26 December 2021

Grumman XF5F-1 Skyrocket Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Grumman XF5F-1 Skyrocket
Prototype carrier-based fighter (information in Wikipedia)
U.S. Navy. BuNo 1442.
Grumman factory, Bethpage, USA, 1940.

1.2. Story
The XF5F-1 is being prepared for yet another test flight at the Grumman factory airfield. Its pilot is already in the cockpit. A ground crewman is standing by, close to the factory's improvised fire engine, a Cushman scooter.

1.3. Model Kit
XF5F-1 Skyrocket from MPM (kit # 72022), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Review
My detailed review of the MPM's kit is available here.

3. Construction
3.1. Building
Although the accuracy of the kit is more or less acceptable out of the box, it really lacks details and requires quite a lot of wok to get a realistically looking model. I have added the following fully scratch-built items:
 1) Landing gear well interior. This was "guessworked", as no historical photographs are available.
 2) Landing gear legs and struts. 
 3) Landing gear door interior and hinges.
 4) Propeller hubs.
 5) Instrument panel and cockpit interior.
 6) Fuselage downward-vision window.
 7) Catapult bridle hooks.
 8) Clear external lights, including:
   a) Clear white dorsal and rear navigation lights.
   b) Red and green navigation lights – two wingtip ones plus two on the upper wing surface.
   c) Landing light and approach light on the starboard wing.
Then, bringing the model to a "definitive" short-nose XF5F-1 version required the following modifications to be done:
 9) Fuselage-to-wing fillets added.
 10) Rudder hinge lines revised (from straight ones to stepped ones).
 11) One long side-mounted exhaust stack per engine replaced with 9 smaller exhaust stacks.
 12) Small air intakes removed from the engine cowlings' lower lips.

Finally, a bit of aftermarket had to be added.
 13) This came in the form of two resin R-1820 engines from a set by QuickBoost (# 72059). I know that, technically, these engines are of the "wrong" version, but anything would be better than the sad pieces of plastic that came with the kit.

3.2. Painting & Markings
The top surface of the wing is Chrome Yellow (note that the yellow overlaps the leading edge). A careful study of historical photographs will tell you that this machine had its fuselage painted in Aluminium color and not in Naval Aircraft Grey, as prescribed by the Navy's official directives. The rest of the airframe is also Aluminium. The national insignia decals came from a generic sheet by Techmod, and the identification number decals are from various leftovers.

3.3. Presentation
There is a couple of well-known historic photographs that show the XF5F-1 on the Grumman factory field, sitting on the concrete in front of a hangar, being readied for a flight. It is this setup that I decided to replicate. So my diorama base and the fragment of that hangar front face were scratch-built from sheet plastic in accordance with those photographs.

The seated pilot figure is from a set # 721120 made by PJ Productions. Despite the name of that set ("US Pilots Seated WW2"), the figures' headgear is totally wrong for the period. I had to find a new head, and that came from an excellent set of standing USN pilot figures produced by CMK of Czech Republic (# 72115). The ground crewman figure is from another good CMK set (# 72110).

Cushman delivery scooters customized as "very light" fire engines have been in use on the Grumman's factory field: see this historical photograph. I scratch-built this tiny vehicle and added it to my little diorama.

4. Reference Data
[1] General information on the XF5F in Wikipedia: link
[2] Grumman XF5F-1 & XP-50 Skyrocket | Naval Fighters Series # 31 | Ginter Books, 1995.
[3] Grumman F7F Tigercat | Famous Airplanes of the World Series # 100 | Bunrin-Do, 1978.
[4] Grumman F7F Tigercat | Monografie Lotnicze Series # 1 | AJ-Press, 1991.

21 June 2021

North American T-2C Buckeye Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
North American T-2C Buckeye
Carrier-capable jet training aircraft (information in Wikipedia)
U.S. Navy. BuNo 159726 / B340. VT-23 squadron.
NAS Kingsville, USA, 1982.

1.2. Story
A T-2C of Training Squadron 23 is being prepared for a routine training flight, with a ground crewman operating the NC-8A mobile power unit to start the Buckeye's engine.

1.3. Model Kit
T-2C Buckeye from Wolfpack Design (kit # 10005), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
The T-2C produced by Wolfpack Design from Korea is a very good kit. Its key features include very good overall accuracy, high quality of moulds and commendable level of out-of-the-box detail.
Yet there are some minor flaws that have to be addressed:
- The main wheel hubs are not especially accurate and the nose wheel is moulded as one piece with the gear leg, which is unrealistic.
- Unfortunately, no intake trunks are provided, and the fit between the intakes themselves and the fuselage is less than ideal.
- The joint between the wing and the fuselage is weak: the plastic tabs are too small and do nothing to provide the wing with the correct dihedral.

3. Construction
3.1. Building
This is the list of enhancements that I have added to what was in the box:
 1) Various fuselage inlets and vents were cut out (dark wash would not suffice to realistically imitate these, in my view), with interior imitated where visible through the larger ones.
 2) Instrument panels and ejection seats were detailed with the photo-etched metal set produced by Eduard (set #73534). The set is good, and it renders an expensive after-market resin cockpit unnecessary (the Eduard's PE set is not cheap either, but it helps to detail the whole of the airframe and not just the cockpit).
 3) Still, the interior area between the two seats needs more detailing: canopy lifting arm, canopy defrosting system piping and some electrical stuff at the back of the rear cockpit instrument panel were scratch-built.
 4) Instead of relying on very small plastic tabs, I installed a metal spar to ensure the firm attachment between the wings and the fuselage.
 5) Engine exhaust area was detailed with scratch-built metal tubes (I don't know their purpose but they are clearly seen on all T-2C photos).
 6) The nose landing gear leg was rebuilt, with scratch-built metal oleo, photo-etched scissor link and tie-down rings (Eduard) and resin wheel (ResKit set #72-0124).
 7) Main landing gear was similarly detailed with metal oleos, photo-etched scissor links and tie-down rings and resin wheels (ResKit).
 8) As usual, external lights require quite a lot of attention:
   a) clear landing light is fine out of the box;
   b) clear red ventral anti-collision light was scratch-built;
   c) carrier approach lights cluster, located on the port wing leading edge, had to be scratch-built too;
   d) and the clear red anti-collision light, very prominently located at the vertical stabilizer leading edge, also had to be scratch-built;
   e) scratch-built clear white navigation light was added to the vertical stabilizer fairing;
   f) two navigation light cluster on each of the wingtip tanks are the most complicated of all: when you look at the photos of the real thing very closely, you can see that (for whatever reason) each of the two clusters contains two lights – green and red; the items are very small, so I tried to imitate this feature as best as I could.
 9) Some scratch-built details were added to wingtip tanks: fuel level check windows; fuel dump outlets at their aft ends.
 10) Scratch-built fuel dump pipe was added to the vertical stabilizer fairing.
 11) The Buckeye possesses an unusually perforated tailhook. Assembling the Eduard's photo-etched parts is tricky, but the effect is worth the effort.
 12) Scratch-built "bulges" (antennae?) added to the intake lips.
Flaps are in neutral position and speed brakes are, of course, closed, as it must be on a parked Buckeye in normal conditions.

3.2. Painting & Markings
My Buckeye model carriers the International Orange over Insignia White camouflage scheme, typical for the Navy's training aircraft of the period. Miscellaneous markings are all done in accordance with historical photographs and include jet intake lips, wing tanks inner sections, anti-glare panel and canopy "mask" painted black, and landing gear door edges painted Insignia Red.
The Wolfpack kit provides nice decals. However, I wanted to have a smart-looking black-masked aircraft of VT-23, and therefore I used a couple of items from the Two Bobs decal # 72089 sheet (obtained a long time ago when the only available Buckeye kit was the elderly Matchbox, with fatally "yellowed" decals), and some from a generic decal sheet produced by Techmod.

3.3. Presentation
The presentation of this model is very simple; it includes the following:
 1) The diorama base is sheet plastic, painted by myself in accordance with historical photographs of the Buckeyes seen on the ramp of NAS Kingsville.
 2) The NC-8A mobile power unit is a kit produced by F4Models (cat. # 7025). This purpose-built land-based vehicle, designed to provide external electric power to aircraft for pre-flight or maintenance purposes, was in service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the early 1970s until the late 1990s and powered many types of aircraft, including the T-2 Buckeye.
 3) The ground crewman figure came from a CMK set (# 72117).
 4) A hand-held or a cart-mounted fire extinguisher is a common sight on any Naval Air Station. Photographs of NAS Kingsville indicate that there the fire extinguishers were kept in small wire-mesh boxes. The box is scratch-built, while the fire extinguisher is from Aerobonus set (# 720013).

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the T-2 Buckeye in Wikipedia: link, including a good set of historical photographs: link.
[2] North American T-2 Buckeye | Naval Fighters Series # 15 | Ginter Books, 1987.
[3] More galleries with good historical photographs of the U.S. Navy T-2 Buckeyes: link, link.

5. Notes
5.1. In the main text, I said that the Wolfpack kit tabs for attaching the wings to the fuselage are weak. But at least they exist. Whereas on virtually every 1:72 scale plastic airplane model kit produced in the Czech Republic (excepting kits coming from Eduard) there is no provision whatsoever to attach the wing & horizontal stabilizer to the fuselage. I wonder why is this so? What exactly is so deficient in the technology being used by most of the Czech firms that prevents them from making an opening in the fuselage and a corresponding protruding tab on the other part, so that a modeller is not forced to resort to guesswork and scratchbuilding in such a basic operation as a wing / horizontal stabilizer to fuselage joint?
Don't get me wrong, I like model kits made in Czech Republic: they tackle many exotic and lesser known subjects, a number of their model kits are quite accurate, and some are very well detailed. But why can't they do this seemingly very simple thing? It is all the more puzzling because other types of openings – such as fuselage windows, inlets and exhausts, landing gear bay cutouts – are somehow "allowed" by their technology, as can be clearly seen on my comparison photo.

6 August 2020

Vought F5U-1N Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Vought F5U-1N
Hypothetical operational fighter variant of an experimental aircraft of unconventional design (information in Wikipedia)
U.S. Marine Corps. VMF(N)-513 squadron.
Republic of Korea, 1950..51.

1.2. Story
The hypothesis behind my model (and attendant diorama) is as follows. Let us suppose that the XF5U-1 did manage to make its first flight in early 1947, before the project cancellation directive from the Navy, and its performance was sufficiently promising for the Navy to place a small order with Vought. The testing was hastened, the teething problems were addressed, and the weirdly-shaped little airplane went into serial production as the F5U-1 day- and F5U-1N night-fighter. By that time the Navy was convinced that it didn't need its escort carriers (whose shorter flight decks the F5U was intended for) anymore and was more interested in jets, but the excellent STOL characteristics of the F5U have made it appealing to the Marines, who were supposed to be able to operate from rough and inevitably short airstrips near their landing beaches. Thus (just as it was in real life with other aircraft types ordered but not really wanted by the Navy) the whole batch of produced F5Us was handed over to the Marine Corps Aviation. Once there, some found their way into the night fighter squadron 513 (VMF(N)-513), which was already operating a mix of different types, and then went on to serve in the Korean War.
My small diorama shows a VMF(N)-513 machine waiting for some maintenance on a field base somewhere in the Republic of Korea.

1.3. Model Kit
XF5U-1 from Hasegawa (kit # 51563 / SP63), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
My detailed review of this kit is available here.

3. Construction
3.1. Building

The enhancements that I have added to what was in the box can be divided into three categories. Firstly, we have to improve upon the minor shortcomings of the kit and to add some of the details that can be seen on the existing photographs of the XF5U-1:
 1) The kit's landing gear wells are too shallow: the wheels do not fit inside. Therefore all three wheel wells were deepened.
 2) Landing gear legs got better detailing: oleos, brake lines (thin wire), scissor links and tie-down rings (photo-etched metal).
 3) Main wheels hubs were replaced with custom-made PE metal item for better accuracy.
 4) Engine cooling air exit flaps, scratch-built from metal foil, are modelled in the open position.
 5) Prominent balance weights on the elevons (which Vought called "ailavators") were scratch-built, as the kit's items are too thick scale-wise.
 6) Scratch-built elevon trim tab hinges and actuators from thin metal replaced the kit't overly thick items.
 7) Ventral wire aerial was imitated, as usual, with stretched plastic.
 8) Clear external lights added, including:
   a) Clear white dorsal, ventral and rear navigation lights.
   b) Red and green navigation lights on the port and starboard elevons.
   c) Circular blue formation lights on both elevons, upper and lower sides.

Secondly, some guesswork is inevitably required to detail those areas for which no historical photographs are available:
 9) A number of "guessworked" details were added to the landing gear well interior, including the landing gear door actuators.
 10) I have fashioned the cockpit interior using some "quotes" from another Vought product – the F4U-5N Corsair. As for the instrument panel, I have designed it basing on the drawings from source [2], and had it custom-made in photo-etched metal.

Lastly, I've made a number of modification to make the model look like a hypothetical operational fighter:
 11) Scratch-built pilot ejection seat was added to the cockpit; its design was inspired by the Vought ejection seat installed in their F6U-1 Pirate (see more on my rationale in the Notes section).
 12) Vought's initial design provided for a fixed armament of either six 12.7mm machine guns or four 20mm guns. Considering the armament of the Navy's other front-line fighters of the period, the operational F5U would have certainly had the 20mm cannons, not the machine guns. I have installed the barrels made of thin syringe tubes, but – being in deep recesses – they are not visible on the finished model.
 13) Obviously, a gunsight was also needed. I have scratch-built one, again taking the F4U-5N Corsair as a reference.
 14) Vought's design provided for two hard points under the central fuselage. I decided that my model will carry one standard 150 gallon external fuel tank. The basic plastic parts were "donated" by the ancient Bearcat kit from Novo, and then some scratch-built details were added to make the tank more accurate.
 15) Another hard point on my model is occupied by the AN/APS-4 radar pod (see more on my rationale in the Notes section). This item I had to create from scratch.
 16) I don't think that the clear nose cone, seen on the XF5U-1 prototype, is functional; it does not make much sense on an operational fighter. So I had it painted over, with clear windows left for the landing light and the gun camera that were housed under the nose cone according to sources [2] & [3].

This is the first model where I have, mostly for the sake of amusement, counted all of the parts. Here is the result:
- The Hasegawa kit contained 75 parts, of which I have used 45.
- 6 photo-etched metal items were custom-made for this model.
- Another 57 parts were obtained from my box of spares; this mostly included various small items from surplus photo-etched metal detail sets, but also some unused plastic parts from my old model kits.
- Conversely, only 2 parts from ready-made aftermarket sets have found their way into this model (clear navigation lights).
- Finally, a total of 186 parts were entirely scratch-made, using plastic, metal wire, metal foil and paper.
This gives the grand total of 296.

3.2. Painting & Markings
The camouflage scheme is straightforward: for the period, it is Sea Blue overall. However, as we do not know how the various internal areas of a hypothetical operational F5U would have been painted, I decided to use the its stablemate, the Vought F4U-5 Corsair, as an analogy: these birds would have been is service during more or less the same timeframe. Therefore, on my model,
- Instrument panel and side consoles are flat black.
- Cockpit interior (including the area beneath the canopy), landing gear well interior and landing gear door inner sides are Interior Green.
- Landing gear legs and wheel hubs are Sea Blue.
Photographs of VMF(N)-513 F4U-5Ns helped me to define the set of markings and their fonts. But considering the F5U's unconventional shape, the placement of markings is, of course, different. In this case, a much later Vought F7U-3 Cutlass could serve as a partial analogy: just as the F5U, it did not have anything in the way of aft fuselage sides, and so the service name and the squadron designation went onto the vertical stabilizers below the tail codes, while the Bureau number and aircraft type text block was put onto the forward fuselage.
All of my markings decals were custom-printed, while the national insignia decals came from a generic decal sheet produced by Techmod.

3.3. Presentation
1) My small diorama is intended to replicate a fragment of the pierced-steel planking (PSP) airfield surface, typical for the U.S. air bases in the Republic of Korea. The base came from Eduard and was trimmed a little bit.
2) I have added several ground support equipment items, the presence of which on the Marine Corps air bases in the theater is confirmed by historical photographs. These include a manually operated maintenance crane, a maintenance platform, wheel chocks, a tool box and a fire extinguisher. The fire extinguisher comes from Aires/AeroBonus (set #720013); the rest of the items I have designed myself and had them custom-made in photo-etched metal.
3) The ground crewmen figures came from Hasegawa (set #X72-6) and Matchbox (from their old P-70 kit).

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the XF5U in Wikipedia: link
[2] Chance-Vought V-173 and XF5U-1 Flying Pancakes | Naval Fighters Series # 21 | Ginter Books, 1992
[3] XF5U-1 Illustrated Assembly Breakdown | Chance Vought Aircraft, 1945
[4] I do not pretend to author the idea of giving a hypothetical operational F5U to the Marines of the VMF(N)-513: this model build article has served as an inspiration.

5. Notes
5.1. The XF5U-1 had a conventional pilot seat, and that was acceptable for a prototype. For an operational F5U, however, an ejection seat would have been a must: given the F5U's peculiar shape, the pilot would have had practically no chance to survive a conventional egress in an emergency. In the late 1940s, many aircraft manufacturers worked on their own variants of ejection seats (here's a reminder: the first ever aircraft equipped with an ejection seat, the Heinkel He 280, flew in September 1940, and the first operational aircraft to have an ejection seat, the Heinkel He 219, entered service in 1943), and Vought was no exception: their F6U Pirate jet fighter, first flown in October 1946, had a Vought-designed ejection seat. I hypothesized that the operational F5U, as it would have been in development during the same timeframe as the Pirate, would have had a similar ejection seat.

5.2. Since the later half of the World War II and until the mid-1950s the externally mounted AN/APS-4 radar pod was seen on many Naval aircraft types. These include F6F-3E and -5E Hellcat; TBM-3 Avenger (-3E, -3N, -3Q, -3S variants); SB2C-3..-5 Helldiver; SC-1 Seahawk; AM-1 Mauler and AD-1...4 Skyraider. Obviously, this radar pod was very adaptable, and it was in considerable demand in the years before the widespread adoption of internally mounted radars. There are also enough photographs to confirm that the AN/APS-4 was used operationally on the AD Skyraider during the Korean War. Therefore, I saw no reason why my hypothetical operational F5U-1N couldn't be equipped with this radar pod.
Interestingly, on many aircraft of the types I am listing above the radar pods were white, even though the airframes themselves were Sea Blue overall. On my model I am replicating this painting curiosity as well.
When building my model, I had hopes to source the radar pod from some of the old kits in my possession. This didn't work, though: while two of my old kits – the Airfix SB2C Helldiver and the Ace AM-1 Mauler – did have the pod, both of the items in question were oversized. Thus I had to resort to scratch-building.

5.3. Just as most aircraft do, the weird-shaped Vought F5U has a collection of external lights: the navigation lights, the position / formation lights and the landing light. And, as it is customary with practically all aircraft kits in the 1:72 scale, the model kit manufacturer provides no clear parts to imitate the said lights. For a long time, the "common wisdom" of scale aircraft modelling has been to paint the respective areas of the plastic parts clear red or clear green over silver and leave it at that. But to me, this approach is unsatisfactory: whatever the paint color, a solid piece of plastic will never be a realistic imitation of transparent plexiglas cap that covers a lighting fixture. Therefore, I always try to take the trouble to scratch-build (or source, if appropriate aftermarket items can be found) the transparent shapes to imitate the lights. I think that this small selection of photo fragments of my previous models gives a decent proof that it's worth the effort.

5.4. It is very sad to see how Hasegawa is virtually abandoning the segment of aircraft model kits. Once, Hasegawa was a byword for quality and finesse. Their aircraft kits were prized and treasured, and many have held the distinction of being "the very best of" a given subject for many years.
Quality is still present in their kits, but there does not seem to be any progress. Their newest kits do not offer any visible improvement in terms of detail, finesse and engineering over those dating from the 1980s or the 1990s. Other manufacturers (from such diverse countries as Czechia, Poland, UK, PRC, Russia, Ukraine) are now way ahead of Hasegawa.
And quantities decline too: during the last two decades, since 2000 till 2020, Hasegawa has released just 16 new tooled 1:72 scale aircraft kits, whereas Airfix, for instance, has released 61 during the same period. 
These days Hasegawa regularly releases cars, fantasy/anime subjects and female figures – presumably, to cater for their local market. When it comes to aircraft kits, what we mostly see are just re-releases of some of their old kits with new decals.

28 April 2020

Vought F-8E Crusader Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Vought F-8E Crusader
Carrier-based fighter / fighter-bomber (information in Wikipedia)
U.S. Marine Corps. BuNo 149196 / DB16. VMF(AW)-235 squadron.
Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam, 1967.

1.2. Story
An F-8E Crusader of the U.S. Marines squadron VMF(AW)-235 sits in a revetment at Da Nang airbase, Republic of Vietnam. The ground crew, operating the mobile electrical power unit and the compressed air engine starter, prepare the plane for the next routine close air support mission of the war.

1.3. Model Kit
F-8E Crusader from Academy (kit # 1615), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
The F-8E Crusader kit by Academy from Korea is well-known and has been reviewed many times. In my view, it is an excellent kit. Its key features include:
 - Very good overall accuracy.
 - Exceptional quality of moulds. 
 - Smooth external surfaces with delicate recessed panel lines, not marred by dreadful bullet hole-style imitation of rivets (which is an unfortunate characteristic of many aircraft model kits being produced now by Chinese and even some of the European manufacturers).
 - Very good level of detail out-of-the-box, including things that not many manufacturers will give you in this scale (intake trunk; decent details inside the cockpit and landing gear wells; provision for raised variable incidence wing and extended leading edge slats).
 - Clever engineering of parts which have their positions and angles pre-defined by convenient tabs and respective recesses.
 - Accurate decal for both of the provided variants, which is a rare occurrence with out-of-the-box decals.
The only noticeable accuracy problem of the Academy's kit is the windscreen center section being too wide. Alas, this cannot be corrected.

3. Construction

3.1. Building
This is the list of enhancements that I have added to what was in the box.
First, there's the matter of configuration:
 1) The Crusader's variable angle of incidence wing is a unique feature: there's no other plane like this. So it must be showcased. The Academy's kit has a provision for placing the wing in the raised position; but if you follow the instruction manual you will have the wing rotated along an entirely wrong axis. To get the matters right, a relatively easy correction is required: the innermost edge of the flaps must be moved further from the fuselage. I have also detailed the area of the fuselage that becomes visible when the wing is in the raised position.
 2) When the Crusader's wing is in the raised position, the leading edge slats on both the inner and the outer sections droop. The kit gives you these slats as separate parts, but to accurately show the slats as extended you must modify the plastic parts.
 3) Whenever a Crusader has been parked for some time, both the ailerons and the flaps typically fall down – you can see it on the majority of historical photographs. Deflected ailerons and flaps were imitated with reference to such photographs.
 4) Historical photographs indicate that Marine Corps Crusaders, when parked in revetments, had their wings folded to save space. As I intended to present my model in a typical SEA revetment, I cut the wing and imitated the wingfold mechanism details. But whether you fold the outer wing panels or not, the plastic bumps on the upper side of the wing at the fold line must be removed: they are one of the very few inaccuracies of the Academy's kit.
Then, to get an accurately looking F-8E you have to add a number of details – either simply too small to be molded in plastic, or just omitted in the kit:
 5) Cockpit interior was detailed with the photo-etched metal set produced Eduard from Czech Republic (set #73227). This is a very useful set, but be aware that the angled gunsight screen, provided both in the Eduard's detail set and in the kit, must not be installed: it was not present on the E-model Crusader.
 6) Area immediately behind the cockpit, visible when the canopy is raised, was enriched with some scratch-built detail.
 7) Landing gear wells, doors and legs are quite nice out of the box. Nevertheless, the aforementioned Eduard's set gives even more useful details there, such as tie-down rings, scissor links, brake lines and door actuators. The highly visible nose landing gear leg received a scratch-built oleo made from a common nail.
 8) An indentation for the catapult bridle attachment is omitted in the kit and had to be scratch-built.
 9) Most of the fuselage vents are beautifully molded in the Academy's plastic. The only one that must be corrected is the large exhaust on the starboard side in front of the wing: the kit gives you two smaller vents, while the F-8E has a single slightly slanted vent.
 10) Afterburner cooler air intakes were replaced with resin aftermarket items produced by Quickboost (set #72107).
 11) Pitot tube was replaced with a finer one, a metal aftermarket item produced by Master-Model from Poland (set #72049).
 12) The Crusader possesses quite a collection of external lights which requires attention:
  a) two navigation lights on each of the wing tips (scratch-built);
  b) red fuselage anti-collision lights, dorsal and ventral (kit items);
  c) clear circular navigation lights on both sides of the vertical stabilizer (scratch);
  d) landing light on the port main landing gear door (scratch);
  e) carrier approach lights cluster on the nose landing gear door (scratch);
  f) red in-flight refueling probe illumination light, starboard side beneath the canopy (scratch);
  g) rectangular orange-colored formation lights, two on each side of the fuselage (decals).
 13) My intention was to position the canopy open, and that meant that the cockpit steps must be extended. There are three in total, all scratch-built.
 14) Since I intended to present my airplane as being prepared for a mission, the doors for external power socket and engine starter receptacle had to be cut out and positioned open.
 15) The kit's weapon pylons are good, but do not forget to add small braces to the fuselage Y-pylons (typically quite hard to notice, but visible on this photograph).
Finally, there's the weapon load:
 16) The kit's twin Zuni rocket launchers are good, but I replaced the rocket heads with the more accurate ones taken from the Eduard's resin set #672211. The separate heads are easier to paint, too.
 17) I used the kit's MER ordnance racks and added some bits of scratch-built details.
 18) The two MERs were loaded with 8 Mk.82 Snakeye bombs. These exquisitely detailed resin items are manufactured by North Star Models: see my review of Snakeye bomb sets available in the 1:72 scale, and avoid the horrible Snakeye sets from the manufacturer Kora.
 19) Historical photographs indicate that, during their SEA service, Marine Crusaders stood "on alert" with bomb fuses and rocket warheads in place. In such situations the conspicuous "Remove Before Flight" tags on each item of ordnance are necessary. 

3.2. Painting & Markings
It would seem that the U.S. Navy's standard camouflage scheme of the period, the Light Gull Grey over Insignia White, is something not very difficult to achieve. That is true, but there are many small items on the real F-8E that are not of the base color and should not be overlooked.
This is a short list of painting particulars for "my" BuNo 149196 (asterisks mark statements that may not be true for all Crusaders; for any other BuNo / time period you should carry out your own research):
- Aluminum: wing slat leading edges, horizontal stabilizer and vertical stabilizer leading edges, pitot tube.
- Insignia Red: landing gear door edges; speed brake inner side; *wing center section's forward bulkhead.
- Insignia White: landing gear wells; speed brake well; interior details visible when the wing is in the raised position and when the outer wing panels are folded; *topmost part of the vertical stabilizer leading edge.
- Flat black: *radome; *anti-glare panel; *windshield framing; *areas around gun apertures.
- Bare metal (titanium): *engine exhaust nozzle; *fuselage area immediately beside the horizontal stabilizer.
- Dark grey: *antenna panel, bottom forward fuselage; *horizontal stabilizer walkways.

The VMF(AW)-235 colorful unit markings are from Microscale decal #7286 that was obtained a long time ago for this very purpose. In my case, the sheet was crumbling. Foreseeing this, I covered it with a coat of Tamiya varnish, and in the end this 30+-year old decal went very well. On the other hand, the Academy's decal was an unpleasant surprise: it is as stiff as the Scotch tape, does not conform to curved surfaces, does not react to Microset / Microsol liquids. Only very small items from this decal sheet could be used, such as some technical stenciling.

3.3. Presentation
 1) My small diorama is intended to replicate a fragment of the pre-fabricated corrugated metal revetment that was such a typical feature of American airbases during the war in South East Asia. The diorama base is sheet plastic, painted to imitate the ubiquitous concrete field. The revetment walls are resin items produced by a small British company called USAFLine (set #72-601), and the earth filler is imitated by using something as trivial as coffee.
 2) External electric power for pre-flight purposes comes from the NC-5A mobile power unit, a purpose-built land-based vehicle in wide use by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s. The kit is produced by F4Models (cat. # 7024). Although yellow is a more common color for the ground support equipment, available historical photos from Da Nang and other SEA airbases indicate that some variety did exist. In accordance with these photos, my NC-5A is painted Field Green and the Douglas air-start unit is Sea Blue.
 3) Compressed air for starting the jet engine is provided by the Douglas air-start unit. This is also a kit made by F4Models (cat. # 7019). 
 4) Two ground crewmen are busy with the GSE. The figures came from Hasegawa #X72-7 and Italeri #1246 sets with some custom modifications (in fact, I had to make some resin copies first, as the original Italeri figures, while being very good shape-wise, are made from some horrible polyethylene substance which is unworkable from the modelling perspective).

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the F-8 Crusader in Wikipedia: link
[2] Vought F-8 Crusader in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 70 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1985.
[3] F-8 Crusader Walk Around | Walk Around Series # 38 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 2005.
[4] F-8D, F-8E Aircraft NATOPS Flight Manual | Naval Air Systems Command, 1964-1968.
[5] Vought F-8 Crusader Part 1 | Naval Fighters Series # 16 | Ginter Books, 1988.

5. Notes
5.1. Some may say that my rendering of the revetment area looks too tidy. Did I get lazy? No. In fact, I have analyzed dozens of historical photographs of the Da Nang airbase, and of the Marine Corps aircraft revetments therein. These photographs prove that inside the revetments with the operational aircraft there was normally no surplus equipment or tools, nor any other paraphernalia. Arguably, visual clutter such as extra tools and equipment makes an aviation diorama more alive, but in this case I had to adhere to the historic truth, not to a cliché.

5.2. For this model, I have also purchased a Multiple Ejector Rack (MER) set #672119 produced by Eduard. Regrettably, it has turned out that the Eduard's rendering of the MER cannot be used: it appears to be undersized, and the Mk.82 bombs simply do not fit under it in tandem, as they are supposed to do. I am visualizing this on my comparison picture, with the Academy's kit part and an item from the weapon set by Hasegawa (#35001) shown alongside.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find any reliable information on the real (1:1) MER dimensions on the Net. But there are enough good side-on photographs of Corsairs and Intruders with MERs (and all types of applicable ordnance for that matter) to derive the approximate length of the rack and to understand that Eduard is wrong, while Academy and Hasegawa are right.

When searching for information on the MER, I found that apparently there have been at least two versions: first, A/A37B-6, and second, BRU-41/A, also known as the improved MER (IMER). So...Could it be that the later, improved variant is shorter than the original version, and is only designed to handle something smaller than the old Mk82, like the newfangled Small Diameter Bomb?... And, if this is the case, did Eduard model this hypothetically shorter variant, without mentioning it anywhere on the label / instruction sheet? I cannot answer these questions now. But even if the Eduard's set does represent some variant of the MER accurately, you still cannot use it to hang Mk.82 bombs or Mk.20 canisters under your model to get that mean Vietnam War or Gulf War era look.

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
Target controller variant of the carrier-based fighter (information in Wikipedia)
U.S. Navy. BuNo 121724 / XB41. VX-2 squadron.
In the air off NAS Chincoteague, USA, 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.