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World War II: USA
Aircraft of the United States in WWII.
Hosted by Rowan Baylis
B-17 - image interpretation
Katowice, Poland
Joined: December 23, 2007
KitMaker: 1,596 posts
AeroScale: 1,275 posts
Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 10:00 PM UTC
Hi folks,
I would like to ask about your interpretation of the colours on these two pictures.

Take a look first.

This is the B-17G "Joker" 42-31684 of the 774th Sqn 463th BG.
The profile was found on some website but it was also published in the Osprey's "B-17's FF of the MTO".

and this is the original photo of this airplane.

I wonder what were the real colours of the vertical stabiliser and the rudder. Osprey says that the stabiliser was at least partialy dark green and a rudder a bit "darker" olive drab. They have also made an error in the squadron's emblem shape.

In my opinion photo shows something different: vertical stabiliser was in the same colour as whole airframe but the rudder was dark green.

What do you think?
Texas, United States
Joined: January 30, 2006
KitMaker: 1,952 posts
AeroScale: 1,163 posts
Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 03:17 AM UTC
So, one thing to consider is that sub assemblies (like tails, control surfaces, wing tips, etc) were often built and painted by a sub-contractor and then delivered to Boeing, so it is very possible the olive drab on the airframe and that on the tail did not exactly match even before delivery to the USAAF. Even at boeing, the plane was not painted all at once, but rather in the sub assembly stage, and paint variations are possible even within the same plant as new batches of paint were going to have to be continuously delivered or mixed (rare for two batches of paint to match exactly)

then also unit markings on the tails changed several times, even for aircraft that stayed in the same unit, and doubly so for ones that got repaired at a depot then sent to a new unit - more chance of fresh/different shade of OD on the tail

concerning the rudder: paint on a fabric often looks different (darker or lighter, depending on the angle of the light) because more light is scattered by the texture of the fabric than by the metal panels. add to that the fact that even a few degrees of rudder deflection, which is common during a bombing run (that is how the bombardier guides the airplane since you don't want the plane tilting while you are releasing), will also cause light to reflect very differently (and make the rudder appear darker or lighter).

and apparently this aircraft had tail damage at some point because of the NMF tail gunners position - a new (or repaired and repainted) rudder might have come with that, and fresh OD is noticeably darker than one that has weathered even a little (though admittedly, the repaired or replacement rudder could have also been painted dark green)

the result - I bet (but don't guarantee) the rudder is actually also olive drab - going with another shade of olive drab on all the fabric surfaces is almost certainly your highest probability of accuracy. note how the ailerons look darker than the flaps even though they are at the same angle - i guarantee the bottom of the ailerons are not painted some color other than the neutral gray the flaps are in.

your model will look most interesting if you go for several shades of OD (or even dark green), and no one can say it is wrong, esp with such a difficult to interpret picture as proof. just as likely the whole aircraft was nearly the same OD color actually - that picture proves very little other than the light was playing on the different surfaces in various ways - differing colors is only one explanation for why that might be.

speaking directly to the picture and the tail unit (not rudder), hard to say - sort of looks like some other olive drab might have been used, but i'd actually say it ended above "joker" rather than going all the way to the base as the profile painting has it. but also consider the picture the profile artist used to work from is probably a lot clearer about showing shade differences than a scan of it found on the internet....

basically, whatever you do isn't going to be easy to prove wrong or right.
Staff MemberManaging Editor
Tennessee, United States
Joined: December 21, 2002
KitMaker: 7,528 posts
AeroScale: 3,108 posts
Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 03:34 AM UTC
Hi Michal ,

Vance is correct on everything he wrote, especially about the sub-assemblies and fabric control surfaces. Somewhere I have an article about the B-17 by Dana Bell, who used numerous color photos to demonstrate the facts.

B-17s were built in sub-assemblies and for much of their production run, several components colors were noticeably different. I don't know why. What modelers assumed was repaired damage was actually like that on the planes that rolled out of the factory. Notably, the inner vertical stabilizer and the inner panel of the wings outboard the outboard engines.

Katowice, Poland
Joined: December 23, 2007
KitMaker: 1,596 posts
AeroScale: 1,275 posts
Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 04:58 AM UTC
Vance, Fred - very big THANK YOU for most useful information.

I'll focus then on different shades of olive drab rather than "pure" dark green.

This particular plane was delivered to the unit on March 9th and lost on July 7th 1944, four months of combat duty during which she scored 50+ missions. It was shoot down during the raid on oil rafinery in Blechhammer, which today is Blachownia (Poland) - it's about 70-80km from the place where I live.
Katowice, Poland
Joined: December 23, 2007
KitMaker: 1,596 posts
AeroScale: 1,275 posts
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 11:23 PM UTC
Ok guys, let's continue the thread. I kept on searching for clues of the most probable appearance of this plane during it's fatal flight on 7th July 1944. I've found an information that the OD Fortresses since the summer of 1944 had yellow rudder and elevators and the group emblem was repeaded on the ends of tail wings.

How probable is that "Joker" was repainted before July 1944?

Here's the picture (the colours in the 463rd Group emblem are wrong):
Quebec, Canada
Joined: April 19, 2008
KitMaker: 593 posts
AeroScale: 505 posts
Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 05:31 AM UTC

Yellow is very possible or even likely, as the orthochromatic film used in those days could translate the yellow as a very dark, or even near black, colour. I don't really buy the green fin portion either, as the contrast seems modest...

The fact that the dull serial number yellow does not display that "blacked-out" effect is meaningless, as the effect is typically seen on fairly bright yellow.

The darker appearance of the aileron under the wing could be an effect of shadows as it is quite dark overall in there...

If it WAS Olive drab on the rudder, it would have faded to a LIGHTER colour than on the metal, and would not typically show up as darker as it does here, unless the control surface was a newer replacement part (lighter is typically how fabric control surfaces look in most photos). OD faded very fast however, even in the factory's yard, so such a sharp darker non-faded colour actually seems less likely than yellow.

A pronouced difference with the drawing I note is the much flatter appearance of the top turret's roof: I wonder what is up with that...

Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Joined: March 15, 2011
KitMaker: 121 posts
AeroScale: 112 posts
Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 10:12 AM UTC

A quick glance at the photo leads me to think that the top turret has been slewed in one direction to provide defensive fire when the photo was taken.

While there is a difference in the shape of the turret, I don't think it is that pronounced, which leads me to mention what I think might cause the difference in shape above.