This summer I was asked by some readers for making a tutorial on my photo-matching method. This method allowed me to recreate the shapes of various historical aircraft with greater precision than the classic scale plans. (For example – the Fokker D.V or SBD Dauntless). This is the first post on this subject (I decided to split this tutorial into two subsequent posts).
The goal of the photo matching is to set up in your 3D environment a photo as the precise reference image (a more reliable equivalent to the scale plans). You can then use such a photo to verify, correct, and enhance the initial version of your 3D model. To begin, you need:
Initial 3D model. First you have to prepare an initial 3D model of the aircraft. You can do it in the classic way, using available scale plans and photos. This first approximation of the real aircraft does not have to be too detailed – prepare just the fuselage, wings and empennage. Eventually you can also add simplified landing gear (placing plain cylinders in place of its oleo struts) and the propeller blades;
High-resolution photo. Ideal reference photo should be detailed and free of barrel or pincushion distortions (i.e. it should depict the aircraft in a pure perspective projection). Of course, in practice such an ideal is not possible, but I will give you some hints how to identify a good candidate for the reference photo;
I built my models and matched them to the photos in Blender 3D program. In this post I am using Blender 2.80 (this is the actual version). I assume that the Reader knows the basics of Blender environment, in particular its UI and the navigation in 3D scene (“3D View” window). However, sometimes in this post I will describe some details of Blender commands that are obvious to its regular users. In this way I just want to minimize the risk that eventual Reader will “get stuck” in the middle of the described process.
For this tutorial I decided to use my old P-40 model, shown below. I built it several years ago in a “classic” way: using the scale plans.
In this old model I did not used any information from the P-40 blueprints, which I presented in my previous posts.
In the previous post I finally identified Curtiss layout sketch L-10202 as description of the XP-40 geometry, as it was in February 1940. In that time Curtiss was finishing preparations for serial production of the P-40. (The first P-40 from this batch was accepted by USAAC in April 1940). This final variant of the XP-40 resembled the serial P-40-cu, except the tail wheel cover and rear glass frames, “inherited” from the P-36. However, the archival photos revealed minor differences between engine cowlings of these aircraft: the serial P-40 had longer spinner and deeper radiator cover.
It seems that all the original drawings and sketches of the early P-40s that I collected from the AirCorps Library resources describe the XP-40. Thus, first I will prepare the XP-40 side view using this original documentation. Then I will draw a P-40B side contour, using these XP-40 lines and available P-40-cu/B/C photos.
As I showed in one of previous posts, the XP-40 sketches are not only rare, but also in poor shape:
Generally speaking, the early P-40s (-cu, B, C) were “P-36 airframes with inline engines”. Thus, the only unique first-order assembly in these P-40 variants was their engine compartment. So far it seemed that the documentation of this area was lost, and the restoration teams had to rely on archival photos and other restored P-40B/C. (A P-40B restoration teamfrom New Zealand mentioned this in their interview).
In my post from August 2019 (Fig. 98-13 and Fig. 98-14) I described a previously unnoticed layout sketch, that I found among the “uncategorized” P-36/P-40 drawings in the AirCorps “P-40” microfilm set:
It can describe the geometry of the “long nose Hawk” engine cowling. In the same AirCorps Library uncategorized “pile” I also found some regular XP-40 drawings (engine mount, radiator support) and other sketches. However, the lines in all these images are faded, making them nearly unreadable. The L-10202 sketch is the most promising blueprint that I have found. In this post I will try to match this layout to the P-40B fuselage that I prepared in my previous post. I will also use photos to evaluate the results (i.e. for checking if the sketched engine cowling layout matches the real aircraft).