Thursday, May 13, 2021

Dazzle Them With Detail, A Strange Way to Get There, Early Forty-Niners, One From the 318th, Mizzou in the Crisis, and Some Scooters


What Is It We're Trying to Do Here?

There's an old expression that's known to just about everyone that provides us with an interesting take on this hobby of ours: If you can't dazzle them with Brilliance, baffle them with Bovine Defecation, or something to that effect. We find the expression used frequently in the business world and in industry too, and it's one of those constants that, though trite, is also far more often true than not. It's a constant in life that applies to almost anything we can think of, from the person who knows everything even when they don't and trickling down to our scale models and other people's perception of them. 

Think about that for a minute, and allow yourself to drift back to the last contest you visited, or maybe even entered. Remember the model (imaginary in this instance) that incorporated every single thing a modeler could possibly add to it, both aftermarket and scratchbuilt, internally and externally, a killer paint job, and a wowzer set of markings that immediately drew your eye to it? You know the one. Whoever built it must be part necromancer to be able to build something like that! Then you begin to look more closely and The Truth slaps you in the face: Our drop-dead gorgeous model whatever-it-is was built off the very latest brand-spanking new just-released kit, the one that was designed by non-modelers using computer assisted design, and the airframe is significantly inaccurate, or a major detail provided with the kit is glaringly wrong and sitting there in all its uncorrected glory. But the detail! Look at the detail! Look at the markings! Look at the paint! Look at the inaccurate model...

I once knew a guy, back in the late 1970s, who was one of the best scale modelers I've ever known. He was a commercial artist by trade and his models were inevitably well built and beautifully finished, but they were rarely accurate because he didn't care about that at all; he just wanted to build the models. That was his choice and it was a conscious decision on his part. He knew his models were inaccurate and he didn't care. He also didn't try to hide the fact. He didn't fix kit inaccuracies, he didn't care if the scheme he finished the model with was appropriate to the variant he had built, nor did he worry about any of the other things most of us are concerned with. He just built the models, displayed them, and sometimes won contests with them because they were beautiful models. He knew what he was doing and why he was doing it.

Jump forward to today and take a look at some of the builds of recently issued kits. There are some gorgeous models out there, but some of the new kits are significantly less accurate than those we were building back in The Day. They're often easier to construct and highly detailed even without aftermarket, but they're wrong when taken as a true miniature replica of the airplane (or whatever) in question and even the considerable skills of a great many contemporary modelers can't hide a bad starting place. The question is: Did the modeler in question know the kit was inaccurate, and did he or she care? That's really what defines the whole thing.

Let's establish a premise here and presume that we're all building for fun on some level, even if we're beady-eyed Gotta Win That Contest at All Costs maniacs. There's fun in there somewhere, even for the most serious denizens of our scale modeling world, so the question then becomes why are we building.

I'm Old School, through and through. I try to build the most accurate models I'm capable of producing, although I'll admit I'm not as pedantic about that sort of thing as I once was. I try to build with kits that are as accurate as I can obtain, and I correct inaccuracies when I detect them in a "serious" project. When I want to just make things up and build a model I'll do a hot rod or some other model car, or maybe build a dinosaur for one of the grandkids. If it's serious I'll find the most accurate kit I can to start with. That's me.

Some folks, maybe even a lot of folks, don't do things that way because they don't know how to research, or don't know how to figure out which kits are "bad", or just don't care. That's ok too, because at the end of the day those individuals are buying kits and accessories, and are spending money on the hobby which in turn causes manufacturers to release other kits, which makes me happy as a modeler. 

At the end of the day it's your choice, right? In my world, the word "replica" says it all. 

And the beat goes on...

How We Get There Doesn't Matter

Here's a case in point: A great many of the models I attempt to build are of airplanes that flew in the Pacific theater during World War 2, and a couple have been of VLR (that's Very Long Range, for the acronym-challenged) Mustangs. Our friends at Eduard recently issued a VLR version of their whiz-bang semi-new P-51D kit, which provided inspiration, and Rudy over at LionHeart Hobby in Kyle had a kit on its way to me in no time. As it turns out my inspiration was well-founded, because the kit included all the various antennae to properly build a VLR P-51 in either of its iterations, plus both kinds of gas bags and no less that twelve different sets of markings. Woot!

Anyway, the time spent looking at that new kit made me wonder if our friends in the Czech Republic offered anything other than the basic kit as an overtree set, and it turns out they did---those VLR tanks! A quick audit showed I still had a couple of Tamiya P-51Ds in the closet, Rudy sent a set of VLR tanks, and a plan was born!

Here's the result of my epiphany, Mustang-wise, a VLR P-51D from 457th FS/506th FG at Iwo Jima in 1945. There are folks out there who will tell you they don't like the Tamiya P-51D kit, but I'm not one of them. This view shows the only significant issues with that particular model; that goofy cutout at the upper inboard corner of each flap where Tamiya made it easy for the same set of flaps to be installed in either raised or lowered position at the expense of accuracy, and the "bow" inside the canopy, which should have lightening holes in it but does not. Neither one of these things was a deal breaker for me, although it might be for you. You pays your money and you takes your choices.

Here's another view that simultaneously shows the smaller of those two Eduard VLR tanks with their associated sway braces and what happens to an image when you have little or no control over the depth of field when you take a photograph. (Yes, I know better, but I used an iPhone to take these pictures and aperture control wasn't part of that game!) Other note-worthy items include the AN/ARA-8 Uncle Dog fuselage antennae, which were made from Evergreen strip styrene, and the antenna mast under the nose, which is the kit-provided "normal" mast put in a different place. The decals were originally going to come from that Eduard kit but I ended up using one of the markings sets from Kagero's Red Series decals, for VLR Mustangs, instead. The model should also have the tiny AN/APS-13 radio antennae on the sides of the vertical fin but I've never been particularly good at adding tiny repetitive details to a model so I chose the lesser path of ignoring them on the model! 

This model still lacks final weathering and a set of zero-length rocket stubs to be called Done, but it's close enough to prove the point. That Eduard Special Edition VLR Mustang kit will provide you with two sets of tanks, which are the most challenging part of the build because they're so unique. There's only one set of antennae in there but those are super-easy to scratch up, and there are a lot of markings for the VLR birds out there; Eduard, Kagero, Exito, and AeroMaster all do them and I'm sure there are others as well. Your acquisition of one Eduard VLR P-51D, plus a little ingenuity and access to other far less expensive kits such as Tamiya or Airfix or the purchase of several of The Big E's own OverTree kits will allow you to build a whole bunch of colorful Pacific Mustangs if you want to do that. In the Good Old Days we called that "bang for the buck". Whatever you choose to call it, it's an approach that works in the modeler's favor and is absolutely worth looking into!

The Boys From Darwin

The 49th Fighter Group got its start during those terrible days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They gained fame, and a measure of immortality, with their operations over New Guinea in the P-40 and, later, the P-38, and they were the figurative birthplace of Dick Bong, among other American aces of the Pacific War, but in the beginning, the very beginning, they operated around Darwin in defense of Australia. There's a fair amount of photography out there of the group in their early days, but some of it has been misunderstood over the years, a phenomenon not helped in any material way by the advent of The Internet Expert. 

 Your editor (that would be me) has long harbored an interest in all things Fifth Air Force, which in term led to making the acquaintance of Bob Livingston and Gordon Birkett. A photograph on one of those modeling boards caused me to contact Bob with a question regarding the markings of a particular 49th FG P-40E. Bob provided a partial answer and a recomendation that I contact Gordon Birkett, an early Pacific War collector and historian of some renown. Gordon was kind enough to lend his expertise to my original markings question on one particular airplane, and to expound upon it. That conversation led to more questions, of course, which in turn takes us to today's discussion. The images you're about to see all came from Gordon's collection and originated with the US Army Air Force and the Australian War Memorial.

This image, which shows the nose of Bill Hennon's Number 36 and Bob "Snakebite" Vaught's famous "Bob's Robin", was taken on the day of an AAF dog and pony show for the press. Hennon's airplane wears a red spinner cap, signifying his days with the 17th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) in Java, while Vaught's Warhawk bears his well-known sharkmouth. At first glance we aren't covering any new ground here, since this photograph has been reproduced dozens of time in various books, periodicals, and on the internet, but let's take a closer look at "Bob's Robin". Specifically, check out the leading edge of the wings where the fairings covering the muzzles of the P-40's guns should be. Those fairings are missing from "Robin", as they were from several other 49th FG P-40s operation in the Darwin area, because they tended to crack and, in some cases, disintegrate when the guns were fired; Gordon commented that  The USAAF and RAAF always had trouble with these cracking or fracturing after continuous long bursts,..or worse being with a jammed 0.50cal bullet wrecking the leading edge. While we're at it, check out the wheel covers on Vaught's bird as well; see that white "spot"? It's deliberate, it's definitely in the photo, and we don't have a clue as to what it depicts or why it's there. We do suspect the wheel cover isn't the prescribed Light Grey, but we might be wrong on that one.   Gordon Birkett Collection

To add a little more to our knowledge of Vaught's #94, let's consider this color information from Gordon's files: 

#94    P-40E-1 41-24872    Lt. Robert H. Vaught O-382764 
Of particular notice, rarely realized that most have it all O/D which is unusual for a P-40E-1 prior to overhaul in late 1942. In examining the rear it seems its still disruptive RAF Temp B/G Camo around the rear fuselage Cockade, with nose and top cowls in O/D/Black.
Could be a trick of camera light had it not been the top of the cockade being darker. She was a bitser having been nosed over in March 42 down “south” and repaired at Archer Field with parts from P-40Es and P-40E-1s . His original P-40E-1 was 41-24797 which, coincident was also nosed over on her back in slow motion. And the source of the  fable of his second being ex RAAF is that his first became , after repairs, a RAAF aircraft in our first 25 aircraft batch. All mixed up in reverse.

A bird on the butts! This P-40E or E-1 is chocked and raised for gun harmonization but back in the States, at the factory rather than in Australia. The photo isn't the best quality but does a wonderful job of depicting those guns with the muzzle fairings removed. It also provides us with a great view of the color demarcation between the upper and lower surfaces of the wings; modelers take note!  Gordon Birkett Collection

Here's "Texas Longhorn in all her glory, once again defining the lack of gun fairings on the wings. This image is from a newsreel and isn't very good in terms of clarity, but it really illustrates the lack of gun fairings as well as the different color of paint surrounding the guns, yellow Mil-P-8585 Zinc Chromate primer perhaps? We should probably stress that not all of the 49th's aircraft had those fairings removed in service, but enough of them did to warrant further investigation.   Gordon Birkett Collection

Here's our final P-40E of the day, "Bitchin' Ben Irvin's famous "The Rebel". It's another one of those 49th FG airplanes, this time from the 9th FS, that most of us are familiar with, but are we really? This airplane actually did have gun covers on the day of that famous grip and grin session, but the markings were different than those we're most familiar with.  Gordon Birkett Collection

Here's Ben in front of his now-famous Number 75, providing us with much better detail of his winged Pegasus emblem painted on the fuselage behind the cockpit. The photograph is a famous one that clearly defines his aircraft's artwork but wait; there's more!   Gordon Birkett Collection

The side number that's presented on the tail of Irwin's Number 75 is repeated under the nose of his airplane as well. This isn't the only 49th FG Warhawk that duplicated its aircraft number in that position; Preddy's Number 85 "Tarheel" comes to mind that regard, but not every airplane within the group had one displayed there.  Gordon Birkett Collection

Let's end today's 49th FG photo essay with a photograph you may not have seen before. It's Irwin's Number 75 again, but it's the second Number 75 and this time there's a name on the rudder, "Bessie", that has so far eluded us. Several 49th FG pilots had more than one P-40E and marked them similarly; this one is far from being the only example of that practice.  Gordon Birkett Collection

Here's further information from Gordon's files detailing #75:

FY41    CW#    C/N    OZ date    RAF#    Theatre    Serial/Box/Group#    Unit    Oz Del    Date sent\arrived    Loss Date     US Off     Marking    Remarks
41-25164 949    19675        ET488    SUMAC/LEFT    #75    9thPS/49thPG    SS NYC ex Netherlands Contract .    9/03/1942    26/12/1942    27/12/1942    #75 "The Rebel"   (Ex Defence Aid Netherlands (One of 18) Flown in at Batchelor 10/05/42 with #74/#86 & #99) Capt Bill Irvin's 9thFS 49thFG  Winged Pegasus Motif, his till 04/06/42.Eng# 42-33889. Current 9th FS 07/08/42 .Lt John Landers 26/12/42 PNG  #75. s/d that day.

There's more to share from Gordon regarding the 49th in those bad early days but that will have to wait for a bit. In the meantime, thanks very much to Australian friends Gordon and Bob for their help with this fascinating part of our mutual aviation heritage!

Where's Bobby?

Bobby Rocker, that is! It's been a while since we've seen anything from Bobby, but that's mostly because it's been awhile since we've published an issue of the blog. Let's make amends today with this wonderful shot of an Airacobra in the Central Pacific:

"My Gal Sal IV", a P-39Q, was assigned to the 72nd FS/318th FG on Makin Atoll on the island of Butaritari in December of 1943 when she posed for this picture with the squadron mascot. Note the paint treatment of the nose landing gear and lack of yellow warning paint on the propeller tips. Larry Bell's airplane company seem to have been a bunch of free-thinkers where paint and markings were concerned. There are hard and fast rules for such things but Bell seems to have broken them about as often as they paid attention to them!

Something else that's worthy of note in this image: The airplane is relatively clean as are the pilots posing with it, and everyone looks healthy and well-fed. The hardstand, probably rolled coral, is pristine and the background is that of a tropical paradise, which is in harsh contrast to the images we normally display of airplanes serving with Fifth AF in New Guinea. That doesn't mean that things were any safer, because over-water flying is never truly safe, especially in a single-engine aircraft, and there was still a motivated and highly skilled enemy to contend with. The climate, physical plant, and operational conditions were far worse in and around New Guinea but that doesn't mean much. Operation flying in combat is tough regardless of where you do it. Don't misunderstand the photograph because the image it projects isn't necessarily the reality of the situation.   Rocker Collection

Heading for Berlin

The year 1961 saw the Cold War make one of its period excursions to the brink of nuclear war, triggered by a crisis in Berlin. Several Air National Guard units were Federalized as a result of that crisis, one of which was Missouri's  110th TFS:

"Show Me" an F-84F-30-RE (52-6368) sits on a rain-swept ramp in 1961, an evocative symbol of the Cold War at its worst. She was the squadron commander's airplane and ended up on public display after being stricken from service. It's difficult to imagine that she would have fared well against the Bad Guys in Europe during that terrible Fall of 1961; we fortunately never had to find out.    Mark Nankivil

Scooters at Fallon

Reader and scale modeler Fred Drummond spent his time in the Navy flying EA-6B Prowlers and had the opportunity to photograph a great many military aircraft during that time. We're going to share a couple of his A-4E shots with you today. All of them are of aircraft assigned to VF-45 as adversaries and were flying out of NAS Fallon in August of 1987 when they were photographed by Fred.

First up is a grey on grey Echo, BuNo 151064. The "Scooter" was often used by the Navy to simulate the MiG-17; the two aircraft were close in both size and performance, if not in appearance.  Fred Drummond

149973 bore a tiger-striped grey on grey scheme. The staining out of that off-board drain is typical of the Skyhawk regardless of variant. As interesting as the paintwork on this airplane is, it would appear as a medium grey airplane at any sort of distance.   Fred Drummond

152004 wore a fairly colorful blue on grey scheme, which might have proven fairly effective low over the water. It's utility in an air-to-air scenario might have been questionable, but it certainly made for a pretty airplane!   Fred Drummond

Let's close with the other side of 149973. These aircraft are all configured to go play with the big kids and may have provided some of the best flying in the Navy during their period of active service.    Fred Drummond

Many thanks to Fred for sharing these images with us!

The Relief Tube

Well, I'm relieved that we finally managed to publish something after a hiatus of nearly 6 months, but that's nothing to brag about! We'll try to do better in the future---'nuff said!

Happy Snaps

We'd like to share another image from Fred Drummond with you, this time an air-to-air taken during his time in the Prowler:

The Prowler in the photo is with VAQ-130 doing an Operation Deny Flight mission. This would have been during the March 1995 timeframe. We were doing a cruise on the Ike, but our squadron got the call to deploy to Aviano to continue to support operations while the carrier and the rest of our air wing went on port calls.  Fred   Fred Drummond 

Thanks, Fred! 

Do any of you have photography you think might be of interest to our readers? If you do and would like to share them with us, the e-mail address, slightly garbled so I don't have to endure the folks who like to troll such things, is   replicainscaleatyahoodotcom   . Put an @ and a . in the appropriate places and you're home free. 

That's it for today, ya'll, but we're still alive and well over here. Be good to your neighbor and we'll see you again soon!