In the company of heroes…

A few days ago, I talked about Sherman Gillespie and mentioned I was speaking at the Villages Aviation Enthusiasts’ Group in San Jose on Friday, which is also being held in part because it’s Sherman’s 88th birthday. Yesterday I received a list of the folks who are in the club and who had RSVP’ed. It kind of freaked me out.

Why , you ask? Well, take a look at the list:

  • Bill Adams – Worked on remote control gun turret design for the Boeing B-29, WWII
  • Ed Batinich – Flew B-17s, 379th BG, 8th AF ETO, WWII
  • Larry Berke – Instructor AT-6 AF Advanced Training, WWII
  • Lois Ann Blair – Stewardess, United Airliner DC3
  • Carl Brizzi – Ball Turret Gunner, 306th BG, 8th AF ETO, WWII
  • Chappy Chapman – Army Air Corps 1936, Air Transport Command, WWII. Boeing 747s, United Airlines
  • Wally Currey – Naval Aviator, WWII. Flew TBF Torpedo Bombers
  • Jeanette Davis – Husband Lew Davis, Naval aviator, flew Grumman F6F Hellcats, WWII
  • Sherman Gillespie – Flew B-17s 96th BG. 8thAF, WWII, on 1st Daylight mission to Berlin, March 6, 1944. Interned in Sweden, April-Oct. 1944
  • Bill Gillette – Flew P-51s, 4th Fighter Group, 8th AF, WWII. Credited with 4 1/2 Enemy Aircraft. Flew on 1st Shuttle Mission to Russia, June 1944
  • Rich Gray – Flew P-47 Thunderbolts, WWII, 366th FG, 9th AF, ETO
  • Bud Hough – Flew as a passenger in Ford Trimotor, “The Tin Goose”
  • Charles Hughes – Flew B-24s 44th BG, 8th AF, WWII. Ploesti Mission, Aug. 1, 1943. Interned in Turkey—escaped!
  • Sven Ingels – Glider pilot. Still enjoys sailplane flying with a friend.
  • Tom James – Flew B-26 Marauders, WWII. 391st BG, 9th AF, ETO
  • Jim Larsen – Served in 6th AF 1946-1949 Flight Engineer
  • Jack Leathers – Flew B-47 Jet Bombers, Cold War, SAC
  • Frank Licha – Flight Engineer, Top Turret gunner, WW II, 301 BG, 15th AF, Italy
  • Archie Maltbie – Flew P-47 Thunderbolt, 365th FG, 9th AF. ETO WWII
  • Mary Miller – Private Pilot License, 1980s. Flew Cessnas, Sacramento Area
  • Peter Perham – Worked for De Havilland, 1942, building “Mosquito fighter bomber” –The RAFs Wooden Wonder. WWII
  • Pete Petterborg – Naval Aviator WWII. Flew Lockheed PV-1 Vegas in the Aleutians. Interned in Siberia! 1944
  • Curt Reed – Flew B-24s, 456th BG, 15th AF, Italy, WWII.
  • Jerry Rosenthal – Radio Operator, B-25 Bombers. 57th Bomb Wing, WWII, Italy.
  • Leo Steinert – Flight Engineer, B-29s, 498th GR, 20th AF, WWII, Saipan, 32 missions
  • Dale Swift – Radio Operator B-24 Crew, 15th AF Italy. WWII. Shot down on 35th mission. POW, Rumania
  • Guy Watson – Flew P-38s, 5th AF, WWII. Philippines; P-51s, Japan, and CA Air Nat. Guard, Postwar
  • Wil Willard – Flew B-17s, 12th AF, Africa, WWII. Career with Pan Am

I’ll take plenty of photos and share them here following the meeting. Now, I have to get a good 20 minutes of talk together… gulp!

How Sherman Gillespie changed my life

On Friday, I have the wonderful honor of speaking to the Aviation Enthusiasts club at the Villages, a retirement community in San Jose. The club is comprised largely of retired pilots, mechanics, engineers and others who have real-life experience with aircraft (as opposed to my semi-real life experience!). I was invited because the head of this group, Sherman Gillespie, is also celebrating his 88th birthday that day. Sherman and I shared an experience that literally changed my life.

Back in 2002, I worked as the editor of several small community papers in San Jose (how small? They were monthlies!) and a similar magazine called 50 Plus, which I think was perhaps the best idea for a magazine in that group. That’s an audience that’s only getting bigger, and a magazine dedicated to active people – and those trying to become active – in that age range is just a natural. Anyhow, one cover story I wrote for 50 Plus was about Jim Lund, who at the time had 1200 built 1:72 models and spoke about how the craft kept him mentally sharp, motivated and physically active (within reason). Jim appeared on the cover of the magazine “applying the final touches” to a DC-6 in 1:72 (actually, he was rubbing a clean paintbrush on the side in a staged photo that I took!). This caught the eye of one of the members of the aircraft enthusiasts, who called and said that the head of their group had been a B-17 pilot in World War II.

At almost the same time, I received a note from the EAA that its B-17, “Aluminum Overcast,” would be in the area. They invited me and another member of my staff to come on a flight. Since the staff was, essentially, me, I had an unclaimed pass. That’s when I got the idea to call Sherman.

I phoned him up. “Mr. Gillespie, you don’t know me, but I’m the editor of the community paper and 50 Plus,” I said. “I have an invitation to go up in a B-17 – would you like to come along?” Sherman said he’d have to check with his wife. When he called back, he said “Barbara said I’d have to be crazy – not to go!”

We drove up to Hayward for the flight, and I found him to be a warm, outgoing man. After the war, he became a high school teacher specializing in Spanish, and had a long career before his retirement. He flew 17 missions before his plane was badly hit and he was forced to divert to Sweden, where he was interned. Later, the U.S. swapped Sweden a batch of P-51s in exchange for several hundred airmen, who were shuttled across occupied Norway and back to the U.K. “The Brits made us go through customs!” said Sherman.

Someday I hope to tell the story of the interned airmen in Sweden, who lived a strange – but not unpleasant – existence in Sweden. Although they were able to mingle in town, get paid through the U.S. legation, and enjoy themselves in Sweden, most felt bad about being out of the war. They felt worse when U.S. magazines ran articles implying they were off on holiday in Sweden while other airmen continued to fight; the reality was that for most of them, their options had been a landing in Sweden or an icy death in the North Sea. After they landed, they simply functioned under the circumstances in Sweden as best as they could.

The flight was memorable, and even more memorable was how the modern crew of the bomber was fascinated to hear Sherman’s stories. They spent 45 minutes asking him questions and learning more about the aircraft they were flying. I wrote up the event in 50 plus and in the community paper (which resulted in several letters from Sherman’s past students!), and, encouraged by Tom Cleaver, pitched the story of Sherman’s last mission to Flight Journal magazine. They picked it up for a B-17 special issue; it was the first World War II story I had ever written and my real entry into writing about aviation. I owe all of that to Sherman. He truly changed my life.

It’ll be a lot of fun to speak about the Fourth Fighter Group to the Aviation enthusiasts – especially since one of those who’ll be in the audience is Willard Gillette, a member of the Fourth who’s actually mentioned several times in the book! That also means I’ll have to be at the top of my game; there’ll be someone in the audience who knows the story better than I do! That – and seeing Sherman – promise to make this a wonderful, memorable Friday. I’m really looking forward to it.

Confessions of a P-40 War-hack

I was really plugging away at the P-40 last weekend before I committed a major boo-boo that stopped work in its tracks. I masked and painted the windscreen area after cleaning it up, and it looked good, and then I shot a coat of AeroMaster neutral gray on the undersides. AeroMaster is an “extinct” paint, but goodness, does it shoot well. It required little thinning for airbrushing, covered with a tight-grained finish, and behaved itself in every way. It was an absolute pleasure to paint with and it caused my airbrush to behave exactly the way it is supposed to. My masking around the tail and especially the cowling was just right, and I really thought I was on my way.

Then I screwed up. The side windows in the Academy P-40 have these enormous external frames that look like the patternmaker glued .030 by .030 rod across them. Really, it’s like someone laid a pair of railroad ties vertically on the windows – totally out of scale and inaccurate. Academy has a knack for this – they “borrow” the layout of an otherwise nice kit (see: the Academy Tempest V and P-39, both of which bear a remarkable similarity to the Heller kits, right down to the positions of the locating pins) and then goober some things up. In the case of the Tempest, it was the prop, the horizontal stabilizers and the gear retraction struts. In this case, it’s been the spinner, the landing gear struts (too thick, and the anti-torque scissors are just weird) and these windows. I also hear tell that the canopy’s too tall in this kit, but since mine will be a vacuformed replacement I am not concerned with that detail.

Anyhow, I went to work sanding the crowbars off these windows, and decided that while I was at it, I should reduce the thickness to a more scale size. I took an additional 1/64 of an inch off the windows, then polished them out with sanding sticks and, finally, Blue Magic auto polish. I had nice, clear, thin windows. Whoopee!

The problem was that Academy gave you windows that fit really well thanks to a beveled inner edge. If you abrade away 1/64 off the top, the perimeter of that bevel shrinks and your windows no longer fit. Duh.

I suppose I could have reduced them from the inside, but getting P-40 rear windows into place in this scale is work enough. Very luckily for me, Randy Ray’s building the Academy P-40N (which doesn’t have those side windows) and he let me have his spares. I sanded off the frames from one of the replacement windows this morning – and then stopped, and polished them out. Not surprisingly, it fits.

Another P-40 item of interest: Try as I might, I could not find the underwing “U.S. ARMY” legend in blue in my 18 pounds of decals. On October 22, 1940 this was ordered changed from black to blue; that would certainly mean my P-40E would have a blue legend rather than a black one. Luckily AeroMaster did a half-sized sheet last year of this marking in several sizes, and black and blue. (Thanks to Jim Johnson over on Hyperscale for tipping me to it.) Remarkably, they include five styles of M’s and two styles of every other color, a testament to the Army Air Corps’ inability to standardize on these markings. For the love of Dana Bell!

The P-40 thus will wear one of the blue “U.S. ARMY” legends on the lower wing, Aeromaster insignia on the fuselage and top left and bottom wings (with the red center applied first, under the star, to suggest the painted-out centers common in May 1942), and Microscale railroad decals for the individual aircraft markings. I also have a Tally Ho of the Czech Republic sheet of P-40E stencils which will probably donate some markings. It’ll certainly be a one-of-a-kind model, and I’d like to have it done before the week of the nationals (which are Aug. 19-22).

The next Journal: great for talking Egyptian cars into IJN battleships and watching “Knightrider” in space

This week, we’re throwing together the next issue of the IPMS/USA Journal – and by throwing, I mean working hard, fast and seemingly out of control. However, with the team of people we have, especially John Heck, it’s more like a deliberate juggling act than a slapdash rush to meet a deadline.

This issue features part one of a two-parter on building U.S. manned launch vehicles in 1:200, a build of the Moebius Models Mummy, the Hasegawa 1:350 Mutsu, a remarkable lighted build of the Knightrider K.I.T.T. and a story about a major model project at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. If that’s not variety I don’t know what is.
If you aren’t an IPMS/USA member, you’ll miss out on this issue, the July-August issue (which will drop around the time of the nationals, I suspect). You should get over to the IPMS/USA website and join if you aren’t a member. Trust me on that.

I’ve been twiddling about on the P-40 this week, hoping to get some decals on her shortly. Elizabeth is having knee surgery on Friday, so I may be busy/not busy for several days. I’d really like to have the model done for the Region 9 contest on July 25, but I don’t want to jinx myself. Also, Keith Bunyan is visiting from New Zealand next week, providing a welcome distraction from models but also presenting a distraction from models, if you know what I mean, so the contest may be out of the question unless I get a good session of building in tonight.

Also, one other item: my wife’s aunt Peggy sent two boxes of items that belonged to her husband, Maj. Hank Salisbury, USMC. One was filled with books, Pacific invasion maps (with Japanese artillery, airfields and buildings marked on them!), a USMC first-aid kit packed with its original contents, and a silk map of Japan, Korea, China and the Soviet Union. The other box had this:


This is what 53 Comet metal ship ID models look like. They’re not all Comet – several are from other manufacturers – but they all date from World War II. The notables in this collection are five unusual 1:300-scale destroyers, the carriers Yorktown, Independence and Ranger, the battlecruiser Alaska, Japanese cruisers Mogami, Aoba and Takao, and battleships Texas and Massachusetts. I’d like to find a home for them in a museum, but I may bring them to Friday night’s Silicon Valley Scale Modelers’ meeting. They’re pretty accurate, and they survived many years as toys for Hank’s kids, so they’re obviously battleship tough!

On this day (and the next), 65 years ago…

On July 9, 1944, the 362nd Fighter group continued its rampage over central France while still flying from England. The group would move across the Channel soon, but until then they had to fly across the channel, over the invasion beaches and attack its targets before returning the same way. On July 9, the 378th Fighter Squadron hit the rail tracks between Mamurs and Bielle, cutting the lines in three places. The squadron strafed and destroyed four tank cars at Quilleubouef.

The squadron repeated the mission the next day, adding five more rail cuts. The 377th and 379th dive-bombed gun positions in the Lessay-Periers area, but the guns were well camouflaged and it was difficult to judge results. For Art Wildern of the 379th, however, just getting back was success enough.

“This was my sixth combat mission in the P-47 Thunderbolt,” Wildern wrote, “and nothing that happened indicated I would successfully fly an additional 100 missions on my first tour. Ours was the last of three squadrons of the group and I was assigned to fly the last position in the last flight of our squadron, Klondike Green Four. We had 48 Thunderbolts in formation and I was the 16th in our squadron, but the 48th in the group. I’d flown Green Four the last three squadron missions and I figured ‘they’ either wanted to get rid of me or figured I could take care of myself. A little more figuring and it was evident I would be the 48th aircraft to dive-bomb the target. Even to novice me, not a good number. You see, the Krauts (we figured) took cover when the first flight of four aircraft attacked with guns blazing, for effect, prior to dropping their bombs. Then, as the remaining flights of a squadron attacked, the Krauts got guts and fired ack ack, then they got angry and fired more ack ack, more guts, more ack ack, etc. By the time the last aircraft of 16 went in, it was really a sky full of angry metal.

“Will Nagelstadt was my element leader and the 47th to go down on the target. Nagelstadt rolled in on what looked like anti-aircraft batteries and I followed as No. 48. We squirted our fifties and they had already put up a solid ceiling of metal and more coming all the time. Then, as I climbed toward Will (Klondike Green 3), I realized how quiet things were and I was losing power and airspeed. I’d been hit! The necessary calls were made to Green 3 and as he looked over my aircraft and the left side, he said, ‘Let’s go home.’

“Fine – just the two of us and we’re half way down the country of France. England suddenly seemed a million miles away. He wouldn’t tell me what he could see (he didn’t want to make me nervous). As I recall, I could make about 180 mph at 5000 feet. As we proceeded north and were west of Paris, the sun in the west and me stacked low on Will’s left side, I have no idea why, but I decided to switch to Will’s right side. In our situation, he covered ahead and around 180 degrees to the left, looking over me. I covered ahead and 180 degrees to the right looking beyond him. Now, it would be just the opposite as I slid slightly behind and under his tail to then rise higher than his level of flight and on his right wing. As I rose just even with his aircraft, looking east, I saw them.

“I called, “Klondike Green Three, Four here, Up Left, BREAK!” And we broke up into 30 plus Me 109s and Fw 190s coming down at us from out of the sun at nine o’clock and all of them seemingly blazing away at us. The aircraft I was flying was a Razorback called the ‘Tennessee Cannon-Ball’ (Ken McCleary’s former aircraft). As I broke left, a hard pulling maneuver, my plane immediately went into a left spin with no help from me and I held it there on purpose until I was getting close to low clouds, whereupon I kicked it out of the spin and flew into the clouds which were heavy broken to undercast. I was needle, ball, and airspeed, headed compass north ‘til I could reset my flight gyros. Then, pangs of guilt: ‘The worst sin a wingman can commit is to lose his leader.’ I was doing pretty good airspeed wise at 1500 to 1800 feet. So, I eased out of my cocoon and as I broke on top, I looked up left there was one aircraft out in front of three behind and he was jinking around. I called ‘Klondike Green Three, this is Four, over.’ No reply. A moment later, the jinking aircraft gave me a beautiful look at his wingspan. An Me 109. Then it dawned on me: those bandits were being vectored to kill the wounded “Indian” – me!

“I went back into my cocoon of cloud cover and continued north and as luck would have it, I flew right over Caen, France where the British and Canadians were having a rough time of it and the clouds were actually pink from the shell fire. I was about 800 feet at the time when abruptly, I flew out of my cloud cover, feet wet, over the English Channel. I felt naked, lonely and probably about to be bounced by the whole German Air Force. But, it didn’t happen. Then I noticed a higher single aircraft toward Le Harve, feet wet and going my direction. ‘Klondike Green Three, Four here – your feet wet?’ An answer came: ‘Yes.’ I said check nine o’clock low. ‘Roger, gotcha.” He came down and after looking over my oil-doused crate, said, ‘We’ll make it.’ And at Headcorn, he said, ‘Keep a little extra speed up on final approach.’ I landed with no sweat and then at the hard stand as I taxied in, the crew chief motioned “cut-cut-stop” and threw his ball cap on the ground. I shut down and then sat there totally beat, awaiting Nagelstadt’s chewing out for losing him in the break. He came over and said, ‘Christ, we were lucky!’ and I perked up some and said, ‘You mean you’re not mad at me for losing you?’ He said, ‘Hell no! Look at this thing.’

“I got out as you usually did, facing forward and then turned looking aft. The turbo supercharger was close to half-way out of the fuselage and for a second, I thought I was going to be sick. And I didn’t even know I was hit!”

In the afternoon, the group went on another armed reconnaissance around Sille-le-Guillaume and LeMans, but bombing results were poor. At St. Pierre, the group tangled with seven Bf 109s, damaging two of them. In the evening, a dive bombing and strafing mission along the Seine destroyed a pontoon bridge, 15 box cars, two trucks and a staff car.

Art Wildern passed away 11 months ago to the day. You’ve seen Art, but you don’t know it – he was the coordinator for much of the aerial action in “Tora! Tora! Tora!” Recall the scene when one of the B-17s tries to land, and the tower radios a warning – “B-17! You have a Zero on your tail! Gun it and get outta here!” – and the B-17 sweeps away in a climbing turn to the left, while the Zero executes a climbing turn to the right. The guy on the radio is Art.

This week’s focus: painting a pony

You can accuse me of having a short attention span; I rack it up to having too many models. In any event, the Zero and the Firefly were set aside in their early interior stages for some work on my Tamiya P-51D, which I’ve been working on for a long time. How long? Well, it was the test body for both the Obscureco P-51D wing (with dropped flaps) and the Obscureco P-51D-5-NA conversion, and so it was on display at the Obscureco table at the Orange County Nationals in 2007. For a 1:72 single-engine prop job, that’s pretty sad, frankly.

The good news is that I may be close to getting the natural metal finish on the model – and once that happens, decals aren’t far off. And when decals are on the model, it becomes my sole focus.

Over the weekend, I re-sprayed the anti-glare panel in olive drab 613 after cleaning up the windscreen join. Tamiya did not cover itself in glory when it came to the clear parts in this kit; the windscreen fit is indifferent, and the two-part sliding canopy is just silly. That will be replaced by a single vacuformed canopy, and the windscreen presented a big seam to fill – which I missed until it was painted. I filled, sanded and fairly well destroyed that coat of paint. Tamiya also added a bunch of very petite rivets to the windscreen, which I also had to replace on the left side, since filling the seam eradicated them. But, once that hard work was concluded, I masked and airbrushed a fresh coat of olive drab on the nose, and the next step is the reverse-masking of the nose in preparation for the natural metal paints.

Actually, let me be more precise: the natural metal paints go on the fuselage. The Mustang’s wings were painted in aluminum lacquer, which I’ll approximate with Testors non-buffable aluminum metallizer mixed with some gray paint. The real Mustang’s upper wings were all puttied and sanded to maximize the laminar-flow wing, so I did just that – I filled in the panel lines on the resin wing with CA glue, then sanded them flush. Of course, I left the ammunition tray doors alone; otherwise, I’d have to convert my model into a racer!

When I made the master of the wing, I debated removing the panel lines, but left them there because I suspected many people would balk at buying a smooth hunk of resin – we’re all too conditioned to expect surface detail. Luckily, the smoothing trick works with minimal effort – and next time I’ll do it before I stick the wing to the fuselage!

Anyhow, the Tamiya kit is nice, but at this stage mine has a Cooper Details interior, an Obscureco wing, an Obscureco tail, and will end up with some sort of resin 108-gallon pressed paper tanks, making this a much heavier model than your usual Mustang. Tamiya provides the prop, spinner, forward fuselage and scoop parts, landing gear… and that’s about it.

I’ll post photos of any progress achieved this week!

In Firefly news, I have the interior painted, but I’m a little suspicious about the resin “detail parts” in the kit. The radios in the back seat just seem a little hinckey to me – and I can’t locate a good reference to let me know if my hunch is correct or not. The plan is to build a Korean War-era Firefly, but my five references all ignore the observer’s position, and web references are fairly abysmal (not to mention the restorations are often not to stock). Eddie Kurdziel’s Firefly is a Mk. VI, so the rear is outfitted for anti-submarine warfare, so it’s not useful. Hopefully, my Mustang meandering will buy me time to get to the bottom of the backseat.

Random bits: Zero, Firefly, Liberator

As promised, here’s a photo of the Zero, which as yet does not have instrument faces and the instrument panel installed.


Note the masking tape at the front and rear of each fuselage half. That protects a coat of Aotake (a metallic blue-green), which will probably be utterly invisible when the model is assembled but which is there just the same. The plane’s seat is complete with painted and flat-coated seatbelts; next up will be the control panel, machine gun breeches and the instrument shelf still missing from the left side of the cockpit.


I also added the under-wing panels suited to the variant of Type 21 I am building; there are also wing leading-edge inserts that are subtype-specific. The inserts on the wing were a bit proud of the surface when I test-fit them, but a bit of sanding brought them right into line with the rest of the lower wings.


My other project (as-yet unphotographed) was the addition of the “flying six” panel (really, a “flying eight” panel) to the rest of the Firefly panel, which was then added to the resin instrument “shroud” piece. I have two of these kits and in both the gunsight was broken off the instrument shroud; I’ll do a little research on the sight and add something appropriate.


A final bit of news: I picked the subject of my B-24D build, and it really should have been obvious. I’ll be building “Brewery Wagon,” a tribute both to the heroic crew of this bomber and to Tom Meyers of Possumwerks Decals, who passed away last year just after getting his venture off the ground. The “Brewery Wagon” was the only B-24D in the 93rd Bomb Group to correctly press on to Ploesti when the rest of its group made a mistaken turn at Targoviste, meaning it pressed on to Ploesti alone. A flak hit shattered the nose, killing the bombardier and the navigator, and pilot John Palm lost one engine and found two on fire. He had virtually lost his right leg, too – it would be amputated after the battle. Still, he pressed on until a Bf 109 shot the bomber up further. Palm set the “Brewery Wagon” down in a field southwest of Ploesti, and co-pilot William Love triggered the fire extinguishers as he did to prevent a conflagration; eight of the 10 aboard the plane survived to become POWs.