Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Many's a Lot?, Another Round of Invaders, The Other Half of the Story, Some Fireworks, and A Couple of B-25s

A Good Idea or a Throwaway?

This particular Good Idea being the almost new 1/48th scale HobbyBoss P-38L Lightning, and the throwing away part; well, you'll find out soon enough. Leave us continue...

If any of you have ever built a P-38 in any scale, and that includes such classic kits as the ancient Aurora offering, you know how difficult it is to get all the big pieces lined up properly. The Lightning's basic design guaranteed a clean airframe but the real aircraft was moderately difficult to build and somewhat of a pig to maintain, even though it proved to be an ace-maker par excellence once it got into combat. Until very recently all of the plastic kits of the type exhibited  a tendency to allow art to imitate life and mimicked that difficulty to build to a tee. Consider the facts: An airplane with lots of pieces going in lots of directions, with each and every major sub-assembly needing to be in perfect relation to its mates. An airplane that looks wompy-jawed and awkward if any significant component is out of alignment. An airplane that resides in few collections as a finished model, primarily because of the complexity of the design and the PITA Factor involved in the construction and finishing of anybody's kit of the type. In short, there's got to be a better way.

This is the part where you might reasonably ask why there needs to be a better way; after all, it's just a plastic kit, so how hard can it be? The answer is pretty ding-dang hard! Check it out, gang: There's two of all the big pieces in every kit we've seen to date, once you get past the center section and cockpit, anyway. Two engine nacelles, two booms, two vertical tails, two outboard horizontal tails, four radiator bathtubs mounted on the sides of the booms, and to top things off the airplane has tricycle landing gear, which means you've got to ballast the nose so it will sit on its gear. That's a tall order for the experienced modeler, and the newbie or barely competent guy or gal doesn't stand much of a chance. Remember that part where we said there had to be a better way?

Well, it turns out there is one, and it's the exclusive domain of one of those Chinese companies we all love to hate; HobbyBoss. A couple of months ago they unleashed their 1/48th scale P-38L on an unsuspecting public, and in one fell swoop they did away with most of the bugaboos that makes built-up P-38 models of any flavor such a rarity. Yep; in one giant leap outside the old Lightning box they went where no other manufacturer had ever gone before and eliminated all of the bugaboos formerly associated with constructing the P-38. The did this by the simple expedient of molding almost all of the airframe in two great big honking pieces. The fuselage/wing/boom assemblies are provided as a top and a bottom, to be assembled (with added details) into an airframe! The horizontal stab, both inboard and outboard, is part of that top and bottom so there's no way to misalign the parts. Ditto for the booms and outer wing panels. The landing gear wells are molded into the lower component, and the kit is engineered in such a way that even the most ham-fisted of modelers would have to work, and we mean really work, to screw things up. The modeler will have to add the vertical stabs and the forward sections of the engine nacelles and attach the radiators, but that's about it for the airframe. It's simple. It's an example of superb engineering, and it works! Somebody should have done it this way a long time ago, but they didn't. Kudos to Hobby Boss for an engineering job will done.

That's the Good News, but I'm sure you're all waiting for the other shoe to drop, so here you go: The tire and wheel assemblies are awful, and need to be replaced. The L-model has landing lights in the leading edges of the wings, but there are no transparencies for them. The "lips" on the oil cooler inlets at the front of the nacelles are too sharp. The booms are squared off instead of being oval in cross section. The doors on the radiator tubs are gomed up beyond salvation and need to be replaced. The polished oval aluminum panels that live on the inside of the nacelles are supplied as circular transparencies. The Christmas Tree rocket launchers are heavy handed and need to be replaced. There are prominent seams in the gas bags that shouldn't be there. Finally, the windows in the canopy sit much lower than they should. That's the Bad News.

Ok, then; what do we actually have here? In my opinion, which is worth exactly whatever credence you're willing to give it, the kit is somewhat frustrating but can be saved with aftermarket and a little bit of sweat equity. That canopy will be somewhat of a tough date and the cross-section of those booms may be something most of us end up living with, but the kit can get you there if you're willing to put  some effort into it. And, if those European resin guys who churn out aftermarket (often unnecessarily) for models of Mr. Hitler's  Luftwaffe both ad infinitum and ad nauseum can manage to divert a little bit of their effort into parts for this kit, we'll all be in a win/win situation.

The point we're trying to make here isn't about this kit specifically, even though that's what we've been spending most of our time talking about. No, it's about the philosophy involved in kitting this beast. The guys at HobbyBoss took a giant leap away from anything that had come before and came up with a real winner, flawed in detail but absolutely brilliant in concept. There are a bunch of little things wrong with the kit, and it can be frustrating because of that but at present there's no faster way to get to a 1/48th scale P-38, and the way they engineered the kit makes a P-38F/G/H entirely possible utilizing those beautifully-engineered big pieces. We can only hope they'll make the effort to fix the things that are wrong with the kit if they decide to do that. In the meantime, way to go, HobbyBoss!

Things Were Different Then

There was a time when the United States was the world's self-proclaimed Arsenal of Democracy, a time when our aircraft factories rolled out military airplanes of all types by the thousands. Nobody can afford to do that sort of thing nowadays, which makes this issue's first photograph special.

The place is Randolph Field, Texas, shortly before the beginning of the War, and the aircraft are North American Aviation BT-9s. We haven't attempted to count the airplanes on that ramp, but there are a whole bunch of them there, with more to come. This photo is neat in other ways too; check out the leading edge slats, the corrugated sheetmetal on the vertical stab, and that enormous radio antenna mast for starters. If somebody would stop kitting 109s for a few minutes maybe someday we could see a decent short-run model of this important type...   Rocker Collection

Thanks once again to Bobby Rocker for his continuing support of our project.

Gotta Love Those A-26s!

We do, anyway, and thanks to the kindness of John Horne we've got another group of them for your enjoyment today:

Miho AB, Japan, was a humming place in 1951 and a fitting start for today's look at the Invader. This Charlie-model has just arrived from the ZI and has yet to be assigned to a unit. Note the DF gear mounted to the windscreen frame and the red plastic caps on the wing-mounted .50s. The airframe is painted silver with black anti-glare panels and weathering is minimal, although that won't last for long. Note also the open bomb bay doors; both the gunner's compartment and the cockpit were accessible through the bomb bays, while the bombardier of the C-models had a dedicated door in the nose of the aircraft.  Snow via John Horne Collection

"NEV'A HOPP'EN" was another Miho bird, this time assigned to the 728th BS. She was an A-26C-45-DT, and was beginning to show signs of a combat career when this photo was taken; note the weathering and chipping evident in this photo.  None of the Korean War Invaders stayed pristine for very long.   Stoner via John Horne Collection

One advantage Japan had over almost any base on the Korean Peninsula was the ready availability of hangars. "Laverne", a B-26C from the 452nd BW, is enjoying the relative shelter of one of Miho's hangars during 1951. Korea is a far colder place than Japan in the winter, but Cold can be a relative thing, as seen by the field jackets worn by the ground crew in this photo.   Snow via John Horne Collection

Iwakuni AB in southern Japan was no stranger to the A-26 either. 44-34535, a C-model of the 731st BS, carried the name "Noop Gnat II" when photographed there early in 1951.The "Gnat's" in relatively pristine condition but that will change. 44-535 was one of the more interesting A-26s; originally built as an A-26B-61-DL, she was sold to Portugal after the war, and subsequently transferred to Angola. A strong rumor persists that she ended up in Cuba but there's also dispute regarding whether or not she ever carried a glass nose (she certainly did in this photo!). Comments are invited at replicainscale@yahoo.com  .   Macklin via John Horne Collection

"Black Panther", an A-26C (44-34966) from the 731st, sits on the ramp awaiting flight. We don't know much about the history of this one but we like that nose art! The natural metal propeller blades are of particular interest; they would provide a distraction to the pilot during night operations and it's more than a little bit surprising to see them on this aircraft.   Neff via John Horne Collection

They don't get much shinier than this! She's wearing both a new paint job and pristine nose art ("Marian B") in this shot. She was one of the lucky ones; 44-34520 survived the war to be sold into the civilian market. She's still around, living in Arizona these days and a proud reminder of her time over Korea.   Snow via John Horne Collection

"Black Jack", another 731st Charlie model, shows that you don't get to stay bright and shiny very long in the combat zone. This photo provides us with a somewhat fascinating enigma since the aircraft appears to have the blister normally associated with an AN/APQ-13 navigation radar installation sitting immediately aft of her nose gear doors. She doesn't have any of the other ECM fit of the RA-26C variant, however, or at least none of it is evident in this shot. We'll sit back and wait patiently for the letters to arrive...   John Horne Collection

Thanks again to John Horne for sharing his collection with us. We hope you're all enjoying those Invaders because there's more to come---stand by!

What the Captain Meant to Say

We're willing to bet dollars to donuts that a considerable portion of our readership were in diapers, presuming they were even alive and on the planet, during The Late, Great Southeast Asia War Games, but suffice it to say that conflict supplied the aviation community with quite a few catch phrases and expressions, a great many of which would tend to be unintelligible to those of relatively few years. "What the Captain Meant to Say" is one of those phrases.

It seems that for a considerable portion of that nasty little war the Air Force held a daily press briefing for the edification of the journalists who were attempting to make sense out of things so the folks back home (that would be us) could better understand the conflict. Veracity (another word for "truth") was sometimes in short supply in said briefings, which caused them to acquire the nickname "Five O'Clock Follies", which in turn led to an immortal story involving the Young Captain (it was always a young Captain) who'd just returned from a mission to some particularly nasty locale; say, Hanoi or the Dragon's Jaw. The press would ask the Young Captain how things were up there and he would respond with things like:

"It was awful up there! You could walk on the flak and there were MiGs everywhere! They shot the crap out of us! I'm lucky to be alive."

At that point the PIO conducting the briefing would step in and pronounce: "What the Captain meant to say was that opposition was somewhat heavy..." You get the picture, right?

Anyway, this isn't then and this article isn't about the Vietnam War, although that classic aviation joke does provide us with a nice lead-in to our next story.

If you recall, we ran a piece last issue about an F-4E from the 57th FIS that managed to launch out of Keflavic with its wings folded and was able to return to base reasonably intact. We didn't know much of anything about the incident so we asked one of our constant readers and contributors, an aviator who'd actually flown out of Kef back during The Day, to provide us with an education, which he promptly did. We published the piece and sat back wondering what folks would think about it. As things turned out we didn't have to wonder for very long, because we promptly received an e-mail from one of our readers, who turned out to be The Guy Who Was There When It Happened and Was Crewing The Airplane. Thanks to the kindness of Gerry Asher we've got the full story on that incident, and a little more besides. We're going to run the story but not today, because we've somehow managed to corrupt the PDF he sent us and we can't get it to load to the site!  We're going to run the photos today, though---we're really excited about this one and want to get it published. Please be patient with us while we struggle through the dark corridors of Computer Land. We will get this document untangled and readable, we promise! Gerry, we apologize for our total lack of computer competence, but we'll get this thing done! In the meantime:

Here's the star of our show; a young Gerry Asher, recently out from The Land of the Big BX and assigned to his dream slot---a maintenance gig in an interceptor squadron. He doesn't look like the kind of guy who would provoke the higher ups but that's what he did (selectively), and we're proud of him! We think you'll be proud of him too, and here's why:

The Air Force tends to be a little fussy about their airplanes, and often have the unreasonable attitude that their ground echelons shouldn't go painting things on them. That point of view ran contrary to Gerry's view of things, which led him to create the somewhat magnificent sharkmouth you see proudly painted on the nose of F-4E 66-0330. Gerry liked it, and his line chief liked it. Most of the folks who were actually involved in maintaining and flying the airplanes liked it too, but there were those further up the chain who didn't. You'll need to open and read that PDF in order to get the full story, but this photo ought to get you interested in doing that once we figure out how to get the darned thing loaded!

Here's another 57th bird, this time resplendent in SEA camo, and fully adorned with the squadron's knight's head and checkerboards. Those 57th FIS Echos had class, didn't they?   Gerry Asher

Here's the photo that started it all, a grainy shot taken by a Kodak Instamatic camera from the Whizzo's cockpit of another F-4E. The 57th's birds generally had at least one camera aboard so they could document The Bad Guys when they intercepted them. In this case the camera captured a little more than was bargained for!

Here's a different air-to-air of 66-0304 to compliment the one we ran last issue. This is what happens when you forget to lock the wings on a Phantom prior to launch! The date was 01 August 1978, and the crew were Capt. Gregory Harrison, pilot, and Capt. Dennis Dolphin, WSO.

And here's what it looks like on final (a really FAST final at 230 knots plus!

Over the fence and home! You have to imagine that there was just the least bit of excitement in that cockpit, but the Air Force has a tendency to train highly proficient aviators. That's probably a Very Good Thing, since this particular Bent Winged Bug Sucker managed to launch with three full gas bags on a 3-ship 2 v 1 flight to practice for the upcoming 1978 William Tell competition. The airplane shouldn't have been able to launch in that condition, and one of our resident Phormer Phantom Drivers drivers assures us it can't happen, but it did happen, at least this once. Yikes!

And here's a painting Gerry did to commemorate the event. It depicts 0304 just as she's breaking ground and is entitled "And I Was Having Such a Good Day!" As it happens, Gerry's both an excellent writer and an exceptionally good artist too. All we really need to make this piece complete is the story we'd planned on running today, but it's forthcoming! Apologies to Gerry for our lack of computer savvy and to our readers for the same!

More Munitions

If you're a constant reader, or if you've taken the time to read your way all the way back to the beginnings of this blog, you'll remember that we used to run excerpts from an old Navy Aviation Ordnance Manual, NavAir 00-80T-65. It was a fine tradition and we're not entirely certain why we stopped doing it, but today's as good a day as any to bring it back to life. Without further ado, then...

Here's an extremely basic overview of the pyrotechnics that were available to the NAV during the 1950s and 1960s. None of them provide a precise sense of scale, unfortunately, although the lengths are approximately defined, but they do define the shapes and tell us what they are. It's a start!   NavAir 00-80T-65

Here's an overview of one of the pyrotechnics that could easily find a place on a scale model; the AN-M46 photoflash bomb. This one could add new meaning to that old expression: Let there be light!   NavAir 00-80T-65

And here's a cutaway of a Mk 5 aircraft parachute flare. It doesn't look like much in this drawing, but it was a highly effective munition in its day. Nobody much uses this sort of thing any more; time and technology have passe it by. There was a time, however, when this was as good as it got!   NavAir 00-80T-65

A Mitchell Here, A Mitchell There

We've got a few more photos to share with you from the Rocker Collection---a handful of B-25s that don't seem to quite fit any other way. They aren't related but are interesting nonetheless, so let's take a look at what we've got:

"Educated Death" is an early strafer from the 100th BS/42nd BG. She appears to still have a bombardier's position in the nose, but those package guns mean business. Anybody got a shot of the rest of the airplane?   Rocker Collection

Here's "My Buck", a strafer from the 17th RBS. We're guessing she's brand spanking new, straight from the factory, but she won't stay that way for very long! Yes; we're always talking about the ever-present mud to be found on most airfields in the SWPAC. It was a fact of life, folks, and it was a condition that was rarely absent from operations.   Rocker Collection

Sometimes the 5th did get to operate off a solid surface such as Marston matting, as shown by this 17th RBS B-25J. Her package guns have been removed, but the 8 .50 cals remaining in the nose are more than sufficient for the job at hand. Those strafer Mitchells were really something, weren't they?  Rocker Collection

Here's the 17th's ramp at Lingayen. It's relatively dry, although Marston matting could be a joy all its own; just ask any AT-28 or A-26 driver who flew off the stuff in Vietnam!   Rocker Collection

It's never all that easy, though. This unidentified Mitchell sits burned out on Wakde, a reminder of how bad things could get even at the Home Drome. It wasn't always the enemy that got you.   Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby for unselfishly sharing his collection with us!

Under the Radar

We suspect the vast majority of our readers to be sufficiently young to have never experienced the 1960s in a first-hand sort of way, which provides us with a really great lead-in to today's book review. Way Back When, some 50+ years ago, we weren't nearly as well supplied with decent (read "serious" here) reference materials as we are nowadays. Aero Publishers was one of the big dogs in American reference books back then, although their approach was for the most part of the lightweight variety. One of their titles stood out, however, and we think it's stood the test of time fairly well.

The Republic F-105 "Thunderchief", Robert D. Archer, Aero Publishers, 1969, 80 pages, illustrated.
The war in Southeast Asia was still raging when this title was first released in 1969, and the F-105 was still very much a part of that war. It's 80 modest pages are crammed with a highly-readable and accurate text covering the development, technical details, and operational deployment of what can arguably be termed one of the best fighter-bomber designs of all time. Photo captions are brief and concise, and the book includes such revolutionary (for the time) items as a serial number list, pre-SEA camo markings specifications, and a list of F-105 MiG killers. The illustrations include color as well as black-and-white photographs, profile drawings, and a 5-view drawing of Paul Douglas Jr's "Arkansas Traveler". The book was a literal one-stop reference for the type, and holds up well today as a valid reference book on the "Thud". Often overlooked because of the era in which it was produced, it's well worth acquiring should you come across a copy. Recommended.

Happy Snaps

Here's one you don't see every day; A T-33 from Michigan's 191st FIG formates with one of the unit's F-4Ds and Yes, Virginia; that Phantom is carrying operational AIM-7s. A lot of folks used to write off the Guard as weekend wonders, completing ignoring the fact that most of their pilots were high-time professional aviators. The mission was a serious one, and the pilots took it that way. It's something to remember next time you think about dissing the ANG!   Doug Barbier

The Relief Tube

Nope; not today. We're going to spend the time trying to figure out how to run Gerry Asher's F-4 piece for you! In the meantime, be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon!