Friday 29 December 2023

RoCAF Vultee V-11 in 1/72 by Rob Ronconi

Another Republic of China Air Force subject in the form of a splendid model of the Vultee V-11 made and photographed by Rob Ronconi using the Azur kit in 1/72 scale which was released in 2004. This unusual aircraft was designated as an 'attack bomber' by Vultee and exported to several foreign air arms including China, Turkey and Brazil. Two or possibly three examples were even exported to the USSR which manufactured a further 36, five from imported parts and 31 under licence as the BSh-1 (Bronirovannyy Shturmovik - armoured attack aircraft), but proving unsuitable for that role most were modified as PS-43 mail transports for use by Aeroflot. 

With a three man crew similar to the Fairey Battle  the all-metal V-11 was equipped with a more offensive armament of two fixed, forward firing Browning 0.30 machine guns in each wing. Bomb load was 20 x 30lb bombs carried internally, or a single 1,125 lb, two 625 lb, three 285 lb or ten 120 lb bombs carried on external racks. The bomb aimer/navigator aimed the bomb load from a prone position and also operated a flexible rear firing ventral 0.30 machine gun from a lowered hatch. The observer/rear gunner operated another flexible, rear firing 0.30 machine gun from an open dorsal position at the rear of the long canopy and was also provided with duplicate emergency flying controls. The V-11G was powered by an 850-hp Wright Cyclone GR-1820-G2 nine cylinder radial engine giving a maximum speed of 232 mph at 16,200 ft, a climb of 1285 feet per minute to a service ceiling of 20,500 ft. Maximum range was 1,220 miles.

30 V-11G models were delivered to China between July 1937 and April 1938, originally ordered by the Canton government but later taken over by the Nanking Central government. The first, Vultee serial number 30, was fitted with a SR-1820-F53 engine from the wrecked prototype NX14999, and the subsequent 29 bearing Vultee serial numbers 36 to 64. Plans were to build in China a further 26 V-12C with 1,100 hp engines from sets of assembly parts ordered in March 1939 and 51 V-12D with 1,600 hp engines in 1940. Two prototypes and four pattern aircraft were shipped as well as 51 sets of parts for assembly of the V-12D in India but it seems very few were ever built or delivered, although 25 V-12C are recorded as built under licence in China. The record of the aircraft in China was not impressive, despite its potential and the presence of Vultee representatives to advise on operating it.

The Japanese were attributed by various wartime aviation magazines as operating an identical copy of the Vultee as the 'Showa Army SB-99', claiming the Japanese identified it as the Showa Type 98.  As late as 1943 the The Aeroplane magazine were still publishing these details in their Aircraft Identification series of booklets.  It is possible that this belief arose from misidentification of the IJN Type 97 B5N or B5M carrier bombers. 

In China the Vultees notably equipped the 14th Volunteer Bombardment Squadron. also known as the 14th International Volunteer Squadron, a forerunner of the Flying Tigers - American Volunteer Group - but consisting of European as well as American and Chinese American volunteers and Chinese aircrew. The unit, based at Hankow, also operated three Martin 139 and two Northrop 2E bombers. Some of the pilots had combat experience in Spain but some were commercial pilots without any combat training or experience. Chennault appointed Vincent Schmidt, a WW1 veteran who had flown in Spain, as squadron commander and Sebie Smith as liaison officer in charge of maintenance, with Rolfe Watson as armourer. The Vultee aircraft were first assembled by CAMCO at Hangchow and subsequently at Hankow where they were tested by Ernest Allison. He had arrived there on 24 January 1938 and also flight checked the volunteer pilots who had been arriving since November 1937 and of whom he held a very poor opinion, noting many accidents. One of the volunteers Tommy Allen confessed during his flight check that he had never flown an aeroplane before and was re-assigned as a gunner. One of the French volunteers was killed on his first flight, stalling and spinning in during an attempt to go around after overshooting the field. The first mission sortied on 7 February with six Vultees each loaded with 20 x 30 lb and two 110 lb bombs flown by three American and three French pilots with 12 Chinese aircrew to bomb a Japanese troop concentration north of Nanking. The only casualty during this mission was a gunner hit in the leg by a rifle bullet.

A mission flown on 27 February 1938 with six aircraft in two elements was to attack another Japanese troop concentration in a village across the Yellow River east of Loyang. After bombing the Vultees strafed vessels being used by the Japanese to cross the river, using both their forward fixed and flexible guns to destroy or damage 15 boats. The first element was two Vultees 14-29 and 14-32  with a single Northrop 14-11, whilst the second element was three Vultees 14-21, 14-26 and 14-30. Participating in this mission was Elwyn Gibbon, an ex-USAAC pilot rated as excellent and valuable, who racked up 250 hours flying time in the Vultee, as well as French pilots A Boulingre and William La Bussiere. Another USAAC trained pilot was George H Weigle, rated by Chennault as a very good pilot, who had accompanied Gibbon to China from the Philippines. Following a Japanese night bombing raid on 15 March which destroyed many aircraft the unit was de-activated on 22 March and its personnel re-assigned. Weigle later flew the cannon-armed Hawk 75 fighter against Japanese bombers over Chungking but was killed on 5 May 1939 when the Hawk crashed shortly after take-off, believed to have stalled in a too steep climb out. 

Rob's model represents aircraft # 35 of the 14th Squadron, photographed as set up level for boresighting at Hankow in a worn paint scheme. Rob has modelled the dorsal and ventral gun positions deployed for action with a bomb mounted externally on a central rack.  The aircraft number is a mystery as it does not relate to the Vultee serial number range and exceeds the total delivered to the Chinese. Another Vultee photographed at Hankow bears the single white number '2' on the fuselage and a small white number '129' beneath the Vultee logo on the fin. It appears to be in a very dark camouflage finish and Lennart Andersson's book suggests it is of the 9th Squadron probably due to the appearance of a Northrop Gamma in the background with fuselage number '901'. According to Andersson the V11 was also operated by the 9th, 10th and 32nd Squadrons as well as the 14th. Andersson also notes eight North American and Vultee aircraft operated by a gunnery school 35 miles south-west of Chengtu from an American visit in June 1939. Another dark camouflaged Vultee V-11 photograph in the Andersson book shows an aircraft with the single white fuselage number '4' and a small white number '157' on the tail fin which does not bear a Vultee logo.

With special thanks to Rob for these images of an unusual aircraft subject excellently modelled and presented.

References used for the text:-

A History of Chinese Aviation - Encyclopedia of Aircraft and Aviation in China until 1949 by Lennart Andersson (AHS of ROC, 2008)  
Flight in the China Air Space 1910-1950 by Malcolm Rosholt, (Rosholt House, 1984)
Vultee Aircraft 1932-1947 by Jonathan Thompson, (Narkiewicz/Thompson, 1992)
Preude to Pearl Harbor - The Air War in China 1937-1941 by Ray Wagner, (San Diego Aerospace Museum, 1991)

Image credit: All model photos © 2023 Rob Ronconi; Box art © 2004 Azur

Sunday 24 December 2023

With Very Best Wishes to All Aviation of Japan Readers for the Christmas Season and the New Year

And with very special thanks to all those who have very kindly shared images and details of their models (and for their patience!), to those who have generously shared the fruits of their research and to those who have taken the time to leave comments.

Image credit: 'Snow at Shiba Park, Tokyo, Kawase Hasui (1893-1957)

Tuesday 19 December 2023

The Nichimo E13A 'Jake' revisited by Michael Thurow ‒ Part 2

Michael Thurow's
exacting renewal of his vintage 1/50 scale Nichimo (former Marusan) 'Jake' model with progress pics continues in Part 2. Over to Michael then:-

 The Nichimo E13A 'Jake' revisited ‒ Part 2 

Michael Thurow

Part 2 of my Aichi E13A project starts with the fuselage interior. The Marusan/Nichimo kit has nothing to offer in this respect. I was lucky to have purchased the resin 'Jake' cockpit set from Lone Star Models a few years ago. Unfortunately the moulds had worn out when my set was cast which made the parts a bit clumsy and undefined with lots of flash. After some scraping and cleaning, however, they provide a decent portrayal of the cockpit.

I changed and added a few details as shown. In particular, I replaced LSM's inappropriate P-51 style console on the pilot's left with an authentic controls quadrant, and the navigator's seat was moved forward by 3 mm to match the canopy frames.

Despite the widespread use of the E13A during the entire Pacific War photo documentation of its cockpit interiors is very scarce. The most pictures and drawings were published in Maru Mechanic # 12. Even so there is no image of the starboard cockpit wall, and both LSM's representation of the control boxes and my enhancements are largely speculative. The meandering heating pipe is however genuine.

For a powerplant I cannibalised the Mitsubishi Zuisei from my Tamiya F1M2 'Pete' kit which I had replaced with a Vector aftermarket engine instead. The Zuisei was the smaller brother of the E13A's Mitsubishi Kinsei 43. It is in scale for 1/50 and fits Nichimo's cowling nicely. The prop is an A6M2 unit from a model long gone.

In order to protect my previous work I rigged and finished the floats before completing the cockpit. On the original 'Jake' the wires had different grades (10 to 16 mm). I standardised on two sizes of Griffin Jewelry Wire. My rigging method is structural (vs cosmetic), i.e. the cables are pulled tight to reinforce the airframe, which is of course more relevant for biplanes than in this case. The Griffin material (steel wire coated with nylon) is perfect: It won't yield, bend or rip, reacts easily with CA glue, and the gunmetal shimmer looks like wire and not like thread.

How to make cable fairings

I use paper strips formed into a cone and cut to the required shape and size. This technique is very flexible, allowing for different sizes and shapes, flat or round, with large or small openings. Covered with several layers of plastic and/or CA glue the tiny pieces can even be sanded.

Back to the cockpit, which is now squeezed in with both sides closed. This was a tough job due to a very tight fit excerbated by outward bulging walls. Some puttying was necessary. I added more detail as per the following figure -

The canopy presented another of those challenges that slow down progress. LSM's vacu parts had blisters and fit poorly and the transparencies from my original build were not in good condition either. I finally settled with a combination of parts, cleaned up as much as possible - altogether not a sterling piece of work.

The powerplant, lastly, was attached with the help of support strips from plastic card. Some adjustment of the front deck profile was required (paper and putty) to correct the slope toward the windscreen. Carburettor air duct and oil cooler are slightly modified original parts, and for exhaust pipes I used custom-made pieces of electric wire insulation.

To be continued...

With special thanks to Michael for the details and progress pics of this challenging project. Part 1 may be found here.

Image credit: Heading box art © 1963 Marusan; All other images © 2023 Michael Thurow

Saturday 16 December 2023

Sabre Kits 1/72 Morane-Saulnier MS 225

Featuring this Sabre Kits limited edition release of the Morane-Saulnier MS 225 parasol fighter in 1/72 scale might appear off topic for this blog, but the eye was drawn to one of the four decal subjects depicting an aircraft in Nationalist Chinese markings, always a welcome excuse for delving into the eclectic range of aircraft operated by the Republic of China. The injection moulded parts are a re-release of the 1967 Heller kit, probably sourced from SMĚR which issued the kit in 1996 and still shows it in their website products line. It was also released as a Heller Humbrol kit in 1986.

The Chinese version is depicted in an attractive silver and green scheme with Republic of China Air Force white sun markings above and below the wings and a blue and white striped rudder. It is identified as Chung-Hua Min-Kuo-Ch'un, China Air Force, 1934. and the instruction sheet history relates that seven such aircraft were sold to China in 1933. So far so good, but Lennart Andersson's mighty tome (1) records General Gaston Wang, commander of the Fukien (Fujian) Air Force ordering only six Moranes via a M. Morant of the Société Général Aéronautique in July 1933 in lieu of six Nieuport 121C.1 fighters which could not be delivered in time. The aircraft were ordered via the Aero Trading Company in Hong Kong and the first three were shipped from Marseilles to Haiphong in French Indo-China accompanied by a French pilot. From there they were shipped on to Amoy, China, arriving in early November 1933. The Fukien Air Force was established before the Fukien Rebellion of November 1933 when the Nationalist 19th Route Army sent to the province to quell communist forces and Ch'en Ming-shu together with the province's governor Chiang Kuang-nai and Ts'ai T'ing-k'ai chairman of the Fukien Liberation Committee declared Fukien (Fujian) a socialist republic under the Fukien Peoples Government, officially the People's Revolutionary Government of the Republic of China  The new government was ostensibly led by Marshal Li Chai-sum and was set against the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government of Chiang Kai-shek. Not to question Sabre Kits presentation of the markings on this aircraft, the reference source(s) for which are unknown, but the flag adopted by the new Fukien republic was a five-pointed yellow star with soviet-type black lines from the centre to each point on a horizontally divided red over blue background with a narrow black stripe separating the two colours. Online sources omit the black lines on the star and flag as described in Andersson.

Flag of the Fujian Peoples Govt

According to Andersson only three Moranes were delivered to Fukien and the remaining three on the order were never delivered. In late November Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek launched an offensive against Fukien with 11 Nationalist divisions and four air force squadrons using hastily prepared airstrips close to Wenchow and Chuchow with light bombers operating from Shien Chiao (2). The Fukien airfields at Fuchow and Changchow were attacked and bombed by the Nationalist aircraft, presumably destroying one of the Moranes as the surviving pair were subsequently flown from Fuchow to Changchow where they were burnt.

The Heller kit is of its period, cleanly moulded (in pale grey for the Sabre Kits re-release) but quite simple with rather pronounced stringer and rib effect on the fuselage and wings. The engine is a separate moulding whilst interior detail consists of a cockpit floor, separate pilot's seat, joystick and forward bulkhead incorporating a flat and blank instrument panel, pretty good for 1967. The instrument panel would benefit from a decal unfortunately not included on the crisply printed sheet in the Sabre Kits re-release. The Chinese markings are a nicely saturated blue of the correct hue and not the turquoise or light blue colours seen on some decals.  The other three decal options are for French operated aircraft.

(1) A History of Chinese Aviation - Encyclopedia of Aircraft and Aviation in China until 1949 by Lennart Andersson (AHS of ROC, 2008)  

(2) Flight in the China Air Space 1910-1950 by Malcolm Rosholt (Rosholt House 1984)

Image credit: Heading box art and colour schematic © 2023 Sabre Kits; Flag via Wiki; Morane 225 box art © 1967 Heller 

Friday 15 December 2023

J7W1 Shinden Replica and Ki-43-III Ko Conversion Set

Hat tip to Chad Akins for kindly alerting to this interesting article by David R Krigbaum on the Stars and Stripes Japan website about a full-size J7W1 Shinden replica at the Tachiarai Peace Memorial museum reportedly used in a Godzilla movie set in 1947 and as shown in the heading image from the website.

In other news an interesting resin conversion set has been released from HMA to transform the Hasegawa 1/72 Ki-43-II 'Oscar' into a Ki-43-III Ko.  The set contains a Ha115-Il engine, new engine cowling, water methanol filler tube, butterfly flaps, additional tank/bomb racks and fuel cooler. This set being designed for the Hasegawa Oscar is welcome despite its vintage (1982) and raised line panel detail (shock horror!) because it is a still accessible kit at a reasonable price (it can currently be bought from HLJ Hobbylink Japan for an astonishing £4.21) and a quick straightforward build producing a good looking result (even with those 'pesky' raised lines). The HMA set retails for £12.30 from HLJ but there is only one left in stock at time of writing! 

Update 03 Jan 2024

The HMA Ki-43-III Ko set, now examined, is very finely 3D moulded in blue-grey and comes complete in a single sprue 'cage'.  It consists of a combined engine and firewall designed to neatly fit into the Hasegawa kit fuselage once superfluous sectiions of the cowling are cut away from the kit parts, with separate sets of thrust exhausts for each side, a beautifully moulded new cowling in one piece, water methanol filling spout, fuel cooler, drop tank racks and flap assemblies. The latter consist of two parts for each flap, the internal flap housing and the separate flap itself. Instructions are schematic, including illustrating how the Hasegawa kit is to be modified by cutting. The set comes in a protective bubble pack, attractively presented with colour backing card and schematics. An excellent product well worth the effort in searching out and hopefully back in stock at HLJ soon. The manufacturer HMA Toys is a Japanese company and has a Twitter/X reference @V1models427.

Image credit: Heading photo © 2023 Stars & Stripes Japan; Ki-43-III Ko conversion set images © 2023 HMA via Hobbylink Japan.