Wednesday 30 July 2008

A History of Chinese Aviation

Published by AHS of ROC, Lennart Andersson's 'A History of Chinese Aviation - Encyclopedia of Aircraft and Aviation in China until 1949' is a book of exceptional quality and an essential acquisition  for anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject. 

The 320 well-printed pages are packed with a wealth of encyclopedic detail and many rare very clearly reproduced photographs of this hitherto obscure subject. The book is in English and is very logically and clearly structured, taking the reader from the earliest origins of flight in China to the Civil War. The photographs are amongst the best I have seen, with some incredibly rare images, especially of early imported types. A section on markings and national insignia is most useful and at the end of the book is a collection of 33 colour profiles of representative types. 

The book covers Early Aviation in  China, Provincial Air Forces, with a detailed section on each air force including a useful map and other local air activities, the Chinese Air Force proper, including naval aviation and those governments collaborating with the Japanese, the Civil War Period until 1949, Civil Aviation in China, Aircraft Production in China (fascinating), Aircraft Types Designed in China, Foreign Aircraft Types Used in China Until 1941, Aircraft Types Acquired by the Chinese Air Force 1942-1945, Gliders and Sailplanes in China and a useful note on Sources and Literature.

Photographic gems include excellent studies of the Armstrong Whitworth  AW 16, Avro 631, a beautifully clear shot of a Boeing 281 (export P-26), Dewoitine D 510C, a camouflaged DH Rapide, a good clear view of that camouflaged Curtiss H75 Hawk and many, many others. 

I cannot praise this book too highly. It is a masterpiece of research and photographic selection in a subject area which is long overdue for serious attention. Very highly recommended. It is very reasonably priced at US $50 and may be obtained by Email or by writing to:-

PO Box 112-129
Taipei, Taiwan, ROC

Please see also Clarence Fu's ROC Chinese Aviation blog in my links.

A Word About Illuminants

In discussions about colour there are always comments regarding the appearance and matching of artifacts to standard swatches. Unfortunately, all too often the matches are being made visually, and therefore subjectively, rather than by measuring the original colour and using software to identify the closest matches with qualifying difference measurements.

Once matched the communication of the identified colours is dependent upon having the cross-referenced standard in order to "see" the colour referred to. In the case of on screen swatches the viewer is dependent upon the colour calibration of the monitor and also the software being used to view the swatch. The integrity of the swatch is also highly dependent upon the software that was used to create it.

Another important and often overlooked factor is the illuminant used when calculating and rendering the colours. Very often those conducting the preliminary visual matches between artifacts and standard swatches are using direct sunlight to do so. In the communication of colour through internationally acceptable standards that particular illuminant is effectively obsolete. Direct sunlight (as opposed to daylight) may tend to introduce a very slight muddying (browning) of the colour and to reduce the visibility of any green chroma to the observer.

Illuminants cannot be dissociated from the XYZ data they helped to generate. When providing colorimetric data, information on the illuminant used for the measurements always has to be given in order to understand and further process the data. Various standard illuminants have been devised to satisfy the evolving needs. 

The following are the co-ordinates of the principal standard illuminents in the international CIE system:-

A - Tungsten or incandescent, 2856 K

B - Direct Sunlight at Noon, 4874 K (obsolete)

C - North Sky Daylight, 6774 K

D50 - Daylight, used for colour rendering, 5000 K

D55 - Daylight, used for Photography, 5500 K

D65 - New Version of North Sky Daylight, 6504 K

D75 - Daylight, 7500 K

9300 K - High efficiency blue phosphor monitors, 9300 K

E - Uniform energy illuminant, 5400 K

F2 - Cool White Fluorescent (CWF), 4200 K

F7 - Broad-based Daylight Fluorescent, 6500 K

F11 - Narrow-band White Fluorescent, 4000 K

Naturally a colour swatch viewed under direct sunlight at noon will appear differently to a measured value from the same colour rendered with an illuminant of D65. Please spare a thought for the influence of illuminants when hotly debating the colour in that colour photograph or swatch!

Having recently obtained two mainstream and supposedly ground-breaking books on the subject of colour schemes and markings it was very disappointing to find that both authors had made no attempt whatsoever to communicate the colours they were discussing by cross-referencing to established colour identification standards. Both relied on descriptions of the colours and printed profile paintings to convey the information. Far from satisfactory in an age when more rather than less precision is expected on the subject!

Some conceal a lack of rigour in their work by scorning attempts to be precise about colour as pedantry - or punditry - and plead the "anything went" view of historical military colours. These approaches usually wax lyrical about hard-pressed groundcrew "in the field" making do and crew chiefs ignoring the niceties of official instructions. Whilst undoubtedly true in some circumstances, this is a simplification and does not lend itself to the complexities of reality.

Unfortunately, in the study of aviation colours subjectivity, an emotional adherence to established conventions and a desire to make the evidence conform to a preferred hypothesis seem to take precedence over a more scientific, detached and objective approach.

Monday 7 July 2008

Zero Anti-Glare Colours

Although the Kariki 117 document contains a chip for black, Q1, this was not the colour used to paint the cowlings and cockpit decking on the Zero fighter. That colour was a very dark blue-black called "Chi-57a dai san syu (the third type) Q1". This was specified as the colour to be applied for anti-glare use on Japanese Navy aircraft, including the cowling and cockpit decking under the canopy of the Zero fighter.

The pigments for this paint were Chi-43 'gunjyo' (ultramarine - Methuen 21C8) and Chi-40 carbon black to be mixed in the ratio of 1 to 4 parts. This resulted in a very dark blue-black, similar to the RAF 'Night', where the blue was almost imperceptible when the paint was first applied.

With ultra-violet exposure the applied paint faded back to a blueish-grey, the stages being demonstrated by the chips above. An extremely faded example became almost a light blue-grey. The remnants of anti-glare paint on the Zero decking shown are described as "faded blue-black".

Was this formula, or a similar one, used for the anti-glare panels on Army aircraft? Maybe.

Images credit: Zero Deck artifact via Derek Brown aka Buffie; Rendered colour chips © Straggler 2008

Early Hayabusa Colours ~ Part 2

Another 50th Sentai Oscar was brought down almost intact near Chittagong five days after the loss of S/N 422. Sgt Maj Chikashi Kotanigawa was flying S/N 402 in a low level pursuit of the Hurricanes of Flt Lt G J C Hogan and P/O Gray together with other Oscars when it is believed he accidentally hit a tree and was forced down, the aircraft belly-landing in a small field beside the Sangu River, half a mile south-east of Ramu village in the Chittagong hill tracts. 

S/N 402 was manufactured in the same month as 422, April 1942, but its colour scheme does not appear to be identical. It was a 2nd Chutai machine and was the subject of a detailed description in EAI 2/3 recorded by Sqn Ldr Browne. The aircraft was described as "Dark matt olive green sides and upper surfaces, shiny grey under surfaces".

A piece of extant rudder fabric has been matched visually to FS 34095, appearing lighter and more olive than the fabric from 422. This colour is very close to RAL 6003 Olivegrün (olive green), for which there is a Revell semi-gloss enamel hobby paint # 361. The "browner" appearance of the Kotanigawa rudder may be due to a number of factors, including the ageing or ultra-violet exposure of the original paint as the fabric has been displayed under glass but exposed for many years. It may also have been replaced or re-painted following repair or refurbishment.

It is still greener than Thorpe's A2 Olive Green and closer to JAAF paint standard # 21 'Midori iro'.

Unlike S/N 422, Kotanigawa's aircraft appeared to have the undersurfaces painted a pale blue-grey colour. The original small plain fuselage Hinomaru had been modified to display a white border 2.75 inches wide. The profile shows the aircraft as described and photographed at the time. The variegation is deliberate. I was mindful not just of the different tones apparent in the photograph but of the emphasis of a former 64th Sentai pilot who told me that not only did the shade of dark green vary from aircraft to aircraft but even on the same aircraft due to fading, wear and repairs.

The large central chip displays a gradient of the 402 and 422 fabric colours, together with Thorpe's A1 Dark Green and A2 Olive Green for comparison purposes.

Images credit: Profile painting and rendered colour chips © Straggler 2008

Sunday 6 July 2008

Early Hayabusa Colours ~ Part 1

Over at Jim Lansdale has posted the image of an extant artifact from Hayabusa S/N 422. This was an aircraft from the 3rd Chutai of the 50th Sentai, possibly flown by Sgt Maj Tomematsu Hama and brought down near Chittagong on 10th December 1942 by a Hurricane flown by F/Sgt W 'Bill' Hinton of 135 Sqn RAF. I have posted an extract from the EAI report describing the remains of this aircraft at

This artifact, a piece of fabric from one of the flying surfaces, is painted in dark green over aluminium. The dark green has been visually matched to Munsell 10 GY 2.5/2.0. The closest FS equivalent is 14077 @ 1.25 (2.0 or less = a close match). The colour is similar to JAAF paint standard # 27 'Ao Midori Iro' and provides a useful clue about the appearance of the dark green paint on these early Type 1 fighters. The close relationship between these colours may be seen from the large gradient chip at centre. This deep green colour is often referred to as "Nakajima Green" and is available as a ready-mixed colour in several hobby paint ranges.

The 50th converted to brand new Type 1 fighters at Tokorozawa in Japan from April 1942, before returning to Burma in September of that year. The heading photograph shows a sister Hayabusa of the 50th, S/N 438, being run up at Tokorozawa. 

With grateful thanks to Ken Glass for his kind assistance in calculating the sRGB values for the fractional Munsell notations and to David Duxbury for making the EAI reports available.

Image credits: Author's collection and rendered colour chips © Straggler 2008