Before World War II, the British Frog company produced a series of plastic scale models in 1/72 scale. These have since become collectors’ items, and a few have been reproduced in recent years. Their quality, at least in the one I have, a Hawker Hind Trainer, is pretty high even by modern standards. During the war, Frog produced 1/72 scale models in black plastic for the British armed forces, and when the United States became involved in the war, similar models were produced in this country.  In Germany, recognition models were also built, some of cardboard with flat fuselages and  round tabs to simulate the outline of the airplane when viewed from various angles.

A large scale program was initiated early in 1942 to have high school students build models for the military for recognition training.   Schools participated in the National School Model Building Program, and by February, 1942, a total of 90 official sets of plans and cardboard templates had been produced by the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics.  One of these, the FW-190, is reproduced here. These were printed on card similar to index cards or manila folders, and  distributed to schools participating in the program.

Additional model plans were added later, as more information became available, as some of the early models were of airplanes that didn’t actually exist, or were so inaccurate in outline that they were hardly recognizable. These were built of pine or other hardwoods for durability.  Later, kit manufacturers, such as Strombecker and Comet, produced kits for the program. Strombecker pioneered the hardwood pre-formed model kit in the late thirties, and produced these all during the war, many in 1l/72 scale. I can recall building Strombecker P-40’s, Curtiss SBC’s, and even B-17’s, while later, they produced a B-17, B-24, B-29 and even a P-61  and P-80 in the same scale, but some of these were postwar issues.

One problem with wartime kits was the fact that balsa wood became unobtainable, and even “block and slab” kits from such firms as Comet and Maircraft used hardwood, making them harder for kids to whittle out.


I have two recognition models of the Focke Wulf FW-190. The first is an original I received from a friend who knew that I liked FW-190’s.  It is dated July, 1942, and is quite inaccurate in outline.  The second is a reproduction done by John Nitka, of Tucson, AZ, who recast a later version in resin and painted it black. This represents a later military issue although there is no indication of its date, and is reasonably accurate in outline.


After the war, these models became surplus, and were sold by the thousands in Army-Navy surplus stores throughout the nation. I recall seeing barrels of them in stores, and they were pretty cheap. Anyone in the military had access to them, and many brought them home. My father, who was in the Civil Air Patrol during the war, brought home quite a few of them, including such types as the Cant. Z.1012, Heinkel HE-115, Savoia Marchetti S,79 and S.M. 81, and B-17. I also recall him bringing home a very large box as a Christmas present. It must have been about 3 by 6 feet, and when we opened it, it was a complete collection of Army recognition tank models in what must have been 1/35 scale. They were cast in metal, but that is another story. I wish we had saved them.

After the War, Polk’s Model Craft Hobbies, of New York City, marketed these “black plastic” models in their store and by mail order, and I recall buying a Japanese Zero (A6M2) and drilling out holes for the landing gear and a prop so I could play with it. I also recall seeing a metal cast Martin PBM “Mariner” recognition model, although I don’t know how many were made of this material. I did know a guy in Tucson who had a collection of I believe about 135 different ID models, and his collection was among the top ten in the country.


I believe that both in the US and the UK, the recognition model has had a great deal of influence on subsequent modeling. First, it introduced scale, where all of the models in a collection were to a constant scale, and were therefore comparable.  Second, it introduced upgrades, where a more accurate outline resulted in a more accurate model. Third, it gave the modeler and enthusiast an idea of the wide variety of aircraft types in existence, possibly stimulating interest in the subject. And fourth, it established 1/72 scale is the most prolific scale, since more different types of aircraft have been produced in this scale than any other.  So it is probably true to say that model airplanes did have a part in winning the war.

September 2007