|Gilding Tamiyas Lily
Making Jacob Kratts MiG-Killing Thunderjet
By Tom Cleaver
The MiG-15 gave UN forces a nasty surprise when it first appeared over North Korea in early November 1950. The Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star, a first-generation jet, was the most advanced fighter operated by UN forces, and was thoroughly outclassed insofar as performance was concerned by the second-generation MiG. Only the difference in training and flying ability of the F-80's pilots gave them any chance in combat with the Soviet fighter.
The Air Force quickly decided to send one group each of its two most advanced jet fighters, the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and the North American F-86 Sabre, to Korea to counter the MiG threat. As the most advanced first-generation jet fighter, the Thunderjet equipped the Strategic Air Command's 27th Fighter Escort Wing, an organization with 50 pilots among its number who had Second World War combat experience in their logbooks. As a bomber escort group in the tradition of the earlier Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, the 27th would escort the 5th Air Force B-29s on their raids over North Korea. The group departed Bergstrom AFB Texas on November 11, stopping at fields along the way where other F-84s were based, with carte blanche to take the best ones they found as group equipment.
27th FEW arrived in Japan about the same time as the F-86-equipped 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing. Under the command of Colonel Don Blakeslee, the legendary commander of the 4th Fighter Group in England, the 27th flew its first mission over North Korea on December 7, 1950; a 4-ship armed recce southwest of Pyongyang led by Blakeslee - ten days ahead of the Sabres. By 7 January 1951, the group had flown 275 close support missions, 525 armed recon missions, and 75 escort missions; the statistics are remarkable because the 27th was trained as a long-range escort group and had had no close support training.
On 21 January 1951, LCOL Bill Bertram shot down shot down the 27th's first MiG-15. Two days later, on 23 January 1951, 1LT Jacob Kratt of the 523rd Squadron scored two MiG-15s while escorting other squadrons of the group on a bombing mission. As Kratt later recalled, the 523rd was to provide high cover to the 522nd and 524th squadrons, which would be carrying 5" HVARs for a strike on the North Korean airfield at Sinuiju, 15 miles east of the MiG base at Antung, Manchuria. Over Sinuiju, Kratt spotted MiGs taking off from Antung and heading right for the attacking aircraft below. Kratt's flight leader didn't see the enemy, so he and his wingman dove on them. Kratt quickly found himself lined up perfectly on the enemy leader, and after a 10-second burst, the MiG emitted smoke, turned away and crashed short of the Yalu. Kratt got a squirt at the leader's wingman, then he and his wingman were quickly involved with four other MiGs. Extracting themselves from that furball, Kratt then spotted another flight of four below, dove on them as he had the first, and was rewarded with another smoking MiG crashing into a mountain south of the Yalu. Kratt had scored the first double MiG kill of the war. He would go on to score a third kill, a Yak-9 (strangely enough carried in the official record as a Yak-3) a month later, making him the highest-scoring Thunderjet pilot ever.
Even with Bertram's and Kratt's successes, the pilots of the 27th felt themselves lucky to have escaped with as little damage as they did. The MiG-15 proved itself vastly superior on speed, climb and hitting power. In addition to these three kills in January 1951, Thunderjets would score a total of 6 more MiG kills during the war, a tribute to superior American pilot training and the inherent toughness of the airplane, but after January 23, 1951, F-84s flew into MiG-contested airspace with Sabres for top cover.
In their decal sheet, Cutting Edge states that Kratt's airplane was an F-84G. This is impossible. The 27th FEW arrived in Korea in December 1950 with a mix of F-84D and F-84E aircraft, and F-84Gs did not arrive in Korea until the summer of 1952. A quick look at photos of 27th FEW Thunderjets in Volume 2 of "Wings of Fame" shows that the aircraft were definitely F-84Es, with the clear canopy and no blow-in doors on the lower forward fuselage. According to Col. Blakeslee, the wing did not receive the strengthened canopies until almost the end of their tour of duty in Korea. Thus, if a modeler wants to make Kratt's MiG-killer, the Tamiya F-84G must be converted to the "E" version.
The primary physical differences between the two versions are that the E did not have the blow-in doors and lacked the flying-boom in-flight refueling receptacle in the port wing, and the early versions did not have the reinforced canopy. So far as the canopy is concerned, it is not possible to modify the Tamiya canopy, since sanding off the reinforcing bands reveals that there is a bit of structural work on the inside of the canopy that takes advantage of these bands, and that cannot be gotten rid of. (Trust me on this, I speak from hard experience.) Therefore, the closest a modeler can get is to do Kratt's airplane as it would have appeared in late April or May 1951, with the reinforced canopy.
In their cast-resin aftermarket set, Meteor/Cutting Edge provide resin plugs for the blow-in doors. However, the problem for the modeler is that the end result has to be a large panel that is easily visible to the casual eye, that has to be absolutely smooth. Sanding away on the resin to get it smooth with no join lines will result in taking off a considerable bit of engraved detail in the vicinity. Therefore, I opted to fill the blow-in doors with thick Zap-A-Gap, and then sand it down after it had been quick hardened with Zap-Kicker. I did the same with the engraved panel lines in the wing for the refueling location. This worked with a minimum loss of detail.
Meteor's cockpit, designed by Scott Battistoni, is beautiful. Unfortunately, the design is very fine and fragile, which modelers have said they want, but might want to reconsider in light of the results. The seat rails at the back of the cockpit tub arrived broken off in the original shipment; Meteor kindly provided two replacements that also arrived broken. My suggestion to solve this is for Meteor to put a bit of cotton inside the plastic "jewel box" it is sent in, and to switch from the U.S. Mule to UPS, where fumble-fingered employees can get their incompetent butts fired.
Additionally, the seat, again beautifully designed and molded, is terribly fragile. Not only that, but it didn't really fit in the cockpit tub without a lot of cutting and sanding. While attempting this, my seat broke in half, and the armrests were shattered in the process. I have to say that in seven years of using cast resin parts, this is the first time I have ever broken any, and it was very frustrating, to say the least. Fortunately, I had a KMC resin seat for the F-86, which is basically similar with a different (and separate) rail and headrest. I mated KMC seat with Tamiya kit rails and headrest, and after cutting off the remains of the broken rails from the rear bulkhead of the resin tub, things ended up looking all right. Luckily, the way the canopy sits in the open position blocks even the most determined penlight policeman from seeing those things are not as originally designed.
I have, since this work was done, discovered that the instructions are not clear about the placement of the seat. According to Scott Battistoni, the seat does not touch the floorboard on the real airplane, nor does the bucket portion touch the bottom of the rails. Because of the tubular framework on the real seat, Republic had to mount four triangular posts with roller wheels on the ends to slide into the rails. These triangular posts stuck out from the seat 9 inches, which meant that the seat did not and could not completely touch the rails. The lower two triangular posts were actually a little longer, which meant that the bottom of the seat was further forward than the top. The footrest on the seat should barely rest on the kick plates on the floorboard, and the top of the seat should touch the top of the launch rails. While during construction this leaves an ugly gap at the bottom rear of the seat would be invisible once the fuselage is assembled.
I must say that - had I known this to begin with - things would have been much easier, and that original seat would very likely be in my model. Hopefully, Meteor will revise their instructions, to get rid of the ambiguity that led to this problem. If you are going to use this set, be sure to keep this information.
Meteor provides a very nice slotted early dive brake, which I used. I also used the cast-brass landing gear legs. These are very nice, but I have to say they are not that noticeable to the casual viewer. If you are a Type-A contest-only modeler, you'll have to have them, but I suspect the rest of us will be able to spend what we save not buying this set on another kit.
Once everything was assembled, I did my standard multi-hue natural metal finish with a combination of SnJ and ModelMaster metalizer paints (see my original F-84 revue in September Internet Modeler for full details of this), and was ready for decals.
Cutting Edge provides some really nice, really thin decals for the F-84, with a minimum of clear backing, which is nice for use on a natural metal finish. Unfortunately, they are a little too thin, with a bit too little backing. I started with the USAF on the lower wing, which has the "U" and the "S" in separate pieces to go over the gear doors. When I applied these with Micro-Sol, they immediately curled up and died, which made finishing the model problematical. I was already at the point where I considered that this project did not "make modeling fun again," and came close to flinging everything. A walk around the block cooled those notions.
I solved the problem by cutting out the "U" and the "S" from the kit decals and then cutting out replacements from a sheet of Micro-Scale Insignia Blue. After that, decals were applied with water only, and Micro-Sol was only applied when everything was where it should be. I have to say I was disappointed with the stenciling, which is too small to see. The kit stenciling, while thick, looks better to my eyes.
The reinforcing bands for the canopy are provided in the decals. Unfortunately, some are too long, and some are too short, and I had to fix this with judiciously applied paint, freehand. I think I would have had a better result masking the canopy and painting these bands with off-white acrylic. The decals are easily applied here, and perhaps this can be revised in the future, but it strikes me as unlikely, given the expense.
If I was going to do this over again, I would wait until the ProModeler F-84E comes out and use the aircraft marking decals there, it's that simple.
This conversion is simple, but it isn't easy. I can only say that I was not as happy as I expected to be with the result. My bet is that ProModeler's cockpit will be at least as good as was the cockpit of their P-47N, which is the best P-47 cockpit done by anyone, so a similar result with the F-84 will be more than acceptable to all except the nut-cases. Their stenciling will likely be more easily used, too. Then you can use these very nice Cutting Edge decals to make Kratt's airplane, LCOL Bertram's MiG-killer, or Col. Robert L. Scott Jr.'s airplane, which are all F-84Es.
The finished model looks as good in person as it does in these photos, but, in the end, I have to consider this a project that might have been better not to start.