The George Lee/John Alcorn Vought O3U-3 Corsair

By Jim Schubert


In late 1988 George E. Lee, master scratch builder sans pareil, started his 1/16th scale model of Vought O3U-3 Corsair, serial number 9516 the 10th airplane of Observation Squadron VO-1 based aboard USS Pennsylvania, BB38 in 1936. In the early spring of 1992, when it was apparent that he was dying, he passed the partially completed model to John Alcorn to complete and to deliver to the National Museum of Naval Aviation. To facilitate John's work, George also gave him all his references on the plane, including many original Vought drawings and all the raw materials that he had accumulated for building the model. George died shortly thereafter on May 31, 1992. As John was then deeply involved in his own scratchbuilt 1/24th scale model of de Havilland DH9A "Ninak" H3510, "L" of No. 8 Squadron based at Hinaidi, Iraq in 1926, he promised George's widow, Millie, to start work on the Corsair as soon as the Ninak was finished. Following the Ninak's successes: Best Aircraft, Best Large Scale Scratchbuilt Aircraft, Best Aircraft, Best WWI Aircraft and Best Finished Aircraft, at the July 1998 IPMS/USA National Convention in Santa Clara, John initiated completion of the Corsair. He finally finished it in late June of 2000 in time for it to be displayed at the July 2000 IPMS/USA National Convention in Dallas en route to Pensacola.

John's credentials for taking on this job are well known in the hobby. He is acknowledged to be one of the best scratchbuilders of static scale airplane models in North America along with the likes of Bill Bosworth, Paul Budzik, Ron Cole, Bob Davies, Ron Lowry, Bob Rice, Arlo Schroeder and Rodney Williams. To truly appreciate the work of these modelers and others of the same caliber from around the world and to see the various building techniques they employ you need to peruse the books Scratchbuilt! (Schiffer, 1993, ISBN: 088740-417-0) and The Master Scratchbuilders (Schiffer, 1999, ISBN: 0-7643-0795-9).

The model's size and fragility prohibited shipping it, or even hand carrying it on an airliner, to Dallas and thence to Pensacola. So John asked me to share the long drive with him to transport the model. It was placed in its assembly/alignment jig, fitted into a computer box and placed on a large block of foam rubber on the back seat of John's air conditioned car. It was then surrounded with large white bed pillows to insulate it from the radiant heat of the sun and protect it from road vibrations. For safekeeping we even took it into the hotel/motel room with us every night en route. We arrived in Dallas, with the model unscathed, on the day the convention opened. The model was on display for the duration of the convention and was joined, at the awards banquet, with the fabric panel from the original plane that had inspired George to model this particular O3U-3 in the first place. The panel had been brought from San Francisco to Dallas for this occasion by George's son, Dr. Michael Lee, so that both the model and the fabric could be delivered to the National Museum of Naval Aviation where they now reside.

The Model: Assembly

Cockpit details as finished by George.

Detailed and structurally finished cockpit coamings section as received by John.

Finished engine and Hamilton-Standard ground adjustable propeller as finished by George.

Finished Pratt & Whitney R-1340-12 engine.

Engine accessories section cowling prior to fitting to the fuselage. This assembly, by itself, comprises about 50 individual pieces.

George's main float and, mostly wood, deck handling dolly are beautiful models in their own rights.

The Corsair in its assembly/alignment jig at the point of completion, at which it was handed over to John to finish.

Rear view of the model in the jig.

The model in its assembly/alignment jig on John's workbench.

The master and the model; John Alcorn in 1:1 scale and the O3U-3 in 1:16th scale.

Close up of the nose. Note the photo of John's wife, Francie. We must all keep our priorities in mind even when deeply absorbed in model building.

George had originally intended that the cockpit controls actually move the control surfaces. In the event, however, it became expedient to fix the controls in place.

The Model: Done at Last

The model at the final controlled photo session before departure for Dallas and Pensacola; Lake Sammamish and the Cascade mountains in the background.

The Model: Dallas Nationals

The model on display at the year 2000 IPMS/USA National Convention in Dallas, July 19-22.

At the Dallas convention awards banquet, Arris Pappas and Bill Devins help John display the fabric panel salvaged from the original aircraft. It was this piece of fabric, given to him by a Navy friend, that inspired George to model this particular airplane.

John, looking grim, and Dr. Michael Lee, George's son, at the Awards banquet in Dallas. Dr. Lee had brought the fabric to Dallas so that John could deliver it, along with the model that it had inspired, to the museum in Pensacola.

The Model: Final Rest at the Naval Museum, Pensacola

Robert Rasmussen (Captain, USN Ret.) Director of the museum, and curator Jim Curry, receive the model and fabric from John in Captain Rasmussen's office in the museum in Pensacola.

Main entrance to the National Museum of Naval Aviation. If you have not visited here yet, you owe it to yourself to plan a visit. I think its layout is better than the NASM's making the aircraft much more accessible for study and photography. Our own Museum Of Flight here in Seattle is especially bad in respect of access to the artifacts.

The master scratchbuilder, John Alcorn, at work in his combination museum and shop in his home atop Seattle's Queen Anne Hill.

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