6 August 2020

Vought F5U-1N Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Vought F5U-1N, hypothetical operational variant
U.S. Marine Corps. VMF(N)-513.
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.

28 April 2020

Vought F-8E Crusader Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Vought F-8E Crusader
U.S. Marine Corps. BuNo 149196 / DB16. VMF(AW)-235.
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
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:
 - 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)