Fairey Gannet AEW.3 Part 5: Only Shades of Gray

When we left off on the Gannet back in January, the wings were on and we’d added the wing-tip lights and the leading-edge bays for the landing lights. In September, I finally picked the model up again (after spending time finishing a CF-100 building a Fokker Dr. I and doing a lot of work on a Firefly F.Mk. I – but these are totally different stories). Part of the delay was that I had lost the canopy/windscreen. I couldn’t find the darn thing anywhere, and an email to Sword vanished into the electronic ether with no response to be had. Months passed and I finally resigned myself to finding an alternative, the transparent part re-materialized on my desk. Perhaps I had confused it for the cockpit glass to a Firefly, or perhaps it just managed to elude my searches, but in any case I was back in business.

 

The first point of order was to get the horizontal tails on properly. There are no mounting points for the tails (which is weird, since the wings had them) and so their locations were suspect. It would be easy to get the horizontals too far forward or aft; studying drawings and photos was a must in placing the first one. I attached it with CA glue and had a minimal seam to address at the join. The other horizontal fit a little less well but the seam was handled with Mr. Surfacer 500. Alignment of the horizontals is a snap when the finlets are in place: hold the plane by the wing tips, looking at it from its blind spot below the tail, then rock the tail down. The winglets should touch the wings simultaneously on both sides.

Next came the windscreen. It was cut from the canopy with a cutoff wheel in a motor tool, and the trailing edge was sanded to shape and the whole thing was dipped in Future (or PFM, or whatever it’s called this week) and allowed to dry overnight under an overturned bowl for dust protection. The fit of the windscreen was pretty good, save for some minor gaps on the front left side which were eradicated with Mr. Surfacer. I masked the transparent panels with Parafilm M.

 

Next, I handled the jet exhausts, which were located just below the leading edges of the wings. The kit provided the exhaust shrouds in halves, with the exhausts themselves also in halves. I found the exhausts’ thickness to be all out of whack compared to photos, so I knew I’d have to make new ones. First, though, I had to get the shrouds built and installed symmetrically on the fuselage. The shrouds went together easily, with a little sanding needed at their seams and on the bottom edges to even them out, and then onto the fuselage they went. There’s an outline on the fuselage that gives a hint of where they should go. After a lot of test-fitting I went for it and CA-glued them into place; they fit with the merest of seams and Mr. Surfacer again came to the rescue.

 

As for the exhausts themselves, I first tried to bend brass tubing to shape. No dice – the odd semi-airfoil shape was impossible to impart on brass. Next, I tried stretching plastic rod, which was a tremendous waste of time. What could I have on hand that could fulfill the role? A visit to the kitchen’s junk drawer yielded three plastic drinking straws of various diameters. In Goldilocks style, one was too small, one was too big but the third was just right. I cut short segments to length and bent them carefully to shape, leaving them in the shrouds for several days preserve their new profiles. Then I pulled them out, airbrushed them with Testors metallizer burnt metal, and set them aside for final assembly.

 

Now it was time for real painting. First came black – I sprayed it over the windscreen as the interior color, and outlined the panel lines. This pre-shading in almost never really visible after the final paint job, which is just what I want. I masked the nose (to prevent paint getting into the open intakes) and prepared my first color.

 

Convention holds that you paint the light colors first. Convention is stupid. You paint the color that’s easiest to mask first. In this case, it was the extra dark sea gray (EDSG) on the top of the fuselage, the wings and the tail. I broke out the AeroMaster gunship gray that had served me so well with the Firefly FR.5 and applied a coat over the appropriate areas – including the wrap-around on the wing leading edge. This was important to get with the first color because of the inconvenient position of the exhaust shrouds.

 

Looks nice! But what is that gray?

The paint went down beautifully – but there was a problem. It didn’t really look like the color photos of Gannets in my references. Roy Sutherland said it wasn’t dark enough, and he was right. I started experimenting and came up with a formula that worked: 17 drops of ocean gray, 2 drops of dark sea blue, and 6 drops of PRU blue. The paint was sprayed on the model and worked perfectly; the model was clearly a dark gray in indoor light, but took on a blue tone in sunlight, just like the real airplane.

The right shade of EDSG makes a big difference…

Much Tamiya tape was harmed in the making of this model.

I masked the appropriate parts of the model – wings, lower leading edge, tail, and upper fuselage – with Tamiya tape. The demarcation on the fuselage was described with Tamiya’s tape for curves, which worked beautifully. Wedges of foam were placed in the radar observers’ compartment openings and the wheel wells and boarding ladder cutout were stuffed with wet tissue paper. Testors sky type S was loaded into the airbrush and I went to work on the bottom of the plane. For whatever reason, my Paasche VL would only spray a small bit of paint before stopping; repeated cleanings didn’t fix the issue. The fact that my gray shades worked wonderfully led me to the conclusion that the sky type S was causing the problem. I persisted – in fits and starts, the entire Gannet was treated to a neat coat of this weird gray-green color.

 

When the masking came off, the result was superb. There were five minor areas that needed touch-up: an area on one of the rudders where too much pre-shading was visible, the areas around the radar compartment doors, and the demarcation on the nose and tail on the left side. Matching the camouflage side to side can be tough, and I really fretted over getting this right. My research found two distinct demarkations on Gannet AEW.3s: one that broke down at the back of the canopy and then pinched toward the center of the nose and a second that lacked that break, continuing a straight line from where the paint curved up on the tail all the way to the pinch in the nose. The plane I was building, XL471, had the latter according to my photos.

 

My issue was that the EDSG wasn’t perfectly symmetric on the nose and on the tail. The right side was the least accurate, so I remasked the nose and the upward curve toward the tail and repainted. Success! All the touch-ups went without flaw and now, looking down on the model, the demarcation of the EDSG is identical from side to side.

The model was now ready for decals. But there’s a catch: the markings in the kit for XL471 are wrong. The black and white stripes on the finlet are too few in number and the B-flight marking hugs that tail leading edge where it should not. Replacements exist, but they are hard to find; there were two Model Art decal sheets with the markings, and AlleyCat’s spectacular sheet includes XL471. All of these are impossible to obtain. Fortunately, the very day of this minor crisis, Print Scale Decals’ sheet for the Gannet was released and I bought a set. I await their arrival!

 

Next time: decals, weathering and the landing gear.

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Future 362nd FG decal sheet: a preview of what will be on it

Last night, I wrote up the aircraft descriptions for a future Barracudacals sheet that will feature five 379th FS, 362nd FG Thunderbolts. doing this research was very useful – I discovered that the plane I was building, Gene Martin’s “Bonnie Lynn,” is a P-47D-30, and so it had the riveted floor, not the kit-supplied corrugated floor – meaning a switch was in order (It’ll now become Ralph Sallee’s P-47) and a new Thunderbolt will have to be built as Gene’s plane. That’ll be no problem since a new Obscureco flat cockpit floor is being cast as we speak and will, happily, fit three of these planes.

This is the raw text – Roy Sutherland may edit or append it in the final instruction sheet. Anyhow, here’s the five that will be on this particular decal sheet when it finally comes out:

P-47D-21-RE 42-25518 B8*B “Damon’s Demon”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF. Flown by Capt. George Rarey

Based at Headcorn, England, June 1944

Rarey was one of the best-loved pilots of the 362nd FG. Having worked as a commercial artist before the war, he designed and applied the nose art for no fewer than 28 aircraft, including his own. The plane started out as “Archy and Mehatibel,” a reference to characters in Don Marquis’ poetry, but when Rarey’s son Damon was born the plane’s name changed. Sadly, Rarey never met his son; he was shot down by flak on June 27, 1944 while strafing road traffic and was killed. Standard camouflage of olive drab over neutral gray, with white bands on the nose and tail surfaces. Note the red rudder trim tab. Curtiss Electric propeller.

George Rarey

P-47D-27-RE 42-27215 B8*T “1950”/”Super Rabbit”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, Flown by Lt. Ralph Sallee

Based at Etain, France, December 1944

Sallee flew this aircraft through the Battle of the Bulge, during which he scored two victories over Fw 190s on Dec. 26, 1944. The nose art on the right side of the cowling reflected where the crew wished to be in five years. Sallee, originally from Hollywood, California, eventually moved to Montana, where he lives to this day. Curtiss Electric symmetric paddleblade propeller.

Ralph Sallee

P-47D-30-RE 44-20425 B8*W “Kentucky Colonel”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, Flown by Capt. Wilfred Crutchfield

Based at Etain, France, January, 1945

Crutchfield, a veteran leader with the 378th Fighter Squadron, brought his plane with him upon his transfer to the 379th. On January 22, 1945, he spotted 1500 German vehicles concentrated in a small area around Prum, Germany, as the Sixth SS Panzer Armee was embarking for the Eastern Front. In the next six hours, the group destroyed 315 trucks, seven tanks, seven half-tracks and 15 horse-drawn vehicles in a bloody battle that cost the group five P-47s and four pilots. Crutchfield stayed in the Air Force after the war, but disappeared in 1968 while flying a training flight with a student in a T-33; the crash site, on a glacier on Mt. Rainer in Washington, was not discovered until October 2004. Curtiss Electric asymmetric paddleblade propeller; note the red rudder trim tab.

Wilfred Crutchfield

P-47D-30-RA 44-33287 B8*A “5 By 5”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, flown by Col. Joseph Laughlin

Based at Etain, France, March 1945

Laughlin assumed the position of group commander when Col. Morton Magoffin was shot down and captured on Aug. 10, 1944. Laughlin achieved two remarkable successes individually: the sinking of a large vessel (possibly hulk of the incomplete battleship Clemenceau) at Brest, and the key hit that destroyed the sluice gates of the Dieuze Dam. He also scored the group’s first air-to-air victory. Laughlin had eight “5 By 5’s”, all of which carried nose art painted by George Rarey; crew chief Joe Carpenter dutifully transferred the painted panels of the cowling from plane to plane, concluding with this aircraft. The P-47D in the USAAF Museum is painted to represent this “5 By 5.” Curtiss Electric asymmetric paddleblade propeller; note the yellow propeller spinner and rudder trim tab, and the dorsal fin fillet.

Joe Laughlin

P-47D-30-RE 44-20413 B8*Y “Bonnie Lynn”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, flown by Lt. Gene Martin

Based at Illesham, Germany, April 1945

Martin’s aircraft was initially named “Bonnie” after his wife, but added “Lynn” when his crew chief Robert Shaw’s daughter Lynn was born. On April 5, 1945, Martin was flying this plane when he shot down two Fw 190s (although the second was unconfirmed). Two days later, he shot up a Bf 109 but again the victory went unconfirmed. Martin destroyed two more aircraft while attacking airfields. Curtiss Electric asymmetric paddleblade propeller; note the yellow propeller spinner.

Gene Martin

The model giveth, the modeler taketh away (and replaces with sheet styrene)

Most of my effort over the past few days has been devoted to completing my book for Osprey on the 357th Fighter Group, but I have snuck in some work on my 1:72 WC-52. The basic body components and frame are all assembled; I broke down and had Roy Sutherland copy some Academy WC-54 wheels to replace the wretched examples in the Italeri WC-51.

I also found the fit of the rear bed section of the Italeri kit to be absolutely heinous, so much so that I sanded off all the detail on each in an effort to obscure the seams. Not that many years ago, I never would have considered such a thing. Now, I just thought to myself, “oh, nuts! I’ll have to cut some .005 plastic sheet and superglue it where this detail went…”

Some people look at this as a symptom of AMS. It’s surely a sign of an advanced modeler of some kind, but really, modelers have been doing this kind of thing for years. I’ll make those details, put them on the model with CA glue, hit the whole thing with a coat of olive drab and there will never be any sign of the erased and replaced detail – it’ll just look like the original model. I’m very pleased that I no longer really care about such inconveniences – I’m now along far enough in my scale modeling that this sort of work is not only not intimidating but somewhat commonplace. Only I will know it’s there.

On 1:72 vehicles, there’s a lot of that. Most of them lack things like gas, brake and clutch pedals – stuff we who drive cars take for granted. If they’re missing it’s a howler. If they’re there – well, that’s just as it should be.

The intention with this model is to leave the rear open so it can fill a variety of roles on aircraft dioramas. That’s no excuse to make it a full model in its own right.

Now it’s back to the book…

A friendly Firefly assist from Mr. Sutherland

Roy Sutherland is a good friend of mine, and we’ve worked on a couple of projects together. I wrote some chunks of his book on modeling the deHavilland Mosquito and the history section of his book on the deHavilland Sea Vixen. He’s also a subcontractor and occasional pattermaker for Obscureco,  and I’m passing him research material for his decal line.

This relationship has its benefits. Last night, knowing I was working on the Special Hobby Firefly Mk. V, Roy gave me a disk filled with images of a restored Firefly AS.6 – and lots of them. The next book in his line of detailed volumes on little-known aircraft is going to be on the Firefly, or so plans say, and I can say it will be very, very useful for modelers. Hopefully, I’ll have a model finished to show just how useful the book can be!

Now, the photos didn’t clear up my questions about the Mk. V’s rear-seat radio arrangement; I still think the resin parts in the kit are a bit suspect, but until I have evidence to the contrary I’m going with them. Roy’s photos, though, add a lot of ideas for extra stuff in the cockpit – documents, details of the various fittings, how the observer’s window operates, and so on.

My plan is to build a Korean War Firefly V, and I’ll probably use the kit decals (gasp!) since they fit the bill. But it’s not an easy build – the kit really has short-run tendencies and I see lots of filling and re-scribing in my future.

And as for those photos: no, you can’t see them. Not yet. They’ll be yours in living color when Roy finally gets that book out!

News: new 362nd decals are coming…

Roy Sutherland now has my copy of “Mogin’s Maulers,” along with a bunch of photos, for a possible decal sheet featuring the 362nd Fighter Group. Tentatively, the sheet would have Joe McLaughlin’s original “5 By 5,” Wilton Crutchfield’s “Kentucky Colonel,” Gene Martin’s “Bonnie Lynn” and Ralph Sallee’s plane (unnamed, but it features a rocket propelled rabbit). The final announcement of when these decals come out will come from Roy on his Barracudacals site, but I’ll try to provide updates as Roy provides them to me.

This, of course, will predicate an update to our 362nd Fighter Group decals list. It will also complicate my quest to build all of these Thunderbolts in 1:72 scale – but I’ll get there!

I also want to build many of the planes in the profile sections of my other books. At this stage there are 108 of those. At my current rate of about four models a year, that may be tough, but I plan on living a long life.

Thoughts on Bidding for the IPMS Nationals, or “Hey, haven’t I fallen off this cliff before?”

Every week, a bunch of us modelers meets up at D&J Hobby in Campbell, then after the shop closes at 9 p.m. head over to the Mini Gourmet, one of the few all-night diners in San Jose. The crew is made up of some regulars – Laramie Wright, Randy Ray, Woody Yeung, Mick Burton, Mike Meek, Vladimir Yakubov, John Heck, Greg Plummer – and some occasional guests, including Roy Sutherland, Barry Bauer and Frank Babbitt. We’re so consistent that visitors to the Bay Area come and hang out with us on occasion.

Last night, the discussion was an interesting one. John and Vladimir are seriously discussing the idea of bidding for the IPMS/USA Nationals, either for 2012 or for some year in the future. Having served as the chairman of the 1998 event in Santa Clara, I’m a walking reference for them on what to do and what to avoid. What to avoid: the Fourth of July weekend; badly-written contracts; members of the committee who don’t do their jobs. What to do: pick the right people for key roles; put together good seminars; do as much as you can as early as possible. Nothing to it, right?

Well, not quite. Although John couldn’t quite envision it, the planning process is a lot of work. The first stop has to be the facility – if either Santa Clara or the San Jose Convention Center can’t offer a decent rate, the whole effort is stillborn.

However, it would be fun to be part of hosting the nationals again. When I chaired, I did a bunch of things, including ordering the hats, designing the T-shirts, editing and laying out the program, researching the decals for the AeroMaster sheet, and coordinating all the efforts. Mike Braun was a great vendor chairman, and the team from San Joaquin Scale Modelers (at the time, the Stockton Tomcats) provided security. We suffered around the contest and the trophies, so if we do it again it’ll be important to pick good people for that role.

Of course, at the end of the 1998 show, we were all completely exhausted, physically and mentally. The process speeds up rapidly in the 30 days leading up to the show, and you become very busy (that was the only nationals I’ve ever been to where I didn’t buy anything in the vendor room – I never had the time!). We’ll see where this all goes. It would enable me to build some bug subjects and get them safely to the nationals – but it seems like an extreme way to facilitate that!

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.