The Lawn Dart that Flies Right Off the Ground: FROG’s 1:72 F-16C Block 52

The F-16 is a most successful aircraft, but it’s always left me a little meh. Maybe it’s the gray-on-gray-on-gray paint schemes, or the somewhat generic planform, or just its sheer ubiquity. My bias even led me to turn my nose up at the many nice presentation schemes (although I have all the decals, for some reason!). In spite of my unreasonable bigotry, I decided that it would be nice to add a Nellis-based Lawn Dart to my collection – after all, the IPMS Nationals are in Las Vegas in two years, and it might be fun to have an entry at the show from the neighborhood! And late last year, I was near Phoenix for work, right in the flight path of Luke AFB. The F-35s were interesting, but the F-16s were really cool. The seed was planted.

Building a model of an F-16 leads you down something of a rabbit hole. If you want to build an accurate model, you have to understand the history and nomenclature of the little fighter. It’s not enough to know that your kit is an F-16C – whether it’s a Block 25, 30, 32, 40, 42, 50, 52 or 50/52 plus is vital to know if you hope to have an accurate representation of the real deal. The block numbers mostly pertain to the engine, and the engine determines the intake shape and size. Blocks 25, 32, 42, and 52 used variants of the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine with the original smaller intake; the 30, 40 and 50 used the General Electric F110 engine with larger air intakes. There are differences around the exhaust nozzle as well. Essentially, if you want to build a GE-engined plane from a Pratt & Whitney -engined kit, or vice versa, you will make your life very difficult.

There are more differences as well. In the early 2000s, a number of jets were put through the Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP), which aimed to standardize the cockpit layouts and capabilities of the F-16C fleet. These enabled the planes to carry LANTIRN, Litening and the Lockheed-Martin Sniper XR Advanced FLIR pods. Because standardization means something different in the military than anywhere else, some CCIP F-16Cs also received a NATO standard Link-16 Data Link, an electronic horizontal situational indicator and the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

All of this was news to me when a friend handed me the Frog 1:72 F-16C. Yes, I said Frog – an entity in Asia is reviving the brand and one of their first kits is a re-boxing of the Academy F-16C in Singaporean markings. This kit, for those of you keeping score, is a Block 52 and can be built as a CCIP aircraft, with the four air-to-air interrogator antenna ahead of the windscreen.

The somewhat uninspired top of the Frog boxing of the Academy F-16.

The kit features very refined recessed panel lines, a ton of parts for the landing gear, a full complement of tanks and ordnance, the canopy has the correct bubble shape, and the model fits together spectacularly. On the down side, the model has some shape errors that will drive Viper nuts… well, nuts. The nose is too narrow and pointy, and the aft side strakes (where the flaperons go in back) are flat, rather than angled 10 degrees like the real thing. The clear parts are provided with a gold tint, which would be accurate for early Block 52s, but later aircraft went to a clear canopy when night-vision goggles were adopted.

An aside: if you’re going to build an F-16, you really need a copy of Danny Coreman’s Uncovering the F-16A/B/C/D Fighting Falcon. This book came out in 2002, and it’s expensive on the secondary market – $80-$120 is not unusual. My suggestion is to get the Japanese version of the book – I picked up mine for $30 with shipping from Japan. The text is in Japanese, but all the photos are in English!

Domo arigato, Mr. Discount F-16 bible.

I started with the cockpit. Aires makes a neat front office for the F-16C, with a tub, sidewalls, ejection seat, instrument panel and instrument shroud, plus a lot of photoetched parts that would be added at the end of the build, like the HUD and ejection seat details. Be forewarned: in order to use this set, you’ll need to cut away the kit instrument shroud and modify the rear cockpit, and do so without instructions. Caution is the watchword – slipping up will mean a lot of gruesome remedial work. With lots of such work under my belt, I knew to go slowly and to use small files to sneak up on the right shapes. You get no extra points for speed in this part of modeling!

Once the rear section of the new tub fit into the enlarged opening in the back of the upper kit cockpit, I sanded the bottom of the tub to get sufficient clearance for the fuselage upper and lower halves to close. This meant a lot of sanding – as in, the area under the ejection seat was completely sanded away. This was just enough to obtain a good fit.

Getting the rear part of the Aires cockpit to fit the Academy fuselage required work, but it eventually went where it was supposed to.

To make mounting the instrument shroud and panel easy, I added a shelf from styrene strip. When the time came to mount the shroud, it was a breeze to glue the shroud to this styrene shelf instead of trying to stick the edge of the shroud to the edge of the forward cockpit. More mating surface meant easier modeling.

All the detail parts were painted and detailed, then drybrushed. The ejection seat was painted, too, but it was left out until later to make masking easier. The photoetched rudder pedals were added, and I applied the tiny instrument films and photoetched panels to the resin instrument panel. I painted the multifunction displays silver, then Tamiya clear green. The sidewalls were added to the cockpit, and then everything was set aside.

A peek over the pilot’s shoulder at the rather small instrument panel.

The nose wheel bay is molded into the bottom of the lower inner intake trunk. The trunk halves fit spectacularly well; I glued them together, then sprayed them and the wheel bay flat white. Then I turned my attention to the wheel bay, adding hoses and cabling with lengths of .2mm and .4mm lead wire. Many of the cables in the wheel bay were silver – so the wire could be used unpainted – while others were black. I discovered that passing the wire across a black Sharpie colored them efficiently and permanently, and a shot of Testors Dullcote removed the gloss shine. A wash made from Future, black ink and a few drops of water popped all the detail out.

Dressed up with wires and hoses, the nose gear bay is ready to be installed into the intake housing.

I’d really wanted to make a Block 50, so I sourced CMK’s undercarriage kit, which included the larger intake. Unfortunately, the intake part lacked the wedge splitter that holds the intake away from the lower fuselage, and there’s no way to add it from the kit parts. The main gear bay in the CMK set, however, is worthwhile; I painted it white and gave it a wash, then went to town with wires and styrene rod and strip to re-create the nightmarishly busy bays revealed in Coremans’ book. The final result was worth a few hours of work!

…Then, a whole mess of other was added with lead wire, styrene strip and rod, and careful painting.

The intake parts – two sides and the top, with the wedge splitter – were carefully assembled. The front of the intake is a separate part; I painted it radome gray before adding it to the intake. On the real jet, the inner lip of the intake is gray. Since the trunk parts mated so perfectly inside the intake, all I needed to do was add a brace in the intake, made from .010 by .030 styrene strip, slide the trunk into the intake, and glue it in place. Any minute gap where the trunk and the intake lip join is visually obscured by the white/gray interface.

The intake, with its internal brace and white/gray paint demarkation

The main gear well was carefully added to the fuselage, followed by the intake. I found there was a slight gap between the intake sides and the fuselage mounting points, so I added small wedges of styrene inside the intake, pushing against the trunking. These pushed the outer sides of the intake out just far enough to get a good join. A slight step between the fuselage and the intake was sanded away without undue effort.

Wolfpack makes an update for the F-16C Block 40 that happened to include an improved resin nose. I sourced one of these and carefully cut it from its pour plug, leaving a convenient peg at the back of the radome that would make mounting easier. Then I took my motor tool and a cutoff wheel and removed the nose from both the top and bottom fuselage halves, a nerve-wracking exercise. Once the majority of the nose was gone, I taped the fuselage halves together and sanded the nose back to exactly the right point to get a good fit and a perfect sit for the radome, restoring some of the curves of the nose.

Someone thought using a motor tool to remove the nose was a joke. Does it look like I am joking? DOES IT?

I added the cockpit tub and instrument panel shroud to the upper fuselage half with CA glue. While I was at it, I added the Gatling gun insert to the upper fuselage; the fit was a little sloppy, but two applications of Mr. Surfacer 500 filled in the seams nicely.

I joined the upper and lower fuselage halves with CA glue, adding small amounts of CA with the end of a copper wire and working my way from nose to tail. The aft of the fuselage had areas that needed to be sanded down with some enthusiasm, but these were flat, making the job easy. The forward fuselage, with its complex curves and shapes, fit beautifully.

Top and bottom halves together, with the intake in place.

The belly, with the intake seam eradicated. The fit of the nose was quite good.

Next time: on to the tail, wings, nose and pylons!

Eduard’s MiG-15, part 1: the hazards of aftermarket parts

The F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15 waged a pitched battle for supremacy over a narrow patch of sky over the northern Korea peninsula from 1950-1953. The traditional view of the outcome of these battles was heavily tilted toward the U.S., with a nearly 10:1 kill ratio in favor of the F-86. Recent scholarship has wound that back as far as 1.8:1, but communist bloc sources have listed a total of 659 MiG-15s lost in Korea while the USAF listed 256 F-86s lost to all causes. The U.S. claimed 792 MiG kills, while the communists claimed over 600 F-86s – overclaiming was the order of the day.

In recent decades, the participation of Soviet pilots was revealed. This did not come as a shock: several Sabre pilots claimed to have seen red-headed opponents, and U.S. victories climbed, plateaued and fell in a manner that suggested that skilled pilots were being rotated in and out of the theatre. That’s exactly what was happening – the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS, or “military air force”) was rotating units into Korea to give them combat experience and to teach the Chinese and North Korean pilots. When the Russians rotated, the losses spiked; when the Russians returned, losses fell.

One of the first Soviet pilots to arrive was Sergey Kramerenko, who had shot down two Fw 190s in World War II and was a captain when he volunteered to go east with Ivan Kozhedub’s 324thIstrebitel’naya Aviatsionnyy Diveeziya(IAD, or fighter air division). Kramerenko entered combat in April 1951 and immediately realized the MiGs were entering combat at too low an altitude, failing to use the MiG-15’s altitude advantage to maximum effect. Adjusting tactics, Kramerenko soon scored his first victory, downing an F-80 that was escorting B-29s. On June 2, he probably knocked down the Sabre of Thomas C. Hanson of the 336thFIS to score his first victory over an F-86. (USAF records list this plane as having crashed after take-off.)

Sergei Kramerenko in the cockpit of a MiG-15

On June 17, 1951, Kramerenko and six other MiG-15s spotted eight F-86s below them and dove to attack. It was an ambush: three more F-86s dove on the MiGs and as Kramerenko lined up a target, an F-86 opened fire from 100 yards astern. Kramerenko flung his jet into a turn and started to dive before remembering the Sabre could out-dive the MiG. Instead he ducked into a cloud, then turned around and charged back into the fight. Now, three F-86s were below him. He dove, but the formation split, intending to provide mutual cover. Kramerenko went after the single F-86 climbing to his right; it was closer and the other two Sabres would have to climb to attack him. He fired and the Sabre started to smoke.

By now, the other Sabres were on his tail. He reversed his heading and buzzed past the Sabres back into another cloud bank. When he exited, he expected to see the Sabres below him – instead, they were back on his tail. He dove away from them, toward the Suiho Dam, which he knew was well protected with anti-aircraft artillery. The F-86s gave up the pursuit, and Kramerenko left for home. His gun camera showed good hits on the Sabre, and there was even a report of where it crashed into the ground. In reality, the Sabre was flown by WWII ace Lt. Col. Glenn Eagleston, who belly-landed his fighter at Kimpo.

The victories continued for Kramerenko: on June 23, he was credited with another F-86 (contrary to USAF records), and on July 17 bagged another Sabre as it escorted F-80 fighter-bombers. On July 29, he severely damaged an F-86A; its pilot reached friendly territory before bailing out. This was Kramerenko’s fifth victory, making him the first ace of the Korean War and the first pilot with five jet victories.

On September 12, Kramerenko damaged an F-84E, whose pilot ejected and was rescued. Ten days later, he claimed a Sabre, which in reality escaped with heavy damage. On October 30, another F-84E fell to his guns, and again the pilot was rescued. On the first day in December he tangled with Australian Meteor Mk. 9s, claiming two (but actually downing just one, the plane of P/O Vance Drummond, who became a POW), and on January 12 claimed two F-86s (records confirm the loss of one). On January 16, 1952, he downed another F-86; the loss was not reported on USAF records, but in 2002 the US-Russian joint commission on POW-MIAs interviewed him about the loss of an F-80C in the same area, tacitly acknowledging the victory.

The next day, the tables turned. Kramerenko and his unit were dispatched to intercept some F-84s, and seeing no escort, one group went after the Thunderjets while Kramerenko’s group maneuvered for position. That’s when he saw the Sabres diving on the first group – he turned to engage, only for a second group of F-86s to slice through. He damaged the leader – thought to be Major George Wendling – but then was hit by Major William Sheaffer. His MiG was doomed. “I kicked hard left rudder, but the controls did not respond. It was so sudden that one wing suddenly broke off. I made the decision to bail out of the uncontrollable aircraft, as it was now in a vertical spin downward. With a great deal of difficulty – as I was rammed into the left side of the aircraft – I managed to get my hand on the ejection seat control lever and pull it. A sharp blow momentarily pressed down on my eyes, so I have no idea how I flew out of the aircraft. Kramerenko said that Sheaffer then made two ineffective firing passes on him before he drifted into a cloud; he was recovered be a search party and returned to Antung. On Jan. 31, 1952, Kramerenko’s unit was rotated back to the Soviet Union.

I’ve been building a Korean War collection for some time now, but notably absent from that collection are the F-86 and the MiG-15. There’s no good excuse for the Sabre – yeah, maybe I want an F-86A and there really isn’t one in 1:72 except the Matchbox kit, but still…! For the MiG-15, there really wasn’t a particularly god kit in 1:72. KP’s was accurate in outline but fit miserably and was covered in rivets; DML’s was shaped wrong; Airfix’s was underscale. The best bet for a year or so was HobbyBoss’s simple MiG-15. And then came news of the Eduard MiG-15.

It was something of an epic tale: all the work was done, and about 30 kits were pressed before disaster struck and an accident fatally damaged the molds. A year or so later, new molds were ready, at last. The first way you could get your hands on the new MiG was in a two-kit “Profipack” edition that included resin weapons and pylons and markings for a mob of Czech fighters and fighter bombers.

I was going for a Korean War MiG-15, so I knew some sourcing of decals would be necessary. Eduard also put out several resin sets for the model, including a resin cockpit and a conversion from the kit’s MiG-15bis to the original MiG-15. I decided to do my first one as an early MiG.

Since the kit had many of the parts needed for a MiG-15 (not a bis) already, the conversion focused on the speed brakes. These required some cutting of the rear fuselage to enlarge the brakes and alter their upper contour. The set also provides the sides of the well structure and the inner wall; I found it difficult to use the inner wall and uses .005 styrene sheet instead.

The opened speed brakes were backed with .005 styrene sheet.

The Brassin interior parts are quite nice, especially the ejection seat. Beware: the resin sidewalls have slightly different proportions than the kits sidewalls. These form the intake splitter, and the slight dimensional difference helped stall this project, as you’ll see later.

I painted the parts the appropriate gray shades and then picked out the instrument panels in shades of black and very dark gray, followed by a dry-brushing to pull out the details. The pre-painted photoetched parts, including the rudder pedals and instrument panel, went in neatly, although they benefitted from a little flat coating to tie them back to the painted parts of the cockpit.

The resin sidewalls after they’ve been painted and installed in the fuselage halves.

The cockpit in the joined fuselage, showing how much of the cockpit is visible in the finished model.

Some cockpit components – namely, the ejection seat and the gunsight – were added later in construction because they’re vulnerable to damage. The Brassin gunsight, cast in clear resin, was painted and added above the photoetched control panel – the thin, resin reflector glasses need to be seen to be believed. This was done right before the windscreen was added and effectively enclosed the gunsight.

The jet pipe is molded in halves; I used a rolled-up bit of sandpaper to eliminate the very minimal seam and carefully added it to the rear fuselage.

With that done, I could join the fuselage halves. This went reasonably easy. There are two clear antenna covers that go on the bottom of the aircraft; the front round one was not present on the MiG-15, so I faired it in. The rear one was not clear on some aircraft, so I blended it in and planned on painting it later in the construction process.

The fuselage halves, joined and ready for its wings.

The wings went together, top and bottom, with not much difficulty. Adding them to the fuselage was another story. The right wing fit like a glove, but the left wing left a big gap. I added a .005 shim and used CA glue to blend it in, carefully sanding to avoid the lovely wing fences, then re-scribed. Re-scribing is challenging on this model because the surface detail is so amazingly delicate and complex – which makes me wish it fit better, since a lot of detail is lost during construction.

The wings, once they were finally joined to the fuselage.

The fuselage was complete except for a plate that encloses the lower part of the nose. There are separate plates for the MiG-15 the MiG-15bis; I was careful to select the right one. The fit of this chin plate was sloppy, to say the least; a lot of filler and a commensurate amount of sanding was needed to fair it in acceptably, followed by a long re-scribing session.

The MiG-15-specific chin panel provide the details for the NS-23 cannon, versus the later, faster-firing NR-23 cannon. Once the chin was added and the detail repaired, I cleaned up the gun blisters for the nose and carefully cut away the guns, then drilled holes in them to accept the excellent turned brass 23mm and 37mm cannon barrels from Master Models. Centering and drilling the holes was a lot easier before adding the blisters to the fuselage (where they fit perfectly).

The resin parts for the cockpit include the inner sides of the intake. The kit parts fit very well, and are topped by a plastic splitter at the front. This is enclosed by a plastic intake ring that includes the gin camera fairing. The resin parts, on the other hand, created a terrible fit issue with the splitter piece, and it’s inside the fuselage where it’s nearly impossible to address. I applied a healthy amount pot Apoxie-Sculpt to the seams created by the poor fit. Once this was dry, I made a series of homemade tools from flat toothpicks by gluing strips of sandpaper them and then carefully and gradually eliminated the excess Apoxie-Sculpt. I checked my work with a silver Sharpie pen, and when no remaining artifacts remained, I added the intake ring.

However, now the ring didn’t fit well – and it left a step inside the intake. I used CA glue to fill the gaps on the outside of the aircraft and sanded them out. The inside of the intake was harder – I finally decided to cut .005 styrene to shape, then CA glue them to the outer sides of the intakes and cut off the excess that projected beyond the intake. I then gently sanded the inside lip of the intake to blend the styrene and kit plastic. To my shock, this approach actually worked.

.005 styrene was cut to fit the outer side of the intakes, then fitted in the model and the excess was marked with a pen and cut off before the part was CA-glued to the intake sides.

After the .005 styrene was glue in and sanded, the intakes were fairly seamless.

The main gear wells do a good job of reproducing the texture and structure of the roof of the wells, but they omit the wiring, which was kept mainly around the perimeter of the wells. Using my reference photos, I added the wires using fine lead solder. This detail is entirely superfluous – the MiG-15 sits so low to the ground it’s physically impossible to see – but I find the addition of wires and hoses to landing gear wells to be relaxing. Clearly, something is wrong with me.

Before turning my attention to the nose well, I added the Brassin resin rear cockpit shelf. This fit very precisely – I had to sand a little off the sides to get it into place.

Next time: final assembly, paint, decals and landing gear!

 

 

 

This day in 1944: the 378th’s Boughton nearly buys it

On June 29, 1944, Captain Wilfred Crutchfield led 12 planes from the 378th Fighter Squadron to the area south of Paris, where they bombed railroad tracks near Chartres and Augeriolle and the town of Chateuden. 20 Oil cars were destroyed during the mission, but in the process Lt. William Boughton picked up some flak. He called his leader, Capt. Richard Cline, “saying he was hit in the engine and was smoking.” Cline gave him a heading for home, but after about three minutes Boughton said he was bailing out. “He pulled up into the clouds at 1500 feet and his ship (P-47D-20 42-76424) was seen to hit the ground and explode. He landed safely and was seen to be making his way toward a small woods.” Boughton would later return to the group.

Later in the day, the 378thattacked the marshalling yard at Ploermel and put eight bombs into the tracks. Lt. Joe Matte damaged a truck and a trailer on the way home.

 

Guest blogger: Robert Jackson of the 379th FS, 362nd FS

Robert Jackson’s widow Joan shared this story with me a few years ago. The military is a big thing, and also a small place! Here’s Jackson’s story, which he dictated many years ago:

 

During WWII we had an old UC-78 in the 362ndFG that we used for little things. If we ran out of bomb fuses we would have to go someplace and borrow some fuses from another outfit and we could do that in a UC-78, which could carry 100 bomb fuses. We couldn’t carry those a P-47, so it was a good little utility aircraft. I learned to fly it because it was a good Cessna product from home.

 

One morning, about 4 a.m., two guys, including Jim Ashford, whose home was Honolulu, Hawaii, came in and woke me up and said, “Come on, we got the UC-78 all loaded up with our stuff. We’re going home. But we have to have someone to fly it back from Paris.” They couldn’t fly it – they weren’t checked out in it. I had just my underwear on, so I pulled on my flying suit and went out and got in the airplane.

 

“Hey, we can’t fly this thing,” I said. “You’ve got it too loaded down with your stuff.”

 

“Dammit, new man, don’t worry about the load on it, just get in and fly it” was the response. So we flew it to Paris, landed at Villacoublay – a good landing – taxied in, and had to get it turned around to park it. We broke the tail wheel while turning around.

 

What did these guys do? Unload all their stuff. “Well, so long Jackson, have a good tour.  See you.” And they took off.

 

I waited around about till 8 o’clock and went into operations. The ops officer in there was a major navigator. I had never heard of a navigator ops officer before. So, I asked him if they had any parts for a UC-78 and he said no, since they did not have any assigned there.

 

“Do you know where they might have any parts?” I asked. He said that the UC-78 depot was at Cambrai, up in Belgium.

 

“Have you got any P-47s here?”

 

“Yeah, we have some war-weary ones.”

 

“What’s my chance of flying one up to Cambrai to get a tail wheel assembly for the UC-78, fly back here and fix the plane?” Well, he didn’t know about that. This navigator didn’t know anything about flying and didn’t know if he could loan me a P-47 or not. I was getting irritated at him. It was getting late and I had not had anything to eat. I didn’t have any identification, didn’t have any money – I was just supposed to fly Ashford and the other pilot there and fly right back. I went to the billeting office and they said they would fix me up with a razor, bar of soap etc. and allow me to spend the night at the billet.

 

There was an Officers’ Mess down at the billet.  “Do you have any clothes?” the clerk asked.

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, General Lee runs the place and he is a real stickler, and you have to have on a green blouse and pinks to get in the place.” Hell, I was hungry so I went anyway. I went into the mess and they wanted ID etc. There was a whole line of people behind me. The maître d’ asked if there was anyone who could identify me. No one from our group was there. The 362nd never got to places like this. The lt. colonel behind me said, “I’ll take care of this. You from the 362nd?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“I’m from the 9th. Who is your CO?”

 

“It’s Col. – uh – uh…” Hell! I couldn’t remember his name to save my neck. “Oh yeah-it’s Col. Laughlin.”

 

“What, Laughlin? Well, this young man is a member of the 362nd, let this man in.” The maître d’ said “Oh yes sir. Take that table way back there in the corner, lieutenant.” Which I did. The lt. colonel said he would pay for my dinner and see me when I got home.

 

The first course was soup and I had just started eating when I noticed a girl way over on the other side of the room sitting with about five other officers. She looked just like my cousin Maxine Patterson from Wisconsin in a nurses uniform. It couldn’t be! Well, I thought, I’ll finish the soup first before I go over there in case it isn’t Maxine and I get thrown out of this place. Well, it was Maxine and she was there with her boyfriend Bob Rouse, whom she later married. They took me back to St. Clue, 99th General Hospital and fixed me up with a uniform and found some lieutenant’s bars. Then I went back out to Villacoublay to try and get the airplane thing straightened out.

 

Finally the major navigator said, “you be sure and bring that airplane back here.” Hell, I had to get my airplane fixed in order to go home. This dumb navigator didn’t think I would come back. I checked the forms and it was okay except it was on a Red X – one time flight to the depot. The aircraft was to be dismantled. What the heck – I signed it off, jumped in and flew up to Cambrai.

 

Upon arrival, I asked the operations officer, “Hey, I’m looking for some parts to a UC-78.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“One of your airplanes.”

 

“Don’t have any, all we have are P-51s and a few other planes. UC-78? Let me look this thing up in the log. Yeah, they have those things up in Holland at this place.”  I’ve forgotten now where in Holland this place was, but I went out to get in my P-47 and the crew chief said “Lieutenant, you’re not going to fly this airplane are you? This is on Red X for one-time flight to the depot in Burtonwood in England where they are going to tear it up. This is one of those war-weary ones that is about to fall apart.”

 

“Well, if I just take it this far…”

 

“Can’t let you do that, lieutenant!”

 

“Well, son of a gun, what type of airplanes do you have here?”

 

“Mostly P-51s.”

 

I go back in and talk to the operations officer in Cambrai and ask him if I can borrow one of his P-51s, go up to Holland and get a part for my airplane. “Sure!”

 

I took the P-51, flew up to Holland and they said “What’s a UC-78?” This is about 3 days now that have gone by. I asked them for their field phone so I could call Etain and the 362nd Fighter Group. I got Col. Laughlin on the line: “It’s a long story sir, I’ll explain when I get back.”

 

“You get back now.”

 

“But sir, I have this P-51 that I have to get back to Cambrai.”

 

“ Don’t worry about that Jackson, just fly it back here. You have missed about 2 missions!” I fly back to Etain, land and park the P-51 where they tell me to and about three days later the thing disappears. I don’t know where it went.

 

Now fast-forward 23 years to 1969. I get out to Hickham (Honolulu) and I run all the time out there. For some reason, this brigadier general named Favor saw me running one time and came up to me one day and said, “Jackson, you run about as slow as I do, do you mind if I run along with you?”

 

“Oh no sir, general. Go ahead.”

 

Everyday for about three months we ran together. Nothing was planned – if he wasn’t there I would go ahead and vice versa. He would never say a word except, “Ready to go, Jackson?’  “Yes sir!” and we would run, go to the scan room and take a steam bath and the general would say “Well, see you tomorrow Jackson.” That’s all the contact we ever had.

 

We were out there one day –the general and I – and I look up in front of me and I see this guy running. It’s Jim Ashford – the guy I took to Paris in the UC-78! I caught up with him, stuck out my foot and tripped him a little. Ashford looks around to say a few words and I asked him if he was Jim Ashford. He answered “Yes.”

 

“You son of a gun you left me at Villacoublay 25 years ago.”

 

“You’re Jackson, aren’t you?” Ashford was now the head of the Air National Guard in Hawaii, and he would come out there about once a week to run.  So, we all ran together and I introduced him to Gen. Favor, and then go back to the scan room for our steam bath. We were still talking when Jim says, “what in the hell ever happened anyway?”

 

“Well,” I said, “I was there at Villacoublay to get an airplane and this operations officer was a dumb navigator. Can you imagine a navigator being an ops officer?  He loaned me a P-47 to take up to Cambrai and this thing was on a one-time flight, so I borrowed a P-51 and went on up to Antwrep. Then I called Uncle Joe on the telephone and he said ‘get your ass home. Forget about your damned airplanes, we’ll take care of that later.’ So, I went on home.”

 

Jim said “Son of a gun, isn’t that something. I’ve got to get back to the office. I’ll see you later, Jackson.”  The general is still sitting there in the Scan room. And you know, everyone sat with a little distance between them. Finally, he comes over and sits right next to me. “What’s this?” I think. And he says “Jackson, that’s one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. Can you imagine meeting that guy 25 years later, 8000 miles from where he left you. By the way, do you remember me in the story?”

 

“Do you mean, about me and Ashford?”

 

“Yes, do you remember the dumb navigator Jackson?  WHERE IS MY P-47?”

 

 

Fairey Gannet AEW.3 Part 6: The finish, and the finish

When last we left off, the Gannet AEW.3 was ready for decals. But there was a catch: the markings in the kit for XL471 are for 1977 – after the plane had stopped flying from Ark Royal. The black and white stripes on the finlet are too few in number and the B-flight marking hugs the tail leading edge where it should not. I wanted the 1975 markings from the Gannet AEW.3’s last carrier deployment. Print Scale Decals’ sheet for the Gannet includes 1975-era markings, so I used them instead.

The decals are a bit thick, but they behave themselves once they’re on the model. Decalling was nearly drama-free with the exception of some of Sword’s beautiful data markings, which desperately wanted to fold over on themselves. I used photos of XL471 to place the markings appropriately – every one of these planes was marked differently, the photos show – and discarded some of Sword’s tiniest markings because they looked like scratches in the paint instead of stencils. I also used black decal trim film to create the non-skid walkways and the deicer boots on the leading edges of the wings.

Print Scale provided the outlines of the vertical fin and finlet deicers as decals – a nice touch, if you can deal with the stress of applying these thin decals. I also added a strip of black decal to the leading edge of the vertical fin.

All the major markings on the model, minus the leading edge de-icers.

With the decals in place, I applied a fresh coat of Future and, once it was dry, gave the model a sludge-wash with a mixture of dish soap and Payne’s gray watercolor paint. When the excess wash was removed, I added some small fluid leaks using a .005 rapidograph pen. I identified areas where fluid might leak and applied a few small dots at corners of panels or behind or below hinges. Before the ink dried, I smeared it backward with my fingertip. If the effect isn’t what you want, you can remove it with water on a cotton swab and try again. The key is to not over-do it – a few leaks are one thing, but consistent leaks over the entire model would indicate a poorly-maintained aircraft and would look wrong.

I flat-coated the model with two coats of heavily-thinned Testors Dullcote, which gave the model a mostly-flat appearance but kept a bit of shine, just as a well-maintained finish would show in real life. The leading edge de-icers and walkways were sprayed with a much less thinned mixture of Dullcote to totally deaden the shine in these areas.

The propellers were painted next. A note to the personnel of the Fleet Air Arm: could you have just painted these things in a standard way? Nearly every photo I found had different colors (white or yellow) applied in different places (stripes, tips) and in different widths. I settled on a combination of yellow tips for the front propeller and broader white stripes for the rear propeller. The painted props were brushed with Future and received their small decals from the Sword sheet. Take care to mount the props in the spinners first, though – the decals should be in the same place on each blade, but without the spinners you’ll miss the fact that much of the base of the rear props is contained in the spinner. The decal goes outside of that, and then you can use the rear propeller to line up the decals on the front propeller.

I painted the spinners, the tailhook and the front of one drop tank white, followed by yellow. The single drop tank was done for a reason: in my research, I discovered that Gannet AEW.3s would often fly with one tank and pylon, on the left side, because the tank would blank out the AN/APS-20. No tanks provided the best coverage but limited endurance, so many times the planes would fly with a single tank in a counter-clockwise orbit, keeping the tank facing the inside of the orbit (and the fleet).

Next came the step I dreaded the most: painting the spinner stripes. The sadists in “B” Flight, who clearly hated scale modelers, applied 11 concentric yellow and black stripes to the two spinners of their Gannets. Mustering my courage, I began applying strips of cut-down Tamiya tape for curves, carefully monitoring the distance between stripes. The top of the spinner was completely masked off, since it would all be black; the black tip and last yellow stripe would be dealt with last.

After several hours of masking, I airbrushed black as lightly as possible to minimize paint creeping under the tape. After it had dried a little, I started peeling stripe after stripe and was astonished to see it had all worked out! I masked off my work and put the tip of the spinner through the appropriate sized hole in a circle template, and painted the tip (and defined the last yellow stripe at the same time). My modeling nightmare turned out not to be as bad as I’d feared! After this, the tail hook and drop tank were a breeze.

The painted spinner, with propellers. You are getting sleepy… sleepy…

The canopy came from the Sword aftermarket kit. I cut the vacuformed canopy off the carrier sheet and removed the windscreen, then dipped it in Future and allowed it to dry. Later, I masked it, painted it black and then EDSG, and added the yellow “cut here” markings from the Sword decal sheet. It received a second dip and was set aside for final assembly. The Print Scale sheet also included two very thin parallel white line decals; I used them to replicate the seals around the windscreen panels. I could measure the perimeter of each pane and cut two identical pieces, which were transferred to the windscreen and then given a coat of Future to seal them in place (decals can’t grip bare transparent plastic very well). It took 10 tiny strips to finish the windscreen. Once they were dried, I used scenic glue to install the tiny photoetched windshield wiper included on the kit’s photoetched fret.

The white decal strips neatly replicated the windshield seal, and the wiper came from the kit.

Nothing from here could progress until the plane was on its landing gear. The main gear were notable for their lack of axles – there was nothing for the wheels to fit on to! I drilled holes into the main gear where the axles should be, and then used Albion Alloys tubing to make new axles – which I fit into the wheels. I found it easier to add the axles to the struts on the finished model than to slip the wheels onto the axles. The main mounts we cleaned up and I removed the anti-torque scissors with a motor tool. These were replaced by photo-etched parts from Eduard intended for the Gannet ASW.2. Photoetched brass tie-downs, painted solder brake lines, and other small details were added to the struts, which were finally outfitted with a small placard decal swiped from a Hasegawa weapons set.

One right, one left. The placards read, “if you can read this, put down my damn model!”

The nose gear was much more complex. I removed the single retraction strut and the anti-torque scissors and removed the mold lines by scraping them with a No. 11 blade. Then, I started adding bits from the Eduard set, including attachment points for the two retraction struts. These struts interfaced with the front hinges of the nose gear doors – so I had to fashion new hinges from strip styrene for the doors as well. The struts were made from two lengths of telescoping Albion Alloys brass tubing, which would allow me to adjust their lengths during final assembly. I also re-made the towing bracket on the front of the gear and added the shrink struts and other details to complete a rather complex set of landing gear.

The nose gear, before the application of paint.

The nose gear plugged into a nice hole in the nose well bay, but the mains fit poorly into odd box-shaped holes on the outer sides of the wheel bays. Their retraction struts also rested on a raised ledge on the forward walls of the bays. These two things made mounting the main gear a challenge, which was only overcome by patience and careful application of CA glue.

The right main gear installed, with the shrink strut added.

I painted the wheels and tires as I usually do, but I applied a lesson I learned building an Airfix M6 bomb service truck. After painting the tires an appropriate dark gray-brown, I applied pastels ranging from black to brown to them. This weathered the tires, but it also made them dead flat – exactly as worn rubber should appear. The wheels were joined to the struts – some adjustment was needed to the both nose wheels in contact with the ground – and with that the model was on its gear.

The nose wheel. with the retraction struts anchored to the door hinges.

Next, the various antennas were removed from the sprues, cleaned up, and CA-glued to a popsicle stick for painting. The CA adheres well enough for painting, but the parts can still be easily detached. They were then added using photos as a guide. The pitot sensor is not called out in the instructions – it goes below the outer left wing.

One of the sensors on the belly of the machine was revealed in photos to be a round, hollow cylinder with a tube inside of it; the kit part was much simplified, so I drilled it out and added the internal tube from a bit of solder. After it was painted and added, it’s barely visible – but it’s a neat detail!

The landing light bays were painted gray and fitted with an MV lens of the proper size. A small “wire” was added from fine solder, and the covers were cut from clear packing tape. These were cut slightly oversized and adhered on their own; any overlap of the painted areas was carefully brushed with Dullcote to eliminate its shine.

Gear doors came next. The mains were butt-joined to the lower wing at the edge of the wheel wells; the nose gear doors went into place and had the nose gear retraction struts extended to the front hinges. A painless process!

The pylons and tank were added next. I had to adjust the profile of the lower edge of the pylons to allow the tank to sit at the appropriate angle; they were then CA-glued to the wings. Since there were no attachment points, I was careful to get them aligned. The tailhook went into place with no fuss at all.

I un-masked the boarding ladder recess and set about making a ladder. The ladder cover folded over to form the lower rung of the ladder; the outer side of the ladder folded up and had an extension to reach the lower rung. The cover was made from .005 styrene, while the rest of the ladder was very carefully assembled from .020 by .020 styrene. The extension was made of wire. It was painted, assembled and added to the model with a shocking lack of hassle.

The boarding ladder is a small but colorful detail and was shockingly easy to make.

The AEW.3 had two different aerial arrangements, early and late. Naturally, the late arrangement was the weirdest. The antennas were suspended between the top of the tail and antenna masts on the fuselage spine by springs mounted on the inside of the finlets. I made mounting plates for the finlets from .005 styrene and drilled holes to mount tiny lengths of .006 acupuncture needles, which would double as my springs. I also drilled a hole in the tippy top of the leading edge of the vertical fin and added a small bit of metal rod as the mast. I tweezed a fiber from a pair of black panty hose and, using CA glue, tweezers and a lot of care, strung it from post to spring to tail to spring to post.

Asymmetrical installation. of UHF aerials, with the “springs” on the finlets clearly visible.

The radar observers’ doors came from the resin set for the radar compartment, but I found the interior detail lacking. It was sanded off and I replaced it with fine solder, styrene and photoetched bits. I also used Apoxy-Scuplt to mold the roll-up blinds used to blank off the windows in the daytime so the operators could see their screens; straps were made with flattened fine solder. After these were painted they were added to the top of the doors’ interiors.

The kit door windows are domed on the outside but are flat on the inside. Thoughtfully, Sword provided replacements in vacuformed plastic that are true domes inside and outside. Somehow, I managed to throw mine away after cutting the windscreen off the clear carrier and I found them only after going through my workshop trash can item by item, CSI-style. That was one problem solved. Then I had to cut these domes out and get their tiny circumferences round. Once that was done, I dropped one of them on the floor and spent 20 minutes trying to find it. Upon its location, it was immediately adhered to the window opening with Future, which sticks well and doesn’t mar clear parts.

Domes on, and handles yet to come. Here, the doors have nearly been crushed by a quarter.

Tiny bits of .020 styrene rod were placed on the inside and outside of the doors, and photoetched handles (sourced from random bits of photoetched sheets intended for P-51Ds!) were carefully added. The doors themselves were CA-glued in place, along with a brass support rod.

The radar observer’s compartment door, detailed and in place.

Next, I substituted .020 by .040 styrene strip for the four outer wing antenna provided in the kit as photoetched parts. I used Dullcote as the adhesive and left the plastic white to match the real items. These antennas seen to have been located strategically so future modelers could knock them off!

The final step was to apply that crazy propeller and spinner. And with that, it was done – what I hope is an attractive model of a rather homely airplane! I learned a lot building the Gannet AEW.3 – the Sword kit is good but leaves a lot of areas to the modeler to detail. If you have references and patience, you can fully flex your modeling skills on the AEW.3!

Fairey Gannet AEW.3 Part 5: Only Shades of Gray

When we left off on the Gannet back in January, the wings were on and we’d added the wing-tip lights and the leading-edge bays for the landing lights. In September, I finally picked the model up again (after spending time finishing a CF-100 building a Fokker Dr. I and doing a lot of work on a Firefly F.Mk. I – but these are totally different stories). Part of the delay was that I had lost the canopy/windscreen. I couldn’t find the darn thing anywhere, and an email to Sword vanished into the electronic ether with no response to be had. Months passed and I finally resigned myself to finding an alternative, the transparent part re-materialized on my desk. Perhaps I had confused it for the cockpit glass to a Firefly, or perhaps it just managed to elude my searches, but in any case I was back in business.

 

The first point of order was to get the horizontal tails on properly. There are no mounting points for the tails (which is weird, since the wings had them) and so their locations were suspect. It would be easy to get the horizontals too far forward or aft; studying drawings and photos was a must in placing the first one. I attached it with CA glue and had a minimal seam to address at the join. The other horizontal fit a little less well but the seam was handled with Mr. Surfacer 500. Alignment of the horizontals is a snap when the finlets are in place: hold the plane by the wing tips, looking at it from its blind spot below the tail, then rock the tail down. The winglets should touch the wings simultaneously on both sides.

Next came the windscreen. It was cut from the canopy with a cutoff wheel in a motor tool, and the trailing edge was sanded to shape and the whole thing was dipped in Future (or PFM, or whatever it’s called this week) and allowed to dry overnight under an overturned bowl for dust protection. The fit of the windscreen was pretty good, save for some minor gaps on the front left side which were eradicated with Mr. Surfacer. I masked the transparent panels with Parafilm M.

 

Next, I handled the jet exhausts, which were located just below the leading edges of the wings. The kit provided the exhaust shrouds in halves, with the exhausts themselves also in halves. I found the exhausts’ thickness to be all out of whack compared to photos, so I knew I’d have to make new ones. First, though, I had to get the shrouds built and installed symmetrically on the fuselage. The shrouds went together easily, with a little sanding needed at their seams and on the bottom edges to even them out, and then onto the fuselage they went. There’s an outline on the fuselage that gives a hint of where they should go. After a lot of test-fitting I went for it and CA-glued them into place; they fit with the merest of seams and Mr. Surfacer again came to the rescue.

 

As for the exhausts themselves, I first tried to bend brass tubing to shape. No dice – the odd semi-airfoil shape was impossible to impart on brass. Next, I tried stretching plastic rod, which was a tremendous waste of time. What could I have on hand that could fulfill the role? A visit to the kitchen’s junk drawer yielded three plastic drinking straws of various diameters. In Goldilocks style, one was too small, one was too big but the third was just right. I cut short segments to length and bent them carefully to shape, leaving them in the shrouds for several days preserve their new profiles. Then I pulled them out, airbrushed them with Testors metallizer burnt metal, and set them aside for final assembly.

 

Now it was time for real painting. First came black – I sprayed it over the windscreen as the interior color, and outlined the panel lines. This pre-shading in almost never really visible after the final paint job, which is just what I want. I masked the nose (to prevent paint getting into the open intakes) and prepared my first color.

 

Convention holds that you paint the light colors first. Convention is stupid. You paint the color that’s easiest to mask first. In this case, it was the extra dark sea gray (EDSG) on the top of the fuselage, the wings and the tail. I broke out the AeroMaster gunship gray that had served me so well with the Firefly FR.5 and applied a coat over the appropriate areas – including the wrap-around on the wing leading edge. This was important to get with the first color because of the inconvenient position of the exhaust shrouds.

 

Looks nice! But what is that gray?

The paint went down beautifully – but there was a problem. It didn’t really look like the color photos of Gannets in my references. Roy Sutherland said it wasn’t dark enough, and he was right. I started experimenting and came up with a formula that worked: 17 drops of ocean gray, 2 drops of dark sea blue, and 6 drops of PRU blue. The paint was sprayed on the model and worked perfectly; the model was clearly a dark gray in indoor light, but took on a blue tone in sunlight, just like the real airplane.

The right shade of EDSG makes a big difference…

Much Tamiya tape was harmed in the making of this model.

I masked the appropriate parts of the model – wings, lower leading edge, tail, and upper fuselage – with Tamiya tape. The demarcation on the fuselage was described with Tamiya’s tape for curves, which worked beautifully. Wedges of foam were placed in the radar observers’ compartment openings and the wheel wells and boarding ladder cutout were stuffed with wet tissue paper. Testors sky type S was loaded into the airbrush and I went to work on the bottom of the plane. For whatever reason, my Paasche VL would only spray a small bit of paint before stopping; repeated cleanings didn’t fix the issue. The fact that my gray shades worked wonderfully led me to the conclusion that the sky type S was causing the problem. I persisted – in fits and starts, the entire Gannet was treated to a neat coat of this weird gray-green color.

 

When the masking came off, the result was superb. There were five minor areas that needed touch-up: an area on one of the rudders where too much pre-shading was visible, the areas around the radar compartment doors, and the demarcation on the nose and tail on the left side. Matching the camouflage side to side can be tough, and I really fretted over getting this right. My research found two distinct demarkations on Gannet AEW.3s: one that broke down at the back of the canopy and then pinched toward the center of the nose and a second that lacked that break, continuing a straight line from where the paint curved up on the tail all the way to the pinch in the nose. The plane I was building, XL471, had the latter according to my photos.

 

My issue was that the EDSG wasn’t perfectly symmetric on the nose and on the tail. The right side was the least accurate, so I remasked the nose and the upward curve toward the tail and repainted. Success! All the touch-ups went without flaw and now, looking down on the model, the demarcation of the EDSG is identical from side to side.

The model was now ready for decals. But there’s a catch: the markings in the kit for XL471 are wrong. The black and white stripes on the finlet are too few in number and the B-flight marking hugs that tail leading edge where it should not. Replacements exist, but they are hard to find; there were two Model Art decal sheets with the markings, and AlleyCat’s spectacular sheet includes XL471. All of these are impossible to obtain. Fortunately, the very day of this minor crisis, Print Scale Decals’ sheet for the Gannet was released and I bought a set. I await their arrival!

 

Next time: decals, weathering and the landing gear.

On this date in 1944: Chuck Yeager’s easiest victory ever

On the 357th FG’s mission to Bremen on October 12, the 363rd FS was tasked as the rover squadron, ahead and to the right of the first box of bombers. Above Steinhuder Lake, 22 Bf 109s crossed directly in front of the squadron. “I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1 ½ miles away at the same level,” said Lt. Charles Yeager. Before he could open fire, two of the German pilots simply rolled over and bailed out! “I was the closest to the tail end of the enemy formation and no one but myself was in shooting range. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left and was smoking and streaming coolant and went into a slow diving turn to the left. I closed up on the next Bf 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10 degrees. I gave about a three-second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Bf 109 to the right had cut his throttle and he was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on the wings and tail section. He snapped to the right three times and bailed out.”

“My element leader, Lt. Richard Roper, was shooting at two Bf 109s when I told him to break left into a Bf 109 that was coming in from 7 o’clock high,” said Lt. Frank Gailer. “Being about 300 yards behind, I tried to pull up under the enemy aircraft – I pulled up sharply, fired one burst and snapped onto my back as I went above the enemy aircraft. I saw him do a wingover and head down from 18,000 feet.” Roper scored two kills, giving the three pilots eight victories in all. In exchange, Oberstleutnant Josef “Pips” Priller of JG.26 bagged Lt. Herschel Pascoe; he ended up as a POW.