Airfix Boeing B-17E Conversion “Honi Kuu Okole” in 1/72 Scale

This is a conversion of the Airfix B-17G Flying Fortress kit to represent B-17E 41-9244 “Honi Kuu Okole”, which served with the 19th and 43rd Bomb Groups in the Pacific.  She was one of a group of four B-17Es requisitioned from a Royal Air Force order by the USAAF, the others being serial numbers 41-9196, 41-9234, and 41-9235.  The aircraft were finished in the RAF Temperate Sea Scheme and British markings, the insignia were replaced with U.S. markings but the camouflage was retained.

There was a fad among U.S. aircrews in the Pacific to give their aircraft Hawaiian names.  According to Lawrence J. Hickey’s “Kens Men Against the Empire”:

“Sometime during its combat service with the 19th and 43rd Bomb Groups the aircraft acquired the nickname HONI KUU OKOLE.  Whoever named it thought the name meant “up your ass” or perhaps “kiss my ass” in Hawaiian; a more literal translation of the phrase would be “massage my buttock.”

The aircraft was in the thick of the action, racking up a total of 87 combat missions and an impressive scoreboard.  Her luck ran out on the night of 21MAR43 over Rabaul when she was shot down by a J1N1 Gekko (Irving) nightfighter piloted by SFPO Shigetoshi Kudo of the 251st NAG.  Only two of the crew survived the crash.  Bombardier MSGT Gordon Manual evaded the Japanese until he was rescued by the USS Gato (SS-212) on 05FEB44, waist gunner SGT Robert Curry was captured and executed by the Japanese at Rabaul.  SFPO Kudo would go on to become the first nightfighter ace of the Pacific War.

Photographs of HONI KUU OKOLE focus on her scoreboard.  I have depicted her with replacement parts in U.S. colors and touch-ups in Olive Drab along the locations where the de-icer boots would have been removed, all probable but the specifics are speculative.  Her U.S. insignia are in the sizes and locations of the RAF insignia they replaced.  Decals are from Starfighter Decals #72-162 “Fortress of the Skies Part 3: E Models”.

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Boeing F4B-1 Conversion in 1/72 Scale

This is a conversion of the Monogram F4B-4 kit which back-dates it to the earlier F4B-1 using the RareBits vacuform fuselage and a Radial Engines & Wheels resin Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial engine.  Not overly difficult and the result is version which you don’t see much at the model shows.  I scratchbuilt a cockpit and added lots of plumbing to the engine.  The aircraft is marked as the Squadron Commander’s aircraft from VF-5 “Red Rippers” assigned to the USS Lexington (CV-2) in 1932.  The decals were sourced from several Starfighter Decals sheets.

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Monogram Boeing F4B-4 in 1/72 Scale, VB-5

Another build of Monogram’s venerable F4B-4 kit.  This is one of the easiest biplane kits to build, the landing gear legs and fuselage struts are molded as part of the fuselage which results in a strong assembly and proper alignment.  If you struggle with biplane kits you will be pleased with this one, it is a joy to build.  The markings here came from Yellow Wings sheet 72-011 and represent an aircraft operated by VB-5 from the USS Ranger (CV-4).

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Boeing YB-40 Flying Fortress Escort Bomber

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The Boeing YB-40 Escort Bomber or “Bomber-Fighter” was a B-17 with additional defensive armament, armor, and ammunition built in an attempt to provide defense for B-17 formations over Europe. This is the prototype XB-40, converted from the second production B-17F-1-BO serial number 41-24341 by Lockheed-Vega. Note the second dorsal turret mounted in the radio room and how the upper fairing extends to the turret.
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Another photograph of the XB-40 prototype 41-24341. By this time the dorsal fairing has been abruptly truncated which increased drag but improved the fields of fire for the second turret. This would become the standard for the subsequent YB-40 series. If you look closely you can see some artwork on the fuselage side ….
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… and here is a close-up. Mickey Mouse was a popular subject for aircraft artwork, and not just among American aircrews. Notice how the bars and red surround added to the national insignia have been applied over the artwork.
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A total of twenty-five B-17F were modified to YB-40 or TB-40 (gunnery trainer) standard. Here is a photograph of 42-5732 through 42-5745 which were delivered to the modification center at Tulsa in October and November of 1942 receiving their modifications. The work to install the powered turret in the radio compartment is underway.
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A well-known photograph showing the increased firepower of the YB-40 with eight of the fourteen .50 caliber machine guns visible. Several different armament configurations were proposed, including 40 mm or 20 mm cannon, and reportedly one with a total of thirty .50 caliber guns.
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A nice external view of the port waist gun position showing the twin .50 calibers mounted there. Note the wind deflector forward of the opening and that the twin guns are mounted at the center of the window, not more forward as was standard for the single-gun installation.
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A view from inside the YB-40 looking forward, showing the improved dual waist gun installation. The YB-40 introduced the staggered waist gun layout to the Flying Fortress design, this picture shows a modification to improve the ammunition feed to the guns. Note the large quantity of ammunition carried for these guns and the effort to shift the weight forward.
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A major innovation was the installation a Bendix remote turret under the Bombardier’s position to improve forward firepower. Both German and Japanese pilots quickly discovered the relative weakness of frontal firepower of the Flying Fortress and concentrated their attacks from the nose whenever possible. This installation proved a success prompting Douglass to install Bendix chin turrets on the final eighty-six B-17Fs they produced, the Bendix turrets became standard at all three manufacturers with the B-17G model. This YB-40 does not yet carry cheek guns for the Navigator, although these would be added later.
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Twelve YB-40s were assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group / 327th Bomb Squadron for combat trials where they flew missions from May through July 1943. This is 42-5743 “Woolaroc” and 42-5741 “Chicago” which operated from RAF Alconbury. The port cheek guns have been fitted on both these aircraft.
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42-5736 “Tampa Tornado” at RAF Kimbolton during an open house for local schoolchildren. The subdued national insignia is apparent, Neutral Gray was substituted for the more usual Insignia White.
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The Tampa Tornado again with two sisterships at Alconbury. The YB-40 experiment was not deemed a success. While firepower was improved it was still not sufficient to deter the Jagdwaffe. The YB-40 contributed nothing to the total bombs on target, and the weight of the additional guns and ammunition made it difficult for the YB-40s to keep up with a B-17 formation, especially after they had released their bomb loads.
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The YB-40s were withdrawn from the European Theater and redesignated as TB-40s where they served Stateside in the gunnery training role. Here is 42-5925 along with four Bell P-63 King Cobras on a training flight.
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Here is 42-5741 Chicago again, likely at RFC Ontario at the end of her service life. Note the lack of armament and the large training “buzz number”. Upon her return to the States she was renamed “Guardian Angel”. All of the YB-40s were scrapped after the war, none survive today. In the final assessment the YB-40 program contributed improvements to the defensive armament of standard Flying Fortresses, primarily the staggered waist gun positions and the Bendix chin turret in the nose.

YB-40 missions log from Wikipedia:

29 May 1943 – attacked submarine pens and locks at Saint-Nazaire. Smaller strikes were made at Rennes naval depot and U-boat yards at La Pallice. In the attack, seven YB-40s were dispatched to Saint-Nazaire; they were unable to keep up with B-17s on their return from the target and modification of the waist and tail gun feeds and ammunition supplies was found to be needed. The YB-40s were sent to Technical Service Command at the Abbots Ripton 2nd Strategic Air Depot for modifications.

15 June 1943 – four YB-40s were dispatched from Alconbury in a raid on Le Mans after completion of additional modifications.

22 June 1943 – attack on the I.G. Farben Industrie Chemische Werke synthetic rubber plant at Hüls. The plant, representing a large percentage of the Germany’s synthetic rubber producing capacity, was severely damaged. In the raid, 11 YB-40s were dispatched; aircraft 42-5735 was lost, being first damaged by flak and later shot down by Uffz. Bernhard Kunze in a Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-2 of JG 1 over Pont, Germany. The 10 crew members survived and were taken prisoner.

25 June 1943 – attack on Blohm & Voss sub shops at Oldenburg. This was the secondary target, as the primary at Hamburg was obscured by clouds. In this raid, seven YB-40s were dispatched, of which two aborted. Two German aircraft were claimed as destroyed.

26 June 1943 – scheduled but aborted participation in attack on the Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay, France (primary target) and also the Luftwaffe airfield at Poissy, France. The five YB-40s assigned to the attack were unable to form up with the bombing squadron, and returned to base.

28 June 1943 – attack on the U-boat pens at Saint-Nazaire. In the raid, the only serviceable lock entrance to the pens was destroyed. In this attack, six YB-40s were dispatched, and one German aircraft was claimed as destroyed.

29 June 1943 – scheduled participation in attack on the Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay, but aircraft returned to Alconbury due to clouds obscuring the target. In the raid, two YB-40s dispatched, one aborted.

4 July 1943 – attacks on aircraft factories at Nantes and Le Mans, France. In these raids, two YB-40s were dispatched to Nantes and one to Le Mans.

10 July 1943 – attack on Caen/Carpiquet airfield. In this raid, five YB-40s were dispatched.

14 July 1943 – attacked Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay. In this raid, five YB-40s were dispatched.

17 July 1943 – YB-40s recalled from a raid on Hannover due to bad weather. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

24 July 1943 – YB-40s recalled from an attack on Bergen, Norway due to cloud cover. In this raid, one YB-40 was dispatched.

28 July 1943 – attack on the Fieseler aircraft factory at Kassel. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

29 July 1943 – attack on U-boat yards at Kiel. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

Altogether of the 59 aircraft dispatched, 48 sorties were credited. Five German fighter kills and two probables were claimed, and one YB-40 was lost, shot down on 22 June mission to Hüls, Germany. Tactics were revised on the final five missions by placing a pair of YB-40s in the lead element of the strike to protect the mission commander.

Serials from Freeman:

41-24341 XB-40 prototype

42-5732

42-5733 Peoria Prowler

42-5734 Seymore Angel, later renamed Red Balloon, Old Ironsides

42-5735 Wango Wango, lost on Hüls raid 22JUN43

42-5736 Tampa Tornado

42-5737 Dakota Demon

42-5738 Boston Tea Party

42-5739 Lufkin Ruffian

42-5740 Monticello

42-5741 Chicago, later renamed Guardian Angel

42-5742 Plain Dealing Express

42-5743 Woolaroc

42-5744 Dollie Madison

42-5871

42-5920

42-5921

42-5922

42-5923

42-5924

42-5925

42-5926

42-5927

42-5833 TB-40 crew trainer

42-5834 TB-40 crew trainer

42-5872 TB-40 crew trainer

Converting the Airfix B-17G to a B-17E, Part IV

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Time to paint!  This Fortress will be in the markings of B-17E serial Number 41-9244, HONI KUU OKOLE shortly before her loss in May 1943.  She was unusual in that she was one of four Fortresses requisitioned from a British order and was finished in the RAF Temperate Sea scheme with British markings.  The U.S. insignia were painted over the RAF roundels which meant that the size and locations were slightly different from the U.S. standard.  Here I am using Maketar masks for the insignia so I can fade the colors and account for the odd sizes.  The red dots on the wings are fuel cap locations.  Replacement parts to maintain her would have been issued from U.S. stocks and therefor would have been in the standard Olive Drab over Neutral Gray.  All of this is somewhat speculative as photographs of HONI KUU OKOLE focus mainly on her impressive scoreboard.
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The undersides are painted in ANA 610, RAF Sky.  This is from my remaining stocks of Testor’s Model Master enamels and performed well, something which is not at all guaranteed with the old TMM paints.  The centers of the panels were sprayed with a lightened mix to break up the monochrome finish.
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The same technique was used on the uppersurfaces, this is Mr. Color Neutral Gray mixed with a dab of Insignia Blue and White to represent ANA 603, the RAF Extra Dark Sea Gray substitute.  This was lightened to represent fading but after it was done I felt I had gone a little too far.
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Here is the result of another thin mix of paint sprayed to equalize the fading a bit.  This can be repeated to get the finish you desire, I usually use three tones.
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Several hours of masking and then the ANA 613 Olive Drab for Dark Slate Gray.  There is some debate about the U.S. paints used for RAF schemes on lend-lease aircraft which is only more complicated whenever Olive Drab is introduced.
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The scheme with paint masks removed and under a gloss coat in preparation for decals, showing the colors used.  Mr. Color 304 was used for a darker Olive Drab to show where the RAF fin flash and serial were painted out, along with replacement parts.  The de-icer boots did not fare well in the South Pacific, they were eventually removed and their former locations painted over, again with Olive Drab.
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The second Fortress represents B-17E 41-2616, The “Blue Goose”.  Another unusual Fort, this one was painted in an overall Light Glossy Blue Duco automotive paint at the Hawaiian Air Depot.  The exact shade is not documented, but the finish was described as “a bright, light blue”.  I took a wild guess based upon a Duco paint sample card and mixed Mr. Color 34 with Mr. Color 115 (RLM 65) in a 2 to 1 ratio.  The monochrome finish was broken up with by adding a bit more RLM 65 to lighten the centers of the panels.
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Here is HONI KUU OKOLE with everything in place.  The Starfighter Decals performed flawlessly, just be careful in the application as the carrier film is quite thin.  I added a panel line wash and some paint chipping.  Exhaust and oil streaking is subtle and was represented with thin brown washes.
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This is the Blue Goose in the full set of markings carried during the first months of the Pacific war.  The red centers to the insignia and the rudder stripes would have been painted out by May 1942, assuming they were carried at all which is not a certainty.  It does make for a striking scheme.  The nose art was known to have been based upon the logo of the Blue Goose Produce Company, this is Mark’s best guess as to the possible appearance.  Since there are no known photographs of this aircraft the nose art decals could be used by modelers in larger scales and still work just fine.

Monogram Boeing F4B-4 in 1/72 Scale, VF-6

This is the Monogram F4B-4 kit first released in 1968.  This is a classic kit which still holds up well by today’s standards.  I scratchbuilt a cockpit and added rigging from 0.004” Nitenol wire.  There are several ejector pin marks which will require filling, but the kit goes together well and still is regularly seen at model shows.  The markings for this one came from Yellow Wings sheet 72-011 and represent an aircraft operated by VF-6 from the USS Saratoga (CV-3).

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Converting the Airfix B-17G to a B-17E, Part III

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The last major area to back-date is the nose.  I started by filling in the astrodome opening on the top and the cut-out for the chin turret on the bottom with thick plastic card.  Gaps were filled with superglue and the inserts were filed to shape.  Then I marked out the window locations for the B-17E and began cutting.

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The edges of the openings were colored black with a Sharpie, then the new windows were filled with sections of clear plastic cut from a CD case.  The seams were filled with a liberal amount of superglue and allowed to dry.

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The clear side panels were installed the same way and filed smooth, then all seams were checked with Mr. Surfacer 500.  The window positions are masked on the interior surfaces.

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Here is the nose sanded down and polished with 8000 grit polishing cloth.   This can be further improved with a coat of Future (Klear) if necessary.

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The radio operator’s gun position will be displayed open, and received much the same treatment as the nose.  This is the fixed portion of the transparency installed with superglue.

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Here it is all polished out, but the superglue has fogged the inside of the glazing.  This is not a problem as long as you can still get at it.

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Future to the rescue!  As long as there is access to the interior, the superglue fogging can be removed with a coat of Future.  Sometimes this can be pipetted in through another opening, but here a curved “paintbrush” was made from a pipe cleaner.

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These are the E model transparencies needed from the Falcon canopy set – nose, dorsal turret, and tail gunner’s.  The B-17E nose was stubbier than the G model and was much more heavily framed.

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This is the resin tail position grafted onto the Airfix fuselage.  The white plastic tabs are to give backing for the vacuform clear piece.

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Here the transparency is installed, a good fit. 

Converting the Airfix B-17G to a B-17E, Part II

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Here is the Airfix cockpit and bomb bay module.  This is a neat bit of engineering, the wing spars effectively eliminate the chance of getting the wing dihedral wrong, a problem which plagues the Academy Fortresses.  Experience has demonstrated that very little is visible inside the cockpit except for the seats.  I did blank off behind the wing spars in the bomb bay so the inside of the wing is not visible, just like the real aircraft.

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The aft fuselage has some improvements.  The Airfix floor piece is all one level platform, in actuality there was a step in the middle.  Note that the gun mount is offset forward, not centered in the window opening.  The cylindrical object at the rear is a chemical toilet.

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This view shows the changes made to the radio compartment.  All the rib detail was removed, the B-17E was provided with batting for sound deadening in the nose, cockpit, and radio compartment so the internal ribbing should not be visible there.  I made the missing compartment doors from plastic sheet and blocked off the side panels where the wing fillet was visible.

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The E models had different crew seats than the “swivel chair” type used on the G.  These are not difficult to construct.  Here are the different components in various stages of construction.

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I found photographs of actual USAAF seat cushions online and reduced them to scale.  These were then printed on photographic paper and installed in the seats.  Seatbelts received a similar treatment.

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The interior after painting.  The floors were covered with rubber sheet to reduce slippage.  Note that the bomb bay and after fuselage section is left in the natural metal finish, unprimed and unpainted.  There are a number of photographs which show Interior Green in these compartments, but these are all of restored warbirds, the interiors of these compartments on actual service Fortresses were left in natural metal.

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Here are the Quickboost resin engines with pushrods and the kit exhaust piece added.

Converting the Airfix B-17G to a B-17E, Part I

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Like many of my modelling projects this one began with a decal sheet, specifically the “Fortress of the Skies Part 3: E Models” from Starfighter Decals.  Mark has included eight different Fortresses on this sheet, all of them interesting for their camouflage schemes and / or service record.  There are four different B-17Es in the Hawaiian Air Depot multi-colored scheme, two OD / NG, one RAF Temperate Sea scheme, and one HAD experimental scheme of overall Duco blue.  Having already built an Academy B-17E in the HAD scheme, that left four to choose from.  Choices like that are not one of my strengths so I chose two.  Starfighter Decals here:  https://www.starfighter-decals.com/

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I have built both an Academy B-17E and the new Airfix B-17G.  The Academy B-17E is the right version but needs several improvements to bring it up to speed, the Airfix B-17G is a really nice build but the wrong version.  I decided to try backdating the Airfix kit to an E model.  The Airfix kit comes with a Cheyenne tail turret, here is the tail position from an Academy B-17F test fit.  Not perfect, but something which I could work with.

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The Airfix B-17G represents a later production version with the staggered waist windows (why that wasn’t done right from the first E model is a mystery to me).  This window will have to be filled and a new one cut further aft.

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The earlier Forts had narrow prop blades.  When the broad props were introduced with the F model forts the cowlings were shortened 3” to allow the wider blades to feather properly.  In 1/72 scale the 3” cowling change works out to roughly 1 mm.  Comparing the Airfix cowling to drawings it was unclear if the kit had it right or not.  In the end I decided not to adjust the cowl depth.  However, replacing the props is a requirement.  Fortunately many of the Academy kits have both wide and narrow versions so I had enough.

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The nose glazing is almost completely changed, and the B-17E didn’t have the Bendix chin turret.  There will be some filling and cutting needed here.

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Construction began with the tail position.  I cut off the transparent upper portion, it was a bit too tall anyway and there is a nasty seam right through the middle of the aft-facing glazing.  After gluing the halves together I braced the piece with plastic card to increase the diameter slightly to match the Airfix fuselage.

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I then made an RTV mold and cast copies of the piece in resin.  I needed two new tails for this project, and having the mold will allow me to make any of the earlier Forts right up through the first runs of the B-17G series.

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I then set about moving the starboard waist gun position back.  Here I am working through the fuselage from the inside with my trusty UMM scriber / scraper.

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The forward opening was filled with sheet stock and superglue, then sanded smooth.  I built up rib detail on the inside and installed the slide rails for the new window panel.

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The bench in full modeling bliss.  Various sub-assemblies are in progress, most notably the cockpit / bomb bay modules.  Two rows of Quickboost resin engines are visible to the right.