Advance praise for “Thunderbolts Triumphant” (blush!)

Sharing your manuscript around before publication is a good thing to do – other writers can help you improve the writing, or tip you to alternative sources you might not have run across. Later, you get to ask writers for their assessment for possible use in promoting the book. This is an exercise I recommend to any writer who’s feeling down about themselves – writers are good with words, naturally, and they’re generous in giving articulate praise.

I’m lucky – the two Toms are scale modelers I’ve known for a long time, and Leo Barron used my manuscript several years ago to add the aerial component to his latest work on the Battle of the Bulge!

Here’s what they had to say about the forthcoming book:

“Thunderbolts Triumphant presents the reader with a pilot’s-eye view of the dangerous, demanding and crucial ground support missions flown by the 362nd Fighter Group during World War II. Chris Bucholtz’s exacting research and writing skill add a new insight to this often forgotten part of the air war against Germany. I highly recommend this book to all World War II aviation buffs.”

Tom Ivie, author of Patton’s Eyes in the Sky: USAAF Tactical Reconnaissance Missions, North West Europe, 1944-45

 

Thunderbolts Triumphant is one of the best group histories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A great story about a great group of guys whose story should have been told long ago, told from the ground up. Chris Bucholtz brings to this work a deep personal passion to get the story right and it shows. If you want to know the story of the guys who really won the air war in Europe, look no further.”

— Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, author, Fabled Fifteen: The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15

“Thunderbolts Triumphant is an exhilarating day-by-day account of the brave pilots and airman of the 362nd Fighter Group. Chris Bucholtz puts you in the cockpit so that you experience the dogfights firsthand. If you want to learn more about the air combat over Europe in World War II, then this is the book for you.”

–Leo Barron, author, Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General’s Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne


By the way, all three of these books are excellent reads – authoritative, exciting, and the beneficiaries of exacting research! I’m proud to have a copy of each on my library’s shelves. (See? I can write these little testimonies, too!) All are available via Amazon, so pick up a copy!

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The cover of “Thunderbolts Triumphant”

A few weeks ago I promised you a peek at the cover art for my new book on the 362nd Fighter Group. Well, here it is:

 

 

It’s already available for pre-order on Amazon, or you can or see it on Casemate’s web page, too. It’s going to be a big book – but believe it or not, I cut down the manuscript by about 20 percent for publication. That means the “excerpts” you read here will have additional details over and beyond the book. What’s more, I plan to continue to update the manuscript as time progresses – my biggest frustration is that a book comes out, followed by a barrage of great information from people who saw the book was available. That information often goes for naught, but I want to use the blog to continue to share with you the information that efforts round the group surface.

The book will be out in late November, just in time stuff your oversized stockings!

This day, in 1944: “Memphis Rebel” crashes through a fuel dump – and Thurman Morrison survives

The above photo looks like a scene of tragedy – a wrecked P-47, flames, and firefighting foam everywhere. It very well could have been, except for luck and the rugged construction of the Thunderbolt.

On April 29, 1944, the 362nd group provided withdrawal escort for bombers returning from Berlin, on a mission led by Capt. Bill Flavin. The P-47s were each equipped with two 108-gallon pressed paper tanks. At this stage, the group had been flying two escort missions a day, and the P-47s were becoming mechanically worn. On take-off, Capt. Thurman Morrison’s P-47 “Memphis Rebel” failed to get airborne. “I recognized at the ‘go-no go’ point along the runway that he was not going to make it off the ground,” said Bob McKee, his wingman, who was also taking off at the time. “I clicked on my throttle’s water injection switch to give me extra power and eased off the PSP runway, to the right and over the sod area as I began to overrun Morrison’s aircraft.” McKee got off the ground in time to see Morrison’s plane skid into a gasoline dump containing 400,000 gallons of fuel, stored and camouflaged by the RAF right at the end of the runway. The dump erupted in a titanic fireball.

McKee’s plane was flipped onto its right side at 50 feet of altitude and very little speed, and only some frantic flying saved McKee from going in, too.

The non-flying personnel watching the take-off from “sweaters’ hill” “wrote him off as one dead fighter pilot,” said “Andy” Anderson, the 379th’s S-2. Even more shocking than this accident was Morrison’s appearance back at the operations tent later. “He walked in carrying his parachute, utterly unscathed,” Anderson said. “Memphis Rebel,” P-47D 42-75142, slid through a sheet of flame, then pivoted on its belly around 180 degrees, keeping its pilot safe until it emerged on the other side. “Two of the anti-aircraft GIs who dwelt in tents at the end of the runway had dashed to Capt. Morrison’s aid and, using a pickaxe, pried open his jammed canopy and dragged him out of the burning plane. Capt. Morrison. plane and all, had skidded right through the blazing inferno he had started, but he sat there, trapped in his cockpit, until the two brave GIs pried him out. You have to give credit to a couple of heroes there, to leap on to a burning airplane carrying a very volatile load of high-octane gasoline.”

 

That book on the 362nd I talk about? It’s coming this fall!

Now that I have a contract in hand, I can spill the beans: this fall, Casemate Publishers will be issuing my book “Thunderbolts Triumphant: the 362nd Fighter Group vs. Germany’s Wehrmacht.” It’ll be the first narrative history of the 362nd, and it’ll be very lavishly illustrated (150+ photos, color profiles, etc.). So, if you have any material you think might help the book (especially photos!) let me know -now’s the time!

I’ve been excerpting the manuscript here for a long time. The book will be shorter (and better written!) and a lot of nitty-gritty details, like aircraft serials, will be removed to an appendix at the back so the text is more readable.

I want to thank those of you who have helped with the over the years – I hope I can share the cover art with you all soon!

Gannet AEW.3: Wheel Wells, Wings and Wingtip Lights

When we last left the Gannet, the fuselage was detailed and all buttoned up. That’s where she sat for a long while as I worked on the Sikorsky S-38. But, once the S-38’s fuselage was closed up, I switched back to spend some quality time with the Gannet.

OK, so I have a hard time finishing anything. At least the A-3, F-106 and Fokker Triplane aren’t visible here…

The wings and horizontal tail were the next stage. I started with the tail; the stabilizers are provided in upper and lower halves. After trimming them from the sprues and cleaning them up, I cemented the first set together – and then realized they were handed, and that I’d glued two top halves together! I pried them apart and re-glued them, feeling lucky to have caught my mistake.

Next came the finlets. I found that on each stabilizer, one finlet – the top on one, the bottom on the other – didn’t really fit well. They all required repeated filling and sanding, to be honest, and then I needed to re-scribe the finlets. Between the original Gannet AS.1 and the AEW.3, Fairey had decided to add de-icing equipment to the finlets, so scribing could not be overlooked. Photos of the real plane showed a distinct dark panel boundary between the de-icing panel and the rest of the finlet.

As I was re-scribing, I noticed that the panel detail on the horizontals was different. I dawned on me: I had caught my error, then repeated it. Twice! After much blue language (said with a British accent in order to maintain the authenticity of this build), I realized that prying the halves apart was no longer an option. Instead, I sanded the detail off the top of one stabilizer and off the bottom of the second, and re-scribed the detail to match the opposite side. This was slightly difficult with the finlets in the way, but I accomplished it and happily set the horizontals aside for later.

Before I could add the wings, I needed to detail the wheel wells. The kit provides three sides for each well and a center bulkhead; the fourth side is the side of the fuselage on this mid-wing aircraft. These parts were all added to the upper wing, and the fit was not bad. Hunting for photos was a challenge – I found images strewn all over the internet of AEW.3s in Arizona in the U.S. and Yeovilton, Newark, Yorkshire and Gatwick in the U.K.  No one set captures the entirety of both wheel wells, so some mental jigsaw puzzling was needed to figure out where details went.

Basically, the wheel wells featured a ribbed plate (smooth in the kit) that covered a circuit box. Wiring runs led up the front side of the wells and fanned out toward a bus mounted against that center bulkhead. Other hydraulic lines and some woven bundles of wiring continued along the other sides of the inner wells. The detail here varied from side to side. The outer wells, where the strut retraction mechanisms were housed, were essentially the same, but mirrored, with an assortment of struts and hydraulic lines.

The right inner well had a large blue tank for nitrogen (I believe) mounted against its front corner, with and assortment of circuit boxes placed in sequence behind it. The left inner well had some significant ducting and couplers against it. In all, it’s a very busy area. By the way, the Gannet AS.1 and AS.3 have wheel wells that are much, much less crowded – don’t make the mistake of using an AS.1 well (or, maybe, trying to use Eduard parts intended for the AS.1 or AS.3) as the template for the AEW.3’s wells!

This was a lot to replicate. I did it in steps: first I added ribs to the plate at the center of the inner wells, then started in with the wire runs. These were made with fine lead wire; with careful folding, I could get five wires that bent at the same angles. A bit of thin CA in the back of the wires held them together, and they were secured inside the wheel bays. Initially, I mis-interpreted the runs that fanned out to the bus and later realized I had bent them 180 degrees in the wrong direction! Luckily, I was able to fix my mistakes and keep going. These runs also received retaining brackets made from flattened solder. The woven wire runs were made from fine copper wire that was twisted together and cut to shape. It was added where appropriate.

With the lower wing test-fit, the detail in the left inner bay starts to come together.

Preliminary work – note the ribs on the panel and the copper cable run.

The fuselage bulkheads were the trickiest part – none of the detail added here could impinge on the detail under the wing when the wings were added. Before I added any detail, I noticed the inner walls of the bays had very visible rivets. Using a rivet tool and Dymo label tape as a guide, I added rivets to the inner walls of the wheel bays.

The inner walls of the wheel bays were riveted and detailed as appropriate. This detail had to mesh with the detail on the upper wing.

Detailing started with the nitrogen tank, which was made by sanding a nub of .040 styrene rod round at the ends, then wrapping with short lengths of flattened lead wire. Styrene “valves” were added and the whole thing was glued into the wheel well corner. Circuit boxes stolen from HO train details and other boxes cut from styrene completed the detail on the left side. The right side received the valves and hoses for the fuel system, which were made from thicker lead wire, plus three more electronics boxes made from styrene strip.

Wheel bays looking back-to-front. Note the blue nitrogen tank.

The outer bays, featuring the retratction mechanisms, were detailed with lead wire, followed by some styrene rod for the various struts, one of which stands proud above the detail above it in the bay. The whole mess was then airbrushed medium gray, followed by careful detail painting of the brownish fiberglass ribbed panels, the blue tank, the orange fuel system fittings, and a few other items. A heavy wash followed and once that was dry, I dry-brushed with a lightened shade of gray. I added a couple of square data placard with a .005 black rapidograph pen, and decided to stop there.

Wheel bays viewed front to back

The lower wings snap into slots; the top wings rest atop these. I found that my detail fit together very well, although the wings themselves needed some sanding and filling – and shimming – to attach to the fuselage and stay in alignment to the rest of the model. The panel lines I obscured on the wings were replaced, with a scribing template and a sharpened thumbtack coming in handy for the square panels with rounded corners.

Note the wing root – styrene shims and Apoxie Sculpt helped blend in the wings.

 

The lights on the wings were treated somewhat carelessly. The landing lights have clear covers, but there’s no bulb inside them. The position lights on the wingtips are simply not there. I sanded a notch in each wing tip, then cut pieces of clear sprue and sanded a right angle into each to fit the notch. A tiny hole was drilled into each light and clear red and green-blue paint was inserted into the holes to represent the light bulbs. The styrene was CA-glued into the notches in the wingtips and carefully sanded to the original contours, then polished to transparency. The landing light openings were cleaned up and boxed off with .050 styrene; they would be painted gray later after the model was painted, then equipped with MV lenses and covered by covers made with clear packing tape.

The left wing showing the boxed-in landing light bay and the position light. If you look closely, you can see the red “bulb.”

The wheel wells aren’t totally done – the trailing interiors of the outer bays have vertical stanchions that I’ll add only after masking and painting – but at this point the wings are on and aligned, which a pretty good step forward from where the model was art this time last year.

Next, I’ll add the tail, the windscreen and the exhausts for the turboprop engines – and then, the plane will be ready for paint!

 

 

 

 

Adventures in modeling: S-38 “Osa’s Ark” in 1:72, part 1

We take wildlife documentaries for granted today. Anyone with basic cable can flip on the television and see something about wild animals virtually any time of the day. But in the 1920s and 1930s, motion pictures themselves were a new thing, and so the first wildlife films were unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

African animals, of course, held the most appeal to American audiences, and the first people to capture images of these animals on film were the Osa and Martin Johnson. Martin Johnson was one of five members of Jack London’s often-harrowing 1907-1909 voyage across the Pacific, and, as something of a natural showman, took to the road with a collection of photos and artifacts from the expedition. While on tour in Chanute, Kansas, he met Osa Leighty, who was singing at the theatre where Martin was showing his travelogues. Even though she was only 16, the two eloped and for the next five years travelled the country with Martin’s South Seas show, now embellished by Osa singing Hawaiian songs dressed in native costume.

In 1917, the couple travelled to some of the destinations in the South Pacific that the London expedition had been unable to explore (the crew had all fallen ill with a skin ailment). During the nine-month trip, the footage they shot during the trip became the film Among the Cannibal Isles of the South Seas. They returned there in 1919-1920; they visited a tribe that had detained them on their previous visit (they were rescued by a British gunboat), this time with an armed escort, which proved unnecessary because the tribe was so completely disarmed at seeing themselves on film!

Martin and Osa Johnson during one of their African expeditions.

After two more films about the Pacific, the Johnsons set their sights on Africa, visiting the continent for four expeditions (1921-1923, 1924-1927, 1927-1928 and 1929-1931). The last film made during these tours, Congorilla, was the first film made with natural sound in Africa.

The Johnsons’ long trips were part of an economic formula that drove their lives: travel first, then earn enough for the next trip. “When Martin and Osa did return to the States, it was usually because of finances, or rather, no finances,” wrote Kenhelm W. Scott in Exploring with Osa and Martin Johnson. “These visits lasted only long enough to accrue sufficient funds for another expedition. As soon as possible, the Johnsons were off to the wilds on a well-planned trip that would last until their last dollar had been spent.”

In 1932, the Johnsons had an idea for a new way to explore Africa. Sikorsky had scored its first major success with the S-38, a twin-engined amphibian nicknamed “the Explorer’s Air Yacht” in the press. Back home in Chanute, the Johnsons learned to fly, then ordered not one of the Sikorsky planes but two of them: a zebra-striped S-38-BS named “Osa’s Ark” and a single-engined giraffe-spotted S-39-CS dubbed “Spirit of Africa.” They also hired Vern Carstens, an experienced pilot (and later the chief test pilot for Beechcraft), and, for the first weeks of the expedition, flight instructor Boris Sergievsky, who was helpful in teaching the Johnsons how to fly their new airplanes. Osa and Martin made their first water landings in Africa!

S-39 “Spirit of Africa” and S-38 “Osa’s Ark” airborne together in 1934.

“Both husband and wife displayed boldness, a good understanding of the material, and a strong desire to work on their piloting technique,” Sergievsky later wrote. “Mrs. Johnson, especially, showed herself to be a thoroughly able young pilot, quickly and easily absorbing all that I showed and explained to her.” Three film crew members, a mechanic and a pet monkey also embarked with the party for a two-year flying expedition across Africa in 1932-1933.

Though endangered by inadequate maps, unpredictable weather, and the generally primitive nature of aviation, the expedition met with remarkable luck. On one training flight, the gust lock was left on the control surfaces, and Osa and Sergievsky survived by using their combined strength to land the plane; on another occasion, Osa slammed the hatch just as a lion lunged at her. All in all, the planes completed 60,000 miles with no mishap more severe than the wheels sinking into a damp airfield’s surface at an overnight stay.

The Johnsons took “Spirit of Africa” on another expedition, this time to the area that would become Indonesia (the words “and Borneo” were added below the plane’s original name). They were planning further adventures in May 1937 when the Western Air Express Boeing 247D they were aboard crashed into a mountain near Newhall, California. Five people on the plane died, including Martin; Osa suffered back and leg injuries, but soon continued the tour and by October 1937 she was back in Africa on yet another expedition. In 1940, she published her autobiography, I Married Adventure, which was the best-selling book of that year. She continued to travel and write, and started her own clothing line. In 1952, she oversaw the use of expedition film to create television’s first wildlife series, “Osa Johnson’s the Big Game Hunt.” One of the century’s most influential women and a fashion icon, Osa Johnson died in 1952 at the age of 58.

But what became of their planes?

S-38 “Osa’s Ark.”

According to historian Mitch Mayborn, after returning to the U.S. in 1936 “Spirit of
Africa” “remained idle until late 1937 when it was sold to Charles H. Babb,
Glendale CA. After that it was owned by G&G Airlines Co., Ltd. of Tucson,
AZ, in 1939-1941.” During WWII, S-39CS was repainted in Civil Air Patrol colors, flying from the Beaumont, TX CAP base. On Nov. 11, 1942, it was
dispatched to a crash of a CAP Fairchild 24-C8F in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, the S-39 was damaged on landing in rough waters
and the engine could not be restarted. It sank while being towed by a U.S. Coast Guard vessel.

The fate of the S-38BS “Osa’s Ark” is less certain. The plane was owned by Danny Dodge (son of John Dodge of the Dodge Motor Co.) at the time of his drowning death in Lake Huron on August 15, 1938. The S-38 was used to aid the search and to eventually transport his body − possibly the only time an S-38 was used as a hearse.

From there, the track gets fuzzy. One story holds that the S-38 was purchased by Floyd Foren Flyers in Detroit just prior to World War II and sold to the Royal Canadian Air Force a few months later. Mayborn wrote “Osa’s Ark” was “reportedly destroyed in a take-off crash in Canada during 1941-42.” An alternate story is found in
P.J. Capelotti’s book Explorer’s Air Yacht. Capelotti wrote that “Osa’s Ark” was “reported damaged by a windstorm in Cuba in February, 1945, while operating for Expreso Aereo Inter-Americano, S.A.” Whatever the case may be, “Osa’s Ark” lives on in the form of Kermit Weeks’ restored S-38, painted in the familiar zebra stripes of the Johnsons’ famous flying boat.

Kermit Weeks’ beautiful S-38 at Fantasy of Flight in Kissimmee, Florida.

My first exposure to the S-38 came when I saw a photo of “Osa’s Ark” in a magazine article long ago. The Johnsons’ list of firsts was impressive, but so was the S-38, which looked to me like a collection of airplane pieces flying in formation, held together with a few struts and wire. And those stripes!

When CMK’s 1:72 model came out, it posed a thought problem: how could you make a structurally sound 1:72 S-38 using resin parts? When I finally screwed up my courage to build the model, I realized that you couldn’t – but there are ways to make this model work.

Strategy one: treat it like it’s five different models: hull/fuselage, engines, tail, wing, and the connection of the various subassemblies. Strategy two: if resin’s not the best material for a particular job, go for something made of metal.

But first, I wrestled with whether to build “Osa’s Ark” in the first place. It’s the most famous example of the S-38, which served so admirably for numerous airlines. The kit has decals for Pan American and New York-Rio-Buenos Aires Lines planes, as well as a Navy example – plus “Osa’s Ark.” Of all S-38s, I thought, “Osa’s Ark” is the most overdone. Then I came to my senses: how many built-up S-38s have you ever seen? I can count them on the fingers of one hand while wearing mittens. Overdone? Horsefeathers! With such a great story, why not take on “Osa’s Ark?”

Well, one good reason is a lack of documentation. The exterior is well covered, but I knew from my reading that the interior was a custom layout built specifically for the Johnsons, and no photos of that arrangement were handy. Thus, while I did some research, I figured, I’d start with the windows.

The windows? Yes! The kit provides vacuformed windows for the side of the plane, which insert between window frames. I didn’t like the somewhat rounded edges of these windows and their unimpressive degree of clarity, so I cleaned all the frames away and inserted carefully-cut lengths of clear plastic, one on each side. These clear panels fit tightly, but I still gave them a bit of super-fine CA glue around the edges, then sanded them and polished them back to clarity. The frames would be painted in much later.

The kit provides a floor with the front cockpit bulkhead and instrument panel and the bulkhead separating the pilots from the cabin both molded in place. It took little effort to clean the basic parts up. Explorer’s Air Yacht said the floor was generally unpainted wood, so I airbrushed a coat of Testors beige on the floor areas, and once dry spattered on a few tiny drops of Minwax cherry stain – not because I had a plan, but because that’s what I use to stain my bases and it happened to be on my workbench. I quickly drew a clean cloth backwards across the floor, pulling the wood stain with it, and, miracle of miracles, I obtained a really convincing wood grain look! Once dry, it was durable and the stain didn’t react with the enamel base paint coat.

The floor after the accidental/miraculous wood grain experiment.

The S-38s were real art deco masterpieces; the interiors were trimmed in hardwood, with the structural formers in the cabin accentuated by decorative flourishes. I masked the floor and painted the bulkhead between the cabin and cockpit burnt sienna to replicate the hardwood. I also made the small built-in wet bar from styrene card, drilling holes to accept glasses and a pitcher. This was also painted burnt sienna and attached to the cabin side of the bulkhead.

The cockpit in the kit has a very cursory instrument panel, consisting of a collection of fairly deep and uniformly-sized holes filling in for instruments. The front bulkhead also has a hole where the access door to the nose compartment (home to things like lines for tying up the boat) should be. I was assisted in reaching these details by my three-year-old daughter, who snapped the front bulkhead/instrument panel off the floor. To her credit, she came and alerted me immediately, and I couldn’t be too unhappy because now I had much better access to these areas!

First came the nose compartment door. I made a new oval door from styrene sheet and CA-glued it in place. After the bulkhead was airbrushed a dark gray, hinges were simulated with bits of brass sheet, as was the handle for opening and closing the door. A contemporary photo of an S-38 cockpit showed there was a large placard on the door; I simulated the plate with a small rectangle of lead foil, and the placard was created from a re-purposed decal.

A view of two important things: the cockpit and the wet bar.

I cut out a styrene shape that replicated the instrument panel and used it as a template for a second panel shape. I marked out the locations of the instruments with a pencil, then pressed the two panels together hard, transferring the locations to the back of the second panel. To the first, still-white panel, I applied Reheat instrument decals, using the photograph to get the right instruments in the right places. I then drilled holes in the second panel for the openings for the instruments and applied Reheat photoetched bezels around the holes. Once the front panel was finished, it was airbrushed black, then given a heavy dry-brushing. The rear panel with the instruments was coated with Pledge with Future Shine and the front panel was dropped into place and allowed to dry. It was subsequently glued over the kit panel. Similar detail was added to the instrument cluster below the panel, and in keeping with the photos, a map case (swiped from a color Eduard set for the P-51D) was added below the panel center.

The center console in the kit was unlike any in my references, so I made a new one from styrene strip. The throttle and mixture lever openings were created from some 1:700 ship railings; styrene and wire made the large brass instruments at the front of the console. Wire and styrene details were added as appropriate, and I cut a rectangular opening at the back of the console to create the space through which the control wires ran to the cockpit roof. After the console was painted, a decal was used to create the placard on its center, and I used fine steel wire to replicate the control wires. Later, I added throttle/mixture handles made from short lengths of stiff wire. White glue was touched to the tops of the wire, resulting in a round bulb handle; once dry, these were painted black or red as appropriate.

Another view of the cockpit, showing the control cables running up to the roof from he throttle assembly.

The kit provides eight fairly generic resin seats. I picked the two that looked the most like pilots’ seats and painted them gray, the outfitted them with some likely-looking photoetched seat belts. I could find no photos of the seats themselves, but reasoned that landing on water, you’d want belts, lest you make an unplanned exit via the windscreen in the event of a hard landing!

The kit control column was wholly inadequate. I made a new one with two lengths of .035 rod, with the swing-over joint covered by a pair of keystone-shaped styrene plates. A piece of braided thread was run from the joint to the top of the column and covered with a .005 styrene sheet plate to mimic the control cable and the anti-fouling plate that protected it. The wheel itself came from a PART detail set for a 1:72 Tatra T-87, a pre-war Czechoslovakian car!

The control column, complete before painting.

I improvised a radio set for the right side of the cockpit based on photos from the instructions for the Little Fokkers 1:48 kit, complete with telegraph key! The rudder pedals were made with styrene rod and Reheat pedals; the pilot’s side had wooden footrests, which were also fashioned from styrene strip and painted the appropriate shade.

A view of the cockpit, showing the rudder pedals and the throttle quadrant to good effect.

Now came the cabin, which remained a mystery. I emailed the Osa and Martin Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, and from there I picked up an ally in the project: Conrad Froelich, the museum director. It’s not every day that an airplane nerd asks about the interior of the Johnsons’ S-38, and Conrad was sure he had something, somewhere in the museum that could help. His search went into gear – first, he found some written descriptions of the interior, but the trail seemed to go cold. Then, six days later, stuck in the back of a filing cabinet, Conrad found them: four large photos, two taken front-to-back and two taken back-to-front, showing the cabin of “Osa’s Ark!”

This was an interior very different from any I’d built before! There was a three-cushion sofa on the left side of the cabin, and two leather recliner-like seats to the right. These seats folded down into a second sleeping area, and below them was room for storage. Back aft on the left side was an equipment rack made of a metal framework and metal mesh. In the very back was the rear bulkhead, with an opening to the restroom area; a silver boarding ladder was also kept in the rear.
Never having made furniture, I started with the sofa. Measuring carefully against the side of the model’s interior, I cut a robust piece of styrene strip for a base, then added the front, sides and back from styrene sheet. The cushions were also styrene, but I applied a fine layer of Apoxie Sculpt putty to them and gently shaped some creases and folds into them with a No. 11 blade. Less was definitely more here – too many folds made them look cartoonish. Subtle was better.

The right-side recliners came next. They were again made with styrene strip with a base, cushion, back and sides. The sides were carefully sanded to capture the contours of the real things, and I was careful to replicate the different seat backs needed for the fold-down bed arrangement. The leather backs and cushions were also given the Apoxie Sculpt treatment.

The seats, with their Apoxie Sculpt cushions. I made an extra, just in case…

Once the leather furniture was done, I gave it all a coat of Testors leather. At Bill Bosworth’s suggestion (he’s built a 1:32 S-38, so he should know!), I dry-brushed with raw umber, which made all the contours and folds really pop.

The cockpit elements all in place, just before the cockpit was sealed.

The rack was a real challenge. The frame was made from .015 by .020 styrene strip; it took several attempts to get the right proportions so that it would fit into the interior properly. When I had it together and the right size, I painted it black. The mesh came from an aquarium net I just happened to be retiring – small squares were cut to size and applied with CA glue. Once fully assembled, the rack was remarkably strong, considering its size.

The rack in place inside the fuselage.

The kit doesn’t provide anything for the bulkheads and openings at the rear of the cabin, so I made one myself. The forward-most bulkhead was most important, since it world show any seams around its edges if it was cut poorly. Once the shape was roughed out from styrene sheet, I cut out the center and added the sides. A second middle bulkhead was also cut out (it could be less precise than the first!) and its center was also opened in proportions that mirrored the first bulkhead. From there, I added the floor inside the center opening and boxed the opening with thin styrene strip, then added the rearmost bulkhead to create a small vestibule-like effect. The whole thing was painted raw sienna, and then I painted some fine lead wire beige and lined the two openings with it to re-create the art-deco trim on these areas.

The rear bulkhead in its very rawest form…

The boarding ladder was fashioned from styrene strip and two bits of bracing wire. It went into the fuselage just ahead of the rear bulkhead.

The rear bulkhead, with its art deco touches, and the boarding ladder.

With all the interior equipment ready to be installed I painted the interior – gray below the windows, beige above. The art deco flourishes carry up to the cabin ceiling, with black cross beams complimenting four mahogany beams that stretched the length of the ceiling. I made the lengthwise beams from styrene strip, but for the crossbeams I cheated – I used lengths of wing walkway decal instead! They were much easier to align at the top of the fuselage, and they snuggled down nicely over the lengthwise beams.

The detail on the cabin ceiling, replicated with black decal walkway strips.

At this point, the furniture was secured to the floor, which was glued into one fuselage side, and the rear bulkhead assembly was pushed into place. It was time to join the fuselage, if only to protect the interior!

I knew the fit would be a little sloppy, so I was ready with the shims, especially along the centerline at the bottom of the plane but also at the very rear “duckbutt” area. The result was an S-38 on a stick – or at least a set of small styrene sticks, all of which were trimmed away and sanded until the S-38’s beautiful contours returned.

Shims, anyone?

This process introduced another problem: my energetic sanding uncovers a host of tiny air bubbles in the resin, especially on the right side of the hull. Dave Parks was nice enough to loan me his bottle of Mr. Surfacer 500; this was applied to the problem areas and gently sanded, curing the bubble rash once and for all.

That’s all for now – next time, I’ll restore the detail on the fuselage and start work on the power eggs!

 

 

 

 

Today in 1944: the 362nd works over the west bank of the Rhine, and Gustave Plochere loses a month

The three squadrons of the 362nd Fighter Group each conducted armed reconnaissance missions in the areas around Trier, Saarbrucken, Sarrebourg and east toward the Rhine on October 2, 1944. Though weather was poor, 11 locomotives and 50 boxcars were located and destroyed, along with 40 trucks; four railroad yards and adjacent factories, bridges and roundhouses were shot up and bombed. The 377th knocked out four locomotives, 23 trucks and a tank, plus 18 light guns shot up, but they lost a pilot in the process. Lt. William Ort, flying “The Sooner,” P-47D-27 42-27363, spotted a German truck on a road near Puttlingen and dove to strafe it. “The instant he passed over the truck a streak of fire came from the plane,” reported Lt. Robert Berggren, who was orbiting with Blue Flight as Ort’s Yellow Flight was strafing. “He struck the trees of a forest bordering the road and crashed in flames. I saw no sign of enemy ground fire near his plane when he was on the pass,” leading Berggren to speculate he hit the truck or a nearby power line during his pullout. Ort was killed in the wreck of his plane.

 

 

Although there was no serious ground fire directed at Blue or Yellow Flights, both Red and Blue Flights were peppered by flak. One of the P-47s returned with three cylinders shot off its R-2800! The 378th tried to bomb an oil pipeline junction but missed; later, the squadron hit the Saarbrucken marshalling yard and destroyed numerous buildings, then strafed and destroyed two locomotives. On the way home, the 378th spotted a jet aircraft above Metz.

 

 

Some losses were not combat related. The 379th’s Gustave Plochere suffered an engine failure in P-47D 42-8399 and crashed into a field where a French farmer was working, hitting so hard his Thunderbolt broke in half. When the farmer, Marcel Jonoux, reached the plane, it was on fire. Plochere was slumped in the cockpit, a severe gash on his head. Jonoux cut the straps holding Plochere in the cockpit and summoned a friend to help pull the pilot to a wagon, which they took to Lavannes, arriving just as American troops marched into the town. Plochere came to in a British hospital, covered in a full-body cast; the crash had also broken his back. To this day, he has no memory from two weeks before the crash to two weeks afterward.

 

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