The Very First One
We're going to take a somewhat different approach with our opening piece this time and talk about something we've all had, and probably all remember. That's right; we're going to discuss the very first plastic model airplane we ever built, either solo or with help from someone, so let's jump right into it!
My first personal exposure to the world of plastic models came in 1955, while my dad was stationed at Chitose AB on Southern Hokkaido helping the Air Force stare down those bad guys just a few clicks away. It was an unaccompanied tour in those days which meant no families allowed so my mom and I were cooling our heels staying with my grandmother in the wilds of North Georgia while waiting for his 18-month assignment to pass. That, in turn, meant visiting relatives and, magically, getting to see my teenage cousin Jerry's model airplanes! He may have, and probably did have, have a stick and tissue flying model or two on display somewhere but the real treasure was on the dresser in his room; those first Revell jet airplanes! He may have had them all---my memory can recall the F-84F, F-94C, and F7U. He may have had a Cougar too, but I know for certain that he had those three. I saw them, I asked if I could play with them and was told "no" in terms I could understand, and the die was cast. Those models, plus Jerry's car (a used Sunbeam Alpine that he spent most of his weekends working on), rapidly elevated him to the exalted status of Favorite Relative in my eyes. The fact that he tolerated me and let me watch during those interminable hours he spent trying to synchronize the SU carburetors on that Alpine didn't hurt either, and in retrospect he's probably the reason I grew up loving sports cars too, but this isn't about sports cars. It's about plastic model airplanes.
Jerry took me to the hobby shop that was near his home but at six years of age I couldn't afford to buy anything so I just looked, and dreamed of the day I could build a model too. I asked my mom to buy a kit for me and, if truth be known probably drove her crazy with the frequency of my requests, but she always had said no, right up until The Magic Day.
It started out as a normal shopping trip for groceries at Blair's Supermarket in Canton one Saturday afternoon. The place was large for a grocery store in a small Georgia town and sold things besides food and related dry goods and sundries. That meant they had a small toy section in the store, and in that toy section were a handful of models, one of which was a black "Me109 Night Fighter". It was in a smallish scale, just the size for someone of my tender years, and my constant pestering, coupled with a desire on my mom's part to get out of the store and go home, won the day. She asked if I could really build it all by myself, and I said YES loudly enough to be heard throughout the store. She bought it for me, and I suspect I danced all the way out to the car. I HAD A MODEL AIRPLANE! It was mine to build, and then I could play with it! I could be just like my cousin Jerry; could a sports car of my own be far behind? Ok, maybe not, but I had a model of my own and all was right with the world!
My attempts at assembly began almost as soon as we got home. We hadn't purchased glue because the thought had never occurred to either of us to do that, but Grandma always had Elmer's Glue somewhere around the house and glue was glue, so I was set.
Or maybe not...
We all know that Elmer's doesn't work with polystyrene but I didn't have a clue back then, so I broke all those black pieces (it was a night fighter, remember?) off their sprues and set to work. The results were predictable but also eventually salvageable once someone had the idea to call my cousin to find out why all the of the kit's component pieces were literally falling off the model. A tube of plastic cement was somehow acquired and I began again, which allowed me to learn about Indelible Glue Fingerprints and how black plastic turns purple if you get enough cement on it. I got the thing finished in spite of myself, although I don't remember putting decals on it---my recollections of that very first polystyrene model airplane indicate it was overall black, which was just fine with me. It was a night fighter anyway, right?
And that was how it all began for me! The subject matter might have had something to do with my ongoing modeling interest in the Ost Front Luftwaffe, although probably not, but the kit started me off on a lifetime of polystyrene misadventures that has carried through until this very moment. I look on the whole thing as a gift!
There are quite a few airplanes that are considered iconic, and those airplanes so designated generally have plastic model kits produced of them in substantial variety and in many scales. Willy Messerschmitt's 109 series of fighters certainly falls into that category of iconic airplanes, and the sheer quantity of kits available of all its various iterations is legendary---it seems as though there are as many different kits as there were real airplanes produced by Herr Willy, but we digress...