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1/24 Hellcat pilots from putty to retail items

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I appreciate this thread might not fit in this section but I thought it might be of interest to members, please feel free to move it or delete.


The announcement at Scale Model World of a 1/24th scale Hellcat being released by Airfix in 2019 got my sculpting senses twitching. Here was a subject that would be ideal for an accompanying pilot (or two) I thought. Wouldn't they fit well into the Elan13 Miniatures range I thought.

So here is part; The First, of a log that shows the process of bringing a figure (or two) from clay and putty to being available commercially.
Stage 1 research: Once I knew what decal options were going to be available, I selected the pilot types to work on. I went for a US Navy pilot and a Fleet Air Arm pilot. These offered two quite distinct options. I went through my collection of books consulted the oracles that are Google Images and Pinterest and collected together a range of photos to work from.
Accompanying this series will be the usual smudgy snaps of how the figures have progressed, taken on my mobile phone. This gives that instant 'how things are going' vibe. (This is code for I'm sorry the photos are smudgy.)

The first snap shows the basic mannequins used, made from wire and Magic Sculp torso and hips. As you can see the figure on the left has a shoe started. I always sculpt the feet first because I hate doing them and like to get the basic shape in early. The next two snaps show basic bulking out in Magic Sculp ready for a Bees Putty outer layer. Sometimes anatomical errors are made at this stage (happened this time) which can be corrected. I don't sculpt a detailed under body because it will be covered later.

The last snap is the FAA figure with head sculpted as the other three photos are rather boring. Stick with it the pictures get more interesting as we progress (allegedly).





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Hellcat Pilots build log Part: The Second
The second part of the build log (with accompanying smudgy snaps) shows the development of the Fleet Air Arm pilot. After basic mannequin build up I always sculpt the head next. While proportion is key to a figure, for me the head is the most important part. If its wrong the whole figure will feel wrong. The head was sculpted using Bees Putty. I wanted a bearded face, to make the figure a little different and ensured I had reference for this. If a commercial piece is being sculpted accuracy is important. Any error will be criticised by someone!

The head helps also with proportions. A standard figure should be 7.5 heads tall (heroic figure 8 heads tall). It also begins to give the figure attitude and helps develop the pose.


The next step was to add more detail to the legs. This pilot wears shorts so the legs needed detail and were built up with Bees Putty. Once the legs were done the shorts were added, again with Bees Putty. Some work was also done to correct the position of the crotch. The actual shorts are made from a cotton which creases a great deal so it was important for this to be represented.


In the third part I will update on the US Navy pilot and realise I have wasted my time with some detail work !


Image may contain: 1 person

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and shoes

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and shoesImage may contain: 1 person, standing and shoes

Image may contain: 1 person, shoes

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Thank you for the feedback.

The photo of the bearded FAA pilot was one of the references I used. I had to do extra research into the object on his life preserver, which turned out to be a dingy knife and will appear on the completed figure. The pose is not the same, as will become evident as this log develops.

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Great work on the pilot figure.  You may be interested in the identity of the bearded FAA pilot.  


He was Lt John ‘Jack’ Haberfield  RNZNVR. Haberfield had a short twentieth century life, shared by so many of his generation, enlisting in the Fleet Air Arm in 1941 and dying four years later age 26. He was one of the original 1839 pilots when the squadron formed at Eglinton in November 1943. Henry Adlam, who joined the squadron later, recalls Jack Haberfield with fondness in his memoir as “that friendly New Zealander”. Haberfield was shot-down during the Fleet Air Arm attacks on the Japanese held oil refineries at Palembang on Sumatra (Operation Meridian 1) on 24.1.45.


1839 Squadron was one of two fighter squadrons on HMS Indomitable. Both were equipped with Hellcats. The details of the loss of Haberfield’s Hellcat are scant, with Indomitable’s Report tersely concluding that “the fate of the Hellcat is unknown” L/Cdr Fraser Shotton, the CO of 1839 Squadron, wrote to Haberfield’s mother, when it was not known whether he had been captured or killed: "We made an attack against the oil refineries at Palembang in Sumatra: our squadron was escorting some of the bombers & Jack (Haberfield's nickname) was leading a section. Over the target we were attacked by Japanese fighters and a fierce fight developed, during which it was on possible to see what was happening in a small part of the sky & there were aeroplanes everywhere. Jack's wingman saw him attack an enemy fighter and followed it down in a steep, fast dive, then lost sight of him. He was not seen again after that. Several pilots reported having seen aircraft crash into the ground, but none could say with certainty whether they were our own or the enemy's." It is possible that Haberfield’s Hellcat was damaged in this air combat or by flak subsequently. Aircrew in an Avenger from Illustrious’ record seeing a Hellcat in distress, which joined up briefly, which was last seen going down near Lake Ranau. During the withdrawal, the flight plan was for aircraft to follow the river to the rendezvous point, so this was certainly Haberfield’s Hellcat, as his was the only one lost during Meridian 1. 


According to the Official History of the New Zealand Navy, a Chinese prisoner in Sumatra, who was released on 20.2.45, recounted that, “….it was town gossip that the photograph of a well-built, blind-folded pilot prisoner was shown for propaganda purposes at the premises of the Palembang Sumboeng, a local newspaper.”  The description of this prisoner matches Haberfield, who was refused water and food during his interrogation at Palembang prison. After seven days he was taken blind-folded for transit to Singapore by boat. On arrival Haberfield was interned along with other Palembang FAA aircrew in Outram Road gaol. A few days after the cessation of hostilities with Japan, around the 18-20 August 1945, a group of Japanese soldiers took nine Fleet Air Arm aircrew from Outram gaol in a lorry to a beach at the northern tip of Changi and executed them by beheading them with a sword. Their weighted bodies were subsequently put in a boat and disposed of in the sea. The senior officer responsible for these unlawful executions, Captain Toshio Kataoka, committed suicide prior to his arrest by British war crimes investigators.

Edited by iang
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