As many others, I liked to build model kits as a kid, and in 2014 I decided to return to my old passion, and started building again - this time 1/72 scale aircraft from the WWII era.

I´m not a particular skilled modeler, I just like to build and I´m also interested in the history of the aircraft and the pilots who flew with them. Therefore I will present a short history of the aircraft and the pilot (if possible).

I published my texts and pictures originally on the Wings900 forum, but unfortunately now, after they upgraded their forum software, the pictures are no longer displayed and apparently this cannot be fixed. So here they are again.

I hope you enjoy it !

21/11/2018 - Bell P-59A Airacomet US Army Air Force, Special Hobby

America´s first jet aircraft remains a rather obscure subject, even in scale modeling. The Bell P-59 Airacomet was not a success, but has an interesting history worth exploring.

Starting in early 1941, with the UK already at war and the USA still uninvolved, technology exchange was agreed upon the U.S. and British governments. The Americans were especially interested in the British Power Jets W1 engine, the jet engine that  powered the first jet aircraft of the Royal Air Force, the Gloster Whittle (already shown here). Engines, documentation and technicians were transported to the United States, and General Electric was contracted to build a modified, americanized version of this engine, named the GE I-A. Bell Aircraft, who had production facilities near to GE, was hired to build the airframe for the first jet fighter aircraft of the US Army Air Force. Secrecy, as always these days, was a top priority. Therefore it was not an unusual sight to see the aircraft parked or towed outside with the engine intakes covered and a fake wood propeller mounted at the front !

The first prototype was ready by fall 1942 and the first flight was performed on October 1st, 1942. Bell´s design was a rather conservative one, the major difference to the German or British jet counterparts were the engines embedded in the fuselage near the aircraft centerline, while the Me 262 and the Gloster Meteor had wing-installed engine nacelles.

It was predicted the Airacomet could reach speeds up to 500 mph, however the greatest topspeed ever achieved was around 410 mph, which was not better compared to the top-rated piston aircraft of the USAAF at the time, the P-38, P-47 or P-51. Even worse, the aircraft was too heavy, sluggish and an unstable gun platform; the major problems were the underpowered engines (they had 40% less thrust compared to those of the Me 262) and the unsophisticated airframe design. In arranged mock dogfights against the P-38 or P-47, the Airacomet always lost. Consequently, the Air Force cancelled the ongoing construction contract with Bell, so only 66 aircraft (P-59A and B variants) were build. Focus was now set on the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, a new advanced design that was vastly superior. The P-59 never saw any combat and remained stateside, assigned to the 412th Fighter group, were it was used mainly as a pilot trainer for jet conversion. By 1949, all remaining Airacomet were retired. Today, six Airacomets have survived, and the one located at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino/CA is being restored to airworthy condition. When finished, it would be the oldest flying jet aircraft in the world.

This P-59A, “Smokey  Stover” (named after a cartoon character) was the first jet aircraft to visit Alaska in late 1944, where it underwent testing in freezing weather conditions.

An obscure aircraft, so naturally it had to be a Czech Short Run kit, this time from Special Hobby, released in the early 2000s. It was a little tricky as expected, but generally OK. I have seen worse, but as usual I´m not always happy with the outcome, although the model itself is accurate enough. Maybe I´m not patient enough to fiddle with all the cleaning and corrections required for these kind of kits. This little diorama is supplemented by a CCKW 353 fuel truck, one of the standard truck designs of the US Army in WWII. A nice kit from Hasegawa, and the resin figures are from CMK.

21/10/2018 - Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" Imperial Japanese Navy, Hasegawa

Together with the Mitsubishi Zero fighter and the Aichi D3A “Val” dive bomber, the Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bomber was one of the three primary attack aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the early  stages of the Pacific War, and was employed in large numbers in the Pearl Harbor raid.

First flown in 1937, the B5N was the contemporary Japanese counterpart to the Allied carrier-based torpedo planes of the time, namely the Douglas TBD Devastator of the US Navy and the Fairey Swordfish of the Royal Navy. But the “Kate” was the most capable of these designs  as it was much faster and could carry more payload. However, by 1941 the design was becoming obsolete, but it remained in front line service for another 2-3 years. Designed as a carried-based torpedo bomber, it was also used occasionally as a land-based bomber, where a 800kg bomb replaced the Type 91 aerial torpedo. It was this torpedo type that was modified for use in shallow water, which made it possible to deploy it in Pearl Harbor. Although over 1100 “Kates” were produced (the Allies applied female code names to Japanese bombers and male to fighters) no single complete airframe is preserved. When seen flying in war movies, modified T-6 Texan trainers are used as stand-ins; the similarity is quite amazing.

This particular B5N2 “Kate” was part of the Aircraft carrier Akagi flying group and is seen here as it appeared in the spring of 1942. It was commanded by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, one of the most prominent Japanese aviators in the early phase of the war. He was leading the first attack wave of the Pearl Harbor attack and it was him who send the famous code words “Tora ! Tora ! Tora!” (complete surprise achieved) back to the Japanese fleet, and made him a national hero back in Japan. The aircraft seen here is the same one he commanded in Pearl Harbor; however it looked badly weathered only a few months later – this is not a deliberate camouflage scheme. Japanese paint at the time was of low quality and usually peeled of in large pieces in the salt-waterly oceanic air. Fuchida was injured onboard the aircraft carrier Akagi during the Battle of Midway and worked as a non-flying staff officer until the end of the war. In the early 1950s, he moved to the USA, converted to Christianity and wrote books about his time in the Navy and traveled the USA and Europe to tell his story. He died in 1976.

This kit is from Hasegawa and it´s a very old tooling so it required quite a bit of cleaning, which is  unusual for Hasegawa kits but no big hassle. Fit and details are quite good. Decals are from the kit. The paint chipping effect is achieved by applying Revell Color-Stop liquid masking tape. Looks quite OK and it is actually not overdone, the real aircraft was really heavy weathered.

16/09/2018 - Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 "Drache" Luftwaffe, Huma Models

A challenging build but I´m happy to have finished it, as this is hard to get kit these days: I present the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 „Drache“ (Dragon), the first helicopter to enter series production.

During WWII, Germany and the United States were the leading countries in development of this new technology, but helicopters only saw limited use during the war, with the breakthrough coming shortly after it. In Germany, Henrich Focke of Focke-Wulf, who was ousted by the Nazis from his own company due to political reasons, teamed up with aviator Gerd Achgelis in 1936 to form a new company specialized in Helicopter development. Focke-Achgelis responded to the request for a multi-purpose helicopter by the German Air Ministry, and the first prototype took the air on August 3, 1940.

As a multi-purpose helicopter, the Fa 223 was designed for cargo/sky crane operations, personel/medical transport, and search & rescue duties. Compared to other helicopters of that time period, the “Dragon” was a large aircraft: it featured twin booms with two large counter-rotating rotors, therefore eliminating torque and the need for a tail rotor; power was provided by a 1000hp BMW radial engine positioned behind the cargo/passenger cabin, with power transmitted by drive shafts to the rotors. The twin-rotor design was chosen by Focke-Achgelis as it was felt to have easier controls and required less complicated pilot training. Ultimatively, the main rotor/tail rotor design first introduced by Sikorsky with the R-4 in 1942 became the standard design for most helicopters to this day.

Nevertheless, the performance of the “Dragon”, operated by a 2-man crew (pilot and observer/gunner) was impressive: it could reach up to 23.000 ft and carry over 1000 kg of payload at 8000 ft, this included external cargo lifted by a winch. Cars, airplane fuselages and light artillery guns could be carried this way. This made the Fa 223 ideal for mountain warfare, and during tests it proved excellent in this role. It was also the first helicopter used for search & rescue missions, and if one of the required Fa 223s had not broke down prior to the mission, would have been the aircraft carrying Benito Mussolini home after his rescue from prison in the famous Grand Sasso raid in 1943.

However, in context, the helicopter played only a very minor role in WWII. Like the USA, the German Military command could not really make their mind about this new technology; it was generally regarded as not very important and there was no priority in development. And although the Fa 223 could claim to be the first helicopter that entered series production, it was not really that much ! As the productions facilities were constantly bombed by the Allies, production plants had to move regularly within Germany and France; only 20 units were produced, and a few of them were bombed before they ever became operational. After the war, three more units were produced in France by Sud-Est and two by the former Avia plant in Czechoslovakia. No “Dragon” has survived in museums.

In this little diorama scene, one of the prototypes is inspected by high-ranking army officials. They sit in a Mercedes-Benz G4/W31. The G4/W31 was a heavy three-axle offroad staff/command car manufactured for the German Military. As it was too expensive for general army use, only 57 units were produced. A luxury vehicle, the G4 was often used for parades and inspections and was one of Hitler´s favourite cars. He regulary used an armored version for public parades. Three original cars survive to this day, with one located in Hollywood, used as a prop for TV and movie productions.

The Fa 223 kit is from the now defunct short run kit maker Huma from Germany. As the mould & company is gone, it is harder to get these days. A challenging build, it is not as fizzly  as some of the Czech Short run kits, because all parts are plastic and not PE  – even the more delicate ones like the rigging. The quality is quite outstanding, I have never seen to finely produced tiny plastic parts. I put some weight in it but as expected it was not enough, so I glued this “tailsitter” to a diorama plate…the Mercedes-Benz G4/W31 and the figures are from Hasegawa. Nice little car.

15/08/2018 - Republic P-47D Thunderbolt US Army Air Force, Tamiya

Nicknamed the „Jug“ (as the profile was similar to a milk jug of the time), the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest and heaviest single engine fighter airplane of WWII, and also one of the fastest. Originally designed a a high-altitude interceptor, it later had a successful career as a ground attack and fighter-bomber aircraft, especially in the European theater.

The P-47 Thunderbolt was a development of the P-43 Lancer, a pre-war fighter design of Republic Aircraft. Conceived as a high performance, high altitude interceptor, the P-47 was equipped with the powerful P&W R2800 Radial engine and a GE turbosupercharger that was installed behind the cockpit; the complex piping required space, resulting in the large fuselage of the P-47. Despite it´s weight, the aircraft had excellent high altitude performance and ample speed; performance however suffered at lower altitudes, climb rate was insufficient and it was easily outturned by the earlier Bf109 and Fw190 variants of the Luftwaffe – it was way too heavy for some maneuvers. However, American pilots found out that the “Jug” was rugged and had a important life insurance  – nothing could outdive a Thunderbolt, and uncontrolled dives could sometimes accelerate the aircraft near the sound barrier.

The P-47D was the main production model, and like the P-51 Mustang, the “Razorback” early version with a raised fuselage was later replaced by the “bubble” canopy version for better vision. Limited range for bomber escort missions was a problem, and the Thunderbolt was later replaced by the Mustang in this role. As a fighter-bomber, the Thunderbolt fared much better. It could carry heavy payloads (bombs, rockets, Bazookas) etc.), was rugged and reliable and offered enough performance and arnament to defend itself against fighters – it was surely the ultimative ground attack aircraft in WWII, outperforming the purpose-build Soviet Il-2. So it was no surprise the Fairchild Republic A-10 ground attack jet of the 1970s was named “Thunderbolt II”.

With it´s large cowling , the P-47 was perfect for nose art; and some of the most impressive nose art could be found on P-47s operating in Europe. Usually members of the ground staff were responsible for the paintings and they took great pride in their work. Nose art was usually related to a specific pilot, often depicting girlfriends or wifes. This P-47D Razorback “Triss” of the 56th fighter group, 62nd Fighter Sqd was based in Boxted, England in February 1944. It was flown by 1st Lt. Anthony R. Carcione. He scored 2 ½ victories and was killed when his aircraft crashed in Germany on March 8th, 1944.

This kit is from Tamiya, and as expected it falls together almost automatically, details and tooling are perfect as it can be. This is fun scale modeling. Decals are from Kits World and they are perfect, too.

22/07/2018 - Tupolev SB-2M-100A Soviet Air Force, Ark Models

For quite some time the Tupolev SB was known as the world´s fastest bomber aircraft – so fast it could outrun all the fighter aircraft of the time. One of the most important Soviet aircraft designs of the 1930s, the SB (Skorostnoi Bombardirovschik, High Speed Bomber) played an important role well into WWII.

First flown in 1934, the SB was a significant step for the Russian aviation industry, and -along with the Polikarpov I-16 fighter- was one of the most advanced aircraft of it´s time. Featuring an all-metal construction with retractable gears, stressed skin construction and smooth, flush rivet surfaces, the SB was aerodynamically efficent and could reach top speeds up to 280mph, very fast for the mid-1930s.  However, Russian productions plants were slow to adapt the new manufacturing techniques needed for this modern design, and the so-called “Stalin purges” beginning in 1935 brought aircraft design almost to a standstill, and robbed the Soviet aircraft industry of important manpower and resources.

Nevertheless, the first operational missions of the SB in the Spanish civil war were quite successful. Flying for the pro-socialist Republican government forces and manned by Russian crews, the SB (nicknamed the “Katyusha” in Spain) was almost unstoppable at first, as it was too fast for the fighter airplanes of the time, which were still mostly biplanes. This changed when the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was introduced by the Legion Condor in 1937, and SB losses were quite high after that. Now design flaws became more evident, as a lack of armor and crew protection.

This was rectified in later versions, and the SB remained the main medium bomber aircraft in the Soviet Air Force well into the outbreak of WWII. In the meantime, the SB received a few updates, first a new three-blade propeller and later, with the M-103 version, completely re-designed engine nacelles with much better aerodynamics. However, by 1941 the entire design was obsolete and an easy prey for the invading Germans. Removed from front line service in 1943, some SB´s remained in service as transport and utility aircraft. There even was a civil freight/passenger version operated by  Aeroflot. Although over 6600 units were produced, only two complete aircraft are known to have survived to this day, the one shown below is displayed in the Monino aviation museum near Moscow.

This SB 2M-100A kit , “Red 10”, has three-blade propellers and an unpainted metal finish, like many SB´s before the outbreak of WWII . It was operated in the Baltic fleet around 1941.

This kit is another ancient one from Frog Models, now distributed by Ark Models. Some old Frog moulds are still acceptable and in rather good shape, but this one is not. It had a lot of flash and blemishes and required quite some work. Details are sparse but the finished model looks like a SB – the only alternative in 1/72 scale is a newer kit by ICM Models, but this was too fiddly for me – ICM kits have great details but they are way to overcomplicated. Decals are from Printscale.

I created a little airfield scene here. Figures are from Russian company Zvedza, quite detailed and the ZIS-6 fuel truck is a kit from Belarus maker PST. The ZIS-6 is a three-axle variation of the ZIS-5, one of the most popular Soviet Truck designs from the 1930s to 1950s. The airfield refueller version is called BZ-35 and was the first fuel truck to have a front-mounted exhaust system to reduce fire hazard, a new invention at the time.  This little kit was quite nice for a short-run kit.

06/06/2018 - PZL 23A Karas Polish Air Force, IBG Models

Another relatively unknown design –but not unpopular as a modeling subject - is the PZL 23 Karas, a Polish light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft designed in the early 1930s.

Polish Air Doctrine at the time had a strong preference for multi-role and armed reconnaissance aircraft, and the Karas was able to fullfill this role quite succesfull. First flown in 1934, the Karas was a relatively modern aircraft for its time, with a full-metal design, a crew of three, 700kg of bomb payload and three machine guns, one in the nose, one in the rear upper station and one underbelly. The first production version however, the PZL 23A , was deemed unsatisfactory because of its unreliable and weak engine (a license-build British Bristol Pegasus engine) and was soon relegated to secondary service and Air Force flying schools. The B-Version was introduced later and 210 models were build (compared to 40 aircraft of the A-Version)

But as it was at the time, aircraft technology was moving fast and the Karas was obsolete at the outbreak of WWII, and was an easy prey for the invading Luftwaffe. Losses were heavy but one single Karas attacked a factory in Germany on September 2th 1939, making this the first bombing raid over German soil in WWII. A few Karas were evacuated to Romania where they were integrated into the Romanian Air Force; an export version, the PZL 43, was delivered to the Bulgarian Air Force. No aircraft has survived to this day.

This PZL 23A Nr. 8 was flown by the Polish Air Force College in Deblin, September 1939.

There a quite a few kits of this aircraft. A very old one and crude one from the Eastern Bloc dating to the 1950s, and a mould from Heller released in the 1970s, and this brand new one by IBG Models of Poland, first offered in 2017. I was quite surprised by it, and it is not a short run kit ! Details are extremely well, the aircraft has a fully detailed interior, and everything fits almost perfectly. This is up to Tamiya quality and despite the small little details (and PE parts) it builds up well. Very recommended. IBG has primarly done kits of military trucks in 1/72, if they continue this quality with their aircraft kits they could make an impression for sure.

08/05/2018 - Gloster E28/39 Royal Air Force, Ark Models

The oldest surviving jet aircraft in the world is the Gloster E28/39 of the Royal Air Force. It first flew on May 15th, 1941 and is now displayed in the Science Museum in London. Although the Caproni Campini N.1 (presented earlier in this thread) displayed in Rome is almost one year older, it is technically not a pure jet aircraft, but a hybrid called a “motorjet”.

Research in turbojet propulsion was already done in the 1920s, but no practical use could be achieved then. The jet engine as we know it today has two fathers: Frank Whittle, a Royal Air Force engineer, and Hans von Ohain, a German Physicist. Both researched this new technology independently in the 1930s; and both had in common that their respective governments were indifferent at first about this new, exotic form of propulsion. Whittle founded his own company, Power Jets Ltd, to promote his idea and to attract interested partners in the British aviation industry. Lack of funding and government support did cost him a few years of development and in the end the technological edge against the Germans. Von Ohain was hired by Aircraft manufacturer Ernst Heinkel who always had an interest in high-speed planes. Frank Whittle is credited to have build the first operational turbine engine in the world, while Von Ohain designed the first airworthy jet engine, that powered the Heinkel He 178 on it´s first flight dated August 27th, 1939 – over 1 ½ years before the maiden flight of the Gloster E28/39. This event, of course, was unknown for the British or the rest of the world – jet engine research & aircraft development was top secret at the time and almost all information about it emerged only after the war, when Whittle & Von Ohain met each other and became good friends for the rest of their lives.

Whittle´s first airworthy jet engine, the Power Jets W.1, was ready in 1940 and the Gloster Aircraft Company was selected to build a proof-of-concept aircraft, the E28/39 (sometimes also called the Gloster “Pioneer” or Gloster “Whittle”). Two experimental aircraft, Serial numbers W4041 and W4046 were build. It was a simple but functional design and test pilot Gerry Sayer took it into the air on May 15th, 1941, the first flight of a British jet plane. The second jet, W4046, did not have a long career and was lost due to aileron failure in flight; the pilot was able to bail out. During 1943, the remaining E28/39 was handed to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (a government-owned research instute) based at Farnborough airfield, where it received a new camouflage scheme and a few aerodynamic modifications. Primarly used as an engine testbed, the “Pioneer” was finally retired in February 1945, after about 120 flights, and returned to Gloster, where the aircraft was refurbished and given to the Science Museum London in 1946 where it remains ever since. The E28/39 paved the way for the Gloster Meteor, the first operational jet fighter of the RAF.

The E28/39 W4041 is seen here as it appeared during 1941/42. It wears a Dark Earth/Dark Green camouflage with yellow undersides typical for RAF prototype and trainer aircraft of the era. Of interest is the marking “P” for prototype and the serial number W4041/G. The “/G” means that this aircraft had to be observed by at least one armed guard at all times when it was on the ground. It was all about secrecy then – and the very existence of this aircraft was acknowlegded by the government only in 1944 – three years after the first flight !

This kit from Russian maker Ark Models is the old Frog Models tooling, now over 50 years old. Therefore it is a basic as it can get, but this is typical for kits this old. What is annoying though that it is horribly inaccurate in terms of dimensions. This tooling is based on old incorrect Gloster drawings. The fuselage looks a bit bloated, and it really is ! Apparently the fuselage dimensions of the kit are more like 1:63 scale, while the wings are correct 1:72 scale. Of course nothing can be really done to correct this. The only alternative is a long-gone Czech short run kit or a very expensive and tricky short run kit from Australia – no thanks, not for me this time. The Ark/Frog model is accompanied by a few Airfix RAF figures and a diecast Bedford Tanker from Hobbymaster.

23/04/2018 - Curtiss P-36A Hawk, US Army Air Corps, AZ Models

Perhaps best known as the predecessor of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the Curtiss P-36 Hawk (also known as Hawk 75, the name of the export version) did not have a long career with the US Army Air Corps. Already obsolete at the outbreak of WWII, it was soon retired, but it nevertheless was a success for Curtiss. Over 1100 units were produced, and over 900 units were export models.

A contemporary of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Hawker Hurricane, the Hawker was one of the first all-metal monoplanes of the USAAC. In 1935, it competed with the Seversky P-35 for the first all-metal standard fighter design with retractable gears for the USAAC, but lost against the P-35. But it was later decided to continue development of the P-36 as a backup alternative, and in the end it was the more succesful design – Seversky only produced 196 units, and Curtiss over 1100 units. Both fighters had one thing in common: they were more or less outdated when they entered service – aviation technology was advancing very fast in the 1930s.

The P-36 had an excellent roll rate and good high speed handling, but it was underpowered and too slow; these problems were later rectified with the P-40, who had the same basic design but a more streamlined inline engine. The export model, named Hawk 75, was a major success with the French Armee de l´air (French Air Force). Although it was outnumbered in the fleet by French-designed fighter aircraft, it was responsible for almost a third of all air-to-air kills for the French Air Force and could hold it´s own against the Bf 109. In a rare occasion, the P-36 was probably the only aircraft that was operated by opposing Air Forces – when Axis Vichy French Air Force Hawks clashed with the Allied Free French Forces over North Africa later in the war.

The only combat action for USAAC P-36 types occurred during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Five P-36 were able to take off on the morning December 7th, 1941. One, P-36 Nr. 86 of the 15th Pursuit Squadron as shown here, was flown by Lt. Phil Rasmussen. He became famous as the “Pajama pilot”. Awakened by the noise of the attack, Rasmussen, still in his pajama, ran to the next unscathed aircraft avaiable and was able to take off while chased by Zeros. Wild dogfights followed, and although he only had one operational machine gun, Rasmussen did shoot down a Zero. Hunted by Zeros and with a badly damaged aircraft, Rasmussen almost lost control of his fighter but did manage to land his aircraft safely, although he had lost brakes, rudder and tailwheel control. It was estimated that his P-36 had around 500 bullet holes ! Rasmussen was celebrated as one of the first USAAC pilots to score a victory against an enemy fighter in WWII. A replica of his P-36 (and a pajama-wearing mannequin) can be seen at the National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.

The P-36 is surely not an “exotic” aircraft, but most kits of it in 1/72 scale are quite old, like the ones from Heller or Monogram. I decided to try a new-released Czech Short run kit from AZ Models, first offered in 2017. It is still a short run kit, but the new tooling is nice and relatively hassle-free, at least compared to older short run kits like the above-shown Sack AS-6. Rare for a short run kit, this one has no photo-etch or resin parts, and I´m quite thankful for that. Details are OK anyway, at least compared to the older toolings. Decals are from the kit.

Lt. Rasmussen and his bullet-riddled P-36

31/03/2018 - Sack AS-6 V1 Luftwaffe, Special Hobby

I have build some strange aircraft but I think I can never top this one. The development history of this plane is almost as bizzare as the weird look of it. But it is all based on historic facts – no April´s fool here ! So here I am, presenting you the “flying beer cup”

Arthur Sack was an Bavarian farmer and aviation enthusiast, and according to history, he witnessed the flying characteristics of beer cups in his local pup and became obsessed in building an aircraft with a circular wing. Sack had loose contact with Ernst Udet, Director of the German Air Ministry, who encouraged him to continue his research. Sack, who was not a trained aeronautical engineer, designed five model aircraft, types AS-1 to AS-5, but they did not fly very well. Soon after that he started building the first full-size piloted model, designated the AS-6 V1. He was supported by the crew of the Brandis Luftwaffe air base, who provided him with parts and testing facilities. The wooden circular wing construction was Sacks´s original design, but everything else –cockpit, engine, landing gear, stabilizer etc.- was taken from wrecked Messerschmitt Bf108 and Bf109.

The project received a boost when pilots of the Brandis-based JG400 squadron agreed to test the AS-6 V1 prototype. They nicknamed it the “flying beer cup”. JG400 was the only squadron operating the Me 163 “Komet” rocket fighter, so the pilots had some experience with extreme and experimental aircraft designs. But despite all efforts, the AS-6 never made a single flight; only a few small hops could be achieved during takeoff tests. The pilots complained about the ineffective stabilizer and rudder design, the underpowered engine and the weak landing gear that broke during two takeoff tests. It was also recommended to refine the aerodynamics in a wind tunnel (Arthur Sack had no resources for that, it was a privately funded project). Nevertheless, he was keen to upgrade his design, but the approaching Russian front ended all development in early 1945. Brandis airbase was evacuated and abandoned, and the single AS-6 V1 was destroyed and burned by the Germans.

Details of the aircraft and it´s designer only emerged in the last few decades, with only a few photos avaiable. It has been proposed by historians that this obscure aircraft could be one source of the notorious “Nazi flying saucer” myth – highly secretive aircraft or “UFOs” that could fly by antigravity or some other exotic means. The Sack AS-6 for sure was no wonder weapon, surely exotic, but otherwise nothing more than a oversized “beer cup” that did not actually fly. What is definetly known that the Germans were researching advanced technologies like rotating disc or disc-fan aeroplanes, like the BMW “Flügelrad” or the Focke Wulf “Triebflügel” concept, but most of these designs never left the drawing boards.

This is a very strange aircraft, so naturally, it had to be a Czech Short Run kit, in this case from Special Hobby. A tooling of the late 1990s, I was prepared for some headaches, despite the low number of plastic and resin parts (plus vacu-formed canopy). Indeed it was a hard project as nothing really fits and the instructions are inconclusive as ever. But I think it was worth the effort. The “flying beer cup” is so bizarre and a real eye-catcher in any collection.

14/03/2018 Nakajima J1N1 Gekko Imperial Japanese Navy, Fujimi

As we have seen, aircraft designs can end up very different as they were supposed to be – as it was the case with the Nakajima J1N1 of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Originally conceived as a land-based, heavy escort fighter, it entered duty as a long-range reconnaissance plane and ended the war as a designated night fighter aircraft, the most numerous and succesful aircraft of its kind in the IJN.

The escort fighter concept was shortly abandoned after the beginning of flight testing in 1941, as the fully armed aircraft, equipped with gun turrets, was sluggish and diffcult to handle. Converted to a recon aircraft the J1N1 fared better, but the big breakthrough came in 1943, when Cmdr. Kozono of the 251th Air Group based in Rabaul came up with the idea to convert the J1N1 into a nighter fighter aircraft. It was then when the aircraft received the nickname “Gekko” (Moonlight).

The basic idea was similar to the German Messerschmitt Bf110, an aircraft of almost identical design, that was also converted to night-time use. Two 20mm autocannons were installed firing upward in a 30 degree angle, and two similar cannons downwards. This could hit bombers in areas they could not observe or directly defend, mostly underneath. This concept, called “Schräge Musik” was developed by the Luftwaffe and the Japanese used the same design. As Japanese radar technology was still underdeveloped compared to the Americans, the first Gekko nighter fighter versions (named J1N1-S) had to use nose-mounted searchlights, however the initial success against B-17 and B-24 bombers was impressive and took the Americans by surprise. Unaware of the existence of the Gekko, the Americans experienced unexplained losses of nighttime patrols in early 1943 and it took them some time to realize that the J1N1 was the cause of this.

Later versions of the Gekko were equipped with radar and different cannon variations and it was expected they could successful engage the new B-29 bomber. However, against the high-flying and fast B-29 it was a very different task as they Gekko could barely reach the performance of the Superfortress. A few crews had considerable success but most of the time the J1N1 fell prey to B-29 air gunners and especially escort fighters, as it was virtually defenseless without any defensive weaponry. Only one Gekko survived the war and in now displayed, fully restaurated, at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles airport.

This J1N1-S is an early version with “humpback” rear fuselage and no radar. It belonged to the 302nd Kokutai 2nd Hikotai (squadron) at Toyohashi Air Base. Four kill markings are painted on the fuselage. This kit is from Fujimi and is a little hard to get outside Japan (and quite expensive) so I purchased it directly from an Ebay retailer in Japan. The moulding is good in general, although details are sparse in some places like cockpit or wheel wheels. So this is not Tamiya or Hasegawa quality but still OK. Decal variations are for eight different aircraft which is a nice touch.

22/02/2018 Sd.Kft.2 Kettenkrad Wehrmacht, S-Model

The Sd.Kfz.2 (called "Kettenkrad", half-track motorcycle) was a German half-track tractor and the smallest in a series of half-track vehicles of the Army. It was also used as a towing tractor by the Luftwaffe, especially for jet aircraft. To conserve fuel, jets were often towed directly to the runway. The Kettenkrad was often seen towing the Me 262, but also the Arado Ar 234 as seen here. This tiny kit from S-Model is really nice and fine detailled.

18/02/2018 Toyota GB Starter Truck Japanese Army Air Force, Hasegawa

I´m having a little fun with creating small diorama scenes now, so this is my first build that is not an aircraft kit. The Toyota GB Starter Truck was used by both the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Japanese Army Air Force. Starter Trucks were invented during the first World War and used by Air Forces around the world. Basically, they used a movable boom connected to a gear drive transmission, and the boom was attached to the propeller hub and set into motion.

Not all Japanese fighters could be started this way, the Nakajima Ki-84 pictured here was one of the types suited for this. The Toyota Type "GB" chassis was the first commercial truck designed by the Toyota Corporation, and the Starter Truck Conversion could also be used for general utility work.

This little Hasegawa kit comes with figures and a transportable bomb rack. Although this is a very old tooling it is very nice. I believe I will add other Hasegawa trucks like the Isuzu Fuel Tanker later.

10/02/2018 Westland Lysander Mk III Royal Air Force, Ark Models

Sometimes aircraft have second careers, after not performing so well in their intended role. This certainly was the case with the Westland Lysander, a British army co-operation aircraft designed in the mid 1930s. Requested by the army and designed primarly as a tactical reconnaissance and artillery spotting aircraft, the Lysander had excellent STOL performance and was an aerodynamical advanced aircraft despite its somewhat clumsy appearance.

However, in actual combat use, the Lysander did not perform as well as expected. Too slow, cumbersome and vulnerable against German fighters, the RAF lost 118 of 175 Lysanders deployed to France and Belgium around the time of the climatic Battle of Dunkirk. After that, the aircraft was relegated primarly to liasion and courier duties but found a new role with the secretive No. 161 Squadron (Special Duties) of the Royal Air Force.

Commissioned in 1942, the No. 161 squadron was performing missions for the SOE (Special Operations Executive), a covert espionage and sabotage unit of the British government. The tasks of No. 161 included transporting agents and spys in and out of German-occupied territory, mainly German-occupied France. Those flights were usually performed at night, and the Lysanders landed on provisional airfields in France (STOL performance was a big plus here) where they deployed or picked up agents. This must have been surely a sight worthy of a WWII spy movie ! Pilots had to fly in the moonlighted night, without navigational aids, always in danger to be detected by the Germans. Lysanders used for this missions were the later Mk III type, as seen here. They were painted completely back, with a long-range external fuel tank mounted under the belly and a quick access ladder for the passengers. Among these were well-known and famous Resistance fighters; Francois Mitterand, later President of France from 1981 to 1995, was one of them.

This Lysander Mk III of No. 161 Squadron is from Ark Models, a Russian company, but the mould is from Frog Models of the U.K. and dating to the early 1970s. Interestingly, the other Lysander kits on the market are equally old, from Airfix and Matchbox. This kit is a typical 1970s design, sparse in details but generally not that bad, although a new up-to-date tooling would be great anyway. Unfortunately the markings for the all-black Lysanders are not avaiable as aftermarket decals, but I was able to purchase the decal sheet from an older Airfix release.

Preserved Lysander of the Shuttleworth Collection. I took this picture at the Flying Legends Airshow in Duxford 2014.