22 December 2019

U.S. Navy Munitions Carts & Trailers

Early Type Torpedo Cart
Historical Information: This type of hand-drawn cart was used by the U.S. Navy personnel to handle torpedoes on shore stations as well as on aircraft carriers.
Time period: 1920s - 1930s.
Paint scheme: Grey.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic and metal wire.

Mk1 Munitions Cart
Historical Information: The Mk1 munitions cart was designed for use on the U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, to carry bombs of various calibers as well as rockets.
Time period: 1940s - late 1950s.
Paint scheme: Grey.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic and metal wire.

Early Type Munitions Trailer
Historical Information: This type of tractor-drawn trailer was used on many U.S. Navy and Marine Corps land bases / shore stations to transport various types of munitions to aircraft. Different adaptors were fitted to the trailer frame to stow torpedoes or bombs, and later some trailers were field-modified to carry missiles and rocket pods.
Time period: 1940s - late 1960s.
Paint scheme: Initially grey; orange yellow starting from early 1960s.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: My model was scratch-built from plastic to represent the variant that was used in the early 1960s to transport the Sidewinder missiles and rocket pods (see photograph - link).

Aero 12 Munitions Cart
Historical Information: The Aero 12 munitions cart has completely superseded the Mk1 on the carrier decks in the late 1950s. Besides standard iron bombs, it was utilized to transport cluster bombs, napalm bombs and various rocket pods. Frequently, a single cart was loaded with as many as two or three bombs, or up to four rocket pods. When fitted with a special adapter, it could carry four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and when fitted with a metal crate it was used to transport miscellaneous items, e.g. various tools, ordnance safety pins, flare & chaff cassettes, etc.
Time period: Late 1950s - present time.
Paint scheme: Initially orange yellow; insignia white starting from mid-1990s.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic, metal wire and custom-made photo-etched metal items.

22 November 2019

Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Grumman F8F-2D Bearcat
U.S. Navy. BuNo 121724 / XB41. VX-2.
In the air off NAS Chincoteague, Virginia, 1952.

1.2. Story
An F8F-2D Bearcat of Experimental and Development Squadron Two (VX-2) is in the air, doing an unglamorous but necessary chore by providing aerial target services to other training or operational units of the U.S. Navy. The Bearcat acts as a target controller aircraft, and the full-scale aerial target that the Bearcat's pilot directs, a Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat, can also be seen in the distance.


1.3. Model Kit
F8F Bearcat from Sword (kit # 72021), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
This kit, in its positive and negative aspects, is a typical representative of the Czech short-run.
On the one hand, we have
 - Very good overall accuracy of plastic parts.
 - Smooth external surfaces with delicate recessed details where appropriate, not marred by dreadful bullet hole-style imitation of rivet lines (which is an unfortunate characteristic of many aircraft model kits being produced now by Chinese and even some of the European manufacturers).
 - A nicely cast resin engine.
But on the other hand,
 - All of the small items (cockpit interior, landing gear, pylons, armament) are rather crude, with details which are either non-existent or way too thick, scale-wise.
 - The clear canopy is very thick, it distorts heavily and has poor transparency; its shape is not entirely accurate.
 - The assembly is somewhat challenging in terms of fit, and also due to the lack of tabs and respective recesses to correctly position and align many of the important parts.
 - The decal is totally inaccurate (see my "Notes" below).
I did not photograph the box contents; photographs can be found in some of the reviews already available on the Internet, such as this and this.

3. Construction
3.1. Building

To have an accurate F8F-2 Bearcat model, one have to subject the Sword's kit to the following improvements:
 1) The kit's cockpit details (seat, headrest, rollover bar, gunsight) are very thick and crude. All were replaced with scratch-built stuff.
 The vacu-formed canopy made by Falcon (set #1) which I used as a replacement for the Sword's very poor canopy has proved to be a mixed blessing. Its transparency is excellent, but its shape is still less than accurate: it stands too tall, and the way it blends with the fuselage is not ideal. I am less than satisfied with how it all came out, but I have no technology to scratch-build a new transparent canopy myself.
 2) The fuselage needs the following improvements:
   a) Engine exhaust tubes properly imitated.
   b) Oil cooler exhaust slots (underside of the engine cowling) cut out.
   c) Clear white dorsal navigation light.
   d) Small dorsal and ventral whip aerials plus dorsal wire aerial.
   e) Rudder trim tab is to protrude behind the rudder's trailing edge.
   f) Aft fuselage detailed: tail hook end, catapult holdback attachment point and clear white tail navigation light.
 As my model is presented in flight, in my case there is, thankfully, no need to scratch-build the Bearcat's extremely complicated landing gear bay interior.
 3) The wing needs the following improvements (from wing root to wing tip):
   a) Small oval openings between the fuselage and the oil cooler intakes.
   b) Dividers inside the big oval oil cooler intakes.
   c) Gun camera opening – port wing only.
   d) Cannon barrels (the kit's plastic sticks replaced with metal syringe needles).
   e) Clear window for the approach light – port wing only.
   f) Pitot tube (the kit's plastic part is way too thick) – port wing only.
   g) Circular blue formation lights – both wings, upper and lower sides (see photo - link).
   h) Aileron trim tabs are to protrude behind the aileron trailing edge (this feature is absent on many drawings but can be clearly seen on good photographs of actual Bearcats such as this - link).
   i) Wingtip navigation lights – coloured lamps (red for port, green for starboard) inside clear caps.
As my model is presented in flight, in my case there is, thankfully, no need to detail the kit's landing gear legs and doors, nor to replace the kit's mediocre main wheels.
 4) Some fine detailing added to the fuselage drop tank.
The following features are only relevant for the F8F-2D target controller variant:
 - Two outer guns removed.
 - Additional dorsal wire aerial installed.
Unfortunately, I could not find any information on whether there were any differences in the cockpit of the target controller variant.

3.2. Painting & Markings
Most of the operational Bearcats of the U.S. Navy wore plain Sea Blue without much in the way of special markings (one exception is the well-known machine of the Air Group 19 Commander, for which I couldn't find any decals anyway), and the only really colorful examples were the Blue Angels team's Bearcat and a number of machines in the target tug / target director paint scheme operated by several non-operational units.
Basing on the available historical photographs, I selected a machine in this paint scheme from VX-2 squadron. Therefore, the fuselage is Sea Blue; the wing, vertical stabilizer and horizontal stabilizer are Orange Yellow; the wing bands and the rudder are Insignia Red.
The national insignia, the service names and some of the codes came from generic decal sheets produced by Techmod and Microscale, while the remaining codes were custom-printed.

3.3. Presentation
Due to shortage of free space, I wanted my in-flight diorama to be as compact as possible, and yet to provide an impression of sky with some degree of realism. I've made the base from a piece of a plastic kitchen bowl, thus avoiding sharp edges and corners.
I also wanted to add an element of action by introducing the Bearcat's charge to my diorama. To do so I have attempted to employ the effect of forced perspective, and my model of the F6F-5K Hellcat aerial target comes from a 1:350 scale F6F Hellcat set produced by Trumpeter (# 06210). The Hellcat is very small, so I chose not to correct the Trumpeter's panel lines (a bit crude and not entirely accurate). Nevertheless, I added some scratch-built details: engine face; external fuel tank; aerial; clear navigation lights. Decals came from generic sheets produced by Techmod and Microscale.

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the F8F Bearcat in Wikipedia (including a decent collection of historical photographs): link
[2] Grumman F8F Bearcat | Naval Fighters Series # 80 | Ginter Books, 2008
[3] F8F Bearcat in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 99 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1990

5. Notes
5.1. Target controller aircraft are an interesting group that, in my view, is not covered sufficiently. Whenever an aircraft type has such a variant, most publications do not go further than simply mentioning their existence and their special paint scheme. If you dig a bit deeper into aviation books and various Internet articles, you may in some cases find information on the production/conversion quantities of such variants, on which units they flew with and even on which types of targets they have actually controlled. But so far I did not have much success in learning how – i.e., by means of what instruments and devices – did the "master" aircraft and its crew control the "slave" aircraft? It is not an idle question. Besides being of interest to a technically and historically minded researcher, it is of direct importance to a modeller who builds a target controller aircraft. It is true that the assortment of external antennae, requisite for remotely controlling another vehicle, can in most cases be simply derived from good historical photographs. But what about accurately modelling the interior? Certainly the target controller variant had some special arrangements in the cockpit / on the flight deck that distinguished it from the base variant. Yet so far I was not able to find any historical photographs or explanations to shed light on this.
Most interestingly, how did it go for a single-place aircraft, a target controller derivative of a fighter? How did the pilot control both his own aircraft and the target? What, specifically, was added to the cockpit in each particular case to enable this type of remote control?
As a reference, here is a list of the U.S. Navy's target controller aircraft that have been specifically mentioned in trustworthy books and can be identified on historical photographs:
single-place aircraft: F8F-1D & -2D Bearcat; F9F-2KD & -5KD Panther; F9F-6K2 Cougar; FJ-3D & -3D2 Fury; DF-8F Crusader.
multi-place aircraft: JRB-1; SNB-1; JD-1D; F7F-2D Tigercat; DT-28B Trojan; DP-2E Neptune; DC-130A, E & H Hercules.

5.2. The Bearcat in the 1:72 scale does not seem to be particularly lucky when we consider the accuracy of available decals.
The most recent (as of the year 2019) of the Bearcat kits, manufactured by the already defunct Polish brand Attack Squadron, has substantial inaccuracies in its decal for all three of the suggested variants. My detailed review of this kit can be found here: link.
The decal that comes with the Sword kit (the one that I have just built) is also inaccurate for both of the suggested variants.
The VF-3 variant:
a) The national insignia for the fuselage and the wing should be of different sizes – not of equal size as we see on the decal.
b) The "3F4" and "4" characters are styled incorrectly on the decal. On the real aircraft there are "stenciling gaps" on each of the characters.
c) The squadron's "Felix the cat" insignia should have yellow background – not white we see on the decal. Although there seem to be no color photos of the "3F4", the Bearcats of this squadron have been photographed in color just one year later, and there we can clearly see that the insignia background is indeed yellow.
The VF-15A variant:
d) The rendering of the large aircraft numbers ("105") is not entirely accurate on the decal. Observe how the zero is wider on the real aircraft compared to what we see on the decal.
e) Aircraft numbers, visible on the engine cowling and on the landing gear doors, are not provided on the kit's decal.
f) The Aircraft type / Service name / Bureau number texts, standardized by the Navy (and present on the real aircraft just in front of and slightly below the horizontal stabilizer leading edge), are absent on the decal.
g) On the decal, the red & yellow striped item for the rudder trimmer have one more yellow stripe than evident on historical photographs.
h) No propeller markings are provided on the decal – this is applicable for both variants.

And currently there seem to be only one aftermarket decal for the 1:72 scale Bearcat that is widely available – unfortunately, it comes from PrintScale. This company is producing dozens of decals for various U.S. Navy / Marines subjects and is making the same mistakes on every decal: wrong fonts (inaccurately shaped letters and digits), wrong colors... Let's consider just the two variants for the Blue Angels team Bearcats: see for yourself how the font used for the large "U.S. Navy" lettering on their decal is entirely inaccurate when compared to the historical photographs. And, of course, for the "0 / Beetle Bomb" variant the color must be blue, not red as we see on the PrintScale decal.

26 June 2019

LAU-10 Zuni Rocket Pod - Model Kits Review

1. Introduction
Basic information about the Zuni 5in (127mm) unguided rocket is available in Wikipedia: link
It was one of the mainstay weapons of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps strike aircraft of the 1960s and 1970s, finding wide use during the war in the Southeast Asia. Zuni rockets were carried and fired from two types of pods: two-shot LAU-33 pods were used only on the F-8 Crusaders, F-4 Phantoms and OV-10 Broncos, while four-shot LAU-10 pods can be carried by almost all types of the Navy and Marines combat-capable aircraft.
For a long time, Zuni rocket pods were overlooked by manufacturers of aftermarket add-ons, but recently a LAU-10 pod set was released by Eduard from Czech Republic.

2. Kits
I've picked a number of "representative" plastic LAU-10 pods from my collection of U.S. Navy / USMC aircraft model kits and compared them with the recent resin set made by Eduard. On the picture below the samples are marked as follows:
 a) Fujimi – A-4E/F Skyhawk kit # 25024 / F24, released circa 1987.
 b) Sword – TF-9J Cougar kit # 72101, released in 2017.
 c) Airfix – AV-8A Harrier kit # A04057, released in 2015.
 d) Academy – OV-10A Bronco kit # 12463, released in 1999.
 e) Eduard – LAU-10/A Zuni set # 672211, released in 2018.
Each of the listed kits, as well as the Eduard's set, gives you two pods.
And here are some measurements:
                  | L     | D    |
Fujimi        | 39.0 | 6.5 |
Sword       | 39.0 | 6.5 |
Academy  | 32.6 | 5.5 |
Airfix         | 33.9 | 5.8 |
Eduard      | 34.0 | 5.0 |
Reference | 33.5 | 4.9 |
In my table, "L" is the length of the pod, without protective caps, without rocket projectiles, in mm, in 1/72 scale; "D" is the external diameter of the pod. Reference data came from an official U.S, Navy manual (NAVWEPS OP 2210) and from a drawing which also appears to be a part of some official manual.

Before we proceed, let us state that neither of the reviewed items contains the frangible protective caps for the LAU-10 pods, and let us agree that this is not a drawback. Now, a few words about each of the items:
a) Fujimi kit.
First and foremost, the Fujimi's pods are significantly oversized: 5.5mm (16%) too long, 1.6mm (32%) too wide. Although the protruding rocket heads are good, the shape of the pod itself is simplified: absent are the "cuffs" on the front & rear ends and small holes on the front & rear faces. No decals are provided.

b) Sword kit.
In size and shape, the Sword's item is identical to the much earlier Fujimi's pod. Draw your own conclusions.
Compared to the Japanese variant, Sword has removed the convenient locator pins and added molding imperfections. No decals are provided.

c) Airfix kit.
This pod has nearly the right length, yet it is still too wide (0.9mm, 18%). Unfortunately, the tail plate of the Airfix pod is just a blank space, which is completely inaccurate. You can attempt to remedy this, but drilling four 1.76mm holes inside a 5mm circle, absolutely symmetrically, is not an easy task. Airfix, however, is the only plastic kit manufacturer in this selection that provides you with decals for the ordnance.

d) Academy kit.
This pod is completely inaccurate: the four rocket channels are two times smaller than they must be, making the whole item nearly unrecognizable.

e) Eduard set.
Positive aspects:
 - Very good accuracy and the level of detail.
 - Unlike the aforementioned plastic kits, this set allows the LAU-10 pod to be modelled in either loaded or empty configuration.
 - Rocket heads are provided separately which immensely simplifies their painting.
 - The pod's body is a single casting, so there is no need to fill and sand the longitudinal seam between the halves (an inherent shortcoming of most of the plastic kits).
 - Decals are included.
Negative aspects:
 - The tail plate for the pod in the loaded configuration is not entirely accurate. Eduard has correctly represented the four "crosses" of the rocket stabilizers, but look at the historical photographs. You will see a prominent round "button" (fin retainer cap) atop each of those "crosses", and this was omitted by Eduard.
 - It is regrettable that such bulky casting blocks are used to hold the pods' tail plates. The plates themselves are quite thin, and it is not very easy to saw them off the casting blocks, while ensuring that the cut is aligned with the plate surface.
 - The text on the decal can only be read with a magnifying glass, but if you do so you will see that it contains some gibberish, such as "explosladed rocket", "kt2000lbs", etc. Having browsed the Net, I saw that the same was true for the 1:32 scale LAU-10 set that Eduard has released in 2016. The 1:72 scale set came 2 years later, but they haven't corrected the decal.
 - The instructions tell you nothing regarding the painting of the protruding rocket warheads, leading you to believe that they are to be just as white as the rocket pod exterior (which they are not). I wouldn't consider this a drawback when reviewing a 1980s or 1990s plastic kit, but a brand like Eduard, and in the 2010s, is expected to be thorough in all aspects of their model kits and aftermarket items.

3. Conclusion
Although the recent set released by Eduard is not ideal, it is clearly the best thing available if you want to furnish your 1:72 scale model with LAU-10 Zuni rocket pods. The price is moderate (compared to the resin items of similar size on the market): at the manufacturer's site it's 161 Kč, which amounts to ~6.3 EUR.

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Zuni rocket in Wikipedia: link

30 April 2019

Grumman FF-1 Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Grumman FF-1
U.S. Navy. BuNo 9383 / 5F13. VF-5B.
USS Lexington (CV-2), 1934.

1.2. Story
In an everyday scene aboard the USS Lexington, an FF-1 of Fighting Squadron 5, positioned on the aft elevator platform, is being raised from the hangar to the flight deck. One flight deck crewman sits in the cockpit to control the brakes, while other men wait on the elevator edge, ready to manhandle the fighter onto appropriate spot on the flight deck. Another deck hand, not concerned with the VF-5B's activities, walks past with a torpedo-handling cart, apparently towards the torpedo-bombers positioned aft.

1.3. Model Kit
FF-1 from Special Hobby (kit # 72232), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
Overall, I believe the Special Hobby's FF-1 to be a good kit; its best features are as follows:
 - Very good overall accuracy (praises to Special Hobby for using historical data and not relying on walkaround pictures of the Canadian Car & Foundry G-23 airplane preserved at Pensacola).
 - External surfaces are smooth, with delicate recessed and raised (where appropriate) details.
 - The surfaces are not marred by dreadful bullet hole-style imitation of rivets that is an unfortunate characteristic of many aircraft model kits being produced now by Chinese and even some of the European manufacturers.
 - An excellently cast & detailed resin engine, a small set of photo-etched metal items (including the instrument panel) and a printed film for the instrument panel are already inside the box. You don't need to spend anything on aftermarket stuff.
 - Accurate decal, which is a rare occurrence with out-of-the-box decals.
But there are also some features that are not so good:
 - The most challenging subassembly of any biplane kit – the wing box, with its associated cabane struts and interplane struts – does not have any tabs and respective recesses to correctly position and align the parts. It is a pity that the Special Hobby's technology does not allow for a one-piece upper fuselage section with molded-in cabane struts, such as the one we see on an ancient SBC Helldiver kit by Heller.
 - The main wheel parts are inaccurate (tire profile too big).
 - It would have been better if the canopy was vacu-formed and not injected plastic: the sliding canopies were very rarely closed on the U.S. Navy biplanes of the 1930s, and replicating "stacked-on" canopy sections with thinner vacu-formed items is easier and more realistic.
I did not photograph the box contents – there are a couple of good reviews available on the Internet that include good photographs: link and link.

3. Construction
3.1. Building
The enhancements that I've made when building my model are as follows:
 1) The kit's resin engine is excellently detailed, beautifully cast and not over-engineered (like some of the aftermarket engines that require assembly from dozens of minuscule parts), but I still thought that adding the ignition wiring is worthwhile.
 2) A number of openings were cut out for more realism, such as various inlets and vent ports on the fuselage; cockpit steps; gun cartridge ejector openings; horizontal stabilizer technological cut-outs.
 3) Instead of relying on very small plastic tabs, I joined the lower wings and the horizontal stabilizer to the fuselage by means of drilling holes and inserting metal reinforcing rods. I also had to make recesses on the fuselage, the upper wing and the lower wing to accommodate the interplane struts and the cabane struts. Still, the process of assembling the biplane wing box has tested the very limits of my patience.
 4) Upper and lower wing hand grips imitated.
 5) The kit's inaccurate main wheels (see my comparison photograph) replaced with a set of better ones, copied from the Curtiss BFC-2 model kit by RS Models.
 6) Main landing gear linkages scratch-built from metal wire, as I considered the kit's plastic parts being too thick scale-wise.
 7) Machine gun barrels scratch-built from thin metal tubes (syringe needles).
 8) Scratch-built Pitot tube added to the port N-strut, scratch-built Venturi tube added to the starboard fuselage side, scratch-built gun sight added to replace the kit's indifferent plastic part.
 9) Canopy cut into sections to be positioned open (customary for the Navy's airplanes of the era, especially while on deck). In the end, I'm not entirely satisfied with how the resulting canopy sections look like in terms of their proportions, but creating a new, better shaped canopy from scratch was beyond my power.
 10) Clear external lights added (taken from very useful sets produced by a company named Elf), including:
   a) Landing light on the port lower fuselage.
   b) Coloured navigation lights on the upper wing tips.
   c) Coloured formation lights on the horizontal stabilizer leading edges (yes, they did exist; here's a good photo: link).
 11) All external bracing and antennae wire imitated.
The rear machine gun is of course modelled in the stowed position: it is only deployed in the air for combat training, or during maintenance (the trend with some of the modellers who love to show off everything deployed, raised or extended, regardless of the sense, is sad to observe).

3.2. Painting & Markings
As a prototype for my model I wanted an FF-1 covered by at least one good historical photograph, and therefore I selected the BuNo 9383 assigned to the VF-5B (here's the photo: link).
The top surface of the upper wing is Chrome Yellow. The True Blue color of the tailplane was assigned to the VF-5B squadron when it was based on the carrier USS Lexington, and the Willow Green trim marks the leader of the 5th section in the squadron. The fuselage is painted Naval Aircraft Grey, as prescribed by the Navy's directives of the time and as confirmed by historical photographs (thankfully, even a color photograph exists to prove this – see link). The rest of the airframe is painted Aluminium.
The national insignia and other markings came from the kit's decal sheet, which is accurate.

3.3. Presentation
My small diorama is intended to replicate a fragment of the USS Lexington, with the airplane being raised from the hangar to the flight deck on the after elevator platform.
1) My elevator well imitation is mostly sheet plastic. A number of small custom-made photo-etched items were used, such as the ladder and the tie-down eyes. Everything was built basing on the relatively scarce historical photographs (such as this one: link).
2) My flight deck crew figures came from CMK #72115, Hasegawa #X72-7, Fujimi #35001, Italeri #1246 and Airfix #1748 sets, with all of them undergoing some sort of modification to headgear or uniform (in fact, I had to make some resin copies first, as the original Italeri and Airfix figures, while being very good shape-wise, are made from some horrible polyethylene substance which is totally unworkable from the modelling perspective).
   a) Of course it would take more than three guys to manhandle an airplane, even a small 1930s fighter, but we will assume that the rest of the team is waiting just a couple of steps further from the elevator well edge and thus out of the scope of my little diorama.
   b) It may appear that the crewman in the pilot seat is sitting too high, with his head not clearing the canopy, but this is confirmed by historical photographs (link); apparently, the seat height on the FF-1 was adjustable.
3) The U.S. Navy period torpedo-carrying cart was scratch-built basing on historical photographs (such as this one: link).

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Grumman FF in Wikipedia: link
[2] Grumman Biplane Fighters in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 160 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996.
[3] Basic information on the USS Lexington (CV-2) in Wikipedia: link and original U.S. Navy plans of the ship (see the "General Plan" link there in the External Links section there).

5. Notes
5.1. When modelling a U.S. Navy FF-1, SF-1 or FF-2, do not put your trust into the present-day photographs of the airplane preserved at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola. That airplane is an ex-Nicaraguan Air Force G-23 manufactured by Canadian Car & Foundry, and it has a number of noticeable differences compared to the U.S. Navy's Grumman machines (e.g., different engine cowling, propeller and exhaust; chin intake; lack of nose-mounted landing light, etc.). The Special Hobby kit has all the respective details captured accurately.
As a sidenote, I must say I don't understand the logic of the museum workers. If you have a CC&F G-23 and want to leave it in its original configuration, then paint it in the historically correct markings of either the Royal Canadian or Nicaraguan Air Force! If, on the other hand, you want it painted and marked as a U.S. Navy Grumman FF-1 (much more "prestigious" markings, eh?), then you'd better convert it so that its configuration is correct for the Grumman FF-1. Aren't museums supposed to uphold historical accuracy? Why do we have to look at hybrids? But certainly the Pensacola's G-23 is not the worst example of this approach.

5.2. The U.S. Navy's True Blue and Willow Green seem to be rather "difficult" colors. Whenever you see respective artwork or color profiles, in books and magazines or elsewhere on the Internet, the representation of True Blue and Willow Green is nearly always wrong: either too light or too bright. The kit manufacturer's instructions are not to be trusted either: for instance, the Special Hobby's FF-1 manual advises C34 Sky Blue and C64 Yellow Green (Gunze Sangyo numbers), both rather questionable in this particular case. As always, historical photographs are your only true friends. It is a pity that very few color photographs from that era are available, yet they can be found. The blue can be very well seen here, and the green here.

5.3. I am afraid that my presentation of the USS Lexington's elevator well is only an approximation when it comes to some small detail. I did what I could, but there are simply not enough photographs available. Regretfully, books that describe the USS Lexington offer little help in this regard: they generally provide good descriptions of the ship's design and career, but when it comes to the visual side of the story – meaning the photographs – some of the authors appear to suffer from a kind of "battleship mindset". A case in point is the "Lexington Class Carriers" book by Classic Warship Publishing (author S.Wiper): apart from a number of general bird-eye views of the ship, there is not a single (!) photograph of any of the aviation facilities, such as the elevators, the arresting gear or the hangar deck, while on the other hand, there are ten (!) big photographs specifically showing the ship's silly 203mm gun turrets. Is it a book about an aircraft carrier or about a battleship, one is moved to ask? Clearly the author did visit some archives, and I refuse to believe that those did not contain photographs of the America's then biggest carrier's aviation facilities. The "Lexington, Saratoga" book by the Polish publisher "AJ-Press" is better in this regard, but still the pictures where the elevator wells can be seen provide few details for a comprehensive 1/72 scale model.

5.4. Publications on the Grumman FF-1 generally state that when it was selected by the U.S. Navy its performance was superior to any fighter in the Navy's service at the time. While this particular statement is true, it is hard not to compare the Grumman's biplane against its contemporaries from other countries and services, and thus to contemplate on how astonishingly conservative (if not retrograde) was the U.S. Navy of that time when it ordered its aircraft, given that at the very same time it possessed two of the most modern and most powerful aircraft carriers in the world.
I have compiled a small table which includes some representative monoplane fighters, operational and produced in quantities, that have been first flown and introduced within a very short time (no more than 2 years) of the FF-1 biplane. Unsurprisingly, we see substantial advantage of all monoplanes in maximum speed: keep in mind that in the 1930s the speed was arguably perceived as the paramount characteristic to judge a fighter plane, while other performance criteria, such as the range and the service ceiling, received much less attention.
Type                    | Country | F.f.        | EIS | MS
PZL P.11             | Poland   | Aug '31 |  '34 | 390
Grumman FF-1   | USA      | Dec '31 |  '33 | 333
Boeing P-26        | USA      | Mar '32 |  '34 | 377
Dewoitine D.500 | France  | Jun '32  |  '35 | 402
Polikarpov I-16    | USSR   | Dec '33 |  '34 | 454 (Type 5)
("F.f." stands for the date of the first flight; "EIS" stands for the year of entry into service; "MS" stands for maximum speed in km/h)

30 December 2018

Miscellaneous Ground & Carrier Deck Support Equipment Items

In this short article I am presenting another installment of my 1/72 models of miscellaneous ground support & carrier deck equipment items used by the U.S. Navy. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the Navy's GSE: I only model such items that I need for my present and future dioramas, and only those that I could collect sufficient historical information for.

Maintenance Platforms
Historical Information: These types of lightweight portable platforms were utilized for aircraft servicing and maintenance by all branches of the U.S. military.
Time period: 1940s-1950s.
Paint scheme: USN items typically ocean grey; sea blue and olive drab also possible.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Both items are scratch-built with the aid of custom-made photo-etched metal parts.

Tow Bar, Early Type
Historical Information: Employed to tow various types of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft on aircraft carriers as well as on shore stations.
Time period: Mid-1950s - 1960s.
Paint scheme: Orange yellow.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic.

A-4 Skyhawk Tiller Bar
Historical Information: When taxiing, steering on the U.S. Navy carrier-based jets was initially achieved through differentially applied main wheel brakes, and later by means of nose-wheel power steering. However, on a carrier deck a tiller bar, handled by a deck crewman, was often employed for more precise steering, especially when lining up with the catapult track (see more details in an article by Tommy H. Thomason: link). Different tiller bars were needed for different aircraft types.
Time period: 1960s.
Paint scheme: Orange yellow.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic and metal wire.

A-4 Skyhawk Starter Probe
Historical Information: Early models of the A-4 Skyhawks (specifically, the Wright J65-engined A-4A, A-4B and A-4C), unlike other U.S. Navy carrier-based jets of the period, utilized a very peculiar engine start arrangement: the engine had to be started mechanically by means of a rotating metal shaft inserted into a dedicated receptacle from the outside, and the shaft, in turn, was driven by compressed air obtained from a standard tractor-mounted jet start unit. The rather bulky but man-portable apparatus, made specifically for the early Skyhawks, was known as the "starter probe".
Time period: For as long as the said types remained in service (1955 - mid-1970s).
Paint scheme: Typically insignia red.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic and custom-made photo-etched metal parts.

Wheel Chocks
Historical Information: Many different types of aircraft wheel chocks were used by the U.S. Navy throughout the years; what I present here is only a small selection.
Time period: (A) – 1920s - 1930s; (B) – 1930s - 1940s; (C) – 1940s; (D) – 1940 - 1960s.
Paint scheme: Light grey, insignia red or orange yellow.
Photographic proof: (B) - photo; (C) - photo; (D) - photo
Model Details: Scratch-built from metal wire and plastic.

Tie-Down Chains
Historical Information: All aircraft on the U.S. Navy aircraft carriers are secured to the deck when not taxiing, taking off or landing. Tying down was initially done with stout ropes, but in the early 1960s, with the aircraft weight constantly increasing, metal chains came into use.
Time period: 1960s - present time.
Paint scheme: Chain links - invariably rusted metal; hook assemblies - natural metal, insignia red or orange yellow.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: A metal chain is not an easy object to model, and, from the accuracy perspective, the best way to imitate it would be to use a real chain. The chains I am showing here came from a company called Shipmodeling (Verf' na Stole), have 16 links per cm and are the smallest that I could find. However, these "real" chains are relatively expensive, and it is not easy to make such a chain tout, especially in a confined space under the wings or the belly of your 1/72 scale model. Photo-etched chains (mine came from a set by White Ensign Models #7209), while less realistic than the "real" chains, are therefore usable when you have to imitate an aircraft secured to the deck with multiple chains, or when the access is restricted.

14 May 2018

Grumman F2F-1 Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Grumman F2F-1
U.S. Navy. BuNo 9675 / 2F4. VF-2B.
NAS North Island, circa 1937.

1.2. Story
There is no particular story behind this small vignette. An F2F-1 of Fighting Squadron 2 is parked on the apron of a Naval Air Station, while two pilots are in conversation nearby.

1.3. Model Kit
F2F-1 from Attack Squadron (kit # 72068), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
This resin kit is an accurate and well detailed representation of the tiny Grumman F2F-1. My full review of the kit is available here: link

3. Construction
3.1. Building
First, some minor problems of the kit had to be corrected:
1) The too prominent rib running the whole length of the kit's belly was deleted; some minor details visible on the belly of the real aircraft were added.
2) Small gaps between the elevators and the fuselage, not present on the real aircraft, were rectified.

Then, although to some it may appear that the kit is well detailed out of the box, there is a number of items present on the real F2F-1 that are not in the kit, and therefore had to be scratch-built:
3) The kit's photo-etched pilot restraints were replaced with more historically accurate ones from an Eduard's generic set. This was the only improvement I've decided to make inside the cockpit.
4) Unusually for its time, the F2F-1 had movable horizontal stabilizer. Historical photographs show that in most cases a parked F2F-1 had its horizontal stabilizer in a negative angle of attack position, with the elevators drooped. Thus, this is the configuration that I replicated on my model.
5) Scratch-built trimmer added to the vertical stabilizer.
6) Oil cooler intake, carburettor exhaust and engine exhaust pipes drilled out.
7) Engine ignition wiring scratch-built (the kit's photo-etched part is, in my view, way too thick and contrasts unfavourably with the minuscule detailing of the engine itself).
8) Cockpit step and shell ejector chute openings cut out on the starboard side of the fuselage.
9) Scratch-built Pitot tube added to the port N-strut, scratch-built Venturi tube added to the starboard fuselage side.
10) Gun barrels scratch-built from thin metal tubes.
11) This tiny biplane possessed a sizeable collection of external lights, and all of those lights had to be scratch-built from clear plastic, including:
   a) Landing light on the port lower fuselage.
   b) Coloured navigation lights – two on the upper wing tips and two on the upper wing surface, plus one clear navigation light on the aft end of the tail cone.
   c) Five formation lights – one dorsal, two on the lower wing and two coloured ones on the horizontal stabilizer leading edges.
12) All external bracing and antennae wire imitated.
In addition,
13) A gun camera of the type seen on many Naval aircraft of that era, including "my" F2F-1 BuNo 9675, was scratch-built.

3.2. Painting & Markings
As a prototype for my model I wanted an aircraft covered by good historical photographs, with some hopefully in color. These criteria are met by the F2F-1 BuNo 9675 assigned to the VF-2B, and this is the variant that I selected.
The top surface of the upper wing is Chrome Yellow (note that the yellow overlaps the leading edge), while the Lemon Yellow tailplane designates a unit assigned to USS Lexington and Insignia White trim with thin black border marks the leader of the 2nd section in the squadron. A careful study of historical photographs (see source [3]) will tell you that this machine, as well as its stablemates, had its fuselage painted in silvery Aluminium Dope color and not in Naval Aircraft Grey, as prescribed by the Navy's earlier directives and as the kit's instructions advise. The rest of the airframe is also Aluminium Dope, and "my" BuNo 9675 appears to have had it polished to a natural metal-like shine (see historical photograph: link).

Unfortunately, the kit's decal is defective to the point of being totally unusable (colors are out of register, all elements are pixelized), so I designed the required letter & numeral decals in accordance with historical photographs and had them custom-printed. The national insignia came from a generic decal sheet by Techmod.

3.3. Presentation
The vignette base is sheet plastic. The pilot figures came from CMK # 72110 set and were slightly modified to make them Navy rather than Air Force guys.

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Grumman F2F in Wikipedia: link
[2] Grumman Biplane Fighters in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 160 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996.
[3] A collection of excellent historical photographs: link

5. Notes
5.1. In regards to the paint scheme, this particular kit's instruction sheet is not alone in suggesting an incorrect fuselage color. Even the massive monograph "US Navy & Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide" by the well-known author John M. Elliot says nothing about the fact that somewhere in the second half of the 1930s the prescription to paint all external metal & wood surfaces in Naval Aircraft Gray, very clearly given in the Navy's specification still applicable at that time (SR-15a), was de-facto abandoned, and that most of new aircraft types of that era had their fuselages painted in Aluminum Dope. There are many historical photographs that clearly show overall Aluminum fuselages on late 1930s and early 1940 USN planes; I am giving just a very small selection: SBC-3 (link), SOC/SON (link), F3F-2 (link), TBD-1 (link), BT-1 (link), SBD-1 (link), XFL-1 (link), XSB2C-1 (link), XF5F-1 (link).
Still, in many cases model kit manufacturers and modelers alike seem to be putting their trust in texts and not in actual historical photographs.

5.2. It amazes me how often you see modellers declare that they won't build resin model kits, implying that resin is the reason for that self-abstention. Scale modelling is a bit like madness, and surely there are multiple different kinds of this madness... Still, for me the key factor in any scale model is its accuracy; after accuracy, I value the level of detail and the quality of molding/casting. If the model is accurate and of good quality, then the medium – be it plastic or resin – is of no importance to me. Moreover, it is my view that a high-quality, well-designed resin kit would in many cases be easier – and not harder! – to build than a plastic model of the same or similar type of airplane. The Grumman F2F-1 kit by Attack Squadron is an excellent proof. Building this resin kit was immensely easier than building plastic kits of Grumman FF-1 and Grumman F3F-1 by Special Hobby and MPM respectively, all three being biplanes of the same size and layout. Here is just one example: where the Attack Squadron's resin kit parts had minuscule tabs and respective recesses to correctly position and align them, the two aforementioned plastic kits offered no such amenities for the most challenging subassembly of any biplane kit – the wing box, with its associated cabane struts and interplane struts.