It seems the news these days is all about what we cannot do and how restricted we are. I want to take you back to the past and the rekindling of a childhood hobby which you may well have had too…. the hobby of collecting aircraft models.
I have been fascinated by aviation since being a boy, begging my parents for ages to go to an airshow. We managed my first one in 1981, ‘The International Air Tattoo’.
I was desperate to see one plane and one plane only: the English Electric Lightning. It had a vertical climb rate like a rocket, and it could be hardly touched by anything else built by man. I fell in love with its unusual looks, its ugly beauty and its iconic nose cone.
An AvGeek is born
My dad’s family lived just outside of Venice, Italy and I have fond memories of the sights and sounds of Heathrow airport, London (LHR), the glimpse of veteran tails, the smell of kerosene in the air and the noise of turbojets and traffic.
How I longed to see what was behind those fences. The excitement of catching a view of a departing DC10, 707 or a VC10; there was something hopeful beyond comparison for a young boy to see all these flying machines and the hustle and bustle of a busy international airport.
I was brought up in an era of Tridents, DC8s and even the Caravelle on the apron at Marco Polo airport (VCE). Just looking back at old family photos, frayed by time, with those planes behind, brings back so many childhood memories.
We would go on holiday on British Airtours Tristars, Wardair 747s, Tunisair 727s and Alitalia DC9 Super 80s. Jets with so much character.
An early passion for aircraft models
At home, I had a box full of carefully stacked plastic models, everything from an F104 Starfighter to a Consolidated Liberator.
Every time I decided to carefully pick them up, a propeller blade would break off, or a wing would be the victim of catching on another model causing immediate surgery and the application of Revell modellers glue.
I would collect Airfix and Revell models, the kits you build from scratch. Over my formative years, my eagerness to build and pay attention to detail would grow.
But one thing I could never get right: no matter how careful I was, I always managed to get glue on the canopy.
The appeal of aircraft models, the story of Chris
What is it about modeling that captivates us so? Is it more than just building or is it a connection to the past? Chris, a good friend of mine who has years of painstaking model-making behind him sums it up like this:
“The symmetry in aviation is a universal requirement to achieve that specific application grace under pressure we call flying. Birds are the same. Anything that flies needs to be equal on both sides and have wings. With models we can generate, fashion and own these shapes that captivate our imagination.“
“We can lose ourselves to our obsessive nature. Get lost in the sensory delights of opening and unwrapping. Rest in the trusted authority of the instructions. The evocative smells of glue and paint. A real fighter jet is brilliant but close in is too big to be fully appreciated for its overall shape awesomeness. They look better from a bit of a distance. You can hold the model. See it from every angle close in. Employ the imagination. Find the creator in the detail as well as the devil. I did it a second time in life for 3 years after dad died because planes were our thing. I did loads as a kid. At every level, it was a shared obsessive passion.”
“On losing Dad quite early, I wasn’t ready to let him go. So I suddenly got right back into it. Because they come in bits and end up whole, It feeds and nourishes an inner hope. A positive creative artistic expression. There is a lovely sense of accomplishment holding your favorite shape in the world. Having been part of its becoming. There’s definitely a zen vibe of calm meditative contemplation. One can possess a version of the form that captivates. That symmetry that can soar and roar, roll and turn. Climb and dive. Applying pressure to its graceful equilibrium.“
“I still look up every time I hear an engine in the sky and remember the smile on my Dads face when I was very tiny. ‘Look Dad, a VC10.’ I loved the shape and realised I was connected to Dad like I wanted to be. Silly little model aeroplanes. Helped me fashion and hold my sadness and loss and gave me an outlet for my grief. And captivated once more, my boyish obsessive nature.“
Inspired by a Boeing 777-200 aircraft model
I picked up a snap fix model of an American Airlines 777-200 in a gift store at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco in early 2004. AA’s bare metal look had always fascinated me whenever I saw their airliners in the flesh at London Gatwick Airport (LGW) in the nineties. Little did I know but a few years later I would be flying on 777s as a cabin crew manager for a different carrier, so that model held special relevance for me.
Corgi produced diecast metal collectors’ editions, so tucked into a cupboard somewhere I have a 707, a Stratocruiser, a Lancastrian and a Constellation. I know that the second I introduce them to the outside world, I would need to perform a risk assessment of ‘damage from young people’, coming out as ‘high’.
On the Greek island I spent time on, I used to see Hellenic Air Force fighter jets like F4 Phantoms and Corsairs perform touch and goes on the combined civil/military airstrip. There was nothing like seeing a Phantom roar overhead and thirty seconds later deploy its ‘chute after landing.
As I grew older and into more responsibilities, I helped my young boys build a large black F-14 Tomcat and a smaller F-17 Hornet. In some small way just for a moment in time, I was passing on my passion to them. They too ended up joining me for a couple of airshows, where we witnessed the splendor of the Vulcan, Sabre and Mustang at one, and the advanced agility of the A400M, the Osprey and the Sukhoi su27 at the other. I even hung eight or ten airliner models from my kitchen ceiling, including an A321, a 1-11, a 757 and an L1011 Tristar.
From model airplane builder to a major airline crew member
When I re-joined the airlines, I rediscovered my fondness for snap-fix scale models. No art nor skill involved there, but to see an airliner on the shelf is to admire its engineered grace and aerodynamic abilities. To pick it up when no-one’s looking and pretend it’s whooshing through the skies on its imaginary journey, banking in impossible turns but with smooth control and balance until it lands back on its stand is a moment of satisfaction.
Sometimes it reminds me of my own many journeys, knocks on the door of the flight-deck in earlier years, and codes being punched into keypads in later ones. The entrance into a world of calm, overlooking panoramas and tranquillity through the windscreens, coastlines many thousands of feet below, from the dawning skies of mainland Europe to starry nights cruising high over the Atlantic Ocean.
Fast forward several decades later and you’ll see a man who still has that same fascination with aircraft, and I know there must surely be many of us around.
Are you a collector or a fan of aircraft models? Let Simon know! You can contact him here.
Featured image: CaptainJetson.com.
Simon Marton, Aviation Journalist
Aviation Expert and Journalist Simon J Marton lives in the rolling hills above Bath, Somerset, England with his family and various animals. He used to work in the airline industry for 5 UK airlines and now does something completely different, having stumbled on law, housing and drum-teaching on the way. He has a passion for encouraging and forging new paths, believing that life should be an adventure. Writing is just a part of that journey, and he has a special interest in male identity and mental health. Marton is also the author of the popular book Journey of a Reluctant Air Steward.