Saturday, July 4, 2015

An Enigma, An Unusual Voodoo, Georgia Hogs, Able Mabel, Bugsuckers in the Corps, Oopsie, and Some Mystery Meat

A Very Long Time Ago

Some of us are survivors, and it's recently occurred to me that I am him. A survivor. Not quite older than dirt but not far from it, if you catch my drift; a man with occasional perspective. For the purposes of this blog, most of my perspective tends to lead me towards comments regarding something or other I've read on one of those modeling sites I'm always talking about, but today's going to be different, sortof, because today I'm going to ramble on in an entirely mindless way about certain of the cherished model airplanes of my past. Please feel free to come along for the ride if you'd like, or jump right to the next section if you'd rather not do that.

We've already discussed my very first I Built It Myself plastic model airplane, that Me109-Something-Or-Other that my mother bought for me way back in 1956. It was a game-changer for me in terms of setting the stage for an interest in Things Polystyrene, but it was far from the only model I ever "put together" back in that childhood of the 1950s, so we'll leave it in the back pages of Replica and go on to other things. With any luck we'll get you thinking about the old models in your own lives.

After that first seminal plastic kit there were others, and a great many of the earlier ones had "Aurora" printed on the box. Those Aurora kits were really something if you were a little kid in the mid-1950s, because they had few pieces, were molded in colors, and could be put together and subsequently played with in the space of an hour or less. My very first Aurora kit was their infamous Yellow Zero, and I honestly can't remember a whole lot about it except that after it was completed I showed it to my dad, a man who had first-hand experience with wrecked Zeros on the ground at Buna and Lae, and who promptly told me he couldn't remember any yellow ones but anything was possible since the ones he'd seen were all shot to pieces and it was hard to determine the colors. That modest success and parental acceptance led me to my next yellow airplane, an Aurora SNJ, which turned out to be a tough date in comparison to the Zero because it had a lot more pieces to put together, a few of which were beyond the capabilities of a budding six-year-old modeler. At the end of the day it did get assembled, mostly, but my recollection is that it was by and large a collection of glue shapes rather than plastic parts.

At that point in things I was one for one (if we don't count that very first 109) and ready for another challenge, albeit something a little simpler to build than that botched-up Texan, so I got an Aurora P-40E. That P-40, in common with most of Aurora's other single-engined WW2 fighters, was a simple kit so my confidence in my own abilities was somewhat restored, which is probably why my next effort was a Lindberg Ju87. That green "Stuka" was a quantum leap ahead of any of the Aurora kits I'd built previously, but it had a lot of pieces, several of which were involved with the construction of the flaps and bombs. You can guess the rest, I suspect, but at the end of the day it really didn't matter much in the world of backyard dogfights, and I was happy, more or less, with the results.

Next up was a revelation---my first Monogram kit. That silver Invader looked better than anything else I'd built up to that point, and was easy to get together. It was just the sort of reassurance I needed in order to continue building, and was a sight easier to put together than the tan Revell B-24 ("Buffalo Bill", remember?) that followed it into my "collection".

Another favorite kit was the Hawk SBD/A-24 (the SBDs were molded in blue and the A-24s in silver, but they were both the same kit). Easy to assemble and relatively sturdy, they were the queens of the fleet in those swirling backyard dogfights we all indulged in back in those days. In that same vein, the Hawk SNJ (yellow) and T-6 (silver) were also favorites with the added bonus that the Hawk SNJ could be a Japanese airplane too, since it was yellow just like the Aurora Zero. That made it a multi-threat kind of a model, just what a Little Kid needed for his air force.

There were two game-changers in all of that, kits that took all of us way past our simplistic starting places. The first came in 1958, when Monogram released their mostly 1/48th scale TBM. It was a challenge to build since every single thing on it that could work did work, which made assembly tough for a kid, but the end result was amazing. That kit was, simply stated, an epiphany; a model that took those of us who were interested into an entirely different world of modeling.

The other game changer came in 1962 when Revell added a 1/72nd scale B-17F (the "Memphis Belle") to its then-limited catalog of same-scale airplanes (as opposed to the previous box scale that was where they hung out). That kit had it all if you were a kid; it was relatively big (although not quite as big as Lindberg's older 1/64th scale B-17G) and was relatively easy to build. In addition to that, the model drove me to discover Revell's new (thanks to Revell GB) line of 1/72nd scale fighters. I was already a devoted modeler by then, but after 1962 there was absolutely no turning back for me.

There were other kits in between that primordial 109 and the "Belle", of course; Revell P-39s and B-57s, Strombecker Temco TT-1s, Monogram C-47s and Blue Angel F11F sets, an Aurora P-51H, the big Aurora bombers, and a myriad of tiny Comet kits to flesh things out. There were Hawk and Aurora biplanes too, although in my world they all ended up being monoplanes until Revell made it easy with their little Sopwith Camel.

The point to be taken here, if indeed there is a point, is that most of my life has been spent with polystyrene in it in some way or another. I built when I was a kid, when I was in high school, and when I was in college; not every day, of course, but the hobby was a constant in my life. It still is, right up to and including This Very Moment, and I can't say enough good about it. All those kits taught me patience, and how to think things through. They honed my motor skills, and led me to a life-long passion for history. They introduced me to serious photography and ultimately led me to an assortment of friends that I wouldn't trade for all the money in the world. Like any good hobby, modeling made me a better person as well (or at least I think so; your mileage may differ in that regard!).

There's a nascent movement afoot in our modeling world these days, one that involves the assembly and painting of vintage kits for use as display models on stands, as they were originally intended to be way back there in the late 40s and early 50s. That movement is called Retro-Modeling, I think, and it looks like a lot of fun to me. A cleaned-up, painted and decalled Aurora P-38 would look awfully nice on a plinth, sitting here on my writing desk.

I think I'm going back
To the days I knew so well in my youth.

I truly do love this hobby of ours!

OK; What IS That Stuff?

Back in the late 1960s a San Antonio friend of mine, Bob Angel, and I used to play a game we called Stump the Champs. It was a simple game---all you had to do was correctly identify the airplane in a photograph or recall and recite some sort of aviation trivia---and it's one that leads us to today's first photo.

A couple of things are obvious in the photo---we think the airplane is an RA-24B (we say that because of the data block presentation under the windscreen, although it could also be an SBD-5 or -6), and it's in a somewhat atypical scheme whichever type it may be. Of more interest to us, however, is that pod attached to the center section (which is presumed to be for some sort of camera installation) and those bulges on the upper cowling. Our first thought was that it might be a weather research aircraft, or maybe a chase plane of some sort (although the SBD was far too slow to be much good at that sort of thing!). In any event it's a Mystery Ship of the highest order and one that we're interested in. If you know what's going on here why don't you drop us a line at and let us know what we're looking at?   Rocker Collection

And the electrons were scarcely dry on the page when I started receiving explanations of the "mystery gear" on that Banshee. The most comprehensive answer came from Our Man in Argentina, Pablo Ziegler, so that's the one we're going to include to explain what's going on here:

Dear Mr. Friddell, I have been scratching my head looking at that Dauntless picture. I didn't know anything about the purpose of the ventral pod or the cowling bulges, but after a while I came across this, now I know the aircraft is 42-6783, and the picture is from the early 50's. A little more research lead me to (a link that states) "QF-24A-DE Dauntless c/n 1538, originally A-24A-DE 42-6783 was re-manufactured as drone aircraft, redesignated RA-24A in 1948." I get more information from another source: "One A-24A-DE (42-6783) was modified at Wright field as a radio-controlled drone and designated RA-24A-DE. This aircraft was still in service in 1948, when the A designation category was dropped by the USAF. At that time, the aircraft was redesignated QF-24A-DE (in the fighter sequence) and given a new serial number of 48-044." So, may be I can be proven wrong, but it seems the mystery is solved! Warmest regards from Buenos Aires, PZ

Please note that Pablo had provided links to the first two web sites but for whatever reason I couldn't get them to properly copy and paste here---if you want to try them for yourself drop me an e-mail and I'll send them to you.

Many thanks to Pablo, and also to Mike McMurtrey and Norman Camou for writing in as well.

Bet You Haven't Seen This Before!

On the face of things it couldn't be easier---the 192nd TRS/152nd TRG of the Nevada ANG operated McDonnell RF-101Gs and Hs beginning in the late 1960s and running into the mid-70s. Here's a shot of one of those recce Voodoos, but there's a catch!

56-0016 was built as an F-101C-45-MC and was subsequently converted to RF-101H configuration, but therein lies the rub, to get all Shakespearean about the deal. The conversion from heavy fighter to photo bird consisted primarily of the replacement of the existing gun nose with a dedicated camera nose and included appropriate modification of the cockpit to accommodate the new mission, but that sort of work was generally done by a depot or civilian contractor. 0016 is shown here, on the ramp at Reno Municipal on 23 September 1966, in Nevada ANG markings but with gun nose intact and in natural metal finish to boot! We presume she's about to be modded and is awaiting a trip to somewhere besides her squadron area for that to occur, but we truly don't know. Still, it's a beautiful photograph and a fine reminder of The Silver Air Force that was in transition when this shot was taken.   RA Burgess Collection via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Or maybe there's more to the story than meets the eye! Here's 56-0012, also on the ramp at Reno and also in straight fighter configuration, but in a really sloppy application of SEA camouflage! If you're a modeler, brave enough to tackle that new 1/48th scale F-101C kit, and not especially good with an airbrush, here's the bird for you! Holy Voodoos, Batman!!!   RA Burgess Collection via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

This is that those 192nd RF-101s are supposed to look like! 56-0029 has been modified into full RF-101H configuration and is wearing the appropriate modified SEA camo. The paintwork has, once again, been very obviously applied freehand but someone at the depot. Yes; there's a defined camouflage pattern for the F-101 (see last issues page from the 1-1-4 for proof of that!) but it wasn't always followed, and there seems to have been at least one major variation in the case of the Voodoo (thanks to Ben Brown for the tip on that one!).   RA Burgess Collection via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Here's a view of 56-0019 in its completed scheme including ANG badge and Nevada painted on the tail. In theory, but obviously not in practice, this is the way all of the 192nd's RF-101Hs should look. Of interest here is the handiwork of The Phantom Painter who, once again, has been at the camouflage with a vengeance. The scale modeling Paint Pedantics would never buy into this sort of thing but here's proof positive that sloppy overspray existed on real airplanes!   RA Burgess Collection via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

And a parting shot, if you will. This port-side view of 0019 gives you both sides of the airplane (both images were taken on 20 May, 1967), which in turn gives the modelers among our readership a complete airplane to replicate. Note once again the overspray on that camouflage, as well as the heat-related weathering on the a/b cans. Our personal taste runs more to the RF-101A and C family, but these modified recce birds are most assuredly worth a second look!   RA Burgess via Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Before we leave this particular piece we'd like to extend a word of thanks to Ben Brown, who pointed out that there was a second, not-quite-per-spec camouflage scheme for the RF-101G/H that didn't match the F-101 scheme specified in T.O. 1-1-4. Our conclusion is that the scheme was a depot-level and non-standard interpretation of the authorized pattern. It's a neat addendum to the Voodoo story and we're pleased to be able to present it here.

U-Birds in Georgia

You'd think that I'd have learned by now---I'm always receiving these really neat photos and I publish them, then wait for an acknowledged authority on that particular airplane to contact me and tell me what's going on. Today's a new day, and it's no different than any other in most respects, so here are some F4U-1A shots for your perusal and edification. They're here via the kindness of Bobby Rocker and illustrate Corsairs on the transient ramp at Robbins AB in Georgia during the 1940s. Enjoy!

The war was over when this photo of the transient ramp at Robbins AB near Macon, Georgia, was taken, but this photo could have been taken during 1944 or 45; the airplanes haven't changed all that much since the close of hostilities. We have no idea what any of the units might be, but we love the shot for its glimpse into the immediate post-War era.   Rocker Collection

Here's a closeup of one of those F4U-1s for you. We're guessing these birds are from a training or NavRes unit given their markings, but we've been wrong before.   Rocker Collection

How's that for a set of markings? We're presuming there's some sort of command connection with 2-CGS, but our archives aren't much help in identifying the unit. We'll just sit back and wait for the letters...   Rocker Collection

And here's a final shot to whet your appetite for Things Post-War! It's our guess that most of these aircraft are F4U-1Ds and we know they're at Robbins, but that's the extent of our knowledge. If you'd like to make us all a little smarter and know something about these birds, drop us a line at  . We don't know if you'll be glad you did, but we sure will be!   Rocker Collection.

A Polka Dot Surprise

Last issue we showed you a few RF-101Cs from the 45th Tac Recon Squadron taken during their camouflaged days in Vietnam, and we mentioned their first excursion into that theater, at least in the Voodoo, occurred in December of 1961 during the Air Force's Able Mable deployment to the region. Mention of that program caused us to think back to things we'd seen but couldn't quite place, and a subsequent search turned up this image:

Now THIS is what we're talking about! The time is December, 1961, the place is Thailand, and the aircraft is a 45th TRS RF-101C-65-MC, s/n 56-0079,  nick-named "Mary Ann Burns". A quick glance to the left side of the shot shows us the 45th's blue with white polka dots nose stripe, which means the vertical tail is almost certainly carrying the 45th's patented "Polka Dots" paintwork as well. We don't know about you, but this image really has us pumped up!   National Museum of the US Air Force

Phantoms of a Different Pheather

VMF-232 is one of those squadrons that goes Way Back, tracing its lineage to its establishment in 1925 as VF-3M, followed by a series of designation changes and running through assignment to Tsientsin in the late 20s, the ZI (San Diego) in the 30s, Pearl Harbor (as VMSB-232) in 1941, Guadalcanal, and Esprito Santo (as VMTB-232). A series of assignments throughout the Central Pacific found them on Okinawa at war's end, after which they were decommissioned for a short period of time, only to be stood up again as a Marine Reserve fighter unit, VMF-232, a designation that has taken them into the 21st Century.

We're not interested in any of that at the moment, however. Today we're more concerned with what they were doing in November of 1982, when they were flying the McDonnell Douglas F-4S on a det at Nellis. Thanks to the kindness of reader Scott Wilson we've got a few unusual examples of "Double Ugly" to share with you today.

Let's start off with this study of 155858, an F-4S that represents what a great many Marine and NAVAIR aircraft looked like during the early 1980s. TPS had begun to work its way into the community, and aircraft wearing their older Easter Egg colors were becoming an endangered species, but a few were still around. The place is Nellis Air Force Base, where Scott photographed a fair portion of the squadron during the course of a TDY. Originally an F-4J-36-MC, 858 ended up in the Boneyard in 1986.   Scott Wilson

Top Gun, and ACM in general, was in full force in '82, and the year found a great many aircraft painted in color schemes reflecting the mission even though some of them, such as those you'll see in this piece, were of a strictly temporary nature. BuNo 155836 was one such bird. She was built as an F-4J-35-MC and is shown here wearing a scheme with markings that could only be described as "extremely toned down". Rebuilt as an F-4S, she crashed to destruction in 1985 while flying with VF-201. Her 1982 paint scheme looks deceptively easy to paint, but we're willing to bet it's a booger-bear to replicate!   Scott Wilson

Here's a 3/4 rear view of 155836 to further illustrate just what we mean when we say the paint job would be tough to model. It feathers in places you wouldn't expect it too, and the modest amount of weathering the aircraft is carrying is deceptive, changing hues and values in ways you wouldn't expect. It's a neat scheme, but...   Scott Wilson

Here's a view of 153825 to further prove the point, as if that point needed proving at all! All of the aircraft illustrated here today are carrying an absolute bare minimum of markings, generally just a Bureau number in the usual place and a modex number on the nose. Once again, the paintwork feathers in and out in a manner that makes us think you could get close to the scheme if you were painting a model, but this is one of the few aircraft we've seen that very nearly defies replication. Like so many of her sisters, she was ultimately brought up to F-4S standard. She ended up at DM in 1985.   Scott Wilson

This 3/4 nose view of 153825's starboard side shows how the temporary camouflage looks over the full-size national insignia the aircraft is wearing. All of these aircraft are configured with Sidewinder rails on the inboard pylons and a centerline tank---they're ready to go at it air-to-air!   Scott Wilson

153833, an F-4J-30-MC, provides yet another example of 232's temporary ACM TPS paintwork. She's tidier than some of the other aircraft in this essay but that paintwork is still soft-edged; we're guessing the guys in Corrosion Control had a lot of fun painting these aircraft! 833 was converted to F-4S standard in 1990 and became a QF-4S in 2004. The Department of the Navy got their money's worth out of some of their F-4 fleet!   Scott Wilson

This view defines her paintwork a little better, and also shows off her inert AIM-9 to advantage. Her paint job was done to a higher standard than that of several of her sister birds, but it would still be a little bit of a challenge to model.   Scott Wilson

And now for something a little bit different! Those 1980s ACM schemes were all over the place in terms of color and pattern, a prime example of which is F-4J-31-MC 153860, which is done up in shades of terracotta. Her original 16440 Light Gull Grey upper surface paintwork peeks out from her BuNo and tail number, while the gloss white on her horizontal stabilators has become part of the paint scheme. We like the other airplanes, the ones done up in shades of grey, quite a bit better, but you have to admit she's different! She ended up in storage at MCAS Cherry Point.   Scott Wilson

We'll close today's look at 232 with this shot of BuNo 153810. She's an F-4J-30-MC and is wearing a spiffy set of desert camo, appropriate paint work for her 1982 ACM det at Nellis. Of interest is the white paintwork on her horizontal stabs, which has been only minimally over-painted. She went to VMFA-312 in 1984, and was subsequently scrapped out, a sad end...   Scott Wilson

Many thanks to Scott for his kindness in sharing these images with us today!

Addendum: Shortly after publishing this we heard from Rick Morgan, who assured us that most of the aircraft that we identified as Js were, in fact, early conversions of the F-4S. Thanks, Morgo!

So That's How They Worked!

17 May, 1941, was a special day in the service career of a young Ensign Tennes, who got to try out the flotation gear installed in his F4F-3. Let's take a look:

If that side number is to be believed, this Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat was assigned to the Enterprise's Fighting Six at the time she took her swim in San Diego Bay. Her flotation bags have deployed as designed and she's bobbing gently in that bay awaiting recovery, while an amused station officer looks on from his gig. Most of those flotation bags on US naval aircraft went away before the beginning of the war, but they were still installed in the Spring of '41. That monochromatic non-specular light grey makes for a pretty airplane, albeit one that's difficult to model since it's so clean! We're just never satisfied, are we?   Rocker Collection

Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker for this fascinating look into our past.

OK; What Does It Mean?

Those of our readers who aren't familiar with the way things are done in military aviation may not be aware that most aircraft evolve over their service lives, and that sometimes that evolution involves experimentation. Here's an example of what we mean:

At first glance this is an ordinary photograph, one of VA-55's Charlie-model A-4s on the ground at DaNang during 1967 while taking part in the late Southeast Asia War Games. In fact, she's about as Plain Jane as she can be until you take a look inside her port-side flap, where the word "Boron" appears in large white letters. Original speculation, mine included, was that the name was somehow attached to some peculiarity of the pilot nominally assigned to the aircraft, but further investigation showed that the NAV and McAir were mutually involved in testing boron-composite flaps on Naval aircraft during 1966, and this aircraft is therefore a prime candidate (don't understate the obvious, Phillip!) for that program. 149551 would make a fascinating model in this configuration, something a little unique in the combat zone.  Many thanks to Rick Morgan for sharing the original image and to Tommy Thomason for putting us all on the track of the boron project. Check out Tommy's blog at for further details of the program.

The Relief Tube

Yep, that's right! We've got a couple of comments to publish this time, so without further ado...

Last time around we showed you a few U-birds, with a comment on one photo regarding the paintwork. Pat Donahue was able to fill in the blanks for us:

Phil, I think that you are looking at a weathered "graded tone" application. To only areas with intermediate sea blue were the vertical tail and outer wing panel bottoms. The sides of the fuselage and cowl were painted using 2 colors: a base white application and a hazy overspray of dark sea blue to APPROXIMATE the intermediate sea blue then a solid application of dark sea blue on the upper surfaces. With this application it seems that the swath of paint approximating intermediate sea blue is pretty narrow especially noticeable on the cowl. Dana Bell has done some work on this in his first volume of the F4U. I think this application was more prevalent among Goodyear produced machines and like the haze painted recon P-38s it did not weather well.... A couple of other shots of this paint application. Cheers, Pat Donahue

Way back in the beginnings of this project we ran more than a few shots of 1940s-vintage NavRes birds, and asked for clarification from our readers in a couple of instances. We received this response a couple of weeks ago to one of those questions:

Phil, (regarding) Your 2011/07/some-turkeys-splitter-art-its-about (article), it includes the following paragraph (and question): "This TBM-3E was caught running up at NAS Squantum in 1947 and, like 91433 above, she's well on her way to being all used up. There's a badge under the windscreen, but we can't quite make it out, and we've been through all our assets and are stumped by that Zulu Alpha tail code. If you know the unit please drop us a line at . J. Sullivan Collection "You may have already discovered the meaning of the ZA tail code mentioned above. However, if not, I found the following information at this webpage:    Here are the codes through 1949:

 A Anacostia
 B Atlanta
 C Columbus
 D Dallas
 E Minneapolis
 F Jacksonville (also used by Oakland 1948)
 G Oakland
 H Miami
 I Grosse Ile
 K Olathe
 L Los Alamitos (also used by Akron 1948)
 M Memphis
 N Spokane (1948)
 P Denver
 R New York (Brooklyn)
 S Norfolk
 T Seattle
 U St Louis
 V Glenview
 W Willow Grove
 X New Orleans
 Z Squantum

 Also in 1946 a second letter was used to indicate squadron type:

 A Attack
 F Fighter
 P Patrol
 R Transport
 U Utility

 David Elliot

Thanks, David, and thanks for taking the time to provide that list!

One more thing before we go---if you read any of those modeling boards you've probably read by now that Jerry Campbell, the founder and long-time owner of the Squadron Shop, has passed. His contributions to our hobby are considerable, and it's difficult to imagine how our hobby would be had he not had the vision he had. Like so many others we had a direct link to him---he was an early advertiser on the original RIS project, and a major distributor as well. Those things are pretty well-known to those who happen to own an early copy of the magazine. What's not generally known is that Jerry once tried to buy the project to use as Squadron's in-house magazine. We didn't want to sell it, so the deal never went through, but you have to wonder where our extraordinarily modest publication would have ended up if we've done it.

That said, one of the giants of our hobby is gone, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude. His vision, and the actions he took to realize it, improved plastic modeling beyond all recognition. Thanks, Jerry, for what you gave to the hobby! You'll be missed.

And that's it for today. We're already working on our next issue, so maybe (hopefully?) you won't have to wait another month and a half for our next thrilling episode, but until then be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon!