A Guidance Tool

Contributing Editor: Joe "vecojoe" Wagner

In Search Of:                                                
Scale Authenticity

Entry # 1.

Let's begin this series with a fundamental fact:

The purpose of a scale model is to resemble its full-size prototype. I don't see how anyone could disagree much with that. However, another equally fundamental fact is that it makes a big difference WHO is judging the resemblance.

In the 1930's every 5-and-10 cent store in America sold inexpensive "scale model" airplane kits. Literally millions of those kits were built by enthusiastic youngsters. (I was one of them.) And practically everybody who finished one of those projects, whether it was a "flying scale" type or a "solid" model, was satisfied to at least some degree with the outcome.

Sure, most of us realized that our craftsmanship left much to be desired; and we knew that the dyed tissue paper covering on our 25-cent Comet Stinson "Reliants" didn't
REALLY look much like the fourteen coats of hand-rubbed Berryloid dope on the "Reliant" at the airport. But still, we HAD succeeded in making with our own hands something that looked pretty much like a "real airplane"... both to us and to our friends and relatives.

That sort of "
authenticity standard" is, of course, nowhere NEARLY good enough for today's nit-picky flying scale judges. Even the 13-inch-span "peanut scale" and rubber-powered models competing in Flying Aces Club events must meet very stiff "authenticity" standards.

As for Radio Control Scale

Yet the fact is that fewer than
one out of every dozen "flying scale" model projects free flight, control-line, or radio control are ever entered in any kind of competition. Most guys who build and fly scale model airplanes do so primarily because... they enjoy it. What better reason could there be?

Yet there are many modelers who are missing out on the
"flying scale adventure". They'd like to try, but are scared off -- maybe by the thought of having to spend many, many hours in research; then many, many MORE in construction and finishing, to make sure their project is ACCURATE. After all, how can a miniature airplane be a "scale model" if it's not exact in every detail?

Ever admire a
French Impressionist painting in a museum? In it you notice, say, an attractive young woman strolling along a beachfront walkway. You move closer to the painting for a better view of the pretty girl -- and find that she has no face; merely a few formless blobs of paint. That "school" of painting got its name from producing the IMPRESSION of reality, without all the tedious labor of depicting "reality" itself in all its minute detail.

The same technique works in model airplanes. The justly-famous rubber-powered flying scale models Earl Stahl designed for Model Airplane News in the 1940's were far from accurate, in either outline or detail. But they
LOOKED realistic, especially in flight. In fact, when Don Srull wanted to build an electric-powered R/C "Spitfire" a few years ago, he deliberately chose to scale up Earl Stahl's wartime rubber model rather than work from a more "authentic" plan. "Earl's design LOOKS more like a Spitfire," said Don...

I think Don was quite correct. Now
adays there's an ARF R/C Spitfire "kit" on the market, mostly molded foam and plastic. It's a nice job of engineering, all right. But to me it looks more like a Dewoitine 520 than a Spitfire. I think I could construct one; change the shape of the canopy and the tail leading edges; finish it in "Vichy France" markings; enter it as a Dewoitine 520 in an AMA 520 Fun Scale contest and least a third place.

I don't compete, though. I design, build, and fly scale model airplanes and non-scale types that
LOOK like scale models purely for my own satisfaction and enjoyment. There was a time once when I'd painstakingly duplicate, say, a pair of Spandau machine guns for a 1" scale Fokker Triplane. That was a real challenge, and I must admit that I felt pretty good when I attached those weapons with their intricately, and accurately pierced "water jackets" onto my little Fokker and
admired the "
close-up realism" they provided.

But if I were to build another Fokker today, I'd "
fake" the guns, and make use of "Impressionistic" techniques to provide realism rather than a hundred hours of intricate machine work. "Authenticity" is a relative term anyway. For "sportsman sport scale" AMA Class 511 airplanes there are ways of achieving realism without excessive drudgery -- without excessive cost or weight, too. After all, static judging is performed 14 feet away from the model in all but one AMA Scale Class... Designer Scale Class 515.

In further installments of this "column" we'll discuss these. We'll also discuss color schemes, markings, dummy engines, and anything else that readers want to talk about herein.
Put in your "input" -- and I'll do the best I can with the "output".

**All Feedback should be sent directly to Joe Wagner's email: to be
included in Joe's next installment to
Compass: In Search Of...Scale Authenticity

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