Aurora’s 1/48 Fokker DR-1 Triplane Kit Review and Release History

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By Frederick Boucher with kit history by Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Kit History 

Released in 1956 the FOKKER DR-I [sic] was the fifth model of Aurora‘s original six “Famous Fighters” 1/48 World War One aircraft.  This example is kit number 105-69.


In order, the 5 predecessors (using Aurora punctuation and spelling) were the French Nieuport 11, Sopwith Camel, SE-5 Scout and German Albatross D-3.  (Curiously, although the Sopwith Tripe was one of their final WWI models, it was originally numbered 100.)  In the early 1970s Aurora reworked many of the molds by adding fabric texture and removing raised insignia and data markings, issuing the models as the 700 kit series.  The Dr.I was kit 750.  The triplane was not one of the kits eventually issued by Aurora subsidiary K&B.

Continue reading “Aurora’s 1/48 Fokker DR-1 Triplane Kit Review and Release History”

1/48 Scale Northrop F-15A Water Bomber/Fire Tanker from the Great Wall Hobbies P-61 Black Widow

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By Steven Krick


This build represents the Northrop F-15A Water Bomber, serial number N9768Z.  This aircraft was built originally as serial number 45-59300, which was the first production F-15A Reporter.  59300 was the only F-15A to survive into the mid 1960’s.  It was used for NACA/NASA tests until 1955, when it was sold and registered as XB-FUJ in Mexico.  In Mexico a ‘Droop Snoot’ was installed in the nose section for photo mapping.

It returned to the United States registered as N5093V with a yellow tail scheme.  In 1964 Aero Enterprises installed a 1600 gallon fire retardant tank and operated the aircraft as a fire tanker during the 1964/65 fire seasons.

Cal Nat Airways then acquired the aircraft in 1966 and modified it to a single seater while painting it in the ‘International Orange’ color scheme during the 1966/67 fire season.


F-15 Fire Bomber circa 1965 (courtesy of Bill Larkins) 

In 1968 the aircraft was sold to TBM, Inc and was lost on September 6, 1968.

As a result of the aircraft’s interesting history, there are very many unique and dramatic paint schemes for this bird.  One scheme has International Red on the tail

Continue reading “1/48 Scale Northrop F-15A Water Bomber/Fire Tanker from the Great Wall Hobbies P-61 Black Widow”

Revell/Monogram 1/48 P-61C Black Widow From Operation Thunderstorm

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by Steven Krick

Operation Thunderstorm

In 1945 the US Congress gave $250,000 to the US Weather Bureau to study violent weather, particularly thunderstorms.  In Phase I, the main base for this study was Pinecastle Field, Florida.  It took three months to get the microwave towers and all the test equipment in place. The first flights were made over Orlando by nine specially rigged P-61C aircraft fitted with weather instrumentation and recording devices.  As soon as a storm was detected, the aircraft were dispatched at 5,000 foot intervals up to 25,000 feet.

Phase II of the Operation was conducted at Clinton County Army Air Field in Ohio.  The equipment reached this field in February of 1947.  On this occasion, there were 13 P-61Cs, plus four variants sent by Northrop including two production F-15A’s, the XF-15, and the XF-15A.  Quite a line-up!  Also included was a P-61B sent to TWA for weather testing.  All aircraft got plenty of flight hours and took numerous lightning strikes and hail hits; many of them had Plexiglas nose damage. 

The Operation was suspended in late 1947, with the University of Chicago responsible for assimilating all the data and information.  These results contributed greatly to the knowledge of extreme weather flying and civil aviation safety.



P-61C Decal Search

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The Kits of Pyro Plastic Company – An Illustrated Guide

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Many thanks to Carlton Shanks, John Burns and all the KCCers for their extensive research and documentation

Pyro is unique in plastic models because the subjects for kits were not selected by popularity.  Pyro was a very successful company without model kits.  Since the production of molds was subsidized by other profit centers, Pyro did not feel the extreme financial pressure that Revell and Monogram did.  The later had to produce kits that would sell immediately and in quantity so they could make loan payments and recoup their tooling expenses.

We do not know how Pyro chose their kits; perhaps Bill even had input into the process!  All we really know is that subjects were chosen based on historical significance and not sales potential.  That is why Pyro kit subjects are so unique and in so many cases are the only kit very made (or even envisioned) of such a subject.

 It appears that Pyro used popular reference books and sometimes existing wooden kits in the design process.  This was not an unusual industry practice.  As Pyro started making more detailed kits for more advanced modelers, they began to study the actual subjects when available – especially for automobile kits.  This yielded some excellent models for that time.


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Nathan Lester & William (Bill) Morris Lester – The Origins Of Modern Injection Molding And Pyro Plastics Company

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Second Edition Notes

In the first edition, credit was given to one man for the first modern injection molding machine.  This may or may not be true; evidence gathered over the last 3 years paints a more complicated picture. This revision is not an effort to take credit away from anyone but to give it where due.

 I would like to thank artist and friend Michael Boss, Peter van Lune, Marsha Frantisak and the “Industry Watch” article cited below.  Without these sources this article would not be possible.  Marsha is niece of William Lester and granddaughter of Nathan Lester.  Please note that any photos without credits are from the internet.  If you did not receive credit or if any of these photos are copyrighted, please contact me for credit or removal.  Thank you-AB


Pyro is not the most famous of the US plastic model companies.  Die-hard collectors know the name well, but even fewer are aware that Pyro’s founder, William Lester, was an entrepreneur, innovator and inventor.  Furthermore, William learned molding from his father, Nathan Lester.  Both of these men had a hand in inventing the modern plastic injection molding machine, which completely revolutionized American plastics manufacturing.  Some details are lost to history but enough is known to create a rough portrait.


Modern Injection Molding Machine (courtesy Western Kentucky Plastics)


William’s father, Nathan Lester, was born in 1884 in Minsk, Russia and immigrated in 1905.  Bill’s mother, Mrs. Gussie Lester, was also born in Russia in 1884.  We do not know much else about his youth, but Nathan was a brilliant man and entrepreneur who reached the top of his industry.  He owned Lester Die & Machine Company of Cleveland (1920s to ?, referred to as ‘Lester Tool’ later), Lester-Phoenix Die Casting Machines in Cleveland (30s/40s+), one of the leading die-cast companies in the USA.  At least one trade catalog (dated 1941) of Lester-Phoenix Die has survived.  He also owned Lester Engineering and held numerous patents.  This is a small sample:

  • Pneumatic die-casting machine filed as early as 1926
  • Plastic Casting Machine filed April 15, 1938 and granted June 3, 1941 by the Patent Office
  • Link mechanism for pressure casting machines filed as early as 1939
  • Injection molding control apparatus filed in 1943
  • Injection molding machine spreader filed in 1944

In the book “The Story of New Jersey(1945),” Nathan is credited as being one of the “leading die casters in the United States” and heading a company (identified later as Lester-Phoenix) which “…builds die casting machines and different types of plastic moulding machines.”   Paul Orban, the second engineer hired by Lester Engineering (and later chief engineer) said that “He was a pleasant man to work with, a chain smoker, and he paced like a lion in a cage in the engineering department.  He was cordial and honest. Nathan was originally a tool-and-die maker. He worked for Reed before starting his own company.”

Nathan’s son, William Morris Lester, was born in Brooklyn, New York on Jan. 14, 1908. He attended Brooklyn public schools and graduated high school in Worchester, MA in 1904.  His father’s business impacted him early; William was still in school when he started designing molds and casting machines.  After high school he enrolled in Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  He graduated in 1928 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and extensive background experience in die casting machines and mold design.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

His first job was Developmental Engineer for Precision Castings Co., Syracuse, NY.   After almost three years, his entrepreneurial spirit prompted him to leave in 1930/31.  Bill went to his father’s shop, Lester Tool and Die Company, and Bill’s first job was Chief Engineer. Bill did own stock in Lester Tool, but it is unknown if he bought the stock before or after he became an employee.  Bill designed molds and die casting machines for Lester, and Reed-Prentice Company manufactured the machines under license.  Bill increased the efficiency of mold making through numerous improvements and attachments for tool- room equipment.  He received several patents for these innovations in pressure and die casting equipment.  Given the early dates (from the 1920) of Nathan’s patents and his leadership in the field, his son certainly learned the practical engineering and the business sides from his father.  Bill worked about four years at Lester Tool.   As we will see, he was a very fast study.

Continue reading “Nathan Lester & William (Bill) Morris Lester – The Origins Of Modern Injection Molding And Pyro Plastics Company”

A Biography of James (Jim) Pettit Cox – The Father of Modern Model Box Artwork

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

My sincere thanks to Art Cox.  Without him this biography would not have been possible.

Box artwork is a major part of model kit collecting.  In many cases, the illustration is more important than the contents!  The most colorful and desirable kits are from 1953 to the early 1960s, which is considered the ‘Golden Age’ of model kit artwork.  During this time, easy-to-assemble kits with dramatic box tops swept aside all pastimes and became the #1 hobby of teenage boys in America until the 1970s.


Jim and Aurora’s longest continuously used box art – the classic Fokker D-VII from 1956

Model kits were not always popular and colorful.  From 1910 to the 1930s, boxes were usually very plain, stating the company name and perhaps a simply drawn scene in one color.  By the 1930s, producers of wood and tissue flying kits were creating hobby empires, and packaging took on more color but still lacked flair.

Continue reading “A Biography of James (Jim) Pettit Cox – The Father of Modern Model Box Artwork”

The Story Behind Megow Balsa

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Anyone who knows of the Golden Age of Model Aircraft has worked with balsa wood.  This excellent article was printed in several of the Megow Company catalogs during the 1930s and 1940s.   Fred Megow got his start selling balsa and wood stock from the famous ‘Green Cabinet’ in local Philadelphia, PA hobby shops.  The kits that followed were all made of balsa as well, so Megow took the material very seriously, color coding their stock by the grade of wood; yellow (dead soft), orange (soft), red (medium), green (hard) and black (extra hard).  When World War II interfered with supplies,  balsa was hoarded for production as it as at Hawk and other manufactures.  Sadly, Fred Megow chose to close down his international hobby empire in the late 1940s.  I hope you enjoy this article, transcribed here with all of the original photos.  (Alan Bussie)  Google+ profile


Editor’s Introduction: Thousands of model airplane builders have for years used balsa wood with infinite skill and cleverness! Yet few know any more about it, other than it comes from South America. Therefore, we have asked Mr. Eger, our tropical wood expert to write the article which follow:

Well, to start with, up to this date, as far as I know, there is no literature on the Balsa Tree.  The few descriptions that have appeared in this country regarding it are short and in many instances contradictory. It has been my privilege to observe and study the flora of the tropics for a quarter of a century, and the balsa tree, due to its peculiarities, has attracted my attention especially. Thanks to these special studies, I have been called upon to manage a balsa plantation, the only plantation of this kind of tree in the world, where I had the opportunity of planting, cultivating and logging the balsa tree for a number of years.

In the following I give to our readers a condensed description of this wonderful tree, which I know will be of great interest to builders of Megow models.

The Balsa Tree belongs to the Bomacaceae (Linné), and its Latin name is Ochroma. There exist many species of Ochroma, of which the following are known to me:

  • Ochroma limonensis, found in Costa Rica and Panama.
  • Ochroma lagopus, found in Cuba, Jamaica and the other Antilles.
  • Ochroma concolor, found in Guatemala and Honduras.
  • Ochroma velutina, found on the Pacific coast of Central America.
  • Ochroma tomentosa, found on the upper Magdalena River, Colombia.
  • Ochroma obtusa, found on the lower Magdalena River, Colombia, and finally
  • Ochroma grandifolia, found in the Republic of Ecuador.

This last mentioned species interests us most, as almost 100 percent of all balsa shipped to the United States is exported from Ecuador. The reason for the predilection of Ecuadorian balsa is found in its finer texture, white color and extreme lightness of weight.


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Moebius Models reissues of Aurora “Monster Scenes” -The Pain Parlor and Gruesome Goodies

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By Justin Humphreys

© Justin Humphreys – 2010

Who was the marketing savant who decided to put “pain” in a kid’s toy’s name?

Does Barbie drive a Pain Ferrari? Would the Great Garloo have sold better if Ideal had called him The Big Green Pain Demon? Has Wham-O made a fortune over the last fifty years selling Pain Hoops?


Aurora’s Original Monster Scenes Pain Parlor from the early 1970s

The answer to the last three questions is a resounding no, but Aurora’s creative minds Continue reading “Moebius Models reissues of Aurora “Monster Scenes” -The Pain Parlor and Gruesome Goodies”

Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde- Aurora Monster Kit reissue by Moebius Models

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By Justin Humphreys
© Justin Humphreys – 2010

For the last seventeen years, model kit aficionados have seen a steady stream of superb replicas of Aurora Plastics’ iconic styrene monsters, from warhorses like the Frankenstein Monster to heretofore un-reissued rarities like Dracula’s Dragster. But one of Aurora’s 1/8th scale beauties has been passed over without fail whenever reissuing time rolled around: Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde.

Why is the good doctor never returned to hobby store shelves? Did that flask that Dr. Jekyll’s chugging spook parental watchdogs into thinking that it would inspire impressionable young chemists to poison themselves with some unspeakable brew? Where’s the logic here? Why has this kit been out of the legitimate kit market for over thirty years?


Moebius Models reissue of the classic Aurora Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde

“No one did it earlier as they said it wouldn’t sell,” says Frank Winspur, president of Moebius Models. “At Polar Lights, they thought it wouldn’t sell enough to make it break even.” Larger kit manufacturers, he says, “felt it was a crappy kit, hard to build, and no one remembered it with any fondness! Crazy stuff, in my opinion!” Continue reading “Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde- Aurora Monster Kit reissue by Moebius Models”

From Mexico to Venus with Paul Schiola-Ultratumba Productions’ Mastermind Speaks!

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By Justin Humphreys
© Justin Humphreys – 2008

Please note that this interview with Paul Schilola took place in 2008.  Ultratumba ceased production in 2009. – Alan Bussie

Over two decades after his death, the delightfully lurid cinematic monstrosities of creature creator (creaturist?) Paul Blaisdell remain perennially popular. Rather than lumbering, shambling, or fluttering around dive-bombing victims as they did in their original movie habitats, they generally sit stock-still these days… In effigy, that is, courtesy of Ultratumba Productions.

Ultratumba is releasing a series of 50s and 60s-era movie monster models that have, among other things, resurrected Blaisdell’s monstrous menagerie—creatures like “Beulah” the Venusian from It Conquered the World, and the titular BEM from Invasion of the Saucermen with its head like a bundle of vines from a freshly-picked pumpkin patch with a hideous trademark Blaisdell scowl.

Author George Clayton Johnson once told me that “Pulp never dies,” and that’s uniquely true of unique pulp. And nowhere has pulp been more unique or lovingly rendered than with Blaisdell’s monsters. Bizarre, bulbous, bug-eyed, scaly, or all spines and crackly surfaces, they remain a lasting tribute to Blaisdell’s furious imagination. They are 30s “Amazing Stories” covers sprung to life.


Ultratumba’s Angry Red Spider Resin Kit

At first glance, they might appear ridiculous. One modern horror director and movie aficionado Continue reading “From Mexico to Venus with Paul Schiola-Ultratumba Productions’ Mastermind Speaks!”