CURTISS A-12 "SHRIKE", 26th Attack Squadron, 18th CG c. 1936

by George Grasse


This image of the kit's "box art" shows black "144" of the 26th Attack Squadron, 18th Composite Group, Wheeler Field, Hawaii, circa 1936.  A total of 21 A-12s would join the squadron by late 1937.

The main differences between the A-8 "Shrike" and the A-12 "Shrike" are 1) the A-12 has the 670 hp Wright YR-1820-21 radial engine (the A-8 had an in-line engine); 2) the wheel spats are similar but noticeably different; 3) and the pilot and gunner cockpits are closer together.  The kit includes decals for three aircraft: an olive drab A-12 of the 13th Attack Squadron, 3rd Attack Group (3rd AG) c. 1934, a light blue A-12 of the 26th Attack Squadron, 18th Composite Group (18th CG) c. 1936-37, and a camouflaged A-12 export version in Chinese colors.

This is a plastic injection kit with a large number of resin components and vacuformed canopies.  A critique of this kit written by Tom Cleaver and published on the internet in September 2004 determined that the kit's radial engine and cowling were too large and offered a fix which will be described in the construction process.


This image is taken from Curtiss Aircraft 1907 - 1947 by Peter M. Bowers page 329 which compares in profile the A-8 and A-12 models.  In nearly all other aspects, the aircraft were identical.  See also page 330 for specification comparisons. 1



The original order placed with Curtiss for the A-12 consisted of 45 aircraft which were delivered as follows: 2


Serial Qty Deployment Date
33-212 1 to Wright Field 21 Nov'33
33-213 1 to Edgewood Arsenal 23 Nov '33
33-214 1 to Aberdeen 29 Nov '33
33-215 to 33-256 42 3rd Attack Group, Fort Crockett, Texas 14 Dec '33 to 20 Feb '34


The first A-12s were delivered to the 3rd Attack Group (3rd AG) at Fort Crockett, Texas, between 14 December 1933 and 20 February 1934.  Almost immediately, the Group was assigned to U. S. Mail Service Delivery when the Government cancelled all contracts with private carriers.  The Group's participation ran from February to May 1934.  At this time, the Group's was composed of the 8th, 13th, and 90th Attack Squadrons.

In February 1935, the Group moved to Barksdale Field, Louisiana.  In mid-1936, the Group re-equipped with the new Northrop A-17 "Nomad" single-engine, two-seater, which brought an end to the Curtiss A-12s in  front-line service with the 3rd AG lasting from late 1933 to mid 1936.  From an initial inventory of 43 A-12 aircraft in 1934, 2 were lost to accidents leaving 41.  There was one other A-12 at Wright Field. 

The Group's A-12 aircraft were dispersed to a number of other units and facilities and some began the process of conversion from the "original" configuration to the "roll-over" configuration, the installation of a sturdy roll-over pylon right behind the pilot's cockpit giving the A-12 an ungainly profile.  However, this process took several years and appears to have been performed whenever a particular A-12 came up for major over-haul. 

Distribution of the 3rd AG A-12s was: 9 to Maxwell Field, Alabama (Air Corps Tactical School, already with 5 A-12s); 1 to the Edgewood Arsenal (already with 1 A-12); and 10 to Kelly Field, Texas (Advanced Flying School).  During 1937, the Edgewood Arsenal A-12 and five from Maxwell Field were added to the Kelly Field inventory now standing at 15 aircraft.  The remaining 15 of the original 41 wee sent to Wheeler Field, Hawaii, to join the 26th Attack Squadron (26th AS), 18th Composite Group (18th CG) which had two pursuit squadrons. 

   Some of the A-12s sent to the 26th AS were of the original configuration and others were of the "roll-over" configuration.  Additionally, the color schemes were all Light Blue No. 23 fuselage with Yellow No. 4 flying surfaces and tail fin.  The changeover from fuselage Olive Drab No. 22 began in January 1934 when these stocks were nearing their reorder point and the corps was seriously thinking of eliminating either the Olive Drab scheme which was for front-line tactical aircraft or the Light Blue scheme which was for training aircraft.  The intent was to save money and simplify the maintenance of aircraft.  By May it was decided to adopt the Light Blue scheme for all aircraft which could be covered with "washable" camouflage as was often used during exercises.  It probably took several years to rotate all active combat and training aircraft in use through their normal maintenance cycles when the Light Blue scheme would be applied.  So, by the time A-12s transferred to Hawaii, they were all in the Light Blue No. 23 and Yellow No. 4 scheme. 3

One interesting note of caution appears in Air Force Colors, Vol. 1 1926-1942 by Dana Bell.  On page 23 he explains the problem of identifying colors using the shades in the photo to determine whether or not a 1930s aircraft is Olive Drab or Light Blue.  World War I historians and modelers know the story of orthochromatic film, the most widely used film type.  The film distorts the true shade of most colors and a prime example is yellow which always appears substantially darker in black and white photos.  The plywood surfaces of German aircraft such as the single-seat Albatros fighter or the LVG two-seaters appears dark which led many to believe they were painted surfaces, probably dark green.  Some have even developed shade analysis schemes by comparing present-day color charts printed in gray scale with the World War I photos and have thus been able, they say, to identify colors in black and white photos.   This is pure "hogwash".  The best one can do is simply determine whether or note one or more colors are present.  For example, it was thought for decades that the Albatros aircraft produced in mid-1916 to early-1917 were in two-color schemes.  Finally, someone noticed the subtle difference in shade on a surface which revealed the presence of three colors, presumably the three-color scheme of dark green, red-brown, and light green.  What does orthochromatic do to a Light Blue No.23 surface?  It lightens the blue.

The reverse of photo analysis when viewing an orthochromatic photo is viewing a panchromatic photo popular in the 1920s and on.  This type of film makes blue appear darker.  Thus, when viewing mid-1930s Army aircraft under these circumstances, one could draw the conclusion that the aircraft in the photo has an Olive Drab fuselage because it looks so dark.

This same reference includes on page 94 all you need to know about the current knowledge concerning U. S. Army colors and how they compare with Navy colors, Federal Standard 595a, and actual paint chips the author has studied.  And, from time to time and from supplier to supplier, paint lots of the same color varied.  4


1 April 2012
FIRST PHOTO: I don't know why I missed earlier construction stage photos but this is the first one I remembered to take!  The cockpits have been detailed and painted and fuselage halves glued and puttied.  The wings were glued, puttied, and sanded; then, primed and sprayed with Tamiya TM8034 "Camel Yellow".  The fin was masked off, primed, and painted.  You can see the light gray color of the primer on the rudder.  The fuselage was brush painted in one coat of my Vallejo mix to represent U. S. Army Quartermaster Corps Spec 3-1's sample 23 known as "Light Blue" which I prepared previously for the Boeing P-26 "Peashooter". 


5 April 2012
DETAILS ARE STARTED: Each wheel spat is molded in two pieces.  They were glued together, puttied, and sanded.  Each had to be carefully positioned under each wing.  To do this, I consulted drawings, found the location, traced the outline of the top of the wheel spat on the wing.  Then, I removed the paint and primer from inside the tracing so the glue would bond.  Both wheel spats were glued and allowed to dry overnight. 

I added the kit's wing bracing to both spats (right inside wheel spat brace shown above).  Next I drilled out four holes at the upper part of each wheel spat to take brass tubing representing the Browning .30 caliber machine guns.  I used Griffon Models GCP-BHP03 brass tubing with .8mm OD and .3mm ID.

  The rudder was painted in Andrea ANXC01 Flat White as a primer for the red, white, and blue striped decal.  The kit supplied two tail wheels, one in white metal (which was used) and another in plastic (not used).   Lastly, at this stage, I applied one more coat of hand-brushed Vallejo mix No. 23 Light Blue.


16 April 2012
TO THE FINISH LINE:  Between the previous photo dated 5 April 2012 and 15 April 2012, I concentrated on finishing the model but did not take any in-progress photos until the end.  Briefly, in this photo and those that following I will describe the construction steps using these finished photos.

After the wheel spats were glued and braced, I moved back to the cockpit areas checking to be sure all was finished.  I built up the kit-supplied rear cockpit .30 caliber machine gun with additional pieces of scrap to make the ammunition box and holder, rear sight, and replaced the kit's main mount with a brass rod.  The front sight is from Eduard's 1:48 German WW1 PE Sights (48415) sheet.

The gunner's brass looped step replaced the kit's weak resin part and the mid-fuselage foot step was made from plastic stock.  The antenna was remade from brass Strutz ground done to a taper.  A piece of .005 piano wire was glued to it and both together are detachable for shipment.


16 April 2012
THE ENGINE:  It was decided early on that the kit's engine and cowling will be replaced.  This was the result of having read Tom Cleaver's internet review on this kit.  In that review, he compared the size of the engine and cowling to specs and photos and discovered that the kit's components had to be replaced.  He recommended the cowling from the Hobbycraft 1:48 P-26 "Peashooter" and the Wright R-1820 "Cyclone" from Engines & Things, kit 48072.  Both substitute parts were a fair fit so I coated the inside of the cowling with a thin layer of super glue.  When dry, the cylinder heads engaged the inside cowling walls and resulted in a good fit.  The engine was glued to the fuselage front.  The kit's cowling collector ring exhaust was test fitted with the not-yet-glued cowling and was too large in diameter.  I snipped two small sections and test fitted the exhaust.  It was a good fit so I glued the exhaust to the back of the engine.

Before proceeding any further, it was time to finalize the No. 23 Blue making sure cracks were sealed and touched up.  The entire model was oversprayed with satin polyurethane so decals could be applied.  I painted the red rectangle which identifies the panel which houses the engine starter crank mechanism and applied that decal.  The kit's instruction sheet covered all of the decal locations but curiously did not provide decals for the propellers which, in photos, appear to be black squares.  Once all decals were applied, I oversprayed the entire model again with satin polyurethane. 


16 April 2012
MORE ENGINE WORK:  The cowling was attached, filled with putty, and sanded.  The kit's trailing exhaust seen above near the bottom of the fuselage, did not quite fit properly after the collector ring was trimmed down to fit the smaller engine and cowling.  I made one from a straight piece of plastic sprue that was roughly the same diameter as the kit's exhaust.  I heated that piece of plastic as though I were going to make stretch sprue but not hot enough to melt the plastic but just barely bend it at both ends but in opposite directions.  The end that comes out from the collector ring was cut and sanded to fit and the other end was drilled out.  I painted the exhaust system with a mix of Vallejo VC0999 Copper and Vallejo VC0863 Gun Metal Gray.


16 April 2012
WING SUPPORTS (TOPSIDE): All "Shrikes" from the A-8 to the A-12 had two types of wing supports: braces and wires and this view shows both.  The method of attaching the "wires" is described in the next panel (Photo #7) but note where the wires are attached just behind the pilot's cockpit.  The braces were kit supplied.  Other items not mentioned yet are the kit-supplied forward gun/bomb sight and the clear plastic canopies which were cut to fit, tacked with a tiny spot of super-glue then filled with white glue and painted.  The gunner's canopy was cut in half, pushed back to expose the .30 caliber MG and secured with super glue and white glue.  Note the looped and stubbed step for the gunner.


16 April 2012
WING SUPPORTS (UNDERSIDE):  This view shows the bracing on the inside of the wheel spats and wires on the outside corresponding to the topside wires.  In fact, just one .005 monofilament "wire" was used for each of the individual wires on both sides of the wing.  I glued the end of one wire to the wheel spat wire projection and passed it through a hole in the wing.  On the topside, the "wire" was passed through a hole just aft of the pilot's cockpit.  Each wire, eight of them, were super-glued in in each hole (top and bottom) then clipped at the other end as it passed through the back of the pilot's cockpit, glued, and left to dangle so that gravity kept the line taut until it dried.  It was snipped off inside.  After all eight "wires" were clipped off, I made a small triangular headrest to hide the interior from view.


16 April 2012
WING BRACING, FRONT AND REAR:  The overall effect is somewhat stunning considering that this was an all-metal "modern" mid-1930s aircraft with wing bracing reminiscent of World War I and the 1920s.  Note that the backside of the three-bladed propeller is painted maroon which was the usual practice in this period to reduce reflective glare.


16 April 2012



--------------------------------------------   FINIS  --------------------------------------------



1 Bowers, Peter M., Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947, pages 326-331.  The main difference is obvious at the nose of the fuselage.  The A-8 had an in-line engine but the A-12 had a radial engine mostly because the radial was easier to maintain.  The A-12 was a bit slower, lower climb rate, lower ceiling, and heavier. 

2  Rust, Kenn and Walter M. Jeffries, Profile Publications 128, The Curtiss Shrike, page 6.

3 Ibid, pages 6 - 9.

4  Bell, Dana.  Air Force Colors Volume 1 1926-1942, page 23 the chapter entitled "Blue Fuselages" contains several black and white photos, a table of aircraft components to be painted, and  a nice historical narrative explaining why it was done.  Also, on page 94 the author tabulates all of the colors used by the U.S. Army Air Corps with his own "eyeball" notations comparing known samples with Federal Standard 595a. 



Bell, Dana.  Air Force Colors Volume 1 1926-1942.  Carrollton, Texas: Squadron Signal Publications, 1995.

Bowers, Peter M.  Curtiss Aircraft 1907 - 1947.  London: Putnam (Naval Institute Press): 1987.

Freeman, Peter and Mike Starmer.  Wings of Stars - US Army Air Corps 1919-1941, On Target Special. Ardington, North Wantage, Oxfordshire, UK: The Aviation Workshop Publications, 2009.

Rust, Kenn C., Journal Editor and Walter M. Jeffries, Technical Editor.  The Curtiss Shrike, Profile Publications Number 128.  Compiled by The American Aviation Historical Society.  Surrey, England UK: George Falkner & Sons, 1966.