A new diorama – Leonard Nimoy International opens – To boldly go where you haven’t been before

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For the last five years and no less than five versions, it’s been called RLSI – Royal Leamington Spa International. This time I wanted what I didn’t have, even though I was well aware that it would probably never be perfect with me building it; greater realism.

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The old RLSI lasted for two years because I just didn’t know what to do to it next time round.
The Gemini terminals are deeply flawed. They have rubbish lighting, they’re indifferently made (there’s a review here if you’re interested: Gemini Jets 1:400 Scale Airport – Airside/Landside Complex GJARPTB) and they’re hideously expensive.  The design is deeply limiting, and it’s little more than some backwater regional airport nobody bothers with out of season. It’s made worse by the terrible plastic roadways and the badly made armed bridges that don’t even fit.

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In a perfect world this is what I wanted – it shows the base plans and pasageways
Having bastardized two of them for long enough, along with 5 sets of First Choice foils (much cheaper, better quality and easily cut up to give a better result of layout), I needed to look at alternatives.

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The perfect area from above
There are very few. Make your own? Not going to happen, maybe thirty years ago, but not now. Buy a ready-made cardboard layout and supplement it with other bits and pieces? To second tier for my ambitions! I did look into it but the guy who makes them couldn’t be bothered to respond, so that was that.

So it means only one choice, Percy Spree’s no-point airport designs. First option, Amsterdam – too difficult a layout for the space available was quickly scotched. The new Princess Juliana – too small. Heathrow – vastly too big it turns out.

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The viable area outlined in red – you can see the second hard stand in use, the foil only has the one on the right
The Heathrow Terminal 5 option is massive. I could have got it on the space available, but there’s another problem. It’s not really designed for anything much bigger than a 772/767. Very rarely 744’s use the main building, but most of them are at T5B & C with the A380’s, and even if they were available, there would be no space to place the buildings.

And then there’s Frankfurt. It’s a vast airport but it has a unique facility – those wonderful pier bays of the 760m (2,493ft) long 7 bay, 11 gate A+ concourse; 4 with A380 capacity. It also has that huge curved observation zone round to the old A and A/Z terminals. I’ve sat there many times, having lunch in Lucullus Nero, it abuts the A/Z complex with an overhead skyrail station. That additional piece of A/Z would give six more full gates, plus one remote position for a Herpa boarding station, in addition to the hard stand. Most of all it could reach my requirement for a 20+ aircraft display combined with taxiing aircraft.

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The vast concourse A+ kit
Several dozen emails later – I’m a bit picky as you can imagine and everything needs to be just so, Percy and I worked out exactly where the available ground foil could be to maximise terminal space. It’s times like this Google Earth Pro comes in to its own. I was able to match up and assess exactly what was needed, order the right kits, the foil and armed bridges.

In due course it all arrived (amazingly well packed) and the foil was something else. Most of you have already seen it in use, but it really does look amazing having one unique piece. It’s downside is it’s overly shiny and reflects a lot of light. Percy was able to produce a lager foil then cut the item to my specific size, while supplying the rest as spares.

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The base is a set of 3xA1 5mm core boards, the next down is the previous airport, and below that the levellers to compensate for a very old wooden floor, all atop a 5ft high shelving unit that contains all the model aircraft!
First off it took two of us to roll it, quite literally centimeter by centimeter, having used 3M Spray Mount. Now some people get pretty blazé about using this stuff, but it’s highly dangerous and very toxic, especially in an enclosed space. You need to make sure anything you don’t want the aerosoled glue to get on is covered up, because it will go places you don’t want and don’t expect. I make no apology for using a fine particle mask and eye guards.

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Rolled out literally a centimetre at a time to make sure there were no bubbles, the 1790mm long section, 545mm wide took abut 20 minutes to lay without mistakes. 

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I was really pleased with the way the foil went down. 

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The older A/Z concourse, the skyrail station (top right) the roofed black area were as far as it would all go in the space available.
It took an entire 350ml can to do the job, but patience and vigilance made sure it worked beautifully. I was delighted with the result.

At this stage don’t let me under-sell the quality of this entire product. I haven’t asked how it was done, but it’s as though an ultra-HD 5K satellite image has been taken, very lightly stylised, and reproduced in astounding detail.  A quick reference to Google Earth Pro will tell you it’s a little out of date as a foil, Fraport have installed a second hard stand adjacent to the one that’s on the foil currently.

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To give the building height some perspective, a standard 1:400 herpa airport bus against a rear section.
That done, it was time to embark on the massive construction project that was to become the highlight of this diorama – the 1,900mm long A+ arm.

It’s difficult to explain my feelings over this.  Firstly, the quality of the print is stunning. I have absolutely no doubt that the project, as a design process, must have taken some remarkable levels of research – and accuracy and quality are things I prize most dearly. Not only that but working out from 3D how to print something in 2D then ensure it can be re-assembled into 3D again – at this scale is mind-boggling. I get it completely in my head, I can see it and understand it, but the practicalities of how to do it, that’s something else.

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One of the spare set shows how many cuts, folds, scores and sections there are to this one unique piece. It’s amazing how it was worked out to keep ne 2D flat become one single 3D tower! If you look to the bottom left that’s a demo of what happens when you use a cheap craft blade. (This was done on purpose to show you as there were plenty of spares from the second set). 
However, there are drawbacks. There is absolutely no margin for error, none what so ever. Zero, nada, nothing. You cannot make a mistake. You cannot have even the tiniest piece of almost invisible card get in the way, the consequences can be visually disastrous.  I have to stress that to you, because if you have little time and patience, this is NOT a project for you.

It’s a paradox, accuracy is what makes it so awesome, but also so difficult to make perfectly.

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I had another large background printed up to, this is a part of it to show detail and quality
Personally I think the A+ building is too big for the construction method used. It needs to be in smaller more complete, more manageable sections to make it easy to put together. It seems unduly awkward and there must be a more user friendly way of doing it.

There are two reasons I say this. Firstly, you end up with an impossibly difficult to manage construct nearly 1.5 meters long. It’s fragile at that size and difficult to manoeuver. I soon realised that even at 1m it was too much to handle.

Secondly, there is a logic driven method to the way it needs to be built, and this applies to every last bit of the entire project. I get it, its logical progress makes 100% sense.

What I mean by this is that each part you complete, drives the fact that the next part needs to be completed, to make the previous part actually hold its shape, and set correctly. As a full completed unit it works, but as part assemblies, it’s much harder to make work over several days, because they just don’t want to go together as easily as if they’d been done all at once.

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From the East end looking West
I was also disappointed that the only way to really make it all work once built, was to stick it down to the foil. That wasn’t ideal, especially if a rebuild, say from accidental damage occurred, or for cleaning. The former came home to roost far faster than I ever imagined.

Building the main halls is easy enough provided you are deadly accurate, know how deep to score a fold line, and in which direction it needs to fold! There are times when this is something rarely explained and not as obvious as it needs to be.

There is an expectation that because the guy who designed knows it, so should you! The best aid, and I’ve referenced it here already: Google Earth Pro. The detail and 3D modelling of satellite images is so amazing now, huge amounts of detail can be seen and if you’re not sure how it should look, you have real life images right at your finger tips. It’s invaluable, especially making the A/Z sections which don’t always make sense at first.

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Three of the 4 A380 gates (A58, A62, A66) up and running – I intend to not really use more than 2 with an A380 at any one time
The problems I encountered with the main A+ building were mainly down to the folding tabs that connect key parts to other key parts.

Even scored, getting some of them to stay attached long enough with wet glue, when there is no way except sticking a ruler in one end and pushing it up against the outer wall 12 inches away and hoping it stays stuck, had to be the hardest. We looked at several options on how to do this and there are none more effective. This large tab would be a problem on one section later.

The gate and armed bridge piers are separate parts, and amazingly complex to cut out properly and fold accurately. Again they suffer from an overdose of logic, it’s virtually impossible to not glue the whole thing at once, If you try to do it in stages, it almost guarantees the next stage won’t fit well for reasons that just don’t make sense. And it’s not like you can have another go. There are no spares in each set. Part of the problem is the extreme exactness required in cutting, you just cannot make even a 0.25mm mistake in some places or a tab doesn’t fold over, the wall doesn’t fit, the roof goes out of alignment and before you’ve seen it, it could have dried solid!


On the subject of glue, the Pritt clear liquid paper glue recommended is superb, it does however dry to stability with lightening speed, so if you screw up, undoing the problem is a no-no.

The giant curved design centre piece of A+ is a massive building by itself. I had the not especially simple problem of it not fitting on the alloted area, which I knew from the get-go. The right half had to be ignored and an entirely fake wall, specially created tabs, internal supports and much besides had to be taken from unused parts to make it work. In fact I was more than a little pleased with how it turned out in the end. One thing I’ve always been good at is improvising the utilisation of an available resource to do something differently!

The curve is something else. It requires a dozen or more gentle soft partial scorings, so that its concave shape can work. There a dozen or more of small tabs to attach the floor and the roof.  It was at this point, my ability to visualise, of which I am generally proud, left the room. I just could not ascertain from the vague instructional plan how it worked and what shape the floor was.

I have to explain here that the floor doesn’t in any way match the outline of the building, because like much of this complex, there are under-building roadways and passages that the foil shows but don’t match the base, which doesn’t match the walls in the way you’d expect. Two of us stood and gawked at it for 15 minutes and In the end gave up and emailed Percy.

Brains make sense of things during sleep. I have some of my best ideas and inspirations in the middle of the night, and if I wake up because of them, I’m one of those people who writes it down so it doesn’t get forgotten, the endings of two of my books have come from dreams. And so it was, problem solved, confirmed with a reply from Percy. You always feel like a twit when you see it and it was so bloody obvious in the first place.

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I would never say this was easy, and it’s not perfect. I did my best and that’s never good enough to me, but I accept my limitations even if I don’t like having them.
Finally building A+ was done. And then one of those tabs that was reluctant to stay stuck must have popped under stress – there’s a surprising amount of engineered-in stress in the structure, it’s what keeps it all together and rigid. A roof sagged slightly and because of the stress, the double folded base concertina began sagging more. I was un-amused. I knew why it had done it, it made perfect sense, but there was no way to fix it so deep into the building length. I got on with building the A/Z part of the structure.

The A/Z is another example of having to make it work while it’s in effect cut-off from the rest of the buildings. But this worked, in fact it went entirely to plan. The piers are interesting. They have a protruding glass side that has to be made separately, then glued to another separate piece, the main pier.

That in turns is glued to a lower layer, a central layer, and a roof. The curved roof of the station was dead easy. However once again, there is the endless, remorseless logic issue. It forces you to get it all glued together as fast as possible, and I don’t care what anyone says, the glue contracts, it changes the shape, and if the whole thing isn’t held exactly together as it fast-dries, it will go wrong.

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The other side of A/Z still waiting completed gates.
Despite the fact I got the distinct impression Percy is a realist who sees the entire thing as almost sacrosanct, (in the way that only a Creator can, they know it so well it seems almost impossible others don’t see what they see), and really, I can see why.

Liberties had to be taken with the A+ and A/Z because of space. I worked out that to get all of Frankfurt on a diorama I would need 15 times the space I currently have. I could only take this, the best bit in my opinion, and use it.

The armed bridges are not for the faint hearted. The A380 sets, and there are four, so 12 huge bridges, are a complicated and time consuming project. They require extreme precision, dexterity and patience, so I gave them to someone else who finds this sort of thing deeply relaxing and distracting from a high pressure job! Two hours a piece to get them accurately built, that’s per bridge, not per gate! Even as I write there are still 12 more gates with 16 bridges left to build. Completion time in October, but it’ll be worth it.

The end result is magnificent. Each of the contact covers that touch the aircraft are shaped for the right part of the fuselage. Each has three extending sections, each lifts up and down in its support. And they look fantastic from a distance. Close up they lose some of their printed detail cohesion because there are so many soft scoring options folds, but every one of them is superior to Gemini’s over-priced plastic junk, and Herpa’s over silvered offerings. The entire set cost less than $9 plus your time. In terms of value for money, realism and appearance, they’re a total win-win.

Let me list a set of final pro’s and cons

PROS:

  • Absolutely extraordinary detail
  • The foil is stunning
  • Technical quality, precision
  • Visual appeal
  • Realism
  • Price – compared to buying in parts ready-made, be they Gemini terminals or whatever else, these are extremely good value for money.
  • Good customer service

CONS:

  • The foil is too shiny and reflects too much light
  • The main A+ building is not easy to assemble to full size and internally gluing tabs can be very difficult with minimal physical access.
  • The logic – the maximum structural resilience, accuracy and integrity of the thing is only possible through an impractical need to glue everything at once, for the highest levels of cohesion. You can get round it with practice, but if you don’t know, and you only have one go, I can see how it would soon become a wearing process and the impatient will not cope!
  • The exactitude of cutting – precision is everything, never underestimate how vital accurate cutting out is with a viciously sharp blade and a steel ruler. Use a scalpel, craft knives don’t do it well enough.
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Deceptive perspective, I could only get my iPhone-7Plus to do this so its not very clear at the mag used, but backgrounds, space and scale seem to work looking across to LNI-WorldPort Cargo Centre. The idea is to try to find new ways of creating new photos for the blog. 

Epilogue:

The collapsed section (gates A54 and A56, one is above the other on the A380′ gates so that passengers load from the right level to the correct deck, and the lower gate is used for non-A380 aircraft), came in for close scrutiny.

It vexed me, but instinctively, I knew what the solution was. I couldn’t cut it out, that would be too messy. But I could re-face it and re-roof it. The need to do it was then aggravated by Von Butterfinger here, dropping a Witty A380 onto the roof while testing out some gates (Or, “were you playing with your airport again?”) These things weigh nearly 400g and dropped from about 40cm there was no way that roof was not denting. It just made it all the more straightforward to resolve. I ordered another set of A+ buildings, and while I was at it a set of bus station, power station and a small fire station.

I removed the bridge pier which had been badly glued in my opinion, it was just a screw up and I’d done it. I used the new set to build a new one, perfect! Then I used the roof section, cut out, built some supports to hold it at the right level, cut out the glass section, fitted it all on and you’d never even know it had happened. In fact it worked so well one of the other glass areas I felt was about 1mm out, and had a mild slope towards the damaged gate – I re-faced that too. Again, better than the original and you’d never know it if I didn’t point it out.

Now that is one of the big advantages of a setup like this. It just fits, it’s cheap and it’s easy to repair.

Conclusion

Am I glad I did it? Too right I am. I’m over the moon with it, it’s what I wanted and that’s the most important thing. I also learnt that 40 years of model making doesn’t go away, even if you haven’t done it for years. I come from the age where practical ability to create something from nothing because you had no choice, and no money, meant you had to find solutions to difficult problems.  Now, in mid-life where I have the time to go back and “play”, it’s been a superb reminder that I can still do it.

So a practical, rewarding, relatively inexpensive but ultimately successful result. Quality product, amazing visuals, and general awesomeness!

What else is there?
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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