How About Better Aftermarket Cockpit Sets?


Recently, some well meaning commenters have intimated that I am some kind of aspiring modeling dictator, telling everyone else what and how to model.

While nothing could be further from the truth (I will tell you what and how I think you should model), it got me thinking. If I was some kind of scale modeling il duce, what would I do with that bizarrely niche power?

I sure wouldn’t tell people how to pursue their particular flavor of the hobby. Instead, I’d level my proclamations at those make the kits and paints and yes, the aftermarket sets. Because there’s a whole lot of bullshit that you, me, and a whole lot of other modelers put up with that we simply shouldn’t have to. Not in this day and age.

Let’s start with cockpit sets.

Aftermarket Cockpit Sets are the Worst

With a few weird exceptions, aftermarket cockpit sets come in two flavors – resin and photo etch. The former is generally a total replacement for the kit plastic, while the latter is often employed more as an applique over the kit parts.


Resin’s big advantage is DETAIL, particularly detail in terms of texture, depth and complexity. Now that CAD and 3D printing are finding their way into the hobby, the amount of detail that resin sets can pull off is truly staggering.

The simple addition of a good resin seat can take even an out-of-the-box cockpit to the next level

Resin’s big disadvantage? That’s easy – FIT. Seats are one thing. But when we’re talking about full-on cockpit sets, the odds of them being drop-fit replacements for kit parts is almost zero. This leads to lots of sanding and test-fitting and swearing and – at least for me – is probably the most likely way to get me to shove a kit back into its box and move on to something different.

Lovely detail, but…ugh

I can hear it now.

“But…some modeling skill required!”

Screw modeling skill. If I’m going to be paying top dollar for an aftermarket pit, the damn thing should fit. Without having to hack the kit to pieces to do so.

Photo Etch

Photo etch’s biggest advantage is in recreating scale thickness. A great example is this lovely gunsight frame for Trumpeter’s 1/32 P-47:

It’s also got its uses for representing fine details – cockpit sills, instrument panel bezels and so on. But a lot of the PE on offer these days is the colored, console-detail variety.

Over the years, I’ve come to loathe color PE. It has this weird ability to look really great on the fret, and then go completely flat, limp, and fake-looking when you put it into your cockpit.

null_zps579a5262 (1)

So pretty…

HAF F-16D Eduard PE Fail 18

So awful

Part of the problem is that PE sucks at representing depth. The other part is that the color PE is often either off-color, grainy, or both.


A lot of times, Eduard (and others…but let’s face it…they’re the 800-lb gorilla here) will even oblige you to file off kit detail to install the PE, leaving you up a creek when you look on with horror at your shitty PE side consoles.

Even decent PE still looks depressingly flat

Even decent PE still looks depressingly flat

In my quest to avoid the fit issues of resin, and the color-matching and flatness issues of PE, I’ve increasingly been doing my damnedest to bring kit parts up to snuff, and use resin seats and other bits to goose the detail level.

Hobby Boss A-6E Intruder 05-30-14-1

1-32 F-104S Cockpit-2

But I would so much prefer to have the delicious detail of resin and/or photo etch, since for the most part kit cockpits aren’t the best.

Building a Better Aftermarket Cockpit

So, as modeling dictator, here’s what I would order on pain of death:

1 – Drop-Fit Resin

This should not be difficult in the slightest. After all, resin cockpits are made to fit kits that actually exist. So buy one of the damn things and make sure the dimensions are the same, and test-fit before you finalize the master. Don’t give me crap about accuracy – I can think of too many incidents of nice resin seats and cockpits getting all kinds of details wrong.

“But what about sidewalls and cockpit sills and…”

If you want to include them, go ahead. But make them optional. Or take a page from Eduard’s playbook and make them an extra set that you can charge extra money for.

2 – Retrofit Resin

Make resin enhancements designed to straight-up replace kit parts. Keep the cockpit tub intact, and just provide replacement side consoles, a replacement aft bulkhead, and a replacement instrument panel. This would be especially attractive for kits that already use separate parts for the side consoles, like Academy’s 1/48 Phantoms, and for kits that just need a little extra help.

A vanishingly small number of manufacturers already do something like this – Barracuda comes to mind with their cockpit enhancements for the Tamiya P-51, Spitfire and so on.

3 – Layered PE Instrument Panels

Eduard already does layered instrument panels…but when the background color is so far off from the kit, it’s just super-frustrating to deal with.

Here’s what I suggest – provide just the “frame” of the instrument panel, literally the shape with the holes in the right places – as an unpainted part so it can easily be painted to match the rest of the cockpit. Then provide individual bezels, clusters etc as color PE that goes on top. This way you get the nice detail of a PE panel without the swaths of grainy, incorrect color, and adding bezels and such as additional parts can yield the right degree of depth.

4 – Acetate Gauges

The printed gauges in color PE sets suck, and suck hard. The printed color texture makes it difficult to give them a good, smooth gloss that has the proper glassy appearance, and they just never, ever pop.

Individual gauge decals are preferrable, but for my money it doesn’t get better than gauges printed on clear acetate. They POP, and the nature of the material basically ensures that glassy appearance.


Ditch the PE color-printed gauge faces, and bring back acetate.

5 – Provide Decals

Cockpits are full of stencils and placards – particularly modern cockpits. If there’s one thing I do appreciate about color PE, it’s that it at least tries to represent this. With resin cockpits, you’re often SOL. Maybe not a big deal in 1/72 or even 1/48, but once you get into 1/32 scale, it really starts to show.  So provide decals!

This is something Eduard does with their seats that a lot of other players (Aires, True Details etc) don’t – and it’s a huge difference-maker. Just look at the added detail and sense of realness Barracuda’s cockpit stencils set brings to Tamiya’s big Corsair.

Tamiya F4U-1 Corsair - 07-02-14-11

6 – Provide Instrument Panel Blanks

Instead of forcing modelers to put their entire build at risk by grinding all the detail off their kit instrument panels, either make yours its own part or provide a blank as a replacement.

A Challenge to Aftermarket Companies

These six things. Do them. I dare you. Tons of modelers avoid PE because of the flatness and color-matching problems. Just as many avoid resin because of the fit headaches. Modelers that would buy far more of your offerings if they could trust that what they were buying would work with them, rather than fight them every step of the way.


14 thoughts on “How About Better Aftermarket Cockpit Sets?

  1. “Screw modeling skill. If I’m going to be paying top dollar for an aftermarket pit, the damn thing should fit. Without having to hack the kit to pieces to do so.”

    Those are exactly my sentiments on resin anything. Unless I’m trying to make the resin intended for one manufacturer’s kit fit to a kit of the same subject from another company, modeling skill should not be an issue.

    What bugs me more than poor fitting resin cockpits are resin engines or afterburners that are off scale for their stated kit. Aires can be particularly bad for that. One example is the Rolls Royce Spey afterburners they made in 1/48 for the Hasegawa/Revell Phantom; underscale to the point that they can’t be used at all.

    As for PE sets, I agree with all that you said about them. I would also add that it aggravates me to no end seeing a PE manufacturer fill space on their fret with unrealistic, flat renditions of structures that are round in real life.

    Rendering hydraulic struts and lines in PE in any scale is a massive waste of the resource. Either make a smaller fret or find different details on the subject that the media is better suited to.

  2. My first kit was a 29 cent 1/72 Corsair…….1969.. No cockpit!! only a peg to place a half figure pilot onto. Aurora.
    We are now light-years ahead with the resources that are available to us now in the industry. So much to pick from….yet never seemingly happy with any of it.
    Kits are at an all time high and with the purchase of intricate PE and resin replacement components, the total cost can be as much as 3 to 4 times the original purchase price. We are spoiled with the hobby these days…no longer are we true “builders” , but mere plastic assemblers of detailed components. Much of the “art” of our hobby in creating “realism” has been lost due to our demand of perfection……..from ready made detail.

    Still,….if I’m plopping down 175-200$ on a build..I dayum well expect all those “extra’s” to look great and actually fit! So yes your rant has great merit Doog.

    Let the manufacturers know our feelings, many read the online blogs. If they comply..great!! if not,..VOTE with our wallets, refuse to buy their products.
    I’m doing that more and more these days.

  3. I’ve used Eduards coloured PE for cockpits in 1:72 and there I like it but as you say when you move up to 1:48 or even bigger then it’s not as fun anymore with the prepainted PE in the cockpits. I’m currently working on (technically as the build lies beside my work area while I’m working on another build) a Revell Tonka in 1:32 with all the Aires resin I could get my hands on for it. I’ve yet to glue anything together but boy, have I had fit issues with the Aires? Well, certainly cuite a lot, I’d go as far and say all the way. NOTHING fits, I had to sand the bottom of the tub and the top of the front wheel well so thin that I almost can see through it. The airbrakes is excuisive but the fit is, well lets say, what other kit is they made for? The burner cans is lovely in their detail but they take some creative thinking and a lot of violence in order to fit together with the bays for the air brakes.

    I would rant less if the resin was from different manufacturers but now it all is from Aires and there’s not just the fit issues towards the kit itself but towards all the other resin from Aires. Excuse me a moment but GAAAAAAARH!!! Sorry but I just had to. Have I stopped buying resin? No, but I always look to see if there’s an option avilable from Eduard over Aires but there’s pitfalls there as well.

    Will I stop using resin? No, the details make all the screaming and cussing worth it and there’s no risk that my hair will turn grey over it, well it allready is grey so no worries there, even so that a quarter of my beard is white. But why bother? I must say that I like the extra mileage that you get from using resin and PE as well for a build. More so that I feel that I can’t get as much work done in 1:72 as I want so I’m slowly moving up in scale as there’s more room for extras the bigger scale you go, except Tammy’s 1:32 birds where there’s almost no need for extras if you’re honest to yourself but it feels strange to build OOtB so maybee just a little one or two extras… But it’s as with everything else in this hobby that it’s each to it’s own but I find that I like working with more than just the kit, for me it’s just a case of some modelling skill needed and I’ve found my modelling Zen with extras. Rant over…

    • Your Tonka experience reminds me of my PCM Fiat G.55. The kit includes a resin cockpit and resin exhausts…AND THEY INTERFERE WITH EACH OTHER. Such BS. It’s like buying a car and having the driveshaft unable to reach the axle because the muffler’s in the way.

  4. Doogs…after you get your pit rule remedied, can you find whoever is responsible for the 48th scale Hase AV-8B and beat them with a coat hangar..

  5. Truth. I’m working on a 1/48 Tamiya F-16 and I decided to try my first foray into resins. I got the gear wells and the cockpit sets from Aires.

    First, they all look really good. That detail definitely takes things up a notch and makes those areas pop. The main gear well even fit pretty nicely without too much work. The nose gear well, on the other hand…I can see that they made some token attempt to match it to the curvature of the air intake structure it attaches to, but it’s not very good. At least it won’t require too much effort to get that right.

    Now, the cockpit…it’s a joke. The amount of surgery required to get it even to the point of “OK, with some filling and sanding this is good enough” is totally ridiculous. And the instructions are useless; OK obviously it’s a cockpit, I know where it goes. But do the same alignment marks in the kit parts still apply? Where do I need to remove material? Oh what, it does suggest that. It’s just not in any areas that are PART OF THE ACTUAL KIT PARTS. Come on, now. For the price I paid for these things, my purchase alone seems like it would be enough to fund a couple of tries at getting the damn thing right before putting it on the market.

  6. Seems this has stirred up a hornets nest ………. I’ll add to the “fury”. I agree with everything that has been said. Fact is, I hardly ever buy the complete cockpit sets, only purchasing seats and wheel/tires. I can’t justify the two to three times the price of the stupid kit!! AND, how did we(modelers) ever fall for flat metal objects that are supposed to represent 3D objects? Really?! Agreed, some applications work great where it’s layered (instrument panels with decals as dial faces, etc.) But, used as seat belts, it’s a joke. Not that seat belts aren’t flat, but they aren’t straight as an arrow and looking “freshly pressed” either. Personally, I’ve tried for the last time to get this to work. As sorry looking as my own attempt at making them is, I’ll not be spending any more money on PE seat belts — (well, since seat belts are usually included in the PE cockpit sets I’ll have to amend that last statement to say I won’t be buying any more sets just for the belts)
    Well, that’s my rant, and since this was initiated concerning accessory cockpit sets I wont go any farther into other areas.

  7. Some interesting, slightly inflammatory, yet well formed stuff here.

    Never one to shy away from telling it like it is, Doog does attract a fair amount of chatter (which is no doubt all good for the blog too), sometimes this is from the folks who have to have an opposing view no matter what (or feel that it is their duty to jump to the defence of their ‘good friend’ the master resin maker slash keeper of all things styrene).
    Still, that’s their prerogative.
    (BTW, what is a ‘good friend’. Have they got bad and indifferent ones too?)

    Where were we? ah yest nasty nasty resin and PE details…
    I’d have to say that there are products out there that do contradict this ‘resin is pointless’ standpoint and which are well engineered and do fit the intended use with a minimum of work.
    The now defunct Model Design Construction and Roy Sutherland’s products come to mind.

    Thinking about this highlights a perennial bugbear of mine in that there are other rock star industry players out there whose products are detailed, accurate (says who?) and at the same time, astoundingly rubbish.
    By playing to a perception that the brand name carries some (warped) sense of quality they sell shed loads of their stuff and rock up to expo’s in expensive cars and an eager crowd of sycophantic admirers. Me, jealous? never…

    They know who they are, but do they care?
    Because there is something within the psyche of the average modeller that makes us unable to resist the idea that we need more stuff, detailed stuff, under the guise of it being a hi-tech solution or essential to furthering our miserably mediocre craft skills. In Photographic circles its known as gear acquisition syndrome (or GAS).

    For most, just knowing that the castellated retaining nuts on that MB Mk7D resin seat are there ( never mind that they are invisible once installed) plays on the obsessive compulsive disorder that afflicts at least 90% of all hobbyists. And the makers of this stuff are exploiting this weakness. Its not blowing the lid of anything, this is human nature. Purely one person manipulating another for gain. I don’t buy the I make it coz I love it routine, or I’m not making a profit from this, its purely for you guys my fellow modellers… bollocks.

    But there is a finite life span to all things and I believe that resin aftermarket stuff is on the downward slope as far as being lucrative from a financial point of view.
    Due mainly to the increasing quality and content of IJM kits as new moulding processes take over and the market demographic changes.

    Which leads me on to these ‘characters’ who will print up a decal sheet from a grainy or indistinct period image that might or might not have been colourised in some bitmap paint app. And then add caveats that the spinner back plate is conjecture as their reference photo doesn’t show this… Just cut to the chase, admit its mostly made up shit and stop taking us for fools.

    Again, its testicles. (Maybe a good kick in the plums would re-focus these people’s attention?)

    If there is ever an opportunity to reinforce credibility and authority as a researcher of historical accuracy, why don’t these people put their references where their mouths are with some direct photographic reference accompanying the product for the modeller to make an informed choice?

    Possibly not because…
    1. They believe that they are somehow the only one with the info and ergo the expertise. Big fish small pond (be careful, it might evapourate).
    2. A fear that divulging the location of the holy grail (true or fabricated/manipulated imagery) will weaken their stakehold (grip on our wallets) in the modelling community or allow competitors to steal their income stream.
    Profoundly insecure either way you look at it, which to be honest is the root cause of all of this, the fear of missing out by not having the latest kit, detail, decal, paint , pot of scale dust etc.

    Have fun, don’t sweat the small stuff and buy my fine scale model photography handbook when it comes out early next year…

  8. Doog and those that have posted before me, Very well said.

    I’m not a contest modeler since the 70’s. My models are for display in my cabinet only. Therefore, my focus is concerned with how the aircraft looks within a foot or two. I do buy resin wheels, and exterior sets if there is that much difference from what the kit offers. I’ve even been known to replace the seat, add seatbelts, and Harness, and I do like to replace the IP with a layered PE from Eduard. I’ve tried a few resin cockpits, and got one to fit, while trashing the other one. To me, that extra detail isn’t worth the effort. I do prefer to add home made details, not just buying someone else’s work.

    Being semi retired, and looking forward to full retirement in a few years, I’m more budget conscience then most. To buy a top of the line 1/48 scale kit, and then spend 2 to 3 times that amount on after market parts is going to be out of my budget. And honestly, it’s the overall finished presentation that I’m after. Replacement decals either better then the kit offering (which are getting better all the time, or made by Cartograf) will be my only addition.


  9. Good to know there’s another ranter out there; spot-on regarding issues with Resin AND Aires… A beautiful set of their resin upgrades for Hasegawa’s 1/48 Spitfire IXc was bought on the basis of turning an OK kit into a detail masterpiece. However not one resin item actually fitted – either too small or too big…both the kit and resin set were thrown away.

    One more thing to add about resin – why the excessive flash/ molding tabs… That needs to change…what a total pain to remove.

  10. Some people want Obama Phones – Some people want good resin and PE. Dictators aren’t so bad as long as they do what I want 😉

    I agree with your issues. My first experience with pre-painted PE was with a 1/32 F-15. I could not figure out how a $100 pre-painted set could get the color so wrong. In my case I was doing an Israeli F-15 E and their cockpit surfaces are black, so I thinned out some Vallejo and flowed it over the surfaces. It wicked into the proper areas very nicely and after 2-3 coats looked good. And it actually cured some of the flat look you are complaining about. Not that this should be necessary, but for US cockpits I would do the same thing with grey.

    As for Aires… I have such a love hate relationship with them. The detail is unbelievable, but the amount of work and fudging needed to get them to fit and look good is frustrating. If the mounting screws for a Tamiya F-4 cockpit are X inches apart – then make your replacement cockpit tub X inches long! If the resin you use shrinks as it cures then make your master X+Delta inches long! Other companies have figured it out. I can handle cutting off the pour plug and making minor adjustments for fit, but I hate that their sets aren’t even the right size.

    Of course every time I say I’m going to build a kit straight out of the box, I get one step into it before I start ordering every after market set available 🙂

  11. Doogs,
    You get a hearty AMEN from me. I’m currently working on a pair of 1/48 Hasegawa kits; an F-14D and a F-15C. I decided to try my hand at the Black Box resin cockpits for both. The Tomcat is coming along nicely but I’m ready to stomp the -15 into the floor.
    For whatever reason, the front part of their two piece set fits fine, but the area under the turtle deck is just frosting my ass. Sanded, fitted, sanded, carved, fitted….. I finally said screw it, left the back wall off, glued the nose to the fuselage, planning on closing the canopy.
    Well, now I have a Frankenstein-like seam to deal with and when I test fitted the canopy, looks like the BB set is pulling the sills in too far!! Aarrrrggghh!!!
    Probably will end up trashing this one, buying another and put my scratch building skills to work, and sell off the rest of my BB F-15 sets. I really suspect it’s an issue with the turtle deck section.

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