Friday, January 19, 2018

Slow Ride (With Apologies to Lonesome Dave and the Boys)

It's inevitable, I suppose, that we have issues with the electrons that drive the pages of the 'net from time to time, and one of the old standbys of the scale modeling web is experiencing that very thing even as this is being typed. It seems that their software has aged to the point where it takes forever (a few seconds, as opposed to a couple of nanoseconds) to access certain of their pages, and the resulting slowdown has bothered more than a few of their readers (including myself, if the truth be known). It's a nuisance for all and an issue (that will, without doubt, soon be fixed) for some, but it's not exactly a new problem. Let us go back to those fabled Days of Yore...

There were no magazines in Japan, in English at least, that were devoted to scale modeling and available in Misawa, either off-base or on, while we were stationed there, so it was a revelation of the highest order to go into the BX at Lackland on our arrival back in the ZI in October of 1965 and find a copy of Scale Modeler magazine sitting on the shelves, just waiting there for me to snatch it up and run back to our quarters to devour it. Said snatching and running operations were immediately performed, and I was soon back in my room sitting on the floor, listening to the Yardbirds on what passed for my stereo system at that time, and scanning every page, quite literally memorizing each and every one. It was a watershed moment.

It (Scale Modeler) was also quite literally all we, or at least I, had in the way of modeling publications until Frank Emmett was finally able to persuade me to join IPMS in early 1968. Other publications followed in due course, including subscriptions to HisAirDec News, Air Combat, and Historical Aviation Album, among others. They were all seminal periodicals in the lives of the scale modelers of the 1960s and, except for the one or two of them that could be purchased off the news stand, they were all inevitably late in arrival at my mailbox.

I'm not talking Late by a minute or two either---that's the affliction that currently bedevils the e-magazine we mentioned up there in the beginning---I'm talking real, good-old-fashioned LATE, by a matter of days or, occasionally, weeks. Frank would have his copy of Whatever-the Publication was, and mine would be MIA, or maybe it would be the other way around, not that the sequence was of any great concern. All that mattered was that the mails were capricious and totally uncaring of who you were or how desperately you wanted your magazine. You would, by golly, get it when The Postal Gods wanted you to have it and not one minute sooner!

Of course the errant document would eventually surface, often bearing the rips, tears, and other battle scars associated with a belated trip through the postal system. (That sort of battle damage was almost a given if the publication in question came from the UK, but I digress...) It was maddening, especially if your friends were enjoying the pleasures of and talking about the latest issue of whatever it was while you were still waiting for its belated arrival.

The magic of the computer age changed all of that and eliminated the wait for the most part. Sure, there could still be issues. Anything that came to us back in the Pleistocene days of The Dial-Up was subject to substantial delinquency, of course, and editorial tardiness often played, and continues to play, a significant delaying part as well, but as a general rule we can look at our favorite electronic publication, be it e-zine or blog, the second the originator hits the "publish" key.

Think about that for a while and then consider this: While that Australian site is currently suffering the slings and arrows of digital misfortune, that's not the norm over there. Aging software is aging software, but it's an issue that can be dealt with. The slow loading times currently being experienced over there, which may well be fixed by the time this gets published, are somewhat inconvenient but they're also relative. It's presently taking several seconds for most pages to load at that site, while I once had an IPMS magazine take a month and a half to make its way from Great Britain to South Texas. That's seconds versus months, in case you didn't catch what was just said.

We live in a world of instant gratification nowadays, and we're all used to getting what we want when we want it. Delay is unconscionable, unfashionable, and not permitted, but it still occurs from time to time. Yes; a delay of weeks, or even months, can be irritating (and I'll offer this very site you're on at the moment as the poster child for that phenomenon), but a few seconds of tardy delivery? Yes, it's annoying, but it's also somewhat less than the end of the world as we know it. All things will pass, and this one will too. It ain't nothin' but a thang, ya'll!

That's my story, etc; etc...

Tamiya's New Me109G; An Engineering Marvel

And that's not hyperbole either, folks! The new 1/48th scale Tamiya Me109G-6 is one amazing piece of polystyrene engineering and, taken strictly as a plastic kit, may well be the best designed model airplane I've ever been privileged to build, period.

That said, let's come to an understanding about what I meant up there. This kit's engineering is innovative and it works. Everything on the model fits, and no filler is required anywhere in the course of normal assembly, although there are a couple of access covers on the model that have to be filled in for the G-6 variant ala the now-aging Hasegawa kits. There's an implication there of other variants that could be released in the future, although there's no guarantee that will actually happen, Tamiya being who they are, which ought to be both an open invitation for Tamiya to make money if they want to and a potential gold mine for the aftermarket guys should they choose not to do that. The potential is there either way.

The kit is pretty complete, too. In addition to all the pieces necessary to allow the finished model to be displayed with either opened or closed nose panels, Tamiya have provided optional tail wheel treatments, optional air filters, optional radio masts, optional direction finding antenna bases, two different wind screens, and  optional ventral panels, both with and with out cartridge case ejection ports. They've even provided the drain tube visible in the front of the oil cooler housing!

The instrument panel is catered to by decals, and they work like a charm. The seat straps and harnesses are decals as well, and perhaps unfortunately, but that's easy enough to fix with a set of Eduard Zoom components. The modeler will have to add the windshield hand-holds but the basic cockpit is entirely usable right out of the box.

The kit also provides a set of underwing MG151 gondolas, a gas bag, and both canopy armor styles found on the Me109G-6. The only obvious omission, and it's an odd one, is the lack of clear covers for the wingtip navigation lights. Tamiya wants you to paint them and that's easy enough to do, but that treatment isn't accurate for the airplane. It's more than a little bit puzzling that the modeler has to deal with that sort of thing given the level of accuracy on the rest of the kit.

That optional opened cowling and associated engine and gun deck are amazing too. The engineering is superb, and you can switch back and forth between a maintenance configuration and a clean airplane that's buttoned up for flight if you want to do that. I didn't, so the airplane you'll eventually see before you is "clean", if you can actually apply that term to any late Me109 variant, but the option is there for those who do.

That's the good news, but there may be some bad news as well. Let's set the stage by saying that I built this model at the request of King's Hobby Shop in Austin and I wasn't reviewing it, just building it. I didn't measure anything on the model, nor did I compare anything to a set of drawings before I started. What I did do was take the largely-completed model and sit it nose to nose with a previously built Hasegawa G-6, and what I found in that comparison was disturbing in the extreme because the noses don't come close to matching each other in profile. You would think they should, but they don't.

That somewhat awful discovery led me to pull out my references on the 109 and start looking at every photograph I could find that showed a "clean" side view of the nose, which seemed to confirm the difference. Keep in mind that I didn't measure anything before I started building, and I'm not saying the nose on that brand-new kit is wrong. I am saying that it doesn't match the nose on the Hasegawa kit, nor does it match the nose on a Zvezda 109 I built a while back. (I've yet to build an Eduard 109G of any flavor so I can't comment on that kit.) Who's got the correct nose? I don't know. What I do know is that the noses in those three kits are different in profile and the Hasegawa and Zvezda noses look more accurate when I compare them to photographs of the real thing, although that's an extremely subjective way of examining them. Somebody who's smarter than I am needs to do some research and measuring, I think...

On the other hand, the built up Tamiya kit looks just fine sitting by itself, and it also looks good sitting in a collection of other 109s. That's the bottom line for a lot of folks, and the completed model certainly looks the part. With all that in mind, here's a quick overview of how the model looked under construction, with photos this time around courtesy of my rapidly failing I-Phone:

The kit offers some extremely innovative engineering, and the instructions need to be followed to the letter as a result. This probably isn't a good model for the novice or the clumsy, but anyone else should be able to produce an outstanding replica from the kit, and it's sturdy when it's completed.

Shades of Hasegawa! The kit has several access covers tooled into the plastic that aren't conventionally found on the Me109G-6 and Tamiya has you fill and sand them away. In my world that's a huge hint that other 109s are in the pipeline, but then Tamiya has never been big at playing the variants game, so maybe that's not going to happen. Either way, it's easier to fill them in if you don't need them than to scribe them in if you do, so kudos to Tamiya for their approach!

Here's how that engineering works in practice. The engine builds up around that armature we mentioned, and the gun deck and part of the cockpit key off of it as well. Everything fits like a glove, too!

There are panels to fill under the wings as well as on the fuselage. The design of this thing is modular in the extreme and literally cries out for variations to be kitted. The level of detail provided is excellent as well, and assembly is easy as long as you're careful and follow the instructions!

Here's a fine example of superior design. The radiator flaps are delicate and somewhat of an issue on most kits of the round-nosed 109s, but not on this one. The parts you see in the photo above pretty much guarantee those flaps will be correctly aligned and solidly mounted once the model is complete.

The wheel wells are easy to assemble and really look the part. Everything on this model is easy to work with and the kit is a lot of fun to build, although we still have to stress that it might not be the best place for a novice to start their scale modeling career, and the ham-fisted will have issues as well. It's an easy kit but some skills are required!

Here's how all the stuff that hangs off the trailing edge of the wing looks immediately prior to assembly---note that the wing tips and ailerons have already been installed. (And yes; it would've made more sense if the photo showed them on the aft side of the wing where they belong, but that would be the logical thing to do and therefore quite contrary to the way I normally do these things!)

In this photo we've jumped way ahead in the assembly. All those nose panels are just sitting there; there's no real reason to glue them in place even if you don't have any intention of displaying the model with the cowlings opened up. Everything fits on this model!

This view gives a better idea of how the nose panels interface. Check out those radiator flaps too; it's almost impossible to mess up the way they're mounted, and they're solid once they're in place.

The gun bay cover and windscreen are in place in this shot. They've been snapped into place with no adhesive whatsoever, and there are no seams to deal with because everything fits and falls on a panel line that existed on the real airplane. Beauty!

This is what I mean by "just sitting there". There are no seams to fill. Zero. Zilch.

Check out those nav lights, or more specifically check out the way Tamiya want you to deal with them. On the real airplane they're colored bulbs behind clear covers, but on the kit they're solidly molded into the wingtips, and Tamiya want you to paint them. That's what was done here, but only because I was working with a deadline to complete the model. They really need to be corrected, and it seems odd that the manufacturer took this approach to them given the level of detail they've provided for everything else!

The kit allows you to open up the nose panels for display if you'd like, and they're interchangeable so you can do that as often as you'd like. I didn't want to do it at all, but I painted the opened assemblies anyway, just to get an idea of how they'd look and so they'd be mostly ready if I ever did decide to utilize that feature. One thing you might want to do if you choose to swap back and forth on your own model is to make an effort to get the camouflage to match on both the opened and closed cowling components. That didn't make any difference to me since my model was built with everything buttoned up but it needs to be done if you're going to be swapping those cowlings back and forth. Just sayin'...

Here's where we can all take a close look, give a big sigh, and wonder what happened! The model on the left is Hasegawa's venerable 109G-6 kit, and the new Tamiya one is on the right. Ignore the difference in "sit", because we aren't concerned about that. We also aren't concerned with those little scoops on the nose or their alignment, so don't fret over them either. We are very much concerned with the contours of the nose on the two kits, however, because they apparently differ quite a bit. Tamiya's nose seems to be chunkier, for want of a better word, and it looks really odd in comparison to Hasegawa's interpretation of that area. I'm not sure which is correct, although I can tell you that the nose of the Hasegawa kit, as well as the highly regarded Zvezda offering of the G-6, are considerably slimmer, than is the one on the Tamiya newcomer. (I didn't compare any of the models I have with an Eduard G-6 because I've never built one and don't have the revised kit in my collection anyway, but two out of three available "good" kits provide a decent starting point for the comparison, I think.) One of these kits would appear to be inaccurate and I've got an opinion regarding which one it is, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter! That address, provided in a manner that's hopefully spam-proof, is replicainscaleatyahoodotcom.

An Addendum: After this issue published I went back to re-read everything and make certain that I'd done an adequate job of proof-reading. That side of things seems to be ok, but the more I looked at the photograph immediately above this one the less I liked it. The missing spinner on the Tamiya model and the nose-high attitude of both seemed to hold the potential for confusion, so I went back and took the photo again, but this time with both aircraft wearing their spinners and both propped up in the same tail-high attitude. The comparison of the two seems to make more sense this way, and it still shows the same thing: The Tamiya nose is chunkier than Hasegawa's, and Hasegawa's seems to better match the photographs that show their subject in profile view. I still haven't measured anything or compared the fuselages to a drawing, so the science is flawed at best, but something's going on here. John Beaman; are you out there?

The Japanese always take it on the nosey for the alleged poor quality of their decals, but I think they're just fine and perfectly usable, even though most of the markings on this model came from a primordial AeroMaster offering because I didn't want to do any of the schemes provided in the kit. The key to that particular highway is the use of Tamiya's own proprietary setting solution, or maybe Mr Mark. If you use what they recommend you'll get a good end result. If you don't, you probably won't. That's simple enough, right?

You've probably notice that I keep telling you how simple it is to locate and attach all the stuff that hangs down off the wings on this kit, and this photo reiterates the point. Yes; you can break those hangey-downies if you try, but in the course of normal handling they should be safe.

I probably ought to do a little more weathering but here's how the could-be-finished-if-I-let-it-be model looks right now. I think it captures the look of the beast fairly well, although I'm still not convinced that nose is entirely correct.

And here's what it looks like from the other side.

OK, then; it's built and on the shelf, so what have we learned? Here's what I think I know:

This may be the best-designed model airplane I've ever built. Everything fits, it just clicks together. If you come across something that doesn't do that, then you've probably done something wrong. Be careful when you remove the parts from their trees and trim them, follow the instructions, and you'll be amazed at the results.

The removable cowl panels are an interesting touch and produce a great model for little effort if that's what you want to do, and that design work that has me so amazed ensures that you can switch back and forth between the two configurations at will. I wasn't interested in the feature so you only see the model one way on these pages, but nothing on the fuselage forward of the cockpit is glued into place on my model so I can have a change of heart any time I want to with no angst whatsoever. Everything fits tightly up there too; you can't tell that all those parts come off the airframe on command!

The way the kit's parts are designed pretty much guarantees Tamiya can produce other variants if they choose, and that design leaves things wide open for the better aftermarket guys to produce parts to facilitate those variants if Tamiya doesn't do it themselves. It also provides an opportunity for someone like Daco to do the ultimate round-nose 109 conversion set, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing. This model's design simply screams OPPORTUNITY.

It's a great kit, but it probably isn't a great kit for everybody. If you can't follow instructions, are naturally clumsy, or are a newby, this may not be the kit for you. It couldn't be a simpler model to build but some skills are required---it's a kit; remember?

The contours of the nose are a potential heart breaker if there's actually a problem there. My evaluation, such as it is, is extremely subjective and based off a simple visual comparison of the kit with one from a different, albeit highly-regarded, manufacturer. Those noses truly are different, which means somebody's right and therefore somebody has to be wrong. As previously mentioned, I didn't build the model as a review sample so I didn't measure anything before construction began, nor did I compare anything to plans; I just built the model. With the nose opened up, which is how I suspect the model was intended to be displayed, everything looks just fine. It's a different story if everything is closed up and the model is sitting nose to nose with one from a different manufacturer. Who got it right? I don't know, but I do think there's a problem there; if Tamiya got it right, then everybody else got it wrong.

That said, and even considering the possible issue with the nose, I had more fun building this kit than I've had in quite some time, and the finished model looks good on the shelf. I could also be full of beans about that nose---I've been wrong before! My bottom line is that I really enjoyed the kit. Your mileage, of course, may vary...

Air Apaches

A few days ago we received an e-mail from an old friend who stated, among other things, that we must like North American Aviation's legendary B-25 Mitchell around here. That's true, without a doubt; the B-25 is easily our favorite American bomber of the Pacific War period, and we'd like to share a couple of images we recently received from Bobby Rocker to show you why we feel that way:

The 345th BG were arguably the most readily identifiable B-25 unit of the war, and this photo shows why. The airplane is an extremely well-worn D-model that's sitting on the ground being readied for another mission, and those bomb stencils under the cockpit tell a story of their own, as do the worn propeller leading edges and generally well-used appearance of the airplane. The USAAF corcarde on the nose wheel cover is particularly tasty and there seems to be a name up under the windscreen, although we can't quite make it out. "Bats outa Hell?" You bet!      National Archives via Rocker Collection

When Bobby sent along this image of a formation of 498th BS/345th BS Mitchells on their way to mischief he commented that the photograph had seen better days---actually, that's not exactly what he said, but you get the point. Quality of the photo notwithstanding, this air-to-air provides us with a graphic view of a section of the 345th's D-models in flight, and it's one of those shots that you can look at for a few moments and quite literally hear the drone of the engines and feel the aircraft moving around beneath you as it ingresses the target area. There were giants in those days, and a whole bunch of them flew with the 345th. Let's raise a glass...    National Archives via Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bob Rocker for his generosity and devotion to the preservation of the photography of this terrible time in our history!

Under The Radar

We rarely look at new books in this section, but if you happen to be interested in the Pacific War this is one you need for your collection:

South Pacific Air War Volume 1, The Fall of Rabaul, December 1941-March 1942, Michael Claringbould and Peter Ingman, Avonmore Books, 2017, 251 pp, illustrated.

Those of us who study the war in the Pacific have lamented the lack of information available on those ragged, terrible early days of the conflict. Michael Claringbould went a long way towards easing that situation with his seminal collaboration Eagles of the Southern Sky that detailed the early War activities of the legendary Tainan Ku. This new work, done in collaboration with Peter Ingman, details Australia's loss of Rabaul to the Japanese early in the conflict, and does so in considerable detail. The book is well written, exhaustive, and fleshed out with a selection of photography that contains a great many photographs that are new, at least to us. The photographs are complimented by excellent profile drawings.

A special treat is the detailing of operations by Mitsubishi A5M4 "Claude" fighters during the campaign from the Chitose and 4th Ku, although all of the various types employed during that struggle are covered with equal effort. (There are photographs of those "Claudes" at Rabaul! Can you hear us cheering?)

The book is excellent in every regard and is an essential if you happen to be a student of the Pacific War. It's also the first of a series of volumes, and its quality ensure that we're anxiously awaiting publication of any and all companion works!

Many thanks to Frank Emmett for this absolutely superb Christmas present!

The Relief Tube

There's not much going on this time around since we spent quite a bit of our effort on that Tamiya Me109G-6 review and wanted to publish while it was still relevant as a new kit, and you all know how our publishing schedule can be around here; the longer we work on the site the more delinquent this issue will become! With that in mind we're calling it a day for now, but we'd like to leave you with another short film Norman Camou found on YouTube. It details air operations over Southern Japan during 1945 and serves as a grim reminder of the reality behind those plastic models we build. (It also contains some remarkable J2M Raiden footage!)

Thanks as always, Norm, and keep 'em coming!

We're already working on our next issue, but this is it for now. Be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon!