Thursday, February 2, 2017

Do We Have to Have Another Mustang, An Odd Mitchell, Neptune's Neptunes, A Fast One, and One We Want

Memories for a Lifetime

The past few years have witnessed the publication of more than a few of these blogs, and during that span of time you've been reminded more than once, or maybe even far more than once, that I began my scale modeling career way back in 1956 or so. You've also endured my rambling on, seemingly interminably, about how much fun the hobby has been, and how much it's enriched my life over all those years. The past was really kind to me in that regard, and I'd like to take a few minutes to share a little bit of it with you, not so much to talk about my own specific polystyrene history but to help remind those of you of a certain age, or at least of a certain mindset, about the way things used to be before The Age of Electrons significantly changed parts of our hobby forever. With our stage thusly set, let's take a fond look back at those long-ago days.

The place to start is probably at the beginning, so let's just jump right into that. My own personal introduction to scale plastic modeling came at the hands of an older cousin, who was a teenager when I was six. I'd seen advertisements for plastic model airplanes in magazines and comic books but Jerry had actually bought and built a few of them, specifically the then new and cutting-edge Revell F-94C and F7U-Something-or-Other. He'd built them, decalled them, and mounted them on their stands so he could display them. He showed them to me and I was hooked!

That's the thing about Scale Modeling as it Was; the timing was right and almost every teenaged American boy and, I suspect, more than a few teenaged American girls, built at least one plastic model of one sort or another to see what it was all about, in turn inspiring those of us the next rung down the ladder to try our hand at it too. Not all of us stayed with the hobby, not by a long shot, but almost every kid I knew had built at least one model something-or-other before they reached the second grade.

Then there were the stores that sold the kits. Yes, there were hobby shops, real brick-and-mortar hobby shops, but those weren't the only places you could buy a model in those days. Drugstores had them. Department stores had them. Hardware stores had them, and occasionally bookstores too. My mom bought my first plastic model for me in a supermarket in rural Georgia, and I saw my very first Aurora biplane, a Nieuport 11, on the shelves of a department store in Wichita Falls, Texas a year or so after that. My parents soon learned that I would disappear as soon as we went into any retail establishment that had even a remote chance of selling plastic models of any kind and I wasn't alone in that sort of behavior. You've hear of Hooked on Phonics? Well, my generation was hooked on plastic!

As exciting as those department stores and supermarkets could be to the aspiring young modeler, none of them could hold a candle to The Real Thing, that holy grail of plastic modeling: The Hobby Shop. The first real hobby shop I ever entered was Huff's Hobbys, in Wichita Falls. It was a place of wonder for a seven-year-old, with stacks of kits for sale and built models hanging from the ceiling and mounted to the walls. That shop had an ambiance that I remember until this very day; it was a place of magic and wonder for me, a place where Sherman tanks named "Black Magic" lived, sitting on the shelves beside boxes filled with impossibly large Aurora B-25s and B-26s. Blair's Supermarket in Canton, Georgia sold me that first plastic kit but the second one, a bright yellow Aurora "Zero", came into my possession via an early visit to Huff's.

I mangled that "Zero" pretty badly while attempting to assemble all nine or ten of those yellow pieces and my dad helped me build (read "built it for me while I watched") my next couple of models as a result; a Revell H-19 and a Monogram Invader, but I was on my own after that. It's possible, just barely, that each new acquisition was built to a somewhat higher standard than those that came before, but I honestly don't believe that's true---I'm pretty sure I plateaued early and stayed there for more than a few years, but those first few years were magic! Monogram C-47s, replete with little paratroopers, the Revell Century Series of fighters (a gift set that I received one magical Christmas), a Monogram Air Power Set, a Revell Space Station, Lindberg's remarkable B-17G and almost any other bit of polystyrene I could get my hands on more than filled my spare hours.

There was a revelation for me late in 1962 when I saw my first 1/72nd scale Revell kit, a Hawker Hurricane (I think), in a local department store. Those 72nd scale Revell kits started coming at a fast and furious pace while we were in Japan and they were dirt cheap too, only 35 cents in the base hobby shop. Those tiny kits turned me from model cars back into airplanes, and Jack Dusenberry and I probably bought at least one or two of every one of those models that made it to the shelves there. It was the beginnings of a Golden Age for Young Phillip.

1965 saw my dad transferred from Misawa to South Texas, where the aforementioned Young Phillip discovered that a hobby shop called Dibble's Arts and Hobbys was conveniently located next to my high school, less than a block away! That happy discovery launched both a budding career as an employee there and friendships that have, in many cases, lasted a lifetime.

Nowadays we have the Internet, of course, and we can find pretty much anything we might want in the way of kits or accessories online. The kits we can buy today are light years away from the stuff we purchased way back when we were kids but they are also, for the most part, far more expensive, even factoring a dose of inflation into the discussion, than they ever were before. That factor has driven off the kids in great measure, and computers and an increasingly flawed concept known as social media has done its share of damage too. When we were young it was cool to build model airplanes. Now it's very much a niche hobby, and one with an ever-aging consumer base that may ultimately lead us to the demise of the hobby as we know it.

The demise is still more than a little way off, though, and we're presently living in a New Golden Age of Plastic Modeling, one in which almost everything we could ever wish for can be found, albeit for a price. True; those old-time hobby shops are, for the most part, a dying breed, but a forty-five minute drive from our house in the country will get me to Dibble's and Hill Country Hobby in San Antonio, and a little over an hour's drive can find me at King's in Austin. In my world The Magic still exists, a fact I'm reminded of every time I go into one of those shops and spend an hour or two talking plastic with my friends, and sometimes with total strangers as well. Yes, the old-time hobby shops are dying off at a remarkable pace, but that only makes the ones that survive more precious to us all.

Thanks, then, to Aurora and Lindberg, and Hawk, and Monogram, and Revell, and to all those other companies too, both domestic and foreign, (a great many of which are sadly now long-gone), for a lifetime of pleasant endeavor, and thanks to Huff's, and Dibble's, and Kings, and Hill Country, and all those other shops and retailers who sold us our polystyrene treasures. Then there are the friendships which are, and always have been, the most precious gift of all that this special hobby has bestowed upon me. There are far, far too many of those to list in the space available here, although a special thank you has to be extended to Trey McMurtrey---it was an e-mail exchange with him a while back that started me thinking about those long-ago days.

So what's the point, you might reasonably ask. I'm not sure there is one, but I'll offer this: The aforementioned Trey McMurtrey has been modeling since well before I met him back in 1967 or 68, and he's still at it today, as has Frank Emmett, another name you hear about on these pages from time to time. There are a lot of other hobbies out there with participants equally as enthusiastic, but this one is the one we've all chosen and I happen to think it's really special.

Everyone should be so lucky...

Ain't Nothin' Wrong With This One

North American Aviation's P-51 Mustang has been an iconic airplane, and the subject of countless polystyrene kits for more years than I can remember. Some have been good, some have been bad, and a few have been horrid, but the airplane is right up there with the Zero, the Spitfire, and the Bf/Me109 as one of those must-have models that the larger manufacturers of plastic model airplanes put in their catalogs sooner or later and there are at least two more new kits in 1/48th scale, this time from Airfix and Eduard, slated for release later this year. Those kits, coming from those particular manufacturers, are definitely something to look forward to. Still, we haven't been all that badly served in years past in terms of 1/48th scale Mustangs. Take, for instance, the occasionally-maligned Tamiya offering:

I probably mentioned it at least once or twice (or ten or twelve times) but I'll say it again: Some kits really lend themselves to a modular construction approach and Tamiya's Mustangs all fall within that category. The kit was one of the first that could be built without filler if you were careful in your construction techniques, which in turn allows you to do things like this when you build! Life is so much easier if there aren't any wings or horizontal stabs to get in the way of masking or decal work...

See what I mean? I had to go back and re-sand and polish the leading edges of the wings---you can see how badly I gomed them up the first time I went over them---but that wing isn't actually attached to anything in this photo so all that was required was to pull it off there, re-sand and polish just the leading edges, and touch up the paint. This is an easy thing to do since Korean War F-51Ds were painted silver; Floquil's "Old Silver" thinned 50-60% makes replicating that finish a snap, and those wing-to-fuselage seams disappeared when the wings were finally cemented to the fuselage!

This view shows the kit nearly finished, with just the wing tanks and rockets to be added. The markings allegedly replicate those of the F-51D flown by Lt. Jim Glessner of the 12th FBS/18th FBG in November of 1950 when he was credited with the destruction of a North Korean Yak fighter. (He actually claimed two kills that day but only one was confirmed.) My personal jury says the airplane may not have possessed those wingtip and tail stripes when the kill was achieved but the references available in my collection neither confirmed nor denied it and it really does look pretty painted up like that.

Here's how it came out. Tamiya's Mustang could be the poster child for an easy kit to assemble; it took some six hours or so to get from opening the box to putting this model on the shelf. There are a couple of things you may (or may not!) choose to correct if you choose to build one for your own collection, but they're relatively minor.

This is where we talk technical about the kit, but there's honestly not all that much to say. A lot of folks have complained about the method Tamiya chose to duplicate the canopy and canopy base on this model, but I've built several of the kits over the past ten years or so and have never had an issue. The key is to carefully remove the clear canopy from its sprue with side-cutters, carefully sand out any imperfections created from that operation with fine sandpaper, carefully polish out the sanded area, and carefully attach the canopy to the canopy base, making certain everything is properly aligned when you do this.

Other areas that need a little help are the interior, which definitely benefits from the application of an Eduard "Zoom" set, and the machine gun muzzles, which beg to be drilled out. That semi-circular internal canopy brace that's molded to the canopy frame has a series of lightening holes in it in real life, and you can add those with a drill if you're ambitious. (I never do that even though I know I should, but you certainly can!) Tamiya apparently had access to somebody's restored warbird when they cut the molds for the kit because they faithfully chose to duplicate a pair of skin doublers/scab patches on the upper leading edge of both wings. I'm sure they're on that warbird but they don't belong on anything else and they have to go! Fortunately, all that's required in that regard is to sand them off and polish out the area you reworked.

You really do need to fix that leading edge doubler, and I can honestly say that I invariably do that, but I don't normally fix the flaps and you need to do that too! Take a look at the photo immediately above and you can see a red circle that shows a notch in the upper surface of the flap's inboard corner. That notch is there so you can model the flaps in the closed position if you want to, but it was normal for the F-51 to have dropped flaps unless it was under power or had just been shut down after a flight and you really can see that notch once you know to look for it. The same thing applies to the "rivet" detail Tamiya put on the surfaces of those flaps. The fact that they wanted to put some sort of detail in that area is perfectly understandable but it's definitely over-stated and needs to be addressed. I didn't fix those things on this model, or on any other Tamiya Mustang I've ever built, but I tend to build this particular kit as therapy, usually after I've just finished something else that's been a struggle for me to complete. It wouldn't take that much additional effort to correct those flaws if you were so inclined.

One more thing regarding the kit: The exhausts aren't all that well detailed and you may find yourself tempted to use the QuickBoost offerings for those components. I've done that and personally prefer the way the kit items look, but it's your model and your call!

That takes us to one of those philosophical moments, where we all sit back and ponder something or other that really doesn't mean all that much at the end of the day. In this case let's consider the need for yet another Mustang kit (or two!) On the plus side a new offering from Eduard will likely include almost impossibly fine airframe and cockpit detail while an Airfix kit of the same thing will probably be fairly close behind and will, in all likelihood, offer a wide range of underwing hangy things plus the one or two components necessary to turn the model into an F-6D photo ship.  A new kit from either one of those manufactures would in point of fact be a Very Good Thing, but at the end of the day the now long-in-the-tooth Tamiya kit holds its age well and is still a viable, and affordable, option. Couple that with the fact that the model is so darned easy to build and you can rest assured that I personally will hang onto the 3 or 4 kits presently sitting in my closet and will eventually build them all. Newer is newer and better is better, but sometimes you can get pretty decent results from Good Enough. (And no; I never did fix that leading edge seam. Next time...)

Newer isn't necessarily better...

You Don't See This Very Often

Bobby Rocker's been at it again, this time with an extremely mundane but oh-so-unusual Mitchell. Let's take a look:

We have to admit a certain fondness for North American Aviation's immortal B-25 around here. The type served both the AAF and Marine Corps in all theaters during The Second Unpleasantness and did so with distinction. Although obsolescent at the end of the conflict, it managed to survive into the post-War world as a trainer and VIP transport. This example, a B-25J, is from the latter days of World War 2 and is sitting on the ground at Alexai Point on Attu during 1944. She was assigned to the 77th BS and, somewhat unusually for the theater, was in natural metal. A couple of things stand out in this shot, the first being those over-sized gust locks fitted to the vertical stabs. High winds were, and still are, pretty much the norm in the Aleutians, calling for unusual measures to secure the aircraft's control surfaces. The other somewhat unusual feature on this bird are the underwing tanks. The Mitchell was configured for the carriage of underwing stores from the beginning, and the J-model was modified to allow the employment of chemical tanks as well, but only a few B-25Js were plumbed for underwing fuel tanks and conventional wisdom tells us that none of those ever made it to a combat zone. The tank hanging off that wing sure looks like the standard external fuel tank used by the P-51D (another North American product) to us, but maybe it isn't. Our money's on it being a gas bag but your mileage may differ! If you can identify those tanks for certain please drop us a line at replicainscaleatyahoodotcom and let us know!   Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker, who's apparently bottomless collection has helped this project in so many ways.

Just a Few Final Neptunes

In our last issue we alluded to the possibility of just a few more Lockheed P2Vs for your edification, and today's The Day we do that! These birds are a little different, though---they're all owned by a civilian fire-fighting organization, Neptune Aviation Services out of Missoula, Montana, and to the best of our knowledge they're all still flying. Mark Nankivil was out on a trip West with his family and got a chance to photograph several of their aircraft while they wintered at Alamogordo:

Hi Phil! Loved your posting with P-2s - here's a few from our trip last year when we stopped at the Alamogordo airport and took photos of the Neptune Aviation Service P-2s that winter there... We were fortunate to stop by when we did as one of the aircraft was being used to fly certification flights with the USFS with drops being made up in the mountains. Two turning and two burning on take off makes for a neat sound. Enjoy the Day! Mark

And enjoy the day we shall!

On the ground undergoing a little maintenance. The Neptune's endurance and payload make her an ideal fire bomber, and the folks at Neptune Aviation take full advantage of those attributes. Everything appears to be calm in this shot, but the normal working environment is definitely on the exciting side.   Mark Nankivil

Here we have an excellent view of the bin that contains the aircraft's fire retardant. Having the jets available definitely enhances performance, particularly when the operational environment is hot and high, as is often found in western forest fires.   Mark Nankivil

Here's the opposite side of N410NA, providing us with a different view of that retardant bin. The tanker modifications necessary for the fire suppression mission have ruined the lines of more than a few ex-military aircraft, but they somehow suit the P-2. It's really hard to mess up an airplane as pretty as this one!   Mark Nankivil

Let's go flying! The intake baffles on the jets are opened up, indicating a classic case of two turning and two burning.   Mark Nankivil

Turning onto the active. There's room for all sorts of things in the nose of the Neptune.   Mark Nankivil

N443NA breaks ground on a training hop. This sort of thing is probably a lot of fun for the crews of these aircraft, but the actual mission they perform is most decidedly on the dicey side.   Mark Nankivil

The gear's cycling up as 443 begins to climb out. Note the difference in the tail caps between this aircraft and N410NA above.   Mark Nankivil

Here's an excellent view of the undersurfaces of 443, providing us with details of the retardant bin and the insides of the flap bays. Many thanks to Mark for providing us with this detailed photo---you don't get to see this sort of thing very often!   Mark Nankivil

Pretty country and pretty airplanes too, but we can't emphasize strongly enough how dangerous the job is when these folks aren't involved in training (although the training can be exciting enough in and of itself!).   Mark Nankivil

We can't leave this particular essay without saying a word about Mark's photographic skills, which could well be defined as exemplary. Many thanks for providing us with this window on a world most of us never experience.

Just Hustlin' Along

Everybody knows who Jim Sullivan is, because almost everybody interested in American military aviation has read at least one of his many books, or admired his collection of photography regarding US naval aviation from the World War 2 period. What a lot of people don't know is that Jim's collection spans a far greater period of time than just the first several years of the 1940s and extends to include those guys in the blue suits as well.

B-58A-10-CF, 59-2456, was initially assigned to the 6512th TS from Systems Command and was a record holder, climbing to 29,000+ meters carrying a 5,000 kg payload. She was at Edwards when this photograph was taken in 1961 and was involved in sonic boom tests there. Later assigned to the 43rd BW, she ended up at MASDC in 1969 and was scrapped out in 1977, but she was very much alive and well when this photo was taken.  Sullivan Collection

60-1111 was a B-58A-15-CF and was assigned to the 305th BW out of Grissom, although this shot was taken at McGuire in May of 1969. Keeping the B-58 airworthy was a time-consuming endeavor, although this particular bird is ready to go and is being prepared for launch. Like 2456 above, she was scrapped in 1977, an aging but beautiful aircraft.   Sullivan Collection

Some airplanes look like they're flying at the speed of heat when they're standing still, and the Hustler could have been the poster child for that sort of thing. 61-2058-20-CF, another bird from the 305th, was photographed at Forbes AFB in August of 1970. Time was getting short for her and the rest of her kind, but you'd never have known it then.   Sullivan Collection

Here's a rare one for your perusal. 55-0662 was built as a YB-58A-1-CF. During the course of a somewhat exciting career she was modified to NB-58A configuration testing the J-93 engine intended for the XF-108 and XB-70 programs, then converted to TB-58A configuration to serve as a chase plane for the XB-70. A veteran of the 6592nd Test Squadron, she finished up her active duty days with the 305th before retiring to MASDC for storage and ultimate destruction.     Jim Sullivan

Pretty maids all in a row. This B-58 lineup is sitting on the ground at D-M in March of 1972, awaiting a call to return to service that would never come. A record-breaker from the very beginning, the type could be both difficult to fly and time-consuming to maintain, conditions which translated into Expensive to Operate. Contrary to popular belief, the Hustler was entirely capable at low altitudes, but its operational time had passed almost before it had begun. The airplanes you see in this photograph were all reduced to scrap in 1977, but they were something to see when they were still alive and active.   Sullivan Collection

You've all suffered repeatedly about my reminiscences about the time I spent in northern Japan, but several years previous to that adventure had been spent at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. Sheppard was ostensibly a training base, but SAC established a presence there for a short time in the early 1960s, significantly adding to the mix of aircraft to be seen overhead. In 1960 or 61 your editor was outside enjoying a typical Texas afternoon when a single B-58 came whistling and howling over the then-new Capehart base housing area at relatively low altitude and with everything hanging out. It was an impressive sight to say the least, and one that caused me to immediately jump on my brand-spanking new Schwinn Corvette and pedal off to the base bookstore, which also sold model airplanes, so I could purchase an until-then ignored Monogram B-58 kit. The Hustler was a technological marvel of the highest order and was something to see when it was in its natural element, and its science-fiction appearance and all those J-79-related noises only added to the mystique. Would it have worked in combat? I suspect it would have functioned as well as anything else in an end-of-the-world combat scenario, but it's more likely that its primary value lay in making The Other Guys think about what they'd have to do to counter it. In any event, it was a beautiful airplane that was ahead of its time in so many ways. Thanks again to Jim Sullivan for sharing these photos with us!

So Why Can't We Have a Kit?

You may or may not remember the Army Air Force's desire to have itself a lightweight Mustang but that quest, which initially manifested itself in the never-produced P-51F and eventually did come to pass with the limited-production P-51H, resulted in a ship that was both The Best of the Mustangs and the most enigmatic of that family of fighters. A lot of people don't care for it based on its looks which are, we must admit, far from inspired, but that dumpy-looking fighter could out-perform any of its predecessors by a considerable margin and was far and away the fastest of the breed. We've run a number of photographs of the H model in previous issues of this project and would direct you to the "search" function of this blog if you'd like to renew your acquaintance with them---just go to the bottom of this page, locate the barely discernible graphic, and type in P-51H or F-51H---so we're not going to duplicate that photography today. Instead, we're going to share another image from Bobby Rocker's collection with you that graphically illustrates what could have been.

 The northeastern United States seemed to be the ultimate home for a great percentage of F-51H production, as illustrated by this ramp shot of the 82nd FG in the late 1940s, probably in the 1946-47 time frame, when they were stationed at Grenier AFB near Manchester, NH as part of SAC. Most of those late Mustangs were relatively mundane in appearance (unless you count the ones assigned to the 56th FG, of course!), but for a time there were a lot of them flying around that northeast corner of the country. There have been a few kits of the type over the years, beginning (we think) with Aurora's late 50s offering and continuing with the 1/48th scale kits produced by HiPM and, slightly later, by Classic Airframes. (I think RarePlanes also did a 1/72nd scale vacuum-formed kit back in the late 70s and there may have been others too but I build primarily in 1/48th so that's what I tend to pay attention to.) I've seen several nice models produced from all of the kits I've just mentioned, but in every case they were done by modelers of exceptional talent. A straight-from-the-box F-51H that can be constructed and finished by the average scale modeler doesn't exist at the moment. That fact wouldn't bother us either, except that every sub-variant of the Bf/Me109 family has been kitted by now, running from the most produced to the ones existing only as proposals. With that as a premise we think it's well past time for a decent kit of the H-model Mustang (and the F-86H, and the FJ-3/3M, and the B-45, and...). Look at all those airplanes in the picture, ya'll! It's time for somebody to give us a kit of the last of the Mustangs. I'll buy at least two!!!    Rocker Collection

Thanks as usual for Bobby Rocker for plumbing the depths of his collection to find these unique and priceless images!

Under the Radar

Today's volume in this occasional feature covers a book that, perhaps more than any other, fits the bill for having a title and subject matter appropriate to said feature's name:

World Electronic Warefare Aircraft, Martin Streetly, Jane's Publishing Co. Ltd, United Kingdom, 1983; 127pp, illustrated. This book is one of those that is little-known even among enthusiasts, and it shouldn't be. In a classic case of what you see is what you get, it chronicles the development of electronic warfare aircraft from 1945 until its date of publication. It's not a history of EW as a mission, however, but rather a chronicalling of the world's military aircraft designed for or modified to perform that particular mission. The aircraft covered (and we suspect there must be a few missing) are briefly described in text and illustrated with line drawings showing the salient features of the aircraft and, in some instances, a photograph as well. Most of the photographs are honestly too small to be of much use and reproduction isn't of the highest order anyway, but the line drawings are perfectly acceptable and illustrate most of the antennae, lumps, bumps, and other unique changes to the aircraft covered. The drawing captions define the equipment said lumps, bumps, and changes relate to as well, and brief histories of each type of aircraft are provided.

If you decide to hunt down your very own copy you might want to keep in mind that the volume is a basic directory of electronic warfare aircraft and is far from being a definitive history of the subject. That said, the information that's provided for each aircraft covered is more than adequate to the purpose and the work is, to the best of our knowledge, the only book of its kind presently available. We consider it to be a worthwhile acquisition to your library should your interests run in that direction.

A Parting Shot

Almost all of our potential Relief Tube entries for this issue were of the "I really like what you're doing" variety, for which we say thank you all very much! Unfortunately, that means there's no real purpose to running a normal Tube this time around, so how about another photo from Bobby Rocker to end out the day? How about a really unusual photo? Are any of you interested? Ok; we thought you might be...

Here's what we know: It's a J2F-4 Duck from PatWing 10 in 1941 and it's wearing early-War national insignia. There are no unique markings to be found anywhere on the aircraft that we can see. The airframe is well-used but not noticeably abused. Oh yeah, and then there's that temporary camouflage...   Now then; what do do have to do besides find a narrow-chord cowling to put on that Merit Duck kit...    Rocker Collection

Many thanks to Mark Aldrich and Mark Nankivil for identifying the unit, time frame, and temporary nature of that camouflage for us!

And that's all she wrote for this addition---we'll see you again in a couple of weeks. Until then, be good to your neighbor. It's the right thing to do!


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mystery Airacobras, The Son of The Son of Neptune Returns, A Texas T-Bird, A Pretty Talon, and Some Nifty 109 Stuff

Stomp, Shout, Work It On Out, Or What A Silly Hobby This Can Be

A year or so ago the increasingly amazing folks over at Airfix announced that they would be releasing a 1/48th scale model of the Curtiss P-40B. That announcement quite literally set the world of plastic scale aircraft modeling on its collective ear, since the type had been horribly served by the industry in terms of kits in that scale and nobody had been able to substantially improve on the by-now primordial kit that Monogram had released way back in 1964. The general point of view within the hobby was that a decent kit in that scale would to all intents and purposes constitute a license to print money for the company smart enough to get it right, and the recently resuscitated Airfix had been on a roll for a while, with each new kit being substantially better in every way than whatever kit had come immediately before. Airfix had even taken the time and effort to measure a surviving and restored Hawk that had gone down in the former Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War. Life was good.

There were, of course, a few hiccups along the way, the most significant of which (at the time) being a misplaced tailwheel well which was subsequently corrected prior to the release of the kit. Then it happened; a modeler on one of the boards began to compare the unreleased and totally unavailable-in-plastic kit's lines against period photographs and discovered an apparent anomaly regarding the lower fuselage lines, specifically in the area of the cooling flaps and that large fairing running along the ventral centerline to just aft of the trailing edge of the wing. That discovery, seemingly based primarily on speculation since there were no actual kits available to anyone at the time, started a poopy storm of discourse within the internet modeling community at large and on one or two web sites in particular. The resulting angst became so seemingly unbearable that a handful of people were actually stating, in print (electrons, actually, but let's not pick nits here), that they would never purchase the kit once it did become available because they were so disappointed that it wasn't going to be perfect.

Then the kit was released---in the UK a few weeks ago and more recently here in the States. That started up an entirely new round of electron-killing as the debate over that horribly flawed belly began all over again, this time in three-part harmony, with a fair number of people soundly lambasting Airfix for their unforgivable error. More reasonable folks offered up the opinion that the real example measured by Airfix had bellied in and not one of the handful of surviving long-nosed P-40s had an accurate-as-manufactured-by-Curtiss ventral area to examine or measure, and that the loft drawings that could provide the definitive answer don't seem to be around anymore, but none of that greatly reduced the general gnashing of teeth regarding the model. Then, as we all might have expected, the usual hue and cry went out for Resin, that miracle of modeling miracles and, indeed, the very salvation of Scale Plastic Modeling itself. To that end, someone is probably working up a fix as I type this (it couldn't hurt anything, I suppose) and the whole problem will inevitably go away just as soon as another manufacturer releases the next kit of the airplane we always wanted to model and, inevitably, pooches some part of it.

Okay; the problem won't really go away, but fewer people will continue to discuss it at the great lengths recently enjoyed because that P-40B will have become Yesterday's Papers soon enough. As an aside, I've got a copy of the kit on my desk as I write this and except for the prop it looks just fine to me, even with the less-than-perfect undersides. I'll agree that there are issues there but I'm going to tell you right here and now that they won't make all that much difference unless you choose to build the model and then display it upside-down, and even then there are only a handful of people on the planet who could look at that underside and specifically (and dimensionally) explain exactly what's wrong with it. Is the problem worth fixing? Of course it is, if that's what you want to do. Will it stop you from building a truly nice replica of an early P-40? I don't think so, because the rest of the kit is so very nice.

We've discussed this sort of thing before, right here on these very pages, but I'm going to repeat myself and provide you with my perspective on the subject, for whatever that perspective may or may not be worth. To wit:

If you absolutely positively have to own something that mimics the original article in each and every respect and detail, then you'll have to go get yourself said Original Article because no model, in any medium or kitted or built by anybody, is going to be 100% accurate. It ain't gonna happen, not today, not tomorrow, and not ever. 35-plus years in aerospace, a great many years of which were spent in the manufacturing of airframes, convinces me beyond a doubt that The Real Thing is rarely, if ever, done entirely to the designer's drawings. If that aforementioned Real Thing deviates from the drawings (and it often does---that's one of the many reasons God invented drawing revisions and change notices), then your model honestly doesn't stand much of a chance, does it?

What, then, should we reasonably expect from a kit? You may well have a differing view of things, but my own personal expectations are as follows: Reasonably accurate scale dimensions and shapes. Reasonably accurate contours. Reasonably accurate details. If those things are present I can take the ball and run with it from there, and can choose whether or not the inevitable issue(s) is/are worth the time and effort to fix. I truly do want to start out with the best and most accurate kit I can obtain of any given subject and, in that same vein, I want the finished model to be as good as it can be given my extraordinarily modest skills, but that Airfix P-40B is probably going to be the next project on my agenda and I'm not going to be overly concerned about the belly. Your own personal mileage may vary, as they say, but at the end of it all this is a hobby. If I think a particular kit is horribly flawed I'll either fix that flaw, ignore it (doubtful but always an option), or simply wait a while for a better kit to come along. Life's just too darned short, ya'll, and I'm not going to taint my favorite hobby by getting all worked up over something that's wrong with a piece of polystyrene. I used to do that and the hobby wasn't very much fun when I did. I don't do it very often anymore and the hobby has once again become, for me at least, all the fun I thought it was when I "built" my very first polystyrene airplane kit way back in 1956.

Your mileage may vary...

P-40-CUs from the 8th PG, Mitchell Field, April 1941.       Rocker Collection

Keeping Us Guessing

One of the things about our hobby that's both fun and extremely frustrating, all at the same time, is the occasional photograph about which we collectively know next to nothing; Mystery Meat, as it were. The next two shots, sent to us by Bobby Rocker, illustrate that frustration but my oh my...

These Airacobras provide us with a tantalizing view into the past, and pose a fair number of questions as well. We originally identified them as P-400s, but now think they were probably P-39D-2s retrofitted with the 12-stack exhausts of the export version (not an uncommon occurence in theater after the start of the war). That's about all we know about them, though, because there's no unit ID, no visible aircraft serial number (radio call number) or even an identification as to where the photo was taken, or when. That said, let's look at some things and take a guess. First up is Location. A couple of thoughts come to mind in that regard; the ZI, Australia, or New Guinea. A Stateside location is certainly possible given the relatively open spaces and the apparent light-colored, dried, dirt in the foreground, but those ground crewmen are dressed pretty casually for any sort of flight ops on American soil and the airplanes aren't carrying any sort of exercise markings, so our Official But Probably Incorrect Guess becomes either Australia (the 8th arrived there in March of 1942) or maybe, if somewhat less likely, Port Moresby in New Guinea in very early April of 1942. The early national insignia is entirely plausible since the official change-over to the corcarde sans red center disc occurred in May and June of 1942. That marking on the door could be of help, of course, but we can't quite make out what it is---a unit marking or one of a personal nature?  It's a fascinating photograph no matter where or when it was taken, but we'd sure like to know a little more about it. If you've got the answer, that e-mail address, provided in a manner that will hopefully defy the spammers, is replicainscaleatyahoodotcom!    Rocker Collection

We're a little better off working with this shot, because the unit and place are available. It was taken outside Port Moresby, at Seven Mile Strip, and it's from the 35th FS of the 8th FG. The airplane is quite possibly a P-400 but could just as easily be a P-39D fitted with P-400 exhaust stacks, a practice that was not unknown in the theater. There's no apparent nose art in view, but it's probable that any that might have been applied to this aircraft was painted on the port side only---if there was any artwork at all.   Rocker Collection

The thing that drew us to these particular photographs, besides the fact that they're of early P-39 variants, is the opportunity they offer the scale modeler for diorama ideas. In the first photo we see a P-400 being refueled, while the second shot depicts maintenance on the nose-mounted guns. Kits of the airplanes are available in all the various scales, while the trucks are available in 1/48th and possibly in 1/72nd. Opportunity knocks, as it were!

Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker for his ongoing help with the project.

Just a Few More P2Vs...

Just a few, that is...

We aren't entirely done with the P2V; not just yet, but we are going to temporarily ring down the curtain on military examples of the type with this edition. Thanks to Jim Sullivan we've got a few somewhat unique Neptunes to share with you today, so let's take a look:

The P2V had a long association with Antarctica. One of the earliest examples of the type optimized for that mission is shown here; a P2V-2N assigned to VX-4 in 1956. This aircraft, BuNo 122466, was lost en route to McMurdo Station over South America shortly after this photograph was taken; fortunately, all eight crew-members survived the crash. That ski gear is noteworthy, as is her International Orange over GSB camouflage scheme. If we only had a kit...   80-G-800333 vial Sullivan Collection

In this shot we see 124289 on the ground at NAS Alameda in 1957. A P2V-3W, she had survived an accident in Alaska in 1952 and soldiered on until shortly after this photograph was taken when she was sent off to the boneyard, the sad but inevitable end that befell most Neptunes.   Sullivan Collection

Did we hear someone say they wanted to see an unusual P2V? Well alrighty, then; how about this one? BuNo 140439 was assigned to VX-6 for service out of Wilkes Station in Antarctica, but check out that Fulton Recovery Device on her forward fuselage! Unfortunately, her service was relatively short-lived; she crashed to destruction during 1961 while supporting Operation Deep Freeze, an accident that killed 5 out of her 9-man crew. It was a sad end for a unique aircraft.   Sullivan Collection

May of 1964 saw 131508, a P2V-5F, operating with the NARTU out of NAS Alameda. Her paintwork is somewhat unusual, which causes us to suspect that those areas that appear to be white in the photo are actually orange DayGlo---that particular type of paint tends to show up as white in black and white photographs. As an aside, check out that ramp! Round engines tend to throw a lot of oil when they're first started and before they warm up to operating temperature, which causes flight lines to be splotched with lubricant as we see in this shot. There are a lot of things we miss about The Good Old Days, but filthy ramps aren't one of them!   Sullivan Collection

Going to work! This SP-2H is outbound from NAS Whidbey Island in 1964. Assigned to VP-17, 148353 was eventually converted to the AP-2H configuration but was a straight-up patrol bomber when this shot was taken. Check out the aircrewman behind that aft fuselage window. In all likelihood he'll spend a great deal of the flight looking at the ocean through that opening---the "normal" mission for the Neptune family was far from glamorous but important nonetheless. Nowadays most of the world's armed forces perform this sort of mission with electronics, but there are times when nothing beats a Mk 1 Eyeball for scanning the seas. It was, after all, a very long time ago!   Sullivan Collection

During the 1960s it wasn't at all unusual for aircraft assigned to the Navy Reserve component to carry a lot of DayGlo on their airframes, and 126525 is a fine example of the application of that sort of paintwork. A P2V-6, 126525 carries a manned tail position rather than a MAD boom, but neither that station or her nose appear to be quite normal. You know the e-mail address by now, right?   Paul Stevens via Sullivan Collection

Ah, for the glamorous life of a patrol bomber crewman serving in the tropics! Yep---that's Diamond Head in the background, but the guys crewing 143178 aren't going to see very much of it. They will, of course see water, and a whole lot of it, beginning the minute they clear the Hawaiian Islands. It's January of 1966 and that SP-2H is from VP-4. The airplane performed yeoman service from the time she was built in in 1957 until she was accepted into the storage facility at Davis Monthan in 1971.   Sullivan Collection

Most of us think of the Neptune as a naval aircraft, and it primarily was, but the United States Air Force found a use for it as an ELINT aircraft and operated small numbers of the type as the RB-69A. This example, 54-4037, was originally a P2V-7U and was one of the few to be lost in combat, shot down by a MiG-17PF near the city of Yantai, People's Republic of China, on 11 June 1964. The P2V's size (plenty of room for the ELINT gear of the day and requisite crew) and unrefuelled range made it a natural for the job, but it was meat on the table for a determined interceptor pilot. We'll probably never know the full story, but those RB-69 ops were definitely not your normal, run-of-the-mill patrol bomber missions!   Sullivan Collection

Remember those early, gun-armed P2Vs that were generated out of the NAV's requirements for an effective patrol bomber, stemming from their experience with that sort of thing during the Second World War? They were in many ways developed to deal with the exact mission the Navy began to encounter in early operations over Southeast Asia during the mid-1960s. Vietnam, both North and South, were maritime nations to an extent and sea control of their coasts called for the exact same attributes that had spawned the Neptune in the first place. The OP-2E, depicted here by 131528, was developed to deal with the mission and was optimized for it. 528 was operated by VO-67 from November of 1967 until July of 1968, operating out of Naked Fanny in Thailand, albeit sowing sonobuoys along the Ho Chi Minh trail rather than over the ocean. This particular photo was taken at NAS North Island in October of 1967, immediately prior to deployment to theater, and shows the aircraft fitted with mini-gun pods. Employing that sort of weaponry over the trail could easily have been a career-terminating activity for a big, lumbering airplane like the P-2, but it certainly looked good on the ramp!   Sullivan Collection

ELINT wasn't a mission reserved exclusively to the Navy or Air Force during the Vietnam fracas; the US Army also operated the Neptune in that role, as the AP-2E. Operated exclusively by the 224th Btn/509th Radio Research Group based out of Cam Rahn Bay, their short time in theater provided valuable information to US forces. This aircraft, 131492, was originally built as a P2V-5, then converted to an RP-2E and later redesignated as an AP-2E, and was damaged at Plieku in South Vietnam during 1968. (You can find a couple of color shots of one of these aircraft by going back to our 18 December, 2010, issue, should you be so inclined.) You just never knew what was going to turn up in that war!   Sullivan Collection

The writing was on the wall for the Neptune by the late 60s, although a fair number of them were still in service. In this shot we see 131510, originally built as a P2V-5 but in service with the NAV's NADC as an NOP-2E when this shot was taken at Johnsville, PA, in 1968. Replacement by the Lockheed P-3 Orion had begun in 1962 and the P-2's days were numbered, but the type provided valuable service right up to the end.   Sullivan Collection

The Navy's utility squadrons operated the P-2 as a drone launch and control platform, as well-illustrated by this photo of 128347 taken while she was operating with VC-3 during February of 1970. Active duty was rapidly nearing the end for the Neptune but the old girl still had plenty of life left in her!   Duane Kasulka via Sullivan Collection

A sad end for a proud bird... The P2V family had served long and hard, flying dull, monotonous patrols over endless expanses of ocean (except for those odd-ball members of the clan, of course), performing her necessary but rarely-exciting mission in all climates, weathers, and regardless of time of day. The Neptune is an easy airplane to overlook because it's not glamorous and certainly not very exciting, but the roll it played was critical to the defense of the nation. She was most assuredly the king, or at least the queen, of the seas during her salad years.   Sullivan Collection

But there's no point in crying over it because she's still out there, and in moderately large numbers, flying a mission that she was never built to perform but has turned out to be ideally suited for; that of fire bomber. You just can't keep a good airplane down!   Mark Nankivil

That's it for the Neptune, at least for now, but don't be unduly surprised if a few of those fire bombers turn up on these pages soon!

T For Texas, T For T-Bird Too!

Ellington Air National Guard Base has been around for a while, its interceptor assets covering the defense of the greater Houston area. Your editor was there for a photo shoot in the winter of 1981 on a visit to photograph the tenant 111th FIS/147th FIG's F-101B Voodoos, when the opportunity arose to shoot one of their T-33s preparing for a proficiency flight. Opportunity knocked, as it were, and these shots were the result:

If you're going to have a squadron hack, this is the way to do it! T-33A-1-LO, 56-1670, is being prepared for launch on an uncharacteristically chilly winter's day at Ellington. Every airplane in the unit's inventory, and we do mean each and every airplane, was spotlessly clean, and every one of them was a showboat. This "T-Bird" was special, though, because it was a surviving T-33A that was still being used almost daily---the T-33 wasn't entirely out of the inventory in the 80s but the breed was becoming increasingly rare, which made this airplane a pleasure to photograph!   Phillip Friddell

Conventional wisdom says you get into American military airplanes from the left side but F-80 and T-33 jocks always seemed to mount from the right, which is how we see it illustrated here. None of the members of the Shooting Star family were particularly large, nor were their cockpits very far off the ground, but the contours of those intakes made access tricky without a ladder, notwithstanding the fact that there was no easy way to get in there without one! The "T-Bird" was definitely a throwback to an earlier time, which may have been the reason the type was always popular within the units who had one as a proficiency trainer or squadron hack. We're glad they did, too!   Phillip Friddell

A Pretty Airplane

Every once in a while we come across a photo of a really pretty airplane, and we just have to share it with you:

65-10390 was a T-38A-60-NO and was assigned to Randolph AFB's 12th FTW when Paul Bigelow photographed her parked at the home drome shortly after the turn of the century. The last time we personally attacked any of the 12th's Talons with a camera was back in the late 1990s, when they were wearing that then-new and especially tasty white over Insignia Blue scheme, but we have to admit we really like the way the airplane looks in this particular paint job. Many thanks to Paul for taking this shot, and to Maddog John Kerr for passing it on to us!    Paul Bigelow via Kerr Collection

The Erla Bird Catches the Worm?

Ok, ok; it's an awful pun and, at the end of the day, an irrelevant one as well, but sometimes that sort of thing is in us and just has to come out so cut us some slack here! The point of this piece is a simple one: Revell of Germany recently released a 1/32nd scale kit of the Erla-built Me109G-10 for our modeling pleasure. The kit itself is one of that strange breed that was apparently designed by committee, a committee where nobody was talking to anyone else assigned to the project---we say that because the kit is, in a great many regards, simply brilliant in certain areas of its design and execution, while being woefully below what's now considered to be the norm in others. It is, in short, a kit that cries out for aftermarket! We recently purchased one (a bargain at $29.95 USD), and then proceeded to rack up another hundred bucks or so in resin and cast bronze to bring it up to snuff. Here's where we are with it today:

This is an extremely general view of the top of the airplane, taken to illustrate the use of Master Barrels set AM-32-062; it includes a pair of MG131 muzzles and a pitot tube, all lovingly machined out of brass and worth every penny of their remarkable inexpensive purchase price. The other aftermarket shown here is the seat, seat bulkhead, and belt/harness assembly---that particular chunk of resin is courtesy BarracudaCast and is also more than worth its price. Also shown is Barracuda's supercharger intake, which is much improved over the kit offering, and that same set also includes a set of exhausts and hollow cooling scoops for the nose, both of which are installed on the model but not visible in this shot. One thing we should point out to you in case you're a fan of the Luftwaffe and are aware of such things: Those wing crosses were done via Montex Mask and will have to be removed from the model and re-done since they represent the type of upper wing cross applied at the Diana factory in Czechoslovakia. This is, remember, an Erla-built aircraft and their cross presentation was entirely different on those airplanes, something I knew but ignored until the semi-finished model was staring me in the face. Big sigh... Oh yeah; and it needs to be said that I didn't fix the location of those cowl guns, adjudging it to be just a little too much trouble to do at the time I made that decision. In hindsight it should have been done, but it's too late to fix things now! I won't tell anybody if you won't...

And here's another shot, this time illustrating Eduard's Brassin' landing gear legs and wheel/tire assemblies, both of which are well worth their investment price. This view also shows us those BarracudaCast scoops (and Yes, Virginia, we know we need to drop the one closest to the spinner down just a hair, but it's only stuck on there with Future and will come right off when we get around to moving it!), their replacement oil cooler, and part of the exhausts. The spinner is from BarracudaCast as well, yet another worthwhile component from that absolutely superior aftermarket supplier.

An overall view after the yellow ID band has been painted around the nose but before any sort of weathering has begun. Those "Diana" upper-wing crosses really show up if you know what they are, but they'll be gone and replaced with proper "Erla" crosses in a day or two, The white stripes at each wingtip simulate the tape that Messerschmitt used to seal the joint between said wingtips and the wings. It's always there on the pointy-nosed 109s but generally over-painted and therefore not visible. The Revell "Erla" G-10 simulates that feature but they do it with overly-wide and extremely thick faux tape that's molded into both upper and lower wingtips. It has to be sanded off for an accurate model---a word to the wise...

This photo illustrates what happens to your depth of field when you use an older point-and-shoot Nikon digital camera to photograph a model, but I'm running it primarily to show you how well Revell captured the "sit" of the real airplane so cut me some slack, ok? There are so many really neat things going on in that kit, but as purchased they're balanced by all the seriously goofy why-did-they-do-that detailing Revell put on the model. As it stands it's a really good starting place for an excellent model of this variant of the Me109. I only wish they'd taken things a little further---this could have been the kit of the year and I would gladly have paid an additional ten or fifteen bucks for the privilege of not having to spend an extra hundred bucks or so on necessary aftermarket. Are you listening, Revell?

There's still a long way to go before this one gets to be called Finished, but for once all that aftermarket is not only worthwhile; it's absolutely essential to the completion of an accurate model!

Hmm---I wonder how this balances against the editorial up there at the top that I wrote for this very same issue... Fickle, aren't we, or maybe just subjective and more inclined to spend money on some airplanes than on others. At any rate there's definitely a contradiction of philosophy here. A little bit of soul-searching may well be in order!

Under the Radar

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there existed an excellent series of aviation enthusiast publications known as Historical Aviation Album, which I believe was an offshoot of the earlier Aero Album series. Those publications were magazines very much in the spirit of the journal published by the American Aviation Historical Society at the time and were edited by Ken Rust and, later on, Paul Matt. Their quality was superb and a great deal of what they published is still valid today.

That said, in 1973 they released what was, at the time, a seminal work on the 5th Air Force, a tome that was everyone's go-to reference and, indeed, the only worth-while publication on the topic, until the advent of Steve Birdsall's Flying Buccaneers several years later. It was a ground-breaking volume in its day and still holds up well, even by 21st-Century standards.

Fifth Air Force Story, Kenn C. Rust, Historical Aviation Album, Temple City CA, 1973, 64pp, softbound, 8-1/2 x 11, illustrated.

This is one of those works that's so modest in appearance as to make today's aviation book collector pass it by were they to find a copy offered for sale in a used book store. That would, in our view, constitute a mistake of considerable proportion. Within its modest 64 pages lies a brief description of every significant unit to fly with the 5th AF, broken down by group. Line drawings are provided to define squadron markings and each section is illustrated with photographs and the text, while relatively minimal, is sufficient for its purpose, especially when judged by the standards of the time in which it was published. There's also an appendix listing 5th AF aces, if you care about that sort of thing, but the book's value when it was originally published, and as it remains today, is its quick over-view approach to the subject---it's an excellent starting place if you know just a little bit, but not a lot, about the 5th and want to learn more.

Nowadays its value is primarily that of a springboard to other references, but it was an astounding work way back there in '73 when most of us were still buying into the notion that all the 5th's records and photography had been consumed in some mysterious fire in Tokyo post-War. It was, in point of fact, the only all-in-one-place reference on the topic for several years, and it's stood the test of time better than you might imagine.

We would be less than truthful if we said this book was a must-have in today's world, but for a great many years it was just that, and it's still pretty useful today. There aren't many other books out there that can make that claim!

The Relief Tube

A couple of our readers have written in with comments, so let's get right to it!

Regarding that pair of Marine-marked P2Vs we ran last issue, Rick Morgan offers this clarification:

Phil- Think I found it. The only Marine P2V that I could find on a quick search of Allowance Lists is a P2V-2 at Aircraft Engineering Squadron-12 (AES-12), MCAF Quantico VA, from mid-1952 through 1958. It’s listed as a “Research and Development” platform throughout. They show two onboard in Mar 1955, which may well have been an airframe swap out. Rick

Thanks, Rick. The appropriate captions in our last issue have been corrected.

And in a similar, if not identical vein, Tommy Thomason saw last issue's piece on the P2V and had this to say:

BuNo 39090 had the original P2V nose avec the "bow turret". See attached.
                                                   Tommy Thomason Collection

My posts on the Turtle:

P2V Modeling Notes

Each dash number of the P2V seemed to have a different propeller, engine, and engine cowling. Not to mention the changes to the canopy, bomb bay, nose wheel well, tip tanks, etc. over time and the eventual addition of jet engines. Or the fact than both the nose and tail could be changed on later aircraft between armed and ASW patrol. Or the unique noses, like the ones on the P2Vs used for Arctic mapping. One of these days I'm going to do a post on the major differences between the dash numbers. T

Thanks as always, Tommy!

Next up is a comment from Bret Wood about a piece we published some time ago:

Saw pictures of "Doc’s Delight," "The Snooper,” and “Rugged Beloved” on This unit saw service in the Pacific, specifically on Tinian. My grandfather was assigned to this unit. Regards, Bret Wood

Thanks, Bret! (I don't suppose you've got any photos...)

Finally, Norman Camou has discovered and sent in another YouTube link for us to enjoy, this time on the 430th FS in action over Germany in 1945 and in living color:

And this one as well, covering B-25 ops to Rabaul. We may have run it once before, but we've also gained quite a few readers of late and the film is too good to miss!

Thanks as always, Norman!

And yet another last-minute, after we published correction, this time from Mark Morgan and regarding that NARTU-assigned P2V shot that's fourth from the time in this issue's Neptune piece:

(Regarding that) P2V-5F 131508 6G-214? NARTU, for Naval Air Reserve Training Unit. Otherwise, outstanding blog as always! MK

Thanks, Mark!

And that's it for this time around and, in all likelihood, for the remainder of this year. Our season's best to everyone and be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon!