The timeless joy of model building


This holiday season, you can be sure that someone reading this story will receive or give a mockup kit as a gift.

There has always been a link between general aviation and scale modeling. So much so that at the beginning of Popular Aviation Magazine (which will later become VOL Magazine), there were pages dedicated to instructions for building a model airplane. Sometimes it was text, sometimes there were blueprints telling the reader what to do with the balsa wood and tissue paper or fabric to make the design depicted.

The first plastic model kits appeared in 1936, manufactured by Frog, a company from the United Kingdom. American manufacturers Lindberg, Hawk, Varney, Empire and Renwal would enter the market in the late 1940s, with WWII military models being the favorites. Today, there are over 100 manufacturers of polystyrene (a fancy word for plastic) kits on the market and sold around the world. This becomes evident when you open the box and find that the instructions are in four different languages ​​besides having pictograms to help you with the building process.

A 1 / 48th scale of a B-24 Green Hornet. [Courtesy: Terry Moore]

A hobby for life

Model building tends to be a hobby that stays with a person throughout their life. And like most hobbies, memories are created in the process.

Terry D. Moore, 71, still remembers his first model:

“It was a toy rocket that cost 25 cents and a cereal box top,” he said. “I didn’t like the fact that everything was white so I went to the store next to my grandparents’ farm and bought a bottle of red paint for the launch pad.”

Veli-Pekka “VP” Pelttari, 53, of Lieto, Finland, remembers staying awake all night at the age of 10 to build a model Boeing B-17G he received as a gift from Christmas.

Benefits of scale modeling

Model building teaches life skills, such as how to follow instructions, identify components, and how they fit into the whole and how to accomplish a task. Model builders tend to be creative problem solvers. Those with access to 3D printers often manufacture their own specialized components or tools for the project. There’s also the added benefit of learning how to research – each person contacted for this story mentioned different methods of getting information about a particular aircraft, model kit, or technique. Building scale models can also help you develop an interest in full-scale aviation. It’s rare to find a pilot or mechanic who hasn’t built one.

“I got the Airfix A Bit ‘O Lace kit for Christmas (we here in Finland get our presents on Christmas Eve) and I didn’t go to bed until it was’ finished’ around 4 or 5. in the morning”

As he recalls, the finished model was covered with his fingerprints and “the landing gear collapsed under the weight of the plastic plane, and without painting at all the kit, molded in silver plastic, he looked nothing like the rainbow of the 447th BG at the end of the war. marks on the fabulous art box, but it was my first fortress nonetheless.

When he became an adult, Pelttari took a hiatus from model building until 2017, when he joined a UK online modeling forum. These groups are filled with model makers showing off their projects, both ongoing and completed. Members tend to be very helpful and support each other. When one of the members showed a P-51 Mustang with a squadron code close to Pelttari’s initials, he did a search to see if his initials had ever been on a real plane. He learned that his initials had adorned a B-17G known as the dream baby. He knew he had to build it like a scale model.

“It became my first B-17 built in 30 years,” he said.

A preview of the NorthWest Scale Modelers show at the Seattle Museum of Flight in February 2020. [Courtesy: Tim Nelson]

Modelers and museums

Scale modeling is more than putting pieces together and painting something. Meticulous research takes place to ensure that the finished project is “correct”. For many, the research may be the best part of the project. With the invention of the Internet, research is much easier than before.

Know your scale

The two most popular scales for model airplanes are 1/48 and 1/72. The 1/48 scale is sometimes referred to as the “quarter inch” scale because 1/4 inch on the model is equivalent to 1 foot on the actual aircraft.
The 1/72 scale means that 1/6 of an inch is one foot. Therefore, one inch represents six feet on the plane.

In a few keystrokes, Pelttari learned dream baby was part of the 381st Bomber Group stationed at Ridgewell, England, 1943-1945. The Royal Air Force (RAF) had used the base until 1943 when the Americans arrived with hundreds of B-17s. When the Americans left in 1945, the base returned to the RAF. The base was deactivated in 1957 and most of the military buildings were demolished, except for one of the structures that housed the hospital. Today, this former hospital houses the Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Museum.

The stories and history of the 381st are kept alive through the museum and through their digital presence, especially on Facebook. Children and grandchildren of the men stationed at Ridgewell share information and photographs. It helps the museum and the model makers, and sometimes the model makers can help the museum.

Stephen Coulson, a British model maker, puts the finishing touches on a B-17 DIY Toy which will soon be exhibited at the 381st Museum. Coulson has been fascinated by the air forces of the United States Army, especially the Eighth Air Force, since he was a child.

DIY Toy was born when I visited the Ridgewell Museum in September. After a long conversation, I arranged to build a model B-17 for them, ”Coulson explained.

Coulson periodically posted photographs of the work in progress on the 381st Facebook page.

According to a museum scholar identified as the son of a man stationed at Ridgewell, DIY Toy, a Lockheed-built B-17F, had a reputation for being a cursed ship because none of its crew members returned home without at least one member being injured or killed. The aircraft was lost in action over Bremen on December 20, 1943, when a German Bf 109 collided head-on with the aircraft, killing seven crew members. A Google search for the plane uncovered several photographs of an aircraft badly damaged in combat. All of the photographs are in black and white, which is a challenge when trying to get the right color scheme, Coulson said.

The B-17 is one of the favorites, otherwise the Favorite WWII aircraft model to build. It’s hard to find an avid military aviation enthusiast who hasn’t built at least one. Of the 12,731 B-17s built between 1936 and ’45, only a handful remain today. Most of them are on static display in aviation museums.

The most famous airplanes, those used in films such as Memphis Belle or those who still make the airshow circuit like Sentimental Journey, Texas Raiders and Aluminum Overcast– are often the ones you’ll find pictured on the covers of model boxes, but with a little research, the model maker can turn what’s inside into just about any B-17 they’ve got. he wants.

Many model builders invest in airbrushes for smoother paint jobs, specialized tools to create oil streaks and weathering, and (usually) using a flame to heat the commercial end of a Phillips screwdriver, then by wedging the tool in the model to create chip damage. .

During Women in Aviation Week at the Museum of Flight, the NorthWest Scale Modelers provided planes for the exhibit. [Courtesy: Tim Nelson]

Denigration Kit

The bashing kit is all about taking parts of different models and turning them into something new.

It can be a lot of fun getting partially completed models at yard sales and thrift stores etc. love child of a spaceship and a tank.

To start

It doesn’t take a lot of dexterity or engineering knowledge to get into scale modeling.

Pre-colored models and models that snap together are good choices for young model makers because they do not require glue or paint. While the kits may not be very detailed, the idea at a beginner level is to generate interest and not create a barrier by frustrating a beginner with a kit that is too complex.

Where to get kits

If you’re lucky enough to have a DIY store in your neighborhood, they often have model kits available. Kits can also be ordered from online retailers. Don’t forget to get glue and paint to finish the designs. Pro tip: Use white glue when attaching clear plastic parts, like windshields, as it dries clearly. The model glue dries opaque.

“It’s a hobby that’s supposed to be fun,” said Tim Nelson, a 50-year-old from Seattle. Nelson has been building models since he was around 7 years old.

“It’s important to start simple and to avoid discouraging a beginner with a totally frustrating experience. I think it’s also important to match a kit with the interests of an aspiring model maker – for example, the Star Wars universe has a plethora of kits of many topics and skill levels.

Nelson describes scale modeling as “a formidable, lifelong hobby that develops deep and wide interests, develops fine motor skills, improves problem-solving skills, and creates a great circle of friends.”

He is a member of the NorthWest Scale Modelers. The club participates in an annual model exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and there are year-round exhibit opportunities as a club

has an agreement with the Museum of Flight to stage a recurring series of thematic exhibits in the museum lobby.

“It’s a great way to let the museum showcase ever-changing content, while we model makers can show our work and promote the hobby, a real win-win,” said Nelson, who is a supporter. the 1/72 scale he says has the widest range of kits available.

“For most subjects, it’s a handy and manageable size and it keeps me from getting bogged down – most of the time – in fine detail and super-detail,” he says, “However, you can get as detailed as your heart desires and your eyesight allows.

Tips for a successful project

• Designate a well-lit workspace.

• Read the instructions before you start.

• Have the right tools ready to use (Exacto knife, sandpaper or emery board to remove rough edges, etc.) before you begin.

• Work on a drop cloth to prevent the glue from damaging the tables.

• Wash the model with mild soap, rinse with water, then allow it to air dry before starting.

• Test the fit of all parts before applying glue.

• Build bracing jigs from alligator clips, cardboard, or bookbinding clips to hold parts during construction.

• Use painter’s tape to mask areas while painting.

• Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.


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