Friday, August 5, 2022

No Way to Lose, Arachnids From the Frozen North, Something You Don't Normally See Around Here, Some Old Tinker-Toys, and School Days

It's Nearly Always a Win

I am, of course, referring to our hobby and, more specifically, to the building of a kit, any kit, to a reasonably high standard of finish. In many respects I'm the wrong guy to be talking about that sort of thing since I'm a middle-of-the-road sort of modeler at best, but we can learn lessons even in mediocrity and the recent eating of my lunch by a relatively new and high-end kit provided the reflection required to cause pontification regarding the subject---that means let's talk about it for a minute or two.

That most recent obstruction in the perfidious path to polystyrene perfection (yes; I actually did say that and no; I don't know what prompted me to do it either) wasn't the only challenge I've ever faced while modeling. Nope; there have been many such excursions into failure, perhaps too many to count if truth be told, but there's been an up side to each and every one of those near disasters. 

Take, for example, that 1/72nd scale Lindberg He.162 I attempted to build back in 1976. It was a simple kit with few components, most of which fit properly, so there was no undue challenge to building the thing. Inspiration was at hand and the kit was cooperating, which meant it was ready to paint in a mere day or two. The airbrush was actually in hand when The Discovery was made; that kit utilizes a one-piece wing that slides through slots in the fuselage halves and I'd put it in backwards, a fact noticed only when the largish leading-edge slats in that newly swept wing were discovered. There honestly wasn't much saving that one so it landed in the trash can, leaving in its wake a perpetual note to self regarding the wisdom of checking things prior to the application of glue. That was actually the Up Side to the adventure even though the model was trashed. Now we sing it all together: PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU'RE DOING! Yes indeedy, a life lesson if ever there was one.

Proceed forward a few years, to the early 2000s and my discovery of Classic Airframes. Any one of them was a stretch for my abilities at the time but the kit subjects made the gamble worthwhile. They even offered the Curtiss P-6E, a favorite of mine since childhood, and in two different boxings to boot! It was reputed to be a difficult kit but biplanes had never previously been any sort of challenge to my ever-limited skills so the game was on. Said game lasted right up to the part where the upper wing needed to be installed, which was when Folly entered the picture. That darned wing just wouldn't mount properly no matter how it was attached. In desperation I finally consulted Mr Internet (this was the early 2000s, remember) and read where everybody was trimming the struts because they didn't fit properly. That seemed to make sense so I trimmed mine too, thus ensuring there was no way the upper wing could ever be properly attached to the rest of the airplane, but that one didn't get thrown away. It went back into its box and sat for fifteen years or so until I acquired another kit at a good price thanks to the kindness of an old friend; Richard Ng. I could describe the revelation that resulted in the successful completion of that model but I'd rather not, referring anyone interested to scroll instead to the bottom of this page and type "P-6E" into the search function to find the article published in these very pages. The adventure will pop up complete with photographs. The lesson there was another ode to simplicity: LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES AND DON'T REPEAT THEM.

Finally, there was that Grand Phoenix FJ-4B Fury. The kit comes with a reputation for being challenging at best, and that can certainly be true if you allow it to be. The major offenders are the resin main landing gear bays, which are too thick to fit inside the wings, and the components we'll agree to refer to as Anything Inside the Front of the Airplane, all of which compete for the same limited amount of space in there. Those things are a challenge, to be sure, but the kit is more accurate than either the primordial Matchbox or the more recent HobbyBoss offerings, which means learning a bit of patience and fortitude. That particular kit was removed and put back into its box more often that most people change their socks and underwear but at the end of the day a pretty good model resulted---I have both the HobbyBoss and Grand Phoenix models on the shelf, sitting side by side, and the Grand Phoenix kit is far and away the better of the two, although the path to get there was a bit more difficult. That adventure eventually resulted in quite a bit of preplanning and measuring, which resulted in the fitting of the apparently unfittable. The experience led to perhaps my most important lesson of all: FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO IT BEFORE YOU TRY TO DO IT.

And finally we come to the point, which is this: You're going to mess up sometimes, and there will be times when your failure could be described as Epic. You're also going to mess up more than once, and that's okay too, or at least it is as long as you learn from the adventure. The kit, whatever it is, provides us with an opportunity and nothing more. What we do with it results directly from our abilities, both to figure things out and to perform the physical task of modeling, and to learn from our mistakes. Let's call that Growth. 


Better Than Nothing

That sobriquet could handily describe Northrop's F-89 Scorpion family of jet interceptors. They certainly looked the part of a dedicated defender of the skies, particularly after the introduction of the D-model with those massive fuel tanks/rocket pods hanging off the wingtips, and they lasted for several decades in both the regular Air Force and in the Air National Guard, but they honestly weren't very much as such things go. A classic product of the 1940s, the F-89 family were cutting edge technology when designed and close to obsolete the day they first entered service. They had marginal radars (but so did everything else at the time), and they were slow. Like so many military airplanes of the '50s they were blessed by never having to serve in combat---a very good thing---but they did hold the line while the United States was ramping up the Century Series of jet fighters which, coincidentally, managed to include a pair of interceptors that truly were up to the task. 

Maddog John Kerr was a slide collector par excellence and a friend as well. He shared a great many images with me, a couple of which we're going to look at today.

Before we begin, let's define a time and a place. The photos we're going to look at today are all of F-89D-75-NOs from the 76th FIS during their time at Presque Isle, Maine; specifically during the 1955 time period. In this first shot we see a largish formation of Scorpions over the Maine countryside, with 54-0221 closest to the camera. This image, and two of the three that follow, were scanned from duplicate slides and the quality isn't the best, but we think the subject matter will make up for it. 221 ended up with the Minnesota ANG's 109th FIS.  John Kerr Collection

Here's a closer image of 0221 providing a slightly better view of her markings. The last two of her Air Force serial number were repeated on the outboard nose of her wing tanks, although that isn't shown in this view. The F-89 always appeared somewhat ungainly to me, but this view makes it look almost pretty. Almost...   John Kerr Collection

In this photo we get a view of the other side of 0221, which gives us a look at the sharkmouth the squadron carried during this time period. While far from garish, its proportions and colors suit the Scorpion's shape to a T and provide a wonderful markings variation to the airplane. 54-0234 is also carrying her "last three" on the nose of her wing tank/rocket pod assembly, as are the other aircraft in the squadron. Jet fighters sure were prettier back then!   John Kerr Collection

Finally, and perhaps appropriately, we have this marvelous photograph of a young 76th FIS driver standing for a hero shot in front of "his" Scorpion. Most, if not all, of the 76th's D-models carried the sharkmouth at this time period and while we have no way to determine which airplane this was, the image does give us a good feel for the proportions and colors of the marking. Those were the days!   John Kerr Collection

Jim Wogstad and I interviewed John Keeler, a former pilot with the wartime 56th FG, for our very first print issue of the Replica in Scale project back in the early 1970s. During the course of that interview John recalled a story for us about a flight to Greenland in company with a group of F-89s. His comment about having to weave constantly in order for the Scorpions to keep up with them pretty much said it all, but the airplane was available when there was almost nothing else to do its job. Sometimes you just have to make do!

Guess What I Found!

Long ago and far away...

Back in 1974 Replica in Scale was a print publication, because there was no such thing as a personal computer or the internet. The project was chugging along, and our original staff had dwindled down to just Jim Wogstad and myself, plus spouses, and Horizon Hobbies, a large distributor at the time, was sending us review samples on a regular basis, not all of which were airplanes.

A few months ago found me performing one of my extremely rare cleanups in the studio and I discovered one of those non-airplane models, entirely intact and looking mostly ok once all those years of dust had been removed. It's not an airplane, and we're not getting ready to go over to the dark side here, but I thought it might be worth sharing, as a curiosity if nothing else. Feel free to skip right past it if it doesn't interest you!

Here, in all its glory, is a 1974-vintage Tamiya Fiat-Ansaldo M13/40 medium tank as built by your rarely humble editor almost immediately after receiving the review copy from Horizon. We thought the kit was accurate at the time, which may or may not have been entirely true since few detailed references for it existed back then, and it looked fairly ok after a hefty wash of Grumbacher Burnt Umber over the ubiquitous Floquil "Mud" I'd painted it with. A couple of the fenders were dented by the high-tech expedient of twisting on them with a pair of X-Acto needle nose pliers, while the somewhat dashing commander up in the turret was painted with artist's acrylics over white primer, detailed out with the kit's binoculars and goggle straps cut from typing paper. It's not much by today's standards but we liked it a lot back then. It's a tale from the RIS crypt, as it were!

Some Spiffy Scooters

There are air shows and then there are air shows. Frequent contributor and, coincidentally, editor of The Hook magazine Mark Aldrich, recently came across some images from a special airshow held in Great Britain long ago. Let's have a look:

CV-38 Shangri La was making a port call at Southhampton back on the 10th of September, 1960, and staged an open house aboard ship. This photograph, and the two to follow, were taken on that stereotypical dreary day. In this image we see A4D-2 142690 from VA-12 chained to the deck and ready to receive visitors. She managed an extensive career in the Navy but never saw combat in SEA, a rarity for the type considering the events that were about the define the Skyhawk's career and were rapidly reaching a boiling point several thousand miles away.   Mark Aldrich Collection

142693 was another A4D-2 from Attack 12 assigned to the "Shang" on that overcast day. She's wasn't  as colorful as 690 and was possibly more typical in appearance than her Easter Egg older sister. She survived her Navy career to be stored and MASDC and later put back into the air operating with the NASA's Ames Research Laboratory. Note the fellow scuttling past her aft fuselage; we don't know about you but visions of Charles Dicken's Artful Dodger immediately came to mind when we first saw this image!
   Mark Aldrich Collection

VA-106 was the other light attack squadron embarked on Shangri La during that 1960 cruise and one of her superbly-decorated "Scooters", 144962, is beautifully illustrated in this image. Items of interest, markings-wise, include the lack of a space or dash between the VA and 106 on her fuselage and the inclusion of her aircraft type (A4D-2) on her gasbags in addition to the squadron identification found there. She met an unfortunate end in a midair collision with an A-4B during 1967, long after she left VA-106, that resulted in the death of four people on the ground. Nobody ever said Naval aviation was safe...   Mark Aldrich Collection

Thanks as always to Mark for his generous sharing of his collection!

School Days

Mark Nankivil, he of the Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum, has been with the electronic Replica in Scale project almost from the beginning and, like Jim Sullivan, Mark Aldrich, and so many others, has unselfishly shared his collection with us. In keeping with that generosity, we'd like to offer this glimpse of days long past:

It's almost time for the young folks to go back to school here in Texas, but in 1942 a whole bunch of kids were attending a different sort of classroom, a response to America's largely unexpected entry into the Second World War. This AT-6A, 41-329, was photographed undergoing maintenance out of doors at Foster Field, in Texas, early in that year. The airplane appears to have been hastily camouflaged in Olive Drab over Neutral Grey, a distinct anomaly if true. She led what must have been a typical life as a training platform, being ground-looped at least four times during her career at Foster but surviving until at least 1943.

That outdoor maintenance could be considered prophetic since many of the students learning to fly at Foster would later end up in the SWPAC where that sort of thing was the norm. Easy days? Never happen, GI!   Mark Nankivil Collection

That's it for today, ya'll; and only a mere 2 months later than we'd originally intended. Big sigh...

Anyway, be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon! I hope!