Fighter Jets for the Home
Model Builder Guillermo Rojas Bazan Makes Fighter Jets so Realistic You Can Almost Smell the Exhaust
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
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Although Rojas Bazan was not widely known, he had a small following of collectors in this country, and was known to people in the esoteric world of expensive, one-off models. One who knew of Rojas Bazan's work is Gary Kohs, who owns Fine Art Models in Birmingham, Michigan. He tracked Rojas Bazan down, learned of the couple's plight and made them an offer they couldn't refuse: Rojas Bazan would make the most detailed 1/15-scale airplanes ever executed, and Kohs would have them replicated by craftsmen in the Ukraine to be sold in limited quantities. The plan had precedent: Kohs had previously hired others to create model ships that were reproduced by craftsmen in Latvia and other parts of Eastern Europe.
This arrangement wasn't what Rojas Bazan envisioned when he made the decision to come to the States, but he was in no position to promote himself, so the family moved to Michigan.
Clarisa meets me at the door of their apartment building in Royal Oak. I follow her upstairs and am introduced to Rojas Bazan. He is a big man with longish hair and a thick mustache. His eyes are a deep brown, his grin wide and his handshake firm. I think I was expecting a small man with delicate fingers capable of the incredible detail work I had seen in photos. Rojas Bazan seems more suited to working with machinery than with modeler's tools.
We chat for a time, Clarisa filling in when her husband's newly learned English lets him down, and then I ask where his studio is. He smiles, and asks me to follow him.
"In here," he says. "Here" is their bedroom, where a large drafting table is jammed against the wall. There is just enough room to walk between the table and the bed. Resting on the table is a partially completed model of a Navy F-4U1D Corsair. Rojas Bazan says it is the most complicated and most detailed model he has ever attempted. He has been working on it for seven months and figures he has perhaps four more to go. Working, Clarisa adds, means eight to 10 hours a day, often more. The Corsair will be the first model offered in the limited-production deal with Kohs.
The drafting table is virtually empty. The Corsair sits on a stand; there are some pencils, a pair of scissors and a plastic turntable filled with paints, markers and brushes. But where are the tools?
"This is my most important tool," he says, picking up the scissors. "But I also use these," he adds, laying an Exacto knife, a carpenter's awl, a piece of sandpaper, a pair of tweezers, a kitchen ladle and a melon baller on the table. The ladle and melon baller are used for shaping aluminum. It takes a while to sink in--the man who is perhaps the greatest airplane modeler in history creates his artworks with the aid of a melon baller. He almost apologetically admits to one electric device, an air brush on the floor beside the table.
He hands me a small flashlight and asks me to look inside the cockpit. The instrument panel is filled with gauges, each with needles and pointers and each with a glass face. The joystick controller is there. So are the levers, knobs, throttle and pedals. Studying a Rojas Bazan model is the visual equivalent of peeling an onion. There is layer after layer after layer of things to discover. The flashlight reveals intricate detailing under the instrument panel. There are pressurized bottles of whatever they pressurized in a Corsair in snap-fit brackets, each with a label, a screw valve and a tube running somewhere. The wheels for trim control are there, the black paint worn off by the pilot's gloved hand. The stick actually operates the rudder and horizontal stabilizers and, when the wings are added, the ailerons.
Rojas Bazan turns the model over to point out the wiring and plumbing on the underside of the cockpit. Like the cockpit, every feature of the original (he claims, and who is to doubt?) is there. The truly remarkable thing about this particular area of intense detail is not what is there, but that it will all be covered by the plane's skin when the model is finished. The skin, by the way, gets the same detailing as the interior, down to the neatly spaced rows of rivets that Rojas Bazan simulates by tiny indentations, presumably with a carpenter's awl. Epoxy holds it all together.
Rojas Bazan doesn't simply study a picture of a plane, then sit down and make a 1/15th-scale model of it. In weeks of premodeling preparation, he studies all the material on the subject that he can find. In many cases that can include, as it did with the Corsair, the original engineering drawings. The drawings, penned in 1942, were stamped "Secret," lest they fall into the hands of the enemy.
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