To upscale or not to upscale: that is the question

OV-10 BroncoSometime around 2004 I sold off every un-built kit I had in 1/72nd scale. Away went my collection of modern British hardware. From a Hasegawa Tornado to a Pegasus EAP, from a Matchbox Victor to an Airfix Buccaneer. All went off to new homes around the UK and Europe. It was a minor earthquake in my model-making life. I decided that I no longer wished to build these subjects and I certainly didn’t want to build them in 1/72 scale. This was just too small for the level of detail I craved. I wanted my models BIG so I super-sized my hobby. In came the enormous 1/48th scale Revell B-1B and the Italeri C-130 kits. Since then I have collected 1/48th scale kits with very few exceptions… But now I am wondering if another earthquake isn’t coming?

The first rumblings started some years ago with the advent of the 1/32nd scale Trumpeter MiG-3. This hit the streets at the end of a period when I was scouring the web for good Soviet hardware from the Great Patriotic War. That was the theme I was mostly building and collecting on at the time. My shelves have quite good stocks of Yaks, LaGGs and MiGs with propellers. It was sod’s law, around 2005 to 2007 it was actually very hard to find many fighter or bomber aircraft of Russian topics in 1/48th scale from World War Two. It was a tiny niche I was happy to inhabit and it was a seller’s market. I collected mostly everything there was. But then along came the likes of Zvezda and upset the whole apple cart by releasing better moulded versions of the old ICM & Alanger kits.

But that really is just the luck of the draw. I can’t complain about that. This is a problem more with my slow build rate. It is highly likely that, by the time I get round to build a kit; a better version by another manufacturer has been released and better paint-scheme research reveals the errors in your chosen scheme. This happened exactly with the three Shturmoviks I built which took over three years. By the end of that time Tamiya had released the Il-2 and new books came out showing what Il-2 camo schemes really looked like in colour. About this I can be philosophical. It is just bad timing.

What I am also having to accept now is the fact that the model products market has changed a great deal in the last few years. There is now a relentless drive for BIGGER. And BIGGER [my friends] is always BETTER. It used to be that 1/72nd scale was ideal for kids’ pocket money and for small British homes. No longer, most model makers are not kids and they are affluent enough to be able to afford the odd £100 kit every now and again. Modellers are now more discerning and command good quality and lots of detail. It no longer concerns them about where to put finished kits as the market is now dominated by the USA where homes are normally sumptuous and come with large basements. Even in the UK many homes have garage in which no car ever sits. Many of us are happy to shove a model in the attic as most of the more mature male [who makes up the UK modelling market] are usually at an age where they own a home with an attic.

So come 2012 I was noticing that pretty much all the kits I had collected were now obsolete. Better versions had hit the streets and the aftermarket crowd was catering for the newest and best releases, not what sits of model-makers’ shelves from yesteryear. Some day we will see a NEW B-17 or B-24 in 1/48th scale. No doubt this will come from the far east and will not bear the logo of Revell or Monogram. When that day comes Eduard and CMK will stop bothering to cater for all those old American kits. The bottom will drop out of the market and my old B-17F will forever gather dust. Still I could live with this, what I was struggling with was the UPSCALING of the hobby. This came to a head in 2014 whilst reading an article about the genesis of the Hong Kong Models 1/32nd scale B-17. They had intended to do a 1/48th scale one but they sniffed the market and realised the real money was in something bigger, a lot bigger. So 1/32nd scale it was.

Il-28_2This is the trend I see in the market. Those of us who want to be build big models (& see expense as no object) will have all our dream comes true. You want a 1/32nd scale Arado jet bomber? You got it! A B-25 Mitchell? You’re welcome. An OV-10 Bronco? Why not? An Ilushyin Il-28 cold war jet bomber in 1/32nd scale? Certainly! I was gobsmacked when the first Il-2 came out in 1/32nd. Now we wonder how we ever lived without it.

PA229672The trend is happening across the scale range. How about a 1/48th scale Concorde supersonic airliner? Yes, you can get that too. A 1/24th scale Typhoon or Mosquito? Yup. Somehow Airfix were so ahead of the curve in the 1970s with their 1/24th scale kits. One of the reasons I recently disposed of the 1/24th scale Heritage Aviation Lancaster bomber vacform I had was that I had a suspicion that a pretty decent injection moulded or resin alternative was just around the corner. And why would I not believe this? Anything now seems possible doesn’t it?

We live in bountiful times. So is it time to upscale my model kit collection? Well, not quite yet. I think that will take some time. Instead I will slowly transition over to 1/32nd scale on my way to 1/24th scale. I already have the Airfix 1/24th scale Mosquito on hand just in case. I still have quite a fondness for my Gavia La-7 collection. I seriously do not think I need a B-1B or C-130 bigger than 1/48th scale do you? There is still affection for a gaggle of Soviet combat aircraft from the Great Patriotic War that will all (bombers included) still fit inside my display cabinet. If I did want to upscale I could do so for about 70% of my kit subjects. The market is where it was with 1/48th scale just 8 years ago. It is moving that fast yet it remains a niche seller’s market. It is better catered for now and may represent the profitable arm of the model company’s business but it will not kill the higher volume market in 1/48th scale or, indeed, 1/72nd scale. We will also not be seeing too many commercial airline subjects out soon in 1/48th scale. The Concorde I mentioned above will remain unusual for a long time to come.

However, if you really are looking at small-to-mid-sized combat or small commercial aircraft from any period of history (look at the success of Wingnuts and their 1/32nd scale WWI biplanes) then 1/32nd scale seems to be the standard to move to now – if you have the deep pockets to match and a love of BIG detail. Of course if you like your airliners then you are likely to be stuck in 1/144th scale for the foreseeable future. Likewise if you are into small aircraft then you may feel a move to 1/24th scale suits you. Then there are those who really don’t build to a theme or specific scale. For them the world is their oyster as no amount of obsessive/compulsive disorder will stop them from doing what the hell they please. (I prefer to call myself “picky” about my subjects – I plan my purchases carefully and avoid any form of impulse buying.)

DSC02895But, today, for the first day, I put a 1/32nd scale kit on my Hannants Wish List. It was the 1/32nd scale Kitty Hawk OV-10 Bronco (picture at the head of this piece). I had a Bronco on my to-do list like forever but no 1/48th scale kit rose to the top of my list of ‘must-haves’. Then I saw a review of the Kitty Hawk kit and it seemed to fit the bill. BIG and detailed. We are sure the aftermarketeers will be out in force to make this something special. What an awesome kit…

And heck, if it wasn’t going to be that then it could have been the Focke Wulf Fw-189A from HPH Models or the Arado Ar 234 B-2 from Fly (pictured above). How about the 1/32nd scale He-111 from Revell? Need I go on? Times they are a changing and I see no reason why model kits will not continue their trend towards being super-sized. This is not a bad thing but I cannot help but wonder about the entry level for the hobby. What about the kids?

When my daughter and I built the diminutive 1/72nd scale Airfix Gnat last year well fell into the trap of thinking that small is something suitable for kids. It really isn’t that simple. To be honest the Gnat was just too fiddley for my daughter. She wanted something BIGGER like the things Daddy makes. It really made me re-assess how I introduce her to the hobby. So (whilst she has some enthusiasm still) I bought her the Revell Millennium Falcon Easy Kit for Christmas. It wasn’t enormous but it was big enough. We put it together in one sitting which is not bad as she has a short attention span. It matters not if a kit is big or small it always takes a long time to build.

Which kind-of takes me to my very last point: we subscribed to the DeAgostini (Model Space) 1/43rd Millennium Falcon build. If all goes well the bits for the model will appear through the post over the next 100 weeks. It will be big and we can treat each sub-assembly as a mini kit in its own right. By the time we finish it my “little girl” will be 10 years of age. By then she may well be cured or all interest in building craft models. Who knows? But, by then, she will have had a chance to get to grip with something VERY BIG. Something fun. Who knows we might have infected her with the model making bug so that she carries through an interest in some kind of craft hobby into her teenage years and beyond. If this trend towards BIGGER models might help her garner that interest then it will not be a bad thing at all. The days of the teeny-tiny pocket-money kit might be numbered. The affluent kids of tomorrow may well want to save up a bit longer for entry-level kits that are physically quite large. This remains a gap in the market as the big-end market is aimed at affluent grown-ups. Still, there is potential there. The Revell Easy Kits have shown the way. Maybe we can square the circle and and supply big kits for young and old alike?

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