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The Solid Model Airplane Kit Years


    From 1950 to about 1954 I built a number of the Dyna-Model 1/48 solid model kits. Not many, as they were expensive for that time, but several were Christmas presents and I recall to this day the simple, elegant graphics on the kit boxes as they emerged from the Christmas wrapping. I also built Strombecker solids and Monogram Speedee-Bilts and Superkits, but the Dyna-Models remain foremost in my memory of this era. I also remember running down to the junior high library each month for the newest Model Airplane News where I would turn to the Dyna-Model ad and just soak in the photos of those beautiful models. The photo of the F8F Bearcat was by far my favorite, and it was a recollection of these ads that got me involved in the present research.

    Remembering that photo, I thought I would try to find a Bearcat, maybe a nice squashed kit with missing parts, thus no longer a valuable collector's item, that I might feel comfortable in building. I contacted a number of kit collectors as well as Lou Buffardi, whose model column I had been reading for years in one of my favorite publications, SKYWAYS, The Journal of The Airplane 1920-1940. Lou asked if I were that interested in Dyna-Model kits, perhaps I would complete the research Ed Marciniec had started some years ago for a KAPA article. I contacted Ed who sent me a file containing much of the information in this article. At the same time, I was successful in contacting Tom Kemp, the son of Percy N. Kemp who, along with several others, started up the Dyna-Model Products Company in 1946. Tom continues to run the company to this day producing model railroad kits and accessories. He and his mother, Marie-Luise Kemp, were very helpful in providing information.

    There is some uncertainty about who all belonged to the Dyna-Model start-up group shortly after World War II . Apparently the group included Percy Kemp, Steve Wheelock and David A. Anderton, all engineers at Grumman Aircraft in Bethpage, LI, N.Y. during WWII. The latter was also the David in the Allen-David line of models in 1946. It was Anderton who in early 1946 drew the plans and wrote the instructions for the first model, the F8F Bearcat. He later became a well known aviation and space author and photographer. Included in his work are THE HISTORY OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE, STRATIGIC AIR COMMAND, B-29 SUPERFORTRESS and he teamed up with illustrator Rikyu Watanabe on the well known Crown book, HELLCAT.

    Later in 1946 a W.Young did the plans for the second release, the P-47. It is unknown how much, if any, involvement Young had in the start up and running of the company. By 1947 a Mr. Andersen was doing the plans and continued to do so until 1950.

    A March, 1949, Air Trails Pictorial "Model of the Month" article on the Dyna-Model P-38 kit provides a good deal of information about the early days of the company based on an interview with Steve Wheelock who described himself and Percy Kemp as "real scale fans." At Grumman, Kemp was a project engineer involved in casting technology with a degree from Pratt Institute. He was also interested in art and graphics. Wheelockís background was in architectural engineering and stress analysis. Both left Grumman after the war. It was no surprise that the F8F Bearcat was the first, and arguably the best of the Dyna-Models kits, for both had worked on the actual aircraft (as did Marie-Luise, whom Kemp met at Grumman). "Having worked on the real ship for so long, we had become so familiar with it that we probably could have produced it without drawings," said Wheelock. Both were committed to offering a kit that would provide the highest level of scale and detail. At the heart of these kits were the many metal parts having been made by what was described as a "special method of pressure casting, with secret innovations by Kemp." But that drove the price up and they were already entering a market with a glut of much cheaper kits. "In the beginning," reported Wheelock, "everyone said we were crazy. One of the biggest distributors told us it was impossible to sell solid models. Many a time in those first tough days we were tempted to offer less complicated kits of our models at half the price. We decided to plug it the hard way, no matter how rugged the going became. Fully detailed kits we wanted and fully detailed kits we would have."

    The first two kits, while featuring cast metal parts, did not have the carved fuselages that became characteristic of all the kits later. They were simply balsa blocks cut to profile. Both Wheelock and Kemp apparently thought model builders would want to carve their own, even though carved fuselages were already found in the kits of some of their competitors. They were wrong on this count, and by the release of the P-38, F6F and P-51 in December, 1947, all featured fuselages carved on gun stock carving lathes.  Here are two examples, the FW 190 in basswood and the P-40-F in poplar.  All were carved using bronze and aluminum patterns designed by Percy Kemp, and these still exist. They are little works of art in their own right and were doubled so that two fuselages were carved at once.  Tom Kemp provided these photographs.  On the left, top down, the F-84, F-80, F-86 and F9F.  On the right, F-82, F4U, ME-109, P-40, Spitfire and FW 190.

    Being traditional "round engine" men of Grumman, both Kemp and Wheelock were surprised when the    P-51 kit became by far the most in demand. "We found," said Wheelock, "that the Mustang is the most popular airplane. It outsells the others by two to one. All the others run pretty much neck and neck. In the beginning we felt that real airplanes powered by air-cooled engines offered the most attractive opportunity for providing scale parts, such as the intricate engine. But the Mustang has a liquid-cooled motor and eliminates any possibility of including a nice engine casting in the kit." And this was even more of a problem with the jet kits that were to be released in 1952. They didnít even have a propeller! Speaking in 1949, Wheelock continued, "This same problem is true of the newer jet-powered airplanes which we analyze for future possibilities. These ships are so simple that it is hard for us to figure out how we can give the consumer all we would like to give him." Neither, according to the unknown writer of the Air Trails article, thought that commercial or private airplane models held much interest for the typical solid modeler and none were produced by Dyna-Model.

    Tom Kemp says in a recent e-mail to me that at hobby shows, people started to notice the quality of the castings his father had made and "the model railroaders were soon after him to make castings for them. Among the very first things he modeled was a coal conveyor that was an instant hit. It is still one of our best selling items!" By 1949, Dyna-Model Products Company was doing an equal volume of business in model railroad accessory kits and aircraft kits. They also had a line of model boats. The single ad found during research promotes a 16 foot Chris Craft DeLuxe Outboard Runabout with a length of 16" and a beam of 6." The kit featured a fully carved hull, many metal fittings and was designed to be operated with a Ĺ A engine. It sold for $3.95 without engine. Other boats mentioned in the ad include an 18 foot outboard cruiser and several inboard speed boats. Tom Kemp says that a line of duck decoy kits was also offered that were made on the same machinery that carved the model airplane fuselages.

    In June of 1946 Dyna-Model hit the road running with a full-page promotion in Air Trails Pictorial showing a fine drawing of their quarter inch (1/48) scale F8F. August of 1946 finds a half page ad at the front of the magazine, again featuring the F8F, this time with the three view from the model plans sheet in the background. The company, operating out of a building at 75 South Street (later across the street at 76 South Street), Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York, released its second kit, the P-47 in December, 1946. This was advertised in another full-page spread featuring a large photograph of a model built from the kit. It was a masterpiece, as was the model F8F featured in so many ads through the years. These and other promotional models were the work of Percy Kemp. Tom says his father was "a bit of a perfectionist," as well as a master craftsman. He still has many of the models his father made, some of them illustrated in this article, although they have been pretty badly knocked about over the years.  That is a shame, as the quality of many of these models, especially the F8F and P-47, has stood the test of time in terms of accuracy and workmanship. They were built to the best sets of plans that Dyna-Model was to do.

The December, 1947, release of the P-38, F6F and P-51 featured plans done by a new draftsman, Andersen. No new kits were released in 1948 or 1949, but in April of 1950 the F4U, P-40 and FW 190 were introduced. Again drawn by Andersen, the F4U was the early birdcage canopy model (all models released previously were of a later version of the subject) and the drawings may have been, like the P-40F, derived from the Modern Hobbycraft plans published some six years earlier. On the right is a recent photograph of an original promo model of the P-40-F.  The FW 190 appears to be directly based upon the Modern Hobbycraft plans that had been done during the war without sufficient information. They were not as accurate as the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics plans of the FW 190 produced for the national high school ID model building program and which were widely distributed after October of 1942.

The October 1950 release of the Spitfire and ME 109 kits featured plans drawn by a Mr. Newton. The latter was my first Dyna-Model kit, and while I remember it clearly and fondly, even to my 11 year old eyes it didnít look quite right. The plan turns out to be a copy of the early W. A. Wylam drawings done in October of 1940. The model depicted might be a ME 109B used in the Spanish Civil War, but not WW II. The built up model pictured in ads reflected the inaccuracies of this old drawing. The Spitfire plan also had some accuracy problems, being a simplification of Wylamís Spitfire I also drawn in October of 1940. It is notable as being the only Dyna-Model kit plan showing camouflage details, as did the Wylam plans. The built up model featured on the plans and in ads of the period is still extant, although missing some fittings. Better drawings of all the 1950 releases were available in the late Forties. Interestingly, the early 1950s Aurora plastic kit of the ME 109 also used these Wylam drawings. Had the 1945 Modern Hobbycraft drawings of the ME 109 and Spitfire been used by Newton, the Dyna-Model kits would have been considerably more to scale.

With much fanfare in the 1952 Air Trails Annual, the Dyna-Model jet line was announced, consisting of the F9F Panther, F-80, F-84, Mig-15 and F-86.  Illustrated on the right is a recent photo of the original F-86  model featured in the ad on the left, but over fifty years later.  And here is the original ad photo of the Mig-15. These plans were also drawn by Newton, and were his last efforts with Dyna-Model. While better than the ME 109 and Spitfire, some still suffered deficiencies. In particular, the canopies tended to be too large, that of the F-80 making the plane look more like a T-33 or F-94. On the other hand, the F9F Panther, like all the other Grumman aircraft done by Dyna-Model, was quite good.

The release of the F-82 and F9F Cougar kits in December of 1953 proved to be the last of the Dyna-Model aircraft line. The plans were drawn by a Mr. Piel, and they were essentially re-workings of the P-51 and F9F Panther drawings, as were the kits themselves.

In preparing this article, I studied the plan/instruction sheets for all 17 models. Despite the different draftsmen named, from the second kit on, there is a clear continuity of style throughout. In my conversation with Marie-Luise Kemp, I asked her if she knew any of these draftsmen. She knew David Anderton, but the rest were mysteries.  However, she noted with some surprise that Newton was her husbandís middle name and that Piel was her own maiden name! She could not account for W. Young and Andersen. She thinks her husband did all the drawings with the exception of the Anderton F8F Bearcat, as he had done all the model railroad drawings. I suggested it might have been an inside joke to use these different names if he had actually done all the plans himself. Mrs. Kemp said if that were the case, it would have been just like her husband!

As to the models themselves, what does one find in a first introduction to a Dyna-Model kit? The graphics on the box itself promise a quality product. Each box is in a bold, solid color printed on coated stock laminated to the cardboard. At the bottom right of the box top is a white rectangle on which is printed the name of the aircraft kit enclosed. One end panel is white, again with the aircraft name (although on at least one jet box, the F-84, all the jets were listed with the aircraft enclosed underlined). On the face of each propeller driven aircraft is a stylized and simplified front view drawing of a P-47. There was one exception to this, as the first release of the F8F Bearcat featured a front view of that aircraft on the box. On the later issue of this kit, the box had the standard P-47 front view. On jet kits there are four front view outlines, in different sizes, of an F-80. Around the sides of all boxes are descriptions of the contents of the kit. The presentation is simple, uncluttered and elegant. The solid colors vary from kit to kit and are as follows: F8F, dark blue; P-47, bright red; P-38, light brown; F6F, yellow; P-51, light blue-green; F4U, green; P-40, orange; FW 190, black; Spitfire, dark brown; ME-109, black; F-82, red; and all the jets were black with the exception of the F9F Cougar which was very dark blue (and it also had the stylized P-47 graphic, not the P-80). A 1952 ad proclaims, "Look for the Dyna-Model JET LINE in the Jet Black Box." Tom Kemp thinks his father not only designed all Dyna-Model box art and did the advertising photography and graphics, but was also responsible for the neatly stylized DMP logo.

The kit itself, when picked up, is surprisingly and satisfyingly heavy with the hardwood fuselage and all the metal fittings. Upon removing the box top, another hallmark of the Dyna-Model kits is revealed. No kit parts or plans are visible, but rather a solid black, heavy sheet of coated card stock folded to fit snugly over the length and down the inner sides of the box. Outlined in white on the card stock are wing and tail section templates, fuselage sections (on the Bearcat and P-47 kits) and, most interestingly, a jig to be cut out, folded and glued together on which the model was to be built. Iíve only seen this on the Allen-David F7F Tigercat and the Maircraft P-61 solid kits of that era.

So far everything reflects quality, far ahead of other kits of the era. But what about the actual kit parts one finds upon removing the black template/jig card stock? One might first notice the carved hardwood fuselage (not found on early issues of the first two models, the F8F and P-47). The wood was mostly poplar, but other woods were also found.  Ed says he has seen at least three kits with carved balsa fuselages, the P-40, P-51 and ME 109, and I have a FW 190 (pictured above) in basswood.  As to the quality of the carving, the general shape is there, but a lot of cleaning up remains to be done. The cockpit cut out, again unique to Dyna-Model, goes right across the fuselage so that it must be faired over on each side leaving a hollow area for cockpit details. Wing roots are carved in, but rough. Wings are balsa cut to outline shape and tails are die cut on a balsa sheet. Such features are characteristic of less expensive kits of the era and I think are the weak point of the kits. Basswood would have provided a better basis for carving (although there is certainly the argument that the ease of carving balsa is a more important consideration). In terms of the wood carving and type of wood supplied, the expensive Dyna-Model kits do not provide the quality of the superbly machine carved pine found in Strombecker kits of as much as a decade earlier.

But Dyna-Model does provide a box of metal fittings, and it is upon this feature that they staked their reputation. For the P-38 kit, there are some 45 cast metal parts ranging from the spinners/propellers and landing gears to machine guns and elevator counterbalances. No other manufacturer matched this profusion of finished castings until the later Strombecker and Monogram Superkits, and these were plastic. What kind of metal were they? Tom Kemp reports that his father "Öused a lot of the old linotype metal that was readily available until about 10 years agoÖ. He even used scrap from different sources, blending it Ďtil he got something that cast pretty well. The linotype and ludlow metals really cast pretty well, but had a much higher lead content than people use today." And the quality of design? Well, for the time, they were quite high, but for each model there were only a few unique to that kit. The rest, seats, instrument panels, sticks and armor plate headrest are the same for most kits (jets had ejection seats). Ditto for rockets, bombs, bomb shackles and most tail wheels. The round engine faces were similar. Some of these parts have flash and, like the spinner/props on the P-51/F-82 kits, (P-51 kit fittings illustrated here) require work. Others are fairly clean. This may have been simply a reflection of worn molds, for the masters were exceptionally crisp as illustrated by this photo of a number of them. On the later jets, Steve Wheelock was right, there wasnít much detail to reproduce and the F9F Panther and F-84 have only 16 metal castings total, and the F-86 has only four castings unique to that kit.

Clear, vacu-formed canopies were supplied and were perhaps good for their day, but shapes are often problematic. There may also have been some problems with supplying the right decal sheets for each model. Decals are sharper on the jet releases, but those for earlier models are rough. Better decals were available at the time. The late 1952 released F-82 kit had the 1947 released P-51 decals supplied, and the built up ad model of the P-38 was adorned with the P-47 decals (as well as 4 additional rockets not supplied with the kit). My P-51 kit came with P-47 decals, and a Bearcat kit was recently noted with F4U decals although who knows what had been done with these kits in the intervening 50 years. A photo of a long ago completed F6F Hellcat (as well as the kit plan) shows the same markings as the Bearcat, and the superb built up ad model of the P-47 does not carry the decals supplied with the kit at all. The Spitfire decal sheet provided bright orange British roundels.

Were the Dyna-Model kits the best solids of the day? I would say the early releases were, and the metal castings kept them competitive through the early Fifties. By the mid Fifties the Monogram Superkits, though of a smaller scale, reflected better research and wood machining and thus a more scale appearance. However, I will always prefer metal fittings to plastic, and thus my heart lies with Dyna-Model.

Yet it seems that after the 1952 release of the jet line, the creative juices no longer flowed in the Dyna-Model solid airplane line, the last two kits being but re-workings of older kits. I wonder what the sales were for the jet models. And, of course, the mid Fifties saw the dawn of the popularity of the all plastic kits, and no solid wood model line survived this for long.

Tom Kemp says that most of the men involved in the start-up of Dyna-Model in 1946 had dropped away from the company fairly early on. It appears that the partnership of Percy Kemp and Steve Wheelock lasted at least into 1949, and then the latter left the company and later returned to his native Scotland. Tom says that the solid model aircraft line never was that profitable, and given the popularity of the model railroad equipment, emphasis was naturally shifted to it. There were also the model boat and duck decoy lines, and in the mid Fifties, Percy Kemp had started up a full size boat and outboard motor company. His interests had always been in boats and duck hunting. It is insightful that Tom says his fatherís input for the name of the company had been "Pilot Model" apropos to both boats and airplanes. In any event, by 1959 Percy Kemp closed up shop in Oyster Bay and moved his family to live in primitive conditions on a farm in Maine. The woodworking machinery was left behind and only the model train accessory business continued.

When was the last Dyna-Model airplane kit produced? Probably a good while before the move, but a specific date is not known. Marie-Luise Kemp says that production ceased in 1956 or 1957 and the last of the kits were donated to youth groups. The Dyna-Model Products kits are listed in a 1956 Air Trails industry review, but this was apparently the last mention of the line.

Percy Kemp died in 1982 leaving as a part of his legacy the Dyna-Model airplane kits that provided much joy and many dreams for a generation of air minded youth like myself.



In preparation for this article, I decided to try to build (or at least restore) an original F8F Bearcat kit. In the event, I carved my own using original plans, patterns and fittings. Tom Kemp had re-discovered many of the photos used here as well as the original brass and aluminum masters of fuselages and small fittings. He made a new mold with all the F8F (as well as P-40) fittings and was able to supply me with metal parts I did not have. Here is a photo of the fittings set supplied in the original kit. But before I got those parts, using plans and patterns provided by Ed and a few original Bearcat fittings supplied by John Bell and Roger Cortani, there was enough to get started. I carved the fuselage, wings and tails from basswood using templates supplied in the kit and turned the cowl from the same material. The model was assembled on the building jig after panel lines and moveable surfaces had be cut in with a woodburner. Then it was put aside awaiting the remainder of the fittings from Tom. I had scanned the decal sheet supplied with a complete Bearcat kit (although it was apparently for the F4U) and made patterns in sign makers tape to be applied later.

        In the original kit, landing gear covers were to be made from cardboard patterns printed on the template sheet.  These were, instead, cut out of sheet brass.  After all parts had come in,  the model was primed with several coats of Deft, then Krylon primer. It was completed with several coats of Model Master Dark Gloss Sea Blue polished out with Novus #2 plastic polish. All the under wing ordinance suggested on the plans was added. The folding wing option was not selected. I used an after market Falcon Clear-Vax Bearcat canopy that turned out to be a bit wide for the fuselage as carved. The model was built to the plans, so no changes or detailing were added. 

Thanks to Tomís efforts, I now have metal fittings sets for the Bearcat and the P-40 made from a new mold using the cleaned and polished original masters. They are beautifully done using an 88% tin casting material much superior to the original metal. Anyone who would like to try their hand at these kits can contact DOXAERIE.  I will supply a partial kit consisting of the fittings, photocopies of the plans/instructions and template/jig patterns. The P-40 kit does not provide fuselage sections (as it was originally supplied with the pre-carved fuselage), so the almost identical vintage Modern Hobbycraft P-40F plan that does is included. So now you can build a Dyna-Model kit and not ruin that collectors item you didnít want to touch. Perhaps, if there is sufficient interest, Tom may reproduce the original fittings for other models in the line.

         Doug Emmons with research by Ed Marciniec
                                  Photos: author and Tom Kemp

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