When it comes to painting and putting the finishing touches on a model, there are certain widely held beliefs that, despite logic or critical thinking, have become required conventions. As in, if your model does not follow one or more of these conventions, then it is somehow “wrong” or “off” and perhaps, (gasp!) un-chic!
Now some of these conventions are as old as model building itself. For example, if you have a stationary ‘in-flight’ model posed on an incredibly unrealistic stick up its backside, well, you need a pilot in the cockpit pretending to fly it. It’s hard to argue the logic of that one. But other ‘required’ conventions have lived on despite credible photographic evidence, witness statements, and historical data. This makes me think two things:
- Do we, as humans, come to the point where we are satisfied with the information we’ve collected and we simply reject new or contrary information; and
- Maybe these conventions are not really about historical accuracy… Maybe this is really about generally preferred ‘styles’.
Trigger warnings all around! I’m going to discuss three scale model conventions that may not hold up to cold hard facts.
For those who don’t know, invasion stripes are those alternating black and white bands painted on the fuselages and wings of Allied aircraft. The idea behind the stripes was for easy identification of friendly aircraft to reduce the chance that they would be attacked by friendly forces during and soon after the Normandy landings. Given the volume of aircraft that would be shoehorned into a narrow area, it was felt that navy and ground units would need an easy method to identify airplanes.
Stripes were applied to fighters, reconnaissance planes, transports, and on medium and light bombers. After D-Day, the stripes were removed from the tops of wings (at least for France-based aircraft) and eventually removed altogether by the end of 1944. They were never applied to heavy bombers.
The Convention is Perfection
Now let’s get one thing straight: Invasion stripes are cool. I love seeing them on models and truth be told, I really want to add one to add to the collection someday. I am not the only one who thinks they are cool. Take a look at box art on the shelves at the LHS. Take a gander at the tables at a show. Some of the coolest-looking non-Corsairs have stripes. I even like the yellow and black Suez variety.
However, in our little world, if someone puts invasion stripes on their airplane, the convention is they have to be perfectly applied. And I mean PERFECT. And what’s more, if they are not perfectly uniform, aligned, and flawless, they will most definitely be “wrong” and the builder will be appropriately shamed and perhaps beaten with a steel ruler. Nope, we want to be able to shave with our invasion stripes! Perfection is godliness. Anything less than the perfect edge is an affront to history and a horrible faux pas!
But in reality….
Keep in mind that most of these stripes, especially those done for D-Day were done minutes after getting a hastily communicated order. These stripes were placed on the aircraft at the very last minute by ground crews using whatever they had on hand: brushes, sprayers and there are stories about mops being used! Now feast your eyes on these and tell me how many are “wrong”:
So, if the real thing could be an absolute mess of misaligned and alternating widths (and there is plenty of evidence to show this) then why does this convention endure? Well, I think it is simply a style that people prefer. It’s like perfect grass patterns at the ballpark or level picture frames. People just like to see pretty things. Besides, as one very astute modeler pointed out: On anything but a very large scale, trying to replicate sloppy paint using a brush is only going to make your model look sloppy.
The Eternally Perfect Hinomaru
The convention on the Hinomaru, the Japanese red circle marking, is that of eternal perfection. As in, no matter what the condition of the aircraft, from brand-spankin’ new to its last sputtering days, the ground crew kept these markings fresh and bright red. There is some debate that even as late as August 1945, when these airplanes were just barely getting enough lift from their chipped, dented, and faded wings, those red dots were kept perfectly clean as a sign of respect to the Emperor.
I am not sure this one stands up to logic:
Admittedly, some of these pictures may have been worn out rather than captured combat aircraft. But, let’s consider the historical context. After 1943, when the allied advance picked up steam and the US Navy’s submarine campaign ravaged Japanese maritime transport. Simply getting food, fuel, and munitions to outposts was extremely difficult.
Was red paint that much of a priority?
Was it that much of a priority to repaint red circles while cannibalizing other planes to keep ever diminishing returning aircraft flying? Maybe it was. However, I am not convinced this was the case for all Japanese aircraft in all theaters at all times. Besides, I have seen both ‘styles’ of Japanese weathered finishes and I have to say: the ones with the weathered meatballs look far better than the ‘convention’ of new red dots on extremely weathered airplanes.
Crystal Clear Canopies
Now, what a pile of nonsense this convention is. I’ve seen these models everywhere: in magazines, shows, the socials, and at the LHS. All of these builds follow that impossible-to-believe convention that no matter what shape the airplane may be, canopies must remain factory fresh. There is to be no weathering of the canopy to match the condition of the aircraft!
Of course, the convention is way, way, way off. See what I mean?
Um…. well. Wow. I was really wrong about this one.
Turns out, the conventional wisdom was correct! Not to be outdone by these period photos (we all know only the best planes got their pictures printed!) I have also been all over Airliners.net looking for modern jet fighter canopies to dispel this convention. And all those canopies were flawless no matter what condition the plane was in.
So, um…yeah! Keep those canopies looking fresh!
I promise to never bring this up again.
There were a couple others that I thought up but I had some difficulty finding pictures to prove my point:
- The convention that all panel lines on an aircraft have to be at uniform width and depth; and
- That aircraft markings need to be perfectly symmetrical and in perfect alignment on both sides of the airplane.
Again, just like the invasion stripes, I think these are very much a pretty “style” requirement over any form of historical or prototypical orthodoxy.
If you can think of other ‘scale model conventions’ that may not be as accurate as we have been led to believe, I’d sure like to hear from you in the comments below.
Otherwise, this post might get me into some trouble, but what the hey. I’m here to make people think, spark conversations and maybe get the creative juices flowing. That said, if I spark some sort of scale model holy war, it has been really nice knowing most of you!