Vintage Modeling – ITC’s Stinson Tri-motor Model U

By Dennis Sparks

(additional kit photos by Alan Bussie)

This is one of several small articles on vintage plastic modeling, focusing primarily on the models that my father built between about 1955 and 1970.

Dad was born in 1930, and like many boys of that era, he built balsa wood flying models. During WWII, he also assembled and painted kits of solid wood scale model aeroplanes as school projects.   These were intended to be used as identification aids in the war effort, but they were later supplanted by the better known mass-produced black solid rubber models.

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A variety of early solid wood scale model kits, including the rarest of them all – the Maircraft DC-3 in 1/48 scale (lower right)

(click on any to enlarge) 

As an adult, he turned to building and flying control-line aircraft that were powered by glow-ignition engines.  But living in a small mobile home with a wife and three children placed severe storage limits for his flying models in addition to curtailing his hobby budget.  And so by about 1955 he had returned to scale modeling, starting with the “mixed media” kits of the era – solid balsa models with a few injection molded plastic detail parts.  He continued with some of the earliest all-plastic models as they became available.

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Strombecker multi-media kits, Monogram Speedee-Bilt Thunderjet and SuperKit and Speedee-Bilt Gift set (click any to enlarge) 

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Wen-Mac Control Line P-39 and Monogram Speedee-Bilt B-24 (click any to enlarge) 

His primary area of interest shifted to commercial aviation, and there were a surprising number of airliner models produced at this time.  For the subject of this first article, I’ve chosen his model of the Stinson Model “U” Tri-motor, a kit that was produced by the Ideal Toy Corporation’s (ITC) as kit #3722.  As it happens, I have an unbuilt example of this kit and the date on the back of the decal indicates that it was printed in January 1957.


ITC Stinson Tri-motor 

The Ideal Toy and Novelty Company had been incorporated in 1907 by Morris and Rose Michtom, who four years earlier had been among the first to mass produce and sell teddy bears.  In 1938, the company name was simplified to the Ideal Toy Company, or ITC, and by the mid-1950s the firm was producing a line of plastic model kits.  ITC became famous (among modern collectors) for their complicated motorized working models such as the Halibut Submarine, USS Enterprise Aircraft Carrier, B-29 Superfortress and Thor Missile Base.  In addition, the F-108 With Launcher is among the ‘Holy Grails’ of rare kits.  ITC discontinued production very early in the 1960s.   In the last decade or so, a few of their molds have been resurrected and new examples of the kits produced, such as Glencoe’s Curtiss Condor and Navy blimp.

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Various ITC model kits (click any thumbnail to enlarge) 

Even by today’s standards, the Stinson Tri-motor would be an esoteric subject for producing a model kit, but in the 1950s the rationale for its selection would seem to have been completely unfathomable.  With very few plastic models of any kind being produced, one would think that one of the sleek Air Force or Navy fighter jets of the period would have been a more logical choice over this rather obscure vintage airliner.  The kit also largely predates the concept of producing models to a constant scale.  The Model U’s wingspan of 66 feet is reduced to 12 inches for the model, or 1” = 5.5 feet (1/66th scale).


Model U – click to enlarge (courtesy of Stephen Sherman at

Incorporated in 1926, the Stinson Aircraft Corporation produced over 13,000 aircraft.  Almost all of these were single engine general aviation aircraft capable of carrying 2-4 passengers.  Included in this total were almost 4000 Stinson L-5s built during WWII for use as Army liaison aircraft.  But in the early 1930s, Stinson also produced a number of larger three-engine aircraft intended for the corporate and commercial airline markets.

Their 8-12 passenger Stinson SM-6000 was similar in size and general appearance to the more familiar Ford Tri-motor.  And priced at $19,000-$25,000 each, the fabric-covered Stinsons were less than half the cost of the all-metal Ford.  But they also made their first appearance some six years later than the Ford.  And with the age of the fabric-covered airliner drawing rapidly to an end, only about 40 were built.


Restored SM6000B (click to enlarge, courtesy of Wikipedia) 

The Stinson Model “U” of 1932 was a slightly larger development of the SM-6000.  Chief among its recognition features was the addition a lower stub wing that supported the landing gear, giving the aircraft the appearance of a sesquiplane.  Only 23 were built, with almost all of them delivered to American Airways.  A single example was also later acquired by Eastern Air Transport, the predecessor to Eastern Airlines.

My father built this kit sometime in the early 1960s, painting it with a brush from Testors small 10 cent bottle of gloss red and applying the kit-supplied decals.  For reasons that he can no longer recall, he omitted the prominent wing bracing struts.  Perhaps one or more was either broken or missing from the kit?

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Dennis’ Fathers ITC Stinson built-up (click any to enlarge)

This kit is an early example in the long history of plastic model kits that were issued with incorrect decal markings.  The kit-supplied registration of NC432M was actually used on c/n 9000, which was the prototype for the Model U.  The one flown by Eastern was the fifteenth example built, and was registered as NC12129.

A quick Google search located a few tidbits of the history of both aircraft.  NC432M is mentioned in the register of the Davis-Monthan Aviation Field in Arizona.  It landed there on 22 August 1932, eastbound from Los Angeles and enroute to Cleveland with a pilot and four “modocs” on board.  A sidebar to the story indicates that modoc was a slang term in vogue at the time to describe a person who talks boastfully about flying, but who rarely actually flies.  NC432M later saw service with National Airlines in Florida from 1937-41.

NC12129 was originally purchased by the Ludington Line, an airline operating routes from New York-Philadephia-Washington DC, with NC12129 joining its fleet of eight SM-6000s.  Despite having Amelia Earhart as a company vice-president and with a contract bid that was only one-third as large, Ludington lost the all-important US airmail contract to Eastern, and was soon forced out of business.  Eastern promptly bought their fleet of Stinsons.

So there you have it.  Not too much on the topic of modeling per se, but with a hopefully interesting bit of aviation and modeling history tossed in…