How to make model balsa wood aeroplanes look realistic

Updated February 21, 2017

Balsa wood is a common material used to make model aeroplanes. Because of balsa's lightweight properties, it is a suitable wood for model aeroplanes that are powered by an engine or simply an elastic band. Flyable model aeroplanes range greatly in style, but it's possible to make a toy aeroplane look realistic by decorating it to match with a real life counterpart.

Purchase a balsa wood model aeroplane kit that is built to look like an actual aeroplane. Many balsa models are built to mimic World War I and World War II aeroplanes. If you're going to finish the plane to look real, it has to have a real shape and structure.

Build the model aeroplane according to the instruction manual.

Research the actual aeroplane on which your balsa model is based by searching for that style of aeroplane on the Internet or in the library. You may choose to copy a specific historical plane or simply pull different elements from different aeroplanes to develop your own design.

Upgrade some of the model aeroplane's elements, if necessary. Hobby shops sell more realistic looking pilot figurines, for instance, that you can paint and use to replace the pilot that came with your aeroplane kit. Wheel upgrades are another area that can add realism to your model.

Paint your aeroplane model with a paint scheme that is historically accurate. If the aeroplane in question was commonly painted camouflage, select two or three appropriate colours of model paint and paint a camouflage motif on the plane. Military aeroplanes are commonly painted camouflage on the top of the fuselage and wings, and grey or light blue on the bottom of the fuselage and wings, making them difficult to detect from above or below. Ensure your paint job reflects how the actual aeroplane was painted.

Paint small details such as rivets, hatches and doors. You may also wish to paint flat black residue around the engine's exhaust pipes to give the illusion of exhaust soot.

Purchase decals authentic to your aeroplane at a hobby shop and apply them accurately. To apply the decals, fill a bowl with warm water and cut out each decal using scissors or a hobby knife. Place the decal in the water until its backing begins to loosen, then slide the decal into the appropriate place on the model. Position it accurately and dab away excess water with a paper towel.

Things You'll Need

  • Model paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Decals
  • Scissors
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About the Author

Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.