Monday, June 4, 2018

Ensuring Your Aircraft's Loadout is Accurate Should Be a Thing

The key to building the most accurate model requires that you find the best references. A lot of modelers spend a great deal of time compiling images that give them the money shots of various aircraft nether regions in order to produce the most realistic version of the subject they can. The problem is that the data mining and reference gathering usually stops at ordnance. How typical. Modelers often get picky and choosy with what accuracy issues they are willing to accept. Forums will burn to the ground over a debate about weathering but when some one glues the entire contents of the Hasegawa Aircraft Weapons: B set on a Warthog no one bats an eye.


Guys tend to rely on the kit's instructions which may contain a chart that outlines the proper placement of the munitions included in the box. It is not their fault, after all, the manufacturer has done all the research for them, right? If only it were that simple. Granted, ordnance is not that important to everyone and making an aircraft look cool may be far more important to some one than making it the most accurate. However, if you're focused on accuracy then let me give you a little tip - take the loadout portion of the instructions, crumple them up and throw them in the trash. You can do better.

One thing modelers need to understand is that there are limitations to where stores can be placed on an aircraft. Just because an aircraft can support a certain piece of ordnance or a particular configuration, it doesn't mean it did. The best that those graphs can do is tell you what station on an aircraft can support what bomb or missile. Where they fall short is knowing what station can support what bomb in combination with other bombs or other scenarios.

The instructional chart above though correctly identifying much of the A-10's stores capabilities gets a few things wrong. For instance, while completely capable of carrying a GBU-8 HOBOS bomb, the A-10 never operationally supported it. Notice also that it depicts three AGM-65 Mavericks on the LAU-88's on stations three and nine. Though there are pictures of the A-10 flying with three Mavericks on one launcher they are from test squadrons or inert TGM-65's with no rocket motors. The Warthog never employed three Mavericks on one LAU-88 as an operational configuration even though it was certainly able to do so.

An A-10 from a test squadron evaluating the GBU-8 on the left wing and GBU-10 on the right. This is the only photo I have ever seen of the A-10 with a HOBOS.
Don't be fooled by this photo. The aircraft is carrying three AGM-65s on each LAU-88 but this is the YA-10 still in testing. I have never seen nor heard of an operational A-10 carrying 3 Mavericks on one launcher.

Not even in Desert Storm where the Warthog went tank plinking to its heart's delight. Here is one with just two Mavericks on the launcher during the Gulf War.

So what gives? It is impossible to know where kit manufacturers get their information from though it would be easy to speculate that their attention to detail in the ordnance world is only as good as the typical plastic modeler. It seems to be a mixture of best guesses mixed with photographic evidence. However, as the image above is proof, sometimes that photographic evidence is misleading. This is why you shouldn't let the model kit makers dictate the accuracy of your aircraft's loadout.

An eye catching A-10 load fit only for an air show static display than a plausible combat configuration.

The determination for whether an aircraft can use a certain weapon in a specific configuration is made not simply by how much weight a station can support. Instead, it is decided after rigorous testing. The USAF certifies the safe and reliable carriage and release of stores via the Seek Eagle program. The Navy conducts similar weapons testing programs at locations like Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake. It is through the research, test and evaluation that ordnance is approved for flight individually or incorporated with other munitions. Keep in mind, a weapon cannot fly in combination with another piece of ordnance unless that specific configuration was tested and approved.

The reason for this is safety. No one knows how the weapon will react once it separates from the pylon until it has been tested as these videos prove.

So, how are modelers suppose to ensure they load their aircraft correctly?

The world of ordnance is complex as a whole and even I have questions about configurations at times. Finding answers isn't always easy either. Much of the real life restrictions to munitions loading are not available on the public domain but tucked away in "Official Use Only" manuals that the lay modeler does not have access to. For older aircraft, there are unclass resources online if you know where to look or what you're looking for.
I was able to locate loading information out of the -1 manuals for the F-4C and the F-5E after a single Google search.

 However, these sources partially share the same problem as the charts provided in kit instructions. They specify what munition can be carried on what station but they do not tell us what munitions can be carried, or more importantly, what munitions are restricted from being carried in combination with other munitions. Never the less, it is a start and can be used to validate your planned load if it is basic enough.

If you can't find exactly what you're looking for keep in mind that the modeling community is large, vocal, and generally willing to help. It is full of guys who have spent years in the military on different air frames and they are a resource at your finger tips. The other day I asked a question regarding the stores limitations for the AV-8B in hopes of receiving some anecdotal reply. Instead, I was gifted with this:

In terms of verifying load accuracy, this is the holy grail. It shows (in part, because it is only sheet 20 of 66) how Mk82s, BLU-111s and BSU-86s must be configured on ITERs depending on what other munitions are loaded. This answered my question which I will get into later on.
Of course, there are pages (like this one) and websites dedicated to load configuration accuracy. For instance, if you are building a Strike Eagle, I recommend visiting for all your Mudhen needs. There are others like which has built an incredible record of Desert Storm loadout references. There are many others but you probably thought ordnance wasn't that important...

I try to uncover as many ordnance myths, misconceptions and errors as possible. In the past I have written about the USAF's tendency to avoid using AIM-9 Sidewinders in combination with fully loaded TERs. You may have also read the post on the F-5E's use of precision guided munitions. But as soon as I nail one down, another pops up in its place. I'll share some other common mistakes that I see frequently.

AV-8B fully loaded ITERs paired with AIM-9s

While browsing the internet for Harrier references one day I came upon a few photos of different models of AV-8Bs built with the configuration above - a fully loaded ITER next to an AIM-9 on the outboard launcher.
I am no Harrier expert, but as I was examining it, something didn't seem right. The Sidewinder appeared to be way to close to the outboard Mk82 on the ITER's shoulder station. In military aviation when it comes to weapons release, you want a good amount of clearance between stations. Just by looking at the model I questioned whether this was a legitimate load in real life.
After posing the question to the community I received the answer in the form of that stores limitations sheet from the AV-8B manual that I posted above. If you examine line number 18 and 23 from that page you will see that if any ordnance (represented by the boxed 1) is on the outboard stations, 1 or 7, then the outboard shoulder station of each ITER must be empty.

While I have yet to find a picture of a ITER in combination with a munition on either station 1 or 7, here is an example of how the ITER should be loaded if you wanted to put a Sidewinder on the outboard launcher.

The ITER is slant loaded with the outboard shoulder station left empty. This would accommodate a store on station 7 if necessary.

F-14's loaded with a pair of GBU-24's side-by-side

Another common mistake, fueled by the manufacturer's insistence, is loading two GBU-24's side-by-side under the fuselage of a Tomcat. Again the issue here is clearance. The fins of the bomb are huge and would run the risk of clipping the adjacent bomb if they were ever released in this position. So, loading two GBU-24's would only be possible if they are loaded diagonally, one on the forward pallet, the second on the aft pallet. The only caveat being that I have never seen an actual photo of this configuration other than from test flights.

Testing the release of a GBU-24 from the aft pallet on an F-14. Note the second GBU-24 up front.
The GBU-24 is not a commonly used weapon. Of all the photos that I've discovered showing them loaded on Tomcats, they have been single bombs on the front pallet.

Intruders and Scooters with fully loaded TER/MERs on inboard stations

Both the A-6 and the A-4 had some prominent main landing gear doors that, when opened, rested perilously close to the inboard hardpoints. Because of this, the red shirts were generally unable to properly load a munition on the inboard TER/MER station.

An A-6 showing the inboard MER shoulder station closest to the landing gear door empty.

Similarly, the inboard stations on this A-4's TERs are also empty to accommodate the bulge in the main gear doors.
That isn't to say things don't get a little weird. Like I said, the ordnance world is deep and complex and while the rules are usually inflexible, sometimes they are bent. In Jim Winchester's book "Douglas A-4 Skyhawk: Attack and Close-Support Fighter Bomber" he describes this scenario:

In Vietnam the Marines sometimes found a way around this by physically holding the doors closed until the MERs were loaded and then letting the door rest on the bombs. Not a 'legal' or advisable solution, but sometimes a necessary one when the situation called for maximum air support. The Navy would sometimes do a similar thing with the triple ejector rack (TER) by loading a 250lb Mk81 bomb on the inboard position with the door resting on it and 500lb Mk 82s on the other spots. At least seven A-4s were lost in Vietnam because of premature detonation of their own bombs, and another four were fatally damaged by ingesting their own rocket debris.

Here red shirts have done exactly that. Notice the Mk81 on the inboard shoulder station while two Mk82s round out the load.
 Winchester's last sentence is the driving factor for why weapons configurations must be tested and why when it comes to accuracy in modeling, ordnance is not an area that should be ignored. Just because it fits in scale doesn't mean it fits in the real world.


The most important thing to take away is that the manufacturers instructions regarding ordnance are more like guidelines than hard rules and you're better off completely disregarding them. Use the community for further help if you're unsure.
The world of aviation ordnance is murky, hidden under rules and restrictions that are not available to most modelers. If you are looking for one hundred percent accuracy then the most obvious answer is finding a photo to authenticate your proposed configuration. Once you begin to realize that ordnance is as much an aspect of modeling that demands accuracy as the shape, scale, color, or version of the aircraft you're working on, finding interesting configurations and avoiding common mistakes becomes easier. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Aircraft Ordnance Weathering - Part I

How you learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Modelers too often treat ordnance as afterthoughts, regarding them really more as a nuisance than something that could add value to their finished work. They complain that ordnance is tedious and blame any lack of further motivation on being stuck in a mire of tiny bombs that won't build themselves. Corners soon get cut as modelers attempt to discover the next great way to build weapons faster, and paint those pesky yellow stripes in a more convenient manner. Then they sling a coat of olive drab and vitriol all over them and hang them, begrudgingly, beneath the wings of their proud fighter. Finally, they claim that bombs never weather because they are stored in a climate controlled bunker for their entire lives until one day they are selected to be loaded on an aircraft and flown over the enemy to fulfill their singular purpose.

But, you see, that's wrong.

In this age of modeling, weathering has taken on a significant role. There are whole product lines devoted to it. Magazines. Facebook pages. Some would even say the attraction to weathering has grown way out of proportion. Whatever your take on it, the techniques for adding wear and tear to a model are here to stay and are as popular as ever.
I have always leaned more toward the "dirtier is better" side of the fence for two reasons. First, it's realistic. Aircraft get dirty, be it from human interaction or by exposure to the elements. It is unavoidable. Second, it adds character to your model. Fading the paint, adding streaks, chips and stains all help give your model a story and present the aircraft as the bad-a** war machine its suppose to be.
Ordnance is an extension of the aircraft and can exhibit similar weathering characteristics. The myth that bombs are kept clean, locked up in a sunless basement and delivered to ordnance technicians out of bubble-wrapped crates has been propagated by generations of modelers who have likely never set foot on a flight line. The simple fact is that munitions get dirty, even filthy. So much so that ordnance demands the same amount of attention when it comes to applying your favorite weathering techniques that you pay to your overall model.
And the proof is in the pudding.

To cut down on the length of the post, I am limiting Part I to bombs of the World War II.

Bombs don't have 5-star accommodations

Contrary to popular belief, munitions were not stored in bunkers living a sheltered life away from the scorching sun and drenching rain. According to this fascinating site, the Allies dropped 3.4 million tons of ordnance on the Axis powers during World War II. That is a lot of bombs; roughly 1,500 tons per day of the conflict. Ideally, during the war the munitions were stored indoors to the best of their ability but the quantity of munitions soon out grew the capacity to store them.
With the war intensifying, the UK and the United States scrambled to create more and larger facilities to house the munitions needed to fight a global conflict. Underground storage tunnels such as the one at RAF Fauld were constructed across the country.

RAF Fauld tunnels

But it wouldn't be enough.
When the US Army Air Corps arrived, new so called Forward Ammunition Supply depots were established in places like Sharnbrook and Braybrooke to meet their needs yet they soon exceeded capacity.

Open air storage of munitions at the Sharnbrook ammunition supply depot.
By 1943, the United States had opened sixteen of its own ammunition depots. Despite this, open air storage of bombs still occurred.

The Sierra Ordnance Depot, California
Though concerted efforts were made to store bombs in shelters, vast amounts of ordnance would remain uncovered across all theaters of the war.

It was hard enough to provide adequate storage facilities to ordnance residing in countries that remained relatively free of the fighting let alone combat areas that were closer to the front. Consider the Pacific theater. Even without the picture below it should not take much reasoning to assume bombs could not have been stored any where but under the palm trees, surrounded by sandy berms.

Bombs traveled long distances

Understandably, munitions tend to be kept as far away from surrounding assets and personnel as possible, especially if they are not being stored in underground shelters. Of course, not being in close proximity to the flight line and the aircraft which they will ultimately be loaded on to means they must be transported a long distance.
Ammunition trailers are by no means a luxurious mode of transportation. It was not uncommon to see munitions stacked on top of each other in transit.

Bombs sit in the mud waiting to be loaded on to trailers.

You can see the effect the muddy road has had on the bombs.

They were not handled with kid gloves

Of course, after reaching their destination the abuse did not stop. Cranes and chains could be used to offload ordnance from trucks. Bombs were placed on racks next to the aircraft and tail fin assembles were attached. Munitions, if light enough, could be carried. If they were heavy they could be rolled across the ground to get them from trailer to aircraft. 

These bombs being prepared for loading operations already show a great deal of surface wear and tear.

Munitions being handled within the bomb bay. Signs of wear from the environment are obvious. Note the man is standing on two bombs, perhaps adding some final wear to the finish with his boots before they are dropped.

Several bombs which show proof of weathering sit in the dirt while a pair of armorers pose for a photo.

More ordnance wallowing in the dirt with a pair of friendly armorers waiting to load them.

Assembling the bombs on the spot. Notice how clean the tail assemblies are, not to mention the different shade of green compared to the bomb body.

Clearly weathered ordnance being inscribed after loading.

Notice the hand print.

A dirty bomb.

Armorers rolling a bomb across the ground.

The effects of the Pacific environment on a Corsair's bomb.

It was like that for everyone

Though the majority of the photos shared so far are of Allied bombs and loading operations. But from what I've been able to gather, the situation was not much different for the Germans and their allies.

The takeaway

I think I have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that ordnance does not remain in pristine factory finish condition until it is dropped from an airplane. My hope is that, first, you found this article useful and informative. And second, I hope that if you were a non-believer prior to reading this that you've changed your mind. Pay attention to ordnance. Though bombs may seem like insignificant add-ons to your model, with the proper treatment they will enhance the look of your completed kit. Don't let your lazy bomb making skills hold your model back. 

Check out these sites for some more interesting reading on bomb storage during the Second World War: