You have just finished your last aircraft model and even though it looks spectacular it still seems there is something missing… You compare it with an original photograph and start noticing the cracked concrete beneath the tyres, the grassy fields in the background, the oil drums abandoned along the runway… Finally, you understand that what you need is a nice airfield diorama that will make your model a real masterpiece. Let’s take a look at a few simple steps to create your own airfield and make your aircraft a bit more comfortable!
1. Find Original Photographs of your Airfield
Unless you want to place your model in a fictional environment, making some research about the actual airfield or airport your aircraft was based at is the first step. In order to provide readers with a nice reference and some interesting cues to tickle their imagination, here you can find some nice airfield photographs shot during World War Two.
2. Make a Drawing of your Diorama
Once you have made your mind about the location, making a drawing of the details and the exact configuration of your diorama is the best way to determine wether it is really suitable for your aircraft. In order to do so effectively, it would be recommended to draw a plan of your airfield, possibly with the actual size of the result you desire to obtain. Once your plan is completed, you can therefore compare the aircraft model with the environment elements that will later surround it, eventually adjusting them to better fit your project.
3. Start building: the Base
A good base has to be light and tough enaugh to support all the elements that will be placed above it. Personally, the material that better fits these features is styrofoam. It is usually sold in different thicknesses as well as finishes. This case, I used two layers of pressed paper-covered styrofoam, glued together with simple vynil glue (white glue). I suggest you not apply glue all over the upper layer. Instead, a better practice consist in putting just some drops along the sides and a few in the middle of it. This will prevent the base from warping while the glue is drying.
4. Adding a bit of Texture
Whichever airfield, or airport, you have ever visited, its runway surface could have never been perfectly smooth. Both because of the geometrical displacement of the concrete or tar pourings, as well as scratches, cracks and other eventual damages caused by the airfield use. In my diorama, in order to reproduce the small splits within the concrete tiles, I used a simple HB pencil and a ruler. In doing so, you have to take into account two important factors.
The first one is induced by the material you have chosen for your base. Indeed, it is important to be gentle enough not to damage the surface while tracing the pattern, but still applying enough pressure to slightly engrave it. Personally, I would suggest a bit of practice on a scrap part before moving on your definitive diorama.
The last, and probably more important issue, is represented by the scale of your airfield diorama. Thus, you should always bear in mind the thickness of the recesses you are creating when compared with the size they would actually have. Just to give you an example, a 1 mm wide slot in a 1:72 diorama would correspond with a 7,2 cm fissure in reality. It is therefore important not to exaggerate, in order to avoid creating unrealistic chasms.
5. Painting your Airfield
Once your base is detailed enaugh, it’s time begin the most intriguing part: painting. Before focusing on the colours to be applied, let me spend a few words about the most suitable paint types for this context.
Depending on the material of your base, it might be necessary to opt for a specific paint. Styrofoam, for example, is corroded by enamels: it is therefore recommended not to apply them on a polystirene surface without previous protection. Quite the opposite, if you opted for a wood base (balsa, pine, …), you can choose almost any kind of paint, provided that you apply the right mordant before.
Generally speaking, I suggest either acrylics, oil paints or even watercolors as the best option due to their ease of use and less toxicity if compared with enamels. Watercolors and oil paint are particularly recommended since they take time to dry completely, thus allowing you to make some adjustments.
Painting the Runway
To begin with, let’s focus on the airfield runway. The most realistic effect can be obtained overlapping several paint layers. Some of them may also be applied even though previous layers are not completely dry. Regardless of the effect you want to achieve, I personally suggest to apply first the prevalent colour of your runway: thus, for example, a very dark grey (or even black) for a tar surface, or a lighter grey for a concrete one. You will then proceed weathering and detailing the surface with further thinner layers.
Using a normal brush, instead of an air brush, can add a quite irregular pattern that definitely helps in terms of realism. Applying the paint moving along the path that aircraft would follow along the runway would be optimal to simulate tyre tracks.
Paint can also be applied in patches, roughly respecting the runway geometry, in orther to enhance the recesses previously engraved. In spite of an apparent nice effect, it is important not to exaggerate: in some cases, this could indeed result in a quite odd and irrealistic appearance. In orther to prevent this effect, you can bland in the patches by gently tapping them along their contour either with a sponge or a paper towel.
Furthermore, some nice results can be achieved by randomly applying a very light grey with an almost dry brush. This technique is rather effective in small scales, and can be used to create a fictional rough surface.
Lastly, in orther to give a “worn look” to your airfield, you can add some interesting details, such as tyre tracks and oil spots. First ones can be obtained by simply drawing some lines along the runway with a very soft pencil, from 3B up to 9B. In case lines were too sharp, it is always possible to soften them by rubbing either with a normal rubber or a putty one. Alternatively, you can achieve similar results spreading powder pigments with a fine brush, being careful not to trace too wide strokes if compared with the scale of your diorama.
Oil spots and stains can be instead simulated dropping a few drops of black paint (possibly thinned) and then gently spreading them around in an irregular pattern with a brush.
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