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.

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.

Academy Boeing B-17E in the Hawaiian Air Depot Scheme in 1/72 Scale

Here is another Flying Fortress in the Hawaiian Air Depot camouflage, 41-2437.  This is one of two HAD scheme Fortresses seen in John Ford’s documentary film of the Battle of Midway.  The U. S. national markings were modified by ALNAV97 on 06MAY42 which directed that the red centers of the insignia should be painted over in white and that the tail stripes be removed.  In this case the rudder was painted over in black.  If you look closely at photographs taken of U. S. aircraft which were active during this period many of the white stars show signs of overpainting.

The kit is the Academy E model Fortress.  I didn’t spend a lot of time detailing the interior of this one as very little can be seen inside.  I did replace the engines with Quickboost resin which look much better.  I also enclosed the wheelwells and added some detail there.  The big change which is needed is the kit comes with a ball turret in the belly, and the HAD Scheme Fortresses which fought at Midway were all still equipped with the Sperry remote turret at the time (not the Bendix turret as most references erroneously state, which is different).  For this model I used a Kora resin belly turret and scratchbuilt the sighting blister for it.

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Academy Boeing B-17C/D in the Hawaiian Air Depot Scheme in 1/72 Scale

In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack much of the American airpower in the Pacific lay wrecked, caught on the ground by the Japanese assault.  Planes lined up in neat rows alongside airfields proved easy targets for bombers and strafing fighters.  Even worse, there were multiple instances of gunners on the ground firing on any aircraft within range regardless if it was American or Japanese.  To address these problems commanders ordered that aircraft were to be disbursed and camouflaged while on the ground, and additional national markings applied to aid recognition in the air.  The Hawaiian Air Depot (HAD) was tasked with making these changes.

The Hawaiian Air Depot scheme consisted of applying broad patches of colors from paint stocks on hand to break up the aircraft’s outline.  Application appears to have been limited to medium and heavy bombers.  The exact colors were not documented nor were lists kept of which aircraft were repainted.  Fortunately there is surviving color film of four aircraft in HAD schemes, one B-18, one B-17C/D, and two B-17Es.  The Dark Olive Drab 41 upper surfaces were broken up with Sand 26, Neutral Gray 43, Rust Brown 34, and Interior Green areas.  There was no set pattern and  not all colors may have been used on every aircraft.    Photographs of B-18s and B-17C/Ds show no uniformity, but the B-17Es follow a general concept with variation in the color boundaries.  In some photographs this color pattern “fingerprint” can permit the individual aircraft to be determined.  Data blocks were masked off before the new camouflage was applied which allows the original Olive Drab background to show through. The undersides were not repainted

National markings were augmented by applying additional insignia to the starboard upper and port lower wing surfaces bringing the total to six.  Thirteen alternating red and white rudder stripes were also added, but without the vertical blue stripe of the pre-war marking convention.  The “U.S. ARMY” lettering remained on the underside of the wings as can be seen in several photographs.  Individual aircraft serial numbers were applied to the vertical stabilizers in Orange Yellow, but the size and shapes of the numerals varied so modelers must pay careful attention.  There are several photographs of HAD scheme aircraft without serial numbers, so in at least some cases these were applied later.

The application of the HAD scheme was short lived.  The order was issued on 10DEC41, but when the 22nd Bomb Group B-26 Marauders arrived in Hawaii in February 1942 they received only tail stripes.  Three B-17Es also received tail stripes but no disruptive camouflage.  However, tail stripes and red centers to the national insignia were being painted out by some units as early as April to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru, and this was formalized by ALNAV 97 on 06MAY42.

This is the Academy B-17C/D kit, painted in the camouflage and markings visible in the color film taken of aircraft landing at Hickam Field in the weeks after the Pearl Harbor Raid.  The tail is not clearly shown in the film, so I have taken the liberty of assuming this is one of the Fortresses which had not had her serial numbers applied yet.

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Hawaiian Air Depot Camouflage Scheme Batch Build Part IX

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The jinx is still following this build, I can’t remember the last time I have had this much trouble getting models off the bench.  The challenge this week was the decals.  All Fortresses produced through April of 1942 have “U.S. ARMY” lettering on the underside of the wings, this includes all the Hawaiian Air Depot scheme ships.  I sourced the decals for mine from Starfighter Decals Midway sheets.  I split the “ARMY” decal into “AR” and “MY” to avoid distortion from the back of the engine nacelle.  Everything was going fine until I placed the last “AR”.  The “R” stuck, then tore, then just came apart.  The “A” then got involved and also became unsalvageable.  The “P” here is actually the “R” in the process of being rebuilt with strips of decal film.

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I brought out the panel lines with an acrylic “sludge wash”.  This is a mix of water, dish soap, and brown and black paint.  The wash is applied one section at a time, and the excess is removed with a damp cotton swab.  It is important that this be applied over a glossy finish as a flat finish will absorb the excess wash.  In this picture only the port wing has received the treatment.

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Master gun barrels are the bee’s knees.  I have no idea how they machine them but they are works of art.  I used a drill bit to clear the inside of the cooling jackets, the barrels slid right in after that.  Master provides four flash hiders, I reversed these and glued them to the base of four barrels to represent the sleeves where the barrels penetrate the turret elevation slides.

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Here is the B-17D, finished save for a few minor details.  The film clip shows the prop hubs were unpainted, I interpreted this as an indication that the entire propeller could have been left unpainted.  The backs are in the pre-war Mauve.

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The B-17E, also with a few tweaks remaining.  Her props are unusual in that they are all black, with no warning paint at the tips.  This feature is visible on several HAD ships.

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Here is a detail of the Sperry remote turret and sighting installation.  The clear sighting blister was plunge molded over an appropriately sized ball bearing.  The periscopic sight was made from Evergreen.

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The reconstructed “ARMY” lettering came out all right.  The engine streaking is a combination of thinned Burnt Umber brushed to simulate oil streaking, with more airbrushed aft of the turbocharger outlets to simulate exhaust.

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Here is a shot showing the engine detail.  The engines are Quickboost resin with Eduard PE wiring harnesses.  I think these are a big improvement over the kit parts and add an interesting bit of complexity.

Hawaiian Air Depot Camouflage Scheme Batch Build Part VIII

Time once again for the weekly construction update.  Firstly, the jinx plaguing this build manifested yet again.  The long awaited second Special Hobby B-18 arrived right on time from Hannants, bringing with it the needed nose transparency for my HAD subject.  Or so I thought.  Upon opening the box, I discovered the same clear sprue as is in the kit I already had on the bench.  Initially I figured I had gotten the wrong sprue, but on closer examination I discovered that the difference between the variants was not only in the clear parts, but that Special Hobby had tooled two different fuselages to account for the different nose configurations!  You can argue whether that decision is clever or whether it is ridiculous, but it was absolutely unanticipated on my part.

What this means is that the B-18 I have been working on cannot be finished as either of the two known HAD ships and so has been re-boxed and moved to the Shelf of Doom, the first kit so fated in roughly the last twenty years or so.  If I can research a proper ASW scheme I will finish it in that and take another shot at the HAD scheme with the new kit.  The problem of the too-narrow canopy is still unresolved, and for the moment I have lost the mojo to keep fighting it.  However I was able to resist the impulse to test-fly the model across the modeling room, so score a small victory there.

On to better news.  The two B-17s are camouflaged and glossed, and I had enough Starfighter decal sheets in the stash to recover from last week’s insignia masking debacle.  I was able to determine colors and patterns on visible sections of the airframes from photographs and make some educated guesses based on other HAD birds for the areas not shown.  The photographs show five colors were used, although not all five may have been used by HAD on all aircraft (the B-18 only used four colors).  I mixed the colors to match the chips in the Monogram Guide using Testors paints (which mostly behaved well this time).  The colors depicted here are:  Dark Olive Drab 41, Sand 26, Neutral Gray 43, Rust Brown 34, and Interior Green.   Here are the models:

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B-17C/D

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B-17E

Hawaiian Air Depot Camouflage Scheme Batch Build Part VII

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This build is officially jinxed!  A week has passed with very little progress made on the HAD ships to show for it.  I decided to paint the national insignia using Maketar masks.  This adds a bit to the construction time as each color has to dry thoroughly before it can be masked.  First a white base coat was applied to all six areas (remember that all HAD scheme aircraft have insignia in all six positions) and the rudders.  After a day of drying the white still had a slight tack so I let it dry another day before the masks were applied.  Then insignia red and wait another day, then mask.  Then insignia blue, and wait another day, then mask.  When I went to apply the blue I noticed a spiderweb of fine cracks so I applied another coat.  Then wait another day.  Are you detecting a theme?

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The second coat of blue also cracked, if you look closely you can see cracking even after sanding.  Not salvageable.  Bad paint from a brand new jar.  Testors, you owe me $15 in masks and a week!  The masks did their jobs well, BTW.  I’ll re-prime these areas and dig up some decals.

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One bit of progress, the rudders came out fine.  No blue on these so all went to plan.  While waiting for the paint to dry I assembled some armor kits.  Four done.  Keeps me from throwing things and startling cats with outbursts of profanity.  Hopefully I can get this back on track for the next update.

Hawaiian Air Depot Camouflage Scheme Batch Build Part VI

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Here is a shot of the B-17E fuselage.  Clear parts are in place.  The Academy kits have noticeable seams around the clear parts, these were filled with superglue and then sanded smooth.  Polishing them down with 8000 grit mesh restores the clarity.

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The Academy Forts have a ridiculous amount of wing dihedral as molded.  I filed down both the wing and the wing fillet and it was still not enough to completely correct the problem.  Here is the wing joint set to the proper angle with the gap filled with superglue.

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I am still flailing around with the Special Hobby B-18 canopy.  The kit part is about 2mm too narrow to fit the fuselage, and my attempts to plunge mold a wider replacement all met with failure.  I decided to cast a solid replacement out of clear casting resin.  I guess the concept will work, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  It’s not supposed to be yellow, but it sure is.  Learn from my experience, stay away from “Easy Cast” clear casting epoxy.  I’ll give it another go with a different brand.

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After a masking marathon using some Eduard masks (on the B-17E), Tamiya tape, and components of the Maketar Canopy Survival set, the major components were primed with Mr. Surfacer 1200.  Everything was sanded down and then the wings were attached.  Here is the status after re-priming and the first round of sanding on the wing joints.  Visible defects were filled with Mr. Surfacer 500 and any other imperfections were sanded and re-primed with Mr. Surfacer 1000.

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The B-18 build will stall sometime next week, pending resolution of the canopy issues.  The B-18 kit with the correct nose transparency I had on order was cancelled.  I called the Squadron Shop to inquire about a shipping date.  They could not tell me when it might ship, and said some customers had items back ordered for twelve months (no kidding!).  I told them the ten weeks I have already waited was too long, cancelled the order, and gave Hannants my money instead.  Hopefully I’ll get this one moving along again in a few weeks!