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Choosing Subjects to Model

May 05, 2015

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Airfield Models ( Your Modeling Subjects

Just the other day I was looking in a closet where I store my unbuilt plastic kits and was wondering when I would get back to building some of them.

Currently I am very involved in R/C and have a line-up of projects to take me through the next 2 to 3 years.  That doesn't count repairs that will inevitably be needed as a consequence of my piloting skills.

I have a wide variety of plastic kits aircraft, armor, sci-fi, a sports car or two, some space subjects and who knows what else.  I have been itching to build a few of these kits for quite some time.  Every time I pull one of them out I look it over and then put it back.  I had never given that behavior much thought up to now.

I was about to choose from a Saturn V rocket, Space Shuttle, Gemini Capsule and Lunar Lander kit for my next project.  What finally dawned on me is that the reason I keep putting these kits back is that even though I have an interest in these subjects, I do not feel tuned in to them.  What's missing is a fundamental understanding of the essence of the machine.


Go with what you know

With airplanes it is an entirely different story.  I know how an airplane works, what the systems do and most importantly, what it is that defines each craft.  There are several things that must be there to get the spirit of the plane across.

Sopwith CamelTo the right is a photo of a full scale Sopwith Camel.  Its defining characteristics are the very short nose, the gun troughs, the large proportion of wings to fuselage and of course, all the outlines wing tips, tail surfaces, cowling, landing gear, etc.  A scale Snoopy is highly regarded, but a Capt. Brown is considered to be an acceptable substitute.

If the aforementioned items are close to being correct, then the illusion is successful.  Depending on the scale, there are many things that can be omitted without tarnishing the impression.

A Camel will still look like a Camel without scale control cable exits, pitot tubes, rib stitching, etc.  These are diminutive details that do not contribute to the personality of the plane the trees in the forest, if you will.

There are some things that are just wrong in any scale.  Some designers simply have not figured out that getting the idea across is not that difficult.  Even so, it is a easy to annihilate what could have been an effective model as evidenced by many of the "sport scale" models on the market.

If you don't believe me, then imagine the above picture to be a scale model and put a set of Dubro wheels on it.  One poor decision ruins the effect absolutely.

Common ways of ruining an F4U Corsair include a fuselage that is a box instead of round or a wing having a sharp dihedral break instead of a proper radiused inverted gull.  Either of these make the plane look silly and make me wonder why anyone even bothered.

"Scale" profile models are almost as bad but they get a little more leeway because they are obviously not trying to be scale.  Even so, you will not see one hanging from my ceiling.

I was visiting a website having an article describing the build of a Guillow's Sopwith Camel.  While the plane was nicely built, one item destroyed any fantasy that this could be the real thing.  The builder chose a .15 which is simply too big of an engine for the model.  An engine half the size would be a perfect choice.  Even then it would require the firewall to be moved back into the fuselage to get the propeller at a location closer to scale.

The builder installed the engine in the location shown on the plans (or maybe even farther forward) which has the propeller so far in front of the cowl that the plane looks very awkward.  That may have been the easiest way to get the short-nosed Camel balanced to fly, but I would have rather used dead weight to balance the model and put the prop where it is supposed to be.

The Sopwith Camel was a powered kite as was typical of planes built during WWI.  The choice of engine and especially its location makes the model look like a supersonic Camel.  I have no idea how fast the model flies, but it gives the impression that it is yanked around by the engine rather than flying on the wing as these planes had to do because the power to sustain a vertical hover just wasn't available in those days.

The point being that when I build an airplane model I know what it takes to convey the illusion and what it takes to ruin it.  That is mainly why I build small models.

A small model can suggest higher realism while having much less detail.  Often a larger model has a ton of detail and still fails the realism test because it does not trick me into believing.  A vacuum-form cockpit and a saucer eyed pilot over-power the effect of 10,000 painstakingly placed rivets.  That is the fundamental problem with large models.

The average builder would have to spend years on a 1/3 scale Corsair to get enough detail on it to really get that illusion across.  Personally, I do not want to spend this kind of time detailing a model.  I am ready for the next project long before a project like this will ever be completed.

A passenger-seat size model can be built in 2 months while giving the impression of the same level of realism.  I admit I am over-simplifying the situation, but hopefully you get the point.

This brings me back to my Saturn V.  When I look at this behemoth of a rocket I realize I do not have a clue - much like those who design angle-winged Corsairs.  At some point after the model is completed I will not even think about it any more, but the build, which should be enjoyable, is consumed by the nagging doubt that something is wrong and I don't know what it is.

Yes, I take my craft too seriously.  I should just enjoy the building process and not worry about it.  I can do that with some models but not with others.  I'm still learning and always will be.

Model building is a journey to be enjoyed.  I do not build models to have models.  In fact, once a model is complete I hardly even look at it any more.  If I do not enjoy building it then there is no point.

I guess there are two ways to go about it.  Build what you know and love and it will come through in the finished product or build other things and don't sweat it.



Why am I a Modeler?
My First Foray into Electric RC Model Airplanes

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Copyright 2004 Paul K. Johnson