A Round Tuit

It’s big, it’s heavy and it’s been this way for maybe 15 years. Testors F/A-18 Hornet. 

Well, it’s been a fun semester. So much fun that I didn’t write half the things I intended, well, not in here anyway.  The World History:  Military Aviation course at PSU was a lot of fun.  I gave my presentation on the TSR-2 on the very last day of dead week.  We had presentations on the B-24,  C-130, F4U Corsair and the Sopwith Camel from the other students. John Daley told us about the A6M2 Zero as well. We had a good time talking about the late James Stokesbury’s  book A Short History of Air Power and we had some frank discussions about errors, omissions and possible sub-editing.

As you may have gathered, inspired by all of this I did make a couple of models while I was on the course.   Not only the TSR-2 and B-24 but also an F-111, all in 1:144 scale.  The F-111 fitted with my narrative on the TSR-2 story quite well. One day I want to do a little more research on the fascinating political history of the TFX / F-111 and the number of times the Convair / General Dynamics plant in Fort Worth has been at the center of  some degree of controversy.

Emboldened by all this, I went to visit a site in the house which has been more or less undisturbed for quite a while.  This is the place where I put down the Testors F/A-18 Hornet in about 2003, thinking “I’ll get around to finishing it some day.”

I bought it in the Joplin branch of Hobby Lobby ages ago. It was on sale for a ridiculously small amount of money.  It’s big and it’s heavy, being mostly made of die-cast metal.  You can see from the kitchen scale picture it weighs two pounds and three quarters of an ounce (928.44714 grams) in its current state. I started putting it together and as you can see filled in some of the more egregious gaps in the nose.  And that was where it stopped. “Oh, I’ll get around to it.”  The human condition in a nutshell.

I have the box in which it came.  It’s empty. I use it to hold a few assembled models.  I do not seem to have any of the remaining bits. No ejector seat, no undercarriage doors, no underwing pylons, no arrestor hook, no fuel tanks or weapons (if there were any).  I think those pieces are in the house somewhere but I have no idea where.

The trouble is, I’d like to finish this thing.  I’d hate to discard it.  I have been looking for any kind of box, container, envelope that might contain these items but to no avail. 

My next thought was aftermarket accessories. I can certainly get a fairly nice ejector seat,  but undercarriage doors and pylons?   Someone was selling pylons a few years ago but not any more.  I could get a new wheel well detail set including the undercarriage doors but the surgery involved on this lump of metal is just too much.

I noticed on the Web that there is a much derided 1:48 Hornet kit by a Chinese (?) company called Kangnam, and the sub $15 price tag online makes me think seriously this might be a cheap way to get some or all of  the bits I want.  I can see a few risks in kit bashing at this level but the price tag of the whole kit taken against the total cost of aftermarket parts makes me think it just might be worth it.  I’d much rather adapt a few parts than try to make my own from scratch.   I can worry about aftermarket decals later. I was thinking of a USMC Desert Storm scheme simply to emphasize the mass of the thing but that’s for another time

If any of the readership out there has any thoughts on this I’d be very happy to hear from you.   If you happen to have a surplus 1:48 Hornet that we could haggle over, so much the better!

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Unfinished Business

Happy Thanksgiving to any and all readers inside or outside the USA. I’m thankful for the opportunity to hold forth like this from time to time,  and thank you for listening.

One thing that sitting in on John Daley’s course on military aviation history has done is revive my interest in model aircraft.  You’d never have guessed.  I’ve been doing it since I was a boy, with occasional gaps for College, differing employment, emigration, all the run of the mill reasons.

John wants his students to make a model as part of the course, and give a presentation about the aircraft’s significance. I wanted to make a new model but I didn’t particularly want to do anything that would take up a lot of space.   As a result I’m planning on using a 1/144 scale model of a BAC TSR.2 because I know very well no-one in the class will have heard of it, and it gives me a chance to wax as lyrical as any aviation enthusiast of British origin normally does about the TSR.2, usually after a couple of pints,  but I’ll settle for my classroom mug of coffee. 

Incidentally, if you ever fancy trying it, the Chinese “Great Wall” model of the TSR.2 in 1:144 scale is a little marvel.  Someone on Amazon slagged it off as an “itty bitty toy”  which I feel is pretty unfair. It is seriously lovely, delicate and captures the appearance and feeling of the real aircraft, which is no small achievement (pun!) given its size.  It’s eight inches long from stem to stern.  I wanted to make another model for scale size comparison. The B-24 is useful for that purpose.

Show and Tell. My 1:144 Scale TSR-2 masked up awaiting some paint, and my nearly complete 1:144 scale B-24 Liberator for scale reference. If you’d said to me a while back that the TSR.2 was longer than a Liberator I’d never have believed you. 

I fancied hauling out one or two of my older 1:48 models with a view to seeing them to a state of completion and perhaps showing them too.

I knew a few years back that my Focke-Wulf 190D-9 was in trouble. The JV44 markings and paint scheme so beautifully supplied by Dragon back in the 1990s for one of the aircraft of the Platzschutzschwarm  (airfield protection flight) turned out to be inaccurate, to say the least.  Just plain wrong.   I have amassed enough photographic and published reference in the 20 odd years since the kit came out to know where they erred, and what to do about it.

FW 190D-9,  1/48 Scale.
Dragon FW 190D-9, 1:48 Scale. Shame about those JV44 markings but we’ll be looking at some rectification work in times to come. Hint of red on the undercarriage door.  🙂

Never mind.  I have a nice old Fujimi model of a Bf109 which I wanted to make as a late G model. It had a lovely Reichsverteidigung (Defence of the Reich) scheme for “Yellow 9,” an aircraft of 9/JG54 in March 1945, so it said.   Those coloured bands have fascinated me since I was a teenager.

The 1987 Fujimi Bf109 Paint guide.
The 1987 Fujimi Bf109G-K  Paint guide.    Perhaps I should have had a bad feeling.  Excuse the color accuracy of my scan. 

So I went ahead and used that.  I recently applied some matt varnish to the glossy blue band which troubled me for many a year.  I was liking the way it looked.

My 1:48 Fujimi Bf109G-14 model
My 1:48 Scale Fujimi Bf109G-14 model, not exactly complete. I love the way it looks, but now even this has issues with its historical veracity. 
Incidentally that’s not a tropical filter, just a trick of the light in the picture. 

So I wondered, what can I do to finish this thing off?   I thought I’d look up some pictorial reference  for the aircraft. Here came that sinking feeling.  There isn’t any pictorial reference.  I can’t find a pic of any Bf109G-14s serving with 9/JG54, much less this one.  Darn.   The publication date on the painting instructions is 1987.  Shoot. I was really starting to like this.

If anyone out there has any helpful reference suggestions I’d be interested to hear them.   I have seen a similar looking Bf109 G-6/R-6 with additional cannon “gondolas” under the wings, the older style fin and rudder, and RLM 74/75/76 camouflage.  As you may see if you’re that kind of geek, mine has what I think is,  or intended to be RLM 81/82/76.  I’ve lost any underwing armaments  that may have come with the model although that’s not a serious problem. There are quite a lot of aftermarket parts around.   I certainly don’t want to repaint the while thing. I probably do need to wield my trusty 35-year old Paasche VL airbrush on the Fw190,  since JV 44 seemed to spray a lot of green around on their Me262s as well as the four Focke Wulfs. That red underside is not going anywhere, I’ve become much too attached to it.

The things people do when they’re having fun.  🙂

Fun Times Ahead

With the start of the new Academic Year I’ve been a little remiss in posting.  Part of my distraction has been because I’ve been researching the story of Lt. Col. Montagu Reaney Chidson, the pilot of the Vickers FB.5 involved in the very first air combat over the United Kingdom in December 1914.  It’s quite a story, and getting it into any kind of order may take a while.

In the meantime one of my colleagues at Pittsburg State University, Dr. John Daley, is teaching a course on the History of Military Aviation,  which I just had to join, so I’m in there auditing it.   The textbook we’re using is James L. Stokesbury’s  A Short History of Air Power. (London: Hale, 1986).   It’s an entertaining book, and contains a few things with which I have had the luxury of disagreeing.  John Daley calls these texts a “beer and popcorn” read.  So I wanted to show I was ready.    I don’t like popcorn too much but this seems to be less of a problem.

Here we go then.

IMG_20180903_141725

Accompanied by a few cans of the Tallgrass Brewery’s product, (I hope they can re-commence operations soon), is my copy of Stokesbury, James L. A Short History of Air Power. London: Hale, 1986.

More about B-29s in the CBI

I had a very interesting email at the weekend about B-29 operations in the China / Burma / India theater (aka the CBI) which also tied into the case of a very specific B-29 (B-29-15-BW 42-6358 Ding How of the 794 BS / 468th Bomb Group) which I had blogged about previously.

B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding How"

B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding How” of the 794 BS / 468th Bomb Group, while still in service with the USAAF in China. This photograph taken before November 21, 1944 when the aircraft failed to return from a raid and force-landed in Vladivostok, USSR.

Andrea Ding-Kemp emailed me and said that her husband’s grandfather, James E. Kemp, flew B-29s in China in the 1940s and used to say “Ding Hao” a lot when he was alive.  Was he in some way associated with the B-29 called Ding How ?

Andrea sent me a couple of pictures including James E. Kemp’s USAAF aircrew ID card and a picture of a piece of enemy metal which apparently hit his seat during combat operations.  She also told me that he was part of the crew of two B-29s, named Lucky Seven and The Craig Comet.

It only took a couple of minutes searching on Google to find that 1st Lieutenant James E Kemp was in fact assigned to the 794 Bomb Squadron, 468th Bomb Group. Their pilot was Capt. Harold Estey, so they were known as the Estey crew.

42-6407 Lucky Seven was one of the very early build Superfortresses, a B-29-20-BW built by Boeing in Wichita, KS.  She was assigned to the to the 795th Bomb Squadron, but was re-assigned to the 794th when the former squadron was deactivated in October 1944 due to shortages in equipment.  Lucky Seven was declared “war weary” (not able to continue war operations) on January 11th, 1945 and returned to the Zone of the Interior (United States).    I looked up her serial number on Joe Baugher’s website http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/usafserials.html and found one additional piece of information.  Lucky Seven was scrapped on December 21st, 1949 at Pyote Air Force Base, Texas.

42-63445 The Craig Comet was a B-29-15-BA built by Bell in Atlanta, GA.  I was amazed to find that a photo of the aircraft and the Estey crew appears in the Wikipedia page for the 468th Bomb Group.

 B-29

Captain Harold Estey and crew of B-29 “The Craig Comet” of the 794th Bomb Squadron,  468th Bomb Group. Co-Pilot James E. Kemp is in the back row on the left of this group. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Estey crew flew from Kharagpur Airfield in India (they were the first crew to arrive there) and also flew from the prosaically named Field A-7 at Pengshan, (Szechwan Province) China.    Click here for a list of missions flown by the 58th Bomb Wing (which included the 468th Bomb Group).    When flying operationally from Pengshan,  itself 1200 miles from Kharagpur, the first task of the B-29s was to haul their own operational fuel supplies, bombs, ammunition, and other necessities over the Himalayas (the ‘Hump’).   ‘Hump’ missions were symbolized by a camel painted on the nose of each aircraft that carried them out. Two such camels are visible on the nose of The Craig Comet at the time this picture was taken, as well as 11 bomb symbols indicating 11 operational missions for the aircraft.

The 468th Bomb Group website (http://www.468thbombgroup.org) contains a potted history of the Estey crew, which it seems was supplied by James E. Kemp himself in 2007. Estey’s crew did not transfer to Tinian when the 58th Bomb Wing moved en masse to the Marianas in the Spring of 1945. A commentator on the 468th site speculates that the crew had amassed more “hump” and combat hours  than any other crew and so they were rotated home from India in May 1945.  The Craig Comet soldiered on briefly in her new home.  She was badly damaged in a raid on May 1945 and crashed on landing at West Field, Tinian.

There is little doubt in my mind that James E. Kemp  knew, or knew of the B-29 named Ding How in the 794th Bomb Squadron. I am sure he would have been aware of its loss and forced landing in the Soviet Union since he was operational in the same squadron at the same time.

I must mention also that James E. Kemp’s USAAF ID card listed his birth date as being at the end of August 1918, so it seems fitting that my first blog post of August 2018 should in some way connect with and honor the centenary year of the late veteran.  James Edward Kemp, a Pearl Harbor veteran,  served in the USAAF and later USAF from 1940 to 1962, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

 

 

 

Joyce Green – A Passing Shadow

“To use this waterlogged field for testing every now and then was reasonable and to take advantage of it as an emergency landing ground for Home Defence forces was credible, but to employ it as a flying training station was folly and as a Camel training station was lunacy.”
(Arthur S. Gould Lee,  Open Cockpit: A Pilot of the Royal Flying Corps. London: Jerrolds, 1969).

RAF Joyce Green Aerodrome 1917

Aerial view of RAF Joyce Green Aerodrome (6th Wing) taken on 31 Aug 1917. IWM Catalogue number Q 111411 By NASH A T (FLYING OFFICER) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m always known as a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, and especially when researching the snippets that make up this blog.  While researching another forthcoming article I saw a reference to RFC Joyce Green, near Dartford, Kent

When I was writing the piece about the Barnwell brothers (https://airbornerambler.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/connections/)  I noted that that Harold Barnwell was killed at Joyce Green flying the prototype Vickers Vampire night fighter in August 1917.   Vickers’ association with Joyce Green goes back to 1910 when they unsuccessfully attempted a test flight of a machine built in Crayford in association with Hiram Maxim.    Maxim left  the enterprise, but Vickers established an Aviation Department at Joyce Green in 1911, testing aircraft built in their Bexleyheath, Crayford, Erith, and Dartford factories.

Vickers FB.5 Gunbus flying replica

Vickers FB.5 Gunbus flying replica G-ATVP, painted as 2345 of the Royal Flying Corps, at Yeovilton in 1966 RuthAS (Own work) CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After the outbreak of war in 1914, Joyce Green assumed a role in the air defense of London from bombing raids by Zeppelins. The airfield’s first occupants under No. 6 Wing were No. 10 (Reserve) Squadron, using a mixed bag of aircraft including Farmans, Vickers FB5s and FB9s, DH2s and FE8s. The role of this unit was to receive pupils from preliminary training schools for final training for their wings. Each course consisted of about 20 pupils and lasted two or three weeks. This included time spent at Lydd where aerial gunnery was practiced at the Hythe range. On gaining their wings the young pilots would get a 48-hour pass before being posted to the Front.

On Christmas Day 1914, 2nd Lt M. R. Chidson, Royal Garrison Artillery, (Pilot) and Corporal Martin (Gunner) in an FB.5 flying from Joyce Green pursued a German Friedrichshafen FF.29 seaplane of the Imperial German Navy based at Zeebrugge in Belgium. Unfortunately the FB.5s gun jammed over Purfleet, leaving the German free to drop two bombs on Cliffe railway station in Kent. Other ‘Gunbus’ sorties were mounted from Joyce Green following the Zeppelin roads of January 1915.

In October 1915  the station put up five aircraft against Zeppelins L13, L14, L15, and L16; two would land safely after the action.  2nd Lt Claude Ridley took off from Joyce Green in a BE2c and spotted the airship for a brief moment in searchlights. He fired off 20 rounds at extreme range but then lost sight of the airship.

One noteworthy arrival at Joyce Green was James Thomas Byford McCudden VC DSO (and Bar), MC (and Bar), Croix de Guerre, who came in March 1917 to take up the appointment of Wing Fighting Instructor, to instruct advanced students (including a certain M. Mannock) on combat techniques.  McCudden’s view of Joyce Green was that it was:

“a quiet spot near Dartford, and the aerodrome is considered a good one, although it is below the level of the Thames which flows past the aerodrome, and the ground is a little spongy”
(Flying Fury, Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps, 1930)

Although the field was used operationally, it had many factors weighing against it. Arthur S Gould Lee went on to say:

“A pupil taking off with a choked or failing engine had to choose, according to wind direction, between drowning in the Thames (half a mile wide at this point), or crashing into the Vickers TNT works, or hitting one of their several high chimney stacks, or sinking into a vast sewage farm, or killing himself and numerous patients in a large isolation hospital, or being electrocuted in an electrical substation with acres of pylons and cables; or trying to turn and get back to the aerodrome. Unfortunately, many pupils confronted with disaster tried the last course and span to their deaths”
(Open Cockpit: A Pilot of the Royal Flying Corps)

McCudden’s mild opinion notwithstanding, the reputation of the field as a dangerous place for flying caused the RFC to search for other airfields south of London. Their search led them to a farmer’s field close to the village of Biggin Hill, and all flying was moved to the new Biggin Hill station by 1917.

RFC wireless testing was carried out at Joyce Green from 1915, following a lingering demarcation dispute between the Royal Engineers and the RFC  caused by the latter’s takeover of the Marconi facilities at Brooklands (Surrey) in 1914.  Wireless testing for the RFC had previously been under the authority of the Royal Engineers. It was deemed necessary to separate the staff of the two organizations, the Engineers being sent to Woolwich while the RFC relocated to Joyce Green.

Interestingly the airfield hosted some of the earliest elements of the US Army Air Service to arrive in Europe. Three flights of the 8th Aero Squadron arrived at the end of 1917 and were dispersed. It seems that pilots were attached to British units for further training.  Ground crews were attached to British training units to learn maintenance procedures. Ground crews from the 149th Aero Squadron were apparently at Joyce Green in May 1918.

Vickers continued test flying from Joyce Green. The prototype FB.27 “Vimy” was built at Crayford , taken by road and re-assembled at Joyce Green for test flying.

A dismantled Vickers Vimy on its way to Joyce Green

A dismantled Vickers FB.27 “Vimy” on its way to Joyce Green for reassembly and test flying, photographed outside “The Bear and Ragged Staff” Public House, London Road, Crayford.  Date unknown, circa 1917.  Readers may be interested to know that the pub still exists as of July 2018.  (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The map below gives some idea of the general topography and salient features of the area around Joyce Green. The location of the airfield is (I assume) at the top of the dark green stripe in this Google image.  the former Joyce Green Hospital (demolished in 2000) is at the right-hand edge of the dark green strip on the banks of the Thames, (sadly) close to the sewage treatment works mentioned by Arthur Gould Lee.

Area Surrounding RFC Joyce Green

Area Surrounding Site of RFC Joyce Green, screen grab from Google Map

I never was much of a local historian until now, and since I’m 4500 miles away there’s only so much I can do, but the locality is full of history and the story of the airfield is given in a little more detail at its Wikipedia page.  As with most little things which piques my interest there is a lot more to the story once you start digging.  At this point it seems the sensible thing to do is to show my enthusiasm and let yours (my handful of readers) take it from there.   It is interesting to think that without Joyce Green, there may have been no Biggin Hill, which may have caused a small change in British military aviation history as we know it.

Scale

I’m doing a little bit of pictorial research for a forthcoming article, and riffling through Wikimedia Commons I found this. I think we have all seen the pictures of Stirlings towering over crews as they walk out to them, but this picture of a 149 Squadron Stirling brings home the sheer size of the RAF’s first four-engined bomber.  The serial is partially obscured,  but I think this is Austin-built W7462 being pushed out for service at (probably) RAF Lakenheath, The picture metadata gives the date as 31st December 1941. There is evidence of censorship on the image (under the belly of the aircraft,  in front of and above the crew members pushing on the port main wheel) so as to obscure any buildings in the background which might identify the base.

Short Stirling

Royal Air Force ground staff pushing a 149 Squadron Stirling Mk.I  W7462 “OJ-T” out for overhaul. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I searched the squadron codes and serial number, and found a little bit more information.  It would appear that W7462 met its end approximately a month after the picture was taken, probably in the early hours of 30th January 1942. The aircraft was returning to Lossiemouth, Scotland from an operational flight to Ofotfjord, Norway. On landing at Lossiemouth, the aircraft skidded on the icy runway and ran into a ditch, resulting the the collapse of the undercarriage. The aircraft was not repaired and is listed as a loss. There were, happily no fatalities.

The pilot of W7462 on this occasion was Flight Lieutenant R. W. .A Turtle, and the crew consisted of Pilot Officer D. L. Atkinson, Sergeant Collins, Sergeant Bowman, Sergeant J. D. Burnley, Sergeant Hanna, and Sergeant Smith.

Just Watch

Since I’ve been gathering a bit more information for the ‘Joplin Jalopy’ blog I was idly image searching this afternoon.  I just found out about the Convair Model 39/104/R2Y “Liberator Liner”  and was just looking at some PB4Y-2 Privateer things when I saw some footage of a Privateer performing at Chino  in 2017.   Then I found some footage of the same Privateer (It’s the world’s only airworthy PB4Y-2 in any case)  at Chino a couple of weeks ago on May 5.  I pressed the “play” button and let my jaw drop.   I saw things flying past I never dreamed I’d see. So I had to share the video with you – it’s at the bottom of this post.

I was looking for this, having seen some YouTube footage of it being displayed in 2017:

PB4Y-2 Privateer

PB4Y-2 Privateer BuNo66302 N2871G By FlugKerl2 (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t expect to see this, mostly because I didn’t know it even existed, much less was airworthy

Seversky AT-12 Guardsman

Seversky AT-12 Guardsman ‘NX55539’ (41-17529) c/n 483-38. Saw service with the El Salvadorian Air Force as ‘YS-114’. This is the sole surviving AT-12. It is maintained in airworthy condition and occasionally flown. Seen on display in the Maloney hangar at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California, USA. Feb 2016 (Photo by Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK – CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

And neither did I expect to see it flying in formation with this:

Boeing P-26A Peashooter

Boeing P-26A Peashooter ’33-123 / 23’ (NX3378G) c/n 1899. Saw service with the Guatemalan Air Force as ‘FAG-43’. This is the only airworthy example of the type and is on display in the Maloney hangar at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California, USA. Feb 2016. (Photo by Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, enough of this teasing. There is a lot more in the video.  I may have a few more things to say later.   Personally I wasn’t keen on the music for the slo-mo sequences which start about half way through, but that’s an issue of personal taste and my own hearing.