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If you can imagine it,you can build it!

How to get started in modeling aircraft

What are scale models?

SAME PLANE, DIFFERENT SCALES The models above of a P-51D Mustang are part of a club project to replicate the same plane in several scales. The largest model, in 1/24 scale, is about 18 1⁄2" across; the smallest, 1/144 scale, measures 3" at the wing tips. Other scales are 1/72, 1/48, and 1/32. Scissors provide a reference for the size of the models. Models courtesy of Larry Schramm.

DIFFERENT PLANES, SAME SCALE All the aircraft represented in the photograph at right are modeled in the same scale, 1/72. The real planes are vastly different in size and so are models of them. The U.S. Air Force C-5A Galaxie shown here measures 37" from wing tip to wing tip. The diminutive yellow-winged F11C-2 Goshawk biplane has a wing-span of just 51⁄4". Others shown are the F-15C Eagle jet fighter at right, the multi-engined WWII B-17F bomber, and the WWII fighter, the Spitfire Mk.Vb. Models by Paul Boyer.

scale model is a three-dimensional, proportional replica of a physical object. The “scale” of a model usually is expressed as a fraction of its full-size counterpart. For example, a 1/6 scale figure of a 6' person would be 1' tall. And the proportions of that subject would be reproduced faithfully, head to foot. Put in the reverse, it would take 72 1/72 scale F-16 Falcons end-to-end to equal the length of the real thing. The hobby of building model aircraft as we know it began in the 1930s with wood models and with a


few pioneer plastic models, such as those made by the British company Frog, which stands for “Flies right off the ground.” Modeling took on a new importance during World War II when “recognition” or “ID” models, mostly in 1/72 scale, helped to train military personnel to distinguish friend from foe. By the end of the war, the demand for aircraft, ship, and tank models had mushroomed, and plastic models, which could be mass-produced and shipped in pieces, filled the need. The emerging technology of

plastic during the postwar boom helped establish the model-kit industry.


uilding models is simply acting on a desire to record or capture the object of your fascination. It’s about “knowing” the subject. It’s no surprise, then, that modelers are usually information collectors as much as they are kit collectors and builders. Scratch a modeler and underneath you’re likely to find a history buff, a restorer, a military expert, or a

well-read sci-fi fan. Magazines, books, and videotapes provide modeling instruction as well as detailed reference information. Scale modelers are always on the lookout for inspirational stories and photos and diagrams that will help them build a more accurate replica.



Getting started
Before you start Review the kit instructions until you understand how the kit goes together. Try to envision the completed model. Is there more than one way to build this model? Are there parts you want to paint before assembly? Leave parts attached to the plastic “trees,” known as runners or sprues, until they’re ready for assembly. It’s unlikely anything will be missing, but take inventory of the parts anyway. Put loose parts away for safekeeping. Work in a well-ventilated area, wear old clothes, and protect anything nearby that you don’t want to be spattered with paint or glue. Workbench basics Here’s what you need to get started. You’ll find a lot of this around the house.
• Clippers (for snipping parts from parts trees) • Cotton swabs (for general cleanup and dabbing decal solution) • Liquid cement • Hobby knife (No. 1 handle with No. 11 blade) • Masking or drafting tape • Paint. Keep your first paint scheme simple – one to three colors. • Paintbrushes – 1⁄4 " flat and #1, #0, #00, and #000 round brushes • Paper towels • Sandpaper (220- to 1,200-grit) or variety pack of hobby sanding sticks • Toothbrush (for cleaning kit parts) • Toothpicks (for applying glue) • Tweezers (for careful positioning) A


Dive In!
A wash in soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and let
Clean all the kit parts with a plastic cleaner, or them air dry. Glue and paint stick better to clean parts. Plastic kit parts usually are identified by a number on the sprue (the parts tree) corresponding with the number on the instruction sheet.

What to build?
The best place to begin planning your next model is in your local hobby shop. You can go over the model’s level of difficulty, double-check your tools and supplies, and often get advice from someone who’s built the model you like.


t first it’s probably more important to pick a kit you’ll finish than it is to pick one you think will be beautiful. Check the kit’s skill level and pick one that’s easier than the one you think you can handle. You’ll feel better going back for another kit with a successful model under your belt. If your kit’s not marked with a skill level, look at the parts count and the price tag. They’re good indicators of the level of complexity. Ask a salesperson at a hobby shop for help. The shopkeeper may even be able to open the package for you to have a look.

B sprue, Don’t simply twist off the part – at best,

Identify a part, then clip or cut it from the

You’ll need a clean, well-lit work space. The kitchen table will do, but it’s best to work where you can leave your kit unattended. Your particular kit may require a few other items, but these will get you going.

you’ll leave a burr that needs to be cleaned up, and at worst, you might damage it. Trim away excess plastic (called flash) from the piece and gently sand away blemishes such as molding marks (circles or ridges left from the factory molds). Be sure you’re only removing excess plastic and not changing the shape of the piece.

C improve the bond between glued pieces.

Test fit parts and lightly sand mating surfaces to



Three easy lessons


Glue Pointers
Glue like a pro For most modelers, the workhorse assembly glue is A liquid solvent cement. This can be applied with a brush or toothpick while you lightly squeeze and release the parts a few times. Capillary action draws the solvent along the seam where it welds the plastic. Repairing blemished clear parts All of us have accidentally put glue marks on clear B parts, so don’t give up on that marred windshield. Wait until the softened plastic has hardened, then wet sand with 400-grit sandpaper. Be sure the original blemish is no longer visible. The clear part will look scuffed, but we’ll fix that. Next, wet sand with 600-grit paper, then 1,200-grit. Each finer grit eliminates the scratches from the coarser grits. Sanding sticks and nail buffers work too. Finally polish several times with plastic polishing compound. Clearly better Both tube and liquid plastic cements C can craze (frost) plastic, and super glue can fog clear parts as it cures. The best glue for attaching clear parts is white glue such as Elmer’s Glue-All. It’s water-based and works best on porous materials, but it has enough holding power to keep clear parts in place. The best news is that it dries clear and doesn’t mar plastic. You can dilute white glue with water and let it flow into the joints. Use a hair dryer to speed drying. If you use too much glue, simply wipe away the excess with a damp cloth.


1 Glue IQ
The craftsmanship that created this contest-winning scratchbuilt model of a 1/24 scale Blackburn Firecrest has its roots in the basic skills all modelers use. Model by Alan Clark.

hree principal types of glue will hold together most of the plastic models you’re likely to build. The first is the “tube” glue familiar to many of us who learned modeling a couple of decades ago. The second is liquid glue. Both work by melting the mating surfaces of the plastic parts. Tube glue is simply liquid glue with thickening agents added to make it easier to apply and slower to set up so you can reposition parts. However, tube glue becomes stringy as it dries, and all the time that it’s drying, it’s eating away at your plastic, leaving unsightly seams. Liquid cement usually is applied with a brush or toothpick; it sets faster, bonds better, and is less messy. On your first few kits, you may need more time to position pieces, so the longer setting time of tube glue may be desirable. Even better would be a slow-setting liquid cement that combines the advantages of liquid


cement with slower drying of tube glue to allow repositioning of parts. Cyanoacrylate adhesive (CA), often called super glue, adheres to plastic without melting it and cures chemically rather than drying through evaporation of solvents. Many modelers think of super glue as the specialist. It works on dissimilar materials and it’s a must for gluing cast-resin kits and parts. Experienced builders also like super glue for fine styrene parts that might be marred or deformed by even a light application of liquid cement. But it takes careful handling, and, yes, you can glue your fingers together with it. What’s best for you? Every modeler develops his/her own tool chest. You’ll probably want to learn how to handle liquid cements soon, but don’t let us stop you from jumping into that first kit with a handy tube of glue.



2 Prep & Paint
Preparation Once the glue has set, you’ll probably need to touch up a few seams. Use modeler’s sanding sticks or wetor-dry sandpaper and water to sand down the high spots, see photo at right. A little of that super glue we just mentioned works great as a gap filler in seams and for low spots, see photo below. Apply some gap-filling super glue with a toothpick and allow it to flow. It’ll set up faster with a spritz of spray super glue accelerator. Super glue doesn’t shrink or pit as do auto-filler putties. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes, and it can be sanded as smooth as plastic as soon as it sets. You can fill large areas quickly by layering. Wash the model again to rid it of any oil from your fingers or other residue from construction. Painting You can go a long way with a few cans of modeler’s spray paint along with those familiar little bottles of hobby paint and a couple of brushes for details. Active modelers may add an airbrush to their arsenal for the control it gives them over special effects – like stripes, soft-edged camouflage patterns, exhaust stains, and weathering – that are the airbrush’s forte. Your hobby shop carries several lines of modeling paint. Acrylic-based paint with its water cleanup is a great way to start.

Paint Pointers
Even painting One way to get consistent results from spray cans of A hobby paint is to set them in a pan of hot tap water for a few minutes before painting. Weathering You can simulate the effects of weather, wear, B and damage with paints, pastel chalks, pencils, and tools. A lightened mix of the base color applied to the tops of models gives the look of exposure to sun and rain. Exhaust and gun-smoke stains can be applied by rubbing pastel-chalk dust onto the model. Allowing a “wash” of thinned dark paint to flow into areas recessed from their surrounding surface makes their shadows look deeper. Drybrushing To accentuate high points, “dry-brushing” – a C technique of brushing lightly with almost-dry paint – works well.


One last tip Used carefully, grinding with drill bits in a motor tool can simulate battle damage.

Buffing paint For shiny-as-glass paint jobs on airplanes, polish dry paint with a liquid polish or ultra-fine sandpapers. A fine polishing compound or plastic polish works out the scratches left by the sandpapers. You may have to polish several times. Work in a ventilated area Modeling paints, thinners, and cements can be toxic, and the fumes from them harmful. Make sure your work area has sufficient ventilation.



3 Decals & Finish
Dioramas feature several models in lifelike vignettes. Ian Hill of Mentone, Australia, surrounded a 1/32 scale Hasegawa Me 262 with Italeri field workshop items and a Tamiya American soldier. Ian Hill photo.

Doug Whyte photo


he process of placing a decal sheet in a tray of water to remove decals from the backing and then sliding decals onto the model is still pretty much the way it’s done. But new setting solutions and vastly better decals result in markings you can’t tell from paint. Here are some tips. Polishing Some of the best modeling materials are found where you least expect them. Johnson Wax’s Future floor polish is an excellent clear gloss. It’s water-based, nontoxic, smells nice, and can be used to smooth out flaws in clear parts. Dip parts or apply Future with a brush. If you let it dry for a week, you can make it even shinier with polishing compound. It also can be used to attach small clear parts to models.

Decaling Decals don’t adhere well to bare plastic nor to flat paint, so always apply them to a model painted with a glossy finish. If you’re applying a decal over a model finished flat, first spray a little gloss coat on the spot to be decaled first. Setting solution makes the job easier and better. It’s applied to the spot before decaling and over the applied decal. The decals will “snuggle” down, as modelers like to say, and conform to irregular surfaces. When the decals are dry, apply a clear gloss or a clear flat coat to seal them to the model and to create an even sheen.

Bright decals add zest to plain paint schemes. Darren McTee of Wichita Falls, Texas, built this colorful Hasegawa 1/72 scale U.S. Navy F-4B. Paul Boyer photo.

This Hobbycraft 1/48 scale P-36A was built straight from the box by Mark Hembree of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Jim Forbes photo.


Now Get Started!
Your hunger to re-create machines of the past, present, and future has gotten the best of you – you’re ready to model! Turn to the experts at FineScale Modeler and Scale Auto Enthusiast magazines to help sharpen your skills. Basics of Scale Automotive Modeling Book no. 12192 • $15.95

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Canadian/foreign $48.00, in U.S. funds, GST included.

More interested in model cars? Build a scale replica of your dream car with Scale Auto Enthusiast! Find out how to create real-looking scale autos with easy-to-follow painting, detailing, and finishing techniques.

Scale Auto Enthusiast U.S. $21.95; 8 issues/year
Canadian/foreign $40.00, in U.S. funds, GST included.

Plus, uncover modeling secrets and advice with other how-to guides and books from America’s leading hobby publisher.

Building and Displaying Scale Model Aircraft with Paul Boyer Book no. 12151 • $12.95

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