Friday, July 31, 2009


Showing off your work is one of the chief pleasures of a successful build, whether it’s a straightforward from-the-box assembly, a kit-bashed original concept, or a ready-built diecast miniature display.

We go on about dioramas here at SMN, and indeed, creating a mini-world can set things off really well. However, often enough just one model is the focus of attention, and here a diorama can actually dilute the impressive effect, by taking people’s eyes away from that focus.

So, what’s to do? Well, the simple solution is often the best one, and in this case, cheap too - and that’s to stand your model on a mirror. It’s a particularly effective technique for military subjects such as aircraft when they’re loaded with a full-on weapons fit - when of course, all the work you’ve put into drop tanks, bombs, missiles, undercarriage bays and the like can be almost completely hidden by the wings and fuselage. In the picture above, a nicely detailed and weathered F/A-18 Hornet demonstrates how much more you can see with a mirror display - weapons, flaps and pylons are all visible.

You don’t have to use a single mirror of course - a neatly arranged panel of mirror tiles will do the job just as well as a single sheet, and are easy to buy from hardware stores. And you don’t have to stop with the ground reflections - a mirrored backdrop allows people to see behind the model, to get a surround view. Mind that glass though - you don’t want to run the risk of breakage, so it’s best to mount the mirror (or tiles) on a rigid backing board made of mdf or plywood, cut to size.

A last thought on display is illumination - room lighting is usually from above, throwing the undersides of a model into shadow. So if you can, use a small portable light, angled to brighten things things up down below.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Sadly, the movie studio LucasFilm chose the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing to order Fantastic Plastic to stop marketing its excellent Star Wars kits.

In FP’s words: “On July 20, 2009, Fantastic Plastic received a "Cease & Desist" order from LucasFilm demanding the removal of all unlicensed products from our Website.  In compliance, we have retired all "Star Wars"-related kits to the Virtual Museum Store “Hall of Fame”. We will no longer market or sell these or any other kits that fall under LucasFilm's jurisdiction.”

SMN’s not going to preach about the rights or wrongs of the situation, but we will say it’s a shame that Fantastic Plastic’s Allen Ury and LucasFilm couldn’t come to an amicable arrangement, especially as the range included fascinating kits, such as the 1:72 scale Incom Skyhopper (top pictures) and 1:144 Jawa Sandcrawler (bottom. Hey ho, looks like we’ll all have to bombard Revell with requests for new subjects to release.

On a brighter note, Fantastic Plastic's range blossoms otherwise, and its latest offering is another sci-fi movie subject, a 1:48 scale Bubble Fighter from the movie Lost in Space. The movie was not so hot in the acting department (and may have marked the nadir of Matt LeBlanc’s career) but the special effects were pretty good and the spacecraft designs excellent. So this big kit - standing more than 305 mm (12 in) high - should be on any sci-fi modeller’s wish list.

Visit LucasFilm here, and Fantastic Plastic here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The Boeing CH-46 reaches 47 years since its first flight next month, and by the time the last ones are retired from US Marine Corps service in 2014, the type will have been flying for 52 years! Nicknamed the ‘bullfrog’ or plain ‘phrog’, the assault support helicopter, initially developed by Piasecki-Vertol, has achieved a reputation for toughness and reliability in service.

Various kits have been made, including those of Airfix, Fujimi and Hobbycraft, but far and away the best available today is the 1:48 scale Academy kit. It’s beautifully presented, with a choice of markings that include the US Navy Stars-and-Stripes Sea Knight version shown above. Detail inside and out is top-class - the only thing missing is a bunch of heavily armed troops, ready to walk up the tail ramp (bottom picture). But that’s no criticism, more of a me-want item for a future release.

Academy’s CH/HH-46 would look good in any helo collection - paired with a same-scale twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook, the result would be outstanding.

Visit Academy here for details. The kit is on offer at the moment from online supplier Model Hobbies here, marked down to £35.98 ($59.33).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Strictly speaking, the Volkswagen Samba is the people-carrier bus version of the original split-screen VW Type 2, not the famous camper. But let’s not be fussy, the box-on-wheels Type 2, first introduced in 1950, is still leading-edge where the fashionable young are concerned and the basic product - in much improved form - is still being produced in Brazil.

And here are test-shots of Revell’s upcoming Samba, which should make an ideal basis for camper conversions and beachside dioramas. The picture at the bottom is a little different - it’s a concept design for an updated state-of-the-art VW Camper - SMN’s not totally convinced by the ‘woody’ panels but the rest of it looks ace: come on VW, let’s have one soon.

Visit Revell here.

Monday, July 27, 2009


The F-15 Eagle is a mighty popular subject for kit makers, and there's been a huge number of kits in all scales put out since the first flight of the twin-jet interceptor, back on July 27, 1972. SMN could do a thick book on them (and maybe we will) but today, let's just take a snapshot of what's out there.

So here is a trio of Eagles, three among many! First off (top picture) is a ‘trad’ plastic kit from Airfix in the form of the good value 1:72 scale ‘Then and Now’ twin kit of an F-15E Strike Eagle and P-51D Mustang. Both are acceptable kits, if not leading edge, but at the reasonable £16.99 GBP ($27.88 USD), who’s complaining. They would look impressive together on a diorama scene, perhaps as they might appear on an air show flight line.

Guillows (middle picture) presents an unusual take on modelling, with a balsa wood skeleton display model, to 1:40 scale. The choice of material is a contradiction in terms - a wooden Eagle anyone? - but it builds into a impresive display piece, with a big 324 mm (12.75 in) wingspan.

Last but not least comes a ducted-fan Eagle (bottom) from Freewing - and wow, what a performer for radio-control fans. As the video shows, this Eagle is controllable even in gusty conditions, and can blast through the skies at 112 km/h (70 mph). The pre-painted kit comes complete with everything you need to fly, except batteries, at £169.

Airfix kits are available from Amazon here.
Visit Guillows here.
Nitrotek markets the Freewing F-15 here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Since graduating in illustration at Saint Luc Liege, Belgium, in 1995, French artist Stephane Halleux has gone on to create a splendid range of sculptural objects that give modelmaking an entirely fresh slant.

Much of his work falls broadly into the science-fantasy 'steampunk' genre, with a dash of cartoon exaggeration added to the pot. Stephane uses materials such as sewn leather and scrapyard pickings, to create objects that have a slightly Victorian, ‘nevertech’ appearance, and very handsome they are too. Stephane has had a series of shows in prestigious galleries, and now his work fetches high prices on the international art market.

The three cars we show are just a small taste of Stephane’s work - he also does robots and similar subjects, and we’ve some samples of these on SMN’s fellow site, Starcruzer.

Visit Stephane Halleux here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


It was no small feat for Frenchman Louis Bleriot to complete the first crossing of the English Channel. Heavier-than-air flight itself was less than six years old, and yet the fledgeling aviation industry was advancing in leaps and bounds, or perhaps more accurately, hops, crashes and short flights.

Bleriot completed the 22.7-mile (36.6 km) flight from Calais, France, to Dover, UK, in just 37 minutes, flying at around 40 mph (64 km/h). It might have been quicker but he got lost for a while, when cloudy weather left him without any landmarks to navigate by. His monoplane, the Bleriot XI, was incredibly modern in design - its engine position and controls are similar to the ones seen today, in many of the microlight planes that are flying across the English Channel to mark his flight.

For plastic modellers, there aren’t too many choices around - in fact, this whole era is crying out for an enterprising firm to produce a whole range of pioneer planes; only the Wright Flyer has been modelled in serious numbers.

Still, Easy Built Models produces a handsome balsa wood and tissue paper kit to 1:20 scale, to make a detailed replica with a wingspan of 420 mm (16.5 in). This would make a superb project, and one that uses traditional materials wholly in keeping with the Bleriot XI itself. It’s currently out of stock, but new supplies should be available soon.

Fiddlers Green has a paper model of the Bleriot IX, at the very reasonable price of £2.42 GBP ($3.95 USD).

Visit Easy Built Models here.

Visit Fiddlers Green here.

Top picture by F Cabrol.

Friday, July 24, 2009


More goodness from Dragon in the shape of a 1:35 scale Flakpanzer IV, one of the deadliest mobile anti-aircraft weapons in the German World War II arsenal. The kit is not cheap - Dragon’s suggested price is £41.99 GBP ($49.95 USD) - which itself is a rod to bear for the poor old Brits and Europeans. At current exchange rates, they pay hugely more than the sums lucky US buyers are asked to pony up.

Ho hum, moan over: what’s the kit like? For the AFV fan, it’s a winner whatever the price. Much attention has been given to fine detail, with particular thought paid to the turret, both inside and out, with neatly applied simulated welding patterns a neat feature. The four-barrel cannon is a work of art all by itself, and many parts are optioned for plastic or photo-etched metal.

Down at ground level, the tracks are fully detailed on both sides, as are the drive wheels and sprockets. Photo-etch parts can be seen in the lower pictures, where they show up against the unpainted model.

Good work Dragon - pity about the exchange rates though.


Here’s a clean 1:48 scale kit from Dragon, featuring the Focke Wulf Ta 152, one of Germany’s best World War II interceptor fighters. It was given the ‘Ta’ prefix to recognize the designer-pilot Kurt Tank, who was also responsible for the earlier Fw 190, of which more than 20,000 were made. The Ta 152 was a late-war design that built on the earlier design, but was designed to combat Allied bomber streams more effectively.

Dragon’s model is well produced, with much newly-tooled detail, including the very nice touch of options for the engine cowling, which can now be shown with the cooling flaps open or shut. A fret of photo-etched parts is also included, and the canopy can be displayed open or closed.

You can visit Dragon here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


This is not a new kit, but it’s been below SMN’s radar, so we’re taking a closer look. The Volkswagen Touarag is one of the Revell 1:32 scale range of rally racers and since it’s an Easy Kit, all you need is hands and time. Actually, that’s not quite true: a sharp craft knife is still needed for trimming, and you might want to cement some components for permanence.

The big advance with this and similar kits is in the markings - the real thing is plastered with sponsor logos, and these are reproduced beautifully on this kit, as is the two-tone blue and silver bodywork. VW badges, hinges, and other details are highlighted, and even the shock absorbers have a three-tone paint job.

How about assembly? For the most part, the Touarag goes together like a dream. Only the roll cage gave a little trouble, with a ‘break’ instead of a ‘bend’ on one section - but once clipped into place, it was fine. The only real beef involves the transparent headlamp covers, which simply didn’t fit (though the vehicle looks perfectly good without them) and the windshield wipers, which needed patience and a pair of tweezers to put into place. In the end we just left them off for the time being, as photos needed taking.

So what’s in this kit for ‘real’ model builders? Well, it’s like this - as assembled, the Touarag is a perfectly decent little model, measuring 138 mm (5.4 in) long, but that’s just the basis to transform it into a model-plus. If you take some time to detail the interior, pick out panel lines, and add dirt, dust and other weathering, the from-the-box model could be transformed into a real princess.

Our future plans for the VW include taking off the body, revising and detailing the interior, smoothing off some seams, then revamping the whole thing to make a Mad Max-style post-apocalypse hunter-killer AFV. It should be good, and there’ll be an SMN report when it’s ready.

Visit Revell here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Busy lives mean that many of us (including this reviewer) don’t have as much time for model-making as we’d like. It’s a market that diecast makers like Corgi have been pleased to provide for, and with new manufacturing processes, it’s fair to say that ready-builts often vie with or even exceed the best efforts of average modelmakers. A case in point is the micro-fine wing rigging now applied as standard in these ranges - it’s a fit-and-finish zone that even the best of us may not be up to.

And now Tamiya has entered the ready-built market, using plastic instead of metal. There are advantages with both materials of course, but the main plus for plastic is that it allows for much finer surface detail. And this really shows with the Tamiya 1:48 scale Fieseler Storch (Stork), a widely used World War II-era reconnaissance plane.

Tamiya’s Storch is the particular plane used by the famed German ‘Desert Fox’, Erwin Rommel. It is depicted with ‘squashed’ undercarriage in the landing position - in flight, the legs extended much further (see bottom photo) which is why it gained its name from the long-legged bird of baby-carrying renown. The Storch has a wingspan of 297 mm (11.7 in) and comes complete with seated figures in the glassshouse cockpit: a pilot at the controls, with Rommel sitting behind.

A nice feature of this model is the beautifully applied weathering - it’s not overdone at all, with just enough to give the model a used look. Inspect the underbelly pic above to see what we mean. All in all, the Storch is highly recommended for the busy person, and we predict these Masterwork Collection products (there are AFVs out there already) will become a major part of Tamiya’s output in times to come.

Visit Tamiya here.


London is the scene for the 2012 Olympics, and Hornby has just received a three-year licence to produce models and collectibles linked to the event.

The souvenir market is expected to be a money-spinner in the run-up to, and during the Games, so it’s certainly an important development for Hornby. Chief executive Frank Martin declared that it is a “great honour” for the company.

Products in the 2012 pipeline are likely to appeal to serious collectors and souvenir hunters alike. Hornby will produce Corgi versions of London taxis and buses, and collectible figurines, which should be on sale by the end of this year. Following on in 2011 will be Hornby Olympic-badged electric trains, an Airfix kit of the Olympic Stadium, and Scalextric version of the Velodrome.

So we’re likely to see miniature 2012 logos (main variations shown above) decorating the Hornby model souvenir-world over the next few years. It’s a pity the logo’s not the most elegant Olympic badge ever designed (it scored poorly in news polls when unveiled) but we’ll all be seeing a lot more of it, that’s for sure.

And talking of Hornby, its YouTube channel is growing nicely. The 00 (1:76) gauge Class 43 locomotive shown here is a recent addition, and very good it looks too, even if (like me) you ache for Brit trains to be produced to an international common scale.

Visit Hornby here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Mat Irvine worked for several months on the Spaceport project, a space-themed visitor exhibition just across the River Mersey from Liverpool, UK, home of the famed Beatles. One of Mat's exhibits is the made-up Moebius Models Chariot from Lost in Space, shown above.

Spaceport looks well worth a visit, as it includes a planetarium show, and - from July 28 to September 3 - some Moon rock samples collected on the Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17.

Visit Spaceport here.


Here’s a taster for what to expect from Revell as the summer ends, and evenings draw in - in fact, when model-making comes into its own, to fill those long dark nights.

The Revell-Monogram Selected Subjects Program (SSP) continues with rereleases from the golden age of model kits, including the Robert E Lee steamboat and USS Helena light cruiser. As both of these belong to the ‘fit the box’ era, their scales (1:271 and 1:481) should come as no surprise - and certainly shouldn’t spoil the pleasure of building them.

Other Revell releases for the coming third quarter 2009 are to more traditional scales - they include vehicles to 1:24, 1:25 and 1:32, and nine aircraft to 1:48 scale. The Dornier Do-335 Pfiel (Arrow) or Ameisenbar (Anteater) is a particular favourite of mine, mostly for its rather bizarre design. This Revell release depicts the single-seater - the two-seater looks even weirder!

Visit Revell here.


This Tamiya rerelease has an excellent IWOOT factor, apart from its rather exotic 1:70 scale. Still, it can sit next to a bunch of 1:72 scale models without too many misgivings.

The kit is unusual for including the Lunar Module’s Saturn V container section, and things get better - the Command/Service Module has a swing-out section that reveals neat interior detail, there are two display bases, and gold foil is included for the LM’s insulation blanket. The LM itself separates into two sections, allowing the Ascent Stage to be docked with the Command Module.

Two astronaut figures - Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin - and a US flag complete the mini-diorama lunar surface. Very nice too, Tamiya - it’s just a pity this very complete model hasn’t been available for so long.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Here’s a good idea to commemorate the Apollo 40-year anniversary - a ‘Going to the Moon’ model contest from the website Starship Modeler. SM proposes three categories, Kit-builds, Scratch-builds, and Dioramas, but you’ve only got until 27 July to make your entry, and upload at least six pictures.

Make sure you take pictures on a well-lit workbench and ensure your focus is laser-sharp to be in with a chance of winning.

The competition is one in which other modelers take part, as votes for the winners are by on-line poll. You get only one vote, but you can change your mind. There are three ‘Popular Vote’ awards in each category, as well as an Editor’s Award.

There’s a $5.00 USD entry fee that goes toward the cost of mounting the contest and winners’ plaques.

Read the full rules at Starship Modeler, here.


Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, while Michael Collins orbited high above in the Apollo Command Module. The Lunar Module (LM) was a fragile aluminium-skinned bug-like contraption that was a true spacecraft, designed for operation in a vacuum with none of the smooth streamlined shape necessary for flying in a planetary atmosphere.

There are various models available for the LM, including Revell’s excellent 78-part 1:48 scale LM and diorama that we’ve shown here before. But there’s also another landing module available, a design that echoes the flavour of the real thing, even down to its insectoid triangular windows, and that’s the Space Pod from the third and last series of the 1960s TV show Lost in Space.

The Space Pod (top picture) comes in big 1:24 scale from Moebius Models, a company that also makes the Lost in Space Chariot ground vehicle to the same scale (bottom). The Moebius Space Pod features an opening hatch, so the possibilities for a diorama open up for spacesuited figures stepping out onto a cratered landscape under the landing pads - or, since it’s a science fiction subject, you could add some colour and even exotic alien lifeforms to add some visual spice.

You can visit the Space Pod at Moebius Models, here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


With the Space Shuttle docked with the International Space Station (ISS) it’s a record-breaking period for people in orbit at the same time, with both crews able to share the linked spacecraft.

If you are a Space Shuttle model builder then here’s a site to visit - AXM Paper Space Scale Models features downloadable plans to make various paper models. They range from the Shuttle itself to 1:144 scale, various payloads, different versions of the crawler-transporter, and an ISS to 1:100 scale. Even better, many are free.

Visit AXM Paper Space Scale Models here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Here’s an unusual treat for helo-lovers from Anigrand, the Hong Kong-based outfit that specializes in producing interesting and unusual subjects, so providing a much-needed service in filling gaps in the model world.

Anigrand’s newest helicopter, the Yakovlev Yak-24, is to 1:72 scale and has 46 resin parts. Similar in concept to today’s Boeing Chinook, the Yak-24 (codenamed by NATO ‘Horse’) was, like many other Soviet machines of the time, based in spirit on Western designs, in this case the twin-rotor choppers made by Piasecki. The Yak-24 made its first flights in 1952 - and was the biggest helicopter in the world at that time - and became the standard flying ‘workhorse’ airlifter for Soviet forces during the 1950s.

The Anigrand Yak-24 is a good-looking model that would sit well in any collection of helicopters, but especially so with twin-rotor designs. Price for the 264 mm (10.4 in) long Yak-24 is £68.00 USD plus shipping.

Visit Anigrand here.

Photo by Bernhard Grohl.

Friday, July 17, 2009


On a traditional note, Corgi has released a Limited Edition - 1000 pieces - of the 1:50 scale Burrell Showman’s Traction Engine, in Anderton & Rowlands markings. Aaah, the age of steam! Companies like Burrells were leading-edge motor manufacturers a century ago, and carried on making these great steam machines until 1928. And it wasn’t just road haulage either - traction engines powered all sort of things in those days, from saw mills to bacon slicers, though this Corgi one pulls a miniature steam organ.

Corgi’s models are pretty good, though it would be super to see a few operating features creeping in - this one is just begging for a sound chip to give small-scale puffing steam and organ music. The last real one we saw was brightly lit up with rows of chasing light bulbs, so a bunch of tiny LEDs could be another feature to add. We’re only suggesting Corgi, and you’d have to do it carefully, to add to the ‘scale modelness’ not turn it into a toy.

Visit Corgi here.


The big, black, and (for some) beautiful Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit first took to the air from Edwards Air Force Base, California, on this day in 1989. Borne out of Cold War requirements and developed as an ultra-secret ‘black’ program, the four-engined flying-wing has had something of a chequered career, primarily due to the stratospheric costs involved - spending on 21 B-2s has a price tag of nearly $50 billion USD.

Operationally though, the B-2 has proved itself - with air-to-air refuelling it can fly Middle East missions direct from US bases. The two crew (pilot and mission commander) are well catered for on these long flights, as they can rotate rest periods, use a toilet and heat up food and drink. It’s an expensive aircraft to maintain though, as special hangars are needed - without climate control the radar-absorbent and reflective surfaces degrade and become useless.

On the scale model front, the B-2 is not the best served subject; probably the best all-rounder is Revell’s 1:144 scale kit. This is neatly produced, has a reasonably detailed undercarriage and flight deck, plus an open bomb bay. It makes up into quite a large model, with a wingspan of 364 mm (14.3in), though since the B-2 is a flying-wing design, perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise.

At the other end of the size and price scale, Banana Hobbies has an upcoming ducted-fan radio control B-2 under the BlitzRCWorks name. It looks amazing (bottom), and unlike other RC B-2s, this one needs no vertical stabilizers, so it’s as near true-scale as you’re likely to get, and is a biggie with a 1.8 m (72 in) wingspan. You’ll have to dig deep in your pocket though as this baby is currently $459.00 USD, but pre-orders gain a $40.00 USD discount on this - shipping date is August 10. Yes please!

The Revell B-2 is available from Amazon here, and you can visit Banana Hobbies here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Back in 1933, crossing the Atlantic Ocean by air was a big deal, so when Italo Balbo commanded a fleet of 24 Savoia Marchetti SM55 flying boats on a round trip between Rome and Chicago, it was a powerful demonstration of technical prowess and showed the flag for Italy, especially its Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini.

The SM55 hasn’t been a target for kit makers, but the gap has now been part-filled by a neat diecast model to 1:96 scale, from the Italian company Old Planes (top pictures). 1:96 scale seems to have been largely abandoned these days, with 1:100 and 1:144 the preferred scales for most manufacturers, but no matter, this SM55 is a neat model in its own right, with a wingspan scaling down to some 250 mm (9.84 in) and with well-applied markings. There are three variations at present, representing the aircraft of three pilots in the 1933 grand flight.

Later versions of the SM55 were developed for military use, including a torpedo bomber (bottom). By the time World War II started, Savoia Marchetti’s main military machine was the tri-motor SM79, which has been modelled by Airfix, to 1:72 scale.

Visit Old Planes here.