Life vs Modeling Time

Last weekend saw a tremendous orgy of box-filling, thanks to the timely arrival of LOTS of parts from my friend and partner, Bill Ferrante. I got 10 Obscureco orders out the door, which opens up a lot of modeling time this week, and I’ll be back hard at work on the P-40, which does indeed seem to be coming along. My niece is out visiting again, and there’s that pesky Thanksgiving to get in the way, but I plan on getting the airframe assembled with the cockpit installed before the end of the next weekend.

On Friday we had the Silicon Valley Scale Modelers meeting, and I brought my one and only copy of the 4th Fighter Group book to show off. Afterward, Roy Sutherland (another Osprey author) and I talked about that company’s products. Book publishing’s got to be a tough business, and some concepts for series work better than others. “Aircraft of the Aces,” “Aviation Elite Units” and “Combat Aircraft” made sense. The “Duels” series… not so much. Those books are too long for a discussion of, say, the tactics used by a P-51 to fight an Fw 190, but too short for any depth about the aircraft in question. They’re neither fish nor fowl – which is not surprising since they are books.

Anyway, the “Duels” series includes these titles:
Sherman Firefly vs Tiger
P-51 Mustang vs Fw 190
Panther vs T-34
U-boats vs Destroyer Escorts
Spitfire vs Bf 109

USN Carriers vs IJN Carriers
Sopwith Camel vs Fokker Dr I
P-40 Warhawk vs Ki-43 Oscar

At some point, they’re going to run out of obvious titles, so we came up with some additional ideas that would certainly be off the beaten path:

Airbus 380 vs the Accounting Profession
Pucara vs SAS Hand Grenade
Godzilla vs the Smog Monster
Italian Army vs. the Impulse to Raise One’s Hands Over One’s Head
Dave Klaus vs Everybody, Real and Imaginary
F7U Cutlass vs Gravity

Got any other titles to suggest? Send them my way in the comments…

Proving Jim Bates right

Jim Bates comments about the Academy P-40E kit’s spinner prompted me to break out both the Hasegawa kit and the Academy kit to make a comparison of the two. First, the Academy kit spinner (the prop is painted – it doesn’t come that way in the kit!)

p-40-nose-4

Next is the Hasegawa kit spinner. Note the difference in profile between the two.

p-40-nose-3

And finally – a shot of real P-40Es (or Kittyhawks, to be exact):

The verdict: The Academy kit is nice, but the Hasegawa kit is more accurate in a couple of areas. Get a Hasegawa kit cheap (mine was given to me by a vendor at a show who didn’t want to cart it home!) and use it as a detail set for your Academy kit.

By the way, this phenomena is not uncommon; the Eduard La-7, which is a great kit, has a wonky spinner, too. The solution: use the spinner from the otherwise godawful KP kit!

Fire up the ol’ Selectric… again

Oh, and one more bit of news: today, the day after my 4th Fighter Group book comes out, I get an e-mail from the esteemed Tony Holmes. Seems Osprey now wants me to write a book on the 357th Fighter Group, “the Yoxford Boys.” This will be not for the Aviation Elite Units series but for the Aircraft of the Aces Series. I wonder if there’s anything Bud Anderson hasn’t written about yet…! I feel another trip to the NMUSAF coming on…

Negotiations prove successful

My wife and I had an interesting discussion about schedules last night. She wanted me to go with her to our church’s advent retreat (we belong to First Congregational Church of Berkeley, an exceptionally progressive Christian Church that’s been causing problems for the status quo for more than a century) on Dec. 6. I wanted to go to the Silver Wings contest in Sacramento the same day. I figured I could settle it with a simple coin toss (which I won). That provoked some interesting horse trading.

Here’s what I got: clearance to go to Sacramento (with a vendor table, to sell Obscureco stuff and some of my extraneous modeling publications/kits/other junk). Here’s what Elizabeth demanded in return: I have to go to the two-day Lenten retreat in the spring – and I have to finish a model by Dec. 6.

That, I think, was an attempt at a deal-breaker, but it really backfired. Extra motivation to finish a model? Hey, I’ll take that! I could finish any of four models if I put my shoulder into it – the Phantom, which still about ready for decals, the Mustang, the Thunderbolt, and, believe it or not, the P-40, which is looking very buildable at this stage.

So there will be some long, tough evenings ahead for me. Oh, the agony. Stay tuned for the big decision about which one will earn me my trip to Sacramento (and for some photos, two of which will prove Jim Bates right about the Academy P-40).

An interior monologue

The interior of the P-40 is now just about done. I was able to do all the detail painting on Saturday night (while my wife and I watched “Giant,” which at 210 minutes gives you plenty of time to get stuff done), but it was not without its adventures.

First off, I couldn’t find a good match for the shade of interior green Curtiss used – a little more yellow than Testors’ interior green, a little grayer than green zinc chromate. I had to mix it myself, then airbrushed the resin parts. Once dry, I dry-brushed the parts with the base color lightened with gull gray. I hit the silver items on the floor and sidewall with Model Master silver non-buffing aluminum – it can be brushed on small surfaces. Next, I discovered that my three bottles of aircraft interior black, each bought at different times over the course of several years, had all gone bad. One had some goo I could re-constitute, so I used that to paint the black boxes, throttle and dials on the floor. It actually worked well; how well the goo was re-mixed affected its final color and sheen.

Next, I picked out several handles, the fuel select switch and other small details with red and yellow paint applied with the tip of a toothpick. Once it was dry, the whole shebang was hit with a wash, which looked rather nice.

The only problem: I had forgotten to reduce the thickness of the cockpit floor (to accommodate the photo-etched wheel wells). I attacked it with a grinding bit, and I’d made some good progress when, to my surprise, a large flake of interior black/green paint spalled up off the cockpit floor, vibrated loose by the motor tool’s vibrations! I sanded the rest of the way with a coarse file, then masked the floor and re-sprayed the missing patch. Of course, the masking then pulled off more paint, so I just repainted the whole darned thing.

The next time I spend time with the P-40, it’ll get its color photoetched instrument panel and seat. I’ll have to work up a strategy for the shoulder harness, however; I want to depict it slung over the side of the cockpit sill. When should I put those things on the seat – now, or later?

How much more black could it be? None. None more black.

I had a little free time last night, so I airbrushed the True Details interior of my P-40E black. It’s a little trick I learned from the armor guys, then refined myself. I glue the sidewall parts to an index card and I airbrush black from bottom to top. The next pass will be interior green from top to bottom. The result is a “shadow” on the lower surfaces of the cockpit sidewall features, almost an extra step in the painting-washing-drybrushing process. The seat will be a metal one from Eduard, as will the control panel, but I like the True Details tub and sidewalls. The photoetched parts will let me sling the shoulder straps over the open canopy sill. Photos when it’s all painted.

I also spent more time with my motor tool reducing the thickness of the upper wings so that my new wheel wells would fit. These Eduard brass wells are nice, but I’ll probably dress up the next P-40 wells I do as if they had their canvas covers in place.

One bummer about the Academy kit is that, in the interest of making the model easier to build, they inadvertently made dropping the flaps almost impossible. For me, that’s probably a good thing – the last thing I need is to add more complexity to a simple model – but it also means those Hasegawa P-40s still have their place. Maybe when I do a P-40L (by grafting the MPM fuselage to my spare Hasegawa wings) I’ll drop the flaps then!

Book Report: The Forgotten 500

In my first book, 332nd Fighter Group: Tuskegee Airmen, I mentioned the “daring rescue by air” of some downed members of the 332nd from occupied Yugoslavia. When I wrote that in 2005, I had no background on the mission that brought them to safety. However, Gregory Freeman’s book The Forgotten 500 cleared that up, telling the story of a remarkable rescue of downed allied airmen. It also paints a vivid picture of a nation torn by partisan struggle to shape the country after the war, and of how the infiltration of communists into the British government resulted not just in Yugoslavia’s tilt into the communist block but in the unjust death of true patriot Drahza Mihailovich, the leader of the Chetniks, after Josip Bronz Tito came to power following the war.

This story was kept all but secret until recently, since the political ramifications of the betrayal of Mihailovich were rather embarrassing to the U.S. and Britain. There was little enthusiasm at the government level for telling the story of how the Chetniks rescued hundreds of downed allied airmen, took them to a central location and, with the aid of the OSS, helped them hew an impromptu airfield on the side of a mountain so that USAAF C-47s could drop in and pick the fliers up under the noses of the Luftwaffe. The real tragedy of this story is that the Chetniks were not rewarded for their efforts but were instead betrayed to Tito once the Germans were gone, setting the stage for a brutal tyrant and the chaos, genocide and dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

The book flashes back not just to how several of the rescued airmen came to be in the protection of the Chetniks but to the backgrounds of several of the OSS operatives who organized their escape. The tale of George Vujnovich is especially touching; an American of Serbia extraction who returned to Belgrade for college, he fell in love with a woman while there and married her in order to escape the nation in 1941, when the Nazis began forcibly occupying their erstwhile ally. With new documents – but only one American passport – the two fled even as the Germans sought to keep Yugoslavian citizens from leaving the country. They found themselves in Budapest, but still needed to get out of German-held territory. In a daring move, the two escaped from Romania – flying Lufthansa back to Belgrade, then to Sofia Bulgaria, a terrifying trip for Vujnovich’s wife because she was seated next to Magda Goebbels for both trips and was sure they’d be discovered. Later, she wrote Vujnovich, now working for the OSS, about newspaper stories of men stuck in Yugoslavia. The plan to rescue them took off from there.

This is but one of the unlikely tales Freeman stitches together to paint a picture of this remarkable operation. From the attempts by RAF Dakota crewmen to foil an insertion team’s drop into Mahailovich’s territory to the treatment of the airmen by the Serbs to the remarkable airmanship needed to get the C-47s into the improvised landing strip, this is a first-rate story filled with action and political intrigue and set in one of the war’s forgotten corners.

Staying home and grinding styrene

The weekend was, modeling-wise, okay. The big accomplishment was the addition of photoetched wheel bays to my Academy 1:72 P-40E, which was accomplished with much cursing (and motor-tool-ing). The bays themselves look reasonably nice, but they stand proud of the lower wing enough to completely mess up the fit of the wing halves on the trailing edge. Furthermore, the inner wing’s flange (for want of a better word) needs to be opened up to accommodate them, and the resin cockpit tub I was using needed to have the considerable lower plug of resin removed (which it needed to get the wing on in the first place – the wheel wells just dictated further reduction of the material below the floor).

I’d heard via various people that the Academy kit’s fuselage proportions were out of whack and the most accurate model was still the Hasegawa P-40E. To discern this for myself, I took one fuselage half from each kit and put them together. They fit as if they were from the same kit, which makes me very skeptical about these accuracy experts – especially since I heard the same thing about Academy’s Tempest V and their P-39, which both math the supposedly more accurate Heller kits in the same way (although the Heller Tempest kit’s landing gear, prop and horizontal tails are, in fact, more accurate, and the P-39’s fuselages are equally inaccurate). This leads me to two conclusions:

1. Academy is adept at knocking off other people’s basic kits, then refining them and adding extras
2. The accuracy experts need to be looked at with a jaundiced eye

There was a Northern California Friends of the Aces event this weekend, and the plan was to have a model display, but I did not go. After last time’s confusion over a table for us at the last event, I tried to contact the president of the group to make sure this minor logistical consideration – one table – could be accommodated. I never heard back from him, which leads me to think that we are not wanted there. That’s a real bummer, since we put their flyers out at model contests and meetings to promote these events, and the model displays do attract some positive attention from the people at the aces symposia. Instead of heading out Sunday to likely disappointment and frustration, I decided to stay home. Until I get some confirmation that the NCFA wants to work with us, I’m not going to try to coordinate any model displays for their events. It’s just a waste of my time and it sours me on their organization.

Modeling is Life. The rest is just time not spent modeling

Not a lot of modeling is going on right now (which accounts for a lack of photos, David Knights!), between election day, a couple of workouts and last night hanging out with the dudes at the hobby shop. I got my mitts on Accurate Miniatures’ Predator UAV – what a cool subject! Wingspan greater than a P-51, but no cockpit, no wheel wells, and a one-color paint scheme – it ought to be a quick build. I may get all AMS on it and add pylons and Hellfire missiles, or I might just build it as-is. It’s pretty neat.

I’m also in the middle of reading Launch the Intruders, a book about VA-75’s deployment to Yankee Station in 1972. It’s not a modeler’s book but it is a terrific read, especially for a former navy puke like me who doesn’t have to go back to the glossary and look up the acronyms every paragraph. I’m about 75 percent through; I’ll give you a full report once I’m done.

Phantom Phollies: getting the F-4 to decals

I’m working on my F-4B Phantom II this week, and if I get the decals on her it’ll turn into a full-court press to completion (I’ll goof around on a build until the decals are on; then, it goes into overdrive until it’s all done). The plane I selected (okay, I actually let my wife pick it out) was the plane used by GarryWeigand and Bill Freckleton to shoot down a MiG-17 on March 6, 1972 (you can read about it – and see the plane as it exists today – here).

I had decals for that aircraft on an old SuperScale sheet, but my research revealed they were rather, er, SuperScaley. That is, the markings were a long way off from accurate and that’s led me to paint some of the markings in the model. The decal/painting integration may be tough, but it’ll be rewarding.

The sheet doesn’t include the sash that extends back from the rear cockpit sill to a point on the aircraft’s spine. I masked and painted red over the gull gray main color to replicate the sash; painting red trim is always a nerve-sharking experience. In my case, when I took the tape off the spine (a hard place to mask thanks to the little fairing behind the cockpit, another one of Hasegawa’s wonderfully over-engineered touches) there were some slightly frayed-looking edges. Not to worry – as my friend Ben Pada once showed me, such nasty edges are okay when your model’s trim has a cheat line. The Phantom has black cheat lines around its red trim, which I’ll replicate with strips of black decal; these will conveniently hide my ragged red edges.

Here’s something I did worry about: when I painted the red paint, I got red overspray on one of the wings outboard of the masking tape. Luckily, I missed the flaps, which are white; I was able to remove the overspray with a pencil eraser, believe it or not. The only sign of a problem is that those areas are now glossy, which won’t be a problem once the gloss coat goes on.

The next scary thing will be the tail; I really hope the Sundowners decal reaches out to the edges of the vertical fin. That’s a set of markings I do not want to paint.

I also get to paint a drop tank or two white, with a red nose. I know this will look great, and it looked great in real life… But boy, what a pain to paint. This kill was scored while in escort of an RA-5C, which will limit the load-out to AIM-9Ds (the plane’s radar was non-operative, so AIM-7s would be dead weight). But that’s a little down the road. First, I have to get all the decals on; I really can’t relax until the second gloss coat seals them down. Wish me luck.