Recreating Classic Model Kits With Modern Tech

It used to be that if you wanted to make a nice scale model of an airplane, you’d be building the frame out of thin balsa ribs and covering it all up with tissue paper. Which incidentally was more or less how they built most real airplanes prior to the 1930s, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to do the same on a smaller scale. But once injection molded plastics caught on, wood and tissue model kits largely went the way of the dodo.

[Marius Taciuc] wanted to share that classic model building experience with his son, but rather than trying to hunt down balsa kits in 2019, he decided to recreate the concept with modern techniques. His model of the Supermarine Spitfire, the vanguard of the British RAF during the Second World War, recreates the look of those early model kits but substitutes 3D printed or laser cut components for the fragile balsa strips of yore. The materials might be high-tech, but as evidenced by the video after the break, building the thing is still just as time consuming as ever.

Using a laser cutter to produce the parts would be the fastest method to get your own kit put together (you could even cut the parts out of balsa in that case), but you’ll still need a 3D printer for some components such as the propeller and cowling. On the other hand, if you 3D print all the parts like [Marius] did, you can use a soldering iron to quickly and securely “weld” everything together. For anyone who might be wondering, despite the size of the final plane, all of the individual components have been sized so everything is printable on a fairly standard 200 x 200 mm print bed.

While there’s no question the finished product looks beautiful, some might be wondering if it’s really worth the considerable effort and time necessary to produce and assemble the dizzying number of components required. To that end, [Marius] says it’s more of a learning experience than anything. Sure he could have bought a simplified plastic Spitfire model and assembled it with his son in an afternoon, but would they have really learned anything about its real-world counterpart? By assembling the plane piece by piece, it gives them a chance to really examine the nuances of this legendary aircraft.

We don’t often see much from the modeling world here on Hackaday, but not for lack of interest. We’ve always been in awe of the lengths modelers will go to get that perfect scale look, from the incredible technology packed into tiny fighter planes to large scale reproductions of iconic engines. If you’ve got some awesome model making tips that you think the Hackaday readership might be interested in, don’t be shy.

16 thoughts on “Recreating Classic Model Kits With Modern Tech

  1. this is awesome. i had never considered using printed spars and welding them. i was thinking of using printed ribs with a balsa (or carbon fiber) for the leading edge/spar. i do have to comment on one thing… “substitutes 3D printed or laser cut components for the fragile balsa strips of yore.” in isolation, thin printed parts are pretty flimsy too. and several times i’ve broken down models to fit them in the waste bin and let me tell you, well-constructed glued balsa frameworks are incredibly strong (for their weight)…i’m not sure but i suspect the finished product is stronger with balsa than with printed plastic.

    1. The strength of 3d printed plastics really depends on what type of plastic, the infill percentage, and even print orientation/speed/temperature. For instance something like pla would be rather brittle for large parts, but nylon or even abs would be both stronger and weaker than balsa in certain situations (though at the obvious cost of weight). As with anything, every option has its pros and cons depending on a multitude of variables.

  2. Hey, this is a wrong logics in this article! balsa models was flying models, but you can not use 3dprinted parts in flying models cause 3d printing plastiс is heavy and fragile. of course you can print the longerones and nervures for the table model like these folks do, but why not cut it from paper? what they can learn from this model – “airplanes cant fly cause they are too heavy and fragile?”, “people cant cut from paper cause in the modern age they only can 3d print smth?”. This is unusual approach, but cute video cause with kids

    1. I remember the plans for a rubber cord airplane were printed in some magazine. The propeller you had to carve yourself from a block of wood. It was supposed to be able to fly and I’m sure in good hands it did.

      There is an episode of CNC Kitchen in which Stefan builds a 3d printable kit of a model that’s supposed to be able to fly. It did fly, but only down.

  3. I think it’s pretty cool. Lot of parents don’t spend as much quality time learning things with their kids. 3D printers are handy tools for many these days, so why not use it. Your kids will likely be using them soon enough. This was a really good use too, working with balsa is tedious, and requires a lot of care and patience, good deal of time too. Printing the parts, reduces some of the less fun parts of the build.

  4. I once built a Guillow bi-plane, balsa, glue, tissue, and dope (the only time in my life when I bought “dope” B^).
    It flew about 20 feet under rubber band power, crashed, and became a static model in my office.

  5. Please check out 3DLabprint for amazingly beautiful printed planes from the Czech Republic using a Josef Prusa Printer. These planes cost only a few hundred euros at the most, some as low as 49Euros. You can even buy the .stl files for much less and then print them yourself.
    Absolutely the future of aeromodelling.

    These are flying art forms of beauty fully engineered to fit the motors and servos.

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