Wednesday 27 March 2013

RS Models 1/72 Kawasaki Ki-61 I Tei

Very impressive box art on RS Models new Ki-61 I Tei in 1/72nd scale! The Hasegawa veteran finally gets competition.

Image credit: All © 2013 RS Models

Sunday 24 March 2013

Curtiss Hawk Monoplanes for China ~ Pt 1

Continuing the China theme, the story of Chinese use of the Curtiss Hawk monoplanes is apparently well known, but scratching the surface reveals a few myths and a few mysteries to explore. China had purchased quantities of the Curtiss Hawk biplanes prior to the arrival of Clair Chennault as air adviser to Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang -中國國民黨) regime. The photo above shows the Curtiss 'Hawk Special' also known as the 'China Demonstrator', NR1276, (c/n 12327), photographed at the Curtiss factory on 16th April 1937. On this aircraft the rear vision "scallops" behind the cockpit canopy were of a smaller size than the P-36 series and were not glazed. Although NR1276 is often referred to as the first H75-H it actually appears to be the pattern aircraft for the H75-M, an export version specific to China. The "second" H75-H, NR 1277 (c/n 12328) had the larger, glazed scallops of the P-36 series and the Chinese H75-M models are usually described as identical to that model. Photographs of the H75-M in Chinese service are not definitive in confirming whether the scallops were glazed and followed the pattern of NR1277 but one photograph here clearly shows an aircraft with the glazed scallops and the tail number '45'. Although the 'Demonstrator' photograph above appears to show only wing armament another Curtiss photograph of the painted machine shows both wing and cowling armament. 

After its arrival in China on the 8th June 1937 the 'Hawk Special' was purchased by Madam Chiang for Chennault as his personal aircraft for a reported $55,000. It was painted in glossy dark green with the white fuselage number '75'. In his memoir 'Way of a Fighter' (1949) Chennault implies that he flew the 'Hawk Special' during combat sorties over Nanking, Nanchang and Hankow and made some claims in it, although no specific details are given. The aircraft was not apparently armed until mid-August when Pete Brewster, "CB" Smith (Chennault's regular mechanic) and Rolfe Watson, an armament instructor, fitted it with weapons, but  Chennault confirms that it was used most often for reconnaissance sorties, stripped of weight and where its speed, in the context of the time and theatre, made it a useful asset. Chennault asserted that it was his experience of flying the 'Hawk Special' that provided him with the insights to Japanese air doctrine and tactics that he later put to good use briefing the pilots of the American Volunteer Group (AVG - The Flying Tigers). William Labussière, a French pilot in the 14th (International) Volunteer Bombardment Squadron who also flew the Hawk maintained that it was never flown in combat but reports of repaired battle damage seem to refute that. The actual armament of both the 'Hawk Special' and H75-M is uncertain, although photographs of the latter in Chinese service reveal both cowling and wing guns. The standard provision was for one .50 and one .30 synchronised in the cowling with provision for each wing to be fitted internally and optionally with a .50 Colt, or 6.5mm, or 8mm mg, or for a 20mm Oerlikon or 23mm Madsen cannon to be underslung in a gondola.

The 'Hawk Special' lasted ten months and its fuselage paintwork suffered erosion from constant polishing or the climate - or both - as shown in the film still above and photograph below. The wings and Chinese insignia might have been re-painted during this time. Malcolm Rosholt reports that the 'Hawk Special' was mainly flown by Elwyn Gibbon, an American pilot from the 14th (International) Volunteer Bombardment Squadron whom Chennault rated as "an excellent pilot. A valuable man". Chennault mentions that the Hawk was also flown by W. 'Billy' MacDonald, Peter Mow (a Soviet trained pilot) and John Wong. The aircraft was finally written off in a ground loop in May 1938 during a flight test following repairs for combat damage. 

Gibbon checking the cowling armament of the Hawk Special

The 30 H75-M (c/n 12625 to 12654) ordered in the summer of 1937 for $30,889 each, were delivered via Canton from the 6th May to 5th August 1938 and allocated to three Chinese pursuit squadrons, the 16th, 18th and 25th. According to Chennault the new aircraft had not been test flown by Curtiss prior to delivery and he reported their speed to be 20mph slower than specified. The Wright Cyclone engine fitted in the H-75M was the GR-1820-G3 rated at 875 hp on take-off and 840 hp at 8,700 ft. Curtiss engineers were sent to China to make improvements and Chennault states that it was the winter of 1938 before the fighters could be flown and the working up period was plagued by accidents. This is not borne out by Chinese records which indicate that the 25th PS was in action against Japanese bombers over Hengyang on 18th August 1938 with 7 I-15bis and 3 Hawk H75-M one of which was flown by the squadron commander Tang Pu-Sheng (湯蔔生). All three Hawks were lost with the squadron commander being shot down and killed and the other two both crash landing on return. Billy MacDonald described a difficulty in landing the Hawk that Chennault had warned him about, that if a three-point landing was attempted air caught by the flaps would be spilled by the spatted undercarriage acting as fences, "causing a wing drop and sometimes a ground loop". A wheel landing was advised as the best technique for getting down safely in the H75-M. Another problem, also experienced by Ki-27 pilots in China, was mud clogging the wheel spats and locking one or both wheels causing the aircraft to ground loop or flip over on landing.  

Hawk H-75M of 25th PS 

Chennault relates that during the working up period two of the H75-M squadrons were "crippled by flying accidents" and as a result a furious Chiang Kai-shek ordered the Hawk squadrons to Kunming to be trained under Chennault's personal supervision. Chennault recorded that on an unspecified day in January 1939 no less than six of 13 H75-Ms arriving at the field crashed on landing. On 11 January 1939 the 25th PS under the command of Liu Yi-Jun (劉依鈞) flew their five remaining H75-Ms to Chunking where they were handed over to the 18th PS. The five 25th PS pilots were then reported to have been killed when the transport aircraft flying them back from Chunking crashed accidentally and as a result the squadron was formally disbanded. Little appears to be known about the operations of the 16th PS, formed from a re-designated bomber squadron, other than that it was one of the squadrons sent to Kunming for training in January 1939 and was disbanded in August 1939. Bob Fausel mentions seeing a report that there were three Hawk 75s still in commission at Kunming in May 1939 and that two of these were used by American pilots in April 1942 to survey potential landing fields for Doolittle's Tokyo raiders.

Major Yang Yibai of 18th PS and Hawk H75-M

Hawk H75-M pilots of 18th PS

In November 1938 the 18th PS had been re-organised from the 18th Reconnaissance and Bombardment Squadron with nine H75-M aircraft and began working up at Yibin in Sichuan Province under the command of Major Yang Yibai (楊一白). The squadron photograph above suggests that the unit had 12 pilots on strength. In January 1939 the 18th PS was also moved to Kunming for air defence duties whilst continuing to train on type.  During February 1939 the squadron flew air defence missions from Kunming against Japanese bombers attempting to destroy the Siulungtam bridge. By May when they returned to Chunking their aircraft strength was reportedly so depleted that they were temporarily allocated nine Curtiss Hawk III biplanes from the 22nd PS. The provision of additional H75-M aircraft allowed the 18th PS to continue operating the type until their disbandment in January 1941 when the last surviving Hawk was transferred to the newly formed 11th PG at Chengdu. This unit, comprising the 41st, 42nd, 43rd and 44th PS operated a mixture of Soviet I-15, I-153 and I-16 fighters but are recorded as also having five H75-Ms on strength. 

Note rectangular intake on cowling - a modification?

One of the many odd and unexplained aspects of the H75-M story are the conflicting Curtiss-Wright records as to how many airframes were actually sold to China. The billing book records only 32 deliveries, including the 'Hawk Special' but a designation list compiled in 1946 notes the delivery of 112 H75-M aircraft to China. Richard Bueschel put the number of aircraft delivered at around 80 but in the 1970s records were found which revealed that "tools and materials" for the H75-M were sold to Central Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (CAMCO) at a cost of $557,540 with another $153,132 for "spare parts". Those are extraordinary amounts and suggest perhaps that additional H75-M were being assembled in China or perhaps re-built from damaged aircraft. Another puzzling detail is the rectangular intake between the gun fairings on top of the cowling seen on some Chinese H75-M but not on all of them.

Camouflage and Markings

The 'Hawk Special' was at first painted overall in a 'glossy dark green' with a white asymmetrical fuselage number '75'. Later photographs reveal severe weathering of the fuselage paint at least and (probably) re-painted wings with (perhaps) very large Chinese insignia on the upper starboard wing and lower port wing only in US-style. The rudder stripes appear to follow the US pattern with a vertical stripe before the horizontal stripes but the colours are unknown - the Chinese stripes should have been blue. The H75-M appears to have been painted olive green on the upper surfaces only, with the under surfaces left in natural metal finish and gradually oxidising matt and greyish. One photograph purporting to be of a 25th PS machine (see above) shows the same strange rudder stripes of the 'Hawk Special' and a dark coloured fuselage number '2501' outlined in white or natural metal. The usual Chinese practice was to paint a large four-digit number in white on the fuselage, with the first two digits identifying the squadron number and the second two digits the aircraft number. A small Chinese Air Force serial number with 'P' prefix was usually painted on the fin. The application of wing roundels appears to have been inconsistent, with some roundels only painted on the wing under surfaces in Soviet style, some on both upper and lower wing surfaces and some copying the later US style of painting on one upper and one lower, opposite wing.

Modelling the Hawk Special and H75-M

The Curtiss P-36 is a popular and iconic modelling subject so it is a little surprising that there are no mainstream kits of the Cyclone powered, fixed undercarriage variants in 1/72nd scale. Some years ago RS Models released a charming resin and white metal kit of the 'Hawk Special' as the Hawk 75H but it is sadly no longer in production. 

In 2003 Special Hobby released a limited run kit of the H-75M/N/O with parts and markings for a Chinese H75-M of the 25th PS with somewhat dubious fuselage number '15' and the H75-H/P-36 type glazed scallops. A 1/32nd scale version was also released and both appear to be available. Bill Koppos provides a very fine build review of it here

In 1/48th scale Hobbycraft of Canada released a family of Curtiss P-36 and Hawk H75 types, including a kit of the Hawk 75M/N/O. Although the kits have been re-released from time to time the H-75M/N/O does not appear currently available or that easy to find. At the time of its release there was some criticism of shape and dimensions but as always such details are infinitely debatable and seldom resolved. The cowling is reported to be both under-sized and the wrong shape - oval instead of round. 

The Hobbycraft kit has alternate parts for both the glazed scallops and the earlier, smaller unglazed scallops of the 'Hawk Special', so bets can be hedged if building a H75-M. Chinese markings and fuselage code are included for '2501' shown above, together with 'Curtiss Hawk 75' logos in both black and white.

With very special thanks to Håkan Gustavsson for kindly allowing me to show the 18th PS photos from his excellent website and to Seweryn Fleischer of Wydawnictwo Militaria for kindly providing the Hawk H75-M colour profiles from # 103 in the Wydawnictwo Militaria series: 'Curtiss 75 Hawk'.

Image credits:- San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive via Internet; 18th PS photos Donald Young via Håkan Gustavsson; Albert Lee Wong; Hawk profiles courtesy of Seweryn Fleischer of Wydawnictwo Militaria © 2000; RS Models; Special Hobby: Hobbycraft

Monday 18 March 2013

Five Years Old Today

The Aviation of Japan blog is five years old today. Thank you to those friends who have contributed, supported and encouraged. Some changes are planned which will be announced shortly.

Image credit: Photo by R.Vogelaar

Thursday 14 March 2013

Johan de Wolf converts the AvUsk I-152 to the Zhông 28B in 1/72nd scale

It is a pleasure to be able to introduce this build review by correspondent Johan de Wolf of a little known Chinese aeroplane design based on the Soviet Polikarpov I-15bis - the Zhông 28B (忠-28乙)*

Kit Details
Aircraft: Polikarpov I-15bis (sometimes referred to, incorrectly, as I-152)
Scale: 1/72
Base kit: Aviation USK #AV-1002
Parts: 26 injection molded, 1 clear vacuformed.
Surface detail: finely raised and engraved
Decals: none in first release
Accuracy: good
Price: can still be found on Ebay for about $10 (ICM have also released a 1/72nd kit of this type)


In the late 1930’s it became increasingly difficult for China to buy modern combat aircraft abroad as war clouds were gathering every where. Although established in 1928 what was to become the No.1 Aircraft Factory at Shiukwan (later Shiuchow), about 125 miles north of Canton, had so far only assembled and maintained foreign designs (including about 30 Curtiss H-75M Hawks). However, after the factory was evacuated to a valley about 7km west of Kunming (in October 1938) a Polikarpov I-15bis was modified there in 1939 (possibly using spare parts) by its Assistant Chief Engineer (designer) Constantine L Zakhartchenko to become the prototype for the Zhông 28-B. This factory had modern buildings, American machinery and about 400 mechanics and engineering staff. As aero engines were as hard to come by as complete aircraft, it was decided to use spare engines, complete with 3-blade props, left over from imported Curtiss Hawk III’s to power the aircraft. The M-25B engine of the original I-15bis was in fact a development of the Wright Cyclone that powered the Hawk III, so it was thought this engine could be adapted without too many problems. The Cyclone had a different exhaust arrangement though, which necessitated a redesign of the cowling. The streamlined spads of the main wheels were deleted and the tailskid of the I-15bis was replaced by a tail wheel. The top wing was simplified by straightening the leading edge. The lower wing was equipped with ailerons which were linked to the top wing ailerons by a rigid strut. The armament of four fuselage mounted 7.62mm machine guns remained the same. Although the Zhông 28-B was very similar in appearance to the I-15bis, its performance was not as good. The redesigned cowling was less aerodynamically refined and the empty weight of the 28-B was over 100kg heavier than the I-15bis. In total only some 30 machines where built and used mainly as trainers. By 1943 none remained in service.

The Aviation Usk kit

"The I-15bis kit came bagged with header card and was one of the first batch without decals moulded in the same hard, dark brown plastic that MPM used for their first kits. Later issues of this kit included a small decal sheet with Chinese markings and were moulded in grey or white plastic. The quality is pretty good, there is hardly any flash and there are no sink marks or nasty ejector pin marks. Surface detail is partly raised and partly engraved where appropriate. The tiny vacuform windscreen comes with a spare. The header card contains a single exploded construction diagram and a 3-view scale drawing. A nice touch is the list of publications where reference material can be found.


"Dimensionally all measurements are within a mm of what they should be. Surface detail is pretty accurate and looks convincing. The shape of the wing tips isn’t quite right though. While the main wings should have more rounded tips, the elevators should be a bit more elliptical at the tip. This was easily rectified with a swipe of sand paper. Sadly the prominent spads of the earlier I-15bis are not included in the kit. To convert this kit into a Jung 28B some changes had to be made, which will be described during construction.


"After sanding the mating surfaces of the fuselage halves flat, I started work on the cockpit. There are only a seat, floor and instrument panel in the kit. I ditched the instrument panel and replaced it with something more suitable from the spares box. The floor needed quite a bit of trimming to fit at the right place. I added scratchbuild rudder pedals and a ring type control column. The cockpit side walls got a bit of structural detail made from evergreen stock profiles. The seat was fitted out with belts and then installed. The fuselage was now closed and left to dry while I turned my attention to the cowling. 

I glued the halves together with cyano and then removed all surface detail. As the Jung’s cowling was shorter, I removed about 1.5 mm from the rear end. I then thinned down the rear edge. As the engine was covered by a shutter plate on the I-15bis, there is no engine included in the kit. I found a suitable 9 cylinder engine in my spares box and trimmed it so that it fitted inside the cowling. Next I made 9 new exhaust stubs from contrail rod. To get the new engine/cowling assembly to sit right, I added a 3.5mm spacer to the fuselage. 

"The wing tips where rounded off a bit more but I left the elevators as they where. The lower wings where now glued to the fuselage using a jig to ensure the correct dihedral. After these had thoroughly dried I attached the interplane struts once again using a jig to ensure the correct angle. Once this was dry the top wing was added. Then the struts between the fuselage and top wing were inserted. They fitted perfectly at the rear but at the front they are about 1 mm too short. I filled the gap with a drop of wood glue and this worked wonderfully. Using pictures of I-15bis, rigging wires were added. Looking again at a picture of a 28B I noticed the lower wing ailerons and the straight leading edge of the top wing. B***er!!!... I managed to straighten the leading edge with a strip of plastic and filler, and sanded it back in profile without breaking anything. But I decided that scribing the aileron hinge lines in the lower wing would be asking for trouble. So I settled for just adding the link rod between the upper and lower wing and left it at that. 

The tail wings with their struts were now added. After this had dried the landing gear and a tail wheel from the spares box where added. The windscreen frames were painted and the hole for the telescope sight was drilled. It was then cut from the backing sheet. After a few swipes with sand paper it fitted well. Before glueing it on, a scratchbuilt gunsight was added. I then painted, decaled and weathered the model. When I was satisfied with the look, I added the engine, cowling and prop.

Painting and Decals

"There are no painting instructions whatsoever with the kit. For the interior I used aluminium dope, which was pretty much the norm for aircraft interiors in the thirties. The seat was painted primer grey, with leather brown back and head rest. The instrument panel was painted black and dry brushed with white to bring out the details. The engine was painted in various shades of metal. The prop was left in bare aluminium. The upper surfaces received an olive green coat while the lower surfaces were painted light blue. The wing ribs where dry brushed with a lighter green to simulate wear and tear on the fabric. The roundels came from AV Usk decal sheet #7133 (Chinese fighters).


"For a long time the Aviation Usk kit was the only game in town. It has now been superseded by the more detailed ICM kit. However it is not a bad kit, and with a little effort it builds into a nice replica of the I-15bis. Due to the low part count and the good fit of the parts I recommend it to those that want to have a go at a first short run kit. For conversion to a Jung 28B it forms an ideal base. It is an easy conversion that can be done by every one that has a few older kits under their belt and an interest in Chinese aviation."


I-5, I-15, I-15 Bis: Istrebiteli-Biplany N.N. Polikarpova by Gordon, E.; Zenkin, V. and Titov, V. (Gonchar, Polygon, Moscow, 1992)
A History of Chinese Aviation by Lennart Andersson (AHS of ROC, Taipei, Taiwan, 2008) (Early Chinese Aircraft by C W Lam)

* The aircraft is variously romanised as 'Jung' or 'Chung' in many references but the modern Mandarin Pinyin romanisation for 忠 is Zhông which to Western ears sounds like 'Jung'. It is one of the four Confucian moral injunctions for men, now usually translated simply as meaning loyalty (to a monarch or lord), the other injunctions being piety to one's parents, respect for one's older brother and faith to one's male friends. However, the early meaning of this character is more complex, implying a straightforward and selfless dealing with one's superior even when this might mean having to disagree with him. One modern interpretation proposed by Paul R Goldin is “being honest with oneself in dealing with others”. So it does not mean a blind or self-serving loyalty.

Image credits: Kit build © 2013 Johan de Wolf; kit sprue frame from net

Monday 4 March 2013

Xinjiang Aviation Unit I-16 Type 10 Rata in 1/48th scale

Way back in September 2009 the I-16 aircraft of the Xinjiang (Sinkiang) Aviation Unit were described in this blog here. Eduard have recently released a 'Weekend Edition' of their very neat 1/48th scale I-16 Type 10 featuring an aircraft of this Chinese autonomous region unit. There is no explanation on the box or instructions other than the description "Sinkiang Aviation Unit, Dihua airfield, China, 1941-42" so there might be some head scratching, or maybe it will just be assumed that this was a RoCAF unit.

On the simple decal sheet the six-pointed star is printed red which is a better choice than previous depictions of white but the probability is that it was actually yellow. From 1934 to 1942 the Xinjiang flag had a yellow star central on a red field but after 1942 the flag was yellow with a red star in the upper left quarter. The aircraft markings are as shown during their induction ceremony into Kuomintang service so might have differed when the Xinjiang Unit was actually training CCP flyers. I presume the finish was Soviet factory colours (!). In the photograph one aircraft at least appears to have the dark painted cowling.

Image credits: Box art, contents and decals sheet all © 2013 Eduard; Xinjiang flag Wiki

Friday 1 March 2013

Japanese Balsa Model Aircraft 1930s-1950s

Jim Griffin of Amarillo, Texas sent an interesting email about the long tradition of Japanese balsa, rubber powered aircraft models and their history. His 1951 'Scientific Skymaster' model kit included a 'Yoshida' prop which posed intriguing questions about the nature of the Japanese model industry at that time and whether it was supplying kits and parts to other country's manufacturers on a large scale. 

Jim fondly remembers the real 1930s models flying like crazy and hanging from the ceiling of a model shop in Mikio Naruse's 1931 Silent Film "Flunky, Work Hard!" (腰弁頑張れ). Interesting to see the models in that film sporting both Hinomaru and the US star insignia. Some Japanese balsa aircraft kit companies developed into the plastic kit companies we know today.

Jim's uncle was Charles Hampson Grant, the editor of Model Airplane News from 1934 to 1943 as well as an inventor and innovator in aerofoil design.

The images shown here include Jim's 'Skymaster' model and a close-up of the prop. Any further information or comments on this topic, especially any leads or links to relevant websites or forums would be appreciated by Jim and if anyone would like to get in touch with him please drop me an email, thanks.

Image credits: Skymaster model © 2013 Jim Griffin; Film stills © 1931 Mikio Naruse; Joe Kotula art on Model Airplane News covers via