THE TIN MODELS
Production began with the P-66 models. The only known extant example is held by the San Diego Aerospace museum. It is in 1/24 scale with a wingspan of 18 ˝ inches. Harvey indicated that the first few production line examples of this model were aluminum, but the rest painted tin. It was built up of butt jointed panels apparently attached to a box inner structure similar to the earlier 1/10th scale aluminum model 48 Vanguard. The wing fillets are lapped and there are some tiny rivet heads apparent, although Harvey does not recall having used rivets at all in the tin model construction. The model appears to have some faintly scribed panel lines. The rudder and elevator are not separate parts. Trim tabs look like they may have been pressed into the rudder and are highlighted by hand painted fabric lines. The ailerons were built separately and attached, but do not work. Gear is retracted. Harvey did not recall any of the tin models having landing gear except the BT-13. The canopy is clear plastic, which is remarkably clear for its age, and sits in a three part frame. Sixty-two years later, looking at photographs of this model, the brothers thought the canopy looked a bit rough. On the top of the inner box in the cockpit sits the torso and head of the pilot, carefully painted. The model looks as if it has a white primer with British dark earth and dark green camouflage applied by airbrush.. Insignia were hand painted. The propeller and hub are particularly accurate and nicely detailed, and had been cast in a light metal. When discussing this, Harvey noted, "You know, one thing I look at...when I see someone else’s model, one of the first things I look at is the propeller. If it isn’t (right), he really isn’t a model builder. So many model builders...they don’t put twists in the blade. On the outer part of the blade there is a little pitch, as it goes in it gets more pitch as it goes the same distance in a smaller circle. And also then there is an airfoil. On so many models you can’t tell the leading edge from the trailing edge. They’re both just rounded off, you know. I can look at the propeller and tell if the guy is a model builder right off the bat." The brothers’ very correct propeller is attached to the cowl with a heavy pin. The leading edge of the cowl and engine front had been stamped from one piece of metal. There is no engine detail. The model can be mounted on its original simple circular cast metal base with a metal rod, squared at the top, which is inserted into a special fitting soldered inside the fuselage. This fitting, Harvey explained, allows the rod to be inserted at four different angles to show the model in different attitudes.
There is minimal damage to this sixty-plus year old model. There is a bent flange near where the base rod entered the fuselage bottom and the center section of the canopy had apparently been broken off and re-glued. This may have prompted the brother’s opinion that the canopy looked rough. There is some touch-up paint at the base of the vertical fin and a ding or two on the paint job.
In building these production line tin models, the twins started with factory construction drawings that they redrew to their working scale. They were just detailed enough for the building of the models and none survive. Then wood patterns were carved for the various parts. Most of these were used for hand forming, while plaster casts for dies were made from others. Sheet tin, having been cut to shape using templates, was pressed in the dies simply using bench vices and hand pressure. The separate top, bottom and cowl of the engine nacelles on the B-24 are examples of this procedure. Some larger parts, such as the fuselage halves of the B-24 and PBY, were formed by drop hammer on the factory floor just as were the parts for the actual aircraft. Parts were trimmed and then carefully soldered together, sometimes using special jigs and templates. In some cases, the hand formed parts were soldered together on the original wooden pattern as shown in the photo on the left. In the photo on the right, a wing jig aligns both the wing and engine nacelles for soldering. Note the dies for the nacelles halves. Joints were cleaned up using file and emery paper. Subsequent to the P-66 design, originally in aluminum, these models required little or no internal structure.
Propellers were cast. Here is the bottom half of the mold in which propellers were formed. Harvey and Howard, on the right, then file off flash and clean up the castings. The brothers at first obtained regular flat tin sheets for their work (about 15 thousandths thick). Later, as the war progressed and materials became scarce, they had to make parts from whatever leftover tin they could find, usually in the form of the flat sides of large rectangular tin cans. Even later: "When the cans ran out we used bare sheet steel which was hard to solder."
The Doerings were sometimes so busy with these models that they had the help of six to eight assistants drawn from the assembly lines on the basis of their skills. In this photo assistants work on the line. Note all the completed Vultee Vengeances in the background. At other times there were no models underway at all, and the brothers were employed in the pattern making shop developing not only patterns but various tooling items where the skills learned in their father’s shop paid off again. While often the models were produced in a room designated as "Ye Olde Model Shop," at other times they worked on the models in the pattern making shop itself.
The San Diego Aerospace museum also holds an example of the Doering B-24D Liberator. This model is in fine shape except that the clear plastic nose cone has come loose, and one of the cast propellers has had a blade broken off, but this has been epoxied back in place. The model is in 1/50 scale with a wingspan of 26 ˝ inches. The model is finished with a spray coat of olive drab and neutral gray lacquers, the same paint used on the production line Liberators nearby. Harvey remembered that the models were primed with zinc chromate before official camouflage paint was sprayed on, but this model does not appear to have been primed, though paint adhesion is excellent. However, it has been recently learned that it had undergone a partial restoration some years ago, so it may not reflect exactly how it left the production line. National markings were masked and hand painted. Major panel lines such as bomb bays and landing gear outlines were penned on with india ink. Ailerons were constructed separately, then attached. Rudders are not separate from the vertical stabilizers, but outlines were scored heavily into the tin surface with a touch of paint indicating the actuating rods. Elevators are separate parts attached to the horizontal stabilizer. The soldered joints of the fuselage halves, the wing trailing edges, nacelle attach points as well as the three part structure of the nacelle itself, and the tail assembly are remarkably smooth, and all but invisible. The cockpit canopy was done in two parts, the plastic still being very clear after more than a half a century. The transparent plastic nose cone has a neatly painted framework. The upper fuselage turret is formed tin, not plastic and has two guns. The tail gun position has no guns. The various windows in the fuselage were painted black as were the retracted wheels. The model has the hole for the mounting rod, but no base is present. The photo on the left is a restored B-24J Liberator which came off the Doering production line several years after the San Diego Aerospace Museum Liberator. This model is the subject of the Doering B-24 Restoration article in this site.
The production line Vultee Vengeance was a colorful model. Unlike the sales demonstration model, these were smaller, in 1/24 scale, and were in British colors and markings. Here Harvey test fits a canopy to one. Examination of an extant example of this model revealed that the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces were wood. At first this was thought to represent a restoration, but a second example was found to also have the wooden tail structure, and since it obviously carried original paint and markings, it was certainly original to the model. A BT-13/15 model was later found to have an original wooden tail. Harvey did not remember this design feature. He also did not think their production line models were numbered in any way, but the "AF" numbers on the rear fuselage of the Vengeance models were different. This photo shows the fuselage number AF746. It also illustrates were the filler between wood and metal parts has broken away. The model pictured first in this paragraph is AF758, a difference of 12. In one of the contemporary photos of the model shop, at least 13 models of the Vengeance can be seen.
Two completely different paint schemes on the BT-13/15 models reflect different dates of production. The early model is very colorful reflection Army training colors and markings of the time. The later model is painted aluminum with later US insignia. This model has a wooden tail. It is unknown if the earlier model does. A contemporary photo from the model shop shows the Doerings standing behind a table of BT-13/15s with still a later US insignia.
The Doerings also produced models of the PBY Catalina and the PB2Y Coronado, examples of which are to be found in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian. Unfortunately, the case in which these and hundreds of other fabulous historic models have been housed has not been available to the public. Even when one gets an escort to see it, photography is almost impossible. It is hoped with the new expansion of NASM at Dulles airport, these models will made accessible to the public. The Catalina and Coronado, pictured here from earlier NASM photos, are painted medium blue on the topsides, gray on the bottom.
When the Doering brothers built the B-24J models, they simply modified the fuselage of the earlier B-24D by the addition of a new nose contour soldered onto the old stamping and a nose turret. When the Navy ordered the PB4Y-2 single tail B-24, the Doerings were asked to a series of those models. Again, they merely modified the early B-24 stampings with the new nose, a new tail and more and different gun positions/turrets. Their model depicts the three short tailed prototypes of the PB4Y-2 aircraft. These early Navy aircraft were painted in olive drab and gray and the models reflect that. The model pictured at the top of this paragraph is a restored example thought to be very close to the original.
Overall, the tin model production included the following designs: P-66 Vanguard in British markings, DB-72 Vengeance in British markings, B-24D and the later B-24J with a nose turret, the BT-13/15 trainer in various markings, the PBY Catalina, the PB2Y Coronado and the PB4Y-2 Privateer.
How many tin models were produced during this period? The brothers could only guess. The models were done in batches of ten or twenty. Sometimes they did several batches of a subject, sometimes only one. Their guess was between one and two hundred. The June 2, 1944 Vultair, an in-house company newspaper, simply says "hundreds." At this time only a handful of these models have been identified in museums and private collections, but more are turning up. At present the whereabouts are known of two B-24Ds, two B-24Js, one P-66, two Vengeances, three BT-13/15s, two PBYs (one modified), two PB2Ys and one PB4Y-1. It is probably safe to assume that more of all these models exist.
Contemporary recognition of the Vultee model shop production was widespread. Air Trails, as mentioned above, had published a photo of the V-12 model in 1939. In the November, 1943 Plane Talk (a Vultee publication) there is an article "Liberators for Lilliputians" which features photos of the Doering twins working in the model shop and good detail photography of the B-24 model assembly line. Mechanix Illustrated published an article with four similar photos of the model shop, "Midget Assembly Line" in January, 1944, reporting that the models, Vultee Vengeances and B-24s, "are complete in every detail, with tiny guns, radio masts, (Pitot) tubes, etc. They are used primarily for plane recognition classes conducted as part of Army and Navy air force training." In February, 1944, Aircraft Age published "Lilliput Assembly Line." Illustrated with six detailed photographs of B-24 model construction techniques, with a similar title, and with a very knowledgeable description of those techniques, this article is doubtless a more complete version of the Vultee Plane Talk article of November, 1943. In March, 1944, Popular Science published a comparable article with nine photos, generally the same ones as in other articles. Since this spate of articles in early 1944 all resemble the first in the November, 1943, company publication Plane Talk, and none carry a by-line, it is probable they were all written by a Vultee publicist and offered to the various leading aviation, popular technical and model publications of the time.
In articles featuring other Doering models, the February, 1944 Aviation News had a photo (found above) with a detailed caption showing the twins putting the finishing touches on a table full of Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateers, "...where models of Convair planes, exact even to scale machine guns and carefully formed Plexiglas blisters, are constructed for engineering use." The August, 1944 Click article featured photos of the larger, highly detailed 1/16th scale Vengeance demonstration model although it described the production line construction techniques and uses of the smaller tin Vengeance models. Also illustrated was a line up of finished BT-13/15 models. The unknown author, again probably a Vultee publicist, indicated that the models were used by "Army and Navy flight instructors…to illustrate points on aircraft nomenclature, formations and acrobatics, clarifying pre-flight instruction." He also said, somewhat contradictorily, that "these warplane models go to Convair representatives everywhere for demonstration purposes." He reported that the "minimum cost of planes produced by the shop is $200, " which is, he concluded, "a fraction of their value to the war effort."
There is obviously some confusion in these published sources as to what use the models were actually put. The June 2, 1944 Vultair, a company publication, said they were for display and technical purposes. Harvey reports that they did not ask, nor were they told to what purpose the models were put. On the other hand, the author of the Click article stated: "This tiny assembly line was the idea of Howard and Harvey Doering. They convinced Vultee officials that models should be used for demonstration, training and test purposes…." The general position of the unknown writer(s) of all of the 1943 and 1944 articles appears to be what one might expect from a company publicist, anxious both to promote the Vultee war effort to the public and at the same time to justify the materials and manpower put into these exceptionally well finished models. In the final analysis, however, it appears obvious that the earlier, highly detailed and larger one off models were used primarily for sales demonstration, and to some degree the tin production line models would surely have served this purpose as well. As other companies did, Vultee must have also used them as presentation models to visiting brass and civilian VIPs. Given all the articles about them in 1943 and 44, Vultee did get a lot of free publicity from these models in addition to their other uses.
The Doering brothers also got involved in some wind tunnel model work while at Vultee. They did a flutter test model of the XP-54 project. Harvey reports, "I don’t remember what scale it was, about a 4 foot wing. I went up to Seattle and they tested it up there. You ran the tunnel all day. I held the switch to stop it if it began to flutter and I would turn it off. You would work all night making changes to the model, sleep a couple of hours, then go back to the switch. But the fuselage, there wasn’t much to it. The wing simulated the actual structure of the actual airplane...sheet plastic of different types with different properties to it." Harvey also mentioned that at one point he went to Ft. Worth where he worked on the B-32 Dominator wind tunnel model.
Shortly before the Vultee plant closed at the end of the war, the Doerings went to Langley field in Virginia to do wind tunnel model work at NACA, forerunner of NASA, but returned to California in the late Forties. Howard, returning first, went to work for Douglas in tooling inspection and Harvey, later, continued in wind tunnel model work at Lockheed and then at Douglas as a wind tunnel engineer. Unlike Howard, Harvey stayed in the aviation industry his entire career. Both retired in the early Eighties.
Did they continue to build their fabulous models? No. Well, not quite no. Both brothers, again showing their ubiquitous talents, pursued interests in music, playing guitar and fiddle. Following on from the skill displayed in their paint work on models, they both took up painting and specialize in Western themes. However, they have also done paintings of aircraft and Harvey has had several shows of his Golden Age commercial and general aviation art. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a large Boeing 247D portrait of the same airplane they modeled in 1937. While Howard did no further model aircraft, he encouraged his son, Howard Jr., in model making and he is still very active in flying models.
In 1972 Harvey, urged on by a fellow Douglas model maker, built another flying scale Travel Air 2000 model, a replica of one he built in 1935, this time radio controlled. It is powered by a two cylinder, in line gas engine designed and built by the brothers while in high school in the mid-Thirties. The photo shows the Doering brothers, Harvey on the left and Howard on the right, holding this engine in April, 2002.
As far back as high school, the twins had designed a similar model engine, and the drawings still exist. That engine was built, but not tested. During the interview they displayed an example of one of their in line twins. Harvey also built a small model of a Beech Staggerwing for Lane Leonard who owns the P-35 model described above. And, well, there is one other model.... Mounted high on a stiff wire attached to the front bumper of his car flies a miniature P-66 machined out of solid aluminum. Harvey claims he only made this rig to help him know where his bumper is when parking. More likely, I speculated while riding with him one day, he simply loves flying along the freeway in formation with one of his favorite airplanes.
Howard and Harvey Doering epitomize the best of aircraft model building in the Golden Age of aviation. Their work still stands as a criterion of excellence for all of us who go modeling, amateur and professional alike. They proved themselves as innovators in devising the mechanical and material techniques required for each of their projects. The accuracy of their scale work attests to their in-depth research, and this is also reflected in the exceptional quality of their draftsmanship in the production of not only working drawings, but highly detailed, finished model drawing, some of which they still have. Their woodworking skills are evident as the basis of both the wood and fabric as well as the metal models. Close inspection of the painting, especially the hand painted markings and details of their models, even of the mass produced work, reflects a true artistic talent to complement the mechanical skills. They were innovators in photography. It is, of course, the superlative miniaturized metalworking that has, for more than sixty years, amazed every person who has examined their models.
Footnote: Many more of the Doering models are assumed to exist in museums and private collections. Information is sought concerning the existence and whereabouts of not only the Boeing 247D model, but also of the sales demonstration models, the owner commissioned models and the wartime tin production models. Please contact the author at Doxaerie if you can provide leads.
For research and photography help as well as access to model collections, the author would like to thank Tony Beres of the San Diego Aerospace Museum, Barbara Callarman and John Vincent of the Downey Historical Center in Downey, CA, Bob Mikesh, Dave Ostrowski, Dennis Parks, Phil Coleman, Tom Johnson, and Jon Thompson. Special thanks to Howard Doering Jr. for support of the April, 2002 interview with his father and uncle.
The following photo was in the March, 1944 Aero Modeller announcing the upcoming April article.