Models keep coming up aces…

Last weekend was the P-47 Fighter Aces Symposium at the Hiller Aviation Museum, featuring four aces – Richard Fleischer of the 348th FG, Frank McCauley and Les Smith of the 56th FG, and David Thwaites of the 356th FG. It was an entertaining afternoon, and perhaps this nugget was the most interesting to come out of it: McCauley and Smith had been assigned the same flight and had flown many missions together, but this even was the first time they’d seen each other since 1944!

Unfortunately, we didn’t stage a model display at this symposium; I didn’t hear back from anyone about it, and so I decided to take this one off and go simply as a spectator. However, a couple people at the event asked me about the model display, since they’d enjoyed seeing it in the past, which is nifty incentive to work up a display for the next event, featuring Navy and Marine aces, on July 19 at the Hiller Museum (I’ll have names when they become available to me). I’d try to knock out a Corsair between now and then, but that would probably result in an extra-bent bent-winged bird, so I’ll fall back on my Alex Vraciu Hellcat instead!

That got me to thinking about the ace machines I have in my collection of built-ups. I’ve always tried to shy away from the over-done aircraft and leaned toward the “rank and file,” but I do have a big splash of aces in the case. To wit:

It’s pretty obvious why the aces command so much attention from modelers – they grabbed fame while flying and still command attention today, so people want to build their aircraft. Decal manufacturers respond to demand, so the aces are disproportionately represented in decal form. So that cycle continues. And, of course, a single-engine plane’s a quicker build than a multi-engine bomber or even a multi-place attack plane, so more fighters get built than any other type.
Here’s what the build queue at the workshop looks like right now:

  • Martin 167 Maryland (this week’s subject for work)
  • P-40E Warhawk
  • P-51D-5 Mustang
  • P-47D Thunderbolt
  • Fairey Firefly V

Of those, two are ace machines – the P-40E of Jim Morehead and (oddly enough) the Maryland of Adrian Warburton. So the pattern continues!

What proportion of aces ends up in your collection? And is it because the decals available happen to be aces, or do you seek out ace subjects for your models? I’d be interested to know.

Raising the Jolly Roger over San Carlos

Another aces symposium has been announced by the Northern California Friends of the Aces, this one on November 9 at the Hiller Museum in San Carlos. As was the cast last fall, this one will focus on Navy aces, and the focus is very sharp: the theme is Aces of VF-17 and VF-18, the “Jolly Rogers.” The men on the panel are scheduled to be Charles Mallory (10 kills), Billy Watts (8.75) , Bill Hardy (6.5), Ted Crosby (5.25) and Jim Pearce (5.25), all of whom were Hellcat aces. As always, the local club is planning a display; Cliff Kranz is building four Hellcats, he says, and he’s the kind of modeler who’s likely to finish them. I think we’ll do another Navy Aces display; that’ll give me a chance to break out my Alex Vraciu F6F-3 and the FM-2 of Joe McGraw (which I was supposed to be building for the navy aces event last October…!). If any other Bay Area modelers would like to participate, let me know.

The event’s at 12:15 at the Hiller Aviation Museum; for more information you can e-mail the Northern California Friends of the Aces.

Book Recommendation 1: Clash of Carriers

A lot of people’s heroes are dashing dudes who excel at sports, or world-famous figures whose actions evoke earth-shattering change. One of my heroes is an almost unknown bald, bespectacled guy who lives in Oregon and writes for a living.

I just finished Barrett Tillman’s Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II, his book on the Battle of the Philippine Sea. This is really the first major book on this battle (Tillman did a monograph on it for Phalanx a while back), and it’s the kind of history everyone who’s into the subject can appreciate: the strategy’s here, but it doesn’t come at the expense of first-person narratives. Those narratives don’t interrupt the larger picture of the battle. It’s a thin rope to walk, but Tillman’s great at this. He can focus on individual stories in the midst of talking about huge battles, and they never feel like digressions – they’re just part of the story. It takes a special genius to do that.

Combine that with Barrett’s bottomless trove of resources (he’s been interviewing aviators for years, in the process preserving their stories), and the story of this massive battle can be told in exhaustive detail – from both the Japanese and American sides. Tillman draws character sketches of the various commanders – the overly-cautious Keen Harrill, the diametrically-opposed “Jocko” Clark, and the pilot-friendly Marc Mitscher, to name a few. The same goes for the pilots who flew during the “Marianas Turkey Shoot;” their exploits are front and center, and not just the fighter pilots like David McCampbell and Alex Vraciu, who each racked up big scores, but bomber pilots like Cook Cleland who flew on “the Mission Beyond Darkness” to strike the Japanese Mobile Fleet. One of the more remarkable incidents in the battle came as the carrier Hiyo was sinking; her captain remained on the bridge as she sank – only to be propelled to the surface – and safety – by an underwater explosion! This is perhaps the best fate a Japanese ship captain could have been granted during the war.

The book includes an exhaustive order of battle, kill claims, and other information. It’s a great read and a great reference – and a great way to get inspired to build a Hellcat, Dauntless, Avenger or Helldiver.