Aircraft Modelers: We May Have a Problem

It has come to my attention that I might be an asshole.

Ok, let me back that up a bit. Over the last few months I have heard on one pod or another and I have read on one blog or another that:

  1. Armor modelers tend to be community oriented, happy-go-lucky, salt-of-the-earth, give-until-it-bleeds types. They drive cool cars, they are the guys you want your daughter to date; the guys you team up with at softball and with them, your money is no good at the bar. These guys that have it all and want to share everything; and
  2. Aircraft modelers are assholes.

How did this happen? Was it always this way? Is it everyone of us? Maybe so. It’s somewhat hard to believe. I mean, there are a lot of airplane builders out there! Do they all have some toxic, malignant personality? Or are we just talking about those hard-core modelers who make their own vacuform parts and practice other modeling dark arts?

What about me? Has my previously sunny disposition turned to something less pleasant as I have stacked the shelves with completed aircraft builds? Or, maybe the reason why I was drawn to pretty flying things is because I’ve always been an anti-social asshole.

These are deep thoughts.

This definitely needs a deep dive.

I tried thinking of this issue objectively. However, I just couldn’t picture the FROG company board of directors debating the question of which aircraft model would best cater to ‘A-hole market’ when they started making scale models in the 1940s. So, as any professional would when completely out of his depth, I conducted some simple google research to see where all this started. Suffice it to say, there were no scholarly writings on the subject. Far from it.

Still, this theory persists in scale modeldom and individual opinions abound. I recall a specific episode on the Plastic Posse Podcast contained a quip that summed the general consensus nicely. Now I have to be careful with quotes because I generally (and intentionally) get them wrong. But it went something like this:

“Armor builders are awesomesauce! While aircraft modelers tend to shit on each other. And it’s such a shame…”

Ivan Jensen Taylor; Former aircraft builder who regrets his previous ways but is now a reformed and proud tank building guy who will help you move anytime.

(Seriously, just text him. He’ll come with coffee!)

Now, I can only assume that poor Ivan had some less than ideal experiences with aircraft builders. Maybe he’s had some serious run-ins with those notorious aircraft building toughs and their no-goodnik entourages. Those guys can be found anywhere but things can get downright scary out front of an LHS or at a model show:

Hopefully it resulted in nothing more than looks of disdain, eyerolls and maybe clicked teeth. Perhaps it was only hushed mutterings about the need for gloss coats before decals, that weathering only hides bad construction or the impending death of the hobby. If others have experienced similar run-ins, I certainly hope no one got hurt.

Well, that’s it. Things have got to change! And these days the best way to start the healing process is to issue an apology: So, on behalf of all aircraft model builders: I apologize!

Clearly there is an image problem. So, I am going make things right. I believe you can teach an old aircraft modeler some new tricks and behaviors. Armor builders are all about community, Apple products, campfire songs and ice cream. Maybe they can set an example. So, I am going to attempt to attract some of these awesome armor builders into the world of aircraft modeling! That way the armor guys can expand their modeling repertoire while their super-duper friendliness is bound to rub off on us crotchety old airplane guys.

That, my friends, is the pure definition of ‘Win-Win’.

A No-Nonsense Guide to Aircraft Modelers

Below you will find a guide that will teach you all you need to know to quickly pick up the ins and outs of aircraft modeling. This is not some boring list of tools, techniques and paint mixes because, if you have a couple of tank builds under your belt, you have more than enough skill to make any airplane (but don’t let any aircraft modeler hear you say that!)

This guide is more of a primer on language, the beliefs and the culture of the aircraft building community. If you can understand these touchstones, you will be well on your way to disarming any asshole aircraft builder, no matter where he or she sits on the asshole spectrum:

Canopies: A necessary evil. No one likes them. Complaining about canopy masking is the brass ring of aircraft building. Canopy masking is like getting rid of the seam on a tank barrel or maybe sanding roadwheels. One more thing: no matter how dirty the modeler makes the airplane (see: ‘You CAN weather aircraft’ below), the canopy has to remain factory fresh and crystal clear. Don’t think about this logically; you’ll get a headache.

The Corsair: An airplane from WW2. It is un-questionably awesome. It has won wars, united countries and served in hundreds of airforces for hundreds of years. Think of it as the ‘Sherman tank’ of fighter airplanes.

Decals: Here is all you need to know. The first thing you do when you slice open a fresh aircraft kit is throw out the kit decals. They are no good. Don’t be mean and give them to kids or to car or ship builders. Pitch them. Now, go buy some nice aftermarket decals. After all, the decal hoard is the new stash!

Gloss Coating: This is a triggering and emotional subject. So, tread very carefully in these parts. I know most armor modelers question its necessity and consider it a waste of time. But they are too focused on the process of building and not at all on the ritual of building. Think of it like throwing the ball around the infield after a strikeout. No one really knows why this is done, but it looks cool and chicks dig it.

Airfix Kits: This is a tough one and even I get it wrong most of the time. My advice? Treat it like a negotiation. Read your audience and let them say the first thing about Airfix. Then just agree with it. Trust me; don’t die on this hill.

Wing Leveling and Wheel Alignment: Think of this as making sure the tank tracks are straight and equally touching the ground. Again, no one likes stooping over their model with rulers and expletives. Doing this work is stress inducing. Pro tip: Avoid pointing out the wings are not level or the wheels look pigeon toed. That builder already knows these things.

And he feels shame.

As he should.

You CAN weather aircraft: In fact, if you do, you might even move up a rung in the airplane builder Social Hierarchy (see below). Fade the paint, paint some faded markings and do subtle exhaust staining? You’ll get high-fives. Add a weathered base and they’ll be eating out of your hand! But don’t fly too close to the sun. If you cake on too much weathering product, aircraft guys will think you are trying to hide something and you’ll lose them forever. Yeah, we can be a fickle bunch.

The Social Hierarchy: The aircraft builder social hierarchy is based on attempted build difficulty. Oddly, you’d think that actually completing the model would count for more. But you’d be wrong. Nope, it’s all based on dragon slaying. Or to be accurate, it’s based on stories about kinda, sorta, half-way slaying dragons and then placing them on dusty shelves…. right next to all the other crippled dragons. To give you an idea of how this works, the list below provides clear examples of build attempts from the easy (where the builder would earn little to no social status) to the impossible (where the builder instantly becomes a small “c” celebrity):

  • An out of box teen fighter kit…painted in grey;
  • A WW2 propeller kit;
  • A Corsair;
  • Any kit with at least 4 pounds of aftermarket accessories and products;
  • Biplanes that are rigged and don’t look like they were sat on;
  • A kit from the 1960s that has had 7200 hours of work put into it to “bring it up to todays standards”; and
  • A scratch built vacuformed model of an oddball aircraft from that flew in the 1920s in some country that no longer exists.

Last Thing

I always thought a few aircraft modelers were more like ‘Lone Wolf McQuade’ types. Maybe a bit rough around the edges, maybe lacking in a few social graces. But they are otherwise harmless.

Perhaps not.

The guide should get any armor modeler started with the basics and well on his or her way to re-setting the aircraft building culture from that of a bunch of aloof jerks to a brotherhood (and sisterhood!) that will outlast time itself. If there are any more pointers that you think could help, please feel free to set them out in the comments. Hell, we need all the help we can get!

So please, Armor builders – it’s up to you now. Come out and show us how it’s done and we can all be unicorns and super friends!

13 thoughts on “Aircraft Modelers: We May Have a Problem

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  1. Are we sure that what those podcasters say about aircraft modelers is telling us something about the aircraft modelers or might it actually be telling us something about the podcasters?

    Full disclosure: In my life I have modeled aircraft, armor, ships, spacecraft, buildings, trains, gaming miniatures, & am currently focusing on trains and spacecraft, with 1, (one) aircraft in-progress, an Airfix Grumman Widgeon/Gosling which upon completion will be sent to a friend in UK to be placed at the RAF museum she is making on her OO scale model railway. And my health is a bit of a mess now so I am very slow at things any more.

    (NOTE: the UK model railway scale of OO, ‘double oh’ is 1/76 which is close to the common 1/72 aircraft and armor scale)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very amusing, but what possessed you to write this! As one of the Secret Brotherhood of Aircraft Modellers you are well aware that we have been creating the public image of us being exactly as you described us in your opening paragraphs. You also know that we’ve been doing this for decades to keep out the unwanted riff raff – ie, armour modellers. But now you’ve gone and blown our cover, it’s like inviting Atilla the Hun for a quiet drink in your favourite friendly bar. You’ve spoiled everything! You know that your membership of the Brotherhood will have to be reviewed by the Secret Masters and you may be expelled. Oh well, I hear that those Tamiya 1/35 tank kits are good to start with.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny post!

    To further confuse classification, there’s my case. I’m *definitely* a lone wolf. (I used to hate people until I got a good recipe for them.) I’m also an ass. I’m either a smart one, dumb one, or silly one.

    I do primarily aircraft or armor (though right now I’m working on a car that is neither). I could be a Sekrit Agent for either side (cash, used and unmarked bills, USD).

    If there actually is a schism in modeling between us and them (whoever “us” and “them” is…I’m too much an ass to know), nobody gave me the Sekrit Dekoder Ring for either club (and that’s very prescient on everyone’s part).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is just brilliant!!

    I absolutely stand by that quote! I was laughing whilst reading this post. Since saying what I said about aircraft modellers and armour modellers, I still see, hear and experience the many things that made me come out with that quote in the first place.

    Simply put, I see the armour community as a warm wood cabin in the middle of a snowy mountain range, with a log fire burning and roast chicken in the oven for all my family and friends to enjoy!

    I see the aircraft community like the rich guys country club that I am not rich enough or posh enough to get into. And even if I have a membership, they don’t see me as a member.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Talking about the online armor community, my favorite memory from that community is of a forum several years back where there was conversation about whether 3D printing would ever have any value in model building — while at the same time the old timer and narrowgauge railroad modelers in particular & the science fiction modelers had already been printing, and selling, printed parts such as 1850’s era passenger car roofs for a couple years.

      And I think I’m not having false memories in saying that a year or two later I came across similar conversation on an aircraft modeling page.

      I definitely do remember being greatly amused at the time about the ‘serious’ modelers being technologically behind us ‘fringe’ modelers. 😀

      Maybe I’m not active enough online to see it, but for all the model builders I know who work in diverse genres there seems to be profoundly little cross-pollination between genres.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A very interesting post and I have been thinking about this topic since it was first mentioned on a few podcasts.

    For me I think the big ‘advantage’ the armour community has is homogeneity.

    If you look at builds posted to a forum or competition event, 95% of the armour is in 1/35 and largely covers WWII or the early Cold War era.

    Aircraft modellers have a much wider spread of years and scales. This means, as you mention there is ‘superiority’ in terms of what some perceive as more ‘elite’ projects – like biplanes – but more than this, there is a lack of harmony.

    Get ten armour modellers together and odds are they have all built several of the same kits – probably all have built a Tamiya 35th Sherman, or Tiger for example. Get ten aircraft modellers together and they might never have built one kit in common. This means there is less shared experience and less harmony in the community as a whole.

    Probably because of this, Armour modellers seem much more welcoming of every new release. Look at Facebook comments on every new aircraft kit announcement and it is endless negativity, often over the choice of scale which will never satisfy everyone, but equally over the topic chosen.

    Going back to your comment about the need for all aircraft modellers to make a 30 year old kit. When Beacon Models announced their 1/144 Spitfire. Mk1 there were grumbles that this type was already available – in a long out of production, 20+ year old moulding which requires a full interior to be scratchbuilt and lots of correction work.

    Yet in the armour world, three firms can have a T-34 actively in production in 1/35 and modellers will welcome another.

    Fortunately within the aircraft modelling community there are lots of subsets, I am in several dedicated 144th scale Facebook groups and period or aircraft specific groups, where things are a lot nicer because people are more harmonised and I think this is the best way for the communities to grow. Not aircraft modellers as a single heterogeneous group, but in smaller groups with more in common where experiences and ideas are better shared – there you will find the best community spirit.


  6. Genius writing! Having just returned to the hobby after a 35yr lay off, it was something I noticed early on…bizarre!
    The photos awesome although you may have a contract out on you from aircraft modelers! However you’ve got time, because they’ll criticize each other over the intended method of your demise, and their relative chances of success!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the issue here is really of *woke alert* identity.

    Do you identify as an aircraft modeller?

    Then, yes, you may be guilty of exhibiting certain stereotypical behaviours – because those are the norm in that particular community of interest.

    Do you identify as an armour modeller? A science fiction modeller..? Trains..?

    See above.

    My feeling is we may all be missing the point – the only true modelling assholes are those who build 1/25 cars.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Are airplane modelers assholes? Are armour modelers the salt of the earth? Who knows? I’ve met assholes and salt of the earth types in both camps. But one thing I do know after five decades of building models is that Car Modelers bitch and moan the least and seem to be the happiest of modelers. And believe me, car modelers have very little to be happy about. Nearly all new model releases are not automobile kits. And when there is a “new” car kit, it’s generally a re-release. You’re talking about a kit that was on hobby shop shelves while Kennedy was still wondering what to do about the Bay of Pigs. It’s simply been re-released, warts and all, to a new generation of modelers. NEW MOLD car kits are very few and far between. Remember in the ‘70’s when we’d wait with bated breath to see what Tamiya’s one new release for the year would be? That’s what it’s like being a car modeler in the 21st century.
    While aircraft and armour modelers will deem a new release completely unbuildable if the tracks are difficult to put together or if the decals are too “thick”, car modelers will happily make do trying to fashion a reasonable facsimile of an automobile using a kit whose mold was more often than not amortized during the above-mentioned Kennedy administration. Add to that the fact that car finishes have to be glossy and perfect in order for the car to look “right” and you realize that successful car modelers have had to master smooth and glossy paint jobs which of course if one of the modeling world’s most difficult brass rings. There are no hiding mistakes under “Weathering” for these modelers.
    Yet despite these hurdles, it’s been my experience that car modelers are inclusive, fun and take themselves much less seriously than other modelers. Moreover, they often have an impressive understanding and appreciation of their 1:1 chosen subject that most AC and armour modelers can only dream of.
    So, while armour modelers and AC modelers battle it out for world domination in the model hierarchy, car modelers will do what they’ve always done. Build imperfect but fun models and enjoy doing so.

    Liked by 1 person

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