by Tommy H. Thomason

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bell Aircraft L-39 Color

22 December 2014 Update:  I asked Paul Faltyn of the Niagara Aerospace Museum if he could confirm that a color negative of this picture existed. They haven't found one yet but he reported that one of their volunteers, now deceased, had done some colorizing of Bell and Curtiss pictures. He also took the time to check in with a former Bell XS-1 engineer, Bill Swenson, now in his 90s but active. Bill said that the L-39s were olive drab: "He does not recall any of the (Bell) aircraft being painted anything other than green or silver other than the X series, Pin Balls, and a P-59 painted blue for the Navy."

So, are you going to believe Corky Meyer and Bill Swenson or your lying eyes? (Yes, this picture is "flopped" but I wanted to preserve the Niagara Falls Museum legend.)

Corky, who flew both L-39s, had told me, unequivocally, that they were painted "green". For more on the L-39 (and a correctly oriented picture with the blue cast removed) see

Thanks to Ted Smith for following up on the question and bringing this photograph to my attention.

Also, take the time to look at the Niagara Aerospace Museum's excellent Facebook page:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aircraft Pictorial #7: F4U-1 Corsair Vol 1

Dana Bell's long awaited monograph on the F4U-1 Corsair is finally available. There are many books and articles available on the F4U. I can say, because I have a goodly number of them in my collection, that none are quite as deeply researched or as sharply focused as this one is. It is a relatively slim volume, only 72 pages between the soft covers, but every page has a photo or illustration of interest, many of the former in color. I am very pleased to write that it contains information and facts about the Corsair of which I was previously unaware and should be taken as gospel, based on the depths that Dana has plumbed at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Archives. Most notable are these two: there was officially no F4U-1A and the cause for the Navy not deploying Corsairs on carriers initially was not due to unsatisfactory deck landing characteristics. (One proof Dana cites for the latter is an evaluation aboard Woverine that concluded it was very easy to land aboard; I may have missed Dana's mention of it but that carrier was one of the two converted side-wheeler excursion ships plying Lake Michigan as training carriers: it was not only short, it was slow.)

Some things this excellent volume is not: a compendium of war stories, list of squadron assignments, tables of performance attributes, or overall operational history. All that is available elsewhere. What it is: a detailed and well-illustrated document that describes the configuration, configuration changes, and color schemes (internal and external) of the so-called "Birdcage" Corsair during its initial flight test and operational usage, both U.S. and U. K. (Volume 2 will, Dana promises, cover the raised cockpit F4U-1, aka F4U-1A.) As such this work will not appeal to everyone, as fascinating as it is to me. If you are a Corsair fan, however, almost every page contains something of interest that you probably didn't know and likely is mentioned in no other Corsair reference.

For example, a picture of the early 20-gallon (your car's gas tank probably has less capacity) oil tank mentions that a larger tank was substituted to account for oil consumption on longer missions when greater endurance was provided by the addition of external tanks; however, a decal was placed on the larger tank to advise the ground crew not to fill it with more than 20 gallons of oil when external tanks weren't fitted in order to minimize weight. A revelation was the reason for the almost standard application of tape externally to the panel lines around the fuselage fuel tank. It turns out that it was to keep spilled gasoline out of the interior of the fuselage aft of the firewall when the tank was being filled because the result was sometimes a fire.

Some configuration details are only mentioned in passing or not fully illustrated, almost certainly due to the limitation on page count that these publications entail and the complexity of the subject. While Dana does provide some new information on the variations in F4U-1 radio antennas, not all of them, e.g. the early IFF antenna, are depicted in full. I can personally attest to how difficult it is to write about and illustrate that particular aspect because I tried to do so, with Dana's help and others', here:

If Dana hadn't thoughtfully sent me a copy, I would have been first in line to purchase one based on his previous work and personal knowledge of his research diligence and insistence on the use of primary-source documents.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Warpaint Series No. 99: McDonnell F3H Demon

From a detailed and illustrated Britmodeller review HERE

Tony Buttler, a well-known and prolific author, has written an excellent, well-illustrated monograph on the less-appreciated McDonnell F3H Demon. It is a very complete history in 48 pages plus softcover. There are lots of photographs, many in color, of the XF3H-1 prototypes, the J40-powered F3H-1N, and the J71-powered F3H-2 variants. Several pages of color profiles are provided as well as well as a large multi-view drawing at the centerfold. The paper quality is more than adequate for good reproduction of all the illustrations. See the link above for details.

Since this book deserves to be the cornerstone print reference, if not the only one, for the F3H in some libraries, I feel obligated to correct a few misstatements. First, the F3H wing did not have anhedral (page 22); see I'm all but certain that the first Sparrow missile firings by a deployed squadron were accomplished by a VX-4 detachment of F7U-3Ms on Shangri-La in early 1957, not VF-64 F3Hs in December 1958 (page 35). A really minor correction is that the drawing of the F3H-2M is shown with the short beaver tail in the centerfold; all were built with the longer one and I doubt that any were retrofitted.

I'm pretty sure that the lineup of F3Hs on page 17 are four of the six involved in the Fleet Introduction Program described in the text with side numbers 10 through 15. Note that these, as well as some other early production Demons, have small, blue, government-furnished AERO pylons on the wings as the changeover to gray/white exterior paint had just occurred.

An oddity not mentioned or illustrated was one of the attempts at providing self-boarding (no separate ladder) on these big jets that set so nose high. See and

No photos or illustrations of the cockpit are provided. For the F3H-1N cockpit layout, see For very complete coverage of a restored cockpit on the F3H at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, see Don Hinton's photographs here: (I suspect that the instrument panel was really dark gull gray with black instruments before the restoration; see for a picture of the cockpit of a different F3H, Intrepid's, during a restoration.)

For details on the Sparrow I (F3H-2M) and Sparrow III (F3H-2), see

Minor omissions and errors like these do not materially detract from the value of this book to the naval aviation enthusiast. I am very pleased to have been provided a copy by Tony.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cyber-Hobby SH-3H In-box Review by Jodie Peeler

Courtesy Sprue Brothers, Arguably the Best Online Hobby Retailer

Jodie Peeler previously provided this blog with a detailed build review of the Cyber-Hobby SH-3D: see

Herewith her in-box review of the newly released Cyber-Hobby SH-3H kit:

Hi Tommy,

Since we've talked Sea Kings every now and then, over the weekend I
bought the SH-3H issue of the Cyber-Hobby Sea King. The new parts trees
in the kit include not only the new sponsons and some other needed
components for the SH-3H, but also include the operators' consoles, ADF
fairing and other necessities for any SH-3. These parts appear nice
enough to satisfy, and I think the shape of the -3H sponsons is also
decent, though I haven't compared them to drawings yet.

The rest of the kit looks identical to the other SH-3 issues and even
includes the teardrop-shaped sponsons for earlier Sea Kings (since those
parts are molded with some parts you'll need regardless), so this means
the -3H kit becomes the one a builder will want for any SH-3 project.

Unfortunately, numerous inaccuracies remain: no doghouse aft of the
transmission hump, no accurate sling seats for the aft cabin, and still
the holes and slots and electronics box on the fuselage that you must
either remove or leave off, etc. The decal sheet gives an effort at four
hi-vis schemes but looks kind of cartoonish.

That said, unless Airfix's forthcoming new-tool Sea Kings eventually get
into American variants (or at least get close enough to convert), the
Cyber-Hobby kit may be our best hope.


For background on the SH-3 configurations, see:

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Things Under Wings: AN/APS-4

Many Navy carrier-based dive and torpedo bombers in late World War II and for a few years after carried a white pod, the AN/APS-4 radar, on a bomb rack under the wing. (For a summary of underwing radars of this type, see It is sometimes mistaken for a drop tank.

Larry Webster of The Quonset Air Museum (see recently provided me an excellent drawing of the AN/APS-4:

In case you can't read the dimensions, the diameter is 17 1/8 inches and the length, 60 13/32 inches.

Larry also hosted me on a visit to the Museum, where I took these pictures of an AN/APS-4 on the wing of a Grumman TBM.

Note that it a more streamlined fairing aft of the strongback than the earlier pod.

Most of the exterior of the pod was a removable forward and aft shell for access to the electronics and radar antenna. An adapter was therefore required to attach the pod to a standard two-hook bomb rack, in this case a Mk 51 Mod 12. (Note that the adapter pictured is somewhat different from the one in the three-view.) A large wire bundle also had to incorporated that resembled a fuel line.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

F11F Tiger

The Grumman F11F was one of three day fighters developed for the Navy in the early 1950s, the others being the North American FJ-4 Fury and the Vought F8U-1 Crusader. The Fury was one of the best day fighters that didn't have an afterburner. As a fighter, it was relegated to Marine Corps squadrons; as a nuclear strike aircraft (FJ-4B), it had a relatively brief career with the Navy, mainly procured as such according to some accounts to get Douglas' attention about correcting the A4D's initial shortcomings.

The F11F had an afterburner but it was deficient in every respect to the F8U except for handling qualities, particularly on approach for landing. Which is why, after a brief operational career, it was relegated to the Blue Angels flight display team (about 40 of the 201 built were flown by the Blues at one time or another) and advanced flight training.

Although only 201 were built, there were two different production configurations, the short and long nose.

The short-nose airplanes also had the angle-of-attack sensor on the left side of the forward fuselage (although it was not on early test and production aircraft); the sensor was on the right side of the long-nose F11Fs.

That's pretty straight forward, although care has to be taken with respect to where the change begins in the forward fuselage:

Then there is the problem of sorting out what aspects of the various existing F11Fs on display are bogus. Worse case is the F11F that was formerly on the deck of the Intrepid Air-Sea-Space museum and is now on loan to the MAPS Air Museum at the Ankron-Canton Airport in Ohio. It is painted as Bureau Number 141783, a long-nose F11F, when it served with VF-33. However, it is actually a short-nose F11F, BuNo 138622, that spent its career at Grumman in flight test.

(It also doesn't have the wing fillets of the long-nose configuration.)

Even the best preserved example, BuNo 141828, shown here with Don Hinton at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, has a few (but minor) configuration issues.
(Don has photographed every square inch of this airplane, which provides a treasure trove of detail information for kit manufacturers and model builders; see

Many of the F11Fs on display are in Blue Angels markings. However, most of these are not in the Blue Angel configuration:
The long-nose Blue Angels F11Fs had the same modifications. See the Phil Juvet photos here: They don't show the gun-bay doors but pictures on the Combat Air Museum do as do other photos of this airplane that can be found with a search.

There is a minor difference in the presence or absence of the antenna under the aft end of the canopy.

 The NMNA F11F does not have the antenna, probably because it came to the museum from a VT squadron. However, here is a picture of a pair of fleet F11Fs, one with (211) and the other without (206) the antenna...

For some notes on the 1/72nd Hasegawa kit and other stuff, see

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

F-111 Auxiliary Flaps

One of the fixes required of the F-111B for Navy acceptance was restoration of the requisite over-the-nose visibility for carrier landings. It had been accounted for, of course, in the original design.
Yes, that is an Essex-class carrier.  The A3D Skywarrior, aka the Whale, was of a similar size/weight and routinely deployed on Essex-class carriers.

However, as the overly optimistic empty-weight prediction began to be exceeded, the angle of attack on approach increased and the carrier deck began to be less and less visible to the F-111B pilot. There are three basic ways to restore the required sight picture without going faster on approach: lowering the nose/raising the cockpit, reducing the weight, and increasing lift. All were employed (weight reduction being the hardest to achieve), with the production airplanes after the first two to have a raised cockpit.

Most of the wing-lift changes were introduced in production with F-111A #12 and F-111B #4. (An F-111B span, five-segment flap version of the new wing was evaluated on F-111A #4.) The most obvious was the so-called rotating glove on the inboard fixed section of the wing, shown here on F-111A #4 while it was "armed" with dummy Phoenixes during aerodynamic evaluation of the new wing.

One last lift change was also reportedly introduced on the first two production F-111Bs, the six and seventh built. This was the auxiliary flap, which was located inboard of the existing flaps.

These little flaps were intended to squeeze the last bit of lift out of the existing wing planform. They were electrically driven and controlled by the flap handle. If the pilot selected more than 28 degrees of flap and the wings were swept 16 degrees or less and the wing-sweep handle was set at 16 degrees or less, then the auxiliary flaps would lower. (The 16-degree sweep limitation was driven by the need for clearance of the inboard edge of the auxiliary flap from the side of the fuselage.)

These were reportedly incorporated on the USAF  F-111s (its function is described in the F-111A flight manual) and FB-111s as well as the Australian F-111C. The only thing is, I've never seen a picture of them extended on any F-111. I'm not sure what the wing sweep or flap deflection is in these pictures of 152714 and 5, but for sure I don't see obvious auxiliary flaps inboard of the regular flaps.

The only hint of the auxiliary flap I've seen on the other F-111s that reportedly had it is in this picture of an Australian F-111C taken from below.

The auxiliary-flap function was reportedly disabled fairly early as being a maintenance burden and not being very effective from a lift standpoint.

Monday, September 1, 2014

F-111B Envelope Expansion Wing

One of the remaining mysteries to me about the F-111B program was the presence of the four-segment flap wing (i.e. the F-111A wing) on F-111Bs #1 and 4. I didn't even notice it in the picture of #1 on the cover of my F-111B monograph until someone eventually pointed it out.

Note that the wings have the ferry tips so that the span is that of the F-111B.

This is the F-111B early five-segment flap wing.

Tim Lent pointed out that F-111B #4 also had a four-segment flap wing at one point.

(You can take my word for it - a lightened version of a high-resolution scan of a pretty good photograph shows that the fifth flap segment is not present.)

The reason for Tim's search for evidence of this wing on #4 was the desire to identify the third F-111B in this photo, the one with its back to the camera.
 I was pretty sure that it was #4 because it appeared to have the rotating glove flap on the fixed portion of the wing and did not have the pod on the fin tip. However, Tim noted that it had a four-segment flap with the ferry tip.

My speculation is that this set of wings was specifically instrumented for high-speed envelope expansion and the use of the ferry tips allowed it to be used by both General Dynamics on an F-111A and Grumman on an F-111B. In fact, #4 was used for flutter/envelope expansion in late 1966 and early 1967. After its crash, #1 was used for flutter/envelope expansion at Edwards in the fall of 1967, which is likely when the monograph cover picture was taken.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Navy F4H (F-4) Phantom 370-gallon External Tanks

There were at least three different suppliers of the F-4 370-gallon external tanks that were slightly but clearly different externally. See

Few F-4 kits provide the original McAir tank, which did not have a constant diameter at any point from either end to the middle and did have flanges on both sides at the midpoint of the tank. Jeffrey Kubiak of Hypersonic Models has stepped into the breach:

These are 1/72 scale,  accurate in size, and include the handed pylons to which the tanks were attached. The resin in my example, provided by Hypersonic, was flawless. (These are also available in 1/48th.)

Hypersonic also created a 1/72 set of the Navy outboard pylons required for other external stores, also handed (because of their attachment to an angled wing spar) and excellent.

Both kits come with detailed installation and painting instructions.

This is Hypersonics website:

Monday, August 25, 2014

North American FJ-3 Redux

One of the topics of conversation at the excellent IPMS National (U.S.) Convention this year, at least among the folks I talk with, was the ongoing lack of a good injection-molded 1/72 (or any scale, for that matter) FJ-3. Note: I have provided material on it whenever asked and a previous post,, illustrates a lot of the detail differences in its configuration over time.

Since there is a pretty good 1/72 F-86H kit available and it has a bigger inlet like the FJ-3 (it had a more powerful engine), there has recently been a discussion as to whether it would be a suitable basis for conversion. Suitable, of course, varies by individual, ranging from minor alterations to, as the late, great Bondo said, "practice bleeding".

Herewith an illustration of the basic differences (the F-86H has the wing-tip extension and many detail differences but that's no hill for a stepper; the basic empennage is pretty close):
So far, so good. A comparison of the North American drawings illustrates some of the shape and size differences in profile. The FJ-3 lines are in general less dark; I didn't bother to determine if either drawing needed to be resized vertically for accuracy. However, it's pretty clear that the F-86H has a deeper fuselage in addition to being longer.

Vertical fin overlay:

Wing root overlay:

Windscreen overlay:

The consensus was that if you just had to have an FJ-3 now, the Falcon conversion (which is still available) is the better bet; it consists of fuselage halves and a pretty good canopy but no decals. This R.J. Tucker's build combining it with an Academy F-86. Note that the F-86 horizontal tail might be too small. See more photos and a summary of the build here:
Print Scale put a couple of FJ-3 schemes on an FJ-4 sheet:

As of this writing, the Falcon conversion is available from Hannants and Falcon (click HERE). I couldn't find it on the Squadron or Sprue Brothers website.

The best single reference is Ginter's monograph Naval Fighters Number Eight-Eight:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Draft Tailhook Topics

In addition to this blog and one on Naval Aviation History (, I also occasionally post articles on my Draft Tailhook Topics blog ( My original intention was to create articles there and then when they were ready for prime time, post them here. It didn't work out that way. For one thing, copying and pasting into Blogger using a Mac sometimes (often?) resulted in a string of format instructions, visible only in HTML, that caused Windows operating systems to hang at that point, a condition that I would be unaware of until one of my more diligent readers brought it to my attention. As a result, I usually just link to a post there when it provides more information about the subject of a post here.

So if you find interesting things here, you might find more there. In some cases, it was just a convenient place to post answers to questions that were raised on modeling websites, like F9F Panther and Cougar ejection seats,

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Things Under Wings - Training Wheels

A question was raised about the unusual store under the wing of a distressed F8F Bearcat in the prior post.

It is a Mk 47 practice bomb dispenser. For more on it and other U.S. Navy armament training devices circa World War II, see

Thursday, July 24, 2014

F8F Bearcat Wheels and Wheel Wells

I've seen a couple of questions on the modeling blogs recently about F8F Bearcat wheel well color, which suggested a post on the subject. Since what I have is not all that conclusive, I thought I'd add wheel hub configuration to the discussion.

It appears that the F8F wheel wells were painted the same color as the exterior with the exception of some hardware located in the well (there was apparently no specific requirement as to wheel well color until they were to be painted white in the mid 1950s).

Although these are grey-scale pictures (the second one has been lightened considerably) and the color pictures I have aren't conclusive because the wells are in shadow, that's the way to bet.

However, some of the very early F8Fs had the accessory section (viewed from the inboard wheel well) painted with either a metallic color or zinc chromate.
And there are pictures of F8Fs at Grumman with non-blue wheel wells so it may be that the wheel wells became blue at the first Navy overhaul.

The two different wheel hubs are distinctive. The early ones had "spokes" and might be either blue, "black" (cosmoline?) or metallic (in this case, on the drop test article, probably unpainted).
The brake pucks were initially located on the lower forward area of the brake disc.
These were subsequently relocated to be at right angles to the strut.

The later wheel hubs were forged, possibly introduced with the F8F-2 and similar to the hubs on the F9F Panther.

They were usually a metallic color.

For some other of my posts on the F8F, see
(also includes a plug for the excellent Meyer/Ginter monograph on the F8F)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Grumman F9F-8T/TF-9J

Chinese plastic kit manufacturer Kitty Hawk has just released a 1/48th scale kit of the Grumman F9F-8T/TF-9J. (For my earlier notes on this airplane, see

This is very welcome since it is one of a handful of U.S. Navy airplanes that have gone unrepresented as an injection molded kit. A built model looks pretty good:
It's clear that the length of the nose-gear strut on this model is representative of the TF-9J on display at the Pima Air&Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona rather than a flyable airplane. (It may have been fixed in the kits as produced.) The "sit" should be more like this:

There are few other detail discrepancies notable in the model built. See for some notes and illustrations. Darren Roberts is providing a excellent and informative progressive build review here: and a summary of the build here: Before you buy it and for sure before you build one, you should take a look at his posts.

Another very helpful and illustrated build review: Note that the builder did not encounter the problem with gluing the plastic that the kit is made from but did note a couple of detail errors. (Others have noted the "Marines" marking on the upper right wing is incorrect; it should be the aircraft number and the tail code.)

One configuration option provided in the kit is the ejection seat. The first two-seat Cougars were delivered with Grumman ejection seats. These were soon replaced with Martin-Baker seats. See The Grumman seats were used in the model above, but Martin-Baker seats had been standard long before the Marines began to use the TF-9J as a Fast FAC (Forward Air Control) as the model is marked.

As usual, the single best reference on a Navy airplane is available from Steve Ginter. See

Darren Tamanaha put some excellent detail pictures of the Pima TF-9J HERE. Note that the shock struts are bottomed instead of being inflated as it was for a flyable airplane.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

More Modeling Notes on the 1/72nd Airfix A-4B Kit

The Douglas Skyhawk is one of my favorite airplanes. I even wrote a book about it, Scooter!. When Airfix released a new 1/72nd scale kit of it two year ago, I devoted several posts to it. See

For an excellent built article of it by "Speedman" on Britmodeler, click HERE. This is a picture from that build:

Airfix had used the A4D-2 displayed on Intrepid as a basis for the kit, including the decals. Speedman decided to replicate that display, even to the point of adding red aileron-control-surface locks.

Neil Lowe posted a question about the Airfix kit on my post on A4D-1 vortex generators (HERE). He noted that there was a detail on the top of the fuselage between the canopy and the red anticollision beacon that is suggestive of the vent that is only present on the J52-powered A4D. I hadn't noticed it before. He also asked about the access panels in this area.

As far as I know, there is no vent in this area on the J65-powered A4Ds (I haven't seen any pictures of the top of the Intrepid A4D but I doubt that it has the vent). This is a picture of an early A4D-1 that depicts this area and the two access panels.

So for J65-powered A4Ds in general, this detail should be removed from Airfix kit. Whether or not you add the access panels is up to you.