Review and model photos by Chris Bucholtz. Article courtesy of "The Styrene Sheet", the monthly newsletter of IPMS/Silicon Valley.
Saying the AD Skyraider was a remarkable plane is a vast understatement. Its development was extraordinary, its achievements legendary and its longevity astounding. It evoked in its pilots a devotion that few airplanes ever earn, and it lasted far longer than its designer, Ed Heinemann, could have dreamed.
The Skyradieror "Able Dog," or "SPAD," as her pilots called herwas the result of a remarkable gamble taken by Heinemann and his design team in the summer of 1944. Douglas had been a contender in the contest to design the Navy's next carrier bomber, and its BTD1 appeared it could hold its own against its competitors, the Kaiser Fleetwings XBTK1 and the Martin XBTM1 Mauler. The BTD1 evolved from the XSB2D1, which was a twoseat bomber with two remotelycontrolled power turrets and other innovations. The BTD1 was a large, gullwinged bomber with an internal bombbay, and was a rather complex aircraft.
Heinemann thought a simpler design might be better. At a meeting with BuAer personnel to help pick the winner of this threeplane race, a host of conflicting views on the XBTD1 convinced Heinemann that Douglas stood a great chance of losing out to Martin and Kaiser. So he took a gamble.
"We would like to request that the Navy allow Douglas to cancel the existing contract for the BTD," Heinemann said to an astonished collection of military and civilian air authorities. "Instead, we ask permission to use the unexpended funds to build an entirely new bomber, one I am convinced will do the job for you."
Heinemann asked for 30 days to draw up the design. Admiral Lawrence Richardson, the assistant BuAer chief, thought for a few moments, then said, "all right, Ed. But we can't give you 30 days. You'll have to have a design for us by 0900 tomorrow."
Heinemann, Leo Devlin, Reid Bogert and Gene Root retreated to a room at the Statler Hotel in Los Angeles, where they worked from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m. to design a simpler, stronger and more capable plane. The four woke up at 7 a.m. to find a blueprint shop, and by 9 a.m. they had the new design ready for BuAer personnel's inspection.
This plane, devised during an allnight cram session, was the XBT2D1, which was later named the AD1 Skyraider. The plane could carry a massive amount of ordnance, absorb a terrific amount of punishment and loiter over targets longer than any other plane in the Navy's inventory.
The SPAD was truly the workhorse of the fleet in Korea, and it continued to serve well into the Vietnam War. From Operation Pierce Arrow, the response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964, until its retirement from frontline duty in 1968, the A1 flew combat missions against North Vietnamese targets, gaining considerable success in what was considered to be a jet war.
As if to emphasize this, the old SPAD scored two kills during the war over MiG17s. The first kill was scored on June 20, 1965 by LT Clint Johnson and LT Charlie Hartman of VA25, who countered a MiG attack with a Lufberry Circle. One MiG tried to turn with the SPADs, flying between the two Navy airmen. They took turns riddling the MiG with 20mm cannon fire, which caused the MiG to crash into the jungle.
On November 11, 1966, a second MiG fell to the SPAD. This time, the plane belonged to the Thunderbolts of VA176, whose A1Hs bore the red and yellow bumblebee markings most associated with the SPAD.
LT(jg) William Patton was inbound on a strike mission when he saw a MiG17 jump another SPAD below him. Quickly, Patton jettisoned his ordnance and tanks and threw his plane, callsign Papoose 409, into a dive toward the enemy plane. The MiG pilot spotted Patton and broke off his attack, closed his speed brakes and started a hard climbing turn to the left. Once again, trying to . outturn the SPAD proved to be the wrong maneuver.
Patton closed to within 200 feet of the MiG before opening fire. Shells from the 20mm cannons punched holes in the MiG's mottledgreen fuselage, and went out of control in an inverted position, its pilot ejecting before the plane slashed through the jungle canopy and exploded in a sheet of flame.
Until just recently, building a 1:72 model of the SPAD presented you with few choices. For the AD5, Monogram's old offering is the only choice, and not a bad one. For the singleseat Skyraider, options were more dauntingthe oversized Fujimi kit (later reissued by Testors), the wretched Tsukuda kit (recently flogged under a trio of misleading banners by HobbyCraft), and the best of this bunch, the Airfix kit, which suffered from oversized rivets, inaccurate folding wings and a complete lack of cockpit detail. (For an overview of these older kits, see Mike Burton's article in the December 1993 issue of the Styrene Sheet.)
That's changed now, thanks to Hasegawa's new A1H kit. This model is a real gembeautifully scribed panel lines, terrific fit, and an accurate outline. It's also engineered in a thoughtful wayseparate cowl flaps that go over exhaust pipe detail; landing gear door hinges that allow for positive alignment of the doors; and pylons with actual sway braces. The model also presents the boltedon armor of the A1H and A1J beautifully, and the flame glare shields and boarding steps are also presented as inscale, molded features.
I armed myself with my references and some extras to make the model just a little better. First, I picked up the Kendall Model Company detail set for the SPAD, which includes correct seats and wheels for the Navy and Air Force versions, a cockpit tub, control panel, control column, cowl ring with retracted cowl flaps and gunsight. Next came the Eduard brass set, with its myriad of details for the landing gear, tie downs, catapult bridle hooks and other exterior features. Finally, although the kit engine is good, I picked up an Engines & Things R3350 to add a bit of depth to the plane's nose.
The Kendall set was a bit of a disappointment. The nose cowl ring was riddled by air bubbles, which required lots of filling and sanding to eradicate. Worse yet, the retracted cowl flaps were molded backwards! The cockpit was also problematic. The tub had one sidewall molded to its side, but this left a sizeable gap between the side of the plane and the sidewall detail. I had to cut the sidewall from the tub, sand it thin and add it separately. The instructions, while thorough for USAF versions, completely ignore the colors and antenna placement for Navy birds.
On the plus side, the wheels are very nicely detailed, and the seats are quite nice. The Navy seat even includes a small water bottlea handy accessory for any Yankee Station SPAD pilot!.
I started construction with these cockpit components, substituting the wonderful Eduard brass instrument panel and photonegative instruments for the resin panel. I painted the seat dark gull gray with light gray seat belts, and painted up the water bottle in olive drab. The control panels were painted tire black, and were drybrushed with light gray paint to bring out the detail. The control column was left out until later, so that it would not be broken during the masking of the cockpit. To add a bit of detail to the cockpit floor, I trimmed the Eduard brass floor and added it to the resin tub.
Before I secured the resin and brass components into one of the fuselage halves, I cut the DF housing, TACAN antenna and UHF antenna from the model's spine. These are molded into one half of the fuselage, making sanding the seams around them very difficult. I wish kit manufacturers would include these details as separate pieces that could be added on after basic assembly is complete instead of as obstructions to construction. I also sanded away the large canopy guide rail, which is molded as a very big cylinder; in reality, it's a thin rail that's raised above the fuselage. I set these parts aside to be added to the model later.
The fuselage halves fit together with no problem. Small seams were present in the tail hook and tail wheel bays; I filled the former and blanked off the latter with a part from the Eduard set.
The scoop on top of the cowling is molded as a single separate part, which required a bit of sanding to fit properly. When in place, it captures the look of the Skyraider well.
The wings assembled just as easily. I cut the cannons from the wings, to be replaced later with tubing; this made sanding the leading edge seams much easier. The trailing edge also needed some sanding and sharpening. I chipped away the moldedon pegs in the catapult bridle hook bays and added the photoetched replacements form Eduard, and I removed the wingtip lights from the model so I could replace them with clear lights later.
The wings joined the model with a minimum of fuss on the leading edge and wing roots, although the trailing edge joint was thin and required special attention. I had to rescribe the panel detail under the fuselage at this point, especially the ventral dive brake.
The horizontal tail also fit cleanly to the fuselage, with a minimum of gapfilling required. The pylons went on next, again fitting with virtually no seams. Each pylon15 in allhas separate sway braces, which require a bit of attention to ensure alignment. A slipup here means that ordnance won't be aligned properly later.
The drop tanks were assembled next. Even though I planned to use only one tank, I built all three because they were so wonderfully detailed. These are easily the best drop tanks I've seen in 1:72. I also built up the rest of the underwing storestwo fourshot Zuni rocket pods, taken from the Fujimi A4 Skyhawk kit, and six Mk.82 500pound Snakeye bombs. The Zunis were assembled and sanded down by with a piece of sandpaper rolled into a tube to preserve the roundness of the pods. The pods were airbrushed white, and the rockets' noses were brush painted olive drab.
The Snakeyes were roughed up with a piece of 200grit sandpaper to simulate the cast texture of Navy Mk.80 series bombs. The noses of the bombs were airbrushed yellow, then masked off. The bombs' bodies were airbrushed olive drab, and the fuses were brush painted brass.
At this point, with the basic aircraft assembled, I figured I'd be done in no time. That was when A.M.S. set in, with an assist from the Canadian Postal Service. Just after I ordered my new R3350 from Engines & Things, there was a postal strike in the great white north, delaying my engine for what seemed like forever. When it finally arrived, I was pleased with the detail, which was much better than I expected. I painted the engine in the proper colors and rigged it with a brass ignition harness from an Aires R2800. As a final touch, I added a "data plate" to the top of the crankcase with a small rectangle of black rubon transfer.
I used my Dremel tool to grind away the "engine mounts" inside the nose, mounting bits of styrene on the second flange in the nose until the engine sat at the proper depth. I took the Kendall cowling ring and replaced the backwards nose cowl flaps with paper and wire flaps, which were painted white before the ring was cemented in place.
I reattached the DF housing, the TACAN and the UHF antenna in advance of painting. I also removed the static boom from the tail and drilled a hole for a metal replacement to be added later and drilled small holes to accommodate the aerial antenna.
The clear parts were dipped in Future floor polish and allowed to dry overnight. The windscreen was installed into the nose, first with white glue and then with superglue. The seam was sanded flush, and the clear areas were masked with Parafilm in preparation for painting.
I masked the cockpit with wet tissue paper and prepared my trusty airbrush. I used a 5050 mixture of Humbrol and Testors Model Master white; I figured that Humbrol covers well but is grainy, while Model Master goes on smoothly but doesn't cover well, so I figured I'd combine them and see how well it worked. It took three coats, but the paint eventually covered the model's lower surfaces, rudder, ailerons and elevators.
After masking the rudder and upper control surfacesand tacking the cowl flaps in placeI sprayed a coat of gull gray over the upper surfaces. I freehanded the demarcation line on the cowling, to simulate the one place on the Skyraider that had a soft break between the colors. I made a mixture of chrome silver and white and used this to simulate the corrogard on the leading edge of the wings, a process that required quite a bit of masking. I brushpainted the three dielectric antenna covers on the outboard wing panels with a mixture of brown and yellow paint. The two diamondshaped covers were originally for the APA70 homing equipment system fitted to the AD3N and 3Q, and the rounded panel covered the APR9 waveguide. Since all outboard wings were built to identical specifications after the AD3Q, these covers were present on all subsequent SPADs, although there were no antennas behind them.
Once the paint was dry, I hit the model with a good, thick coat of Varathane to prepare the surface for decals.
At this point, another problem cropped up: despite being the most famous aircraft from the most famous Vietnam War SPAD squadron, Papoose 409 has never been portrayed in decals! This turned my project into a learning experience. Last year, Dave Sampson wrote an article in the Styrene Sheet about making one's own decals, and this helped out greatly.
The book U.S. Navy Carrier Markings, 19641973 includes a profile of Papoose 409, including a detail of the unique kill marking applied to the airplane. Photos of the plane revealed that the nose modex number was slightly larger and more squat than ordinary nose numbers.
I had a decal sheet with the number "402," so I took this and the kill marking detail and enlarged them by 400 percent on a copy machine. I took these blowups and scanned them into my computer. Using the scanning program, I altered the images bit by bit, taking out the thunderbolt from the kill marking and altering the modex to make the "4" in "402" more elongated and turning the "2" into a "9." When I printed this out, I reduced it to about the size I'd need for the model. I ran the printout through the copier to get an template showing where to position my decal film.
Earlier, I painted Future onto a sheet of clear decal paper and allowed it to dry. I cut the sheet into several pieces and taped them to the positioning template. Then, I ran this piece through the copy machine. It took several passes to get satisfactory results, but ultimately I ended up with two "409's" and a kill marking that would work. These were painted with a second coat of Future to seal them.
From there, things went fairly simply. I used SuperScale decals for the tail markings, mission markings, wing modex, data stencils and national insignia. ModelDecal sheet #8 provided the "USS Intrepid"/"Navy"/"VA176" legend, and my own homemade nose numbers went on the cowling. I used extra red decal material to make a tiny red thunderbolt (from a rectangle and a triangle) for the kill marking. The small homemade kill decal went over this thunderbolt and completed a most convincing kill marking.
I added the exhaust stains behind the cowl flaps with pastels. Another coat of Varathane sealed the pastels and prepared the model for further weathering, which was accomplished with a wash of dark gray watercolor paint. The centerline drop tank was always streaked with oil; to replicate this, I put small drops of thinned black paint atop the tank, and blasted the drop with the airbrush, blowing small streaks of "oil" back along the tank.
The landing gear was added at this point. I painted the Kendall wheels tire black with white hubs, which were liberally washed with a mixture of dark paint. The landing gear struts lock firmly into place, as do the retraction struts. The Eduard set includes a brass parts to add detail to these struts; I also added drag links made from telescoping tubing and brake lines made from brass wire. At this point, I also painted and added the tail wheel and the tail hook, which benefited from an Eduard brass tie down. The gear doors fit easily into place to complete these assemblies.
The little details came next. I used a small bit of airfoilshaped styrene to depict the white light fairing on the plane's spine, and a piece of stiff guitar string was bent and added to replicate the canopy guide rail. The propeller was painted black, with white tips in front and yellow in back. I added red decal stripes to the tips on the front of the props, and the kit's data decals finished off the propeller.
I used two sizes of telescoping tubing to replicate the cannons, and drilled holes in the wings to accommodate them. The cannons were slightly staggered on the wings, with the outboard cannon on the centerline and the inboard cannon slightly above the centerline. Once in place, the cannons were painted black and the ends of the barrels were wiped to reveal bare metal, giving the illusion of a weathered gun.
On went the drop tanks and the Zuni pods; the Mk. 82 bombs had bits of very thin wire tied around the fuse and attached to the electrical connectors molded into the wing; these wires are used to arm the bombs' fuses when the bombs are dropped from the plane.
Small holes were drilled in the wingtips, and bits of stretched clear styrene were glued into them. I held the clear styrene close to the flame of a candle, causing them to "mushroom" into properlyshaped wingtip lights. Clear red and green paint finished the effect off. A bit of 5minute epoxy dyed red with food coloring went onto the tailtop beacon.
I added the kit gunsight and glued the photoetched mirrors and handles to the sliding canopy and glued it into place. To finish things off, I painted the twopiece control column and, with the aid of tweezers, glued it to the cockpit floor.
Despite the brief hangups in my particular project, the end result was a model that embodied the pugnacious SPAD to a teechunky, dirty and loaded for bear. If you want to build a model that falls together and lets you add to the model whatever level of detail you wish, this SPAD is for you.
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