By David Glen

Multi-discipline approach to building a museum model

I was born in the late 1940s into a Britain still reeling from war, a child of ration books and vegetable plots. A redundant gas mask and tin hat were among my playthings, and my way to school crossed wasteland deep rutted from the wheels of an anti-aircraft battery. So while I missed the conflict, just, I glimpsed it agonies. Half a century on I have been able to offer my own small tribute to the allied pilots and crews who gave their lives in the skies over Europe.
Click on photos to enlarge.
In September of this year my 1:5 model of the North American P-51D Mustang, eight years in the building, joined my similarly scaled Mk I Spitfire on permanent display at the Royal Air Force Museum. I am proud that the two models should find such an illustrious home.
I am sometimes asked what drives me to devote a significant and increasing proportion of my life to building large scale model aeroplanes. There is no simple answer, and the question has prompted some soul searching.
As a child I was given to occasional truanting, a weakness redeemed only by my favoured choice of ‘refuge’, the Science Museum in South Kensington. The model ships in their fine cases drew me like a magnet, and one in particular, C. Nepean Longridge’s magnificent replica of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, became a shrine. Time after time during my illicit excursions I would stand before it in wonder, and I fancy my obsession for model detail is not without Longridge’s influence.
Yet if Longridge was the catalyst, the chemistry was already in place. I am from a family of model makers: My grandfather, George, built 2.5 in. gauge steam locomotives on an old ‘Victoria’ treadle lathe, quite how with hands contorted into claws by chronic rheumatoid arthritis I will never know. Shortly after George died, I came upon a tiny Bassett-Lowke horizontal steam engine he had built. I took it apart and put it together again, and it ran when I pumped air through it. It gave me grandiose ideas and, cajoling my family for funds, I procured a full set of drawings of LBSC’s 3.5 in. gauge ‘starter’ tank locomotive ‘Tich’. I instigated the project but, my father, Alex, took it over, and in that brief interval some of the skills and enthusiasm of two generations percolated down to the third. But when came the siren call of adolescence, model making went the way of catapult and fishing rod, about as passé as short pants. 
If model engineering was in the blood, so were aeroplanes. When in the late 1970s my father retired after a lifetime in the aircraft industry, I became a volunteer with the Duxford Aviation Society. At the historic Cambridgeshire airfield I found Aladdin’s cave and, what’s more, I was back among model makers. During the years I spent helping restore the Imperial War Museum’s B25J Mitchell bomber, I became an avid ‘basher’ of plastic aircraft kits. Inevitably, I progressed from building straight from the box, to tinkering, to ‘super detailing’ and ultimately to scratch building in my favoured 1:24 scale. 
Then came the Model Engineering Exhibition of 1992, and my encounter with Rob Millinship’s magnificent circa 1:5 scale Supermarine Spitfire. The model deservedly took gold, and it inspired me to attempt something similar.  Perhaps it is no accident that my ‘serious’ modelling career should begin with this aircraft, for I have been captivated since boyhood by R. J. Mitchell’s elliptical-winged masterpiece, and building a model of it (pictured below with iconic cockpit) is the closest I will ever get to possession. The Spitfire occupied me over 11 years, its path to the RAF Museum opening when a serendipitous encounter at my flying club in Cambridge engendered an introduction to Dr Michael Fopp, the Museum’s then Director General. Yet even before its completion I was looking to the next project, and it was Duxford one October afternoon that provided inspiration.
The Mustang, resplendent in polished metal set off by yellow livery, was parked in autumn sunlight way out on the live side against the green and timeless chalk ridge that flanks the airfield. I believe, looking back, that it was the Old Flying Machine Company’s ‘Ferocious Frankie’, but I cannot be sure. Then and there I decided to build a Mustang. Choosing a specific aircraft was easy. During repeated visits to the RAF Museum at Hendon, I had admired Robert Tullius’ magnificent restoration of VF-B  413317, the machine flown by Captain Donald Emerson, 336 Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, who was killed on Christmas Day 1941 during the Battle of the Bulge. This particular aircraft satisfied two important criteria: it was accessible for detailed photography and its largely
 bare metal finish ensured that fine skin detail would not be hidden under paint. Having made my choice I began to amass references, notably production drawings and manuals from the Smithsonian archive in Washington DC.  The process worked, but was slow and expensive, and the indexing system to which I had access was such that I never quite knew what I was ordering. Once more serendipity lent a hand.  During my frequent trawling of the Internet, I stumbled over an offer on e-bay of the entire NAA production drawings of the P-51 in all marks and with all handbooks and manuals. This on five DVDs! I jumped at the opportunity and within days received a digital hoard of some 14,000 files. Shortly afterwards the advertisement was take down, leading me to suspect the Canadian source might not have been entirely legitimate.  But no matter, what was important was that now I had just about everything I needed to build my model. 
To newcomers to model making I habitually stress the importance of full and comprehensive references garnered from whatever source is available. Frankly, the P-51 experience raised the bar.  I knew I could rely on access for my digital camera to full-sized aircraft both at Hendon and at Duxford, but it was the ability to instantly locate in the parts manual practically any component needed, cross reference to tiff and jpg files on my DVDs, download the required sheet, scale it to 1:5 size on my Apple Mac and print the thing out that has spoiled me for anything less. This took care of all the detail at a stroke and meant that I needed just one further item, reliable three-view sections and profiles that are fundamental to aero modellers. For these I am indebted to Arthur Bentley, who, in addition to his beautiful three-views of the aircraft, provided precise sections and ordinates for the main planes, empennage, fuselage and canopy.
In the second part of this feature I will describe in more detail the fundamental methods that underpin my work, and some of the techniques that I have borrowed or developed over the years to impart the detail. But to conclude here, some thoughts on where my kind of work fits in the model making hierarchy.
While what I do is unquestionably ‘model making’, I do not pretend that it is ‘model engineering’! I choose materials that make the task at hand as easy and as practicable as possible, with the only condition that they must be stable, durable and appropriate to achieving the result that I seek. Large parts of my models most certainly are ‘engineered’ in the sense that the techniques used are those of the builders of model live steam locomotives. Metals of various types are turned, milled, drilled, ground, etc. to the required level of precision and held together with solders, brazes or with traditional mechanical fastenings. However, I also rely on the ways of the aero modeller, using ply, balsa, plastics and liberal applications of whatever adhesives are appropriate. I make significant use of two part-resin casting and modern composite materials such as foam board and high density model board. And in the final analysis my work owes much to skills garnered from many years as a ‘basher’ of traditional plastic aircraft kits.  
What is important  is that taken overall the finished result looks ‘engineered’ in every sense; that what the eye sees is a faithful replica of the original, down to the look, feel, even patina of the finished construction.  The ‘sleight of hand’ is to ensure that there is no discernible dislocation between ‘fake’ engineering, as expressed, say,  in my technique for riveting skin panels, to ‘true’ engineering employed in the turning and assembly of olio struts, landing wheels and axles, etc. 
My models are unashamedly an amalgam of methods and materials – under their metal skins is a wooden heart. As important to their integrity as the bolt and rivet are modern adhesives, particularly cyanoacrylate. Yet so long as the end result is robust, enduring and accurate, and above all convincing, and that the eye, however keen or insistent, is innocent of the subterfuge, I am content.
My Mustang measures 6.45 ft from tail light to spinner. It has a wingspan of 7.41 ft and height of 2.66 ft. I never weighed the model, but it takes three people to move it comfortably and safely. Unsurprisingly, therefore, its departure to Cosford left a considerable void in my workshop and - I have to admit it - in my heart. But it has also opened up much needed space for my latest project, a Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, work on which those who may be interested can follow on my website www.spitfireinmyworkshop.net