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Fighter Jets for the Home

Model Builder Guillermo Rojas Bazan Makes Fighter Jets so Realistic You Can Almost Smell the Exhaust
Mike Knepper
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

The fighter plane models that Guillermo Rojas Bazan builds are good; perhaps too good. "I am very impressed with the models in the photographs you sent," a collector wrote. "I only hope the photographs are of your models and not the real thing."

The problem with photographs of Rojas Bazan's models is that, unless there is something in the picture to indicate scale, you can't tell that the models are models. Blame it on Rojas Bazan's painstaking attention to detail. If it was on the original, it is on the model. And that includes grease and exhaust stains, faded markings, worn upholstery and other signs of wear and tear that are found on the original.

These models are fine art, requiring the same level of skill necessary to create a museum-quality painting or sculpture. Some might scoff that they're "just model airplanes," but that's like saying Mozart's string quartets are "nice tunes." We're talking the Mozart of modeling here. And, when Rojas Bazan can find the time, he creates his masterpieces for private collectors.

Rojas Bazan lives with his wife, Clarisa, and their 10-year-old son, in a working-class apartment complex in Royal Oak, Michigan--thousands of miles and a world away from their native Argentina. They have come to this Detroit suburb by a circuitous route and due to complicated circumstances. Although the ending hasn't been written, this is a story Hollywood would love.

Rojas Bazan was born in Buenos Aires in 1949. His father was a skilled modeler who made models for his son and the neighborhood kids, and Guillermo quickly took up the hobby. As he grew, he explored various mediums for the airplanes he built, finally settling on aluminum, which, he explains today, is easy to work with and gives his models a realistic finish. "Not like shiny toys," he says in his heavily accented English.

Originally employed in banking, Rojas Bazan left the field in 1980, when the quality of his models led to a job with the Army Air Force Museum of Argentina as an aircraft illustrator, draftsman and exhibit designer. Museum officials asked him to make aluminum models of virtually every airplane in the Air Force's history, and to design the display for them. Interbranch competition being what it is, the Argentine Navy had him do the same for its ships.

One of Rojas Bazan's favorite stories from his museum days involves two generals and a jet. The general in charge of the museum told Rojas Bazan to make a model of the British Harrier jumpjet that had flown against the Argentines in the Falkland islands war, because it was a part of the Air Force's history. Rojas Bazan made a typically beautiful and detailed model. One day, a new commanding general came through the museum and spotted the Harrier. Saying, "That's an enemy plane," he took it out of the display case and stomped on it. "Such a small mind," Rojas Bazan says.

In 1988, Rojas Bazan moved to Spain to be closer to the European demand for large-scale, collector-quality models. Advertisements in European aviation magazines quickly brought in customers with commissions. It was through an advertisement in Fly Past magazine that Chuck Austin, an American involved in aviation art, discovered Rojas Bazan's work. But before that relationship could develop, another did. Rojas Bazan met and married Argentine-born Clarisa and moved with her to Israel, where she was a social worker. Officials at the Israeli Air Force museum hired him to do for their museum what he had done for its Argentine counterpart. The Rojas Bazans were living happily in Israel, but, except for the museum commission, Guillermo's career was stalled. He needed to do something to kick start it.

At that time, Austin began corresponding with Rojas Bazan, and over the next few months, Austin convinced the couple that moving to the United States was an important career move. The reasoning was that it was the best place to find people able to afford the $10,000 and up that his models cost.

The Rojas Bazans sold everything they owned and moved to New Jersey to be near their new mentor. Unfortunately, the relationship with Austin didn't work out, and the couple, with little command of English, were on their own. Worse, Rojas Bazan didn't have the immigration green card he needed to remain in the United States beyond the length of a tourist visa.

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