by Richard Marmo
An airbrush gives the model builder a tremendous advantage to create realistic and accurate finishes. But the most expensive airbrush in the world isn’t worth a plugged nickel if you don’t know what the subject is supposed to look like. So, the first step in the search for historic authenticity is to properly research your subject.
This article is intended as the first of a series, and is designed to enable the modeler to confidently tackle complex and/or exotic color schemes. So the scope of this report
will be limited to the discussion of research techniques.
The methods that are discussed below can be applied to all modeling areas: aircraft, armor, ships, ceramics, fantasy, or whatever. But to give us a sharper focus, I will talk about the way of researching aircraft. (That’s my first love anyhoo.)
Your search should begin with your personal collection of magazines, books, photos, clippings, and artWork. What you should be looking for is “prototype” data-information
that will tell you what the original aircraft looked like.
But unless you have access to unlimited funds, it’s simply impossible to own everything you consider either essential or potentially useful in this search. This is even if you are a
hardcore model builder and a born pack rat, with an oversized walk-in closet having more kits, books, magazines and related paraphernalia shoehorned into it than most people
can get into a two-car garage.
If you fail to come up with sufficient prototype data from your own material, your next stop is the nearest hobby shop catering to enthusiasts. Note that I say catering to …
not all model shops pay special attention to the needs of top notch modeling.
At such hobby shops, many periodicals can be found devoted entirely to prototype history. Among these are “Airpower;’ “Wings;’ “Air Classics;’ “Air Combat;’ and “Aerophile;’ from United States publishers. England produces “Air International” and “Aircraft Illustrated;’ while japan originates a particularly fascinating monthly, “Koku-Fan:’ In all cases photographic coverage dominates, much of it in color.
Going beyond the periodicals, there are now a large number of softcover and hardcover books dealing with prototype data. For example, Squadron Signal Publications offers an extensive list of original softcover books. Most of their titles concentrate on single subjects such as the FW190, B-52, and F-86. Others deal with specific camouflage and markings systems. The Century Series in Color and Panzer Colors are two books that take this approach.
Hardcover titles also abound, with virtually every major publisher offering at least a few. These books range from single-subject coverage (for example, Log of the Liberators), through the specific country/period (Warplanes of the Third Reich), to the encyclopedic annuals (such as Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft). Prices are equally wide ranging, from as little as $12.95 to more than $125.00.
Over the years there have been literally hundreds of publications which appeared for varying periods of time, only to vanish for various and sundry reasons. Some have deserved their fate, but others, such as “Modelworld” which was published in England, had exhibited excellent quality and is still valuable source material for prototype data. If you can find such magazines in old book stores-grab them up.
Take a Reference Work Home
If you have been fortunate enough to include such publications in your personal collection, well and good. If that is not the case, get to know the Periodicals and Reference Section of your local library. Many of the reference books can be checked out, so you merely have to find the appropriate section and browse for a while. But there will always be a fair number of reference books, along with all the periodicals, that cannot be checked out. That, however, need not be a problem- not as long as the omnipresent xerographic copier is with us.
In most libraries, all periodicals, except the most current issues, are kept in the stacks beyond your reach. Your key to these ‘stacks’ is found in the multi-volume set of index (called Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature) that can usually be found on a table in the Periodical Reference Department of the library It’s a complete reference to several dozens of periodicals, cross-referencing by both general subjects, authors and specific titles. The descriptions of articles are written in abbreviated code, so when you first glance through the Reader’s Guide it is a little like reading Greek. However, these abbreviated entry codes are explained in the front of each volume. Still confused? A cry for help will usually be quickly answered by your friendly librarian
Don’t make the mistake of limiting yourself to the nearest public library If you are in or near a major metropolitan area, don’t overlook tl1e possible treasures to be found in college libraries. Many of them have a stackless design, while others permit full access to the stack areas. In either case, nothing is held back.
It is in the libraries where you will find complete sets of very useful scientific and/or professional journals-along with some of the more expensive monthlies that you wish you could alford. “Aviation Week & Space Technology” is an example of a magazine that cannot even be subscribed to unless you are employed in the aerospace industry “National Geographic” also occasionally runs alticles on aviation, and many such alticles go back to the earliest days of flying. “Life” is also another fine source for early prototype data. But copies of the older issues of such magazines are becoming both scarcer and costlier with each passing year.
Libraries get you around these problems.
Another research source that you certainly don’t want to overlook is the special interest organizations. Two examples of this type of organization are the International Plastic
Modelers Society/USA Branch (IPMS-USA) and the American Aviation Historical Society (AAHS).
The IPMS originated in England and has since spread around the world, even managing to develop membership behind the Iron Cultain. Members’ interests are dominated by aircraft, but one will also find material on armor, ships, cars, uniforms and even fantasy Add to this an excellent qualterly published by IPMS-USA-that’s loaded with drawings, reviews, hints and tips-and it’s easy to see the $15.00 annual membership is a bargain.
Those of you who want to know more can write IPMS USA, PO. Box 480, Denver, Colorado 80201.
As the name implies, the AAHS is limited to aviation history But what a job it does! If your interest is aviation, it would be hard to resist the siren call of this group. Their address is AAHS, PO. Box 99, Garden Grove, California 92642 and a year’s membership is $17.50.
One of the biggest problems modelbuilders have is acquiring accurate color chips for use as a reference source.
Those who paint models for some of the manufacturers, as I occasionally do, have no problem with most ranges of colors, since the manufacturers can provide many, if not most colors-and accurately But if you are not as fortunate as I, and don’t have a friendly manufacturer to help you, one of the major advantages of membership in a special interest group can be the color chips they can provide. For example, about a year and a half ago the St. Louis chapter of the IPMS published a booklet detailing color schemes of certain unique McDonnell aircraft, and the booklet included actual color chips. But production of the booklet was limited, and it was sold only to IPMS members.
However, one of the single best sources you could ever hope to find is the FS595A This is the “Federal Standard” book on color and color requirements for all vehiclesand it goes back to 1949. This publication contains actual color chips used by the U.S. military on its vehicles. Each color is identified by number to permit easy written descriptions. This makes things much easier to describe. To say that an aircraft used FS 34079 makes it also extremely accurate- rather than saying it was dark green with just a tad more black in it.
The FS595A can be ordered from the General Services Administration, Specification Activity-WFFIS, Washington Navy Yard, Building 197, Washington, D.C. 20407. Current price, $5.50.
Other Reference Sources
For other sources, don’t forget local and regional museums, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and personal correspondence. Also talk to your local Senators and Congressmen. Often you will find them to be of more help than you would have ever imagined.
Just remember to keep an open mind about research techniques. For instance, by doing so, you might find yourself attending a genealogical society meeting-they know how to research, let me tell you. What you learn from folks into genealogy and other historical diggings you will find you can apply to your research for historical authenticity in models.
Now where did you put that airbrush?
Richard Marmo is a Fort Worth, Texas, writer whose articles have appeared in almost all the national aircraft magazines. He is a natural-born enthusiast andfor the last 14 years has combined modelbuilding and freelance writing into one business.