Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Battle of Britain Day 15 September 2021


'This was their kingdom, the air, and it bore them like kings,
And they were the shield for us all who dwelt under their wings.'
 Edward Shanks (1892 – 1953)




Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Nate-Fest Part Two - Supplemental

Some more images of Stéphane Sagols' excellent 1/48 scale Nakajima Ki-27 built from the classic Mania/Hasegawa kit.   


With special thanks to Stéphane Sagols for sharing these additional images of his very fine model.

Image credit: All photos © 2021 Stéphane Sagols.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Nate-Fest Part Two ~ 97-Sen in 1/48 by Stéphane Sagols


Stéphane Sagols has very kindly shared these images and details of his build of the 1/48 scale Mania/Hasegawa Type 97, Ki-27, kit to represent the aircraft of WO Hiromichi Shinohara, 1st Chutai, 11th Sentai, as flown during the Nomonhan incident. Shinohara was the highest claiming ace of the incident, with 58 victories. The ten victory stars were applied to the aircraft during the June lull in the fighting and represent victories claimed in two days of air combat during May. Shinohara was forced down in this aircraft in Soviet territory on 25 July 1939 but was rescued by Sgt Maj Koichi Iwase. The four-chutai 11th Sentai was the highest claiming Japanese fighter unit during Nomonhan and its 1st Chutai was led by another well-know ace Capt Kenji Shimada who flew a similarly star-marked aircraft and claimed 27 victories during the fighting.  


Stéphane built the model from the box but detached the control surfaces and cut the canopy into three parts to show it open. For the cockpit he used a mix of grey and dark blue enamels, adding some touches of black, white, natural metal and yellow for the instruments/equipment and wiring. The seat was painted I.J.A light grey and he added the back cushion. The instrument panel was painted black with a light grey dry brushing and some colours added in the dials then gloss varnished.

The external base color is Tamiya XF-14 J.A. Grey with panels slightly thinned with white. The Hinomaru insignia are painted on. Weathering was achieved with Tamiya X-19 Smoke mixed with some Sepia ink and water.


With very special thanks to Stéphane for sharing these images and details of an impressive model built from a classic and perennially popular kit, regularly re-released by Hasegawa with new boxes and decals since 1979. 


Image credit: All photos © 2021 Stéphane Sagols 

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Nate-Fest Part One ~ 97-Sen in 1/72 by Rob Ronconi

The Type 97 fighter, Nakajima Ki-27 'Nate', was a nimble sky dancer which Chennault described as 'one of the best aerobatic aeroplanes ever built'. observing that it 'climbs like a skyrocket and manoeuvres like a squirrel'. He later remarked that his AVG pilots were to find it 'more troublesome than the Zero because of its astonishing rate of climb and incredibly short turning radius'*. Notwithstanding Nate's WWI-type armament of two synchronised, rifle calibre machine guns** being all but obsolete by 1941, the 97-Sen still equipped 17 (nearly 90%) of the Army's 19 fighter Sentai at the outbreak of the Pacific War and the extent of its exploits during the first year, especially over China, have tended to get overlooked in favour of later and more heavily armed types.


To begin a seasonal Nate Fest Rob Ronconi has very kindly shared these images of his superb Type 97 'Nate' models in 1/72 scale, his all-time favourite subject - "a great looking aircraft sleek and a bit delicate reminiscent of a 1930's air racer" - and built out of the box from the classic Mania/Hasegawa kit with some improvements. Rob expressed amazement at how well the mouldings of the 'mad genius' behind Mania have held up so well in the ensuing 51 years. Rob replaced the kit supplied and rather crude parts for the Type 89 telescopic gun sight and pitot tube with Albion Alloys brass tubing as well as thinning down the propeller hubs and antennae. The excellent photography displays the models to great effect. 

The models representing aircraft of the 24th and 77th Sentai during the opening phases of the Pacific War were finished with Tamiya paint mixes and AK pencils to simulate and accentuate panel lines, with markings from Lifelike Decals Ki-27 Nate sets. The 24th Sentai example with the white fuselage band was made by Rob's Canadian friend Victor Riquelme whilst the model with the red and white band as flown by 2nd Chutai leader Capt Hyoe Yonaga is Rob's. A curiosity of the camouflaged Nates of the 24th Sentai which participated in the Philippines campaign was the presentation of five rather than the more usual four stripes on the rudder, as confirmed by photographs. 

With very special thanks to Rob and Victor for sharing another series of fine and superbly photographed models. More Nimble Nates on the way in 1/48 scale.

* The AVG's main fighter opponent, other than the Ki-27, was the Army Nakajima Type 1 fighter, Ki-43-I Hayabusa 'Oscar' rather than the Navy's Zero, but many US pilots in China continued to refer colloquially to all single-engined enemy fighters as 'Zeros' despite correctly identifying the Ki-43 and Ki-44. 

** Some flight-sim and gamer types often refer to paired 7.7mm machine guns as 'popguns'. Being invited to stand atop the butts on a firing range as two machine gunners introduce them to 7.7mm rounds fired from 300 metres at 820 m/s and  'too close for comfort' might change their minds!

Image credit: All model photos © 2021 Rob Ronconi

Monday, 6 September 2021

1/72 A6M3 Model 22 Zero by Marian Holly


Some more fine Zero modelling, this time in the smaller scale of 1/72 by Marian Holly with a write up of his build. Over to Mario then:-

'This is the 1/72 scale Tamiya kit of the A6M3/3a released in 2013. I don’t subscribe to a notorious cliché that “it’s Tamiya it must be great” but in this case it’s at least the best 1/72 replica of Zero-sen currently on the market. Some people swear by Fine Molds (FM) kits but since I've built both I’d say the FM A6M3 cowling is a bit undernourished. It’s really a tiny bit but it’s visible. Generally fit is excellent but not perfect. The lower wing inserts featuring wing cannon bulges typical for this version require some careful puttying and sanding. The top wing to fuselage joints also required a little more attention than anticipated. 

'With this build I went rather overboard with aftermarket parts. I used an Eduard pre-painted set for the cockpit, their photo-etch (PE) for wheel wells and ignition harness for the engine. The idea of showing the flaps down was discarded at the very early stage since pictures of the real thing with flaps down are extremely rare. Besides I feel it just doesn’t look good on the Zero and the same is true of the opened engine cowling. In retrospect all those PE details do not really stand out. It seems that the Zero is not a good subject when it comes to super detailing. I did rivet the whole airframe though and sanded down the ribbing on all control surfaces a bit. It’s slightly exaggerated to my taste. I added the brake lines to the landing gear, from fine solder, scratch built the antenna mast and pitot tube from the brass rod and tube. I do this on every single kit I build as the plastic versions of these parts typically look oversized and besides are just way too fragile. The antenna wire is the thinnest Dai-riki fishing tipper line (9xx). I replaced the sliding portion of the canopy with a Squadron acetate part. The painting of the frames on this part is not my best work. Next time I’ll use painted strips of decal. Canopy design is another “glitch” of this kit. Even though the box contains clear parts to install the canopy closed or open the sliding part is a bit thick and doesn’t conform nicely to the fuselage. In other words, it sticks out and lacks a scale look

'I am never happy with markings as they come with the standard kit so I chose a subject aircraft from Rising Decals sheet 72074 “ Zero Pt. IV”. The criss-cross field applied green camouflage was irresistible. The plane supposedly belonged to 251st Kokutai at Rabaul in May 1943 and was flown by Lt.(jg) Takeyoshi Ôno. It’s said it was dubbed “Wewak Willie” by Allied pilots who encountered it in combat. For the first time I used AK International Real Color IJNAF dedicated shades which our own Nick helped develop - Olive Gray SP overall, J3 gray for control surfaces and D2 green for the camouflage. All other colors for detail painting came from Gunze Mr. Color line. Even though I fully trust and like the shades, I was not very happy with the results. The paint doesn’t give you that nice, smooth semi-gloss finish you get from Gunze or Mr. Paint, and I used their original thinner. Besides, and that’s what really ticked me off, if you do touch ups with a brush it will result in a different shade! Some other modelers experienced the same occurrence. 

'Overall, I’m quite happy with the finished model. I tried some new approaches and products which I may, or not, apply to future builds. I’m currently working on a pair of Zeros that will feature similar “blotchy” and “streaky” camouflage and I intend to share the results with you (relatively) soon.'

The distinctive cross-hatched pattern of dark green camouflage replicated on Mario's model and as applied to some Zero aircraft operating from Rabaul in early 1943 gave rise to a contemporaneous USAAF legend of a Japanese ace known to them by the sobriquet “Wewak Willie” who reputedly flew a checker patterned Zero. The 49th Fighter Group pilot Sammy Pierce described how the Zero was not really painted in a checkerboard design but that its camouflage pattern just gave that effect when it was seen in the air. The 21 year old Takeyoshi Ôno (shown above) flew his initial combat tour in the Zero with Tainan Ku, claiming his first victory over a P-39 (unconfirmed) whilst flying CAP over Buna on 27 August 1942. He returned to Japan in November 1942 but undertook a second combat tour with the re-designated 251 Ku from Rabaul in May 1943, at times leading the unit. He was killed in action over Rendova on 30 June 1943 with claims for eight victories. 

With very special thanks to Mario for sharing these images of a striking looking Zero model and an insightful write up, as well as for his patience in waiting for them to appear here.    

Image credit: All model photos © 2021 Marian Holly; Lt Ôno photo via web; box art © 2013 Tamiya, Inc., via Hobby Search


Friday, 3 September 2021

Hasegawa and Tamiya Up The Ante by Mark Smith


The Zero fighter is a perennial modelling favourite, the subject of many a continuing colour controversy and a type fascination never far from this blog. Aviation of Japan's Texas correspondent Mark Smith has penned another thoughtful and delightful journey down modelling's memory lane to consider Zero kits, cowlings and paint. Over to Mark then. . . 

'About twenty years ago I wanted to build my two favorite models in the Zero’s development, the A6M3 Model 22 and the A6M5 Model 52c or hei. I did it as a tandem build. That meant building a relatively new kit at the time, the 1/48 scale Hasegawa Model 22 which debuted in 1994, alongside the Tamiya 52c released in 1983. The latter remains in many ways a worthy challenger to Hasegawa’s later 52c.   

'At the time I was mainly using Aeromaster paints, and in their dedicated Japanese colors series they were pioneering the recognition that aircraft factories often showed noticeable variations in the standard colors as prescribed. Model Art publications had been the first source I had noticed which illustrated distinctive JNAF and JAAF colors through paint chip charts – actual chips and not printed colors, and these appeared to be linked to the appearance of the Aeromaster colors. Those hobby paints were not a ‘last word’ on the subject (what is?), and didn’t claim to be, but they were a big step forward (I stand with Nick regarding his recent comments on the Kawanishi Green however, one I would avoid. And there might be more accurate paints currently made to represent certain Japanese colors). First issued as enamels and then augmented by the same colors in acrylic, they were finely pigmented and sprayed beautifully (They also brushed nicely too, with thin but opaque and smooth coats. Ed). I still have some in usable condition. I used ‘Mitsubishi Grey’ for the Model 22 base color, and ‘Mitsubishi Green’ for the patchy green that covers it. For the Model 52c, I used ‘Nakajima Green’ for the topsides and ‘Nakajima Grey’ below. A very short time later I began reading pioneering articles by the late Jim Lansdale on the j-aircraft.com website and came to think that the Aeromaster greys should have been switched: the Mitsubishi grey should have been the one with the warm olive tone, and the Nakajima the one without it. As to the ‘Mitsubishi Green’ I like the color for a field-applied example, but it lacks the bluish cast that would be appropriate to most later production Zeros, as well as other types.     

'I would like to know more about the earliest use of green in the field to camouflage frontline aircraft in the South Pacific. Generally (or among the examples in my limited collection), Japanese artists have shown it as a rich, deep green, usually without the slight blue element that later characterized many IJNAF airplanes. I realize my bias here; this general tendency began through the work of Japanese artists who had a background of experience in the war or were witness to its machines. On the other hand, the bluish dark green has also been documented (particularly in more recent years) for China-based aircraft used before Japanese involvement in the Pacific, so making that distinction is an issue for the modeler’s discretion. I have read on this blog and elsewhere about how carefully camouflage alternatives for the Zero were evaluated at Yokosuka, how stringently those colors were mandated, so it’s hard to imagine those colors not being too different than the ones adopted by units in the home islands (Please refer to the IJN Greens PDF for a discussion on green pigment character, degradation and colour shift. Ed).    


'I knew the Model 22 subject that I wanted to do. I was fascinated by a grainy 1943 photo of '6-171', taken from the rear, that appears on p.88 of the Japanese FAOW No. 9 of 1988 'Type Zero Carrier Fighter Model 22-63' (shown above), as well as the Squadron Signal Aircraft No.59  'A6M Zero in Action' of 1983. It featured an odd ‘splattered’ camouflage appearance which seemed to have hard edges in the small area where that could be discerned on the rear fuselage and tail.  The tailplane was solid green, and the wings were well out of focus but with an irregular pattern of coloring.  I was never quite happy with my result in painting the model; I thought the superb 1/32 model of this aircraft by Artur Domanski, shown on Aviation of Japan 20 April 2018, was a much more successful attempt to extrapolate the areas at which photos only hinted, or did not reveal. And when I finally saw a much clearer scan of the picture, especially alongside a distant shot of it in flight (see below), I could tell I’d guessed wrong in a few areas.  But the spirit of the thing is there.  Maybe 201 NAG had another 22 that looked just like it. Who can say they didn’t? I hadn’t looked at this kit in the box in a long time, but in pulling this model out to photograph it, I was again impressed by Hasegawa’s fidelity of detail and shape in a kit now 28 years old, and one of very few parts. For a bridesmaid, it’s still a beauty.  

Mitsubishi Grey according to Aeromaster around the turn of the century. You know you're old when you can finally use that phrase. Young punks will never know how it feels. Whatever the version, the Zero looked ready.

Riveting was engraved on the cowl with a scriber, the flaps cocked open slightly, not a kit option.

'The Model 22 was built as a surprise gift for my friend Ed Esposito. Ed was a great guy with wide interests, knowledge, and memory. With a doctorate in physics from Harvard, his passions also ranged from Martin Scorsese films to Boston Red Sox baseball lore to the Mitsubishi Zero. He was a stickler about many things (his restaurant orders could be torturous), but especially about Zeros! This was even mentioned at his funeral service in a tribute by a fellow teacher who had no aviation interests. Based on Shigeru Nohara drawings in the Aero Detail book on the Zero, Ed felt that the 1/48 Hasegawa kit, otherwise so fine in contour and dimensions, was sadly marred by being a little short in the rear fuselage.  It made Ed sad anyway.

Bright sun! Aeromaster Mitsubishi Green was used for the Model 22's field-applied camouflage  

'When I decided to secretly build this one for him, and put the parts on those drawings, I knew I’d have to do it.  I taped the fuselage halves together, held my breath, and sawed them in half a bit forward of the empennage.  Every instinct said don’t do this! My wallet concurred.  And here I am twenty-two years later, still trying to blame my own obsessions on Ed.  It worked out though, by adding a little less than 2 mm to the fuselage length via styrene inserts in each fuselage half.  I suggested once that he wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t told him.  He said ‘Not true' and although he was smiling I think he meant it.  If the Nohara drawings are right and if the Hasegawa fuselage is a tad short, then the modern- day fix would be easier: buy the new tool Tamiya Model 22 kit released in 2010 instead.   

Indirect sun! Aeromaster Nakajima Green enamel on topsides of Tamiya vintage Model 52c

'As I built the Tamiya 1983 Model 52c kit alongside Ed’s gift, I found it had the great advantage of offering two sets of cowl flaps, either open or closed, with weld seams on the thrust exhausts and beautifully molded machine gun ports and upper air scoop.  The Hasegawa propeller from its 1982 Model 52 mold kit was better, so I used that in combination with the Tamiya spinner.  One way to gauge the advance of kit technology is to consider the evolution of the distinctive cowling of the Zero 52 in 1/48 scale, from the dreadful Monogram take on it in the sixties; to the Hasegawa 1982 edition which was far better, the first to express the elegance of the design, but which today seems a little 'soapy by comparison with the Tamiya kit shown above, issued just one year later, and even more so (like the man in a $600 suit at the party, duly admired, suddenly eclipsed by the fellow coming through the door in a thousand dollar one);...against the winner and current champ, the Tamiya A6M5 Model 52/52a of 2008 vintage.  The latter kit’s rendition is easily the best in fit and engineering, with certain refinements that should make any modeler smile.  Tamiya’s 1983 cowling elicited a “How could it be any better?!” response – a question answered emphatically in 2008.

'After seeing a draft of this article my friend Chris Luevano sent me the above image of various vintage Zero kit cowlings. From left to right:- Aurora (!), resin 'fix' for Monogram, Monogram, Tamiya 1/50, and Tamiya 1982 A6M3 Hamp cowling to the far right of the line up.

'Considering this recap of quarter-scale Zekes, isn’t someone in Japan well overdue for a definitive A6M2 Model 21?  One can hope. Since building this duo I’ve also built the Sweet A6M2 kit in 1/144 and the fairly recent Tamiya Model 21 in 1/72.  But the Zero is not out of my system yet.  I’m about halfway through Tamiya’s most recent 1/48 Zero kit, the 52/52a or ko, with only good things to say about it. The detail areas are mostly done, and its detail and great fit make it a marvelous project, whether from the box, or further detailed.  I just hope I get the green right…'  

While resin aftermarket and scratchbuilding augmented the cockpit, it was nicely rendered.  Squadron’s vacform canopy replaced the kit parts for scale effect, but kit provided an option for an open canopy.   

Bright sunlight. Aeromaster decals from 48-156 provided the base for overpainted codes. Note raised panel lines on fuselage and outer tail that were combined with the engraved detail on this kit. 

With very special thanks to Mark for writing another delightful article, the images of his impressive models and his patience in waiting for it to appear here.  

Image credits: All model photos © 2021 Mark Smith; Photo of 6-171 © 1988 Bunrin-Do Co., Ltd via Mark Smith; Photo of Zeros in flight web via Mark Smith; Cowling images © 2021 Chris Luevano via Mark Smith; Box art images © 1994 Hasegawa Corp., and © 1983 Tamiya Inc., both via Hobby Search