Thursday, 21 May 2020

"Zero" control surfaces

As you probably remember our friend Jan Kanov presented a very beautiful Zero when he took part in our latest contest, HERE. In a comment I did not agree with the color of the fabric covered control surfaces in relation to the metal rest of the aircraft. Jan preferred my answer to be posted in public, so here it is.

First of all, this is not an attempt to diminish the work of Jan. His model is excellent; end of story.
Second, this is just my personal opinion. I'm far from an expert on the Zero or the colors and paints of the Japanese aircraft.
Third, please keep in mind that I will not talk in my answer about the hues of "hairyokushoku" (the color/paint of the Zero) and whether these were gray, brown or whatever. Personally, I prefer to call the color the same way an 80y.o. ace Zero pilot called it when asked about it; beige.
And four, I will ignore completely the usual bullshit "you can't really tell color from b/w photos", shadows, overhead clouds, etc. as it seems that b/w photos that support one argument are perfectly fine but when they don't they must be flawed.

And just to be clear, Nick Millman has done an extensive research on the Zero and so this post cannot, in any way, be compared to his collective work. This is just my thoughts as an answer to Jan.

Nick, HERE, talks about the control surfaces and mentions that "the difference in hue or lightness of the fabric control surfaces of Zero fighters is apparent in some monochrome photographs". I agree 100% with the conclusion he reaches at the end of his post and I believe too that there is absolutely no reason a different paint to have been used for the control surfaces and another for the rest of the aircraft, except perhaps in the unlikely situation where the controls were produced by a sub-contractor, which we know was not the case. Yes, the controls were painted following a different procedure but overall not that different from the rest of the plane.

But mainly,  I would like to talk about those "monochrome photographs".
There are really very few high quality photos of early Zeros (before the green top camo). For every photo where the control surfaces look different than the rest of the plane (I'll call them "different" photos), there is an equal number of photos that shows exactly the opposite. Furthermore, in almost all the "different" photos, the control surfaces are at an angle. In those where the angle is straight, the controls and the rest of the aircraft look the same.

Let's see some examples from Japanese publications and from NARA.
In this very interesting photo the part of the rudder from the "111" down looks different, lighter, than the metal part of the tail. Note the lock at the bottom of the rudder, which means it is straight. But also note that the rudder from the "111" up is exactly the same with the rest of the tail. What's going on here?

Here's another, particularly interesting "different" photo. The rudders of both "R3-132" and "R3-134" are different, lighter, than the rest of the tail. But note that they are not straight. How about the tail of "R3-116"? The paint on the tail looks old and weathered but the area around the marking has been freshly repainted and the "16" part is only very slightly lighter than the "R3-1" part.

In the photo above, how many different shades of the same paint can you detect? The starboard elevator is lighter than the trim tab and the rest of the tail. The starboard aileron looks very slightly lighter than the rest of the wing, but definitely darker than the elevator. That's also the case with the port aileron but curiously the folding part of the wing (made of metal) looks to be the same lighter "color".

Let's examine the following NARA photos of wrecked (unimportant detail?) aircraft.

The warped rudder definitely looks darker than the rest of the tail. Wait, darker now? Weren't they lighter in the photos above? 
And how about the port elevator? Doesn't it look exactly the same with the rest of the aircraft?

Another photo where the rudder and the port aileron look darker, but the port elevator looks to be the same "color" with the rest of the aircraft, only perhaps very slightly darker.

And finally, here's a combo of the "Q-102" tail. On the left the rudder looks lighter, on the right it looks darker. 

I don't know if the fabric control surfaces of in-action (not wrecked) Zeros looked indeed darker or lighter than the rest of the aircraft. My personal conclusion is that IF they did, the difference would have been only light. Perhaps some photos were taken after a sudden rain, the Zeros were caught outdoors and the fabric got a bit wet. Or perhaps the fabric was replaced and so the metal paint looked old and the fabric looked new. 
In general, I believe the Zeros (like all aircraft that have seen action, not factory fresh) never looked uniformly only in one color, one paint, one hue. Some panels that were often removed (like to change the ammunition or near oil tanks) looked definitely different than the less "worked up" parts of the plane or other areas that were not often touched by the ground crews. Remember that crews often rubbed oil on or smoothed out the plane surfaces to gain a few knots of speed. So, for me, instead of focusing only on the fabric surfaces, painting them a different color, modelers should ideally present a more uneven Zero model with slight variations of the same paint on selective points, yes, including the control surfaces, but as a variation of the same overall paint, not a different one.

As expected the subject is not over. Mike Ageenko mentioned:
Few thoughts from me on this subject.
We don’t know, of course, if the paint was different or not, but we should take into consideration possible difference in the tone.
First, Q102, note different tone on ailerons.

Thanks Mike. But note also the very weathered hinomaru and the wing area around it.

Here's another "different" photo of Zeros belonging to the IwakuniKu.

The photo has some serious blemishes around "IHA-138" but "IHA-133" is clear enough and the rudder looks indeed lighter than the trim tab and the rest of the tail. How about "IHA-127" though? The rudder and the trim tab look lighter as well as the area around the marking on the tail, similar to the "R3-116" mentioned above.

One of the absolute experts on the Zero is Ryan Toews. HERE you can see a VERY detailed and extremely useful piece about the Zero and the Tamiya kit. 
He mentions that: 
"The fabric-covered control surfaces of both manufacturers were a neutral gray colour close to FS 6314, but note that the metal trim tabs on these control surfaces were painted the same colour as the rest of the plane’s exterior."
Here's FS 6314

He also suggests FS 6350 for the Mitsubishi built Zeros

and FS 4201 for the Nakajima built.
As I mentioned in the beginning this posting is not about the colors and the paints. But the browns look completely different from the gray, not a lighter version of them. This suggests that FS 6314 is a different paint from the two browns. I explained that I don't agree with this suggestion, but if you want to follow Ryan's instructions, please feel free to build your Zero as he recommends.

But let's move on to more b/w photos.
The "different" photo below from the net leaves no room for misinterpretation.

More "different" photos from Japanese publications, this time of the same factory fresh Zero being shipped to front line units.

But in the photos below there is no visible difference between the fabric and the metal surfaces.


And let me finish with a couple videos. Note that the rudder looks lighter but is not straight.


Honza78 said...

Thank you for an exhaustive discussion on our common topic. I really appreciate your help, George.
Another milestone in information has just broken for me. Thanks so I can keep growing and so can others.
Hooray for more work. ;)

Danilo said...

Dear George,
your post is correct. In my models I have very often represented the control surfaces in slightly different shade than the rest of the aircraft for a very simple reason: they're made of materials -generally fabric for the control surfaces and metal for the entire aircraft. This means that despite the overall colour is the same for all the surfaces what is UNDER the final paint coat makes the difference. Each material was prepared for the final paint coat in accordance to its nature, i.e. wood, fabric, metal, etc. and this creates the basis for a different reaction to the weathering agents.I always keep in mind this when it's time to finish my models and this can be seen in my A6M3 I entered in the recent Zero contest -it can be better appreciated in the picture from above.

To remain in the control surfaces field I am just completing a reconstruction of a 1/72 Fine Molds Ki-61-II kai and have a doubt - the ailerons of this Ki-61 were fabric or metal covered? If fabric covered were they painted in light grey-green or aluminium doped to match the natural metal finish? Thank you

D. Chouinard said...

Danilo, you are exactly right. Different material take paint in different ways. Also, with exposure to the elements, paint wears differently.
A case in point: At the aviation museum I'm a member of, we have a North American T-6 in New Zealand markings, the entire tail is a red orange color. Before the (fabric covered) rudder got recovered and painted, the paint was lighter than the rest of the tail. The fresh paint is now the same as the rest of the tail.
The combination of chemicals, materials, and sun exposure can change a paint color over time. I have seen the paint on metal parts of a plane look reasonably good and the fabric covered parts faded. I have also see the opposite, oxidized paint and far less so with the control surfaces.
Now, to trow another spanner into the works: If the control surfaces were supplied by a subcontractor, the pant color might vary slightly, even batches of the same color paint can have slight tonal differences.

All sorts of permutations! Mostly though, I think weathering and type of surface have the biggest influence in this case.

Arawasi said...

Let's also keep in mind that one bullet from an enemy aircraft or flak hitting the control surfaces, and any other part of the plane really, means that this specific part needs to be replaced. The replacement part will definitely not have the same hue with the rest of the aircraft even if it was painted originally in the same color. This is not rocket science. It happened all the time during combat and modellers often seem to forget that. There is the perception that aircraft are either factory fresh, even during combat, or wrecked.
One of the most persistent questions modellers ask is "what is the color of the interior of the cowling of the Zero" (always the Zero. Never "Hayabusa", "Raiden" etc). Japanese aircrat had engines notoriously dirty. It really doesn't matter what color was originally. Unless you are depicting a factory fresh a/c with an engine that hasn't been started even once, the cowling interior would be full of oil, soot and plenty of smoke. Do you think the ground crew spent time cleaning and repainting the interior of the cowling? It's like asking what color the underside of your car is.
Do you think the ground crew who changed the engine oil then immedietely washed his hands before touching the plane? Or had his shoes cleaned before climbing inside the cockpit to check if everything worked properly?
I'm starting to think that a lot of people see combat aircraft as their cars where you take them to the mechanic or the station and they give them back to you looking better than before.

Arawasi said...

"the ailerons of this Ki-61 were fabric or metal covered? If fabric covered were they painted in light grey-green or aluminium doped to match the natural metal finish?"
The ailerons, the rudder and the elevators of the "Hien" were covered in fabric. I've heard people saying that they were either painted in hairyokushoku or silver. Personally I think they were painted either hairyokushoku, the official standard IJAAF paint, or the fabric was treated with clear coats to become waterproof. The Army never painted their aircraft silver. Where did the IJAAF get the silver paint to paint only these parts of the planes? From the Navy?

Baronvonrob said...


Thanks for the diligent research and hypotheses and to everyone who contributed to this particular topic.

From what I can tell we all agree that once these Aircraft rolled out of the factory they automatically became subject to so many actions, elements and variables that a broad variance in overall paint and finish was inevitable....

Therefore we can now all enjoy and debate the many changes in colors schemes without challenging the validity or possibilities of such interpretations.....except of course for the "Pink Rufe" :))

D. Chouinard said...

Yes, Zero overload, as if there were not any other fighter used..... I agree about the "What color is the inside of a Zero cowling". First off, even in 1/32 scale, you don't see that much. And it's an area likely covered in oil and dirt on the real thing. Just starting a radial engine slings oil everywhere!
With regard to the control surfaces: I can't say for sure exactly how the Japanese finished fabric surfaces, but I would bet that it follows resonabely close to the U.S. method of three coats of clear dope, two coats of aluminized dope, and three coats of top color. One of the latter might be the red/brown primer used on IJN aircraft? There may have only been one primer and one color coat, or no primer used or deemed necessary, on fabric control surfaces? Aluminized dope was used for protection from the sun, which can degrade fabric rather quickly.
Each country during WW2 had their own methods, but all were interrelated as information spread during the pre-war years.

Anonymous said...

The relics from downed zeros at Pearl Harbor show that, infact the fabric on the control surfaces were neutral to kakhi gray and the factory paint was an "ash green" that color shifted over the years to a slightly yellow tint (that can easily be buffed out). I rely on the color photos of the relics as a reference. These relic photos can be found in LPS forums.

Arawasi said...

Thank you for your input.
1. "LPS forums"? Care to explain what these are?
2. "downed zeros at Pearl Harbor" Can I ask from how many Zeros downed at Pearl Harbor, do samples of fabric from the control surfaces survive? Are there fabric samples from 2 Zeros? Ten? Twenty?

Anonymous said...

1.The typo should read LSP (Large Scale Planes).

2.There are a few examples of "downed" Zeros at (and near) Pearl Harbor, the most famous being at Niihau Island, Hawaii flown by Shigenori Nishikaichi, though the plane was destroyed by the pilot, there is an example of the fabic control surface that has survived. The other is at Kaneohe flown by Lt. Fusata Iida, a piece of the fuselage is in the collection of James Lansdale. Other artifacts can be accessed on in the Harry Ferrier collection which consists of a piece of the fuselage and the control surface.

3.Contact David Aiken Director of the Pearl Harbor History Associates for information about other Pearl Harbor artifacts from "downed" Zeros.

4. The point is that guesswork based on b&w photos is not necessary in the digital age where access to historical artifacts is a click or two away. There is also the matter of Kodachrome photos of A6M3s in the pacific islands taken by U.S. marines during the latter part of ww2.

Arawasi said...

Thanks again.
From what you say, I read that there are fabric samples from two PH Zeros. Personally, I don't think these are enough to draw conclusions for ALL the Zeros produced. If you are satisfied with the sample material, good for you.

News flash, Mr. Aiken passed away last year.

Again, thank you for your input. Always nice to have differing oppinions.