Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We are a lazy bunch

The line between modeler and collector is getting fuzzy, and it's because we are lazy.

There, I've said it. Hate me for saying it, but someone has to stand up and express the concern that we're slowly losing whatever sense of craftsmanship we might have.

What separates us modelers from model collectors -- the guys who buy pre-assembled, pre-painted diecast models -- is that we are engineers, craftsmen, artists. At least we aspire to be. You see, anyone with the money can buy a diecast model and put it on a shelf. Modelers are better than that. We create representations of aircraft, armor, ships, and vehicles with our hands. The models that sit in our display cases showcase our skill, talent, and experience. That's a privilege that people who engage in other hobbies enjoy.

I worry that every year we hand off that responsibility to the aftermarket industry. (To be clear, I don't fault the industry. They're simply giving us what we ask for.) I present the following evidence to the court:

  • Resin cockpits
  • Pre-painted photoetch
  • Canopy masks
  • Camouflage masks
  • Off-the-shelf weathering washes
  • Paint chip decals
  • Printed flightline surfaces

If you use any of these products, you are lazy. When I use them (and I admit I do) I lose a little bit of self-respect. I firmly believe that with practice and time I -- and you -- can master the effects that all of these items provide. The sense of pride we'd would feel would be much greater than simply using a collection of pre-made bits and pieces in an effort to build something "better."

Here's a recent example. Some modelers are asking the decal manufacturers to produce decals for the RAM panels on the new 1/72 F-35 kits. Really? I admit, masking them will be tedious, but won't that result in something better? And isn't tedious what this hobby is all about? How many times has someone looked at your models and said, "Oh, I could never be that patient." But we are. At least we used to be.

I know, you could argue that model kits themselves are cheating when we could build models from scratch. That's true. I could also manufacture my own paints and glues. But we have to draw the line somewhere, otherwise we'll find ourselves admiring 200 tables of diecast models at the 2025 IPMS National Convention.

Here's my advice. Don't be afraid to rely on your skills to do what seems difficult. You'll find a greater sense of satisfaction.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Great flying in the movies

There's a fun thread over on ARC asking about favorite flying scene from the movies. My first thought always turns to Iron Eagle, where Doug, flying Cessna 150 Aerobat, races Knotcher, riding a motorcycle. As I said in my response to the thread, seeing an F-14 go vertical or P-51s dogfight is almost not a big deal considering they're designed to do that, but watching that Cessna being pushed to the edge of its capabilities -- and probably beyond -- is aviation magic. That the pilot behind the controls was the late Art Scholl shouldn't be surprising.

Some trivia: from what I can tell that same airplane, N9828J, is still flying, owned by Albatros Corporation near Oxnard, California.

This clip makes the venerable old Cessna 150 looks downright exciting! Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rethinking conversions

Twenty years ago aftermarket conversions were extremely exciting. A number of small companies were regularly releasing conversions for aircraft and armor that, at the time, we were sure would never be produced by the mainstream manufacturers. If you wanted an M4A2 Sherman in 1992 you had to buy the Panzer Concepts or Verlinden conversion. Eager to build a Pzkpfw II Ausf. C? You got the MB Models conversion. If you built flying things and wanted a 1/72 F-101B you looked for the Airmodel conversion, and a full kit of the B-66 was available only as a vacuform kit.

My, how times have changed!

Despite cries that our hobby is dying, we're at a point in its ongoing evolution where anything is possible. Just look at all the great kits that were released last year and announced for 2014. This must be an incredibly difficult time to be in the business of conversion kits, because no matter how obscure the subject, there's a very real possibility that one of the mainstream manufacturers will produce it sooner than later. And with little notice!

Look at the armor community for a recent example. The Leopard C2 MEXAS has been seen service in Afghanistan since 2006 and intrigued me as soon as I first saw it. Recently Trackjam Models stepped up to produce a MEXAS conversion for the Italeri/Revell kit, and I quickly put it on my personal wish list as I awaited its release.

But then two, um, bad things happened. First Legend Productions released its own MEXAS conversion (no wait required), and then Takom announced its upcoming release of a complete, injection molded kit.

My excitement about the Takom kit was tempered only with the realization that the folks behind the Trackjam conversion may have lost a good degree of momentum, guessing that most modelers will prefer a buying kit rather than a conversion. While Legend might be able to absorb diminished sales of their conversion, a small, cottage industry shop like Trackjam has much more invested in terms of their overall resources. That said, as Trackjam specializes in Canadian subjects, I think modelers are confident that their MEXAS conversion will be a great product and might even be used to correct any errors on the Takom kit.

As I look at other conversions I'd like to buy, I find myself re-thinking just how urgently I want them. A little voice inside my head tells me that if I wait long enough someone will eventually produce a kit. I've always liked the Israeli Nagmashot, yet I've been putting off buying the Legend conversion because it's not hard to envision Meng producing a kit of it in the next year or two, particularly if their Achzarit sells well. The same is true for those less detailed kits of more obscure subjects. For example, I have a Heller 1/72 Saab Viggen in the stash, which will require significant effort to superdetail. How long will it be before Trumpeter or Hobby Boss produces a new tool kit of that jet? Ditto for a new kit of the F-106 that's better than Hasegawa's ancient offering?

Are you re-thinking purchases in light of the new kits we're seeing? How long are you willing to wait for a complete kit rather than use a conversion?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The kit I'm most looking forward to in 2014

If 2013 was any indication, 2014 promises to be an exciting year for scale modelers. Looking at the list of 2014 new kit releases on Cybermodeler there's something for all of us to look forward to. Kitty Hawk's Seasprite, UH-1Y, and AH-1Z. The Su-33 Sea Flanker from Aviation Art. Trumpeter's 2S7 Pion and T-80. Another huge 1/200 scale ship from Trumpeter.

Someone recently asked me what I'm most looking forward to, and my answer was...the kit we don't yet know about.

Seriously, look back one year to January 1, 2013. We knew nothing about the most exciting kits that were announced or released during the year. Who would've guessed we'd see a new tool 1/72 F3D Skyknight, a 1/48 MiG-25, a 1/35 IDF D9R, or three Object 279s! Or that we'd learn that a 1/48 MiG-31 is in the works or a 2S7 Pion is on the horizon?

This is why 2014 is exciting. We now know that the manufacturers are willing to keep some of their best projects under wraps until the last minute. At this point I'd venture that whatever secrets reside in the hangers of Area 51 are far less interesting than what Kitty Hawk, Trumpeter, and Meng have in store for us.

And as the manufacturers announce these new kits, I ask that you remember one of the five questions you should stop asking: When is it going to be released? It'll get here when it gets here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Five New Years resolutions for you

I'm not one to make New Years resolutions for myself, but I'll happily make five for you! Please pass them on!

1. Start experimenting. I appreciate the ease with which you can ask questions on the internet forums, but all of us need to spend a few days throughout the year trying a new technique without the promise of success.

2. Don't pick fights with rivet counters. I know some of them can be abrasive at times, but we should be thanking them for offering critiques of new models. We've seen several instances where their observations have prompted the manufacturers to re-tool kits to make them more accurate. If accuracy isn't a driving factor for you, skip their reviews.

3. Stop hijacking new release threads with your personal wish list. Enjoy new kit announcements for what they are and post your requests elsewhere; practically every manufacturer now provides a medium for providing feedback. I'd love to see a 1/48 L-17 Navion, but you don't' see me posting that every time Kitty Hawk announces a new kit. Oh, and quit with the annoying "wrong scale" barbs. You're annoying.

4. If you build armor, show some restraint in your weathering. I appreciate the artistry of highly weathered tanks (which I have yet to master myself), but it's time for this fad to go away. Who among you will offer something new for us to get excited about?

5. Inventory your stash (and books) for insurance purposes. One of our peers recently lost his house in a fire. I have no idea how much he lost in terms of models and related resources, but it should open our eyes to the substantial investments we've made in our hobby. Inventory that stuff and store it offline. I recommend DropBox, but there are a number of solutions available today.