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CH-3B Sea King - 2857th Test Squadron, 1965 - Fujimi 1/72

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I like to build models of aircraft with a 'claim to fame'; rare or unusual variants; and Search and Rescue machines. This model ticks all the last three boxes - not just rare in being one of only six Sea Kings operated by the US Air Force, but unusual to the point of being unique, and in being a SAR machine both overtly and covertly. Intrigued? Read on...


In early 1962, the Air Force bailed three HSS-2 Sea Kings from the Navy to use on support duties for the 'Texas Tower' radar-warning stations located off the eastern seaboard. Flying from Otis AFB, Massachusetts, the three aircraft were soon purchased outright by the Air Force, along with three brand-new airframes, and all six were designated CH-3B under the then new DoD system. Within a year, however, the Texas Towers were shut down, and the CH-3Bs were assigned to other duties - two went to ballistic missile site support; after a record-breaking distance flight from the US to the Paris Air Show, 'The Otis Falcon' was one of three assigned to target drone recovery duties; and along with a handful of crews, the first USAF airframe (originally BuNo 149009, then 62-12571) went to the 2857th Test Squadron at Olmsted AFB...
When gathering photos of CH-3Bs, I'd found some of 12571 and a couple of other airframes taken whilst flying with the 6593rd TS out of Hawaii, where the USAF fleet had finally ended up on satellite recovery work. They looked quite smart in the overall aluminium lacquer finish they had received by then, particularly with individually-coloured rotor head caps and matching external fuel tank tips, and I'd more or less decided that when I got around to it, my model would depict one of them, perhaps 12572 with a Systems Command badge on the side - but then...


I found myself again reading a USAFHPA 2011 article on Texas Towers helicopter support operations, which has at its end a small photo of a CH-3B in a very striking blue finish: http://usafhpa.org/texastowers/TTheliopsupdateJun2011.pdf In the concluding paragraph alongside, the author stated that his final  flight piloting a CH-3B was ferrying 571 from Olmsted to Sikorsy for conversion to the satellite mission. After tracking down his contact details, I emailed to enquire if the photo was of 12571 at the time. Within a matter of hours, I received a response confirming that it was, plus a couple of photos - and over the course of a few more messages, I'd been furnished with more details and larger scans of his pictures, which enabled me to revise the plans for my CH-3B model...


In the meantime, I'd uncovered more information about the 2857th - which wasn't actually a test squadron, but instead a highly-secretive unit with a specific task. Under the public auspices of being a Search and Rescue unit, the 2857th's actual 'Outpost Mission' was a Continuity of Government role, whereby in the event of an imminent nuclear attack, the specially-trained crews would fly from Olmsted to The White House, pick up the President, his family and other officials, and transport them to a secure facility inland, or to a US Navy ship stationed offshore. In the aftermath of an attack, their role remained the same - except that the crews (wearing 20lb lead-impregnated rubberised anti-radiation suits) were expected to rescue the President and others from the bunker beneath The White House, by cutting and digging their way in using equipment carried in the helicopter...


In his initial reply, my correspondent stated that 571 had previously worn a 'white top and light blue bottom' scheme applied by Sikorsky, but disliked by the maintenance crews, it was eventually superceded by that shown in his photos, devised and applied by Olmsted's paint shop. I was confused by one thing, however - with the 2857th being a 'clandestine' unit, why would the aircraft wear such a distinctive finish, which would make it stand out? The answer to my unasked question was in his next email, when he mentioned that they sometimes transported high-ranking officers to the nearby US Army War College - the VIP-style livery then made perfect sense!


Although both 12572 and 12573 were due to join the 2857th TS from the missile site support role, they instead went straight for conversion to the satellite mission, meaning 62-12571 - until it joined them shortly afterwards - was the sole 'Outpost Mission' CH-3B, and thereby unique in being the only Air Force Sea King assigned to be a transport for the President - a duty otherwise the sole responsibility of the VH-3s of the Army and Marine Corps...


Edited by andyf117
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Although I already had various Sea King builds at differing stages, this particular aircraft had garnered enough interest and enthusiasm for me to put all of them to one side, break out one of my Fujimi Mk.41 kits, crack on and get it completed in under a month - one of my fastest Sea Kings builds yet! As with my two previous 'Display Case' threads, the below photos are captioned where appropriate:



On the underside, the large diamond-shape fairing under the chin was not present, so the corresponding kit part was left off; meanwhile the anti-collison beacon made from a shaped piece of clear sprue was offset to starboard, adjacent to the landing light to port of the centreline. My correspondent had advised that the sonar well aperture was plated over, so that kit item was utilised accordingly.



Around the nose area, a noticeable feature of the early HSS-2/H-3s was that the two air data probes above the cockpit were located together on the starboard side, easily reproduced by filling the port location point, drilling a second to starboard, and cutting down the forward of the two pitots. From the photo I was sent giving a close-up of the forward port area, one thing that I immediately noticed was a 'curtain' behind the co-pilot's seat, and running across the rear of the cockpit. My correspondent didn't recall it - the best guess is that it was sound-proofing material as used in the main cabin, the purpose simply being to screen it off from the cockpit area. Though I've represented it, it doesn't show up in the pictures!



Unlike the other Fujimi Sea Kings I've built or am/will be building, something I didn't need to add were the lifting rings on the upper fuselage sides, one of which would have been just aft of the strut top fairing. In contrast, something that I had to remove were the flotation bags on the sponsons - this was achieved by filling their inside recesses with Milliput, and then cutting and sanding to shape - exterior moulded rivet detail was restored/added using tiny drops of Mr Surfacer 500. Milliput also came to the rescue when it came to another feature immediately obvious in the close-up photo - the sponson stubs were faired into the fuselage sides, rather than having the normal 'gap'.



As can be seen from this view of the starboard side, the position lights on the sponsons were originally located centrally on the sides - they were carefully removed from their forward locations, and moved aft accordingly. Also on this side, being unhappy with the skinny kit-supplied winch used as was on my previous UH-3A and H builds, I fashioned a replacement from one of the un-used torpedoes - I'm pleased enough with the result to intend to make and retro-fit more to the fore-mentioned models. Visible across the cabin windows in both the above and below photos are the standard-fit canvas 'troop' seats - I was advised that for VIP flights. 'airline-style' seats were fitted, but no photos of the interior were available to reproduce those; nor, sadly, for another item unique to this airframe - apparently, the base workshop constructed a seat for inside the main cabin door that folded down to double as a step...


Being provided with photos of both sides allowed me to establish the aerial layouts; to starboard, the aircraft carried both a blade antenna on the upper fuselage and a post and wire system along the lower area as originally fitted to the US Navy HSS-2. Also seen to good effect here is the replacement for the kit's small and solid upper anti-collision beacon, made like the underside one from a piece of clear sprue.



To port, there was a further post and wire array, a longer affair running from the main cabin side back to the rear part of the tail boom. Plastic rod provided the posts for stretched sprue wires on both sides.



I initially thought I might struggle to identify the colours of the VIP-type scheme, especially with it being a unit-level application, and thereby 'unofficial' and undocumented - in the end, however, it was fairly simple. The photos had been taken in bright sunlight, and the main blue looked quite vivid, especially when viewed on screen - once printed, though, it was noticeably darker in tone, and from my FS595a fan deck, Blue FS15102 appeared to be a fair match. Likewise, the grey stripe was somewhat darker once printed, but I didn't see an exact match for it from the colour chips. Then, T.O.1-1-4 from 1964 provided the information I needed, in Section VII: 'Painting and Marking Materials'. Despite the 1950's and 60's being a colourful age in terms of aircraft markings, the actual range of colours authorised for use was really quite limited - and in the list of specified paints, there were quite clearly just two that could have been used on 571 - FS15102 Blue and FS16473 Gray.

One of the few tins of Xtracolor enamels I've ever managed to brush-paint successfully happened to be ANA 501 True Blue (which became FS15102); unfortunately, it wasn't what it purported to be, being a perfect match for the lighter FS15182 instead. I'm not the world's best at mixing paint, but after a number of hours of trial and error I ended up with a shade virtually identical to the fan deck chip - fortunately, for the stripe and rotor head cap I had to hand some Testors FS16473 ADC Gray. The same Gloy FS16440 as used on my UH-3A and UH-3H models took care of the upper main rotor blades; Precision FS16081 was used for the main and tail rotor hubs and tailwheel strut; an equally-old Precision FS31136 was used for the tail rotor tip stripes and the fuel filler points, whilst a tin of Revell 15 matched nicely the FS33358 for the main blade tips and sling bands. The metallic strip under the port engine exhaust was simply some brass paint.

The US Air Force titles were from an old Scalemaster sheet, the national insignia came from Xtradecal 72112, and the serials from a generic sheet. As the intake warning triangles on the aircraft did not have the usual 'Jet' and 'Intake', I made them from some simple red striping, with the 'Danger' sections, and tail rotor warning panels coming from a Microscale H-53 sheet. The Outstanding Unit Award ribbon and fuselage stripe trim lines were home-printed.



With thanks to Lt. Col. Harold A. Brattland, USAF (Ret), without whom this model would never have been possible - I was very proud to get a "Great job!" from him in response to the pictures!

Edited by andyf117
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28 minutes ago, Bounce said:

a DFC with two clusters!?  is that what I see or just rivet reflection?


really neat.


nice work.  USAF proud!


Thanks! What you see is "rivet reflection" - the centre red stripe is right on a vertical rivet line...

....doesn't the DFC ribbon have blue (rather than red) outer stripes?


In retrospect, I really ought to touch up the OUA ribbon with Insignia Blue...

....the home-printed shade is rather light - it should match the trim above...

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On 8/22/2020 at 12:35 AM, Trojan Thunder said:

Nice work Andy, a fine addition to your collection of SH-3s :thumbsup2:


10 hours ago, Drake64 said:

Great work and interesting subject :thumbsup:


Thanks, gents...

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