What are Those Black Models Hanging in the Museum’s Nissen Hut?

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Ever notice the black model airplanes hanging from the ceiling of our Nissen hut next to the Spitfire in the Museum’s World War II Gallery? Known as Identification (ID) or Recognition models, they were used by Allied military services in WW2 to teach airmen and others how to recognize aircraft at a great distance by their silhouette.

Initially the US government sponsored a program to have junior and senior high school students build ID models from wood. After trying other materials, industry came up with a process to mass produce injection molded models from Lumarith Plastic, a product of Celanese Celluloid Corp. This material had great impact strength, was light weight, and could be suspended by wire. Almost every Allied and Axis plane was produced in 1/72 scale in quantities of up to 40,000 each. Cruver Manufacturing supplied most of the WW II production. 

The plastic used to make the models had a limited life span. Over the years the models would give off a pungent vinegary smell, wings would droop, and various parts would bubble or melt. There was no known way to stop this process or prevent it from occurring. For this reason, several of our models are reproductions made from available plastic kits. There are currently recasts available from online sellers. Finding intact originals is becoming more and more difficult.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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