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What makes a good kit ?


RICHARD WILLS

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I suppose I could have put this in "General Flying " , but I generally build scale planes and in some respects the question is simpler to answer with respect to scale models .

What made me think about this particular daydream ,was a recent discussion with a friend of mine in Italy . We had both built the OK models kits about 30 years ago and were chatting about the Spitfire in particular . I believe OK is part of EZ . 

The model was 49" span and came in a fabulous glossy box , with several lovely quality pictures in finished form and part built . The plans and instructions were also of very high quality for the time and in many ways the kit was way ahead of the game . It had a very nice ABS cowl and beautiful clear canopy . The wood was very nicely cut and jig tabbed for the most part . The final flourish was a complete set of RAF decals . If one came up on e bay now for £200 , I would be sorely tempted . 

But why ?  They were a little too small to fly really well (although some achieved It ) and there was too much wood in them for the size to keep the weight down . But , boy ! It did look lovely from the minute you got your mitts on the box , right through to the end . 

My question is , why do we remember some of these (less than perfect ) kits with such reverence ?

 

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The pubs weren't quite as noisy in the 70's and the beer was not as fizzy.

There again I was weaned on Sam Smith's Mild (anybody remember that ?).

As far as I can remember the British kits were generally rubbish.

I spent a lot of time with sharp knives trying to accurately cut out printed parts that bore more resemblance to mahogany than balsa !

German kits were very good quality, but you didn't get much in the box and the very nice Japanese kits were a bit much for my abilities at the time (as well as expensive).

These days people who produce poor quality don't seem to be about for long. Manufacturers seem to take more care in materials selection and modern manufacturing processes mean that "we never had it so good". Prices these days seem to be irrelevant. Particularly when you consider what people pay to follow other hobbies and why anyone would want to pay over £1000.00 for a device to make telephone calls on is beyond me !

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We always do when looking back Richard because we associate them with happier times, a slower pace of life when things were simpler and far less complicated, when people were more respectful to each other, less fussy and confrontational, when our only fear was total destruction from thermo-nuclear weapons! ?

Rose tinted specs maybe but it's how we perceive it.

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All of those things are true chaps . But I wonder what it is that makes them memorable (in a good way ) compared to the typical dross of the time . 

I have a similar feeling about the Pete Nicholson Model designs stuff that came along a bit later . 

Perhaps it starts with the box ? Both the Ok models and Model designs had fabulous artwork on the box compared to the stained brown cardboard box offered by most of the opposition . 
The plans were also very nice in both cases . 

Is it a bit like when were young and mum bought you series 1 airfix kit to shut you up when you were off school with measles?

The kit was basically 15 plastic pieces in a plastic bag, with a cardboard header that had an exciting bit of Roy Cross artwork depicting the subject duffing up the opposition . Maybe that was the clever bit . They painted the picture first and then let the imagination do the rest . 

Certainly the Keil Kraft stuff like the Fleetwing was very staid in comparison , even though it was a fine model . 

 

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IIRC we've discussed this a bit Richard and I think that those OK Pilot kits need to be considered in the context of their time.They were beautifully prefabricated kits, superbly illustrated with high quality parts and they did build into a lovely looking model. Big problem, as you said, is that they built very very heavy for their size, with the resultant wing loading making them a bit of a challenge. Pilot never used one piece of wood when seven could be persuaded to do the job and they never use a piece of 3/16" sheet where a piece of 3/8" would fit. The plan, accessories, instructions and quality of the parts looked fantastic though.

 

I have their Spitfire and Hurricane kits and gaze at them lovingly every now and again. I've also got their Zero, which I bought at a swapmeet -nicely finished, Solartex covered and painted and very portly on an Irvine 35 -even moreso when I converted her to electric. She does need to fly quickly, or horrible things can happen - there's a video of the maiden electric flight a dozen years ago below - good job she wasn't landing on a carrier deck ?. A modelling pal also did a lovely job of the FW190, airbushed a gorgeous Eastern Front winter scheme and fitted retracts. The result was a flick roll on the maiden take off and being rolled up into a ball. The models are in the size that I really like, but for their weigh another 100 square inches of wing would help.

 

Why we have such good memories of the quality of kits like this? I think it's partly due to the very professional presentation of the kit, compared to some dodgy slabs of band-saw cut ply, a few sheets of die crushed wing ribs and such like, a flimsy two piece ABS cowl and the most rudimentary hand drawn plan, which typified some of the cottage industry kits at the time. I think the only Aerotech models that I ever saw fly, outwith the shows, was their .46 powered profile Mustang - there must have been hundreds of the wide range of their warbirds kits bought -judging by the number of punters you would see at the shows with a Mosquito or Spitfire tucked under their arm headed for the car, but I don't recall ever seeing any of them at the club fields.

 

FWIW I'd put your kits right up there with the Pilot kits -in terms of that overall presentation - but there's obviously a lot more practical experience going into making them well sorted flying machines and being that little bit bigger, quite a bit lighter and of more efficient construction all contributes to that.

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Haha - you posted whilst I was typing and made some of the same points.

 

Like you said I'd also put Pete Nicholson's designs in the same bracket, with truly innovative, different design concepts, which had a bit of a cult following in e-fllight circles in the early years and then when Balsacraft took them and sorted out the marketing and presentation they were a fantastic kit. They probably came just a wee bit too early for the technology of the time, as the recommended power train was insipid and must have put some people off electric flight. With a little bit more experience they did fly very well indeed on a hot buggy motor and 8-10 cells, rather than on an 8.4v Sp600 and a buggy pack On a more modern brushless lipo set up they are superb and that's why unstarted kits still command a very good price.

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I always got the impression with the nicely presented foreign kits , like Pilot and even Topflite , that the original design probably flew very nicely , but once they went into production , the wood just seemed too heavy and as you said , too many parts . Marutaka /Royal also suffered in the same way in most cases .  OS 40FPs were a bit limp and radio was heavy, so it all stacked up rather badly . 

However , because there were so many people building relative to now , they could spend money on the box and other items (Royal had alloy cowls ) , because they were justifying the cost with very long sales runs . 

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I only ever had one Marutaka kit - a diddy little  F-15 which did follow that same design philosophy, even in the small sizes and the Royal 1/2A Spitfire and Mustang kits will probably remain unbuilt - also small and heavy. Their Kawasaki Hien kit had a beautiful spun ally cowl, like a tumbler, which was a bit mad for such a small model.

 

PatMcs piccy of the lovely Pilot Spitfire II kit box says it's for .19-.35 two strokes - I bet that model would just about taxi with a .19 engine - they are a couple of pounds, at east, heavier than a Cambrian Spitfire.

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Nice kits from the past. I built an Apache Aviation PT 19. The bits were of nice quality. The woodstrip for the back was in a separate bag, lighter wood. The instructions were precise to anal in precision. It built and flew as advertised. Get a kit, customer does the kit, and don’t assume your customer is competent.

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The Dave Smith models were quite simple kits,IIRC, but superbly executed and dead straight, with high quality foam wings, well selected balsa and built into an excellent aeroplane.. I never had one but my instructor used to fly an Aerostar 62" and it was a fantastic flying model.

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I don’t rate Topflite. I did their P47. The tail plane bed was a plan perfect bit of wood, but it sat at an angle on the fuselage. So the wrong size, and the bit of wood presenting the tail plane angle is important. This kit was from at least a decade into production. I saw it, but it’s not obvious.
All you need is a correction sheet.

That is a lot of work, smashed on maiden flight, because the tail is wrong.

And there are better builders in the world than me, but I planked the floppy fuselage on a jig. I could never work out how you keep it straight twisted plank by twisted plank. Hard work, despite the upbeat instructions that it’s one up from a primary trainer. And I seem to remember, they are trying to sell their incidence measuring machine, but not claiming it’s necessary in the instructions. Ummmmm, a cynic might have a comment.

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I had the pleasure, circa 1970s, of building many of the Pilot QB designs. As others have said, although superb examples of kit manufacture (for the time!), only a few were good flying machines. Still have the QB 2500 Reiher, (the early version). MK made some nice models too. The Hanno Prettner 'Curare' in 20 & 40 size as well as the 'Magic'. Then I enjoyed time in Germany courtesy of HM and a 'Blue Suit'. The likes of Graupner, Heigi, Simprop, and Aeronaut, even before laser cutting, were kits to behold IF you could afford them!

Today only Aeronaut remain producing their own items. Their quality is still outstanding with the very latest production methods employed.

Even if you don't care for their kit subjects, I would strongly recommend you peek inside a Aeronaut kit box if ever you get the chance, superb!

There have been some excellent British kit manufacturers. I recall building a (Roy Pitts?) RadioSailplanes 'Scirroco' glider complete with their R/C locking tow hook. Vac-formed trays contained quality balsa and ply, nicely cut and finished given no laser at the time.

Today 'Vintage Model Company' is showing youngsters the way and I've enjoyed building their little 'Piper Cub' as much as any. (See BMFA News & RCM&E for recent reviews). 

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I'd agree with the impression of the Apache Aviation kits, which always looked real quality when I saw them at the shows - they were just a bit too large for my preferred model size at the time. Another kit manufacturer which came along a bit later was Skyshark -imported into the UK in the late noughties. I never actually bought one, which I now regret, but visited their retail outlet a few times to see what the fuss was about and they looked nice quality kits. 

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What is interesting is that , understandably , you have all spoken of the fit and flying qualities , which as modellers, is expected . Why put in months of work to find out the designer forgot to tell you that his prototype flew like a piano ?

But I wonder how much other factors skew the decision and paint a rosier picture ?

The two ranges I mentioned (PIlot/EZ and Model Designs -Ripmax ) both had exceptional boxes and presentation for the time. Something that we take for granted with ARTFs , but not "proper" kits . 

There is obviously an economic factor creeping in . That being that the cost of making an ARTF foamie is all up front as the actual materials are dirt cheap , Consequently making the box look fab is an essential to take the edge off the packing foam inside which is actually your £300 model . 

The concept works , because all of the previously mentioned great kit manufacturers are in fact ....deceased , fallen of their perch . No longer with us . You get the picture . 

If you gaze over into the world of wooden boat building , you will also see highly polished boxes and yet inside the contents are very much straight from the wood rack with a few turned brass cannons thrown in . All starting at around £230 .

How much would the Pilot Spitfire kit cost now ? That is a very good question .

Have a good look at the link posted further back up the thread and think , glossy box , laser cut , full decals .

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Interesting subject Richard. In my 'real job', value perception is a very significant part of product management. This is really what we are talking about here. Not the product, but our perception of it, and how this adjusts our expectations either up or down. The value perception of the OK kits was significant, and has had a more lasting impact than any reality of the product itself.

 

The question is; what in today's world, affects our value perception? Kit builders are of a different demographic to those back in the day. The 'younger us' would be far more imprinted by box graphics than the 'present day us'. It may be interesting to see what exactly the forum believes makes an exceptional kit, and what makes them memorable for the right reasons. Further, what attracted them to buy it in the first place, and if they recommended it BEFORE they built and flew it. This is a test of how it made you feel...

 

For me, the box label is not and never really was a big deal. Thoughtfully grouped and well packed part sets, a full size plan and clear, detailed instructions made a bigger impact (in the day, I loved Flair kits). I can spend ages reading the instructions before building and particularly if there are details on setting up and flying and some inspiring example pictures, I'm positively foaming at the scalpel to get going!

 

Graham

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I built the Pilot FW190 powered by an OS 25 FSR it was a great flyer, well over 100 flights. After that I bought the Pilot Hurricane as it was on a clearance offer it crashed first flight. I built a Topflight Corsair and on take off it was fine but once in the air the I had to hold up elevator as it dived under power, after surgery on the tail plane it was no better, I changed the wing incidence with packing ,no better  I even altered the engine trust and it still flew down on full power. It would fly reasonable on 1/2 throttle and landings were ok. I never got it sorted . As said in another thread the designer does not always get it right. I have built a few Complete a Pack models from plans but have always used the plans as a guide as they always turned out overweight models.     

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We make a national pastime of kicking ourselves in the backside over various things, and  while its true that some home produced kits were poor, the vast majority were perfectly good and sometimes excellent.

Built several Flair kits - excellent, and all flew nicely. Galaxy kits, both Ipswich and Norwich, again not expensive but I never had a bad one, building or flying. Chris Foss - 10/10. Howard Metcalf - inexpensive, innovative & well thought out designs that went well. SAS - slope and power models that built and flew fine. Mick Reeves - so many excellent models to suit all tastes, but could be a bit of a lottery with wood quality and underwhelming instructions IIRC.  Bowman models, IMHO possibly the best in terms of designs, quality and price for the sport modeller. Just remembered Skyway models, mostly veneered foam IIRC, their BA Hawk prop jet was a great success back in the day.

Unfortunately, there were a few stinkers from small producers that came and went and I suppose we tend to remember them more easily. I guess that most firms can finish up with an 'Edsel' from time to time.

I built a couple of US Goldberg kits and they were very good indeed, if a bit over reliant on light ply, but they had some clever constructional techniques for the time and as with all the US technical documentation that I came across in my work days, the instruction manuals (photographic) and drawings were first class. Still have my Super Chippy and she still fly's regularly and must be 25 years old now, but looking a bit tired.

 

 

Edited by Cuban8
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