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Cockpit Details for the Scale Model
Annual 1960 Air Trails Hobbies for Young Men

Annual Edition 1960 Air Trails
Annual Edition 1960 Air Trails Cover - Airplanes and RocketsTable of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.

Modern day scale models are amazingly detailed with functional miniature instruments, control yokes and joysticks moving in unison with stabilizer, rudder, ailerons, throttle, and others. Access to relatively inexpensive 3-D printing, laser printers, and laser cutters has greatly enabled scale modelers. The state of the art has advanced for far that competition is extremely stiff. Even so, in the 1960's when this "Cockpit Details for the Scale Model" article appeared in Air Trails magazine, the skill level was quite impressive given the resources available at the time. This particular subject is an instrument panel for a Piper J3 Cub, but photos from scale contents of the era showed highly detailed cockpits for civilian and military aircraft ranging from Cessna 180's to B-36 bombers and F−86 Saber jet fighters.

See also Instruments for the Scale Model, from the same issue.

Cockpit Details for the Scale Model

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Panel Assembly (exploded view) - Airplanes and Rockets

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Panel Assembly (exploded view)

Text and Art by Jim Triggs

For many years we have seen quite an assortment of large R/C planes and flying scale jobs, most of them gleaming with a fine finish, the product of many hours of the model-builder's loving patience and painstaking craftsmanship. In almost every case a closer look at even the best of these models reveals a cockpit woefully devoid of any detail whatever while others display only the crudest attempt at detailing the interior of the airplane.

In the case of the average modeler, it is an almost complete lack of information or data concerning airplane interiors, cockpits, instruments, which prevents him from including them in a scale model. Other model-makers who may be thoroughly familiar with the more conventional methods and techniques in putting together a model airplane, find themselves at a loss to cope with the construction of the many instruments, dials, knobs, switches, controls, and other gear found in the cabin or cockpit of even the simplest airplane.

It would seem a shame to lavish hours of hard work on a big R/C or scale plane that has no discernable inside detail which takes only a small portion of the total time necessary to build such a model but which makes the ship a real outstanding job. While it is true that some of the scale radio designs allow little room in the cabin for excessive detailing, it is still possible to include some in most cases.

First consideration in building an accurate representation of cabin or cockpit detail into a scale model is accurate information. While this data is found in many places, the best source is publications which often publish photos or details of cockpit arrangements of various aircraft, both military and civil. Such a photograph will at least give the modeler a partial picture of cockpit detail and panel layout. The trick is to accumulate enough data to get the whole story.

Piper J3 Cub instrument panel - Airplanes and Rockets

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Panel.

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Panel Layout - Airplanes and Rockets

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Panel Layout

 - Airplanes and Rockets

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Panel Base

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Faces - Airplanes and Rockets

Piper J3 Cub Instrument Faces

Further research may lead the modeler to write to the various aircraft manufacturers for data. While manufacturers of military airplanes may be hesitant about providing such information due to security or business considerations, other concerns may be very happy to provide assistance through their public-relations or advertising departments. Very fine brochures and catalogs of the private plane manufacturers are readily available. Most of this literature provides very good information and photos of the airplane concerned, inside and out. Piper Aircraft Company, for instance, publishes full color booklets on their Tri-Pacer and Super Cub models which provide all the information necessary to make a completely detailed interior of either airplane.

Some model-builders have placed their reliance on some of the meager information provided with the average kit. Far too infrequently will the commercial kit give any accurate cockpit detail.

In his research, the modeler will soon become familiar with cockpit and instrument arrangements of various airplanes. It becomes apparent that certain arrangements are typical regardless of the type of airplane. Note the separate grouping of flight and engine instruments on the panel. The arrangement technique will often help out the modeler who is unable to determine the exact position of a turn and bank indicator, or oil pressure gauge from his data.

In finishing a scale model interior, close. attention to detail and neat workmanship is essential to a convincing finished product. One of the points most frequently passed over or ignored in the scale cockpit is the structure of the interior walls and floor of the cockpit. Most private and commercial airplanes are finished inside - that is, the bare structure of the airframe itself is covered with upholstery, headlining, and/or some other material, plastic, leather, etc. In the case of the military airplane of older vintage, the bare bulkheads, channels, and stringers of the airframe are usually exposed and visible in the cockpit with the only protection to the pilot afforded by the outside metal skin or fabric covering of the airplane itself. On more modern military aircraft, interior structure may vary in construction detail but are seldom finished or upholstered as is the case with civil planes. For the model-maker, it is just as important to include this detail as it is to model the instruments or controls accurately. A little imagination and ingenuity will provide the materials and techniques to accomplish this phase of the model. For instance, it will be found that various flock-covered papers, in many colors will often simulate exactly the types of upholstery used in many private and commercial airplanes today.

Perhaps more interesting than upholstery will be other inside gear and equipment contained in the cockpit. The control stick, wheel, rudder and brake pedals, flap handle, control linkage system (or that part of it which may be visible), throttles, knobs, switches and radio equipment can be modeled from easily obtained materials with some ingenuity. While many of these tiny and often intricate items can be built up in brass or other metals and delicately soldered, there is no reason why they cannot be made from scrap balsa, heavy paper, or other more easily worked materials and painted appropriately.

In finishing his cockpit, the modeler should not overlook some of the small details such as a compass, deviation card, operational placards, safety belts, etc. While some of these little cards and placards may be so small, especially in any scale under 2", that any attempt at making legible lettering would be foolish, indication of such lettering is desirable. A line of tiny dots; spaced as words might be, uniform and even, will almost convince the viewer that he is seeing lettering, even if it is too small to read.

Probably the greatest stumbling-block is the instrument panel itself. Assuming that you have spent some time in research and have adequate pictures and data on the panel, how do you proceed?

The accompanying drawings show the layout and steps in putting together a really detailed panel for the Piper J3 Cub. In exact 2" scale, this should fit any Piper Cub model in this scale with possible small variations in the extreme width or height of the panel due to the structure of the fuselage. In the older Cubs, the top quarter of the panel is curved toward the front of the airplane slightly; this curve could be put into the panel after it was assembled and finished.

First layout the panel, panel base, and panel plate. These parts can be made of thin balsa or even heavy paper in scales up to 1 1/2". In any scale larger than 2" it would be wise to use thin sheet aluminum or brass for the panel to avoid distortion or warping. Cut these parts out together so that their edges coincide exactly. Layout all of the holes in the panel, panel base, and plate. Drill the instrument mounting holes and holes for knobs with a No. 56 drill (a little less than 1/16"). The holes for panel mounting screws can be made a little larger, about 1/16", to accommodate small round head wood screws which can be used to mount the panel to the fuselage structure later. Clamp the panel, panel base, and plate together, then drill all three parts at the same time so that all of the holes will be aligned. Layout the instrument cutout holes carefully and cut them out of the panel. If your panel is wood, keep the holes perfectly round and with sharp edges. If your panel is aluminum or brass the holes can be cut out roughly and filed carefully to a perfect round. Paint the panel and panel plate flat black after all holes are drilled and cutouts smoothly finished.

Cut the instrument faces out and cement them to the panel base; be sure they are properly centered under the instrument cutout holes in the panel. The placard may be cemented to the panel in the proper position and holes punched through for the mounting screws. The compass deviation card is paper and is likewise cemented to the panel in the indicated position at the right of the magnetic compass.

A sheet of clear plastic to simulate the glass plates covering the instruments is sandwiched between the panel base with instrument faces and the panel proper as shown in the exploded drawing. With these parts held in alignment, the mounting holes can be punched through the plastic sheet with any sharp tool such as a scriber. The panel, panel plate, plastic sheet, and panel base are assembled, using short 00-90 machine screws (round headed) through the front of the panel; 00-90 hex nuts are tightened on the ends of the screws in back of the panel base. These tiny machine screws can be either brass or steel. If brass, they should be painted flat black, as is the panel. Steel screws may be left shiny. Screws in these tiny sizes are available in most hobby shops, as are the small drills described.

The compass face can be built up from thin balsa and a small screw set in to represent the adjustment screw. Paint this part flat black and cement it into position in the compass cutout in the panel. Compass face should protrude slightly from the panel.

Carburetor heat and cabin heat knobs can be made up with short pieces of hardwood dowel with the large rounded heads made from soft balsa. The shafts of these knobs should be painted aluminum with the heads painted shiny black. Make an indication of lettering across the face of the knob. The knobs are glued into the appropriate holes above the altimeter and tachometer dials.

Altimeter knob is made up as above except that its head is smaller and flat across its face. Although this knob is knurled in the prototype, this would be all but invisible in any scale smaller than 2 1/2" or 3". Paint this knob flat black and glue into position in its hole below the altimeter dial. The head of the knob should protrude above the face of the panel in the cutout provided.

Primer knob is made up in wood or metal and painted aluminum. The stamped lettering of the original can be duplicated or at least suggested pretty well with the sharp point of a fairly hard pencil. Slip a small hex nut on the shaft of this knob and cement the shaft into its hole on the panel to the right of the altimeter. The nut on the shaft should be flush against the surface of the panel.

In inserting these knobs into the panel assembly, the 00-90 holes originally drilled for them may be enlarged to suit the exact diameter of the shafts by using a small triangular reamer such as is sold in most hobby shops for model railroaders.



Posted September 17, 2022

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