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David A. Thomas
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The Golden Age of Modeling

December 10, 2017 · in Uncategorized · · 19 Comments

This is about a model I want to build.

As my profile indicates, I am a college professor. This past semester I was chatting with one of my students, one Andrew Schaffner, himself a veteran of Afghanistan. He mentioned that his grandfather flew as tail gunner in a , and had had some remarkable experiences, including flying the tail gunner position in the Memphis Belle on one occasion as he sought to complete his 36-mission quota. I popped off that it would be cool to get more information on his granddad’s plane to see if I could reproduce something like it. Honestly, I did not think it likely that much could come of that idea.

Within a few weeks Andrew’s father emailed me. The name of Andrew’s grandfather was provided (Dennis G. Schaffner), along with the bomb group and squadron, serial number, and tail letter for the B-17. Turns out Dennis Schaffner, a devout Catholic, was nicknamed “Lucky” because when he flew the plane came away unscathed, no crew members suffered casualties, and all went smoothly. Once some shrapnel struck Dennis in the chest—but was blocked by his crucifix (how ‘bout that for a story line in a movie?). The plane returned to the U.S. in June, 1945.

I did some research and was stunned by what I was able to find, and soon Andrew helped with more research. The skipper of the plane was one Cornelius R. Woolf, and the plane was nicknamed The Wolf Pack for him. Most importantly, we found these photos, which the Schaffner family had never seen…

…and this crown jewel, with Wolf Pack in a bomb run (tail letter “P”)…

What amazes me is that heretofore such knowledge would have been considered lost. Now, due to open internet databases and the use of digital images, even obscure, specific aircraft can be recalled and reproduced--down to very fine detail--using printable decals and other techniques.

I would add another detail. In my six months on iModeler I have noticed that many here are sons or grandsons of Greatest Generation warriors. They shied away from speaking of these things; we are proud to do so. What greater homage to pay that to tell our fathers’ stories with a build?

Truly, we live in the Golden Age of Modeling.

For more on Wolf Pack, see

19 responses

  1. AMAZING story, Professor Thomas! I just joined this modeling group last night (8 Dec 2917), but I will definitely be following this build, once it gets started, and I can figure out how to get e-mails telling me when updates have been made to the thread. Looking forward to seeing this one get built!

    Gary Mason

    • Do humans still build models in 2917 or have you come back in your TARDIS to see this hobby which we all hold so dear?
      Please Gary, what wonders can you share with us from 900 years in the future (without upsetting the timeline of course).


  2. Your story is one of the reasons many of us reproduce a model in exacting detail. The respect for the combatants. On either side. A great read...thanks.

  3. You are absolutely correct...modeling research today is way easier than in days gone by. I started modeling back in the 1950's when all we had was a tube of glue, the kit, along with whatever decals came with the kit. These days, aftermarket decals, along with the ability to make your own markings, make it possible to emulate those markings found in your research. It certainly is a great time for modelers, but alas, I fear that modeling, and modelers are probably dwindling in size and significance. Ironically, this may be due to that same thing that makes researching so easy...the Internet. Great article, professor, from one Afghan vet to another (Kabul and Herat 2005-07).

    • Marvin, you put your finger on something: A Golden Age is often also the swan song. Only time will tell, but there is a sweet spot going on right now because we have a nexus of tech, information, and (that crucial element), existential interest--these are not just men, they are our fathers (and brothers, uncles, etc.).

  4. A very interesting posting, David, and, I agree, the internet has enabled us to carry out research much more easily than in previous times. I suspect that for many the research is as equally enjoyable and satisfying as actually building the model. I just worry a little that the attention to detail, as enjoyable as it may be to some of us more "senior" modellers, is putting off younger newcomers to the hobby.

  5. What a story line... Sounds like something right out of Hollywood with the shrapnel stopped by his crucifix... someone with a higher authority was watching over him for sure.

    For me doing research on the subject I'm building is almost as much fun as the actual building process. It's right up there with getting your hands on that new model kit that you have been craving every since you first saw that it was going to be released.

    So between the internet acting as a virtual library of sorts, plus the amazing amount of quality kits that we have available to us now, especially when compared to many years ago... (remember building the old Aurora kits? ), and the research that has been done by historians I agree with you that we indeed live in the "Golden Age of Modeling"...

    Now we need to find a way to capture the imaginations of today's youngsters, so we can pass our wonderful hobby onto them. I have given away quite a few little kits to youngsters just to let them know about our hobby.

    Great post... (as usual).

  6. What a great story, and I wholeheartedly agree you should build it. Have done three legacy builds, one a B-24 for a lady whose father flew them in North Africa, a B-17 for my sister in law, and a P-38 for a gentleman whose dad flew them in the ETO. The B-17 was posted on iModeler. It was a pleasure to do each one for them.

  7. Really nice, thanks for posting this.

  8. Thanks, everyone. George, you have a point. Candidly, iModeler has sort of "infected" me with this obsession for history. It does need to be tempered a bit. But I have to say, the environment has been friendly enough to encourage rather than browbeat me into historical accuracy. But then, I'm the son of a history major and my dissertation (albeit in the historical aspect of ancient studies/biblical theology) is also heavily historical. So I'm already inclined/

    Tom, I like that handle--"legacy build." I'll have to remember that one.

  9. Thanks for this David, you are right: We're blessed to have so much techniques and kits at our disposal nowadays. I think it will only get better for us with 3D printing, kit bashing, youtube and internet tutorials... I just think we have one task, which is to initiate the younger generations into this great hobby, away from computer games.

  10. Well written, Professor David! I believe you're right.

    I personally am not a BIG fan of research because I'm simply not good at it. The internet certainly DOES make things easier to find, even with my meager skills.

    Although Dad died in 1977, I wish I could do a model of a specific plane he flew. Problem is, he didn't talk much at all about his flying times, except in general. Most of his records have no specific information that I can tell. Heck, I was delighted to find pictures of the one aircraft carrier he mentioned by name that he flew from, the escort carrier, USS Independence. As you know, that is pretty easy to find, but I only found pictures recently.

    Having said, however, that I don't like the research, I DO like the learning! (I know - weird!) Hanging out "here" is great & I learn every day.

    • Jeff, such was that generation. I did not know my dad was at Potsdam--and stood in the same room as Truman, Churchill, and Stalin with them--until I was past 30. I found out he dined with Truman the day the president chose Hiroshima as the target for Little Boy until I read it in Truman's papers myself (online, of course). The men who grew up in the Depression and survived the War did not speak much of those things; they preferred to talk about the present.

  11. Great project David, and excellent post (the litany of responses is proof!).

  12. Interesting article. Yes indeed getting the youth of today into modelling is a task many of us have toiled at and failed.

  13. VERY cool, David. Indeed, DO build the model of this a/c. Building for Andrew and his family will bring them (and you, of course) an incredible amount of satisfaction. As you might know, and was suggested by L Gardner, there's a vast amount of information on individual aircraft on line, including government sites. Perhaps a binder for family members filled with information on the specific a/c you build plus general info. on the B-17 would be worthwhile. Also, you should be able to find info. on crew members as well as a/c missions...where to, when, objective of mission(s) and so on. It can be a wonderful exercise for you. Have fun... and please do keep us in the loop on progress.

    Bob "Bails" Bailey .

  14. Surprising and exciting story, it's a nice idea to share all this with us. Thank you David. A stunning example of constructive Internet capabilities !

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