this kit, and several others recently released by our re-emergent star from Perfidious Albion, is that you've got to be careful with your assembly work so things will fit properly. That, my friends is true. Several parts on the kit are done to extremely tight tolerances but they'll all fit as intended if you do your part of the job. In that vein I've read several reviews where the modeler commented on gaps at the wing roots. My kit wanted to have those gaps too, but the problem when away when I ran a little Tenax into that joint to properly set the wings to accommodate the necessary dihedral on the outer wing panels. It's an easy kit to build if you're pre-fitting as you go along and that's something we all do all the time, right?

Other things you might want to know about include the interior tub, which is pretty darned good right out of the box, although you might want to steal the bang seat from that suddenly-obsolete Classic Airframes kit you've been hording, and the landing gear. We all know there's got to be a way to do those accursed mud-guards besides molding them in two halves, integral with the struts, but maybe that's too expensive to tool for in the grand scheme of things (he said, tongue firmly in cheek!). A lot of folks will probably want to replace the kit's wheels and tires with the inevitable resin aftermarket once they become available, but you should know that the kit's items are perfectly usable if you don't want to go that route. Still, the landing gear is interesting in that it's simply designed yet manages to convey the complication of the real thing without using a gazillion small parts to do it. I'd anticipated issues with the mudguards, always a trial on models of this family of aircraft, but a little sanding took care of that whole Look-At-Me-I'm-In-Two-Halves thing. You'll want to be extra careful when you fit those two x-shaped retraction mlg assemblies into the wheel wells and they're easiest to install if you insert the outboard ends first, then the inboards. Like almost everything else on this kit they pretty much snap into place once you figure out how to install them. The learning curve is the tricky part.

Airfix provide you with passable engines too, which you'll want to install whether you're leaving the cowlings unbuttoned or not since you can see the whole front of said powerplants through those intakes. You'll also want to sand and paint the wing spar, which lives in front of the engines, before you do much in the way of assembly.

A final note, at least until I get this model completed: Airfix provide you with both small and large-bore intakes. This is of great interest to anybody contemplating a Korean War Australian bird and you'll want to lock down which intakes you need fairly early in the game. Fortunately, that's fairly easy to do and there's a saving grace to that whole deal since the intakes were easy to change out in the field in real life, which gives the modeler some theoretical leeway. Those among us who want to do a 77 Sqdn bird may also want to know that the smart money says that Australian Meteors from s/n A77-851 and up were delivered with large-bore intakes. As always, photographs are your friend!

Here's where we are after ten hours or so of extremely pleasant modeling. A couple of modeler-induced problems are evident (and are in process of being corrected!), but the kit itself is a treasure! It probably isn't a good choice for the absolute novice but anyone else can achieve an excellent result from it---just follow the instructions, fit twice and glue once, and you'll be really pleased with the results! The decals, by the way, are from Red Roo sheet RRD4830 "Boring Old Silver" and are for the 77 Sqdn F.8 (A77-859) flown by Ted Jones and nick-named "Darky Jones". They're of superb quality and definitely compliment the kit if you're interested in an Aussie bird.

That pretty much wraps up what I think I know about this kit at this point. It's been an absolute pleasure to work with and has totally removed the somewhat cranky Classic Airframes offering  from consideration as a viable kit, although I'll caveat that by saying it served well in its day; it's just that its day is over. There's no doubt that Airfix have other variants in the works off this basic kit too, which is definitely something to look forward to. In my world the kit is a definite Win. Way to go, Airfix!

Oh, and Mr. Airfix: May I have a Hunter in 1/48th scale too, please? Please...

A sight you don't see every day---a restored Meteor F.8 photographed by Rick Morgan in Avalon, Australia, in 2013. The airplane is painted in the markings of A77-851, "Hale Storm", which was a MiG-killer. It's a fitting way to end today's essay on the Meteor, I think!    R Morgan

Late in the Game

The date is 12 August, 1945, just two days away from the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. The place is Ie Shima, a tiny island adjacent to Iwo Jima where the 110th TRS is in residence. This shot from the Rocker collection defines a poignant moment in the conflict; the squadron has essentially stood down but the war is still in progress and adding an air of uncertainty to the lives of those tasked with its conclusion.

These photo-Mustangs of the 110th TRS are lined up and parked and the canopies have been covered with canvas to protect them from the elements. The war is over for all intents and purposes but there's still no formal surrender and it's to the point where the waiting is harder than the combat. In just a couple of short days these airplanes, along with their pilots, ground crews, and support staff, will have become superfluous; the personnel will be going home while the gorgeous airplanes will, in very short order, go to the scrap heap. I'm pretty sure those pilots and ground echelon were glad to see them go, and even more glad to get back to the Land of the Big PX to try to restart their lives. It's all glamorous and exciting in the movies. The reality is a different story. Let's raise a glass!   Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to the generosity of Bobby Rocker, who makes these images available to us issue after issue.

Is It Supposed to Look Like That?

The Morgan boys, Mark and Rick, get around a bit. That's a really good thing for us because they share a lot of photography with the project, quite a bit of which is unique. Take this photo, for example:

Ok; so it's just a KA-6D from VA-52 (BuNo 151819) sitting in the hangar deck of the Carl Vinson in February of '97. There's nothing hanging under the wings (including racks) and nothing to make her noteworthy, not one stinkin' thing of interest. Oh, wait---what about that paint? Yikes! All right then; that's enough of being silly. Here's the deal: By 1997 VA-52 had been gone for two years or so. This particular KA-6 was in all likelihood a "blocking dummy", used for training in such disciplines as fire suppression and deck spotting and a fine example of just why we all insist on having a photograph on hand of the aircraft we're modeling. The airframe is quite obviously Light Gull Grey over Insignia White, the old "Easter Egg" scheme that was once the norm, but her radome is from a different aircraft and is in an interpretation of TPS. It's not an attractive paint job, or at least I don't think it is, but it is an extremely interesting one. In addition to that nose, a couple of other panels are also done in some variety of the tactical paint scheme, and then there are those checkerboards on the canopy framing. All in all this is a unique airplane and would make for a great model, painted up like that and sitting on a section of flight deck in a training scenario. Anybody got a detail of that emblem on the tail? If you do, the e-mail address, somewhat obfuscated to confound the spammers, is  replica in scale at yahoo dot com  with everything run together and a real dot where I used the word "dot" instead. Darned spammers!    Mark Morgan

What a Neat Idea!

There I was, walking around the ramp at NAS Corpus Christi's annual air show back in May of 1991 trying to get in a little last-minute photography of the things I'd missed arriving from the day before, when this caught my eye:

It's a commonly-known fact that most of the people who go to public air shows like airplanes. It's another commonly-known fact that a great many of those very same folks occasionally day-dream about being fearless, adrenaline-soaked fighter pilots. A couple of enterprising and extremely clever guys were inspired by that and got themselves a nose section off a scrapped out LTV F-8A Crusader, refurbished it, made a stand for it, and started showing up with it at selected air shows where they'd clap a surplus flight suit and helmet on anyone who was interested and take a cockpit shot of them sitting heroically in their very own jet fighter. It was a really neat and, in this case at least, well-executed idea but apparently didn't last very long on the airshow circuit. That's unfortunate, too, because it appeared to be Fun with with a capital F.    Friddell

Here's what the setup looked like in action! The intrepid young pilot is a blood relative of your editor and was having a bang-up good time that day, which was the whole point of the thing. I don't know what happened to either the nose section or to the guys who were taking it around the show circuit that year, but it was definitely a hit with kids of all ages. Long ago and far away...    Friddell

One We Haven't Looked At Yet

Those among you who are constant readers will note that we've never run anything on the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle during the time we've been in operation. There's no prejudice against the airplane here, mind you, but it hasn't been very high on our list of things we've wanted to publish. Today's the day when that changes---I recently found a pile of slides that I'd socked away without labeling or properly filing and have been going through them this morning trying to make sense of the ensuing mess. The up side of that are the images, which are excellent in and of themselves and provide us with an excellent view of a legendary American jet fighter. The down side, and unfortunately there is one, is that several of the slides came to me un-labeled. I suspect they're from one of the Morgan boys and my personal money is on Rick, but I'm honestly not certain who the culprit is in those instances. If anybody knows who actually took them I'd love to hear from you!

**And in late-breaking news, those mystery shots didn't come from Rick Morgan. Will the real photographer please stand up?!

Let's start off with an image that I've got the photographer's ID on: 73-0130 was an F-15A-20-MC that was serving with the 49th TFW out of Holloman AFB in November of 1985. She went into storage in the early 90s but was ready to rip when Rick Morgan shot her back in '85.    R Morgan

Here's another one with definite provenance; 84-0001, an F-15C-37-MC. She was with the 33rd TFW out of Eglin in late 1985 and also ended up at DM where we presume she still sits. While our personal preference has always run towards the aircraft of The Silver Air Force, we have to admit that the Eagle has something about her. Maybe it's the fact that every inch of the airplane screams "Fighter", but whatever it is we like it!   R Morgan

 The 1st TFW, operating out of Langley, has had F-15s forever. 82-0030 was a relatively late addition to their fleet and was built as an F-15C-34-MC. She went into storage in 2010 but was standing tall when this photo was taken. Note the "sit" of her horizontal stabs; they're deflected in an up attitude on this bird, down on the Eglin F-15 immediately preceding, and in a neutral position in our lead photo. Modelers take note!    Friddell Collection

The 48th FIS was an old ADC unit that kept their mission through the transitions to ADTAC and later to Air Combat Command. Their markings are pretty no matter what you want to call the parent organization that owns the airplanes nowadays, as illustrated by the 48th's 76-0100, an F-15A-17-MC. Don't be fooled by those blue flashes up on the intake trunks; those are flexible intake covers and not painted trim!   Friddell Collection

Here's another Forty-Niner for you; 77-0079 of the 8th TFS/49th TFW. An F-15A-15-MC, she ended up in storage like so many of her sisters. In this photo she's preparing for launch in a two-ship---in the early days of Eagle operations a favorite PR trick was to launch, clean up the airplane, and immediately pull up into a vertical climb to altitude. We suspect that sort of behavior is somewhat less-tolerated these days, at least in the ZI, but you never know. Those danged fighter pilots...   Friddell Collection
The Air Force began trimming down during the 1990s, thus accelerating the transfer of state-of-the-art fighters to the Guard. 76-0058, an F-15A-16-MC of Massachusetts's 102nd FS provides us with a prime example of that practice. We're not certain of the location of this shot nor the year in which it was taken, although the 102nd was normally based out of Otis. The 102nd was the first ANG unit to operate the F-15, a point of pride with the unit.   Friddell Collection

Our final shot is of an F-15C from the 325th TFW out of Tyndall, taken in November of 2000 at Kelly (nee Lackland) AFB. The airplane's design dates back to the end of the war in Southeast Asia and the Eagle still looks menacing! 83-0022 was built as an F-15C-35-MC and is presently in storage in the desert, but she was very much alive and kicking when this photo was taken!   Paul Bigelow via John Kerr

And that's it for today's look at Mac-Air's iconic Eagle, but it's definitely not the end of the type on these pages because we've still got a whole bunch of photos of the airplane to share. That's a project for another day, so stand by!

Happy Snaps

Today's Happy Snap is from Mark Morgan, who spent some premium time aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln back in 1998:

It's February of 1998 and Mark Morgan was standing in Vulture's Row aboard the Abraham Lincoln doing one of the things he does best; photographing airplanes. The EA-6B is 161347 from VAQ-129, the Prowler RAG, and she's about to execute a text-book trap for the photographer. She was in ICAP I configuration that day in February, but was scrapped out and cut up in 2011, a sad end to a proud bird.   Mark Morgan

The Relief Tube

Nobody's been correcting or complaining, so there's nothing to put here this time. As much as I'd like to think we're perfect around here I know the truth of the matter all too well, so please keep those electronic cards and letters coming. The messed-up-to-fool-the-spammers address is replica in scale at yahoo dot com so drop us a line one of these days! (We're also constantly on the lookout for new photography, just in case you're interested in helping with that too...)

**Shortly after I published this edition of the blog I received a message from Rick Morgan clarifying a couple of things I'd just published:

Phil- ‘Fraid those USAF shots aren’t mine; don’t recognize them. (and God forbid I ever let slides go somewhere unmarked!). The ramp appears to be Tyndall; suspect it’s a William Tell competition; Mark might be able to recognize the location. Strongly suspect the A-6 you posted is a “blocking dummy”; a non-operational airframe used for training on the ship. (typically fire fighting or qualifying tow drivers and yellow shirts). It appears to be missing several important items and 1997 is about 2 years after VA-52 disestablished.      Rick

That's it for today, then. Be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon!