How to Build Model Airplanes & Paint Instrument Panels

Written by larry simmons
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How to Build Model Airplanes & Paint Instrument Panels
Completed aeroplane model on display. (old aeroplane image by Stanisa Martinovic from

Model aeroplane building is a hobby that’s enjoyed by millions of people of all ages and locales. One thing that’s important to a successful build is attention to detail. You want the look of the model to match the look of the real aircraft, and that requires carefully applied paint. An especially difficult part to paint is the instrument panel, due to its many small detailed parts. Doing a good job on the panel adds greatly to the realistic look of your model, and this brings it a step closer to display level quality.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Liquid soap
  • Water
  • Towel
  • Hobby knife
  • Modelling file
  • Plastic cement
  • Toothpicks
  • Modelling putty
  • Paint
  • Wet/dry sandpaper
  • Paintbrush
  • Paper towels
  • No. 2 lead pencil
  • Clear-coat spray

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  1. 1

    Prepare the plastic kit parts for use in the model build. Wash the parts while still in the plastic framework, or sprue, using a mild liquid soap and warm water to remove any residual mould release agent from the factory moulding process that can cause the paint not to adhere to the plastic properly. Rinse the soap away with cool water and then place the parts onto a towel to air dry.

  2. 2

    Follow the manufacturer instructions to construct the model. Every model is different in the individual pieces used for construction but each build follows the same general patterns. Remove the pieces from the sprue carefully, cutting them away with the hobby knife. File down any moulding lines on the model or any bits of sprue remaining.

  3. 3

    Test the parts for proper fit prior to gluing, holding them together and examining the joint. File down any bulges between parts that keep them from joining cleanly. Leave any gaps between parts for later filling. Glue the parts together using the plastic cement. Apply the glue lightly to part seams using the tip of a toothpick and then hold the pieces together for 30 seconds to allow the cement to set. Wait 30 minutes for the glue to dry. Glue all major parts of the aircraft, leaving external parts such as weapons pods and the cockpit unconnected to the aircraft body.

  4. 4

    Fill the gaps between joined parts with model putty. Place a small bead of putty in the gap and then wipe the surface of the model clear with a wet finger, leaving the putty level with the surrounding model parts. Give the putty 24 hours to dry completely before painting the model.

  5. 5

    Paint the model with a primer coat of dark brown or black paint. Brush on a thin layer of the paint as primer, creating a smooth even surface to apply the finish paint coat. The dark colours also create shadows for recessed model parts once the final coat is applied. Wait 24 hours for the primer paint to dry completely.

  6. 6

    Sand the primer paint with a fine grit wet/dry sandpaper to remove any imperfections left from the paint application process. Wipe the surface with a clean cloth to remove any sanding residue.

  7. 7

    Paint the final model colours onto the aeroplane. Use masking tape to mask off border areas for large pained panels so that you have clean lines between colours. Paint in a single direction to prevent a crosshatching look to the model, applying the paint in thin even layers to build up to a solid coat of paint. Alternate brushes used, utilising smaller brushes to cover detailed parts.

  8. 8

    Paint the cockpit using a fine detail brush and coloured paints. Use a dry brush technique to pull out the details of the instrument panel. Dip the brush into the paint and then wipe most of the paint from the brush using a paper towel, until the brush is barely damp with the paint. Apply the brush to the instrument panel details such as the dials and knobs with the dry brush, dusting the paint onto the detailed areas so that only the raised areas of the panel receive the paint covering.

  9. 9

    Use a No. 2 lead pencil to highlight the edges of instrument boxes in the instrument panel, lightly rubbing over the edges with the pencil lead to create a metallic sheen highlighting. Use photos of actual aircraft interiors of the specific aircraft modelled to choose appropriate colours to use on the panel. Allow all paint to dry for 24 hours.

  10. 10

    Glue the cockpit into the aircraft and the cockpit cover over the cockpit. Add any external parts such as weapon pods or landing gear.

  11. 11

    Use the wet/dry sandpaper on the final coat of paint over the outside of the aeroplane to remove brush marks. Wipe the aeroplane clear of sanding residue, and then spray the model with clear-coat spray to give your paint a protective layer. Wait 24 hours for the clear-coat to dry and then display your model where desired.

Tips and warnings

  • Glue and paint your model in a well-ventilated area only, to prevent the inhalation of paint fumes.

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