Tuesday 30 May 2023

1/72 - PZL TS-11 Iskra by Arma Hobby - Iskra Bis DF 'Expert' set build (part 1)


The PZL TS-11 Iskra (or 'Spark') is a Polish jet trainer and light strike aircraft, developed and manufactured by aircraft company PZL-Mielec. It first flew in the year of my birth, 1960, with an imported British jet engine and was notable as being the first domestically-developed jet aircraft to be produced by Poland. The Iskra was designed to meet a requirement by the Warsaw Pact countries for a basic trainer. Although it lost the contract to the Czechoslovakian L-29 Delfin the Poles kept it and put it into service. It is a real Cold War relic, having flow with the Poles for over 50 years. Some went to India. Up until recently examples of the TS -11 flew with the Polish AF Biało-Czerwone Iskry aerobatics display team. This kit was one of Arma Hobby's first injection molded 72nd scale products. This 'Expert' set comes with photo etch and acetate film for the instrument panels and masks.

A few of my photos of the Iskra on display at the RAF Manston History museum. This machine was previously owned by TG Aviation (ex-Red Arrows pilot Ted Girdler) at Manston before being bought by the museum in 2013 and repainted in the Polish aerobatic team colours.  

with thanks to "Tommy" -I couldn't have got this far without referring to your build!
Starting with the ejection sheets, these have a couple of details that should be replaced with PE, most notably the foot rests. The assembly instructions aren't very helpful to say the least. I just couldn't figure out how the etch should work - in the end I decided that the plastic parts looked just fine! 

 This is an "old-school" method of getting dials and other details - no prepainted PE here. A printed sheet of acetate that is painted on the reverse - although that is not stated anywhere on the Arma instruction sheet, and, again I doubt I'd have realised that without referencing Tommy's build!  But given that this image is about 3x actual size it is impossible to see anything anyway! Note film is supplied for the (gun)sight in the front cockpit and the 'screen' that blocks off the two cockpits.

Despite having a tray of greys I didn't have any 'Dark Ghost Grey' for the cockpit walls so used 'Light ghost grey' instead. Apparently the 'Dark' version was made by adding black to the lighter colour. Although the ejection seats can be left out until near the end of the build I preferred to put them in the cockpit. The instrument panels will 'balance' ingeniously in the 'cut-outs' on the sills. I didn't use the PE seat belts as I much prefer to use wine-bottle foil. 

Monday 29 May 2023

Lt Urban Leonard 'Ben' Drew, 375th FS, 361st FG "Yellow Jackets" RAF Bottisham - P-51 D 'Detroit Miss'

One of the latest 'dogfight double' sets from Airfx brings us their newer tool P-51 D and Me 262 kits. Since I completed my Italeri P-51 in Drew's markings years ago  (above) I've tried to find out more about Drew's P-51 D. Urban 'Ben' Drew's 361st FG P-51 is generally portrayed with red trim. Popular illustrations show the wingtip, fin tip and canopy rail in red. However the 375th squadron colour was blue. The aircraft name was on a red background, but as for the rest..The recent Airfix 'Dogfight Double' box is just the latest to show Drew's machine with red trim.

And then this image popped up on FB recently. Eveidently a film still but I'm not entirely sure what it depicts - aside from 361st FG CO Landers machine 'E2 -I' in the foreground. But the machine behind it seems to have both red and blue trim.  Blue canopy rail but top of the fin, gear doors and wingtips in red.. note too the black bar on the fin.

This image (below) tends to suggest that the trim on Drew's machine was red; the same colour as the trim on the canopy rail. Note no tonal difference from the red of the German flag. At some point the a/c rudder was painted in the squadron colour. The aircraft name was on a red background....

Monday 22 May 2023

US WWII fighter pilot memoirs - Mustang Ace Bob Goebel

  I was wondering what the best American fighter pilot memoirs are. I know that several stand out of course, such as Edwards Park’s wry "Nanette", described elsewhere as a " whimsical and moving account of a young pilot thrown against the aggressive Zero and Oscar pilots of Imperial Japan in the less-than-stellar P-39 Airacobra". Regarded as a classic of the South-west Pacific war - 'Nanette' was the name of his aircraft - it was sold as a novel (perhaps leaning on the 'Catch 22' popularity of the seventies), but, apparently, most of what he wrote did actually occur. Set in New Guinea before the Allied Air Forces had air superiority it is now regarded as a very well written memoir of the period. 'Nanette' was actually a P-400 (taken over from RAF order), and had worse performance than the P-39s which were sent to the Fifth Air Force in Australia, for service in the South West Pacific Theatre.

 Donald Lopez’ "Into the Teeth of the Tiger" is a memoir from a P-40 and P-51 pilot in China who later became deputy director of the National Air and Space Museum, not forgetting of course Robert S. Johnson’s 'Thunderbolt!', a gritty account of the early days of fighter operations by P-47s against the cream of the Luftwaffe, similar to 'Mustang Pilot' by Richard E. Turner ( a disappointingly slim volume)  or John Foster’s 'Hell in the Heavens', about a Marine fighter pilot in the Southwest Pacific. However I am not a fan of Anderson’s 'To Fly and Fight'  (357th FG Mustang pilot’s memoir of the 1944-1945 European air war) As for his friend Yeager, the less said the better. I much rather prefer the far more modest and intelligent Robert Goebel's 'Mustang Ace'.

Goebel joined the 31st FG, the leading fighter group in the Mediterranean, as they turned in their Spitfires for new P-51s. Within weeks, Bob Goebel had flown his first combat missions and had lost his element leader, shot down in a swirling dogfight. But he mastered the art of combat flying. A steady succession of bomber-escort missions over southeastern Europe slowly and then more rapidly forced Lieutenant Goebel to settle in and master aerial gunnery and the mentally taxing high-speed dogfights in which he became engaged. At last, he shot down his first German fighter. And he advanced to positions of leadership, in due course leading the entire 31st Fighter Group deep into enemy territory. At length, he shot down a fifth German and thus became an ace - a P-51 Mustang ace. And then he shot down three Germans in one day on a mission to Ploesti, Romania. He flew to Russia and back, and supported the invasion of southern France. In the end, by September 1944, he had eleven confirmed victories to his credit and was one of the 308th Fighter Squadron's most respected combat leaders. When he was sent home at the end of his combat tour, Captain Bob Goebel was not yet 22 years old. Post-war he was a physicist with NASA (IIRC) and his memoir brims with vivid descriptions of flying and fighting in a high performance WWII fighter. He passed away in February 2011.

US naval fighters of the 50s by Peter Booth


A neat line-up of 50s fighters by Peter Booth comprising the Hasegawa Cougar, Tiger and Crusader, Fujimi Cutlass, Emhar Demon and Tamiya Skyray. All in 1/72 and pretty ancient kits painted in Xtracrylic light gull gray and white.

Wednesday 10 May 2023

Clear Prop MiG 23 MLA Flogger from Ukraine -what's in the box?


..another minor revelation in 1:72nd scale from Ukraine!  ICM, Roden, Mikro Mir and others are still producing some of the most amazing new kits despite many of their employees spending large parts of their time cowering and fearful in bunkers and shelters as the criminal Putin pursues his murderous and cowardly war on Ukraine's civilians. 

Latest 72nd scale miracle to arrive in the UK is the new Clear Prop MiG 23. This is a fantastic looking package in a super-sturdy box that David from East Kent Scale modellers brought to last night's club meet.  Take a look at the images - marvel at the small-sized sprues and how very little in the package looks like an aircraft, with no 'distinctive' fuselage halves. The wings are one single span piece - not split into top and bottom halves. This is the 'Expert' set with etch and masks AFAIK. Decals include Soviet, Czech and East German options. David had also pre-ordered a range of aftermarket accessories, including 72nd scale tyres and exhaust cans. We look forward to seeing the finished model!

Sunday 7 May 2023

French C-47 Dakota (DC-3) at Dien Bien Phu, May 1954 - Italeri 1:72



  "..10:30 am, November 20, 1953, over the valley of Diên Biên Phu. A fleet of Dakotas dropped the paratroopers of the Bigeard battalion in a 'grandiose' show of force. Named "Castor" (or 'Beaver'), the biggest airborne operation of the entire war in Indochina would not have been launched if the weather had not been favorable that day... The decision to set up an air-land base in the middle of the jungle, 300 kilometers from Hanoi in an area controlled by the Viet Minh, fell to General Navarre, Commander of the French Expeditionary Corps in the Far East. On January 1, 1954, as his intelligence services alerted him to the considerable resources that the enemy was sending from China, he predicted that Diên Biên Phu would be, above all else, a battle for control of the air. From November 20, 1953 to May 7, 1954, French aviators had to gradually push their action beyond the limits of human resistance. Without the crews of the Armée de l'Air, of the Aéronavale, or the Aviation Légère d'Observation d'Artillerie, the requisitioned civilian Air Companies, and also the American pilots, heirs to the Flying Tigers, the entrenched camp would never have seen the light of day and the garrison would not have been able to survive and fight. In addition to the often poor weather conditions, the crews had to face aggressive and deadly enemy flak, comparable to the German Flak over the Ruhr during the Second World War. As the runway was neutralized in the first days of the attack by Viet Minh artillery, the Dakotas and Flying Boxcars were forced to fly dangerous resupply missions at night and in conditions that were more difficult than those endured by German transport crews at Stalingrad, while fighters and bombers assailed the numerous Viet Minh cannon and machine gun batteries..." 

 Patrick-Charles Renaud in " Aviateurs en Indochine, Diên Biên Phu " (Grancher, 2003)

..variously described as 'significant', 'consequential' or even 'climatic' the fact remains that the 'siege' of Dien Bien Phu that took place in northern Vietnam (Indochine) between 13 March and 7 May 1954 was the most disastrous military 'campaign' ever undertaken by a so-called professional army in the modern era. Some eleven years after Stalingrad, the French planned to establish and maintain a garrison deep in enemy territory and resupply it from the air. Only comparatively recently liberated but eager to reassert their colonial ambitions, the French were happy to accept American aid in the form of suitable equipment and particularly transport aircraft to stay in the battle that developed. Doubtless the Americans were keen to see another 'power' stand up to the spread of communism and their involvement is probably one of the reasons the French do not come in for the sort of 'criticism' reserved for, say, the British intervention to throw the Argentines out of the Falklands. 

During November 1953 the French launched a massive paratroop drop (operation Castor or Beaver) to establish a garrison in the remote northern territory of the country, constructing defensive positions in a valley around a WW II Japanese-built runway at Diên Biên Phu.  In a matter of months the wily Viet Minh proceeded to transport - by hand through the jungle - hundreds of dismantled artillery pieces to support their seige of the base. 

After rendering the runway more or less inoperable in a matter of days the Viet Minh set about besieging the hopeless French defenders from early March 1954 and a matter of weeks later over 11,000 French soldiers entered captivity from which merely 3,000 would return.

The French had four transport 'groupes' in Vietnam flying DC-3s and C-119s which were deployed in a relentless and ultimately hopelessly ineffectual resupply effort. The 'Dakota' was not a warplane that could be committed in a zone dominated by anti-aircraft batteries - it had no armour protection for its crew or the underfloor fuel tanks and the narrow cargo loading doors meant multiple passes in the shrapnel-filled skies over the valley just to offload cargoes.The crews were undoubtedly brave but cut to pieces - the aircraft was soon forced to operate at night and all told some 50 DC-3s were lost in the siege..

In 1992 a French veteran of the siege and film maker Pierre Schoendoerffer brought together a huge budget and all-star cast (Donald Pleasence) to produce a blockbuster film made with the cooperation of both the French and Vietnamese armed forces. Dîen Bîen Phu is regarded by many as one of the more important war movies produced in French film-making history. (a couple of screen grabs of the C-47s used in the film appear below..)

The four French air force transport groups deployed at the time in Indochina were distinguished by colour codes;

yellow for BG 2/62 'Franche-Comté

red for BG 1/64 'Béarn

blue for BG 2/64 'Anjou

and green for GT 2/63 "Sénégal".

The Dakotas had their noses painted with the colours and emblems of their respective units, but at the time of DBP it was common for the crews to be mixed up. Photos show all sorts of combinations of painted noses and the black anti-glare areas in front of the windscreen - some coming over the coloured nose, and others where the coloured nose cuts through the anti-glare area (probably reassigned aircraft from another unit). There were also aircraft with simply no black area. I finished mine with the nose coming over the black anti-glare zone. 

Model is the Italeri C-47 Skytrain in the colours of GT 2/63 "Sénégal" with its black African head emblem on the nose from the Berna Decals sheet. 

colour scheme for a Junkers Ju 52 KGzbV 1


 newly repainted Ju 52 in a spurious 'Battle of Britain' scheme at the Hawkinge Battle of Britain following the move from the IWM Cosford. 

The 'Hawkinge' scheme is evidently based on these Ju 52s of IV./ KGzbV 1 seen somewhere in the Balkans/Greece during June 1941 and deployed on the 'Merkur' operation over Crete. The yellow-cowled machine is finished in a three-tone scheme comprising two greens and a light grey.