Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cold War Tech War

Title: Cold War Tech War - The Politics of America's Air Defense
Author: Randall Whitcomb
Publisher: Apogee Books

The Avro Arrow is almost a cottage industry in Canada. All these years later, new books are published on Avro Canada and on the Arrow almost every year. The Arrow also has the distinction of being one of the few aircraft that has had more plastic kits issued (three by Hobbycraft, one by Aurora, one by VP, and one by Astra) then aircraft that actually flew. The Arrow has been built up to mythic proportions and much general knowledge about the Arrow is complete fiction. (For example we all know the Arrow was killed by the USAF as they were concerned that that the RCAF would have a more advanced fighter...ok...well...whatever...)

The late Randall Whitcomb has attempted to take a slightly different approach in Cold War Tech War - The Politics of America's Air Defense by presenting the thesis that the U.S. and Canadian governments were in collusion to kill the Arrow so as to promote U.S. industry and U.S. military equipment at the expense of home grown Canadian products. (Yes I said thesis, Mr. Whitcomb presents the book as an almost academic paper with footnotes, dry prose, tables, and every other academic cliche.) As far as a thesis goes, I think it is well thought out and probably quite true. However, Mr. Whitcomb then spends most of the book veering all over the place to attempt to support his thesis. (I'm not sure how the British SST projects apply to the story, other then they were ideas presented by Avro engineers. Why all the aeronautical discussions in a book about global politics?) In the end the book becomes just another puff piece about how great an aircraft the Arrow was, and how advanced Avro Canada was. At one point he states that the Arrow would exceed the performance of all current aircraft, except maybe the F-22! In fact Mr. Whitcomb takes Avro's performance projects at face value, which at times is almost embarrassing; for example in the chapter on the Mach 3 VTO saucer project. (Also, Mr Whitcomb appears to have watched a little to much Star Wars claiming the Germans were working on lasers and beam weapons late in World War Two. Ok...)

The other major problem with the book, is quite honestly, some of it is hard to believe. Facts are wrong. For example Mr. Whitcomb states the Blackburn NA.39 never went into production...wrong, it became the Blackburn Buccaneer which served for many years with the Fleet Air Arm, and the RAF and was used in combat in the first Gulf War. He mentions Ken Follett's book Mirage...sorry the author was James Follett. And finally, he cites Wikipedia in the footnotes more then once. Really? Wikipedia? Wow. These are just a few of the mistakes I caught, so it calls into questions other "facts" he presents. In addition, the footnotes are odd. It is almost like he put them there to pretend to be academic. Some primary sources are cited, but others are just stated as facts with no cites at all. Finally, the CF-103 project isn't even mentioned in the book even though it got as far as the mockup stage.

This is not to say the book has no redeemable qualities. What Mr. Whitcomb lacks as a writer, he more then makes up for as a graphic artist. There are some stunning profiles and paintings of Avro Canada projects in the book. In addition, the Postscript should be read by every North American to understand just what is happening in today's world where economics and the economic elite drive all political decisions. Plus the book is kinda entertaining in an X-Files kinda way...just keep in mind isn't really non-fiction. More like semi-fiction. Don't believe all that you read!

P.S.: Please note that Mr. Whitcomb passed away before the book was published, so it may be a little harsh to criticize the book which was probably just a draft. Mr. Whitcomb might have edited it better and corrected some of the problems had he lived. But it was published as is and presented into the marketplace without the necessary editing and fact checking.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

2009 IPMS/USA National Convention

Heather and I spent Thursday and Friday at the IPMS/USA Convention in Columbus. Overall it was a great show. My only complaint was that the lighting in the model room was very poor. This is a constant problem with shows hosted by IPMS/Columbus, so I'm starting to wonder if the club is a bunch of vampires or something! I was shocked by the amount and quality of the models on display. (Click here for some of my photos from the show.) I picked up a few decal sheets and resin sets, but the biggest score was a Valom H.P. Hampden with the torpedo conversion. Shockingly, I went a little crazy late Friday and purchased a new Grex airbrush... (I attended an airbrushing seminar by Rafe Morrissey on Friday which I think directly attributed to the purchase of the Grex.)

Probably the best thing about the convention; well other then seeing lots of friends, was that it jazzed me up to get back to modeling again.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Target Tug Lizzie

This is Lysander III RCAF #1557. This Lizzie was built by Westland in the UK as V9358, converted into a target tug, and operated by 3 OTU at Patricia Bay, B.C. Notice the natty white spinner, spats, and cowl flaps. Also notice the extended exhaust which was featured on many of the RCAF Lysanders. (Photo courtesy of the Canada Department of National Defence/Library and Archives of Canada.)

I have a Lysander III conversion planned in the near future using the Airfix kit, but I'm not sure I have the nerve to try the target tug scheme. Or for that matter the yellow/black serials under the wing and one the fuselage. Sure looks nice though. I also have a Matchbox Lysander II on the bench, but I'll save more details on that project for an bench update this weekend.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mystery Ferry Command Liberator

Here is a photo of a Ferry Command Liberator taken at Gander, Newfoundland, on August 19, 1941, acting as a sort of Canadian "Air Force One." The photo caption states the Liberator is carrying Prime Minister Mackenzie King to England. I assume this is one of the Liberator LB-30As in the AM258 to AM263 serial range. Anyone know which aircraft it actually is? (Photo courtesy of the Canada Department of National Defence/Library and Archives of Canada.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Greenhouse Tavern - Cleveland

On Friday, Heather and I were finally able to visit the Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th Street in Cleveland. The Greenhouse is the newest venture of Chef Jonathan Sawyer, formerly of Bar Cento, and is Ohio's first Green Certified restaurant. Being Bar Cento fans, we were looking forward to dining at the Greenhouse Tavern. It did not disappoint. A rather large space with fewer tables then I expected, Greenhouse's decor is both sophisticated and approachable. We were seated in the rear mezzanine overlooking the restaurant and the East 4th patio. In fact, sophisticated and approachable would also describe the food. We opened with bread and goats milk butter. I had the Steak Frites. My steak was perfectly cooked, tasted wonderful, and the fries are very yummy. Heather had the chilled Tomato and Bread Soup and had Parisian Gnocchi for her entree. She really enjoyed both. I tried some of the gnocchi and it was the freshest gnocchi I've ever tasted, the corn being a nice touch. We ended up the meal with a pot of Chocolate Mousse for two and some tea. The Mousse was great, but the accompaning Hazelnut Brittle was the real winner here. I could eat it for days. The whole experience was wonderful and I can't wait to go back. (The only off note, was just that; a note, well really a song. Most of the music played in the restaurant was top shelf mellow tunes...Wilco, Beck, etc. In fact Heather commented that it sounded like I was picking the playlist. So I was taken aback when I heard the opening chords of an unplugged version of Brian Adams's Summer of '69? Guys...play Ryan Adams, not Brian Adams! Thanks.) Rumor has it that the Greenhouse has been named as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the U.S. by Bon Appetit magazine. It certainly deserved that award.

Can I go back this weekend?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Airfix 1/72 Spitfire PR.XIX

Last Thursday a small box was left on my doorstep with an English postmark. Within it contained two of kits I had been eagerly awaiting, the new Airfix Spitfire XIX and BAe Hawk, both in the divine scale, of course.

While there have been a few cracks at the Spitfire XIX in 1/72, all have left something to be desired. The MPM kit is from the early days of short run models and there is more flash then kit on the sprues. The Academy kit is boxed as a Spitfire XIV, but looks like a Spitfire on steroids, with a multitude of shape problems and a general bloated attitude. The Fujimi Griffon Spitfire family was the best of the bunch, but has a five piece fuselage, five piece wings, and rather poor fit. How does the Airfix kit stack up?

First off the Airfix kit is a Spitfire XIX out of the box. It is not an in-box conversion of an XIV to an XIX like the Fujimi kit. No panel lines on the wings to fill and no camera ports to drill out. The shape is good, no goofy humped high back fuselage as in the Fujimi kit, and Airfix correctly noticed that Griffon Spitfires have a retractable tail wheel. Molding is quite crisp with only a little flash on the rudder. Options include three and four hub wheels, retracted or extending landing gear, and a rather small wee pilot. Detail is simplified, but for the most part acceptable for a cheaper 1/72 scale kit. Panel lines are engraved, and some comments have been made that they are too deep. I think they are acceptable, and look much like the engraved lines you see on Tamiya aircraft. Not as petite as Hasegawa engravings, but not too overstated. The instructions are clear, and a colour decal guide is included. Decal options include a Medium Sea Grey over PRU Blue RAF Spitfire from Malaysia, and an overall PRU Blue Swedish Spitfire. The decal sheet is well printed, but very simple with only the basic markings including. The clear parts are perfectly clear, but the canopy is molded in one piece.

However, not all is perfect.

1. The wheel wheels are not boxed in and there is no internal detail.

2. The landing gear legs and doors are molded in one piece. Many find this a crime against humanity. It is a little cheap, but with some careful painting, I think all will be ok.

3. The propeller is a little anemic.

4. There is no detail on the instrument panel and no decal is included. Ouch. Somebody at Airfix must have been asleep that day.

5. The radiator exhaust outlets are a little on the small side. The radiators themselves seem to have good shape, but the outlets are too short in span.

6. The wee man, is a little small...if you care.

7. No slipper tank is included. This is about the only option that Fujimi included that Airfix missed.

Overall, this is a great simple kit. A quick build with good shape, that really would be benefited by a Eduard Zoom set that includes an instrument panel, some wheel well detail, and a few other simple details. Wonder if we will see a Spitfire XIV from Airfix sometime in the future?

My kit will shortly proceed to the workbench to be finished as Spitfire XIX PM627 as it appeared while on display with the Canadian Warplane Heritage in the mid 1970s.