by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Model Centrum have introduced a new series of aircraft references - Warplane Color Gallery. Drawing on official photos along with many from private collections, and backed up by specially produced colour plates, the books will target aircraft historians and modellers alike.
First in the series is a study by Carl Molesworth of the Flying Tigers - the Air Volunteer Group and the 23rd Fight Group that succeeded it.
Like many of us, the author's interest in the Flying Tigers dates back to a childhood model. But, unlike most of us, Carl Molesworth has gone on to study the China-Burma-India theatre of war in detail and written a number of highly regarded books on the subject. In his latest study, the author concentrates on the camouflage and markings of the AVG and 23rd FG, approaching the topic with a modeller's eye to include a wealth of information to help anyone building a kit of the aircraft flown.
Despite the focus on colour schemes, the book still begins with a very useful 25-page summary of the campaign, from Chennault being hired by the Chinese Nationalist government in 1937, through the formation of the clandestine unit and its early battles, fighting in some of the harshest conditions faced by American pilots, and on to eventual victory.
The story is told in an easy-to-read style that will invite further study, and is illustrated with well chosen photos accompanied by informative captions.
The coverage of the actual colour schemes begins with a broad look at the basic colour schemes and includes a quartet of original colour photos that are a real boon. The use of DuPont equivalents for RAF paints is discussed, along with their method of application using masks at the factory that included cut-outs to provide a smooth surface for the later addition of roundels. This is also shown later on a plan-view of the overall scheme. Sadly, there aren't also right and left views included too, because studying the photos leads me to conclude that the roundel positions on the fuselage were similarly masked. Oddly, the author states that it is unconfirmed that mirror patterns were used - but, a couple of photos in the book show evidence of it clearly.
The chapter then moves on to cover the introduction of Olive Drab and Neutral Gray, together with the application of Medium Green blotches on the P-40N-1, before camouflage was dispensed with on P-51s in the theatre in the summer of 1944.
The author then "zooms in" to outline the national and squadron insignia carried by the aircraft at different stages of their careers including, obviously, the iconic shark mouth and the famous Flying Tiger decal created by Walt Disney for the AVG as the unit's propaganda value was recognised when good news in the darkest period of the war was in such short supply back home. While the shark mouth is clearly going to remain the most potent symbol of the AVG and 23rd FG (particularly on their P-40s), the trim carried later on some of the P-51s is equally spectacular.
Finally in the colours section is a look at some of the individual artwork sported - ranging from very basic to highly elaborate, depending on the skill of the unit painters. As with the previous sections, the photo quality inevitably varies - the majority are "snap shots" taken from personal archives, but the printing and reproduction is excellent, with the images reproduced at a handy size to allow the detail to be made out well.
Also included is a very useful section listing all the individual aircraft flown, type by type, with CAF numbers and serial numbers, unit and pilot details and, in many cases, remarks about the aircraft's service or fate. Cross-referencing this list against the previous chapters will help you narrow down the likely finish needed for a modelling project.
Rounding everything off are 21 excellent colour profiles. A nice touch is that they are reproduced to a constant 1:48 scale. The selection includes a really nice variety of aircraft, from the classic AVG mount, the P-40, in several different variants sporting interesting camouflage variations, through to the P-51s that took over as the war entered its final stages. Along the way there’s time for the unexpected in the shape of a P-43 Lancer that flew armed reconnaissance missions. There’s a mix of left and right views, allowing you to get a good idea of the standard camouflage pattern. Included alongside each profile are reference photos for comparison, along with enlarged artwork of personal markings.
ConclusionI thoroughly enjoyed reading Carl Molesworth's latest book. It presents a good balance between historical overview and the more detailed colour coverage that is so important to modellers. It may not represent the last word on the Flying Tigers, but it provides a very useful grounding in the subject and will be a fine reference for anyone modelling these iconic aircraft. Model Centrum's new Warplane Color Gallery series shows a lot of promise.
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