1/48 Hasegawa P-47D
"Bubbletop" Thunderbolt

by Justin Davenport on Aug 22 2003

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The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, aka the Jug, has always held a special place in my heart, simply because my grandfather flew this bird in World War 2, when he was assigned to the European theater.  I have spent many a happy time listening to his stories about the Jug and about the war, and when I was a kid I dreamed of making a Jug in the markings of a plane he actually flew.  However, until recently there were no references or decals available to me, then Aeromaster came through with its 404th FG sheets.  Grandpa was in the 404th Fighter Group, 507th Fighter Squadron, and his war started for him shortly after D-day, when he married Grandma and then shipped out to the front.  2nd Lieutenant Lee E. Tucker, the kid from East Millcreek, then a rural community just east of Salt Lake City, soon found himself in St. Trond, Belgium, flying close air support missions against the retreating Germans.  St. Trond was very close to the front lines, and Grandpa, along with his squadron mates, flew strafing and bombing runs against German troops, airfields, and supply trains.  The squadron also escorted bombers on occasion, and they had to fly "balls out" as Grandpa put it, to keep up with the B-26 Marauders that flew very fast through flak curtains.
Fortunately, Grandpa survived the war and is still around, and in very good health.  When the Aeromaster sheet came out, I wanted to do a Jug that he flew, and "Elsie/Lil' Butch" fit the bill.  Though Lil' Butch was his CO's mount (Maj. Clay Tice), Grandpa got to fly it in combat a few times, along with other 507th FS pilots.  
In fact, he remembers flying most of the planes in the squadron; he was one of the replacement pilots that were shipped "over the pond" as reinforcements, so he never got his own plane.  The war in Germany ended in May 1945, and the 404th FG was earmarked for duty in the Pacific.  Grandpa was 4 days out of New York on a Liberty ship when Enola Gay dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima.  He would not have to serve in combat any more; the rest of his service in the USAAF/USAF came in peacetime, with the exception of Korea, when he was in Flight Test, and therefore, got to stay Stateside.

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THE JUG

 The P-47 evolved from the Seversky P-35, which was designed by Alexander Kartveli as a pursuit fighter for the US Army Air Corps in the late thirties.  The XP-47B prototype flew in May 1941, as war clouds were gathering over the Pacific, and was the largest and heaviest single seat fighter of the time.  It was designed around an R-2800 engine and elliptical wings, and the plane was equipped with eight machine guns as well as a
"razorback" canopy faired into the fuselage.  The P-47B ended up serving Stateside with the 56th Fighter Group, which got familiar with the aircraft.
   The P-47C was the first version of the Jug to go into combat in the spring of 1943.  By late 1943, the D version had been developed, with a deeper underfuselage keel to accommodate drop tanks, to overcome the type's range/endurance shortcomings.  Other modifications, such as additional cowl flaps, and underwing pylons, also aided the Jug's effectiveness.  The Jug began to develop into an excellent all around fighter with the ability to absorb punishment that would bring down other planes, as well as the
ability to hit planes and surface targets hard.  Eventually, the Jug set a record for the most produced US fighter, with 15,683 being built.  The Jug not only served with the USAAF in the ETO, Italy, Pacific, and CBI, but also served with the RAF, Free French, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, the USSR, and others. 
   One shortcoming remained, but it was a shortcoming common to most Allied fighters.  Namely, the "razorback" canopy limited visibility to the rear.  A prototype with a bubble canopy was developed, and the "Bubbletop" Jug became the standard equipment for P-47 squadrons, such as the 507th.  Later, dorsal fins were added to the P-47D-30RE and up, and retrofitted to earlier aircraft, to improve stability (though Grandpa says he didn't really notice any difference).  The P-47M high speed version with a souped up engine and supercharger was introduced into the European theater just before Germany surrendered, and the P-47N with larger wings and fuel capacity, as well as an expanded dorsal fin and clipped wingtips, was developed for use in the Pacific.  It saw service on Ie Shima just before Japan surrendered.  After the war, most Jugs were retired, but some served in the USAAF/USAF (designated F-47) until 1949, when it was passed on to the reserves, which retired them several years later.  The Jug was almost done as a front-line fighter, but did serve in combat in the Dominican Republic in 1964.  The last operational Jugs were retired by the Peruvian Air Force in 1969.

THE MODEL

Around the time that I got the decals (early 2003) Tamiya came out with its 1/48 Razorback Jug.  The decals were only in 1/48, not in 1/72nd, so I departed from my usual scale for this project.  I'd intended to buy the Tamiya Jug and do this project with it, but the Tamiya Jug wouldn't come out for a few months, and I didn't want to wait.  I wanted to do this project while Grandpa was alive, and in good health, so that he could see the model of a plane he flew and I could present it to him.  So I got a Hasegawa P-47D-25 kit.  I wanted to make this special, so I got myself a Jaguar resin cockpit on the advice of several ARC'ers.  I also got EZ-masks (by Chris Loney) and weighted wheels from Pend Oreille, and Charlie Arsenault kindly sent me an accurate Hamilton Standard prop from his Tamiya Razorback kit (thank you Cheetah!).

I started out with the resin cockpit.  It took several coats of Polly scale interior green to get a good finish on the walls.  (Grandpa remembers interior green, the cockpits and wheel wells were painted zinc chromate yellow in the factory, but often repainted interior green in the field).
I finished painting the instrument panel with flat black, then interior black on the raised parts, and dabs of white in the instruments themselves.  Then I used clear cement on the instrument faces.  My grandpa was impressed when seeing it, and I found the look acceptable, though the instrument holes looked a little "deep".  I was about ready to paint the rest of the pit and assemble it when the family cruise to the Caribbean rolled around. 

I had a great time there, but when I got back I found myself wanting to do other projects, like the Lightning.  So the Jug languished for a few weeks...then late June rolled around, and for some reason I found myself wanting to get this done.  I think it's because my grandpa had a few minor health problems and also was leaving for the family cabin in Arizona, and I wanted to get this done and present it to him when he could enjoy it.  So I used the Detail & Scale P-47 book to get the colors right for the
consoles. Interior Black (MM Acryl) was brushed on the consoles, then white and red
were drybrushed on various buttons.  I also painted the map box, and then decided to use the Black Box seat (yeah, I have that too) for the cockpit. 
The Jaguar seat has a cushion molded into it, whereas the BB seat was bare.  Grandpa related to me how the seat was bare and how he'd sit on his parachute pack.  I'd never known that before. 

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The assembly and painting of the pit went well, and I painted the sidewalls of the Jug.  The cockpit fit well without problems, and initial assembly of the fuselage went well.  I got the wings and tail on, using Tenax 7R to weld the seams.  But there were still a couple of problem areas on the wing roots, so Tamiya putty went there.  But the wing halves were a little flimsy, next time I'll use tube cement for the general join, then melt the seams with Tenax or other liquid cement.  During the subsequent attempts to get a good finish on the bird, I painted the engine and prop as well as the resin wheels.  The engine was done in overall steel with Tamiya gunmetal drybrushes, and the crankcase was done in neutral gray.  The prop was gloss black, with SNJ mixed in on the spinner, then after the decals went in, I brushed Testors MM Acryl flat base.  The wheel hubs are Tamiya Silver Leaf, and the tires are done mostly in scale black (more on that later).

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THE PAINT JOB 

Okay, this is where I ran into a few challenges.  One was that I lost some detail when I sanded the wingroots.  The Bare Metal Foil scriber helped with that.  I primed the a/c with Painter's Touch (by Rust Oleum) gray, and it looked good.  But there were a few flaws so I sanded them off.  Then I tried another coat of primer....a bit of surface detail on the left side was lost, so I used the scriber again, made some missteps, sanded, and applied Future, then gloss black.  Then disaster.  There was cracking on the left side where the future was....so I had to sand and rescribe, and sand, and re prime.
I'd run out of Painter's touch primer so I tried a cheaper primer and that was no good at all.  So it was back to the Painter's Touch primer, and this time I got Painter's Touch Gloss black, and that helped considerably.  I was now ready to spray Alclad.  But I sprayed Polished Aluminum and it looked a little too shiny.  After talking to a few people, I got the bird reprimed, polished it with my Twobobs sanding stick and some fine sandpaper Grandpa had, and sprayed aluminum.  That looked better, and I used SNJ powder on it, then checked with Grandpa, he really liked that and it gave me the look I was after, the look of the metal in the pictures of Lil' Butch on the Aeromaster sheet and provided to me by Cheetah.  I masked off some panels where I didn't use the SNJ powder, just to give the panels a duller, different look. 
So I got to work on the flat black anti glare panel.  I figured I might as well start with flat black simply because I wasn't sure about using the regular glosscoat/flatcoat technique on a BMF (though I understand Alclad's pretty tough, I wasn't sure how it would affect the metal sheen).  I brushed MM Acryl flat black and used Tamiya tape to mask it off, which worked well for the most part.  I masked off the D-day stripes area on the lower
fuselage, then used MM Acryl 2 marine (formulated for brushing) Bulwark White, which went on great with 3 coats.  MM Acryl flat black stripes were then painted on, and I got the engine/prop assembly onto the a/c.  I was now ready to weather the aircraft.  Juan Martin provided me with very helpful hints about oil washes, which I'd never used before.  I used a small dab of Grumbacher Academy black oil paint (available at craft stores) mixed in turpenoid and a fine camel's hair pointed brush to draw the oil in the panel lines, and used a cloth to wipe off the excess.  I liked the results so much that this technique will be a regular part of my modeling.  I used black pastel chalk powder and rubbed it in to make the gun stains. I was now ready to decal the aircraft....I spent 2 nights doing this, and then I brushed on MM Acryl flat base on the decals to make them look painted on.  The red stripe below the black anti glare panel was the most challenging decal to deal with in this project, and I ended up with some silvering in that area.  Not too bad, but next time maybe I'll paint the glare panel gloss black, then put the red stripes on, then brush flat base (there's another 404th bird with that marking I intend to do).  I finally was satisfied and ended up with painting the landing gear with Tamiya Silver Leaf spray paint, then using the kit landing gear and Pend Oreille
weighted wheels, and came up with another problem.  I'd never used weighted wheels
before and may never use them again.....I'd superglued the wheels on at the wrong angle!  ("D'oh!"  in my best imitation Homer Simpson voice).  I tried to use debonder to get them off but they never came off, and in fact the debonder marred the Alclad finish on the right wing.  So I sanded and polished the area, then used SNJ powder, and finally got the area to look decent again.  Next time I'll just use the regular kit wheels and sand a little on the bottom if I want a weighted look.  As it was I used Tamiya
putty to make the tires look semi-okay, and used Polly Scale scale black on the tires, plus some interior black closer to the wheel rims.  A little black pastel powder helped with making the tires look good. 

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Now a word about the clear parts.  I used the EZ masks on the kit canopy and they worked like a charm when I sprayed Tamiya Silver Leaf onto the frames. 
Unfortunately, the force from the spray blew the canopy and windshield on their sides and I ended up getting unsightly overspray into the other half of the clear parts.  Next time I'll keep them pinned down or use another method to do the frames.  As it was I used a Squadron vacform canopy - I cut it out, sanded the frame bottom smooth, then used a Sharpie silver pen to draw the frames.  It worked well.  I painted the interior frames a/c interior black, then glued them on.  The windshield was a little problematic
as the kit windshield is a little smaller than the vacform windshield.  (I have learned that the vacform windshield is correct, there is no "step" like the kit depicts.)  I simply glued the windshield with clear parts cement around the area where the old kit windshield went, and glued on the canopy in the open position.  After attaching the guns, antennae and small bits, as well as belly tank and bombs, I was finished.  I presented the model to Grandpa and he loved it.  He really likes the job I did on it and it
enjoys a place of honor on his computer desk shelf.  The model also brought back
memories to him, and lately I've learned a lot about his outfit and his wartime buddies.

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CONCLUSION

I enjoyed doing this build, and I learned a whole lot.  The Tamiya sprue snipper was simply invaluable for all the small parts, and I introduced a couple of new techniques.  I've also learned what NOT to do in some areas. The bottle of debonder is likely not to see any use for a very long time, if ever.  And I've tried to improve my photography techniques, mainly by taking pictures at 1280 by 960 fine resolution on my Fuji Finepix 1300, then resizing them to 640 by 480 in Paint Shop Pro 7.  Also I tried doing a pic
with the prop spinning, with a fan in front of the Jug, after quite a few takes I found a couple I was semi-satisfied with.  The PSP 7 grayscale feature is great for "war period" shots too...and one shot was done with the sepia effect.  What really made this project special, though, was doing it for Grandpa and learning a lot more about his war service....one of the things he showed me was a photo album with him standing atop the wing of "Lil' Butch".  That was the best part of the entire project. 

Happy modeling
Justin

REFERENCES: Bert Kinzey's P-47 Detail & Scale.   Many thanks to all who have helped on this project.

Photos and text by Justin Davenport