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!
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.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