Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Blitz'a'Spitfire

So, I spent Sunday and Monday Blitzing a Spitfire. For those not in the know a Blitzbau is a speed build held a couple of times a year over on the Unofficial Airfix Modelers Forum. The modeler has to start and complete a kit either within 24 hours straight, or two 12 hour sessions in two successive days. I, of course, choose the two 12 hour sessions. Shockingly, I actually finished.


The poor subject chosen for this excise was the recent Airfix Spitfire IX. I built it straight out of the box. Yep, I didn't install seat belts. I tried to be ok that it has no control column, no instrument panel, and open wheel wells. I didn't replacing the comfy chair with something prototypical. Sadly, in the name of speed, many, many historical inaccuracies were committed. (Wheels are the wrong style, no D-Day stripes, and the wheel bulges are still present on the top of the wings, etc.) Not to mention my canopy masking skills are ultra weak...


I'm glad I finished, but I'm kind of disappointed in the final model. That being said, I'm excited that I was actually able to finish a model in two days...my first for the year...and I'm pretty happy with my shade of pink as well.

The whole sorry tale...complete with a Seattle grunge history...can be found here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Canadians and the Brewster Buffalo

While neither the RCAF nor the Royal Canadian Navy operated the Buffalo in service, there are a few Canadian connections to the type.

Two Belgian Buffalos (still carrying their U.S. registrations NX93B and NX90B)
at Dartmouth are being prepared for their sea voyage by 10 (BR) Squadron, RCAF.
(Carl Vincent Collection)

The RCAF’s introduction to the Buffalo took place in June 1940 when 10 (BR) Squadron, based at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, took possession of a handful of Buffalos that had been ordered by Belgium.  The first six of these aircraft were loaded onto the French aircraft carrier BĂ©arn along with French Curtiss SBC Helldivers and Stinson 105s.  When France surrendered, the carrier was diverted to Martinique and the aircraft were left outside to rot.  The remaining Buffalos in the care of 10 (BR) were shipped to England onboard HMS Furious after Belgium had fallen to the Germans.  These aircraft were taken on strength by the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm.

Abandoned Buffalos and Helldivers at Fort-de-France, Martinique.
(Carl Vincent Collection)

While it can be assumed that some Canadian pilots flew the Buffalos while in service with the British, a few stories stand out.  Lieutenant Kenneth Lloyd Keith, DSC, of Calgary, was a Fleet Air Arm Swordfish pilot who was seconded by Commander Charles Keighly-Peach to fly Sea Gladiators from HMS Eagle.  This small flight provided desperately needed fighter defense for the Mediterranean fleet.  Throughout July and August of 1940, Keith defended the fleet successfully with his antiquated Gladiator biplane.  By 1941, he was flying Buffalos with 805 Squadron from Dekhelia, Egypt, on convoy escort.  Sadly, on June 17, 1941, he was shot down in Buffalo AX813 by a Bf-109E while on a fighter patrol over Royal Navy ships near Sidi Barrani.  Keith survived the crash and was taken prisoner, but succumbed to his wounds a week later.  Keith is believed to be the first allied, and only Fleet Air Arm, pilot to be shot down in a Buffalo.

One of 805 Squadron’s Buffalos (AS413) in Egypt.  (Tony O’Toole Collection)

Most of the RAF’s Buffalos were sent to the South East Asia theatre.  RCAF pilot Tom Watson had the distinction of flying the last Buffalo out of Singapore on February 11, 1941.  The aircraft (W8205 TD-H) had been abandoned on the field and the ground crew were able to get the aircraft running so that Watson could depart with three Hurricanes from his Squadron.  Watson recounted in Brian Cull’s “Buffaloes Over Singapore”:
“I had never been in a Buffalo before and had some trouble with the throttle controls, particularly as the pitch was controlled from the dashboard. Also it took me a bit of time to figure out how to raise the wheels. We were an odd looking lot, three Hurricanes and a Buffalo leaving a smoking Singapore behind us. We had no maps and I had no parachute.”
Upon landing at Palembang’s auxiliary airfield P2, Watson was reprimanded by the CO for flying a type in which he had not received a checkout!  Watson then became the only RCAF pilot to join a Royal Australian Air Force Squadron in Australia.  After his escape from Singapore, he end up flying P-40Es with 77 Squadron, RAAF.

Finally, some Canadian pilots in the RCNVR and Fleet Air Arm flew Buffalos as part of their training with the U.S. Navy.  The Navy operated war weary F2A-2 and F2A-3 Buffalos as advanced trainers at NAS Miami.  While they were clearly not combat aircraft, the Canadian pilots enjoyed their first crack at a “fighter” type.  RCNVR ace Don Sheppard was among these pilots.

The Buffalo in Scale

The Brewster Buffalo is one of those aircraft that is popular with modelers and kit manufacturers in spite of its poor reputation as a combat type.  Over the years many kits have been issued in all of the major scales.

In 1/32 scale, Special Hobby and Czech Model have issued various versions of the Buffalo based upon the same kit with short run plastic and various resin and photo etch accessories depending on the boxing.

Tony O’Toole’s 1/48 scale Tamiya Buffalo done up as AX820
of 805 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm.

Tamiya has the F2A-2 and RAF Buffalo market cornered in 1/48 scale with a kit first issued in the 1970s, which still holds up well today.  Special Hobby and Classic Airframes have also issued Buffalo kits, focusing on the longer F2A-3, F2A-1, and the Finnish Model 239.  Again, these kits are short run plastic supplemented with resin detail parts.  Classic Airframes went in to stasis a few years ago, so there kits may be difficult to find.

Legacy kits in 1/72 scale include an F2A-2 by Airfix and a RAF Buffalo by Matchbox.  Both are kits of the early 1970s, and out of the two I have a preference for the Matchbox kit.  This may be solely due to nostalgia; I built the kit as a young boy and enjoyed the red and white plastic used to mold the two trees.

More recently Hasegawa has issued various boxings of the Finnish Model 239, F2A-1 and F2A-2.  These are very nice kits with fine engraved panel lines and excellent fit, but the kits hard to find and quite expensive.  Inexplicably, a RAF Buffalo has never been issued, even though it appears that parts were created to make this version.  A resin aftermarket set has been issued by Quickboost to correct this oversight.  Recently a dual boxing of an F2A-2 and F2A-3 has been issued which includes resin parts to to convert the second kit to the longer F2A-3 version.


In 2013, Hobby Boss has issued an Easy Assembly kit marked as an F2A Buffalo.  It appears that Hobby Boss intended it to be a F2A-1 Buffalo and the kit includes decals for two early U.S. Navy Buffalos, including one in a spectacular “Barclay” camouflage.  However, it really is a mix of F2A-1 features, the cowling, and F2A-2 parts, the large spinner.  The kit has its fuselage and wings molded in one piece each with a few additional detail parts.  Panel lines are finely engraved, but a few are missing, including the one under the fuselage window.  (Which is provided as a decal.)  Cockpit detail consists of a rather large seat, floor, and control column.  (No detail is provided for the “shelf” behind the pilot.)  The engine is molded as part of the cowling, and there is no wheel well detail.  The parts fit well and assembly is quite simple, but the lack of detail, confusion as to what variant it is depicting, and the missing fuselage window may put off some modelers.

Friday, July 24, 2015

BoB BoB - There's a Hurricane Coming # 2


Finally, we have Hurricane progress in the Battle of the Barristers build.  As mentioned in Part 1, I'm building the Airfix kit as a 1 Squadron (RCAF) Hurricane Mk. 1.  I decided to delay my project until the summer to make this a dual build.  Since it is the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, I wanted to build the model during the actual dates of the Battle from July 10 to October 31.  Sort of as a small tribute to the only RCAF Squadron that flew operations during the Battle.  So that is how I ended up with the BoB BoB build.

The Airfix Hurricane has been an interesting experience.  This is clearly the best Hurricane in 1/72, but seemed fiddly until it was fully assembled.  The cockpit is nicely outfitted and was hand painted with Testors RAF Interior Green, while the tubing was coloured with a silver Sharpie.  The seat has also been painted aluminum, but has yet to be fitted.  I will use some of the new Eduard fabric belts on the seat and I hope my keyhole surgery skills will allow me to fit it once sanding is complete.

The wings assembly took some work; I must have got the wheel well slightly off square.  Once the well was painted aluminum, the two halves were put together.  It took some effort and gluing in sections, but with a little sanding it will be ok.  I do need to apply a skin of putty to the area around the gun bays which Airfix mistakenly depicted as fabric, rather than metal.

Fuselage fit was good, the under fuselage insert fit well, and the wing to the fuselage joint will only require a small amount of Mr. Surfacer at the root and Dissolved Putty at the front fuselage to wing join.  Hopefully I can get the filling and sanding stage done soon and move on to painting.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I'm a Ram!


Seventy-five years ago, 1 Squadron (RCAF) was the only Canadian fighter Squadron flying in the Battle of Britain.  In March 1941, 1 Squadron was renumbered 401 Squadron as part of the Article XV Squadrons agreement.  After many years on the shelf, 401 Squadron was reformed on June 30, 2015, at Cold Lake, Alberta, as Canada's newest CF-188 Hornet squadron.  On Monday, 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron flew its first operational sortie and the first photos have been released illustrating the "Ram" tail markings.  (Photos courtesy of the Canada. Dept. of National Defence.)


Modeler's Note: Really the only CF-18 to consider in 1/72 is the Academy kit.  There is an older Hasegawa kit on the market but it is a tough build and lacks detail.  Italeri also continually flogs their old kit, as does Revell, but it really isn't worth the time or energy.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

RCAF Deltas in Detail

The Northrop Delta was the first modern aircraft to be operated by the RCAF, and indeed the first stressed skin type to be built in Canada.  Even though the Delta was designed as an airliner, the RCAF aircraft were purchased as photo survey aircraft and no airline seats were fitted in the cabin.  After the first three aircraft were delivered it was determined that the Deltas should also be outfitted as seaplane bombers.  This requirement introduced bomb aimers windows, bomb racks under the wings and fuselage, and gunners hatches in the fuselage.  In 1939, it was decided that the Deltas would give up their photographic role and be utilized as bomber-reconnaissance aircraft.  The aircraft operated in this role until being relegated to service as instructional airframes in 1941.

The Northrop Deltas were originally purchased by the RCAF for aerial photography.  Shown here are the camera rack fittings inside the cabin. 


A Delta Bomber.  Delta 673 on skis armed to the teeth.  It is hard to imagine how the underpowered Delta maneuvered in the air with this configuration. 


 The under fuselage bomb racks with a bomb fitted.


A close up look at the under wing light stores carriers.


A view of the cockpit from the rear cabin.


The Very Pistol and shell storage behind the cockpit seats.  Note the window under the cockpit for a prone bombardier.


The Delta’s instrument panel and control wheel.


The cockpit in action.


A Lewis gun could be fitted in the rear fuselage of the Delta though the fuselage camera port.


A view of a Delta with the wing removed and the crew hatch open.


Delta 675 was assigned to 1 (F) Squadron to assist the pilots with transition training to their new Hawker Hurricanes.  In the end the performance was found lacking and a Harvard replaced the Delta.


Another view of Delta 675 at Sea Island, B.C.  This image illustrates the Delta’s SR-1820-F52 Cyclone engine.


Ice buildup on the horizontal stabilizers of Delta 667.



The Delta often flew on floats during RCAF service.  This photo illustrates the waterline on the floats of a fully-loaded aircraft.  The floats were designed specifically for the Delta by Canadian Vickers.


Delta 671 of 8 (GP) Squadron at RCAF Station Ottawa.  Note the open cargo door and the Model 75 floats.


A side of the Delta 667 on floats.


Another view of Delta 667 on floats.


Two Deltas share a dock with an RCAF Norseman.  This would make a nice, albeit difficult, diorama!


Part of the RCAF naval force assists a Delta 676.  Note the second Delta and Stranraer in the background.

During the winter of 1938, four Deltas were operated on skis.  Operation of the Delta on skis was never completely satisfactory, as trimming problems during flight could not be overcome.  The two bomb aimers windows of differing shapes under the cockpit are also of note. 


A ski equipped Delta fitted in the ski hoist.


All Photos courtesy of the Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Great Selection of FAA Photos

One of the very cool things about the internet is that occasionally family members of veterans take the time to post period photos. Check out this link on Flickr where Patrick Charles Stuart Chilton's grandson has uploaded an amazing collection of photos that were taken by his grandfather during his service with the Fleet Air Arm. (You can learn more about Mr. Chilton's wartime career as a pilot at this link.)  Gladiators and Skuas.  805 Squadron Buffalos and Martlets. 881 Squadron Martlets on HMS Illustrious. Seafires. BPF Corsairs and HMS Arbiter deck hockey. (Not to mention some nice travel photos too.) Stunning stuff!

P.S.: Thank you to Mr. Chilton’s grandson for taking the time to scan and post these photos. Less interested people have probably thrown out many of these kinds of pictures. He deserves our gratitude.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Sea Hurricane in Canada


When World War Two dawned, the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm found itself woefully short of fighter aircraft.  They started adapting land based types for carrier use: the Gladiator, Spitfire, and Hurricane were soon adapted into the Sea Gladiator, Seafire, and Sea Hurricane.  While the Sea Gladiator was outdated, the Sea Hurricane and Seafire soldiered on until U.S. types such as the Hellcat and Corsair were available in large numbers.  Of the two, the Sea Hurricane was probably the better carrier type, being less delicate than the Seafire.

Sea Hurricane BW866 in the snow.  Can anyone explain the number 1 as
a Squadron code?  Is this one of the aircraft flown by 118 Squadron?
(Carl Vincent Collection)

While the Sea Hurricane never served in the Royal Canadian Navy, it was, ironically, operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force.  In late 1941, the RCAF found itself without any frontline fighters, having sent its earlier Hawker Hurricanes off to the UK along with 1 (F) Squadron RCAF, and was having a hard time procuring additional fighters to meet its needs.  For reasons that are still slightly unclear, the RCAF received 50 Sea Hurricanes in 1942.  It is assumed that these aircraft, built in Thunder Bay, Ontario by Canadian Car and Foundry, were to be used as part of the Fleet Air Arm Merchant Ship Fighting Unit (MSFU) based in Canada, but were diverted to the RCAF.  These Sea Hurricanes were basically a Hurricane Mark I with a tail-hook, catapult spools, a short blunt DeHavilland spinner, and an eight gun wing.  The Sea Hurricanes carried serials BW835 to BW884 and entered into RCAF service with hooks retained, ROYAL NAVY painted on the fuselage, and painted in the Fleet Air Arm scheme of Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Sky.  Though photographic proof is scant, it appears that some aircraft had their tail-hooks removed during their RCAF service.  Most of the Sea Hurricanes spent their time flying out of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on strength with 126 (F) Squadron.  (Oddly, 118 (F) Squadron was heavily involved with Sea Hurricanes at the time even though it was not a Hurricane squadron.  The unit flew both with RCAF Sea Hurricanes and MSFU aircraft and appears to have accepted many of the RCAF Sea Hurricanes from the manufacturer.)  In 1943, the Sea Hurricane survivors were returned to Canadian Car and Foundry and upgraded to Hurricane XIIa status.  This involved fitting US made Packard Merlin engines and the related fuselage extension, removal of the tail-hooks, and a repaint into the standard RCAF Hurricane scheme of Dark Earth and Dark Green over Sky.  After the return to service, most of these Hurricanes were allocated to 1 OTU in Bagotville, Quebec, for training purposes.


The Sea Hurricane in 1/72

The first actual Sea Hurricane kit to be released in 1/72 scale was Revell’s Sea Hurricane IIC which appeared in 1999.  Not appropriate to build as an RCAF Sea Hurricane, this is the later cannon armed version flown by the Fleet Air Arm.  The kit has recently been reissued by Revell and makes into a neat model.  The breakdown of the kit parts is rather complicated, especially the wings that are made up of five separate pieces.  The fit is good, but it does take some care.  Revell provides the rear fuselage insert and tail took, but the modeler is left to make up the catapult spools if he or she wishes.  Cockpit detail is simple but effective with a decal instrument panel.  The clear parts may not be as clear as many would wish.  Sadly, the kit does have some accuracy concerns.  The doghouse area of the rear fuselage under the canopy is not depicted, the spinner and propeller are not prototypical, and the rear fuselage fabric detail is slightly heavy.  (The wings are also too large in chord.)  That being said, it does resemble the Sea Hurricane when finished and the price is right.

More recently, Airfix has issued a combined Hurricane IIC/Sea Hurricane kit.  Unlike the Revell kit, this is a conversion in a box.  The kit does provide the tail-hook and the fuselage insert, but the kit is molded as a Hurricane and the modeler is instructed to cut open the fuselage to fit the insert.  Again, the catapult spools are not provided.  The kit itself is a mixed bag; the fuselage fabric is beautifully done, but the recessed panel lines and rivets are very heavy.  The moldings are quick thick and detail is lacking.  However, it does build up reasonably well, and outside of the surgery necessary to build the Sea Hurricane, would make a good first effort for a beginner.  Sadly, again, there are accuracy issues.  The propeller is comically small, the spinner is, again, not prototypical and the canopy is larger in length than it should be which makes the whole fuselage look odd.  In addition, the horizontal stabilizers are too small and the elevators are the wrong shape.  Decals are provided for a mostly white Sea Hurricane from the HMS Nairana named “Nicki.”  Even with it being the newer kit, and again, at a nice price, I would still recommend the Revell kit over the Airfix Sea Hurricane if the modeler is looking for a 1/72 example for their shelf.