P-40B -Tex Hill:

Featured in Sept 2011 Issue of Scaled Aircraft Modeling International

Part 3 of a six part historical survey of Text Hill and his aircrafts

Historical Background: With the AVG in Burma

While Tex was with Ed Rector and Bert Christman in Norfolk Virginia, they bumped into their squadron commander and were introduced to a Navy  Commander Irvine. Irvine was a recruiter for Claire Chennault, secretly authorized to gather US military pilots and ground crews for the American Volunteer Group. After a discussion about the current state of affairs in China and the Japanese strangle hold on the entire Chinese coast, Irvine indicated that an overland route between Burma and China was the only lifeline left to the Chinese. Irvine explained that he was authorized by President Roosevelt to recruit pilots to help the Chinese. All three men indicated they were interested and Irvine said he would be back in touch.

Meanwhile, Tex’s squadron was temporarily assigned to the USS Lexington for another neutrality patrol in the Atlantic. When he got back, he found Irvine waiting for him and gave him the formal offer to enter the AVG. At a later meeting, Tex, Rector, Christman and five other men from the Ranger signed contracts with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) – a front for the AVG in the US – to sail from San Francisco to Burma. Officially discharged from the Navy, it was understood that they can rejoin with no loss in rank or seniority after serving the Far East. The pilots were paid from $600 to $750 a month, a much higher pay than they were getting in the Navy, with a $500 bonus per destroyed Japanese plane.

In June, after their goodbyes, 25 men sailed from the Dutch ship Bloemfontein from San Francisco via Hawaii, Australia, and docked at Singapore. After a few days in the famous Raffles hotel, Tex set sailed again on the Penang Trader up the Rangoon River and finally arrived at Rangoon, Burma five days later. From Rangoon, Tex switched to a train to go north toward Toungoo, arriving at night, he was greeted by members of the AVG who had already arrived weeks earlier. By truck, Tex was bought to the Keydew Airfield, where the men will be training in the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk IIB. The next morning, Tex met Claire Chennualt, the “Old Man” in charge of the AVG.

The pilots were divided into three squadrons. Tex was in the 2nd squadron, the Panda Bears, with Scarsdale Jack Newkirk as the squadron leaders. The 2nd squadron was all Navy pilots while the 1st Squadron Hell’s Angels and 3rd Squadron Adam and Eves were comprised of Army Air Corp pilots.

 2nd Squadron Panda Bears, Tex HIll is front row, third from right

Tex Hill infront of a P-40B before the sharts teeth were painted on

Chinese laborers constructing the runways using a large rock roller and human power

KeyDew Airfield being constructed without powered equipment

Tex Hill’s P-40 Tomahawk IIB - #48 (p-8134)

One Hundred P-40’s were diverted from a British allotment to China to help form the AVG. The P-40 initially had two fifty-caliber machines guns in the nose and two thirty-calibers in the wings. The British had purchased several hundred and requested modifications. These included two additional wing guns, self-sealing fuel tanks, armor behind the pilot, and bullet proof windshields. This plane was designated the Tomahawk II by the British and P-40B by the US. An improved self-sealing fuel tank was added the plane and this model was noted as Tomahawk IIB. However, when Curtiss learned of the diversion to China, it seems they had used spare parts of old inventory to build them – including some older fuel tanks. These were officially designated H-81-A3 for export and thus weren’t quite P-40Bs nor Tomahawk IIB’s – as the Tomahawks IIB’s were designated as H-81-A2. These planes were delivered without guns or Radio, and CAMCO had to purchase these separately. Eventually they would buy radios meant for civilian use, .50 caliber for the fuselage guns, and British .303 Brownings machine guns for the wings. However, they were only able to obtain enough Brownings for the 2nd and 3rd squadrons. The 1st squadron received 7.92mm guns instead. All these factors, combined with minor production changes, and field made changes, created Tomahawks that were different from each other.

There’s been much written about the AVG color scheme and I’ll give a short synopsis here, but note that details are still debated between different sources. The Tomahawks carried the British “Temperate Land Scheme” – a disruptive Dark Green over Dark Earth. The colors were laid down with rubber mats to create hard edges. Note that areas were masked out on both wings for the British roundels and the smaller Chinese white star inside blue circle markings did not match this masked area. There were two schemes, “A” and “B”, where they were mirror images of each other. A small number of AVG aircraft received the “B” scheme. The underside was specified as Sky – a light bluish gray color. Note also that these planes were painted by components, so as they were assembled, there were noticeable mismatch of color demarcations from aircraft to aircraft. As operational losses mounted, un-repairable planes were used for parts without any effort to change the markings.

However, Curtiss most likely had substituted DuPont paint as a close approximation of these British colors. No records of the exact colors uses have been uncovered so far, but the upper colors were very similar to the US Army Air Corp Dark Green and Rust Brown. To add to the confusion, certain aircrafts may have received a different brown color – sandy earth brown – that was lighter than the usual brown. On the underside, photographs show a distinctive light gray color instead of the much ‘bluer’ Sky – perhaps DuPont ‘Sky Gray’. It is a matter of conjecture whether gray was substituted or there were confusion regarding ‘Sky’ vs ‘Sky Gray’. Again, the exact gray color used is unknown.
The wheel covers were finished in different colors. Some were gray, dark earth, or Neutral gray. Some had half blue and half orange painted on to test small vanes mounted on the wheels to induce wheel rotation before landing.

The tail had Chinese Air Force serial number, Tex’s plane was p-8134. The side numbers were white numerals about 2 feet high. Tex was originally assigned #48, and these numbers were often painted again on the nose – but not on #48. What’s interesting is that this plane, the one most associated with Tex Hill, never saw actual combat. On December 10th, after coming back in the dark from an attempted intercept of Japanese bombers, Tex landed long, overshot the runway and the plane was damaged and used for parts. Tex thought the P-40 was ‘kind of a doggy airplane’ as it was not very agile.

Each Tomahawk had the distinctive Shark’s mouth – an idea borrowed from the RAF after first Squadron pilot, Charles Bond, noticed it in a magazine cover. Each squadron had different versions of their individual mascot painted on – the 2nd Squadron had individual cartoon figures drawn up by Bert Christman, who was a professional cartoonist before he joined the Navy. For Tex, he designed a panda bear wearing cowboy hat, boots, and a gun belt next to a cattle skull. Finally, a blue fuselage band was adopted for the 2nd Squadron. While Christman had designed cartoons for the whole squadron, only a subset was actually painted.

P-40 Tomahawk IIB- the Model:

To build the P-40B in 1/48, discounting out of production kits, you have your choice of the Trumpeter or the Revell kit. Trumpeter is a fairly new kit with all the expected features but with certain inaccuracies, the main one being a very shallow cockpit floor. The Revell kit is the old Monogram one going back over 30 years now with its own set of 'features' standard from that time period. I just happen to have that kit in my stash, so the Monogram kit it is.

The wall on the left had black sprayed from underneath to create strong shadows.

 Every modeler has his own criteria of what must be 'fixed' with every kit. With the old Monogram kit, these included the non-existent cockpit and the open wheel wells with no details for me. With the cockpit, I used the Legend resin cockpit, a wonderfully cast item. It comes in a sturdy box but with no instructions or painting guidelines. Since it was only a few pieces and I had reference pictures, these issues were easy to overcome. My resin piece did have a broken pedal, but that was also easily repaired with some styrene. Once the original side wall details were removed and a bit of sanding applied to the resin pieces, the fit was fairly straight forward. Since there are no instructions, you have to go slow and use a bit of dry fitting to find the best placement for the cockpit.

Once the cockpit was closed up, I decided to rescribe the fuselage. While I have not big objections to raised panel details, this kit was covered with embossed rivet details. In toning this down with a sanding stick, much of the raised panel details were destroyed - so out the re-scriber comes. I then carefully drilled out holes for exhaust with a Dremel tool. The trick here is to move the plastic toward the drill and not the other way around for a more controlled situation.



Before closing up the wings, it was boxed in with plastic card. A textured evergreen sheet was used as a short cut to simulate the details on the well's roof. If you really wanted to, you can detail this area further with wiring and lightening holes. The instruction now would have you add a few pieces to allow the flaps to be movable on hinges. However the hinge is not very detailed and this feature creates a bit of gap, so I just skipped the hinges and glued the flaps shut.

At this point, you realize that you are almost done with the building process; there are just not that many pieces to this kit. So onto painting it is.
As usual for me, I laid down a coat of Tamiya white primer. The lower part was painted with Tamiya light gray. After building two pristine looking aircraft, I wanted to create a somewhat sun bleached a worn aircraft this time. Then I used Model Master RAF Dark Earth that that lightened with a bit of white and Tamiya Buff. Instead of the pre-shading, I simply apply a heavier coat of the paint along panel lines and a lighter coat in the other areas. With the white primer, this technique saves me a step and gives the same effect. I then photocopied an enlarged image of the camouflage pattern, traced the image of the wings onto Frisket paper, and cut out the pattern. Frisket paper already has a light adhesive and can be applied directly on the model. The fuselage had too many compound curves to make this work, so I used Tamiya tape to hand mask that part. A coat of lightened Model Master RAF Dark Green was then sprayed on with the same technique of darker coats along panel areas. The exhausts were painted Tamiya red brown followed by Model Master Gun Metal dry-brushed on. Finally, a graphite pencil was rubbed onto the edges to get a metallic shine.

The clear parts were dipped in future, let dry and then masked with Tamiya tape. A new #11 blade was used to cut the framing out. The same dark green was applied here. A coat of future to entire airframe was sprayed on and it’s time for decals.

Given that #48 is the best known of Tex Hill's aircraft, you would think there is wide choice of decals available. Unfortunately for me, there are currently no in production decals for this plane in 1/48. After much fruitless searching for out of production decals, I decided to improvise. First I used Eagle Editions sheet for the Second Squadron (#31- AVG Tomahawks 2nd Squadron). This gave me some faded and non-faded Nationalist Chinese Stars - the ones included in the Monogram kit are not faded and way too big. The non-faded ones I used on the bottom way and the faded ones went on top. Since there were variations to the AVG plane's shark mouth, I was lucky to reuse the one from #47, which was very close. The eyes had yellow 'pupils' in a red dot, which Tex's plane was just a red dot. This was easily remedied with a small drop of paint.

The number 48 gave me unexpected problems as I could find any suitable replacements in my stash or even on any available decal sheets. I tried printing my own, but I couldn't cut a smooth enough oval to satisfy myself. Finally, I noticed the same decal sheet provide #49 and #45, so I improvised by using the top of 9 and the bottom of 5 to create them from the same decal sheet. The cowboy panda bear sent me back to the drawing board. I decided to print out my own. But as it was very small; I don't think I would have been able to cut all the intricate shapes out on white decal paper. So I printed out multiple images on clear decal paper. I applied one decal first, which gave me outline of the white areas. I filled those in with a fine tip brush and white paint. Once dried, I applied another decal on top to restore the details and clean outline.
I used a dark brown and black oil wash to bring out the panels lines and further emphasize the movable surfaces. A nice flat coat restored the finish to the plane and blended the decals. I added additional weathering with Tamiya weather sets – the ones that looks like Lady’s makeup cases. These were used to add exhaust and gun stains. A silver pencil was then used to add wear and chipping near the wing root, access panels, cockpit, and propellers.

 

The cockpit clear pieces were then masked, painted and installed. Note however that the windshield is incorrectly molded. There should be no framing in front, instead an armor glass was fitted behind the windshield and is often mistaken as framing. To duplicate this, I sanded smooth the windshield and restored its clarity with successive sanding of finer grits – followed by a dip in Future polish. I then used styrene strips to form a frame around a rectangular piece of clear styrene and installed that as the armor glass.

After adding the last minute details like the antenna and pitot tube, the plane was finished. A nicely weathered AVG Tomahawk.