Modeling has extremely distant origins. Accurate reproductions of sailing vessels have been found in Egyptian pyramids and since then every age and civilization has produced its own model. Mankind seems to have a desire to possess scale models of objects, vehicles and situations (also known as dioramas), which play an important part in life.
Model building is essentially recreating realistic history that you can hold in the palm of your hand. When you are successful as a modeler, it takes virtually no imagination to see that model as the real thing. Before the introduction of plastic kits, it took the talents of a sculptor to shape blocks of balsa wood into the shape of an aircraft or armored fighting vehicle. Thanks to plastics and resin, the shapes are generally perfect.
Modeling, as we know it today, came into being in the late 1930ís, becoming extremely popular in the 1960ís. Originating as a simple pastime, modeling evolved rapidly, drawing on historical research and becoming a key means by which to spread improved understanding of important events. The sophisticated technology now available to manufacturers allows modelers of all ages to achieve a degree of accuracy that even just a few years ago would have been unthinkable. This very precision has led to even more detailed analysis and research and has created a mix of enjoyment and learning that gives every modeler maximum pleasure and satisfaction.
Models can be made of almost any material, such as wood, metal, paper or resin, but on these pages we will only focus on plastic models.
The most usual model kits are injection kits made of polystyrene plastic. Styrene, as it is also called, is a very smooth material that can be molded into delicate and precise shapes with very fine raised or recessed details. The material can be cut, sanded, filed and drilled and is quite easy to glue and paint . The plastic material is suitable for models with sizes ranging from about four inches to two feet. For smaller models, the molding technique proves too crude - the plastic itself cannot be molded thin and crisp enough to display all the necessary details. Larger models are on the other hand more difficult to produce without other problems, such as parts becoming warped out of shape. The finished model would also be too heavy and too large for normal display. They would also be way too expensive to purchase.
There are several companies making injection molded model kits. Some of the most known ones are Revell/Monogram, Airfix, Hasegawa, Tamiya, Heller and Italeri. There are also a number of smaller companies producing limited run models, vacu-formed models or replacement parts made of other materials, such as resin. We will look at replacement parts in a later chapter.
The actual size of a model depends on two things:
- The size of the original object
- The scale of the model
The first point should be quite obvious: a passenger airliner is of course much larger than a single seater biplane from World War I.
Most aircraft models are in 1/72 scale. This means that the real object is exactly 72 times larger than the model. Thus, if the distance between the wingtips of the model is one foot, then the wingspan of the real aircraft is exactly 72 feet. The other popular scale is quarter scale, or 1/48. But, there are also models in larger scales like 1/32 and 1/24, and even smaller ones, such as 1/144. Tanks and armor models are usually in scale 1/35, and ships usually in 1/350 or 1/720.
Deciding which model to buy and build can be pretty tough sometimes. There are thousands of models you can choose from, but most model builders like to stick to a certain type of model, scale and to a certain time in history - like German aircraft in scale 1/72 from World War Two.
Many modelers find great pleasure in buying kits - to be built at some later date. A stack of unbuilt models can be found in the homes of many model builders, and some people can have as many as fifty or more unfinished kits stashed away. It may seem quite silly, but any model enthusiast will fully understand the magic of the moment when the shrink-wrap is removed from a new model kit, when the box is opened, that unmistakable smell of fresh plastic is released, and as the sprue trees are examined for the first time.