This entry is going to be an attempt at a “two-fer.” I’m going to talk about two things in one blog entry. It may just end up being confusing (I’ve done this before) but I’ll try to avoid that outcome by telling you WHAT two things I’m going to discuss.
First, I’ll talk about the outstanding videos on Youtube from Greg’s Airplanes and Automobiles. Greg is a fellow who knows a lot about turbo-chargers and he explains them for those of us who have often wondered just what all that was about during World War II.
Then I’ll discuss the color used by the RAF in that same war that was called “Dark Earth.”
I’ll be combining these topics here today because they both pertain to the history of a little hot-rod of a fighter plane that I like to call the Bell P-39 Airacobra.
Rumor has it that the Airacobra was the hottest thing since Claudia Black (What are you lookin’ at? WHAT?) but it was stupidly f*cked up by the U.S.A.A.F. who removed the supercharger required to make the aircraft battle-worthy and so brave lads were killed over the Solomons because Uncle Sam was stupid. The resulting sick dog of a worthless pig aircraft was the result of no supercharger combined with a huge, dumb super heavy cannon that shot through the propeller and was intended to be some crazy crap like a plane built around a huge cannon that shoots up tanks or something– and we all know what a bad idea that was.
The consensus within the faux-historian community is that the Airacobra was an experiment that failed and many a brave young American died to prove it.
Which is cool, except for the part of the story that is bullshit, which is almost all of it.
As Greg explains in his great video on superchargers and turbochargers the problem with the P-39 was that the aircraft was just too small to mount one of the turbo-superchargers available at that time. If you’re curious about this, you SHOULD watch all of Greg’s videos on this subject. Fascinating stuff.
So the P-39 was left with a second-rate supercharger, compared to the first rate ones on, say, the Spitfire or the U.S. Navy’s own Wildcat and later Hellcat– but it DID have a supercharger. Any and all goofy crap you have read to the contrary is just wrong.
But why did it get a second-rate supercharger? The sad fact is that the U.S.A.A.F. was wildly aroused by new technology (as the USAF is today) and just could not stand not to have the “newest and greatest.” They chose the mighty turbo-supercharger as being bigger, better, cooler and more bitchin’ than anything else in the world, so the U.S had to build huge fighters (for the time) to be able to carry these monster engines into the air. The P-38 and P-47 were the result.
The Thunderbolt and Lightning came from this huge government program to build planes that would fly above the enemy and be impossible to stop because they were just higher and faster. It made sense, kind of, but ultimately we’ll never know how this “arms race” would have come out in the long run because, as has been the case so many time, once Uncle spent a few bazillion dollars on it, a new technology came along and the old one went in the garbage. In this case, it was the jet engine–and, to some extent, the excellent superchargers on the Merlin engines of P-51 Mustangs.
The Airacobra was just too little to stuff all the hardware for even the smallest tubo-supercharger (aka “turbocharger”) into it. So it got stuck with the supercharger that was a part of the Allison engine, which had always been intended to be coupled with a turbocharger.
But even without the turbocharger, it was (potentially) the finest low-altitude dogfighter in existence in 1941, and would have kicked the Zero’s ass if the U.S. Army hadn’t dug in its institutional heels and insisted that a AMERICAN fighter plane had to be either a high-flying speed demon or an attack plane. Airacobras (and Warhawks) went into battle without the confidence of the “brass” and they were poorly employed and yes, to that extent, the U.S. Army lived up to its reputation as kinda stupid about some stuff (see the history of the M-16 for more info on that).
But the Russians proved that he Airacobra was a beast of a fighting machine by tearing out the extra guns and sending them to the infantry in Stalingrad, and also removing other weighty-but-useless crap like armor and ashtrays, and they ate FW-190’s ALIVE.
“Dark Earth” is a bitch of a color to mix. You may have looked at the Airacobra model and thought “Oh, it looks like he got the colors right, anyway!” or something but the test palette above shows the proper shades for RAF Dark Earth and Dark Green, next to the Airacobra which doesn’t match. Of course, the origin of this was my attempt to do something dumb and make my American plane look SLIGHTLY different from the RAF examples in order to reflect that it was painted using “equivalent” colors, which in the wide-open days of 1940 meant just about anything.
But we all know what a proper British Lancaster should look like, yes?
Looks like one of the restored Lancasters, yes? Now check out that inconvenient truth over yonder on the upper right.
If you get the Dark Earth wrong, it will foul up your RAF desert camo. Middle Stone will look WAY too yellow next to the orange-y shade on the Lancaster there. You can see this effect on official photos of the Tamiya Beaufighter. Tamiya’s model-maker mixes the Dark Earth so it’s way too pretty like Claudia Black (WHAT ARE YOU LOOKIN’ AT?? YOU WANNA TAKE THIS OUTSIDE?!!) and so the Tamiya Beaufighters painted with Tamiya’s mix for Dark Earth always have this “hurts my eyes” yellow blast coming from the Middle Stone color.
It’s because the Dark Earth isn’t right.
Dark Earth should be an ugly, yellow kind of brown.
Only if it has just the right amount of yellow in it will it look right on BOTH the desert and temperate whatever scheme.
If you get a version of Dark Earth that IS NOT yellow enough (like Humbrol’s Dark Earth in recent years) you’ll get a version of the desert scheme where the Dark Earth looks pinkish and the Middle Stone looks yellow and a version of the temperate scheme where the Dark Earth looks gray.
No, Virginia, I don’t have photos of all this. Go to any of the forums where they tend to use Humbrol paints straight out of the tins and you’ll see this effect.
In the mean-time, I need to start to mix up a special color just for Wingnut Wings.