Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Requiem for a Friend, The Triplane That Is, Gone But Not Forgotten, A Cobra, and Was It Really That Long Ago

The King is Dead?

In recent days the scale modeling portion of the internet has been awash with rumors, reports, and a whole lot of outright speculation regarding the apparent demise of Wingnut Wings. In point of fact some scale modeling sites have been quite literally going nuts over the whole thing, with comments ranging from "so what" to "it's the end of Great War scale modeling". Many comments have been constructive, in a sad sort of way, while a few have been outright nasty and a few others have bordered on absolute lunacy. Those comments run the gamut, there's no doubt.

The one thing that seems clear and actually true is that WNW have shut down. It might be temporary or it might be permanent but as I type this they're gone with staff laid off and, one might presume, doors tightly shuttered. I can't add anything to what's already been reported on all those electronic magazines and boards other than to comment that I was heavily involved in the procurement of aerospace tooling and fixtures for a great deal of my time in the industry and that it's normal for whomever pays for tooling to own said tooling unless some sort of circumstance precludes it, so I'll hazard one guess (and one guess only) and say that Sir Peter Jackson owns the tooling for all of those exquisite kits. I would, in fact, be amazed if he didn't own it, at least for the time being, but that's still a guess on my part and nothing more.

Of greater interest are those marvelous Great War kits that Wingnut have given us over the past ten or so years. Those models have been brilliantly engineered and superbly rendered, and have truly earned every accolade they've acquired over the decade or so of the company's existence. In my world there aren't enough superlatives to describe them. I didn't buy each and every one, although for the most part I've purchased the kits that have spoken to me, and I've even built several. I'm a fan, pure and simple.

On the other hand, I'm also a realist. As much as I've enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, those kits, there are other manufacturers out there who produce 1/32nd scale First World War subjects. Roden (yes; Roden!) is one, and their kits aren't half bad. They require more work than the offerings of that New Zealand-based company and their decals have a reputation for being extremely difficult to work with, but the actual kits themselves are perfectly buildable and look great when finished, even though they do lack the finesse and fine detail of Wingnut's offerings. Then there's Copper State, who's Nieuport 17s are absolutely gorgeous, rivaling the best work of WNW. Unfortunately their entire 1/32nd lineup, at least as of today, consists of just those Nieuports, but with any luck that's only a temporary situation.

We also can't give up the notion that someone will purchase Wingnut's tooling, or maybe the company will reopen at a later date. Either scenario is possible, even if that possibility appears distinctly remote at this juncture. Stranger things have happened.

Worst case, Wingnut's kits will remain available on the secondary market, albeit at greatly inflated prices, while Roden and Copper State will continue to produce their own kits of the aircraft of The Great War. It's easy to be maudlin about the whole thing and fall into a state of grieving for Wingnut's  passing and on a strictly personal level I do indeed grieve the loss of their company, but I'm also extremely grateful for the time they were with us. I've enjoyed the kits and am proud of the way they look on the shelf. I'm truly happy that my time as a scale modeler included that brief span of time when they were alive and well, and thrilling us with unexpected new release after release. It was a special time, and they were a special company.

With all of that said, tomorrow is a new day. Maybe those marvelous kits will be back, either in the guise of a reborn Wingnut Wings or maybe under someone else's logo. Maybe they're gone forever. The point is we had them for a while. As a company they did wonderful things and they raised the bar substantially by so doing. We all gained from their existence in our polystyrene world, and our hobby was a better place while they were with us.

The King is dead. For now...

We Were So Close

Yes we were. The guys over at WNW had said they would never do a Fokker Triplane because there was already a very good kit (Roden) out there. They were right about that one; the Roden Tripes (a Dr.I and an F.I, in case you've forgotten) were, and are, very good indeed. They're a little fussy to build, as are all of Roden's offerings, and in consequence probably not good kits for the beginner in spite of the Dr.I's almost total lack of rigging, but they're definitely on the high side of ok. Wingnut's kit, which is apparently tooled and pretty much ready to go, would have been a better detailed and far more builder-friendly kit, of course, but it would seem that we won't see it anytime soon, if at all.

Those two Ukrainian kits are pretty much it these days for Fokker Triplanes in 1/32nd scale (and yes; I know Andrea makes one too, but it's not in the same league as the others), but there's another Tripe out there that's well worth your time---it's just in a different scale:

And here it is: Eduard's 1/48th scale Dr.I, in Lothar von Richthofen's Jasta 11 markings and half-finished as usual, but boy what a kit! It's several years old now and has seen the usual Eduard boxings: Profipack, Weekend Edition, Dual Combo, and as a star component of at least two special offerings, Der Rote Flieger and Du Doch Nicht, so it's also easy to find. It's a superb little kit, rendered semi-difficult only by the extraordinarily petite detail parts that grace its contents, and it's probably not the Triplane for the absolute novice, but it goes together like a fine pre-digital watch and it's every inch a Dr.I once it's completed.

You may, of course, ask why we would discuss this kit when the Great War modeling world at large is drooling for the Wingnuts kit they may never get, but it's only fair to mention that there are a whole bunch of excellent offerings out there in 1/48th scale too and they're well worth your time. They're just a little smaller, that's all!

Then again, if I were a betting man, which I'm not, I'd be willing to wager that WNW Tripe will show up someday. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, and maybe not under the Wingnut Wings logo, but I'll bet we see it eventually. Fingers crossed, etc, etc...

The Bad Thing on the Block

That particular appelation could apply to any number of military airplanes but in today's context we're referring to Grumman's F-14 Tomcat. It was a marvel when first introduced, first and foremost by being a polymorph that actually worked, and secondly by proving itself to be a fleet defence interceptor, or may just a fighter, par excellance. It wasn't perfect, of course; nothing ever is. It was in truth a little underpowered, at least in its early versions, the AIM-54 Phoenix it was designed to carry was far from an optimal weapon when viewed in a real world sort of context, and it took a lot of maintenance to keep it operational. It was also a world-beater for several decades of its lifespan in Navy service and it looked good. Here are a few examples to remind you of what once was. Note that these images depict the F-14A during what many consider to be its finest decade, spanning the years from 1979 to 1989, but none of the schemes are the classic Light Gull Grey over White.

160671 was with VF-51 when photographed on the ramp at Randolph on 12 May, 1979. While not an Easter Egg in the truest sense of that word, since she's in overall Light Gull Grey, her full-color CAG markings make her stand out from the crowd. She spent a brief period of time on display in a museum but was eventually reclaimed by the Navy for reasons unknown to us and sent to AMARC for storage. She was pretty when she was young...   Phillip Friddell

04 April, 1982, saw VF-101's 161134 on the towbar at NAS Corpus Christi. She's relatively plain for this era, in overall Light Gull Grey with subdued squadron markings, but she's still every inch a fighter. One of a number of Tomcats modified for the TARPS pod, she's now on public display in Florida.   Phillip Friddell

VF-154 was operating 161612 when she was photographed at Corpus on 14 April, 1984. She's got some color to her but not much; overall Gull Grey isn't the most flattering of paint schemes, but she's still a looker in spite of it. She ended up in storage, a sad but necessary end to a fine career.   Phillip Friddell

There's just something about Felix on a Tomcat; that classic Navy squadron emblem just belongs there. In this case, the emblem is on Fighting Thirty-One's 161868, also photographed at Corpus but a few years later, on 07 May, 1989. This is one of the two paint schemes that says F-14 to us.   Phillip Friddell

And here's the other: An F-14A from VF-84 photographed taxiing out to launch at Bergstrom on 14 October, 1989. The shot was an accident; I was by the taxiway waiting for something else, but the opportunity was just too darned good to pass up!   Phillip Friddell

There was a time when I bemoaned the retirement of this classic airplane, but that came into perspective and focus one afternoon when I began mentally compairing the Tomcat to Boeing's immortal F4B-4. After all, they had similar careers; both built as fighters (yes, I know the F-14 was technically an interceptor, but stay with me here), both were the best there was when in their prime, and both, as time passed them by, were ultimately relegated to the bombing mission prior to their retirement. They were really something when they were young, though, and we definitely miss those days.

Those Other Cobras

Anyone who's been paying attention to these pages must surely have noticed that most of the photos we publish from the Pacific War are related to the 5th Air Force. There's a reason for that: The Fifth is a primary interest of mine. That said it was, unfortunately, a really big war with a lot of participants. Here's an example of one that wasn't from General Kenney's Air Force, courtesy of Bobby Rocker:

A sharkmouthed Bell P-400 Airacobra of the 67th FS, 347th FG, sits poised for another mission on Henderson Field some time in late 1942. We're showing this particular photograph today to illustrate a potential point of confusion for those confronted with P-39/P-400 photography from The Bad Old Days in the SWPAC. Note the sharkmouth: The 8th FG of the 5th AF used it too, while assigned to the Port Moresby area of New Guinea, and their version of that classic artwork was very much like the one used by the 67th FS on Guadalcanal. A practiced eye can usually tell the difference between the units but not always. Danger; Will Robinson! DANGER!   Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby for continually sourcing these images and sharing them with us.

It Seems Like It Was Yesterday

But Operation Desert Storm took place back in 1991, some 29 years ago! My own personal tie to the operation was a long-standing friendship with Prowler ECMO Rick Morgan, whom I'd known since he was in flight school in Texas. Last issue's publication of a TA-4 photo from Allen Epps triggered Rick to send in this photograph of his crew during taken aboard the Theodore Roosevelt while he was assigned to VAQ-141:

Rick provided us with the call signs for his crew, so that's how we'll identify them here, from left to right: Kurly, Tums, Boris (Rick Morgan), and our newest contributor Pugsley (Allen Epps) as they prepare for their first daylight war mission. We aren't going to publish the names of Kurly and Tums at this time because we don't have their permission to do that.   Rick Morgan

They don't look that old, and their faces don't reflect the years of training or the strain of combat, but these guys are The Real Deal; a highly skilled crew engaged in electronic warfare combat operations with the Grumman EA-6B Prowler. While serving in the Gulf they flew daily support missions for Alpha Strikes, they jammed communications and, on at least one occasion, they killed a SAM site. They're typical of the guys who stand up, and have always stood up, when their country needs them, and we're lucky they, and all their brothers and sisters, are there for us. Let's raise a glass!

Happy Snaps

How about another air-to-air from Allen Epps to end this issue?

Over San Clemente Island with a pair of CT-33’s. We would run into the ship and “shoot” the CT-33’s as missile simulators then follow them as a third missile with an appropriate electronic signature.  Epps

Thanks, Pugs!

We're always looking for photography of American military aviation, by the way. If you'd like to contribute your images to this project, please drop us a line at replicainscaleatyahoodotcom using the appropriate symbology for the at and dot. We can't pay you but we'll make you famous, sortof, if you'd like to contribute your photos. How about it?

The Relief Tube

You may have noticed that we're actually publishing fairly frequently these days (a big YAY for that one), albeit with reduced content. We've been meaning to reduce the length of these things for quite a while because it's easier to do shorter issues than to put together the long ones that cause us to publish just a handful of entries per year. That's a particularly good thing to us and maybe for you as well, especially so since most of us are restricted to quarters at the present time. We'll try to get something out every couple or three weeks from now on, or at least until this Covid mess subsides and we all return to some semblance of normality. (Or maybe you could just keep to some sort of SCHEDULE, Phillip!)

In the meantime, stay safe, be careful, and be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon!


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Knocking That Stash Down, Not So Tough, Iron Dogs in the Shop, Too Much to Ask?, and A Couple of Fantooms

A Trip to the Closet

Let's start this off by saying we're all a little short of a full load in the judgement department. We do goofy things, and we do them repetitively and with almost no thought. We spend money we don't need to spend, on things we don't actually need and may never do anything with. Ill-considered is a term that fits the phenomenon. Crazy is another.

I'm sure you've figured it out by now; I'm talking about The Monster in the Closet, the ruler of all scale modeling life, Moloch! Yes, I'm talking about...


Before you get started with what can best be described as The Lame Excuses or, worse yet, define me as The Enemy, take a minute and consider that I'm one of you. I'm a member of the tribe. I am, in point of fact, a plankholder, one of the founders of the feast as it were. I counted the unbuilt 1/72nd scale airplane kits in my closet once upon a time, during a visit home from college way back in 1970. There were in excess of 1,200 boxed and unbuilt kits in there back then, a great many of which were still in shrink-wrap. The theory behind their purchase was fairly simple since I also worked part-time in a hobby shop: A new kit would come out and I would automatically buy three; one to build, one to convert to a different variant, and one to keep as a reference copy. OR, I would buy more than three. I've always liked P-40Es, for example, so there were 8 or 10 Revell kits of same in that closet, along with multiple F4Fs, LS Zeros, and on and on and on, ad infinitum/ad nauseum.

The maturation of our hobby, which in theory paralleled a similar phenomenon in myself, resulted in a change of scale, to 1/48th and 1/32nd (read bigger boxes here) and the onset of that boon/bane of the 21st Century scale modeler's life; aftermarket, to the mix, which ensured that we had lots and lots of stuff to acquire because a whole bunch of kits were of the short-run get-'em-while-you-can variety, and aftermarket (to include decals) has always belonged in the Here Today Gone Forever (except on eBay) category. The end result of all this seemingly inoccuous proliferation of Stuff is The Stash, which is sometimes manageable but often not. Another result is the monetary expense of that collection of unbuilt polystyrene, but that's drama for a different day!

It seems as though there's something new for us almost each and every day these days; a new kit, new decals, new resin or photo-etch, new something that we think we have to have. We buy all of it, or a lot of it, or at least some of it, and we put it in the stash because we aren't ready to build it or incorporate it into a model. No; we just want it, so we buy it and put it away. It's ours. We have it, and we're going to put it with all that other stuff.

I did some figuring a few months ago. I'm a Baby Boomer so I'm aging a bit, and I'm old enough that I've optimistically got 10, maybe 12 years of modeling time left before something happens to take me out of the hobby. A typical kit requires between two to six weeks of my time, so the honest truth is that I'm likely to run out of Phillip long before I run out of kits to build. The advent of the present global health crisis has only added fuel to that particular fire, and being on lockdown here at the Polystyrene Ranch has confirmed a concept for me: I really ought to get off my lazy rear end and start building some of those kits, and using up some of the decals and aftermarket too.

Tom Gaj, a long-time friend and fellow traveler in the world of scale plastic edifices, has recently begun building some of the older kits he's got hidden away. His current project is a Hawk F8F Bearcat, which I'm assured will be followed by a box-scale Revell X-3. Neither kit is new or even remotely state of the art, the F8F dating from the mid-60s and the Stilleto from the late 1950s. Both can be built into outstanding models but they require both a love of the subject and a liberal application of modeling skills to get to that particular end result. Tom has both, and I'm looking forward to seeing the end results of his efforts, but that isn't the point. No, the point is this: He's building from his stash rather than adding to it. On a more personal level, I'm finishing up a Special Hobby Wirraway I began some three years ago, after which I'm considering a Special Hobby Guardian, or maybe just finishing that still-born Monogram F-100.

My point is this: I've got enough unbuilt kits to last a very long time at my present build rate. I still buy them, but only those I know I'll build. I buy aftermarket when a project actually needs it, or if I want a special set of markings that I don't already have. I haven't completely stopped expending money on the hobby but I've certainly tapered off quite a bit, and I'm enjoying things as much if not more than I ever have. It's not such a bad way to do things.

My two cents...

Short Run That Ain't Half-Bad

There was a time, not all that long ago, when mention of the kits offered by Special Hobby would cause a great many scale modelers to look the other way and change the subject. It wasn't for lack of trying on Special Hobby's part; their kit list was (and is) both extensive and fascinating, but the kits weren't for everybody, or even for anybody who wasn't fairly good at their craft. "Some modeling skills required" was a caveat with meaning.

Everything changes, though. I recently almost completed (that's my modeling life; I ALMOST complete things these days!) a Special Hobby CA-9 Wirraway, and here's the proof:

See what I mean? It's sortof finished but not really, since it's missing a little cleanup and weathering, plus a radio antenna and some more clutter around the wireless operator's free gun, but that's where it is right now. The kit was relatively painless to build and went together easily, with none of the assembly pitfalls I'd read about on other sites. I question the canopy, which is kind of squashed, and I really wish they'd provided a free gun (almost anything would be better than what I scratched up for this model!) and I really really wish they'd done a CA-1 instead of a CA-9, but I wanted a Wirraway for the collection and it definitely looks like one, in this case from 4 Sqdn RAAF out of Port Moresby ca. 1943.

A couple of quick notes for those of you wanting to build this one:

The reviews I read said that SH omitted the landing lights from their kit. They didn't do that; those lights are molded on one of the main sprues but are not identified in any other way. Look for two little round doo-hickies that have no apparent application to the kit and there you are!

The interior is allegedly inaccurate and I have to agree with that one, but I didn't correct anything on this model. It will never see a contest or, given the Covid Lockdown, any other living human being, so it's ok with me the way it is. The biggest issue in there, if you're building any sort of CA-9 used in or near a combat zone, is the lack of a free gun with the kit, but that's easy enough to deal with.

The engine doesn't fit the cowling according to several sources, but I had no issues whatsoever with mine. I trimmed the backside of the crankcase per the instructions and attached it to the airframe, slid the completed cowling it place over it, and attached the carburettor intake to the fuselage and cowling. The intake locked the cowling in place perfectly. (That intake is inaccurate as well, for whatever that's worth.) In a similar vein, the resin exhaust pipes aren't supposed to fit either, but mine fit perfectly without any sort of trimming.

The propeller is incorrect according to most of the reviews out there, and I whole-heartedly agree with that, but I didn't do anything about it on my model.

None of the reviews mentioned it, or at least I don't think they did, but the landing gear seems to be molded fully compressed, which causes the completed model to take on a somewhat squatty stance. The tailwheel is off a bit too, and poorly detailed on top of that, but it's also useable if you're building a placeholder, which I was.

That's my story, and so on and so forth...

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

That's an old description that could apply to almost anything flown by the Army Air Forces in the Pacific during World War 2, but it's especially applicable to the aircraft that fought there in the early Bad Old Days. Bobby Rocker has offered a couple of images of the Bell P-39 undergoing depot-level repair in late '42 or early '43 for our consideration today, so let's get right to it:

The 29th Air Service Group had this 13th AF P-39D under repair in less than stellar circumstances late in May of 1942. Note the early national insignia, replete with red centers. We're guessing most of the visible wear and tear on that Airacobra came from extensive training and routine operational use since the date places it far too early for combat in the 13th's area of operations, but the photo is of considerable value since it illustrates how the SW Pacific environment abused airplanes. Of further interest are the sophisticated maintenance aids in use---the 29th was a first-rate outfit and those were their working conditions early in the war!   Rocker Collection

The 4th ADG was active in Australia supporting AAF activities in New Guinea. In this photo we see a pair of 8th PG Airacobras, a P-400 and a P-39D, somewhere in the depot-level maintenance cycle. The photo was taken at Mareeba, in Northern Queensland, in December of 1942, and you can bet those airplanes are in need of some serious maintenance. The camouflaged hangar tells a story of its own, reminding us just how tenuous things were during those terrible times.   Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker for sharing these photos with us.

All I Want is a Decent Kit!

Some of us, myself included, grew up with the Revell, Hawk, Aurora, Lindberg, and Monogram kits of the mid and late-1950s, and a lot of us also had access to the Colby books that defined the US Navy and Air Force to a generation of wide-eyed kids. Those books, and at least three of those kit manufacturers, offered us kits of Lockheed's F-94C Starfire, an exposure that never left most of us. There have been kits of that airplane since the fifties, most recently an offering by the folks at KittyHawk, but none of them have truly done the airplane justice.

Is this a good-looking airplane or what? The F-94C just screams "1950s American Jet Interceptor" and it's very much a seminal part of the era. It's also a necessity for any collection of models depicting The Silver Air Force, but that KittyHawk kit isn't a particularly easy date, and the 1/72nd scale offerings currently available aren't all that hot either. Opportunity knocks, guys!   Ron Picciani

You'll note that the Starfire photo shown above is heavily watermarked by its photographer, Ron Picciani. That's because Ron, like so many of us, has had his photography ripped off and distributed all over the internet without either attribution or permission. That sort of thing is why we regularly deface the images shown on this site: Some of the kids don't play nice so we do what we have to do to try to keep them honest. For the record, Ron granted permission for the use of this image, and we're extremely grateful to him for that. He, and all those like him, were recording the real airplanes that inspired the models we make, and they were doing it when few others even cared. They were, and are, a truly special breed, and we all owe then a debt we can never truly repay. Thanks, Ron, for all you've done for us, and for our hobby!

A Fistful of Deltas 

McDonnell Douglas' immortal F-4 Phantom II was a fixture in America's arsenal for several decades, and the memory of their roar on launch and their shrieking howl when recovering lives strongly in what remains of my memory. Here are a couple of photos to remind you of those days of glory for the mighty Bent-Winged Bugsucker:

Oklahoma's 507th TFS, operating out of Tinker AFB, had the F-4D on strength for quite a while and John Dienst walked their ramp, camera in hand, back in June of 1983. Although an AFRES unit, the 507th adopted the same placement for "nose" art as the 182nd TFS of the TXANG; inside the nose gear doors. 760 has artwork there, along with the name "OUTLAW", a fitting description for the Mighty Phantom!    John Dienst

And here's 762 of the 507th, named "SMOKIN OKIE", a highly-descriptive moniker for the early F-4s. Neat airplanes on a beautiful day; we truly envy John that shoot. It just doesn't get any better!   John Dienst

Another D-model, this is 737 of the 301st TFW (Carswell) the morning before an airshow at Randolph in May of 1987. She's carrying an inert AIM-9, which makes her distinctly interesting and well worth shooting.    Friddell

And phinally (I'm truly sorry but I had to do that!), here's the 111th FIS' 65-0666 sitting on the ramp at Laughlin in March of 1987. The airplane is well-worn, which was unusual for any of the 111th's airplanes, but she still looked every inch a fighter. The F-4D's tenure with the Houston ANG was relatively brief, bridging the gap between their F-101Bs and their F-16s, but the Phantoms were every bit as impressive as any of the others!   Friddell

There are many F-4s to come on these pages but today just isn't The Day, so stay tuned!

Happy Snaps

It's been a while since we've run an air-to-air by one of our readers so we're definitely due for another one!

(An exceptional shot) of a VC-8 TA-4 in the Puerto Rican op areas operating as missile simulators. Once the Navy got rid of VAQ-33, 34 and 35 the job really fell to the Reserves and I flew with VAQ-209 from 95-07 so flew a lot of fleet support!   Allen Epps

What a neat image (and quite remarkable, in spite of Allen's modesty), and he promises more to come. How much better could things get?

The Relief Tube

It had to happen! Sooner or later I had to duplicate a photo in this blog---I've done it before, but with several years between the first and last times I did it. This time was different, with only two issues separating the times we ran a B-25D named "Mexican Spitfire". See if you can find them; you won't have to scroll back very far. Good grief!

Anyway, there's no excuse for it other than my ever-advancing seniority on life, coupled with the fact that my memory has never been especially good, so apologies are in order and I'll try really hard to make sure it doesn't happen again unless, of course, I forget...

Regardless of whatever it was we were talking about it's time to put this issue to bed, so be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon!