Saturday, October 31, 2009


Yes, it’s that time of year again, with ghosties, ghoulies and things that go *bump* in the night. And for model makers a chance to use a chunkier knife, and dispense with the airbrush, paint, filler, cement and scalpel.

So here’s a science-fictional quartet of pumpkins for your delectation. Have a good one tonight!

Note that one of the pumpkins is a steampunk creation, so just to let you know that the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, UK, has an amazing show running until February 21, 2010. If you have even a smidgeon of interest in the genre, and can possibly get to Oxford, do go - it’s just amazing. Visit the Museum here.

The pictures above show:
1 Cylon pumpkin, from Battlestar Galactica.
2 Death Star pumpkin, from Star Wars.
3 Steampunk pumpkin.
4 Mobile pumpkin, motorized with Lego.

SMN thanks the pumpkin creators - imagination runs rampant in the spectral model making community!

Friday, October 30, 2009


Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb used in the World War II raid against a series of enemy dams, died 30 years ago today, so it’s a fitting moment to see how kit makers have treated the subject. The video shows a longish clip from the 1955 movie of that raid, The Dam Busters.

A new Dambusters release from Airfix should certainly be on the ‘maybe treat myself’ list as, although it’s marked as a gift set that includes paints, cement and brushes - and indeed as a Level 2 (8 years-old and up) product - the draw is really the potential display-factor. The kit comes complete with a fairly realistic German dam, with a 1:72 scale Avro Lancaster flying over the top. Strictly speaking, the dam is somewhat undersized but even so, the combo will make a fine talking piece, especially if side-lit by a small desk lamp in a darkened room. It’ll look impressive, as the dam measures some 432 mm (17 in) across.

The Lancaster itself is a fair representation of the real thing, though the 1:72 scale Revell kit is more accurate and cheaper - but you don’t get a dam in the box. Tamiya’s big 1:48 Dambuster is packed with detail, but is pricey, and has a few inaccuracies too. So there’s no one perfect kit, though there are aftermarket conversions available, mostly aimed at improving the Airfix kit. Your choice!

A brief afterword on packaging - congrats to Airfix on the steadily improving look and feel of its kit boxes. The latest ones show that there are people who seem to really care about design and marketing.

The pictures above show:
1 Airfix Dambusters kit.
2 Barnes Wallis.

Barnes Wallis picture, courtesy IWM/PD-BritishGov.

The Airfix Dambusters gift set is available from Amazon here.

Revell and Tamiya Dambuster Lancs are available here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Minicraft is a respected name in plastic models, and their catalogs - general and this year's - are available for download in pdf format. They’re big files mind, but the general products one in particular has some gems.

In this, there’s a reminder that Minicraft is one of the relatively few companies that offers those Cinderellas of the model world, general aviation lightplanes. Minicraft makes a small range of Cessna, Piper and Beech aircraft to 1:48 scale, which are neat and tidy replicas of the real thing.

A Cessna may not be as exciting as an F-16 loaded for bear, but even so, every collection should have one or two GA planes, if only for comparison. It’s tempting though, to apply camo markings, then hang some attack hardware under the wings and fuselage. Hey, SMN’s being aggressive again, but if we’re being honest, plain old ‘white with a stripe’ is not so thrilling.

There’s another item in Minicraft’s selection that strikes a chord - a really nifty rendering of Noah’s Ark. It’s a good size at some 470 mm (18.5 in) long, but the real kicker is that it includes heaps of cross-sectional detail, including three decks, living quarters and animal cages.

A figure of Noah and some animal pairs are included, but this must show an early moment in filling the big boat, for Minicraft supply just 16 critters, hardly enough to restock a post-Flood planet! Come on Minicraft, you should add a zooful, plus Noah’s family, even if they have to be in an add-on pack. Minicraft products are available at model stores and online suppliers.

Click here to download Minicraft range brochures.

Amazon has a range of Cessnas, from 1:72 kits to RC flying models here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


To the world's spacewatchers, progress on Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital space program has been little short of phenomenal, and test flights of the spacecraft-carrierplane pair are due to begin soon, with passenger flights planned around 2011.

Becoming a sub-orbital astronaut won’t be cheap, but should provide the thrill of a lifetime for anyone (like this reviewer) who has spaceflight in their blood. Tickets to ride are currently priced at $200,000 USD (£122,000 GBP), with deposits starting at 10 percent. Around 250 would-be astronauts have already plonked down their moolah.

The latest offering from Fantastic Plastic (FP) is considerably cheaper - $75 USD (£46 GBP) - but should provide the space model fan with an impressive display piece. Even at 1:144 scale, the 29-piece resin kit spans more than 290 mm (11.5 in). It’s worth pointing out that you are on your own with markings on this one - trademark issues have meant that FP have not been able to provide Virgin Galactic logos.

Even so, the kit looks fascinating, and we’re looking forward to adding one to the SMN collection.

The pictures above show, top to bottom:
1 SpaceShipTwo separating from the VMS Eve carrier plane.
2 The parts for Fantastic Plastic’s kit.
3 View of the kit in built-up form.

Visit Fantastic Plastic here.

Visit Virgin Galactic here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


At barely 6.35 x 3.18 mm (1/8 x 1/4 in) in size, New Jersey model train builder David Smith’s tiny train must be in the record books for the smallest ever - it works out to 1:35,200 scale. It’s not a feature in its own right however, for it represents a model train running inside an already small Z gauge 1:220 scale display. Wow!

In fact the five-car ‘train’ consists of an oval of trimmed and painted plastic, moving by means of a small motor. And this has raised queries on at least one internet site, with people suggesting that because there are no separate three-dimensional components such as locomotive, carriages and track, then perhaps it shouldn’t count as a ‘model’ at all.

Well in SMN’s book, it is certainly a thing of wonder, and there’s nothing in the book against making a two-dimensional model, so David Smith gets our vote for sheer amazingness, if nothing else. You’ll find out how he pulled the trick off in the fascinating video above.

For more conventional model train enthusiasts, there’s a selection to enjoy at Amazon here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The success of the BBC TV series Top Gear is a worldwide phenomenon, but the three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May also have lives beyond motoring mayhem.

The TV series Toy Stories features presentation by James May, and includes such fascinating events as the creation of the world’s biggest Scalextric circuit, a 16-km (10 mile) stretch of model railway, and the building of a 1:1 scale plastic Spitfire kit, a clip of which is shown in the video above.

May’s relaxed style goes well with the subject and it’s a treat to see toys and models featuring on TV screens - we enjoy a popular hobby that’s been virtually ignored by broadcast media over the years. Toy Stories airs on BBC 2, starting this Tuesday, October 27.

And to go with the series, which was shot over summer 2009, here are a book and a DVD, both definitely worth a look.

Buy the Toy Stories book on offer here.

There’s also a DVD of the series, due out end-November. You can pre-order it here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Techniques report
SMN’s always been in awe of those model makers who create hyper-real miniatures using the metal foil technique. Done well, it’s a way of transforming a plain ol’ plastic model into something else again.

So here’s a link to a fascinating blog article by modelmaker Ken Friend. It’s packed with useful information and detailed knowledge should help you with techniques for a good finish.

Note that Ken’s info is on the fascinating Old Model Kits site that specializes in exactly what it says - it’s a jaw-dropping treasure trove of desirable goodies from past times.

There are too many OMK items to list here, though one fave at SMN is the 1:72 scale Revell Fokker E.III kit featuring art by ace British artist Brian Knight. This was one of a UK-only range, and Knight’s superb work was its main draw for this modelmaker at the time.

Visit Ken Friend’s article on foiling at Old Model Kits here.

Visit the Revell E.III at OMK here.

Friday, October 23, 2009


David Jefferis reports
For anyone interested in 1:32 scale aircraft and 54mm figures, New Zealand’s Wingnut Wings provides a bunch of extremely attractive models.

Wingnut’s focus is on World War I, and the aircraft are really quite excellent. But what we’re looking at here are the 54mm figures, named Little Contemptibles. They are nicely sculpted, and are grouped in diorama-like sets - the pair featured above are in the box labelled ‘Under the Line’, and represent a part of trench warfare that must have been ghastly, with constant danger of tunnel collapse being just one of the dangers.

The Wingnut Wings figures are cast metal, so have a good heft to them, and are neatly painted, ready for display.

They are available from the Wingnut website here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Mat Irvine reports
I was watching The Simpsons recently, and it reminded me that there was a kit I’d acquired some time ago, but had yet to build.

It was a figure in the style of the old Aurora kits, of a subject that Aurora perhaps should have done, the original vampire movie of 1922, named Nosferatu for copyright reasons. Later versions of Count Dracula by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee set the benchmark for what a self-respecting vampire should look like (it was good enough for Grandpa Munster, after all), but the German actor Max Shreck’s portrayal of Nosferatu was far more frightening, even though - or maybe because - the movie was black-and-white and the vampire was seen mostly only in shadow.

The Canadian model company Monarch Models, run by Scott McKillop, is one of the companies often cited as the ‘new Aurora’, along with Polar Lights and Moebius Models. Monarch’s Nosferatu has been nicely produced in the style of the original Aurora company, even down to the vertical blue box. The only real change is that the instruction sheet is in full colour, whereas Aurora’s would have been black and white.

The features of the model match Max Schreck as Count Orlok, aka Nosferatu the vampire. He is shown descending the steps to his cellar, with added features (again typical of Aurora) that include a spider, centipede, human bones and a couple of rats. There’s also a version that includes luminous parts, which is just as well, as the standard version has a 'Sold Out' sign.

Oh, and The Simpsons reference? Mr Burns of course. Apart from having an uncanny likeness to the undead, he actually took on the role in Treehouse of Horror IV, which briefly featured a scene with a passing nod to Nosferatu.

The pictures show (top to bottom):
1 Monarch kit box.
2 Box and parts.
3 Nosferatu assembled on base, blue skin and all.
4 Colorized frame from the 1922 movie. btw German director Werner Herzog made an excellent 1979 remake, which is well worth a look if you’re into the genre.

Visit Monarch Models here. You may have to reload the page, as it seems to be a bit iffy at the moment.

DVDs of the movies are available on Amazon here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Probably the most eagerly awaited 2009 kit is the 1:24 scale de Havilland Mosquito from Airfix. We’ve had tantalizing ‘it’s coming along’ dripfeeds through the year, but now the on-sale date is actually in sight.

Glimpsed in the online newsletter of the Collecting Friends website (founded by Airfix expert and author Arthur Ward) is a nice little pic of TV presenter James May of TV’s Top Gear fame. And there, on top of a Bentley box, is... the Mosquito. And what a clean machine it looks too. Very nice, so pre-orders in now folks - it looks like a winner. IWOOT.

The pictures above show:
1 Factory-fresh Mosquito lineup during World War II.
2 James May (left), Arthur Ward, and the Mosquito.

James May picture courtesy Collecting Friends.

Visit Airfix here.

If you can’t wait to build a Mossie, some other kits and bits to go for are here.

Visit Collecting Friends here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Here’s a must-visit zone if you’re in reach of Rosemont, Illinois - the iHobby Expo opens later this week, running from October 22-15. It’s an annual fest that is a popular trade meeting ground, with public days on Saturday and Sunday; kids under 10 go free, which makes family visits easier on the pocket.

This year - it’s the 25th anniversary show - more than 200 vendors are displaying their wares, and there are many extra displays, including the World Micro Heli Cup, the Phoenix Cup Wild Card Airplane Competition, and Chibots, the Chicago Area Robotics Group.

Many familiar companies will be there, including Bachmann, with its superb larger scale model railroads. The video above (great music!) shows how today’s Bachmann products are absolutely state of the art, with detailing and operation on the featured 4-4-0 locomotive that’s second to none.

Here at SMN, we’ve been particular fans of 0n30 gauge for years, and definitely have a soft spot for Bachmann’s little 0-4-0 locos to this scale, and of course the quite excellent sloooow-running Climax.

Visit the iHobby Show here.

Visit Bachmann here.

There’s a pile of Bachmann stuff available on eBay here.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Tamiya’s choice to model the KV-2 tank (‘KV’ was short for Kliment Voroshilov, a defence commissar of the time) is quite unusual, as it was one of the rarest tanks of World War II - only about 255 were made. It was a 45-tonner, and massively armoured, but these were downfalls for a fast-moving battle. The KV-1’s turret was so heavy it needed flattish ground to even turn properly, on top of which the tank was quite slow and unreliable.

However, the Tamiya model shows off the ‘Gigant’ well. It’s made to 1:16 scale and is some 443 mm (17.4 in) long. It’s packed with working features, including forward and reverse, steering, gun elevation and target tracking. Even better, there’s recoil action on both the gun and the KV-2’s hull, with recorded engine sounds to bring digital audio into RC tanking.

Coming right up to date with model choices, Tamiya’s 1:10 scale RC Fiat 500 Abarth is a fine replica of one of the best cars to come from this Italian automaker in many years. The real thing is a hoot to drive, and is only marginally outpointed in the handling stakes by the BMW Mini. The Tamiya model is made of ultra-lightweight plastics, and is less of a ‘scale model’ than the KV-2 - it’s an XB-series ready-to-run racer - but even so, it’ll look great on a display shelf until it’s collected some dings and dents on RC race circuits.

Pictures show, from top to bottom:
1 KV-2 Heavy Artillery tank 1:16 scale RC model.
2 World War II KV-2 picture, courtesy German Federal Archive.
3 Fiat Abarth 500 Assetto Corse 1:10 scale RC model.

Both these models will be available shortly from model stores and online suppliers. Meantime, here are some options:

The 500 RC is available now as a factory-fresh street machine here.

The KV-2 is available as a very neatly produced 1:48 scale kit here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Reading Mat Irvine’s recent piece on the F-117 Nighthawk had us hunting through the SMN Vault of Ancient Kits for an early iteration of the stealth story - a totally inaccurate kit, made by ...*maybe*... Dragon. But apologies if the maker’s wrong: all we found was a bag containing a sorry mixture of runners and parts, not even any instructions. Do let us know if you can identify!

But we’re not necessarily down on the imprecision-perp, as few details of the Nighthawk were available in the early days, and the kit was probably prepared from no more than a few blurred photos. However, this one is so spectacularly incorrect that it merits a new life as something else entirely. So here’s what we did with the poor beast.

The SMN crew is a huge fan of Japanese anime (animation) and in particular Akira, a 1988 sci-fi epic set in Neo-Tokyo, a near-future dystopia, and a movie that’s an acknowledged classic of its kind. Akira is awash with high-tech devices - orbital laser platforms, cryogenic chambers, hyperbikes - you name it, it’s probably in there somewhere.

So it seemed a good idea to recreate the feel of post-apocalypse anime with our old pile of parts. After a simple assembly, several coats of satin white covered the airframe, after which various bay doors were picked out in ink, and the canopy area painted with bare-metal aluminium finish. Akira and Manga logos were clipped from a DVD info sheet, and attached in suitable places. Then it was time for Photoshop...

And this involved more than a dozen picture layers, including speed blurs, explosions, smoke, sky, the aircraft and more. But we had fun and hope you like the result.

Look out for the upcoming SMN Freeebook Nighthawk for more info on this, and of course more accurate F-117 models.

The pictures above show, top to bottom:
1 A four-ship flight of real-deal F-117s.
2 Ventral view of our bogus F-117 shows a wing planform that’s far too steep. The real thing has much more sweepback.
2 The SMN Akirahawk braves heavy enemy fire as it approaches Neo-Tokyo on a bomb run.

For a selection of new stealths, try the link here.

Akira, in both movie and printed form, is here.

Friday, October 16, 2009


We’re not great joiners of things here at SMN, but another look at the Airfix Club has made us think twice.

Annual membership buys you a badge and membership card, various discounts, an Airfix catalogue, a Flying Hours Passport token collection scheme, and the quarterly magazine, samples of which are shown above.

But the real come-on is the members-only model kit, which combines three 1:72 scale aircraft in one box. A Swordfish torpedo bomber and Wildcat fighter are interesting enough, but the real kicker is the third aircraft, a Seafire MkIIc, which is available only in this kit.

The annual sub comes in three membership scales, for the UK, Europe, and Rest of the World. UK members have the option to receive hardcopy magazines and catalogue at extra cost.

The pictures above show:
1 Club magazine jacket sample.
2 Club magazine spread sample.
3 Club-only kit box.
4 Seafire on the deck of HMS Formidable

Seafire picture, courtesy IMWA.

Visit the Airfix Club here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Some of you had the odd issue viewing the 'freeebook' of the SMN dummy we produced a while ago.

Sooo... here's another try, in a slightly different format. You should be able to view it above as a tiny, clicking on the small white triangles half-way up the sides to turn the pages, or you can click the 'full-screen' button in the middle to view the freeebook at a decent size.

It's best not to press the 'Menu' button though, as that leads to all sorts of other stuff. Enjoy!


By Mat Irvine
It’s 26 years today since the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk went into service with US forces, though it was another five years before the ‘stealth fighter’ was revealed to the public.

At first the F-117A seemed rather like a Model T Ford - you could have it in any colour as long as it was black. Since then however, the aircraft has been painted in various shades, including this colourful version with stars and stripes adorning the underside.

The kit comes from Italeri, last major bastion of the Italian model kit industry, (though it has acquired one of the others, Protar), and is a version of Italeri’s existing 1:72 scale kit. Two schemes are provided - both have the flag, but one has black upper surfaces, the other features low-visibility grey. The stars of the flag are provided as one decal for the nose area; for the stripes you need to paint white first, then apply seven red decal strips when the paint has dried. Otherwise, Italeri’s model assembles easily, with no real difficulties.

I made the diorama above to show the F-117A flying near the vast Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, which houses many secret US aircraft projects. Whether any are based on ‘alien technology’ is a question I’ll leave for now, but all the ‘black’ (secret) projects have likely been tested here, from the U-2 spyplane to the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117A - and probably others still to be revealed.

One place near Nellis, (and I’m talking ‘relatively’ near, as you cannot approach the base closely) is the small town of Rachel, Nevada. Outside Rachel, you will find the ‘white mail box’, infamously thought to be linked to secret UFO goings-on, and my diorama shows this, plus a jeep and its driver, waving to the pilot.

Back to the kit, and one small point: the back of Italeri’s box lists one aircraft as coming from ‘Groom Lake, New Mexico’. In fact, the lake is within Nellis Air Force Base, so it should be Nevada. ‘Groom Lake’ is one of the shorthand names often applied to the whole place – along with ‘Dreamland’ and of course, ‘Area 51’...

The Italeri F-117 is available from stores and online suppliers, including Amazon here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


On this day in 1947, US test pilot Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager flew the bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocketplane faster than sound and into the record books. It was a spectacular achievement - until then, the ‘sound barrier’ had been regarded by many as a ‘wall in the sky’ that might forever be unbreakable.

Since then of course, supersonic flight has become an everyday event, with most air arms sporting at least one supersonic interceptor type. However, the X-1 itself has not been particularly well covered as models go. Probably the best one is still the old Tamiya 1:72 offering, which has an optional transparent fuselage half, allowing you to see the rocket motor and fuel tanks inside. Other interior detail is rather sparse though, so it’s a toss-up as to whether the model is best off built like this.

UK online outfit Hannants can supply the Tamiya X-1, though note it has new box art, which in SMN’s opinion is not half as much fun as the ‘classic’ box we show above. The click-through below takes you to an X-1 maker listing, so there are some choices there.

And for paper model makers, the website Paper Model Toy has a free pdf for you to make a simple cut-and-fold X-1. Printed onto A4 paper, it’s roughly 1:72 scale, so will allow you to compare the little X-1 with other single-seaters to that scale.

Pictures show, from top to bottom:
1 Yeager by the entry hatch of his X-1 Glamorous Glennis.
2 Free paper model for pdf download.
3 Classic Tamiya boxtop art.
4 Bits in the box, complete with metal ball oxygen tank.

Download the paper X-1 from Paper Model Toy here.

Buy an X-1 from Hannants here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


HobbyLink Japan (HLJ) is a well-established online supplier that has a particularly wide range of Japanese products on offer, ranging from aircraft and anime to military vehicles and robots. And now HLJ’s excellent site features a wide-ranging sale, with so many goodies on offer that it’s hard to know where to start - not that we’re complaining!

An item that caught our attention was the 1:48 scale World War II Luftwaffe personnel set, from Dragon. Neatly sculpted to represent pilots and ground crew from the Battle of Britain period, the eight-person group includes a table and chairs (four on-call pilots are playing cards while they wait for the next mission) and a pair of officers in easy chairs. There’s also a bomb loader pushing a bomb trolley.

This is just one item though - HLJ has an ocean of tasty stuff waiting for buyers, so do have a look. UK model makers might also like to know that HLJ will be exhibiting at the IPMS Scale ModelWorld on November 7-8, in Hall 2, Table 36.

Visit Dragon 1:48 Luftwaffe personnel here.

Visit HLJ main site here.

Visit the IPMS here.

Monday, October 12, 2009


A headline draw at motorshow time (Frankfurt’s over, Tokyo opens on October 24) is the range of gee-whiz concept vehicles on display. Most of them are a bit of a tease though - few make it into production, and the ones that do are usually sad-sack imitations of the way-out ideas that fired us up.

But designing futuristic vehicles - trucks and buses, as well as cars - is in every designer’s DNA, and sometimes ‘the future’ does hit the highway. Back in 1940 the US General Motors (GM) company built a whole fleet of high-style bus-cum-trucks called Futurliners, to travel around the country putting on instant displays of advanced technology en-route.

The deco-design Futurliners were a massive draw, and as the video shows, the arrival of the ‘Parade of Progress’ in your home town was quite a big deal. The Futurliner parade rolled from 1940-41, and again from 1953-56.

Models of these spectacular machines are thin on the ground, but there is a neat 1:64 diecast from Norev, a French company well known for producing rare and exotic subjects. Good on you Norev - please repeat to 1:43 scale, with lots of extra detail! Follow the links for more info on the Futurliner, and suppliers.

The pictures above show:
1 The Parade of Progress as it appeared on a 1953 Life magazine.
2, 3 Norev 1:64 model at Awesome Diecast, front view.

Visit the Futurliner at Awesome Diecast here.

Visit Norev here.

Fairfield Collectibles also have the Futurliner here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


The International Plastic Modellers’ Society (IPMS) has expanded across the world since its beginnings in the UK, in 1963. Today, there are IPMS chapters in more than a dozen countries.

For UK model makers, the Telford ModelWorld 2009 will be a big bash, with 200-plus trade stands and model displays.

If you’re in reach of the show, keep at least one day free over the weekend of this 7-8 November to drop in, and be awed at the craft skills displayed.

The models above depict:
1 Interceptor from the Gerry Anderson TV series ‘Captain Scarlet’.
2 Fully loaded tank transporter.
3 Diorama scene from The War of the Worlds. Note the street name.

Visit the IPMS here.