In 1943 the Ford production line in Willow Run, MI wasn’t making cars, it was producing B-24 bombers for the USAAF. They went from producing autos with a couple of thousand parts to producing planes with about 1.5 million parts each. Workers could produce about 1.5 planes per hour. Not one Liberator completed from beginning to end in less than an hour, but once and a half planes rolling off the assembly line every hour. Pretty amazing.
At this moment I am also producing 1/300 B-24D’s for my Enfilade game. I don’t have nearly as many parts per plane, but I’m a lot slower. These are for the Ploesti game Dave Schueler and I hope to be running May 23rd. The game calls for 18 planes for six players, but I hope to have 24, so we can take a couple more just in case more players are interested.
Before I proceed on my how-to, I need to make it clear that Ploesti has been done before by two dear friends. At least a fifteen years ago, Phil Bardsley and Paul Hannah worked with Dave to run Ploesti using the Mustangs rules. They were both superb painters and their B-24’s are excellent. Their planes were painted in USAAF “Desert Pink.” Not an official color, this was actually USAAF Desert Sand that oxidized in the North African condition to a lighter, pinkish color. They mixed their own colors for their planes and did a fabulous job. Phil passed away a few years ago and I bought his bombers. They are little pieces of art. My planes won’t be Desert Pink, they’ll be USAAF olive drab, and while they’ll be well-painted, I’m simply not as good as Phil. There were plenty of both on the mission.
The Ploesti bombers flew B-24D’s with the big plexiglass greenhouse in the nose. Later Liberators had the big nose turret. Not many B-24’s available in 1/300 and Scotia makes the only B-24D. Thankfully, it’s a really nice miniature. The dozen I ordered were are very nicely scribed, well-cast, and didn’t come with their very long wings tied into a pretzel. They were reasonably inexpensive at only four pounds (4.61 a whack at today’s ridiculously low exchange rate.)
What you notice looking at them is, again, the long thin wings, the chunkiness off the fuselage, and the size of those twin tails connected by the large horizontal stabilizer. It will become a big deal for the modeler because they feel unbalanced, and holding them or maneuvering them around a paint brush is challenging.
When I started working on my planes the first thing I had to do was prep them for paint. Wings had to be straightened. It wasn’t severe but took some time and second looks. The twin tail and stabilizer likewise needed some time. Just apply counter-pressure and there isn’t a problem with breakage. There are some mold marks to deal with, especially down the fuselage. I scraped those off with a sharp X-Acto knife, but you could also use a needle file or sand paper. The latter might give you the best result, but I’m impatient. Paul always used to sand his planes, which eliminated pits in the castings. Again, I probably should have done that, but I’m kind of a loser.
Before moving on and priming, I decided to drill out locations for the flexible machine guns that festooned the early Liberators. I not-so-carefully identified the sites for these and drilled them out with a Dremel tool and a wee, tiny bit. You could use a pin vise, but the pewter is kind of resistant to slow turning drills. After I was done and cleaned out the holes I glued in toothbrush bristles, cutting them to size with a pair of floss scissors. Used CA glue for the adhesive
Moving on to primer, I used the Army Painter white spray primer. It’s a little spendy but it really covers well and a can lasts a long time. However, after the first four planes are completed I’ll be topping the white primer with Vallejo’s USA Olive Drab Primer. It will make working with my preferred paint so much easier. If it isn’t available at your local bricks and mortar store, you can order it from Amazon in a 200ml bottle for less than twenty bucks.
The paint scheme is pretty simple: olive drab over gray. There are lots of different colors you can work around. My preference is to use the Vallejo Air Colors series whenever possible, because they are matched most clearly with the historic colors. USAF Olive Drab is included with the American CBI Theater set. You get six bottles in each of the many sets available for about twenty bucks. It also includes an USAF Light Grey, which is also a great color for the undersides of wings and fuselage.
But I don’t you to go grab these and not know the risks in using them. These colors are designed for use with an air brush. The pigments are ground very fine and they simply don’t cover very well. I believe there are four coats of USAF Olive Drab on each of the first four bombers. I’m super happy with what I have, but it wasn’t easy, and I ordered two more bottle at almost eight dollars a whack to make sure I had enough to finish my project. I ended up not sticking with the USAF Light Grey and switched to Vallejo Sky Grey just because of the coverage issues.
I spent lots of time getting the base colors down, lots of coverage, lots of drying, then a the first of many shots of Dullcote. Painting planes this large means handling planes, and I didn’t want to rub anything off. I decided early on the big planes needed some weathering, so I mixed 50-50 olive drab and Vallejo Light Grey to get a nice lightened, but not too bright color. Then I carefully dry-brushed the wings, engines, tails, stabilizer and fuselage. More Dullcote.
Next up the lining. I used a charcoal rather than black over the olive. I used Vallejo light gray on the underside. Yes, it’s tricky but not impossible. You can always paint over egregious mistakes. Paint the motors and then it’s on to the black leading edges. This was actually a bit trickier, and I had to paint over some mistakes. The tail fin edges were particularly difficult because there is no scribing to give me a clue. In the end, I think my lines are too thick, but I’m gonna live with it. Dullcote again.
How much more detail do you want to include? From here it’s probably safe to paint the metal spinners on the propellers and proceed directly to decals. Because Phil’s planes include nose art, I decided to try my hand. His planes have such legible, clear hand-lettering and there is no possibility I can pull that off, hard as I might. I did some research on B-24 nose art, and tried my hand at Flak Alley, Doc, Hard Hearted Hannah, and The Goon. Are they great, no, but they’re good enough. These are all painted on the left side of the nose in front of the cockpit. On the right I painted the symbol for the Flying Eight-Balls, which are really hard to make out. I left room for a two digit number on the right.
On to the decals. Phil used the red-bordered star roundel with bars, which was a Pacific insignia. Pictures show just a roundel, often in pretty mangled condition with the yellow “Torch” band. I bought the latter from Flight Deck Decals. They are fast, reasonable and do some great work. Oddly, these American planes use an RAF tricolor tail flash. I had zillions of these from I-94 Enterprises. I stopped there.
That left just the numerals to paint and the tail letter for each plane. I painted the numerals white and the letter in Vallejo Golden Yellow, per the photos I’ve seen. That wrapped up the first four of twelve planes.
It was a terrific learning experience. I started the four before I left for San Diego, and it’s really taken most of the rest of the week to finish them. Hopefully I’ve learned some lessons along the way and I might be finished with the remaining eight by the end of the week.