Why one reads the footnotes…

I haven’t blogged for a while, primarily because of footnote.com. This remarkable site has most (but not all) of the USAAF’s Missing Aircrew Reports (MACRs) from the U.S. National Archives on line in a somewhat searchable form. I say “somewhat” because the various pages of MACRs are split up; you can see one document at a time, but often it takes two or three documents to reveal the entire story. These MACRs contain the name of the pilot and the aircraft involved in a loss (and sometimes even the plane’s nose art name!), and once you have the number, you can search on that at bring up a virtual dossier on that aircraft, usually including an eyewitness report of the loss. As you can imagine, for a guy writing a couple of books, this is titanically useful . Events which had a short sentence now have full eyewitness accounts, some causes of losses are corrected, and for days when a group flew more than one mission, it becomes much easier to determine on which missions planes were lost.
From a modeling standpoint, it’s also golden. I now have several new schemes for Roy Sutherland of Barracudacals, and I was able to track down data on some planes he’s wanted to do for a long time. But from a personal standpoint, it’s even more satisfying.

In 2006, James Kitts asked me to help find the details of the loss of Lt. Ken Kitts of the 379th FS/362nd FG, who went down April 8, 1944. At the afternoon briefing, the pilots were informed that 70 trains were moving from Arras to Rouen. The found only seven, but shot them up just the same. The 379th made repeated passes, with Capt. Thurman Morrison, Lt. Kent Geyer and Lt. Vernon Ligon knocking out one locomotive and Lt. Clough Gee and Lt. Jim Ashford destroying a second. Unfortunately, flak hit Lt. Ken Kitts’ Thunderbolt “Loko,” P-47D-15 42-75624, at 1500 feet. Kitts’ flight leader, Col. Morton Magoffin, radioed a warning to Kitts, who called back that his oil pressure was dropping, and he asked his wingman, Lt. Gordon Larsen, to accompany him home. “We flew toward the French coast for about five minutes when Lt. Kitts called me and said he would not be able to make it,” said Larsen. “We were flying at 5000 feet and just below a cloud layer. In about a minute, I observed that his engine had cut out. He immediately started to get ready to bail out. He left the ship at about 2500 feet. As he bailed out, he hit the horizontal stabilizer. I followed him down until he hit the ground.” Kitts was probably knocked unconscious, because his never made any attempt to open his parachute. He fell to his death in the St. Saens area.

His family had been unable to find the MACR for Kitts, and Jim wanted to build a model of his uncle’s plane. There’s a nice color photo of the nose art of “Loko,” but the rest of the details were unknown. I now have the pleasure of letting James know that the plane was P-47D-15 42-75624; I’ll go through my photo collection and see if I can find a tail fin and aircraft call letter to match that serial.

More discoveries as they happen…

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Maryland takes wing(s)!

On Monday night, it a fit of actual building, I went and stuck the wings on the Maryland. It was a little tough – Azur gives you a rudimentary butt-joint, with a hint of a wing root you have to match. This pseudo-root may or may not also approximate the thickness and profile of the wing. I cut a slot in each side of the wing root and inserted a strip of .040 styrene strip vertically to provide a hint of a spar, more for help with location of the wing than for strength, and stuck on the first wing, using drawings in the Czech Monograph on the Maryland. It had remarkably little dihedral, which was interesting.

Wing two, of course, was a lot harder to get on; I had to sand the lower half of the wing where it mated to the fuselage to reduce the dihedral and to match the first wing. With no locating pins, it became a test of keeping alignment in three axes (with the horizontal tail, with the other wing and with the fuselage) and I finally got it into place and hit it with CA glue. There was a lot more seam on this side, but nothing that required anything more draconian than plenty of CA glue. Here’s what it looks like right now:

I’ve already masked the fuselage and outer wing and started sanding the roots. The soft plastic makes it pretty quick going; actually, none of the mismatched fit areas have been really difficult to handle. Plus this plastic scribes like a dream, so restoring detail is not a big problem.

So, now the wings are on and shortly the seam will be dressed and polished out. The props are done, the landing gear is built, the upper turret is finished… I may be closer to completion than I realized. Here’s the project task inventory as it stands:

1. Rescribe bomb bay, nose and wing root panel lines
2. Cut windscreen from kit canopy and install it ahead of the pilot’s cockpit
3. Prep a Falcon opening canopy section for later installation (this is a side-opening section with a fold-down top window, kind of like the middle canopy on a TBF Avenger – not very bail-out-friendly!)
4. Mask the bombardier’s section, cockpit, turret, side windows, etc.
5. Paint this sucker
6. Decal
7. Wash and weather
8. Flat coat
9. Add landing lights in the wings from MV lenses (and tape covers for them), plus position lights
10. Add landing gear and gear doors
11. Add the turret and the tail protector stub behind the turret
12. Add the bomabrdier’s compartment top and bottom hatches
13. Add the pilot’s canopy, and propellers
14. Rig aerials

So that’s it… Just 14 steps to completion! Of course, completion entails me finding Falcon Clearvax 30 for the cockpit canopy, and I have to get a decal made to replicate the French unit logo still on the tail of this plane. If you’re unaware, I’m doing a Martin 167 that fought the Germans, then was captured and given to the Vichy Air Force, then was flown by a defector to Gibraltar, then was used by the RAF at Malta. It’ll have very weathered French camouflage, with the tricolor tail and striped cowlings painted out in RAF dark green, and British markings with some residual French touches. I’m hoping the final product is worth the work that’s gone into it!

Thanks for boxes, aces and friends

John McCain can go pound sand – I am clearly more of a maverick. Who else wears neckties to every model contest? Who else listens to Pandora.com with one earphone just to hear the crazy stereo separation on Beatles songs (“Hello Goodbye” is really sparse in just the left channel…)? And who else has a column about what he’s grateful for a week after Thanksgiving? Am I out of control or what?

Let me calm down. Okay. Whew.

I just wanted to express my belated thanks to Randy Ray. Randy was laid off about three weeks ago, and since I subscribe to the concept that idle hands are the devil’s playthings (the devil clearly needs a hobby), I asked Randy to pick up some boxes for Obscureco purposes. Being gainfully employed in San Francisco makes it a bee-yatch for me to get to my suppliers in San Jose, but Randy made the rounds and delivered the boxes during his between-work time. If you got an Obscureco item in the last couple of weeks, you should thank Randy, too. Thanks, Randy!

I’m also pleased to say that Phil Schasker of the Northern California Friends of the Aces and I had a chance to talk about the missed communication at the last aces event. Phil’s computer went kerplunk just as I started e-mailing him about the event, so he wasn’t ignoring me – his roasted motherboard was. I look forward to the next event and the next model I’ll not finish in time for a display. I’m thinking P-38 here. Actually, I’m inclined to do an F-5 more than a P-38 right now – unless Academy surprises me with a P-38F (new booms, people! C’mon!). If I had an F available, I’d like to Besby Holmes’ Yamamoto mission plane.

That’s for the future, though. Here’s a status report on what’s in the queue:

F-4B Phantom II (Bill Freckleton/Garry Weigand, VF-111): awaiting decals.
P-47D (Ray Murphy, 379th FS/362nd FG): Awaiting paint and an engine.
P-51D-5 (Bart Tenore, 354th FG): Awaits paint.
Martin 167 Maryland (Adrian Warburton, Malta): Needs to have the wings stuck on.
P-40E (Jim Morehead, 49th FG): Needs to have the fuselage sealed up.
Firefly V (no scheme selected): Needs to have anything done to it at all.

The thing I’m discovering is that I am mostly motivated to build by the story of the people who built the planes – a model of some generic aircraft, no matter how graceful or colorful it is doesn’t hold the same allure. This may make it tough when I go to build a TS-11 Iskra or some other more exotic and utilitarian plane, or an airliner; it may be hard to isolate a story out of those subjects.

Photos next time…

Getting little bits done…

Four good days of modeling included the following events:

1. The sidewalls were installed in the P-40, and after the fuselage tub was added the fuselage still fit when I test fit it. That’s a good sign.

2. Nifty item 2 for the P-40 was that I added the instruments to the BACK of Eduard’s pre-painted instrument panel. The shroud for the instruments was cut away with a Dremel tool (which also broke one of the fuselage sidewall pieces off and fired it across the room – but it was otherwise undamaged) and I plan on showing the plane without the shroud, which also gives me a chance to wire up the gunsight and run a few other wires around under the windscreen. With the ring and bead sight where it is, this could be a neat focal point for the detail. The instrument panel was installed and, again, the test fitting went without a hitch.

3. Nifty item 3 for the P-40 was the construction of the radiator area, with photoetched screens from Eduard adding a bit of chin detail.

4. On the P-47 front, I built up the basic elements of the Aires R-2800 engine (crank case and cylinders). Those parts are painted; next come 18 stretched-sprue push rod tubes. I spent a while hunting for black plastic to stretch; an F-117 kit ought to provide you with a lifetime supply of 1:72 “pre-painted” pushrod tubes. Now, it’s up to me to cut them to the right length and CA-glue them into place. This is the stage where I start wondering why I don’t build jets. Of course, when I’m scratchbuilding intake ducting on jets, it makes me wonder why I don’t build gliders.

All this work left me still pretty far from a finished model, or even a model I could put decals on (or a model I could pretend to fly around the house while making airplane noises). However, I think the P-47 will make some major progress this week. I must say that I’m really looking forward to the natural metal paint job; I kinda have it down, after two natural metal Jugs, a P-38 and a P-51B in the last three years. I have the old Lumonz Alclad painting book, which includes diagrams that purport to show where various “shades” were used on different planes; these are helpful suggestions, even if the accuracy is questionable. Still, there are some spots on a P-47 (turbosupercharger exhaust cover, ammunition ray covers, etc.) that are clearly unique in shine and capturing those is fun. The diagrams are useful reminders as you’re painting. I’ll scan the P-47 diagrams and put them up after I paint the model.