Itty bitty bombers built in Eagle
EAGLE, Colorado ” Dr. Steve Oakson’s dental patients know he can handle painstaking, small-scale detail work. What they likely don’t know is that in his off-hours, he employs those fine motor skills to create World War II era model aircraft.
The recreation room in his home has the look of a staging area for a major battle … in miniature. Glass shelves stretching across the room and spaces above the cabinets are lined with painstakingly assembled model aircraft. Bookshelves covering most of one wall are stuffed with research materials ” books and magazines that detail the physical characteristics of the historic aircraft and relate pilots’ stories. Oakson estimates he has built more than 300 model planes; but he said he doesn’t keep track of numbers. His work is fueled by a passionate interest in aviation, particularly World War II era planes. Oakson notes the years between 1938-46 marked a frenetic period of aviation activity. All of the nations involved in the war combined produced 200 – 300 different aircraft. For a model-maker with a passion for that period of history, that means there’s plenty of raw material to work with. But it’s no small thing for Oakson to commit himself to a modeling project.
Currently, Oakson has about 40 models in various stages of assembly. Each miniature involves hours of assembly time. Models vary from 30 to 200 pieces. Once a model is meticulously glued together, it still must be airbrush painted in a historically accurate color scheme.
Make no mistake: Oakson’s work bears little resemblance to the snap-together toy models kid build. His miniatures are three dimensional representations of history, realistic right down to oil stains and weathering marks. A single model requires multiple searches through the research materials for details and color choices.
“I kind of consider it a different perspective on history,” says Oakson.
Oakson got his modeling start through his grandparents, who owned a hardware store that stocked kits. Much of his early work, however, fell victim to spectacular firecracker-induced explosions. He rediscovered his childhood hobby while in dentistry school.
“It’s good handiwork and it helps with the dexterity in my hands,” Oakson explains.
But while the actual process of building models provides challenges and rewards, Oakson says it’s the historical connection that comes with fashioning an accurate model of an actual aircraft that he most enjoys. During a stint in the Navy, Oakson treated several pilots. He loved listening to their dogfight stories. In particular, Oakson will never forget the pilot who told him about a memorable engagement with a German fighter. The pilot/patient regaled him with the story of a frantic air battle.
“When he landed his supervisors told him he was very lucky to have survived because he had met up with one of the top German aces at the time,” recalls Oakson.
The world is rapidly losing the World War II veterans who can share their stories first-hand. While there are numerous books and periodicals that have preserved their history, Oakson believes there’s nothing something about holding a replica of an actual fighter jet to give a bit of historical perspective.
“Most modelers enjoy the historical research that goes before any project begins ” searching out serial numbers or squadron markings, the correct color scheme for a given time period and personal information about the personnel involved with the actual subject,” noted Chip Davis of the International Plastic Modelers Society’s Denver Rob Wolf Chapter.
Along the Front Range, there are modelers clubs in Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder and Colorado Springs. Enthusiastic modelers meet monthly to share stories and show projects. Davis’ chapter also publishes a monthly newsletter that includes a full page listing of new products/kits available to hobbyists. Living in Eagle makes it difficult for Oakson to participate in a regular club; but he occasionally attends model air shows to present his work.
Oakson’s models have earned several regional awards. One model of a 1950s era Navy jet nicknamed “The Cutlass” scored a Best in Show trophy. “The Cutlass wasn’t really a successful aircraft, but I always liked the looks of it,” Oakson said.
Advances in technology have affected modeling options. Oakson noted kits now available are much more realistic than the crude options that were available in the 1950s and 1960s. But more accurate molding means more challenging models. Take, for instance the KI-45 aircraft ” nicknamed “The Nick” ” that Oakson has been working on for about 10 years.
“This one, I have wanted to throw against the wall several times,” jokes Oakson. “At one point I put it away for three years.”
As he gently handles the Nick model, Oakson explains how its vacuum form presented several challenges in both assembly and airbrushing. He estimates the project is about 98 percent completed, with only final details and weathering to complete. He wants to add exhaust markings.
The serious modeler wants to complete a replica that looks like it actually flew missions. That’s where the historical research comes in. For instance, Oakson’s models of planes that flew in the South Pacific during World War II have faded paint that reflect the extreme weather in the region. He pulls a Japanese model plane off the shelf to demonstrate another bit of history: By design, the model’s paint appears to be peeling away.
“In the later stages of the war, the Japanese didn’t prime their airplanes,” Oakson explains.
His model of a Corsair ” the aircraft made famous in the television show “Baa Baa Black Sheep” ” is a replica of the plane flown by a pilot nicknamed “Lurch.” The squadron numbers and detailing are accurate representations of his actual Corsair.
While most of Oakson’s work is done for his own enjoyment, he has occasionally taken on modeling commissions. He’s built models of planes someone has flown; or, in the case of one Navy admiral, commanded. Doing a model on commission isn’t a money-making endeavor, Oakson notes. By the time he’s paid for materials he figures his labor costs are paid in the range of pennies per hour.
But that’s something anyone with a passionate hobby can understand, along with the dilemmas of displaying handiwork and dropping pieces.
“My rug is a carnivore. It eats little pieces,” says Oakson. “And I used to hang models from the ceiling, but at some point, it always seemed like the thumbtack gave out.”
Beyond the expected frustrations that come with such fastidious work, Oakson worries that the days of plastic modeling are numbered.
“The modeling industry has been declining,” he notes. “It does take time and patience and kids, for the most part, want instant rewards.”
But when his grandchildren come to visit, Oakson always tries to pique their interest in modeling. Years will tell if his efforts pay off.
“I am hoping I’ll be able to pass some of this along.”