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Demanded Vehicles: The Warbird

The old Aerodrome was about 5 miles past the city limits. Each mile felt like decade’s worth of time-slip backward; the buildings grew progressively shorter and more brick and mortar. The signs became less neon and more faded and flickering. As the hero’s two-stroke Bobcat hobbled off the pavement toward the final turn, he realized his musing might have been true — the No.2 Hangar clearly hadn’t seen a paintbrush since the Eisenhower Administration.

As he stepped off the lightweight and moved toward the rippled tin can of a structure, he could see just past the open rolling door and make out a shape. As he walked closer, he realized what was wrong with this shape. 

It was a propeller. A big, black steel four-bladed anachronism. And the aluminum-skinned dinosaur behind it almost seemed to sneer at him, the air intake behind the propeller curved up like some wiseass grin. Behind that single engine rested a smooth enough frame, almost sleek, other than the giant box-panels that made up the wings and tail.

“She’s a looker, ain’t she?”

He turned to greet the mechanic, and his cartoon image of blue coveralls, oil stains, spirally silver hair, and a faded Mack ballcap. His irked surprise at the sight of the plane gave way to a self depreciating sort of acceptance. Of course the plane this codger came up with looked like an old war movie extra. Why he expected anything different was now beyond him.

This is the plane? I thought I told you I needed an attack airc –“

“Yessir, you did. And, yessir, it is. Bought off a military outfit in Central America somewhere. They use ’em to chase down drug runner planes. Motor’s only got about 500 hours on it.”

“That’s fine, but I thought we were talking about something more … modern. At least not something with …”      He gestured toward the airscrew, pointing it out though it were something the dog left on the rug.

The mechanic did his own impression of the air scoop’s grin.”Oh, sure, let me whistle you up some 30 million-dollar jet fuel guzzler that’ll cost you 11 grand to keep in the air, per hour. Even if you got Bruce Wayne money, or Tony Stark money, that’s not going to amount to a whole lot of chasing bad guys, know what I mean? This baby is a fifth the cost, and you can keep ‘er running for about $300 bucks an hour, and we can fuel and outfit right here from this strip. You said you needed ‘to go to war’, right? Well bat-shaped wings and fancy X-Blackbirds are good fer show, but this thing is made to get down n’ dirty.”

The hero winced, pinching the bridge of his nose as if that would somehow cure the annoyance.

“… Okay. Show me what it can do.”

I realize there is a certain spoiled-ness when you see my name attached to a wish list for more vehicles, kinda like the very definition of “first world problems.” But following the shock and success of getting things like the Beast Bomber from Lanard, or the U-53 from Chap Mei, it has me constantly thinking about what they could do next, and what I could hopefully turn into 6-inch scale compatible.

I was catching up on some aviation news earlier this week, and one of the big recent discussions has been the Air Force’s search to supplement their aging A-10 Warthog fleet. They do this little dance every few years — Army and Air Force argue who should do close air support every time the Air Force threatens to retire it in favor of fast-movers and drones. What surprised me this time were the pair of salty-looking turbo-props vying for that job.

The A-29 Super Tucano and the AT-6 Wolverine may look like leftovers from the 1940s, but they are merely the 21st century examples of formula that has continued to work for over 60 years. Since WW2 and especially Korea, the doctorine of using a small, heavily armed fighter plane to gun-run and rocket the enemy into suppression in support of ground troops has continued to be effective even in the face of much more advanced aircraft. The Air Force learned this the really hard way in Vietnam, where it begrudgingly purchased their own Douglas A-1 Skyraiders from the Navy’s aging reserves.

In the air fleets of the 1960s, the Skyraider had already been named obsolete for years. The Navy had even brought it’s replacement, another great Douglas plane, online only to find the Skyraider could still do things the nimble new jet couldn’t. In particular, few planes were as durable or could carry as large a payload, and no plane could loiter on the battlefield for as long. The Air Force conceded the value in this especially in rescuing downed pilots. So, the old A-1, a plane it’ pilots joked was “made out of B-25 parts,” became the legitimate A-10 predecessor, and effectively convinced the Air Force of the need, at least for a little while.

So something in the vein of the Skyraider or it’s newer brethren would make an amazing addition to any vehicle fleet. In 1:18, the Joes tended to prefer the fancier fast movers, and even in my scale it’s easier to find dynamic planes like Nighthawks and Harriers. In fact, to my knowledge, only Hasbro and Chap Mei have ever offered any little propeller planes– both versions of the P-40 Warhawk. It would be a nice compromise to the larger and more expensive (and hard to find) jets, and provide some distinct character to just about any shelf. The venerability of the design means that it could feel appropriate in a modern, vintage, or even WW2 setup, if you’re willing to fudge a little. Because let’s face it — even the Wolverine looks very close to an old P-51 at first blush. In my head, I can see something like this at around 16 inches long and about 18-20 inches at the wings, with a big canopy and tons of removable stores on the wings. If you really want to shine, some folding wings and retractable landing gear would really pack a punch.

And this thing could stay intended for 1:18 — just make that two-seater canopy big enough I can re-fit it for a 6-inch figure, like the masterful work done on the U-53 and Beast Bomber. And I’m definitely looking at the guys at Lanard and Sentinel 1 (Chap Mei) in particular. These companies are having so much fun doing vehicles and sets off of the usual beaten 1:18 paths, I feel like it’s right up their alley. And mine, of course.

And maybe yours too? For comic book collections, we could easily paint these up for Blackhawk use on the DC side, and certainly a viable option for SHIELD close-air support. Imagine a couple of these mixing it up with the Hulk, or one with Cap at the wheel. While it might seem like an odd niche, and it is, there’s such undeniable charm about a chunky single engine attack plane that I think it could find lots of homes in lots of collections.

Just remember what I said about that canopy! Us 6-inch guys need air support too!

1 thought on “Demanded Vehicles: The Warbird

  1. This is the reason friends of mine and I don’t see eye to eye. Most of them are enamored of dedicated “Not a pound for air to ground” fighters. When I showed off my Harrier I was laughed off as being an idiot. Thing is, all that high speed gee-whizzery may be great in air superiority but a ground combat soldier would rather have a slow, tough reliable air support that can linger around and take as much as it can give.

    If you’re collecting 1/12 figures it only makes sense to look at smaller but sensible air vehicles like the Skyraider or even an OV-10 Bronco. As well as helicopters. Something that makes sense to display with 1/12 figs. Sure the hard-to-find Fairland toys Raptor is gorgeous—but what is it going to fly against? And even it did how could you reasonably display two huge air superiority fighters in 1/12 in any sane way in a room?

    FYI: I take the medium ground and prefer a multirole vehicle, but unless someone out there makes a decent 1/12 F18 Hornet and a MiG29 to match, I’ll be happy with “Bush War” little but capable close support aircraft. 😀

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