- Dr Suresh Nathan


The three areas one can show a little more skill and detailing in the aircraft model is the cockpit, undercarriage and gun bay. By far the cockpit is the most interesting of the three. In recent times models are being produced with ever more interesting and detailed cockpits.

Nevertheless a number of kit cockpits , even modern ones, are either inaccurate poorly done and could stand some detailing. References are crucial in ensuring that your details are accurate. In many ways, a poorly made representation is much better than a well-made bogus structure. Here in order of difficulty I present 6 different cockpit builds in increasing difficulty.

Out of box

Many aircraft kits today have incredibly detailed cockpits. The challenge with them is really just painting them well. Occasionally wires and seat belt harnesses are required . Often in these cases there is no need to get an upgrade kit for the cockpit because they are already so well done. At the most you may need cockpit placards. Of course sometimes the cockpits are completely wrong (discussed below) and may require extensive rebuilds but this is rare.

Figure 1. The 1/32 Tamiya A655c Zero is an incredibly detailed kit. While I did splurge for an engine and exterior upgrade kit from Eduard, I just could not see the point to upgrade the cockpit. I just added a few wires and seat belt harness and painted it well.

Photoetch parts

At one point these were the most common type of upgrade part. Having built many of these, I would say that the dashboard and dials are probably the most important of these. Typically they do not include seats and occasionally there are seatbelts. The boxes have to be bent into shape . It is a lot of effort but the results are reasonable. You very likely have to do a bit more detailing and scratchbuilding as they are usually not comprehensive. They tend to be expensive and can cost more than the base kit.

Figure 2. The 1/32 Revell JU87B Stuka from the sixties had a very basic cockpit that had to be discarded. I only retained the floor and sidewalls. The main details were the Eduard photoetch set which is very nice but did not include the seat, seatbelts and oxygen canisters which had to be scratchbuilt.

Resin upgrades

For cockpits, resin upgrades are possibly the best bang for your buck. The have to be painted accurately and may require a few additional details. I usually replace the dials with Waldron parts but usually seatbelts and hoses are all included. Cockpit placards can give that extra edge. Nevertheless given the accuracy of kits nowadays this is rarely necessary. They are usually oversized and need to be trimmed to size to fit the kit parts. Also a lot of trial and error is necessary to get them to fit right so a slow setting superglue is better than a fast one.

Figure 3. The 1/32 Revell F4U Corsair from the sixties had a very basic cockpit that had to be discarded. I used the Blackbox resin upgrade but drilled out the dials of the dashboard replacing it with Waldron panels. Everything else is provided in the kit which just requires a reasonable paint job.

Modifications of inaccurate cockpits

Many of the cockpits by brands like Trumpeter are inaccurate and extensive rebuilding is required. Unlike the old Revell’s which are not salvageable, the Trumpeter and Hobbyboss are sort of okay and you are tempted to retain the cockpit and modify it. In my experience this can be a lot more work than simply throwing it out and rebuilding it.

Figure 4. The 1/32 Trumpeter P40B is a modern kit. It appears to have been produced from scale drawings. The external part of the model is reasonably accurate. But the actual cockpit is strangely 8 mm shallow. In addition to detailing therefore I had to add 8mm of depth to everything. The result was reasonable considering I put a pilot in there.


Even with modern kits, conversions can be necessary if you want to have a version of a model that hasn’t been produced. This can be challenging and a lot of fun because usually one cockpit is accurate and the other can be made from scratch using the dimensions of the kit cockpit. An added challenge is the canopy which is usually made by stretchforming over a plaster master or vacuum forming.

Figure 5. The 1/32 Hasegawa Me 262B-1 Nachtjaeger is actually a conversion from a Me262A. The front cockpit received the Eduard upgrade and a little scratchbuilding but the aft cockpit was scratchbuilt. Trumpeter and Revell have launched a 2 seater version of this kit since I built it and although still not that accurate would be an easier conversion than this one.

Scratchbuilt cockpits

Scratchbuilding cockpits are almost never needed when building modern models. Nevertheless there are a few less popular models and limited run models that do not have good cockpits. It is uncommon to have to scratchbuild a cockpit completely but the occasional ones I’ve done are very rewarding.

Figure 6. The 1/32 Revell Hawker Hurricane form the sixties is still the only Hawker Hurricane available in this scale. The picture shows how simplistic the cockpit details are. The front and back were used as templates and the entire cockpit built from scratch. Note that this was an inter-war aircraft and the main fuselage was still using ribbing and fabric and this was an important detail to reproduce including the see-through floor.


This article is a culmination of builds spanning over 10 years. It is very common in that timeframe that models may be manufactured that effectively makes a conversion or a scratchbuild unnecessary. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone can take away the experience, skill and knowledge gained from researching and building these subjects even if the model becomes redundant. Most of these subjects appear in articles I’ve published elsewhere on the web but for a full build of these models you can refer to my page here.