21/04/2010: Since this website was started there has been a dramatic change in the demographic of producers. The Japanese manufacturers have almost completely lost momentum. The energy has moved to China but the manufacturers there are still struggling with the problem of accuracy. Revell Germany and MPM have risen to ascendency in terms of accuracy and responsiveness. Academy has surprised me with their responsiveness as well. There has been a consolidation by mainstream manufacturers towards using Cartograph for decals and this is greatly encouraging. Just after starting this website there was a profusion of decal producers based in Latin America that sprang up and the frequency of release of exotic air force schemes shot up as a result, re-inforced by scholars like Tom Cooper and his ACIG site, and magazines like Scale Aircraft Modeller, AirForces Monthly, and World Airpower Journal. FCM, Albatross, Ikarus, and Zotz have all contributed significantly to change the landscape of what is possible in regards to colour schemes. Thanks to the collective effort of all these institutions, diverse colour schemes are now considered as compulsory in kit and decal releases.

The Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine have shown great enthusiasm and continue to advance. Model Alliance in the UK has come a long way with their decal range. Of course there are the old staunch players who never waver in their quality output: Aires, Eduard, Isradecal, and Leading Edge... still at the top. Welsh Models continues to impress me with their boldness: a small but steady stream of subjects that no-one else has the balls to do, and I would say the same about RVHP. The only real issue now is cost. Spiralling prices are putting the average kit well out of range of most modellers, they are having to devote more and more of their budget to satisfying the building urge, much like real airforces. Hobby Boss is now applying alot of pressure pricewise... once they get their act together with accuracy, there will be some makers who will be doomed. Manufacturers like AZ Models and RVHP need to be very careful. Some of the prices of their kits are insane. It is heartening to see that the Hornby executives have breathed new life into Airfix, it still seems to be holding on and some of its latest releases are encouraging. There is a steady trend of many of Airfix's classic subjects being completely retooled and outclassed by European and Japanese manufactures, eg the Lancaster by Hasegawa and the Sunderland by Italeri. Anigrand continues to surprise with their ambition, they have set the standard for very large aviation subjects. Transport Wings is producing again. The US manufacturers of 1/72 scale items have almost completely disappeared. There has been no major breakthrough in manufacturing technology other than 3D printing, there is now one company in the UK offering a handful of stereo lithography parts, mostly for Russian aviation subjects. Stereo lithography offers tremendous potential for intake tunnels, although it is still very expensive. No-one has been able to surpass the accuracy of Tamiya and Hasegawa. The next big thing will be radio controlled models. We see the first forays into this scale being produced here and there, but as the technology matures more will come.

 
 
some ideas on where it's all going.
 
 
Although many will say that developements in China have had a marked effect on our hobby, if I had to narrow it down, I would say that the single most important event has been the output of producers based in the Czech Republic. In 10 years they, along with Roden, have collectively almost completely swept away to oblivion all the old generation toolings of British and US made kits focusing on subjects from 1918-1945, almost on a one for one basis, with no likelyhood of this letting up in the forseeable future. The Czechs, along with their fantastic resin and etched aftermarket parts, are doing more for our hobby than any one nation ever has.

There is one new trend which has occurred in the last 4-5 years and that is molding fuselages in transparent clear polysyrene instead of opaque plastic with separate clear windows. This applies to helicopters, airliners, flying boats, and transport aircraft. It originally started with 1/350 scale carrier aircraft and then moved to 1/144 scale. This trend is THE ANSWER to the dilemma of dealing with cabin windows. Combine a clear fuselage with laser cut masks, and you have the window problem sorted. This technique MUST be pushed by modellers onto industry to end the grief that all airliner and helicopter modellers suffer. Harp this up whenever you can, anywhere you can.

One final new trend is the very gradual growing in popularity of what-if modelling. Commercial manufactuers are now very tentatively producing ficticious schemes, with Xtradecal and AZ Models at the very forefront of this. Xtradecal did it for the TSR.2 and Platz for the F-22. AZ Models may just be the very first manufacturer to formally release a kit with what-if decals: their 1/72 Spiteful. Bring it on, I say. Am so tired of red white and blue.

May 2004: The global trend seems to be that model making in developed nations has been displaced as a mainstream hobby by computer games, resulting in an upward climb in the demographic age of participants in model making, and a move toward more specialised kits rather than 'toys'. This has been exacerbated by the price of the average kit climbing to the point where it has become an investment rather than something to spend pocket money on, and so out of the reach of the average child. The traditional major kit producers in the UK and the US seem to have lost their way and seen their day, whereas those in Germany , Italy, and Japan doggedly stick to their guns and continue to build on their success.

To those of you who dispute this...go down to your local Toys R Us or Toy City or KMart and look at the model kit aisle...now remember how many kits that used to be on those shelves 10 years ago...

In contrast to this, developing regions of the world are embracing the hobby and releasing new products with great gusto. With comparatively lower labour costs and the freedom of the internet, companies in these regions are forging ahead. Look to Mexico in Latin America, the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe and China in Asia to become the new geographical hubs of the hobby. Russia and the Ukraine as well as Poland also seem to be flowering in a renaissance of scale as a result of political developments over recent years. As the standards of living rise in these parts of the world, demand for more recreational products should see a diversification of product range and manufacturing. It appears that mainstream kit producers will fade in France, the US, and the UK, to be replaced by a flourishing cottage/aftermarket industry as is already happening. Germany and Japan will retain their prowess and reputation for quality, but manufacturing will increasingly shift to Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe.

The biggest area of growth seems to be Eastern Europe, almost feverish in their pace of releases to 'catch up' with the West, and they are learning very fast what it means to make a quality kit, Eduard in particular being one to watch. Their quality is now as good as anything in the West, and they probably will surpass in time, given their level of enthusiasm. Eduard has used their photo-etching expertise to really push the idea of including more than one material in a main-stream mass-produced kit, but it has not really caught on with the large mainstream producers, mainly due to the fact that the few sporadic attempts made blew the cost of the kit out of all proportion. Modellers seem to baulk at buying everything in one box because of the relatively large initial cost, whereas they have no compunction about spending in some cases several times the price of a basic kit on aftermaket parts, decals, and reference books. In Asia, there is still a frustrating tendency for the mainstream producers to use in-house resources for decals which are consistently inferior to after-market producers. Platz in Japan has tentatively released a range of aftermarket decals focussing on Japanese aircraft subjects...we hope this trend continues. The biggest news in modelling at the moment is Trumpeter, by far the fastest expanding model producer in the world. Trumpeter is becoming the 'Airfix' of the new millenium. With the might of the domestic mass market at their disposal, it will be relatively easy for them to sustain long term growth, and they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Their range of 1/72 kits is currently very small, and their choice of subjects is occasionally difficult to understand (the release of the XF-107 would have to go down as the most bizarre release by a mainstream kit producer ever), but rest assured the range will expand. It would be safe to assume that Chinese subjects will have a very high probability of being released, for obvious reasons.

In the West, there seems to be an impression that there is less new aircraft kit releases in 1/72 than there are in 1/48, but that is largely due to the fact that 1/72 is so highly accomplished. You can buy just about anything you could ever want to model in 1/72. Not so in 1/48, and they are trying to catch up. There are are two other factors: the average age of the modeller is moving into the late 40's and the decaying of eyesight is prompting many to move to larger scales to compensate. Their earning power assists them in this, the extra expense is not an obstacle. Second: for producers, initial tooling costs are such that it can cost a similar amount of initial capital to produce a 1/48 kit as it does to tool up in 1/72, so kit makers may feel that they are getting a better return on investment by going for the larger scale.

For AFV's the reverse seems to be true. There has been an explosion of new subjects in 1/72 in the last few years, particularly from Eastern Europe, as the renaissance in wargaming takes effect.

The gap left at the entry level by modellers moving on in age is not being taken up by youngsters the way it used to be before computer games existed. Computer games, particularly sims, are the most serious threat to our hobby, and the threat will only grow stronger as the quality of the graphics and the level of interactivity improves. With software, there is just the initial purchase, and then one can design and build as many planes or tanks as one wants, whereas with kits you must purchase each one.

And so for the first time we as modellers are faced with the prospect of having to actively promote and foster our hobby to maintain critical mass in a way that was not necessary before the advent of personal computers. With ever more distractions to entertain a child these days, a modeller will find it an increasing challenge to 'bring another youngster on board' so to speak. The key lies in exposing them to the source of your original inspiration. Races, airshows, museums, open and field days, taking them down to the airport or for a steam train ride. Remember how the flame of modelling intitially kindled within yourself. Contact with the real machines sparks the desire to replicate them in miniature. The next time the little guy sees a kit box, he will take a closer look, because he will make the association with his experience of the real thing.

 
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