Applying Phantom decals: what a Sundowner

The way I work is this: I’ll noodle around with five models (plus my Obscureco stuff, plus a figure, maybe) indefinitely, switching my attention from week to week, up to a point. That point is when the decals go on. When the decals go on, that model becomes the focus of my attention, and I won’t deviate until the model’s done (or until I need some other supply to finish it, which can happen).

So the good news, Phantom Phans, is that the decals are on the F-4B. “Old Nick 201,” the Phantom used by VF-111’s Garry Weigand and Bill Freckleton to down a MiG-17, is in (most) of its markings right now. It was not easy, because the decal sheet I used, Microscale sheet 72-145, must have been 25 years old and it presented some major problems.

First off – and this is where a delay may be incurred – the small decals simply exploded on contact with water. That meant the BuNo marking was a multi-part mess once wet and became unusable. Data decals” forget them. The other decals were not much better – the “201” on the sides of the nose broke and had to be carefully nudged into place; the sharkmouth left areas to be touched up with paint and Rapidograph pen (another use!); the sunburst on the tail had a tendency to break at the slightest provocation.

The other things was that the tail and nose decals had this weird characteristic to the carrier film – it turned ito this weird gelatinous stuff that I had to get off the model without breaking the decals. I’m not sure if the decals reacted with the Microset solution, or whether the Microscale factory used a bad batch of carrier film the day these were printed, or the age of the decals had something to do with it. In any event, it was something I’ve never experienced in 30-plus years of putting decals on models.

Those were the only decals I used from the sheet. The rest of the markings came from an assortment of places – the “201” on the flaps came from a Fox One sheet, as did the national insignia. The data decals, “NAVY” and “VF-111” markings came from – believe it or not – the Hasegawa kit decals, which were thick but behaved very well, especially after I treated them with Microsol and then a couple of treatments of Solvaset. The cheat lines on the red sash came from a sheet for EA-6Bs. They all snuggled right into the panel lines, and I can’t wait to get a wash over them.

I still have to apply the data decals to the bottom of the aircraft, but complete decaling won’t be completed until I get some backup decals, which I mail ordered – CAM Decals for VF-111 birds. In theory, I could have waited until these arrived, but I had one side of the tail decalled when I realized these were required and I didn’t plan on de-decalling red decals from white paint. That sounds like a recipe for disaster. I only need the BuNo block and the legend “USS CORAL SEA” for the spine of the plane, and the names on the canopy rails. These are coming from two different sheets, by the way. I’ll share photos once touch-up and final decaling is done.

In the meantime, I’m working on the stores – just pylons, missile rails and four AIM-9Ds and the drop tank – and prepping the struts and gear doors. The canopies also need to be masked and painted, and I can work on finishing the horizontal stabilizers (gotta love all-flying horizontal surfaces – paint them, then add them to the plane!), which will involve some natural metal paint work. I’ve also masked off the lower rear fuselage – after the rest of the plane is decalled, sealed, given a wash and flat-coated, I’ll strip the masking off, re-mask the painted areas and paint the natural metal section. It sounds challenging, but I think it’ll yield the best result.

Already finished: the Aires burner cans, the wheels and the ejection seats and other “after the build” cockpit components. I always save the seats, control columns, throttle levers and other protruding doo-dads until the end, so I don’t dislodge them during masking.

By the way, the last time I posted about this model I received a response in the comments section from none other than Bill Freckleton, who was the RIO in this plane when it was used to bag a MiG-17. Hopefully, I can add some “horse’s mouth” commentary to the final write-up of my Phantom.

This is the first F-4 I have built since I completed seaman apprenticeship school back in 1987 – I may have to revisit the subject in less than 22 years next time!


Update: 1:09 p.m. I just got an e-mail from Brookhurst Hobbies saying the two decal sheets I ordered were not in stock (nice job keeping the web site updated, guys). Now I’ll start the search for CAM Decals 72-013 and 72-019 – Anyone seen a sheet lying around their local hobby shops?

On this day in 1945…

On January 22, 1945, Captain Wilfred Crutchfield of the 378th Fighter Squadron discovered 1500 German vehicles of all types concentrated in a small area around Prum, Germany, part of the Sixth SS Panzer Armee embarking for the Eastern Front to try to stanch the Russian advance. The 362nd Fighter Group used this information to go on a rampage, claiming 315 trucks, seven tanks, 15 horse-drawn vehicles, numerous heavy gun positions and seven half-tracks. A further 108 trucks were claimed as damaged. During the morning mission, when this concentration was discovered, the 378th’s first attack destroyed 90 trucks, seven tanks, five horse-drawn vehicles and seven half-tracks. Reloading, Lt. Stoddard led the next mission in which 24 gun positions were destroyed and 40 trucks moving east from Dasburg were caught on the roads and demolished. Capt. Crutchfield led the days’ last mission for the 378th; they bombed the town of Wettledorf and eliminated 52 trucks and 10 gun positions in the process.

The day’s score came at a heavy cost. Capt. Carroll A. Peterson’s Blue Flight if the 379th Fighter Squadron found a large group of tanks, cars and trucks clogging the roads near Hosingen, Luxembourg. Also part of the convoy was a large amount of mobile flak. “We crossed in and Blue Leader (Peterson) identified several convoys of enemy vehicles below,” Lt. Brandon Nuttall reported. After two strafing passes on the vehicles, the Thunderbolts wheeled and came back for a third attack on several tanks. Peterson’s P-47, 44-20728, made one evasive turn to the right, then pulled up to the left to go in again. “At the top of his pull up, around 1500 feet, I saw his plane jerk violently,” said Nuttall. “It continued its arc and caught fire almost immediately, burning fiercely from the cockpit back. Flame covered the rear fuselage and tail surfaces. I continued high speed evasive action and watched the plane go down. At around 1000 feet, I saw the canopy jettison and maps blow out of the cockpit. At this point the ship went into a slow spin and crashed into the lower side of a small valley. The plane did not explode when it hit. Fire belched from under the wings and engine as it hit but did not seem to burn too fiercely. My attention was distracted by close flak for a moment but I looked back and could see no open parachute or anyone running from the crash. I then called the crash into Green Leader and joined Blue 3 for the rest of the mission.” Peterson, one of the group’s original pilots, was killed in the crash.

Seeing Peterson go down, Lt. Ron Hamby assumed command of the squadron. About five minutes later, while hunting for more targets, Lt. Louis A. Bauer in P-47D 42-28941 was hit in the engine. “He headed for the lines and I advised him to bail out because the area was very mountainous and there was a 500-foot ceiling over the front lines, but he chose to ride it down,” said Hamby. Bauer was killed when his Thunderbolt crashed. At about the same time, Lt. Howard Sloan led Red Section down to strafe and, “as we pulled off the target, I heard Red Three (Lt. Chester B. Kusi) say that he was on fire and was going to bail out,” Sloan said. Kusi escaped the cockpit but he was killed during his attempt to jump from P-47D-28 42-29240. Shortly, flak smashed into Lt. John K. McMahon’s P-47D 44-27177 and it too crashed, killing the pilot. “My wingman and I, being the only ones in the area that hadn’t been hit, left immediately for base,” said Hamby.

The 379th’s ordeal wasn’t quite over. Lt. Ray Murphy’s plane “Chief Seattle” had been hit by two 40mm and one 20mm round which blew out a tire, fractured the hydraulic system and knocked two cylinders out of the engine. “I managed to keep my crippled plane in the air for the 75-mile flight home,” he wrote. “The airstrip was covered with ice and as I touched down, seven tons of Thunderbolt on a blown tire veered off the runway, plowing into a snow-covered field. I cut the switch to prevent fire and climbed out without a scratch!”

This was a particularly rough day for the group, but my work on a book on the 362nd is making it clear that, in general, P-47s had short, violent lives in the 9th Air Force and that only became worse as V-E Day approached. Flak took its toll, but so did accidents and general wear. I’m currently building a model of “Chief Seattle,” by the way – it was a great looking ship! Ray Murphy scored two kills during the war, the second not confirmed until 1991.

Canopies, figures, clay pigeons and cartoon characters

The leap of faith I took when I opened the pilot’s canopy of my Azur Maryland was that I’d be able to get my grimy mitts on Falcon ClearVax No. 30. This 1:72 set has canopies for U.S. planes in RAF service, a selection that truly shows the creativity Falcon has in odd groupings for its vacuformed transparency sets. This included a canopy for the Maryland, and the plan is to use it to provide the swinging section of the cockpit glass, with the kit windscreen now ever so neatly blended in to the fuselage.

I ordered a set from Roll Models (And, of course, also bought a new AZ Models Breda 65, because you can’t just buy one thing – that would be wrong!) and waited. The box showed up and I was delighted at the Ba 65 – but the canopies are backordered. I emitted a Charlie Brown-line “AAAAUGH!” (after donning a yellow polo shirt with a black zig-zag line on it, of course) and lamented my fate. (If anyone has a spare to offer, I can trade some resin for it…)

Not a big problem – I went to work instead on a Preiser USAAF pilot figure in 1:72, changing the basic color of the uniform to a grayer shade of brown (it’s now too dark) and tightening up the borders of the Mae West. I have to figure out what this guy is reading – the figure has separate arms clutching a map or clipboard or copy of “Stars and Stripes” – what, exactly, it is I haven’t yet determined. He has his sleeves rolled up, so I’m thinking Pacific Theatre, so perhaps a nice predominantly blue map would work. I’ll print one up on my computer and glue it to the arm/document section before I add it to the rest of the figure (who is currently disarmed, so to speak). I’m also thinking of adding a knife in a scabbard to this guy’s hip – I wouldn’t go flying over New Guinea or the Philippines without that basic bit of kit. If I can find a sidearm in a holster, that may go with him, too.

And one more thing. About the Breda 65: I now have three kits of this machine, which was the Ford Pinto of World War II aviation – not much to look at, but also not very safe for its occupants. When Italy declared war on Britain, a officer in the Reggia Aeronautica was ordered to retrieve the Ba 65s from the various scrapyards and aircraft dumps the machines had recently been sent to. That’s right – they were on their way to being chopped up and melted down until someone got the brilliant idea of using them in the Western Desert. The idea of flying one of these obsolescent crates, with their slow speed and their weird 90-degree windscreens and their lumbering size, against Hurricanes and Spitfires is terrifying. Many a British ace won his title by downing a couple of these manned clay pigeons.

Why do I want to build one? Well, it has a brutish quality to it, and it must have taken some real guts to fly one against the RAF. I got the Azur kit several years ago and started researching it, and fully planned on building one before this new kit came out (which includes the strange grill-like cockpit floor as photoetched brass). Another plus: the unit I want to depict used the Big Bad Wolf from Disney’s Three Little Pigs as a logo on the tail, and I like the idea of someday doing a Disney collection – Italian, German, British and American planes all used Disney characters as art at some time, with some Venturas and Vegas getting art applied by Disney artists themselves. The range could encompass AVG Hawk 75s, Galland’s BF 109E, Emerson’s P-51D, B-17s and B-24s, Wildcats and Thunderbolts (thanks to Disney-designed logos) and this odd Italian aircraft.

You do have to wonder why they picked the Big Bad Wolf, though. The guy wasn’t very smart, certainly was not nice and ended up having his ass kicked by some pigs. There had to be better Disney characters to use as a mascot, even in 1940.

P-40E Take Wings

During the New Year’s holiday (four days off in a row, with little on the agenda besides parties and football), I actually accomplished something. The P-40E is racing along, having gone from a fuselage to an assembled airframe. Just look:


The camera makes the dihedral hard to see, but it’s there – I made sure of that . The lower wing fit of the Academy kit was perhaps a little too tight, and I had some tough sledding to get it positioned just right. I also had a fairly major seam at the wing root on the upper wings, and I’m not sure what to attribute that to beyond the kit itself. No problem – that’s what God created cyanoacrylate glue and sanding sticks for.

After that came the rescribing, which was pleasantly uneventful. I also added wiring behind the instrument panel and a “gunsight mount” for the True Details sight; these never seem to stick out far enough from the panel in kits as photos reveal. The P-38’s mount has to be a foot long; it’s no wonder so many guys banged up their faces and heads in crash landings and ditchings.
The prop spinner was painted insignia red and masked off. Getting a straight line on a conical surface is no fun, and the initial line between the red and olive drab wavered a bit. It was re-masked and painted and looks pretty acceptable now.

I also plugged the holes for the drop tank mounts with .040 styrene rod. The 49th Fighter Group didn’t get tanks until July 1942, and the plane I’m building had been reduced to scrap long before that. Actually, I rather like the idea of a tankless (and bombless) airplane – I get tired of hanging those alignment-busters off my planes, and putting them on at the end always makes me nervous.
The next step will be the addition of the windscreen, then masking that off and painting this bird. The wheels are done, the prop’s done and the canopy will be done shortly. I’ll use Superscale railroad decals for the markings for Jim Morehead’s plane; it’ll be fairly ordinary looking, but I plan on weathering it a bit and adding some life that way.

Oddly, the Maryland is at almost exactly the same stage. I rescribed it on Sunday night, and the amount of work on the wings and belly meant there was a lot to restore. Luckily, the Czech monograph on the subject has great drawings, which confirmed the odd asymmetrical panel line layout on the upper wings. I would have hated to get this far and mess up the panel lines! Next, I’ll saw the windscreen from the rest of the canopy and add it to the cockpit sill; a vacuform replacement is on the way for the rest of the canopy, which hinged to the right. The top and left panels of the canopy then hinged down – the central canopy on the TBF Avenger is the closest canopy to this that I’ve seen.

I think I’m on target for three planes in 2009 at minimum. Touch basswood.