Ferrets in the Mediterranean: B-17F Flying Fortress

  • 95 posts
  • Last reply 2 hours, 31 minutes ago
  • 1/72, Academy, B-17F, ELINT, ferret, Flying Fortress
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  • George R Blair Jr said 1 month ago:

    Sorry, I am a little late to the dance. I haven’t posted in a while, and this build will be my first model in several months. In my defense, we sold our house of 30 years and moved 2 hours north to a new house so we can be closer to our daughter, son-in-law, and new grandchild. I will spare you the details of what it was like to have a house built during the pandemic (14 months to build) and then move on short notice. We were supposed to have 60-days notice before the new house was ready, but we were notified the first week of December that the house would be ready two weeks later. Between 7 December and 27 December, we found a mover, packed, got the old house ready to sell, moved to our new house, and started unpacking. When I was in the military, I moved 12 times in 20 years, so you would think I would be used to it. Apparently moving when you are 30 years old is different than when you are over 70 years old.

    So, it is finally time to get back to modeling. The Bomber Group Build fits right into a model I have wanted to do for a while, which is a B-17F which was used as a “ferret” in the Mediterranean in 1943. Here is some background:

    Radar became an important tool for all the major combatants in the early part of the war. Everyone knew that the other side had radar, but the details about location, numbers, how it was used, and capabilities were still on the fuzzy side. In October of 1942, a B-17E was fitted with primitive radar detection equipment and sent to the Solomon Islands to gather electronic intelligence (ELINT) information on Japanese radars in the area. This aircraft became the first ferret aircraft and was designated Ferret I. “Ferret” is the generic name for aircraft with the ELINT mission. The success of this first intelligence gathering aircraft led to the creation of the 16th Reconnaissance Squadron, whose purpose was to gather electronic information about enemy radar. Initially made up of a handful of war-weary B-17Fs, these first ferrets were sent to the Mediterranean to gather information on German radars prior to the invasions of Sardinia, Corsica, Elba, and Italy. The Allies knew the Germans were using radar in these locations, but they didn’t know where the radars were located, how much area they were able to cover, what frequencies they used, their strength, or how they were used. At first, using only Ferret III, IV, and V, they would fly 10-15 miles off the coast of Italy at night at 12000 feet. These planes, flying alone and only partially armed, would fly all night gathering intelligence on the German radars.

    The war-weary B-17Fs were specially converted for the ferret mission. Their bomb-bays were bolted shut and filled with the equipment used to gather the radar intelligence. The lower ball-turret was removed from some of the planes and a dome with electronic sensors was substituted. These early Ferrets also worked closely with the British to develop anti-radar techniques, including the use of chaff and using electronic means to jam the German radars. These efforts were so successful that Ferrets, as well as jamming aircraft, accompanied many of the bombing missions later in the war. The Ferret mission shifted to the Pacific after the German surrender, and B-24 Ferrets were airborne when the B-29s dropped the first atomic bomb. These missions were the start of the Elint/electronic countermeasure mission that became increasingly important in Korea and later in the Vietnam War. Today, you don’t fly in a combat zone without considering the capabilities of enemy radar and other sensing systems.

    As a side note, these early B-17 Ferrets were so war-weary that the planes would sometimes simply disappear during a mission. These losses were always attributed to enemy action, but some of the crews felt that the planes simply quit flying and just fell out of the air. These planes were so weary that they were abandoned in-place when the squadron transferred back to the US.

    If you would like some more information on ferrets and their mission, there are two good articles that are available:
    -Flypast Magazine, March 2011 (focuses on ferrets in the Pacific)
    -Aviation Historian, Issue 30 (focuses on ferrets in the Med)

    OK, enough history. On to the build. Two of the B-17Fs were known to have a black disruptive camouflage over their war-weary olive drab and gray. There are also reports of an all-black B-17F ferret, but I couldn’t find any photos. Ferret V had a very intricate camo made up of thin black stripes, while one of the later ferrets had broad black camo added. This build will focus on the latter plane, but I also want to do Ferret V later with its narrow stripes using a 1/48 model. Externally, there isn’t a lot of conversion to do. The planes had two extra antennas on top of the plane, and some also had the lower ball turret replaced with a radar dome. The top-secret mission of these planes makes info and photos a little scarce, but it looks like my plane had a radar dome added to the belly after it arrived. In addition, these planes apparently often flew with some of the gun positions unoccupied, so I plan to use machine guns only on the top turret and in the tail position.

    I plan to use the Academy 1/72 model of the B-17F as the basis for this model. I want to add some “enhancements” from Kits World, including a 3D instrument panel, seatbelts, and seat cushions. For the dome replacement, I had heard rumors that there was one in the more recent B-17G from Revell. I had this kit somewhere in a bunch of boxes, and it only took a month to find it. Good news, it had the dome. I have a selection of decals that I can use to create the markings for this plane.

    I hope to start the build in the next few days. I haven’t built anything for several months, so hopefully the skills are like riding a bicycle and will come back quickly. Cheers.

  • Spiros Pendedekas said 1 month ago:

    Welcome back, my friend @gblair!
    What an entrance, what a subject! As always, backed up with your great research! Looking forward to it!

  • John Healy said 1 month ago:

    Welcome back, George! Great subject that I know nothing about. I’ll be following.

  • John vd Biggelaar said 1 month ago:

    Looking forward to this subject, George @gblair
    Great entrance with indeed very valuable information.
    Very nice scheme for your Fortress.

  • George R Blair Jr said 1 month ago:

    Thanks, Spiros (@fiveten), John (@j-healy), and John (@johnb). It's good to be back. I am looking forward to this build, although I am still having a lot of trouble finding things that I unpacked. It seems that I put stuff into very logical places when I unpacked them, and now I can't find them. Maybe not so logical?

  • Louis Gardner said 1 month ago:

    George, @gblair
    This is a fascinating subject. I have always wondered about how the ELINT aircraft came about, and now after reading your introduction, I know. Thank you !
    It seems that you are already ahead of the game, since you have picked out the aircraft you want to build, and have located the parts needed. That's a big win in my book !
    I will definitely be watching this one for updates. I'll also bet you are very happy to have completed the move, and now you will be christening your new hobby room.
    BTW, I have not forgotten about the D-2600 build. It was placed on a temporary hold while I sorted some things out. Look for it to show up again soon in the Luftwaffe group.

    Take care ! 🙂

  • George R Blair Jr said 1 month ago:

    Thanks, Louis (@lgardner). Glad to have the move in the rear-view mirror. All of the moving boxes are empty, which was a major accomplishment. Apparently we have moved into the severe weather zone...we have had 3 tornadoes pass within a mile of our house in the last couple of months. That's 3 more near misses than we had in 30 years in the old house. Looking forward to you putting the master's touch on D-2600. I hope the masks work well. I found some wartime photos of some Ju52s that were used in North Africa that have some really interesting markings. I have a couple of 1/72 Ju52s that I would like to use, but I may have to create the markings. Argh!

  • George R Blair Jr said 1 month ago:

    Today was the first day that I took a good look at the "nuts and bolts" in my Academy B-17F. I had heard some good things about them, but had never actually built one. There aren't many other options around for a B-17F, so I was hoping for the best. First, to put this kit into perspective: The boxing I have came out in 1994, but is based on parts from a B-17C that came out in 1988. The older Revell B-17E/F came out in the early 1960s, so I was expecting to find something better than the old Revell but not quite "state of the art" today.

    The kit I found in the box is a real mixed bag. The parts come in three or four plastic bags, but the first disappointment was that the clear parts are packed without any protection in a bag along with some of the other kit parts. It doesn't look like they suffered any damage, but a separate bag for the clear stuff would have been nice. The parts are simplified and lack detail, especially in the cockpit. The seats are especially poor. In addition, several areas of the cockpit are incorrect, as well as lacking detail. The rest of the parts look pretty good, but I have read reviews that say that the parts don't really fit well.

    The instruction sheet has only 8 steps, so you get the idea that there won't be a lot of complexity or detail. There are a lot of parts on the sprues that are for other versions of the plane, such as two sets of props, the lower gondola from early B-17s, and other duplications. The instructions have a parts diagram for the sprues that have some of the parts "greyed-out", so you would incorrectly think these are the parts you don't use. Below the diagram is a list of parts not used, and you soon discover that some of the "greyed" parts are not used, while other are.

    At this point, I am trying to figure out how much work I want to do on the interior, especially the cockpit and the radio operators compartment, which houses some of the extra equipment and operators for the ferret mission. I took a look at the Revell B-17G while I was retrieving the radar dome for the belly. This kit, which came out in 2010, appears to be much more accurate, detailed, and well-made than the much-older Academy kit. More on all of this in the next installment.


  • Spiros Pendedekas said 1 month ago:

    A mixed bag of a kit indeed, my friend @gblair!

  • John vd Biggelaar said 1 month ago:

    Although lacking detail, I'm pretty sure you will turn this one into an amazing Fortress, George @gblair

  • George R Blair Jr said 1 month ago:

    Thanks, Spiros (@fiveten) and John (@johnb). Time will tell how much trouble this kit will be. Hopefully I am judging it too harshly. :o)

  • Paul Barber said 4 weeks, 1 day ago:

    @gblair The aftermarket goodies you have picked up will lift this. I'm really liking the look of the 3-D decals. The research is strong and you are set to deliver a unique build. Will tag along for sure!

  • George R Blair Jr said 4 weeks, 1 day ago:

    You are right, Paul (@yellow10). I think people who look at models tend to look where the people would be, in this case, the flight deck and the nose compartment. I want to do some extra work there even though it will be hard to see. I stopped work for a little while so I can go dig around in the storage room we have. I have more models and aftermarket stuff than I can keep at the house, so part of the storage room is my modeling stuff. A mistake I made many years ago was never cataloging what was where, so finding stuff is a frustrating effort of digging through multiple boxes. I think I have a resin cockpit for this plane, so I am planning an expedition through the storage room this weekend to see if I can find the aftermarket parts. If not, it will be scratchbuild time. Cheers.

  • Lis said 4 weeks ago:

    It promises to be a fantastic construction, which I will be watching closely! I also have a B-17 in my plans for the future, so it will be a very valuable topic!

  • George R Blair Jr said 3 weeks, 4 days ago:

    Thanks, @lis. I have liked B-17s since I first saw the movie "12 O'clock High" a long time ago. I think I also have a B-24 in my near future. :o)

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