Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Entex Rockwell B-1 Bombers!

Monday morning, 10:30am, December 23rd 1974, on the outskirts of Palmdale Air Force Facility, my mother, father and I watched the first flight of the B-1 bomber. I was nine years old and didn't know much about the B-1 yet, but I vividly remember the slender, white airplane taking off with a loud roar. When I returned to school after Christmas vacation, I drew a picture of the takeoff as best as I could remember it. My B-1 didn't look anything like the real thing, but several months later I would become more familiar with the shapely lines of the Rockwell B-1.
Some time after that first flight, my parents and I stopped in to a fast food restaurant in Lancaster for a bite to eat. There are on the ticket counter was an Entex B-1 model. We all noticed it right away and commented to the owner about it. It fueled my perception that the B-1 was a big deal to everyone in Lancaster. I knew I had to have a model of the B-1!
I don't know how long afterwards, but my parents bought me an Entex B-1 at Gemco. It was one of my first models along with the others I've posted on this blog already; I just wish I could remember in what order I built them all. Like some of my other early kits, I painted only a few details on my original with Mom's black ceramic lacquer. The kit's cockpit section is moulded in a smoked-brownish purple color, and requires masking the windows, and painting the surrounding area white. I'm sure I didn't do this on my original, and so I had a B-1 with a purple cockpit!
I wish I knew more about the history of this rather historic model kit. Entex was a company in Carson California that packaged, marketed, and distributed model kits and toys from Japan. As far as I know, they did not design, tool, or produce their own models at their Carson facility. They contracted with other companies in Japan such as Nitto, Otaki, Marusan, Doyusha, and Mania to name a few, to sell their kits in the U.S. Some of the most famous of these were the Otaki C-5A Galaxy, the huge Doyusha 1/100 scale Boeing 747, and the tiny "Air Giants" series of planes from Fuji. The B-1 however seems to be unique to Entex. Even though the plastic parts were made in Japan, they do not appear to be made by Otaki, Nitto, or any of the others. I believe Entex really wanted to be the first to produce a model kit of the B-1, and contracted with a Japanese manufacturer to make the moulds, but only for Entex. They did this with the Spruce Goose kit too (which will be covered in a later post.)

This model is very accurate in scale and shape, even though it's obvious from the box art and the drawings on the instruction sheet that Entex got their hands on early Rockwell diagrams and concept art to produce this kit before anybody else. Interestingly, only Lindberg came out with another B-1 kit shortly after Entex's, and theirs was horrible. Poorly engineered and moulded, Lindberg's odd-scale, pitiful little B-1 didn't hold up to Entex's crisp, accurate scaling in 1/144. It wasn't until the early 1980s with the rebirth of the B-1 into the production "B" version that model companies started to take the aircraft seriously. Monogram, Revell, and Testors started producing large scale, accurate models of the B-1. Entex went out of business in the early 80s, but their B-1A kit lived on with Revell-Germany, and most recently Minicraft. Amazing! This model kit has been readily available on store shelves for over thirty-five years! Entex even had the kit reduced in scale to be included in their "Air Giants" series of mini model kits, and you can still buy it by Minicraft at hobby shops.
But back to 1974 - the Entex B-1 was all the rage and they must have made hundreds of thousands of these things because factory sealed copies are still plentiful on EBay and at model swap meets.
For my rebuild project, I chose to do two of these so I could display them in both in flight "slick" mode, and "on the ground mode" with wings out. For the "slick" B-1 I painted it to look like the one on the box, and the one in the original Rockwell artist's conception photo from 1972, which was actually a photograph of the mock-up at Rockwell's Seal Beach facility, superimposed onto an aerial backdrop. This version is all white, including the radome. The first B-1, 40158, rolled out of the hangar at Palmdale with a black radome, and black test patterns on different parts of the ship. For my "ground" version, I chose to paint the radome black, but left the rest of the ship white. The new Minicraft reissue includes decals to replicate the black areas on the tail, and the belly.
The original Entex decals on both models were dried out and brittle, even on one of the kits that was still factory sealed. A little Micrsoscale Liquid Decal Film helped, but a few of the decals on both ships dissolved and are incomplete. From a distance though it's hardly noticeable. For the "ground" ship, I left the cockpit section unglued to demonstrate it's separability, but on the "slick" ship I puttied and sanded the cockpit section smooth to blend with the fuselage.

This is one of my favorite kits for the sheer fact that the B-1 was an important part of my growing up, and made a big impression on me. You couldn't escape the noise of those first B-1 test ships if you lived in Lancaster. In the evenings Rockwell technicians at the Palmdale plant would run up the engines to full afterburner for what seemed like hours. The noise could be heard all over the Antelope Valley! Some nights it was rather disturbing, and I remember having trouble getting to sleep. But, I loved my old B-1 model and these rebuilds are a nice reminder of those early magical days in Lancaster.