The 10 Best Model Airplane Kits
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in February of 2018. If you don't have the time or money to get your pilot's license, these model airplanes are the next best thing. Patterned after some of the most recognizable aircraft ever to patrol the skies, these kits will make an attractive addition to your collection, as well as sure-fire conversation starters whenever you have company over. And, of course, they're fun and challenging to put together. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 02, 2020:
Like our last editor noted, it's difficult to nail down the best in a category that's so subjective, so our main goal was to create a balanced selection of builds that appeal to all skill levels, budgets, and a variety of tastes. We decided to remove the Daron Skymarks Boeing 777 despite the makers updating the livery, as we felt it was not compelling enough to keep around when compared with the newly added Guillow's P-51 Mustang.
While Guillow's design and the Tamiya P-51D Mustang both replicate the same aircraft, there is a stark difference between the two kits, and as the P-51 Mustang is largely considered one of the best fighter aircraft of WWII, we felt it necessary to give enthusiasts two options when it came down to it. Guillow's is simpler, smaller, and appropriate for ages 14 and up, while Tamiya is far more detailed and difficult. It also pays painstaking attention to historical detail. Collectors will likely want both, but either would be a solid choice depending on your experience level.
We also brought on the Hands Craft DIY to join the likes of Guillow's Piper Super Cub 95 and Miscy 3D Wooden as an in-between choice as far as difficulty is concerned. It's another one that doesn't require any glue, hardware, or decals. The Piper Super Cub is great for kids as long as an adult is present, but is likely too tricky to be done on their own. With the Miscy you can leave them to their own devices with minimal assistance. The Hands Craft, however, is challenging enough to be entertaining, but not frustrating, and it looks pretty great when all is said and done. It's definitely only meant to serve as a display, though, as the pieces are quite fragile and wouldn't stand up to rough play.
May 06, 2019:
It's tough to objectively select the best model airplane kits, since most of the choice comes down to personal preference as well as skill level. That said, the Tamiya P-51D Mustang, the Tamiya Corsair Birdcage, and the Revell Messerschmitt remain fine options. The first two are more complicated and detailed, making them good for those who enjoy the building process. The Hasegawa F-22 Raptor also takes some work — and is handsome when finished — but has quite a number of decals, which not everyone enjoys. For kids, we kept the Guillow's Piper Super Cub 95, which requires more adult supervision, and added the Miscy 3D Wooden, which probably requires less. These are fine for children who haven't reached their teen years yet, whereas our other choices may not be. Finally, we also decided to keep the Daron Skymarks Boeing 777. It's a snap-fit model, so it won't have you tearing out your hair, but the coloring seems off to many. If you're a stickler for such details, you may want to give it a swerve.
Large Scale Planes Large Scale Planes is a handy resource for hobbyists to find reviews, forums for discussion, the latest news, industry updates, and more. They also have instruction PDFs and detailed information on specific models down to the company, kit number, noticeable issues, and stats for improving scale accuracy. largescaleplanes.com
MegaHobby Aftermarket MegaHobby is a retailer that carries thousands of various aftermarket detail parts to help give your build an added level of realism. Pieces range from photo-etch sets to resin upgrades to decals and plenty more. You'll find brands like Eduard, Archer Fine Transfers, Toms Model Works, Model Car Garage, Detail Master, Paragrafix, Verlinden, Starfighter Decals, G-Factor Models, and Warbird Decals. megahobby.com
Models Aren’t Just For Kids
None of this is to say that models aren’t also totally appropriate for kids.
If you grew up assembling models of any kind, there’s a good chance that you still have that passion burning inside you. For adults, model building isn’t something that’s widely accepted. The one forgivable form of such a pastime might be the construction of a giant model ship inside a bottle, or perhaps a detailed miniature recreation of the American Civil War.
Most other model kits seem as though they bear some stigma in the hands of a grown-up, which is a shame, because putting together and painting a complex assembly like the many of the models on our list is absolutely great for you. Sure, it’s a sedentary activity that might put a little strain on the eyes if you aren’t using the right tools, but model building was never meant to be a cardiovascular event. It’s meant to stimulate the mind.
Models marry two great intellectual stimulants: puzzle solving and creative expression. Model building offers both in that the actual construction of a given model offers users a specific, solution-oriented brain teaser, while the painting and decoration allows for strokes of creativity. Granted, many builders will strive for historical accuracy, but it’s important to remember that many pilots in several wars often customized their aircraft, painting on pin-up girls, the gaping jaws of sharks, the names of women they loved, and a litany of other individual emblems that model builders can incorporate into their own designs.
None of this is to say that models aren’t also totally appropriate for kids. Children can gain all the same cognitive and creative benefits that adults can when building any model. We just want to make sure that anyone over 18 doesn’t exclude themselves from this kind of enjoyment simply because they think they’ve aged out of it.
Of course, the best situation is one in which an adult and a child can assemble and decorate a model together. This is an incredible opportunity for parents or grandparents to spend some quality time with the youngsters in their family. Maybe it’ll lead to some deep, thought- and emotion-provoking conversation. Maybe it’ll be time passed bonding silently, the task at hand bringing you closer together. Whatever the case, the finished product, sitting on a shelf in their bedroom, will always be a reminder of your relationship.
Choosing The Perfect Plane
When it comes time to select your model airplane kit, keep in mind that this is a personal decision. The look of the completed piece will probably be the thing that sways your pick one way or another, and that’s perfectly okay. You should balance the potential enjoyment of putting the thing together against what it’ll look like when it’s done, otherwise you might find yourself getting half-way through construction, hitting a difficult point, and giving up — why put all that work in for something you don’t find aesthetically pleasing?
That said, many model builders are aware that the journey is more important than the destination. Or at least that it’s a tie. To that end, let’s look at some of the other aspects of a given model plane that could help you choose from among our great selection.
One of those skills is patience, and if a box says a given model will take X number of hours to complete, don’t think you’re going to skirt around that.
You should probably ask yourself how much time you want to devote to construction. More pieces, smaller pieces, and larger planes will usually take more time and require a higher level of building skill. One of those skills is patience, and if a box says a given model will take X number of hours to complete, don’t think you’re going to skirt around that. Sometimes you have to wait for a certain component to set in place before moving on to the next step in construction.
When it comes to selecting the difficulty of a kit, it’s vital you know who’s going to be doing all this work. If it’s an experienced adult, then a more complicated kit is fine. This is also true if there’s a kid involved, but an experienced adult will be there to guide and assist. Kids and less experienced builders should ease into the hobby, keeping an eye out for simpler projects that can teach them the ropes and build their confidence.
Another key question is whether you want the model to simply sit there ornamentally, or whether you’d like to see it in action. There are some model kits on the market that are actually capable of flying, or that are so robust in their construction that they might make decent toys for the kids that put them together.
It’s also valuable to consider any real-world equivalent of the plane you purchase. Many model kits are based on actual warplanes that flew in combat, or even some commercial jets and other historically significant flyers. A WWII buff might really like to get his hands on a Messerschmitt BF 109, but if their grandfather was shot down by a German fighter, then gifting a model of that particular plane might be in poor taste.
Awesome Aviation Gifts
If you’ve got a pilot in your life, or just an aviation nut who may or may not be interested in enrolling in flight school, there are a ton of great gift ideas on the market that could complement a model plane kit.
That also means they have an appreciation for a variety of tools related to aviation.
Pilots are often engineers at heart, which is why putting together models is such a perfect pastime for them. That also means they have an appreciation for a variety of tools related to aviation. Things like aviation headsets or pilot’s kneeboards are purpose built devices that can accompany budding fly-boys and girls on all their expeditions.
One of the most iconic tools known to pilots is the pilot’s watch. These watches are usually a bit bigger than others, to make them easier to read amidst the heavy vibrations inside a cockpit, and some feature added tools like slide rule bezels that can help you calculate fuel consumption if your instruments fail. The best thing about this gift is that it’s available in some form for just about every budget level, and the lucky owner can enjoy it all day long, whether or not they take to the skies.