KIT: Monogram 1/48 B-29 Superfortress
KIT #: 5700
PRICE: $43.98 MSRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna
NOTES: True Details resin wheels used.

HISTORY

 
        The Boeing B-29 was the crowning achievement of the United States’ commitment to its doctrine of strategic bombing during the Second World War.  While the aircraft’s design roots predated the war, the hard-learned lessons from Europe were incorporated into an aerodynamically streamlined technological tour de force.  The crew flew in the comfort of two pressurized compartments, with remotely operated turrets controlled by sophisticated computer gun sights, all the while attaining cruising speeds and operating altitudes far in excess of the capabilities of its successors, the B-17 and B-24.  Effective bomb payload and range were also superior on this aircraft that would eventually be named the Superfortress.  It was ordered into production straight from the drawing board, but the big bomber’s complexity and initial teething troubles led to inevitable delays in its deployment in the Pacific war.  Chronic problems with engine overheating and resultant fires weren't satisfactorily solved until early 1945, limiting the ability of B-29 units from ramping up an effective strategic bombing campaign against the Japanese homeland. 

 Ironically, General Curtis LeMay, who was brought in from Europe to head the XX Bomber Command in India and later XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas, directed a radical change in tactics after the initial poor results of the B-29 to perform as originally designed as a high altitude bomber.  First, he stripped the bombers of all defensive armament except for two .50 caliber guns in the tail.  This lightened the aircraft, allowing more bombs to be carried.  He changed the bomb load to mostly incendiary devices which the B-29s dropped from low altitudes (5000 feet or so), which they did at night.  Bomb Damage Assessment photos from the early traditional precision daylight bombing missions had shown that Japanese war industry was quite dispersed throughout urban areas, so LeMay postulated that the best way to disrupt it was through area bombing.  B-29s based at Saipan and Tinian were allowed to fly directly to the target without having to gather up in formations and climb to high altitudes, which saved on fuel and reduced the incidence of engine overheating.  The fact that Japanese buildings were constructed mostly of wood added to the efficacy of fires started by the incendiary bombs, giving rise to the most ghastly of modern wartime horrors, the firestorm.  It was the true embodiment of US Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman’s notion of Total War, as Japan’s major cities were literally burnt to the ground.

        Meanwhile, the United States was working on the biggest and most expensive military endeavor ever undertaken, the Manhattan Project.  At the urging of European scientists who had fled the rise of Fascism in the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the enormous expenditure of funds and dedicated resources for the sole purpose of developing a nuclear weapon before the Nazis did.  After the war, it was discovered that German research on nuclear fission had practically come to an end by 1942, so the perceived threat never came close to materializing.  In the US, work continued on a massive scale with a target for delivering a working explosive device by mid 1945.  The war in Europe had ended in the spring of that year, so attention focused on using it in the Pacific.  The firestorms had taken a fierce toll on the Japanese civilian population, but the military’s resolve to continue the fight down to the last man was firm.  President Truman, once informed of the bomb’s successful test explosion in the New Mexico desert in July, decided to use it on Japan in hopes of bringing an unconditional surrender and put an end to further horrendous loss of life on both sides.

        Specially modified B-29s were assigned to a new bomb group, the 509th Composite Wing under the command of Colonel Paul Tibbets.  These seventeen aircraft were given the code designation “Silverplate”.  Hand-selected on the production line, the aircraft were built without turrets, the gunner observation blisters were replaced with flush fairings, all armor plating was removed, and uprated Wright R-3350 engines were fitted with reversible Curtiss Electric propellers to reduce landing rollout distances. Propeller blade cuffs also improved cooling to the always fragile engines.  The 509th trained in secret in Wendover, Utah before deploying to the island of Tinian in the Marianas.  The B-29s dropped special high explosive-filled training bombs they dubbed “pumpkins” which helped finalize the shapes of the two types of nuclear devices: the uranium gun design called “Little Boy”, and the plutonium implosion design nicknamed “Fat Man”.  Some of these training missions were conducted over Japan proper.

            Colonel Tibbets himself led the mission of August 6, 1945 to Hiroshima, where the Little Boy atomic bomb was dropped successfully.  He selected aircraft Victor-82, which belonged to pilot Robert Lewis, for the mission.  Tibbets grabbed a sign painter and had the name of his mother, Enola Gay, painted on the side of the aircraft.  When Capt. Lewis saw the nose art (the only Silverplate bomber to have any artwork applied before the end of the war), he was miffed.  Tibbets reminded Lewis of the chain of command, and Enola Gay would forever be known as Tibbet’s personal aircraft.  Lewis flew on the mission as the co-pilot.  The other markings change made was the removal of the 509th’s tail markings of a large arrowhead inside a circle, which was replaced with tail markings of other units that regularly flew missions over Japan, hoping to blend in and avoid the suspicion of Japanese spotters.  Enola Gay got a circle-R, used by B-29s from the 313th Bomber Wing.  Others (Bockscar, for one) got a triangle-N, normal used by the 58th Bomber Wing. 

As soon as Enola Gay returned safely to Tinian, President Truman announced to the world that a new, terrible bomb had been deployed and that Japan should accept the terms of surrender that were formulated by the Allied leaders at the recent Potsdam Conference.  Not hearing back through official channels, a second mission was ordered three days later.  While the first atomic mission was executed flawlessly, a number of things went wrong on the second.  First, the primary strike aircraft was supposed to be The Great Artiste, but it was still loaded with scientific measuring gear from the Hiroshima mission.  Colonel Tibbets selected Bockscar instead, even though he knew that the fuel transfer pump was broken on the 600 gallon “Tokyo” tank in the rear bomb bay, thereby limiting its potential range.  393rd Bomb Squadron commander Major Charles Sweeney was the mission leader, and the crew that normally flew aboard The Great Artiste went with him aboard BockscarBockscar’s commander, Fred Bock, flew with his crew on The Great Artiste.  The Fat Man nuclear device was loaded aboard the aircraft on August 9 and set off for the primary target of Kokura.  A typhoon in the area forced Bockscar and the rest of bombers in the strike force to meet up at a different rendezvous point.  The Great Artiste (scientific monitoring) and Bockscar found each other quickly, but they never did spot Up and Atom (photography) because of a misunderstanding about what altitude to meet at and wasted a considerable amount of fuel waiting for each other.  The three bombers eventually met up over Kokura itself, but found that that the city was obscured by clouds and smoke from a bombing mission B-29s had done the day before on the nearby town of Yawata.  After three bomb runs, the bombardier failed to acquire the target in his sight so Sweeny elected to proceed to the secondary target of Nagasaki.  Once there, they again encountered weather conditions that prevented clear visibility of the aiming point.  Running low on fuel and with strict orders to drop the device only with visual methods the mission was in danger of being scrubbed, but the bombardier announced at the last second that he thought he had acquired the target and the bomb was released through a clearing in the clouds.  It actually missed by miles, thereby sparing the lives of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians, although 35,000 still died almost instantly.

            Upon release of the bomb, the three bombers did an immediate 155 degree maximum-G diving turn to put as much distance between them and the blast as possible. Because of the critical fuel situation, Sweeny diverted to Okinawa and was convinced that he would have to ditch in the ocean before reaching the airbase there.  He was doubly concerned when he discovered that all the search and rescue ships and aircraft had been recalled because they were erroneously informed that the Kokura mission had been scrapped.  Flying as efficiently as possible, Bockscar finally arrived over Okinawa and requested permission to land, which was ignored by the tower because there was an alert in progress.  Firing off flares, Sweeny inserted his aircraft into the landing pattern and started his final approach when engine number 3 quit from fuel starvation.  Right as the aircraft touched ground, engine number 2 quit, leaving only two engines to slow the aircraft down before leaving the end of the runway.  Fortunately, the Silverplate reverse thurst capabilities were utilized to the max and the plane stopped in time.  Upon shut down, it was determined that only 33 gallons of fuel remained aboard, excluding the 600 gallons in the inaccessible Tokyo tank in the rear bomb bay.  After refueling at Okinawa, Bockscar flew back to Tinian and the mission was over.

            The second bombing convinced Emperor Hirohito to personally intervene and override the military leaders.  He conducted a radio broadcast that contended that Japan had lost the war and could not continue.  It was the first time in history that the general population had heard his voice.  While historians and scholars still debate over the necessity of the use of atomic weapons, there is no doubt that the dropping of the two bombs forced the issue and brought to an end the most deadly conflict in human history.

            More Silverplate B-29s were constructed in the following year to become the backbone of the United States’ atomic fleet.  These were eventually replaced by B-36 and B-50 bombers as the Strategic Air Command was established.  Bockscar is on display at the US Air Force museum in Dayton Ohio, and Enola Gay now sits in the Udvar-Hazy Center outside of Washington DC.

THE KIT


        Audacious is the word that comes to mind when you think about Monogram’s decision in 1977 to create a kit of such a large subject in this scale.  At the time, Monogram was on a roll, having just put out kits of the B-17G, the B-24J, and the B-25H.  The following year saw the release of the B-26, and a couple of years later we got a B-24D and a B-25J, effectively covering almost all of the major variants of all the US bombers of World War II.  Like other Monogram kits of this vintage, the B-29 features a very nicely detailed interior complete from the nose cockpit section through the bomb bays and all the way back to the crew bunks in the aft fuselage.  Molded in silver and black styrene with raised panel lines, the kit features twelve conventional 1000 LB bombs, replicas of the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs, a bomb cart, and several ground crew figures. 

Acknowledging the differences between a regular B-29 and a Silverplate bomber, large plugs are provided for use in sealing off the turrets and observation blisters, though the solution is an awkward and ultimately unsatisfactory for anyone wishing to make an accurate replica of Enola Gay or Bockscar.  The problem is that the kit plugs only sit on top of the fuselage, whereas in reality they are flush with the aircraft’s skin.  Another accuracy issue with the kit is that the propellers are of the Curtiss Electric variety, which is correct for nearly all of the Silverplate aircraft, but incorrect for the overwhelming majority of regular B-29s, which used Hamilton Standard props exclusively.  It took nearly thirty years, but Revell-Monogram recently reissued the kit (5711) with a new sprue that includes the HS props. Modelers rejoiced in knowing that they no longer have to purchase expensive and long out-of-production resin replacements. 

From an overall shape point of view, the kit looks quite good, although our friends at Cutting Edge now provide a “significantly improved” set of resin cowlings to replace the kit ones which are slightly incorrect in shape.  It is a personal decision as to whether you think the replacement cowlings are worth the not inconsiderable price.  One thing I do not like about the kit cowlings is that they attach to the nacelle with a simple butt join, which provides no alignment locating tabs or anything to reinforce the joint.  Cutting Edge also offers a conversion set of resin pieces that allow for a less painful and accurate elimination of the turret and gun sight openings for a Silverplate bomber.  A minor issue is that the fabric texture of the control surfaces is way overdone and could use a good sanding to restore it to the properly smooth appearance of doped linen.  The kit provides the 20mm tail cannon seen in early B-29s, but the modeler will have to modify the canvas covering on the tail turret if the model is depicted with the more common twin .50 caliber machine gun configuration.

        A number of pieces suffer from sinkholes, particularly the back of the propeller blades and a number of the landing gear components.  The inside of the large bomb bay and wheel well doors have significant ejector pin marks that need to be cleaned up.  The bomb cart is a mess, frankly, as it has sink marks, mold seams, and next-to-impossible ejector pin marks to contend with.  The model is the Mother of All Tail-sitters, so you will need to plan ahead to cram enough weight in the nose to get the model to sit on its tricycle landing gear.  Because of the unique configuration with the greenhouse canopy, the areas that modelers traditionally use to stash weights are limited.  I elected to put a bunch of lead fishing sinkers directly in the flight engineer’s compartment directly behind the bulkhead behind the pilots.  Because visibility in that section is limited to two small side windows, you can leave the weights somewhat exposed and not worry too much about seeing them after the model is completed.

CONSTRUCTION


        I obtained this kit (an original issue with only the Curtiss Electric props) from a friend in a convoluted trade for another kit that was given to me as a gift but knew that I was probably never going to build.  The B-29 had already been started as the interior had been nicely painted (Interior Green in the crew areas, aluminum in the bomb bay and wheel wells) and the fuselage had been glued together and the seams filled and sanded.  That was fine by me, as it saved me a bunch of work in detail painting, but I did have to break the fuselage pieces apart because I decided to model a Silverplate bomber, The Great Artiste.  I thought about ordering the Cutting Edge conversion kit, but figured I could adapt the Monogram plug pieces and stuff them in the turret openings with a ton of gap-filling CA glue and putty to achieve the same result.  So, razor saw in hand, I hacked off the turret rings and glued pieces of cut sprue trees in the openings to act as a backing for the plug pieces.  As engineered by Monogram, these plugs sit on top of the fuselage, rather than flush with the fuselage skin.  I trimmed each plug down to the diameter of the opening and glued it to the backing pieces of sprue that were previously inserted.  Then I filled around the hole with CA glue and sanded everything flush.  Repeated applications of CA glue and Mr. Surfacer 1000 were required to make the seam disappear, but patience paid off and I had a turretless B-29.  The same technique was used on the three gunner observation blisters.  The tiny opening for the porthole window was filled with a cut piece from the cover of a CD case and polished to clarity.

            The wheel wells have a number of ejector pin marks that were impossible to fill and sand with traditional methods, so I cut pieces of thin sheet styrene and placed them over each of the pin mark depressions.  It hides it well enough.  The large ejector pin marks on the bomb bay and landing gear doors were much more labor intensive to fill with CA glue, but a necessary task. The wing pieces were glued together, revealing huge gaps on the sides of each of the four engine nacelles.  I filled these gaps with strips of sheet styrene and sanded them smooth.  For the position lights on each wingtip, I inserted a short length of stretched sprue in the corner and painted it dark red (port) or dark blue (starboard) to replicate the unlit light bulb, then faired in the clear cover.  The Wright R-3350 engines were painted with Metalizer Steel with a dark gray crankcase and black pushrods, and then dirtied up with a dark gray wash.  The main landing struts were cleaned up and painted with Floquil Old Silver.  Note that period color photos of the nose landing gear strut of Enola Gay, Bockscar, and a number of other B-29s (both conventional and Silverplate) clearly show them to be painted only in yellow zinc chromate primer.  I asked retired NASM researcher Dana Bell about why Enola Gay is now displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center museum with an aluminum lacquer nose strut, and he responded that it had originally been restored to chromate yellow, but was “corrected” to aluminum when less accurate references were introduced.  It just goes to show you that even the big boys make mistakes when it comes to paint colors.  For my model, I painted the strut with Testors Acryl Chromate Yellow.

            The vertical stabilizer in my kit was slightly off in alignment, so I bent it back after dipping the entire rear fuselage in a pot of nearly-boiling water for a few seconds.  All of the clear parts were spot-glued to the fuselage pieces with liquid model cement, then faired in with CA glue and polished to restore clarity using a tri-grit file and Novus Plastic Polish #2.  This gives a nice clean and flush look to each of the windows.  The same was done for the main greenhouse canopy and the nosecap.

            I glued the wings and horizontal stabilizers on, being careful to get everything in proper alignment.  Typical of these Monogram bomber kits, large gaps were left to be filled at the wing roots which I did with CA glue.  All the seams were primed with Mr. Surfacer 1000 to insure that any air bubbles and ghost seams were filled.  I restored the panel lines that had been obliterated by the lengthy seam filling process using a sewing needle chucked in a pin vise.  The only observation bubble that remains on the airplane is located directly located over the tunnel that runs through the bomb bay that connects the two pressured compartment.  I drilled a large hole in the top of the tunnel piece and I boxed in the surrounding area with thin sheet styrene to give a more realistic look to the position.

            Since this is a natural metal finish model, I had to go on a search and destroy mission to eliminate all the stray scratches and sanding marks.  Being such a large airplane, this took quite a while to complete using worn 600 grit sandpaper and Novus Plastic Polish #3 and #2.  Those of you that remember my Modeler’s Musings column of March 2006, it was at this point where the model fell off the kitchen counter, where I had briefly laid it down.  The right wing was detached, half the fuselage split open, both horizontal stabilizers cracked, and the front turret fairing popped off.  It took a while to recover, but I did, and it was time to paint this big model.

COLORS & MARKINGS


             I've been using Alcald II Lacquer for a while now and have gotten comfortable with the routine for using it to replicate a natural metal finish.  First, the model was primed with Floquil Old Silver enamel paint.  This was allowed to dry for a week.  It revealed a few spots that needed to be addressed by refilling a seam or eliminating a rough spot that I had missed on the first go around.  When that was done, I applied Alclad Polished Aluminum to the whole model.  This is the brightest of the Alclad shades and was selected after looking at a number of photographs of the B-29s on Tinian.  These aircraft were extremely well taken care and quite shiny, even in the harsh tropical sun and coral dust conditions.  After that dried for a day, I masked off the center panels on both the top and bottom of both wings and shot a coat of Testors Dullcote Lacquer.  This represents the B-29’s use of an aluminum alloy in this area for extra strength, which was painted with aluminum lacquer on the real aircraft.  The front of each cowling and all the control surfaces got a coat of Alclad Duraluminum.  The panel around each exhaust was painted with Alclad Dark Aluminum.  Finally, the plugs for the turrets and gunner observation stations were painted with Testors Metalizer Aluminum Plate to make them stand out from the rest of the fuselage, again as seen in photographs.  I'm sorry this doesn't show up better in the images of the model, but digital cameras seem to have a hard time resolving silver objects.  The effect in real life is much more apparent.

            I elected to decorate my model with markings for The Great Artiste as it appeared shortly after the war ended in September 1945.  As mentioned above, none of the Silverplate bombers save Enola Gay had any nose art applied during the atomic missions.  Also, the arrowhead in a circle tail marking of the 509th was restored on all the aircraft when the colorful nose art was applied.  Decals came from Super Scale sheet 48-0935 and went on beautifully.  This is the second time Super Scale has put out a sheet depicting this airplane.  On the first sheet, the background of the nose artwork is medium green.  On the second sheet, it is yellow.  Which is correct?  Well, the one color photo I have seen has been reproduced many times in various publications, and none of the printings are consistent.  My opinion is that it was actually a very light green, but who really knows?  I used the more recent Super Scale rendition in yellow.   I cut the black sections of the tail markings away from their clear carrier and carefully applied them to the vertical stabilizer.  The national insignia came from AeroMaster sheet 48-271.  After drying, trapped air bubbles in the decals were pierced with the tip of an X-acto knife blade and Micro Sol applied to get them to snuggle down.  The AeroMaster markings were tougher to tame, so I broke out the heavy gun Solvaset, which finally whipped them into shape.  I sprayed a very light mist coat of Future floor polish over the entire model to help even out the sheen of the decals, but I was disappointed in how it dulled down the shiny finish that I had worked so hard to achieve.  On my next model, I guess I’m going to have to apply the clear varnish on just the decals themselves.

            Weathering was very lightly applied, with a dusting of pastels in the wheel wells and Tamiya Smoke was used for the exhaust staining underneath the wings.  I used True Details resin wheels and tires, which are ridiculously under-inflated, but still have a nice tread pattern that is superior to the kit tires.  The tires were weathered with a very thin spray of light gray.

            For fun, I built and painted the two atomic bombs.  The latest research shows that Little Boy was a gloss dark Olive Drab, rather than the dark blue seen so often in museum pieces.  Monogram didn't get it quite right in that the antennae are present in four positions on the bomb, each ninety degrees from each other.  The kit piece only has antennas in two places, so I fabricated new ones from stiff wire and added the bright red safety plugs.  I also added “L11” from a decal lettering set.  The Fat Man bomb was painted chromate yellow with a black sealant sprayed around the circumference of the nose and the equator.  The fin structure of both bombs is simplistic compared to the real thing, but I didn't bother correcting that.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION


             Despite my best attempts to keep water and dust from entering the sealed up cockpit, I was surprised when I removed the masking from the canopy greenhouse and discovered a less than pristine interior surface.  My solution was to drill out the pilot’s escape hatch from the canopy and swab the interior with a Q-tip moistened with a little bit of Windex.  Photos of B-29s on the ground show that this hatch was often left open while the aircraft was parked, probably to vent the stifling heat from the cockpit. 

        I glued the landing gear on was relieved to learn that I had put enough weight in to keep it balanced on its nose.  It was really close and I had run out of space to put any more in. (Your editor would like to mention that Terry Dean does custom nose weights for this kit) Plan B would have been to build a display base and permanently fasten the model down to it.  The landing gear and bomb bay doors were glued on, as were the pitot tubes, antenna posts, and ADF football loop.  I replicated the canvas tail gun cover with a thin coat of Squadron white putty, painted it Olive Drab, and added the two .50 caliber machine guns.  I debated whether to add an aerial wire, but my study of the all the available photographs of period Silverplate bombers was inconclusive, so I left it off.  I still think they probably did have a wire, as it seems to be the rule for conventional B-29s.  Oh well.  The giant Curtiss Electric props were pressed onto their respective engine shafts as the final step in the project.  I would have liked to have added the manufacturer logo markings on each blade, but my decal stash did not come up with the sixteen I needed.  What’s slightly irritating is that the SuperScale decal  sheet has beautiful prop logos, only they are for Hamilton Standard propellers.  D’oh!

CONCLUSIONS


            This is one big-ass model!  Like all the other Monogram 1/48 scale bombers, it probably resides in the back of more modeler’s closets unbuilt than it does as a completed model on a display shelf.  In all the years I've been modeling, I've seen only one other built.  That’s a shame because the visual impact of such a large and shiny model is stunning and always draws a crowd of enthusiastic viewers wherever it goes.  It’s quite a challenging undertaking, particularly if one is going to do a Silverplate bomber with its flush turret plugs and observation window fairings.  Those who are a little less adventurous can get the recent reissue with Hamilton Standard props for a very reasonable price and build the model using the kit or aftermarket decals in standard conventional configuration with gun turrets in place.  Fit is typical of Monogram kits of the period so one should expect to do a lot of laborious seam filling as well as be prepared for the effort to make a convincing natural metal finish.  I spent nearly 80 hours on my model, and pretty much enjoyed every minute, other than the re-do after the big crash.  This is a good model of a very historically significant airplane, and I'm thankful for being able to have one in my collection.

May 2006

REFERENCES

 
Albury, Charles D. and James P Busha : “Bockscar’s Bash”, Flight Journal, August 2005
Baugher, Joseph: B-29 Superfotress, http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b29.html
Bell, Dana: discussion group postings about Enola Gay colors
Davis, Larry: B-29 Superfotress In Action
Pace, Steve and Dick Campbell: “The Silverplate B-29s, Worlds’ First Atomic Bombers”, Wings, August 2002
Rhodes, Richard: The Making of the Atomic Bomb

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