1/72 Douglas EB-66C Destroyer "BAT-21"  by J.C. Bahr

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1/72 Douglas EB-66C Destroyer

"BAT-21"  

by J.C. Bahr

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During the afternoon of Easter Sunday on April 2, 1972, two EB-66's (BAT-21 & BAT-22) operating with the 42nd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (TEWS) of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) from Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, were airborne near Cam Lo, South Vietnam, escorting a B-52 strike, when BAT-21 took a direct hit by an SA-2 Surface to Air Missile (SAM), possibly in the mid-fuselage Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) compartment.  This was during the North Vietnamese Easter offensive across the DMZ and it was not initially known by Intelligence at the time that the front-line NVA troops had "dragged" SA-2's south of the DMZ with them.  When EWO 1st Lieutenant Robin Gatwood detected the SAM launch, he alerted the pilot, Major Wayne Bolte, who initiated an appropriate missile break maneuver to the South as he believed the SAM was coming from NORTH of the DMZ, not knowing that he was turning into the in-coming SAM.  The navigator (53-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Eugene Hambleton - flying on his 63rd mission in Vietnam) was the only one of the six-man crew known to have safely ejected from the aircraft after the initial hit and he believed that another SAM struck the aircraft just moments after his ejection and just a few hundred feet below him.  Hambleton landed nearly right in the middle of the North Vietnamese offensive, so extricating him would be tricky!

It should be noted that the crew of BAT-21 (due to rank) was no ordinary crew and in a controversial rescue operation (Which was the most extensive in USAF history), all aerial combat operations in-country were suspended and switched to support for search and rescue (SAR) operations for Hambleton (who was one of the highest ranked service members to be shot-down during the Vietnam war) and the rest of the crew, who were very valuable to both sides involved due to the knowledge they possessed... specifically Hambleton, due to a previous highly classified air staff duty posting before going to Southeast Asia.  This lead to Hambleton evading capture by the NVA for the next 12 days... over 800 sorties flown in support of the SAR... 6 more aircraft shot down (many others damaged)... 26 aircrew lost... 4 rescued, 2 repatriated as POW's after the war and 20 either KIA or MIA (9 of those have since been returned to the U.S. and the other 11 are still MIA).  There were personnel from the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and South Vietnamese forces involved... the awarding of a Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL Lieutenant Tom Norris for his involvement in the rescue... and 234 additional medals awarded to other individuals involved in the rescue operation (Hambleton himself would earn a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and a Purple Heart).

The story of Lieutenant Colonel Hambleton's rescue as "BAT-21" is fairly well known now, thanks in part to the 1988 movie of the same name that starred Gene Hackman as Hambleton with Danny Glover playing a Forward Air Control pilot helping to coordinate the rescue.  Not exactly the most accurate portrayal of the actual event since it did not encompass the full scope of the actual rescue, but it gives the general idea.  The most notable part of the movie and the actual rescue, was how Hambleton (an avid golfer) used his knowledge of the distances of various holes at different golf courses on USAF bases around the world to help guide his rescuers in his locations on the maps covering the jungles of Vietnam.  In this way, the North Vietnamese were unable to figure out exactly where Hambleton was located at, or where he was headed to next.  Very ingenious move on the part of Hambleton.

An interesting side note about another crew-member of BAT-21 was the possible survival of EWO Henry Serex, who may have been alive in a POW camp as of June 1992 according to this article: http://www.pownetwork.org/bios/s/s188.htm 

Also, in an ironic twist-of-fate, Charles Levis (an EWO on the BAT-21 mission) had previously been assigned as an EWO to the ill-fated Lisa Ann/Rivet Amber RC-135E program that came to an end with the mysterious loss of the RC-135E on June 5, 1969, but Levis was not a part of that fateful flight.

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Initially when I bought this Italeri EB-66E kit in the early 1990's, I had planned to replicate the RB-66B that is on display at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio.  Sometime during the mid 1990's I happened across an Airwaves EB-66C conversion that was looking lonely on the shelf of a local hobby shop, so as a spur of the moment impulse buy, I picked it up to have it "just in case" of the off-chance that I changed my mind on the variant I wanted to model in the future.  During this time I had it in my mind about Hambleton having been shot down in a B-66 "variant" and always thought to myself "wouldn't it be neat if it had been an EB-66C-model and to model that one" since I had the conversion and always thought this variant looked uber-cool with all the additional radome antennas and with the AN/APD-4 pods on the wing tips (have always been a sucker for most things with wing-tip tanks/pods.  BTW - these pods were actually empty on the EB-66C as the AN/APD-4 system was deleted earlier in the RB/EB-66C career, but the pod fairings were retained as they had no significant impact on the aircrafts handling performance.)
 
Sometime in the late 1990's I was visiting a good friend by the name of Jerry Geer (Some of you may recognize his name from picture credits in books of USAF aircraft in the 60's, 70's, 80's, etc.) and I saw a book on his shelf titled "The 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base 1972" by Don Logan.  I started leafing through the book and in an almost ghostly like moment "there it was!"... a picture of EB-66C 54-466 "BAT-21!"  Not only was there one photo, but several throughout the book with more information about the shoot-down.  Needless to say, I had to have a copy of the book for my own library at that point and Jerry was kind enough to get me a copy that Don personally autographed to me!  (Side-story: I had the honor of meeting Don in person at the 2006 IPMS Nats in Kansas City and we sat and had drinks with "Bondo" Phil Brandt, Mike West of Lonestar Models and Jim Rotramel at the Two Bobs Party and it was quite the entertaining evening of listening to many "war stories" amongst this bunch!... thanks for a fun evening guys!... perhaps someday again!)  And thanks for a wonderful book Don!... I highly recommend it to anyone with even a remote interest in the aircraft that operated out of Korat RTAFB during that timeframe!

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I was hoping to have had this model done and unveiled it at the 2006 IPMS Nats, but missed it by a couple of weeks as I was still putting finishing touches on it.  Oh well, good intentions.
 
The Italeri kit of the B-66 for it's age is really a great kit straight out of the box and builds up fairly fast.  As noted in other reviews, it does have some fit problems that need to be clarified, but are nothing major that any average builder should be able to handle with minimal fuss.  I would recommend trying to find a copy of the November 2003 issue of Finescale Modeler to reference Pat Hawkey's excellent build-up article of an EB-66E and use Pat's system to reinforce the long upper and lower fuselage joints, otherwise you'll find yourself fighting an up-hill battle with mis-matched steps in the seams.  Pat's article is also useful for showing how to convert the Italeri kit to have the Mod 2259 AAQ-4 IRCM set on the upper portion of the ECM tail cone and adding the ALR-18 set-on receiving antennas along the sides of the AAQ-4.  The Airwaves conversion set has this piece in solid resin, but I decided to follow Pat's lead and scratch-build my own as I was just not happy with the shaping of the resin piece and did not want all the extra weight of the resin sitting on the end of the tail anyhow.  I also scratch-built some of the additional ram-air cooling inlets on the sides of the tail, as not all of these are included with the Airwaves conversion.
 
Taking another of Pat's leads, I used brass tube in the intakes and exhausts to dispense with the nasty seams that are visible when the engine halves are glued together.  I also shortened the distance from the lip of the intake back to the engine fan, as the engine fan definitely sits too far back if building the kit stock from the box.  Don't forget to remove the strange rings that Italeri moulded around the outside of the exhaust cones as the cones on the real aircraft are smooth.  Another thing that Pat did that I highly recommend is to reinforce the wings with tubing which also helps with alignment while letting the glue set, as there's not much mating surface with the wing to fuselage joints.
 
The canoe fairings on the underside of the fuselage are for the ALA-6 direction finding antennas and the ALA-32 steerable jamming antennas.  These were done in white-metal by Airwaves (along with the wing-tip AN/APD-4 pods which are in halves) and were my first foray into working with white-metal.  They were rough to say the least and required quite a bit of work to get shaped, glued, filled, sanded and polished so that they were ready for painting.  The front and rear canoe fairings sit on the center-line of the aircraft, but the middle canoe fairing in-between the main gear struts is off-set to port so that its right side lines up with the aircraft center-line.
 
If doing an EB-66C, you will need to scribe some additional surface antennas onto the fuselage as these are not replicated on the Italeri kit straight from the box.  Two of these are on each side of the front lower fuselage just behind the forward radome and are the cream colored upside-down L-shaped antennas.  There is also a black surface antenna on the belly of the aircraft just behind the canoe fairing in-between the main gear struts and another black surface antenna on the underside of the ECM tail.
 
The clear canopy piece on my kit was not the best fitting and I found that it was too tall in the rear and not wide enough at the rear as it left steps on the tops and sides that had to be rectified.  With some hot water and careful pressure, I was able to force the rear sides of the canopy out a bit more and this took care of the canopy not being wide enough, so that what was left of the steps on the sides was more tolerable.  I think I also did just a bit of sanding on the bottom edges of the rear of the canopy to lose some of the height as well.

Painting held no surprises, other than trying to find the correct pattern for the Southeast Asia camouflage scheme.  I'm not certain that mine is totally correct, but I poured over many different references before settling on the pattern I have replicated.  All of the paints used were either Pollyscale or Aeromaster acrylics except for Citadels Scorched Brown acrylic that I used for the isolation strip across the vertical stabilizer.  I also painted the wing-tip pods and forward canoe fairing in RAF Middlestone which is my favorite color for replicating the un-painted fibre-glass radomes found on many USAF aircraft of the timeframe.  This color was also used for the AN/ARN-14 VOR and Localizer antenna towards the top of the vertical stabilizer above the isolation strip.
 
Some of the basic stencil markings were the decals that came with the Italeri kit, but I replaced the national insignias with after-market ones as the kit provided ones are too large.  The aircraft data block, unit code and the aircraft serial number I created using a lazer printer on clear and white decal film.  For the unit codes and serial numbers that were to be white, I created these in Corel Draw and got the surrounding color to match the surrounding camo colors on the kit as close as possible before printing the decals and once I had clear coated the printed image, I went back and hand-painted the surrounding camo colors right up to the white lettering.  Not the most perfect, but hey, it works for me!  The black serials were painted on clear film and applied.  Note - some camo'd B-66's had their serial number done twice in both the early small black lettering and then again with the later and larger black/white numbers/letters.  I could not tell in the photographs if 54-466 was this way, but I decided to do it anyhow and included "USAF 0-40466"  just below the AN/ARN-14 antenna on the vertical stab with the USAF being above the serial.  On some planes this can be seen painted out with a fresh coat of newer paint, but some still retained this older serial and like I said, I could not confirm this for this particular aircraft.

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I had previously cut two windows in each fuselage half below the wings as these were for the EWO compartment (so that the EWO's didn't get claustrophobic in the former bomb-bay I suppose) and these were filled with Micro Kristal Klear once painting was finished.  Their positioning is based on what few photos I could find that clearly showed them, as they're not very visible in most photographs due to the shadows of the wing hiding them.
 
I used a spare refueling probe from an old ESCI A-4 Skyhawk as the one included in the kit was basically just a straight piece of sprue with no probe tip on the end.

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With that, the kit was basically finished and provides an interesting contrast to my growing collection of electronic warfare and reconnaissance aircraft.  Other than the extra work of the conversion aspect of it, the general kit itself was a pretty fun build and surprises me that we do no see more of the Italeri B-66's built and on display as they are pretty impressive when finished.  It does take up a small chunk of real-estate though, even in 1/72 scale, as I would say it's just slightly smaller than a B-17 in length and wingspan.
 
Other than the references I have already mentioned, I would also recommend finding a copy of Aerofax Minigraph # 19, Douglas B-66 Destroyer, by Rene Francillon and Mick Roth.  This is probably about the only B-66 specific reference I can recall being done and I believe it is out of print now, so if you run across a copy of one and have even the slightest interest in the Destroyer, you might want to grab it.
 
This article dedicated to the memory of the crew of BAT-21:
 
Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Levis
Lieutenant Colonel Tony Ginnangeli
Major Wayne Bolt
Major Henry Serex
1st Lieutenant Robin Gatwood
 
.... and to all the other personnel involved in the operation, heroes all!
 
J.C.
Here are some links to some other nice B-66 builds:
 
And some good B-66 related sites:

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Photos and text by J.C. Bahr

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