COLUMBIA — Three judges are bending over the round table, scanning a scale model aircraft with their flashlights, examining every little detail.
While squatting to look at the object from a different angle, they start discussing the quality of the work. More experienced judges chaperone new ones and give them advice. When the inspection is over, they move on to the next model of the category and start the process anew.
Forty-one contestants met at Hickman High School on Saturday to display their scale models of aircraft, helicopters, cars and much more. About 300 creations were judged during TigerCon, the third annual contest of the Central Missouri Scale Modelers club. Thirty-one categories were represented and divided based on the scale and the type of model.
Colin Smialek, TigerCon chairman, the contest has grown in two years. For its first event, only 30 people participated. It now attracts more contestants, sometimes from outside Missouri, although most of them are from St. Louis or Kansas City. The competition took place in a friendly atmosphere, where the rules came more from common understanding and trust among the model enthusiasts.
Even though most contestants were adults, children 16 and younger could also participate in their own category. Sara Ratliff, 13, of Higbee said she started scale modeling in June with her father. During the summer, she worked about an hour each day on an aircraft that led her to win two prizes in a St. Louis competition — first in junior aircraft and best for junior model.
"The most annoying part was the tail. The decals didn't fit the plane so I had to trim them," she said.
At TigerCon 2013, she presented the same model.
Smialek is deeply involved in the contest. In addition to his chairman role, he was also a contestant and a judge. He displayed three of his models: two military aircraft — an AV-8B Harrier II and a P-51D Mustang — and an Enzo Ferrari. On average, he said, it takes between 30 and 40 hours to finalize a model like these.
"Modeling teaches details, patience, reading and research," Smialek said.
Other more detailed models with handmade features can take as many as 70 hours, other contestants said.
"It is a way to relax," Smialek said.
He started his hobby when he was 8, following in his brother's footsteps. Today, 42 years later, Smialek still enjoys it, using his free time to build his scale models.
"I like to create things and make them totally unique," he said.
Smialek shares his passion with his 13-year-old nephew, whom he helps from time to time with building models. Smialek also attends the club's monthly meetings where modelers discuss new techniques and give each other tips to improve their skills.
The creation he is the most proud of goes back five years, when he built a model of the International Space Station. After almost 80 hours of work, the model rose 3 feet long, 2 feet deep and 2 feet high.
"It was very difficult because you have to suspend it (in the air) to work on it," he said.
Smialek owes much of his modeling knowledge to his practice and eight years of experience as a judge because he knows what the models are evaluated on.
Judges look at the seams, the eventual gaps between parts and drops of glue. In the case of an aircraft, the glass has to be clear and the landing gear straight. The painting also needs to be consistent on each side. Only the model is judged, not the base it sits on.
At TigerCon 2013, 12 judges worked in teams of three. Each team judged specific categories, avoiding the ones they participated in.
Other activities included a raffle, the sale of modeling kits and a free workshop for children called Make-N-Take, where kids learned on an easy model that they could take home.
By the end of the event, awards for each category were handed to the winners, and also "Best of Show" and "People's Choice." Best of Show was won by Terry Barrow for his MS1-Sherman tank and the People's Choice award was given to Alyn Loya for a 1925 Ford Model T tow truck.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.