AM: You have an obvious passion for
model-building and always strive for perfection. What is model-building to
you? What is it that drives and motivates you?
DP: Since a small child, I always was making things. While others
were outside playing sports, I was indoors building models of things (or I
was in the library). Keep in mind, this was pre-TV. Indeed, it was during
WW2. For some reason I was never drawn to any sport, still are not; I guess I
wanted to have something tangible to show for my time.
By the end of WW2 I was 11 and had settled exclusively on aircraft as
model building subjects. The boats, cars, Meccano, etc. were gone. By 12, I
was making own-design free flights. Not always successfully, mind. But I
suppose there had to have been some obstinacy there, because I wasn't put
off by disasters. I just tried again.
Today, none of this has changed. I still love to build, in fact when I
look at an ARF kit I consider that somebody else has already had all the
fun. Flying is okay, but designing and building something unique is where my
hobby really lies.
AM: What got you started in model building?
Is there a genre of model other than scale that you enjoy building? For
example, do you build plastic kits or R/C subs? What is your present
DP: With very few exceptions, I have been, and in most cases still
are, involved in just about all that aero modeling offers. Helis somehow
do not grab me, nor pylon racing. But that is my loss. I love RC, FF, and CL
equally. Of all the events in modeling, the one that I enjoy the most at the
flying field is CL Vintage Team Racing. Nothing else matches this for
getting the adrenaline pumping.
Right now I am into the Vintage RC scene and recently re-learned to fly
reed-multi after a 40-year layoff. My current RC Scale project is a Vought
Kingfisher that you can see at the next Toledo Show.
AM: As a model-builder/competitor, if you
had to pick one moment and call it your most satisfying, what would that
moment be? What was your most heartbreaking?
DP: Without any doubt whatever, the most satisfying moment ever in
my 60+ years of involvement with aero modeling came when I bolted my first
own-design own-built engine into the test bench and within a few seconds it
started and ran. I was 60 when I took the Machine-Shop course and a major
regret I have had is that I did not take it when I was in my teens. Since my
first engine (a .15 diesel) in 1994 I have made a lot more, and it is always a
thrill to start one up for the first time and see what it can do.
As to disappointments, well of course any lost model provides that. But
there are too many good candidates for me to single one out as the worst
AM: Given that scale detail, to some degree,
is all around us, how much is enough? When do you know that it is time to
stop adding details? It might be said that a model is never finished. How
do you decide when your model is ready to be presented?
DP: One of my Platt's Laws (see my
the rest) says that a model is never finished, you just stop working on it.
In my case I consider the model finished when every exterior feature and
detail is present and a photo of it cannot be told from the full-size thing.
Needless to say, this can only be realised if the basic shapes and sections
are correct to begin with. It is a waste of time in my view to spend time
tricking out a "scale" model that is inaccurate right out of the box (which
95% of the available kits are). Of course, I realise that mine is a "purist"
view, but that is been my career so I will not apologise for it.
AM: The bar for Scale competition has been
continually raised over the years to where it is very difficult to tell a
model from the real thing. With a wider variety of materials available to us
and an ever increasing knowledge base, at what point do you see Scale
modeling reaching a point of “this is as good as it gets?” Will a point be
reached where a model must have an exact scale internal structure to be
DP: Actually if we take a good look back, we find that this
escalation of standards is not new. In fact, the AMA Precision Scale event
(currently replaced by Designer Scale) produced some outstanding models in
the late 60's that were all, and more, that we see at Top Gun today. I am
talking true scale moulded tires, for instance! We do not even see that
There have been great RC scale models for nearly 40 years. What IS new,
or at least wasn't so back then, is that we have learned to fly the models
well too. To win an event like the Nats or Top Gun you have to beat 90% on
both sides, Static AND Flying. Indeed, it might be that a straight 90 + 90
will get you 5th place!
AM: Prospective scale builders often ask
what type of aircraft to begin with as a scale project. The answer is
typically a Cub or similar civilian aircraft. What if I don’t like Cubs?
Can a person start with a model that is in his area of interest? E.g.
Golden Era, WWII, civilian, etc. and expect success?
DP: You need to have a strong liking for the airplane that you
would recreate as an RC scale model. If you do not you likely will not complete
the project. So go with your heart. It needs to be said, though, that a good
base of experience in building and flying both is a prerequisite. It is
tempting to want a nice scale model too soon. Do not fall for it. By the way,
a well-designed model of a WW2 fighter will be an easier build and fly much
better than a poorly-designed Cessna. Lean on a designer's good reputation.
If you can not find out who designed it, make a different choice.
AM: In my years in this hobby I have seen a
lot of changes – fads come and go, new technology is introduced, etc.
Looking into your crystal ball, where do you see the hobby five years from
now? Fifteen years from now? If the hobby were to cater only to the whims
of Dave Platt, what would we be seeing on the market today?
DP: Difficult if not impossible to answer intelligently. Fifteen
years ago we did not have turbojets or electric-power as we do today. Back
then it was relatively safe to predict that Electric would make great
progress technologically, and this has been the case. It is not hard to
imagine that motors will continue to get better and the batteries of the
future will be superior in every way.
Solar power? Maybe.
Down linking? Maybe.
If I could have anything I wanted personally, I would settle for simply
fifteen more years to enjoy it all, whatever comes.
AM: There is often discussion about getting
“today’s youth” involved in modeling. Do you see that as a problem? What
are your suggestions in that regard? Do you see a difference in their
passion for flight?
DP: Sorry, but you are not going to like this answer. But do not
blame the messenger.
Story: I am out in the quiet street where I live. Along with a pal who's
helping me, we are putting my brand-new eight-foot-long Hawker Hunter,
turbojet powered, through some taxiing and steering trials before going out
for the first flight. The model is whining up the road, turning around,
whining back. From time to time, kids ride by on their bikes.
None of them spares more than a passing glance at this activity as they
For whatever reason that can be debated if you have nothing better to do
with your time, kids are lost to us. Spending resources of any sort --
money, scholarships, classes, to try to pass on to them the pleasures we
have known from modeling, are nothing but a feel-good waste. In AMA's case,
there is a certain understandable preservation-instinct motivation, but this
cannot change the fact that it will not work.
Better to give it up as a lost cause, which is what it is, and
concentrate effort on making things better for those who are involved
AM: Lastly a question that is important to
all scale model-builders. Weight seems to be the arch-nemesis of the
scale-model. What are some methods you use to keep airframe weight under
control? For example, those beautiful scale cockpits you build look like
they add a significant amount of weight. What building and finishing
techniques do you use to ensure the model will not be lead sled?
DP: The simplest way to control weight is really the most obvious
one: avoid or severely limit the use of materials known to be heavy.
Fiberglass is okay for a cowling, but not a whole body. Use no light-ply; it
is heavy and is no stronger than balsa. Limit the weight of the balsa you
use. No piece should be over 8-lb./cu. ft. stock. Use no foam, it weighs a
lot but has no strength. Use high-quality birch ply where you need strength,
but cut it away where possible.
Finishing materials can add weight in a big hurry, and for no gain in
overall strength. My preference is for lightweight-glass-cloth covering with
polyester resin (Sig Finishing Resin). Epoxies work but will cost dearly in
A good philosophy to adopt is to ask of each part -- is it giving good
strength-for-weight? Some materials do not, (foam, as mentioned before), and
some do, carbon-fiber would be a good example. Perhaps this is why I have no
gas engines. They fail the power-for-weight test!