Updated: Aug 16
Anyone that has been active in the 400 scale community at any point since the inception of the hobby in the late nineties has likely witnessed, or heard about, some sort of heated argument taking place on one of the online forums or social media groups. As I write this the dust of the last of said arguments, which took place at the Model Airliner Forum and, to a lesser extent, at the 400 Scale Hangar, can still be seen floating around the room. At the core of said argument are the unsettled differences between two prominent members of the community: Mr. AK – The owner of Aeroclassics; an established brand of 1:400/200 and 500 scale models. And Mr. RS – The owner and author of Yesterday’s Airlines; a website that compiles a great deal of information on scale model collecting (with a focus on 1:400 classic airliners), and aviation history.
I wasn’t around when 400 scale as we know it was born, so I am not familiar with all the details. But there is plenty of information available online, a lot of it compiled, organized, and exposed by Mr. RS himself, so it is not too difficult to come up with a more or less accurate answer to the question of why has the hobby been so drama-ridden since its inception, and why there seems to be no end in-sight.
A Bit of History
During the early and mid-nineties, before the first 1:400 scale models started to appear, the diecast aircraft model market was dominated by two German brands: Herpa Wings (today simply Herpa), which produced models in 1:500 scale, and Schabak, which did so in 1:600 scale. Both brands distinguished themselves from toy makers by producing a very comprehensive range of liveries (including unique special liveries) and showing a clear concern for details such as tail numbers (Schabak) and reasonably scaled landing gears. The Herpa product with its tampo-printed liveries, as opposed to Schabak’s decaled products, was particularly captivating.
Shortly before the turn of the century, a wave of highly passionate collectors from the west and northwest regions of the United States found themselves in a favorable position to enter the wonderful world of tiny but highly detailed diecast aircraft models. These collectors took the plunge that gave birth to 1:400 scale.
But in contrast with the well-established German brands, which were large entities with anonymous owners, these new 1:400 brands served merely as usernames of sorts for the individuals behind them. As a result, competition quickly turned into fierce rivalry among individuals. The vast majority of diecast aircraft models were being made in China, and very soon local entrepreneurs took notice of the growing, passion-fueled, diecast aircraft model industry and they also joined, with their own startups, the heated competition that was already taking place among the Americans.
What we see today is nothing but an evolution of the same arguments that have been ingrained in this hobby since its foundation.
The 2010s and the Glory of Aeroclassics and Andrew Klein
In 2009 I accidentally stumbled across 1:400 scale aircraft models while surfing the web. Very quickly I found out about two online discussion boards that seemed to be the heart of the community: The Diecast Aircraft Forum (DA.C), and the 400 Scale Hangar (400SH).
By then, most of the initial battles between brands and lords of the 1:400 scale world were distant memories of a decade ago, and most brand owners had retreated into discretion and anonymity, a move that served them well in making their brands look more professional. There was one notable exception: Andrew Klein (AK) of Aeroclassics.
In the 2010s Aeroclassics was the 1:400 brand in the spotlight. They were releasing new molds, all of them stunning and huge improvements over their existing counterparts. Their quality was top notch and they never failed to impress with their selection of monthly releases. There were some livery inaccuracies similar to the ones we see today, but this seems to be the nature of the beast when most releases are obscure subjects and a tight production schedule has to be kept up with. Nonetheless, by and large, Aeroclassics was the main reason many of us were collecting 1:400 scale models at all.
AK did not have any reservations whatsoever when it came to boasting about the success of his brand and pulverizing the reputation of the array of competitors that tried to challenge Aeroclassics’ position in the hobby. Some came closer than others to achieving that goal, but all failed in the end.
While AK certainly had plenty to brag about, some people were starting to show disagreement with his attitude. Most of these early critics of AK’s attitude could be found at DA.C. Meanwhile at the 400SH, the online home of Aeroclassics, any post that could be interpreted as a challenge to Aeroclassics would have been immediately deleted upon discovery by a moderator, of which AK was one.
The 2020s, Yesterday’s Airlines, and NG Models Plus Other Chinese Newcomers
I took a break from the hobby between 2013 and 2019, and when I came back a few changes had taken place.
It took me a while to pick up on the fact that by then Aeroclassic’s moment of fame had finally started to wear off. The brand had started to fall behind in terms of innovation, quality started to slip, and many collectors had grown sick of AK’s autocratic online persona. Many had started to express their disdain towards AK’s behavior in numbers not seen before, and without reservations at DA.C and the new Facebook groups, while another bunch ended up simply leaving the 400SH.
At the same time, a new website dedicated to the hobby of 1:400 scale aircraft model collecting had been born: Yesterday’s Airlines. Additionally, a new wave of 1:400 startups started to proliferate, this time entirely comprised of Chinese-owned brands. Among them, one particular brand stood out due to the high level of detail that they were bringing to 1:400 scale: NG Models.
It was hard to believe that all of the material that Yesterday’s Airlines included – which consisted of a comprehensive history of 1:400 scale, mold and model reviews, as well as historical aviation anecdotes based on 1:400 scale models – was authored by a single individual: Richard Stretton (RS), from England.
It is clear that RS poured a lot of passion for the aviation industry and scale airplanes into the creation of Yesterday’s Airlines, and the site earned my full admiration as soon as I discovered it. I wasn’t the only one who got captivated by RS’s passion, as he has been long labeled an eminence in the hobby. So much so, that AK himself collaborated with RS in writing some of the early articles covering the history of 1:400 scale, and RS also has a history of helping Aeroclassics with research and design.
Yesterday’s Airlines Position in The Hobby Solidifies, Becomes a Hit with NG Models, AK Not Thrilled
RS is by and large an Aeroclassics collector, but he is also a successful online influencer in the 1:400 scale world, and as such he did not hesitate to develop an alliance with the Chinese brands that started to sprout in the mid to late 2010s, which quickly became known for quality and innovation. This, unsurprisingly, was seen as an insult by AK, who very quickly developed a repulse for said brands, not only because they represented a serious contender for Aeroclassics, but also because of some – alleged – shoddy business practices that took place between them.
While I have to applaud RS for always trying to remain objective and balanced, I have to say that he comes across as overly optimistic by thinking that he could get away with being an enthusiastic supporter of NG Models (and similar Chinese brands) without becoming a recipient of the fury that AK was so well-known for.
By now Yesterday’s Airlines' social media following was in the thousands, and its position as a credible source of information for the 1:400 scale community was unofficially officialized when RS started to convince brands to send him samples of the new molds they were working on. Unfortunately, RS’s hard-earned success has been, in my opinion, mismanaged and has backfired in the form of an endless cycle of online drama bursts.
RS Gets Caught in The Middle of the Fire and Receives Some Too
Much in the same way that AK used to destroy the competitors of Aeroclassics around the 2010 time frame, he started to hurl out a wonderful repertoire of derogatory allegations towards the new Chinese brands. I personally can’t speak for the validity of said allegations, but I have to say that this time around there was not a lot of ground to stand on for AK and Aeroclassics, which ultimately proved to be detrimental to AK’s online reputation.
What was AK thinking? Only he would know, but I will say that a lot of collectors underestimate who AK really is. AK has been producing airplane models for a very long time, he is a consummate aviation enthusiast himself, an avid traveler, and has an extensive career working in the aviation industry. I bet he can tell the difference between a good airplane model and a bad one.
So, why did he start making allegations that were largely baseless and did not correlate with his level of expertise in the hobby? Again, I don’t know, but here are some options:
1) He was blinded by his love for Aeroclassics and could not stand being de-throned.
2) He simply enjoys stirring the pot a bit from the safety of his computer during his spare time and has a hard time measuring his words.
3) A combination of the above.
The fact of the matter is that, while AK should definitely measure his words, I think he is also taken way too seriously online. I have met AK in person, and while he does have a strong personality, he is not the tyrant one would think he is by reading his online comments. He is actually quite a rational individual with a lot of knowledge about die-cast airplane collecting.
But let’s go back to the topic at hand.
Needless to say, RS’s alliance with these new Aeroclassics contenders also earned him a large share of public insults and allegations from AK. And boy did he overreact.
RS Shows his Claws
RS was absolutely right in getting offended by AK's blasphemy towards him, and his attempts to defend his image and reputation are completely warranted. However, he did not handle the situation in the best way.
Most collectors could easily tell that AK's allegations towards RS were pretty baseless, and his insults were nothing more than him being childish behind the keyboard. Sure, some punctual counterarguments used strategically might have been justified to keep newcomers to the hobby informed. But the whole thing could have just largely been left alone and let the clearly false allegations and silly insults sink by their own weight.
But instead, RS went into full battle mode. He went on to relentlessly counterattack every single comment that AK had made against him, and would go on to rationalize all of the actions that he knew ended up severing his relationship with AK and Aeroclassics. Finally, RS started to dash out his own repertoire of insults toward AK.
Ultimately, RS ended up exposing his worst side and lowered himself to the level in which he himself had placed his alleged attacker (AK). A total contrast with the passionate, balanced author of Yesterday’s Airlines. An individual who thought he was too good to be challenged and would not rest until he got the last word in. Furthermore, when anyone pointed out to those facts to him, he would become even more livid. A vicious cycle of sorts had started.
Why did RS feel the need to defend himself so resiliently from AK? I also don’t have the answer to this, but likely scenarios that I have come up with include:
1) He did not have enough confidence in his public image, which is odd given the huge amount of followers that Yesterday’s Airlines has on social media.
2) The success and popularity of Yesterday’s Airlines weren't enough, and he found in victimization and conflict a way to fulfill this need for attention and extra validation.
3) A combination of the above.
Could be a Cultural Difference
One final thought that I have over this whole situation is that there might very well be some cultural differences at play. Another very well-known member of the community, Mr. Adrian Balch, has sided with RS and is adamant about defending his stance. Adrian is much more than a collector, he is a renowned aviation photographer, journalist, and author with an extensive career in the field. Like RS, he is also British, and he also has known AK personally for decades.
It really boggles me that Adrian is not more partial in this whole argument, in fact by defending RS so relentlessly he has been seen adding a bit of unwarranted wood to the fire at times.
I can only think that this is a case of a culture shock between the British wanting to be just and having no tolerance for baseless accusations versus the American more lighthearted and liberal approach to these matters.
I think RS has been caught in the middle of one of the typical battles between manufacturers that have been taking place since the very beginnings of 1:400 scale. Albeit it is really a one-sided argument (AK towards NG, et al).
Yesterday’s Airlines does have a lot going for it, and RS should be confident in what he has created and let the baseless critics and silly insults sink by their own weight. Otherwise, he loses credibility by lowering himself to the same level as those that according to him unjustly attack him. In doing so he effectively acknowledges that his critics must hold some truth. He also exposes a lot of his bad traits, and that detracts from the great work that he has done with his website. Not to mention that the ongoing rivalry with AK is not the only area in which RS shows the “I’m too good to have my opinion challenged” attitude.
Meanwhile, AK should understand that the insults that he posts publicly online towards RS are not perceived as truthful or funny. And he should also let the whole thing die as loyal Aeroclassics collectors focus on the models themselves and don't really care what other brands are doing, and what others are saying about Aeroclassics.
Both of them, AK and RS, have been told the same many times by more than one collector, so I’d be hard-pressed to think that any one of them will concede. Unfortunately, I think it is just a matter of time before we see another episode of 400 scale drama, so get your popcorn ready. I genuinely hope I am wrong and these two can go back to doing what they do best instead of continuing to dash out insults at each other on the internet.
Oh, and I almost forgot. A very important piece of this argument is the legal threats that AK has made to RS in order to stop him from reviewing Aeroclassics models. To that I have to say: Do anyone of us really think that someone is going to face real legal implications for talking about an unlicensed diecast aircraft model, usually marketed by an untraceable brand name anyways, on a personal website? Please, anyone giving any serious thought to that should get out more often, I know I should.
Jorge A. Zajia