Next Aces Symposium: May 23 in Belmont

The next Fighter Aces Symposium being held by the Northern California Friends of the Aces will be on May 23 at the Hiller Museum in Belmont, California. This time, the theme will be “Aces with Wings of Gold,” although it could also be “Hellcats Against the Rising Sun.” The scheduled aces on the panel are:

CDR Clarence “Spike” Borley, VF-15 (5 victories)

LCDR Fred “Buck” Dungan, VF(N)-76 (7 victories)

CDR Ralph Foltz, VF-15 (5 victories)

CDR Chuck Haverland, VF-20 (6.5 victories)

After the aces speak about their exploits, there will be an autograph session. Even the folks in the audience tend to be fairly interesting people!

As always, if you want more details on the event, e-mail the NCFA at

This Day in 1944: Morrison’s Miracle

On April 27, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group provided withdrawal escort for bombers returning from Berlin, but on take-off, Capt. Thurman Morrison’s P-47 failed to get airborne. “I recognized at the ‘go-no go’ point along the runway that he was not going to make it off the ground,” said Bob McKee, his wingman, who was also taking off at the time. “I clicked on my throttle’s water injection switch to give me extra power and eased off the PSP runway, to the right and over the sod area as I began to overrun Morrison’s aircraft.” McKee got off the ground in time to see Morrison’s plane skid into a gasoline dump containing 400,000 gallons of fuel, stored and camouflaged by the RAF right at the end of the runway. The dump erupted in a titanic fireball.

McKee’s plane was flipped onto its right side at 50 feet of altitude and very little speed, and only some frantic flying saved McKee from going in, too. Here’s a photo of the crash scene:

Even more shocking than this accident was Morrison’s appearance back at the operations tent later. “He walked in carrying his parachute, utterly unscathed,” said “Andy” Anderson, the 379th’s S-2. “Memphis Rebel,” P-47D 42-75142, had skidded through a sheet of flame, then pivoted on its belly around 180 degrees, keeping its pilot safe until it emerged on the other side. The stunned but uninjured Morrison was cut out of his plane by two British anti-aircraft gunners.

The 379th’s Blue Flight escorted a crippled B-17 from the Ruhr to the English Channel. The 378th failed to find any American planes to rendezvous with, but spotted German planes on the airfield at Gardelegen. Red and Yellow flights were initially ordered to strafe while the other two flights provided top cover, but Yellow Flight had several hung tanks and Green Flight took its place. “The field came into sight as we lifted up over the crest of a hill,” Capt. Tom Chloupek reported. “I opened fire on one Fw 190 and three Ju 87s. I observed many hits on these planes and claim them probably destroyed. As I passed over the planes I strafed a large hangar with many, many hits. As I pulled up over the hangar I realized there was a second field on the other side with eight to 10 Gothas (Go 242s) on it. I had not observed these previously due to cloud cover. I could not bring my guns to bear on the gliders and, unfortunately, my second flight had already moved to the other field, so I could not direct them.” Chloupek had only encountered light flak during his first pass, but as he turned for a second pass large-caliber flak began firing at him and he decided to reform the squadron and avoid the potential for heavy losses.

Lt. Floyd Mills did spot the gliders. “I fired on a Gotha 242 glider dispersed on the east side of the field,” he said. “I began firing from 350 yards, 20 feet above the ground. I noticed strikes on the tail and back of the canopy and fuselage. I did not notice any indication of destruction.” Lt. Joseph J. Maucini spotted an Me 410 in the center of the field, then sighted a Ju 88 directly ahead of it. “I opened fire on the first at 700 yards and closed to about 50 yards,” he said. “I didn’t see tracer strikes as I had no API ammunition, but the hits were going right into the plane. I passed over this plane and opened fire on the second from about 500 yards. This was smoking as I passed over it.” Lt. Ken Skeen spotted an Me 410 in a dispersal and “opened fire at 600 feet,” he reported, “observing hits on the left wing, engine and fuselage. As I closed I observed smoke and then flames coming from the left engine.” The total for the day was two Me 410s destroyed, four probables and two damaged.

Logistical non-nightmares

The IPMS nationals this year are in Phoenix, which is reasonably close to where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Reasonable” is a relative term; it’s still 646 miles away, according to Google maps, or 12 hours (okay, 9 hours if you drive it California-style). I have British friends who go pale at the idea of a jaunt 45 miles to Sacramento, and I know many east-coasters look at those numbers and shake their heads, but this is the price you pay for living out west. My wife’s family used to drive around the U.S. on vacations and that was a normal leg of a trip. Of course, now she’d never dream of driving that far and instead insists on going by plane.

I’m lucky it’s in driving distance, but not because I’m driving. I have to attend the CRM Evolution show in New York Aug. 1 through 4 – which means I’ll miss the first day of the nationals. The plan is to fly to Phoenix on Thursday morning (maybe with Elizabeth, maybe not) from New York, and to meet my models there. Some members of my club are indeed driving down, so I’ll give them my entries (and maybe a small bag with some clean clothes!) and they’ll drive them to Phoenix. I’ll ship the Obscureco inventory down and pick it up on-site and get my table set up. And then all will be well.

In 16 years this is the first time a work event has conflicted with the nationals, which is pretty amazing. I can hardly complain at all. And, coming from humid New York to Phoenix, I may actually appreciate the “dry heat” comments for once!

66 Years ago: the 362nd Fighter Group, Working on the Railroad

The rail tour for the 362d Fighter Group continued on April 22, 1944, visiting the French town of Malines. The 378th Fighter Squadron used a variety of approaches and altitudes to throw off the flak gunners, scoring seven direct hits on the western-most engine shed. The 379th Fighter Squadron dived from 10,000 feet and pressed their releases to 2,500 feet, scoring six hits on an engine shed. “After the bomb run, I broke left for reform and saw a P-47 to my left and at about 6500 feet, throwing flame from the supercharger bucket,” reported Capt. Bill Flavin, the leader of Blue Flight. It was Lt. Vernon P. Ligon, who was flying as a spare the flight, but had followed the squadron in; light flak damaged his P-47D-10-RE 42-75041 as he was pulling off of the target. “The ship was evidently under control and the pilot tried to extinguish the fire by violent dives and zooms. Finally, the ship turned over and the pilot bailed out approximately three to five miles from the target.” Ligon was seen running on the ground northeast of Brussels, but he soon became a prisoner of war. Ligon, who was flying his 26th mission, was sent to a camp but later escaped for a short period before being recaptured and interned in Moosburg. Ligon had the dubious distinction of also being held as a POW for five years during the Vietnam War.

In the afternoon, the group flew a sweep of the area around Lingen as part of a diversion for a larger raid on Germany, shooting up rail traffic. Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed a locomotive, and Lt. Robert McKee claimed another one in Gutersloh. Lt. George Rarey’s plane, “Archie and Mehatibel,” was damaged by flak during the attack. Red Flight of the 377th has a guest, Major Gene Arth of the 406th Fighter Group, flying a familiarization mission. “I saw a train running south on the track from Meppen to Lingen and took Red Flight down to strafe,” said Capt. Tom Beeson, who had Arth on his wing. “We made one attack from west to east and encountered no ground fire whatsoever. The train stopped and we turned back and strafed again, this time from east to west, and destroyed the locomotive. I encountered no ground fire on this second attack, but as I pulled up to the left I saw bursts of 20mm flak over the target area. At the same time, I saw a ship dive, crash into the yard of a farmhouse and explode. Then my Number Three man (Lt. Edwin Fisher) called that my number two man, Maj. Arth, had crashed. Nobody in the flight saw a parachute, and Number Three noted Maj. Arth’s closed canopy as he went down. I do not believe there is any possibility of his having lived through the crash.” Arth was indeed killed in the crash of P-47D-11-RE 42-75596.

Maryland: one good break, one bad one

Last Friday, the incomplete Maryland actually won the Model of the Month award at the Silicon Valley Scale Modelers meeting, which I thought was a real honor. The plane still needs the canopy, gear doors, bombardier’s hatches, machine gun, DF loop, landing lights and so on. I thought I might have a chance next month, but certainly not this month!

Then, on Sunday, my wife broke the model.

It wasn’t terminal . One of the gear struts broke off at the mounting point; it sheared the original plastic pin I’d added, but came off otherwise totally intact. All I had to do was drill the strut and add a new pin – this time a length of paperclip – and drill a corresponding hole in the wheel well. The Azure kit’s landing gear attachment points are a joke – they look like ejector pin marks more than a place to glue any parts – so the repaired strut is now much stronger than it was before.

How did it get broken? Totally innocently. Elizabeth moved the model in its box from her desk to mine and it slipped off its protective cradle, landing one wing low and snapping its gear. It’s actually a nice reminder that I should build a custom box with form-fitting foam cradles before I try to transport it – like to the nationals!

Today in 1945: The 357th FG goes on a Schwalbe hunt

Recognizing the Me 262 threat, the Eighth Air Force tasked the 357th with covering the airfields near Prague an hour before the arrival of the bombers on April 18, 1945. Since the Me 262 had a limited endurance, the plan was to either knock them out as they took off or strafe them on the ground. Maj. Leonard Carson lead the mission; through some superb navigation, the group flew a zig-zag course to disguise its intentions, flying much of it a low level, and hit Prague Ruzyne Airdrome exactly at 1 p.m. Carson dispatched Maj. Don Bochkay to cover the two other fields nearby, then circled Ruzyne to wait to see what the German fighters would do. Flak pushed their orbit out from the field, and the Mustang pilots then saw the jets taxi out for take off. “As the first 262 started his takeoff roll we dropped our wing tanks and I started down with Red Flight from 13,000 with an easy wingover,” Carson later wrote. “The Mustang would accelerate like a banshee going downhill. The 262 had his gear up and was going past the field boundary when we plowed through this intense light flak. As I came astern of him and leveled off at 400-plus, I firewalled it to hold my speed and centered the bull’s eye of the optical sight on the fuselage and hit him with a two second burst.” Carson’s timing was slightly off; he scored strikes, but only claimed the jet as damaged. He turned back toward the field and found four more jets tangling with the Mustangs, trying to draw them across the flak. Carson cut one of them off in a diving turn and fired, but the jet accelerated and pulled away.

Capt. Chuck Weaver, however, caught an Me 262 trying to land and shot the plane down, the wreckage landing on the field. Bochkay was leading the 363rd’s Blue Flight when he heard White Flight call in a bogie at 11 o’clock low. “I recognized it as an Me 262,” said Bochkay. “I dropped my tanks and dove from 15,000 feet to 13,000 feet, pulling up behind the Me 262. I then let him have a burst from 400 yards, getting very good hits on his right jet unit and canopy; he then broke right in a very tight diving turn, pulling streamers from his wingtips. My ‘G’ meter read nine G’s. As he straightened out at 7000 feet I was 250 yards behind him going about 475 mph. I let him have another burst, getting very good hits on his right jet unit again. He then popped his canopy as I let him have another burst, large pieces came off his ship and it caught fire. I pulled off to miss the pieces and watched the Me 262 fall apart. His tail came off. It then rolled over and went in like a torch, crashing into some woods next to a river. The pilot never got out.”

Weaver and Lt. Oscar Ridley tacked onto an Me 262, but the jet dragged the Mustangs across the airfield, which threw up “considerable flak,” said Weaver. “Lt. Ridley called that he had been hit. I asked him where he was and he said over the Prague/Ruzyne Airdrome at 7000 feet. I returned to the field and told him to fly west as long as possible. I caught up with him at a point 20 miles west of Prague. His engine was smoking badly. He said the fire was bad and he was leaving the plane. He bailed out at 5000 feet. His chute opened successfully. He landed in a small wooded area.”

Other Mustangs roared in to strafe, and Lt. John Duncan and Lt. Anton Schoepke of the 362nd shot up two jets, leaving them burning. But flak was heavy, said Lt. Osborn Howes. “I was flying Greenhouse Red Three and Lt. (Irving) Snedecker was on my wing. He fell behind me as we approached the field so that he could get a better attack. He was still there half was across the field because I saw his bullets digging holes off my right wing. After the pass I pulled up in a right chandelle, looked behind but couldn’t see Lt. Snedecker nor contact him on the radio. This was the last anyone saw of him.” Snedecker’s plane was hit by a shell that tore away his propeller; the Mustang mushed in on the field and broke in two behind the cockpit. Snedecker scrambled from the wreck and sat down a few hundred feet away; he lit a cigarette and waited for the Germans to capture him. Also in the flight was Lt. Robert Muller; who was off to Howes’ right. “About three-quarters of the way across the field, I saw Lt. Muller pull up off the deck and start leveling off at about 30 feet, his plane streaming black smoke from underneath. This was the last anyone saw of Lt. Muller.” Lt. James Monahan also was knocked down by flak; all three pilots became POWs.

Somebody’s got a case of the airbrush Mondays!

The Martin Maryland’s up on its landing gear now, and I’ve added some paint chipping with a silver Prismacolor pencil – it looks great. So I should be speeding through to completion, right? Well, the next items to be added would be the gear doors, but when I tried to paint them with my trusty Paasche VL airbrush, it started spraying the paint in a wide, sloppy fashion (despite the use of the smallest needle/cone combination). I stopped, cleaned the airbrush again, and got the same result. Changing the consistency of the paint didn’t help, either.

It seems stupid and non-scientific to say this, but this happens. I’ve had this airbrush for 21 years and I’ve never had to change any parts except the needle and cone (and the locking nut, which I went without for several years – I’d just tape the needle in place!). It works perfectly about 98 percent of the time, and I keep it meticulously clean and disassembled after use, but once in a great while it refuses to do its thing.

A good example of this came about 12 years ago, when I was trying to finish up a Hasegawa A-1J Skyraider. I’d waited a long time for a new engine – the one I’d bought was caught up in a Canadian postal strike – and when I was ready to paint I loaded up the flat white and went at it. I had the same results as today – a sloppy spray, not a mist but really a lot of small drops.

As I did today, I checked the paint consistency, stripped the airbrush, cleaned it again and reassembled it – to get the same results. I repeated this a couple of times, to no avail. To literally add injury to insult, when I finally threw in the towel I realized that, in my frustration, I had gritted my teeth so hard I chipped a lower front tooth.

My parents spent a lot on orthodontia, so I’ve adopted a more casual attitude (limited to swearing and threats not “to be surprised when you see me opening an Iwata Eclipse, and then you’ll be sorry, you soon-to-be-little-used airbrush!”). Here’s what usually happens: I leave the airbrush alone, come back a little later and it works fine. This happens every time.

This does not make sense, I know: we ought to be able to fix mechanical things; if they don’t perform, something must be wrong. But my old-enough-to-drink-legally airbrush does seem to have a mind of its own, and no matter what I do, when it doesn’t want to paint it’s not going to paint. Fine. Be that way.

Airbrushing is not a science. It’s an art, and airbrushes have personalities all their own. If my VL is having a rough Monday, I can live with it.