Mr. Fujita’s office is now decorated…

The interior of the A6M2b is now complete – at least as complete as it’s going to get, since I closed the fuselage up tonight! It’s tricked out with wire, bits of solder and lead foil, and a few other details. The levers are made from metal rod topped with a little drop of white glue; the effect can be pretty nice, as in the seat adjustment lever. I used the kit decals for the instrument faces, then flatcoated the panel and picked the lenses out with tiny drops of Future. These images look a little glossy, but that’s primarily because of the flash.

The inspiration for much of this detailing came from this build by a Japanese modeler. There are some things that I’m not too keen on in this model – the maintenance on deck is goofy, and I have no idea where they would keep the wooden stands on a carrier – but his detailing is quite nice and, in large part, on target with what I’ve seen in photos.

One neat addition I incorporated on my build was the inclusion of oxygen bottles behind the cockpit bulkhead; mine came from a Prieser HO-scale set of portable generators. I added tape for the straps and painted them; the gray paint was scraped off and revealed a bit of the green plastic, which looks like a weathered tank would look.

The seat was drilled out and given Re-Heat straps, and various cables and wire were made from steel wire I found in a set of computer speakers. I accidentally slammed the speakers’ connector in a file cabinet drawer, which neatly severed it and turned it into modeling material. Recycling! See – scale modeling is a green hobby!

So, now the fuselage is joined; I did this primarily to protect the interior detailing. This is a small kit, it fits well, and it’s easy to deceive myself into thinking I can knock it out quickly. I will work to avoid that self-deception.

While I was pondering this build, I received a copy of Ron Werneth’s Beyond Pearl Harbor: the Untold Stories of Japan’s Naval Aviators. In it, Ron interviews Iyozoh Fujita, the aviator whose plane I’m building. It’s great to be able to put a human voice to the model. The entire book is terrific, by the way – it sheds much light on a largely untold side of World War II in the air.

Oh, and by the way, FineMolds is at this again: They’ve now done an A6M3 in conjunction with another magazine.


This day, 65 years ago over Germany…

Capt. Leonard “Kit” Carson of the 357th Fighter Group had a huge day at the expense of the Luftwaffe. Near Magdeburg, two large formations of German fighters were reported. “One of the formations, still unidentified, made a turn and came toward us at 8 o’clock,” Carson said. “We dropped our tanks and turned to meet them. We tacked onto the rear of the formation, which consisted on 50-plus Fw 190s. I closed to about 300 yards on the nearest one and fired a medium burst with no lead, getting numerous strikes. He started to burn and went into a turning dive to the left. I believe the pilot was killed. He never recovered, but crashed into the ground and exploded.”

Leading the second element in Carson’s flight was Lt. William Gilbert, who came around on a group of Fw 190s, selected one, and began firing from 500 yards, closing to 50 feet. “I observed numerous strikes all over the enemy aircraft and pieces flew off,” Gilbert said. “He burst into smoke and flame. The ship went into a spin and went straight into the ground. The pilot did not bail out. My windshield was covered in oil from the Fw 190 and I had to leave my flight.”

Carson returned to the main formation, again closing to the formation’s last plane. “I opened fire at about 300 yards, firing two short bursts, getting strikes all over the fuselage. He started to smoke and burn. He dropped out of the formation and turned to the right until he was in sort of half split-S position, never recovering from this attitude. I saw him crash and burn. The pilot did not get out.

“Closing again on the main formation, I pulled in to the nearest man. At about 400 yards I fired a short burst, noting a few hits. He broke violently to the left and I broke with him. I picked up a lead on him and fired two more bursts, getting strikes on the cockpit and engine. He started to smoke and burn badly. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. I watched him fall for quite a distance but I did not see his chute open. Tw Fw 190 crashed about 50 yards from a house situated in a small town.

“I could still see the main formation about a mile ahead of me. Starting to catch them, I saw a straggler on the deck. I dropped down to engage him, but he saw me coming. He turned left away from me and I gave chase for about three minutes before I caught him. I opened fire at about 400 yards, getting strikes on the right side of his fuselage. He turned sharply to the right and I picked up a few degrees of lead, firing two more bursts, getting more strikes on the fuselage. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. As I was chasing this one, another formation of 30 or 40 Fw 190s passed about 500 feet above and 400 yards in front of me. They made no attempt to engage me or help their fellow Jerry. They continued on a heading of 20 or 30 degrees.

“I pulled up after my last engagement and set course for home base when another Fw 190 came in at my wingman and me from seven o’clock high. We broke into him and started a zooming climb. I chased him, gaining slowly. Suddenly, he dropped his nose and headed for the deck. I gave chase and caught him in four or five minutes. I opened fire at 400-450 yards, but missed. I closed further and fired another burst, getting several strikes on the fuselage. The plane started to smoke. I fired again as he made a slight turn to the right, observing more hits on the fuselage. Then the pilot jettisoned his canopy and I broke off my attack to the right. I waited for him to bail out but he didn’t, so I turned back to engage him again. I was still about 700 yards away when the pilot pulled the nose up sharply and left his ship. His chute opened a couple of seconds later.

“During the entire encounter my wingman, F/O Ridley, remained with me. I do not believe his performance as a wingman could be surpassed.”

John Sublett was flying Green Two on the wing of Capt. John England when they spotted a gaggle of Fw 190s at about 10 o’clock to them at just below their altitude. “We immediately turned toward them and started climbing,” Sublett said. “We dropped our tanks and passed over the Jerries.”

“There were approximately 40 to 50 Fw 190s, flying more or less in a bunch,” said England, “and, as far as I could observe, in no particular type of formation. I pulled up behind the rearmost enemy aircraft to within 600 yards, opened fire and saw strikes around his cockpit and smoke and fire coming out around his engine nacelle. This enemy aircraft flipped over and the pilot bailed out. I was pretty busy and did not have a chance to watch the chute opening.”

England was still closing on the gaggle and picked out a second Fw 190, closed to 300 yards and fired again. “He broke, but I got good hits on his wings and cockpit while he was breaking and during one or two turns immediately after this break, his canopy and pieces of his wings came off. The pilot bailed out, but I believe he was seriously injured.”

Sublett saw England cull the first two Fw 190s from the formation and “was busy covering his tail expecting the Jerries to break into us, but they just kept going and stayed in formation,” he said. England continued his murderous work as the gaggle dove for safety; “I pulled up behind another Fw 190, firing a long burst,” England said. “He flipped over and went straight into the ground. The pilot was definitely killed. Then I pulled up behind another Fw 190 and went through the same procedure, starting to fire from 800 yards and closing to 150 yards, observing strikes on his cockpit. The plane dove straight forward, went into the ground and exploded.”

“Capt. England finally called me and said that he only had three guns left and instructed me to shoot them,” said Sublett. “I pulled up on the tail of one Fw 190 and fired a short burst from about 800 yards and missed. Another Fw 190 cut across between us and I tacked on to him because he was closer. I fired from about a 10-degree angle from about 400 yards, observing strikes all over the ship. Pieces started coming off and the pilot jettisoned his canopy, pulled up and went over the side.

“I pulled over to dead astern (on) another Fw 190 and fired from about 600 yards, closing to about 500 yards, observing strikes at the wing roots and fuselage. Many pieces started flying off and the canopy went under my right wing. The pilot pulled up and sailed over the side.

“I broke to the right, just in case anyone was on my tail, and fell in behind another Fw 190. I pulled up to approximately 500 yards and fired a long burst which went under him. I raised my sights and fired another long burst. The enemy plane just disintegrated. I had to pull up to avoid the flying debris.”

“This was one of the best shows I have ever seen since being in combat,” England gushed. “Our whole squadron had tacked on to the rear of the enemy aircraft and opened fire simultaneously.”

Lt. Robert Schimanski was leading the 364th Fighter Squadron; flak diverted the unit slightly, resulting in its somewhat late arrival to the fight. Even so, “at 23,000 feet, I dove into five enemy aircraft circling around 15,000 feet, losing my own flight,” said Schimanski. “I pulled in sharply on a Bf 109, spanned him, and gave him a short burst, hitting at the wing root. On the second burst I cut the left wing off and the enemy aircraft snapped over on its back as I overshot. I later observed a chute.”

Capt. Charles Yeager heard another group call the bandits and the 363rd turned left and spotted two “gangs of enemy aircraft,” Yeager said, “one (with) 50 plus and the other (of) approximately 150 plus. When we turned left, Cement leader told me to take over since I was in the lead. I passed in front of the little gang and climbed over the back end of the large bunch to 32,000 feet. I jumped the last enemy aircraft, which was an Fw 190. He went into a rolling dive to the right. I shot a side deflection shot from his right and got hits from around 200 yards. He snapped and the tail flew off and I saw no chute. I pulled back up into the bottom of the gang and another Fw 190 jumped me. I broke into him and got a deflection shot from 90 degrees at around 100 yards. I got many strikes on the fuselage and the enemy aircraft started smoking and went into a dive. I followed it down to about 15,000 feet and the enemy aircraft flew part. There were no chutes. I climbed back up to the tail end of the gang and jumped another gaggle. The enemy aircraft started a circling turn with me and I turned inside and closed up to within 100 yards at around 40 degrees of deflection at 29,000 feet. I fired a short burst and all the hits were concentrated on the cockpit and a sheet of flame came out of the cockpit and the enemy aircraft nosed down in a dive on fire. I followed it down to 12,000 feet. There was no chute. I climbed back up to 35,000 feet and followed the larger gang, which was whittled down to approximately 100 enemy aircraft, all Fw 190s. I started to make another pass down through the bunch but was jumped by a lone P-51. I broke into him and he joined up and when I looked back the enemy aircraft were all splitting up and heading for the deck going east.”

In the same melee, Lt. Frank L. Gailer of the 363rd Fighter Squadron was lost. “I was leading Cement Green Flight and during this engagement I heard Lt. Gailer say that he was shot up and oil was coming over his windshield,” reported Yeager. Gailer, in “Expectant,” P-51D-5-NT 44-11331, was last seen about 15 miles southwest of Magdeburg; he was captured and spect the rest of the war as a POW.

Aerial heroes of the Battle of the Bulge

We’re coming up on the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a fight in which air power saved a lot of American lives on the ground. It was still our costliest battle in World War II, but it would have been far worse had our tactical air units not done such a masterful job of cutting off the German armies’ supply lines and hunting them down before they could organize for attacks on our troops.

I have an article coming up in Flight Journal magazine about the 362nd Fighter Group during the Battle of the Bulge, featuring, among others, Gene Martin, Duncan Morton, Joe Hunter, and especially Ralph Sallee, who was great at answering questions about the battle, especially the dogfight of Dec. 26, 1944, in which Sallee knocked down two enemy fighters. Ralph was also kind enough to send me the negatives of his wartime photos; Flight Journal didn’t use them, but they’re still darn useful to me as an author and as a modeler. Here’s a taste – this is Ralph’s P-47D, B8-T, of the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group:

Here’s one that will be in the article, thanks to Gene Martin. This is Gene with his Thunderbolt “Bonnie Lynn;” this plane was on an AeroMaster decal sheet as simply “Bonnie.” It acquired “Lynn” to honor its crew chief’s new daughter – and it also got a yellow cheat line on the anti-glare panel somewhere in there…

Another photo that didn’t make it into print was this one of Wilton Crutchfield, supplied by Tom Ivie. I love this posed shot; I know when I paint, I prefer to be wearing full flight gear, including a parachute! Crutchfield’s “Kentucky Colonel” also went through an evolution of markings, acquiring a cartoon hillbilly character on the cowling sometime in early 1945. Here it is before the hillbilly was applied:

I’m lobbying Roy Sutherland of Barracuda Studios to do a decal sheet with these planes – he clearly likes P-47s, and these are three more 362nd planes well worth modeling.

Next on the shelf: Morehead’s P-40E

Many, many months ago, the Northern California Friends of the Aces held an event featuring P-40 aces, and we local IPMS guys did a model display. Actually, Marty Sanford and Mark Joyce held a model display, Marty with his stellar P-40E in factory-fresh early 1942 colors, which was in the IPMS Journal a while back, and Mark with four beautiful P-40s in an assortment of schemes. I managed to bring one P-40L in 1:72, that being Alva Temple’s 99th FS plane that got me started on my Tuskegee Airmen research. I’d planned to build one of the panelist’s models, that belonging to Jim Morehead, and had made a start of it, but my crippling case of AMS (advanced modelers syndrome) meant I missed the deadline to complete the model. As it turned out, I only missed the deadline by about a year and a half.

The P-40E is done now, and its completion was far less difficult than the P-47D. It started life as an Academy kit, which I received as a birthday present from Woody Yeung several years ago. The spinner and main gear struts were taken from a Hasegawa kit; you can find these cheap on vendor tables at contests and they’re worth it to improve these parts. The interior is from True Details, with some Eduard assistance. The metal parts are really useful on the P-40, if for nothing more than the ring and bead sights, the actuator on the rudder and some other small parts, which are actually visible. I used the Eduard seat as-is, since the real seat was unpainted; I initially wanted to swing the shoulder straps over the side of the plane, but instead I glued them to the seat.

The hard part, as I described in this post, was getting the side panels in place. I won’t revisit that self-inflicted hassle, but once it was done I was able to proceed pretty quickly to painting. The kit fits well and the first coat of paint showed only a couple spots where panel lines needed to be re-scribed to complete them.

The base colors were olive drab 41 and neutral gray 43. The OD 41 was a home brew, made by adding 12 drops of insignia red to a bottle of olive drab 612 and shaking it very well. The neutral gray was the outstanding but extinct AeroMaster color. The colors went on like a dream and were followed by a gloss coat of water-based Varathane to prepare for decals and a wash.

The photo of Morehead’s plane in Schiffer’s Protect and Avenge: the 49th Fighter Group in World War II shows that the national insignia had their red centers painted out, but 1:1 scale painters face the same problem we 1:72 or 1:48 builders face: white does a bad job of covering red. The centers were muted but still visible on Morehead’s P-40, especially on the fuselage. To replicate this, I used a circle template and my airbrush to apply a pinkish tinge to the center of several stars in disks on an AeroMaster sheet of insignia. On a few of these, I smudged the pink with a fingertip or an X-Acto knife blade. The four best ones were applied to the model.

The other markings were very simple. The plane originally had a black “209” on it in a rounded font; I used similarly-shaped numbers from British serials for this. Over this on the tail and on the nose was “44” in yellow. There was an exact match for this in the serials of one of the unused schemes on the sheet I used for my latest Thunderbolt; since I’d goofed up and had two sheets, I had four “44s!” The “U.S. ARMY” legend in the appropriate blue came from the recent sheet mentioned here.

A wash of Paynes gray watercolor paint was slopped on the model and removed with a damp towel. On went the flat coat, followed by the next bit of weathering. The photo of Morehead’s tipped-up P-40 showed a lot of chipping on the wing roots, so I attacked the model with a silver prismacolor pencil. I also added some yellow to replicate areas where the paint had chipped off the primer. Chipping was continued with a lighter touch around the ammunition trays, fuselage and wing leading edges. A streak of pastels was pulled back with a blending stump from the exhausts.

The canopy came from a Falcon vacuformed set, and I masked and painted each angle separately. That is, I did the vertical braces first, then the horizontal braces, then each of the small angles on the individual panes. It was tacked in place with white glue.

The gear was added next; the mounting points were sadly weak and I had to drill and pin both struts after the pins on the Hasegawa parts simply broke off. Before I installed them, I added brake lines and used the Eduard set’s retraction struts instead of the kit’s large single strut.

At about this point, I realized that the photo I’d stared at for so long showed no antenna mast, but I still had a big hole where the kit part would go. I had to plug the hole with styrene rod and CA glue, then sand it down and carefully re-paint the top of the model! The clear areas were masked with Post-It notes and the process went shockingly smoothly!

The wingtip lights were painted chrome silver, then overpainted with clear red and clear green. The aerials were made with fibers from a smoke-colored pair of panty hose; I drilled a hole in the leading edge of the tail and inserted a fine steel rod, then drilled and added insulators on the fuselage made from brass wire. These were painted white, then I glued a fiber to the tail post and stretched it around the insulator on one wing tip. This was fixed with a drop of CA. The other wingtip aerial was added next, followed by the fuselage aerial.

The last step was to add the rudder actuator and the ring and bead sights – all tiny photoetched parts. I find that Testors Dullcote makes a neat glue for such things; I applied a small drop to a newspaper, then dragged the bottom of each pat through it and carefully held it against the model. This was extremely easy and left no glue marks, since the Dullcoat dries tight against the surface of the paint.

Done! This model depicts the P-40E that Morehead flew on April 25, 1942, when he shot down three G4M1 bombers attempting to attack Darwin. The plane took a single 7.62mm round in the right wing, which snapped the landing gear mechanism, so that after Morehead landed the plane’s right gear collapsed. This fluke damage allowed me to replicate the weathering accurately – so some good finally came of it!

Back to the Blog! And with a finished P-47, too!

Enough of the blog hiatus! Stuff actually happened in the workshop and in the research arena in the last couple of months, I got a new job, and life has been generally eventful. Instead of just dumping all of that on you at once, I’ll focus on one thing: my Tamiya P-47D.

I finally finished “Chief Seattle,” Ray Murphy’s airplane, but not without trying to find new ways to frustrate myself and undo previously well-done work. If I’d been younger, I imagine the model would have gone flying; many years ago I flight-tested an uncooperative F9F-5, which hit a closet door and exploded – but not without leaving a Panther nose-shaped hole in the door! Grumman makes ’em tough, even in 1:72. That cured me of that impulse.

But as for the P-47… The model had been sitting ready for paint for a long time, and finally I decided to paint it. I use Model Master metallizers shot through my Paasche VL airbrush; others find it troublesome, but it works very well for me. The aluminum buffing plate went on first, followed by various shades made by adding drops of different metal colors to the paint cup. I masked the panels with Post-It notes; these give you a nice straight line without lifting the paint already laid down.

I find that there are a few rules to metal finishes. First, keep things symmetrical on the wings, unless the panels vary. Second, less is more; the wings only had three different shades applied, but the shape of the wing can cause adjacent panels painted the same color to look different anyway because of light reflection. Third, less is more. For the fuselage, masking and painting small panels is often more effective than masking large sections. Fourth, less is more. Did I mention that less is more?

Anyway, the metal finish went on with no problems whatsoever. Next, I added the decals, which also worked like a dream. The EagleCals markings are printed by Microscale, so MicroSet and MicroSol caused them to settle down nicely. I trimmed the carrier film close to the art; that minimizes visible carrier against the metal finish. I shot the model with Model Master sealer to protect the decals and knock the shine down a bit; too shiny a model, and it looks like a hood ornament. These planes were not chromed!

I’d already masked the anti-glare panel and windscreen with Tamiya tape way back in 2008, so I figured that now I’d peel the tape and be just about done. Not so fast – the tape had lifted a bit, so there was significant overspray on the olive drab. Worse, it was also on the windscreen, which had been painted yellow and then masked separately. A lot of careful masking ensued, taking care not to screw up the decals in the process. Somehow, this all worked.

The final step to the finish was the crew block, which was half-on the flat anti-glare panel and half on natural metal. I made a mask the exact size of the decal, sprayed some gloss, applied the decal, and once it was dry sprayed flat over it. It worked great – except that the mask lifted the “A” and “T” in “SEATTLE.” Truly a rookie mistake! I had to order another decal sheet, and I pondered how to apply the new decal so it would blend with the old one. As it turned out, I simply cut the needed letters from the new sheet and dropped them on the model – a perfect fit, and they were opaque enough no sign of the previous screw-up could be seen!

The yellow cowling was given a wash to pop out the panel detail, and the Aires engine was installed. This entire unit was cemented to the front of the plane, followed by the landing gear, gear doors, canopy, propeller, and finally the pylons and bombs. The final touch to the model was a pair of small brass slivers used as fuze propellers on the bombs.

So there it is! This plane features prominently in an article I have coming up in Flight Journal early next year on the 362nd in the Battle of the Bulge – and I’m holding it in my author’s photo. The Tamiya kit is great; I’m now debating which markings to put my next one in. The current favorite is Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5,” which will give me a chance to convert the kit to a P-47D-30, with repositioned taxi light, re-arranged cockpit and compressability flaps.

Next time, the story of how I finished ANOTHER model within 30 days of this one…!