Build A What-If: Letting Imagination Rule

One of the great things about building Gunpla, scifi, and Warhammer subjects is the simple fact that it’s all made up stuff. Sure, there is a particular canon and lore in those genres, but in the final analysis, none of it ever happened. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news…)

Of course, when it comes to “real world” modeling of vehicles and people that actually existed, taking liberties is not always done. Otherwise, the thing you are building would not look like the thing in the real world. 

Unless you’re building a “whiffer”.

A “whiffer” is a term derived from “what if”. The idea of a “what if” build is fairly simple. You take a model, and you reimagine how it would have been used.  Maybe you give it a paint scheme it might not have otherwise had, such as a Hawker Tempest in a desert camo. Or perhaps you decide to model a scenario in which one country uses a piece of equipment it never had, such as a Japanese F-22.

The possibilities are endless, of course. All that is really required is a bit of imagination, appropriate paints, and a set of decals. Of course, you take your chances posting speculative work… no matter how clearly you mark it as “totally made up stuff“, the inevitable guy in the nacho line at the IPMS-US Nationals will say “but that’s not how it was”. 🙂

Some people just never have any fun.

Still, I find tackling a “whiffer” quite enjoyable from time to time. Imagining a scenario for answering why something is adorned the way it is probably intrigues me the most. While there’s nothing wrong with just thinking “I’ll build a Mig-21 in RAF markings” and let that be the extent of it, I find creating a backstory to be very satisfying. In fact, I’ve often done bits of research into a particular aircraft, looking for clues in the real, actual history that help me look for viable “branches” which can then carry the story forward. It’s fun to relate the story to fellow modelers, too. (Except that nacho line guy… he’s a bit of a grump anyway.)

And to a certain extent, it really feeds the 10 year old modeler that’s still alive and well within me. At the end of the day, I really think that is why I still build models. I never really got it out of my system as a kid.

Over the years, I’ve made a few “whiffers”. Each had their own backstory that propelled my reasoning for arriving at the scheme shown. Some of these are fairly old, so the photographs aren’t up to my normal mediocre standards. 😉

But hopefully they will be an encouragement to try your hand at creating your own “whiffer”.

Hasegawa 1/72 F-20 Tigershark

This one is not too much of a stretch to imagine, really. When Northrop was pitching their next generation F-20 as a light export fighter replacement for the outstanding little F-5, Taiwan was very interested. Eventually, politics killed the deal. I suppose in hindsight, it helped boost sales of the F-16. Still, from a nostalgia standpoint, I’ll always feel like the Tigershark was one of the “greatest that never was” among fighters.

I thought it would be fun to imagine what the F-20 looked like had it actually gone into service in Taiwan’s Air Force. I used decals from an aftermarket set of ROCAF F-5E decals, and applied them to the wonderful little Hasegawa F-20 kit. It was truly a fun build, and I was quite happy with the result. If you see this kit for sale – grab it. 

Hobbycraft 1/48 P-59A Airacomet

This one was a lot of fun. It’s a simple, straightforward kit that goes together well. I was able to add in a gorgeous Cutting Edge resin cockpit, too, and it truly defined “drop fit”. When I finished it, I absolutely loved this scheme.

The P-59 was a Bell Aircraft produced jet fighter, and it was the first one in operational use in the US. However, it was not a stellar performer, and served mainly as a stepping stone for later, better models.

Still, I always felt it had a cool look to it. And I wondered what it might have looked like had it actually served. I thought the wide, flat wings were a perfect way to show off D-Day stripes, and with the use of a few decals cobbled together from the spares box, I had my Normandy P-59 ready to support the landings. Quite a fun project!

Minicraft 1/48 XF5F Skyrocket

The Skyrocket was a Grumman effort to produce a fast climbing carrier based fighter. To achieve this end, they stuffed a lot of engine(s) into a very small airframe. And while my reading indicated it was actually quite a nimble little fighter, it never went to the production lines.

However, I did know that the Fleet Air Arm purchased quite a few Grumman fighters, using variants of both the Wildcat and Hellcat. So it would be logical to assume that had the Skyrocket gone into production, they’d have used that too. 

With a set of aftermarket decals in hand, and my FAA colors at the ready, I ended up with what it might have looked like. I do recommend this kit, as it’s a simple, no drama build that looks very different. It’s certainly not your typical Mustang/Spitfire/109! A fun kit to build, in any markings.

Trumpeter 1/48 Supermarine Spiteful

The Spiteful was Supermarine’s “ultimate” development of the Spitfire. Very little about the airplane resembled its graceful predecessor. While sleek in its own right, the Spiteful seemed to be the awkward looking grandchild. Ultimately, the need for jet fighters meant this aircraft never entered full production.


In the late 1940’s, Israel began using Supermarine Spitfires in its growing air force. I decided to finish this model in Israeli markings, picking a scheme somewhat like that seen on P-51 aircraft the IAF flew. The Trumpeter kit is a delight to build, and has no vices insofar as construction goes. This was another fun kit to build, and is a perfect palette for any “whiffer” idea.

Go Forth And “Whiff”

There’s really no limit to what you can do in a what if build. And if you’re into kitbashing and scratch building, the result can be spectacular. It can be an especially fun way to turn that older or less accurate kit sitting in your stash into something quite fun and unique.

And you may have noticed how often I used the word “fun” throughout this blog post. I can’t overemphasize this aspect of the hobby – if you’re not having fun, I’d venture to say you’re missing the point. It may be time to jump start the enjoyment.

And nothing says fun like a “whiffer”! 😀

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