Thursday, November 4, 2021

Something Different at the 'Canal, Another Darned '109, They're Your Photos, A Couple From John Kerr, and a Tadpole


The Very First One

We're going to take a somewhat different approach with our opening piece this time and talk about something we've all had, and probably all remember. That's right; we're going to discuss the very first plastic model airplane we ever built, either solo or with help from someone, so let's jump right into it!

My first personal exposure to the world of plastic models came in 1955, while my dad was stationed at Chitose AB on Southern Hokkaido helping the Air Force stare down those bad guys just a few clicks away. It was an unaccompanied tour in those days which meant no families allowed so my mom and I were cooling our heels staying with my grandmother in the wilds of North Georgia while waiting for his 18-month assignment to pass. That, in turn, meant visiting relatives and, magically, getting to see my teenage cousin Jerry's model airplanes! He may have, and probably did have, have a stick and tissue flying model or two on display somewhere but the real treasure was on the dresser in his room; those first Revell jet airplanes! He may have had them all---my memory can recall the F-84F, F-94C, and F7U. He may have had a Cougar too, but I know for certain that he had those three. I saw them, I asked if I could play with them and was told "no" in terms I could understand, and the die was cast. Those models, plus Jerry's car (a used Sunbeam Alpine that he spent most of his weekends working on), rapidly elevated him to the exalted status of Favorite Relative in my eyes. The fact that he tolerated me and let me watch during those interminable hours he spent trying to synchronize the SU carburetors on that Alpine didn't hurt either, and in retrospect he's probably the reason I grew up loving sports cars too, but this isn't about sports cars. It's about plastic model airplanes.

Jerry took me to the hobby shop that was near his home but at six years of age I couldn't afford to buy anything so I just looked, and dreamed of the day I could build a model too. I asked my mom to buy a kit for me and, if truth be known probably drove her crazy with the frequency of my requests, but she always had said no, right up until The Magic Day. 

It started out as a normal shopping trip for groceries at Blair's Supermarket in Canton one Saturday afternoon. The place was large for a grocery store in a small Georgia town and sold things besides food and related dry goods and sundries. That meant they had a small toy section in the store, and in that toy section were a handful of models, one of which was a black "Me109 Night Fighter". It was in a smallish scale, just the size for someone of my tender years, and my constant pestering, coupled with a desire on my mom's part to get out of the store and go home, won the day. She asked if I could really build it all by myself, and I said YES loudly enough to be heard throughout the store. She bought it for me, and I suspect I danced all the way out to the car. I HAD A MODEL AIRPLANE! It was mine to build, and then I could play with it! I could be just like my cousin Jerry; could a sports car of my own be far behind? Ok, maybe not, but I had a model of my own and all was right with the world!

My attempts at assembly began almost as soon as we got home. We hadn't purchased glue because the thought had never occurred to either of us to do that, but Grandma always had Elmer's Glue somewhere around the house and glue was glue, so I was set. 

Or maybe not...

We all know that Elmer's doesn't work with polystyrene but I didn't have a clue back then, so I broke all those black pieces (it was a night fighter, remember?) off their sprues and set to work. The results were predictable but also eventually salvageable once someone had the idea to call my cousin to find out why all the of the kit's component pieces were literally falling off the model. A tube of plastic cement was somehow acquired and I began again, which allowed me to learn about Indelible Glue Fingerprints and how black plastic turns purple if you get enough cement on it. I got the thing finished in spite of myself, although I don't remember putting decals on it---my recollections of that very first polystyrene model airplane indicate it was overall black, which was just fine with me. It was a night fighter anyway, right? 

And that was how it all began for me! The subject matter might have had something to do with my ongoing modeling interest in the Ost Front Luftwaffe, although probably not, but the kit started me off on a lifetime of polystyrene misadventures that has carried through until this very moment. I look on the whole thing as a gift!

And here's the culprit! Everybody has a first model they built all by themselves, with no help from adults or older siblings, and this one was mine. I don't have a copy of it now and scabbed the picture you see off the Internet, something I almost never do, but I'd sure like to have that kit again. Drop me an email ( replicainscaleatyahoodotcom  ) if you have one you'd like to part with and maybe we can talk.

Long ago and far away...

Guadalcanal Birds of a Slightly Different Flavor

When we think of the aerial struggle that took place for the island of Guadalcanal from mid-1942 into early 1943 we usually think of Wildcats, Dauntlesses, Corsairs, P-38s, and P-400s, but the Army Air Force operated a number of other types in the theater. Take these airplanes, for example:

41-13153 was a B-25C from the 390th BS/42nd BG and was photographed at Henderson Field in the Spring of 1943. There may or may not be a name or nose art on the airplane; although this view doesn't show one, it wouldn't have been unusual for it to have been on the port side of the airplane only. This one is a straight-up bomber rather than one of the highly modified strafers found flying with the 5th Air Force in New Guinea during the same time period; those mods were the exclusive property of General George Kenney's boys during this phase of the war. Note how relatively clean this airplane is. I'm guessing it had only recently arrived from New Caledonia but it didn't last long, going down off Guadalcanal in July of 1943.    Friddell Collection

When we think of Martin's Marauder in the SouthWest Pacific we usually think of the 22nd Bomb Group and their operations out of Port Moresby, but there were B-26s at Guadalcanal as well. "Yap Trap" was a B-26B (41-175681) assigned to the 38th BG and nominally operating out of New Caledonia, although they could sometimes be found operating from Henderson Field as well. The group didn't operate the type for very long and didn't stay in the Guadalcanal area either, but they were there long enough for "Yap Trap" to be immortalized on film.   Friddell Collection

From the scale modeler's perspective we're relatively poorly served as far as kits of these airplanes are concerned, at least if you build in 1/48th scale (which I predominantly do). Accurate Miniatures attempted a B-25B/C/D/G a number of years ago but it has some serious errors that cause it to be only a fairly good model rather than the accurate one we'd all prefer, while nobody, as of this writing at least, has ever kitted a 1/48th scale short-winged B-26 of any sort. Big sigh.

A Great One From Norm

Long-time contributor Norman Camou is at it again, this time with a remarkable YouTube film of early l940s US Navy activities. It's an amazing look into the past and well worth the time it takes to watch it!

Thanks very much, Norm, for taking the time to find these jewels for us!

Not Another Bf109!

There are quite a few airplanes that are considered iconic, and those airplanes so designated generally have plastic model kits produced of them in substantial variety and in many scales. Willy Messerschmitt's 109 series of fighters certainly falls into that category of iconic airplanes, and the sheer quantity of kits available of all its various iterations is legendary---it seems as though there are as many different kits as there were real airplanes produced by Herr Willy, but we digress...

We're going to restrict today's discussion of the 109 family a bit, however, in favor of looking at and fixing the flaws of a kit that's often been called the best of the 1/48th scale Bf109Es; the Airfix Emil. It's got a lot to recommend it, you know; it's closer to scale than almost all of its competition, and it's relatively simple to build. It's easily available and was, until, recently, the most affordable of the good Emil kits as well, and it's also the only one out there that will allow the modeler to build all of the "normal" Bf109E variants from what's in any of its several boxings. That's right; excepting the barely produced and hardly used Bf109T, each and every Emil variant is right there in that Airfix box from E-1 to E-7, so the kit is what we used to call a Bargain as well as accurate.

We have a premise, then: The 1/48th scale Airfix Bf109E is the currently the best kit available of the type available to us (and yes; I'm fully aware of the recent Wingsy kit of the airplane, but I'm standing by what I just said about Airfix, for now, anyway...), but it's not without its flaws. Let's see what needs fixing!

The canopies are thick and the squared-off set for the E-4 and E-7 variants is just wrong. That's because Airfix allegedly used a real Emil for their kit research, and that real airplane was wearing an incorrect for the variant, later and far more heavily-framed Me09G canopy, a situation apparently caused by the paucity of proper Messerschmitt canopies in stock over at the local airplane parts emporium. The fix is pretty easy, if possibly expensive---either modify the kit parts by reworking the frames or swipe a canopy, or the entire canopy stack, from an Eduard Weekend Edition kit since that particular edifice (once our favorite Emil kit!) is just too darned big! Yes, Virginia; the Eduard E is overscale but a lot of the parts can be used to detail someone else's kit, which almost makes sense if you either have an unbuilt one lying around, or can get a Weekend Edition for cheap. Either way, the canopy situation is fixable.

The prop is way too thin, and the spinners provided with the kit (3 different ones) are all a little on the soft side. Our Canadian friends at UltraCast make replacements out of resin that are just super, and will fix the problem regardless of the spinner your model requires. 

The tailwheel is a little too small as well, and the main gear wheels are lacking detail. UltraCast can help with the wheels for the mains, while the Bf109F kit of your choice, or the tailwheel from the Eduard "Brassin" set for the Emil, will cure the problem at the back end of the model. 

The interior could stand some work, of course, but the simple addition of an UltraCast seat (with belts molded in) and painting will go a very long way towards making the office presentable. Yes; I use a lot of UltraCast products when they're available for whatever I'm building at the time. That's because I like their work a lot and I'm a fan of their products. Your mileage may vary in that respect and there are other solutions out there for the issues just mentioned but the boys from Canada tend to get my vote most of the time. You pays your money...

Then there's the real heartbreaker of the kit, which lives in the form of the main landing gear struts. As tooled, the model sits way too high and ends up looking pretty silly once it's completed, but those struts aren't the problem. Nope, the whole issue stems from the way Airfix have you mount the mains into the wheel wells, but there's a super easy fix for that too---that over-long gear is the long pole in this particular tent, but we can fix it in just a few minutes:

The guys at Airfix do great work these days but I'm pretty sure the guy who designed those struts wasn't talking to their wing department when those items were tooled because, as designed, they sit ON the wheel wells instead of IN them. The fix is an easy one; just open up the mounting slots so the strut attachment pegs can drop down into the wing. The struts are approximately 1/8th inch too long but not really; they just mount incorrectly, and this fix almost exactly equals the dimension required to fix the problem. 

Here's the finished opening. It's rough (I coulda/shoulda been neater!) but it works, as we will shortly discover.

See how those struts are sitting in the photo? The one with the red box around it has been corrected, while the one furthest away is just sitting there as Airfix mistakenly intended it to be. Dropping the strut down into the wing makes the whole problem go away.

Notice how the top of the strut's mounting peg hits the bottom of the upper wing---that can be used as an ad hoc fixture to set your spacing, after which all that's required is to make certain the splay and rake of the gear is correct and let the cement cure. How easy can this be!

Here's how the finished model looks. Note the "sit" of the airplane---much better, huh? One thing about the Airfix kit that poses a problem is the relative fragility of the pitot tube and aileron mass balances, which are extremely fragile and easy to break when removing them from their sprues. Caution is required. That said, this model was built mostly as an Old School sort of project so the kit gun barrels were drilled out and most of the other parts on the airplane came from the kit. Normally I would use Master Barrels for that sort of thing but this time around I didn't and Old School worked out just fine. 

Early reviews of this kit slammed it for over-large panel lines and there's some truth to that, but they largely go away once the model is painted. My model received a coat of Mr Surfacer 1200 prior to painting and everything worked out just fine in the panel line department but that's a matter of taste, isn't it? I'm ok with the way it looks but you might not be. One thing I definitely should have done was replace the canopy stack, because those parts are way too thick even for an airplane using the E-1/E-3 canopy, which this airplane did. As previously mentioned, the parts from Eduard's oddly proportioned and overscale Bf109E kits will work just fine with the Airfix offering, as will Hasegawa's for that matter. If you're building an Emil with the "square" canopy and windscreen frame you'll have to do something about the issue anyway, but I got lazy and could get away with it since the E-7 I was building (Herbert Ihlefeld's LG-2 bird in Romania, immediately prior to the launch of Operation Barbarossa) carried the older canopy set. Sharp-eyed readers will also note that the windscreen hand-holds and canopy retaining strap still need to be added. All together now: Jeez---doesn't he ever actually finish anything?

Here's a parting shot, just because. The paint on this one was all Mr Color while the crosses, swastikas, and what little stencilling is evident were taken from the kit decals, which look awful on their carrier sheet but are actually quite good. The LG-2 insignia, commander's chevrons, and victory markings came from Eduard's limited edition Barbarossa set. I chose not to use their national insignia because they're too big for the Airfix kit, which is actually 1/48th scale. The Eduard kit (which I used to like a lot) has scale errors similar to their initial-release Me-109G series, which means it's a great selective parts source but you have to pay attention because some of the components, to include the national insignia on the decal sheets, are just too darned big! Forewarned is forearmed...

Public Resources

It's an odd thing, of the strange but true variety, that thousands of excellent photographs of American military airplanes are available to the aviation enthusiast an historian on line, and they're there for free! That's right; they're free, but you will have to dig for them. The point is they're out there, just waiting to be accessed. 

The resource is the United States' very own national archives, and you can tap into them at National Archives | if you'd like. It's a huge, and we mean HUGE, resource, albeit one that can be notoriously difficult to navigate until you get the hang of it. That said, once you learn how to get around in there the images and documents that are available to the public absolutely free of charge will astound you. Here are a couple of examples of the photography that lives within:

Do you recognize this airplane? You should, because this very image has been used over and over again in books and magazine articles, sometimes properly credited but far more often not. It's been in the Archives forever and depicts "Scatterbrain", a P-40E of the 7th FS/49th FG during their time at the Port Moresby complex of airfields. The date on the photograph is somewhat misleading because it defines when the image went into the collection rather than the month and day the shot was taken, but still...  National Archives

Here's another photo you're probably familiar with. This time airplane is "Poopy II" and is another 7th FS/49th FG Warhawk stationed at Port Moresby. 

One of the things that will stand out if you choose to explore this resource is the overall quality of the images that reside there. Most of them are first-generation prints off the original negatives or first-generation color transparencies that have been scanned at a reasonably high resolution, although some of the photography held there isn't quite as good as these images are. That's not the point, though. The important thing is that the images are there, available and waiting. All that's required on your end are time, patience, and the ability to use the "search" function on a web site!

You can thank us later...

Maddog's Legacy

John Kerr, also know as "Maddog" to his friends, was a retired Air Force Air Commando and aviation photographer and collector who sadly passed away several years ago. That passing left quite a void for many of us but Maddog is still with us thanks to his tireless efforts in acquiring old and unique photographs of American military airplanes and his generosity in sharing them with others. We're offering this pair of images today to prove that point:

While the B-50 family was originally designed to be bombardment aircraft and the logical follow-on to Boeing's legendary B-29 SuperFortress, photographs of it in its bomber guise are difficult to come by because of the airframe's adaptability to other missions. We can find photographs of it in its weather, recce, and, most frequently, aerial tanker variations, but the straight-up bombers are fairly rare. This airplane, a B-50F (47-0141) of the SRS/55th SRW is rarer yet because it has retained its armament into 1953, when this photograph was taken at Olathe. The type is relatively obscure today but the B-50s in all of their variations were Cold Warriors par excellence and served the Air Force well from their introduction into service until the early 1960s. This one is a remarkable example of the type.   A.L. Meyer via Ron Picciani Collection

Here's another Cold Warrior that's often overlooked by the amateur enthusiast. The Douglas B-66 wasn't much of a bomber and in consequence didn't serve long in that role, but it was the parent of the highly successful EB, RB, and WB variations of the airframe and deserves more attention than it normally receives. This photo illustrates a perfect example of one of the early RB-66s; an RB-66B (54-0534) of the 30th TRS/10th TRW stationed at Laon AB in France during the early and mid-1960s. The photo was taken at an open house, we think at Bitburg although we aren't certain of that. The airplane is a gorgeous representative of the Destroyer in its photo-recce guise and a fine representative of The Silver Air Force.   John Kerr Collection

Let's end Maddog's contribution to today's edition with a relative rarity. That tiny helicopter is a Bell HUL-1 (BuNo 143143) of HU-1 resting on the deck of a diesel-powered submarine, probably during the early 1960s. It was assigned to HU-1, an AirPac asset, and is proudly done up in the utility paint scheme and markings of the day. What a neat little helo! We suspect this image may have originated with the Navy but you never know, because John knew and traded with a lot of people! We think the photo is special no matter where it came from, and we're happy to be able to share it with you today.
   John Kerr Collection

Many thanks to Maddog John Kerr for the lifetime he devoted to the collection of photographs of American military airplanes and to his ongoing legacy to us all!

Sneaky Pete

It's been quite a while since we've walked a military flight line with a camera but there was a time when we could often be found there, wearing out shoe leather chasing airplanes. This photo takes us back to those days:

155681 was an A-6E assigned to VMA(AW)-533 and was on the ground on an overcast day at NAS Chase field when we caught her behind a tow tractor on 12 June, 1982. She was being moved into her parking place on the T-Line when this photo was taken.   Phillip Friddell

Here's another view of "Sneaky Pete" (probably the pilot's nickname and call sign rather than a literal aircraft name) in concert with an A-7E from VA-97 (BuNo 156828) and another A-6E, this time from the Navy's VA-165 (BuNo 155715). All three were robed in the NAV's classic "Easter Egg" paint job which was soon to give way to the more practical but far less attractive TPS schemes.   Phillip Friddell

The TPS camouflage paint schemes live on to this day, but we still prefer those long-obsolete Easter Egg paint jobs. There was a time, now many years behind us, when Navy airplanes wore color---a LOT of color---as a normal everyday part of the way they looked. Long ago and far away...

Happy Snaps

By now you're probably all familiar with Rick Morgan but for those of you who aren't, he's a career naval aviator (now retired) who managed to have a camera with him almost every time he was around or even near to a military airplane, and he's a talented writer as well. He's a superb photographer and it's always a pleasure to share his photography with our readership, so we'd like to offer another example of his work for you today.

Rick spent a fair portion of the mid 1980s flying with Air Wing 14 off the Constellation, which gave him the opportunity to photograph this gorgeous Tomcat (F-14A  BuNo 161609) from Fighting 21 while airborne over the Pacific Ocean on 10 June, 1986. It's one of those images that defines the airplane as well as the magic of flight and we hope you enjoy seeing it as much as we enjoyed sharing it with you. Fly Navy? You bet!   Rick Morgan

The Relief Tube

In the I Should've known Better part of today's entertainment, I need to make a significant correction to a Bobby Rocker image I ran last issue. That photo of the P5M loading casualties in the lead photo essay isn't that at all; the airplane is actually a Consolidated PB2Y Coronado based either in the Caribbean or the Atlantic. I missed it completely but Paul Boyer and Mark Aldrich didn't! First, from Mark:

 Hi Phil,

Man! I love your blog. I was just getting caught up and working my way through a few recent issues that escaped me and noticed one minor flaw in a fantastic August issue. That PBM loading casualties that came from Rocker is a Consolidated PB2Y Coronado. Probably a PB2Y-3R. No doubt about it.

Mark A.

And from Paul:

I just viewed your most recent blog entry from August 17 and noticed an oopsie. You have a Bob Rocker photo of a couple of litter patients about to be evacuated in a “Coast Guard PBM off Makin Island.” I can’t tell where it as taken, but that ain’t a PBM. The lack of wing dihedral from the fuselage, location of the hatch, and the two window-frame cockpit ceiling hatches are tells. What we’re looking at here is a PB2Y Coronado and it looks like it is in the “Atlantic” or “antisubmarine” scheme of dark-gull-gray over white. That would suggest a Navy Atlantic patrol assignment, possibly in Central or South America. I’m attaching a couple of shots: a reference photo, and a model I made of that aircraft using the 1/72 scale resin Kora kit.

Hope you and yours are well!

Paul Boyer

Here's a photo Paul provided to prove the point, and a photograph of an excellent model of the Coronado he built from the 1/72nd Scale Kora resin kit.   Paul Boyer Collection

And this, boys and girls, is how it's done! A good modeler with a good resin kit can do some amazing things indeed and, while I can't vouch for the quality of that Kora PB2Y kit, I can most assuredly confirm Paul Boyer's skills as a modeler! He was kind enough to share some other models from his collection with us as well, which we'll be sprinkling in as we go along!   Paul Boyer

Thanks to both Mark and Paul for the correction to that photograph! 

One more thing before we go: There's a Comments feature that can be used with this blog software but I've never turned it on and don't intend to. That's because of all the nastiness that appears on the various sites that allow such things; life's too short for that! Still, I'd love to hear from you and do publish pertinent comments, corrections, and photography, should you be so inclined. The email address for that, all run together to confound and befuddle The Picture Pirates, is    replicainscaleatyahoodotcom  . 

It's been a crazy year without much activity around here but we're still alive and well. We'll see you again, hopefully soon, with another edition of our modest blog. Until then be good to your neighbor!