The Charles Hughes story, headed for Flight Journal

I’m quite pleased to say that I’ll be able to take my long-form interview with Charles Hughes, a pilot with the 44th Bomb Group who flew with the “Flying Eight Balls” on the famous low-level 1943 Ploesti Mission, and turn it into a full-length article for Flight Journal magazine. Charles passed away in October, but his daughter Sandy has been a big help in passing on photos of her dad during his career. Here’s a shot of him in the right seat of a B-24:

This photo was labelled “B-29?” One of the weird things about being a modeler is that you can recognize parts of planes; that framing was a dead giveaway that the plane he’s pictured in is a B-24. Hughes flew over 40 types during his career, so it’s totally understandable that it would be hard to identify the plane for an average person. I feel like I’ve already helped the family a little in making sense of their remarkable treasury of artifacts.

I’m also working on a B-24 in 1:72 to represent the aircraft he flew on the Operation Tidal Wave mission, “Flossie Flirt.” That’s leading me to create some masters for new Obscureco products to bring the Hasegawa B-24D up to snuff in terms of accuracy. It’s weird how cyclical all this ends up being!

Stay tuned — as I dig up more about Hughes and the Ploesti mission (and his subsequent escape from internment in Turkey), and my travails with the Hasegawa B-24D, I’ll share it here on the blog.

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B-24D plans change thanks to a chance meeting…

Of all the operations in World War II, the one which always stuck me as the best candidate for a great movie was Operation Tidal Wave, the low-level attack on Ploesti on August 1, 1943. Of course, getting the B-24s and then flying them at low level would have made for difficulties, but the story itself is almost cinematic. It includes the shock of the men at the mission, the elaborate plan, the sequence of things that went wrong, and the heroism of the men who managed to make the mission a success in spite of heavy losses. Now, with CGI technology, I hope that someone takes a stab at this story.

Last month, I had a chance to sit down with Charles Hughes, who flew as part of the 44th Bomb Group during the Ploesti mission. He gave me an hour-long interview about the mission, his crew’s internment in Turkey and their subsequent escape to Cyprus. It’ll show up in the form of an article somewhere, but now I’m hunting for a photo of the plane he flew on the mission, 42-40777 “Flossie Flirt.” Charles flew that aircraft for the one and only time that day, and it absorbed terrible damage; flak shells went through the wings without detonating (they did not have time for the fuses to arm) and he recalled seeing chunks of self-sealing fuel tanks dripping out of them. The plane landed intact in Turkey with all its crewmen alive.

There’s no photo of this plane in Michael Hill’s excellent Black Sunday: Ploesti (loaned to me by the always helpful Mark MacDonald), and I can’t find any images of it in my other references on the B-24. Hopefully, I can run an image down that provides me with enough information to build a model of Hughes’ airplane from that day.

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.

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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.

A bounty of B-24D ideas…

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

Anhyhow, here’s the “short list:”

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

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

Hey, readers: gimme some ideas for a B-24D Liberator

Lat evening, I received a Hasegawa 1:72 B-24D for review for the Journal, courtesy of Jim Woody. This model’s been out for a while, so my review will be a compendium of other things people have seen and my own observations about this model. I may also be compelled to do some Obscureco things for the Liberator. However, I’m still a bit uncertain about which B-24D to build. (As I said earlier in my discussion of the P-61, near terminal scope-creep almost got me as I initially flashed on the idea of doing an LB-30 – all I’d need to do is bob the nose, replace the cowlings… Common sense has since regained its hold over me.)

The natural subject is a participant in Operation Tidal Wave, the low-level raid on Ploesti. I would certainly avoid “Hail Columbia,” l. John R. Kane’s plane, but I could see doing a less well-known raider. I won’t do “Strawberry Bitch,” and the 15th Air Force was formed late enough to largely miss the B-24D. I could also see an England-based Eighth Air Force plane – or a Pacific B-24, north Pacific or south.

Got any suggestions? I’d be happy to entertain them. Don’t sweat the existence of decals – I can get past that when I get my mind set on something. Remember – stories of the men who flew the machines are what really motivate me…