Compass:  A Guidance Tool

Contributing Editor: Joe "vecojoe" Wagner
Fourth Installment In This Series
A further cause of variability in airplane "decor" is this. Both in wartime &
in peace, the highest-skilled aircraft workers (and maintenance personnel) were the airframe, engine, armament, and instrument technicians. People
who could not make the grade in those departments were the ones who
ended up doing paintwork.

For all the reasons described above, in general
. I have a photograph
showing a line of brand-new Seafires sitting on a carrier deck. The first two are painted in different color schemes, and even carry different style insignia! Most likely that was the result of their having been built in different factories --
a common situation with both WW1 and WW2 military aircraft...

How about using color photos or airbrushed 3-views (such as are found in
Profile Publications, the Squadron/Signal books, etc.) as standards for scale model airplane color schemes?

Unfortunately, you can't rely much on those either.

The color in color photographs comes from dyes. Those can simulate true colors of the objects they depict, all right -- but their accuracy varies GREATLY.

Have you noticed how extraordinarily vivid the colors are in the movie "
Wizard of Oz"? That's because the Technicolor process enhances color dramatically. Kodachrome transparencies do the same, though not quite so strongly as Technicolor (which in actuality is a black-and-white process, believe it or don't). Ektachrome slides are "truer to life" than Kodachrome;
but both types of photographic slides contain dyes that fade with time and
exposure to bright light. (Whenever you project a color slide, its dyes
deteriorate a little more...)

Photographic color prints are less stable than transparencies. Worse, because
of variations in the reproduction process, color prints sometimes bear only a
slight resemblance to the subject's color scheme. You've seen that yourself;
so I needn't say more on that topic. However, I will note that most color
prints are supplied on glossy paper. Unless the airplane finish is equally
glossy, a further source of inaccuracy has crept in.

Color photos reproduced in magazines & books introduce a further variable. The fact is that printing inks use totally different color pigments than either the dyes in color photos or the pigments in paint. All a color printer can ever hope to achieve is a close approximation of the subject's color. And to do THAT he has only four ink colors to work with!  (Usually magenta, cyan, yellow, and black -- on white [or near-white] paper.)

I own wartime issues of "Flying" magazine in which the "color photos" are
still as unrealistically vivid as any scene in "
Wizard". Others pictures from
the same period, but printed on "softer" paper, now have a pastel-like appearance.

As for
airbrushed 3-views, still ANOTHER variable sneaks in. Aside from
the "interpretation" and style of the artist (
Peter Endsleigh Castle used a
rendering technique much different from that of Richard Ward -- and Rikyu
Watanabe's work is different still
) there's the fact that the vehicles, dyes, and
pigments used in airbrush paint are different again from those in printer's inks, or photographs, or the airplane paint itself.

Then the airbrushed color views must be reproduced with printer's inks for publication..! What ends up on the printed page is then an approximation
of an approximation of another approximation -- at best.

What, then, should a scale modeler do? He has no absolute standards to go by
for color authenticity unless he has access to an actual airplane he's modeling Color photos can be used as a guide -- but the scale modeler needs to use his own "
artistic judgement" more than reliance on "reference data".

Editor's note: The accepted standard reference in scale modeling competition is a color chip set. These are available from the government standards departments of respective countries aircraft originate from, or were utilized in military activities. More information on the source of color chips will be made available later in this series. The actual point of documentation with respect to scale model contests is: The contestant's model should match pilot/builder supplied photographs, line and color illustrations provided to judges for comparison during the contest.