THE VULTEE YEARS
From their mid teens, the twins had been earning money through their model work, but once out of high school, despite getting good commissions on their work, the boys wanted a regular job. They wanted to work, quite naturally, in an airplane factory. In 1939 they applied at Vultee, but with the lingering effects of the Depression, did not come away with a job. On the strength of their modeling portfolio, however, Vultee commissioned them to do a detailed sales model of their V-12 attack bomber in 1/10 scale. Once again, working in their home shop with no access to the metal working tools one might expect to find in a company model shop, the boys turned out a masterpiece which ended up defining their lives during the WW II years and, to a greater degree for Harvey, their professional careers thereafter.
Photographs show a model which, except for the backgrounds, could be the actual aircraft. Publications of the day describe the model in some detail showing it photographed with the twins and with other personages, one of whom, in the October, 1939 Air Trails, was Reginald Denny, the actor (also described as a model maker). The purpose of the model was for publicity and as a sales demonstrator to be taken to the many countries to which Vultee was trying to sell the aircraft as there were not enough actual demonstrators. For this reason, the model was constructed with detachable floats to show both the float plane version as well as the regular land plane attack version complete with display of available armament options. A built up sheet aluminum stand was fashioned with a prominent Vultee insignia. The wings were detachable for shipping and a specially designed crate was made to hold the various parts of the display. This photo shows the V-12 model being inspected by the workers who built the actual aircraft. The model is fitted with its optional floats and its bomb load sits on top of the stand.
What stands out on this model is the meticulous metal work, each faultlessly curved, polished aluminum component accurately riveted into place. The boys hand formed each panel. Dies were not used and even later, when they had access to the metal forming tools at Vultee, they seldom used them. "We only made a die when we had to," Harvey explained. "You take a piece of wood and carve it, then take a burnishing rod and work it around, keep working the metal until it fits in place, trim it and polish it and put it on. Simple." He elaborated: "Like this wing fillet. Most model makers would have trouble making that wing fillet and would have to make a die. We didn’t make any dies for that. You just kind of burnish it, then take the flame and make it soft again. But you’ve got to be familiar with what your limitations are. You can work it so much and you have to re-heat it, but work it too much and the metal will tear. We could make that fillet while somebody else was thinking about making a die."
What eventually happened to the V-12 sales demonstration model is not known. It is difficult to imagine that such an exquisite model was simply discarded once V-12 production terminated. The model did make one very big sale, though: It sold Vultee on hiring the Doering brothers, and they worked there until just shortly before the factory at Downey closed.
The Doering brothers’ first model as employees of Vultee Aircraft was a large, all aluminum Model 48 Vanguard. Chief designer Richard W. Palmer, who had also designed Howard Hughes’ H-1 racer, created a beautifully proportioned and elegantly streamlined fighter during 1938 and ’39. Early drawings of the Model 48 (later designated the P-66) featured a side opening cockpit canopy with a door on the left side and a plethora of glazed panels. At the same time, an experimental elongated cowl to cover the radial engine was envisioned and later tested giving the aircraft an ultra streamlined appearance. These early drawings were given to the Doering brothers for a 1/10th scale sales demonstration model. (See Skyways July 2001 for Warren Eberspacher’s history of the P-66 development.) By the time the actual prototype aircraft flew, the canopy design had been modified, but the model reflects the same meticulous care for detail, accuracy and aesthetics carried out with the unmatched ability at miniature metal work evident in their previous achievements. Unlike the fate of the earlier V-12 attack bomber model, the subsequent history of the model 48 Vanguard model is known. Even though the Doerings themselves lost track of it over the years, the Vultee Club (Vultee retirees) had obtained the carefully crated model. In the early Eighties they asked the Doerings to uncrate and reassemble it. The model required work on the landing gear and Harvey replaced the canopy plastic. Then, with some polishing (during which the original US 1939 style insignia was removed), the Vanguard was back in pristine condition. It was ultimately presented to the Downey Historical Center in Downey, California, where it can presently be seen. This photo shows Harvey Doering beside the model there in April, 2002.
During this visit to the Downey Historical Center, Harvey described to me the Model 48's various features. The fuselage and wing were constructed by riveting formed aluminum panels (6 thousandths thick) to aluminum box structures. The rivets were made of very thin aluminum wire inserted into drilled holes, cut off and heads flattened. Every panel, every rivet was shaped and placed to the specifications of the actual airplane construction drawings. The wings are detachable for storage in the specially designed crate, and he pointed out the crank hidden in the bottom of the fuselage that lowered and retracted the landing gear.
The tubular fuselage structure is riveted onto the fuselage core box, and the skin riveted to that. There are several removable panels that show this structure, but there is no internal cockpit detail. The canopy, however, is another story. There are 18 separate transparent panels, in a completely formed frame structure. The left side door, consisting of four transparent panels and their framework plus a small fuselage panel, opens on tiny hinges. One of the transparent cockpit panels slides open, as it did on the real aircraft, for cockpit air. In this photo, one of the fuselage panels has been removed. The outline of the closed door is apparent as is part of the fuselage tubular structure
While I was immediately attracted to the canopy as the most detailed part of the model, a close up inspection of any area of the model finds an amazing abundance of minute detail. When I examined the tail, for example, I realized that I could not get close enough to ascertain that it was a model and not the real thing. The closer I got, the more real it looked. Everything is there, everything is accurately formed and assembled. In an October, 1939 Air Trails magazine photo caption, referring to the Doering V-12 model, the editor wrote that it was "perfect". Journalistic hyperbole? Examining the model 48 in detail, I remembered the caption and could only agree. And I do not like to use that word. When I mentioned this to Harvey, he only shrugged and said that if you wanted to call the model 48 "perfect," he thought that "the other models are more perfect than this model in the museum. It isn’t as perfect as these other models." Obviously he was referring to the various degree of detail on the different models, and he quickly steered the conversation away from the notion of "perfection."
A retouched composite photograph from a WWII era magazine illustrates the last of the Doering large scale sales demonstration models, the 1/16 scale Vultee Vengeance. The model sits on a runway in front of an actual Vengeance. In a letter of February 15, 2002, Harvey recalled the wingspan was about 36" (1/16 scale) and it was constructed of tin, unlike the other highly detailed sales models, as it was to be painted in camouflage colors. He explained that aluminum was the better material only when you wanted an aluminum finish. Photos of the model in the August, 1944 Click magazine show a superbly detailed model painted and marked in US Army colors. It had an open canopy with internal detail and retractable landing gear, the crank for which was located inside the double folding bomb bay doors. Here Howard demonstrates these features. The wheels rotate 90 degrees as they retract. Its fate is unknown.
About this time, the brothers were asked to do a smaller (1/24) and much simpler model of the later version of the Vanguard, the P-66. This was the last of their all aluminum sales demonstration models. It was finished in polished aluminum with Swedish markings, and served as a prototype for the hundreds of formed tin models of various aircraft the pair were to produce in the Vultee model shop during the WW II years.
Why tin? Harvey: "The tin models...we never made them before we made them at Vultee. They wanted a bunch of models, so we decided that was the way to do it, to get them out the fastest." He also noted they were easy to solder and didn’t take much work to prepare for painting.
All the major aircraft companies produced models of their designs during this period for a number of uses and in a number of media. Most were cast pot metal with minimum detail often given to employees as ashtray models. Others were larger and more elaborate formal presentation models. Almost all were solid metal or wood, a few in solid plastic or composition materials. Most bore the characteristics of mass production, although there are notable exceptions. The Doerings’ decision to go with hand built, formed metal models resembling, to some extent, the manufacturing techniques of the real aircraft being assembled next door on the production line, built from the same drawings, and using the same paint, is probably unique. The results were exceptional.