A scale model is “[…] only as good as the effort that went into the research of it.“ Dan Santich

There is certainly a universe out there for the model aircraft enthusiasts that comes in several types of models. When you first start exploring it you will find 3 distinct fly zones:

  • Building model aircraft using wood
  • Building model aircraft made from moulded plastic
  • Taking the controls and buying (or, why not, building) a remote control (RC) aircraft

But why should somebody start building model aircraft? Well, for several reasons

  • Building model aircraft offers greater personal rewards and challenges
  • The skills you acquire from model building are not lost through technological advances
  • Your end result is an accomplishment you can display and expand on at your leisure
  • It is a great way to study history

So while you may choose to fly RC aircraft solo for fun and interact with others through social media, building a model is equally challenging and at the same time, rewarding.

Who Makes Building Model Aircraft Such a Wonderful Hobby?

What all 3 fly zones have in common is they attract people from all over the world who are interested in the history and technology of aircraft, whether it is the famed British Supermarine Spitfire, the feared Messerschmitt Bf 109, or the North American P-51 Mustang used in the Pacific. In fact, this very website you are visiting right now is a database that has technical specifications for many of the most popular aircraft.

People who choose to build aircraft models range from historians to engineers to film directors. Their purposes vary from professional application to personal knowledge. As to what motivates them, here are some reasons:

  • Learning more about a specific interest
  • A desire to create and collect
  • As a means of escaping from the routine for a while

Buying Your First Aircraft Scale Model Kit

Now we move on to learning the essentials on how to buy your model aircraft. Whether you are a first-time buyer or have experience in buying, you should find the following tips useful. Before we begin, an important point to keep in the back of your mind as you read through the list is that the more technical information used by the manufacturer (or builder), the greater the level of detail will be, resulting in a more accurate model.

Vendor – Choose a Reputable Vendor. First and foremost, thought pretty obvious, you should be aware of the fact that some model aircraft vendors sell products of low quality. Thus, it is highly recommended that beginners avoid enticing deals that look too good to be true. Once you’ve found a product you like, do some research to see what different websites are selling it for.

Generally, it is a good practice to consider vendors you have done business with before. Did you buy a model car through a website and it turned out that the plastic was so flimsy that it cracked when you were building it? Or, did you go to a website, order a model boat, and find that the product was of high quality and the directions were very clear? If you haven’t ordered models before, that’s fine. Just ask around to see if anyone has already ordered one, and could recommend you a good source (we have great Facebook and G+ communities here and even an active G+ group). Finally, it’s important to check the online reviews, even if someone recommends a specific hobby website.

Price – If you are a first-time buyer it is strongly suggested that you aim low on the price end. More than a few experienced modellers have “conveniently forgotten” what has happened to their first attempt at model building. The hidden truth is that they had to learn from their mistakes – and their first try was full of them.

From a broader perspective, prices for kits can be amazingly high, and spending money on a model that potentially goes unfinished or takes years to complete has to be given very careful consideration. The general rule is to take it slow and create a history of completed projects before spending big money.

Scale – The first time buyer needs to start out with the smallest scale, usually 1/144, though a more popular scale is 1/72. Though the natural instinct is to start with a bigger scale because there is greater space to work with, the old cliché “the devil is in the details” applies here. Large scale models have more details, so learning how to craft the smaller scales will greatly improve your skills and take advantage of the amount of detail on larger scale models.

Difficulty – Just because you’re a beginner, that doesn’t mean you need to stick to beginner level all the time, although it is definitely a good place to start. Feel free to try an intermediate level model aircraft if you have enough time on your hands. However, save the advanced models for after you’ve gained some more experience. It is very important to figure out which difficulty level a scale model is before you buy it. Sometimes, vendors help you with descriptions of each difficulty. As an example, a beginner level model may only require fitting pieces together and applying stickers. An advanced aircraft may require more difficult assembly, detailed painting, etc.

Time – You may want to start a building model aircraft as a hobby, but you probably don’t have an unlimited amount of time. Some vendors actually list how much time it takes to complete a model. If the time isn’t clearly listed, you can do one of two things:

  • first, you can take into account the difficulty level, materials required, etc. and figure out how much time the project will take from that information. Usually, painting and dealing with advanced assembly can be big time sinks.
  • if that doesn’t work, you can simply ask customer service and their knowledgeable staff should be able to assist you.

Part Count – The “devil is in the details” also applies when deciding on how many parts of the aircraft there will be to build. Beginners may look at their first model, usually made of plastic, as a relatively simple task. If you know what photo-etched brass and resin parts of the model are and have built them, then you have advanced beyond the beginner level. The greater the number of parts, the more detail will be required, and the more advanced skills will be needed to create a work of art.

Quality of material – Novices who are just beginning to enter into aircraft modelling have been cautioned not to spend too much at the beginning. But with lower price comes a lower quality of material. As you develop your modelling skills, maintain a proper perspective of your results. Your initial efforts will almost certainly pale in comparison to your results years later. One of the biggest reasons for this is because you are paying more for models and are working with higher quality material.

Building Scale Aircraft Models – General Considerations

Building a model aircraft has some particular challenges that are unique from other types of models. One of those areas is the canopy of your model plane, a delicate element which is usually made of clear plastic. Fitting it correctly is one challenge but applying the cement can be a greater one because even small mistakes stand out. So choose a model that has as little clear plastic as possible to minimise your frustration level. Helicopters, in particular, should be avoided until you get some experience under your belt.

One of the biggest challenges for model aircraft builders is being able to create the metallic finish so often seen on planes. Plastic is a very difficult material to get the right paint colour and finish to come through as realistic, so like clear plastic, keep your expectations low until you get some experience with painting. Be warned that the metallic finish would cost you more money for the special paints and colours needed to achieve the desired result.

Conclusion

Creating model aircraft can be a great way to spend time, especially for beginners just getting into the hobby. Just be sure to follow the advice above, and you’ll be on your way to successfully building a model.

We hope this brief guide has been useful to you and wish you the best on starting and completing your first modelling project. Visit our website often to read more about aircraft modelling and experiencing the entire model aircraft universe.