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Is Model Building Becoming a Dying Art Form?

May 05, 2015

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Airfield Models ( Model Building a Dying Art Form?

Die-hard builders have for years now been saying that the Almost-Ready-To-Fly (ARF) model aircraft industry is going to be the end of model building and life on Earth as we know it.

When I first noticed the proliferation of ARF's I was saying the same thing and I believed it.  It is not my intention to rehash the kit vs. ARF vs. scratch-building debate, but some facts are applicable.

I doubt anyone would dispute that a good builder is capable of building higher quality models than what is available as an ARF given that he is willing to invest the effort and time.

Like any industry that uses mass-production methods, the ARF industry must take measures to keep costs down to be competitive.  That means the best materials are seldom used because it is more costly to always use the best quality or best construction technique if the benefit is highly offset by cost.

Arguably, ARF's are engineered to be suitable for the lowest common denominator (bad pilots) so that the planes can be considered safe and airworthy even when carelessly assembled or flown outside their intended flight envelope.  Consequently, ARF's are over-built and over-weight.

The point being not to bash ARF's.  Indeed, they have come a long way in terms of quality.  Nevertheless, it is clear to me that a good pilot will be limited by the performance of an ARF.  He will have no choice but to learn to construct higher quality, purpose-built airframes or have someone else do it for him.

Those of us who aren't really good pilots but who are good builders simply don't want to settle for a compromised airframe when we know we can build one that is better even if the plane is much more capable in flight than we are as pilots.

Those are two reasons why the art of model building probably won't die but are the least important as far as I'm concerned.  Technical superiority will be eternally a moot point when the subject is creative endeavors.

The most important reason that model building will last is that there will always be artists.  True model-builders are artists which is what I consider myself to be.  I build because I enjoy creating not having.  Model building is creative, productive and highly rewarding.  Builders are limited only by their skills, knowledge and imagination not a board of directors.

It's Raining Kits! Hallelujah!

While the major manufacturers are producing fewer kits and more ARF's, there is a blossoming cottage industry that is producing more kits than ever thanks to CAD and laser-cutting.

Many of these kits are much higher quality than the kits that used to be available from the big guys and they are a lot easier to assemble.

What is actually happening should not be called the death of an art form but a culling of the herd.  The guys who don't want to build don't have to at least until they become exceptionally talented pilots anyway.

Back in the days before ARF's the only way to have a model airplane was to build it.  A lot of guys hated building which isn't any different than the way things are today.  These guys almost certainly would have bought ARF's had they been available.

In the mean time if we want others to find the same fulfillment we have found then we need to stop being zealots.  The word zealot is synonymous with obnoxious.  Every time a zealot's opinions are inflicted on me I am more likely to do just the opposite of what he wants me to just to annoy him.

We need to be there to help, but not to shove it down people's throats.  If they ask then show the way.

It's not my place or anyone else's to tell people what they should or shouldn't enjoy.  Each person can and should decide for himself how to find fulfillment whether that be collecting kits that never get built, flying ARF's and never building or hermiting way in a shop building model airplanes and never seeing daylight long enough to fly them.

There will always be model-builders so we can stop worrying about it any time now.



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Copyright 2004 Paul K. Johnson