Tamiya 1/48th P-47D “Bubbletop”
Floyd S. Werner, Jr.
The P-47 needs very little said about it so I will concentrate on Francis Gabreski. Gabby was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7th. Trying to gain combat experience Gabby convinced someone to let him fly with the Poles out of England. Gabby grew up in Oil City, PA in the Polish section of town and spoke the language fluently. He was transferred to Europe but 8th Fighter Command did not want to let him go to the Polish squadron. He was able to work the issue from the Polish side of the house. Soon he was flying Spitfires with them. Once he was integrated back into the 8th Air Force he was assigned to the 56th Fighter Group.
Initially he was shunned, as he was an outsider. The 56th, Zemke’s Wolfpack, had developed back in the US and trained up together. As Gabby had rank and experience he was given command jobs, which didn’t sit well with the people of the unit. Eventually his ability and leadership would win them over. His score increased steadily and soon he was pushing for the ace race. He had 28 kills when he was scheduled to rotate back to the States for a war bond tour and get married to his fiancé’ Kay. With bags packed and an airplane waiting to take him home, Gabby heard of another mission in which he thought there would be a chance to increase his score even more. He was able to arrange to lead and fly the mission. While there was no air-to-air activity, Gabby noticed an airfield and led his section down for the attack. He made the first pass with no problem despite the defensive fire. He turned around and went down one more time. During this pass Gabby mushed into the ground and eventually had to make a belly landing. He was captured after a few days and spent the remainder of the war watching from a POW camp.
He was eventually married to Kay and had a couple of kids. He worked various jobs in the military but he eventually went to the Korean conflict in July 1951. Gabby helped develop the tactics that helped him, and many others, become a jet ace with 6.5 jet kills.
He finally left the service and retired in NY. Sadly, Gabby died on January 31, 2002.
Why Gabby’s P-47? Well, I was commissioned to build one and I like to build one for myself to test out paints and techniques. So that is all the motivation that I needed. The Tamiya P-47D is a fabulous kit and lots have been written on it so I won’t write anything else. I will only mention the areas that I upgraded or had issues with.
The first place was the fuselage join on the bottom along the keel. It is a pain to clean up and retain the panel lines and rivet detail. The other issue is the fuselage drop tank sway braces, parts G1 and G2. They don’t fit as well as I expected. Filling them was a big pain, especially since the one model would not have any drop tanks on them.
The kit cockpit is very nice but it can use some details. Ultracast to the rescue. They have a seat with molded on seatbelts that are excellent. The other thing that I did was to use the Eduard instrument panel. The panel is much nicer than the one in the kit. I thinned down the kit panel and used the photo etch front of it. This allowed the kit gunsight to be used and ensured the fit was perfect. Some rods and a few other photo etch parts and the cockpit was ready for paint. I used Humbrol Bronze Green. Then I washed the area with Burnt Umber and dry brushed with interior green and silver paint.
The fuselage is nice and the layout is exceptional but there is room for improvement. The enhancement set from ScaleQuest addresses the see through areas such as the intercoolers and the exhaust gates. This simple resin enhancement set is essential if you ask me. The engine cowling deflector is beautifully rendered. The resin is perfect and bubble free. I got mine from Eagle Editions. You have to ask them for it but they still have some left.
The engine is beautiful out of the box but the Eduard set of ignition wires adds a nice touch. The engine cylinders were painted flat black and then dry brushed with aluminum. The crankcase was painted neutral gray. The open cowl flaps from the ScaleQuest set fit perfectly and when assembled with the Eduard actuator rods the look is realistic.
I needed to reposition the elevator. I carefully scribed through until they were removed. Then it was just a matter of repositioning them to where they looked good. Don’t forget to offset the stick in the cockpit.
Luckily for me Gabby’s airplane did not have any pylons under the wings. The wings went together perfectly. I used some Bare Metal Foil on the landing light. I pushed it down with a cotton swab. Some of the Eduard set was used to update the flaps and the wheel wells. Some solder was added to the wheel wells and on the brake lines for extra detail. Ultracast wheels were so nice that you don’t have to drill the hole for the axle. I did have to shorten the axle by about 1/8th inch.
OK let’s start the mud slinging! There are just about as many interpretations of the markings as there are models of Gabby’s airplanes. Here are my findings. First off, stop thinking as a model builder and think as a crew chief who has got to paint the aircraft before the morning mission at 0300. As a crew chief, you do what you have to do with what you have on hand. As a model builder you would obviously paint the white of the invasion stripes before the black. As a crew chief, you would paint with what you had on hand first. After looking at the photos in the book “Gabby”, you will notice that there are a lot of areas on Gabby’s aircraft that have overspray. An absolute no-no for a modeler but tell that to the crew chief at 0200 hours. For example, look at the tail number. The tail number had to be resprayed when the rudder was painted red. Look around the number, lots of yellow overspray. Now look at the cowl ring on the top, same thing, overspray. The same goes for the invasion stripes. The crew chief painted the black and then masked the area off and sprayed the white. Of course, there was overspray. This has been interpreted as white invasion stripes with black outline but I’m positive that was not the case. I couldn’t bring myself to spray the oversprayed areas but they were on the real thing. With that said it is on to the painting.
After washing the models with Dawn dish detergent and then using Polly-S Plastic Prep it was time to mask up the cockpit and the wheel wells. I preshaded the entire model with Model Master Flat Black. After that had dried, I masked off the areas where the squadron codes would go. Then I thought like a modeler and painted the white over the area. Once dry, I masked over the areas and painted the flat black ones.
The next area that comes under scrutiny is the actual colors used on Gabby’s airplane. It was painted in British colors of Med Sea Grey, Ocean Grey, and Dark Green. Was the underside unpainted natural metal or the Med Sea Grey? Your call there. I think that the bottom was the Grey but the horizontal tails seem to be natural metal. Didn’t know for sure but I elected to keep the bottom all one color. I painted the bottom with Polly-S Medium Sea Grey.
Once that had dried, I painted the whole upper surface with Gunze Dark Green. Then came the fun part. After studying the available photos I determined that the right side was open to conjecture. The left side was easier, but the wings and tails were difficult to determine. One thing that I noticed is that the overpainted invasion stripes were LIGHTER than the original paint. I would have thought it would have been darker due to the older paint being bleached by the sun, but pictures prove otherwise.
Once everything was dried, I masked and painted the red cowl and rudder with Tamiya Flat Red. A coat of Future prepared the model for decals.
The Ultracast props were beautiful. There were no bubbles and no distortion. They were painted yellow on the tips and that was masked off with Tamiya tape. Next Tamiya Flat Black was painted overall and then some streaks of lightened black were sprayed. Gabby’s prop boss was painted black as well except for the pitch change dome, which was aluminum.
I wanted my aircraft to depict the large photo in the Gabby book so I needed a flat drop tank and I painted it aluminum for visual interest. I could have easily painted it Neutral Grey. While I had the aluminum out I painted the canopy and the area on the fuselage that the canopy would have mounted to. I masked the canopy with Black Magic masks. They fit perfectly and made the masking process so easy and best of all quick.
The Aeromaster decals worked well, but I did notice that the fuselage ones were slightly smaller than the Tamiya ones. I have heard how thick that the kit decals were, but that is a bunch of bunk. The decals, whether kit or Aeromaster, are not opaque enough to cover over the black and white. My solution is to apply multiple decals. I used Tamiya decals on my kit and they were perfect. Even with two layers the decals were still slightly see through but they were not thick. Everything settled down with Microsol and Microset. Once the decals dried a coat of Future sealed them in place. This was followed up by a coat of Polly-S Flat.
Weathering was kept to a minimum. The first thing that I did was add a wash of Burnt Umber artist oils. Followed up by some silver pencil and pen to represent chipping. Some Tamiya Flat Earth and Flat Black were added to the exhaust areas. Once everything was dry a streaky coat of Tamiya Buff toned everything down and blended the decals to the model. A coat of Flat blended everything to an even sheen.
The remaining small parts were added and the airplanes were done.
What a great kit. The aftermarket stuff was really nice. I didn’t use the entire Eduard set but I did use enough to justify the costs. The Ultracast stuff was flawless and highly recommended. The ScaleQuest set was perfect and added a lot to the finish of the kit. Again highly recommended if you can find it. The kit itself is fantastic and worthy of all the praise the modeling community has heaped on it. I can highly recommend all of the aftermarket items I used. They all did what they were intended and worked as designed. Overall it was a very pleasant build. The paint scheme may intimidate some modelers but Gabby’s airplane is a historically important aircraft of a great American fighter pilot.
Black Magic P-47D Bubbletop Canopy and Wheel Hub Masks CEBM48544
ScaleQuest Tamiya Thunderbolt Enhancement Set SQ-001AP
Ultracast P-47 Thunderbolt Seats 48017
Ultracast P-47 Hamilton Standard 4-Blade Propeller 48103
Ultracast P-47 Thunderbolt Covered Wheels Diamond Tread 48123
Aeromaster The Wolf Pack Part IV Decals 48-660
Eduard P-47D-25 Thunderbolt Bubbletop 49240
Gabby: A Fighter Pilot’s Life, Francis Gabreski and Carl Molesworth, Schiffer Publications, 1998. (Note: this book is the same as a paperback, except the Schiffer book has lots of photos)