Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Sad Day, Some Models From Boyer, Hard Times, First With the Phantom, and a Clean Invader


Another One Gone

I first began going to Kings Hobby Shop in Austin some 18 years ago. The place was a revelation for a great many reasons but, as with most good hobby shops, the real treasure there had nothing to do with what was on the shelves, as impressive as that was. Nope, the thing that made Kings a special place was the people, from the owner and staff right down to the customers. It was a hard-core scale modeling sort of shop and the place to go if you were serious about the hobby. The vibe was a good one, with lots of friendly people on both sides of the counter. It was easy to do business and easy to make friends. 

My visits there rapidly turned into an every-Saturday afternoon sort of thing and friendships were made in the process. On one such Saturday I was standing at the counter talking Airplane with Rudy and Brad when a guy wearing a basketball jersey, matching shorts, a huge grin, and carrying a largish box under one arm, came into the store. The box held an unfinished 1/32nd scale Hasegawa Me109G-6 in Italian markings, while the jersey and shorts contained Bryan Phillipson. The Gustav was an absolute revelation, way past museum quality in construction and finishing, and Bryan was an instant friend from the first moment. His grin said it all, with no guile and no self-interest other than building the best model airplanes he possibly could. He was an artist and in many respects a magician, and his modeling work was little short of amazing---I've known modelers who were as good, but I've never known anyone that was better. 

Bryan and I shared an interest in model airplanes, of course, and also in fast cars. The Saturday runs to Kings quickly morphed into a run to Kings coupled with a trip to a local Mexican restaurant for an early and lengthy supper where we talked modeling and solved the polystyrene related problems of the world. It was a joy and a high point in my week. I got remarried somewhere along the way and Bryan became an instant friend for my new wife, a girl who'd moved to Texas from New England knowing nobody other than me and in need of a friend or two. Bryan was there for her, and her road became easier. 

Bryan smiled all the time, and as far as I could tell he was almost always happy. It could be pouring rain outside but his world was full of sunshine, and it was infectious. You couldn't be unhappy around Bryan for very long. You just couldn't get him down, or keep him down. 

Bryan became infected with Covid a while back. He got really sick too, but he beat it. Almost immediately after the bout with Covid he developed pneumonia, and he beat that as well, and then he caught the flu. It seemed that he was also going to beat that one but the other illnesses had greatly reduced his ability to fight a new disease and that put him in the hospital in intensive care. I spoke with him briefly while he was there, just before the nurse told him he couldn't talk to anyone on the phone anymore because the simple act of talking was compromising his ability to breathe. Shortly after that he was placed on a ventilator. 

Bryan died last Saturday. I'm told it was peaceful, and I'm one of those folks who believe in a better place so I'm reasonably certain he's checking out the hobby shops in his new neighborhood as I'm writing this, but that doesn't make it any better. He was a friend, and he always will be, but he's not around anymore. 

There's a lesson in his passing, because at the end of the day most of us have a Bryan somewhere in our lives and they're more important than ever in a world that seems committed to tearing itself apart. I think that's inspirational, and I truly believe friendships are something to be treasured. Maybe that's a reason to rethink things a bit regarding the relationships we have with others we hold near and dear? Maybe that's a silver lining?

Blue skies, Bryan....

That Boyer Guy

While we're discussing friends, and on a far happier note, I've been privileged to have a friendship with Paul Boyer, he of FineScale Modeler fame, for a great many years. Paul's a prolific modeler, and a darned good one too, and we'd like to take a couple of minutes to show you a bit of his work, all in 1/72nd scale.

You're probably familiar with this one but, if not, it's Paul's Kora PB2Y Coronado all done up in one of the Atlantic ASW schemes. I've always envied Paul's precision modeling, a talent indeed considering that itty-bitty scale he's chosen to work with. (I had to say that, Boyer!)

Airfix produced a dandy little Lockheed F-80C kit back in the late 1970s, and it's still entirely viable today as evinced by Paul's P-80A conversion off the basic kit. Nobody seems to model those pearl grey early Shooting Stars very often and Paul's model makes us wonder why. The model is both gorgeous and technically superb. Beauty!

Then there's this beast; Anigrand's Lockheed C-5A. The model is enormous even in 1/72nd scale, and a challenge to build as well. This model could be considered a magnum opus regardless of the standards applied to it and it could well define Paul's skill as a modeler. Whew!

Paul no longer edits FineScale Modeler but he continues to build prolifically and his work still appears in the magazine, as well as on internet sites such as HyperScale. His skills as a modeler are impressive indeed and you'll be seeing more of his work on these pages from time to time!

Bad Days on the 'Canal

Five Bell P-400 Airacobras from the 67th Fighter Squadron of the USAAF arrived at Guadalcanal from New Caledonia on 22 August, 1942, shortly after that island's invasion by the US Marine Corps. It was a classic case of "go with what you've got" since the P-400 was largely inadequate in the air-to-air role, but fighters were desperately needed on the island and the P-400s were available. The following images provide us with a look at just how rag-tag those early days were.

It was quickly ascertained that the P-400 was a poor match for the Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero" fighter so the type was quickly relegated to ground support operations, a task at which the airplane excelled. This image illustrates a recently-arrived fighter from the 67th bombed up with a single 250lb GP bomb prior to a mission. The airplane is beginning to show the wear and tear of combat operations (notice the missing paint on the nose gear strut and the staining adjacent to it) but is still in relatively good condition. An indiscernible name is barely visible on the vertical stabilizer.   Friddell Collection

The sleek lines of the P-39/P-400 family made the airplane a perfect candidate for garish artwork, a fact quickly used to advantage by both the 67th FS at Guadalcanal and the 8th FG in New Guinea. This fine example is painted on one of the 67th's P-400s, also armed up with a 250lb bomb, at Henderson field. It's interesting to note that the 67th's Airacobras normally operated with their landing gear wheel covers in place; they were frequently removed from the type in New Guinea as a means of dealing with mud accumulated during operations from soggy airfields but apparently didn't pose much of an issue on the 'Canal.   Friddell Collection

This tantalizing image shows an airplane with the remnants of a shark mouth, a pair of dice one the vertical stab, and a largely illegible name (the second word appears to be "BOUND", but we can't quite make out the first one!) immediately above it. The maintenance conditions on Guadalcanal were every bit as poor as those in New Guinea, ensuring there were no easy days on the island.   Friddell Collection

Here's a salvaged port-side door from one of the 67th's Airacobras providing us with a fine view of the squadron's emblem. Note its well-used condition and the generally frayed and beaten-up look of the pilot kneeling beside it in the remains of his flight suit. Remember that part about no easy days?   Friddell Collection

This is a poor photograph at best, but it defines the time and place as few others can. From the beat up P-400 being used as a backdrop to the tired faces of the ground echelon depicted here, we can get a sense of what their day-to-day must have been like. Remember that part about no easy days?   Friddell Collection

It was only a matter of a few months before the 67th FS was absorbed into the 347th FG and moved on to P-38s, but in that short time they created a legend. Their days were spent in direct support of Marine ground units and their attempts at fighting the Japanese in the air were sporadic and largely unproductive, but they were there when nothing else was available and their efforts helped to stem, and then turn, the tide in the Solomons. They were a special breed, much as everyone fighting in the Southwest Pacific was. Let's raise a glass...

First With Phantoms

That moniker would, of course, describe VF-74 and their first cruise aboard the Forrestal. That groundbreaking deployment began on 03 August 1962, some sixty years ago, and set the stage for one of aviation's most spectacular and successful combat aircraft. Fortunately for us the event was well-documented at the time and, thanks to Mark Aldrich over at the Tailhook Association, we have some remarkable images of the deployment to share with you along with a short movie courtesy of Periscope Films and the folks at YouTube. Note that most of this photography was taken during the squadron's 1961 transition to what was at the time the McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom. The nomenclature would be changed to F-4B in just a few short months thanks to then-SecDef Robert McNamara's inability to understand the NAV's aircraft designation system, but these airplanes were all F4H-1s at time they were photographed.

First up, let's take a look at that movie of the first deployment. 

That short film is more significant than the Navy could ever have imagined it would be given the length of time the F-4 was to serve in the Fleet. Many thanks to the folks at Periscope Films for making it available to us all on YouTube!

As if the movie wasn't enough, here are those images from the Tailhook collection to whet your appetite!

In the beginning...  Here's YF4H-1 142259, which had been used during Project Top Flight during 1959 to attain two separate world altitude records; it later set a world speed record during Operation Sky Burner as well. Check out the configuration of the nose in particular; this airframe very much defined the early appearance of the Phantom but was still a bit shy of the production aircraft.   Tailhook Association via Mark Aldrich

This image pretty much says it all about the Phantom. The F4H-1 was designed to fill the role of Fleet defense fighter and had to be able to get airborne and in a position to intercept incoming threats in a remarkably short period of time. 150425, photographed in October of 1962, is seen here doing exactly that, albeit from shore rather than the deck of a carrier. The airplane was truly a revelation when introduced into service. 425 was a survivor, being upgraded to F-4N configuration prior to her ultimate delivery to MASDC during 1977.  Tailhook Association via Mark Aldrich

Fighting 74 was operating the F4H-1 aboard CVA-59 during October of 1961 as the first Fleet squadron to take the mighty Phantom to sea, although their first actual deployment didn't occur until 1962. In this shot we find 148372 launching from the Forrestal's starboard cat, working up in preparation for that first cruise. The Bedevilers had one of the Phantom's classier paint jobs, we think.   Tailhook Association via Mark Aldrich

Here's 148381 immediately after trapping aboard the Forrestal during that 1961 workup cruise; note the green shirt from the V1 Division running out to disengage the cross-deck pendant from the tailhook, as well as the total lack of underwing stores on the aircraft. This airplane didn't last long, crashing near NAS Oceana on 17 July, 1962.   Tailhook Association via Mark Aldrich

In this shot 381 begins an overflight of Virginia Beach during 1961. She's carrying gas bags and beginning to show a little wear and tear from her brief time on the boat. It would be over for her less than twelve months later. Nobody ever said military aviation was safe...   Tailhook Association via Mark Aldrich

And the Phantom hits the big league as 148383 sits on the flight deck of the Forrestal at the beginning of the type's first deployment to the Fleet! Somehow the F4H-1 just looks right sitting on a flight deck, doesn't it? She made it through a lengthy career in the NAV and finished out her days as a QF-4B drone.   Tailhook Association via Mark Aldrich

The recent introduction of what may well be the ultimate 1/48th scale F-4B (F4H-1) kit by Tamiya has caused the hobby's decal manufacturers to scramble to produce the myriad of markings carried by the type. We'd like to humbly submit that the scheme you see here is the one to do, but we might be prejudiced!

A Clean Machine

We hadn't planned on running this particular image today but it's just too darned good to pass up:

You may have seen this National Guard Bureau VB-26B (44-34610) on these pages once before but she was such an immaculately-kept airplane that we just had to show her again. She was photographed on the ground at Andrews AFB by Jim Sullivan on 24 April, 1973, and provides us with a gorgeous photo of one of the all-time classic airplanes and a fine example of the type; was in fact the last operational member of the A-26 family prior to her retirement. Many thanks to Jim Sullivan for sharing this photo with us.   Jim Sullivan

Under the Radar

We normally devote this part of the project to older titles that our readers might have missed the first time around, but today we have a pair of titles released within the past month. Both are concerned with American naval aviation and in our view both are must-haves should your interests run in that direction.

Sundowner Phantoms the F-4B/N Phantom II in Service With VF-111 1971 to 1977, Angelo Romano and Mike Grove, Double Ugly Books and Decals 2021, 69 pp, profusely illustrated.

On the face of things this title is just another book similar in concept and production to many others of its ilk; a bunch of captioned photographs and minimal text regarding a specific airplane. You could indeed come to that conclusion but you'd be severely mistaken if you did, because it's well and truly a definitive study of one of the Navy's best-known fighter squadrons of the Vietnam and Cold War eras, as well as a boon to the scale modeler.

To start with, the authors (Angelo Romano and Mike Grove) are among the deans of United States naval aviation history. Their credentials as historians and as stewards of aviation history are impeccable, which bodes well for any title with either of their names on it. To add to the credibility of the work are the various contributors who aided in the research phase of the project; once again the names are instantly recognizable and well-credentialled. 

The book itself is a concise, if brief, history of VF-111 during their time with the mighty F-4 Phantom II. It begins with the creation of the squadron during 1942 and takes the reader through its pre-F-4 history during its first several pages, then quickly transitions into the squadron's Phantom era which is, after all, the point of the book. All of the photographs are presented in full color and are painstakingly captioned to provide the maximum amount of information and the final four pages of the book are devoted to the F-4's standard camouflage and markings during the time period. Several charts accompany the brief text and will prove of interest to the hardcore enthusiast.

Nothing is perfect, however, and it must be noted that several of the book's photographs are somewhat muddy in presentation, although we suspect that's more the result of the original image than of any sort of production flaw. That said, this is a book that we can recommend without reservation if its topic falls within your range of interests. According to its cover this volume is the first of a series; we're looking forward to the others!

Smokin' Tigers, A Pictorial History of Reconnaissance Attack Squadron One (RVAH-1), Mike Grove and Angelo Romano, Ginter Books 2022, 120 pp, illustrated.

Another title by Angelo Romano and Mike Grove, and yet another must-have for the naval aviation buff. The book is one of many in the Ginter Books squadron history series and keeps up the high standards set by previous books offered from this publisher. 

The book, a blend of incisive text and excellent photographs, covers the squadron from its establishment in 1955 until its untimely demise in 1979. Each phase of the unit's history is defined by superbly reproduced photographs and brief yet incisive text, accompanied by relevant charts, graphs, and color illustrations, as well as page cuts taken from pertinent manuals. 

This volume is very much a one-stop reference regarding Heavy One and is a worthy addition to the Ginter squadron histories. 

One From Norm

It almost wouldn't be an issue of RIS without a contribution from Norman Camou. Here's a gem he discovered on YouTube; a wartime Japanese newsreel documenting their activities. It's part of a series and provides a fascinating look at those guys on the other side of the fence.

Thanks as always, Norm!

The Relief Tube

I thought I'd managed to slip by without any sort of egregious error this time but it turns out I published the Yankee Extraction System drawings for the family model of the A-1, the A-1E and F, rather than the proper one for the A-1H/J. Also, that isn't a Yankee seat in the Tom Hansen image I published. Tommy Thomason caught both slips and steered me towards the information in his Tailhook Topics blog, which you really ought to be reading if you aren't already doing that!

Many thanks to Tommy for keeping us honest!

For Bryan

That's it for today, ya'll. Be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon!