Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson
In May 2016 I presented here a picture of a Meteor NF.11 of 98sq. of the RAF, and I explained at the time that my desire to create the image came from my nostalgia for the aircraft types that were commonly seen in the Scottish Highlands during my teenage years.
Now I'm showing another plane that we saw often at that time, but which is regrettably not much remembered by aircraft enthusiasts and the modelling fraternity – The Lockheed P2V Neptune. Neptunes regularly arrived over my home town from nearby Kinloss RAF Coastal Command station. They would circle around the town a couple of times, and then head off westwards towards the Minch and the Atlantic.
I really admired the Neptune. It had that elegance that you get with a really workmanlike design, combining simple outlines with a well-conceived design plan. The high aspect ratio wings seemed right for a long-range maritime patrol role, and the gigantic fin suggested the designers weren't taking any chances with longitudinal stability. We only ever saw the earlier P2V-5 version with WW II-style gun turrets, and without that long extension from the tail, which frankly rather mars the plane's appearance. I don't recall seeing Neptunes in any other but the midnight-blue finish, very impressive, but a headache for model-makers and illustrators.
There are still some Neptunes around, serving mostly in the fire-fighting role. They are based on later marks, and are finished in day-glow in all directions.
The Initial Image
There aren't many reviews of Neptune models as far as I can trace them, but I was able to get a mini-archive of 80-something images, including two reviews of builds, one of a US Navy P2V-5 by Jim Sullivan, and one anonymous review of a very relevant build, a P2V-5 of 217sq., serial WX510, which operated from Kinloss in the time frame I'm interested in.
The motivation for the build was that an uncle of the modeller was the navigator on WX510 on the night of 13.October 1955, when it took off from Kinloss on a mission to locate an Icelandic trawler in difficulty at a point some 130 miles from Barra and 200 miles NW of Ireland, in very bad weather. They did find the trawler, reported its position to accompanying surface vessels, and turned south to refuel in Northern Ireland. The Neptune crashed in the sea before they reached land, and all 9 of the crew were lost.
I'm not sure that we can trust the numbers quoted above for the location of the distressed trawler; I tried plotting the arcs on the google earth map, and they intersected away out in the open ocean, beyond even the limit of the continental shelf. Admittedly, I was doing it very roughly, as engineers are wont to do to get a first-order approximation, but still I have my doubts.
The model is well built and detailed, and the photographs are all typically like the one I worked on, good clear images. It's quite a big aircraft, so the pixellation at 800x600 is not as generous as I'd like, but I can get a decent result from it.
Treatment of the Image
I tackled the selection process cautiously because of my lack of knowledge of the type. I was unsure about the authenticity of the markings on the model. Consulting my archive, I found an in-flight photo of A-H, serial WX504, and used it as my guide to the markings. The main differences are that the warning signs for the prop-arc on the model are more elaborate than on most RAF P2V-5's, and that the letter-code repeater on the nose is smaller on A-H.
One of the last things I did to the airframe image was to change the overall finish to a darker shade, with the blue coloration less saturated.
I tried a background that would evoke the stormy conditions of the 13.October catastrophe, but it all looked too gloomy, not at all like my recollections of the Neptune. In the end, I simply put it against a cloudscape that recalls to me those dark aircraft seen against a bright but blustery-looking sky.
This final result is fairly close to my recall of how these impressive aircraft looked. Later they were replaced by Shackletons, which didn't appeal to me much; they were more capable than the Neptunes, with more modern electronic gear, but they were noisy, graceless aircraft, a far cry from the classic lines of their Lancaster forebears.
Next on my bucket list of aircraft types, I'd love to do a Royal Navy Buccaneer shooting along the length of Loch Ness just above the water surface, and seen by the observer from the loch-side road , which is quite high above the loch surface. Now that was a memorable sight, and the noise, hitting you just as the plane was abreast, was colossal.
Not many people know this, but the part of Scotland north of the Great Glen fault is actually part of the Canadian Shield; there was a collision between the North American plate and the European plate some time ago, and we acquired that fragment, a few million years before real estate agents existed.