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Part 6: Early Aeroplanes

I've been building model kits of World War I planes since 1968. Sometime around 2000 when I was purging my hobby stuff to prepare for a pending move from New Jersey back to Pennsylvania, I sold off a bunch of my assembled and unassembled model kits. Somebody offered to buy all my WWI planes, sight unseen, for $5 each, so I sold 'em all off. After I finally did return to Pennsylvania in 2003 I decided to restart my collection of early aircraft.

Aircraft from the first few decades of flight have always had a certain appeal to me anyway, but the principle driving force in this portion of my hobby obsession came when the game group I was attending in Scranton in 2004-2005 expressed an interest in playing a game called GASLIGHT, a sort of "steampunk" miniatures wargame set in the late Victorian period. I didn't have any figures for the period and am not a very good figure painter, so I asked the other players what I could provide for the project. They suggested I build vehicles and aircraft, which sounded right up my alley.

I modified a couple of my plastic model vehicles to fit the "steampunk" style, which I'll cover in a future photo gallery. I also built a number of aircraft I thought would work well with the game. Since I was the only person building aircraft for the game, I figured I'd build enough to provide both sides with air cover. I brought my vehicles and the first few aircraft to a game. The other players then told me they'd decided they didn't want aircraft or vehicles in the game because they thought planes and tanks would be too powerful and unbalance everything. Shortly after that I decided I liked solo gaming better anyway.

As it turned out, it was just as well these planes never got used for gaming. I really enjoyed assembling, modifying, and painting the planes, and after the first few decided that they were way too fragile for gaming anyway. I've since built more and have been happily displaying them in my house ever since.

This was the first kit I built for the project. It's the SMER 1/50th scale kit of the De Havilland DH2, which is just about the perfect size for use with 25mm (or 28mm or whatever it's called these days) wargaming. It's also a cheap kit, so I bought three of them for the game. Despite the low price, it's a nice kit and assembles reasonably well considering all those struts. Note the steam-punkish exhaust chimney and the double set of interwing struts. The pilot is a modified 1/48 scale German WWI ground crew figure from an Eduard set.

Here's the DH2 mounted on one of the flight stands I built for the game. I built several of these stands but still haven't gotten around to painting and landscaping them. The wings, tail section, and landing gear are all reinforced with steel rod to toughen the model for gaming use. It makes the model surprisingly heavy. The rigging on this model is not strictly accurate as I was shooting for a TLAR ("That Looks About Right") effect rather than following an actual rigging diagram. The rest of the aircraft featured in this photo gallery are rigged properly. I've been meaning to come up with some humourous markings for this aircraft, probably Irvanian in nature, and print them out on decal paper, but I haven't gotten around to that yet either.

The next plane I built for the project was this 1/48th scale Morane G, from Maquette. It's also a cheap kit so I also bought two of these. This time, in addition to brass rods reinforcing the wing and tail joints and all the struts, I rigged it with steel wire instead of the thinner florist wire I usually use. This model weighs a lot, but it is very sturdy. The holes in the top of the wings between the rigging wires are for the flight stand (see the second DH2 photo above).

The pilot is another modified figure from the Eduard 1/48 German WWI pilots and groundcrew set. I added the Lewis machinegun from an Aeroclub set. I had applied the original Russian markings that came with the Maquette kit but they curled up and disintegrated a few hours after I put them on, despite using the usual assortment of decal-applying products. The fuselage markings stayed intact for some reason. Go figure. I plan on making new wing roundels about the same time I make new decals for the DH2.

When I started acquiring model kits for the GASLIGHT project I bought five of the 1/48th scale "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" kits from eBay. They're very nice kits despite their age, they're rare and long out of production, and they're a good size for use with 25mm wargames, so they fetch a high price on the collector market. They were originally produced by Inpact to tie in with the movie, and reissued later by Pyro, Life-Like, and Lindberg. There were six planes in the series: the Bleriot X, Martin-Handasyde, Deperdussin, Bristol Boxkite, Avro Biplane, and Avro Triplane. I got one each of the two Avros and the Martin-Handasyde and two of the Boxkites, but I never got the Bleriot or Deperdussin.
This is the Avro Biplane. I started building this shortly before I quit the GASLIGHT project, and right after I started work on this model I realized these kits were way too fragile for gaming and way too nice to bulk up with reinforcements to make them game-able.

These kits are sweet. It's a shame they've been out of production since the Lindberg reissues in 1983. They're a lot of work, as would any kit be that had that many struts and that much rigging, but they're well worth the effort. I was quite happy with the way they turned out.

This is the Martin-Handasyde from the "Magnificent Men" series. I didn't realize until looking at these photos that the pilot's control stick is broken and lying on the pilot's knees. The flat gray plate attached to the front of the control stick was supposed to keep oil splatter from the engine from getting all over the pilot. I don't know if that system worked well or not.

My Martin-Handasyde kit is the Pyro reissue, but the decal that came with it for the stand still says Inpact. I replaced the solid plastic wheel hubs that came with the kit with etched brass spoked hubs that came with a Lone Star vacuform Taube kit.

This aircraft was a slightly smaller copy of the Antionette. Speaking of which, I also bought four of the old Renwal 1/72 scale "Early Bird" models (A De Havilland No. 1, a Voisin-Farman, and two Antoinettes) for the GASLIGHT project, as well as a big 1/48 Hi-Tech Voisin 10 LAR bomber and a Blue Max 1/48 Vickers FB.5 Gun Bus. I built the Renwal planes twice back in the 1970's and am looking forward to doing those again. Hopefully the Early Birds, Voisin 10, and Gun Bus will show up in a future photo gallery here on Irvania.com.

Also just before I quit the GASLIGHT project I started work on this Revell model of the Wright Flyer. It's an old kit, dating back to the early 1960's I think, but it's been retooled in recent years and is quite common in hobby and craft stores around here. Much to my surprise, it's also a nice kit. At 1/39 scale it's rather big for use with 25mm wargame miniatures, so my original plan was to modify it into some sort of big goofy bomber with several 25mm crew members. Instead I finished it as intended, and am glad I did so.

I think I used the thread that came with the Revell kit for the rigging. I love the figure of the Wright brother running alongside. "Hey! You forgot to pay the waitress!"

I like this one best of the whole lot. It's the Pegasus 1/72nd scale Etrich Taube. When I started acquiring plane models for the GASLIGHT project I picked up two Flashback/Eduard 1/48 kits of the Taube and a Lone Star 1/48 vacuform Taube. (Wow. I never realized how many kits I'd bought for that project until I started writing this photo gallery.) As you can see, the Taube has a lot of rigging on it, some of it quite complicated, so I bought this Pegasus 1/72 kit as practice for the bigger, fancier Flashback/Eduard kits. This turned out to be a major project all by itself.

If you're not familiar with Pegasus kits, they're advertised as "for advanced modellers only," for good reason. The injection-molded plastic is a bit thicker and rougher than we're used to from most "mainstream" model company kits, and a bit of carving is required to get the parts into the correct shape. A certain amount of modification is required to get the parts to fit, and assembling the whole thing is challenging. The struts that came with the kit were mostly worthless so I replaced them with brass rod and bits of plastic. Still, the end result is quite nice, and I really enjoyed the project. The two pilots are from some Matchbox kit, possibly the Supermarine Walrus.

The 1/48 Bristol Boxkite from the "Magnificent Men" series. This is a big model, as you can tell from the pilot.

I had trouble photographing this model, partly because of its size but mostly because I painted it dark gray. I need to figure out a better system for lighting my little makeshift photography studio.

On the other end of the impressiveness scale, this is the little 1/105 scale model of the Wright Flyer from Glencoe. I like these little Glencoe kits, reissues from old ITC molds. They're a bit challenging to build because of their chunkiness but they're fun and the end result is good, in a nostalgic sort of way.

Here's something that's probably a little more familiar to you: the Revell Germany 1/72 scale kit of the Nieuport N.28 C-1 in American markings. I think the Americans were the only ones to fly the N.28. A very nice little kit.

The decals bubbled a bit a few hours after I applied them, much to my chagrin. A few coats of Decal-B-Hav later and they settled down again. As you can see from this picture, dust is my enemy. I think that funny light-colored curved line across the fuselage over the number 12 is a bit of dog fuzz. We have a lot of that in our house.

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The content on this page was written: May 15, 2013
Last updated: June 11, 2016