Recognition Models

Air Training Corps cadets building recognition models, via CollectAir

Looking for the "Plaster of Paris Aircraft Corp." and coming up empty [stay tuned], I did find plenty of aircraft made from Plaster of Paris: WWII-era recognition models used to train military personnel and civilian planespotters to distinguish between friendly and enemy aircraft. Though recognition models and plane silhouette posters and such were used as early as planes themselves, planespotting efforts surged during World War II.

Models were needed to train millions of soldiers, for whom distinguishing planes was a matter of survival and victory on the battlefield, and to train millions of volunteers in the Ground Observer Corps, who were manning towers and outposts all along America's coasts. [British planespotters actually ended up having much more to do.]

Official StromBecKer model kit of the Boeing Flying Fortress, via CollectAir

To source all these models, manufacturers developed injection-molded cellulose plastic technologies to crank them out, and schoolchildren were enlisted to build them from kits of wood, or to carve them to spec from other non-strategic materials. Like Plaster of Paris.

Like the Civilian Camouflage Council mobilized by New York artists and art directors in 1942, and these insane canvas-and-stilts bomber trainers, these recognition models are an awesome melding of militarism and craft, cutting edge technology and ad hoc bricolage.

Walt Disney with reconition models, and the diagram for a Naval flight training film on the wall, from LIFE, via Collectair

They're interesting and novel to me, but also esoteric and esthetic. For the folks who grew up during the war, they were life and death, vital, formative to their world.

And they're apparently being forgotten. The images here [and the information, basically everything I know about recognition models that didn't come from the opening of Empire of the Sun] come from Steve Remington's CollectAir Friend or Foe? Museum, an extraordinary collection of recognition models and related training material located in Santa Barbara. There's much, much more on the website, including the planespotting training kites, gorgeous shipspotting models, including one British Razzle Dazzle model, on and on.

Friend or Foe? Museum []

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: February 17, 2011.

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