Collecting 1/144 Scale Aircraft

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The objective of this guide is to provide some background on the subject of collecting aircraft models in 1/144 scale – what’s available, what skills are needed to construct the various kit types, and who on eBay sells these items.

Injection-Moulded Kits and Diecasts

Traditionally, 1/144 scale was almost exclusively restricted to large aviation subjects. Airfix was at the forefront in the late 60’s and throughout the 70’s, with a range of 1/144-scale airliners and even a couple of rockets, including a Saturn V. Into the 1980’s, several companies, including Minicraft/Academy and Revell in the US, and Tamiya, LS and Crown in Japan, introduced several World War 2 subjects, from single-engined fighters (e.g. Spitfire, Messerschmitt Bf109, Mitsubishi Zero, etc.) to multi-engined bombers (eg. Lancaster, Heinkel He111, B-29 Superfortress, etc.). Newer players in the 1/144-scale kit market include companies like Sweet in Japan who make some of the finest detailed models in the scale.

1/144 scale is also represented in metal diecasts, traditionally from Corgi in the UK and now from European companies such as Atlas Editions and Altaya. These are not kits, but rather pre-finished items, and include a number of larger items like the Short Sunderland, Junkers Ju290 and Heinkel He177. Some white metal kits are available from companies like Reviresco and True North in the US and Chaubet Créations in France. Reviresco is notable for producing a comprehensive range of World War 1 aircraft, including the twin-engined German AEG-G4 bomber, complete with decals simulating the complex "lozenge" colour scheme that appeared on such aircraft. White metal kits can be difficult to make and are not recommended for the novice.

Trading Miniatures

A boom in 1/144-scale aircraft models began in the 1990’s with the advent of pre-painted plastic "trading miniatures" from Japan. Essentially a spin-off of "gashapon" (often referred to as "egg toys" – small kits or items sold in plastic or chocolate "eggs"), they differed from gashapon in conforming to a set scale rather than simply being sized to fit an "egg", and in the higher level of detail and finish. Unlike gashapon, these miniatures are truly scale models. Reasons often given for the rise of such models are that only a minimum amount of assembly is needed, the parts are "push-fit" (no adhesive or cement), and the kits are pre-finished to a level that many inexperienced modellers could never achieve. There are several manufacturers of these 1/144 miniatures, the most well known being Bandai, Takara, F-Toys and Popy.

Whilst you may end up buying a specific model through eBay, you need to know that these miniatures are sold in Japan in sealed boxes where the identity of the model may be any one of a number of aircraft. Take, for example, Takara’s "Wings of the Luftwaffe" Series 1. If you bought one of the unopened boxes, you could have any one of 16 possibilities. Fourteen of these are produced in fairly large numbers, but the remaining two – often referred to as "Secret Items" – are special limited-issue models which may contribute less than 1% of total production. The rarity of "Secret Items" is often indicated by high asking prices on eBay; in this series, one of the "Secret Items", a Fw190D-9 finished in the unusual camouflage of the "Papagei Staffel", often goes for more than $US30 in eBay auctions.

It is important to note that, unlike many "traditional" non-painted model kits, trading miniatures are often difficult to obtain outside of Japan. There are some dealers who import the items, primarily into Europe, the US and Canada, and many of these have an eBay presence. If you do end up collecting these items, strike up a rapport with dealers in your country and overseas. I have yet to find one that isn’t helpful, particularly when there is something specific you might be seeking.

Vac Forms and Resin Kits

Just as for 1/72 and 1/48 scale, there are two other types of model kit that feature aircraft in 1/144 scale. These are vacuum-formed kits (often shortened to "vac forms") and resin kits. The first of these involves a sheet of thermoplastic that is heated, stretched over or into a mould, then a vacuum applied to remove the air from between the two and hold them together. Upon cooling, the formed plastic shape is removed from the mould. It is then up to the modeller to cut around the parts to remove them from the plastic sheet, then clean up the edges with a fine file and wet-and-dry paper.

Resin kits again use a mould, but this time a liquid plastic resin is mixed with a setting agent and poured into the mould. Upon hardening, the solid plastic shape is removed from the mould. Whilst minimal cutting is required, the modeller often has to fill air holes that frequently occur in the moulded parts. Sanding with wet-and-dry paper is again an important step. Unlike vac forms, resin kits don’t require specific equipment for manufacture, so you will often find skilled modellers producing resin kits for themselves, colleagues and occasionally general sale to the public. Unlike most other types of model, resin kit fuselages are completely solid, which often necessitates that the modeller paint in black or some other contrasting colour all areas that would normally be clear to simulate canopies and windows on airliners.

Don’t underestimate these kits. If a modeller is prepared to put in the effort, excellent representations of often unusual aircraft can be obtained. Companies like Rareplanes, OzMods and Welsh Models produce some fine vac forms, the latter with several 1/144 examples, mainly of British origin, in its range. There are a number of resin kit manufacturers, with Czech company FE-Resin, Japanese "garage" manufacturers Kami de Koro Koro, Fairy Kagaku and Wing 144, and the US-based Airalex and Don's Models marketing a range of 1/144-scale aircraft.

Be warned, though. Neither vac forms nor resin kits are recommended for the novice. As the former requires a lot of cutting, they are definitely not suitable for younger modellers. If you wish to install clear canopies on resin kits, you first have to cut away the appropriate moulded area, again not a task for the young or inexperienced modeller.

Collecting 1/144 Aircraft

So, the bottom line, why would you collect aircraft in 1/144 scale versus, say, 1/72 scale? With a good range of subjects available but certainly not the almost limitless variety of 1/72 scale, the most obvious reason is space. Remember that whilst an aircraft in 1/144 scale is simply half the size of the same aircraft in 1/72 scale, this applies to all dimensions – length, wingspan, height, etc. The display area occupied by one 1/72-scale aircraft will accommodate at least four 1/144-scale equivalents. Part of my own collection is currently displayed in an Ikea "Bertby" glass-fronted cabinet, an option that seems to be very popular with model car enthusiasts.

Another reason is the ever-growing range of pre-painted miniatures available. If you don’t feel confident tackling painting, particularly of very small parts or complex camouflage schemes, or have been disappointed with your painting attempts in the past, the finish on many of the 1/144-scale trading miniatures is more than adequate compensation. Subjects range from floatplanes of the 1930’s to modern jet fighters and even helicopters – something for most aircraft model collectors.

As you get more experienced, try a white metal, resin or vac form kit. Very few of these have ever seen – or are likely to see – the day when they are available as either traditional moulded kits, trading miniatures or pre-finished metal diecasts.

Some eBay Traders Worth Visiting

The following list is by no means conclusive. I have dealt with most of these eBayers and found them excellent to deal with, reliable and eager to assist the modeller or collector. In no particular order …

  • 1/144 Direct – The name says it all! One of the first things you notice about Mehusla's site is the often incredibly realistic shots of the aircraft or tank model "in action" – some of the best model photography around. Probably the UK’s foremost eBay seller of 1/144 aircraft trading miniatures, the site also has links to four eBay guides, all discussing aspects of 1/144-scale modelling. A "Top 5000 Reviewer" on the UK eBay site.  Great source of 1/144 decal sheets, too.
  • Japanese Toys and Goods Store – Always has a good selection of trading miniatures at reasonable prices, including the Bandai, Takara and F-Toys’ 1/144 aircraft ranges.
  • Radjapan Store – Another excellent Japanese eBay store with a good range of trading miniatures at reasonable prices.  Check out Radjapan's non-eBay store, too, as this includes numerous hard-to-get resin kits from a number of specialist Japanese manufacturers.
  • 7Toys7 – One of Hong Kong’s best suppliers of trading miniatures. 7Toys7 (formerly ET Corp) also has produced 10 eBay Guides, including four on 1/144 miniatures, and is listed as a "Top 5000 Reviewer" on the US eBay site.

There are a wealth of other eBay outlets selling 1/144-scale aircraft in one form or another. Just enter "1/144" and the name of the aircraft you are seeking (e.g. "Spitfire", "Heinkel", "F111", etc.) in the eBay "Search" box and away you go! Don't forget to tick the "Search title and description" box, as some eBayers don't list the scale in the item heading.

Other Websites Worth Visiting

Clearly, it is worth visiting manufacturers’ sites to view what is available. Most of the big names in modelling have sites – Revell, Minicraft, Tamiya, Dragon, etc. – often in both English and Japanese. Furthermore, the Internet has a wealth of sites on modelling in general, on the aircraft themselves – often with full colour renditions that are great for modellers. One excellent "blog" site for the 1/144-scale enthusiast is Kampfgruppe 144, maintained by eBayer bluedonkey99.  Anything new in 1/144 – even if it hasn’t made the stockists’ shelves yet – you will find on this site.

Happy modelling!

Smeg1959

Update 26 Mar 2007 - Added internal links to eBay traders.  Please note that no external links are included as these cannot be incorporated in eBay guides.  For further information on writing eBay guides, go to http://pages.ebay.com.au/help/specialtysites/rev-guide-writing-guide.html.

Update 13 Mar 2008 - Updated eBay trader links and expanded lists of diecast and resin kit manufacturers.

Update 27 Jan 2012 - Redundant links removed.

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