Triplane Top Gun: Josef Jacobs’ Fokker Dr.I

“One for the folks back home!”

There is no more iconic World War I aircraft than the Fokker Dr.I. The distinctive triplane has appeared everywhere, from movies and books to comic strips and frozen pizza packaging. When it first arrived, it was a boon to German pilots, whose Albatros, Roland and Pfalz fighters had become outclassed.

 

Arriving in late October 1917, the Dr.I was eagerly awaited. Werner Voss had used a prototype Fokker F.I to destroy seven enemy aircraft in 20 days before being lost himself in a battle with six SE.5s. The Dr.I possessed superior climbing ability and was terrifically maneuverable, making it an excellent dogfighter. It also had two guns at a time when many of its adversaries still mounted one. However, the triplane configuration caused a lot of drag, so the Dr.I was slower than its adversaries.

 

Still, the plane’s nimble qualities tipped the balance to the Germans – briefly. In late October and early November, a spate of accidents led to the grounding of all Dr.Is and a reversion back to the Albatros D.Va. Moisture accumulating in the upper wings was loosening the glue joints to the point where the ailerons failed, leading to the failure of the upper wing. All the Dr.Is went back to Fokker’s factory and a series of 12 improvements were instituted. The Dr.I returned to combat on November 28. By then, however, any tactical surprise was gone, as were Anthony Fokker’s profits from the machine.

 

Despite the triplane’s iconic status, the structural issue limited production. Only 320 Dr.Is were manufactured. A number aces preferred the machine even as it was surpassed by the superior Fokker D.VII. One of these was Josef Jacobs.

 

Jacobs was a veteran by 1917. His combat career began in July 1915 in reconnaissance machines, flying long-range sorties over allied positions. He downed a Caudron in February 1916, but this could not be confirmed. Jacobs was transferred to Fokkerstaffel-West to fly the Fokker E.III, and his first official victory came on May 12 when he destroyed another Caudron.

 

Jacobs scoring was curtailed by a bout of dysentery and eventually he was transferred to Jasta 22, where he scored three more confirmed victories. He became commander of Jasta 7 in August 1917, where he shot down and killed nine-victory French ace Jean Matton to achieve ace status himself. Early in 1918, Jacobs switched to the Dr.I and became its most lethal pilot, downing more than 30 allied aircraft with it, often leading the rest of his unit’s Fokker D.VIIs into combat in his triplane, an all-black machine with a fire-spitting character called “the God of the North” emblazoned on both sides. Jacobs’ final score was 48 aircraft and balloons, placing him fourth among German aces.

 

Following the war, Jacobs continued fighting, flying against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic, and later became a flight instructor in Turkey, then switched from aviation to sport, excelling in auto, speedboat and bobsled racing (he was the president of the German Bobsleighing Society in later life). In the 1930s, he started an aircraft repair and manufacturing company in Erfurt. Hermann Goering personally asked Jacobs to join the Nazi Party, but Jacobs refused; he also refused to allow Goering to become a major shareholder in his company and moved it to the Netherlands. When Germany invaded, Jacobs had to go into hiding, but he returned to Germany after the war. Jacobs died in Munich in 1978, the last surviving recipient of the Pour le Merite.

 

Eduard had the good sense to put Jacobs’ top-scoring triplane on the boxtop of its 1:72 “Profipack” release. The “Profipack” kits feel a little like cheating, since nearly everything you could need is already in the box. In this case, that meant the plastic parts for the tiny fighter were accompanied by a fret of photoetched parts and masks for the wheels. These were all quite nice – but, of course, I couldn’t resist the urge to add more.

 

First, I cut off the plastic molded structure inside the cockpit and removed the plastic rudder pedals, as instructed in the kit. This detail would all be replaced with photoetched parts.

 

The kit doesn’t include the triangular plywood panels inside the fuselage that helped define the fuselage’s shape. I cut these from sheet styrene, painted them with beige enamel, and then dabbed on some Minwax wood stain. While it was still wet, I lightly dragged a paper towel across the stain to streak it, giving a wood grain effect. This was repeated on the cockpit floor and rear bulkhead.

The plywood panels at center, along with the prop in its first stages of painting and the cockpit floor.

The cockpit frame was folded together and painted a shade approximating RAF sky – this is a close match to the color used by Fokker for its internal framework. The instruments attached to the frame were bent into place and backed with tiny sections of styrene rod painted black, and their pre-painted faces received a drop of Future floor polish to replicate glass. The photoetched fuel pump was given a light coat of white glue to give it a degree of three dimensionality, and after it was painted it was installed in the cockpit framework. The same went for the throttle assembly; it was painted, received a styrene rod grip, and was added to the left side of the cockpit framework.

The completed cockpit framework, added to the right fuselage half.

 

I used white glue to beef up the grips on the control column, then folded the combined column and rudder pedals, painted them, and added them to the floor, along with some styrene strip footboards. The compass holder was folded to shape and painted before getting its decal face, followed by Future for the lens; once dry, this was added to the framework as well.

 

The seat was painted in facsimile wood colors and, when dry, the kit’s pre-painted seat belts were added with CA glue. The seat went on the rear bulkhead, the rear bulkhead was joined to the floor, the floor was added to the framework and the whole thing was glue into place in one of the fuselage halves. The fuselage was closed in near record time for one of my builds!

An overhead view of the cockpit on the finished model, showing how effective the Eduard Profipack elements are.

The next step was to assemble the guns. As nice as Eduard’s were, I opted for the stellar Mini World Spandaus, which have a machined body and photoetched cooling jackets and sights. These spectacular little guns were painted a gunmetal color and dry-brushed with steel, then had their cocking handles picked out in a wood color. They were then set aside in a safe place – they can be very delicate and easy to damage until they’re on the model.

Mini World Spandaus – and by “mini” they do mean mini!

I cut the molded-on control horns from the tail and upper wings , then cleaned up these areas. The “Profipack” kit includes these as photoetched items, which would be added at the end of the build.

 

The vertical rudder was painted white, gloss-coated and decaled. When it was done, it went to safety with the Spandaus. The horizontal tail was added to the fuselage, and I found the fit fussy, but with a little sanding I obtained a good fit. The center wing went on next, followed by the ammunition box, which was painted aluminum. This fit ridiculously well – so snug I was concerned I couldn’t get it apart after test-fitting it! The lower wing joined to the fuselage with precision, and I had no worries about alignment to the center wing.

The center wing in place…

…with the lower wing installed and perfectly aligned.

For now, I veered off the instructions’ path and instead painted the model with a coat of ModelMaster interior black. That meant painting the fuselage and lower wings, upper wing, struts, cowling and landing gear before assembly. The overall black scheme lent itself to this. A coat of Future prepped the model for decals; the kit decals went on with no problems and I added decals to the fuselage and upper wing in advance of assembly. Another coat of Future sealed them.

How much more black could it be? Theanswer is none. None more black.

The firewall ahead of the engine was painted steel and I set to work on Eduard’s wonderful little powerplant. This includes a plastic bank of cylinders, brass ignition wires for the front and back of the engine, and detailed photoetched hub. The prop “shaft” is fixed in place on the firewall and the engine and propeller spin around it – just like the real thing.

The propeller was cleaned up and masked for a wood grain finish. This involved painting the prop a light shade of wood, then carefully cutting masks, front and back, to replicate the laminated layers of wood in the prop. A darker shade was sprayed, and the contrast seemed extreme until I brushed on a coat of Tamiya clear amber. This made the prop appear varnished and tied the shades together nicely. Manufacturer’s decals and the photoetched hub plate were added to finish off the propeller.

After a coat of Tamiya clear amber, the prop looked properly varnished.

The finished prop and engine assembly in place on the finished model.

Now, I began to bring the elements together. The wing struts go through the center wing and all but guarantee proper alignment – if you get them oriented correctly. They have a subtle front-to-back orientation that’s easy to miss (which I did at first). The landing gear came next; I first drilled holes for the wire bracing, then assembled the gear struts and wing and added them to the fuselage. Lengths of .005 acupuncture needles were added as the wire, lending an additional degree of rigidity. The machine guns were added before the upper wing, as were short lengths of Mini World’s ammunition belts, which feed into the guns’ receivers.

Once these were added and the fuselage struts were in place, adding the top wing was a breeze – positive locating holes in the wing fit the struts and all was good. The wheels’ hubs were painted and masked with Eduard’s included masks, and the gray tires were airbrushed next (a lack of lampblack in Germany during WWI resulted in pale gray tires). Once dry, the wheels were added to the landing gear.

 

Wings on, decals on and awaiting the landing gear.

The gear in place with its wire bracing.

I added the crossed bracing wires between the fuselage and upper wing with trimmed acupuncture needles and painted the padding around the cockpit opening with ModelMaster leather paint, applied with a fine brush. There’s a small instrument between the guns on the fuselage for which Eduard provides a decal – I added this now and placed a drop of Future on it as the lens.

 

The rudder was joined to the tail, and I used the kit’s photoetched parts to replicate the control horns and wires, adding them by using Testors Dullcote as an adhesive. To do this, I brushed a bit of Dullcote on an index card, then, gripping the part in some tweezers, I dragged the part through the puddle of Dullcote and immediately stuck it on the model. The Dullcote has the advantage of drying very tight against the surface while still gripping the part well.

Note the control horns on the upper wings’ ailerons.

The wing control horns came next, followed the addition of the engine, the cowling, and the propeller. The cowling was cemented to the fuselage, while the propeller was glued to the engine. The engine was not cemented in place, so the prop and engine could spin together inside the cowling just like the real plane.

 

Next came some wooden elements – the tail skid, wing tip skids and fuselage foot step. The photoetched ground handling loops were added to the rear fuselage and painted black in situ.

 

Just like that, I had a neat, clean little triplane ready for our local contest. I proudly marched in with a couple of entries in hand and, just as I reached the right table, the triplane’s box slipped off the stack, did a 180-degree flip, and smacked into the ground upside down with a sickening thud, with predictable results. I spent the next two hours at a friend’s vendor table with glue and tweezers, swearing a blue streak as I re-attached the rudder and top wing, control horns, tail skid, and host of other little things. Luckily all the parts could be located inside the box. While my repairs were a bit ham-fisted, I still managed to get second place in “biplanes/fabric and rigging.”

 

Since other projects I was working on were more complex, this would be the only model I’d be bringing to the nationals, and in the condition it was in it had little chance of faring well. I decided it would look better – and maybe perform better at the contest – as the centerpiece of a simple diorama.

 

The photo of Jacobs that comes up most often is a posed shot showing him holding his dog, a Grand Bleu de Gascogne, in front of his fighter. If there’s a photograph, there must have been a photographer, so there was the idea for a diorama.

I started with a four-by-four base with a clear cover – I fear for my WWI builds!  – which was just large enough for the tiny Dr.I with space for the figures. The base was covered with white glue and then sprinkled with Woodland Scenics turf for a very simple setting for the scene.

 

The figures were next. Jacobs came from a CMK WWI pilots set, but I lopped off his head, repositioned his arms, and modified his tunic. It would figure that in the photo, he was wearing non-standard gear. I sanded back the visor and his cap, and removed the detail from his tunic, replacing it with pockets made from paper and CA-glued to the figure. The head was sourced from a W+D set. He also received a walking stick. The figure was painted using light blues for the uniform and leather for the boots, all sourced from the ModelMaster line.

W+D head, CMK body, and custom Clothing by Chris results in a pretty unattractive figure…

…Until it’s primed and starts to look usable.

Painted, Jacobs stats to look the part…

A walking stick was made from a length of metal rod and painted a pale wood color. All that was left to complete a little ace was his dog. Dogs in 1:72 are much harder to find than you’d think, especially Grand Bleu de Gascognes. My stash happened to include Pegasus’ 1:72 farm animal set, and it had a German shepherd, so I set about on my first-ever dog conversion project.

 

First, a lot of flash was cut off the soft-plastic dog figure. The shepherd’s alert, bushy tail was removed and replaced with a skinny one made of wire. The shepherd’s point ears were bobbed and I made a set of floppy replacements from Apoxie Sculpt, then draped it over the dog’s head and blended it in. After the dog was primed, it was painted black with white legs, belly and snout to approximate the photo. When it was finished, I added a collar and a thin wire leash that would attach to Jacobs’ hand.

 

Now, I needed a photographer – otherwise, it would be a diorama of a guy walking his dog near an airplane. The camera would come first. I found a nice 1:32 WWI photographer figure and copied the style of camera and tripod, replicating it with styrene strip and rod. A rectangular piece became the camera body and was painted in wood tones. The lens was a bit of .040 rod, painted black and glued to the front. A photoetched trim wheel was painted and added to the side. The tripod was made from several pieces of thin rod, with each leg having a single base that was attached to two parallel rods which attached to a mount at the base of the camera. It took some work to get all three legs the same length, but when they were all aligned, I painted them black and the camera was almost finished.

 

The photographer was a mash-up of different Prieser figures. The body and arms came from a WWII Luftwaffe pilot who was doing some “hand flying;” his epaulets and decorations were sanded away to de-militarize him, and he received a gray coat and a blue jacket. His left arm was positioned as if he was gesturing to his subject to stay still and wait for him to take the photo. In his right hand, I placed a styrene rod “trigger” attached by fine solder to the camera – the shutter release mechanism.

100 years later, you could just take the picture with your phone.

 

To make the photographer truly civilian, I grabbed one of the extra heads from Prieser’s 1920s civilian aircraft figure set. This head was wearing a cap and looked “period” but clearly not military, which is what I was going for.

 

The figures and plane were addd to the base, and with that my ridiculously simple diorama was complete. I was lucky – the model took a third at the IPMS Nationals in Omaha in small composition diorama!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M6 Bomb Service Truck and M5 Bomb Trailer: A 362nd FG diorama from Airfix’s 1:72 USAAF Support Set

Airfix’s USAAF Bomber Resupply Set comes packaged with box art placing its contents next to a B-17, but at least one of the vehicles in the set was a crucial tool for USAAF fighter units, too – especially Ninth Air Force P-47 Thunderbolt units. The M6 Bomb Service Truck, a Chevrolet-produced vehicle developed from the 1940 Chevrolet 1 ½-ton truck, served a critical ron moving ordnance around bases across England and later the European continent. The Ninth Air Force dropped 225,799 tons of bombs during WWII, and most of that was moved from storage to the aircraft by the M6.

In the background, note one of the 362nd FG’s M6 Bomb Service Trucks.

About 7000 M6s were manufactured between 1942 and September 1944, when production halted in favor of the M27, a six-by-six bomb service truck based on the highly successful GMC CCKW. As a truck, it was not impressive, with an 83-horsepower engine burning fuel at an environmentalist-alarming rate of 2.6 miles per gallon. But it was a workhorse – the hoist on the back deck could lift 4,000 pounds, and the truck could tow up to five M5 bomb trailers, each capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of bombs. That means each M6 could move 12 ½ tons of bombs on each trip.

The M6 could also accommodate four passengers, one in the cab next to the driver and three on a bench seat on the rear deck in a very “unsafe at any speed” arrangement. It also had room for ammunition back there.

I was considering ways to scratch-build a 1:72 M6 when Airfix dropped this kit in the autumn of 2016. The model itself is very nice, but there are always ways to improve upon the kit (and drag the build time out). I think I identified most of those opportunities during my build!

Construction starts with the frame and associated components. There were significant mold marks around the frame components, almost all of them on a flat surface, which made clean-up fairly easy. The suspension springs went on next, and Airfix provided much-appreciated positive location points for these. In many 1:72 truck kits, the springs have hard-to-spot location points; get them off, and your vehicle only rests of three wheels!

The frame assembled neatly and removal of flash was quick and easy.

 

The wheels are a little simplified, but the mounts are not pins but rather large ball socket-like things that insert into the backs of the wheels. The tires slide on over the outside of the wheels, meaning they can be painted separately and added at the end, but they can also be pressed in place to check alignment of the suspension.

The fenders went on neatly, but I took care to make sure they were level up front. The left fender wanted to ride higher than the right one, and I assumed this would have cause problems when the hood was added, so I forced it into place. The placement of the rear deck and driver’s compartment floor was a little iffy, so I built and installed the firewall and dashboard first to provide a point of reference. The gear shift handle broke while I was trying to clean it up, so I made a new one from wire and glued it into the sawed-off mount, then used white glue to form a knob on the top of it. I fashioned clutch, brake and gas pedals from styrene card, and added them to the driver’s side floor. The seats were painted a light olive-tan mixture and set aside for installation later.

The hood, firewall, driver’s compartment and rear deck all in their places.

At this point, I shot the model with its first coat of field drab. I find multiple coats are mandatory for small-scale military models – not because I want a deep finish, but because they have so many angles and recesses that if you wait to paint, it’s easy to find yourself with unpainted areas you can no longer get to!

Sprayed with field drab – coat one of many!

The hood and front end sides were assembled and added to the firewall. Next should have come the grille, but Airfix provided it as a solid item with raised bar detail. That was a letdown after my WC-51 and CCKW-335, with their photoetched grilles. Since the was no photoetched set available, I decided to make my own with lead foil, styrene strip and stiff wire. A surplus Eduard radiator front went in front of the engine, followed by my pretty-good-but-not-perfect grille. About three days later, Eduard came out with its detail set for this kit. You’re welcome.

Isn’t that cute – he tried to make his own grille. It was almost good, too.

In the meantime, I added the toolbox behind the seating area and started work on the hoist assembly. It consists of a U-shaped support and the “trolley,” the bent I-bar that the hoist runs on. These push together at the joint – push hard, because getting them square is critical for alignment later. The assembly fits neatly into the deck – again, the fit is excellent. A hoist crank with gears fits onto a peg on the trolley, making a perfectly nice hoist.

A good view of the hoist and trolley, also showing some of the Eduard details in place.

To complicate matters, Chevrolet threw a bench on the back of the truck, hanging from the trolley. The kit provides this as three parts: a bench, the bench back and the bent metal framework that connected them. The metal framework was out of scale according to my photos, so I made replacements from bent wire. Bending four identical frames was not fun, but once done it looked much more like the real thing.

There’s also a bar at the top of the bench back provided as a separate piece. This drove me crazy – the attachment point wasn’t secure, it was hard to get it aligned in all axes, and it was really easy to knock it off. Part B05 was my least favorite part of the model.

About this time, the Eduard set arrived. My scratch-built grille went in the trash, and the Eduard grille took its place. Eduard’s bumped, with tow hooks, went on the front of the truck in place of the kit part, and non-skid plates went on all the running boards. A new floor for the driver and passenger slipped neatly over my scratch-built gear shifter; Eduard provided a hand brake and winch control handle. All the tool boxes received tiny padlocks. The rear of the truck got a new rear plate, tow points and a reflector. A new winch head meant carefully sawing the end of the hoist away and replacing it with photoetched parts. All that work was totally worth it.

That’s more like it: Eduard’s photoetched grille’s worth the cost of the whole set, but the other details are great too.

The model was given another coat of field drab, and then the tiny details started to be added. The rear frame for the roof was painted and added, and then I sanded the molded-on windshield wipers from the clear windshield, which was then polished back into clarity, masked and painted. The steering wheel was set into place, and I made armrests from wire for each seat, then glued the completed seats into their spots in the cab. The vertical supports for the roof were a bit thick, so I replaced them with thick lead solder, bent to shape and CA-glued in place.

The canvas roof itself was painted using Testors ModelMaster beige and was set aside until final assembly. I painted the clear headlight bullets silver at their backs, then field drab, leaving the fronts clear to simulate lenses. These were carefully glued to the fenders behind the new photoetched headlight guards.

Now it was time for the final coat of paint, followed by a brush-applied layer of Future as a gloss coat for the decals. I used most of the very good kit decals, supplementing them with bumper markings for the 362nd Fighter Group, 379th Fighter Squadron. I still had a few that Norm Filer had made for my Jeep project more than 10 years ago. I also jumbled the numbers on the hood, making sure they stayed in the ranges assigned to M6s – I found that information on-line on a vehicle restoration website. When the decals were all down, I applied a heavy wash to the model and the flat coated the model, then gave the decals what I call a “fade coat” of heavily-thinned field drab, which reduces the brightness of the white markings

After decals, the stars and other markings looked too bright, so they received a “fade coat” of very thin field drab paint.

Mostly assembled – missing only the side supports for the roof.

Little details came next. Very carefully, I wrapped some braided silver thread around the hoist drum, using tweezers. Only five or six turns were needed to simulate the cable on the reel. The other end was stretched over the winch’s roller and head, measured, carefully, and cut to length. A photoetched hook purloined from an ancient Verlinden F6F set (it was a catapult hook in an earlier life) was CA-glued not to the cable but to the bumper – this hook was often attached to the rear bumper. Once the hook was in place, the cable was trimmed, then carefully CA-glued to the hook.

The windshield and canvas top were added, followed by the addition of Eduard’s very fine windshield wipers. The final addition was the tires. I’d become weary of unrealistic looking tires on 1:72 vehicles, so I scoured the web to find well-rendered tires on 1:35 models to learn some of the secrets. Let me just say this: pastels. Not only do they replicate the wear and weathering seen on tires but they impart a dead-flat quality that even flat coats can’t deliver. Once the pastels were applied in a satisfactory way, I added them to the wheels and ran a little thin CA glue into the joint from the back of the wheels, taking care to get alignment correct.

The M6 was finished at this point, but one of the clubs I’m a member of has build meetings and I needed something to work on, so I started the M5 bomb trailer included in the set. This is a remarkably quick and easy build – I had the trailer together in an hour or so, and after two hours had added the details, applied a coat of paint and prepped it for decals. The tires were given the same treatment as those on the M6 and added at the very end of the process. (I’ve since found a photo of an M5 with a V-1 on it – another great diorama possibility!)

Now, I needed a base. The 362nd saw a lot of combat during the winter of 1944/45, and I’d thought about doing a snow scene for a long time. This would be a good opportunity to learn a new technique. I selected an appropriate-sized base in the form of a left-over trophy from Silicon Valley Scale Modelers’ “Pimp My Model” contest (from 2008, maybe?) and popped off the resin plates on its front. I masked off the edges and applied a layer of scenic glue, then sprinkled on a layer of Woodland Scenics fine cinders ballast. The reason for this nearly-black base? I figure the vehicles would chew up the snow and get down to the frozen mud below; the black ballast would work well for this.

Doing some research on the ways railroad modelers do snow, I found a great article that identified six ways railroaders make snow, from simply painting the terrain white to various mixes of baby powder and baking soda with PVA glue to what the author said was his favorite: mixing Woodland Scenics soft flake snow with water effects. This looked like cold, wet snow, so I decided to try it.

The water effects material isn’t cheap – a bottle costs around $20. The good news is that in 1:72, it’ll handle four or five dioramas easily! This was poured into a bowl, followed by an equal amount of the soft flake snow, and the two were mixed as best as possible. The result is a nightmare to work with – fluffy, sticky and prone to adhere better to itself than to the base. I ended up frosting the base like a cake, leaving an area in the center for a pathway. The pathway received PVA glue mixed with the soft flake snow – I wanted it to look slushier and more travelled than the edges.

I added a few details to the mix: several 55-gallon drums and a spare drop tank on one side, and a few tufts of Silflor grass on the other. A little extra snow was added to the drums, and a bit more soft flake snow was sprinkled on for good measure. When everything looked even, I lightly misted a coat of water over the base to smooth things out even more.

The M6 benefits from little details in the cab and on the hoist, like the cable attached to the bumper.

The slushy pathway was worked over with a pencil repeatedly as it dried to give it a little texture. Ultimately, that worked pretty well; I had to work hard to ensure that truck and trailer had places for their wheels to go so they all contacted the ground!

The trailer received two bombs I’d prepared for future P-47 builds – they came from the Tamiya kit. They were assembled, sanded smooth, painted and then had their bands applied by chucking the fins in a motor tool and applying yellow stripes with a fine brush. Further weathering with pastels made them look as though they’d been in a field dump awaiting their turn to be dropped on the Germans.

A good overview of the figures in place in the diorama.

The figures came from CMK’s U.S. Army truck drivers set. They went together reasonably well, and they had the right cold-weather gear as seen in my photos. The heads were separate pieces, so I could position them looking skyward, as though they were awaiting the return of their squadron’s planes. (One viewer of the diorama was startled to see figures seemingly looking up at him!)

Hey, you up there! Did you really have to stick us in the snow?!?

 

The elements were all place on the diorama and that was that! Project finished. In the future, with the snow effects, I will plan ay areas that should be fresh snow white before applying it; the snow flake/water effects mixture kept becoming more translucent and more dirty-looking over the next two weeks. Lesson learned for my next Battle of the Bulge-era diorama!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff that came to my house this week

While I wasn’t paying attention, this little nugget slipped into print:

As I’ve said, this is the “Aces” version of the longer-form version I initially wrote as an “outline,” which illustrates how backwards we authors can be. The book has lots of photos and some excellent profiles from Chris Davey – oriented horizontally, which allows them to be bigger, which is a nice change. (Plus, this is a two-Chris effort, so how can you go wrong?)

The book (which you can take a peek at on Amazon here) was just one nice thing that came in the mail this week. I’ve been thinking of building the Heinkel 176, the first all-rocket aircraft, and what should arrive but a book called “The First Jet Pilot,” the biography of Erich Warsitz, who flew the He 176 (and He 178, and a lot of other exotically-powered aircraft which could have easily resulted in his early demise). The book has some nice photos of the He 176, which was a rarity in my library and which stalled the He 176 project until now. The He 176 was a tiny aircraft – maybe twice as big as the BD-5, with the pilot sitting in an open cockpit. Think about that – a rocket-powered plane with an open cockpit. How many times was the phrase “Tighten you goggles, Erich!” used before each flight?

That was a nice surprise. Today, I received something I expected – my Roll Models order of the month. It included another Eduard P-51D Mustang set; the canopy rails I talked about in this post both managed to fling themselves off the model and into oblivion, so I need to pirate them from this set again. And, since I can’t just get one thing, I also bought three decal sheets (one of Xtracals’ Battle of Britain sheets, Lifelike’s P-47 sheet with 354th FG Thunderbolts and a sheet of seven P-61s from Kits World). Revell’s set of 1:72 RAF figures was in there, too; they look very much like Prieser figure sets, with lots of detail, although there are only about eight basic figures, and several are seated. That might be nice for a pre-flight diorama scene.

The big model in the bunch was Italeri’s RQ-4 Global Hawk drone. You don’t get any idea of how big these drones are until you see the kit; without a cockpit, photos are very deceptive. This thing is enormous – maybe as big in wingspan as a B-17 – and rather bulky in the fuselage (although skinny in the wings). Without a cockpit, it shouldn’t take too long to go from the sprues to the finishing process. If you like painting and weathering, the Global Hawk and the smaller Predator are perfect. I like cockpits, but I look forward to bringing something this huge to a model club meeting soon. Although it may not fit in my display case. Hmm…

The many, many P-61 models in my display case -er, I mean, mind

Last night, I picked up a kit that’s been out for a while but which I had not managed to add to the collection: DML’s P-61B Black Widow. The latest edition has a fret of color photoetched parts, which include cockpit details, brake lines, seat belts and other details, and although I still think elements of the interior could use some attention these go a long way toward dressing up the cockpit. The kit’s decals are also pretty nice; the national insignia are iffy in color, but the nose art, especially for “Lady in the Dark” (the plane credited with the last two kills of World War II), is really nice – and her swimsuit is the correct red color, not blue as on past sheets.

Thinking about this subject, my mind raced through things the way it usually does: first, I wanted to do the historic “Lady,” then I thought about doing a less-known subject, since I don’t always like the obvious set of markings, then it drifted to the NACA P-61C that dropped an aerodynamic shape on Sunnyvale, then to the idea of an F-15 Reporter conversion. That would be a neat Obscureco item, wouldn’t it? The F-15 was a hot-looking plane, combining the twin booms with a streamlined fuselage – it would be a real show stopper! Especially as a fire bomber…!

Then, the second part of the thinking kicked in: well, the F-15 might be a bit of work, and it had a natural metal finish; the DML kit has a slightly pebbly finish to the plastic, which would take work to rehabilitate for a natural metal bird (not to mention the kit’s infamous engineering, which requires some judicious filling, shimming and sanding). And a NACA bird would have local interest, but it’s not really what I’m after. Okay, the mental bargaining went, here’s how it’ll go: the first P-61 I build will be a Pacific war combat aircraft; the next one I make will be an F-15, and then No. 3 will maybe be the TEST bird.

Now, the odds of me building three P-61s are off the map – who knows when I’ll get to this one, even. But your plans can be awfully big before you actually start working on a model. I have long said that the only perfect models in our collections are the ones we haven’t started on yet; the vision you have of that finished model (or line-up of three models!) is a flawless image indeed. It takes practice and experience to bring the reality of your work closer to that original image, and few of us really ever get there. It can be a bit of a letdown when you finish a model because of this – but you can also surprise yourself. I aspire to more self-surprising in the future!

The real reason I went for the kit last night was not my fantasy of a completed P-61, or even the photoetched parts. I was because I have a mini-library on the P-61 and it seems kind of asinine to invest that kind of bread without having the kit to justify it. Nothrop’s Night Hunter, P-61 Black Widow Units of World War II, Northrop P-61 Black Widow: the Complete History and Combat Record and Warbird Tech 15, plus the obligatory In Action volume, clutter my shelves. And, until yesterday, for what? (Yes, I know: for my own edification. But as a modeler, there’s got to be another reason!)

The real modeling work this week has been on a 1:72 jet pilot figure; different shades of dark green (harness, flight suit, etc.) don’t make for a very exciting uniform, or a very exciting bit of painting, but he’ll be holding his helmet with the Sundowners’ red rays on it (I’ll do those with decals) and that might add some interest. The face looks good, at least – the Rapidograph pens did wonders for the eyes and eyebrows, and a very subtle line of red applied with a .005 pen right below the lower lip defined the mouth quite nicely. Now, you do have to get pretty close to see this, but that’s what I really want to get people to do – move in close and keep seeing more detail as they get closer. Lt. Ho-hum achieves this. Maybe the next jet jockey I do will have a Marine Corps camouflaged flight suit…

Stickers on Old Nick 201

As promised, here are some photos of the Phantom with all its decals on. I’ll replace them with better –lit ones shortly. The big hurdle was the “USS CORAL SEA” legend (which was finally stolen off a SuperScale sheet for USMC Phantoms – sorry, jarheads!) and the aircraft BuNo. block on the tail. That one was fun – since the SuperScale sheet basically exploded on contact with water, it was made with the “F-4B” from the Hasegawa kit decals and numbers from an S-3 Viking sheet which were cut up and carefully rearranged. They actually came out well! Here’s where it stands right now:

My lovely wife is gone for the night and well into tomorrow which ought to get me enough time to do some serious work on the model. The stuff I have left to do is as follows:

1. Paint the horizontals
2. Apply a second coat of gloss to seal the decals
3. Apply a wash
4. Flat coat the sucker
5. Paint the natural metal areas under the tail
6. Paint and decal the canopies
7. Paint the pylons,tank and Sidewinders
8. Paint the struts and gear doors
9. Stick all the bits on

So it’s really not that far from being finished. I’ll probably add FOD covers to the intakes as well, just because I didn’t go overboard in sanding and smoothing the interiors. There are lots of other small parts that are already finished – ejection seats, wheels, afterburner cans, etc. – that fall under No. 9 above, and I also want to replace the sensor probes on the tail with some telescoping tubing.

I’m going up to the Museum of Flight in Seattle next weekend (as a “speaker,” kind of, since I wrote a book on the 4th Fighter Group and the show’s theme is “The Mighty Eighth”) and my goal is to have the finished “Old Nick 201” on the table. It can be done!

Also, here’s a Prieser 1:72 figure that I’ve made combat ready with a sidearm and jungle knife; he’ll be holding a map once he’s finished and will probably be a companion to my P-40E. My apologies for the slight blurriness – my camera is a little challenged when it comes to small stuff.

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.

Checking back on my figures

I was so inspired by Barack Obama’s speech last night… I went and worked on a model! Actually, it’s a 1:72 figure, but it qualifies as a model, since it has two parts. The figure is the same guy seen standing in the cockpit of Roger Fabriconi’s model seen here (although, I gotta say, Mort Magoffin never would have allowed his plane to look so beat up, nor would he have looked so casual at any time! The sleeves rolled up are NOT a Magoffin look!). The figure’s more a of a Pacific Theatre twin-engine kind of guy – Mae West, garrison hat, duffle bag – he’s going somewhere over water, he’s holding some maps, but he doesn’t have a helmet on. I’m not sure how I’ll use him, but he’ll come in handy somewhere.

Figures are fun – you get to mix your own paints, and the heads and faces are real tests of your perception. In 1:72, some of the hardest things to do are ears and hair – often, you have not much to work with and careful painting can achieve a “tromp l’oeil” effect and make the viewer think the figure has ears when really it has little humps or spur-like nodules on the head. What works well for this is to give the figure small sideburns; that defines the ear area and your brain fills in the details. On this guy, I also experimented with a couple of small dots of black from a rapidograph pen, followed by a light coat of skin tone, right in the ear to suggest the folds inside.

Rapidograph pens are great. I have .005 pens in black and red that help me cheat in small areas – a little red in a hollow below the nose or lips, a little black for pupils and eyebrows – and they are hugely useful. This figure has sunglasses, which I drew in with a black rapidograph. I’ll do the same for the gear on his Mae West now that the yellow is largely done (although I still need to hit some high spots). I use the black to draw “placards” in 1:72 cockpits and other minute details that would be too difficult to paint with a brush. I just wish they made a .005 silver pen – that would really come in handy.