How much blacker could a Firefly’s interior be? None. None more black.

In an effort to mix things up, I busted out the Special Hobby Fairey Firefly V this weekend and started work on its cockpit. The Firefly V had one interior color option straight from the dealer – basic black. However, there were some nice little color flourishes thrown in, and black is a fun challenge to paint and drybrush. A lot of people fear black – as an inside color or as an outside color – but I like it. That may be because I was an art student at one time – when I was 12 or 13, I began painting landscapes in oils and took a mess of lessons. When I was 17, I sold enough paintings to fund my way to Washington D.C. for a trip with a classmate and my social studies teacher, Helen Mineta; we stayed at her brother’s Norm house and I was there to see him and Daniel Inoyue testify at the hearings on reparations for the Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
Of course, that adventure has squat to do with painting a Firefly interior. You know what does, though? This page. Go to “Media Gallery,” then select “Search the Media Gallery!” and in the first three blocks enter “photo,” “detail” and “interior.” You’ll be rewarded with 10 shots of the inside of Eddie Kurdziel’s Firefly WB518, an immaculately-restored Firefly VI, which has a very stock-appearing cockpit (period covers are in place over modern instruments).
I had a lot of fun working on the instrument panel, with its red, yellow and blue bezels in certain spots. I airbrushed the photoetched kit panels with Testors’ aircraft interior black, then drybrushed them with panzer gray. The bezels were painted the appropriate bright colors, and then the acetate backs were added with Future floor polish as an adhesive – it creates its own clear lens over each instrument!
The rest of the interior will get a going-over next. It’ll be an exercise in drybrushing – the many resin parts are already painted a very dark gray, so a wash would be pointless. Picking out the various “black boxes,” however, is where the tricks will come in. Since these came from subcontractors, often there were minor variations in finish – some were more glossy than others, some more gray. Mixing aircraft interior black, flat black, glossy black and various shades of gray can give you many sheens and shades of black (okay, really, dark gray) and helps break up the “black hole” appearance. Fairey was also kind to us modelers by using a bright red-brown Bakelite seat in the cockpit, another colorful detail in a dark interior.
Stand by for photos…

Making Zero progress

The A6M2 is proceeding nicely, and the cockpit is coming together, primarily because it was molded apart. What I mean is that the cockpit’s various boxes – radios, switch boxes, throttle, etc. – were all molded as separate pieces. That makes assembly a little longer, but I was able to paint, wash and drybrush the structure of the cockpit, then paint and weather the various boxes and add them later. This made it a lot easier to do – you often can’t reach every stringer or former to drybrush it, for instance, and if you do your weathering in layers, a screw-up in an upper layer means starting from scratch at a lower layer. After all the radios are in place, I’ll add the wiring between the various components.
I drilled out the lightnening holes in the kit seat to match my photos, and I broke out the old Reheat brass generic Japanese hardware set for the belts. The seats in the Reheat set have lightening holes that are too big, and the engineering is funky, but the seat belts will work well.
I’m going to try the trick shown in the Model Graphix magazines the model came with and used decals for the instruments, but I’ll apply them individually into the recesses in the control panel (and the side panel and radio). The decals look pretty good, and I figure I can gloss the areas they go into, then trap them with a drop of Future floor polish, which will then double as a lens over the instrument.
One thing the kit seems to lack is a gunsight. Actually, most kits lack gunsights, or at least detailed gunsights. This is surprising, because they were very prominent in most fighters, and often projected out quite a ways, making them very apparent even to casual viewers. Of course, most restorations have the sights removed so the civilian pilot has a nice view, which may have helped some model manufacturers forget this detail. Not a problem – I have the Robert Mikesh book Japanese Aircraft Interiors, 1940-1945,  on loan from Mike Braun, and the sight looks rather boxy and easy to recreate with styrene strip.
I’m looking forward to getting the cockpit together and the fuselage closed up! This is a really neat model!

Navy aces in Belmont, July 19

The next Northern California Friends of the Aces event is on July 19; Phil Schasker gave me the flyer a week ago, but I’ve been so busy I failed to get the news up here until now. Anyhow, that event will again be at the Hiller Museum in San Carlos, and this time the theme is Navy and Marine Corps aces. The panelists this time will be:

Col. Dean Caswell – 7 victory Ace with VMF-221 in the F4U Corsair
Capt. Bob Coats – 9 victory Ace with VF-18, VF-17 in the F6F Hellcat
LCdr. Jim Duffy- 5 victory Ace with VF-15 in the F6F Hellcat
Capt. Sheldon Hall – 6 victory Ace with VMF-213 in the F4U Corsair
Ens. Don McPherson – 5 victory Ace with VF-83 in the F6F Hellcat

I don’t know if we’ll do a model display – I’ll poke around and see who in the region would be interested in such a thing. It would be neat to have a few Hellcats, Corsairs and maybe a Zero or two on display to show off the hardware these brave aviators worked with and against!

If you want to go to the symposium, I’d drop the Northern California Friends of the Aces a note at They’ll happily give you all the details!

Why I build Midway subjects

I always seem eager to start new projects, but somehow loathe to finish them. I say this because on my workbench at home sit the pieces of not the B-24 but my 1:72 FineMolds A6M2b Type 21 Zero. I started the model this morning before work by drilling out the lightening holes in the rear cockpit bulkhead; this kit has an interior comparable to the Tamiya P-47 in terms of completeness. For the most part, it makes an aftermarket set unnecessary. Of course, that is not to say that I won’t add something to the cockpit – probably some photoetched seat belts at the very least.

This project is pretty exciting – No. 2 in my Midway collection, which will include examples of all the planes used int he battle by the time all’s said and done. My first bit of aviation writing came in sixth grade with a report on Pearl Harbor and Midway that was about 30 pages long, or six times longer than the assignment. My teacher accused me of plagiarism until I produced the stack of books I used for research. Looking back, I’m surprised that any sixth grader would grind through Prange, Fuchida and all the other authors readily available back in 1978, but I guess the subject had some resonance. My grandfather and I went to see the movie “Midway” (in Senssurround!) when it came out, and so it was really the first World War II battle I knew very much about.  The film could be the subject of a rather dangerous drinking game – when you see a historical inaccuracy, drink! – and much of the editing of the combat scenes makes no sense, but it’s entertaining, and provides a good jumping off point for learning about what really happened. Plus, with a vast cast of actors including Tom Selleck, Erik Estrada, Dabney Coleman and even Larry Czonka (he plays the Yorktown’s engineering officer, Cdr. Delaney), it’s extremely useful  to know when you’re playing “six degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

And, as I said a few days ago, the Midway Roundtable’s given me a great – and accurate, and often first-hand – understanding of the battle. So of course Midway holds an attraction for my modeling. However, I think the Roundtable spoiled me a little. If I had a question about something – “what were the codes on Red Parks’ F2A-3?” for example – I had an answer in about 24 hours from fairly irrefutable sources – if Mark Horan, John Lundstrom or Barrett Tillman tells you something, it’s generally not something pulled from thin air. However, Japanese aircraft are another matter. David Aiken has done some great scholarship around the subject, but the reality of the matter is this: because the U.S. Navy dealt the Japanese carriers such a shocking and complete blow, there’s almost no photographic record of the Japanese side of Midway to draw from. As your carrier was burning, and you prepared to abandon ship, would running down to the photo lab with (filled with flammable chemicals and film stock) to grab snapshots of the air wing be a high priority? Probably not.

So, using David’s research and advice, I settled on a subject: Lt. Iyozoh Fujita. This was partly because I already had the markings in my decal bin, and partly because Fujita was a big scorer at Midway; some sources credit him with 10 victories on June 4. His career score is given as anything between 11 and 42, but Fujita himself said that he shot down just seven. In any event, Fujita was one of those who intercepted first Torpedo Six and then Torpedo Three at Midway and, in fact, lost his wingman Teruo Kawamato to Tom Cheek who was escorting VT-3. Fujita claimed three TBDs and a shared fourth, but while chasing outbound SBDs he was hit by antiaircraft fire and had to bail out at low altitude. He survived the war and ended up flying 747s for Japan Air.

That’s my subject – now I just have to build it. Where’s that bottle of aotake?

Model judging: why 1-2-3 works best at the nationals

The IPMS/USA National Convention and Contest approaches – it’s August 19 to 22 in Columbus, Ohio. The show is getting better organized every year, and we members are the beneficiaries of that. Still, some people are not yet fully satisfied. Over on the IPMS/USA  members’ forum, there’s a debate that’s raged on and off for several years over the topic of judging – or, more accurately, over the organization of model contests and how awards are presented. I’ll synopsize it briefly:

Most IPMS contests are run on a 1-2-3 basis. That means that the hosts have a set number of categories, and the judges select the top three in each.

Some organizations (AMPS, most notably) have a gold-silver-bronze system. Each entrant is evaluated against a set of criteria and if it achieves a certain standard it is given the corresponding award – or no award, if it fails to meet the standard.

Both systems are totally valid, and organizers are entitled to employ any system they choose for local shows. However, I am strongly in favor of keeping 1-2-3 at the nationals, for several reasons. If you’ll bear with me, I’ll state my case.

First, the nationals are big – 3000 models big. Judging a category in such a show with 1-2-3 involves a pass through the category to eliminate models with major flaws, then a second elimination pass, then close examination of the survivors. In reasonable time, the teams get down to five or six contenders, then start really poring over them to determine the final ranking. It’s actually pretty simple if you run your team in a business-like fashion.

Using gold-silver-bronze in such a show would be very difficult. Many more models would be subject to that last-six scrutiny, which would draw the process out. Currently, judging takes about four to five hours at the nationals; I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the show to have the judges on duty for much longer than that if only because people will stop volunteering to judge. Also, you want to keep the display room open as much as possible, and drawing out judging works against that.

AMPS is often used as an example of how this might work: entrants bring in their models and leave them at the judges’ table, where they are evaluated and then transported to the display tables by the judges. However, AMPS draws about 15 percent of the models as the IPMS/USA nationals – meaning you’d need many more judges, and you’d need them on duty at all times during the times entry was permitted. Also, the idea of the crush of people bringing their models in on the first day and on Friday, and the backup at the judges’ table, is awful to think about. (During a previous debate over this topic, Cookie Sewell, the former AMPS honcho and a veteran IPMS judges, said the AMPS-style of judging would not work at the IPMS event for reasons of scale. I take Cookie’s word on this as perhaps the best educated in the entire debate.)

1-2-3 is also pretty easy to execute on; there’s a judges handbook, and every discipline has a general approach to evaluating workmanship. Implementing gold-silver-bronze would require a new set of criteria to be drawn up, and few have asserted a good way to approach this. At the very minimum, this would require a lot of time, effort and education of the judges. The suggestion of some that it could be based on “points” is a bit scary to me, since that tends to downplay very major flaws and keeps in contention models that would otherwise fail to be in consideration. For instance, let’s say that a 40-point system mandates that general seam work and construction is worth 10 points, painting and finishing 10, alignment 10, decals 5, and clear parts 5. A model could have horrendous glue fingerprints all over the canopy and still lose just five points. In 1-2-3, that model would be set aside from contention immediately. Also, a clever builder could figure out models that don’t have things like clear parts (RQ-1 Predator, for example) and thus get rewarded for work not done.

1-2-3 is rather easy for the host club to plan for – get trophies for the planned categories, and you’re done. With gold-silver-bronze, there’s really no way to estimate what you’d need for your awards – it would be contingent on the number of entrants and the quality of those entrants. I’ve heard arguments that the hosts could then limit the number of golds, silvers and bronzes handed out – but doesn’t that fly in the face of the basic notion of that judging approach?

Finally, the advocates of this system contend that it would increase the number of people entering the contest because it would spread more awards around. There are three basic flaws to this contention: first, there’s no guarantee that any awards would be presented – there could very well be fewer awards presented, and if the argument is that people enter only because they want to win something, then gold-silver-bronze would work against the stated goal. Second, the contest at the national convention is not the only reason people go to the event; I contend that going to hunt trophies is exactly the wrong reason to go to the IPMS Nationals. Finally, three of the four largest IPMS/USA National contests have come in the last four years, so the idea that the contest format is harming attendance seems utterly unsupported by the evidence.

I also happen to like 1-2-3. As in life, 50 percent of the national contest is about showing up. The categories allow the IPMS to express things it values – like vacuform models, scratchbuilds and other off-the-beaten-path modeling areas. (I still keep meaning to build a 1:72 airliner so I can support one of my favorite smaller categories!) And it is fun to see what finishes in the top three on any given Saturday; because human beings are doing the judging, that may change from week to week, and healthy competitors understand that and value their awards (or lack thereof) appropriately.

Those are my well-reasoned arguments for 1-2-3 vs. gold-silver-bronze. The other issue I have with efforts to change judging – a style of judging that’s been refined over 35 years, by the way – is that all too often it those efforts are led by people whose motivation is that they do not win. In my region, there’s a modeler who loves detailing interiors but whose exterior craftsmanship is fairly shoddy (no, I am not speaking about myself here, thank you!). Not long ago, he started agitating for greater weight in judging to be placed on extra detail work. At a contest where he was head judge, I had to step in during the judges’ meeting and stop him from instructing the judges to give greater weight to detailing; that’s simply not how you judge at a contest in my region. But his reasons for wanting a change were transparent and self-serving, and I fear that some of the advocates for gold-silver-bronze are similarly self-serving and feel they come in fourth in over-sized categories (which, again, shows a failure to understand the organization of the national shows; when a 400-model category is split into 10 subcategories, you’re still getting a fair shake).

I’m not arguing from the position of someone that 1-2-3 has benefitted; in 14 years I have taken one award, a second in small composition diorama for a project that I finished in two days! (Vladimir Yakubov was kind enough to let me know that a V-1 I built came in fourth a few years ago – he judged the category, and it would have taken some hardware except that I forgot to paint inside the jet pipe! You’d think I’d be a big fan of gold-silver-bronze under such circumstances!)

I have the dubious privilege of coming at this issue as a former IPMS/USA Nationals chairman (I bid for it when I was 29 years old – what an idiot!) and I understand you have to balance out what’s fair in the contest with what’s fair for the judges and what’s fair for the organizers. Too many advocates of gold-silver-bronze dismiss legitimate logistical concerns like awards, the development of a set of standards and the methods of organizing manpower for judging as something to be worked out later, or perhaps explored by using gold-silver-bronze at a regional as an experiment (I’d hate for that to be my regional!). These are not workable methods for proving a point, let alone instituting a major and potentially highly disruptive change to the system – a system which, by the way, works rather well the way it is.

Zero hours approach…

Okay, so I have the B-24 ideas locked down – but I did not pick a winner. That’ll happen later this week. Instead, I got all dewy-eyed over Fine Molds’ A6M2b Zero in 1:72. This weird release came in two issues of Japanese modeling magazine Model Graphix in late 2007 – the fuselage and cockpit in November and the rest in December. Luckily, Hobby Scale Japan was kind enough to package the kit and magazine together; I grabbed mine at the nationals last year. There’s a great review on Hyperscale here; inspecting the parts does show this to be a truly beautiful little kit. And believe me, after handling P-47s and the Maryland, the term “little” is appropriate. The Zero’s a small aircraft!

The plan is to build a Zero that flew and fought at Midway; I’d like to create a collection of Midway models, based on my long-running connection to the Midway Roundtable. This is an email group of historians and veterans of the battle that’s been going on for a long time; my first model in the series, Tom Cheek’s F4F-4, was based on a conversation with Tom,  and I’ll get around to doing the TBD Devastator that Bill Esders and Lloyd Childers flew with information gleaned from a great interview that Lloyd provided to me. (That will also get the full treatment at Internet Modeler – I love presenting the pilot’s story next to a model of his plane. We often forget that men fought and died in these machines, and they deserved to be remembered.)

Meanwhile, the Zero presents few such opportunities for a personal connection; I should probably grab Ron Werneth’s Beyond Pearl Harbor , which could provide some personal stories to go with my build. Ron, a member of the Roundtable, had the opportunity to go to Japan and interview surviving aviators; since he was fluent in Japanese, he was one of the few writers properly equipped for the task and I hear he was immensely successful. I have yet to get the book but I want it…!

Owing to the fate of the Japanese carriers, there aren’t a lot of images of Japanese planes at the battle, but I’ve got some leads. The idea of pairing the Wildcat with its adversary is really exciting. Also, at this stage, the Zero is a perfect model. It exists in completed form only in my mind, and darned if I didn’t do a good job. Perfection is lost the minute you start gluing things together, which makes the planning stage perhaps my favorite of the whole build! There are nothing but possibilities for this model and I will strive not to screw it up too much!

A bounty of B-24D ideas…

My post here about my B-24D choice and a similar post on Hyperscale have yielded some great suggestions. I’ll list them here, and I’ll make up my mind over the weekend. Those suggestions came from good friends (Jennings Heilig, Marty Sanford and Keith Bunyan, to name three) and from total strangers. I am always amazed at the generosity of time modelers always show.

Anhyhow, here’s the “short list:”

PB4Y-1 “Calvert N’ Coke” (Jennings Heilig)
Liberator GR V of Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg VC, DFC, RNZAF (Victoria Cross awarded on information forwarded by the enemy!) (Keith Bunyan)
B-24D “Ten Knights in a Barroom”  (Donald Anderson)
B-24D 42-63980, all black B-24D, 801st BG, (Provisional) 42-63980 (Grant Matsuoka)
B-24D “Brewery Wagon” (Lynn Ritger, Drew Tarter, Daryl Huthala)
B-24D “Nothing Sacred”
B-24D “Texas Terror”
C-87 “Guess Where II” (Dan Katz)
B-24D “Utah Man” (Marty Sanford)

Those are just the NAMED B-24Ds that were suggested… it’ll be hard to select one. So hard, I’ve already bought a second Liberator!