Vacform company profiles
The list below is not intended to be comprehensive. More profiles will be added as information becomes available.
An RAF engineer-fitter for many years, John Adams on leaving the service bought a small model loco casting company Millholme Models, but his real interest was in aircraft. He rapidly found a niche by offering a line of metal castings of propellors,wheels and radial engines for RAREplane vacform kits. Their use was recognised by modellers and Aeroclub blossomed from small beginnings in 1982 to becoming, at one point, Britain's largest kit manufacturer, many of them vacs in 1:72 and 1:48 scale and many with metal or injection-moulded parts.
The works were based in Nottingham where John had his home, but he and his much-loved Aeroclub Roadshow were present at scores of model shows and expos all over the country. He has now retired but frequently gives good advice and information on several websites.
A list of kits can be found on the UAMF web site.
Aircraft in Miniature Ltd
Company web site at http://www.aim72.co.uk/
Part of this company site contains vacform Transport Wings kits. These are mostly of large civil types.
John Tarvin, owner of Burnaby Hobbies on the West Coast of Canada, was one of the first customers to receive a RAREplane kit in 1969. He used a Mattel Vacuform toy machine to make his first of many kits which restricted the size, thickness and quality of his operation. However, in the late 80s, there were more than 50 kits of very unusual aeroplanes done in this manner, including the rare Short Mercury seaplane - a companion to Contrail's Short Maia composite kit - and the high-wing Fairey Long Range monoplane.
Refer to this site for photos of kits and more information.
Run by Franz Schaedler in Germany, the company first started in the mid-1960s by selling injection-moulded accessories for existing kits, such as radar arrays, pods and armament modifications in small packets.
On seeing a RAREplane master mould and vacform in 1971, the owner quickly copied the idea and marketed a vacform Anson fuselage.under the Airmodel label. From there it grew to issueing ten new complete airplane kits each month, good subjects but not of great quality, until Franz died in 1980. The moulds were bought by Richard Frank of Frank-Modellbau who had his own range of vacform kits and were marketed into the 1990s. (Even now in 2014, many
vac kits are for sale: see website).
Jim Wood, an ex-USAF and transatlantic airline pilot became an active partner in the Airmodel company. He flew the master mouldings via air to Germany, made by the hands of Ray O'Neill a New York craftsman who copied a first RAREplane kit and rapidly produced 400 vacform aircraft for his own use. Jim did the headings and construction drawings for Airmodel kits which, when he retired, enabled him to illustrate his own excellent Esoteric US Navy kits.
Amera Plastic Mouldings
This company proucdes a range of vacform buildings and settings that are suitable for use in dioramas, some of which are sold as Airfix products. The mouldings are in a variety of scales and for different periods in time.
In the 1990s, Andy Pack was a good motor parts and model shop in Ross-on-Wye run by three brothers. Gordon Stevens visited several times and this perhaps inspired the owners to try their hand at vacforms. Without a complete knowledge of the process, the first kit of the 1:72 King Air was born early in the new century and perhaps sufferered in production. The model shown in this web site was constructed by a very adept craftsman and, most surprisingly, looks effective. .
One other kit has been issued of a De Havilland 10 Amiens.
A still active company in Germany producing an interesting range of vacform kits.
Contrail / Sutcliffe Productions
Gordon Sutcliffe did not like the RAREplane subjects and, in August 1971 produced 'Conversion Unit No.1' which offered vac parts to modify Airfix bomber kits to transports. Unit 2 was issued later but the first kits, still under the Sutcliffe label, came in October 1972 and were a Horsa, Hadrian, Welkin and Ju 290. The kits were quite crude male formings without detail but were of some large subjects that modellers badly needed. Sutcliffe was a physical training teacher at a school near Shepton Mallet in Somerset who built his own vacform apparatus and hired local pupils to help production, so quality sometimes suffered.
His Contrail logo did not appear until 1974 and a year later, he had a large range of moulds mostly of large multi-engine subjects with a speciality in flying boat subjects, including the
huge Short Shetland. Extruded struts and decals were included and the kits were remastered to make them more accurate in later days. Most of his output was in 1:72 scale but several
1:48 military aircraft were offered. In later days, others seem to be involved in the business
such as Gerald j Elliott and Sanger, who appear still to be marketing Contrail kits today.
A list of Contrail kits can be found on the UAMF site here.
A discussion with photos of box art can be found on the UAMF site here.
Dynavector Air Models
This Tokyo-based company produced a small range of 1/48 scale vacform kits. It was originally set up by Taro Tominari in Reading, Berkshire a Japanese modeller with great talent and ideas for a range of quarter-scale kits of modern warplanes. Several excellent kits were issued in the mid-1990s such as the Sea Vixen, Skyshark,Scimitar and Gannet and are probably the best examples of vacuum-formed model kits ever made. The company ceased production in 2010. Information about its products can still be seen at this web site (below).
After the Airmodel brand ceased trading, Jim Woods conection ended and, being retired and living in the UK, he tried his hand at editing a model magazine for a while. But he dearly wanted to produce something of his own and so commenced Esoteric Models, a range of good 1:72 vacs that featured US Navy aircraft of the 1930s - Grummans, Great Lakes, Boeings and Curtiss biplanes all with colourful decals and comprehensive plans and parts under the title 'Naval Aircraft Factory'. Using master patternmakers like Joe Chubbock, the line sold well in the USA and rapidly expanded, though there can have been little profit in it because too many gifted people were involved, from mouldmakers to artists and on to printers and vacformers.
Some RAREplane subjects were listed and Gordon Stevens supplied a line of modern naval planes such as the Mercator, XF10F Jaguar, BTD-1 Destroyer. Sadly, after a few years of satisfying his many followers and himself, Jim died at the peak of his powers - a great loss to the world of model aircraft.
Mike Herrill enjoyed American aircraft of the late 30s and 40s and produced vac kits under the name 'Nostalgia On Wings'. Nearly 80 subjects were offered from an Abrams Explorer to a Waco Biplane, all in 1;72 scale and mostly moulded by the undetailed male method with a few by the female method with some exterior detail. Commencing in 1979 the line was mostly marketed in the USA but were available for many years until the owner took his retirement. They seem to be quite rare to find now though most subjects have been available in resin or by short-run injection moulding. But where else would you find a Bellanca C-27A or a General Aviation AF-15 Flying Life Boat of the US Coast Guard?
Jim Horseman, owner of BMW Models the kit importers of Wimbledon, employed an out-of- work Airfix pattern maker named Joe Chubbock to help produce a line of vacformed buildings and bases for wartime dioramas called 'Formashape'. Joe then suggested a range of simple 1:72 aircraft called 'Formaplane' and the first issues in 1976 were a Norseman, Seahawk and a Mig 3. More offbeat 1930s aircraft followed, and then many WW1 biplanes which were Joes speciality, though some larger modern aircraft such as the Vulcan bomber, Nimrod, HS 748 and Hastings were issued later.
BMW Models went out of business in 1982 and Formaplane moulds were bought by Capital Model Supplies, however that company collapsed the next year and the master moulds were
bought by a mail-order company MHW Models in Keighley, Yorkshire who continued selling and producing new kits for several years. Joe continued making model patterns and moulds until he passed away in the mid-1990s.
A list of kits can be found on the UAMF web
Editor of the Plastic Kit Constructor and PAM News magazines, Ron Firth was a well-known figure
at model shows around the UK for 40 years. His interest started off with flying models but in the early 1970s he asked Gordon Stevens how he should advertise a new magazine concentrating on plastic model aircraft. Though the market was small, Ron relied on readers to supply the copy free of charge and regularly published for 30 years. He also broke into the vacform business by creating Hallamvac featuring neat 1:72 kits of the smaller RAF military aircraft such as the Pioneer and Twin Pioneer, Welkin, Brigand.and Auster AOP.9. A man who did a lot for vacforms in his quiet gentlemanly way: it is sad that he is now lost to us.
A list of kits from this company can be found on the UAMF web site.
Khee-Kha Art Products
This is one of the few remaining companies that produce vacform kits. The company is run by Lars Opland,an enthusiast modelmaker in Alaska. It specializes in bush aircraft, i.e. small aircraft both ancient and modern, designed to operate in rugged conditions such as the Canadian and Alaskan tundra areas. The company's web site is at this site. The kits are excellent examples of modern vacforms with resin accessories and fine decals.
Bill Koster formed Koster Aero Enterprises in 1966 and used a vacuum-forming process to mold plastic conversion accessories to modify Monogram 1;48 scale model kits such as the Spitfire, P-51, Me-109 and Fw-190. Later on in the 1970s, he had success with complete kits of a Fokker D.VIII and a Sopwith Triplane, Douglas A-20 and Lockheed PV-1 Ventura among others.
For many years, he was one of the few to vacform in the larger scale and his kits were highly regarded, though difficult to find outside of the USA, most being sold by direct mail-order.Bill is thought to be retired now.
Les Cooper, an excellent modelmaker and associate of Joe Chubbock (Formaplane) formed this company in South London in1983 but the first kit, a 1:72 Bristol Scout D was not issued until
1985. A series of neat WW1 vacs of less well-known biplanes ensued, mostly available via direct mail, some of them known as Scaleplanes and Expomodels. The owner moved to the Romsey area and was active in the local model club in recent years.
Bob Archer was an English aeroengineer who worked for Douglas in California. His hobby was aircraft history and model making and he had a model shop in Orange County in the late 1960s. San Antonio Hobby Shop and Archers were the biggest outlets in the state, both taking a couple of hundred assorted RAREplanes every two months to wholesale around smaller stores. Bob was fascinated by vacforms and rapidly produced many pages in the US Scale Modeller magazine with builds and full-colour pictures, naturally featuring the kits he imported. His output was prolific and he used many nom -de -plumes though rarely used his own name.
Bob visited RAREplanes in Britain a couple of times and he showed the early drafts of his US Army Colours volume 1 (Monogram) - and he learned how to make a vacform kit. He returned to America and started his own line of large Nova vacforms in 1975 which included an XB-35, Tu22, KC-135 and C-141 transport.
Ray O'Neill was a member of a New York modellers group who wanted many kits that were not available in the early 70s and decided to follow the RAREplane style to make their own range of vacforms. Not long after, they had amassed a list of more than 300 masters they could use but, they confined their production to about 15 copies. Some outsiders managed to trade kits for the exotic subjects but the mouldings were very rough and required heavy finishing. It is believed that many of the masters or mouldings were used in the origination of the vast Airmodel line of kits in Germany.
Pamela Veal Ltd.
Refer to this site for information and photos (Airfix Collecting web site section on vacform kits).
Peter Lockhart was a fine modeller with a shop in Hastings, Sussex. He was a regular reviewer of vacform kits and liked them so much, he produced an exciting line of his own called Project X that featured about 30 of the post-war British and American experimental aircraft. Very accurate, with metal accessories and decals, several have been used as masters for injection-moulded kits. The line was dropped in favour of resin kits which went under the name Maintrack, but activity ceased on the sad death of its owner.
A history of vacuum-formed model aircraft development, the problems of running a 'cottage industry' focusing on Rareplane vacform kits, all of which led to a vast industry of more than 400 amateur kitmakers worldwide, was written on the Aeroscale web site by its founder Gordon Stevens. It can be read at this web site. 'The Big Vacform Revolution Started Here: Part 1 & 2'
A list of kits has been compiled at the UAMF web site.
The Rosemont Hobby Shop of Trexlertown, PA run by Hal Sproger commissioned Joe Chubbock in the UK to produce the masters and moulds for an excellent line of WW1 biplanes in 1:72 scale.
The shop now has different owners and it is not known if they ever marketed more of these kits.
Subjects included a Martinsyde Elephant, Roland D.II, Packard lePere Lusac, Caudron G.III and
Armstrong Whitworth FK.8.
This company is still trading, using a combination of moulds from Contrail and ones that are original to the company. It has an especially interesting range of large aircraft in 1/48 scale.
Bob Wheeler of Leeburg,VA produced a number of 1:144 vintage transport aircraft such as the Farman Goliath, Wibault 282, Sikorsky S-38 and Fokker F-32. Two 1:72 kits are listed, a DFW Mars and the record-breaking Fokker T-2 which, though plain, was excellent in shape and was supplied with decals. A Fokker Universal was also produced. A Gotha Ursinius G.1 was announced. Bob Wheeler died in 2011 though the company web site is still active.
Very few vacs were made in the small 1:144 scale, but certainly the longest and most prolific of producers are Densil and Tricia Wade of Welsh Models. Their line dates back to 1984 when they kicked off with several RAF fighter jets and later moved into multi-engine types like the Andover, Varsity, Valiant and Valetta. The kits were plain but had decals and accessories and they slowly gained a solid following, however the experience of Gordon Stevens was borrowed to pep up the mouldings and he produced moulds for a Victor, Nimrod, Hercules, Belfast, Argosy and Short C-Class flying boat. Since that time, many more kits such as the larger civil and military transports, have been added to the list and the Welsh Models website - still very much alive - is packed with good modelling subjects - of a reasonable size.
Whirlykits - Whirlybird models
This company is based in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. It produces a range of decals and vacform kits especially of British and US experimental types, almost identical to the old Project X
line. They aso produce coversion parts.
More information about vacform manufacturers is provided on the Modelkitcollectors site in a section devoted to vacform models.