Monday, November 18, 2013

I Got Sick Over the Weekend...

F-117 diorama built by an unknown modeler
What happens when some one builds a model of something you are intimately familiar with, and they happen to build it wrong?

The other day I learned a little something about myself, and its that I am not immune to rivet counting. Yes, I had my first experience with the disease and so I thought I'd share how I survived my brush with anal-retentive-itis and how you can avoid it.

The incident took place several days ago as I was surfing the interwebs for pictures of models and model related things. I stumbled upon the picture of the F-117 and ground crew that you see above. Though I am unaware of its source I can tell you that I do not intend to belittle its creator in any way. Quite the opposite. I think its a great piece and makes for a nice display.

To set the story up, I should tell you that I am an aircraft armament systems specialist in the USAF and load munitions on F-16s. In other words, I do exactly what that ground crew is doing in that photo, except not on Stealth Fighters. Never the less, when I happened to see a diorama depicting my job, I stopped and took great notice! It is a fairly obscure occupation, not glorious by any means, and is rarely ever represented in scale - this is the first time I have seen some one model an Air Force load crew.

But the more I looked at it, the more I saw some discrepancies, not with the construction of the models, but the composition. There are some safety issues at play here. In real life, if a munition is being supported by the MJ-1 lift truck, the driver will never leave the vehicle. You can see in the photo that he is standing beside the jammer, rather than seated on it. Also, in real life, if a munition is being supported by the MJ-1, the supervisor will always have positive control of the weapon. So, there should always be at least one hand on the bomb at all times. Finally, with loading operations taking place, the pilot should not be either mounting or dismounting his aircraft.

For one brief moment, in my own mind, I took a perfectly fine looking diorama and whittled it to pieces based on my own experiences - experiences the original builder likely has no way of knowing. Unless you're in this job, or have access to Air Force Technical Orders, its unlikely you would be able to correctly assume where every one should be positioned and how it all should appear.

The point is, this is not real life. Its modeling. Though we build scale representations of real vehicles, and situations, we have no way of knowing, a hundred percent of the time, what is accurate and what is not. When it comes down to it, correct or not, I'd prefer seeing this diorama built with this composition than seeing the F-117 sitting alone on a flight line like so many other aircraft models. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that even in real life the rules are not always adhered to - whether on purpose, or by accident. Anything can happen, and that is what is so great about modeling is that the artist is free to create his own perception of the reality. Are on lookers free to criticize? Certainly. But they should keep in mind that not every one is an expert, and expertise isn't something every modeler is searching for.

I am glad I recognized my illness for what it was, and I'm glad I didn't carry it on any further than my own thoughts. Too often rivet counters live vicariously through other modelers' creations, and they wait for some one to make a mistake so they can appear and show us just how smart they are. The only person you should place expectations on to get it right is yourself. If you want that level of accuracy, than strive to achieve it. If you're more like me and have no problems displaying an aircraft in flight with no pilots, so be it. Modeling should be for every one, not just those who know it all.

Thanks for reading!

PS: This isn't to say criticism can't be served in a tactful manner, and if help is requested, by all means give it. I'm simply saying there is no need to go out of your way to criticize a model for reasons that would be difficult for the builder to have known in the first place. 


  1. Criticism, when based on facts, is never wrong. The method of delivery is where most self-proclaimed critics go wrong.
    You clearly stated what you saw wrong, based on facts (or a rulebook) that the modeller had little chance of knowing. Chances are it was modelled after some box-art where the artists got it wrong in the first place.
    You shouldn't be afrraid to deliver justified criticism, if you bring it this way. It does not diminish the quality of the model or the paintjob.

    1. You're right, as long as you don't detract from the over all build. I've seen too many people tear apart an otherwise tremendous diorama because there was a simple problem with the composition. Criticism is like humor, its all in the delivery. A joke also depends on the sense of humor the listener has. Criticism depends on how well the critic is able to give it and how well the artist can take it. I'm not afraid of delivering criticism, but rather that I was willing to over look the entire creation for several minute details that had nothing to do with the quality of the model.

  2. Hi Jon. I know what you mean and can sympathise. This is the main reason why I don't make aircraft models at all. I, like you spend my working day around aircraft, looking at them in the minutest detail and my "anal retentiveness" when it comes to aircraft won't allow me any free thought or creativity that is always required when making a model.

    1. That is an interesting response Craig. I've noticed that my working around aircraft has loosened my preconceptions - except of course for this one example. I've seen just how different aircraft can be, even two of the same type, sitting on the same flight line two spots away from each other. The details of the real world are so varied, so should modeling be.