Preservation Week Day 3: Preserving Model Airplanes

This is the third post in a week-long series celebrating National Preservation Week.  NMAM blog posts in this series will discuss how to preserve your own modeling history. 

Preserving model airplanes can be tricky.  The materials involved in building a model deteriorate at different rates and methods.  They can be large and unwieldy.  However, more than anything, the models themselves are what define the modeling experience.  Here’s some advice on keeping them around at their best.

Start with:
1.  Keep them in an environment that is as stable as possible.  Balsa wood and doped tissue react to sudden changes in the temperature and relative humidity.  Reactions include brittle wood and peeled covering.  Storing them in a place that has stable temperature will lower the chances of this happening. 

This leather wheel shows damage caused by a changing environment.  Source: National Model Aviation Museum, 1997.13.01.
This leather wheel shows damage caused by a changing environment. Source: National Model Aviation Museum, 1997.13.01.

2.  Keep them up and off the ground where’s there’s less of a risk of damage from people and pests.  It should be common sense, but make sure the shelf is tall and wide enough to maneuver the model easily and/or make sure all the hooks and fasteners are secure.
3.  Keep them away from light.  Be careful not to store the model across from a window, or directly under a light.  Be even more careful that whatever light it gets, it does so evenly, so any fade is consistent.
4.  Handle with care.  Models become brittle with age.  Handle them carefully, being sure to place your hands under the more robust spots, and to watch your surroundings for anything that can get in your way. 

Former Collections Intern Cameron carefully carries the fuselage of a model airplane.  Source: National Model Aviation Museum.
Former Collections Intern Cameron carefully carries the fuselage of a model airplane. Source: National Model Aviation Museum.

5.  Watch what comes into contact with the model.  Don’t store the model long-term in bubble-wrap or any type of foam.  Don’t put any new adhesive (from post-it notes to labels to tape of all kinds) on any of the surfaces.  All of these substances will chemically degrade and hurt the model in the process.
6.  If the model needs to be cleaned, vacuum it as a first resort.  Use the hose attachment on your vacuum and a soft brush.  Move the hose over the model’s surface, but without touching it.  Use the brush to loosen stubborn dirt, brushing the dirt into the vacuum’s hose so it doesn’t re-circulate back into the air.
7.  Write it down.  Tie (not tape!) a sheet of paper to the model that clearly says what it is and when it was built, as well as any other information you feel is relevant.

Go a bit further:

The rotor blades of a toy helicopter wrapped in acid-free tissue paper.
A toy helicopter wrapped in acid-free tissue and fully supported.
Source: National Model Aviation Museum, donated by George Twine, 2009.07.01.

1.  Wrap the model in clean, unbleached muslin purchased from a fabric store.  This protects the model from light, dust and moisture.
2.  Let it be true to itself.  All the previous repairs that are visible and the yellowing decals are what gives the model its character.  They show off the model’s age and history.  Replacing the covering, or repairing cracks, might make the model look brand new, but it takes away from its own authenticity.

Models are stored at the museum hung from the ceiling and wrapped in acid-free tissue.  Information about the model is displayed on a hanging tag.
Models are stored at the museum hung from the ceiling and wrapped in acid-free tissue. Information about the model is displayed on a hanging tag.
Source: National Model Aviation Museum, collections storage.

Sometime this summer, I’ll get a step-by-step guide together on how we wrap and store model airplanes.  If you want to know, stay tuned to the museum’s blog!
If you want more advice on preserving your model airplanes, feel free to ask your questions to the museum’s blog, Facebook page, or by emailing staff directly at mariav@modelaircraft.org.

Preservation Week - pass it onSponsored by the ALA’s Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and partner organizations, Preservation Week will inspire actions to preserve personal, family and community collections of all kinds, as well as library, museum and archive collections. It will raise awareness of the role libraries and other cultural institutions can play in providing ongoing preservation information. More information can be found at: www.ala.org/preservationweek.

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