Aircraft generally spend less time flying than on the ground, and this was especially true in the early years when flying at night was difficult. Most of the time they were parked at airports, either in the open or within a hangar. It’s not surprising then that Skybirds were quick off the mark to produce a range of airport buildings to complement their aircraft kits. Unlike the kits, these were finished models.
To the Skybirds fan, an airport was a fertile playground; to the proud modeller, an airport was a good display setting for their assembled aircraft. So, what were these models like? Let’s take a look at one of the first produced, representing a singular hangar that adorned the London airport at Heston.
The flat land near Heston, Middlesex to the west of London was a natural location for an early airstrip, being reasonably close to the capital and thus convenient for both business and pleasure flights. During the 1930s, it grew in importance as air travel increased, becoming by the late 1930s the second largest airport after the main London airport at Croydon. In 1938, British Airways Ltd (a distant predecessor by a complicated lineage of the British Airways now in existence) moved their operations to the airfield, and it was from here that the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made his infamous trip to Munich.
During WW2, civil flights were ceased and the airfield was used for military purposes. In 1947, a new strategy for providing air transport to and from London selected nearby Heathrow as the ideal location for long-term development, and the airport was closed. Subsequently, suburban and commercial development surrounded and, in some places, encroached on the airfield, and the site is nowadays bisected by the M4 motorway.
In the early days of the airport, the main buildings were twofold – a reception and control building, and a hangar. Both were stylish Art Deco modernist buildings, but the hangar (erected in 1929) was unusual on a number of counts. Firstly, it was built almost entirely out of concrete. This novel material was also used to provide a hard-standing apron outside of the hangar, which itself was unusual at a time when most airfields were grass fields. The shape of the hangar was also noteworthy, as the roof was curved and reached down to the ground at both sides of the building, creating a distinctive low humped profile.
The experiment was not pursued, however, and subsequent hangars at the site were constructed in more conventional fashion with metal framing, inevitably being bigger and more box-like in shape so as not to waste space at the edges. Amazingly, however, the concrete hangar survived the closure of the airfield and still exists today. No doubt the robust concrete construction helped to defer decay and deter casual demolition, and having been repurposed as a warehouse on an industrial site, it is now preserved as a listed building.
The Skybirds Model
Skybirds 24 Heston Hangar
Year first produced:1932
L190 x W305 x H117, Wood & Metal 444g, Scale 1:72, Features: 1
The airport buildings made by Skybirds were primarily fashioned out of tinplate, although our hangar is also attached to a plywood base. Under the base there is a nice little Skybirds sticker – otherwise the model is unidentified. The curving roof, and the front and back faces of the hangar are tinplate pieces, painted white and coated with a rough texture representing, perhaps, a rendered surface. The inside surfaces of the model are left unpainted.
A large opening has been cut into the front wall, and four tinplate doors inserted. These are arranged in two pairs, hinged together and to the sides of the opening with simple lengths of metal. When open, they fold up together as did the doors on the real hangar, although the model is greatly simplified in this regard as you can see from the photograph above. To enable the model owner to grasp the doors, they are fitted with knobs made from small split pins. A tinplate lintle is fitted above the doors.
In the roof, two openings have been cut on either side for windows, which are glazed with cellophane, divided and reinforced with tinplate strips. At the apex of the roof, a prominent ridge has been formed from another piece of tinplate, the ends being folded over to form a diamond shape. In one end there is a hole, into which a windsock can be fitted.
The windsock is a small wooden stick with a rolled paper sock attached by wire, and reinforced with an internal cardboard collar and wire brace. On one side it proclaims “SHELL” and on the other, “BP PLUS”.
Most of the details on the model – the doors, roof ridge, etc – are painted yellow. The exposed part of the base is coloured grey (but is far too dark to represent the concrete apron which the real hangar stood on).
Now, the model is in various ways not a good representation of the Heston hangar. It is, for example, far too small. The real hangar was 30 meters wide by 24 meters deep, which would scale at 1:72 to 42cm x 33cm. The model is, however, 30cm x 15cm, so it is approximately half-size (and also too shallow). The model can house two or, at a pinch, three of the smaller Skybirds models, whereas the real hangar was able to hold half a dozen or so.
However, the model does preserve the main features of the building, with the long curved roof almost reaching the ground; the prominent roof ridge (though the diamond-shaped ends are not accurate); the (much-simplified) folding front doors; and the roof windows. Various small windows and architectural details on the front and back are not modelled; nor are the windows in the apex of the roof; and as far as I can see from photos, the real hangar never flew a windsock.
But these are minor quibbles, and we should probably take the buildings as representative for an imaginary aerodrome of the 1930s. As such, I think the hangar is a charismatic and practical accessory for the Skybirds aircraft owner.
Skybirds produced a number of airport buildings, including
- 28 Brooklands Control Tower
- 30 Radio Station
- 26 Workshop Hangar