Model airplanes are fun ways to get a little bit of history while building something you can display forever. Much like model ships, model planes have excellent detail, historical references, and can help develop skills for detail and hand/eye coordination.
There are so many cool planes out there you could build, so where should you start? We’ve put together a list of our ten best model airplane kits to help you get started. There’s something for all skill levels and something for most history buffs. Plus, we’ve answered some questions you may have about how to choose. Let’s take a look.
Best Model Aircraft Kits 2020
|Model||Scale||Parts||Length, in||Length, mm|
|Tamiya - Grumman F-14D Tomcat||1:48||470||15 11⁄16″||398|
|Hasegawa - P-47D Thunderbolt||1:32||202||13 9⁄16″||344|
|Tamiya - F-16C/N Fighting Falcon "Aggressor/Adversary"||1:48||293||12 7⁄16″||316|
|Revell - Hawker Hunter FGA.9||1:72||102||7 3⁄4″||196|
|Eduard - Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4||1:72||233||6 3⁄4″||171|
|Wingnut Wings - Sopwith F.1 Camel "BR.1"||1:32||190||7 3⁄8″||188|
|Airfix - Hawker Typhoon 1B||1:24||509||15 15⁄16″||404|
|Zoukei-Mura - F-4J Phantom II Marines||1:48||381||14 9⁄16″||370|
|Airfix - Hawker Hurricane MkI||1:72||63||5 1⁄4″||133|
|Revell - B-17F Memphis Belle||1:72||235||12 13⁄16″||325|
Tamiya – Grumman F-14D Tomcat – Best Wings Option
Our first plane is an F-14D Tomcat at 1/48 scale. It features two seated figures, one the pilot and the other the radio intercept officer (RIO). It has moldel-in details on the panel and an excellently placed tandem cockpit with fuselage interior. It’s made with high-quality parts including all decals and figures.
It includes decals and painting references for four different styles of F-14D. Masking stickers for painting the canopy are also included. This model kit is suitable for advanced users.
Hasegawa – Republic P-47D Thunderbolt “Bubbletop” – Best Air Force Model
Our next plane is a 1:32 scale Thunderbolt, a simple yet popular model plane with classic army coloring. This model is improved to provide greater detail for model makers, and it can be finished in the style of a US Air Force ace flyer. It has no fit issues and should be suitable for less experienced builders. Decals are supplied for three airplanes: two P-47D-25 and one P-47D-30.
Tamiya – F-16C/N Fighting Falcon “Aggressor/Adversary” – Best Decal Choices
Another detailed option from Tamiya, this aircraft was used by USAF and US Navy as opposing force in wargame scenarios. It’s a 1/48 scale model with decals and the option for the unique camouflage pattern. It has an ultra sharp finish thanks to rivets and panel lines, plus details such as the AOA sensor for added realism on the nose.
It includes two kinds of landing gear plus three options for landing wheels depending on which model you’d like to build. Polycaps allow the horizontal stabilizers to move and the flaperons can be in two positions, up or down.
Revell – Hawker Hunter FGA.9 – Best Small Model
Revell’s model is a 1/72 scale version of the famous Hawker Hunter. It was one of the most successful British postwar aircraft. The model has excellent fine engraving on the panel lines with a well-rendered, detailed cockpit. The kit contains clear instructions with colored large illustrations. The color scheme is shown for Revell paints only. You’ll have to find color matches yourself if you use other colors.
The kit gives you an opportunity to build one of two possible versions of this aircraft: Hawker Hunter FGA.9 of No.54 Squadron and the same model of No.8 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Decals look good if applied correctly.
Eduard – Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 – Best Night Fighter
This Eduard Bf 110G-4 is a detailed model with excellent rendering of the cockpit and thoughtful engineering, which helps make putting the pieces together a lot simpler. It has crisp, recessed panels for a clean look, plus photo-etched parts for excellent detail.
You have two different options for nose styles, and parts for both closed and opened canopies for the pilot and gunner. There are two styles of exhaust flame dampers on the sprue, the modern curved type, and the older late-war pipes.
Wingnut Wings – Sopwith F.1 Camel “BR.1” – Best Biplane
This plastic 1/32 scale model kit uses injection molded parts for pieces that are challenging without frustration. This is one of the most famous first world war planes by sight or by its iconic name. The model gives you plenty of decal options and a full rigging diagram to get everything just the way you want it.
It has optional fuselage halves with alternative lacing detail plus windscreens and both early and late undercarriages. Propellers are thin and well made, and the 16 part engine is a 150 horsepower Bentley BR.1. The engine cowlings can be the common type, or the Bentley styled alternative. The 24-page instruction manual is an excellent reference, and the five different decal options showcase five of the most famous iterations of this aircraft.
Airfix – Hawker Typhoon Mk.IB “Car Door” – Best Large Scale Plane
This is a massive, dramatic model of a plane used initially for ground attack. It comes with plenty of full-color renderings and options for different styles although you’ll need to supply your own paints and glue. The kit comes with markings for four different famous models, but the skill level may be a lot for beginning builders.
It gives you the option to construct the plain with or without the main aerial in place, plus a host of other alterations that mimic the fluid design of the original. There are alternate cannon fairings, internal frame structure varieties, and both new and earlier door styles. You can even add the later rear-facing mirror to the canopy frame if you want.
Zoukei-Mura – F-4J Phantom II Marines – Best Detail
This kit, modeled after one of the Navy’s southeast Asian fleet members, is a beautifully designed double cockpit (front and rear) with stick, throttles, and a canopy lock handles. It includes the Martin-Baker ejection seats and the choice to display the canopy open or closed. The kit contains detailed engines with optional engine stand.
Airfix – Hawker Hurricane Mk.I – Best For Beginners
This smaller Airfix build is a 1/72 scale Hurricane Mk.I suitable for beginners or advanced builders that want something fun and quick. This aircraft caused most of the losses sustained by the Luftwaffe during the Battle for Britain.
The moldings have excellent quality and detail even for a beginner model. It contains appropriately detailed decals to showcase different models.
Revell – B-17F Memphis Belle – Most Recognizable Model
Our final model plane is a 1:72 scale model of the iconic B-17F. It has four radial engines with exquisite detail plus a rotating turret and four bombs. The bay racks add realism while the decal sets are set up to showcase two famous models, the Memphis Belle, and the Shamrock Special.
Buyer’s Guide: Model Airplanes
Model airplanes are cool, but these aren’t your typical puzzle. Some of the beginner’s models just snap together with a little glue, but others will require deft hand-eye coordination. Let’s take a look at some things you’ll want to consider before you build.
The last thing you want to do as a beginner is to choose a model that’s too complicated for you. Even the most patient builder can get tripped up if the model is overwhelming. The best thing to do as a beginner is to choose a simple build that can help you practice valuable skills and gradually move up in complexity.
Skill levels aren’t standard across companies, so look at your particular model and the company’s guide to decide which level is the most appropriate. For some, a level one could be the right way to start, but others may have different measuring methods.
Once you get a build or two under your belt, you can invest in more complicated ones. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that if you choose one that’s too complicated, you aren’t as likely to ever finish the model and that’s a shame.
The scale isn’t standard either. The specific size of a model depends on the size of the original. A 1:24 scale of two different planes, one large and one tiny will be different sizes. If you have size constraints, be sure to check the actual measurements of the model before you order and get something that’s way too big for your mantel.
Common scale sizes are 1:72, which tends to be the smallest models in general, 1:48, which tends to be a medium range. Also many modelers like 1:32 and 1:24 scales, which tends to be the largest sized planes based on actual measurements. All other scales are quite rare, and it is difficult to choose good models among them.
Preassembled Or Not
Preassembled kits are great for beginners because you get a head start on the building. It helps you get a quick win under your belt before you try for something a little more in depth. It’s great for kids who have an interest in the model building but don’t have the patience or dexterity to build something completely from pieces.
Kit built planes come with all the parts die cut and ready to pop out of the molds. These can be complicated or simple depending on the skill level of the kit, but they’re great for adults just getting into the world of models. They give plenty of detail but still provide some guidance for getting the craft built.
From-scratch kits are for specialists only and will need plenty of time-consuming preparation. These are for super advanced builders and will not suit anyone close to beginner or intermediate level.
Most of the kits on our list are plastic, which is simple to use and requires minimal filing or alterations. Older kits were wood, but they had a lot of inconsistency that could make it difficult for you to get pieces together as a beginner.
Planes, in particular, have a lot of delicate parts because of the cockpit. They use small pieces that are easily breakable and can scratch with very little effort. The clear pieces of planes are another type of delicate material because you can scratch those as well if you aren’t careful.
Many are also finished in bare metal, which can be difficult to achieve with just paint. Make sure those materials are checked thoroughly and have no defects because you won’t be able to repair them yourself. It’s best to avoid models with a lot of metal or clear materials because it can be a frustrating experience to ruin them accidentally on your very first build because you don’t know what you’re doing.
Glue, Paint, And Decals
Very few model kits come with things like glue or paints. Most will need to be decorated with items you’ve purchased separately. If you don’t have any glue, make sure that add that into your budget. We have a guide on how to choose the best glue for models.
If you don’t have paint, choose something with a simple color scheme, so you don’t blow your entire budget buying a bunch of different paints. As you continue to build, you’ll collect paint colors and eventually, you’ll have some different options for how you’d like to decorate your plane.
Some model kits will come with specific color recommendations, not just full-color renderings of the real plane. These suggestions give you the name and maker of specific paints that will provide you with the exact color you’re looking for in the build. These are great if you don’t have a lot of experience choosing paint colors.
Most kits will come with the decals you’ll need to make specific models of each type of plane. Along with paint colors, these decals give your aircraft a realistic look that’s fun to display.
Accessories can really give perspective to models. Figure accessories are especially nice because they give the viewer an idea of how big the aircraft might be in real life. Some kits come with figures intended for posing in the aircraft, and these figures have varying levels of detail.
You can also get armament style accessories for different aspects of war aircraft. Bombs, ammo, and other weaponry add a nice detail to famous wartime aircraft builds, giving a sense of scale and also time period.
The price of the model usually goes up the more complicated the build. Beginning models thankfully aren’t often that expensive. You can get preassembled kits for reasonably cheap. As you get better, you can invest in more complicated models without feeling like you’re wasting money.
Price is a pretty good indicator of quality, so you don’t want to bargain shop, necessarily, unless you want a model with ill-fitting parts. One way to figure out if you’re paying a reasonable price is to do a little research on price ranges for the skill level model that you want to see what comparable prices would be across different companies. You get an idea of a budget and get rid of the idea that you might be spending too much or too little for a particular type of kit.
Get To Building
Your plane model could be a focal point of your decor and a point of pride when people ask you if that’s something you’ve built yourself. Model building is an excellent hobby to learn patience and hand-eye coordination while developing critical thinking and engineering mindset. Models range from simple options to things that could take months to put together. Whichever you choose, getting into building model airplanes as a hobby is something that could really spark an interest in history and machining. Happy building!