Building 1/144 Scale Airliners

For a pdf version of this article, click here.

Building 1/144 Scale Airliners
By Paul Hackmann

Background

When approached to give a presentation on building airliners, I had not a whole lot of experience to look back on or to share with folks. To date, I’ve completed exactly two, an Airfix 727 and DC-9 since I started this project in 1999. So instead I approached the presentation from the “How does one get started in this?” point of view:

  •  where to start
  •  what’s available in plastic
  •  who makes decals
  •  what a model shops cater to the airline modeler
  •  what reference is available?

When I decided to take my hobby in this direction, I didn’t know any of this. I could tell you the differences between the different versions of the MiG-21, but had no idea the difference between the different versions of the DC-9.

I know why I got started in this side of the hobby, to teach my kids a little family history, but why would someone else? I came up with a couple of reasons. The first was to build a replica of an airplane that they really got a chance to fly in. Few of us have had the opportunity to fly any of the military models we generally specialize in, but most likely all of us have flown in something manufactured by either Boeing or McDonnell-Douglas. The other reason was we tend to build to a special marking, either an ace’s aircraft or something of particular interest. Airline models have this too, because who hasn’t seen the Southwest Airlines’ Shamu or ANA’s Pokemon liveries?

Where to start?

I got started by determining what airliners I wanted to build. Since I was specializing in one particular airline company, it was pretty easy to come up with my list. This list contains the following:

from the Douglas Corporation DC-3, DC-6, DC-7, DC-8 (various variants), DC-9 (various variants) and DC-10
from the Boeing Company 720, 727-25, 727-200, 747-100, 757
from Airbus Industries A300B
from Lockheed Constellation, Electra, L-1011
from Martin Martin 404
from Convair Convair 440

What’s available in plastic?

Now that I’ve got my list done, I had to determine what was available in plastic and what was not.

Airplane

Kit?

Type Kit

Who

Notes

DC-3 Yes Injection Minicraft Readily available
DC-7B Yes Vacform Welsh Models Readily available – Revell made an underscale in the 1960’s, rare but sometimes available through specialists shops for between $50-$100
DC-8-20 No Can be made by modifying Welsh -62 kit
DC-8-61/63 Yes Vacform Welsh Models Readily available, DC-8-62 version
DC-9-15 No Can be made from Airfix DC-9-30
DC-9-30 Yes Injection Airfix Readily available
DC-9-50 No Can be made by extending -30 fuselage
DC-10 Yes Injection Airfix Readily available
720 Yes Vacform Welsh Models Readily available – One may be able to produce a reasonable facsimile by converting a Minicraft 707-320
727-25 No Can be done by modifying Airfix -200 kit
727-200 Yes Injection Airfix Readily available – Minicraft announced release of new 727-200 for 2003
747-100 Yes Injection Airfix Readily available
757 Yes Injection Minicraft Readily available
A300B Yes Injection Airfix & Revell Readily available (Revell kit on rare list)
Constellation Yes Injection Minicraft Readily available
Electra Yes Injection Minicraft Readily available
L-1011 Yes Injection Airfix Readily available
Martin 404 Yes Resin Starr Miniatures Readily available, kit comes without decals
Convair 440 Yes Vacform Welsh Models Readily available

I decided to make this easy on myself and begin with the readily available injection molded kits. So I purchased the Minicraft DC-3, Electra, 757 and Constellation. From Airfix I got the A300, L-1011, two 727s and three DC-9s.

Who makes decals?

I was lucky in that some of the kits I purchased already came with Eastern markings, the DC-3, Electra and Constellation. That left me with having to locate markings for the rest. What I found was that since Eastern went out of business in 1991, not too many manufacturers have decals still available. I did some looking on the Web and found several who made them at one time including; ATP Decals, Liveries Unlimited, Flying Colors and Microscale. Now that I found markings, I began to find out where they’d be available.

I’ve found that the decals from Liveries Unlimited and Flying Colors are very easy and forgiving to work with, while those from ATP are very fragile and have a tendency to blow in water. The decals supplied by Minicraft are also all right.

What model shops cater to the airline modeler?

Some more looking at magazines that specialize in the airlines, more yahoo searches o the Web and some information from FineScale and I found several really good shops that catered to the airline modeler.

The first was AirlinersAmerica. I contacted the owner in order to place an order and he let me know that he was going to go out of business before the end of the quarter. So I asked him to send me one of every decal sheet he had that contained Eastern markings. From here I got markings for a DC-9-50, L-1011, DC-10 and 727.

The next shop is Hannant’s, out of England. Nice shop and very easy to mail order from. I was able, with a good exchange rate, to purchase the Airfix L-1011 and A300, along with decals for the DC-9-30, A300 and two different liveries for the 757.

After running Hannant’s dry, I found one other mail order here in the states, Airline Hobby Supplies. From here I purchased detail sheets for the DC-9, 727, 757, L-1011, DC-8 and 720. I also purchased several sheets of coroguard decals for the DC-9, 727, and L-1011.

Finally, I keep an eye on eBay about once or twice a week. It was here that I found several out of production sheets for the DC-9-15 and 727-25. My recommendation is to go to the advanced search, and look for an item that contains a keyword of the airline you’d be looking for, what your looking for and the scale. For example, one of my searches is Eastern 1/144 Decals. This gives me a list of all items that contain these three words.

Links:

Hannants: http://www.hannants.co.uk
Airline Hobby Supplies: http://www.airline-hobby.com
eBay: http://www.ebay.com

What reference is available?

Now that I’ve acquired more stuff than I’ll ever build, I needed to find out where to get reference materials on the cheap. For this I, of course, turned to the Web. I started with the IPMS/USA web page, hoping to find Airliner SIGs. I found several and they led me to the sites I’ve used most frequently.

For photographs, I found Airliners.Net to be invaluable. On this web site you can search their bank of photographs by airline and airplane. So a search of Eastern and Electra, yields about 15 color photographs of Electras in Eastern markings.

I also needed a little background information on the airline, so I found the Airline History Website. On this site you can search for virtually any airline that was ever in existence and find a 1-3 page history on that particular company.

Since I was modifying the Airfix DC-9 and 727 to versions other than supplied, I needed to know what the fuselage lengths were of each. Here I turned to the Boeing web site. From this site I was able to download free PDFs of every civilian airliner Boeing made or makes, this includes now those of McDonnell-Douglas. These PDFs contained scale plans for each version, along with cross sections, placement of passenger and baggage doors and various dimensions.

The last site I use extensively is the Airline Modelers’ Digest. This site has a plethora of information on converting existing models, photographs of what others have done, a great section on tips and techniques and on airliners in detail.

Links:

Airliners.Net: http://www.airliners.net/
Airline Modelers Digest: http://kithobbyist.com/amdigest/
Airline History Web Site: http://airlines.afriqonline.com/

Boeing Information:

http://www.boeing.com/assocproducts/aircompat/plan_manuals.html
http://www.boeing.com/assocproducts/aircompat/flash.html

Conclusion

So that’s how I got deeply into this segment of the hobby. Its been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a great deal about commercial airliners and the hobby in general. I’ve gotten a nice opportunity to expand my skills by attempting several conversions and am becoming comfortable with gloss white and natural metal. If you get the chance, the next time HobbyLobby has one of those 50% off sales, grab a 1/144 scale airliner and give it a try.

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