Scratchbuilding airport equipment: Passenger stairs in 1/72 scale
During a recent
project of a civil airliner, I anticipated that the display base would
need a couple of accessories: passenger stairs and an accumulator
trolley. The aircraft in question was the DH Dove, and I happened to
find a photo of the real thing with the stairs in use. That was the
starting point I needed to scratchbuild one in 1/72 scale.
De Havilland DH.104 Dove 1 PH-MAD, cn 04030 (fair use of image from Berry Friend collection)
the type of thing that would be much easier if I had a 3D printer. But
I don't, and this is a one-of-a-kind project. I wondered that I could
do one in the span of a couple of nights. All I needed was bits of
plastic card and rods. Oh, and a drawing, of course. I did not bother
with the exact dimensions of these things. They were probably welded in
the workshops of the airports, so I decided to practice some reverse
Engineering using that photo and the dimensions of the airplane. Some
dimensions were eyeballed, .as the important here is to look in scale
and fit well to the airplane height.
can note that I printed the drawings of the Dove in scale and drew
directly over the print, assuring that the correct height was held.
Moreover, once satisfied with the shape, I could use the drawing as a
guide to carve a pattern for the lateral structure of the stairs. I
used a 2 mm thick plastic sheet, cut to shape, and sanded the corners
I took 0,64 mm rods from Evergreen and tied them around the pattern
using painter's tape. Since the pattern was thick enough, I could fix
two rods to make both lateral sides of the stairs at the same time.
Make sure that the tape is holding the rods well against the pattern,
particularly around the corners:
What now? Cook it! Seriously. Heat
a cup of water, large enough so to sink the whole structure. The water
must be sufficiently hot but not boiling. Let the jig in the water for
about a minute, remove it, and dip it in cold water. Because the
pattern was thick, it can hold the temperature for a while without
deforming. That is why I do not recommend making your jig from plastic
sheets thinner than 2 mm.
Ok, now the fun
part: unboxing, or unwrapping, in this case. Remove the tapes, and you
should have a plastic rim following the contour of the pattern. Even
better, you have two of them! Now carefully trim them to the correct
size using the measurements from the drawing. These are the sides of
Next, chop a half
dozen straight rods with the same length as the width of the stairs.
They will be our transverse bars, connecting both rims. You also will
need rods of different lengths to make the bracings. Always refer to
the stairs you are building. In my case, I first braced each side, and
then connected them with the transverse bars. And a tip: while gluing
bracings, try to work on a glass pad. In this way, you can pop the
assembly out when dry and brush a bead of liquid glue over the joints
to smooth everything - no sanding necessary.
are simple rectangles of plastic card trimmed to fit inside the 'cage'
and cemented with liquid glue. The particular stairs I was depicting
had cart wheels mounted on an axle to move the stairs around. I made it
using rods and tubes. Also, there were panels bolted to the sides,
which I made using 0.3 mm plastic card cut to shape.
And after a couple of very pleasing evenings, this is was what I got:
Here is the
final assembly besides an accumulator trolley (subject of another
report), being inspected by Rommel himself. Kidding aside, the soldier
is 1/76 scale from an old Airfix set to give a sense of size.
One more night
to let everything fully dry and I then painted it roughly resembling
the colors of the Martins Air Charter. My display will show the Dove
pushed to the end of a runaway in the late 60's when the golden years
of propeller air travel were over. So I reasoned that the ground
equipment was not in its best shape and went heavy on the weathering.
This 'old school' way of doing things is becoming more and more scarce. It says my age... Like
I said in the beginning 3D printing would make this much easier, but I
doubt it would be this fun. Furthermore, it certainly lacks that
I hope you find this tip useful. Let me know what you think.