Thursday, February 2, 2017

Do We Have to Have Another Mustang, An Odd Mitchell, Neptune's Neptunes, A Fast One, and One We Want

Memories for a Lifetime

The past few years have witnessed the publication of more than a few of these blogs, and during that span of time you've been reminded more than once, or maybe even far more than once, that I began my scale modeling career way back in 1956 or so. You've also endured my rambling on, seemingly interminably, about how much fun the hobby has been, and how much it's enriched my life over all those years. The past was really kind to me in that regard, and I'd like to take a few minutes to share a little bit of it with you, not so much to talk about my own specific polystyrene history but to help remind those of you of a certain age, or at least of a certain mindset, about the way things used to be before The Age of Electrons significantly changed parts of our hobby forever. With our stage thusly set, let's take a fond look back at those long-ago days.

The place to start is probably at the beginning, so let's just jump right into that. My own personal introduction to scale plastic modeling came at the hands of an older cousin, who was a teenager when I was six. I'd seen advertisements for plastic model airplanes in magazines and comic books but Jerry had actually bought and built a few of them, specifically the then new and cutting-edge Revell F-94C and F7U-Something-or-Other. He'd built them, decalled them, and mounted them on their stands so he could display them. He showed them to me and I was hooked!

That's the thing about Scale Modeling as it Was; the timing was right and almost every teenaged American boy and, I suspect, more than a few teenaged American girls, built at least one plastic model of one sort or another to see what it was all about, in turn inspiring those of us the next rung down the ladder to try our hand at it too. Not all of us stayed with the hobby, not by a long shot, but almost every kid I knew had built at least one model something-or-other before they reached the second grade.

Then there were the stores that sold the kits. Yes, there were hobby shops, real brick-and-mortar hobby shops, but those weren't the only places you could buy a model in those days. Drugstores had them. Department stores had them. Hardware stores had them, and occasionally bookstores too. My mom bought my first plastic model for me in a supermarket in rural Georgia, and I saw my very first Aurora biplane, a Nieuport 11, on the shelves of a department store in Wichita Falls, Texas a year or so after that. My parents soon learned that I would disappear as soon as we went into any retail establishment that had even a remote chance of selling plastic models of any kind and I wasn't alone in that sort of behavior. You've hear of Hooked on Phonics? Well, my generation was hooked on plastic!

As exciting as those department stores and supermarkets could be to the aspiring young modeler, none of them could hold a candle to The Real Thing, that holy grail of plastic modeling: The Hobby Shop. The first real hobby shop I ever entered was Huff's Hobbys, in Wichita Falls. It was a place of wonder for a seven-year-old, with stacks of kits for sale and built models hanging from the ceiling and mounted to the walls. That shop had an ambiance that I remember until this very day; it was a place of magic and wonder for me, a place where Sherman tanks named "Black Magic" lived, sitting on the shelves beside boxes filled with impossibly large Aurora B-25s and B-26s. Blair's Supermarket in Canton, Georgia sold me that first plastic kit but the second one, a bright yellow Aurora "Zero", came into my possession via an early visit to Huff's.

I mangled that "Zero" pretty badly while attempting to assemble all nine or ten of those yellow pieces and my dad helped me build (read "built it for me while I watched") my next couple of models as a result; a Revell H-19 and a Monogram Invader, but I was on my own after that. It's possible, just barely, that each new acquisition was built to a somewhat higher standard than those that came before, but I honestly don't believe that's true---I'm pretty sure I plateaued early and stayed there for more than a few years, but those first few years were magic! Monogram C-47s, replete with little paratroopers, the Revell Century Series of fighters (a gift set that I received one magical Christmas), a Monogram Air Power Set, a Revell Space Station, Lindberg's remarkable B-17G and almost any other bit of polystyrene I could get my hands on more than filled my spare hours.

There was a revelation for me late in 1962 when I saw my first 1/72nd scale Revell kit, a Hawker Hurricane (I think), in a local department store. Those 72nd scale Revell kits started coming at a fast and furious pace while we were in Japan and they were dirt cheap too, only 35 cents in the base hobby shop. Those tiny kits turned me from model cars back into airplanes, and Jack Dusenberry and I probably bought at least one or two of every one of those models that made it to the shelves there. It was the beginnings of a Golden Age for Young Phillip.

1965 saw my dad transferred from Misawa to South Texas, where the aforementioned Young Phillip discovered that a hobby shop called Dibble's Arts and Hobbys was conveniently located next to my high school, less than a block away! That happy discovery launched both a budding career as an employee there and friendships that have, in many cases, lasted a lifetime.

Nowadays we have the Internet, of course, and we can find pretty much anything we might want in the way of kits or accessories online. The kits we can buy today are light years away from the stuff we purchased way back when we were kids but they are also, for the most part, far more expensive, even factoring a dose of inflation into the discussion, than they ever were before. That factor has driven off the kids in great measure, and computers and an increasingly flawed concept known as social media has done its share of damage too. When we were young it was cool to build model airplanes. Now it's very much a niche hobby, and one with an ever-aging consumer base that may ultimately lead us to the demise of the hobby as we know it.

The demise is still more than a little way off, though, and we're presently living in a New Golden Age of Plastic Modeling, one in which almost everything we could ever wish for can be found, albeit for a price. True; those old-time hobby shops are, for the most part, a dying breed, but a forty-five minute drive from our house in the country will get me to Dibble's and Hill Country Hobby in San Antonio, and a little over an hour's drive can find me at King's in Austin. In my world The Magic still exists, a fact I'm reminded of every time I go into one of those shops and spend an hour or two talking plastic with my friends, and sometimes with total strangers as well. Yes, the old-time hobby shops are dying off at a remarkable pace, but that only makes the ones that survive more precious to us all.

Thanks, then, to Aurora and Lindberg, and Hawk, and Monogram, and Revell, and to all those other companies too, both domestic and foreign, (a great many of which are sadly now long-gone), for a lifetime of pleasant endeavor, and thanks to Huff's, and Dibble's, and Kings, and Hill Country, and all those other shops and retailers who sold us our polystyrene treasures. Then there are the friendships which are, and always have been, the most precious gift of all that this special hobby has bestowed upon me. There are far, far too many of those to list in the space available here, although a special thank you has to be extended to Trey McMurtrey---it was an e-mail exchange with him a while back that started me thinking about those long-ago days.

So what's the point, you might reasonably ask. I'm not sure there is one, but I'll offer this: The aforementioned Trey McMurtrey has been modeling since well before I met him back in 1967 or 68, and he's still at it today, as has Frank Emmett, another name you hear about on these pages from time to time. There are a lot of other hobbies out there with participants equally as enthusiastic, but this one is the one we've all chosen and I happen to think it's really special.

Everyone should be so lucky...

Ain't Nothin' Wrong With This One

North American Aviation's P-51 Mustang has been an iconic airplane, and the subject of countless polystyrene kits for more years than I can remember. Some have been good, some have been bad, and a few have been horrid, but the airplane is right up there with the Zero, the Spitfire, and the Bf/Me109 as one of those must-have models that the larger manufacturers of plastic model airplanes put in their catalogs sooner or later and there are at least two more new kits in 1/48th scale, this time from Airfix and Eduard, slated for release later this year. Those kits, coming from those particular manufacturers, are definitely something to look forward to. Still, we haven't been all that badly served in years past in terms of 1/48th scale Mustangs. Take, for instance, the occasionally-maligned Tamiya offering:

I probably mentioned it at least once or twice (or ten or twelve times) but I'll say it again: Some kits really lend themselves to a modular construction approach and Tamiya's Mustangs all fall within that category. The kit was one of the first that could be built without filler if you were careful in your construction techniques, which in turn allows you to do things like this when you build! Life is so much easier if there aren't any wings or horizontal stabs to get in the way of masking or decal work...

See what I mean? I had to go back and re-sand and polish the leading edges of the wings---you can see how badly I gomed them up the first time I went over them---but that wing isn't actually attached to anything in this photo so all that was required was to pull it off there, re-sand and polish just the leading edges, and touch up the paint. This is an easy thing to do since Korean War F-51Ds were painted silver; Floquil's "Old Silver" thinned 50-60% makes replicating that finish a snap, and those wing-to-fuselage seams disappeared when the wings were finally cemented to the fuselage!

This view shows the kit nearly finished, with just the wing tanks and rockets to be added. The markings allegedly replicate those of the F-51D flown by Lt. Jim Glessner of the 12th FBS/18th FBG in November of 1950 when he was credited with the destruction of a North Korean Yak fighter. (He actually claimed two kills that day but only one was confirmed.) My personal jury says the airplane may not have possessed those wingtip and tail stripes when the kill was achieved but the references available in my collection neither confirmed nor denied it and it really does look pretty painted up like that.

Here's how it came out. Tamiya's Mustang could be the poster child for an easy kit to assemble; it took some six hours or so to get from opening the box to putting this model on the shelf. There are a couple of things you may (or may not!) choose to correct if you choose to build one for your own collection, but they're relatively minor.

This is where we talk technical about the kit, but there's honestly not all that much to say. A lot of folks have complained about the method Tamiya chose to duplicate the canopy and canopy base on this model, but I've built several of the kits over the past ten years or so and have never had an issue. The key is to carefully remove the clear canopy from its sprue with side-cutters, carefully sand out any imperfections created from that operation with fine sandpaper, carefully polish out the sanded area, and carefully attach the canopy to the canopy base, making certain everything is properly aligned when you do this.

Other areas that need a little help are the interior, which definitely benefits from the application of an Eduard "Zoom" set, and the machine gun muzzles, which beg to be drilled out. That semi-circular internal canopy brace that's molded to the canopy frame has a series of lightening holes in it in real life, and you can add those with a drill if you're ambitious. (I never do that even though I know I should, but you certainly can!) Tamiya apparently had access to somebody's restored warbird when they cut the molds for the kit because they faithfully chose to duplicate a pair of skin doublers/scab patches on the upper leading edge of both wings. I'm sure they're on that warbird but they don't belong on anything else and they have to go! Fortunately, all that's required in that regard is to sand them off and polish out the area you reworked.

You really do need to fix that leading edge doubler, and I can honestly say that I invariably do that, but I don't normally fix the flaps and you need to do that too! Take a look at the photo immediately above and you can see a red circle that shows a notch in the upper surface of the flap's inboard corner. That notch is there so you can model the flaps in the closed position if you want to, but it was normal for the F-51 to have dropped flaps unless it was under power or had just been shut down after a flight and you really can see that notch once you know to look for it. The same thing applies to the "rivet" detail Tamiya put on the surfaces of those flaps. The fact that they wanted to put some sort of detail in that area is perfectly understandable but it's definitely over-stated and needs to be addressed. I didn't fix those things on this model, or on any other Tamiya Mustang I've ever built, but I tend to build this particular kit as therapy, usually after I've just finished something else that's been a struggle for me to complete. It wouldn't take that much additional effort to correct those flaws if you were so inclined.

One more thing regarding the kit: The exhausts aren't all that well detailed and you may find yourself tempted to use the QuickBoost offerings for those components. I've done that and personally prefer the way the kit items look, but it's your model and your call!

That takes us to one of those philosophical moments, where we all sit back and ponder something or other that really doesn't mean all that much at the end of the day. In this case let's consider the need for yet another Mustang kit (or two!) On the plus side a new offering from Eduard will likely include almost impossibly fine airframe and cockpit detail while an Airfix kit of the same thing will probably be fairly close behind and will, in all likelihood, offer a wide range of underwing hangy things plus the one or two components necessary to turn the model into an F-6D photo ship.  A new kit from either one of those manufactures would in point of fact be a Very Good Thing, but at the end of the day the now long-in-the-tooth Tamiya kit holds its age well and is still a viable, and affordable, option. Couple that with the fact that the model is so darned easy to build and you can rest assured that I personally will hang onto the 3 or 4 kits presently sitting in my closet and will eventually build them all. Newer is newer and better is better, but sometimes you can get pretty decent results from Good Enough. (And no; I never did fix that leading edge seam. Next time...)

Newer isn't necessarily better...

You Don't See This Very Often

Bobby Rocker's been at it again, this time with an extremely mundane but oh-so-unusual Mitchell. Let's take a look:

We have to admit a certain fondness for North American Aviation's immortal B-25 around here. The type served both the AAF and Marine Corps in all theaters during The Second Unpleasantness and did so with distinction. Although obsolescent at the end of the conflict, it managed to survive into the post-War world as a trainer and VIP transport. This example, a B-25J, is from the latter days of World War 2 and is sitting on the ground at Alexai Point on Attu during 1944. She was assigned to the 77th BS and, somewhat unusually for the theater, was in natural metal. A couple of things stand out in this shot, the first being those over-sized gust locks fitted to the vertical stabs. High winds were, and still are, pretty much the norm in the Aleutians, calling for unusual measures to secure the aircraft's control surfaces. The other somewhat unusual feature on this bird are the underwing tanks. The Mitchell was configured for the carriage of underwing stores from the beginning, and the J-model was modified to allow the employment of chemical tanks as well, but only a few B-25Js were plumbed for underwing fuel tanks and conventional wisdom tells us that none of those ever made it to a combat zone. The tank hanging off that wing sure looks like the standard external fuel tank used by the P-51D (another North American product) to us, but maybe it isn't. Our money's on it being a gas bag but your mileage may differ! If you can identify those tanks for certain please drop us a line at replicainscaleatyahoodotcom and let us know!   Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker, who's apparently bottomless collection has helped this project in so many ways.

Just a Few Final Neptunes

In our last issue we alluded to the possibility of just a few more Lockheed P2Vs for your edification, and today's The Day we do that! These birds are a little different, though---they're all owned by a civilian fire-fighting organization, Neptune Aviation Services out of Missoula, Montana, and to the best of our knowledge they're all still flying. Mark Nankivil was out on a trip West with his family and got a chance to photograph several of their aircraft while they wintered at Alamogordo:

Hi Phil! Loved your posting with P-2s - here's a few from our trip last year when we stopped at the Alamogordo airport and took photos of the Neptune Aviation Service P-2s that winter there... We were fortunate to stop by when we did as one of the aircraft was being used to fly certification flights with the USFS with drops being made up in the mountains. Two turning and two burning on take off makes for a neat sound. Enjoy the Day! Mark

And enjoy the day we shall!

On the ground undergoing a little maintenance. The Neptune's endurance and payload make her an ideal fire bomber, and the folks at Neptune Aviation take full advantage of those attributes. Everything appears to be calm in this shot, but the normal working environment is definitely on the exciting side.   Mark Nankivil

Here we have an excellent view of the bin that contains the aircraft's fire retardant. Having the jets available definitely enhances performance, particularly when the operational environment is hot and high, as is often found in western forest fires.   Mark Nankivil

Here's the opposite side of N410NA, providing us with a different view of that retardant bin. The tanker modifications necessary for the fire suppression mission have ruined the lines of more than a few ex-military aircraft, but they somehow suit the P-2. It's really hard to mess up an airplane as pretty as this one!   Mark Nankivil

Let's go flying! The intake baffles on the jets are opened up, indicating a classic case of two turning and two burning.   Mark Nankivil

Turning onto the active. There's room for all sorts of things in the nose of the Neptune.   Mark Nankivil

N443NA breaks ground on a training hop. This sort of thing is probably a lot of fun for the crews of these aircraft, but the actual mission they perform is most decidedly on the dicey side.   Mark Nankivil

The gear's cycling up as 443 begins to climb out. Note the difference in the tail caps between this aircraft and N410NA above.   Mark Nankivil

Here's an excellent view of the undersurfaces of 443, providing us with details of the retardant bin and the insides of the flap bays. Many thanks to Mark for providing us with this detailed photo---you don't get to see this sort of thing very often!   Mark Nankivil

Pretty country and pretty airplanes too, but we can't emphasize strongly enough how dangerous the job is when these folks aren't involved in training (although the training can be exciting enough in and of itself!).   Mark Nankivil

We can't leave this particular essay without saying a word about Mark's photographic skills, which could well be defined as exemplary. Many thanks for providing us with this window on a world most of us never experience.

Just Hustlin' Along

Everybody knows who Jim Sullivan is, because almost everybody interested in American military aviation has read at least one of his many books, or admired his collection of photography regarding US naval aviation from the World War 2 period. What a lot of people don't know is that Jim's collection spans a far greater period of time than just the first several years of the 1940s and extends to include those guys in the blue suits as well.

B-58A-10-CF, 59-2456, was initially assigned to the 6512th TS from Systems Command and was a record holder, climbing to 29,000+ meters carrying a 5,000 kg payload. She was at Edwards when this photograph was taken in 1961 and was involved in sonic boom tests there. Later assigned to the 43rd BW, she ended up at MASDC in 1969 and was scrapped out in 1977, but she was very much alive and well when this photo was taken.  Sullivan Collection

60-1111 was a B-58A-15-CF and was assigned to the 305th BW out of Grissom, although this shot was taken at McGuire in May of 1969. Keeping the B-58 airworthy was a time-consuming endeavor, although this particular bird is ready to go and is being prepared for launch. Like 2456 above, she was scrapped in 1977, an aging but beautiful aircraft.   Sullivan Collection

Some airplanes look like they're flying at the speed of heat when they're standing still, and the Hustler could have been the poster child for that sort of thing. 61-2058-20-CF, another bird from the 305th, was photographed at Forbes AFB in August of 1970. Time was getting short for her and the rest of her kind, but you'd never have known it then.   Sullivan Collection

Here's a rare one for your perusal. 55-0662 was built as a YB-58A-1-CF. During the course of a somewhat exciting career she was modified to NB-58A configuration testing the J-93 engine intended for the XF-108 and XB-70 programs, then converted to TB-58A configuration to serve as a chase plane for the XB-70. A veteran of the 6592nd Test Squadron, she finished up her active duty days with the 305th before retiring to MASDC for storage and ultimate destruction.     Jim Sullivan

Pretty maids all in a row. This B-58 lineup is sitting on the ground at D-M in March of 1972, awaiting a call to return to service that would never come. A record-breaker from the very beginning, the type could be both difficult to fly and time-consuming to maintain, conditions which translated into Expensive to Operate. Contrary to popular belief, the Hustler was entirely capable at low altitudes, but its operational time had passed almost before it had begun. The airplanes you see in this photograph were all reduced to scrap in 1977, but they were something to see when they were still alive and active.   Sullivan Collection

You've all suffered repeatedly about my reminiscences about the time I spent in northern Japan, but several years previous to that adventure had been spent at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. Sheppard was ostensibly a training base, but SAC established a presence there for a short time in the early 1960s, significantly adding to the mix of aircraft to be seen overhead. In 1960 or 61 your editor was outside enjoying a typical Texas afternoon when a single B-58 came whistling and howling over the then-new Capehart base housing area at relatively low altitude and with everything hanging out. It was an impressive sight to say the least, and one that caused me to immediately jump on my brand-spanking new Schwinn Corvette and pedal off to the base bookstore, which also sold model airplanes, so I could purchase an until-then ignored Monogram B-58 kit. The Hustler was a technological marvel of the highest order and was something to see when it was in its natural element, and its science-fiction appearance and all those J-79-related noises only added to the mystique. Would it have worked in combat? I suspect it would have functioned as well as anything else in an end-of-the-world combat scenario, but it's more likely that its primary value lay in making The Other Guys think about what they'd have to do to counter it. In any event, it was a beautiful airplane that was ahead of its time in so many ways. Thanks again to Jim Sullivan for sharing these photos with us!

So Why Can't We Have a Kit?

You may or may not remember the Army Air Force's desire to have itself a lightweight Mustang but that quest, which initially manifested itself in the never-produced P-51F and eventually did come to pass with the limited-production P-51H, resulted in a ship that was both The Best of the Mustangs and the most enigmatic of that family of fighters. A lot of people don't care for it based on its looks which are, we must admit, far from inspired, but that dumpy-looking fighter could out-perform any of its predecessors by a considerable margin and was far and away the fastest of the breed. We've run a number of photographs of the H model in previous issues of this project and would direct you to the "search" function of this blog if you'd like to renew your acquaintance with them---just go to the bottom of this page, locate the barely discernible graphic, and type in P-51H or F-51H---so we're not going to duplicate that photography today. Instead, we're going to share another image from Bobby Rocker's collection with you that graphically illustrates what could have been.

 The northeastern United States seemed to be the ultimate home for a great percentage of F-51H production, as illustrated by this ramp shot of the 82nd FG in the late 1940s, probably in the 1946-47 time frame, when they were stationed at Grenier AFB near Manchester, NH as part of SAC. Most of those late Mustangs were relatively mundane in appearance (unless you count the ones assigned to the 56th FG, of course!), but for a time there were a lot of them flying around that northeast corner of the country. There have been a few kits of the type over the years, beginning (we think) with Aurora's late 50s offering and continuing with the 1/48th scale kits produced by HiPM and, slightly later, by Classic Airframes. (I think RarePlanes also did a 1/72nd scale vacuum-formed kit back in the late 70s and there may have been others too but I build primarily in 1/48th so that's what I tend to pay attention to.) I've seen several nice models produced from all of the kits I've just mentioned, but in every case they were done by modelers of exceptional talent. A straight-from-the-box F-51H that can be constructed and finished by the average scale modeler doesn't exist at the moment. That fact wouldn't bother us either, except that every sub-variant of the Bf/Me109 family has been kitted by now, running from the most produced to the ones existing only as proposals. With that as a premise we think it's well past time for a decent kit of the H-model Mustang (and the F-86H, and the FJ-3/3M, and the B-45, and...). Look at all those airplanes in the picture, ya'll! It's time for somebody to give us a kit of the last of the Mustangs. I'll buy at least two!!!    Rocker Collection

Thanks as usual for Bobby Rocker for plumbing the depths of his collection to find these unique and priceless images!

Under the Radar

Today's volume in this occasional feature covers a book that, perhaps more than any other, fits the bill for having a title and subject matter appropriate to said feature's name:

World Electronic Warefare Aircraft, Martin Streetly, Jane's Publishing Co. Ltd, United Kingdom, 1983; 127pp, illustrated. This book is one of those that is little-known even among enthusiasts, and it shouldn't be. In a classic case of what you see is what you get, it chronicles the development of electronic warfare aircraft from 1945 until its date of publication. It's not a history of EW as a mission, however, but rather a chronicalling of the world's military aircraft designed for or modified to perform that particular mission. The aircraft covered (and we suspect there must be a few missing) are briefly described in text and illustrated with line drawings showing the salient features of the aircraft and, in some instances, a photograph as well. Most of the photographs are honestly too small to be of much use and reproduction isn't of the highest order anyway, but the line drawings are perfectly acceptable and illustrate most of the antennae, lumps, bumps, and other unique changes to the aircraft covered. The drawing captions define the equipment said lumps, bumps, and changes relate to as well, and brief histories of each type of aircraft are provided.

If you decide to hunt down your very own copy you might want to keep in mind that the volume is a basic directory of electronic warfare aircraft and is far from being a definitive history of the subject. That said, the information that's provided for each aircraft covered is more than adequate to the purpose and the work is, to the best of our knowledge, the only book of its kind presently available. We consider it to be a worthwhile acquisition to your library should your interests run in that direction.

A Parting Shot

Almost all of our potential Relief Tube entries for this issue were of the "I really like what you're doing" variety, for which we say thank you all very much! Unfortunately, that means there's no real purpose to running a normal Tube this time around, so how about another photo from Bobby Rocker to end out the day? How about a really unusual photo? Are any of you interested? Ok; we thought you might be...

Here's what we know: It's a J2F-4 Duck from PatWing 10 in 1941 and it's wearing early-War national insignia. There are no unique markings to be found anywhere on the aircraft that we can see. The airframe is well-used but not noticeably abused. Oh yeah, and then there's that temporary camouflage...   Now then; what do do have to do besides find a narrow-chord cowling to put on that Merit Duck kit...    Rocker Collection

Many thanks to Mark Aldrich and Mark Nankivil for identifying the unit, time frame, and temporary nature of that camouflage for us!

And that's all she wrote for this addition---we'll see you again in a couple of weeks. Until then, be good to your neighbor. It's the right thing to do!