In June of 1941, with much of Europe already engulfed in war, the United States remained reluctant to go to a war footing for good political reasons. Her air force was a relatively modest size, with around 9,000 officers and 143,000 men maintaining about 6,000 aircraft. From that point on however the country began to make more preparations, particularly after the attack on Pearl Harbour had forced her into the war proper, and by March 1944 the USAAF reached its peak size, with 2.4 million men and women maintaining an astonishing fleet of around a quarter of a million airplanes. While the impact of bombing raids on enemy cities continues to be debated to this day, there is no doubt the USAAF had an enormous influence on the war in Europe, and while circumstances meant it was naval aviation that predominated in the Pacific, there too the USAAF had an important role to play.
Airfix is always thought of primarily as a maker of aircraft models, and these constitute a large part of their catalogue, so it would have seemed reasonable to make some figures to complement these. As a result, they produced several sets of air force personal for the major combatants in World War II, and in 1974 this set appeared to service all those US aircraft. This was a time when Airfix were at their peak, making sets with lots of poses and beautifully sculpted too. Here we have 14 poses covering various aspects of the working of a USAAF base, and very good they are too. The majority as you would expect are ground crew, but there are also a couple of pilots and even a military policeman.
Our first row begins with an armourer carrying a machine gun, followed by a ground crewman on his back using his spanner. Next is the first of the pilots, wearing his peaked service cap and apparently wearing a life preserver ('Mae West') as well as his parachute harness (though without the chute itself). When stationed in Britain of course, all missions were over water, so the life preserver was the norm. The pose is very static, but nice for all that. Finally the row is completed with another mechanic also busy with his spanner.
Row two begins with a man pulling a chock, followed by an armourer feeding an ammunition belt into an aircraft. The next figure stands out as he is a military policeman, in helmet and overcoat and holding his club or baton at his side. He is a splendid figure, and that is probably a pistol holster on the right side of his belt, but he seems to have no ammunition pouches, and if on guard at an air base he would more likely be armed with a rifle than just a baton. Also we were surprised that he has not been sculpted with an armband on his left arm, which was normally worn. The last figure in this row seems to be someone in charge, maybe a sergeant supervising the work being carried out by his crew. He wears what might be a Parsons jacket over a shirt and tie, and a side cap on his head.
The third row begins with the other pilot, wearing the same rig as his colleague in row one but with a soft flying helmet. He too has a parachute harness, and the item he is carrying might be the parachute itself - detail is not clear on this. Beside him is a fireman in an asbestos suit, ready to rescue aircrew from a burning aircraft, and in this case he is also holding a fire hose, the design of which looks good for the period. Finally two more ground crew complete this row. Both are dressed like the rest, in ordinary fatigues, though neither have the baseball cap worn by some of the others.
The last row has two more such men, dressed in the same correct manner, though we were surprised by the second man, who seems to be using paddles as if to guide down an aircraft - something that only happened on board an aircraft carrier, with a pitching and tossing flight deck. Lastly there is a bomb on a trolley, perhaps being pulled by the man in the third row. This trolley had a steerable front wheel, but since the model here is supplied as one piece (apart from the bomb itself), some compromise has been necessary so this is somewhat simplified.
As we have observed, all the clothing is correct, and the sculpting is the beautiful style Airfix routinely produced at this stage. Great proportions and all the detail you could wish for, with nice lively poses, given that such ground crew should be busy with their tasks but not rushing too much. There is no hint of flatness here, and while several of the poses are quite generic we thought they all worked well. Only a small amount of flash is detectable, and no excess plastic, so very nicely presented figures all round.
The single fireman is a great figure but a bit lonely by himself, and it is easy to think of other figures that could have been included. However what we actually get is a great collection of historically accurate figures in really believable poses and very well sculpted. As a result these make for excellent companions for the many USAAF aircraft Airfix and others have made in this scale over the years.