Friday, September 2, 2016

A Couple of Strafers, A Glass-Nose, The Real Deal, It's Been a While, Maybe I'm Amazed, and Some Euro Bugsuckers

A Small Circle of Friends (with apologies to Phil Ochs)

The other day I was indulging myself in that often-entertaining pastime I call Reading the Boards and discovered that an old friend/adversary, Classic Airframes, was in the process of being re-birthed via its purchase by Special Hobby. That's an action that makes a lot of sense business-wise since SH had produced a great many of the original tools and kits for CA, and it's going to put a lot of one-of-a-kind models back in our grasp at reasonable prices. It is, essentially, a Good Thing for the hobby.

There's a caveat to that Good Thing, however. In simplest terms, those Classic Airframes kits can be a bit fussy to build (an understatement, that), with some of them being so difficult that the average modeler will have considerable trouble getting an acceptable model out of the contents of those kit boxes. They're not, and this needs to be stressed in the strongest of terms, an easy date. They're great kits for expanding your horizons, replica-wise, but they're also a scale modeler's test of tests in many respects. Add to that difficulty the fact that, in common with almost every other brand of plastic kit on the market, some of them have significant dimensional or detail errors, and you could easily find yourself driven to the Why Bother end of the modeling spectrum. When you weigh everything at face value it's pretty easy to just walk away from those kits and a lot of people have done that very thing; they've attempted one or two, seduced by the siren call of a unique subject, and have punched out part-way through the project muttering things like "never again" as they go.

Let's put things in perspective, though. The aspect of scale accuracy is probably the easiest issue to deal with by uttering one simple statement: Every manufacturer of plastic kits, no matter what the subject, occasionally incorporates accuracy errors into their models. It happens to everyone and is not unique to any one company and, in all honesty, Classic Airframes got things right a whole lot more often than they got them wrong. Their track record for scale fidelity is, quite honestly, as good as anybody's and probably better than most.

Once we accept the fact that their accuracy was pretty good we get to confront the true bugaboo of their kits; ease of assembly. They're not easy to build if you happen to be a novice or average modeler and getting a really nice model out of one of them can be pretty tough. That said, let's consider the down side of those old CA kits for a minute. For starters, they're all short-run in nature and are produced from tooling that's not on the same page as that used by a Tamiya or Airfix. Component detail is acceptable for the most part, but sometimes things just don't fit properly, a condition exacerbated by the multi-media nature of the kits---each and every one of them contain resin and photo-etch parts that are not in the kit as nice-to-have-if-you-want-to enhancements but rather as essential parts of the model. You don't get a plastic interior with a resin option---you get a resin interior, period. Some of the earlier kits feature vacuum-formed canopies as well, and they all are of the fit twice/modify a few parts/glue once ilk. Allow me to repeat myself here: They are not particularly easy to assemble no matter what you've read on certain of the modeling boards.

Now that all that is out of the way, let's look at the positive side. First and foremost, Classic Airframes offered a great many subjects that the mainstream guys wouldn't, and for the most part still won't, touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole, which in turn makes most of their kits unique. If you want a 1/48th scale Hudson or Battle, for example, you're going to be building a CA kit (at least until the reborn Airfix gets around to kitting those particular airplanes). Their subject matter has a lot to offer, and CA kits can be a bit pricey on the second-hand market. Having them available again will be what we can term a Good Thing.

Of course, there is that buildability thing to contend with. None of them are easy if you don't have the chops to deal with their issues, and some of them will leave you talking to yourself as you build them. In my personal world each and every Classic Airframes kit I've ever built has been a Six Month Model---I'd build for a while, get frustrated and put the thing away, then go back and work on it a little bit more, then put it away again, and so on and so forth, eventually ending up with a completed model airplane for the shelf. Most of them came out looking pretty good at the end of the day, but it was a struggle to get there each time/every time. Maybe it was just me (and it certainly could have been!) but my cynical side has to wonder if some if not most of the other people reviewing and building those kits for publication didn't have the same issues but chose, for whatever reason, not to comment on them.

On the other hand, you'll never never never grow as a modeler if all you build is the easy stuff. Repetitiously building easy kits will certainly hone your skills and you'll improve to some small extent with each new one you build, but you'll never make the jump to competent modeler if you don't challenge yourself from time to time. It's important for us to remember that Classic Airframes was a limited-run company who's kits were produced for them by Special Hobby and Sword, both of whom are well-known limited run manufacturers themselves. They were never intended to be Everyman's Model Airplane, but were meant for the journeyman or expert modeler from their very inception. That's the nature of the beast.

Here's the point, then: If you've got the skill sets you've probably already built a couple of CA kits and welcome their return to the marketplace. If you don't have the requisite abilities you're going to be challenged a bit if you choose to build one of them, but that takes us back to that whole growth thing, which also applies to any limited run kit and not just those of Classic Airframes. You're probably in the hobby because you like airplanes and you enjoy modeling. There are a great many kits out there you can build without any grief or angst whatsoever and you can easily get through your entire scale modeling career without ever touching a limited run kit, but you'll never grow to your full potential as a modeler and you'll be missing out on a whole bunch of stuff that isn't available any other way if you choose not to push your limits from time to time. It's a challenge that's worth accepting.

 Are you ready to stretch out a bit?

Pappy Gunn's Kids

Or a couple of them, anyway. Most of you are aware of Paul "Pappy" Gunn and his part in the development of the B-25 and A-20 strafers so beloved of the 5th Air Force during the Second World War. They were a devastating weapon against soft targets such as air field revetments and parked aircraft, and their part in the reduction of both the JNAF and JAAF during the conflict cannot be understated. Here are a couple of fine examples of the type in service, photographed on the ground in New Guinea during 1943.

This isn't the best photograph around, but it's valuable because it illustrates the B-25 strafer in its earliest form, with the nose partially painted over. The forward-most part of it has not been painted (see where those panels are extra shiny?) and you could, if you wanted to, look up in there and see the details of the gun installation. Moving around a bit, it's impossible to see the covers on the gun packs attached to the sides of the fuselage but we'd be willing to guess that they're the earliest type, with one large cover over both guns, and there doesn't appear to be any sort of blast shield forward of the muzzles. The nose-wheel cover is unpainted, and the airframe is pretty beaten up; check out the leading edge of the port wing inboard of the engines for proof of that! Those ground echelon guys are working in conditions that could be considered primitive at best, but they're getting the job done all the same. "Torn Sail" was a B-25C or D from the 3rd BG's 8th BS.   Richard N Davis via Gerry Kersey/3rd Attack.Org

"Mortimer" (B-25C 41-12443) is a little better known, and is from the 3rd BG's 90th BS. Originally destined for the Netherlands East Indies Air Force, she was impressed by the  AAF in March of 1942 and converted later in the year to become an early strafer---all of the 3rd's strafers were initially assigned to the 90th. Of interest is the early cheek pack and home-grown blast shield forward of the gun muzzles. Parts of the former bombardier's position appear to be in unpainted aluminum, probably replacements for damaged plexiglass panels that were there originally, and the transparencies that were painted over appear to have been crudely done with a brush rather than a spray gun. The shark-mouth is of interest as well---it looks menacing but not particularly well-done; application appears once again to be by brush and is not particularly neat. There were limitations to what could be done when the maintenance environment was totally out in the open...   Richard N Davis via Gerry Kersey/ 3rd Attack.Org

Thanks as always to Gerry for his dedication to the acquisition and preservation of images such as these!

And While We're at It

Not every B-25 in the SWPAC was a strafer, as illustrated by this photograph:

"El Aguila" was a fairly well-known 13th BS/3rd BG B-25C and a prime example of what a war-time Mitchell looked like in more or less standard trim. The nose is in its stock, as-built, configuration and she's very much a bomber, although she probably would have gotten the strafer treatment had she survived the initial attacks against the Japanese in New Guinea. Of particular interest is the attire of the GI sitting on that tug; check out his outrageously non-uniform footwear! It's the last thing you'd expect to see in that particular environment, but there it is! We learn something every day...   Patnaude via Kersey

Let's Raise a Glass

Ok, so you've seen a couple of B-25s sitting on the ground in peaceful, if somewhat uncomfortable surroundings. Have you ever stopped to think what they were actually doing over there? We're guessing you probably have, but if you haven't...

It all looks so peaceful; 250 knots indicated, a couple of hundred feet off the ground, and flying into a river valley in New Guinea. On the face of things it's a young aviator's dream---getting to flat-hat out away from the prying eyes of superior officers anxious to give you an Article 15 or a general court-martial for breaking all the rules. The problem is that you aren't breaking the rules at all---you're down there on the deck, lining up on the parked aircraft and revetments around a Japanese airfield to strafe them and drop a load of 28-pound parafrags on them, and everybody on the ground with any sort of a weapon is shooting at you trying their very best to kill you. It's an adrenaline rush you can easily do without, but this isn't the first time you've done it and it won't be the last. With any luck you'll get home, but maybe you won't...   via Gerry Kersey

 Here's an enlargement from our previous photo showing the B-25, the 8th BS/3rd BG's "WEEDOODIT", in somewhat better detail. We're guessing her pilot (Bob Miller) and co-pilot (Dwight Turner) could see the tropical birds and monkeys in the trees from that altitude and have no doubt they could see the Japanese on that airfield shooting at them as well. It was a tough war no matter which side of it you were on. Let's raise a glass...   via Gerry Kersey

Many thanks to Gerry Kersey of 3rd Attack.Org for the detailed information regarding these aircraft!

Where Are the Phantoms?

Yep; it's been a while since we've run anything on the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, but here's a photo to make up for it:

The late Kelly AFB's 182nd TFS/149th TFG was a prime Air Guard operator of the F-4C back in the late 70s and early 80s. In this photo we find 63-7419, an F-4C-15-MC, taxiing out preparatory to launch in September of 1981. She's on her way to the bombing range at Matagorda Island---check out the TER rack and practice bombs under her port wing---and she's very typical of the 149th's birds during that time period. It's possible that she's carrying a nickname too, but the unit painted those on the inside of the nose gear doors so it's impossible to tell from this photo whether she was named or not. The 149th is still in the game, flying F-16s, but we honestly miss the howl and the roar of those J-79s!   John Kerr

Never Throw Nothing Away

Bad grammar, that, but good advice and here's a reason why:

I've been in a sort of modeling slump lately, just sort of piddling around with this kit and that and not getting inspired enough to actually do much of anything other than make a mess. My modeling chops were AWOL, at least temporarily, but the desire was there so I went looking for something I could work with that wouldn't be much of a loss if I messed something up, and that particular search took me to an old Pyro re-issue of Inpact's 1966/67-vintage 1/48th scale Hawker Fury. I'd started it years ago and had a serviceable interior in the buttoned-up fuselage, which meant the hard work was all done. A quick examination showed that the kit didn't need a whole lot more in order to become a good, solid place-keeper on the shelf, so the die was cast!

A quick trip to the paint shop produced this result. Clever engineering on the part of Inpact made wing assembly a snap and the rest of the kit pretty much fell together, although a tiny bit of putty was required here and there---the model is, after all, taken from molds that are some 49 years old! Reviews by people far more versed in the Fury than I am suggest that the kit has some issues but is, on the whole, somewhat more accurate than the far more recent Airfix issue of the airplane in the same scale. Given the parameters of this particular build (building something and getting my chops back) a contest-level standard of accuracy wasn't required, so everything you see in this photo (except for the interior, which you can't see in this photo) is 100% kit stock.     Replica in Scale

There was, however, one tiny little problem: Decals. This particular Fury is part of a series that Inpact produced way back in the day, and the kit decals were problematical even in their original kit (P202). Inpact went tango uniform in late 1967 and the tooling was picked up by Pyro; the four airplanes in that 'Tween the Wars RAF fighter series have subsequently been re-released by Pyro, Life-Like, and, I'm told, the reborn Lindberg. The decals (except maybe in the Lindberg releases---I've never seen one so I can't comment) have been mediocre to poor in each and every release and gross laziness on my part precluded cutting masks for the markings. Oh, what to do!

And that's the part where we come to the notion that you should never throw anything away if you're a serious scale modeler. Allow me to present, if you will, the solution to my problem:

We used to get a lot of stuff from the cottage industry back when we were doing the original Replica in Scale and this decal sheet was sent to us for review sometime between 1973 and 1975. It's Replica Decal's sheet #4 and I can honestly say I have no earthly idea what was on sheets 1 through 3, or if there was ever a sheet #5. The only thing that really matters in my world, at least at this moment, is that they produced this one and sent it to us for review! It is, in theory at least, the answer to my current problem. I'll let you know how things turn out!                   Replica in Scale

So there you have it! That 42-year-old decal sheet has survived several moves and at least a couple of offers to sell or trade it to someone else, but I've kept it all that time because I'm a sucker for those old Inpact kits and I knew I'd want the decals some day. It's time to airbrush the Fury portion of the sheet with MicroScale Superfilm and see if they can be used. Cross your fingers, folks!

A Phew More Phantoms to End the Day

A while back Scott Wilson sent us quite a stack of F-4 photos taken during his stint with the USAF and we've been running them, a few at a time, for the past couple of years or so. Here are a few more for your viewing pleasure and scale modeling inspiration. They're all of aircraft assigned to the 26th TRW stationed at Zweibrucken AB, Federal Republic of Germany, during the 1980s.

Let's start off with a shot of 69-0371, an RF-4C-43-MC from the 26th TRW's 38th TRS. She's typical of her breed while the type was still in active service with NATO; well-maintained and fully mission-capable but just the least little bit scruffy looking. By the time Scott took this portrait of her a great many European-based RF-4s had gone to wrap-around camouflage, which was better suited to low-level operations than the classic SEA camo she left the factory with, but she was still wearing her original paint job in this shot. Her days were numbered when this photo was taken; she crashed to destruction in West Germany in July of 1986. There were no easy days in USAFE.   Scott Wilson

In this photo we see the wrap-around scheme that had pretty much become the norm for the F-4 by the mid-1980s. 71-0249, an RF-4C-48-MC, was sitting on the ground at Zweibrucken AB in what was then the Federal Republic of Germany when Scott took this photo of her on 22 October, 1983. All of her markings are of the plain black, low-vis variety commonly seen during this time frame, even including her squadron stripe on the vertical stab tip. The sharp-eyed among our readers will note that she's carrying a travel pod on her port inboard station. 0249 was a survivor and is currently on display at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico.   Scott Wilson

The Phantom is one of those families of military aircraft that looks really good wearing a sharkmouth on their nose, and RF-4C-49-MC 71-0254 is wearing a prime and somewhat unique example of that style of decoration. She's carrying a travel pod on her port-side inboard station and is apparently getting ready to deploy to another USAFE base. Some of her paintwork is a bit worn---check out the patches of Mil-P-8585 Zinc Chromate primer on her inboard starboard pylon---but she's otherwise in pretty good shape from a cosmetic point of view. One thing, though---note the different paint schemes on those gas bags; the starboard one is typical of those fitted to aircraft with the wrap-around camouflage scheme, while the port tank is done up in the older SEA scheme replete with light grey undersides. It's details like that that make this interesting!   Scott Wilson

And while we're discussing those little things that make an airplane interesting...  At first glance RF-4C-51-MC 72-0146 isn't anything very special, but take another look! The low-vis paint and wrap-around camo is easy enough to spot, but then there's the paint on that starboard gas bag---what's up with that? She's wearing a really tasty sharkmouth too, but what's that little black spot on her intake splitter plate?   Scott Wilson

Was it a zap or a somewhat lewd kill marking? If you guessed either way you got it right! 0146 apparently lost a wrestling match with an F-111E during her stay in Europe and got herself zapped to commemorate the event. We strongly doubt that the guys in the 26th TRW were particularly pleased by the decoration applied to the aircraft, but that marking wasn't the only one the airplane had to endure.  Scott Wilson

Here's the other zap; a cartoonish F-111 stenciled on the starboard intake cheek with the legend "Hosed by an F-111" painted around it. Talk about adding insult to injury!   Scott Wilson

Finally, here's a somewhat clumsy enlargement (done by us, not Scott!) that shows the intake zap in a little better detail. It's the little things that make this interesting!   Scott Wilson

One final note before we leave Zweibrucken's RF-4Cs for the day: We've said time and time again on these pages that military aviation is, and always has been, a dangerous occupation. To prove that point (as if it ever needed proving), 72-0146 bought the farm near Wales, crashing into the sea in July of 1986 and killing both crew members. The Air Force call that an operational loss, but it's no less tragic than if the aircraft was lost in combat. Let's all extend a Thank You to the men and women who willingly risk the odds every day they serve! There are no easy days...

Happy Snaps

It's definitely been a while since we've had a Happy Snap for your enjoyment, but here's one to break the fast:

 January of 1990 found Rick Morgan at NAS Key West, which gave him the opportunity to do a little air-to-air work over the Caribbean. In this photo we find an F/A-18A (163119) of VF-15 pulling up alongside Rick's photo ship to look things over. The markings on this bird aren't nearly as dramatic as they would have been just a few short years earlier, back during the NAV's Easter Egg period, but they're well-designed and certainly compliment the lines of the aircraft. Thanks for the image, Morgo!    Rick Morgan

One more thing before we leave this part of the blog: If you're a military aviator, either current or former, and you've got some photography you'd like to share, we'd love to see it. Please feel free to contact us at replicainscaleatyahoodotcom . (We apologize for having to write it out like that, but the internet's version of those junk mail guys have become a fairly regular nuisance and that's the best way we've come up with to deal with the problem! Just put an @ and a period in the appropriate places and you're there!)

The Relief Tube

We fooled ourselves and ran this issue's Relief Tube entries the last time so there's nothing new for today, but we'd like to take a moment to congratulate Doug Siegfried on his recent retirement from The Tailhook Association's publication, The Hook. A former "Stoof" driver, Doug has always been one of our go-to guys for imagery of Naval aviation and most definitely one of The Good Guys from an editor's point of view. This project has been all the better because of his help and we're proud to have worked with him. Blue skies, Doug, and may your retirement be all that you've dreamed of!

That's it for this time, but we'll be back before you know it. Until then, be good to your neighbor and we'll meet again soon!


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