Sunday, December 8, 2013

FJ Redux, Bats Outa Hell, That Other F-15, and A Special Thanks

A Fond Look Back and A Brave New World

Here we are, Gang; yet another year very nearly gone. From a hobby perspective it was a great year, one of many and, oddly enough, maybe one of the very last of the great polystyrene plastic kit years. Yep, it's probably true. The advent of stereo lithography, aka 3D printing, has advanced to the point where people are making firearms and parts for real airplanes with the technology right now this minute, and there's a guy over on one of the AFV modeling sites who's already been making conversion sets and detail parts with it. His stuff looks pretty darned good too, easily as good as the plastic kits he's been making his parts for. We are, quite literally, quivering on the dawn of a new age of scale modeling, and the time probably isn't too far off when a "kit" will consist of a CD rather than a box full of plastic, a time when the truly exceptional modelers will be the ones who can successfully write programs, both for their own home-grown aftermarket parts and for short run kits (maybe extremely short---how about a run of one or two kits, just for yourself and nobody else?).

Think about it for a minute. Most of the cost of a plastic model currently goes into the tooling, with the actual molding and packaging of said model costing next-to-nothing in comparison. That's why we may never see a mainstream kit of the North American B-45, while at least one or two Zero or Spitfire kits are released each and every year (and we're not even going to mention the Luftwaffe subjects that manage to get kitted endlessly, in lieu of something else). It's all a matter of economics; even the companies who design and produce kits for what I'm going to call the specialist market ultimately have to make a profit in order to stay in business.

In comparison, nearly all the cost of that newly-emerging technology lies in the cost of the printer, and the available printers are getting both better and less expensive by the day. It's only a matter of time before hobby shops, of both the surviving local variety and the increasingly more common on-line ones, begin to catalog 3D printers as part of their normal offerings and begin to stock racks full of programs contained on CD rather than the currently normal plastic kits or aftermarket sets.

Sounds far-fetched? Maybe so, but it would pay to remember that Frog began marketing the first plastic model kits in the late 1930s as an alternative to the more traditional solid wood kits then being offered. Polystyrene kits came along after the second world war and have had a long and healthy run spanning nearly six decades (check out the copyright dates on the old Lindberg LST or Hawk Curtiss racer for an eye-opening example of just how long that run has lasted). Does anybody out there remember exactly why the hobby industry moved from wood to plastic? That's right---it was because plastic kits allowed even a novice builder a shot at something decent to put on the shelf, and at a nominal cost. As a result, scale modeling became Everyman's Hobby. That hobby for Everyman morphed into a hobby for the hardcore enthusiast with the passage of time, and that brings us to today.

There are still kids out there who build models but their numbers aren't nearly as great as once they were, while the kids who made the current hobby what it is today are becoming fewer with every passing year; plastic modeling is a classic Baby Boomer's hobby, pure and simple, and the time will eventually come when it's just too expensive for manufacturers to tool up for new kits, while existing tooling will inevitably wear out. Combine that with the serious scale modeler's natural desire for the best and most accurate model available and the time is ripe for change, probably first in the realm of conversion sets and then, ultimately, as complete kits. It's inevitable, and it probably won't be a Bad Thing. The advent of such "data kit"s certainly won't kill the hobby; a good modeler will still be a good modeler and a bad modeler will still be a bad one. All that's going to change is the way the parts are created, and where. Somebody still has to build the thing, and paint and decal it---even if you could dial in pre-printed markings for your kit you'd still have to use modeling skills to complete your replica. If you don't believe that, just compare today's kits and methods with those available to the modeler in 1933, or 43, or 53.

There's a bottom line here and it's one that's inevitable; plastic kits as we currently know them will probably be around for a long time, but at the end of the day it will be the digitally-produced kits that dominate the hobby, along with digital aftermarket. The now-"traditional" plastic kit will become something built by purists and dinosaurs, and that's alright with me. It's a big world out there and there's room for everybody in it. On a personal level I have no doubt I'll try one of the new-technology kits as soon as it becomes available, but I'm equally certain that I'll continue to build the "old" stuff too, simply because I like doing things that way. At the end of the day it's all a matter of choice and personal preference.

Don't expect to see the change come tomorrow, or next week, or even next year, but it's closer than you think to being a reality and, at the end of the day, it's probably going to end up being a Very Good Thing for our hobby.

Just sayin...

Farther Along With That Fury

In a veritable maelstrom (your word for today) of activity, I've been charging right along with that FJ-4B you first saw in our last issue. Here's where we are today:

Although it may not look much different than it did before, right down to the fact that it's sitting on a really cluttered workbench, there actually has been substantial progress. The sharp-eyed among you (and you have to sit this one out, McMurtrey---you've been embarrassing me entirely too much lately!) will notice side numbers on the flaps, as well one the upper surface of the starboard wing. Those were added thanks to the kindness of Tommy Thomason, who sent in a couple of photos that showed the way VA-144 did it on their airplanes. Sway braces have been added to the gas bag that lives under that starboard wing, and all the "junk in the trunk" beneath the canopy has been put into place. Still to be accomplished is the completion of the national insignia on the port wing---it goes over the fence---and the closing up of the red-orange lightning bolts on the fuselage spine. That's one of those things I wasn't entirely certain of before, but the photos provided by Tommy defined how it should look up there. In my world that's called Doing the Scary, but I'm getting ready to give it a shot. Let's see if Phillip can ruin the airplane in the home stretch! (Unfortunately, that one's a no-brainer. I've already managed to do that sort of thing far too many times to count!) I also need to make some vents for the new generator panel on the nose (as described below), along with a couple of other minor corrections thanks to those comments by Tommy Thomason.

Phil, Great discussion. Some answers and extra stuff:  Detail under canopy can be found at: , Horizontal tail span:  . Left-hand (only) guns removed and vents in gun access panel were the result of the addition of an emergency generator:  .

Note that all (?) rudders were gray initially for the change to the gray/white scheme. The FJ-4s weren't around long enough to get the change to white(?).  The rudder was not originally to be painted white but this requirement was formally introduced in December 1961. However, some rudders were white before that, particularly on aircraft that might be assigned to deliver a nuclear weapon, to minimize the thermal effect of a nuclear explosion on the thin-skinned control surface. Interesting point on barricade (not barrier) fences. My guess is that it was determined that they weren't required on airplanes operating from angled deck carriers. Did I miss a mention of the retrofit of the Martin-Baker seat? From  "The FJ-4s appear to have begun to be switched over in early 1961 at the first or second major overhaul after late 1960. The first reported ejection using the Martin-Baker seat was in September 1961. If you don't have a photo of the specific aircraft being modeled, the best bet is the original seat. The earliest example that I found of a MB seat in the FJ-4 is VA-144's 3rd deployment, November 1961 to May 1962. However, there is a picture of a reserve FJ-4B dated July 1963 with the original seat." (Your picture with the vent question answered above shows the Martin-Baker seat.) 


There are several lessons to be learned from Tommy's comments, the primary one of which is that I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble by going to his site for information before I began the model. 20/20 Hindsight, as it were! (I guess I've just modeled one of those rare FJ-4Bs that had all the guns removed! Yeah; right...)

Anyway, this project is well on the road to completion in spite of that gun faux pas  (presuming I don't ruin it when I do that touch-up on the fuselage spine!). Stay tuned and, in theory, our next issue will show you a completed model. In theory...

A VA-144 FJ-4B launching off the Ranger in 1959. This photo shows the way the side number is presented on the flaps and starboard wing upper surface to advantage. It also shows the presence of guns, but there's no way of telling whether or not there are guns on the port side too unless someone out there has access to the NARF records for this particular BuNo---we don't. You might also note the scabbed-up appearance of that gas bag. Speaking of gas bags, make note of what's under the port wing; that's a Douglas tank, not North American. We'll explain all that next issue but for now it's worth knowing that sort of thing went on (it was directly related to the ordnance load carried).  USN

Here's a detail of that emergency generator cover Tommy was describing. Note that the gun ports have been completely eliminated and a pair of vents have been add on the aft part of the access panel. Everything under the canopy aft of the seat travels with the structure when it opens, which gives a completely different appearance to that area in each configuration.   Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

War Dogs

The 345th BG, aka the Air Apaches, were one of the premier medium bomb groups of the Southwest Pacific. Their exploits became legendary throughout the course of a nasty, brutal war that took place in the harshest and most unforgiving of environments and they not only survived but thrived, this in spite of heavy losses in combat against a highly motivated, professional and, at least for the first couple of years, experienced enemy. Often short of parts, always short of sleep, and battling not only the Japanese but the heat, humidity, tropical weather systems, insects, mud, dust, and snakes of their operational area, they carried out their mission in a manner that arguably made them the best of the best; the premier medium bomb group in General George's Air Force. It was no accident that the 345th was given the honor of escorting the Japanese surrender delegation to Ie Shima during the closing days of the war. They were something special in an Air Force where everyone was exceptional.

We've shared images from Johnathan Watson's collection with you previously and are going to publish a few more today; let's go back to the 1943-44 time period in New Guinea and take a look at some Air Apaches from the 499th BS. A couple of the aircraft we've depicted may be familiar to you and a couple may not, but the photographs shown are all originals and we don't think any of them have ever been published before. We hope you enjoy them.

Things look placid enough in this photograph and that airfield looks dry, but no place in the SWPAC stayed in either condition for very long. In this shot "Lucky Bat" is in the foreground, with "Hell's Belles" sitting in the near distance. That 6x6 is carrying a crated dorsal turret---presumably the "Bat" is about to get a replacement for her existing unit. The "Bat's" strafer nose is modified from the factory-equipped glass one, and those guns are all wearing canvas covers, an absolute necessity when parked on those dusty New Guinea air strips. On a more personal note, the whole concept of uniforms was a flexible notion at best in that theater, as exemplified by the assortment of clothing worn by the ground echelon standing in this photo. Author Martin Caiden wrote a book called The Ragged Rugged Warriors back in the 60s. Not everyone cares for Caiden's presentation of history, but the title of that book could sum up the experience of the AAF while fighting in the Southwest Pacific.  Johnathan Watson Collection

Here's another view of "Lucky Bat", providing us with an excellent view of her port gun pack (in this case a North American factory mod) and her overall highly weathered condition. That's a fin assembly for a 500 lb GP bomb lying on the ground just aft of her nose gear. Carrying s/n 41-30058, the "Bat" led a relatively lengthy combat life, but finally paid the ultimate price. She's being readied for another mission in this shot; note the sophisticated ground support equipment  displayed in the photo, as well as the tapered muzzle extensions on those gunpack .50s. In the finest tradition of Polystyrene Whining, we sure wish HK had done a B-25D instead of the J and H models they've released. We're just never happy, are we?  Johnathan Watson Collection

Here's a slightly better view of "Lucky Bat", apparently taken at the same time as our previous shot. Note how her name has been plated over by what appears to be an aluminum scab patch, and the definition of her "bat" markings on the nose. Her paintwork is a mess (and a scale modeler's challenge!), with the weathering on her prop blades being of particular interest---this photo absolutely abounds in detail! Assigned to the 499th BS/345th BG, the "Bat" finally bought it strafing barges on 30 July, 1944, with all aboard killed. She made at least 66 missions before cashing in, and could've been the poster child for General George's mediums.   Johnathan Watson Collection

And here's the 499th's "Wilda Marie". Noteworthy in this shot are her mission markers and kill markings (including a couple of meatballs just aft of the canopy) and the presentation of her name. In common with all the 345th's aircraft her paintwork is all beat to snot, and she's well-worn to say the least. She's also mission capable and ready to go again. Interesting details in this shot include the canvas cover on her dorsal turret and the pre-War AAC corcarde painted on her nose wheel cover. Her s/n was 41-30016, a B-25D-5 like all the others in this series. The inclusion of the bicycle and that motorcycle makes this a prime candidate for a diorama, we think.  Johnathan Watson Collection

There are famous B-25s and there are famous B-25s. When you get past all the rest, there's "Dirty Dora". She managed to survive 175 combat missions, including operations in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, only to be scrapped out at the end of her life. She's covered with personal names (look on the cowling and under the bomb scoreboard under the canopy) and her paintwork is unique. Accurate Miniatures included markings and paint masks for her in one of the several offerings of their somewhat-flawed (but salvageable) B-25D kit and she's well worth building, an homage to the boys from the 345th.   Johnathan Watson Collection

Every now and then you come across a photo that you just have to run and this shot is one of them. From her boarding ladder to her antenna mast, from her turret detail to her side guns, this photo defines a number of details not often generally seen. That name under her turret is special too; note how it's repeated, apparently in yellow, under the "main" presentation of same. Those turret covers were part of the North American field kit that accompanied every Mitchell into service---note how stiff this one is and how well it's keeping its shape after removal from the turret.  The Devil's in the details!   Johnathan Watson Collection

Loading up. In this view, a 500 lb GP bomb is being winched into the bomb bay of one of the 499th's Mitchells. In typical fashion, the bombs have been delivered to the aircraft sans fins and fuses, both of which are installed in the arming area. Of particular interest is the way the Bronze Green paint on the aft access door has been scabbed up by repeated use. Most folks wouldn't choose this approach to weather a model, but it's obviously the way the doors looked in service.  Johnathan Watson Collection

Here's another view of the same aircraft. We're running this shot because it gives an excellent view of that side gun as well as the way the turret cover was secured to the aircraft. The wear on the paintwork between the national insignia and that gun is worth a look as well; we strongly suspect the lighter color is Yellow Zinc Chromate. Modeler's who are fond of using aftermarket might want to note that those tires on the MLG are not excessively bulged or flattened.   Johnathan Watson Collection

"Hell's Belles" undergoing maintenance prior to a mission. Those unpainted aluminum bulges on the covers on her cheek guns are worth noting, as is that scoreboard. The artwork on her nose wheel cover is worth a second look too, as is her generally battered condition. Built as a B-25D-5 (41-30019), she paid the ultimate price during a raid on Jefman Island---she took a flak hit and went into the water inverted. There were no survivors of that crash, and no easy days in the SWPAC.  Johnathan Watson Collection

And here's "Hell's Belle's" in happier times, running up prior to her loss on the 16 June 1944 mission. Of interest is the staggered installation of the cheek .50s; this was normal in this sort of installation. The shot manages to be both evocative and melancholy, a reminder of a time of sacrifice long ago.  Johnathan Watson Collection

The 499th's "Doodle Jr", another B-25D-5 (41-30164), gets an ordnance check. The gun-pack covers have been removed and the flash hiders are fitted to the muzzles of the guns---they aren't present in any of the other shots in this essay. There appears to be slight discoloration from powder and lubricant staining in front of at least one of those guns, and that AAF insignia on her nose wheel cover is particularly tasty. "Doodle Jr" was engaged in a raid on Sidate airfield in Celebes when she lost an engine near Halmahera. Her crew survived the ditching and was picked up some three hours after entering the water---they were among the lucky ones. It wasn't always the enemy that got you in the SWPAC.   Johnathan Watson Collection

"Doodle Jr" in happier times, ready to rumble and on her way to the party. Note that her Plexiglas tail cone is missing---the B-25s in the 5th AF often had it removed and replaced by a .30 cal stinger gun, which wasn't particularly effective in actual use but added greatly to crew morale. The Insignia Blue of her national insignia has faded into the OD of her upper surface paint work due to the type of film used but is still there. Modeler's beware!  Johnathan Watson Collection

That's our look at the 499th BS/345th BG today, and we hope you've enjoyed it. Many thanks to Johnathan Watson for his willingness to share his collection with us.

A Little-Known Northrop

Everybody is familiar with Northrop's P-61 Black Widow; the aircraft has been relatively well-represented in the world of scale modeling in 1/72nd (Frog and Airfix) as well as in 1/48th (Aurora, Monogram, and Great Wall), and there's aftermarket and even a few decal sheets available in both scales. The P-61's first cousin, the F-15 Reporter, is far less known. Originating with the P-61 airframe, the F-15 was modified with a purpose-designed fuselage optimized for the photo-recon mission, and highly-modified engine nacelles, which mods gave the airplane an entirely different appearance in profile. Thanks to Bobby Rocker we have an opportunity to view one of those unique aircraft today.

Looking more like a racer than a purpose-built photo recon ship, 45-59316 (an F-15A-1-NO) was assigned to the 8th PRS/35th FG, based in Japan, when this photo was taken. Although the Reporter's service history included no combat whatsoever (operational missions concluded in 1948), peacetime aerial mapping of the Korean peninsula by the 8th proved of great worth when hostilities began there in 1950. A beautiful aircraft, the type was a maintenance pig from the beginning---introduced into service in Japan in 1947, it enjoyed barely one year of operational flying before being removed from active service. The last of the 8th's F-15As were scrapped out in March of 1949, and the only other user, Air Material Command, didn't keep theirs much longer. We're aware of only one kit of the type, a resin conversion from Lone Star Models, although there may be others we don't know about. Who knows what the Reporter might have done had it been more reliable (although we suspect it would have been savaged by the MiGs had it made it to the Korean War), but at the end of the day it was just another sidebar to aviation history.   Rocker Collection

Bobby Rocker's collection is both large and unique, and we're extremely grateful to be able to share images from it. Thanks, Bobby!

Thanks, GI!

In this, our last installment of 2013, it's worth taking a moment to remember those who stood up and fought The Good Fight during the Second World War. They came from all age groups and backgrounds; some were professionals but most were not, and their sacrifice and sense of duty was exceptional. They went in young and yet, at the end of it all, had become so very, very old. Their accomplishments, and the traditions they established, live on in the men and women of our armed forces today. We owe them all, past and present. Let's raise a glass...   L. Pepper via 3rd Attack.Org

Under the Radar

In this edition of Under the Radar, we look not at a specific title but at a family of publications that you may not be aware of.

The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia (series), Office of Air Force History, Government Printing Office, various titles and dates of publication.

Sometimes there exists a resource that's known to relatively few of the people who would be interested in it, and this series of publications is numbered among such resources. Commissioned by the Department of the Air Force, written by professional historians and published primarily as hard-bound reference books, the volumes in this series are most assuredly not for everyone---they are, without exception, serious, footnoted written histories. They generally have few illustrations and offer none of the color profiles so beloved of scale modelers, but their scope of coverage and detail is beyond reproach and offers an insight into the Vietnam War that few other books can convey. The reading is often dry and is invariably concise, but each monograph ("monograph" being somewhat of a misnomer since each volume typically runs from 300 to 600 pages) provides a unique reference for its particular subject.

You won't find these books at the trendy local coffee shop/nee bookstore, nor will you find them in hobby shops. They're often available directly from the Government Printing Office, but we've also found them in used book stores and once, but only once, in an aviation salvage yard (where we paid fifty cents each for a half-dozen titles in the series!). We recommend them without reservation but there is a caveat to that recommendation: If you're an historian, either amateur or professional, and you're interested in Air Force involvement in Southeast Asia, you can't be without these books. They're an essential reference. If you're primarily a scale modeler and are more interested in photographs, color profiles, or graphic "there I was" stories, these volumes are probably not for you. That said, those of you with particular interest in the air war over Vietnam will want the series for your library.

Happy Snaps

It's been a while since we've had an honest-to-Goodness air-to-air Happy Snap in these pages, so it's time to set things right!

We rely a lot on photography from Doug Barbier around here, and for good reason. During the course of his military career, both active duty and ANG,  Doug had camera access to a number of unique subjects. Add to that the fact that he's what most folks might call an extraordinary photographer and it all becomes clear---if Doug took it it's generally an outstanding photograph, and this "T-Bird" shot is no exception to that rule. The story behind the photo is a simple one; Doug was flying with the 57th FIS at the time (F-4s and T-33s) and wanted an air-to-air of "his" aircraft. He arranged a form hop with another pilot flying the bird that wore his name on the canopy rails, and this photo is the result. Maybe someday, if we're really lucky and some model manufacturer can figure out how to properly capture the lines of the T-33, we'll be able to build a model of this bird. Maybe someday...   Doug Barbier

The Relief Tube

We've already covered one of today's entries by publishing Tommy Thomason's FJ-4B comments and corrections up there in our lead article, so let's jump straight to a clarification of that Michigan ANG hearse we illustrated last issue:

Phil, (that photo) brings back a ton of memories... Remembering 1982 WT, 31 years ago, the six pack learned from it's first 1980 WT appearance that a team vehicle was a very cool thing! So when we learned that we would in the 1982 WT F-4 category, we started to find a team car. Can't say who thought of the hearse, but it was decided and a plan was made to paint it in the ADC gray colors with the six pack markings along with the 82 WT logos. Many modifications had to be made to the standard 1971 Cadillac hearse, making cup holders and a few secret compartments. SMSgt Bill Brennan, 191 FIS/ODC, drove the hearse down to Tyndall. We also drove a tractor and a (ex Army) 40 ft semi trailer that I signed for out of DRMO at Selfridge in late 1980 and converted in a mobile maintenance control and repair shop(s). LTC John Doty said that we would need such a set up after the November 1979 NORAD computer SNAFU of a false missile attack warning tape triggering a flush of all aircraft. Can't remember who drove the trailer down, but it had extra parts and equipment in it if we needed it. The trailer was much of a non-player during WT, however the hearse put in a max effort. It was the main player in daily party events. When it was not full of people, it always seemed to be parked in front of Tyndall Officers Club. More than a few zaps were placed on it by other units. To say that Colonel Dave Arendts was proud of his hearse would be an understatement!! At the moment I can't remember what happened to the hearse after 82 WT. Don't know if it went with to WT 84. Somehow a history of the 191 FIG at William Tell needs to be complied before we lose it all.

Many thanks to Bill Livesay for sharing his memories with us and for explaining that photo. Now then; do any of you have photos of it after it was zapped? If you do, we'd love to see them! That address is  .

Finally, from Ned Barnett:

Phil, you may remember me as the author of your in-depth article on the F-100 way back in the day (I think I was editor of the IPMS/USA article at that time, give or take a year or two). Anyway, thanks to the email list I’m on regarding 1/72nd scale modeling of US military aircraft, I just learned about your blog, and about how to reach you. Someone on that list suggested that you might be considering putting all your RIS issues on a CD – to me, that would be a godsend, as mine were wiped out in a basement flood back in ’86, and from then to now, I've never seen a better modeling magazine.

Thanks, Ned! The print edition of RIS was very much a labor of love for us and your comments make us feel pretty darned good! As for a CD-edition of those old magazines, it's something we'd like to do but is unfortunately very much on the back burner at the moment. If it ever happens we'll make certain you get a copy but it's likely to be a while. (Do any of our readers have extra copies of the magazine that they'd like to donate to a good cause?)

And that's it for this, our final edition of 2013. If you celebrate the season may you have the very best of holidays. If you don't, may your skies be filled with sunshine and your road be an easy one. Be good to your neighbor, and we'll meet again real soon.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Plastic Fury, Not What It Seems, A Rare One, And Some Sleds in the Guard

The Thing About Irony is That So Few People Get It

Ray Wiley Hubbard said that and it is, in my opinion anyway, one of the essential truths of our time. Irony is one of those ever-present things that haunts all aspects of our lives, each and every day. There's no escaping it even when it rears its, dare I say it; ironic little head, often in the most incongruous of places. (How's that for a profundity, ya'll?)

Here's the deal: A couple of issues ago I was rattling on endlessly (which is, after all, the only way I ever rattle on) about having a small collection of model airplanes that were sitting on a shelf, mostly-finished but nowhere near to getting themselves actually completed. I went to great pains to describe each and every project in sufficient detail to allow our readership to picture that project in their mind, and I think I might have even talked about what it was each of those models was lacking; the specific culprit that was keeping them from an honored place in the light of day on a display shelf.

Since that time several projects have actually seen completion around here. Yep, that's right! I went back, plucked a couple of those models out of storage, and finished them, or at least made substantial progress on them. The HMS Bounty has had her masts stepped, her bowsprit attached, and her boat (the great big one, whatever it is that sailors call it) has been started in a fashion far more detailed than Revell had ever intended way back when they cut the molds for the kit in 1956. The winter-camouflaged Fw190A-4 is complete, and so is the SG-77 (not SG-11 as originally and erroneously reported by me) Fw190F-8.

So where's the irony, you might ask. Well, if you've ever built an Eduard Focke Wulf, or an Eduard Anything for that matter, you're well aware that they inevitably give things like gun barrels as little round blobs that do an extremely poor job of replicating whatever it is they're supposed to be representing on the model in question. They're best replaced, and that's what I did---the guns on both of those 190s gave way to a really nice set of turned brass barrels, and they look 100% better than the kit offerings. Or maybe I should say they did look better, because the aftermarket I used provides the inboard guns in two pieces, which makes them a snap to install after the wing has been built and sanded. It's a great idea and it works like a champ as long as you make certain to get a good bond on the barrel sections when you attach them to each other and to the airframe. I apparently got a really good bond on one of them, and a not-nearly-so-good bond on the other. You can probably guess where this is going so I'm not going to describe what happened, or that it happened over a deep-pile carpet. Sadly, and contrary to Ray Wiley's quote that I cited at the beginning of this piece, everyone will probably see the irony in what happened within mere minutes of the model being placed on the display shelf. There just ain't no justice in this world!

Big sigh. Move on.

Why Can't We Get a Decent Fury?

If you've been with this blog from the beginning, or if you've ever bothered to go back and read all of the various issues we've published, you've probably noticed that I've got an affinity for the North American FJ Fury family of naval fighters. I like 'em all, from the tubby FJ-1 that started it all through the definitive FJ-4B that rang down the curtain on one of the most elegant of jet carrier fighters. With that as a basic premise, it should be easy for you to appreciate the fact that decent FJ-Anything kits don't exactly grow on trees around here. Yes; there are a few kits out there but none of them are particularly good. Let's elucidate.

In no particular order save that of variant, we've seen at least one limited production 1/72nd scale FJ from somebody, although I can't remember who did it, a good vac form from RarePlanes, as well as a nice but fiddly 1/48th scale kit from Czech Model. The FJ-2 was sortof-but-not-really kitted by Lindberg back in the 50s, and by ESCI's thoroughly confused FJ-2/-3 kit of the 80s. (It has to be one or the other; you can't do both from one kit, a fact which seems to have totally escaped ESCI at the time since they incorporated elements of both variants in a single airframe, creating a beast that was neither fish nor fowl in the process.) The FJ-4 was better served, sortof, in that Emhar did an injection molded kit in 1/72nd, RarePlanes did one in the same scale, and Matchbox, Grand Phoenix, and Hobby Boss all issued kits in 1/48th. In today's adventure we're going to explore the FJ-4 and FJ-4B in 1/48th scale.

To start things off, let's pull the Matchbox kit off the shelf, look at it briefly, and quickly put it away again. It was ok, but barely that, when it was The Only Game in Town, but that was a very long time ago. By today's standards it's not a very good kit and better offerings are out there.

Better could, and in fact does, define the pair of kits (an FJ-4 and an FJ-4B) issued by Grand Phoenix, but without going into an agonizingly long and somewhat pointless review we'll just say that it's a tough date and not one of their better efforts. It does, however, make a good source of detail parts for the Hobby Boss kits and comes with great decals---if you bought one during any of the various Squadron Shop sales your money wasn't wasted, because you can use a lot of the parts in that box as ad hoc aftermarket for the Hobby Boss kit. You can also build it if it's the only kit of the FJ-4 in your closet, but be advised that modeling skills are definitely required.

Hobby Boss is the kit of choice these days if your tastes run towards the last of the Furies, but you're going to work for your model if you choose to build it. Both variants, the FJ-4 and FJ-4B, are offered, but you can build either variant from either kit (exclusive of ordnance) so it really doesn't matter which one you start with.

We're going to try a different approach with this thing today and give you marked-up photos as reference for the details on the FJ-4 family in lieu of a long, rambling article. Things to watch out for on the Hobby Boss kit include an interior that needs help, and poor landing gear and wheels. The kit interior is best replaced with a resin one (although it's usable and easy enough to detail if you don't want to spend the money), and the nose wheel strut is too short. The nose wheel is usable, but the mains don't replicate anything normally found on the last of the Furies (or any of the earlier ones, for that matter). There are other issues to work out too, but those are the main ones you'll have to address.

One major detail you'll be interested in is the presentation of the speed brakes. The FJ-4 has "normal" components reminiscent of those found on the F-86, while the FJ-4B retains those brakes and adds an additional pair (with strakes) under the aft fuselage. They don't overlap between variants, so it's a good way to tell what you're seeing when you're looking at pictures of the real thing. Another item, and one that will be easy to destroy by accident, is the fuel dump mast, which the kit gives as a little stump hanging off a fairing behind the rudder. All it takes is a swipe or two with a file to give it the correct profile and it belongs there, so don't go cutting it off when you're doing the basic bodywork---it's easy to mistake it for a molding flaw!

I bet you thought we weren't going to show you the other side, but here you are! The FJ-4B (which almost all of the aircraft in this piece were since that's what I was building) was the fighter-bomber member of the family, and a whole bunch of the folks who build the kit do it up with a full (and full-fantasy, at least in the Fleet) load of five Bullpups and a guidance pod for same. You can build your model that way too, if you want to, but you'd do well to remember that the airplane was designed to deliver other ordnance as well. One of the things it could drop was a largish lump that eliminated the requirement for guns and some FJ-4Bs were so modified, this aircraft being one of them. Another structural thing to notice are the presence (or absence---it could go either way) of those little "fences" you can see on the leading edge of the wings in this shot. They aren't fences at all, of course, but are there to assist in snagging the barrier during emergency landings on the boat. The odd thing is that not all  FJ-4Bs (or FJ-4s, for that matter) have them fitted. Photographs are your friend!

The ultimate Fury had a lot of internal fuel capacity and could carry refueling pods under the wings, a reality that saw the type widely used as a tanker during its service career. This photo illustrates that feature, and gives us a look at a number of other details as well. Modelers should note that there's a transparency at the bottom of the intake, in the middle of the intake lip. It's got lights in it related to the carrier approach attitude indicator and is a piece of cake to add to the model---you need to do that, too, because the completed airplane won't look right if you don't.

I think this is a really neat photo, one that would make a great basis for a small diorama, but it also shows off a number of details to advantage. Of particular interest are the wheels and landing gear struts, both because of the detail shown and because it shows another one of the FJ-4 family's "typical" anomalies---that gear and those wheels are painted silver. It's pretty normal to find that on the Fury once you know to look for it. Those fuselage ducts are shaped incorrectly on all the kits of this airplane, by the way, and in addition to that the ones in the Hobby Boss kits are too tall as given. They're easy to modify and you need to do that.

All tactical FJ-4s and 4Bs were painted Nonspecular Light Gull Grey over gloss Insignia White and you would have expected them to have had an anti-glare panel on the nose as a result, but none did. They weren't supposed to have anti-skid walkways on the wings either, but 1463 puts the lie to that notion! The Devil's most assuredly in the details when you're dealing with the last of the Furies!

We've been talking a little bit about what color things were on the airplane, and you've been reading captions that describe those colors, but there's nothing like a good photo to prove the point. Shots like this really make me wish for a good FJ-4, but then again that helo in the background is another aircraft that has long deserved a decent kit. Someday...

This RAG bird is getting close to the end of the line but she shows off a number of her details quite well. The MLG wheels are worth noting; they're spoked, and the Grand Phoenix kit provides spoked wheels, but those Grand Phoenix wheels don't look anything like the ones on the airplane. The photo also gives us a good view of the vortex generators under the horizontal stab---all of the kits give us a "clunky" presentation of this feature, but in defense of the several manufacturers who have already kitted this airplane it would be pretty tough to get them in scale. I lived with that feature on my model but you're more than welcome to correct them if you're so inclined.

We don't have much to say about this shot that we haven't said in the photos we've already shown you, but it's a nice clear photo and well worth running.

The Fury also saw service in a couple of utility squadrons as well as in the reserves. These VU-7 birds are absolutely gleaming in the sun, and showing off their different tail treatments as well as their anti-glare panels---we'd mentioned before that the tactical FJ-4s didn't make use of them, but the utility birds did! The Engine Grey and yellow on those birds really stands out, doesn't it? Oh yeah, and notice the insides of the wing fold detail on side number 31---that's been painted yellow too. What a model this would make!

And here's a final shot of a utility bird to end our day with. You can pick out the details by reading the captions on the photo, but you should also notice the way the Engine Grey looks in these photos. It could be faded paint but it's just as likely to be the angle of the shot and the ambient lighting. Gotta be careful with color on a model!

And Speaking of models, let's talk a little bit about what I think is the best of the available 1/48th scale kits of the FJ-4 and FJ-4B, the Hobby Boss offering. Yes; you can get there with either the Grand Phoenix or Matchbox kits and you're welcome to do it if you want to go that route, but remember that the Matchbox kit is almost an antique at this stage in its life and will be a lot of work of you want to use it as a basis for a decent model. The Grand Phoenix kit is far better but is, as I'm wont to say on these pages, a Tough Date. You can get a really nice model from it but it's going to require substantial modeling skills, which is relatively pointless since that Hobby Boss kit is moderately easy to get together and is reasonably accurate to boot. That gives us what I'm going to call Perspective, so the HB kit is the route we're taking today. One more thing---a lot of internet modeling sites will give you a blow-by-blow description of how to build something, and tell you how many parts are in the box and what color they are. That's not my style, so I'm not going to do it that way. Instead, let's look at the areas that could stand a little improvement and go from there.

First, let's get the kit's dimensions out of the way in a really fast and loose manner, which is to say it looks like an FJ-4 and I'm making a leap of faith and saying that HB got the dimensions from someplace and they look ok to me. There was a time when I wouldn't have taken that stance but at this stage in the game close enough is close enough, besides which I won't lay awake at night worrying about something being 1/64th of an inch off if I'm not aware of it. Seems fair to me! The things that do bother me are few in number and all are fixable. Let's take a look at them.

First, the landing gear isn't all that hot and the nose gear strut is molded in the fully-compressed position, which you'd never find on a real airplane if the oleo was properly charged. You'll need to extend it or, if you're lazy, buy yourself a set of SAC landing gear made specifically for the kit (SAC 48018 at the Sprue Brothers site) (or use the one from the Grand Phoenix kit if you've got one of those). It's molded with the strut in a far more believable degree of extension and is worth the money. The wheels are another matter entirely, and you'll have to either make a compromise there or be a far better modeler than I presently am. It was  mentioned earlier in this piece, but I've never been shy about repeating myself so I'm going to say it again: None of the 1/48th scale FJ-4 kits come with accurate wheels for the mains. You can use the spoked wheels from the Grand Phoenix kit if that's what your model requires, or get the "solid" ones out of the HB kit, but neither one is particularly accurate and I don't think the aftermarket offers replacements for them. I'm going to live with the kit offerings but you may choose another route---if you do that and it looks good please write me and let me know how you did it! (  )

Next are the gear doors. They're too thick (most kit gear doors are) and their interiors aren't as good as they could be detail-wise. They're good enough, though, so you can probably use them as-is if you're lazy. One thing of interest about those doors is that they're often painted Insignia Red on their inner surfaces, although conventional wisdom says they should be Insignia White with Insignia Red edges. Photographs of the aircraft you're building are your friend! (And in that vein the landing gear and struts should be Insignia White too but are often painted silver. Pay attention to those photos!) It's also worth your while to remember that the FJ-4 family were products of North American Aviation, which means that most of the landing gear doors will be up most of the time and your model should reflect that, although it's not uncommon to see them down as well---you pays your money...

The basic airframe is ok, thank Goodness, but could stand a little refinement here and there. Three things you'll need to watch for require mention in that regard. First, the scoops on the aft fuselage are too deep and incorrectly shaped. They're also separate pieces so that's easy enough to fix. Second, there should be a transparency in the bottom of the intake lip---it's a cover for the three small lights used in the aircraft's approach attitude indicator suite and is also easy to make using a piece of scrap clear sprue and a jeweler's file. Finally, the wings may or may not have tiny "fences" on them for engagement with the barrier in an emergency landing on the boat. I looked at a bunch of FJ-4B photos and they're there sometimes and not there others. Once again, you'll need a decent photograph of the airplane you want to model in order to accurately replicate a specific BuNo.

Another thing you'll want to do, but only if you're building a straight FJ-4 fighter, is to fill in those additional speedboards that live on the lower aft fuselage. They were added to the fighter-bomber member of the family, the FJ-4B, but didn't show up on the -4. A word to the wise...

Finally, the kit's cockpit is sortof ok, but there there are two aftermarket interiors available for the model (AMS 48021, which includes all the stuff under the canopy, and Aires 484448 which doesn't; both part numbers are once again from the Sprue Brothers web site). That assortment of gear under the canopy is an essential part of the Fury "look", so you'll need to do something under there whether you buy it or build it yourself.

Paying attention to those things will result in a reasonable model of the FJ-4 or -4B, and you can certainly proceed from there if you're so inclined. (And if you're one of the many who purchased the Grand Phoenix kit in either of its iterations, don't despair! The plastic contained within those boxes is a challenge to be sure, but the kit comes with photo etch that includes those windscreen mirrors, an excellent resin cockpit and a nice set of wheel wells, and a white metal nose landing gear strut of the proper length! The kit can be had for next to nothing at model shows and it's a whole lot cheaper to get the necessary aftermarket that way than it is to buy landing gear and a cockpit set separately. If you go that route, the only thing you'll be missing is the stuff under the aft canopy and you should be able to scratch that up yourself. Just sayin'...)

This image will give you an idea of what can be done with the Hobby Boss FJ-4B if you take your time doing it. The model isn't complete by a long shot, but it's far enough along to give you and idea of how good the kit is. The model is 100% HB, with no aftermarket whatsoever at this point---I've even kept that fully-compressed NLG strut, although it will most likely have been replaced by the time you see photos of the completed model. Still to come are the intake warning stripes, a little bit of paint touch-up, plus some stencils. The airplane will, in all likelihood, carry just two pylons (stations 2 and 5), one of which will carry a gasbag and the other a big silver lump---note that on this model the troughs for the nose-mounted 20mm guns have been faired over to accommodate a mod sometimes performed on mission-specific FJ-4Bs. The IFR probe needs to be added, and I'll need to either find an AMS detail set or scratch up the plethora of stuff that's found under the aft portion of the canopy. The kit doesn't provide barrier stops on the wing and I didn't add them during construction---the idea of scratching up three identical sets of tiny handed parts just didn't appeal to me at the time! As noted up above someplace, they don't seem to have always been there, but I've got photographic evidence that they were on the bird I modeled. (All together now: Big Sigh!) I'll probably paint the little Gomer in the cockpit and put him in the finished model too; I used to do that all the time way back when I was building jets exclusively and am of the opinion that he adds to the ambiance of the model.

In theory you'll see photos of the completed project next issue, but that's what I said about that T-6G nearly a year ago. I'd like to hope that you're interested in seeing how this thing comes out, but if I were you I wouldn't hold my breath over it---my completions track record hasn't been very good of late!

The Magic of Hollywood

We get a fair amount of correspondence around here, and some neat things show up as a result. A couple of days ago one of our many friends from the old days (in this case the old days of the 1970s and 80s) dropped us a tantalizing photograph with no information attached except that it was a shot from a forthcoming movie.

Thanks to the diligence of Captain Banzai, aka David Aiken, here's a fine example of a Zeke 21 for your perusal. It's a non-flying prop for the movies, but Holy Cow, did somebody do a good job on it or what? We wish we could tell you a little more about it, but what's just been said is 110% of what we know. One thing we do know for certain---when that movie comes out, no matter what it's about or what language it's in, it's on our Must See list! Many thanks to David for sending the heads-up and this image to us. Banzai!

Tropical Storm in the East

When the American Volunteer Group, colloquially know as The Flying Tigers, first arrived in the Far East, they based out of what was then known as Burma, sharing airfields with the RAF. We don't know much about the photograph shown below and the photographer, Jack Jones (a former AVG armorer) couldn't remember (and quite probably never knew) the unit, although 28 Sqdn RAF is a prime candidate for the honor. At any rate, thanks to the fact that Jack took a camera with him and used it until he mustered out with fever in mid-1942, we get to look at a photograph you won't see every day.

The Bad Old Days in Burma. Jack mentioned in passing that "those British guys were long on guts but they just didn't know how to fight the Japanese". That was true enough, but nobody else really knew how to fight the Imperial Air Forces either, at least not prior to Claire Chennault's implementation of a hit-and-run strategy that involved a diving pass from altitude with associated refusal to enter into a turning combat with the Ki-27s and the Ki-43s the AVG most often fought against. It was a crummy war for everybody concerned. Let's raise a glass...   Jack Jones via Friddell Collection

The Lead Sled Finds a Home

While it's true that the Late Great Republic Aviation built one of the best radial-engined fighters of the Second World War, and that it also built one of the most legendary jet-propelled fighter-bombers of all time, what came in between sometimes left a little bit to be desired. We're specifically talking about the F-84 family of aircraft, of both straight and swept-wing variety. It wasn't that the Thunderjet or Thunderstreak were bad airplanes, mind you, but they were relatively heavy when compared to the North American F-86 family and suffered greatly as a result of that weight when combined with the often poor-performing first generation American turbojet engines. Although both sub-types eventually saw sterling service with the United States Air Force, the Air National Guard, and the air forces of a number of foreign operators, there was a shred of truth in the classic slur regarding those first and second-generation jets: If anybody ever builds a runway around the world, Republic will build an airplane that can't take off from it. Hot and high is not your friend in a heavy, underpowered airplane!

In all fairness most of the problem did indeed lie with those not particularly stellar engines, and there was even a time when the ramp in Farmingdale was rapidly filling up with F-84Fs that had no powerplants available for them. Most of the kinks were eventually worked out, and both the straight and swept-winged F-84s ultimately enjoyed long and mostly successful careers in their respective roles. A great many of them ended up in the Air National Guard, and we're going to look at several examples of those today thanks to the kindness of Mark Nankivil and The Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum.

We'll start off today's piece with an early example of an ANG F-84F. 51-1707 was an F-84F-25-RE and was assigned to Missouri's 110th TFS/131st TFG when this photo was taken in November of 1958. The guys in the 110th knew how to paint an airplane, and 1707 was easily as attractive as anything the regulars were flying at the time. She just screams "Silver Air Force", doesn't she?  RA Burgess via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

In stark contrast, 51-1808, an F-84F-30-RE was bare bones as far as markings were concerned. We think she belonged to Illinois' 170th TFS/183rd TFG  in May of 1960, which was when this photo was shot, but she could just as easily have been assigned to the regular USAF. The point to be taken is that she carries no markings of any kind that would indicate her unit. One thing she does carry are those big honkin' 450 gallon gas bags. None of the early jet fighters had very long legs and extra fuel was an essential if you actually intended to go someplace in the airplane.  P Stevens via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Paul Stevens took this portrait of 51-9313, an F-84F-1GK (built by General Motors rather than Republic) on the same day and, on the same ramp, which is what leads us to presume that 1808 belonged to the Illinois Guard---this airplane obviously does! She doesn't have aux tanks in this photo and her speed brakes are deployed, providing the scale modeler with some interesting detail. She's painted silver and carries a badge on the nose as well as extensive stencilling. The 170th kept their F-84s until 1972, when they transitioned into F-4Cs. 9313 survived it all and presently lives on a pole in Peoria.   P Stevens via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

51-1735, an F-84F-25-RE, sits in her natural metal (and totally un-decorated) splendor on an overcast day. The date is August of 1962, and we don't know the airfield or the unit. She's another bird that ended her days on public display but was very much The Real Deal (and over ten years old---note the 0 prefix to her serial number) when this photo was taken. Check out how busy that nose gear is---it's something that's tough to get right on a model.  P Stevens via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Those of you with a certain seniority on life may recall that "Rodan" was a flying monster of the "Godzilla" ilk back in the 50s, a creature that scared the dickens out of your average ten-year-old when viewed in the base theater. We don't know if fear is what drove the pilot of 51-1697 (an F-84F-25-RE) to paint that name on her nose, but we can see how it would have been deemed appropriate. She's another bird from Missouri's 110th TFS and very much resembles 51-1707 which we illustrated at the beginning of this piece---this photo is dated 1962 and on the face of things very little has changed in terms of markings.  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

We'll end today's essay at an airshow in August of 1963. Ohio's 162nd TFS/178th TFG was a star attraction at that show, although the airplane was nothing to write home about in terms of special markings; once you get past that ANG badge on her tail she becomes pretty much just another F-84F. 51-1747 was yet another -25-RE and was on public display in Indiana until 1996.  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

The F-84F was more of a fighter-bomber than she ever was a fighter, even though she managed to get herself painted grey to portray a "MiG" in the classic Korean War aviation movie The Hunters. She had a brief air-to-mud combat career with the French AF during the Suez conflict, but most of her days were spent preserving the shaky piece that was The Cold War. She, and the regulars and Guardsmen who flew her, were ready to go at a moment's notice, although it was probably a very good thing for all concerned that she never had to go up against the Warsaw Pact in an air-to-air combat situation. Still, she helps define The Silver Air Force of the 1950s; that shape is an iconic memory of a time that once was. (And if you'd like to know what it was like to live with her on a day-to-day basis we strongly recommend you find yourself a copy of Richard Bach's Stranger to the Ground and read it. You can thank us later.)

Many thanks to Mark Nankivil for sharing these photos with us.

Under The Radar

The Air Guard, Aerograph 2, Rene Francillon, Motorbooks International, copywrite date unknown, 180pp, illustrated.

Jay Miller's Aerograph project lasted but a few brief years, but the quality of work done by both Jay and the various authors who worked with him during the course of the project have guaranteed that the titles he produced became standard references on their specific subjects. The Air Guard has been around since the late 80s (we think) and contains, in a concise and easy to use format, a history of the Guard and all of the units that operated under its auspices. The text is authoritatively done by Rene Francillon, and the book is well illustrated. It has been a go-to reference from the moment of its publication and has not, to the best of our knowledge, ever been equaled, much less surpassed in terms of coverage of the subject matter. It's one of those books that belongs on every aviation enthusiast's shelves, yet a great many of the folks that have become interested in American military aviation since its publication are entirely unaware of its existence. Long out of print and now only available on the used book market, it's well worth seeking out and acquiring if you have an interest in either the ANG or the USAF. We recommend it highly.

Happy Snaps

As a matter of perspective, we've done a couple of ground-bound Happy Snaps of late, even though that's an anomaly of sorts when you recall that the entire purpose of this particular part of the blog is to present air-to-air photography submitted by our readers. Yes; we've got quite a bit more of said air-to-air to share with you. No; today's not going to be the day we do that.

Once upon a time, not so terribly long ago, there was an Air Force organization called the Air Defense Command, or ADC, a command charged with the air defense of the Continental United States. That command had airplanes, personnel, exercises of various sorts and, more to today's point, an annual competition known as William Tell. The competition was open to all ADC and ADC-gained units which means that the Air National Guard got to play too, reason enough for Michigan's 191st FIG to send a contingent to the festivities. In 1982 Michigan sent, along with its normal contingent of interceptors, a somewhat unique support vehicle. Doug Barbier explains:  Now this brings back some memories...... as I recall, they drove it all the way from Michigan to Tyndall - complete with that AIM-7 on the roof. Stylish transportation at its best!   Doug   Bet they couldn't do that today!   Barbier Collection

The Relief Tube

Sometimes we get a lot of comments and corrections for this section and sometimes we don't. Today is one of those Don't days, but we've got one thing we most assuredly do need to correct. Here are comments from a pair of folks regarding our mis-identifying Len Morgan and calling him "Les" in our last Under the Radar segment, even though we should have (and in fact did) know better. First, from writer and former editor (and, in this case, man of few words) Mike McMurtrey:

Len (short for Leonard) Morgan. WW II RCAF pilot, Braniff captain, and writer for Flying magazine. See here: And here:   His biography would make an excellent book in itself.  Mike

And from author and Historian of Things SWPAC Steve Birdsall:

Hi Phil - As one of the authors in the “Famous Aircraft” series – I did the B-17 and B-24 – I feel I should correct a minor slip in your review of the Childerhose F-86 book. It was Len Morgan, not Lou. Len was a Braniff pilot and a pretty good writer in his own right . . . as I recall he did the P-51, P-47 and DC-3 books in the series. He also had a regular column in Flying for many years. All the best - Steve

Thanks, guys---we should've known better!

And that's about it for this issue's Relief Tube, and for today's installment in general. We've got some interesting things coming up in the very near future (including some nice Berlin Airlift) photography, so stay tuned. It's our intention to publish again before Christmas but that's only three weeks or so away and this is a busy time of year, family-wise, so it may not happen as quickly as we'd like for it to. However things go down, you'll see another issue fairly quickly. Until then, be good to your neighbor!