Productive research with Google

When I was a kid, I would scour books in the library for photos of my favorite airplanes. As I got older, I would purchase books that I found here and there about various aircraft. Still, no matter how much I searched, it seems that there were never enough photos for me.

If my 10 year old self could travel forward in time to today, after  he finished the screaming and freaking out about the whole time travel thing, and seeing what he looked like 35+ years later, I think, among other things, he’d think researching models with Google is really kind of cool.

But sometimes searching with Google seems to trip folks up. There have been countless times that I’ve seen someone post in a forum “I’ve searched Google for photos of whatever and I can’t find anything!”

Now, I’m sure in a few cases, folks just say that, haven’t not searched for anything at all, and are just being lazy, or they gave it the old “one try and quit”. But I’ve come to see that many folks just don’t know how to conduct research in Google. So I thought I’d pass along what has worked for me.

First, I use Google first. Not Bing. Not Yahoo. Google first. Those others may give you some good results, true. But for thoroughness, start with Google. The others are just chasing them. Start at Google’s home page, not the image search.

Let’s say you are researching Johnnie Johnson’s Spitfire Mk. IX. You know you want to model EN398, the serial number for one of the Spitfire’s he flew. Here is how I’d do it.

First, I’d do a general search for “Johnnie Johnson Spitfire”. I’d check the first page of results (opening them in another tab in my browser), and then jump over to the image search. Once there, I’d open any image (in another tab, of course) that looked interesting, including pictures of Johnson, because you never know if a page with his picture might have a good photo of his plane.

Next, I’d repeat the process for “Johnnie Johnson EN398”. And then move on to “Spitfire EN398”. you might even add other items, such as the squadron he was flying with at the time.

Of course, you’ll have a lot of overlap. But by using this method, you’ll get a lot of results. You can start very narrow- “Johnnie Johnson Spitfire EN398”, for instance, but I tend to like to start with a broader search, so I can see more. Serendipity has lead me to many interesting searches.

Another search to consider is using Google Translate to help you. I was researching a Russian pilot named “Evgeniy Mariinsky”. A quick trip to Google Translate yielded a translation for his name, which led to Wikipedia in Russian to confirm it. I could then search for “Мариинский, Евгений Пахомович”, which yielded far more results, including much better photos. Now, I have no idea what that means… I assume it’s his name, of course, but it really doesn’t matter, because Google knows what it means- and did the work for me. The same works with “Yak-3” and “Як-3”. If all you search for is “Yak-3”, you miss out on many things written in Russian!

Finally, if you know the site you’ve seen something on, but you just can’t find it, add some directions to Google’s search to confine the query to a specific site. Say you wanted to see if any build report’s on Johnnie Johnson’s Spitfire had been published on You’d enter a search string of “ spitfire johnnie johnson”. And you’d find several results, all from that site only.

As I’ve read many times on many forums, “Google is your friend”. It really does open up a huge world for research possibilities. In fact, I’ve made it a habit to do open-ended research on subjects I prefer to build- like Spitfires- even if I’m not building, just to see things I might have missed previously.

And I am sure your 10-year-old self would be just as impressed as mine would.

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