Model retirement: A passion for building aircraft kits

  • Charles Spencer, 63, of Mundelein views models of aircraft from the Korean-War era that are displayed in his basement.

    Charles Spencer, 63, of Mundelein views models of aircraft from the Korean-War era that are displayed in his basement. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Charles Spencer of Mundelein assembles a plastic aircraft model in his workshop.

    Charles Spencer of Mundelein assembles a plastic aircraft model in his workshop. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Painstaking attention to detail, as seen in this hand-painted pilot, is a highlight of Spencer's model aircraft work.

    Painstaking attention to detail, as seen in this hand-painted pilot, is a highlight of Spencer's model aircraft work. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Charles Spencer, 63, of Mundelein has assembled nearly 200 models and has nearly 300 more kits that he plans to assemble as a retirement project. "I've probably got another 10 years of modeling here to keep me busy," Spencer said.

    Charles Spencer, 63, of Mundelein has assembled nearly 200 models and has nearly 300 more kits that he plans to assemble as a retirement project. "I've probably got another 10 years of modeling here to keep me busy," Spencer said. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Charles Spencer says he first began building model aircraft kits as a child growing up in the 1950s.

    Charles Spencer says he first began building model aircraft kits as a child growing up in the 1950s. Courtesy of Charles Spencer

  • Charles Spencer cuts an insignia from a decal sheet prior to applying it to an aircraft model.

    Charles Spencer cuts an insignia from a decal sheet prior to applying it to an aircraft model. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Charles Spencer says he focuses mainly on aircraft models, although the first kit he remembers building was a Buick Skylark convertible.

    Charles Spencer says he focuses mainly on aircraft models, although the first kit he remembers building was a Buick Skylark convertible. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/12/2015 9:52 AM

Charles Spencer's fascination with scale aircraft models started during his childhood in the 1950s when he received a kit as a Christmas present.

At age 63, the retired Mundelein man has rediscovered those vintage kits of his youth and has assembled nearly 200 highly detailed models. In addition, he has at least 200 more kits on his well-organized basement shelves awaiting assembly as part of what he describes as his "retirement package."

 

"I started finding some of the older kits that I had built when I was a kid and I thought that this would be kind of fun to re-collect some of the old models," Spencer said. "Then the obsession just sort of grew, and grew and grew."

Spencer starts with basic kits that he purchases on eBay or at antique stores, then finishes them to a level comparable to those featured in fine-scale aircraft model magazines.

After cleaning the plastic parts with a hobby knife and using an airbrush, he paints them in accurate colors in his workshop's paint-spray booth.

During assembly, he often adds aftermarket detail parts to increase the level of realism.

To finish the models, he either uses the decals included with the kit, or supplements them with decals available at the local hobby shop.

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One trick he uses to help improve the appearance of the 60-year-old kits is to dip the entire window "glass" parts into a jar of floor polish, then he sets the parts aside to dry for a few days. This method removes any scratches in the clear plastic that may have resulted from rough handling of the kit over a period of decades.

Though he focuses mainly on aircraft models, the first kit he remembers building was a Buick Skylark convertible model. He also likes to build Ford Mustang car kits.

Following a stint in the Navy, Spencer worked as a medical technologist in hospital laboratories in Lake County until his retirement two years ago. He lives with his wife, Edie, and a 13-year old beagle, Max.

His basement stockpile of kits will certainly keep him occupied during retirement.

"I've probably got another 10 years of modeling here to keep me busy," Spencer said.

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