Wednesday 30 September 2009

Exotic Birds ~ Part Two

More instructions on building Japanese recognition models from the wartime book by Emanuele Stieri courtesy of Mark Jahson.

The Nell would make a handsome model in wood even without turrets! It reminds me of an illustration in one of the old Fleetway Library Air Ace Picture Library comic books showing Nell bombers attacking an Allied stronghold. All the Nells were depicted as the airliner "Nippon-Go" version complete with the same civil 'J' registration codes! The artist must have used the LS kit as reference. I'll see if I can dig that out to show here.

The Type 97 "Army Light Bomber" is of course the Ki-15 Babs.

Image credit: Courtesy Mark Jahsan 2009

Monday 28 September 2009

Sento Ki 001 & Other Exotic Birds ~ Part One

Courtesy of the kind generosity of Mark Jahsan (and sat on for far too long - thanks for the reminder Mark!) comes a fabulous wartime survivor of instructions and plans for building recognition models of aircraft. 'Building Model War Planes for the Army and Navy' by one Emanuele Stieri contains a fascinating collection of Japanese aircraft too. Mr Stieri appears to have been the prolific author of various hobby, woodworking and home improvement books and was the founder in 1933 of what was to become Carstens Publications Inc., which still publishes three monthly magazines: 'Railroad Model Crafstman', 'Flying Models', and 'Railfan & Railroad' as well as soft and hard cover books primarily in the model hobby and railroad fields. The ownership of the company passed to Charles A. Penn, formerly with Bernarr MacFadden’s publishing empire, in 1934. Hal Carstens (1925-2009) became a major figure in model railroad hobbies in the USA.

The original instructions and plans for the Zero, identified as a "Sento Ki 001", are dated February 1942 and are based on "observations at Hawaii". The model looks a little like a hybrid between a Zero and an Army Type 1 (Ki-43). Fascinating! Pity it says nothing about colour but if it did the word "grey" might figure! ;-)

Being of a certain age I like and admire aeroplane models that focus on the aerodynamic shape of the originals, rather than on details and techniques. So these simple recognition models have a great appeal, warts and all. They would probably be considered very plain fare these days and in sharp contrast to the plastic kits now being manufactured in Japan and China, but building them now to display them in their pure historical context would still be a lot of fun.

They pretty much speak for themselves - so I'll let them. And I'll feature more from this interesting collection over the next week or so.

Any additional comments and contributions about wartime recognition documents and models of Japanese aircraft would be welcome.

Images credit: Courtesy Mark Jahsan 2009

Saturday 26 September 2009

Colours and Paints

One of the indirect criticisms sometimes levelled at this site and others is that the colour information does not include suitable hobby paint equivalents. Some people can be quite rude about this, adding to their questions about colour that they are not interested in Munsell values or any of those other "meaningless numbers" - as though there is an obligation to provide them with exactly what they want - and for free.

The problem is that the range of hobby paints now available is enormous. In addition to the question of acrylics vs enamels there is the matter of preferred paint ranges. The internet caters to an international audience - but unfortunately the hobby paint manufacturers don't! Not all paint ranges are available in all countries. Then there are the personal preferences, those content with a reasonably close out of the bottle (or tin) colour and those who like to mix their own paints to a precise match. Those who prefer or are restricted to using a particular brand of paint. Then there are the paint ranges that purport to provide "authentic" colours and their adherents who often jump in when the subject is being discussed to suggest using a ready made paint which bears no resemblance to the original colour. There are a number of websites that tabulate equivalents across paint ranges but very often these are based on the appearance of printed paint charts rather than actual comparisons and many are subjective - without any indication of how close, or how far, one paint colour is from another.

It is just not practicable (or affordable!) to attempt to create matches for all the available paint ranges. For example, the Testors Model Master range popular in the USA is not available in the UK. Potential colours cannot be assessed from charts - the actual paint itself has to be obtained and examined. That is why to a certain extant the communicated colour values, universal as intended, ought to be useful enough to anyone prepared to invest in a FS deck, use a search engine or to do a little experimental mixing based on the rendered colour chips. Several online programmes allow conversion from, say, Munsell into RGB, whereby a reasonable chip can be rendered on the consumer's own monitor and then assessed against the paints in his or her possession. When it comes to a model micrometric precision is not as important as the inherent characteristic of a colour (although a fair few get even that wrong).

Those who do seek precision in assessing and communicating colour, whether as researchers or end users, frequently come under fire from the "anything goes" brigade, attracting such pejoratives as "rivet counters" or "colour police". I have noticed this more and more in online and magazine articles, where the author's ignorance is often thinly disguised by an attack on knowledge, a reference to the ubiquitous "internet research" followed by an implication of reaching a definitive conclusion which is nothing of the sort or an attack on those who are more fussy about the colours they use. No matter how many times it is stressed that decisions about paint colours are individual and personal there is nothing more misleading than those modellers who, having made an individual and personal decision about colour, attempt to pass it off as some kind of definitive conclusion in a published article. The honesty of "I don't know but I chose this" would be a refreshing change. Somehow they think that because they are building the latest large scale Tamegawa flavour of the month for a mainstream magazine feature it puts an onus on them to make a definitive pronouncement about the colours. In some cases they don't even bother to cite what the instructions have to say about it. Dare we criticise? Not hardly, because the article invariably fires a few warning shots about said "rivet counters" and "colour police" intended to deter anyone from pointing out the wrong colour of the Emperor's new aircraft.

Specialist websites like and Arawasi represent an enormous amount of behind the scenes hard work and research by passionate and dedicated enthusiasts in order to make quality information available to modellers and it is therefore galling to read mainstream articles where modellers use glib phrases to conceal their laziness or ignorance of the subject, especially where it is communicated to readers as something more than a personal choice. Look, your decision to paint the cockpit "aotake" is perfectly valid, but don't try to pass it off as some kind of definitive advice for others based on your so-called "internet research". That "research" itself is sometimes poorly presented and very often the author neglects to cite the websites or sources of data he has used so that others can see it for themselves. In some cases it is only too apparent that the author has absorbed the data incorrectly and passes it on in a garbled or inappropriate form. I saw that quite recently where a modelling "name" dropped one of those peremptory "end of argument" soundbites into a thread, clearly mistaking his prolific modelling for prolific knowledge. Specialist websites like are free resources with tremendously helpful archived threads and FAQs but that doesn't seem to prevent the odd idle bozo from complaining in a post that they were not helpful - or the classic cliché that he or she ended up even more confused than to begin with.

This month two mainstream articles that between them displayed a staggering level of ignorance about Japanese aircraft, the current state of research and the resources available made me think seriously about the point of continuing to maintain this blog. Once again there seemed to be enormous confusion over the difference between opinion and knowledge and a fantastic discourtesy in not acknowledging how far the availability of information has extended thanks to the researchers and websites that have generously shared it. Had these modellers and artists been stranded on an island for ten years? I wondered. Was their ignorance accidental or just pig?

Twenty to thirty years ago the absence of the internet and the house style of modelling magazines ensured that knowledge was a prized commodity, not to be de-valued by the opinion overkill we see today. In those days knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge seemed to drive the modelling but all too often these days it appears that the modelling drives the knowledge, even when it is far from perfect and often in the wrong direction.

Image credit: © 2009 Straggler

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Arawasi Magazine No.11 Out Now!

The latest edition of Arawasi magazine, No.11 for Summer 2009, has been published and is now available. It looks like an essential purchase for anyone interested in the Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu but as always all the articles are diverse and fascinating, lifting the lid on the world of Japanese aviation for non-Japanese readers.

Ki-45 Special features:-

53rd Sentai Unit History
Air Duel Over Burma ~ 21st Sentai Personal Account
Ki-45 Flight Instruments
Ki-45 Weaponry ~ The Riddle of the Guns Pt.2
Ki-45 Model commentary

Other features:-

Captured Douglas DB-7B Boston
Mitsubishi J4M Senden
Nieuport 24 Army Type Ko-3 Fighter-Trainer
Japanese & Korean Aviatrix - women aviators
Nakajima Ki-11
Sally Puzzle Solved (Ki-21 Unit Marking)

Highly recommended.

Friday 18 September 2009

I-16 Rata ~ Xinjiang and the Kuomintang

There are never enough opportunities to explore Chinese subjects here so I welcome this one.

LF Models have recently released a decal sheet for the 'I-16 Over China', the Polikarpov I-16 Type 10 'Rata' in Chinese Air Force service intended for the 1/72nd ICM or A Model (and here) kits. As far as I know ICM do not yet produce a Type 10 Rata and the A Models kits are the Type 5/6. The second subject on the sheet, identified only as 'White 94' of the Chinese Air Force, has been illustrated in various publications with the fuselage insignia sometimes described as a "comet" and presumed to be a unit or personal marking. The aircraft is in fact one of two supplied to the province of Xinjiang (Sinkiang) by the Soviet Union for the air force of the warlord Sheng Shicai.

LF Models decals are very fragile and the colour print can be scratched off during handling. This vulnerability is not helped by the provision in the set of an odd little lump of grey resin, which I take to be a seat parachute (but I could be wrong about this). The damage to the rudder stripes caused by the resin in transit may be seen in the scan above.

Xinjiang (Sinkiang) Aviation Unit

Xinjiang (or Sinkiang) was the Chinese province through which most Soviet aid to Chiang Kai-shek's Republic was received and in 1937 the warlord Sheng Shicai (Chin Shu-jen in some accounts) created a small independent air force with Soviet help. The close ties between Sheng and the Soviet Union encouraged the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to view Xinjiang as a sympathetic and secure haven. In May, 1937 they established a military academy called New Camp in the capitol Dihua. This was expanded to include aviation training and in March 1938 twenty-five communist cadets were enrolled for flight training and eighteen for ground support studies on U-2 and R-5 types. The students wore Nationalist uniforms and their CCP affiliations were deliberately hidden.

The aviation programme was suspended in 1940 because Sheng was unable to secure further deliveries of arms and equipment from the Soviet Union, but re-opened in early 1941 when he received six I-15 and two I-16 fighters. By April 1942 the nascent communist pilots had achieved an average of 300 hours on these two types and were combat capable in the I-16. These were the very first CCP pilots and the I-16 depicted by LF Models is therefore of particular historical significance. Politburo member Chen Yun, who had been responsible for the idea behind the aviation training, had declared that the Xinjiang Aviation Unit would be "the first group of red pilots and the initial core members of a red air force".

In the summer of 1942 Sheng allied himself more closely with Chiang and purged the New Camp academy, arresting 160 CCP personnel including the pilots and groundcrew of the Xinjiang Aviation Unit.

The fuselage marking on 'White 94' probably derives from the Xinjiang flag used by Sheng Shicai, originally a red six-point star on a yellow field but later changed to a yellow six-pointed star on a red field. Rather than white as depicted in most profiles and the decals the star was possibly red or more probably yellow, as indicated by one of the photographs above. The aircraft were photographed at a ceremony handing them over to Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (Nationalist) government and I suspect that the areas between the white lines, rather than just revealing the dark green camouflage, may have been painted red and blue to reflect the Kuomintang flag and to symbolise the handover. The Xinjiang star was depicted literally "bowing" towards the Kuomintang flags draped on the noses of the aircraft. Whether before the handover the aircraft carried a red or yellow Xinjiang star is six positions as with the U-2 and R-5 is unknown. The black characters on the side of the aircraft read "Xinjiang".

Note also the differences apparent from the photographs to the way the marking has been depicted in previous profiles and decals, including LF Models' sheet. The star is angled and the radiating lines are set equidistantly and perfectly parallel to each other from each of the three points of the star. They are not asymetric as drawn in the profiles and decals.

The number of I-16 used by Xinjiang has been the subject of speculation and one of the photographs reproduced here suggests that as many as 10 were handed over to the Kuomintang. I think that was just a staged propaganda image for the benefit of the Japanese and the total probably included the six I-15 aircraft.

White Sun, Blue Sky

For some reason East European profile artists and decal manufacturers seem to choose a very light, slightly turquoise blue for the Chinese national insignia of "white sun in clear (or blue) sky". Perhaps it is the description of the symbols, taken from the Kuomintang flag, that influences this choice. Although not defined by Nationalist law the colour was almost always represented in flags and markings as a dark to mid-toned blue with no "sky blue" or turquoise character whatsoever. The 'Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives' identifies the blue as being Pantone 301c (shown above), whilst Ian K Baker, drawing on the hand-painted colour chips of AVG researcher Terrill Clements, describes it as close to FS *5102, but slightly lighter, when new and reasonably close to *5177 when faded. The closest FS value to Pantone 301c is 25095 @ 1.87 and Munsell 5 PB 3/10 at 2.95.

All these colours seem a little bright and light to me. I have seen Kuomintang flags and commemoratives with a much darker blue than this, almost like a dark navy blue. There is no doubt that the blue paint faded badly with UV exposure but it tended towards a greyish blue rather than a turquoise or "sky blue". Very few decal sheets seem to get these colours right and a generic sheet of accurately coloured Chinese Air Force stars would be very welcome as there are so many diverse and interesting types of aircraft which they could be applied to.

The LF Models decals appear to depict the faded blue but still appear a little "green". It remains to be seen how they look after being applied to a dark green model. Not also from the photograph that there appear to be no upper wing stars although the LF Models decal sheet shows them in those positions.


The best published reference I have found for the Chinese I-16 is 'Polikarpov I-16' by Patrick Laureau, Juan Arraez Cerda, Stéphane Soulard and Gilbert Duranthie published in Prague in 2002 (ISBN 80-238-8421-2) which is, I believe, a privately published English edition of the French language book originally published by TMA. However, the profile and information in the book about the Xinjiang I-16 is superceded by this exclusive post at Aviation of Japan.

Information about the Xinjiang Aviation Unit is drawn from Xiaoming Zhang's 'Red Wings Over The Yalu', Lennart Andersson's 'A History of Chinese Aviation' and private correspondence.

Image credits: Decal sheet cover & decals © 2009 LF Models; Photos private sources; Rendered colour chips © 2009 Straggler.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Allan's Zero

Allan Buttrick has done a magnificent job in building the veteran Airfix Zero and has very kindly agreed to let me show it here. The full build tutorial may be found at the Airfix Tribute Forum here and in it Allan raises some interesting questions about the accepted wisdom of the supposed innaccuracy of this kit by comparing it to plans. Incredible to believe, looking at his model, that it was made from a kit that is precisely 50 years old this year.

The model represents one of the aircraft flown by famous IJN ace Saburo Sakai of the Tainan Kokutai, 'V-103' and was built from the "World War II Aircraft of the Aces" Special Edition of the kit issued in 1989 (kit # 02093).

I compared the kit parts to factory blueprint plans for the production A6M2 and to 1/72nd plans drawn from these and found that the overall shape is actually quite close to the original. It was certainly a better reproduction of the Zero than the Matchbox, Revell and Frog versions. The only significant errors in outline I could discern are as follows:-

1) Tail fin and rudder are too narrow in chord, exacerbated by the fact that the Airfix fuselage is slightly too long from the rear of the canopy to the tail. The extreme tip of the rear fuselage is insufficiently cone-shaped and pointed;
2) Tailplanes are significantly underscale in span and chord
3) Rear section of canopy is overscale
4) Droptank is underscale
5) Spinner is slightly too pointed at tip

The wings are almost identical to the plans and the cowling is very close, lacking only a slight convex bulge to the sides when viewed from above (but hardly noticeable and infinitely better than the tapered monstrosities in the other three kits mentioned).

Of course the engineering and fidelity of detail cannot be compared to more recent kits, notably the revised Hasegawa offerings and the superlative Fine Molds, but the Airfix kit, for its time, is a tribute to the skill of the Airfix designers. As a result of Allan's masterpiece build, I view it in a completely new light.

Images credit: © 2009 Allan Buttrick with permission

Monday 14 September 2009

Azur Frrom 1/72nd Nakajima Ko-4

Something of a surprise for early Japanese aviation enthusiasts is a neat model of the Nakajima Ko-4 in 1/72nd scale from Azur/Frrom. The Ko-4 was essentially a licence-built Nieuport NiD-29. I have not been able to find a website for Azur/Frrom but the kit is available here from Hannants in the UK.

The majority of the kit is the injection-molded mid grey plastic typical of Czech limited run but there are a number of resin detail parts and a small brass photo-etch fret. The molding of the plastic parts is crisp with fine detail. Printed acetate parts are included for the instrument panel dials and the windscreen. Decals options are for three Japanese Army examples and a single Siamese (Thai) example with a colourful arrow insignia on the fuselage.

In addition to service with the Japanese Army and Siam (Thailand) this type was also used by the Kwangsi air force in China and by Manchuria (Fengtien) before becoming a Japanese satellite.

The colour call-out for the Japanese Army versions is GSI Creos 311 Grey-Green which is equivalent to FS 36622 (Munsell 7.5 Y 8/1 @ 2.54).

Image credit: Box art © 209 Azur Frrom

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Aichi B7A2 'Ryusei' ('Grace') Colours

This schematic on the subject of Aichi B7A2 (Navy Carrier Attack Bomber 'Ryusei') colours was prepared in response to another private request and may also be shared here. The colours are as measured and recorded on the surviving NASM example by Robert C Mikesh and documented in his article 'Japanese Aircraft Colors at NASM' which appeared in Vol.3 No.1 of the Asahi Journal and also in the B7A2 feature of his book 'Japanese Aircraft Interiors 1940-1945' (Monogram Aviation Publications, 2000).

In Asahi Journal Mr Mikesh noted that the cockpits were "full of parts and very dirty from earlier outdoor storage" therefore no measurements were made. In his subsequent book Mr Mikesh assessed the cockpit interior as "severely weathered and oxidised" but nevertheless recorded the colorimeter measurements shown here.

The upper external surfaces appeared to be a very dark and greyish green (black green) that corresponds closely to the Kariki 117 colour standards 'D0' or 'D1' which Ryôichi Watanabe has also compared to FS 1/26081 and the Luftwaffe RLM 74 (Arawasi magazine Issue 9 Apr-Jun 2008).

The external lower surfaces are a cool, neutral grey very close to FS 36293 which is just slightly darker. Whether this surface is oxidised/chalked and would reveal a warmer "olive grey" if rubbed back is not mentioned and is unknown.

Mr Mikesh compares the main interior colour from two measurements as being close to the standard Munsell 2.5 G 3/2. In fact this is not the closest value, @ 5.91 and 5.44, but rather those are 10 GY 4/1 @ 3.99 and 5 G 3/1 @ 1.97 respectively. However, I concur that these colours may represent a faded and oxidised N2. The closest FS 595b values to the actual colour measurements are 34092 @ 3.12 and 26081 @ 3.14 respectively.

The armour plate behind the pilot's seat conforms to this general colour but again the standard Munsell value of 2.5 BG 4/2 cited by Mr Mikesh is not the closest @ 5.91 but that is rather 10 G 4/1 @ 3.62. The closest FS 595b value is 34092 @ 4.16. This is even more indicative of faded N2.

The instrument panel appears brown and measures as such in Munsell but Mr Mikesh feels that this colour is a very badly degraded N2. The dark brown colours as measured are included here but again Mr Mikesh's preferred standard Munsell value of 5 YR 2/1 is not the closest @ 2.71 & 4.65 but those are rather 7.5 YR 2/1 @ 2.49 and 5 YR 2/0.5 @ 2.71 respectively. The closest FS 595b values are 37056 @ 3.45 and 37031 @ 2.04 respectively.

Although not specifically mentioned, wheel wells and undercarriage doors on 'Ryusei' appear to have been finished in the translucent blue-green 'aotake'.

Courtesy of Mark Smith a link to an interesting 1/48th B7A2 modelling article by Milton Bell is here. This article mentions that the bulkhead between the two cockpit positions is 'aotake' as indicated by the Shigeo Koike box art. The Mikesh book photographs do not appear to show that but I believe that Mr Mikesh would have noted it if that were the case. Unfortunately we do not know the source of Mr Koike's information.

Images credit: Rendered colour chips © 2009 Straggler incorporating original Kariki 117 paint standard plates.

Sunday 6 September 2009

JAAF Aircraft on Okinawa in Colour

This interesting colour film from Okinawa has been made available on You Tube.

It largely speaks for itself but the Ki-43-II Kai was landed in error on a captured airfield by a ferry pilot who was promptly shot dead by US troops. The colour scheme does not appear to be new and may have originally represented a dense mottle of two greens. In addition to the white 'senchi hiyoshiki' so-called "combat stripe" the aircraft has a single character painted on the fin that may represent the ferry pilot assigned. Note deep dull red appearance of the national markings with white-bordered fuselage but plain upper wing Hinomaru - or is that a very narrow white border on the starboard wing?

The 55th Sentai Ki-61 appears to have a blue spinner cap and sentai-hombu "sash" on the upper rear fuselage with the tail insignia in red. I suspect the undersurfaces may be painted with a thin application of light blue-grey. Modellers of the "matt brick-red" prop school take note of the appearance of the prop colour.

Try as I might I cannot detect the supposedly "Mitsubishi factory finish" of brownish "olive grey" on the Ki-51! It looks like the typical blue-green 'Hairyokushoku' (JAAF paint standard #1) identified by so many sources with a tidy mottle of dark green blotches applied. Compare the appearance of the paint to the dusty khaki "olive grey" of the oil drum. Obviously we need a 65-years old bit of painted tin to prove that what we think we are seeing is actually the brownish, yellowish "olive grey" of the factory finish. The colour as it appears in the film is deeper and stronger than most grey-green hobby paints but that accords with my own original and factual research and is consistent with the colours as identified by Thorpe. More on 'Hairyokushoku' in due course.

Images credit: © 2009 Romano-Archives