“Now Boarding: The Birth of Air Travel”

Museum of Flight Model Exhibit

“Now Boarding: The Birth of Air Travel”

Text & Photos by Tim Nelson


NorthWest Scale Modelers (NWSM) is an amazingly informal confederation of modelers in the Seattle, Washington area, tucked in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States. The club originated in the late 1980s, and since about 1992, has maintained a successful partnership with The Museum of Flight (TMOF). That alliance enables club meetings on site, a large model exhibition each Presidents Day Weekend (mid-February), some special projects, and a recurring series of model displays in the lobby.

Beginning in 2006, NWSM has now staged 56 model displays! The display themes are negotiated with TMOF years in advance, and commemorate major anniversaries, align with TMOF events or major exhibits, or just show off something cool. It’s a real win-win for everyone – a stimulus for building and platform to show NWSM models to large numbers of people, and interesting, fresh, ever-changing displays for TMOF. Our newest display, curated by yours truly, is a celebration of the centennial of the beginnings of commercial air travel – taking a look at the years 1919-34.

Scroll to the end of the article for zoomed pics of each model.









Planning for these displays takes into account the subject matter, availability of kits, the nature of those kits, canvassing local modelers for relevant already-built models or volunteered builds, and last but not least – recruiting builders to fill gaps. Our late friend Stephen Tontoni was the primary display curator in the early years, and we honor Stephen with a scale figure of him in the cases. Those who now volunteer to curate these displays are typically enthusiasts for the topic to be featured. Some displays – anything related to World War II, for example – generally are supported by a wealth of decent kits and “off the shelf” models. Others are more challenging – our 2014 exhibit on Fire Bombers required a significant number of challenging custom builds and a cadre of motivated modelers. Any display of post-World War I civil aircraft would definitely fall into the “challenging” category.

Civil aircraft between the world wars, commonly referred to as the “golden age” of aviation, is a genre near and dear to me. A display featuring the dawn of early mail planes and airliners was a pet project of mine, and accepting the challenge of a large number of daunting builds, I began years in advance to formulate a subject/kit list and a list of fellow modelers to embark on the journey.








Years passed and various builds progressed, reaching a fever pitch in the two years leading to installation. Many builds by your author and others were still in work just weeks (or hours!) before the big day. A few were not completed and other on-topic models were substituted.

One of the final stages of display preparation is the creation of interpretive material, model description placards, and display case backpanel graphics. NWSM collaborates with a fabulous TMOF exhibits professional to develop these materials – a very important part of a professional looking display. NWSM is generally responsible for content and TMOF is generally responsible for graphics, design, and physical production. This particular display inaugurated our use of a stand-alone “monolith” to provide background info without consuming precious display space.

The Display

December 5, 2019 was “D-Day” for this display, the big installation night. The intrepid modelers removed models from the previous “Spitfire” display, and began the intricate task of installing highly delicate early airliner models in a rational sequence. After final checks, the vitrine case tops were set in place and we declared “Now Boarding: The Birth of Air Travel” to be finished. Huzzah!








The models in the display cases are all in the Scale of Kings, 1/72. The subjects, kits (many highly modified), and their respective modelers are as follows:

  • Avro 504K (QANTAS) [Airfix] – Bill Glinski
  • Blackburn Kangaroo (North Sea Aerial Navigation Co.) [Contrail] – Tim Nelson
  • Boeing Model 200 Monomail (Prototype) [Dekno] – Bob Peterson
  • Boeing Model 247 (United Air Lines) [Williams Bros] – John Newcome
  • Boeing Model 80A-1 (United Air Lines) [Broplan] – Bill Glinski (installed in “Phase 2,” January 2, 2020)
  • Bréguet 14 (Aéropostale) [AZ Model] – Jack Matthews
  • De Havilland DH.66 (Imperial Airways) [Rug Rat Resins] – Tim Nelson
  • De Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide (Misr Airwork) [Heller] – Neil Makar
  • De Havilland DH-4 (U.S. Mail) [Airfix] – Bill Glinski
  • Dornier Delphin Do L Ia (Prototype) [Classic Plane] – Tim Nelson
  • Dornier Do JII Wal (Lufthansa) [Huma] – Russ Bucy
  • Douglas DC-2 (Eastern Air Lines) [MPM] – Neil Makar
  • Farman F.62 Goliath (Československé Státní Aerolinie – CSA) [AB Model] – Tim Nelson
  • Focke-Wulf A 16 (Luft Hansa) [Planet] – Tim Nelson
  • Focke-Wulf F 19 (Prototype) [Planet] – John Miller
  • Fokker C.1 (Fokker Air Tours) [Roden] – Tim Nelson
  • Fokker F.II (KLM) [Classic Plane] – Tim Nelson
  • Fokker F.VIIb/3m (Japan Air Transport Co.) [Valom] – Morgan Girling
  • Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT (Pan American-Grace Airways) [Monogram] – Neil Makar
  • Handley-Page 0/400 (Handley Page Transport Ltd.) [Airfix] – Bill Glinski
  • Junkers F 13 (SCADTA) [Revell] – Don Conrard
  • Junkers G 24 (Aero O/Y) [Revell] – Ken Murphy
  • Kalinin K-5 (Aeroflot) [Amodel] – Tim Nelson
  • Latécoère 28 (Aéropostale) [Plastic Passion/SBS] – Tim Nelson
  • Lockheed Vega 5C (Shell Oil Co.) [MPM] – Tim Nelson
  • LVG C.VI (SNETA) [Ardpol] – Tim Nelson
  • Ryan M-1 (Pacific Air Transport) [Greenbank ] – Jim Schubert
  • Savoia-Marchetti S.74 (Ala Littoria) [SEM] – Paolo Marcucci
  • Sikorsky S-39 (Private) [CMR] – Russ Bucy
  • Vultee V-1A (American Airlines) [Special Hobby] – Tim Nelson (removed in “Phase 2”)
  • Zeppelin Staaken E4/20 (Prototype) [Classic Plane] – Tim Nelson

I scoured my stash and the web for suitable period figures from Preiser, Reed Oak, Shapeways, and other sources to add both scale and a human touch.

In addition, we hung four models in the air space around the cases to help draw visitors toward the display. These models are:

  • Dornier Merkur (Ad Astra Aero) [Scratchbuilt, 1/24] – Scott Kruize
  • Handley-Page H.P.42 (Imperial Airways) [Airfix, 1/144] – Bill Glinski
  • LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft – DELAG) [Hawk, 1/245] – Doug Reed
  • Savoia-Marchetti S.55X (Special 1933 Formation Flight) [Delta, 1/72] – Russ Bucy

A lot of work but tremendous fun as well!

Many thanks to all of the above modelers who undertook many difficult and exasperating builds to complete these models. If you are in Seattle before April 2, 2020, come check out this informative and entertaining look at the dawn of air travel. It’s right outside the “Wings Café.”

For more insight on what goes into developing this type of model display, listen to this podcast episode produced by TMOF.

If there is a museum in your area, consider approaching the folks in charge about a similar model display partnership. You’ll promote history, education, and the hobby!

Tim Nelson


The following good old-fashioned print titles are good introductions to the early years of air travel. Some are easier to find than others…

The Airline Builders, Oliver Allen, “Epic of Flight” series, Time-Life, 1981

The Illustrated History of Air Travel, Brian Walters, Marshall Cavendish Limited, 1979

This Was Air Travel, Henry R. Palmer, Jr., Bonanza Books, 1955

Early Airliners, Chris Chant, Phoebus Publishing, 1980

Scroll Down for Zoomed Pics (J. Miller)⇓

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