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Imperial Aeronef Haifeng

By Steve Hilby

Long ago, attracted by the low price, I bought the worst model ship kit in the world, the Zhengdefu model of the predreadnought Zhen Yuan; after looking at it and realizing that it truly was the worst model ship kit in the world, I stuck it on a shelf, not really knowing what to do with it. Many years later, inspired by Jules Verne, I pulled the box down and began working on a Robur the Conqueror style airship.

Since Robur's ship was made of paper, a Chinese invention, it seemed to make sense to keep the ship's Chinese nationality, and the Imperial Aeronef Haifeng was born.

The orange monster, named Irving because it seemed appropriate, came a bit later, to add a bit of pulp adventure drama to the model.

The project started by covering the kit's original decks and deckhouse sides, which had monstrous trenches apparently intended to represent seams between planking, with sheet styrene; I also built a new pilothouse and a searchlight platform, squinting at blurry pictures of dreadnoughts as I did. The turrets and guns were (sigh) crude, so they got rebuilt; and about this time my wife pointed out that the airship needed protection from below, so I added a couple turrets to the underside (a fat lot of good they did against Irving).

Motivation and steering are handled by a counterrotating prop on a boom at the stern and a pair of (moveable) rudders. Lift is provided by a Verne-ian forest of rotors: Cast resin bases, aluminum tube shafts, and clear styrene rotor "blurs"; rigging is invisible sewing thread filched from the better half.

Predreadnought ship fittings in 1/350 scale being in short supply, I ended up scratchbuilding a lot of ventilator scoops, lockers, cranes, and other bits, including a Bleriot-style stick-and-linen aircraft as a "dinghy". (Since I couldn't bear the idea of building another, the port-side dinghy is off on some sort of mission.) I used photoetched railings and little people from Tom's Modelworks and doors and hatches from Gold Medal Models to add a bit of detail.

Irving started as a McDonald's giveaway toy; he got wings ('cause every nightmare monster needs wings), big clawed hands, and big pointy teeth. The eyes on stalks were added later, just to creep my wife out (worked, too!).

The base is plywood covered with drywall mud; trees were made from model railroad scenery foam on about a zillion little brass wire trunks, which caused a bit of a stir at the airport scanner on the way to Wonderfest.

Paint is enamels for the aeronef, with oil weathering, and oils for Irving.

All told, there are something like 1079 parts in the model, 14 of which are from the original ship kit. (You can figure out for yourself what kind of person counts parts in a model he builds.)

The writeup makes it sound like a painful project, but really, the whole thing went like lightning, in that happy daze of inspired creativity we're lucky enough to get sometimes, and I had an incredible amount of fun building it.



Rear Left

Right Rear

In Progress Bow

In Progress Left

In Progress Shaft Base

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