Monday, July 21, 2014

That Phantom II Passed us Like We Were Standing Still ...

This is a bit of personal history I'd like to model some day, assuming I could find a suitable shadow box and the right kits in 1/144 scale (I think anything larger would be TOO large, and when you read on you'll see why).

I want to tell you my one experience (up close and personal) with an RF-4C, based at Shaw AFB in the late fall of 1969. I had just volunteered for the AF (ROTC) and, as a reward, all of us who opted for AFROTC (the first year ROTC was voluntary at my university) were promised a ride in the back seat of a jet fighter. Alas, it wasn't in the RF, but in a T-33 (which is still no slouch, based on the F-80 and loaded with thrust).

Anyway, I was in the back seat of the T-bird, with a USAF Major driving up front (and building flight time - he was a desk jockey but still wanted flight pay), and I was having a blast. Then, as we flew over Shaw at 10,000 and 360 knots indicated (paralleling the runway 2 miles below), an RF jock got the tower and asked for permission for a "war emergency climb" to 30,000. My pilot told me to watch for the afterburner flare ...


As soon as I saw it, I popped the pilot on his helmet (which is what he'd asked me to do), and he immediately firewalled the T-bird and also began a zoom climb.


Remember, at that instant in time, we were going 360 knots - we could have easily coasted to 15 grand in no time at all - but he poured on the coals ... and at that instant, the RF was just starting to roll. Got the picture?

Here's what happened next.

The RF passed us (like we were standing still) at 11,500 feet. Remember, it would have taken us just seconds to coast that high, but we were at full power.


That, my friends, is just how damned fast and powerful an RF-4C was in 1969, and if it was still around today, it would be just as fast and exciting.

Now, just as a personal aside, I had planned to make the USAF my career (having already failed the eye test and not being allowed to accept my appointment to Annapolis).  I'd grown up dreaming about being 3rd Generation USN, but when I blew the Annapolis eye test, I set my sights on the USAF, and chose a civilian college with AFROTC.  Shortly after volunteering, I scored the highest AF officer qualifying score ever seen at my university - and at that, I was immediately offered a full scholarship, but I had to take a physical. As with the Navy, even though there was an unpopular war on and a relative dearth of volunteers for the military, that ended badly.

So from 1972 on, I've been about military aircraft in history magazines (and now online), I go on History Channel talking about them (9x and counting), and I model them. Not what I'd hoped for, but it's as close as Uncle Sam and my damned (correctable, but not good enough) eyes would allow.

And so, I have my sights on a boxed diorama of my T-bird being passed by a scalded-dog RF-4C in '69 at Shaw AFB.  Though personal, it's still "history you can model" ...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Operation Credible Sport - A Remarkable Rocket-Powered Top-Secret C-130

A dash of "hidden history" you can model. Operation Credible Sport (yeah, a pretty stupid name, but it defined a fascinating plane).

In 1980, with elections closing in fast and the hostages in Iran into their second year of captivity, the USAF under President Carter came up with a rescue plan (this is after the tragic accident at Desert One, the secret air base we built in Iran to stage rescue helicopter flights into Tehran).

The idea was simple. Take a more-or-less standard C-130, and put rocket motors in its nose and tail, making it possible for the plane to land and take off inside of a soccer stadium.

 Houston, we have lift-off ...

 A surviving Operation Credible Sport conversion was on display at Warner Robbins AFB, south of Macon, Georgia. I've heard that the museum had to cut back it's aircraft inventory, so I can't swear it's still there

Big-assed rocket  engines were mounted, and it was secretly tested at what was then Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium (then home of the Braves, the Falcons and a short-lived pro soccer team).

 Janes Defense Weekly illustrated the aircraft with lift engines operating, and with the nose rocket housings visible - "Credible Sport" at play and at rest

The plane would (with gear and flaps down) dive toward the field inside the built-up stadium, flare out, hit the nose rockets, then land literally inside the length of a football field. When the hostages were returned, the plane would fire the tail-end rockets and zoom out of there.
 The nose rocket housings are visible here

The take-off and landing profiles were modeled after the pitch of the stadium (which is pretty steep).

In 1982, I was touring Lockheed-Marietta during an IPMS event in Atlanta, and noticed a forlorn-looking all-black C-130 with some odd bumps. I privately and quietly asked our tour guide, a very senior Air Force non-com about this plane and he told me the whole story, including (he was quite disgusted) President Carter's unwillingness to pull the trigger once the plane proved what it could do. It was all very hush-hush, but since it was more than 18 months after the hostages had been released, it was a secret without a reason to be secret.

Much later, it became public, and you can find photos and info by searching Google: ... channel=sb -

I used the key words: c-130 iran hostage rescue version operation credible sport. Lots of photos, videos of the plane in test operations, and background. This would make a fascinating model kit of a rare and ALMOST historically-significant aircraft.

The "Google images" from that search are here: ... 56&bih=518

Smack-Down - Unarmed C-47 "Shooots Down" Japanese Army Air Force Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa - "Oscar"

Here's another unusual piece of history you can model.

In 1943, in the CBI theater of operations, a C-47 was on a mission of resupply to some forward-based troops - I can't recall if it was an air-drop or not, but it involved flying low among some very rough terrain.

 C47 BURMA.jpg
 A small flight of C-47s over Burma - this is what the Smack-Down C-47 would have looked like

While not a CBI photo, it gives useful modeling details re: a C-47 in flight

 Burma was rugged country, then and now. This shot is "true" to the colors of the area, and the aircraft marking colors used at the time

The aircraft was intercepted by a Ki-43 (the Oscar), a Zero look-alike that was even more maneuverable, but noticeably less well-armed than the Zero, with just two 12.7 mm machine guns (the Japanese version of the .50 caliber). Still, that firepower should have been more than enough to give a Gooney heartburn.

Anyway, the heavily loaded C-47 went down in the weeds in very rough and "vertical" country, with the Ki-43 doing its best to nail the American. After one pass from above and behind, the Ki-43 pulled below the C-47 ... and the American pilot, with perhaps more balls than brains (but hey, this was a VERY desperate man), dove toward the ground, forcing the Ki-43 to go lower ... it was a smack-down worthy of the WWF - Smack-Down, right into the ground. It counted as a kill, even though it wasn't a "shoot-down," since the C-47 was, of course, unarmed.

This incident is shown on the cover of Osprey's book about the C-47 in the CBI and Pacific, and on the inside cover, the full story is told in greater detail.


Nothing about the Ki-43 markings, but assume they were standard for mid-1943/CBI and you can't be too far wrong. ... 1846030468

In my ongoing and seemingly never-ending novel (the draft is now right at 2,900 pages - think a Web Griffith "series" of novels) about the air war in the Pacific in the first year after Pearl Harbor, I'm trying to make all my aerial combat scenes as realistic as possible - and as historically accurate as possible, too.

So, having learned about this C-47 "put-down" of the Ki-43, I adapted the actual incident to Guadalcanal, and transformed the Ki-43 into an A6M2 Zero - but otherwise, made it the same story as actually happened a year later in the CBI. I've published it as an eBook on Amazon, in case anyone's interested ... ... ar+pacific

However, either modeling the novel or modeling the actual CBI smack-down, this would make a great aerial diorama, especially with the new Airfix C-47 (I just read a review of it in Airfix Magazine, and it looks sweet, with only some Matchbox-like panel lines to detract from it) and the also new-tool Airfix Zero (or the relatively new Tamiya Zero). There are also several good Ki-43 kits in that scale, so take your pick. Those are all in 1/72 - you could also do it in 1/144, as all the aircraft are available in decent kits for that scale - can't imagine doing it in 1/48th, though the kits are available.

Peashooter P-26 Night Fighter Protecting Pearl Harbor, Post-Attack, December 1941

re historical trivia you can model. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese showed the great good sense of not wasting bombs or bullets on the half-squadron of P-26 Peashooters serving as "hacks" and based on the hard-stand at Wheeler Field, so they all survived the attack unscathed.

However, here's the rest of the story. What was shortly to become the 5th Air Force decided that these planes, while not good for much of anything else, would make do as night fighters to protect Pearl from long-range aerial snoopers - presumably flying boats, or cruiser-launched float planes (in fact, Japan did send several massive "Emily" flying boats from Kwajalein to overfly Pearl, refueling them at French Frigate Shoals from a sub). The Powers-That-Be felt the P-26's speed - a bit over 225 mph (going downhill with a tail wind) and the mixed armament of one .50 and one .30 would be sufficient to handle those nocturnal enemies.

So the surviving P-26s were painted black and actually became part of the island fortress's front line defense for a few months, until sufficient "real" fighters arrived to take their place. They were painted all black, but with the existing markings in place.

This is an early P-26 in an overall dark paint-job - the P-26 night fighter would have looked something like this, but with US Air Corps ID markings as shown in the other illustration
And no, they didn't shoot down any enemies - none over-flew Pearl before they finally received their well-earned retirement. Of course, a handful in the PI actually flew combat missions and one of them downed a Zero, proving that nothing in this world is impossible.
A rare photo of P-26s at Wheeler Field, Oahu, 1940-41, pre-attack
Late pre-war markings, OD and neutral gray, with chrome yellow wings and tail

I've found a number of published references, but no photos - the photos here show  pre-attack P-26s and an early prototype which "comes out black" in the photo. The actual birds had standard US Air Corps markings, but with black paint replacing OD and Neutral Gray. Don't know if the paint was gloss or flat, but since the idea of gloss black for night camouflage came later, I assume it was whatever gloss or flat black aircraft paint they had available.

D-Day Invasion Stripes - Too Pretty? Too "defined" in shape?

Here's a new historical-trivia-you-can-model for you - most "invasion stripes" which were painted the day and night of June 4/5 (when we thought we'd invade June 5 instead of June 6) were brush-painted on (many of them brush-painted on in the dark) and they were nowhere near as neat-and-clean as most modelers give them credit for.

Below, I have photos of guys doing the brush painting, with black stripes slopping over insignia (around the edges) and "straight lines" being anything but.  Certainly useful for dioramas, but also useful for being accurate in D-Day aircraft models on their own.

So, when you do your invasion stripes,you might not want to go for precision unless you have photo evidence to substantiate that precision. I also have one that another modeler "captioned" which may well capture the spirit of the times.

Here are the Erks painting on (slopping on) the invasion stripes in early June - note how they botch up the insignia, and how they couldn't paint a straight line to save their immortal souls ...

What they were REALLY saying as they painted the stripes

And yet another example of just how "hand painted" these were:

Not everyone was a slob, but it was still very much hand-painted, with no do-overs ...

This one's already painted, but look close - it's not a pretty job ...

 Sometimes it was a group effort - and, as at least a couple of ERKs demonstrate, it could be a laid-back kind of assignment ...

Now here's a "classy" job of invasion striping ...

Even for life magazine, it's clearly a hand-done job, not neat decals.

M2A4 - Grand-sire of half-a-dozen operational US tanks and AFVs

The M2A4 was the ultimate derivation of the M2 series of US Army pre-war light tanks, the equivalent of the cavalry's M1 Combat Car (also a light tank in all but name).m2a4-light-tank-01.png
 A 3/4 view of the M2a4 - note hull sponson .30-caliber MGs and bow-mounted step. THe two horizontal bars on the glacis were to deflect bullets from bouncing off the hull into the driver's compartment.

It pioneered a number of features found on later US tanks, including:

a. A rotating turret armed with a tank-killing 37mm gun (which also had anti-personnel capabilities) and a co-ax .30 mg

b. An air-cooled, gasoline-powered radial engine adapted from an aviation engine for high power and light weight

c. A vertical volute suspension system

d. A hull-mounted flexible .30 caliber mg operated by the co-driver

e. A pintle-mount .30 mg for the tank commander

This AFV was, at the time it was constructed, both swift and mechanically-reliable, and armed with a potent 37mm gun the equivalent of (and based on) the German PAK 35/36 gun, also in 37mm caliber - so it could have held its own in combat in 1940.

 A pre-production M2A4 on display at USA Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland in 1939

However, the real importance of this vehicle was that it was used as the direct basis of the following tanks:

1. M2 Medium - it was the M2A4 on steroids, with the same basic layout, the same suspension (just more of it, as it was longer), a larger radial engine, the same 37mm gun and the same .30 caliber MGs (but a lot more of them); and,

2. M3 Light Tank (dubbed "Stuart" by the Brits), which was basically the same vehicle, with a bit more potent engine, thicker armor, a different gun mount for the 37mm cannon, and a trailing idler to provide greater ground contact and floatation for the tracks, to absorb the added weight of greater armor.

The M2A4 was indirectly responsible for (through the M2 Medium) the M3 (British name Grant/Lee) and the M4 (Brit-name Sherman), both of which had the same mechanical layout as the M2 Medium - suspension, drive train, engine, etc.

The M2A4 was also indirectly responsible for the M5 light tank (also Brit-named Stuart), the M8 GMC with a 75mm howitzer, a whole range of high-speed tractors, the Brits' turretless M3/M5 "Kangaroo" APCs used in NW Europe, and (via turrets) several of the gun- and howitzer-turreted LTV Amtrak amphibious landing craft.


However, the greatest direct influence of the M2A4 was the M3 series of light tanks which were direct extenders of the M2A4 design, with just a few changes to the gun mount, the idler wheel and internal features.  The M3 quickly evolved, losing the fixed-hull machine guns and adding lots of stowage (most externally), but it always remained an upgraded M2A4.

An operational M2A4 with what looks like a cloth temporary tactical recognition band. Also note how the turret hatch would naturally reflect bullet strikes into the vehicle commander's face - ouch!

Bow-on view of M2A4 in operational service
There were only 375 M2A4s built - Britain ordered a batch, but only 36 were made before the contract was shifted to the more potent and capable M3 light tanks. Not clear if this was 375 + 36, or 375 including 36. Rumor has it that the Brits shipped the M2A4 to Egypt, but then shipped them on to India where they (were rumored to) saw combat against the Japanese Army 4th Armored brigade.    m2a4-light-tank-011.png

 Profile view of production M2A4

The Brits received 36 M2A4 tanks - here's one (named Al Capone) being examined by Royal Armored Corps technicians

However, it is substantiated and documented that the USMC took some M2A4 light tanks into combat on Tulagi and Guadalcanal, beginning with the invasion of those two islands on August 7, 1942. They did see combat, in units which also contained M3s. It's not clear if they saw head-to-head combat with Japanese light and medium tanks (some Marine tanks did fight them in the battle of Matanikau River on Oct. 23rd, 1942, but I can't confirm that the M2A4s were in this fight.

M2A4 guadalcanal.jpg
Side view of Marine M2A4 during Guadalcanal campaign USMC M2A4 leading a pair of USMC M3 light tanks at Guadalcanal, summer/fall, 1942 - the only time US forces took the M2A4 into combat (some may have been based at islands that were attacked by air strikes, but that's not the same thing as taking them into battle).

There is a resin kit/conversion of the M2A4 - I've got one ordered from Poland, but have no idea when or if it will arrive - but if you want to model an obscure but seminal early-war tank, the M2A4 should be in your list.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Boeing Model 299Z - the Amazing Five-Motor B-17

The B-17 Model 299Z - the five-motor test-bed for next-gen aviation powerplants ...
There are a number of photos floating around the internet (google "Boeing 299Z" and you'll find a lot of them) that show a five-motored B-17, with the fifth motor - inevitably a huge radial or turbo-prop - mounted where the bombardier and navigator once sat.  These almost look like photoshopped "goofs" like these:

But it turns out that the plane (not those two photos shop queens immediately above) are real, and that there were two of them (or three of them, depending on how you "count" the conversions). From the book "Fifteen Ton Flying Fortress," beginning on P.206, (and other sources, but that's a good 'un), Boeing created what it called the Model 299Z, out of late-production Vega-built B-17Gs. 

The first was 44-85813, and it was converted at Boeing's Wichita plant in April of '46 for use by Wright Aeronautical Corp, initially to test their 5,000 hp XT-35 "Typhoon" turboprop (1948). 

This same aircraft was later used to test the Wright TC-18 turbo compound engine (1949), the J-65 jet engine (1952), the XT-49 turboprop (1955) and finally the Turbo-Compound version of the Wright R-3350 (1956). This, the most powerful and remarkably the most fuel-efficient of the R-3350 series, used captured exhaust gases to feed power back into the engine, raising the HP up to 3700 hp at takeoff (it added 550 hp per engine at take-off and 240 hp at cruise setting by using waste gasses to create more shaft horsepower. The lead photo in this thread (the color one) is reproduced in my book and identified as 44-85813. The engine appears to be the turbo-compound R3350.

This Model 299Z had the cockpit moved back (you can see that in the photo) to put distance from the engine to the crew, for safety purposes and CG reasons. The plane was owned by the air force and bailed to Wright, and its USAF designation was EB-17G, changed (in 1956) to JB-17G. While testing the Wright Typhoon turbo-prop, the plane had the tail number 485813 on the tail, and below that in all-cap block letters, "WRIGHT TEST" - which might have stood for the Wright Aeronautical engine division, and not "Wright Field," though that's not entirely clear, as I have one photo that's captioned "Wright Field" (it was at that time a major USAAF/USAF test base, and now part of Wright-Patterson AFB). 

The markings could mean either one - not that I suppose it really matters which "Wright" the slogan on the tail referred to. At that time, this aircraft also had the tail number 485813 on the fuselage below the horizontal tail, and extending forward until just shy of the fuselage door.

The second Model 299Z was 44-85734, and was rebuilt at Boeing Seattle (not Boeing Wichita) to be used by rival engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. Its cockpit was pushed back 6" further than the Wright's EB/JB-17G. P&W used it to test their XT-34 turboprop, but my source didn't indicate if it was used to test other aircraft, or when it was retired from testing.

 The "third" Model 299Z was not rebuilt by the Air Force (as had been the case of the previous two) - it was privately owned when rebuilt for use by General Motors/Allison. Therefore, it's not clear if the Boeing Model number, 299Z, applies (at least officially), thought it was rebuilt to serve the same purpose (though not so completely rebuilt, as I note below). Originally Vega-built B-17G 44-85747, it wasn't rebuilt until 1957, at which time it was already owned by GM/Allison. It was used to test the T-56 turboprop, a much lighter and less-powerful engine, so it was not necessary to relocate the flight deck - it remained in its as-manufactured position. Because this was a private venture from start to finish, and not something likely to have been widely touted by GM/Allison's PR crew, relatively little is out there (at least that I could find).

If you google search on "Boeing 299Z" (and "JB-17G," but - oddly, not so much - "EB-17G") you'll get many more remarkable photos of these test aircraft, along with a lot of photos of an unremarkable and stock B-17G, which appears to be a restored Fort on the airshow circuit. But you'll also see the modified Z (as shown here, including ones without the engine mounted, which is really cool) and many contemporary photos taken while the Zs were in operation. As with most google image searches, the captions are sketchy at best, but if you're thinking of modeling one of the three, you can find useful photos to help guide your efforts. I hope all of this helps - a fascinating request, and at the right time, as I was reading the book Fifteen Ton Flying Fortress (finished it tonight) when you asked, so I had the info right at hand.