Last summer, I took my daughters to the Bong State Recreation Area in Wisconsin. The massive park has miles of hiking and horseback trails, a large camping area, a place to go mountain biking, and even a model rocket range. During my stay, I was reminded that it used to be an Air Force base and was named after Richard “Dick” Ira Bong, the top US ace of World War II. Active from 1941-1945, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the Pacific. When the war ended, and before his untimely death as a test pilot of one of the first fighter jets of our country, he was credited with 40 air-to-air feats. .
As thanks for the trip and a brief history lesson, my daughters gave me a model of his plane — the P-38J, probably the best aircraft of the Second World War and love. The flag is one of the latest designs from the Japanese model maker. tamiya. It was even made in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and Richard I. Bong Center.
I was emotional, to be honest, but also a bit overwhelmed. I haven’t built or drawn a model airplane since I was 12 – although I did spend years back in the hobby of building airplanes. Paint Warhammer 40,000 miniatures. As I got to work, I found that taking a moment to create something completely different was refreshing – and educational. I ended up gobbling up hours of YouTube tutorials and fan-made tutorials too.
So here’s what Dick Bong’s double-barreled warbird taught me about the Space Marines — and the people who love them.
Model airplanes are 40K more expensive
It turns out that while $40k is considered an expensive hobby, the scale model can be a bit more expensive.
You can buy a Tamiya P-38J for about $70 online and maybe less at your local hobby store. The board game-sized box contains everything you need including parts and puzzle pieces. Of course, it does not include paint. The tutorial lists 28 distinct colors – a far cry from the six or eight that I used in my last batch of Dark Angels. Most 40K tournaments have a tricolor rule, meaning you need three colors on each of your miniatures to compete on the table. Scale modeling, on the other hand, requires much more precision to make each component realistic—especially if you want to get into a competitive lap.
Come to see that there is also a healthy ecosystem of aftermarket parts.
A video I found on YouTube from last year – literally the only one I could find that specifically showcased this toolkit – gave an in-depth introduction to these add-ons. The build video, created by a YouTuber called Detailed Scale Models, includes a molded plastic gun bay, engraved bronze wing interior parts, and more different versions of aftermarket cockpit equipment. What stunned me was learning that there was such a thing as holographic printed water slide decals with standout features for all the instrumentation in the cockpit.
Then I found a USAF F-4 Phantom fitted for the summer of 1967 — another plane that I personally enjoyed — by user 11bravo on Britmodeller.com. The photos are a bit blurry, but the details on this thing are absolutely stunning. His year-long build featured a variety of aftermarket kits, including “replacement seats (AMS), dashboard (Quinta) exhaust nozzles (GT Resin), Mk 117 bombs (VideoAviation), AIMs), -7 Sparrows (Brassin), AIM-9’s (Brassin), wheels (Brassin) and canopy (Airscale).” I estimate the build made him come back at least $350 per part — more the stock kit itself, in accordance with $161.
Same materials, different tools
Most scale models are made of polystyrene—like the kits from Games Workshop. But the fit and finish of these components are completely different.
Space Marines are little bastards with curvy bodies and their various components, like shoulder pads and pads, are layered in a way to hide the seams connecting them together. That’s not always possible in the world of scale modeling. One of the wings on my P-38J is made of about five components — a two-piece lift surface, two-piece control surface, and a single wingtip at the end. All these bits must be perfectly aligned or the seams will be exposed. Making matters worse is the fact that some of those deviations will only show up after you’ve applied a coat of primer on top.
Solution? Lots and lots… and lots of sanding, which I haven’t really done with a 40K model before. It’s just not necessary.
I started with small sanding sticks – the flexible, sandpaper-like material – before moving on to automotive-grade 1,000-grit wet sandpaper for the final coat of paint. In the end, I polished off various real metal colors with a soft cloth, swearing to god for not keeping my hobby space cleaner and more dust-free. It turns out that spraying highly reflective paint onto a flat surface in a dirty basement isn’t the best way to recreate the gritty realism of a world at war.
In fact, there’s so much sanding that has to be done on some model planes that scale modelers often just say “damn,” sand the areas until smooth, then sculpt. Engrave details back into polystyrene by hand. Scribble tools, as their name suggests, allow you to cut new panel lines, deep into soft plastic, but getting good results requires a steady hand. Meanwhile, negative riveting tools let you replace hundreds of individual holes to represent the pins that hold classic warbirds together. Some hobbyists will simply get rid of all those negative studs, opting instead for elaborate positive stud kits – dozens and dozens of holographic water slides custom made on every The surface of the plane is like a tattoo.
However, along the way, I gradually fell in love Tamiya Super Thin Plastic Cement. It’s low odor and extremely viscous, which means you can rely on capillary action to glue the inside of your model from the outside — and it’s also handy when you’re doing complex 40K builds with details and patterns as thin as paper.
I’ve also rediscovered how useful a good, sharp hobby blade can be to tweak a model’s fit and finish before painting. After years of using Games Workshop Moldline Remover instead of blades, I’m not sure I’ll be back any time soon.
Remember that blade, though: My fingers have healed well, thank you for asking.
The best accessory for your hobby space
The best part of this little entertainment is that it gets my kids involved in my miniature hobby.
Both my daughters were inspired to buy me that P-38J after I talked about the plane’s uniqueness as it flew over the campfire at Bong Recreation Area. It made sense to them as I wandered into their room late at night for the past few weeks to demonstrate the next step in the painting process. They don’t care about chain swords and plasma weapons, and that’s okay. But this little plane is a work we can share.
That’s how I ended up creating a new addition to my hobby space: a second chair. Now my girls have a seat at the table, a place to spend time with me as I meditate and think about the inner workings of a new and challenging craft. My youngest brother is even trying to draw miniatures. Firstly? Her special edition female mage from hero.
I learned that scale modeling takes a lot of time—just like modeling for 40K. I may not be able to do a long winter camp in the woods with my family, but we can still spend some quality time inside. No screen needed.