News>Brick by brick, hour by hour; patience pays off as plumber constructs replica model of World War II hangar
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- A replica model of Building 550, one of three original World War II hangars here, sits on display at its former home in the 100th Civil Engineer Squadron headquarters building. Built by Ray Rowson, 100th CES and Ministry of Defence employee, the wartime model comes complete with aircraft parked outside. Mr. Rowson said he ended up having to use a model Douglas Boston 111 aircraft (formerly stationed at 88 Squadron, RAF Swanton Morley) rather than a Wellington bomber, because the model aircraft he went to see was too large to sit on the hardstand area of the replica of Building 550. The aircraft is labeled as a visiting aircraft. The model is now on display upstairs in the Galaxy Club here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ethan Morgan)
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Ray Rowson, center, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron and Ministry of Defence employee, chats with Squadron Leader Rick Fryer, RAF Mildenhall Station Commander, and Lt. Col. Matt Greene, 100th CES commander, about the model of Building 550 he recently completed. Mr. Rowson spent a year doing all the advance preparations, taking photos and getting precise measurements, before building the model. It is a replica of one of three original historical hangars here, as it appeared in 1943. The model is now on display upstairs in the Galaxy Club. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ethan Morgan)
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Col. Chad Manaske, 100th Air Refueling Wing commander, Ray Rowson, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron, and Sqadron Leader Rick Fryer, RAF Mildenhall Station Commander, pose by the model of Building 550 recently built by Mr. Rowson. The model is a replica of one of the three original historical hangars at RAF Mildenhall as it appeared in 1943. He has donated the model to the base, and it is currently on display upstairs at the Galaxy Club. (U.S. Air Force photo/Karen Abeyasekere)
by Karen Abeyasekere
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
3/25/2011 - RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Some might wonder what a plumber, World War II and pen tops have in common.
The answer is they all played a part in the building of a scale replica model of Building 550, one of three original, historical hangars here, which now sits on display upstairs at the Galaxy Club. The model is built as it appeared during World War II.
Ray Rowson, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron plumber, spent about a year painstakingly doing all the advance preparations and building the 1:72-scale model. Much of that time was spent taking photos and getting precise measurements, to ensure it was as realistic as possible.
"I'm very interested in World War II, and am a very nostalgic person. I love looking back on how things used to be," he said. "I came across a book in the Mildenhall Museum, which showed RAF Mildenhall as it was back in the 1930s, and it had some good aerial photos of it."
The building was formerly the home of fleet services, where Mr. Rawson worked several years ago.
A keen model maker, Mr. Rowson set himself a challenge - to build models of the entire base as it was back in 1943, when it had just 43 buildings. Building 550 was the first on his list to complete.
"There's so much history on this base," he said. "I started going around, collecting photos and information. But once I'd made it, and I saw the finished size of this model, I realized there was no way I could do the whole base - you'd need such a big room, there would be nowhere large enough to display it," he said.
He chose Building 550 first as it was one of the largest buildings, and is a C-hangar - the most popular type in World War II.
Mr. Rowson said he's always been interested in model-making, though he never pursued it as a career. At school, he earned an A-level in art and technical drawing, and he loved building things.
"If anyone gave me a challenge to build something, I could do it," he said.
"When I left school [he's now 57], a friend of mine worked for a plumbing firm, so I ended up getting a job there, and I've done plumbing ever since. Looking back, I wish I'd got into making models for film sets - I would have loved it!"
A couple of years ago, he built a World War II Tiger Tank from scratch. About 10 years prior to that, he built the model he said he's most proud of.
"It was a railway layout, and I built almost everything from scratch - the only thing I bought was the track."
Mr. Rowson said the railway took him several years to build, but it was worth the effort.
"I had one when I was a child, but I thought to myself that I'd like to have one now I'm older and have more knowledge of building things.
"All the buildings, signal boxes and platforms turned out really well; that's why I wanted to build the models of the base, because I knew I could do it," he said. "I hand-built everything to prove you don't have to spend lots of money buying expensive models. There's always something around the home that you can use to make things."
His railway model included a cinema, traffic lights and shops.
Everything is built in a workshop in his garage, and he starts with the initial drawings, which the plumber said he loves doing, so he can make sure the templates fit together properly.
"For Building 550, most of the structure is made of card stock, though internally it's made of balsa wood, to keep it all together.
"Once the shapes are cut out, they're painted brick red, before all the horizontal lines are marked on it. Next, the vertical lines were drawn in to make the bricks - which are staggered to give the proper effect of bricks, which is what takes up a lot of the time. Then the windows are cut out, and [acrylic] is used in place of glass."
To recreate the effect of opaque glass in some of the windows, he gently sandpapers the [acrylic glass].
The wartime hangar model comes complete with aircraft parked outside. Mr. Rowson said he ended up having to use a Douglas Boston 111 aircraft (formerly stationed at 88 Squadron, RAF Swanton Morley) rather than a Wellington bomber, because the one he went to see was too large to go on the hardstand he'd built. The aircraft is labeled as a visiting aircraft.
The model is extremely detailed, and includes miniature Royal Air Force personnel, including ground crew, a commander and secretary, and people refueling aircraft. All had to be hand-painted.
It even has fire extinguishers, made out of ball-point pen tops, which are painted red.
"If I can make something out of bits I can find at home, I'll do that rather than buy it," he said, "though I did have to buy the gantries on it, as there's no way to make mesh gantries."
As a plumber, his hands are more used to doing daily "rough" work such as installing water lines and making water breaks, which is the complete opposite of the delicate, intricate world of model-making.
"I find it [building models] so relaxing, but you've got to be in the right mood to do it," he laughed. "At the moment, I'm building a brass model of The Flying Scotsman (built in 1924, it was the first steam train to break the 100-mph barrier). It's very intricate -- I've been working on it for more than a year, but had to put it to one side while I was making the model of Building 500."
Squadron Leader Rick Fryer, RAF Station Commander, said he's very impressed with the model.
"Mr. Rowson has done a fantastic job of accurately reproducing a superb model depicting a typical scene from RAF Mildenhall's World War II history," he said. "While this type of hangar is typical of the immediate pre-World War II expansion era, and is still a common sight on many RAF airfields, it has a particular place in Mildenhall's proud heritage -- not only from an RAF standpoint, but also from that of the U.S. Air Force."
The RAF Station Commander explained that the "C"-type aircraft shed (one of three here) was built in 1935 during the second, and more modern, phase of hangar construction.
"The annexes included flight offices, stores and a charging room for aircraft batteries, all of which are clearly depicted in Mr. Rowson's model," he said.