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How Airfix gave me my wings

WRAF portrait of Akilah
Airfix kits set more than glue - they formed Akilah's career goals

Airfix has gone into administration prompting a wave of nostalgia for their childhood among middle-aged men. But it wasn't just boys who pieced together the model planes, as Akilah Skevington, 51, tells in our readers' column.

On Friday evenings during my childhood I would receive my pocket money. A half crown from Mum and a half crown from Dad giving me a princely total of five shillings - that's 25 pence to you decimal types!

Then on Saturday morning I'd walk down to the high street. Sometimes I'd take just my pocket money and head for the stationers to see if they had a new Biggles story. If they did, that was 2/6d (12 pence) spent and the other half crown to save.

Other times I'd raid my 'piggybank' and make a beeline for the toy shop with its shelves full of Airfix model kits. Those long lines of colourful boxes with their exciting pictures were an Aladdin's cave to me and I'd go straight to the WWI and WWII airplanes.

Girl solo

I'd get the occasional curious look because no matter how many or how few other customers were there, you could guarantee I'd be the only girl.

What's that? A girl - looking at airplane kits - in the late 60s! I suppose it was unusual but then, not every girl is obsessed with Barbie and Tressy or horses.

My collection of completed models slowly grew and my bedroom ceiling became festooned with dog-fighting planes: Sopwith Camel, RE8, SE5, Albatross, Fokker Triplane - the 'Tripehound' flown by the famous 'Red' Baron Von Richthofen.

Akilah
I learned good working practices from building those models - reading the instructions, checking all the pieces were present, smoothing rough edges...
Akilah

From WWII, I had Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito, Beaufighter, Halifax, Lancaster, Flying Fortress; Me109, Me110, Stuka, Ju88 & Heinkel. I even seem to remember having a Japanese Zero.

From the post-war era I had a Harrier, both the English Electric and the Lockheed Lightning, but the only civilian plane I ever built was the Concorde.

I didn't realise it then, but looking back I learned some good character traits and what today are called good working practices from building those models.

Reading the instructions, checking all the pieces were present, smoothing rough edges with a razor blade or nail file to ensure a good fit of the pieces, not rushing the job and of course very careful painting afterward taught me planning, good preparation, attention to detail, thoroughness and patience.

Especially patience. You couldn't deal with fiddly things like the wing struts on those biplanes without it, particularly if you wanted to be really ambitious in your model making and glue in lengths of cotton thread to represent the wing wires as well.

Military head start

As I grew older, my interest in model planes and the fictional RAF of Biggles et al gave way to an interest in real planes and the real WRAF. By the time I was 15 my career goal was set.

After I turned 17, I contacted the RAF Careers Information Office in Cambridge and over the next 12 months or so I went through the various steps leading to 'joining up' - application forms, parental consent forms, trade (career) assessment tests, medicals, vetting, attestation (swearing in).

Finally on 5 April 1973 I packed my suitcase and my parents saw me off at the railway station as I set off for RAF Spitalgate near Grantham in Lincolnshire.

Air Force life turned out to be all I had hoped for and I had a thoroughly enjoyable six years.

I have no doubt that the skills and good habits I'd acquired from building the Airfix kits gave me a head start in adapting to military life which certainly reinforced and expanded them, and they have stood me in good stead both during those six years and since.


Below is a selection of your comments.

A soulmate! I used to make airfix tanks and planes and my model tanks lead onto 3 years in the Royal armoured corps. Incidentally I still make tanks, but I've graduated to radio controlled large scale models. I still get just as much pleasure painting the fiddly bits as I did as a child.
Peter, 29, Nottingham

As a lifelong Airfix plastic modeller, I spent a number of years teaching the subject and delivering workshops in local schools and colleges, to both young and older students. The teaching staff in schools rapidly realised the values of the skills being developed building these models, all of which are complementary to the national curriculum. Skills such as research (of the subject), history, the practical assembly, and the artwork that goes into the finished artwork. As such I can wholeheartedly empathise with this story. I have now passed these skills onto my children, my youngest son now being a successful competition modeller at national level.
Ian Bartlett, Cumbria

I too had dreams founded by the Airfix kits I used to build. Some were bought for me, but most were saved up for from my pocket money. Alas, my dreams of becoming a pilot were swept away due to hayfever, but I am so glad that somebody else managed to see their dream turn into reality.
Paul Z, Stanford-le-Hope

It is a very sad reflection on the general state of things in the UK that Airfix has gone into administration. We no longer make things ourselves and all the toys, pastimes, and hobbies that taught youngsters basic engineering skills such as mechano, airfix, model railways and model boats and aircraft have all but disappeared. As a result, we buy things already made, we cannot fix things when they go wrong and end up throwing them away.
Alec, Letchworth Garden City

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