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Doering B-24 Restoration

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Subsequent to the publication of two articles in Skyways, The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940 (Nos. 64 & 65) about the Golden Age models of Howard and Harvey Doering, I was asked to restore one of their tin 1/50 scale late model production line B-24Js from about 1944. The restoration was very interesting for two reasons. One, I was able to work with Harvey Doering on the restoration itself and, second, the paint on the model as found led to a "who dunnit" when trying to establish its history after it was originally built.

The model as presented to me was what Bob Mikesh in Restoring Museum Aircraft would call a Category III subject.  A model not necessarily significant in terms of its individual history (as, for example, a model which had been in, say, Harry Trumanís personal collection), but which represents a historically significant line of models, which the Doeringsí work at the Vultee Aircraft Company certainly is. Further, the model was found in a Level 3 Exhibit and Preservation condition. This is a subject that is in "deteriorated and unstable condition." In other words, the model required a "complete treatment involving preservation and restoration (page 33)." The entire Mikesh work is as relevant to serious model restorations as to the world of actual aircraft restoration for museums.

The model was complete except for three of the four wooden machine guns, but had been obviously dropped on its nose for the clear plastic turret was broken and found in five separate pieces (it had been fabricated in three). Further, the tin strip in the nose between the turret and bomb aimerís position was badly bent and the whole fuselage area ahead of the cockpit was subtly misshapen. The starboard horizontal tail assembly was bent down some 5 degrees. All propellers were extant and, while bent, were amazingly unbroken.

The model was in an aluminum paint scheme with the standard Doering style detail and markings painted on. The original national insignia decals were still on the model, although badly deteriorated. The paint had worn through at places on the top of the fuselage and wings with red primer showing through. The assumption was that this was the original paint job and there was hope that, since the paint on the bottom of the model was still in pretty good shape, metal work repairs could be made and the paint simply refreshed leaving most of the valuable historic paint job in place. A careful examination proved otherwise, unfortunately, and led to a lot of questions not all of which are perhaps satisfactorily answered.

The first clue that there was an interesting history behind this model came when it was noticed that the paint beneath the decals was not aluminum, but olive drab (top and side surfaces) and gray (bottom surfaces). The original paint scheme was found to be olive drab and gray, just like all other known Doering B-24 models. It was apparent that the decals had been carefully masked off for the painting of the aluminum, but the india ink and paint details on top of the aluminum were in the Doering style as confirmed by photos of other extant B-24 models. So, then, when was the model repainted aluminum? Very early on, by the condition of the paint, but before it left the model shop? Before it left Vultee? Could it have been that the model was redecorated in the Doering shop to match how B-24s were then leaving the production line? This was important to answer in order to achieve a faithful, accurate restoration. Given the importance of the model, this was required.

With this in mind, layers of paint were carefully removed from selected areas of the model. This revealed the following: First, the aluminum paint was sprayed on the model and a good job was done of it. The decals and clear plastic areas had been expertly masked. There was some aluminum paint brush work around one of the decals where the mask apparently had been slightly too big. Second, there appeared to have been two coats of primer, red and zinc chromate, before the original olive drab and gray. Interestingly, the red, applied second, was only to be found on the top surface of the wings, top and side of the fuselage and on the cockpit canopy and rear turret plastic. Thus the finish was noticeably smoother on the top than on the bottom. When the olive drab was sprayed on, it covered the tops of the wings and tails as well as the whole fuselage including the bottom. It was thinnest on the top of the fuselage and wings, thickest around the rear turret. In fact, it had run in the area of the rear turret. The gray was applied last.

The model was taken to Harvy Doering, and it was an interesting occasion as he had not touched this model in sixty years. First, he stated categorically that none of the B-24 models had been painted aluminum (although some of the BT-13/15 models had been). Second, he acknowledged the use of zinc chromate primer, but did not remember having used the red primer.

Third, further examination of the model showed that the turret structures were riveted and soldered into place after the zinc chromate had been applied, but before the rest of the paint. This was deduced from the fact that zinc chromate overspray was found inside the rear fuselage. The insides of the metal turret structures, front, top and rear, the cockpit area and the fuselage nose were painted flat black before clear formed plastic was attached. Black was also used on some of the frames on the inside of the front and rear turret, but not the canopy. The top turret had no frames painted on.

Fourth, it looked as though some red primer may have been applied over the original olive drab before the final coat of aluminum paint. It is difficult to ascertain exactly because of the thinness of the coat of green in the areas where this might have occurred.

Fifth, the cockpit canopy proved odd in two ways. The clear plastic canopy was cut long on the back and this formed a tab that was glued in under the top of the fuselage. This left a very noticeable lip where the top of the fuselage was higher than the top of the canopy. Harvey commented on this when he saw the model and thought it showed poor workmanship. The San Diego Aerospace Museum (SDASM) B-24, a D model from an earlier production run, does not have this fault. The canopy is butt glued to the top of the fuselage. It is well anchored in place by the fact that the sides of the canopy are cut long and these slide down between strips of L-shaped tin soldered to the cockpit floor against the fuselage side. This was a neat way to firmly fix the canopy, but on the aluminum painted model, while this was used, the rear tab assembly was also used resulting in an ugly joint.

Also, looking from the inside, one can see that olive drab paint was used for the frames, but only in places. The rest of the frame is, again looking from the bottom, red primer. Why was most of the olive drab frame paint gone? Why was red primer then used on it, when on the front turret (more discussion of which below) had only a painted silver frame? In fact, there appear to be two coats of red primer on the cockpit canopy and rear turret. The sequence looks like this: Red primer then olive drab some of which appears through the clear plastic where the red primer had perhaps been misapplied or scratched off. Then maybe another coat of thin red primer in places, then a thin coat of aluminum which has mostly worn off leaving a red frame. What is confusing is that in some places where the aluminum has worn off, under it is olive drab, not red. These are the places where the olive drab shows through the red primer as seen from the inside. All is hand painted. This is a confusing montage of paint. The sequence was similar to that on the rear turret, but completely different from the front turret, having the silver frame applied heavily with no undercoat and with flat black paint applied on the inside, behind the frames. The aluminum paint on the front turret showed little or no wear which might indicate a later application. The application was also rougher, seemingly done by a different hand than did the aluminum framework on the canopy and rear turret. Indeed, the rear turret shows signs that the clear areas were masked off, then the aluminum sprayed. Confusing, indeed.

All this seemed to indicate the model was finished on the production line in olive drab/gray, then somewhat later painted aluminum and perhaps even later still had a new front turret added which would require rivet replacement, disassembly of metal pieces, then re-soldering. But the paint work in that area did not suggest re-soldering. The plastic could not have been replaced without this process as it is riveted in place as well as glued which meant the assembly may have been done off the model, then soldered back on. But why was it painted so differently?

Sixth. The india ink (or paint applied with inking pens) outlines of the bomb bay, landing gear covers and waist gunnerís position reflected workmanship as neat and accurate as that on the first paint job. The black painted small windows on the fuselage were done as expertly on the aluminum paint job as on the original olive drab, yet the waist gun position outline was not to be found on the original olive drab paint job. Also, the vertical lines outlining the bomb bay doors were carried up the fuselage sides much further. This is accurate with respect to the actual aircraft but were not found on the original paint job. These extended lines were heavier and not drawn with the skill of the lower lines on the aluminum paint. They look as if they may have been added well after the model had been repainted aluminum and by a different hand. The bomb bay lines on the aluminum painted version also fail to replicate one of the lower horizontal lines of the original paint job.

Seventh. The engine nacelles provided another interesting anomaly. They are built up of several soldered pieces with the front, the cowl, a one piece stamping with an engine "hub" in the middle to which is soldered the propeller shaft. There is no engine detail, as such, and all the Doering production line models were like this. It is a signature device by which one can identify these models at a glance. The engine nacelles had been painted in the original paint job in this sequence: zinc chromate (with some red primer noticeable on the tops), olive drab on top and gray on the bottom. The recessed area around the hub where the cylinders would have been was then painted black as were the "cheek" intakes on either side. Next, the hub was painted aluminum. When the model was re-painted, aluminum paint was sprayed over the original scheme, then the engine area and cheek intakes were again painted black. The hubs were painted semi-glass gray and right at the base of the propeller shaft on two of the nacelles a splotch of silver was found on top of that. The final coat of black and gray are rough. They were hand painted without removing the propellers which are in the way. This is known because there was some of the hub gray on the back of the base of the propeller blades where the paint brush hit on the way into the engine hub. Perhaps in an attempt to overpaint these gray mistakes, a brush with aluminum paint was inserted and this accounts for the splotches of aluminum paint at the base of the propeller shaft on the engine hub. This reflects a very unsightly and unprofessional approach to finishing a model.

Why werenít the propellers taken off and the engine detail painted properly? It is an easy enough task only requiring the point of solder on the tip of the shaft be removed and added back on later. Anyone in the Doering shop would have known how to do this and had the equipment.

Eighth. The propellers had been oversprayed with aluminum like the rest of the aircraft. They had been originally painted flat black with yellow tips over zinc chromate with aluminum hubs. Photographs of late run multi-engine aircraft of these production models show they all had black propellers with yellow tips and aluminum hubs. However, the SDASM early run B-24D indeed did have all aluminum painted propellers (and it is assumed here that these represent the original finish although it now appears that this model, too, has been partially restored). If the person who repainted this model to more represent how the late B-24s were rolling off the production line, why did he revert to the earlier all aluminum props? If he carefully masked the decals and clear plastic areas, why did he not mask the props, easy enough to do? Or, as mentioned above, why didnít he just temporarily take them off the model? It certainly would have made for a more accurately finished and better looking model.

The way the engine nacelles and propellers were handled does not reflect the quality of work done in the Doering shop nor by anyone trained there.

Another troubling fact about the aluminum paint job that tends to indicate it was not done in the Doering model shop or by any of their employees is the decal business. When a model is refinished, the whole surface is usually cleaned, rubbed down and old markings taken off. The evidence of a second coat of red primer would seem to indicate a careful procedure, but to be in the model shop and not have access to a new set of decals is highly suspect.

And there is that whole business of the nose turret being finished differently than other plastic parts on the model. Contemporary photographs of B-24 models on the production line in the Doering shop may give some suggestion that the tail turret was put on the airframe early in the process and the nose finished later, but this does not account for a completely different way of painting it. The nose turret and bombardierís window show no signs of ever having had red primer or olive drab paint. They were silver (and black) from the start. Were these parts the ones that came with the original model or are they replacements? I donít know. This is really puzzling.

If I had to guess, I would say that even though the aluminum paint job is very old, the model was refinished well after originally completed. By whom? Maybe by a Vultee employee with access to the model shop, but after production there had ceased and the model makers gone. He had access to some good equipment (spray gun), and probably another model of the B-24 to use as a pattern for re-applying detail, but he showed both good and poor modeling skills. There is even some evidence (the bomb bay door extension lines, reflecting both skilled and unskilled work, and maybe the nose turret) that there may have been two re-workings of the model.

In any event, the model was obviously originally completed in the Doering model shop in its olive drab and gray paint. There are enough doubts and questions about the subsequent work on it to conclude that a restoration back to the first paint configuration is the only way to faithfully reflect the factory work the Doering brothers did.



No restoration work was done on the model before it was presented to Harvey Doering for his analysis and recommendation. As indicated above, he did not believe the aluminum paint work was done in his shop. He commented about the sloppy way the cockpit canopy was attached and then he recommended how to go about the repair.

First, he drilled holes in the lower surface of the starboard horizontal tail where it had been bent down. He fashioned a heavy wire probe, inserted it into each of the holes gently working out the wrinkle in the top surface of the tail and in so doing he straightened it. He then recommended several ways for me to fill in the holes later.

Moving to the damaged nose, he showed me how the small tin nose piece was soldered into place, then took a soldering iron, melted the solder and removed the part with the remnants of the nose turret. He did this without melting the plastic parts immediately adjacent to the solder joint. Harvey then gave me a short lesson on metalworking, telling me how to reshape the small piece as well as the nose. He showed me how to replace the rivets used to attach the nose turret and bomb aimerís window and gave me material with which to do it.

Harvey then pointed out all the different procedures used to build the model in the first place including the neat way the trailing edges of the wings were attached. The trailing edges of the lower surface were crimped, the upper surface folded over to fit in the crimp thus giving a good mechanical joint to solder. He pointed to the metal brake he and Howard had designed and built for just this purpose even before their employment at Vultee. Harvey had told me about these processes months before, but now with one of his models in front of me, it all made a good deal more sense.

It was now my turn to work on the model back in my own workshop. I completely disassembled the model taking off the tail turret on which I found engraved the figure "2" inside a stylized figure "9" facing the inside of the model. I later asked Harvey the meaning of the "2" and the "9," but he said models were not numbered and he did not know the significance of the engraving.  It should be noted that the Doerings employed several assistants in the model shop during the war, and these numbers could have been used by one of them for some purpose.  All transparencies and propellers were also removed.  Using tracing paper cut to form over the various areas of the model, I traced the position of all decals, painted markings and inked lines so that everything could be reapplied correctly later. Then I analyzed the paint as described above. Next I removed all the paint except for the black in the cockpit, repaired the holes in the tail, reformed the nose and the small nose piece and resoldered it to the nose. I cleaned out a light haze of rust on the inside of the fuselage, then after masking the last bit of original paint in the cockpit area, primed with zinc chromate overall, then sprayed a red primer on the upper surfaces as on the original. The same was done for the tail turret, a rather complex metal, plastic and wood construction, and the propellers.

All plastic parts were carefully cleaned and given a coat of Future acrylic floor polish. The old parts were all re-usable with the exception of the nose turret. This cleaned nicely, but proved impossible to glue it back together with any semblance of neatness. It had originally been formed by three pieces, two sides and a middle piece, the back half of the latter having had a tab glued to it which was riveted to the upper fuselage decking. The middle piece had been broken into three pieces and these had become distorted over the years. I carved a wood mold using the old turret as a pattern, then vacu-formed a new turret. The illustration here shows the wood mold with the old plastic turret.  This, aside from three wood machine guns, five rivets and the paint, was the only non-original part used in the restoration.

At this point I decided to count how many parts made up the model. Harvey had earlier said that he and Howard chose to do these production line models in tin because that was the easiest and fastest way to do them. Well, OKÖbut, there were 62 individually hand formed pieces!  And all were either riveted or soldered together (with the exception of the cockpit canopy and upper turret and four of the six machine guns that were only glued on). Maybe it was fast and easy for the Doering brothers. For anyone else, I donít know. As a desk display model, it is a very complex work, as exemplified by the tail turret. This has three formed metal pieces (one with six 90 degree bends, and another formed into a cup shape) soldered together, then a clear plastic canopy formed, painted and riveted on.  After that, two wooden guns were made, painted and glued on, then the whole soldered to the fuselage.  Simple it isn't.

With all parts cleaned, repaired and primed, I was ready to paint. I soldered back on the tail turret and masked the inside. Departing from the probable sequence of original construction, I decided to add on all the clear plastic parts after soldering and painting to avoid further damage to them. Original paints were probably lacquers, but I used Model Master olive drab and neutral gray enamels, the olive drab first, gray last. The olive drab on the original model may have been a touch greener, but it was difficult to tell, and olive drabs varied widely when the Doering models were originally painted. Detail painting was completed, including hand painting all frame lines on clear plastic. I had not removed the original olive drab and red primer from the cockpit canopy, but painted over them so that the original colors show through from the inside. This is not visible from the outside and insured I painted the lines correctly on the restoration. I also trimmed off the tab from the back of the canopy so that it could be butt glued flush to the top fuselage decking thus addressing one of Harveyís criticisms of the model, and also reflecting how it had been done on earlier production runs of this model.

All black paint markings (numerous windows and moving surface hinges) were reproduced and I got a chance to use my antique drafting pen for inking the flap lines and bomb bay door outlines. The old twin pronged, side loading, adjustable pen worked just perfectly. It was doubtless the tool the Doerings used.

Then the decals. The decals originally used were not dimensioned exactly right and the blue was lighter than the correctly shaped and colored US insignia decals available today. I just happened to have some correctly misshapen decals printed in 1944. They couldnít be used, but with the computer I copied them, then got a color close to that on the original model decals and had them laser printed on decal paper. Sounds easy, but this was the most time consuming part of the restoration. Using the Future acrylic floor wax again, I smoothed the flat finish of the paint on the appropriate areas, applied the decals, then oversprayed with clear flat lacquer. I glued and riveted on all the clear plastic parts, including the wooden guns for the front and rear turrets, and after painting the rivet heads, the restoration of the model was complete. Later, using a base especially cast in the Doering fashion, an exact duplicate of the original stand was reconstructed.

Photos were sent to Harvey who approved. He wanted to know if, since I was now an expert in tin modeling, I would be interested in building a number of them for him. Right. I formed exactly one of the 62 parts on this model--a plastic part, soldered two joints and painted. I remain completely daunted by the idea of forming all those parts in a medium I donít really work in muchÖand then getting them to fit together as exactly as on the original model. Thatís for the Doering brothers. Iím just happy to have had the opportunity to work with Harvey on the restoration of one of their models.

Stratoliner Model Restoration