RAF Museum celebrates the golden age of Airfix kits

By Richard Moss | 30 May 2013

Exhibition preview: Airfix : Making History, Royal Air Force Museum, London, June 1 2013 – May 3 2014

a photo of a display of Airfix model kit boxes
© Courtesy RAF Museum
O-O scale Ancient Britains; 1:72 scale Eighth Army infantry; or how about the seven-inch scale Henry VIII construction kit? If these mysterious cyphers mean anything or cause pleasurable pangs of nostalgia to wash over you, then this exhibition at the Royal Air Force Museum in London is definitely for you.

Airfix: Making History focusses on the box artwork of the iconic brand and it will have some older visitors conjuring the redolent aromas of Humbrol paint and longing for childhoods spent quietly gluing, painting and hopelessly grappling with RAF roundel transfers in saucers of water. Younger visitors unaquainted with these strange rituals of boyhood and middle-aged-manhood will marvel at the patience of their forebears.

As the RAF Museum laconically puts it: “Modelling teaches patience, discipline and the advantages of following the instructions; virtues which are, regrettably, held in little esteem today.”

a photo of a display case with model kits and boxes within it
© RAF Museum
Things may have moved on for the children of Britain, but for generations of youngsters the Airfix brand has been - and still is - synonymous with the making of model kits. Put simply, what Hoover is to vacuum cleaners, Airfix is to model kits.

It’s quite an achievement for a brand whose inauspicious beginning was as the largest manufacturer of plastic combs, plus a few toys and other domestic products on the side. But in 1952, Airfix embarked on the production of construction kits with little ship The Golden Hind.

This was rapidly followed by the first of its aircraft kits, and what must surely be the best selling model kit in the history of model kits, the 1:72 scale Airfix Spitfire, which began production in 1953. The exhibition coincides with the 60th anniversary of the latter and the 75th anniversary year of the company itself.

Paul Hudson, the Head of Marketing at the RAF Museum and a self-confessed Airfix-a-holic in his youth, admits to formative years making 1:48 scale Spitfire and Lancaster models, plus “a very fulfilling summer at the age of 11 making the model of the HMS Victory".

Little wonder, then, that he describes the pieces on display, as “beautifully executed pieces of art”. And who's to argue?

For their part Airfix, who have worked closely with the RAF Museum to mount the display, describe the museum as the perfect venue to celebrate their 75 years in the business.

“Given that Airfix has used the collection at the Royal Air Force Museum regularly over the years on which to base its models, we felt that holding an exhibition which explored an often overlooked element of the Airfix experience, our box art, was both logical and pertinent," explains Marketing Manager Darrell Burge.

“Having viewed the exhibition on display, I would urge Airfix fans across the globe to visit London and see it.” 

Prepare for model maker heaven.

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @rafmuseum.

More pictures:

a photo of a display case with model kit boxes, model plastic trains and a painting of a railway goods tank
© RAF Museum

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