Monday, April 28, 2014

An F-5, Far East Haulers, Some Vigis, and They Weren't All Warplanes

When Is It Obsolete?

The latest and the greatest. The best one out there. Light years ahead of anything that went before. The new industry standard. And the beat goes on. It's inevitable that new kits, using good research (unfortunately not always a given) and the latest in tool-making technology, will surpass existing kits of any flavor, especially old ones. Progress marches on, and even the short-run guys now have the ability to provide us with kits that eclipse the very best mainstream models of the 80s and, occasionally, the 90s as well. It seems like every new offering that hits the shelves is a thing of wonder, the best ever. We'll even agree with that, mostly.

What we don't agree with, mostly, is the notion that the new wunderkit that just came out has immediately made everything that came before obsolete and not worth having. Let's discuss a couple of cases in point.

Case in Point The First is the Eduard Fw190 family. Scale modelers were very nearly orgasmic when the kit first appeared. It had (and still has) a finesse of detail that has rarely been matched in the several years since its initial release, lots of optional parts, and loads of detail to boot, but it's also got a flawed blown canopy, an inaccurate cowling, inaccurate cowl vents, and a vertical stab that's too thick. It's still a fine kit and looks great on the shelf but it's a finicky build and needs a little TLC if you want it to look right. The somewhat older Hasegawa Fw190 offerings are easier to build and considerably more accurate in most regards, so in this case newer isn't better.

Case in Point The Second is the Tamiya P-47 in any of its iterations. It's highly accurate and is a shake and  bake proposition to build; if you can manage to gome up one of these you might want to consider a different hobby. That said, I've got several friends who've got a thing for the "Jug" and build a lot of them in consequence. One of the kits they use is the 1970s-vintage Monogram P-47D in either of its variants. Yes, it's got raised panel lines and yes; the interior is too shallow. Sandpaper and a scribing tool can take care of those panel lines, and the aftermarket is useful in this instance if you want to fix the cockpit (and you really should do that). The Monogram kit is old but gives a fine representation of a P-47 if you know what you're doing which is especially useful, from a financial standpoint if no other, if you happen to be building a lot of them so you can illustrate a variety of markings.

We could go stay on this topic forever, citing Hasegawa vs Tamiya A6Ms, Eduard Spitfires vs Anybody Else's Spitfires, and on and on it goes. Nowadays newer often is better, but we'd like to offer some food for thought in that regard.

There's a new family of 1/48th scale round-winged Messerschmitts on the the imminent horizon courtesy of our friends at Eduard, and the buzz on the street says they're the bomb diggedy. From what we've seen of test shot photos that doesn't seem to be too far from the truth, even if we all were fooled by their Wurger once upon a time, but that doesn't mean that our Zvesda or Hasegawa kits need to hit the clearance tables at the next contest---they're still viable kits and can build into gorgeous replicas if you've got a mind to do that. The Hasegawa A6M family is another case in point. The newer Tamiya offerings of the same aircraft are demonstrably better, but I've got both sitting side by side on the shelf (10+ of the Hasegawa and a couple of the Tamiya) and the Hase kits look just fine to me, thank you very much.

We could go on and on with this concept but we honestly don't need to. Some of the older kits are still pretty darned good and can be spectacular with just a little work. Some are still the Only Game in Town (the Monogram F-100D comes to mind here) in spite of newer kits and are worth the pain incurred when we build them. Some, as is to be expected in this hobby, are junk, always were and always will be; we've seen some masterfully-built junk kits too, although that's a topic for another day.

The point we're trying to make is that you don't have to build the brand spanking new, hi-tech whatever-it-is to be able to construct a well-built and accurate scale model. You can actually get there from here if you want to, which in our world means you can build something that's less than cutting edge and still end up with a fine scale model. At the end of the day the results of your efforts are in your hands; a whiz-bang wunderkit will help tremendously, especially if you're still developing your basic skills, but often times the older kits can be made to work just fine. (And sometimes they can't be, but you'll figure out which ones are worth the effort pretty quickly, we think.) We're modelers, right?

And the beat goes on...

Recce Bird

Photo recon has been a key component of air warfare since the beginnings of military aviation. Highly useful during The Great War, the operation was expanded in the 1920s and 1930s. The Second World War saw a tremendous expansion of the mission, which has only grown more important since the conclusion of that conflict. As a small tribute to that importance, we're going to start off today's adventure with a couple of lesser-known shots of one of the key photo ships of WW2; the Lockheed F-5.

Lockheed's F-4 and F-5 photo recon variants of the P-38 Lightning served with a number of units, and in all theaters in which the United States was engaged. This particular example is an F-5B from one of the lesser known 5th AF units, the 25th PRS. Constituted on 6 February 1943 and activated on the 9th of the same month, the unit saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines, and was awarded both the Distinguished Unit Citation and the Presidential Unit Citation for its service over the latter. The mission was un-sung but highly necessary, and the 25th performed it well.   National Archives via Rocker Collection

The 28th PRS also stood up in February of 1943, also saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines and, in common with the 25th PRS, receiving both the DUC and the PUC for action in the Philippines. 42-68225 was built as an F-5B-1-LO and carries the name "Stinky" and an emblem (which is not that of the 26th PRS) on her port cowling, but we don't know anything more about her. Comments are welcomed!  National Archives via Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker for sharing his collection with us.

Japan Was a Humming Place in the 50s

Post-War Japan was a busy place for the USAF. Even though it was somewhat of a backwater when compared to American involvement in Europe, several combat wings were kept in the islands in case of conflict with increasingly aggressive forces on the Asian mainland. The Korean War proved the concept to be a wise one, and the United States has maintained bases there ever since, albeit on a significantly reduced scale.

When most of us think of American activity in post-war Japan we tend to think of fighters, fighter bombers, and light attack aircraft, but transports were, and have remained, a significant part of the story. The photographs you are about to see were taken at Haneda Airport in Japan during the mid and late-1950s, and illustrate a not-particularly-glamorous side of air operations in the Far East. Keep in mind as you view these images that the combat operations of the Korean War, and any other operations both prior and subsequent, could not have taken place without a viable logistics component. They also served...

42-72378, built as a C-54B-1-DC and flying with Cal Eastern under contract as N227A, sits on the ground at Haneda during the mid-50s. Civilian contractors have long provided logistics assets to the Air Force, and the lettering on the fuel truck in the background and the USAF-marked C-54 in the hangar on the far left pretty much define the operation. She spent most of her life in the Far East and was finally written off in 1963.  USAF via Mark Morgan

 Perhaps more to be expected on an American ramp in Japan than 42-72378, 44-9044, a C-54E-1-DO assigned to the 99th ATS, is hard down for maintenance at Haneda. Her markings are pretty, and are highly typical of the transports belonging to MATS during the time period. 9044 was a survivor, lasting in USAF service until 1973.   USAF via Mark Morgan

We aren't at all certain what's going on here, although the lack of frantic activity would tend to point towards a drill or exercise of some sort. 44-9047, the C-54E-1-DO in the foreground, spent a fair amount of time in the far east, finally being retired and flown to the storage and disposition facility at Davis Monthan AFB in 1969. She lasted longer than most in active service, a tribute to her sound design and built quality.   USAF via Mark Morgan

If you flew from the States to Japan any time during the 1950s or 1960s, there's a fair chance you made at least part of the journey on a PanAm clipper. In this evocative shot "Clipper Derby", registered as N88958 but originally built as a C-54G-10-DO (45-0619) is sitting on the ramp at Haneda doing what she does best. She spent a long and productive life in the Far East before crashing to destruction in 1983.   USAF via Mark Morgan

Japan is a mountainous country, and most of the airfields lie close to the coastline. Haneda Airport was no exception, as well-illustrated by its elevation of 7 feet above sea level! The aircraft in the hangar is an R5D-4, BuNo 90408, of the Navy's Pacific Division MATS component. Built as 44-9138, a C-54E-10-DO, her ultimate fate is unknown. Modelers, take note of that control tower!  USAF via Mark Morgan

Haneda in its prime! This shot gives us an idea of the level of activity to be found at the installation during its heyday. Note how thoroughly filthy that ramp is; those oil stains are a trademark of the round engine. It's easy to overlook the contribution made by the guys who flew, and continue to fly, transport aircraft. We'd like to suggest that it's a mistake to do that.

Many thanks to Mark Morgan for these images of a time and place most of us never think about.

Why Can't We Get a Decent Kit

That particular whine/moan could apply to any number of American military aircraft we'd like to see decent kits of, but it applies in spades to North American Aviation's A3J/RA-5C family of attack and photo-recon aircraft. The Vigilante (referred to in the Fleet simply as the "Vigi") was one of those really neat, exceptionally interesting jets that fell through the cracks as far as the world's plastic kit manufacturers were concerned. The airplane first saw light in the Fleet as a straight-up attack bomber, the A3J, and was kitted twice in that guise, once by Monogram in 1959 (the kit we all remember because it had a spring-loaded weapon that could be ejected out the rear of the model in a rough simulation of the real aircraft's somewhat flawed weapons delivery methodology) and by Revell in 1961. Both kits were box scale and neither was particularly good in terms of replicating the real airplane, although the Monogram kit was a lot of fun to play with thanks to that projectile it squirted so energetically out of its posterior!

Time passed and Hasegawa released a simple but largely accurate 1/72nd scale kit of the "Vigi", an RA-5C,  in the late 60s, but it was a booger-bear to get together and not many ever saw the light of day as completed models. Airfix followed with their own model of the 5-Charlie variant in the early 70s and it was, to a small extent at least, an improvement on the Hasegawa offering, but very few of its parts fit together easily either and and it was still in 1/72nd scale when the actual airplane cried out for something a little bit larger. We weren't getting anywhere in any screamin' hurry.

Those of us whose hearts beat faster at the thought of accurate 1/48th scale models were finally blessed with a kit of the Vigilante a few years ago when Trumpeter released a model of the RA-5C. Long awaited and eagerly sought, it turned out to be somewhat less of a true replica than a basis for a good model if the builder was ready to put a lot of work into the project. That Trumpeter RA-5C brings us right up to date, unfortunately, because there hasn't been anything better in the world of the type since its release and, dang the luck; it just isn't very good. A a lot of people really wanted a decent "Vigi" kit, but they didn't get it. Why do they want that, you might reasonably ask yourself? Well, folks; if you aren't already an RA-5C aficionado, then take a look at the photos you see below. Do you want a decent kit now? We sure do!

The date is May of 1969, and 150832 from RVAH-13 is taxiing to the bow after recovery. She's big, she's clean (no gasbags, although she could certainly carry them), and she's FAST. The RA-5C was a world-beater when it first went into service, and was still a capable airframe when it was retired. Originally built as an A3J-3P, 832 was a survivor, being retired in 1971. Not all of the "Vigi" fleet was that lucky.  PH1 Bartel via Navy Photographic Center

This "Vigi" was from Enterprise's RVAH-6 and was photographed over the Pacific in June of 1969. Those puffy white clouds are pretty, but the "Vigi" would spend a great deal of the 1960s flying through clouds that weren't nearly so benign in the skies of North Vietnam.  Isham Collection

The RA-5C was a big honkin' airplane, which gave it substantial amounts of surface area for applying squadron markings. One of the more colorful schemes was that carried by RVAH-7 off the Forrestal during the 1970s. It's markings like these that make us wish for a decent kit of the airplane, although we're far more likely to see yet another Spitfire before that happens. The model companies tend to go where the money lives, and the money doesn't live anywhere near the "Vigi".  Pity...   B Trombecky via Buchanan

Most people think of Marty Isham as Mister Air Defense Command, and he certainly lives up to that title. There was a time, however, long ago and somewhat far away, when Marty would actually photograph airplanes from that other service too. 149277 from RVAH-1 was apparently experiencing what some folks might call "issues" when Marty shot this image back in the late 60s. She ended up at DM in 1972, a sad and possibly premature end for a beautiful airplane.   Marty Isham

By the early 1970s the RA-5C was well-established on the airshow circuit, as demonstrated by this example from RVAH-12 sitting on the ground at NAS Corpus Christi. She's a little bit scruffy in places, and probably not too far away from the boneyard, but she still looks like the thoroughbred that she was.   Frank Garcia

Here's another variation of the markings carried by RVAH-7. 146702 was an early example of the type, originally built as an A3J-1 as were many of the "Vigis" that later became RA-5Cs. Note the paint treatment on her gear doors and her generally scruffy appearance. She's not nearly as badly weathered as most modelers would represent her, but there's no doubt she's been well used.   Friddell Collection

This is what a RVAH-7 "Vigi" looks like when it's clean. 156608 survived active duty to be displayed at NAS Memphis after her retirement, but was still close to The Real Deal when this photograph was taken in May of 1980. Her gear doors have been removed, which gives us an excellent view of the way things work up in the gear wells. We don't know the circumstances of this shoot (Morgo?) but we suspect she's being readied for public display given her pristine paintwork.   Rick Morgan

Here's what the RA-5C looks like on the boat, with everything folded and the airplane ready to be taken down to the hangar deck. We suspect this photo was taken on a Tiger Cruise, although we're not entirely certain of that. What we do know is that she was assigned to RVAH-3 when David Balcer took her photo in September of 1978. She went to MASDC the following year, where she was presumably scrapped out. A sad end...   David Balcer

Here's a sister ship, 156632, taxiing on the boat. The photo displays her squadron markings to good advantage, and the presence of the V1 division provides a sense of scale in regard to what was a very large carrier aircraft. She ended up on a pole at NAS Sanford, a proud reminder of Things That Once Were.   David Balcer

We probably should've run this photo before we ran the one immediately above, since it illustrates 304 immediately after she's trapped and prior to taxiing out, but we didn't. At the end of the day it really doesn't matter---it's a beautiful image of a classic aircraft in it's element and a fine way to end this essay. "Nuff said!   David Balcer

Now if we could only get some savvy kit manufacturer to get interested in the type! (Did I ever tell you about the "Vigi" that flew inverted over Haiphong during the late Southeast Asia War Games?)

Does Anybody Remember The Navion

The Second World War had just reached its bloody conclusion and the United States was suddenly transformed from the arsenal of democracy to a country with way too many military airplanes. The end of the war left America's defense industry with enormous capacity and nothing to use it on, which in turn led several of the country's premier aircraft manufacturers to venture off into other directions. Some were as seemingly unrelated to aviation as Grumman's foray into the travel trailer business with their Gulfstream line (an attempt to keep skilled sheetmetal workers employed), while others ventured into the area that they knew best; building airplanes. In one case, that venture resulted in the design and manufacture of one of the classics of post-War aviation, the Navion.

Remember that old expression: "They just don't make them like that anymore"? It's true; they don't. The Navion led a brief life under its North American Aviation parent before the design was sold to Ryan in 1947, making the relatively few aircraft actually manufactured by North American somewhat rare. Ironically, the type managed to see limited military service as the L-17, but most enthusiasts are far more familiar with the civilian versions. It's enjoyed a rich life in the hands of America's private pilots and can still be readily seen at commercial airports, a lasting tribute to a solid design.   Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Happy Snaps

We were stumbling around (sometimes we fumble around too, but today was a stumbling kind of day) looking for an appropriate candidate for our Happy Snaps department when we found not one but two images we thought appropriate for the project. Both are from Rick Morgan---let's take a look:

Passin' a little gas over the Pacific. The Prowler is from VAQ-139's Cougars, and both it and the KA-6D it's attached too were assigned to the "Connie's" Air Wing 14 when Rick took this photo in August of 1985 while his aircraft was waiting it's turn at the pump. Air-to-air refueling has been a hallmark of American military aviation since the end of the Second World War. This photo makes it look easy---sometimes it actually is.  Rick Morgan

But sometimes it isn't. This is a normal approach to the basket, taken from the ECMO 1 position in an EA-6B, and everything's as it should be. That's not always the case, though; imagine there's turbulence up there, or too much airspeed on the aircraft being tanked. Imaging that basket whipping into the windscreen. Imagine refueling at night, maybe in less than optimal weather. Most of us rarely think of such things but they're a daily part of the military aviator's life, most of which is filled with incipient danger no matter how glamorous it looks from the outside. It's not just a job...   Rick Morgan

The Relief Tube

A couple of issues ago we ran a B-25 piece in which we illustrated a truck that we thought might have been used for turret maintenance. It turns out we were close, but there was no cigar in sight! Let's let Jim Wogstad tell us about it:

I was just re-reading one of last years articles and happened to notice a tiny itsy bitsy error. The photo actually shows an E-5 Turret Trainer Truck. If you owned a copy of the "Bomb Book", you would have known that! The USAAF mounted all sorts of turrets on them. One mod even sported a Sperry ball turret on a special extended frame. Interesting, no?  Jim

Jim sent along a photo to illustrate the point, but it's in a format that's apparently unloved by the software that powers this blog so you don't get to see it today---phooey! There's a tiny private joke in Jim's correction---he's been working on what we're convinced will be the ultimate reference to American aviation ordnance and related items. Let's all encourage Jim to get that darned book into print soon so we can get a look at the turret trainer truck and all the other nifty stuff that resides in his collection too!

We don't often publish kudos here, since we presume that most of our readership likes what we're doing or they wouldn't be looking in on us, but every once in a while we get an especially kind comment on the publication. This is one of those:

Hi Phil, Everyone loves the Sabre, heh? You bet! Among my most treasured possessions is the Replica In Scale special F-86 issue with the orange cover and dozens of Sabre profiles all done by hand!! A watershed issue and your rightful claim for glory. Glad to know that you're still keeping on. Kind regards from Belgium, Quang 

Thanks for your kindness, Twangster! We're glad you enjoyed that Sabre issue and delighted that you're still with us as a reader!

And, as brief as it is, that's our Relief Tube for today. It coulda/probably shoulda been longer (Lord knows we've got the material to populate it with) but we're already far later than we should have been in getting this issue published, so we're going to go with this. Please continue to write to us ( ) if you're so inclined; we don't publish everything these days but we do read everything that's sent to us (unless it's spam) and reply to a great deal of it. What you think, and your corrections to what we think, is important, so keep those cards and letters coming!

That's it for this time, so we'll see you all another day.

Be good to your neighbor,