Monogram F9F-5 and F9F-5P Panthers
Monogram’s Panther first appeared in 1990, the first 1/48 F9F in close to 35-40 years past the Aurora and Hawk kits. At the time, it was the best and most accurate kit of the Panther, and it is still the most accurate (and in my mind, the best) since the alternative is the Trumpeter D-team release (wrong size, wrong outline, wrong detail, totally crappy and unfixably so) F9F-2 “kit.”
The kit is the essence of easy, with 29 parts, all of which fit well for its time. Detail is raised, and some modelers might want to engrave the detail with a #11 Xacto.
The last release of the F9F-5 was a ProModeler kit that can still be found, which had a history book included, and very nice decals (the decals in the original release were 1980s Monogram horrid) that include the Panther flown by “Harry Brubaker” in the movie “The Bridges At Toko-ri.”
If you haven’t seen it, the movie is perhaps the best naval aviation movie ever. It was a failure on first release (audiences walked out in dead silence over the fact the heroes died in the end) but in the late 60s, when it started playing on late night TV, a generation of Vietnam veterans looking for a late night movie responded to the story of a man who didn’t like his job, didn’t want to be there, was afraid of doing it, and did it anyway. Today it is commonly listed in the top 10 of war movies ever (Tied for #1 on my list with Twelve O’Clock High) and seen as the classic it always was.
Interestingly, the movie cast went to Japan to film the sequences ashore first, and found the opportunity to go aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34) to do the on-board sequences. Mickey Rooney (who later told me that people told him not to do it because he would not have a career doing an “anti-American” movie at the height of McCarthyism in America, “but I said to them ‘I don’t *have* a career to lose!’) was an immediate hit when he came aboard and said to the Naval Aviators “shake the hand that held Ava Gardner’s t*t!”. They worked with VF-192 (later VA-192) Golden Dragons aboard ship. Later, when the aerial work was done in the Southern California mountains NW of NAS Miramar, VF-5 – which did the aerial work – had to (reluctantly) paint their airplanes as VF-192 birds (among the pilots doing the aerial work is then-CDR James K. Holloway, later VADM and CincPacFlt). After that, VF-192 named themselves “The World-Famous Golden Dragons.”
The F9F-5P was the result of Monogram (Revell) changing the molds to do the photo-recon airplane, which is marked as the F9F-5P at Planes of Fame Air Museum. Rumors abound that they destroyed the F9F-5 molds to do this, which is why you have not seen a re-release of the original kit.
The Panther is my favorite Navy jet. I was fortunate at age 10 to see the Blue Angels in their final season in Panthers at what was then NAS Buckley Field in Denver, Colorado (since 1959, Buckley ANG Base).
The Bridges at Toko-ri was not entirely fiction. James Michener spent 6 weeks aboard USS Essex (CV-9) in the fall of 1951 (during which time he became friends with an obscure junior Ensign in VF-51 named Neil Armstrong) and then aboard USS Valley Forge (CV-45) in January-February 1952, during which time he met a Skyraider pilot named Donald Brubaker, a reservist lawyer from Denver in VF-194, and witnessed the Navy’s worst day of the Korean War, 8 February 1952, (the day Valley Forge’s crew changed her name from “Happy Valley” to “Death Valley”), which involved an enlisted Chief Naval Aviation Pilot named Duane Thorin who wore a Kelly Green baseball hat in his HO3S-1, who attempted to rescue a pilot named Harry Ettinger, in which all were presumed lost when the rescue failed. Three months after the novel was published the next year, Thorin and Ettinger walked out of a North Korean POW camp. So when you watch the movie, you can know that the real Harry Brubaker and Chief Forney survived.
It’s still the best movie of naval aviation ever made. You can watch it on You Tube.
And if you want to read the whole story about “the real Bridges at Toko-ri” watch for “A Long Hard Slog: Naval Air in the Korean War” coming about a year from now.
27 additional images. Click to enlarge.