WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- In the cutthroat and intricate business of model airplanes, some aircraft manufacturers compete with model-makers and will also sell scale models of their airplanes.
Boeing's on-line store (boeingstore.com) features several models of the company's 727 and 747 jumbo jets.
The "Executive" model with costs about $345 is built by Pacific Miniatures (known as PacMin), one of the biggest and well reputed of the corporate-scale model airplane manufacturers, which builds many of the large-scale model airplanes on display at travel agencies, at airlines and airframe manufacturers corporate offices or trade shows. PacMin is one of Boeing's primary modelers.
The large-scale models of Airbus aircrafts, Boeing's main competitor, are produced by Aerospace Modelmakers International or AMI, a British company, while the smaller, miniature replicas of its aircraft are made by Herpa, a German manufacturer of small-scale metal die-cast models that are prized in the collectors' world.
The serious and deep-pocketed collectors can visit Atlantic Models (atlanticmodels.com) of Miami, another highly regarded corporate-oriented scale model manufacturer: its line of 1:100 scale models of the Boeing Pan American flying boat is highly sought.
There are also well-known distributors, such as Toys and Models Corporation (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) that distribute and sell 1:24 to 1:48 scale military aircraft or 1:100 to 1:200 scale passenger airplane models to the retail and consumer markets that are hand-made of specially treated mahogany wood by the Desktop Company in the Philippines.
These desktop models have become so popular that even a major shopping mall chain: the Discovery Channel stores (shopping.discovery.com -- without the www) carries a line of 10 specially designed model aircraft, including authentic mahogany wood replicas of the 1:24 scale Spirit of St. Louis ($129.00) and the sleek 1:72 scale Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird spy plane) in cooperation with the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum, whose curators approved the models' designs.
Discovery Channel entered this market because their history of aviation series, "Wings," was one of their most popular programs and they wanted to provide aviation enthusiasts models that would authentically replicate of some of the more famous airplanes featured in the shows.
The world of desktop airplanes is governed by its own 'pecking' order.
At the high end is the commercial aviation market, with the models either built "in-house" or commissioned by airline manufacturers to companies, such as PacMin or Atlantic Models, that go to incredible lengths to produce exact model and scale replicas of their airplanes, with every detail technically proportional.
Such companies are generally commissioned to produce models during the initial design stages of developing a new aircraft. At companies, such as Boeing, an entire engineering model laboratory is located in-house and charged with building "working" models of new aircraft. They use digital engineering databases to build intricately detailed model prototypes, complete with landing gear.
PacMin, for example, has been commissioned by airplane companies to create special "cut-away" prototype models (usually in the 1:20 or 1:40 scale) displaying the cockpit, crew bunks, interior passenger seating, and working interior and exterior lighting, including blinking wing lights, working cargo loaders, and landing gear. These 'cut-away' models are built to let customers see the details of new aircraft designs or actual planes that are being ordering.
The price of these models is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
In other cases, these models are used as a marketing tool to entice potential corporate or government buyers to "close the deal" and upon delivery of the aircraft the manufacturers will present the customers with a model of that aircraft. These models are also used to promote the aircraft at trade shows, for instance, to display a detailed large wingspan or other features of an aircraft. At travel agencies, the large-scale model airplanes provide the illusion of flight to the prospective traveler.
All these aircraft models are of exceptional workmanship and are produced in limited quantities, and are therefore greatly prized by collectors. Some of these large models can be purchased from the British Internet store aviationmodels-online.com for about $300 for the 1:100 scale and $1,000 and up for the 1:50 scale.
Those who are lucky enough to have contacts at the airline manufacturers can obtain sample models for free or at a discount. A contact at British Aerospace, for example, provided me with a model of the prototype of the Joint Strike Fighter that is being developed by Lockheed Martin and BAE.
Because of the nature of the competition between them and Boeing to sell the JSF to the U.S. Air Force, this scale model is deliberately misleading in some of its specifications for security reasons in order not to reveal certain new details to the competition. Once the chosen aircraft is in production, however, its scale model will conform to its specifications.
PacMin is one of the world's leading manufacturers of desktop models (typically 1:100 scale) and larger scale models (for example, 1:20 scale that can be more than 6 feet in length) for corporate clients, such as Boeing.
Its 1:100 desktop models are normally made of a solid urethane material, whereas the larger scale models are typically manufactured from fiberglass. It also produces 1:48 and 1:72 scale models of smaller regional passenger aircraft, such as Gulfstream and Bombardier
Most of PacMin's exhibit scale airplane models are not available for purchase by the individual collector because they are specially commissioned by the marketing departments of airlines, airframe companies, airplane museums and even restaurants that feature airplane themes.
Michael's Charcoal Grill in Midland, Texas, for example, which is owned by an ex-Air Force tanker pilot, has as its motif a celebration of aviation. To visualize this motif, the restaurant's owner commissioned PacMin to produce a series of large scale airplane models ranging from nearly 6 feet to 16 feet in length, with the models suspended from the ceiling, providing the customers with a sense of realism and drama. There are plans to open more aviation theme restaurants in other cities.
Fortunately, many of PacMin's 1:100 desktop models can be ordered through its Web site at pacmin.com or by phone at 714-447-4478; fax: 714-447-4465). In fact, PacMin has started a Collector's Club on its Web site, with plans to offer approximately two models every two months to help satisfy the cravings of collectors. Prices range from about $200 to $400 for the 1:100 scale desktop models of their 28-inch 1:100 scale Boeing 747 jumbo jet, which retails for about $350.
These more affordable PacMin models are also popular with aircraft manufacturers, airlines and leasing companies for presentation purposes and customer give-a-ways because of they are a good size for travel and desk display and a persuasive way to convince an airline to purchase an aircraft by providing a scale model depicting their livery. Other customers include chief executive officers and airline pilots who request certain models. Many airlines now run company stores that also feature PacMin models.
In terms of production runs, following market leader PacMin, Atlantic Models is the second largest manufacturer of high-quality commercial and collector airplane models in the United States. In the year 2000, more than half of its production was for commercial airlines and manufacturers. Its prices range from $160 to $85,000, and average around $250 per model for the collector market.
Atlantic Models' production line includes more than 150 different aircraft, with an almost endless variety of paint schemes to match the airlines and other aircraft companies they represent.
In the special large-scale corporate models, which are used as lobby displays, Atlantic Models has produced full-scale cockpit sections, 10 foot wing span ceiling hung models, floor mounted models, and prototype aircraft models, including paint scheme proposals being considered by airlines. Other models include specialized large-scale models used in radar testing for several corporations and universities. They even produce models used in litigation to recreate functions or procedures used in aircraft overhaul.
Atlantic Models sells to both the corporate and collector market. The corporate buyers range from the airframe and/or engine manufacturers, the airlines, and collectors. The CEO of a famous airfreight shipping company recently ordered an aircraft model with one of the cargo doors open so that one could see the company's containers on board the aircraft. When the new Pan Am airline was reborn in 1997, Atlantic Models was commissioned to build models of their fleet that were presented to President Clinton, members of Congress, and Florida state officials, some of whom had their names inscribed on the models, such as "Clipper Bill Clinton."
Atlantic Models is also highly regarded among serious collectors for several lines of specialty models where it has established a market niche for older airplanes and airliners. These date back to the Pan American Boeing flying boats, the Douglas propliners, the Lockheed Super Constellations, and other more recent collectibles, such as the Braniff "Jelly Bean" aircraft.
Collectors of airplane models include aviation buffs, pilots, the children of pilots who seek a model of an airplane flown by their parents, and, in one instance, a couple who met on a Pan Am DC-6 when he was the pilot and she was a flight attendant, and requested a replica of that aircraft with the fleet number they recalled.
One of Atlantic Models' most famous airplane models is a special 3-foot wingspan TWA Super Constellation, which it built for the son of a TWA pilot. The model cost $5,000 and it included electric motors, functional lights, landing gear and all antennas.
In another segment of the specialty corporate and collectors market, several firms specialize in taking generic models produced by other companies and applying design specifications to replicate an aircraft's exact details.
At Model Craft USA, Inc. (modelcraftusa.com), for example, engineers employ specialized software programs that can reduce actual airplanes' specifications to the minutest size. Model engineers will then carve out the inside of a generic model supplied by companies such as Toys and Models Corporation (email@example.com), and, depending on the customer's needs replicate an identical model to the minutest details, such as flight control surfaces, and even, on occasion, create an actual working landing gear, complete with remote control turned props.
Many former and current commercial and military pilots, corporate executives, and even movie stars who fly their own airplanes have commissioned Model Craft USA to custom paint their aircrafts' logos, registration numbers, and color schemes.
For its basic replica work, Model Craft USA will charge between $325 and $375. This custom work takes between 6 and 8 weeks, while the more elaborate replication process is much more expensive. Some 400 such models are produced by ModelsUSA annually.