Cloudground 1:400 airport groundfoil

Now and again I get asked to review an item, usually something provided by a budding manufacturer of airport and diorama accessories. They send an example of the item, which is one of the very few times I actually gain anything from writing this blog – that isn’t what it’s here for at the end of the day.  So far I’ve been singularly impressed with the new products I’ve reviewed, and when things haven’t been up to standard, rather than review the item, I’ve simply told the individual/s in question it isn’t good enough, and not done the review.

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This is after it’s been unpacked and flattened for TWO DAYS. The creases and folds were agrravated by poor packing in an oversized envelope. 

Why? Because there is insufficient  material available for 1:400 especially, less so for 1:500, but not by much. The reason I’d rather send it back, and tell them to start again?  Rather than publicly humiliate them with a bad review, which can deter them from continuing, and even make them give up on the project, I’d rather ask them to think about it, offer some advice, and let them get on with it.

The real thing – in reality there is nothing in 1:400 99% of us have that will ever go on that runway

It’s very difficult as an enthusiast with my own passions, who understands what it’s like to be the subject of negative criticism (you ignore it by the way, as a writer), to want to hurt someone whose own passions have given them the drive to actually do something creative, to fill a need they feel exists, go to the time and trouble of creating it, invest in it, and then try to sell it as a viable product in a very difficult market. A market that’s surprisingly hard to reach for creative types with new ideas. They often have no real clue how to market themselves, and even less of an idea on how to impress a potential retail business client, or a reviewer.

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The smallest aircraft in my entire collection is this tiny Saab 2000 and it only just fits on the runway.

I spent time on the above because I want you to understand why I reviewed this product. The company comes over as professional, it already has a small range of products, it’s website looks very clean and modern, the very epitome of a quality business front-end.

Based in Madrid, Spain, came to me and asked me to review the item. I always say yes, like them, I too, want to improve what’s available for 1:400 collectors.

When the diorama foil arrived – it far from met my expectations on the packaging front to start with.

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An interetsing place Tenzing-Hilary Airport, a mere 1500ft runway. 

An oversized envelope that had, sadly, the crap beaten out of it on the way from Spain – there was no card to reinforce it, duly arrived.

Inside, folded into what appears to be a standard clear cellophane envelope with a professional label card label stapled over the top of it, was a twice-folded diorama foil of Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal, more than slightly damaged in transit. Not very impressive.I wanted to preserve what it looked like out of the packet – first impressions really matter and I was not impressed.

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Airport hard standing is all that’s avialable at Tenzing-Hilary Airport

First off, I checked the website to find out this small 20.5″(52cm) x 14.5″(37cm) was an astonishingly expensive €40 – that’s £35/$42US.

It was heavily creased from being folded, which in my eyes is an unforgivable mistake as the folds never truly come out. I’d expect a diorama foil to be tubed for transport at the very minimum. There was also no instruction on how to flatten it out. Some of these materials can have a very low temperature iron applied on the back to get them to flatten out, some need laying flat for a few hours, some need heavy weights on them for a few hours. Frankly the deep creases in this I doubt would ever go.

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Even this 1:400 Vickers Viscount 806 is too big for the diorama

Before I go on about the quality, why this airport? It’s not big enough for jets, seeming to only manage small propeller aircraft of Saab 2000 sizes and smaller. Even a Dash-8 Q400 or an ATR-72 looks like a struggle on the diorama. The runway is only 1500ft, a size the diorama image at 1:400 could clearly cope with, but shows only half.

So first off why send me this? Why this airport for 1:400 scale, for which it’s entirely unsuited? Why fold it? Add to that the requirement to make cuts into the paper to create the correct angles for this extraordinary sub-regional airport, which is the base for Mount Everest climbers.

I’ll be honest, because this seems like somebody has been there, produced it because it interests them, and failed to think about the possibility that in 1:400 its pretty much pointless.

Diorama foils annoy me because all of them are a bit of a compromise. I use the rather primitive but practical, and highly adaptable, First Choice foil. In fact two of them have to be cut up and modified extensively then fitted together to make it work how I want it, with varying degrees of success. At £40 a set on superbly printed quality thick paper, they’re excellent value for money.

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The Gemini foil is useless to me because it’s based around one of their terminals, and greedy me, I have two but I actually hate them, and would give a substantial amount of money for a major Heathrow Terminal 5 already built and ready to go!

This foil has a weird ground print look that doesn’t strike me as very realistic. It looks more like a beige and green kitchen unit with a fake coloured granite-effect top. It looks better in in a closed shot photograph than it does in the ‘flesh’. The tarmac is good, showing wear, and tyre marks. In all honesty, while the quality of the finish, and the material it’s printed on is quite good, (they use Polyester Polypropylene 3629 SyntiSol PP film WF 170 satin, which is waterproof, strong, and scratch resistant), the image printed on it is little more than average, and while better than some, it’s not a match for the First Choice, despite its many drawbacks.

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There isn’t enough runway even if you could get a 737-500 there. Even this is looking at being gigantic on ths diorama foil that serves no real purpose in 1:400 scale. 

Looking on their website roughly A1 sized foils etc are available, but at €69 (almost the same in USD, and not that much less in GBP), just way too much. At that rate I’d need 4 of those just to cover the current diorama.

The parking A1 sized seem better, but again, the website needs to demonstrate a potential layout, you have to be able to see how it would work, and what it might look like with model aircraft in 1:400 on it.

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The positives are the quality of the tarmac print and detail, really good. 

What I see a market for is a ‘make your own’ airport assembly kit of foils that can be adapted quickly and easily. We all have different amounts of space, different desires and different tastes. Copying existing airports is just not viable for most of us. Strips of taxiways, parking areas (and not at odd angles), terminal base foils to better fit things like the Gemini – that you can make up from sections, that you can even cut out, and replace later (I’ve done that as the diorama changed even with the First Choice foil), that would be ideal.

I admire what Cloudground have tried to do, but it doesn’t seem truly thought through, it needs to be shown working with a functional example, 1:400 models included. Give potential buyers a better idea of what can be done. It’s otherwise all a bit too expensive to take a risk on.

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It just doesn’t look that convincing. Better than some, it would be true to say, but it doesn’t work for me. 

This year it’s time for me to re-build RLSI. The current diorama is 18 months old. I want a big modern terminal, get rid of the Gemini versions, and I want no more than an A1 length runway section. It currently runs over 4 x A1 5mm core boards for the civil area, and just over A2 for the cargo area. How I re-do that I really haven’t the slightest idea right now!

As a score, I’d rate this foil as 6/10.

My recommendation: too expensive, the grass/rock/gravel is unattractive, runway/tarmac better. Check it out by all means but think hard before you buy it.

Check out the website: