Scale model aircraft are extremely popular with enthusiasts and collectors, and available in a number of different forms and materials:
The original material for aircraft models was wood, the same material most early aircraft were made from. During World War 2 and the early 1950s, balsa wood was the material of choice, being relatively soft and easy to shape. Kits of partly-shaped balsa wood parts were sold, for the buyer to finish shaping and then assemble into the finished model. Some kits even included a small sheet of paper with the aircraft markings to be glued on to the model. Of course, the quality of the finished model depended a lot on the woodworking skill of the modeller. Balsa wood declined rapidly as medium for scale models after the arrival of plastic kits, but some manufacturers, such as Guillows, managed to last into the 1970s. It is still used by aeromodellers for flying model aircraft.
Nowadays, hard woods such as mahogany are more often used to produce hand crafted aircraft models. These aircraft sculptures are normally delivered in the natural wood finish, fully assembled and with no markings.
In the 1950s the injection moulded plastic kit started to take over from the balsa wood kits previously available. The kits came as a set of sprues which linked all the individual pieces together. They were cheap, easy to assemble and produced a very accurate representation of the original aircraft. Early kits used cellulose acetate as the material, but polystyrene was adopted in the 1950s. Plastic construction kits quickly became by far the most popular form of aircraft models, with manufacturers such as Airfix, Revell and Aurora having extensive product ranges.
Smaller manufacturers also produced kits of more obscure subjects by vacuum forming of polystyrene sheets, or by using a polyurethane resin in a mould.
In the 1970s Japanese manufacturers entered the market, and their very high quality injection moulding process soon made them popular with serious hobbyists. The plastic modelling hobby went into decline in the 1990s, with the advent of computer games and other forms of electronic entertainment, but revived in the early 2000s as a more serious and adult hobby.
Snap-fit models are made from injection molded plastic and are supplied with the main components – fuselage, wings, tail section etc – as separate parts which are designed to fit snugly together with no glueing. The parts come ready finished and painted with specific aircraft markings. These models were originally aimed at travel agents and airlines as promotional display items, but later became popular with hobbyists and collectors. Manufacturers include Herpa and Premier Planes.
Diecast models are produced by forcing a zinc alloy under pressure into a mould. The process is similar to the injection moulding process used for plastic models. Diecast model aircraft became very popular collectibles from the 1990s and come ready assembled and finished. Popular manufacturers include Corgi, Herpa and Amercom.
Paper models of buildings and vehicles first became popular in the early part of the 20th century, as advances in printing technology allowed the printed sheets to be produced accurately and in colour. The parts of the model are printed on thin card or paper and need to be carefully cut out and assembled, usually using tabs and slots, to produce a 3-dimensional model. Paper models became extremely popular during WW2 when metal was a strategic material in short supply. After WW2 this type of model went into decline, in favour of metal toys and the newly arrived plastic model kits which produced accurate models with less skill required. However, paper models still remain very popular in Eastern Europe and the CIS.
Pewter is a metal alloy, typically composed of 96% tin and 4% copper. It is a soft metal and can be shaped easily by hand tools and machine tools. Due to its low melting point it is suitable for casting. Due to the more laborious production process, pewter models of aircraft are mainly produced as fine art limited edition collectibles. The models come ready assembled. Some manufacturers like to leave the polished metallic finish, while others paint their models and apply authnetic markings. Popular manufacturers include Diverse Images and Franklin Mint.