Airfix Cup Judging

My Personal View - Dr Suresh Nathan


The Airfix Cup has been running in Singapore consecutively over the last 11 years. Having been involved in judging over the last 3 years and having myself been a modeler for more than 40 years, I thought it would be interesting to give a brief perspective of judging standards in this competition and what we as judges value highly in this competition.


The modeling scene in Singapore has changed dramatically over the last half a century. In the early years the scene was dominated by the distributors of Tamiya and Hasegawa and their intention in having competitions was clear in generating revenue for these competitions. Those eventually died out as computer gaming became developed and many modelers from Singapore began competing overseas. Some enthusiastic hobby shops like M Workshop began holding their own much smaller competitions and then there was of course the Gundams. About 11 years ago Hobby Bounties threw their hat into the ring. Their ethos in supporting modeling has been, in my opinion, one of the most selfless I have seen in the modeling industry. And it was different.

Hobby Bounties' National Airfix Aeronautical Model Engineering Competition (Airfix Cup for short) was more about the hobby than the profits it generated. In the process the camaraderie among the modelers was considerably developed not in least part to the monthly meets held at the shop premises. It was all about modeling and therefore any model from any make was allowed – the exception to this were the China-made entries which due to their unoriginal source material or outright copying over other kits ran counter to the needs of the hobby as a whole. The main supporters of the event were Airfix, Hiplanes Models and Frog. Unfortunately for modelers like me who only build in 32nd scale these brands do not offer me much variety but these were brands that gave me my start in the hobby 40 years ago when they cost 70 cents for a Series 1 P40B sold in a plastic bag stapled to a card at the local Mamak Shop. I and many of the judges like me are more than happy to support such an endeavor.

Hobby Bounties has worked tirelessly to generate interest in schools through workshops using mainly Airfix as a platform. Very tellingly, in terms of sheer revenue most of the Airfix entries predominantly in the junior categories essentially dominate the Airfix Cup (more than 90%). Incongruently of the many Senior and Masterclass categories only about 10% are from Airfix, Frog or HPM. Clearly there is a need for change and moving forward from 2019, an added 2 points would be given for models from Airfix, Frog or HPM. While I have no vested interest in either Airfix Cup or Hobby Bounties I do see that this is a necessary step in ensuring the viability of the hobby for the future.

The judges and why they don't compete

Most of us are avid modelers comprising various professions and model makers. We take time out of our schedules because we love the hobby and want it to flourish. Most of us don't compete anymore but are either magazine contributors or industry players. Competition can be a grueling process. Building for relaxation and creativity is quite different from building for competition and it all boils down to the judging parametric. The parametric is an agreed upon set of standards that we all must abide by. The parametric for the Airfix Cup is quite different for other competitions around the world. Having visited a few shows I can be quite certain that a winner elsewhere may not be a winner in Airfix Cup and vice versa.

The standards of the Airfix Cup are very aligned with the standards of IPMS(USA), Melbourne Modeling World and IPMS(Telford). Airfix Cup definitely has a slant towards Aircraft but from 2018, ground vehicles will be catered for as well.

Regionally, it is very common to see modeling competitions where out-of-box builds with minimal modifications can make it into top positions where the key requirement is a good paint job and a lack of mistakes. It is our belief however that taken to its conclusion, this approach will kill creativity in the long term as modelers "play it safe". This is because typically in these completions scoring is based on deducting marks for mistakes and modifications are capped at 5% of the total score. This means that a fully scratchbuilt model with multiple modifications which has a lesser finish (because it is scratchbuilt) cannot compete with an out of box paint. We can understand why this is necessary in these competitions because it is the least controversial way of judging. There are no plans to introduce a scratchbuild category in the Airfix Cup but in many competitions this does exist.

That is not the case with Airfix Cup. The judging in the Airfix Cup is quite different from these other regional competitions. Between them the judges have more than a 100 years modeling experience – that’s a lot. More importantly they’ve stuck to it where many modeler’s have marked the end of their careers by winning some award and that's simply not what this hobby is about.

The parametric for the Airfix Cup, Singapore

The basic form of the parametric is fairly constant from year to year. It has stood the test of time but in the event of a tie, judges will deliberate. Naturally this usually only happens in the top placements in the Masterclass category and then only occasionally. I must say to its credit the winners have always been deserving of their position although sometimes we have to decide if the best of show should be under Most Creative or Best of Masterclass. To be honest these two awards are somewhat comparable. Each category is awarded 10 marks. The scores are absolute and therefore a 5 in Junior category is a 5 in Masters and vice versa. The scoring parameters and my opinion on each is as follows.

Figure 1. A fairly straightforward build from Zoukei Mura. It is a difficult kit to build due to the many parts. There are however virtually no gaps and everything fits well. The paint job and chipping is perhaps challenging. An overall safe model for competitions but unlikely to win any top awards.
  1. Basic Construction: this is defined as the building of the entry e.g. are the gaps filled up, seams removed.

    As you might suspect most people will score a 5, 6 or 7 in this parameter and the scores are as expected lower in the junior than the senior categories. It has not been my experience that ranking in the senior categories changes as a result of scores awarded in this parameter. It does however make a fair bit of difference in the junior categories. In many mays attempting a difficult old kit with poorly fitting seams can affect the score in this category and being absolute it is a penalty that is unavoidable.

  2. Basic Painting: this is defined as the quality of the finished paint job , and if it is in the correct colours for that role and theatre of operation.

    I am a firm believer that the modeler probably knows more about his model than I do. But at the same time I am a fairly knowledgeable modeler myself and often will mark individuals down for incorrect paint jobs. Finish is important and far too many models are submitted with dead flat and inappropriate finishes. In many ways if the basic construction has failed there will be a double hit as paint jobs can accentuate construction errors. We do recognize difficult paint jobs like modern pixelated camouflage, natural metal finish and custom markings. Some of the latter are so well done that we often can’t tell if its original if a work in progress sheet isn’t provided.

  3. Basic Finishing: this is defined as the overall completeness of the entry in terms of appearance: does it have rigging, are the decals on straight?

    Again this tends to improve up the ladder from Junior to Senior categories. This obviously means that attention to this point alone can cause a junior category to move to the top of the field.

  4. Conversion : this is defined as work carried out to change the original kit so that it is substantially different to the original e.g. single-seater converted to two-seater. This can be kit-bashing, scratch-building, etc.

    Figure 2. A two-seater Me 262B1 converted from the Hasegawa Me 262A. This conversion was completely from scratch but there are many kits available of this and the works should be carefully detailed in work in progress sheets.

    We tend to see this mainly in the masters category. Often in the senior’s category if a conversion is done it can propel the entry to the top of the field. The numbers game should make this pretty obvious why. You will notice in category 1 to 3 a maximum score of 7 might be given but if most people don’t do a conversion then this category carries a 5 or even zero. From here, a judge may award 7 to 10 for a conversion which would easily compensate for anything lacking earlier.

  5. Modification: this is defined as work carried out to improve a kit or kit part e.g. dropped flaps, canted rudder, opened canopy, opened gunbays, folded wings.

    Modifications are seen in all categories. It is usually not a striking feature but often ignored by most contestants. Most entries will score a 5 or even 0 in the Masters category. Of all the modifications, an open canopy with a scratchbuilt interior can easily be a winner. A judge may award 6 to 10 for a super-detailed canopy which would easily compensate for anything lacking earlier. And this is especially good for jet modelers. Nevertheless most entries we see so far do not have much in the way of canopy detail. Those that do have standard out of box offerings.

    Figure 3. The Hasegawa F6F hellcat modified with resin engine, scratchbuilt gunbays and Waldron cockpit. While in many competitions regionally such detailing only carries a few marks, at Airfix Cup it can determine a winner.

    I believe sections 6 to 9 are what sets the Singapore Airfix Cup apart from other competitions because it provides for a lot of latitude in judging and interpretation.

  6. Creativity: is there an innovative trick or technique to achieve the finished entry e.g. kitchen foil for bare metal finish.

    Figure 4. Natural metal finishes are one of the hardest things to achieve. This Zero from Tamiya used to be pristine but with time this kind of finish can degrade.

    This category tends to be a 'Yes' or 'No' answer and might score you a 7 to a 5. Naturally if there are a number of creative points like bare metal foil, LED lights, sound and a motor it might edge you higher. Still I would suggest that this is not an area worth pursuing as a failed creative point can make a an otherwise good model look bad (eg. bare metal foil can show up surface imperfections and fingerprints).

  7. Gutsiness : this is defined as building a difficult kit, or doing a difficult paint scheme, or doing a difficult modification or conversion e.g. all panels opened.

    This category is often used by judges to finally decide the best in a category. It is difficult to define and often open to individual discretion. Eg. A winner one year was decided based on a stretched sprue rigging used for undercarriage construction in the case of a tie.

    Figure 5. Things don’t get much gutsier than a vacform kit. For competition purposes, however, they may not do so well because measurements are off and seams don’t fit well. Nevetheless, they are very respectable builds.
  8. Realism: this is defined as how accurate this compares to the real aircraft or setting (historically), showing off oil leaks, streaks, exhaust stains, whether the finished model is correct for that version and role and markings.

    Figure 6. This Airacobra exhibits some of the features expected in an olive drab USAAF aircraft with streaking, accurate exhaust with oil bleaching and chipping. This is an area that is barely seen in Airfix Cup models presently.

    This category really speaks to weathering. I would have to say that 99% of models being submitted for the Airfix Cup are not weathered. The weathering I have seen tends to be token in nature and not quite realistic. This is a pity because a well weathered kit can collect points quite easily in a field where other entries are submitted factory fresh.

    This is an interesting point because 40 years ago models were all submitted factory fresh with minimal weathering and judging standards were such that weathered models tended not to do well. Nowadays in armour categories however models are over-weathered and rusted until they can’t possibly be operational any more. This kind of weathering is more suited to wargaming and sci-fi but certainly not in realism of an operational vehicle.

    As for planes I myself understand the lure of a factory-fresh plane. I don’t feel this is necessarily a bad thing – many people like that kind of look and if you do I would suggest you do not weather too much or at all. I have seen many modelers attempt to weather their models when they are actually pretty good factory fresh modelers and the result is not good. The point here is your own individual taste and in this category more than any other you need to be true to your style.

  9. Others: these will be additional to the model e.g. using a diorama to create an appealing setting where the aircraft is operating. The same criteria above will be applied and the additional together with the model will be treated as a whole, so more things means possibly more points (or more penalties).

    This is an odd category but when one considers the weightage it sort of implies that less is more. The main emphasis should be the main subject. A diorama is awesome but this is not a diorama competition. Nevertheless if you wish to submit a diorama of a model stripped down and showing interior details, that’s obviously going to be a runaway winner. It is also the epitome of model building if you can pull off something like that. Obscurement is viewed poorly and while I’ve seen models of sea wrecks win in other competitions they would not do well at Airfix Cup.

    Figure 7. What exactly are we judging here? Sure the overall composition is cool but the aircraft itself is just decently finished, has lights, motor and sound. Commendable but no winner.

Concluding remarks

Looking back on the judging results it is interesting for me that the highest awards at the Airfix Cup viz First place winner Masterclass and Most Creative model award has been so different from year to year. This should be very encouraging for contestants as it means that literally any style can be a winner unlike a number of competitions where a certain style is expected. I should point out that the competition is about kit modeling and fully scratchbuilt models pose a unique challenge for us as judges. Well executed scratchbuilds can skew a parametric all the way to an area where no one is competing – it is creative and gutsy and no one else may be in that category. It virtually guarantees a win whatever the other parametrics score and is not strictly fair as we try to promote the hobby. Moving forward therefore we would be requiring that some model forms the basis of scratchbuilds.