Sunday, May 31, 2009


The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a firm favourite with both its pilots and the scale model fraternity. There are A-10 kits aplenty in most scales, and there isn’t a really bad one amongst them. However, there’s no kit out there that can’t be improved with a spot of super-detailing and plenty of TLC.

With that in mind, Italeri has come up with a set of detail parts for 1:48 scale builders. Metal frets and cockpit details are supplied, as are engine details and - nicest of all - a model in its own right of THAT gun, the GAU8/A Avenger Gatling weapon, which can chuck out some 3900 coke-bottle sized rounds per minute. The gun is supplied with a wheeled dolly, so would look impressive next to a finished A-10.

The Italeri A-10 Detail Set is available from model stores and online suppliers, including Model Hobbies - with a useful £3.00 GBP ($4.78 USD - discount here.


We’re only a few weeks away from the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing on July 23, 1969, so if you’re up for making a remembrance model, then now could be the time to get started.

Among the best kits available at present are Revell’s reissues, labelled under the series title, ‘Buzz Aldrin Rocket Hero’. The 1:48 scale Lunar Module and 1:32 scale Apollo capsule are both well-produced, and highly recommendable, as is the 1:144 Saturn V.

When it comes to finishing, for that extra sparkle, it’s worth taking a trip to a museum that has some real-life Moonflight memorabilia on hand - there’s nothing like reproducing details that you’ve actually seen, photographed, maybe even measured, to sprinkle magic dust on a model.

An Apollo capsule (top pictures) is on display at the London Science Museum, so for any Brit model fan, it’s a good excuse to make a visit. Also at the Science Museum is a space gallery, with fascinating stuff on show.

You can also see a model of a British Interplanetary Society (BIS) space capsule study (bottom picture), conceived long before Apollo was even a twinkle in Wernher von Braun’s eye. The BIS is a highly regarded organization that has been on the leading edge of space activities since it was set up in 1933.

Revell space kits are widely available; you can see the range at Revell’s site here.

The BIS can be viewed here, and the London Science Museum is here.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Airfix has scored a success with its Limited Edition 1:48 scale BAC TSR-2 strike bomber kit, and now it’s Corgi’s turn, with a 1:72 scale TSR-2 for the diecast market. The model is not expected before November 2009, but pre-orders are being taken for an announced first edition of ‘less than 2000’. This model will represent the only TSR-2 that actually flew.

The real thing was cancelled in the 1960s, despite highly successful test flights. Ironically, the F-111s ordered to replace it were themselves cancelled a few years later. Today, many British air enthusiasts wish that politicians of the day had been fitted with concrete boots and left on a beach at low tide.

Whatever, it’s likely that the Corgi TSR-2 will maintain the high standards of the rest of the Aviation Archive range, and it’ll be a biggie - the fuselage will measure nearly 15 in (380 mm) in length.

Prices vary, but The Modeller website gives a decent pre-order discount, selling the TSR-2 at £70.54 GBP ($112.00 USD). You can visit the site here.


Virgin Galactic spaceline’s ambitions took another small step with the test firing of SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor yesterday (top picture). Once cleared for flight the SS2 will be carried up to 15 km (9.3 miles) by a White Knight 2 mother plane, then will be released to fly up to the edge of space, carrying a single pilot and some very excited passengers, ready to win their astronaut’s wings.

SpaceShipTwo is a bigger version of the SpaceShipOne that won the Ansari X-Prize for commercial spaceflight in 2004. For model builders, the Estes 1:20 scale offering is a fun way to fly rockets, but is also good enough to detail up for a reasonable display model. The odd scale marks it down, though.

As for SpaceShipTwo, Fantastic Plastic is working on a 1:144 scale White Knight 2 carrier plane with SS2 rocket combo that should be a showstopper when it arrives - as planned, this will be in September. The pictures (bottom two) show the amazing design in mid-air (thanks Virgin) and work in progress on the kit. Looks good!

You can buy the Estes SpaceShipOne from Amazon here, and enjoy the amazing range of rare and weird flying machines at Fantastic Plastic here.

Picture of rocket firing by Mark Greenberg

Friday, May 29, 2009


There’s a good spot on the internet for 00 gauge rail fans, and for Hornby enthusiasts in particular. Hornby Hobbies now has its own YouTube channel, with a selection of fascinating videos for all to watch.

I particularly like Hornby’s clean presentation of new-product items, which shows them turning slowly against a plain white background - very neat, very cool. The video above shows a pre-production Class 395 Javelin, running on Hornby's showroom layout.

The YouTube channel is here.


There’s winning news for Aston-Martin fans today - the company is planning to enter Formula One (F1) racing from 2012. It’s exciting too for SMN, as Aston-Martin is based at Gaydon, not too far from the SMN workbench, near Oxford, UK.

A-M is already into sportscar racing in a big way, and this will continue, with preparation by top racing outfit Prodrive. In fact, A-M cars will be running in F1 from 2010 under the Prodrive label, before changing to the fully-fledged Aston-Martin F1 name two years later.

For Aston-Martin model fans, there's plenty of choice out there, and one of the nicest diecasts around is the big 1:18 scale Autoart DBR9 in Le Mans racing finish (top picture). It’s a jewel-like production, packed with detail, and just made for display. In 1:43 scale, an attractive James Bond DB5 from the movie Goldfinger (lower pictures) was offered with an Italian partwork that has since included a whole range of well-known and not-so-well-known vehicles from the Bond movies - from a Lotus submarine-car to a Citroen 2CV.

These come up from time to time on eBay, so it’s worth keeping an eye open. Dozens of Bond vehicles have already been released so it’s probably a bit late to subscribe to the whole series.

Details of the Aston-Martin’s F1 ambitions are at Autocar magazine’s website here.

Autoart’s Aston-Martin racers can be viewed here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Aurora kits represented a goldmine of exotica in years gone by. While other companies were giving us familiar (even then) P-51 Mustangs and Spitfires, Aurora teased us with luridly marked P-36 Peashooters and of course, movie monsters like The Mummy. Today, such kits achieve good prices on the collector market, and quite right too - though of course, once they achieve such status, they’ll never get built, which is a bit of a shame. So which early Auroras have achieved stardom in my hall of fame? Find out now, with Mr J’s five Auroras from the vaults:

1 The Mummy
Creatures from the movies were Aurora’s stock-in-trade, and made the range very different from the likes of, say, Airfix. Of the various Aurora offerings, The Mummy wins, for his classic grusomeness. But the nearest I got to frightening anyone with the model was to fix him inside a sealed black box, with a pair of eye holes in the front. “Look inside the box, Sue”, I said to my elder sister. She emitted a faint squeak as she stared at the dim ‘Glow in the Dark’ bits of The Mummy, then sighed and went back to combing her hair. Score: Mummy 0, Boyfriend 1.
2 Lockheed XFV-1
The 1950s was an era of dramatic invention, with a scale and range of aero-experiments that was mind-boggling. And Aurora was right there, reflecting those ideas. The XFV-1 was one of a pair of US VTOL prop fighters that achieved little flight success, never went into military service, but to a tech-obsessed youngster, their amazing looks were signs of things to come.
3 Roman Bireme
A school project got me going with this, and its 1:80 scale wasn’t too far away from standard aircraft 1:72. We created a Roman invasion scene with a plaster-of-paris sea, and a beach made with real sand. It looked pretty impressive, and I took it home afterwards to add a few 20th century items, thus creating a Rome-with-the-Allies D-Day landing zone.
4 Swedish ‘S’ tank
I wasn’t an overly military boy (though my Dad was ex-Army) but I did enjoy a tank or two, with Shermans and Centurions among my top heavy weapons. The ‘S’ hit the spot for its futuristic weirdness - a tank with no turret? What were the Swedes thinking about?! The scale - 1:48 - sold it to me, as I was (and still am) a fan of this scale. But after assembly, it didn’t look much like a tank somehow, so I mounted an instant-coffee lid on top, attached various dish antennas, then sprayed the lot white, to create an exploration vehicle with built-in helipad. And I won a model competition with the result!
5 Orion 2001 spaceliner
I was lucky enough to go to the London opening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, and it was the very first sci-fi movie I saw that had convincing special-effects: look - no strings! The Orion, complete with Pan Am markings, was my idea of what a spacecraft really ought to look like. As for being served by a tasty (and weightless) space hostess, the mind boggled. Aurora’s kit was made to a notional 1:144 scale, and had good detail for the time, including a spacefaring nuclear reactor in the tail.

OK, that’s my Aurora Fab Five - what are your choices?


The cover of this book by Jared A. Zichek gives the game away immediately - mouthwateringly fantastic blue-sky projects that we would all like to see in the air, blazing across the skies for real. Flying across the jacket are a pair of Douglas D-1186 attackers, amazing beasts that would have used a proposed service version of the Douglas X-3 Stiletto research aircraft, mounted atop a twin-jet carrier, itself a robotic missile that could be released to fly unaided to a distant target.

In reality, the X-3 was so underpowered it couldn’t even crack Mach 1 in level flight. Still, a developed version would doubtless have been powered by engines with more grunt. And who cares, the concept is so mad it might even have worked.

This would make a top-class kit-bashing exercise, if only kits of the X-3 were more easily available. There have been various versions (see pictures) but only the Revell kit has been made in anything like decent numbers, as part of the History Makers re-release series. Come on Revell, it’s high time for a re-re-release! The Revell X-3 was to an odd 1:65 scale, a slightly bigger Mach 2 version is sensibly made to 1:72 scale.

You can buy the book from the publisher, Schiffer Books, here or from Amazon here.

At the time of writing a Revell X-3 is on sale at eBay here, and the Mach 2 model is stocked by Hannants here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


On May 27 1967, Jackie and Caroline Kennedy christened the new carrier, some four years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas. The ship (aka ‘Big John’) was basically a Kitty Hawk-class design, but with conventional engines instead of a nuclear power plant. The JFK went on to serve for almost four decades, before being finally decommissioned in 2007.

For model builders, aircraft carriers represent a particular challenge, involving making and painting tiny aircraft as well as the ship. US supercarriers like the JFK had different types likely to be parked on deck, from fighters to helicopters.

But there is a short-cut for collectors rather than builders, and that’s to buy a ready-built model, and here the auction site eBay has come to the rescue. There are several 1:800 scale JFKs for sale at a Buy-It-Now price of $159.00 USD (£100.00 GBP), which gets you a 15 inch (381 mm) long model, complete with aircraft on deck, and mounted on a wooden plinth with a brass name plaque. It looks good at that price.

Visit the eBay JFK here.


It seems to be sci-fi week at SMN, after a viewing of the latest blockbuster in the Terminator movie series. Accompanying Terminator: Salvation is a deluge of collectibles and (hopefully) kits to come. The first wave of collectibles is already here, mostly figures of one sort or another.

The Wacky Wobbler Bobble-Head (top picture) is a quite nicely done ’toon variation, if a little at odds with the doomy flavour of the movie. This one comes with light-up eyes, so it has earned a space on my nighthawk workzone!

Also available is a matched A-10 and Skynet Hunter-Killer combat duo, with figures (middle picture). The A-10 is a bit toy-like, but you could use it as the basis for kit-bashing an existing model. With some work, the Hunter-Killer robot would make the basis of an excellent sci-fi diorama.

We’ll have to wait a while for more ‘adult’ stuff, such as the 1:6 scale T-600 figure, which isn’t due until after Christmas. Mind you, this one is definitely a save-for item, as it’ll likely retail at some $225.00 USD (£142 GBP).

You can buy Bobble Heads at Amazon here. The other two items can be seen at the action figure and collectibles site, Entertainment Earth here and here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Wow! It was May 25 1977 when the first Star Wars movie hit the cinema. The mighty roar and seemingly endless length of an Imperial Star Destroyer, sliding down the screen after the text-crawl intro, helped make the opening sequence one of the best ever.

In the decades since, we have been treated to hundreds of kits and collectibles. One of the best early kits was MPC’s big Millennium Falcon. Today, Revell’s Easykit of this smuggler’s starship makes into a fair model in its own right - with some careful superdetailing and weathering, it can be tuned up to make a showstopper.

The most recent trio of Star Wars movies were rather laboured compared to the first set, at least so far as acting went. But they did come loaded with impressive special effects work and a host of new spacecraft for model builders to lust after. Today a Revell Republic Star Destroyer will set you back some £19.99 GBP ($32.00 USD) and is available from Amazon here and other suppliers.

Incidentally, 1977 was a looong time ago in techno-terms. The Apple II computer (bottom picture) was launched that year, with a mono screen and no mouse - the mechanical rodent hadn’t yet been perfected for a mainstream computer!


The neat acronym MOC - My Own Creation - is used by LEGO builders to describe their efforts. And there’s a thriving MOC site that caters to the enthusiasm of the worldwide plastic brick-building community.

Now LEGO is not really a ‘scale’ activity, mainly because of the coarse nature of the basic bricks. However, viewed from a little way away, a LEGO creation can certainly look much like the real thing. And even when LEGOness is obvious, you can usually admire technical aspects of the construction.

This P-38 Lightning (top pictures above) is an example - the outline is recognizable enough, but it’s not exactly a competitor to even a tiny Corgi offering (bottom picture). But no matter: it looks good in its own way, and you have to admire the way the builder, ‘Masterchief 1’, has allowed for the droopiness of LEGO wings by building in a pair of support struts between the fuselage pod and engines.

The online MOC community was started by keen LEGO builder Sean Kenney in 2003, although it is not affiliated with LEGO in any way. Today, Sean is the MOC pages leader and offers his services on the web as a portrait artist - making them in LEGO of course!

You can visit MOC pages here, and Sean Kenney’s portrait site here.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The general enormousness of this metre-long kit makes SMN disinclined to argue with that claim! And it certainly leaves 1:72 offerings from Revell and Airfix far behind in its wake.

The World War 2 Schnellboot (the name means ‘fast boat’, also known to Allied forces, as an ‘enemy’ or E-boat) is becoming widely available, at a typical price around £90.00 GBP ($143 USD). This is a fairly gulp-making outlay, but does seem fair value for such a huge kit. There’s a good review of the mighty craft from Kyle Bodily here.

Meantime in the UK, work has already started on restoring the S130 (bottom picture), reckoned to be the last surviving Schnellboot. As planned, it’s a full-on restoration to German Navy operational spec, including engines and armament.

You can follow the progress of the restoration company, Roving Commissions, here.

Model stores and online sellers that stock the Schnellboot, include Model Hobbies here.


Fiddlers Green is a card-modelling outfit that produces a wide range of models to build, including many aircraft. Some of these are really unusual, such as Horten gliders and a whole slew of German X-plane ‘1946’ designs. Fiddlers Green also offers card buildings and railroad background panoramas.

For new visitors to the site Fiddlers Green presents free stuff to get you going in this hobby, including the Albatros DIII shown above. Card modelling makes a change from plastic kits or metal diecast, so here’s a way to start without financial pain. The price? Fiddlers Green want you to register is all. Visit the site here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


There are quite a few collectibles around for Iron Man, of Marvel comic and recent movie renown, but kits are not so common. However, Moebius Models has a nice pair of Iron Man figures to build.

The first Iron Man kit (top picture) is available now and stands some 230 mm (9 in) tall, on a rather tasty steampunk-style cogs-n-bits circular base. The Iron Man Mk II has a plated finish, and includes decals for the rivets. According to Moebius Models, the moulds for the kit are, “...engineered and cut directly from digital animation data used to make the Iron Man movie”, which sounds good to me.

If you haven’t seen it already, the movie is well worth seeing. I viewed it again recently on DVD and it’s a tightly-edited production, deserving of the near-$100 million USD taken on its premier box office weekend. The drop-dead gorgeous suit itself sums up many of my wish-fulfillment fantasies; ho hum, what a shame it’s not for real. Scriptwise, I reckon the movie (starring Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges) is somewhat deeper than the bangs ’n’ bullets trailer (above) indicates - or maybe that’s just me.

You can buy the DVD from Amazon here, view the Moebius kit at the Forbidden Planet store here, or directly at Moebius Models here.


There’s a nice little gift from the UK model retain chain Modelzone, in the form of a 10% discount on all Radio Control products. Check out the Modelzone RC offers - from battle tanks to helicopters - here.

It’s important to enter the promo code at the Modelzone checkout - it’s MBHRC10. This will automatically take 10% off your RC purchases, but does not include any shipping costs.

The offer is for this weekend only - May 23, 24, 25.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


It’s a perennial problem for modellers - what to do with those kits and collectibles once they are bought and built. For me the biggest issue has always been dust and delicacy. The problem goes all the way back to childhood, with my dear old Mum’s well-meant attempts at "just dusting" my room, with the inevitable consequences to delicate parts such as aerials, pitot tubes and the like.

Later on it was girlfriends - my flatmate Keith once opened the front door to say, “She’s hiding and daren’t speak to you... you know that Ford GT40 you built... she was only trying to help”. You can guess the rest! Suffice to say, a glass of wine and ‘personal attention’ earned forgiveness without too much trouble.

These days, I try and use dedicated shelves and display boxes wherever possible and, importantly, pack most of the collection carefully away like a museum, with only a selection on show at any one time. This approach can work, provided there's enough garage (or loft) space to keep the resting items dry and safe. But do keep these in sealed, stackable plastic storage boxes, with a sachet or two of silica gel inside each box to protect those treasures from damp, especially if you keep the cardboard boxes.

For your ‘on-show’ displays, there’s no need to go to huge expense. Wine and port presentation boxes can be reused after Christmas duty (top picture), shown here painted white, and fixed above a doorframe to utilise every morsel of wall space. Acrylic Ferrero Rocher chocolate boxes (middle) are terrific for small items. They come in different shapes, here a transparent pyramid. I’ve even used ultra-cheap teen girls’ makeup boxes from a thrift store (bottom).

What all of these solutions have in common is that they keep out the dirt and dust!


HERE'S A ROBOTIC AIRCRAFT KIT in the form of the Italer RQ-1B Predator. It’s a nice model, with less than two dozen parts - just right for an evening’s work after the sun goes down.

Friday, May 22, 2009


It’s good to see kit makers makers lending the model world a helping hand in these difficult economic times. And with that in mind, it’s great to see that Dragon seems to have really hit the spot with its Orange Box range.

Orange Box kits are previous-generation military models that have been upgraded, to include such items as tracks, figures, equipment - even gun turrets - to give us more for our money.

For example, the 1:35 scale Pershing tank shown above includes different gun barrels, a four-man US Army anti-tank team, and two kinds of track.

So far, there are seven items in the Orange Box military range. SMN says, keep bringin’ them on, Dragon!

You can view the Dragon range here.


Aaah... it’s the brain-flash that says, “Why didn’t we think of that before?”. The Tamiya 1:48 BAe Hawk Mk66 comes in Swiss Air Force markings, and - ta-da! - a pair of heavyweight pilot figures, made of metal instead of plastic. The result is that they combo duties as crew and nose weights.

At last, you don’t have to pack the nose with assorted bits of lead shot, so for this aircraft at least, tail-sitting is not an option. The renowned manufacturer Cartograf has produced five sets of decals for Tamiya, and in an international hookup, Italeri makes aircraft parts. In real life the Hawk and trainers like it are not large aircraft, so 1:48 scale really suits it - the finely crafted model measures 242 mm (9.5 in) long.

The real Hawk (its first flight was 35 years ago) is a highly successful aircraft, with 900-plus made so far; they are flown by air forces all around the world. The Swiss Air Force flew Hawks for about 15 years, until they were sold to Finland in 2007. The Finnish Air Force currently has 18 Mk66 and 47 Mk51 Hawks in service.

The Tamiya Hawk with its paunchy pilots should be available in stores and online retailers shortly.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Even if you’re not familiar with the name, you’ve almost certainly seen Shigeo Koike’s work before, as his superb art has graced many a Hasegawa box-top.

In the world of aviation art, Shigeo Koike is recognized as one of the greats, with a master’s eye and feel for his subjects that go far beyond simply recording an accurate image. This is the third in his Flying Colors book series, and shows 60 aircraft from all periods in aviation history.

It’s a big hardback that measures 380 x 285 mm, a dust jacket plus a protective sleeve, with Japanese and English texts by Toshio Fujita and Scott T. Hards. It’s available from the excellent Hobby Link Japan (HLJ) here. The book’s not cheap at 6600 yen (£44.56 GBP) but for connoisseurs, it would make a satisfying addition to the library.


This is a neat addition to Tamiya’s range of 1:48 military vehicles, and will make a useful addition to any diorama featuring British military subjects of the World War 2 era.

The vehicle is pre-assembled (a trend that’s becoming stronger with every passing month) and is presented to Tamiya’s usual high production values. And, as ever, it’s a pleasure to see the Tamiya box has such thoughtful design and illustration, as well as the actual model.

A British Army version is already available, and the RAF version should be out soon, from model shops and online retailers, such as Hannants.


Maybe this is not a ‘model’, at least in SMN’s normal terms of reference, but it’s so weirdly cool that it earns a space on this electronic page. It’s a fun story, in which Perry Watkins decided to take a Postman Pat (a children’s TV series) plastic funmobile and make a genuine roadgoing machine out of it.

As the YouTube vid shows, his machine works well, using the Postman Pat body on top of a quad bike. At 26 inches wide it's a contender for 'world's smallest car' too. SMN’s only real quibble are the flames down the sides - to our eyes, they may just be a tad over the top.

As ‘models’ go of course, it’s hardly a miniature - the car is several times BIGGER than the one that appears on the TV shows.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Scale has long been a bone of contention for this exactoid modeller. The world of diecast vehicles exists largely at railway scales - 00, H0, S - or larger - 1:43, 1:24, 1:18. Bearing in mind the multitude of 1:43 vehicles available, it never fails to amaze me how little there is by way of compatible-scale replicas of other types of transportation.

So when Testors decides to include in its range not one, but three diecast helicopters at 1:43 scale, I’m more than interested. And interesting these helos are, especially the biggie of the three, a CH-149 Cormorant, which is the Canadian Armed Forces version of the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland EW101.

These big helos trundle regularly across the sky right in front of my hilltop office, near Oxford, UK. They are noisy beasts, with three engines that give out a throaty roar. Not that I mind of course, as having a ringside seat to watch hedge-hopper nap-of-the-earth training flights always gives me a big buzz.

Testors’ other 1:43 helos are a US Coast Guard Agusta-Bell MH-68A and a Bell UH-1D in New York City Police colours. All are pre-painted, and assembly (the Cormorant has just 16 parts) is by screw-and-glue. A touch of subtle weathering and a light blowover with satin varnish will turn them from shiny toys to serious models without too much trouble - and of course, open the door to any number of diorama scenes.

These helicopters are available from retail outlets or direct from Testors here.